I woke from a nightmare with a heavy breath and covered my right eye. It was more of a memory than a nightmare, being surrounding by flames and in pain. But it was so vivid even after years had passed. Me laying there in the flames and dying as I felt the life slip out of me….
Brushing the memory to the back of my mind like so many other things, I finally noticed Kowl was missing from the bed as I sat up. The light coming in through the window was that of the rising sun, early enough that I could catch another hour or two of shut-eye…ah, but I had to do morning detention with Invidia and Magister Flourish. That wasn’t going to be fun.
“Gotta get ready then…” I grumbled, sliding out of the comfort of the bed and making my way to the bathroom to get ready for school. After a shower, a change of clothes, and a quick stop in the kitchen for a toast and jam breakfast, I made my way down the stairs. It was then that I caught the scent of medicine coming from the closed door leading to Kowl’s workplace. Being the curious person that I was, I took a peek inside.
Kowl was in his element, which was always a sight worth staring at. He was an officially licensed alchemist that specialized in chemicals, ranging from medicine to explosives, and he really loved what he did. That’s why it showed on his face whenever he went to work.
I spent about a minute just watching until the short-stack noticed my scent over that of the medicine. She waved with a big grin and tugged on Kowl’s hair to get his attention. “Alice is up! Alice is up!”
“Yes, I can see that now,” Kowl said flatly before nodding in my direction. “Good Morning.”
I gave up the attempt at spying and just opened the door wide to greet them. “Heya Kowl. Heya Aeria. What are ya’ll doing?”
“Yesterday’s events set me back on an order to be delivered to the academy today,” he stated. “The apothecary magister is expecting a few dozen vials of the standard drafts made from the herbs that grow around here, dried and crushed. He vouched for me and he’s a regular at this point.”
Aeria looked down at him with those black-as-night eyes and whined. “I thought we were making candy today?”
“Candy afterwards,” he replied without missing a beat. “We can make the Morning Dew Gumdrops again, but the client comes first. Besides, who was it that ate up the month’s supply I made earlier?”
The gal tried to play it off. “Umm…you did?”
Kowl refused to dignify that with an answer, instead looking at me with a glance that may as well of said ‘Look what I have to work with?’ “Why are you up so early as well? You normally sleep for another two hours.”
Running my fingers through my hair, I decided to tease him a bit. “Well, ya make such a decent teddy bear that when ya went missing I woke up. Next time I leave for home on break I should take ya with me.”
His response was to push up his glasses and look away. “And then your very large, very muscular father would follow through with his threat to crush me like a grape if I, and I quote, ‘defile his lil’ firebug.’”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. That was Pa alright. Big, strong, and protective. “Pa only said that ‘cause he likes ya. He and Ma clearly trust ya enough to authorize me sleeping here instead of the dorms.”
“Because they think you sleep in the spare room,” he pointed out. Then, as an afterthought, he added, “…I’d like to make sure it stays that way.”
“I’ll think about leaving it out of the next letter…” Looking at the clock, I realized I shouldn’t dawdle around any longer. “Well, gotta run. See ya in a few hours.”
“Bye~!” Aeria yelled over Kowl’s more reserved good-bye.
I blew the pair a kiss and left them to their thing while I grabbed my broom and let the morning wind chill batter against my skin as I made my way back to the academy.
Invidia yawned while rubbing her arctic-blue eyes. Her snow-white hair was messy since she was dragged out of bed to get to work. For detention we were supposed to be collecting sap from the Majus trees for their medicinal purposes. That turned out to be a little difficult to do when the trees actually, ya know, fought back.
“Incoming!” Magister Flourish yelled as we moved to avoid being crushed by a tree limb. It hit the ground and threw up a spray of dirt that messed our hair and clothes up further. Then it came around for a second hit.
Aggravated, I resorted to my usual means of settling a problem and cut the attempt short with a tongue of fire from my wand. The flare of heat woulda burned it to cinders if I hadn’t aimed it upwards as a warning shot. “Okay, ya blasted tree. Sit still until we’re done, or I’ll turn ya into charcoal!”
It tested me, sending a thick limb towards me for another go. Perhaps I wasn’t clear before, so I seared the limb off with a flaming whip to get the message across. It turns out that sentient trees could, in fact, shriek in pain. It didn’t try that again though, instead trembling like it had the shakes.
Magister Flourish huffed as she handed Invidia a bottle and told her to get to work. The gal just sat there while I had to play tree-tamer. “Not a solution I would recommend, but for now it seemed to have worked. Let’s hope a threat alone will suffice for the others.”
I blew a stray tuft of hair out of my face and pointed to the whimpering tree with my wand. “Weren’t these supposed to be docile and such?”
“Something deeper in the forest has them frightened, I believe,” the magister said. “As a result they’ve become defensive and are lashing out at…well, everything. Until we know what it is, there isn’t much we can do. But I hadn’t expected this level of hostility.”
It was then another student came flying in on a staff from the direction of the greenhouses. One of the members of that gardening club she ran before and after school hours. The guy looked like he ate something bad.
“What is it Dalton?” the magister asked.
“There was a…minor incident and we’ve had to evacuate the first and fifth greenhouses,” he said with a good bit of pause, wincing as she raised an eyebrow. “Okay, it’s really bad. We need your help, fast!”
Magister Flourish sighed. “Come on you two, I have to go ensure the safety of the students and plants in the greenhouses.”
“What!?” Invidia yelled while getting the sap from the tree, startling it. It knocked her down with one of the thinner branches and the sap she was collecting slathered her hair as it spilled. It made her shriek and struggle to get it out. “Eww…”
I did my best not to laugh…I failed. I failed hard, rolling on the ground laughing. What could I say? It amused me. Not that I didn’t pick myself up off the ground when the magister gave me a sharp look.
Magister Flourish cleared her throat and addressed the frosty gal. “Is there some problem with my decision that I am not aware of, Miss Arktiska?”
“We came here on foot!” she exclaimed in a huff. “If we have to go all the way back to the greenhouses and then come back, we’ll be out here past breakfast and I won’t have time to shower after being covered in”—she gestured to the sap all over her—“nature!”
I had to agree with her on the time though. “As much as the prissy gal could air out that stuffy attitude, she has a point. We know how to get the sap and I do need to study.”
Magister Flourish tapped her glasses in thought. “Hmm…you have a point…I guess—”
“Magister!” another student on a broom interrupted, coming from the greenhouses. He was covered in what smelled like fresh fertilizer even at this distance. “One of the club members accidentally clipped a petal from the alraune and it’s going berserk! Not to mention the fires!”
The magister was fuming at this point. She turned to the two of us and gave direct orders. “Gather the sap and return at once. Miss Arktiska, don’t be lazy. Miss Pyralis, don’t burn the forest down.”
“Fair enough,” I said. With that she left by riding with the club member who didn’t smell like manure, saying something to him that left him looking pale. My guess was that he was in deep trouble.
“This is a waste of time,” Invidia huffed as she flipped her hair back. “I wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t run that foul tongue of yours off.”
“Yer the one who started pissin’ me off first,” I shot back, accent a bit stronger than usual. “Make one more crack about somethin’ indecent goin’ on between Kowl and me again, and I’ll show ya some really foul language.”
“Ugh.” Invidia flicked her right hand as she tried to clean herself off. When that didn’t work she tossed down the bottle and got ready to storm off. “Forget this! Handle this on your own, you hick.”
“Hahaha… no,” I said dryly. “I will burn yer privileged rear off if ya try and pass this off on me.”
She got that condescending look on her face and raised her chin to look down on me. “Jealous? Considering whatever backwater hole you crawled out of it isn’t a surprise. ”
“Considering how ya spend it frivolously every time I look, I’d say that it won’t last if ya become the head of yer house,” I pointed out.
“Whatever, I’m leaving!” Invidia turned, trying to walk off. Fire erupted from my wand and streaked narrowly past her waist, setting the ground in front of her on fire. Much like the tree earlier, that was a warning shot. She spun on her heel, eyes wide and laced with anger.
I returned the look with a glare. “I was serious when I said I would burn yer rear off if ya tried to skip out on me.”
She pulled out her wand and entered a dueling stance. “If you wanted a duel you should have just asked. Attacking from behind? Have you no honor?”
“Absolutely none,” I admitted. “In fact, all I’ve seen is it serving as yer piss-poor justifications for acting like spoiled brats… besides, honor don’t mean a thing in a fight and this has been a long time coming.”
Frosty vapor gathered at the tip of her wand. Heat distorted the air around the tip of mine. Before fire and ice could crash we were interrupted, once again, as unexpected guests leapt from the top of the trees at the entrance of the forest and waddled out towards us from the edge.
They were shaped like bells with a see-through and green exterior, making them seem like a cage for displaying prisoners. On top of their bell-shaped bodies were mouths that constantly gaped open and closed, as if practicing for when it swallowed prey. Beneath the bell were flat feet that let them to wobble on land, while the two long ivy stems that acted as their arms swayed back and forth like serpents and helped them move along the trees.
“What on Trimagus are these abominations?” Invidia murmured.
“Weren’t ya paying attention during Magical Herbology class?” I turned my wand towards them when I noticed them coming in from all around us. “They’re called Bell Snatchers—a type of carnivorous plant that dissolves birds they snatch as they pass by inside their pitchers. They aren’t supposed to be this far out of the deeper portions of the woods… and definitely not supposed to be this big.”
“Whatever, let’s just lea—” she cut herself off when she turned around and found a pack of them hanging out behind us. Even she had a sense of self-preservation and could tell it was time to stop playing around. “What did you say they ate again?”
“Birds and smaller animals.” My tone was calm despite the outlook. Compared to trolls these critters didn’t drudge up much of a scare. I took aim at the nearest one. “But that’s only ‘cause that’s all that would fit inside them at their normal size. I’m thinkin’ we’re on the menu for these guys.
“Cast to kill if ya want to live,” I added as a last bit of advice.
She agreed, skipping the school-yard spells and going straight to lethal with the Hail Arrow spell. It made icicles form in the air above her, two feet long and pointy enough to pierce steel, glistening in the sunlight as they hung there waiting for a second command. When she swished her wand they flung themselves forward and proceeded to chew through most of the first wave, ripping through their bodies and leaving them to slump to the ground.
I cast an ignition spell to deal with the huddled ones coming towards us from the left. The Fire Spout spell skipped sending the flames across the distance and just set an entire area on fire. It consumed the grouping in a single blossom of reddish flames.
With the opening shots fired a chorus of abnormal, wet howls rang out and the snatchers began to attack with their ivy arms. The tendrils extended to cross the distance and ensnare the two of us.
My flaming whip emerged from the tip of my wand and lashed out. It seared the ivy that was actually likely to reach us, buying us a berth to work with, while the others missed and hit the ground. Given they struck with enough force to dig welts into the ground, a good hit was going to hurt something fierce.
There was then a spout of dirt that emerged as a flower of icicles bloomed. The morning sun filtered through the Glacier Blossom spell as thinned fluid from the snatchers rolled down the ice petals while they hung there like limp dolls. The ice was so cold and so massive that it chilled the air all the way over here and managed to impale a good deal of the ones that hung out in the rear.
I was sort of impressed that she was capable of such a thing considering fire was easier to use than ice and that spell was not taught in our year. Since she was from the northern region, where ice and snow were the norm, there was probably no one better in our age group at using that branch of magic. Not that I would admit it to her.
Invidia fell to her knees, beads of sweat dotting her face as she dealt with the strain of using such a high-level spell. But it thinned out their numbers. If we could hold out for just a little more then we could probably finish them off.
“On yer feet!” I told her. “We gotta finish this!”
“I’m getting out of here!” Invidia scrambled back to her feet and tried to run. That was mistake, turning her back on the enemy, and one of them sent ivy to coil around her legs and tripped her. The impact with the ground made her drop her wand and left her helpless as it reeled her in like a fish. “Unhand me, you overgrown weed!”
The lucky critter held her above its head before it dropped her into its storage bulb. With a gurgling giggle noise it then scurried off into the thick of the trees with its meal. All while the gal screamed her lungs out, helpless without her wand.
There was a flare of heat and light as I cleared out another grouping with the Fire Spout spell again. With any luck I bought myself enough time to try and cripple the critter before it could get too far away with her. I took aim and channeled my magic—
A snap of one’s whip-like ivy hit the wrist holding my wand and sent pain throughout my body, tearing my concentration to shreds. My grasp slackened, my wand hit the ground, and thick tendrils ensnared my arms before I could reclaim it. Just like Invidia I was pulled inside one of them and trapped.
“Let me outta here, ya overgrown weed!” There was no way I was gonna be plant food. But it merely danced around with me inside it, along with the remaining snatchers, mocking my helplessness before they carted me off…at least they thought I was helpless with whatever served as brains for them.
“I said…” Heat began to seep through my skin as my temper flared. My hair rustled as the air distorted from the haze. I wasn’t the same as Invidia. I didn’t need my wand to use all my fire magic.
I needed one to control it. “LET ME OUTTA HERE!”
A roaring, aureate fire was born from within me and swallowed me in a flowering wave of heat. The critters all around wailed in agony as they were burned away, fed to the golden flames. There was no smoke or ashes, but everything around me was swept into the flames like a vortex.
I forcefully regained control of the flames and dispersed them before they went wild when I was done. The effort left me on my knees in the charred earth, clutching my right eye that throbbed in pain. It wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, and I didn’t like resorting to using that unless I had to. On the bright side, at least I didn’t burn off my clothing…this time.
Picking up Invidia’s wand near the spot where she was captured and listening to her screams in the distance, I sighed at what needed to be done while thinking what a set of lungs that girl had. As troublesome as it was I would feel… guilty just running away and letting her become some plant’s dinner. “I suppose I should go and save the prissy gal…”
Taking a moment to look around at the rest of the destruction, I used a spell to send up a flare into the air. While I didn’t know if they heard the fighting, the flare at least would let anyone who saw it know something was up. With the remains of the Bell Snatchers that weren’t consumed by my flames left behind, they’d put two and two together and send someone after us eventually. The only question was whether or not I could save Invidia without burning the forest down like the magister asked before she left.