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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Back to School

Facing a new challenge three newby witches return to school.

Bethany scowled, pacing the school corridor. The smell of male teenage sweat, old socks, stale deodorant, ancient bananas, old socks and ink filtered through the overpowering layers of alien musk and singed hair. Bethany counted the years since she trudged similar corridors and halls, sweated through classes and suffered the angst of young love.

Stella, her guide and close friend, sat in a huddle. Knees clutched against her chest, chalk smudged on her clothes, her skin and through her hair. Her eyes were closed, her fingers crushing a small wedge of chalk. At her feet an ornate pattern of runes and flourishing scroll work stretched across the worn linoleum.
Leaning against the row of lockers Mark, the group’s protector, swung a baseball bat, as though practising for sword play.

Bethany could see the riffle of air as the wood moved. The organic energy flowed, where Mark poured his spells. Still new to the whole scope of magic, Stella and Mark completed her ‘team’.

Three familiars waited outside. Bethany watched the sea eagle rise on thermals. She tore her focus away from the bird, her familiar. A doberman bitch sat erect, watching the wall where Stella sat, as though able to see the witch through the brickwork. Mark's familiar, a huge carpet snake wasn't visible, but Bethany knew the cold blooded reptile would be close by, waiting for Mark's return, or contact.
Three new sorcerers. Each still finding their way through a learning maze of magic. 

They now faced a challenge well beyond their limited knowledge of dimensions and other worlds.

“It’s not Dave’s fault.” Mark balanced the baseball bat, come wizard’s staff, between his hands. His brow scrunched tight, marring his stunning looks. His wrist twisted slightly, refracting light caught on a woven metal band clasped around his arm. Bethany tore her eyes away from the muscles flexing in Mark’s forearm and biceps.

She needed to concentrate. Not on his scent, nor his piercing eyes, but on the danger lurking beyond the closed doors of the science lab.

“Doesn’t matter whose fault it is.” She said, trying to keep her voice controlled. Being the first to receive her gift, the newly formed sorcerers looked to her for leadership. Mark and Stella, as her team, shared the responsibility. Dave’s mistake needed to be fixed, before the problem hurt more people.

“He just wanted to open his grandmother’s window. You know he cares for her. The window was jammed, so he tried to use his magic.”

“And he opened a portal to another world… and allowed a creature access to this one.” Stella muttered. She raked chalk powdered fingers through her hair. Bethany didn’t comment. If they survived, Stella’s disarray would be overlooked.

“Dave’s on his way to hospital. Grace, (his guide), is with him. When he regains consciousness, she will try to find out exactly what spell he used, so we can un do it.” Mark spoke with confidence that seemed far removed from their present situation. Bethany admired his stoic acceptance of his role as protector, leader and support person. She struggled to control the panic forcing blood through her veins and sucking air into her lungs. Mark’s logic and presence kept her focussed, proving the success of her choice in bestowing magic on him.

A rumble and a roar set the air in the corridor vibrating.

Stella grabbed the bracelet circling her wrist. “The other teams have managed to set confining spells around the school’s perimeter.” Stella said, looking up. “While they are working as a group the creature should be trapped within the school grounds. They will try to close in, keep it in this building… if possible.”

“It’s moving…” Mark warned, turning toward the science lab doors, looming like a threat at the far end of the corridor. “Bethany…”

“I know…” She swallowed. “I am ready. Even if I don’t look like I am.” She lifted the rapier she had chosen as her weapon. Borrowed, on a permanent loan from her brother, the blade now carried her most potent spells. Spells of defence, accuracy, damage and stamina all wrapped like spider web around the steel. 

Still it didn’t feel like enough. She didn’t want to be close enough to the creature beyond the doors, to need the blade.

“Stella, as soon as Grace knows what spell Dave used, let us know.” Bethany shook her head. “No, when you work out what we need to send the creature back where it came from… then let us know. We will need everyone to join us when we work our magic. Newbies as we are.”

A screech, the sound of breaking glass and the yowl of a frightened animal reached them.

Mark shrugged. “Come on Beth, our friend is getting restless. We need to keep it contained, while we can.”

Beth nodded. “Stella, tell Grace not to waste time. Please.”

Mark rolled his shoulders, cricked his neck and flashed a grin toward Bethany. “Come on. First time in combat isn’t fun, but you’ll do okay. I’ll take point. You keep casting spells.”

Bethany clutched the sword in her hand. She prayed it was stronger than the ornamental replicas she had seen on ebay.

Time would tell.

Together they approached the closed doors. Through the small glass inserts Bethany saw movement. She wanted to turn and run, sprint toward the clear night, race across the field and leap the school yard fence. Instead she took another step. Beside her an emergency fire extinguisher, axe and fire blanket leered at her through a glass panel.

BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.

Glancing toward Mark, she smashed the pommel of her sword through the glass and grabbed the axe. Mark snatched up the fire extinguisher. Bethany tore open the blanket. If the creature could burn Dave, the blanket might be useful.

“Nigel did turn off the gas and electricity to the lab, didn’t he?” She waited for Mark to nod before she took her next step. The crunch of glass under her feet made her feel reckless, brave, ready for the conflict. Her adrenaline rushed and she grinned again. Even if the whole bravado was an illusion, it felt better than the dreadful fear consuming her moments before. The feeling seemed magical.

Of course, the gestalt of new sorcerers were combining their strength and covering her fear with their courage. Good for them. Only they didn’t have to come face to face with the creature.

A crash brought her out of her musing.

The doors splintered and disintegrated in an explosion of enraged creature.
Mark lunged forward. Bethany lifted her sword in one hand, the axe in the other.
She stood her ground as Mark flung himself past the creature’s bulk.

More like a crocodile than a dragon. 

Marked leapt over protruding legs and slammed his weapon hard onto the reptilian tail.

As the beast swung to retaliate, Bethany lurched forward. Her sword thrust in front of her. She aimed at the moving bulk beneath the creature’s jaw. There a dull red glow showed the heat source for the beast’s flame throwing talent.

Mark’s actions caused the beast to turn, spewing forth flame. Bethany’s sword lunge struck soft flesh, tearing the skin as the reptile turned. Not enough to do much damage, but the beast flung its head back toward her. Flames followed. Smoke and fire spilled across the wall and rolled along the floor. Lino tiles bubbled. Paint peeled and the glass in the corridor windows cracked.

Bethany stepped back as her crocodilian foe turned yellow eyes in her direction. Lumbering toward her, flames flowing freely along the narrow hall.

She used the fire blanket as a shield. Mark shouted and his baseball bat again smashed onto the spiked tail. The crocodile screamed and turned. Its huge body blocked the limited space and for a moment Mark had time to retreat.

Bethany tried to get closer, swinging the axe, chopping at the hind quarters before the tail came slashing toward her.

Stella’s voice echoed in her head. “Dave’s spell…”

“Go on!” Bethany watched Mark lift the fire extinguisher, training foam at the creature’s flames.

Billowing clouds of steam, smoke and scorched wood work blocked her vision. Mark’s voice carried through the yowling conflagration.

“By the light of Orion’s sword, open, orfacemywrath.”

“Gather the others, we need to do this together.” Bethany touched her bracelet. 

“Mark, I will open the portal. Hang in there for a moment more.”

“Hurry.” One word. Unnecessary.

Releasing the axe, Bethany clutched the bracelet. The energy of shared power flowed through Bethany, warming her, inspiring confidence.

She lifted a hand, described a circle as she repeated Dave’s spell.

A flickering blue halo formed. Vision through the circle appeared distorted, as though she looked through a layer of water.

“Right… here we go. Mark… it’s time.”

Bethany grabbed the axe and hurled it with all her strength. The spinning weapon slewed passed the glowing portal. Bethany added a spell of accuracy and power to her throw. The axe tumbled through the air.

The creature’s focus on Mark broke when the axe struck home. Although the damage to thick scales seemed minor, the crocodile spun. Massive bulk negotiated the narrow hall with amazing speed.

“Come on!” Bethany taunted. Waving the silver fire blanket and flourishing her sword. “Come and get me!”

She stepped forward, close to the portal, tempting the beast to attack her.
A flurry of flame spewed toward her. The orange tongue didn’t touch her.

The portal worked. All she needed to do was to persuade the creature to step through the circle.

She waved her arms, using the blanket as a flag. The sword as a distraction. The creature paused.

“Come on!” Desperation crept into her tone. The portal took too much energy to hold open.

  Flames licked at the floor, the walls and the ceiling. Still the beast remained where it stood, thrashing its head from side to side. Not stepping forward.

Mark’s figure emerged through the smoke screen. He leapt onto the creature’s scaled back, running along its spine. When he reached its neck he jumped clear and sprinted passed its snapping jaws. Dodging the portal, he joined Bethany in front of the beast.

Enraged the crocodile charged forward. Straight through the portal.

“Close.” Bethany shouted, although sudden quiet filled the hallway.

Only smoke, debris and three bedraggled sorcerers remained in the wreckage.

“We did it.” Mark offered Bethany a high five. Stella scrambled to her feet, brushing chalk off her hands.

“Yea team. Teams…” Bethany clutched her bracelet. “We did it. Relax. Now to clear up the mess and get out of here before people start asking questions.”

“I vote for coffee and debrief at the Coffee Bean.” Stella sighed.

“Coffee… or something stronger. Coffee to begin with.” Mark agreed.

“Grace says Dave is recovering.” Stella scrambled to her feet. “Her healing spells are working well. They will meet us when he gets signed out of emergency.” 

Together the three newly chosen sorcerers trudged clear of the wreckage, turning their back on the looming school building. They greeted their strange assortment of familiars with relief.

The teams of human magic wielders gathered around them. Today's success filled them with renewed enthusiasm for their new talents. Pride blossomed within Bethany, each team would need to 'get schooled' in magic, but for now she was eager to leave the bricks and mortar of school behind.

***


Rosalie Skinner resides on the east coast of Australia when not totally immersed in the fantasy world of her writing.
Rosalie’s love of the ocean, nature, history and horses has enabled her to give her books an authentic air. Her latest achievement has been to ride through the Australian Snowy mountains and see the wild brumbies run. When not watching the migrating whales pass her doorstep she has more humble pastimes.
Other than being a published author, her greatest thrill is being a grandmother. Born over fourteen weeks early her granddaughter’s perfect development and growth are a miracle and joy.

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