Irene stretched out in her bed, ready to enjoy yet another day off.
The diablery class hadn’t met for a whole week. Not since the incident. That wasn’t to say it was canceled. Just suspended. Supposedly they would be having regular meetings again on the first of March.
While actively attending the class, Irene hadn’t been aware of just how stressful it actually was. Between the intensity of Catherine and Eva, slipping away or making up excuses to her sister and Jordan, and the ever-present feeling of guilt just for attending, the diablery class was more worry than it was worth.
And really, what was it worth? There were so many aspects of magic to study that she could spend her entire life ignoring demons completely and still never run out of things. The shackles were the most interesting part–they fit well within the realm of warding–something Irene could see herself doing as a profession–but if the class was going to move on to the actual demon parts of diablery, Irene was contemplating dropping the class.
She’d be bound by her contract to remain silent, but that was a good thing. Doing so would just be less stress between her and her sister. A little slice of her past that she never had to bring up.
Irene only jumped a little as her alarm went off. Unfortunately, the day was not a day off for the rest of school.
Slapping the off button, Irene tossed off her covers and started the morning. A small breakfast followed after a brief shower. Once dressed, Irene began the long and grueling task of waking her dear sister.
Despite Irene purposefully making a great deal of noise between her alarm, the shower, and breakfast preparation, Shelby hadn’t budged from her bed. Black hair splayed out in a halo around her head as she lay face-down on her pillow.
“Five minutes…” Shelby mumbled as Irene flipped her onto her back.
“Remember what happened last time? Professor Zagan will kill you if you’re late again.”
“…shouldn’t have made his class first.”
Irene sighed and tore the covers off of Shelby. Her sister immediately curled in on herself, trying her best to fend off the relatively cold air.
And failing of course.
At least, she was failing. One hand scrambled around beneath her pillow from where she drew her wand. After a quick wave, the air around her warmed. Her shivers stopped immediately with a sigh of contentment.
As Shelby uncurled from the tiny ball she had contorted herself into, Irene just shook her head.
“Fine. Suit yourself. Don’t come crying to me when Professor Zagan assigns detentions for the rest of the school year.”
Irene slung her book bag over her arm and headed out of their dorm room. Shelby would probably show up just as the bell rang having skipped both breakfast and a shower. A quick freshening of the air around her and no one would be the wiser.
Air mages could cheat like that. Really, earth mages had hardly any everyday utility. Irene wasn’t complaining. Earth magic could be powerful under many circumstances. But sometimes, she wished she could spend a moment waving her wand at herself and vanish a few of the day’s problems away.
Maybe she could apply makeup with a wand? Minerals and other earthy ingredients made up a good portion of most makeups. With enough practice and control…
Irene shook her head as she headed outside. No. Makeup was a silly, trivial thing to spend time figuring out how to apply with magic. Not when there were so many other things to focus on. Enchanting and warding for one.
She didn’t even wear that much makeup in the first place.
Sighing, Irene pushed open the doors to Brakket Academy and started off towards Zagan’s class. Putting on makeup on days where his class was first was an exercise in futility. He always pushed everyone hard enough to cause at least mild sweating. Showers after class had a tendency to ruin the makeup of even the most careful of her classmates.
Though if she could figure out how to magically apply makeup, her classmates might actually treat her with some respect. Especially if she could put it on quick enough to get to the next class on time and have it look decent.
There were already some magical makeup kits. Things that changed colors throughout the day or entirely vanished acne and other blemishes. Nothing that applied it automatically, however. Not that she knew of.
Enchanting a kit to apply makeup automatically shouldn’t be hard at all. It would take a good deal of order magic to properly align everything. Order magic wasn’t something she had practiced at all. Only dabbled in for a few select classes. They would be getting proper introductions to order and chaos magic next year.
Irene veered off course. She had a couple of minutes of spare time before she needed to worry about making it to class on time. A short trip to the library could get her a decent head start on next year’s lessons.
Her sudden and unannounced course correction resulted in several problems, each worse than the last.
The first and most obvious was the student she bumped into.
They had been avoiding each other ever since Eva’s revelation of her hands and eyes. Frightened off like a coward. All despite–as Shelby was ever so fond of reminding Irene–the fact that Eva never did anything to them aside from being their friend.
Irene hadn’t thought she bumped into him very hard, but he still stumbled backwards, flailing his arms in an attempt to keep his balance.
Which led to the second problem.
One half of Irene’s one-time table-mates in most of their classes. Max had hung off Jordan almost as much as Shelby used to and Irene just hadn’t fit at the tables with her sister and Jordan. Until Max had started avoiding them, that is.
Since then, Irene had been extraordinarily pleased to move alongside her sister and Jordan. While Kristina never actively hurt her, she always turned a blind eye to Drew’s doings.
Max’s flailing elbow caught Kristina square in the nose. She let out a shriek, clasping at her nose even as blood spilled between her fingers.
And that led to the final problem.
Kristina’s ever-present shadow stepped around Max’s larger and somewhat muscular body. Before Irene could even react to what was going on, Drew’s clenched fist found its way straight into Irene’s chest.
She tumbled down to the ground, gasping for breath as books from her bag scattered over the tiles.
“I knew you were the psycho type, Coggins,” Drew said. He swung back his foot, preparing for a kick.
Irene had the presence of mind to bury her head in her arms for protection. She squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself.
The wind from the kick brushed by her legs with a scraping noise.
Irene opened her eyes, surprised to find herself unscathed. Unfortunately, one of her books wasn’t. It slid across the ground until it hit a wall. Another student had to jump out of the way.
“Touch my girlfriend again and I’ll–”
Drew’s chin snapped to his chest as a baseball sized clump of dirt bounced off the back of his skull.
To Drew’s credit–or a good example of just how utterly thickheaded he was–he didn’t collapse to the ground as Irene was certain she would have. Instead, he spun on his heel.
The dirt covering his head did nothing to detract from his rage-filled grimace.
“Who threw that?!” he bellowed at the gaggle of onlookers.
No one chose to respond. Everyone was either watching the show to find out what would happen next or looking between one another in confusion.
Between Drew and Kristina’s shoulders, Irene managed to catch a glimpse of a head of white hair disappearing farther into the crowd.
With no answers forthcoming, he spun back around, raising his fist again.
Irene gripped her own wand, not quite certain what to do but not willing to sit back and take a beating.
The choice was taken out of her hands when Kristina gripped his shoulder. “I need the nurse,” she said with her nose firmly pinched shut.
For just a moment, he looked torn between Kristina and continuing his beating on Irene.
With one last death glare, he wrapped his raised arm around Kristina’s shoulders.
“Keep away from us you freak.”
He led her away without a second glance back, maneuvering unimpeded through the slowly dispersing crowd.
Max trailed after him, not quite managing to sway the crowd out of his way as flawlessly as Drew had managed. The last look he gave Irene was something of a cross between an apology and ire.
For a moment, Irene just sat there, going over what had just happened in her mind. The pain in her chest was quickly fading to nothing. Probably because his punch had been less of a punch and more of a shove. Pure shock at the sudden contact was what sent her to the ground.
Or was it?
Irene looked down at the wand clenched in her fist. An earth mage could increase their personal strength and toughness, but Irene had never managed to actually perform the spell before.
Then again, she hadn’t ever managed to manipulate polished tiles before either, and she had managed that at least partially after summoning that creature.
Shaking her head and sighing at the relief of not having to deal with them for the handful of minutes before class started, Irene started to shovel her books back into her bag under the watchful eyes of the remaining crowd.
None of them bothered to help. Irene was well aware that the bystander effect was in full… well, effect. And sure, her situation might have been her fault for not watching her surroundings, but the least someone could do was ask if she was alright.
They didn’t even have to mean it.
Picking herself off the ground, Irene walked over to the one book that had been kicked against the wall.
A darker hand clasped her book before she could get to it.
Irene suppressed a groan at the thought of more bullying before following the arm up to the face. Or, more specifically, the crop of white hair.
“Hello Randal,” Irene said, trying to keep any sign of exasperation out of her voice.
Though she was certain that some had leaked into her tone, Randal merely smiled. He held out the book for her after brushing some dust off. “Should watch out. People can be dicks.”
Irene took it, eying him for any sign of insincerity. “Yeah,” she eventually said. “Kinda noticed.”
“You got hurt at all?”
“Bruised, I’m sure,” she said as she rubbed her chest. There wasn’t any pain at all, any longer, but she wasn’t about to take off her shirt to actually check for bruises. “Other than that, no.”
They stood around awkwardly–Irene used the silence to smooth out a few wrinkled pages while Randal rubbed his elbow.
Both stopped talking, half glaring at each other. Randal gestured for her to speak first.
“I should be getting to class. Wouldn’t want to be late.”
“Oh. Right.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I’ll see you in,” he paused to glance around, “our class. Right?”
“Um, sure?” Irene said as she stepped away. Considering how he acted back in that class, Irene wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to see him in it. But he was being strangely nice.
Especially if that was him who tossed the dirt at Drew.
Boys, Irene thought, it would be nice if there were a book explaining them.
Between Randal, Drew, Jordan, and Max, Irene just had no idea how to handle them. She had hoped that Eva’s class would give some insight on Jordan at the very least, but thus far, that wasn’t the case.
Deciding to not visit the library at the moment, Irene made a beeline straight for Professor Zagan’s classroom. There was still time, but Irene had enough excitement for the day. And, though Drew would soon be in that classroom as well, he wouldn’t dare do anything to her under the professor’s watch.
Irene stopped in surprise as she opened the door.
Usually, Professor Zagan would show up the second the bell rung. Never before and rarely later. Today, he actually sat at the desk in the back of the large room, fiddling with something on top.
The situation quickly turned awkward as Irene stood at the door, not sure what to do.
Unlike most of her classrooms, this one was set up for training for a fight. That meant large empty spaces and no desks to speak of. There were no desks to sit and read at before class started. No other students had arrived quite so early, not that Irene would really mingle with anyone but her sister, Jordan, and Eva.
She could sit on the floor or lean against the wall.
But Zagan had looked up. His somewhat yellow eyes met hers and locked on. Even after a moment of fidgeting, he didn’t turn away.
Irene quickly went over her options. Fleeing would only mean that she would have to return later in embarrassment. Ignoring him would be rude and Professor Zagan did not take rudeness lightly. With those choices out of the way, Irene pressed into the room.
“Hello Professor,” she said while walking closer. Hoping–praying that she wasn’t prying, she asked, “working on something interesting?”
Rather than answer her, Professor Zagan held up the object in his hands. A brass sphere covered in engravings with two freely orbiting rings. No bars held up the rings, so it must have been magic. Or magnetism, but given the environment, Irene was putting her money on magic.
Unfortunately, him showing her the object didn’t answer her question.
Well, it did. Partially. The brass ball was visually interesting. But Irene had been more interested in knowing what it was.
Unless they were purely decorative, the markings must have some significance. Yet Irene recognized no part of them. Even taking into account the handful of runes Eva had shown everyone as part of her Christmas gift a year ago, not a mark on the surface looked familiar.
Before Irene could ask what it was, Zagan lazily waved a hand over the now floating ball.
Thin needles extended from the spinning rings, puncturing the sphere. The brass shell peeled away in thin, blooming onion-like strips. Inside–
Irene pulled back, pinching her nose shut as hard as she could. It didn’t help. She could still smell the stench through her mouth. Or worse, taste it.
A thick violet ooze rested in the bowl of the opened sphere. Visible clouds of gas bubbled out of it, staining the very air.
“W-what is it?”
Professor Zagan, looking completely undisturbed by the smell or the ooze, just chuckled. “You can tell a lot about a creature by its soul.”
“That’s a soul?” Irene half-shrieked. She took another step back as a plethora of questions ran through her head.
Why does the professor have a soul? Whose soul? Why are souls so… gross?
He fixed her with a smile, a fairly disturbing, teeth-filled smile. “Not a human soul. Human souls are bright, ethereal, and brimming with an intoxicating amount of magic. Well, human mages’ souls are, at least. Mundane humans lack that last aspect. But they’re still bright and ethereal. You can’t physically touch them.”
In a move that churned Irene’s stomach, Zagan reached out a bare finger and dipped it right in the goop.
It reached up, latching onto his finger. Purple tendrils burrowed into his finger. Irene watched as they pulsed beneath his skin, creating vein-like patterns.
Still looking as calm as if he were relaxing on a sunny afternoon with a novel in hand, Professor Zagan pulled a small butter knife off of his desk. It must have been enchanted because the moment the blade touched his finger, it severed it completely, bone and all.
The ooze pulled the severed digit into itself, releasing more of the noxious gas as the finger turned to more of the purple goop.
Irene only managed to tear her eyes from the ‘soul’ when Professor Zagan waved his hand over the brass ball, sealing it up again.
Something in the atmosphere vanished, some feeling of oppression. It was noticeable enough that Irene almost slumped over as the tension left her muscles.
Professor Zagan just let out another dark chuckle.
“Your finger! The nurse–”
Irene stopped, gaping open-mouthed as the professor held up his hands. She counted to ten. Neither of Professor Zagan’s hands looked like a sixth finger had just been severed either.
“Oh no,” Professor Zagan said. “Not in the slightest. Had you dipped your finger in, you would be missing it or worse. But,” he said before Irene could protest, “I’m surprised you don’t recognize the contents.” He tapped again on the brass ball.
Irene blinked, gears churning in her head. She couldn’t think of any reason that should be familiar. “Why would I recognize it?”
“This soul-analogue came from the creature you summoned, yeah? You should keep track of the things you summon.”
It took a moment to fully process what he said. Irene stiffened and clamped her mouth shut.
He knew about the class. Did all the teachers know? Was it okay to talk about it without breaking the contract?
Irene kept her jaw firmly clenched shut. She wasn’t going to take any chances.
Thankfully, two students in her class walked into the room.
The professor’s gold eyes flicked over towards them. A slight frown crossed his face before he placed the brass sphere into a drawer in his desk.
Irene retreated from his desk, moving to stand and wait by her usual training dummy as the rest of the class slowly trickled into the room.
Shelby managed to make it–dragged in by Jordan–just a handful of seconds before the bell rang. She looked about as Irene had expected her to look. With her hair standing on end in abject defiance of gravity, eyes half-shut, and clothes looking like she had pulled them from the floor.
Between her sister’s appearance and everything else that had happened to her on her way to class, Irene decided that next time, she would stay behind and demand her sister wake up on time for school.
Professor Zagan started class the moment the bell rang, as usual. He paired everyone off at random and started them off on continuing the tactics lesson from the last class.
Only to be interrupted as three students walked into the classroom almost a full five minutes after the bell rang. Max, Drew, and Kristina all wandered in. Max ran up to the professor with a note in his hand.
A look of unmitigated annoyance crossed Professor Zagan’s face as he glared first at the note then at the three students. The note burst into bright green flames. The all-too-familiar scent of sulfur stung Irene’s nose.
Irene narrowed her eyes. Neither of the professor’s hands held a wand, rings, or any other type of foci.
“Ah, too good to show up to my class on time? Then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind serving detention tomorrow.”
“What?” Drew shouted. “He just gave you a note from the nurse excusing us.”
“A note? From the nurse?” Professor Zagan drew in a mocking gasp. “Oh no! I guess I had best pack my bags. My efforts to slay you will have to go on hold while you take the time to heal.” He narrowed his eyes as he looked over the suddenly still students. “That is exactly what someone making an attempt at your life would never have said.
“You,” he pointed at Kristina, “had a broken nose? An assailant wouldn’t wait for you to run to the nurse.”
A snapping sound echoed through the room, followed quickly by a scream. Blood started dribbling from Kristina’s nose.
“They’d use your pain and distraction to abuse your openings in any way possible.”
She started running for the door.
And slammed straight into a brick wall. The door had simply vanished. The room’s normal wall just continued past where the door had once existed, seamlessly meshing to the point where Irene couldn’t pick out exactly where it used to be.
“You’ll be allowed to flee to the nurse after class ends,” the professor said with a blasé tone of voice. “For now, fight through your pain. Push past it and learn to deal with it. You’ll be paired off with…” he glanced around the room. For just a moment, his eyes settled on Irene.
She shook her head back and forth as subtly as she could. Irene did not want any extra attention sent her way. As… conflicted as she was feeling watching some of the worst people she knew getting a beat down by a teacher, she didn’t think she would survive any retaliation.
Eventually, Zagan passed her by. “Anderson,” he snapped. “Hold back and you’ll be in detention every weekend for the rest of the year.”
Jordan frowned, but nodded.
“For your detention…” He turned back to the crying Kristina, Drew–who obviously was wanting to look tough in front of his girlfriend but not quite willing to attack the professor–and the bewildered Max. “I’m sure the dean’s secretary would be perfectly willing to supervise tomorrow at noon.”
The slight smile on Professor Zagan’s face slipped.
It didn’t take Irene long to realize what he was unhappy with.
While both Kristina and Drew looked aghast–at the professor’s actions or detention, or both–Max had a wide smile on his face.
“On second thought, I will be supervising your detention.”
Irene let out a small shudder. Professor Zagan could be scary when he wanted. He had assigned a number of detentions over the course of the year. Not once had he supervised them himself, choosing instead to delegate to Catherine.
And then the nose breaking. Callously harming the students like that had to be against the rules. Yet as Irene watched him pick up where he left off before the interruption, she couldn’t detect the slightest hint that he cared about either Kristina or the consequences.
And vanishing the door.
Irene hadn’t the slightest idea how he had managed that beyond preparing ahead of time with some enchanted instant-wall item. Or a complicated bit of order and earth magic to conjure an entire wall.
Either way, scary.
Thankfully, she was paired off with Shelby. She had managed to avoid drawing any extra attention to herself.
So long as she kept her head down until the weekend started, she might just escape unscathed.
A heated glare from Drew partway through class told her otherwise.