Del and Aglat is a monthly column by Nina Greenhill.
All in all, Del had not been having a good day. When she had first enrolled at Orli School for the Training and Advancement of Mages, she had expected a tough time.
For the first two years, she had knuckled down, opened books and studied diligently. She had received adequate marks to progress with her cohort and not be held back a grade.
Her third year, she had started questioning things, and testing the boundaries of right and wrong. The school charter laid these out very clearly, thus providing a sound reference as to exactly what she would get sent to the faculturn’s office for.
What landed her on the bench outside the faculturn’s office this time was her own sloppiness.
She had slept through the morning bells and was late to her first class. That was worth a reprimand in itself, but partnering that with a growling stomach, she was not in a good state of mind for learning. She had been snippy with her teacher and spent the class with her mouth spelled shut.
She had looked at the mess hall at lunch and decided to give it a miss. She had been on kitchen duty so many times, she couldn’t look at the food in those bain marie’s anymore.
To her, they were all filled with brown slop.
She had then remembered that with it being so close to Carnivale, all the markets would be alive with stalls of all sorts – including things that could be classed as food.
The charter had clearly stated that no student was allowed off-campus whilst the school was open for classes. As it was a theory-heavy day of learning, she had lots of magic in reserve and it had been itching to get out.
Besides, its not as though she had actually left campus. The Flammenbrot Stall backed onto the old courthouse, which was teeeeechnically part of campus as the magical law students used it for mock trials. It wasn’t the old courthouse’s fault that it was right on the Victual Markt.
So, Del walked to the back room of the old courthouse and pressed against the wall, letting the walls’ magic seep into her and pull her through. She held herself in the wall with her magic as she handed over the money she kept in her cloak pocket for a delicious paddle of Flammenbrot.
When the wall pulled her to the back room, she was dizzy at using that much magic that quickly, but the paddle brought her to her senses quickly enough. It was only when she had exited the back room that she realised she should have checked when the next class was due.
It was as she sat on the hard, wooden bench outside the faculturn’s office that she regretted getting caught.
Faculturn Pokeweed was getting rather weary of all the rules and regulations that the trustees of Orli School were handing down, especially regarding pupil welfare. She no longer was allowed to have the amount of discretion she needed to work with all the students she did.
Orli School was being held to an impossibly high standard by Orston University to produce enough mages that would go on to pursue academia. Orston University was bound by the government to only offer a certain number of places to each of the four mage schools in the country. From what Pokeweed could gather, they wanted students that already knew how to deal with the rigor and demands of its teaching and that meant that the teachers at Orli School had to ‘step it up’ to ensure the school got the places it needed for their students.
As Orston University was currently the only university that had the ability to teach mages in the country, Orli School was under a lot of pressure, and Pokeweed even more so.
No longer could she smooth over the ruffled feathers of the teaching staff over disruptive students. Her role was as a counsellor and disciplinary officer. Students were to be brought into line or expelled according to the decision of the Headmaster.
Pokeweed looked at the ledger sitting very lonely on her desk. She had been taking her personal effects home bit by bit until all that was left was the cloak on the back of her chair. The leather-bound tomes on her shelves were there when she had first accepted the position ten years ago and she had never gotten around to getting rid of them. Why would she be paying attention to the books in her office when the people who ended up there were more important?
She knew there was nothing she could do to save Del from expulsion. If she kept Del enrolled, Pokeweed would lose her job. If she expelled her, she would violate everything she stood for, which would change her own magic at the core.
She could always get another job, but to get a new set of morals and principles would take decades, and Pokeweed thought hers were quite alright, what with valuing people over insane expectations.
She had one option in her eyes, and it would be in play the moment that Del stepped through the doorframe.
It was Faculturn Pokeweed who had brought out the best in Del that day.
The effects of their departure weren’t brought about until a month later, when Things started happening.
By no accounts were the Things that were happening considered anything less than strange, even for a mage school.
As a faculturn, Pokeweed was privy to most things that happened away from the student’s eyes, such as syllabus discussions, yearly planning, budget meetings and most pertinent to this significant day: how the school dealt with ramifications from disgruntled mages.
That day was not the first time that Orli School had been cursed. It was however, the first time that the school had been cursed so thoroughly.
The buildings and furniture in the school aided this by providing no resistance whatsoever to all manner of curses that Del and Pokeweed sought fit to cast. Orli School existed for the students that gave it life, not the staff that threatened it with backdoor deals and corruption.
It was Pokeweed who made sure that none of the curses were of the blanket nature – tied to the walls or cast in a general way all over the school. The Headmaster and custodial staff were experienced in dealing with those in a swift manner.
Del came up with the idea of placing a time delay on them, to draw suspicion away from the student who would no longer attend come morning, and the teacher who would be handing in her resignation. They began cursing after the final bell.
The very next day, nothing happened.
It took a week before certain floorboards would disappear when the temperature dropped below freezing. It was a month before every date with the numeral four in it would bring the weather inside. By the end of the year, it seemed as though the entire school was haunted. Eventually, a few of the curses were countered, such as the one where every shoelace on the left shoe would come undone on Friday afternoon.
Some were never solved, such as all the lights being doused whenever a cow came withing a five-kilometre radius of the school or the fact that the clocks added an hour to the day without anyone knowing.
Some were embraced by the students, such as the one where every third Monday of the month the bridge between the astronomy tower and the main building would catch aflame without burning. The students would be prepared with marshmallows or dough to roast on either side of the structure.
The beauty in the curses that Del saw Pokeweed cast were in their strength and simplicity. Del could only cast a few before her magic for the day was spent – the wall passing had taken more from her than she had realised – so she had been the thinker of the curses, not the caster.
Pokeweed tied the spells to the very fibres of the wood and the core of the walls. She placed them behind bricks Del knew could come out, to historical tapestries that would never be placed in storage, and on the chairs she knew were the other teacher’s favourites.
There were countless other curses placed around the campus from students long since departed. The buildings themselves shook the curses awake and welcomed them into the fold. The stones were particularly helpful in keeping the responses measured and retaining things like sounds and shapes. Teachers would duck out of the classrooms to see who had been running down the hallways in the middle of lessons, only to see wet footprints with no owners.
Del and Pokeweed parted ways at dawn as the school began a new day. Del looked to the columns which had defined her life those past three years and thought how nice it was that it wasn’t raining as she hadn’t the magic left to redo the waterproof spell on her cloak.
Those pillars would remain cold in the winter air, but she knew that the school, if not the faculty, would welcome her back warmly.
The morning light brought with it the foot traffic, and with it Del disappeared. She went to fasten her cloak, her arms pushing through the slits on either side. She felt something rustle in one of her inside pockets. She pulled out a torn-up article she had found in a puddle four years ago. The rest of the words were insignificant. What suited her was the three letters in the title – ‘Damn Everyday Legend’. D.E.L.
She hadn’t gone into Orli School with her true name, all too aware of the dangers of others knowing it. Del had suited her then, and it would suit her again now.
The parting words from Pokeweed hung in her head, eager to imprint themselves. ‘You don’t need a classroom to get an education.’
Del knew what she wanted. She wanted to learn magic. She cast one final look to the town that had been her home for a short while and walked out the southern gate.