Chapter One - A Cat Called Rabbit and Three Dead Dragons
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A clever new best friend and A DRAGON UP CLOSE!
Do you have any idea how depressing it is to end up at the same place you were six years ago?
I was surrounded by eighteen-year-olds just starting out, fresh out of normal college and eager to get a taste of the world famous Novapol University, the central hub of magical endeavours.
The excitement was still on their faces, mainly thinking about the girls or boys they could pick up at this institution rather than the immense intellectual currency at their fingertips. So many girls were dressed in the most ridiculous outfits I have ever seen, like they’re only paying thirty-thousand coopas to bat their eyelids at the opposite sex. Or maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old lady like Nana, the grumpiest twenty-nine year-old ever. I remember when I first started out. I looked like a fucking train wreck too.
I followed the flow of students to the induction ceremony to get my identity card (which would get me a 20-percent student discount at Frostas!) and formally become a student at the university. Again. The noise was deafening in the enormous magenta induction tent. I could immediately see their intake of students was bigger than it had been when I was last here. In my day, going to a prestigious university was pretty elitist. The fact that I was accepted onto the course at all was impressive. I was quite chuffed with myself. Now, the admission was much less strict and I certainly didn’t feel special; just looking around me at the boys who’d turned up without a single thing in their hands let alone a notebook or pen, and at the girls who loitered at the back and gossiped, I could see an entirely different atmosphere. The standards had dropped. Or maybe I’ve just become a crueller person in the last six years. Living with Nana will do that to you.
When I got to the desk, a bored owl-like lady took my photo and then I had to sign the student agreement. Not wanting to be that person holding up the queue, I flipped through it and tried to pick up the main gist. It was different to my Supernatural Species contract, which made me pledge not to harm another living creature except in self defence and swear the knowledge I obtained at the university wouldn’t then go on to be used in an illegal trade, like dragon dealing, or unicorn horning, or sphinxifying; which was when you held people under a compulsion spell using a sphinx.
But this Practical Magic Application contract was less about what I shouldn’t do and more of a warning about all of the possible side effects of using magic. Premature aging. Loss of hair. Loss of libido. Yellowing skin.
“Magic is basically a cancer.” I muttered to myself, flipping to the last page.
“You can sit here all day and read it, or you can just sign it.”
The voice had a sharp bite to it and I glanced up quickly, realising after a moment that it wasn’t my owl-lady, but her colleague next to us glaring at her student.
I was shocked. I don’t normally pull my bitch face out in public, but I couldn’t help it. I turned my whole body to stare. I fixed her with such an utterly scathing stare that after a few seconds, she noticed me looking and was appropriately offended. The student sitting with her simply watched, and then spoke with a disinterested calmness.
“If I have to sit here all day and read it,” she said slowly, “Then I’m going do it and you’re going wait. I am about to spend thirty thousand coopas. I may lose my health or my life in the process. Obviously, I would rather read it, thank you.”
Every syllable was stretched to its fullest - I really don’t know how she was able to speak without her voice becoming angry or cold, or sarcastic. I wanted to applaud her. Instead, I snorted and clapped a hand to my mouth. She glanced at me. Smiled.
Eventually though, she did sign it. Sitting, hunched over the form in a pink hoodie and dark blue jeans, brown hair hanging dead straight over most of her face, her right hand twirled until a very elaborate signature was down on paper. It was slow, and it was on purpose. Her lady was fuming, and it filled me with such pleasure. Then she pushed the contract towards the lady who in turn threw her ID card down on the desk. The girl smiled again at this insulting gesture.
“When I’m a fully fledged sorcerer, I am going to curse you.”
The woman went very still.
The girl was positively grinning now. The tables had turned. “Look out for me in three years...” She peered at the nametag. “...Betty.” Then she stood up and made to leave.
I didn’t want to lose her, so I hurriedly flipped to the end of mine and signed it too. If that girl signed it and understood the risk, then I trusted her, somehow.
The owl-lady gave me a sceptical look. “Did you even read this?”
I laughed, pityingly. “Do you even care?” She’d been filing her nails the entire time. She looked down at the table thoughtfully.
“Not really,” she admitted. I smiled.
“Have a nice day.”
I turned to try and catch up with that girl, only to my surprise I saw her waiting for me. She smiled and we want to the demonstration hall together. That was how, to my delight, I made my first friend. She was an eighteen-year old born and bred Nova called Charnell, and I didn’t know it yet, but she would be an invaluable, lifelong friend. She wasn’t ‘intelligent’ as much as she was just ‘smart’, if that makes any sense at all. With a cunning kind of creative intuition, a talent for thinking outside of the box and thankfully common sense, that is, an aversion to dying – if she couldn’t find the answer to a problem, she knew exactly where to find someone who would, or create a substitute, or fake it. She didn’t just give up. It’s surprising difficult to describe her, actually. I guess, long story short, that Charnell Cunningham’s innovative ideas and ingenious plans were worth a lot more than simply being good at memorising facts and kissing up to teachers.
The Dean was fatter than when I last saw him. Quite rude, but it’s true. I couldn’t help but be astonished when I compared what I was seeing with what I remembered. How did he get so fat? Even I’ve put on some weight around the legs but not this.
I also noticed he looked kind of unhappy, or worn, I suppose. That made me a bit sad, because he was a good guy. I’d been to his office a couple times – once to collect a small congratulatory trophy after I won a grant (he’d forgotten to bring it to the assembly). And once again because in my final year I had a bit of a breakdown and let my ghouls loose on purpose – for some reason it calmed me to see the destruction, seeing things as broken as I was inside. My professors didn’t know what to do with me so they sent me to the Dean. I don’t know why. It turns out he spent a lot of his time watching TV dramas in his office and snacking. I was nervous as first in case my parents popped up on TV, but thankfully his weakness was for quiz shows, not reality dramas. I ate a lot of cookies on that one visit and it made me feel a lot better.
And so the welcome ceremony for Practical Magic Application, or Wizardry as it used to be called, began. I felt so out of place sitting at the outside auditorium among all of these sex-crazed teens. Okay, maybe I was being a little dramatic. But I swear to you, these teens were crazy for something.
It’s just occurred to me that perhaps I don’t like kids.
I started scanning the room for other postgrad students but at this age it’s really hard to tell. I mean the forty-year-olds stood out loud and clear, but if that’s my only other option I might as well hang out with the sex-crazed teens. At least they’re closer to my age. I’m only twenty-five, it’s not fair that I should sit in a room and feel old. Well we were outside, but you get my point.
“So you’ve studied here before?” Charnell asked, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. We shuffled up when a group of students wanted to sit together on our stone bench. “Was it hard?”
“Oh yeah.” I nodded. “And not even remotely rewarding. My degree was a waste – wasn’t worth much to any of the employers I ended up working for. It always is, unless you’re a sorcerer. Plus, it was very expensive.” Sand was already getting into my shoes. I sighed, grumpily. “I’m not sure why people do it.”
The was a short pause.
“Er... then why did you come back?” she said wryly.
“Because I need an actual, proper, respectable qualification that will make the rest of my life worth living.”
The welcome event began. There was a sudden hush, and me and Charnell weren’t sure what caused it so we craned our necks to see. All away across the courtyard, there was a rustic red barn and three men were pulling the white doors open. We could see a figure with blue hair. She had something in her hand. Suddenly she ran toward the open auditorium and flew it into the air like a javelin champion. There was a fierce rumbling, a growl that shook the ground underneath our feet. I was alarmed, but Charnell gripped her knees with excitement and whispered,
It burst out of the barn and snapped up the bait in midair, its jaws snapping unbelievably loud. All of the PMA students started screaming with applause. I was bewildered until I remembered that most of these kids had never seen a dragon this close before. It wasn’t the largest I’d seen but it certainly was intimidating – it was a rare silver one; glowing golden eyes, long thin tail with a sharp swordfish point. It circled the auditorium a few times, descending steadily, then all of a sudden it dived. The cheers became screams as it approached the stone seats rapidly, but suddenly it slowed right down as if distracted, hovered and landed in the orchestra pit in front of the blue haired girl – she held what looked like a long flute but waved it like a wand - in fact more like incense, slowly, left and right. It watched her, puffed out smoke disinterestedly, flopped to the floor and tucked its head under its wing.
We applauded again – everybody around me stood up but I couldn’t be bothered. I had to work hard to swallow my envy. After I did, I just felt sad. I’d always wanted to be a dragon tamer when I was little, and slowly let go of my dream as I got older and realised it’s not for average people like me. And then I felt angry, because I hate feeling sorry for myself. Out of the corner of my eye, Charnell looked down at me and frowned. By the time everybody sat down, the Dean had moved to the centre stage, smiling.
“What’s your worst fear, Ellen?” Charnell asked suddenly.
“Honestly? To spend the rest of my life working as a secretary.” I said, feeling depressed all of a sudden. “If that fear didn’t paralyse me so much, I wouldn’t be putting myself through uni again.”
Her eyebrows raised at my unintentional confession. “You said –”
“Thank you, Miss Blue,” The Dean said, his voice magically amplified. “Magnificent work. That, students, is just one of the things you can achieve after diligent study of practical Magic Application.”
Miss Blue grinned, mock-curtsied, and guided the dragon back into the barn.
“And so I say welcome! Welcome to Novapol University and to a once in a lifetime student experience. Welcome to the only university in the world willing to teach you –”
“- the secrets of the world you live in.” I murmured to myself. I worked for the university as an events co-ordinator in my second and third year, so I knew this speech very well. Charnell glanced at me and held back a laugh.
“There are nine divisions at the university, and yours is like no other. Your peers all across the university will wonder what marvellous things you’ll learn that are forbidden to them. But they were not chosen – you were.”
Charnell and I snorted in unison and exchanged a glance. Chosen? Please. More like, they couldn’t afford the cost of this course. PMA is the most expensive course at NU, and ironically it’s the most dangerous. Of course, there are no refunds if you die.
The Dean began to pace. “Rest assured that this division is fully equipped with all you need to accelerate your learning. Excellent teachers, brilliant learning environments, brand new first-rate equipment –”
“- and of course,” murmured a low voice behind me, in chorus with the Dean. I started because I thought it was Charnell, but she was quiet and listened raptly. “the hearts, minds, and spirits of all the students who have gone before and showed us how to make this university better for future generations.”
“- for future generations.” The Dean stopped to cough, and I covered my mouth to chuckle. Glancing back, I caught a quick glimpse of a guy sitting behind me, smiling, but not looking at me. Slate grey hoodie, floppy black hair. What is it with these kids and their hoodies?
“Postgrad?” I whispered in hope.
“Undergrad. Repeating my second year.” he whispered back. I knew it. “And man, does this speech get old.”
I was still smiling as the Dean continued, but then he stopped again, because the floor was shaking. Everybody gasped and looked wildly around; the stones benches we sat on trembled, and I saw a statue on the other side of the courtyard fracture and topple over. For me, that was the thing that set all my nerves on edge.
The Dean frowned.
“Mr Gallagher, sir!” screamed a male teacher running out of the quivering induction tent and across the centre stage. “It’s got loose again, sir!”
“Shit.” The Dean said in front of two hundred students, and that was when the barn pretty much exploded. The silver dragon burst free. It ripped through the air and into the sky with such speed that it vanished from sight after only a few seconds. The girl with the blue hair ran to a clear space and stared up, shocked, making a visor with her hand.
“Something scared it.” Charnell said quietly.
“Scared a dragon?” I hissed.
“Hi ladies,” the guy behind me said suddenly, leaning forward and speaking fast. “Nice to meet you, I’m Xiumin, we should get together sometime, but, I’m running for my life right now. If I ever see you again, we should exchange numbers.” Abruptly he stood up and bolted. I immediately saw why.
A massive score of dragons – at least a dozen – soared overhead. They weren’t attacking, not even breathing flames, but they were flying extremely fast and growling with enough intensity that the vibrations were damaging things on the ground. The students went crazy. They ran in such a disorganised mess I could hardly see.
“Follow the signs!” one teacher was yelling, “Leave all of your belongings behind and follow the nearest member of staff!”
Drop my bag? Was he kidding? What if somebody took my credit card in the confusion and used all the money? How much is a bag gonna slow me down anyway? If I’m going to survive this, I don’t want to survive this and be poor.
“Charnell? Charnell!” I shouted, looking around. I couldn’t see her anymore. I never even got her number. I wondered if I should find her, but then another huge group of dragons passed and this time an enormous, enormous crimson dragon landed in the auditorium. It opened its jaws wide and roared, but then mid-roar it sneezed and fifty or so students towards the west side of the stands were blown away like leaves in a breeze. Then it looked around, confused, and hiccupped.
Without a second thought, I hoisted my bag and made a break for it like the other students.
Much, much later, I had a passing thought about the dragon’s strange behaviour. I’d never seen a dragon do that before, except for one the Lab found injured. Well, I found it, I lured it in with Skittles. My point is, when we found it, it also sneezed and jerked in the manner of a hiccup, and a few days later it died. I thought about what a strong, vigorous dragon looked like and concluded that the crimson one must be sick. But the thought left as quickly as it came, and I didn’t think about it again.
I know I haven’t got to the point about the sorcerer yet, but don’t you worry. He’s coming.
Ashana Lian .
written January 2016
Author's Note - I keep using too many commas. Also, when I started this last year I knew exactly what 'coopas' meant but I can't remember now. So annoying when I forget my own theory!!
(Links will go live when they are posted. Chapter names may change as I'm sort of writing this as I go.)
Chapter Three - Faux Coffee With Graduates and Illegal Dragons Eggs
Chapter Four - An Old Boyfriend and Dragon Murderers
Chapter Five - A Dinner Date and A Month of Horror
Chapter Six - TBA
Chapter Seven - TBA
Chapter Eight - TBA
Chapter Nine - TBA
Chapter Ten - TBA
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Prompt - leave me the name of a person, the name of your favourite drink or a bizarre item of clothing, and I'll work it into the next chapter! (Or try. Be kind, lol. XD) Comment below.
Request - can you spot any typos? I'm really bad with them. Please help me out!