Classes at Brakket were far more interesting than any class at a non magical school. That was simply by virtue of most classes having magic flying around them. The teachers themselves weren’t all that different. Class might be better if Eva had been more new to the whole magic scene.
The school building itself was a boring affair. Eva felt sure it was built by regular people. None of the rooms even had the oddities that the dorm study rooms had.
The only exception to this was the courtyard. The building was a ring with a large three-story section to one end. The center held a massive forest that was given the wildly inaccurate title of the Infinite Courtyard.
Trees, plants, bushes, benches, grass, even large ponds and hills all fit in the courtyard. Bridges arced over streams, huge weeping willows hung over the dirt paths. Birds chirped and flittered about. Other animals occasionally stalked within sight of the pathways. Eva was almost sure she saw a cait si at one point.
As you went further into the courtyard, space expanded. Apparently the dead center was several miles away from any part of the building. There were paths set up to go along the edges before the space really expanded, and all the paths had signs stating the nearest part of the building.
Had she known about it during the summer, she might have explored it a bit. There was bound to be something interesting left behind by previous students.
Weekends were a possibility depending on homework situation. Unfortunately, she now had class during most of the week. A young mage named Yuria Something-or-other stood at the front of Eva’s current class. She was almost as young as Zoe Baxter, but missed the title of the youngest by just two years.
“This class will be on a rotation. Mages tend to have one element they can cast very well, almost effortlessly, two elements that they are adequate at, and one they might be lucky to cast a single spell from.
“So don’t be discouraged if you cannot cast whatever spell we’re attempting for the lesson. I myself am a class two water mage.” She moved her wand to her other hand and a globe of water hovered above her hand. “The schedule is set up so that Professor Calvin of your general magic class will take over for fire spells. He’s a class one fire mage so he’s more than qualified.”
Eva had no idea what her elemental affinity was. Juliana had been teaching her elementary earth magic, which she seemed alright at. She could move around dirt inside a small pot. Enough to dig a hole and drop a seed into at the very least.
If asked before Yuria’s lesson, she would have said chaos was her affinity. That was apparently not an option. Chaos and order were considered universal magic. No one was especially good or poor at either.
Professor Calvin’s general magic class taught spells not considered part of any of the six schools of magic along with some very simple order and chaos spells.
The first spell involved breaking an object into its base elements. Not periodic elements but the magical elements. They were each given a rock to turn into a crystal of pure earth magic.
“It takes concentration and time, but it is an essential spell for alchemy and is usually not found difficult by new students. Reducing an object is an excellent way to get a feel for magic and how it moves through you and into your wands and then to the stone itself.”
He went through the process, instructing them to visualize their rock turning into pure earth. “You’ll feel a tingle in your gut moving out to your arm. That is you channeling magic into your wand. You’ll then channel from your wand to the rock itself, all in one smooth action, while visualizing your end goal.”
Eva tried it without her wand until she started seeing results, then attempted it with her wand. It felt faster and smoother without her wand, though that could be just that she was used to no foci. Eva was considering not using the wand at all, it seemed an unnecessary liability and just an extra step for what she could do on her own.
It took the entire class period, but Eva managed to turn a regular stone into a shiny green crystal.
Juliana had a green crystal in front of her in less than half the time; a combination of experience and earth being her elemental affinity, according to her. She then moved to Shalise to walk her through the process, earning the approval of Professor Calvin as he assisted the rest of the twenty or so students.
Shalise didn’t seem to catch on near as quick. It was understandable. She only started doing real magic for the first time over the last week when Juliana taught her to dig holes in a pile of sand. Still, she wound up with several green crystals growing out of her rock.
Jordan sat behind Eva’s table along with Shelby and Max. He and Shelby got their crystals with time to spare, if only barely. Even with both their assistance, Max managed less transformation than Shalise.
Irene had been exiled to another table on account of there being only three chairs per. She managed to reduce her crystal almost as fast as Juliana and then proceeded to assist her partners with their own reduction.
The rest of the class had mixed results. Most managed at least a few green crystals, but some had nothing to show for an hour’s worth of efforts.
“I’m just saying, I don’t think it was as simple as you all make it out to be,” Max said as he spewed half chewed sandwich bits across the table.
Eva shot Shelby a pitying look as the poor girl wiped her face with a napkin once again. But the girl had been insistent on sitting next to Jordan. That Max had decided to sit across from him was simply bad luck. She made a mental note to never sit across from Max during mealtimes.
They had all met up after Professor Calvin’s class for lunch. The school gave them the choice between ham sandwiches and some kind of cheese soup Eva wasn’t about to touch. The smell drifting over from Shalise’s bowl almost made Eva gag.
“Shalise never touched a wand before last week and she managed way more than you,” Juliana said, “did you even try any magic during summer?”
“Hey,” he said, turning his spittle in Juliana’s direction. Luckily for her, she seemed to be out of range. “I managed to keep a leaf aloft on nothing but air. It isn’t my fault I was born to parents that barely heard of magic, let alone practiced it.”
“To be fair,” Jordan spoke up, “we were preoccupied over the summer with all the homework Mr. Lurcher gave in his alchemy seminars.” He turned towards Eva and said, “I’m surprised we didn’t see you there, with all your potions you had before school.”
“To be perfectly honest, none of the seminars seemed designed for people who hadn’t already had some schooling. I only went to Zoe Baxter’s seminar because she basically ordered us to.”
“He did the same to us, though I can’t disagree with that. Half of it was over my head and I thought I knew something about brewing.” Jordan slumped back in his seat. “And he made us do the homework while it was optional for everyone else.”
“Professor Baxter never gave homework,” Juliana said, “I’m not sure if I should be glad or disappointed. Summer was exceedingly dull. It might have occupied some time, at the very least.”
Eva shook her head. “I’m glad she didn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to read near as many books if she had.”
“Not to mention your other activities,” Juliana said.
“Other activities?” Irene asked. She leaned forward to see around Max’s bulk.
“Eva would sneak out once or twice a week and spend the night somewhere else.”
“I didn’t sneak out. I’d always tell you or leave a note.”
“Oh,” Irene perked up, “a little rendezvous with a mysterious stranger? Who is the lucky guy?”
“Just Rach,” Eva said. “I’m sure you remember her.” She didn’t miss the frown that crossed Shalise’s face, nor the slight paling that Shelby went through. Arachne herself wiggled slightly beneath her shirt at the mention of her nickname.
The spider-demon didn’t like the name. Eva didn’t like it much either, but she thought it up spur of the moment when she decided not to say Arachne’s full name in front of other people. Too late to change it now.
Irene leaned back. She hadn’t been near as afraid of the spider on their first encounter as her twin. Still, Eva didn’t think she was very fond of Arachne. “I don’t think I want to know,” she said.
The conversation died for a minute before turning back to magic, mostly how bad Max performed during their general magic class. A chime rang throughout the school and the group packed up.
Their final two classes of the day were held out in the inner courtyard, though not far enough from the building for them to have to walk several miles. The two classes offered the ecology portion of their schooling.
Their first stop looked more like a zoo than anything. A shorter man named Bradley Twillie taught the wildlife portion of ecology. Sadly, their first day consisted of listening to the man go over safety procedures in a small lecture room outside the zoo itself.
The students were never to enter a creature’s habitat without both his presence and his permission. They were never even to enter the zoo part without his guidance. If a student found themselves in a habitat, say by falling in, then they were not to antagonize whatever creature lived within. If that creature was hostile and looked about ready to attack, the student was allowed to defend themselves, but only using minimal force.
He seemed to go over that last bit very reluctantly. Bradley Twillie came across as a man who cared far more for the animals than the students.
They never even got to enter the zoo before the timid instructor dismissed them.
Franklin Kines, on the other hand, seemed very passionate about his subject. He also was ready to get the students into a hands on lesson. Unfortunately, his subject was the plant life portion of ecology.
The first lesson consisted of half safety instructions, though they were rushed through with the excuse that anything dangerous would get special attention during the lesson. The other half ended up being hands on in a greenhouse. Hands on dandelions.
If there were anything different or magical about these dandelions than the kind seen around every lawn in the spring and summer, Eva couldn’t tell.
“The dandelion is not magical in the slightest,” Professor Kines said after a few students grumbled about the plant. “However, in gardening it is very important. Because it is nonmagical, it doesn’t affect magical plants as they grow. It can be planted as a companion to an absurd number of more magical plants.”
Professor Kines whipped his wand at a dandelion. It sprung from the soil and turned over, showing a thick, lengthy root. “Its root brings up nutrients for shallower plants as well as adding minerals to the soil. It releases a gas that helps other plants to mature. On top of all that, it works very well to attract pollinators.”
His speech did nothing to make the actual tending to dandelions more interesting. Eva glared at the clock, as if that would make it go any faster. Eventually, the chime rung and class was dismissed.
“Hopefully we get into some more interesting plants,” Max said as they headed back to the dorms.
Eva couldn’t agree more.
The next day started them off with Zoe Baxter’s magical theory class. The stern woman sat on top of her lectern until class had filled in the seats.
She started off launching a lightning bolt at a wall with a wand. Eva noted with satisfaction that half the class jumped as the thunder crashed around them. The half that didn’t jump were the ones who attended the instructor’s seminars.
She then set her wand on her desk and repeated the motion. A few of the class flinched as if another lightning bolt would spring from her hand. Most didn’t.
“Who can tell me why I cannot cast a lightning bolt without a wand?” She looked straight at Eva, but called on a different student. “Mr. Dewey.”
“A lightning bolt can be cast without a wand. You just require an alternate focus to focus your magic.”
“Pedantic, Mr. Dewey, but wrong.
“Foci are improperly named. A more correct name would be ‘storage device’ or something along those lines. Foci do less focusing and more storing of a mage’s magic until the magic has reached a sufficient point to exert the mage’s will upon reality.”
She glanced around the class as if expecting a rebuttal. None came and her lips quirked into a small smile as she slipped off her lectern. “Humans, or at least human mages, can process magic at a truly alarming rate. More so than any magical creature I know of save about three. Perhaps Mr. Twillie could add to that, but I can’t.” At a slight shuffling of students, Zoe added, “rest assured that humans are magical creatures. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to do any magic at all.
“The problem with humans is that we have no ability to store that magic. Imagine for a moment that you need to count to ten to cast a spell. Seems easy, right?” She glanced around the silent class. “Now, imagine that every time you add one number, you have to subtract two, to a limit of zero. It becomes impossible to count in that situation. That is what human magic is like.
“A wand does not negate the subtraction aspect. Every time you count to one, that one gets pushed into your wand and you go back to zero. Rather than counting to ten, you count to one, ten times.” She whipped out her wand and threw another lightning bolt at the wall almost instantly. “Obviously, humans do this very rapidly.”
“Mr. Anderson,” Zoe said, nodding.
Eva looked behind her just in time to see Jordan lowering his hand.
“Many magical creatures do not need wands or other foci, they store magic on their own then?”
“Excellent question, Mr. Anderson. Let us take elves as an example. They are among the three magical creatures I mentioned earlier that process magic at very high speeds. Around human like, if not higher. However, their blood has the ability to store this magic and expel it as a focus would for humans. Essentially, their blood is their focus.
“Goblins, on the other hand, produce magic at a very slow rate. Their blood can not only store the magic, but because of a unique physiology, they can retain the magic as well. A newborn goblin won’t be able to cast the simplest of spells whereas a hundred year old goblin will have had a hundred years of storing up magic. Never underestimate an old goblin, they will likely lay waste to all around them with a snap of their fingers.
“Because of these traits, elves might find use in foci, or at least be able to use one. A goblin never would.”
Eva sat back and absorbed the rest of the lesson. She had a brief thought on whether this was how Zoe Baxter normally started her first year class or if she had specifically chosen this lesson for Eva. It seemed like a good first lesson; foci were integral for magic use and throwing lightning bolts was a good way to garner attention. It was the not infrequent glances Zoe gave Eva that irked her suspicions.
When the chimes rang for the end of class, Eva half expected to be told to stay after. Zoe did no such thing. She dismissed the class and went to clearing the whiteboard of diagrams on how foci worked.
That didn’t stop Eva from half sneaking out of the class.
Alari Carr welcomed the students into her history class with a chipper attitude. Rather than start with a lesson, Professor Carr had the students go around and introduce themselves.
There was always that one teacher, Eva thought. Most of the rest of the class seemed to share her opinion if the groans were anything to go by. Still, the class went ahead and did their introductions with a single fact about themselves.
Juliana Rivas introduced herself with mentioning that her mother used to be a mage-knight. That got a few awes from the class. Shalise Ward offered up that she was the eldest of six siblings.
Eva stood up as her turn came around. “My name is Eva,” she said, “and I am fairly well versed in the art of runes.” She ignored the handful of snickers and retook her seat.
The rounds came to Jordan’s group. He introduced himself as Jordan Anderson, son of Alex and Lydia, two high-ranking people in the magical government. Why he went to such a disreputable school as Brakket went unsaid.
Maximilian Weston was the youngest of three brothers, neither of whom were magically adept. Shelby Coggins used the fact that she was twins with Irene, much to the latter’s displeasure. Apparently she wanted to use that. Instead Irene said that she could play the piano.
Introductions continued around the room until they ended at Timothy Dewey who was descended from John Dewey. He neglected to mention who that was or why it was significant. Eva supposed if he was important, she could probably find him in the library.
The chime rang and Eva couldn’t be happier. Hopefully the next history class had less touchy-feely crap.
They sat down together for lunch, a choice between pizza with some kind of pitch black sauce and chicken nuggets. Eva chose the pizza. The sauce was a bit salty, but not bad.
Everyone else picked the chicken nuggets.
“I didn’t know you knew runes,” Irene said.
Juliana replied before Eva could finish chewing her pizza. “What do you think is in those black envelopes stuck to your ceiling?”
“I never thought about it. Some sort of enchanted trinket, I assumed.”
“Black envelopes?” Jordan asked with a quirked eyebrow.
“Just a little girl’s secret,” Shelby said with a wink.
Lunch ended and they headed off to their final class.
Alchemy was the only class that the freshmen had in the three-story wing of the building, though it was on the first floor. The alchemy lab was completely modernized. Fume cupboards lined the walls. Counters in the center had full sinks as well as small pipes poking up out of the edges.
Wayne Lurcher sat at the front desk, reading a book until the students filed in.
With four seats around each counter, Irene took a seat next to Eva rather than the group she had been sitting with in the other classes.
The chime rang signaling the start of class. Professor Lurcher snapped his book shut with a crack.
“Some of you may have heard the term alchemy used alongside things like gold, transmutation, eternal life, and potions. And potions may be associated with cauldrons and crones. Sadly, few of these things constitute proper alchemy these days.
“Transmutation,” he flicked his wand at a stone resting on his desk which turned shiny and silver, “is done with a wand in modern thaumaturgy. Gold is illegal to create or transmute, and not actually that hard. Eternal life still eludes us, but solutions for that issue are commonly thought to come from other areas these days. Potion brewing is about the only element left of traditional alchemy, and that has modernized far from the bubbling cauldron archetype.”
He walked up and down the aisles as he spoke. This was the longest single period Eva had ever heard Wayne Lurcher speak for. All of her other interactions with him had been barely five words that always seemed to be given grudgingly.
A small bit of her wondered if he just liked alchemy enough to talk about it, or if it was just his role as an instructor he was getting into.
“Like many of your classes this week, we will be discussing safety in the lab. Fume cupboards, precise measuring tools, goggles, and gloves have all increased the safety of even the more dangerous experiments we will be attempting. That does not make them safe.”
Class ended just as he finished assigning homework. The only teacher to do so on the first day. The homework consisted of writing an essay on the safety procedure during a hypothetical emergency such as a potion burning through a fume cupboard and being released into the main room.
Eva was at a bit of a loss. Neither she nor her master ever had any of the safety equipment and yet never had any major problems. Their equipment was far more outdated than the advanced lab materials the classroom had. Eva supposed he might have been required to go over all the safety rules by some school board.
Or maybe they would just work on far more dangerous potions than she and her master ever had. If that was the case, Eva very much looked forward to the class.
The group headed back to the dorms. They all gathered together in the astronomer’s study room to work out their first bit of homework.
It wasn’t actually that difficult of an assignment. Wayne Lurcher said the essay should be as long as it needed to be and left everything up to their own devices. Most of it simply consisted of restating the safety procedures they went over in class.
Still, it was a time-consuming endeavor. They almost missed the hours for the dorm’s dinner. They completed their meal in a jovial mood and parted ways. First with Jordan and Max, then with Irene and Shelby.
When Eva got to her door, she found a hunched over master sitting on a bench outside her room. He looked up at the group’s arrival.
Juliana immediately tensed and brought her wand out.
Eva waved her off. “Don’t worry. I know him.”
The blond lowered her wand but did not put it away, nor did she relax.
“This is my mentor, Randolph Carter.” She gestured towards man wrapped up in a brown trench coat. “Mentor, this is Shalise and Juliana.”
Shalise gave a hesitant nod. Juliana remained still with her wand out.
“Charmed,” he said in a voice that was anything but.
“It has been a week, have you found something already?”
“Not exactly. Next Friday evening we might be able to check some of your issues out. Meet me at,” his eyes flicked over Juliana and Shalise, “the place.”
He turned and stalked off. He got to the window at the end of the hallway and stepped out to the ground below.
“He seems friendly,” Juliana said as they entered their room.
“Oh yeah, real softhearted that one.”
Shalise dropped her bag on her desk. She turned back to Eva, leaning against her chair. “That was about the necromancers then?”
“I’d assume so. Guess I won’t know until Friday.”
Shalise frowned, but nodded. “I hope it is good news.” She gathered up some clothes from the drawers beneath her bed. “Unless either of you have objections, I’ll shower first.”
Neither girl said anything.
Shalise slipped into the shower.
Juliana stared at Eva. She waited, just staring.
Eva shuffled to her desk and pulled out a paper, trying her best to ignore the blond’s gaze. She had been working on a new version of the privacy runes. The new sheets should cover the entire main room so she wouldn’t have to do four copies for every customer the next time the runes wore out. Their business had gone a bit too well; Eva doubted she would have time for all of them with school going on.
The moment the shower water started, Juliana whispered in Eva’s ear. She had moved right next to Eva without her noticing. “Take me with you,” she said.
“I want to fight these necromancing scumbags too. You’ve seen me against Professor Baxter. You know I can fight.”
“You lose against Zoe Baxter. Every time.”
“I do better than you do.”
“I wouldn’t lose at all if–” Eva cut herself off, biting her lip.
A silence hung in the hair between them. Only the sound of flowing shower water filled the air.
Eventually Juliana sighed.
“I know you have secrets,” she said. “There’s no way you get taken on bounty hunting jobs with just runes and not knowing any spells aside from blink. You have so many secrets I wonder if anything you’ve said is the truth. But I don’t care about that right now.”
She stopped and cocked her head to the side, listening to make sure the shower was still running. She returned her attentions to Eva and spoke in an even quieter whisper, “I don’t care if you’re a necromancer yourself so long as it wasn’t you who killed that family.”
“I’m not a necromancer,” Eva hissed.
“Good. Then I don’t have to worry about that, at least. I still want in.”
“I can’t just show up with someone else.”
“He said Friday. It is Tuesday. You’ve got a few days to ask–no–tell him someone else is coming along.”
Eva was going to retort when the shower water cut off.
Juliana noticed as well. She stood up, moving her face away from Eva’s. “I’ll shower next,” she said. And turned to gather her own clothes.
Eva was left staring after her even as Shalise exited the bathroom. She only stopped once Juliana disappeared behind the closed door.
Shalise seemed to notice something wrong. She walked up to Eva and said, “don’t fight. We are roommates. I don’t want to have you two hate each other.”
“It wasn’t a fight,” Eva said. She wasn’t so sure. Was that a fight?
“Good.” Shalise said. She patted Eva’s shoulder only to freeze solid.
It took Eva a moment to realize why. Then it hit her. The poor girl had just patted one of Arachne’s legs through her shirt.
“It really just hangs off of you then?”
“She and yes, most of the time. She was with me all day today and all day yesterday. And you’ve seen me after showering with her still latched on me.” Eva felt a bad for that. She hadn’t changed her habit of wandering around and sleeping without clothes. Shalise started screaming when she saw Arachne latched onto Eva’s chest one morning. The poor girl thought Arachne was attacking Eva. It took a while to calm her down.
“If you’d like,” Eva said, “I could bring her out, nice and slowly, and you could touch her directly. Maybe it would help?”
Shalise took a quick step backwards, shaking her head in the negative even as Arachne tapped out no repeatedly on Eva’s shoulder.
“I think not,” Shalise said. At least she hadn’t stuttered her first word. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that in the future. Not now.”
Arachne tapped no again as Shalise said that. Eva doubted the spider-demon would do anything if Eva asked her not to. She might not like it, but for Eva’s roommates at the very least, Arachne might have to compromise on something.
Shalise slipped back to her bed and pulled out the general magic textbook. She flipped through it until Juliana left the shower.
Eva hopped in. The room was already hot and steamy, borderline sauna. Eva didn’t mind. If anything, it could stand to be a little hotter. Cold, moist air was the worst.
Eva twisted the shower head, aligning her new runes. She wasn’t sure if the other girls used the regular water or her runes. She’d told them, but they never mentioned anything other than a ‘too hot for my tastes’ from Shalise.
After kneeling down to the floor, Arachne hopped off Eva. She stood up in human form, ready for one of their shower chats.
“I say let her,” Arachne said before Eva could even ask her question. “If she dies, whatever. It is a good test of loyalty. Of course, if she turns traitor then I will rip her into so many pieces not even Humpty Dumpty could put her back together again.”
Eva frowned at the demon. Not so much at her threating to tear Juliana up, Eva was used to the spider-demon’s empty viciousness, but the other bit. “I’m not sure that is how the nursery rhyme goes.”
The spider-woman shrugged. “Besides, I’m sick of sneaking around. If I could at least walk around the room… and now we have that Shalise character. Juliana is one thing. Are you sure I can’t eat Shalise?”
“No eating any students. Or hurting any in general. Even if they do ‘turn traitor’ whatever loose definition you have for that.” Eva sighed. The demon wouldn’t do anything, she was mostly sure. It didn’t hurt to reiterate. “If things do happen, we’ll just leave. You, me, and master. If we can’t find him, we’ll summon Ivonis again after we settle down somewhere.”
“That’s disappointing,” she said. Eva didn’t think her pout looked very serious.
“If we are actually taking Juliana, we’ve got to find master and let him know. He won’t like it.”
“Leave it to me. I will impress upon him the need for her to join us.”
“No bullying master.”
“Wouldn’t touch a hair on his head,” Arachne said.
“You’re excited about this.”
“It is one step on my plan to not be in spider form constantly.” Arachne was already shifting back into said spider form.
Eva sighed, standing up into the stream of hot water. Her shower had gone on long enough. She shut off the water. As Arachne climbed back up her chest, Eva mumbled, “I’m sure not excited about it.”