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Part 2: The Caffeinated Musings of a Mostly Normal Grad Student

by Alex Low 2 months ago in Humor
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Unofficial Adult Supervision

Am I a babysitter? A tutor? A troop mom? No. Then why, for the love of Loki, am I now the unofficial adult supervision for this gaggle of freshmen?

It’s been a week since I collided with Morrigan, and since then, she and seven of her fellow freshmen have begun congregating at my desk in the library. Every. Day. Now perhaps, I’m being a touch dramatic about the inconvenience these cheerful young people are causing. They never try to take my chair, and only Morrigan is brave enough to pull up the spare chair to the edge of my desk. Most of them sit in relative silence for hours (meaning they put off the ambient sounds of frustrated students; sighing, whispering, and pen clicking). Even that noise was brought to a minimum when I threatened to hex Jack if he clicked his soon-to-be-cursed pen one more time.

Occasionally… Ok, at least twice an hour, they interrupt my train of thought to ask for help, though. It’s mostly some version of, Riona, would you take a look at my divination spell? Or, Why does Schrödinger's cat matter to Geography of the Liminal Space? (Where do you think he put the cat? That’s not a corner of the liminal space you want to visit by the way. Not sure if the cat is alive or not, but undead cats still have claws, so no one in their right mind would check.)

Most of their questions were just that, questions. I’d fire off a quick answer and be back to work in under five minutes. That was, until Finn, an eager, boyish-faced werewolf, sidled up to my desk this afternoon. I was scratching out some notes (which now that I look at them are entirely illegible… Is that an R or a 9?) when Finn walked over. “Riona, can I ask you a question?”

I grunted some sort of affirmative, glancing up at him briefly before returning my attention to my notebook. Finn is a cheerful guy, with a friendly face, an easy smile, and a goofy sense of humor. He has that special type of enthusiasm where you can practically see his tail wagging even when he is in his human form.

Unlike some shapeshifters, werewolves seem to retain some distinguishing wolfish features as humans. Their eyes always glow a little, as if caught by the light just right, and they carry with them a distinct smell. It’s not a bad smell, per se, but it is undeniable. I think it smells like wet earth and evergreen trees, but I’m told others experience it differently.

When I looked up again, I noticed the faint blotchy pink of a blush spreading across Finn’s cheeks and he shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably under my gaze.

I stood, my back cracking awkwardly, and wandered into the stacks, nodding for him to follow. Once we were out of earshot, even for supernatural ears, I turned to face him, my hands on my hips. “Alright, out with it. What’s on your mind?”

The poor boy cleared his throat a bit before speaking. “Do you know any defensive magic? Protective spells, that kind of thing? Some of the guys in the pack have gotten a bit… rough… They say it’s just hazing, but they're massive and I don’t stand a chance.”

“Wait, they haven’t taught you defensive magic at all?” He simply shook his head, his blush returning until his face was splotched cherry red.

So far, what I’ve gathered from my continued association with these eager freshmen is that the Valley is doing a piss poor job of teaching them anything useful. Not teaching defensive magic to freshmen is ludicrous. Indignant rage boiled just under my skin at the downright negligence the university was showing. There are many worse things than witches and dragons in this world, and the younger you are the easier to pick you off.

“Yeah, I have some moves I can show you. But if you are ok with it, I think I should show the whole group. Defensive magic is an important skill, and if you’re having trouble, I imagine some of the others are too.”

Finn’s golden retriever energy returned and he smiled brightly with a cheerful nod, but as we walked back to the group, I couldn’t help but notice. He was favoring his right foot and had a wicked bruise across his bicep that peeked out from under his t-shirt.

“Who wants to learn some actually useful magic today?” I asked in a full tone of voice, catching the attention of the gaggle of freshmen. Their young faces popped up from books, notes, and cell phones, and my question was met with a murmur of interest. They stood, forming a loose circle around me. It only then occurred to me that we were in a library, and teaching combative magic here might be a bit disruptive. “Follow me! We’re going on a field trip.”

I led the procession out of the library, drawing glances from the minotaur at the front desk as I went. Wow, I feel like that guy is judging me all the time. He either has some very strong opinions or I can’t read a minotaur’s expressions at all.

Much like the rest of the Valley, the campus here models gothic architecture, with large gray stone buildings topped with spire-like towers and flying buttresses. But unlike the other half of campus, this side isn’t under a brilliant blue sky with lush green grass stretching across the grounds. Instead, it’s nestled under the dark purple, pink, or midnight blue sky (You're never sure which one it will be. The sky has a mind of its own here) that fills the habitable portions of the void.

We wandered out under a purple sky and I sucked in a deep breath of fresh fall air. You can’t particularly tell the season from the plants or the sky when you’re on the liminal side of campus, but the air we breathe comes from the physical world we are connected to so you can still feel the season’s change. Here that means crisp fall afternoons and frigid winters.

My gaggle of freshmen followed me as we wove through the campus until we stopped at a large open field. Half the field was actively being used by a group of satyrs and dryads for what appeared to be a Friends reenactment (Someone was in a box, so it was either a Friends reenactment or something far more concerning). You might think this is a bit odd, but sitcom reenactments are basically the magical equivalent to LARPing.

“I cannot be seen here. Reenactments are for dorks.” Amaris, the undead girl, crossed her pale, ashy arms over her chest (I still haven’t figured out whether she is a vamp or a zombie, but I’m leaning toward vampire at the moment; they tend to be divas). She shot a disgusted look at the sitcom in progress.

“No one said you had to be here.” I shot back.

She huffed, spun on the heels of her fashionable boots, and stomped off to Odin only knows where, tossing something along the lines of “whatever, losers” over her shoulder as she went. I lined my remaining pupils up on the side of the field and rifled through my bag until I found a can of white spray paint.

“Rule number two, kids. Always carry spray paint.” Morrigan immediately fished into her bag for her notebook and began writing down my second rule, while the rest asked each other what the first rule was in hushed tones. I paced off a generously large practice area and marked the edges with enchantments to prevent spells from going astray and hitting an unwitting passerby.

“Alright. Finn, will you come demonstrate this with me?” Finn strode forward on lanky legs, and I positioned him across from me within the practice area but turned to face the watching group. “First, we are going to cover a basic shield incantation.” I demonstrated a gesture with my hand. “In my opinion, sign language is the best for defensive spells because it allows you to cast with your hands while also saying a different spell. For this, we will use the sign for ‘away’ while funneling our intention into repelling the oncoming attack.” As I spoke, the gathered freshmen began attempting the gesture, and I wandered between them, correcting their positioning and movements until it was smooth.

“Now I am going to issue an attack spell, and Finn, I want you to shield. You ready?” I asked as I turned to face him. He nodded but concern washed over his normally cheerful face. I started with a simple offensive spell, ‘impetum’. Finn responded with the shielding gesture, a bit slowly, but he just barely managed to block my spell. The magic from my attack crackled against his shield, before fizzling out harmlessly. The watching freshmen cheered and Finn pumped his fist in elation.

“This shield will work with magical attacks, but it will also block an aggressor if they try to walk up and punch you in the face,” I explain as I gesture for the freshmen to join us on the field. “Now pair off and give it a try. Attackers, I want you to use the spell, impetum. Defenders, use the shield. Then switch.”

The six freshmen wandered out onto the field and paired off. I moved through the group, giving tips as I saw fit. If I’m honest, my helpful hints primarily consisted of telling kids who just got knocked on their tails that they might want to try to shield a bit faster (kind of obvious advice but moderately hilarious to tell a kid that just got the wind knocked out of them).

I let them practice for about twenty minutes until Morrigan let loose a rather uncontrolled attack that would have rendered the selkie boy she was partnered with unconscious. Uncontrolled magic can happen when the caster is tired and loses control of their intention, and Morrigan has a lot of magic brewing under her sometimes reptilian skin.

I heard the sizzling crack of her magic and stepped in between them in just enough time to shield with all my effort. I’m not massively powerful magically (my power is more associated with drinking an insane amount of caffeine, absolutely destroying at charades, and being able to quote entire scenes of tv shows). But I’m older and more experienced, so I managed to hold the shield long enough to let her magic fizzle out.

Morrigan rushed out anxious apologies as soon as I dropped the shield, but I assured her no harm was done. “I think you all have done enough for today, though. Do something fun. Go to the cafeteria in your PJs, put food coloring on the communal shower heads, live your lives.” I said as I shooed them all away, and began scuffing out the boundary charms. And before you ask, yes, I have put food coloring in the communal showers. I had some less than considerate upstairs neighbors when I lived in the dorms, and it’s really a quite simple and inexpensive way to dye an entire floor of students blue.

The freshmen wandered off in the direction of the dorms, and I headed toward where I thought the liminal campus met the physical world today. Campus exits can be a bit tricky to find. The connection point tends to jump around. You see, the magic that makes the liminal space livable also likes to keep you here. So the best way to leave is to just walk in a straight line away from the heart of campus and focus your intention on leaving. It’s kind of like doing yoga, only it involves finding your car.

Unfortunately, it can be quite slow to convince the liminal space that you actually want to leave, which I did not have time for today. My roommate, Jen, (who knows nothing about magical mumbo jumbo) has been bugging me to go out with her for a night on the town. After putting her off for three weeks, I could no longer come up with excuses she would accept. My last attempt had something to do with a rhinoceros, a thumbtack, and Tuesdays. She wasn’t buying it. She had been quite clear when I left this morning that I was to be home promptly at 6:30. She also insisted that she be allowed to decide what I wore for the evening because I “dress like a scattered-brained professor.”

I had nearly made it to the edge of the campus when an ear-shattering scream ripped through the air. I’ll admit, I jumped out of my skin, just a bit. It was a sickening sound, so fearful and tragically human. The smart choice would have been to rush off campus and get well away from whatever had caused that sound.

I could already feel the magic of the liminal space releasing me, as if it too wanted me to be far away. I could feel the wind of the physical world blow against my skin and see the sky begin to shift to the dusky blue of evening. And like every character who gets murdered in a horror movie, I immediately turned and started running back onto the liminal campus toward the ‘I’m being murdered’ screams. Fear spiked in the pit of my stomach as I realized I was heading toward the dorms, and I prayed that none of my freshmen were involved. My feet beat against the cobblestone path, and I skidded to a halt when I reached the center of campus.

It was normally a pretty place, with a gorgeous fountain featuring a statue of the goddess, Persephone. She held a pomegranate in one hand and was surrounded by perpetually blooming flowers. The statue was animated with a movement charm so it seemed that the goddess had stopped in the fountain to tend her garden.

But it didn’t look like a lovely magical garden as I approached; It was closer to a war zone. The stone path was cracked and dug up. The flowers that were enchanted to perpetually bloom had all withered and turned black, as if struck by a terrible plague. The Persephone statue was the source of the unearthly shrieking. Persephone was shattered on one side. She looked more like the Venus de Milo than the goddess I had passed nearly every day for years. I had never heard her make a sound, but apparently, she was either upset by the devastation of her garden, or in pain from her shattered form enough to make an exception.

As I ran forward, her unseeing stone eyes spun to face me. I felt a strange mix of relief and fear cascade off her even though her expression remained carved in stone. She pointed her one remaining stone arm at something behind her, and I finally understood the screaming. It was not for herself or her garden, but the lifeless girl laying sprawled in an unnatural position on the cobblestone path.

I rushed forward, and to my horror, found my undead pupil, Amaris, sprawled in a large pool of blackish blood. I swallowed back bile at the sight of her horrendously broken leg. I knelt beside her, trying to check if she was breathing or had a pulse, but it’s nearly impossible to tell with the undead. I pulled out my phone to dial campus police when a dark shadow eclipsed me, and Persephone let out another horrified shriek.

When you live around magical beings every day, you tend to be hesitant to use the word, ‘monster’, but the thing I looked up to see towering over me was nothing less than monstrous. It was a dark, oozing shape, with no discernible form or face. But what was truly horrifying wasn’t the disgustingly disfigured being (though I certainly have plenty of commentary on its general ickiness). It was the wave of unrestrained malice that washed over me in its presence. It felt like pure envy had clawed its way into a physical form. I had no idea what it was, but I knew as soon as I looked at it that it wanted to kill me. And it could.

The creature lurched forward suddenly, moving surprisingly quickly, and I acted on instinct. Now I’ve mentioned that I pick up spells here and there when I have time. Well a year ago, I got extremely hyper-fixated on this slim little spell book I found in the library. Unlike most grimoires I had read, which detailed spells in a specific language, often requiring intricate symbols or ingredients, this little book described Intuition. The author was an amplifier witch, which I learned in the course of reading her spell book is an astoundingly rare being that amplifies the magic around them. She had developed her own method of magical practice that she called Intuition. She could feel magic in the world around her and she would tug it away from its original course and move it to her desired purpose. I had tried for months to replicate her use of Intuition but had never been able to feel magic as she described. That is, until the creature launched toward Amaris and me.

I threw myself over Amaris’ limp body and in my panic, my intention reached out for magic. A lot of magic. I felt a deep vein of it in the ground beneath me and without thinking I plunged my hands into the earth. The creature crashed into us just as I threw everything I had behind a shield.

The shield held, but I could feel the weight of the monster pushing against it. I was already fatigued from the earlier practice session, and I knew I couldn’t hold out long. Practicing magic is kind of like working out. Everyone has a natural capacity they can handle, but you have to be in shape to use it to the fullest. And in case you haven’t gathered this from everything else I’ve told you about myself, I’m not one to typically make healthy, wise choices.

So I am woefully out of shape (magically and otherwise if I’m honest). Panic started to crawl up my throat as I realized that I was about to die. If I failed to hold this shield, whatever that thing was would destroy me. Or I’d burn myself out trying to hold the shield and die from the strain, leaving Amaris unprotected. A trickle of a tear or sweat (I’m not sure which) dripped down my cheek, and I scrambled for a plan. I didn’t have the strength to form a portal and hold the shield at the same time. We were well and completely screwed.

And then as suddenly as it had appeared, the shadow and the pressure of the monstrous force was gone. I looked up to find nothing but the Persephone statue watching over us, and with my last ounce of strength, I dialed campus police and then promptly collapsed onto the pavement beside Amaris.


About the author

Alex Low

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insight

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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  • Jeremy White2 months ago

    I love this. Can not wait read more. This would make a great movie.

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