Chapter 1: That’s So Witchin’
“Focus! Witchcraft is all about mental fortitude. If you are unable to channel the energy, you will fail the class!”
I tried, I really tried. The paper shifted and swirled. I got distracted, again. Instead of folding itself into an origami tree, my paper folding resulted in a fearsome tyrannosaurus rex that stomped around the tabletop and ate my friend’s origami tree. Sindra laughed at the wonton destruction of her own creation but abruptly stopped when the teacher glided over towards us.
I say glided because that’s what she did, literally. The teacher floated above my comfortable neck craning height and proceeded to glare at me with unfathomable menace. “Junior witch apprentice number six-sixty-six!” When Babba the Metamorphical Witch got mad, she would start using my student number and not my name. Also, there weren’t actually over six hundred witches, the administration just had a penchant for choosing the number six.
Babba made a strangled noise and I fancifully imagined her choking on her own spit, but I didn’t imagine it too strongly. Ill-wishing has a way of coming true.
“I don’t know what to do with you, young lady!” she spluttered. “You have an exceptional gift, but you are squandering it with your lack of concentration!”
I shrugged helplessly. “I can’t help it, your class is too boring.” I heard a general snigger run through the transmutations class. My friend choked back a giggle. The wizened old hag nearly blew her top… again. I say this because she has been known to do so on several occasions.
“Okay,” I said quickly, before she would start an hour-long rant. “That came out wrong. It’s not your class, per se, it’s the content I find boring. There’s nothing practical in magic.”
“Transmutations is very useful! You can craft, shift and morph objects to your heart’s desires, shouldn’t that be enough?” she said this through gritted teeth. “If you were paying attention, maybe you would know that.” Babba visibly calmed down, taking deep breaths. She floated down as she did so, touching the floor with a toe and then settling on the ground with a muted thump.
My brows knitted together in contest to her opinion. “How is learning how to fold paper into an origami tree going to be useful? Shouldn’t we learn something more practical? Like maybe this?” My tyrannosaurus rex turned around, waved its stubby arms and fell to the table. After ‘dying,’ the paper smoothed itself out and turned into a small paper aeroplane, where it wafted over to Marcelline in the front. She opened the page to discover ‘you’re a poop’ written in bold, bezeled text. Marcelline glared at me and crumpled the paper in her fist.
Babba did not look amused at the demonstration.
“Magic is an ancient art steeped in tradition, we’ve learned to do things this way and that’s how I intend to keep it!”
I sighed. I knew I was doomed to lose this battle, but I may as well see it to the end. “What’s the point of tradition? Sometimes we can use magic, sometimes we can’t? Why can’t we use magic in front of mortals?”
“Because it is the rules, magic is meant for the gifted. You give it to the untrained newts and show that it’s possible, and they’ll go mad.”
I lifted an eyebrow. I was starting to get good at facial expressions. “That’s exactly my point. Practicing magic just increases the risk. If we can’t use it, then what’s the point?”
The teacher shot up a few feet. I should have taken that as a warning, but I continued on.
“We should be learning better subjects. Applications in science or magical science is the future. How about we try that instead?” A gasp shot up through the room.
“Out!” the old hag screeched. “Out of my classroom! Go to the headmistress and don’t come back until you’ve learned not to spread such blasphemy!”
Rolling my eyes, I grabbed my things and shoved them into my personal dimensional pocket. Standing up, I waved Sindra a goodbye and I trudged out, bumping past junior students as they made their way to their classes. Our lessons were double the length of junior classes so I came out in the changeover rush. As I passed a couple of the juniors, they sniggered.
“Hey look it’s the science-witch,” I heard one of them say as they brushed past me. “What a stupid idea.” I flicked a hand in their direction and I was satisfied to hear squealing and flailing in that general direction. Slugs in your sleeves, I thought smugly. That’ll be hard to wash out. That bright spark was soon doused as I made my way to the entrance of the headmistress’ office.
Headmistress Nighters was a frightening figure. She was an old-school Coven witch with ties to the Ancient Circle. In fact, I was sure she used to be part of the Ancient Circle at one point. The headmistress didn’t like students to refer to her by name. She would rather we address her by title. I had gotten so used to calling the headmistress, headmistress that it became a subconscious thing to just think of her as ‘headmistress’ and nothing else.
With regards to her office, I’d been there quite often, usually for infractions like these. The headmistress usually shook her head and directed me to the disciplinary office. The headmistress was a busy women with little to no patience for ‘dilly-dallying’ as Potions Master Grey would say. Most of the faculty were in awe of her, but through all the time I’ve been here, I’ve not seen her do more than just put quill to paper and write out reports, messages and other boring administrative work.
After visiting the headmistress, the disciplinary master would see me briefly and shake her head. Usually she’d tell me to re-sort the library or something and that would usually be the end of it. Mostly, it was light punishments, I mean all I was doing was disrupting class. They went on without me and I still maintained stellar grades. Hey, I was a committed student to science and magic, so I thought ‘any learning was learning’ and magic was at least a way to reduce boredom, especially in a traditional witchcraft school like this. No Internet. Ugh.
I found myself pacing outside the headmistress’ office again. Even though I knew the ‘punishment’ would be inconsequential, standing outside still gave me the heebie-jeebies. The headmistress was a really scary lady. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t knock this time and I accidentally walked into a meeting.
“Sorry,” I ground out automatically, retreating back through the door.
“Wait, Lyssa, this is an opportune occurrence. This matter concerns you.” The headmistress pinned me to the spot with her piercing azure eyes. She pointed a spindly finger to the only other chair in the room. “Sit.”
I felt a sudden frisson of fear jolt down my spine. What did she mean, the matter concerned me? Was I in deeper trouble than I thought? I sat down quickly, my leg twitching in anticipation. I finally took stock of the other occupant in the room.
To the left stood a rather serious looking fellow. He was clothed in a black coat, a black shirt, black trousers and black shiny leather shoes. In his hand he held a staff loosely in his grip. Despite this, he was fairly young, as imposing as he was.
“This is Mort.” The headmistress gestured to the black-garbed stranger. “He’s a wizard in training.”
Curiosity got the better of me. “Why is he here at the school?” From what I knew, there had barely been a male at the school since oh, the last decade or so. For a school so steeped in traditionalism, his presence was all the more disturbing.
“Mort is a special case.” She glanced at the trainee wizard, then flickered back to me. “He has had problems adjusting to curriculum, surprisingly even more than you had.”
Mort spoke up in a deep, sarcastic voice. “I did what any aspiring wizard would do with my level of abilities.” The headmistress didn’t look impressed.
“And if your abilities were so impressive, getting caught so quickly was in your plan?”
I had to hand it to my headmistress, she sure knew how to dish out a searing burn.
Mort didn’t respond to that, his face just twisted in disgust as he tugged something at his neck. I realised what it was immediately.
“That’s an inhibition collar. What did this kid do?”
The headmistress must have caught the irony of me calling someone else a kid, but she let it pass with a raised eyebrow and a mild tone.
“Mort’s a special case, but we’re not here to talk about him. We’re here to talk about you.”
“Oh,” I muttered, going red. “Yep.”
“Over the past few months, you have been making exceptional progress in magic. You’ve learned witchcraft at a far accelerated rate than your peers and you have excellent test scores.” She became severe, the eyes glinting like ice. “But you’ve avoided following the curriculum, you laze about in the classes and you’ve been disruptive to the point of being rebellious.” She threw up her hands. “I know you’re intelligent enough to understand this, which is why I’ve been lenient with you thus far.” She paused. “But now, I’m not so willing to be so blind to this fault, and it needs to be rectified at this moment.”
I gulped, my eyes going wide. I felt my breath quicken, my heart starting to race. What was the headmistress going to do? My gaze flickered to the inhibition collar around Mort’s neck. I swallowed, I felt sick. I might not see the practicality of using magic in my everyday life, but I sure as heck didn’t want to lose it, I studied hard for it and I was proud of my achievements thus far. They couldn’t take it away, surely not?
The headmistress changed gears, giving me a disturbingly bright smile.
“Not to worry, my young witch. Collaring you is a little too extreme, that wasn’t a popular vote in the faculty.”
Wait what? They had a vote on me?
The headmistress gave me a frosty smile. “It would be a waste of talent.” She flicked a hand dismissively.
“Well, what about me?” Mort interjected, but the headmistress just ignored him.
“What we’re proposing is a win-win situation for all of us. I think you can appreciate that this school can no longer tolerate you in the classroom.”
I choked. What? Did she mean expulsion? If collaring was a grade A disaster, expulsion would be next.
“That is why we are offering you this opportunity. I would take it if I were you.”
I sighed in relief. So it wasn’t expulsion.
“What is it?” I asked, caution leaking from my voice.
When the headmistress merely studied me without saying anything, I was suddenly aware of her other title, the raptor.
“You said you wanted the see the practical side of magic? Well I think it’s time for your Journey.”