Magic is real, as long as you’re in the know. It’s a lot subtler than people think, mostly invisible in fact. It can give you the second last sip from a canteen, let you push a pull door, or make your fortune cookies accurate if as vague as ever.
Dove used it on the stage, her audience only thinking they were looking at illusions. She was happy with that, but now her parents have dragged her to a strange island, the site of a failed music festival, and there’s talk of starting a new country, and a new school, both magical in nature…
Author’s Note: I wrote this novella to be my ‘Harry Potter’, but given my recent disappointment with that author it now works pretty well as a replacement for me. I hope you can get some enjoyment from it as well.
The Moneyed and the Mystic
The sand would’ve been much too hot for bare feet under normal circumstances, but the Théard family didn’t pack any normalcy for the trip. They always left that at home, a house that sat empty most of the time while its supposed occupants were off romancing the stages of the Caribbean and France.
All five of them disembarked the small seaplane and ran to the beach as fast as they could, the shameless head of the household Jeanguy Théard leading the charge, spraying sand at his wife and three children, howling with laughter in the face of the sun that almost blazed as much as his.
Eating his dust first was Madame Etz Théard, her long tightly braided hair held together at the ends with sapphire clips. She taunted her children, calling them slowpokes, but she came to regret it when the identical twin girls, Razzle and Dazzle, youthfully fifteen, passed her on each side.
Last was Dove, the oldest child at seventeen, and the most grounded of the entire family, here meaning that her exuberant carefree run was slightly less exuberant than the others. The reason for her reserved pace was the one hand holding her tall hat to her head. While not as grand as most magician’s hats, its shape was still high enough to teeter when she ran.
Plus, the sand felt spectacular between her toes, so she stopped and wiggled them, luxuriating in the sensation. Her brown digits were protected from the heat by reehee, the magic word she’d uttered on the seaplane’s top step, brought to fruition with a snap of her fingers. Dove tipped the blue brim of her hat just enough to see the tendrils of the sun.
“Welcome family,” Jeanguy bellowed when he stopped, having decided the race was won even though there was nothing but sand and lapping sea foam as far as they could see. He spun, arms to the heavens. “Welcome To Cay Royal!” As a magician his pockets often seemed bottomless, but the sandals for his large feet nonetheless poked out. He pulled them free and dropped them.
“Shoes on everyone,” Madame Etz, who insisted on the title, even when her children were addressing her, ordered. “We must look our best for the show.” She was a moody woman, opened and closed as often as stage curtains, and if she didn’t include information in a statement that usually meant it was information she wasn’t giving out. Her children obeyed.
What kind of show is this? the little voice in Dove’s hat wondered. Most people would call it a little voice in her head, but Dove so rarely removed the hat that the voice had settled in there instead. She’d already had to replace the worn white ribbon twisting around it a dozen times, as she focused most of her preservation on the heirloom body of the hat itself. They haven’t told us the name of the theater… or what routine we’re doing!
They were indeed looking their best, with the exception of the sandals. Sparkling blue jackets. Razzle in a bow tie, Dazzle in a longer one. White ruffles on their wrists. Dove was the only one who stuck with a traditional hat, as her parents were too enamored with their own bright smiles, eyes, and hair to ever hide them.
“Wait a minute,” Dazzle said, putting up her hand as a visor. She wouldn’t have needed it if she’d been using a sunglasses spell, but she was probably using her background magic to extend the life of her phone battery instead. “Teesco.” She snapped her fingers to activate the incantation, giving her eyes the power of a telescope. Dove did the same, looking inland as well, seeing fields of colorful tents of varying sizes. “This is that Thryve Festival island!”
Now that her sister had said it Dove recognized the tents as well. It had been worldwide news around that time the previous year. Thryve was supposed to be a luxury music festival that shook the foundations of socialite society, and they had paid to have that shaking top out the Richter scale. Tickets for the most basic package, one weekend and most of the concerts, ran over 3,000 U.S. dollars, quite steep considering that all of the famous artists had pulled out at the last minute.
The end result was a tiny island full of bleach blondes and men with band logos shaved into the sides of their heads, stealing snacks from each other, wondering when they would be taken from tents and put in the bungalows they’d actually signed up for. The organizer had bitten off far more of their wallets than he could chew, his dream of an annual Thryve festival canceled as a fleet of small rescue craft came to pick up the sunburned and drunk attendees, their best souvenir usually a cracked smartphone screen.
“What the hell are we doing here?” Razzle asked, continuing her rich tradition of distinguishing herself from her cleverer twin with a fouler mouth. She pulled out her phone and did a quick search, showing her siblings a social media post of models stumbling into each other on a beach. That beach. “This place is cursed.”
“If it is then we’re the curse,” Jeanguy explained, though it explained nothing at all. “Come on everybody. We’re expected.” He started marching, in the direction of the distant tents. Madame Etz followed wordlessly.
“Dad what about our bags?” Dove asked, gesturing back toward the plane.
“The servants will take care of that,” he said with a wave of his hand. Then he looked at the hand in amazement and barked a laugh before continuing on.
“Servants?” Dove muttered. Her mother looked at her, and that was all it took to get her moving. After a few minutes of walking the ground compacted from sand to soft dirt. They found the border of the abandoned tent city. There were rake and shovel marks everywhere, suggesting that a music festival worth of trash had recently been scraped away. The structures smelled vaguely of booze, cigarette smoke, and American cheese left to go glossy in the sun.
Jeanguy uttered some magic words under his breath, clicking his tongue rather than doing the more traditional finger snap. Dove didn’t hear the spell, but he was using it to track something, as it gave him a firm direction in which to walk. The family of performers slithered their way through the tents, some large enough to host weddings or buffets, but all in the two colors of the music-note-emitting pineapple that was the Thryve logo: bubblegum pink and hatchling gecko green.
They rounded one of the few circular tents, stopping suddenly, as did the other family they were face to face with. Dove reeled at the full red regalia of the Hovering Haysuits. The four members of the squad were both acrobats and magicians, helping to pick up the circus slack in the U.S. once performing elephants were banned. They were big time. Big top big time. So much bigger than the Startling Théards. We should bow, the little voice in her hat said. She twitched, nearly a curtsy, but aborted the effort when she saw how the Haysuits reacted.
Having studied their performances meticulously, she already knew their names. The married couple, about her parents’ age, were Bethanne and Tress, while their adopted son and daughter were William and Phillipa respectively. Bethanne, who had biceps a solid fifty percent larger than Jeanguy’s, wrapped one arm around his shoulders affectionately and growled.
The man was at a loss, and not just because they’d never met. Bethanne’s braided ponytail looked strong enough to use as rope, and probably was in some of their stunts. She had teeth like a horse that didn’t mind eating gravel and crow’s feet from decades of aggressive smiling, the kind of smile performed reflexively during an arm wrestling match. She would have been intimidating even without magic.
Madame Etz, who was no fan of other women touching her husband even when their lack of interest was apparent, bravely inserted herself and bluntly asked if they had met before. She and her twin daughters had immense pride in their own act, limited as it had been mostly to their home country of Haiti, and so would have no trouble holding their own in conversations with such stars. Dove on the other hand was shaken, especially since Phillipa stared at her unblinkingly.
“No,” Bethanne answered, “but of course we’ve heard of the Startling Théards! You run that trick where you chop your kids up and mix up their parts right?”
“Yeah,” Dazzle confirmed.
“We’re the parts,” Razzle added. It was a spell made all the easier thanks to their identical bodies. Twins facilitated all sorts of magic, explaining their frequent occurrence in families in the know. Madame Etz had used the magic word twibroo several times a day early in the pregnancy to ensure there would be two.
The chop and swap spell was usually their grand finale, in which Razzle would walk around with Dazzle’s torso and vice versa. The audience thought it a spectacular illusion, their disbelief the only thing making it possible. Actual illusionists, with only trick cards and concealed sweat-covered birds to their name, scratched their heads at the sight of it.
“We’re all very excited that everyone’s finally coming together,” Bethanne’s wife Tress added. She was clearly the milder of the two, with a calm face, long dark velvety hair, and one hand rubbing William’s shoulder. He was perhaps thirteen, smug as a fox in an ostrich nest, and not interested in the charade of politeness.
His sibling Phillipa looked a year older than Dove. She was pale, tall, and attractive to all sorts of people well beyond the circus tent. Her limp blonde hair initially seemed like a flaw in her appearance, but Dove already knew it was like that intentionally so that it would come alive when she was flipping across trapeze in her act, like an angora tumbleweed.
No doubt she used magic to give it body, turning it into a lion’s mane by the end of the act. It showed how the performance invigorated her, blazed within her, would always be more for her than for the audience. It’s brilliant; that’s what it is. So why is she staring like we’re the brilliant ones? Their parents broke off to have a conversation of their own, and her sisters were already trying to vex William with some twin magic, unsuccessfully, leaving Dove alone with one of her idols.
“So, has anyone applied for the best friend position yet?” Phillipa asked. She crossed her long legs and sat on the rolling luggage she’d been dragging behind her, the same color as her skintight red suit, down to the sparkling gold trim on its wheels.
“Pardon? Ingspee.” She snapped her fingers, refreshing the spell in case she hadn’t cast it properly before. She spoke French with her family much of the time, but language had no barriers when it came to magic. Still, she redid the incantation allowing her to speak, albeit with her native accent, and understand English because she couldn’t believe she’d heard that correctly.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Phillipa said, blowing past her confusion. “You can interview me before orientation. I’m reliable, delightfully devious, but also helpfully blunt and spontaneous. I’m really good at body mod spells. You could stab me right now and I wouldn’t feel a thing, and I’m only running nopay at two percent. That’s the benefit of breaking seven bones with it on full blast.”
“Can we back up?” Dove asked. “Why on Earth would you want to be my best friend? I should be asking you, and probably just for an autograph.”
“That’s sweet.” She says that like it’s a bad thing. “If you’re always this nice you’re going to need me to watch out for you.” Dove stared. She was considering removing her hat and aiming it at Phillipa, thinking its little voice might do a better job with the interaction. The heady Haysuit finally realized how lost she was. “Have your parents not told you?”
“Told me what?”
“It’s not my place to say,” Phillipa decided in that moment, standing and extending the handle of her luggage. “Hopefully very soon it will be my place to say, but that’s up to you. Anyway, as a free sample of my best friendship I promise not to laugh or otherwise ridicule when you find out. Good luck! Seriously, you should max out your goolu percentage.”
She joined the rest of the Haysuit family as the impromptu meeting broke up. The overly friendly Americans, all except William, waved goodbye as they disappeared behind another tent. Dove felt even more lost than before as her parents wrapped up their conversation about their conversation. Jeanguy called some of the other couple’s advice ‘worth thinking over’ while Madame Etz called it ‘jetsam that should sink immediately’.
After another minute he urged them all onward, following the same path as the other family. More and more voices drifted to them. The tents twitched and bounced as dozens of people stubbed their toes. A family appeared in front of them, and another behind. All of a sudden they were in one of several lines winding through the tents to a central clearing. When they were finally freed Dove saw hundreds of folding chairs set up in rows before a small stage and podium.
It was clearly left over from the botched music festival, lights and wires wound around its metal supports, only some of them active and contributing to whatever the new event was. Dove paid more attention to the people flooding in, finally getting a sense of who they all were.
Half were like her family and the Haysuits. Even when they weren’t wearing their costumes she could still tell by the confidence in their body language, the sweeping gestures, and the booming laughs. Stage magicians all, and every last one of them in the know. The Mystic, as they were collectively called.
The other half were morose and drained in comparison, mostly in expensive suits and dresses. Some of them were so old they were bent forward in their wheelchairs, looking marginally healthier than those sunken in them instead. She saw diamonds on ears, big enough to blind pilots in the intense island sun. Fingers loaded with rings, some a hundred years old but clean as the day they were sold. The Moneyed.
Even children in the know as young as William could realize the significance of a gathering like that. Only so many people in the world could be magical if magic was going to exist, and the majority of them fell into two camps, allegiance often determined by familial bonds. The Mystic used their powers for fame, for fun, for showmanship, and to cut corners in all the boring chores of life that kept them off the stage.
The Moneyed never stopped working, pumping their enchantments into financial structures, personal dynasties, corporations, stock portfolios, and more, insulating themselves and their vast, arguably ill-gotten, fortunes against legal consequences and notoriety. In short, they were the exact opposite of the Mystic, and the two groups had a longstanding agreement not to have meetings such as the one they were standing in the middle of.
The only other thing to notice was the high concentration of young people, not many younger than William and only a few who looked in their early twenties. Dove’s background cocktail of magic was not well-suited to being surrounded by other wielders who perhaps could not be trusted, so in the moment she was doubly angry with her parents for making something so risky a surprise.
Any of them could’ve tried to read her mind in that very moment, though there wasn’t much to find, since she had absolutely no idea what was going on. Her desperate search for information, in the faces and outfits of the crowd, didn’t get far, as her parents corralled her and her sisters all the way to the front row and sat them down in chairs that were much nicer than the rest: wooden with plush velvet cushions.
As everyone took their seats so too did the presenters on the stage, an eclectic mix of fourteen individuals, some of whom she could not firmly place in one camp or the other. One of them, most assuredly of the Moneyed, took to the podium and its microphone, waiting for everyone to settle and quiet. He looked sixty, but with magic on his side he could’ve been as old as seventy-five, hair unnaturally dark even without dye. To Dove he looked like a governor, but of someplace cold that made most of its money on autumn leaf tourism rather than a tropical island.
“Greetings everyone,” he began without notes to aid him. “My name is Lewis Mystpass. Some of you already know why you’re here, but I’ll do my best to summarize for those who do not. Ever since the collapse of the evil eye, more than a hundred years ago, our families have been working hard to restore magic to what it once was.
The snap system has proven an excellent replacement, almost too good. With more focus on technique and less on thought, our spells are easier to communicate than ever, which is not conducive to our continued existence in the age of the internet.
You are all here because you believe that one significant leak could lead us to another collapse, causing many of us to lose what we’ve worked to attain, be it financial success or success on the stage. So we’ve agreed on a plan, to come together, to get ahead of any possible collapse by creating a unified state of magic.
Micronations, that is to say countries that are too small to deserve the term, have never really succeeded on the world stage. Some people have tried to declare their homesteads as countries of their own, or offshore platforms. We’re going to do that with this island, which has already been purchased by a consortium of those in attendance. Our magic will add an air of legitimacy to our claim, allowing us inroads with global governments and organizations of all kinds. If all goes well we’ll even have our own passport soon.
I hope you’ll bear with us, as we’re still in the early stages, as you can tell by our… uhh… colorful surroundings.” A few laughed. “As embarrassing as it is, the failure of the Thryve Festival served two very important purposes.
First, it revealed how vulnerable we are. All it might take is one more hotshot fool like Hewie Jordan to take us back to the dark ages. Rest assured, when he was using his magic to drum up investments, trick beautiful famous people, and falsify records, all to get this venture off the ground, he was putting us all at risk.
We know he came close to doing that because he has lost his own magic as a result of all the attention on him. Now he sits in federal prison, staring at a concrete wall, unable to secretly project his favorite movies onto it the way we might. He can’t recall every word of his favorite books the way we can, can’t dive into his memories and live them again. He’s not alone in his foolishness either, as you’ll note there isn’t a single Jordan here, despite them being such a prominent family in our community.
Second, and on the brighter side of Hewie’s failure, his antics bankrupted the small economy of Cay Royal. Most of its three thousand native residents depended on the few tourism facilities here, the festival grounds, the hotel, the diving services, and all of those invested heavily in the lie of Thryve.
That enabled us to purchase the island which will soon be our country, but that’s not the end of the task. You all know magic works better the more you put into it, the more believable you make the impossible feat, so we’re here to build half a country and have a spell take us the rest of the way.
Every country has an educational system, and for our tiny nation that will be but one institution, the orientation of which the youngest here are currently attending. Behind me sit your instructors and the school’s security chief. In the coming week you will be enrolled and you will begin the first ever semester at the world’s only school of magic: the Cay Royal College of Exceedingly Minor Magics!”
He paused not for applause, but for a chance for their brains to catch up. Even the most hyperactive child was transfixed, mouth agape, feet still. Most had never gone to public school, their parents either teaching them themselves or hiring private instructors. Basic subjects could be glossed over when a few incantations like ansco or reetroo could reveal the answers to most questions, as long as someone else had actually done the hard work of solving it first.
Dove’s little voice ran wild with the information. Oh my god. This is the surprise. We’re going to school! We can actually make friends somewhere other than the side of the road. On top of that, think of all the magic we’ll learn. Families never share what they’ve made, it’s their competitive edge, but they’ll have to if this school is going to teach anything at all. But… but we’ll be off the stage for who knows how long.
“Your campus is set to be constructed soon,” Mystpass continued, “but we want you to get started sooner than that, so this first semester will be held in many of the larger tents you see before you. Don’t worry, they will just be serving as the classrooms. Your dormitories are in the hotel and resort, with full student access to the gym, restaurant-cafeteria, and pool. I will be serving as your dean, and my office door will always be open during what will be a learning process for all of us.
The government of Cay Royal will be composed of two branches, one built on the strengths of the Moneyed and one on the Mystic. A president, of the Moneyed, will be elected by popular vote to handle day to day operation and legislation. Meanwhile, a royal family will be the public faces and masters of ceremony for our fledgling country on the world stage.”
Dove froze while Razzle and Dazzle whispered in each other’s ears. Why were the Théards in the front row, in the best chairs? Why were these happy nobodies given a private plane and servants to carry their luggage?
“The Mystic have agreed that family is… the Startling Théards!” The parents applauded, Moneyed in their seats, Mystic jumping up and down, practically slapping the skin off their palms. “If you’ll join me on stage please.” Dean Mystpass stepped aside to make room. King Jeanguy and Queen-Madame Etz grabbed their stunned children by the wrists, pulling them up and turning them around. The king took to the podium like a porcupine to a salt lick, grabbing both sides and leaning forward.
“Please, that’s nearly enough,” he boomed, thanking them effusively. “It is an honor to accept this throne and, I’m assuming, a beautiful crown when it’s ready.” He looked at Mystpass, who had nobody else to look to, so he just folded a fresh smile and nodded to move things along. “Your poor princesses,” the king said, ignorant of how mortified Dove was, “didn’t know they would be called that today.”
The crowd laughed. Razzle and Dazzle only then finished whispering, turning to their citizens and offering beaming fake smiles. They were going to love this; that was certain. They would’ve been quicker to come up with something to say as well, passing ideas between heads silently, but Dove was the oldest, and it fell to her.
“As the heir to the Cay Royal throne, our eldest child Dove will now address you,” the Queen-Madame said, pushing her husband out of the way and putting Dove in his place. Nearly the whole of the magic-wielding world stared and waited. Each person was an arsenal, some with weapons she couldn’t begin to comprehend, but the distaste in their expressions was clear enough. Her fellow students were onboard for the tropical college aspect, but not so much a monarchical ruler their own age, plucked from a hat, the hat still sitting on her head.
“Hello…” Dove said nervously. You’ve been on stage your whole life. This is nothing. Start with a joke like you always do. “…my loyal subjects. Hehe.” She didn’t need her supernatural abilities to feel the hate rise like smoke above their heads. Not like that.
In the bubbling cauldron of faces she saw Phillipa Haysuit, sitting primly, suppressing what must have been explosive laughter. Dove watcher her mime zipping her lips shut and flicking the imaginary object away like a lit cigarette.
Body Modification with Professor Abel Quixote, Guava Tent (10:00 – 11:30)
Evil Eye Era with Professor Drake Peel-Grant, Kiwi Tent (10: – 11:30)
Alteration with Professor Godwill Chigumbura, Blood Orange Tent (10:00 – 11:30)
Sights Fore, Lateral, and Hind with Professor Lasse Hoskonen, Watermelon Tent (10:00 – 11:30)
Optional catered Study Hall in Blood Orange Tent (12:00 – 3:00) with Professor Drake Peel-Grant
Optional catered Study Hall in Coconut Tent (12:00 – 3:00) with Professor Dot Eagleray
Snap System Development with Professor Zarna Rhukovich, Papaya Tent (12:45 – 2:15)
Secrecy with Professor Greer Wedge, Pineapple Tent (12:45 – 2:15)
Instilling with Professor Dot Eagleray, Banana Tent (12:45 – 2:15)
Data Manipulation with Professor Anonymous Proxy, Pomegranate Tent (12:45 – 2:15)
Statistical Luck with Professor Roller Redbone, Mango Tent (2:30 – 4:00)
Sabotage with Professor Min Gun-Mo, Starfruit Tent (2:30 – 4:00)
Psychic Faculties with Professor Wendy Lancaster, Coconut Tent (2:30 – 4:00)
Energy Manipulation with Professor Florian El-Jehwell, Dragon Fruit Tent (2:30 – 4:00)
Staring at the slip of a schedule didn’t give her any of the answers she wanted. There were so many monumental things to think about, but somehow they were swept away by the minutia of the sort of routine she’d never suffered before. Was there going to be homework? Detention? A sports team?
They were provided with satchels already adorned with the school emblem, notebooks, writing utensils, and a few odd things like sunglasses and scented lotion, as if the staff were much more accustomed to assembling complimentary gift bags than school supplies. There was no uniform or dress code included, so Dove’s first task was figuring out what to wear to her first day of classes.
She’d decided on casual clothes: striped shirt and jeans. Razzle and Dazzle did the same, arguing that it was much too hot and sunny for anyone to bother dressing up for the occasion. They took to their new roles swimmingly, leaving too early for their sister to corner them and ask for help confronting the king and queen about their rash decision.
That’s for tonight. Focus. She of course kept her hat in her ensemble, but removed the ribbon to bring it in line with the rest of her clothes. She lifted it just for a moment, to tuck the memorized schedule away in its lining.
The sand was just as blazing as before, but she wore sandals this time as she weaved her way between the tents in search of the pink one called Guava Tent. A spell could’ve made the heat nothing on her soles, but she’d made a few changes to bulk up her defenses against the other students and so didn’t have much room for that one.
If only she’d had her siblings by her side, but the classes were divided into age brackets and they were two years younger. When she eventually found Guava Tent’s open flap and walked inside she was surrounded by wielders her own age and a little older. She drew her hat forward, down over her eyes, as she searched the dim warm colors of the space for an empty seat.
“Over here,” Phillipa said. She was in a red sundress, limp hair hiding the bands of the sunglasses perched atop her head, legs propped up on an empty desk. It was near the back, easy to stay out of sight and easy to escape to the flap at a moment’s notice. It was a perfect spot, and Phillipa of course knew that. Dove felt she had no choice but to take the seat when the more accomplished magician pulled her feet down.
“Thanks,” she muttered as she took her satchel off her shoulder and pulled out a notebook. The desks were cheap and rickety, the pads at the bottom of their metal peg legs lost in the sand. Dove slipped out of her sandals and buried her toes. The grains were much cooler under the tent, helping her relax.
“So, have you made a decision on my offer?” Phillipa asked, not wasting a single second.
“How about we move forward with that on a trial basis?” Dove suggested, looking around at the other students. Were this a normal classroom she was sure several of them would be twisted in their seats, staring back, but the magical didn’t need to do that. There were dozens of ways to observe her without looking directly. “Just because I think I need an ally with all these Moneyed around.”
“I accept your terms,” the other girl said, also scanning the room, convinced she’d missed something thanks to Dove’s obvious nerves. “You’re not scared of these guys are you?” They were somewhat outnumbered; out of fifteen students only five of them looked like Mystic, and that included Phillipa and Dove.
The only other one she was certain about was a husky boy who had worn his complete stage outfit, though he undid all the top buttons, and a few that could conservatively be called the middle buttons, on his dress shirt. He was Wondrous Douglas, a minor star of internet magic tutorials, with a friendly voice and vacant eyes. Everyone else was a mystery, and thus a threat.
Surely Phillipa knows you can’t trust the Moneyed. Then again she’s from the U.S. The rich do all the stage scheduling over there. Her family could get any gig they want. They don’t lose big breaks when somebody in a suit makes up an excuse about dark skin not working well with the lighting they’ve set up.
That was how conflict with them worked. It was never direct; they were too crafty for that. Awareness of magic by the broader populace killed it, so rather than lampshade it the way the Mystic did the Moneyed obscured it. They could easily be the richest people in the world, but that would draw too much attention to how they got that way. They were never number one, or two, or three, or four, or even five. If word got to them about a magazine article ranking the wealthiest and most powerful they would immediately, temporarily, liquidate many of their assets to make sure they weren’t on it.
“Hey, best friends share,” Phillipa said, pulling Dove’s attention out of her hat. The professor still hadn’t arrived yet. He was two minutes late. “Tell me what BC you’re working with. I want to compare. I’ll go first. I’m on five percent ayjslow, four percent immewe, two percent timeknow, and then one on sunblow, goolu, feefeye, and nopay. Normally I’ve got nopay on two and I don’t even bother with goolu, but, you know, with all these new unknowns about…”
“No defense?” Dove whispered, realizing again there was no point in being subtle or quiet. If the others wanted to hear they would.
“I don’t need any,” Phillipa said casually, “because I’m an open book.”
“Like how you just wanted to be my best friend because I’m a… princess?” You’ll get used to saying it eventually.
“Right. The best friend of the princess gets all the perks and none of the responsibility, and I totally deserve it because I was on top of you from the moment you got here.” Somebody several rows ahead of them snickered. “Sorry, phrasing. Anyway, it sounds like you’re running something paranoid.”
The ‘BC’ they discussed was the background cocktail of magic, something drilled into all wielders at a young age, just as they were old enough to practice deception, to make it second nature. Magic was like any other human effort such as strength or focus. There was only so much to use at any given time, but there were some effects that were best never allowed to lapse. The general standard was for fifteen percent of magical power to be reserved for spells that would run constantly and passively, still leaving the majority of their abilities for specific short term tasks.
The most used incantations were Ayjslow and Immewe, their benefits among the best in magic. The former slowed the aging process, and if kept active for the majority of the wielder’s life it would extend it by an average of six years. The latter, its incantation built from the word ‘immune’, provided effective resistance against bacterial and viral infections as well as toxic chemical exposure.
Beyond those it could vary wildly based on personal priorities. Phillipa’s mix gave her the abilities to know and track the passage of time innately, prevent sunburn, increase her luck, heighten pleasurable sensations, and reduce pain. It was a body focused blend, which made Dove think her new friend would be right at home during their current class, assuming the teacher actually showed up and they weren’t already sitting in some kind of impenetrable sack that was about to be vacuum sealed from the outside.
“I’ve got luck maxed out,” she informed Phillipa. “Plus some mind reading resistance, spell awareness, and reflex sharpening. So… I guess a little paranoid.” Those sharpened reflexes activated; she flinched, nearly jumping out of her seat when their instructor finally arrived. He strode straight to the head of the classroom, where there was a folding table and a whiteboard set up. With a marker that would’ve been long dry without enchantment he wrote his name out in squeaking streaks: Professor Abel Quixote.
When he turned to face them Dove finally got a good look, though it was somewhat obscured thanks to the cloud of silky smoke about his head and shoulders. She muttered the spell seethroo and clicked her tongue as quietly as she could, making the smoke all but invisible to her.
The black cigarette hanging from his mouth quickly made the whole tent smell of cloves, but none of the other unpleasant elements of the aroma. His background cocktail likely included a filter in his nose, mouth, throat, and lungs, reducing the health risks of such a habit to nearly nothing. Even so, the parents might not be thrilled for their children to be trapped in a tent with such a man, but the cloud also stayed firmly in the proximity of his head and torso, tendrils gently bouncing back when they got too far like the shape of a sunken water balloon.
His dark brown eyes had a suggestion of a sparkle of gold around the irises, an effect that could only be seen fleetingly, and never confirmed. His degree of control was exquisite, so the patchiness in his black goatee had to be intentional. Age impossible to determine. Attitude: the kind of brooding someone only does over a glass of hard liquor they’re actually very much enjoying.
His age was difficult to guess by design, so she moved onto his clothes. His dark vest had green buttons and his thin sleeves were unbuttoned and rolled all the way up, allowing him to display his two other sleeves: a full coating of tattoos without a gasp of skin anywhere beneath the shoulder. She saw lung dragons of several colors, winged demons without eyelids, crouched gargoyles, and spiders tending to suspended and cocooned prey.
He’s absolutely using faytoo. Every tattoo that has a pair of eyes is working as one of his familiars. They can all see for him, and some of them probably do a little thinking too.
“Good morning class,” he greeted them in a velvety groan without taking out his cigarette. “You can call me Professor Abel or Professor Quixote, whichever skin suits you. This is body modification. First order of business, this class now starts at,” he checked his massive brass wristwatch, “10:06. So change your schedules and don’t tell the dean. We good?” Most of the class happily answered yes. “Good. Second order of business, since this is everybody’s first class, I’m supposed to tell you about your majors and your projects.”
“I was already going to major in body, but maybe I can major in his body specifically,” Phillipa whispered while he was pulling a notepad out of his shoulder bag. He read off it dryly.
“All students will be required to choose a major from any of the twelve subjects on offer. The corresponding professor will be their adviser, and any weekend study halls with that professor become mandatory. In addition, students must make a project proposal to that adviser within the first month of classes. Once approved the student will develop said project for the remainder of the semester and submit it for thirty percent of their grade.” He lowered the pad, which almost certainly wasn’t meant to be directly read to ‘all students’. “Any questions?”
“Uhh yeah,” Wondrous Douglas said, chubby arm shooting up. Professor Quixote nodded in his direction slightly. “Like what kind of project? Can it be a video?”
“Probably,” he answered with a shrug. “You can ask your adviser. It’s not me is it?”
“I don’t think so… no offense.”
“None taken. For your project just make sure it has something to do with your major. I know the use of magic isn’t strictly required, but I doubt many of you want to write a thirty page paper. Anything else?” A Moneyed hand cautiously rose.
“Forgive me if this is rude Professor, but how seriously should we take this school?” Abel had reached the end of his cigarette, his magic having already fully extended its lifespan to half an hour. He flicked it into the sand, the embers snuffing completely halfway there. With a swish of his foot it was buried, and likely vanished altogether.
“Look… This school exists so this country can exist. This country exists ostensibly to stabilize magic for all of us, but there are lots of people getting lots of different things out of it. Me? I’m here because it’s easy money and I like the beach. The school is like a real one because you’ll get out of it what you put into it. You want to learn? You can do that here. You want to coast through and then piss off? You can do that too, as long as you don’t interrupt my class.”
He looked around for any further queries, but the tent was quiet. He pulled another cigarette from his vest pocket, lit it up, and began a lecture. Since it was just the first day he covered the most basic elements of body modification magic, like ayjslow and immewe. After that he moved on to sharpening the senses.
It was all rudimentary, Dove finding the feel of the class itself to be much more informative. Nearly all benefits of magic were invisible, they had to be to make it easy to keep secret, but they could still profoundly change your life. Nobody who wielded it ever had to pay attention to something if they didn’t want to. They could instead dive into their own mind, constructing and living in incredible fantasy worlds while their body remotely completed a task for them.
She observed that almost nobody was taking notes, and they stared straight ahead, never leaning or adjusting or sneezing. They were busy psychically frolicking, their eyes automatically recording and storing the entire lecture, a simple incantation enough to recall it if they ever felt the information was needed.
Dove chose to stay in the moment to observe her classmates, and technically her subjects. Phillipa did as well; it was clear that even in her own head there was nowhere better to be than learning her favorite subject from a very hot guy obligated to spend a large amount of time with her.
If their minds were on autopilot they might never have noticed the thing that happened that had nothing to do with the class: the arrival of the college’s chief of security. He was a bald bespectacled man, uncomfortable-looking, like the sand made him nervous. It was easy to imagine him buried up to his neck in it because everyone around him thought it would be funny to cover the biggest lumpiest body in their party in the sculpted tail of a mermaid.
His name was in the orientation packet: Hadir Hunter. The interaction was unusual, as Professor Quixote barely acknowledged the intrusion. Chief Hunter sidled his way along the edge of the tent while he lectured, handing him a single sheet of paper wordlessly. Quixote set it on the table, but the chief didn’t leave, staring at it until the professor rolled his eyes, took it again, and placed it gently in his bag. Then the man left.
“Teepay,” Dove whispered, clicking her tongue. She reached out to Phillipa with her thoughts. She would have to accept the silent invitation for the spell to open a connection between their minds, allowing them to converse silently.
“Ooh our first best friend telepathy sesh,” Phillipa thought to her giddily. “So this is my brain, sorry if it’s a little messy right now. I had to shuffle what I was picturing myself doing with Abel out of here pretty quickly. So what’s up?”
“Did you see what the security guy just handed to him?”
“Yeah, a piece of paper.”
“A blank piece. On both sides. He watched him put it away too. Why would they care about something like that so much?”
“Well obviously it wasn’t really blank. They’ve written on it with magic so that only people who know the pass-spell can read it. Maybe it’s like a background check and they do it to hide the personal info.”
“Background checks would be done before classes started,” Dove reasoned. “He said there were a lot of people getting a lot of different things out of this place. I think we’re being used.”
“We’re probably being used a little. Magic wouldn’t be magic if people weren’t looking for ways to bloodlessly stab other wielders in the back.” Dove felt something between her words, a shift in Phillipa’s train of thought. “You’re the princess. Are you worried somebody’s going to try and assassinate you and take the throne!?”
“I’m more worried about having the throne,” Dove admitted. “Listen, don’t tell anybody this, but I think somebody’s out to take advantage of my parents. They… how do I put this? They could get starstruck by a firefly.”
“So they shouldn’t really have the responsibilities of monarchy.”
“Exactly. So why do they? There are so many more prominent Mystic families, like yours. Instead they installed my parents. I think because they’re disposable, which means something might happen that disposes of them. I need to figure out what it is.”
“I don’t think anybody is going to kill them,” Phillipa thought confidently.
“Because I already know why you guys are the royal family.” Dove bit her tongue, but that did nothing to stop her tumbling thoughts. “My moms told me. They had a say in the decision. It’s because everybody thinks your parents are easily influenced. So if most of the Mystic agree on something they can just send somebody to schmooze and bribe your parents and it’ll happen. That’s all. Sorry.”
For a moment Dove was actually relieved. That was one of the milder explanations. She might’ve asked Phillipa some more questions about the process, but the lecture was over. The professor was the first person out of Guava Tent despite having the longest distance to travel, leaving a curl of smoke in his wake. The students followed moments after.
The resort dormitory suites were reserved for members of the new government, with the king and queen of course afforded the most luxurious. It was called the Balcony Suite for obvious reasons, with the balcony having more space and furniture than their old home. Altogether the suite had a full kitchen, three bedrooms, two sitting areas, two bathrooms, and then the balcony stretching across the length of it all.
One of the bathrooms had a full sauna attached, and the entire Théard family had just emerged from it, wrapped in blue bathrobes, and gone to the lounge chairs outside the tall sliding glass doors of the balcony to let the cooling tropical breeze strip the lingering steam from them. Dove knew better than to criticize her parents when they were still having fun. She had to wait until they were tired, until they could barely keep their eyes open.
Until then she swapped first day stories with her sisters. Apparently the twin princesses had already firmly established themselves among the common people, using their newfound status to their advantage. Already they had sought and received an exemption from half their classes, since they were twins. Having demonstrated their ample psychic connection to Dean Mystpass, and thus the ability to share information, only one of them needed to attend at any given time. They had divided the week in half, Razzle taking Monday and Tuesday while Dazzle took the rest.
“Obviously we’re majoring in psychic faculties,” Dazzle said, hands behind her head as she stared into the purple and orange sky. The stars hadn’t quite emerged yet, but with a little magic they could see them anyway. There were at least three different parties happening on various levels below them, the songs played sometimes matching, like an echo. “Our project will just be something twinny. We’ve got a couple ideas we’ve had for a while.”
“It sucks that they wouldn’t let us be project partners though,” Razzle added.
“Wait, partners?” Dove interrupted, lifting herself on her hands to look at them. “I didn’t hear anything about partners.”
“Well you’ve got one,” Razzle insisted. “They were randomly assigned. You’re supposed to meet with them once a week and discuss work on each other’s project. Professor Lancaster said it was to keep people from forgetting, and to help everybody make friends. There’s like a progress sheet you have to fill out for your partner and turn in to prove you did the meetings.” While she explained her sister pulled up the posted partner list on the school website. Once she had scrolled down to Dove’s name she handed her phone over.
“It says my partner is some guy,” she noted. “Ponder Laird… That sounds like a Mystic name right? Nobody with deep pockets would be named Ponder.”
“Ponds are shallow,” Razzle agreed without fully listening, nodding her head with closed eyes. “What’s your major Dove?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I’ve been busy thinking about… other stuff. I’ll probably just do alteration. Pull something out of my hat for a final project.”
“That’s your equivalent of pulling something out of your ass,” Razzle commented. Dove’s head whipped around to see if the king and queen would protest such language in their presence, but they didn’t bat an eye. They were simply holding hands across the gap of their lounge chairs, watching the sky over their kingdom. Perhaps now was the time.
“Madame? Dad?” They both made little sounds of acknowledgment. “Do you really think we should be royalty?” King Jeanguy sat up.
“Everybody has their big break,” he said, believing it with every fiber of his complimentary bathrobe, “and this is the form ours took. I know you’re going to miss the stage my little Dove, but I grew weary of chopping my children up.”
“Kings and queens just get the guillotine instead,” she countered, regretting it instantly.
“Watch your tongue,” Queen-Madame Etz warned. “I won’t have a daughter of mine destabilize the country while we’re still pouring the foundation.”
“All I’m trying to say is that we’re going to be the scapegoats if anything goes wrong,” Dove argued. “That’s why they didn’t pick a more impor- more famous family like the Haysuits. Phillipa told me so. Everyone is hoping we’ll be kind of bad at this.”
“Maybe don’t prove them right then,” Razzle said, stressed tone urging Dove to drop it.
“You’re nearly old enough to make the decision for yourself,” her mother reminded. “Give it a year, and if you would like to abdicate and move back to our cabinet-cluttered hovel you will be free to do so.”
“Yes Madame,” Dove said, giving up as she felt the angry quills of the rest of her family on her. She would need actual evidence of wrongdoing, and a name to attach to it, if they were going to care about the possibility of being puppets or effigies at all. The breeze loosened her own bristles, and classes had stuffed her mind enough that it was all too easy to let it go for the night, especially when their food, prepared by their own private chef, arrived on a cart loaded with literal silver platters.
Asian fusion cuisine was on offer that night, including a large plate with a stacked pyramid of fortune cookies, a longtime favorite of the magical thanks to the incantation Dove muttered when she cracked one open, which ensured the fortune’s accuracy while keeping it an unhelpful vagary: alway.
Beware the wealthy man who presents his humble tent home.