Part 21: Post-Christmas PresencesThis update's a bit short, covering just a week or so of in-game time, as there's a bit of a decision at the end, which might affect how things go for us in the future!
Chapter 17, Part 1: Post-Christmas Presences
I have to admit, I don't really know much about him. He's a senior, a Toad, likes pinball... and that's about it. Honestly, I think it's what attracts me to people like him- the fact that I don't know much about him just itches my curiosity something awful.
That said, it seems he might not feel the same way about me, as nothing seems to happen. Maybe Potsdam was just fooling around? Heh, maybe that bunny of his is-
...think of someone else think of someone else thinkingofsomeoneelsenow
Nothing happens. Well, I guess I am one of his many students- it's not like we're married or anything. In any event, Potsdam soon waves us goodbye, with a cheerful "Merry Christmas, everybody! See you in two weeks!"
Since we weren't on Grabiner's path, we don't actually get anything. The requirements for his path are actually quite involved, but I'll be sure to showcase it, fear not! One of the more interesting points about the Grabiner path is that, if you're on it, then you can actually feel free to think about someone else, since his path's kind of like a backup. There is one other such path, and we might see it in the next update, or the one after.
To be honest, I was kind of dreading my return home, and the two weeks of vacation confirmed all my fears. I had grown a bit distant from life among mortals, and while my parents and relatives talked about their jobs, what Uncle Langdon was up to in Europe (something about ancient stuff, I didn't really pay attention), their schoolwork and the like, I found my mind returning to magical formulae, wondering how it felt to touch the minds of my friends that day in White Magic class, thinking about using Blue Magic to redirect and control the flow of light- that last bit really set my mind thinking.
To be honest, I think I'd become addicted to magic, to weaving and shaping it. It wasn't a high in the 420-weed-erryday sense, but a feeling of... contentment. It's as if wielding magic was something that I just knew I was destined for. It was my purpose in life, why I was placed here on Earth for, and I doubt these words would be enough to properly describe just how right magic felt to me.
And being unable to talk to my family about it was uncomfortable, to say the least. I thought about writing Sanae- she was a shrine priestess, after all. Maybe if I wrote in guarded terms, made references to popular fantasy books and the like, I could have got some kind of insight. But one week into the holidays, I found a stack of letter I'd sent her, all with 'Return to Sender' on them. Apparently she'd moved, and nobody was able to find her new address, so that was that.
The clincher was when I realized that for the past few days, I'd felt homesick in my own house. Don't get me wrong, I love my parents, and my family- but if this Christmas and the last Thanksgiving have taught me anything, it's that I don't really belong amongst them anymore.
The revelation is less distressing than I thought, and that knowledge is causing me more stress than the former. I can't really explain it.
In any case, returning to Iris brought with it a great sense of relief; it was strange, to say the least.
I have to say, this passage always felt like some kind of wish-fulfillment to me, though that may be because I'm a terrible student
In any case, opening the doors and seeing my friends was the highlight of my homecoming. "Hey, guys!" I called out.
"Hey Mary!" Ellen and Virginia replied in unison.
"It was fine," Ellen replied simply.
"It was great!" Virginia squealed. "I brought back all this stuff!" she said, pointing at the shelf next to her bed. "A few bulk boxes of candy, a crate of cookies- not homemade stuff, unfortunately, but eh, it's all double chocolate chip, so it's still cool!"
"That should last you about a week," I replied dryly.
"Mary, please!" Virginia scolded. "It should last me at least a week!" she said, without a single trace of irony.
"I stand corrected," I conceded. Ellen, however, was not so willing to admit defeat.
"What is it, Ellen?" Virginia asks.
Ellen opens her mouth to speak, closes it again, and tries once more with a "Nothing."
"Nuh-uh, Ellen," Virginia says. "That look on your face is nowhere near nothing."
"Virginia's right, Ellen," I tell her. "You can tell us."
"Don't say I didn't warn you," Ellen scowls.
Wait for it...
"The same reason my hair's dark red, yours is blonde, and Mary's..." Virginia trails off.
"It's genetic!" I tell her, my turn to scowl having come around.
"Anyway," Virginia continues, "we're just born that way. That's it."
"Look, all I'm saying is that you're fine just the way you are," Virginia laughs. "I know it's cheesy, but it's true!"
"Urgh, don't remind me of cheese," Ellen groans. "I had waaay too much of that back home. Oh, and speaking about reminding- I just remembered that this came for you, Mary."
"You know who it's from?" Virginia asks, apparently not noticing how much blood's drained from my face. "That symbol's got to mean something."
"It's probably nothing," I say, surprising myself with how calm I feel- though judging my the feathery touch of White Magic I feel in my mind, I can't take all the credit. In any case, making a big deal out of not answering it would make them even more curious or suspicious, and I don't think the Rose And Wasp's code would allow them to take out innocent bystanders, so I simply open the box to reveal a piece of paper.
As my eyes fall across the words in the pages they fade away, until all that's left is a blank sheet of paper.
"What was it?" Virginia asks.
"Big Steve," I blurt out. "It was- was from Big Steve," I tell them. Amazingly, it seems to work.
"Yup, sounds like a Big Steve thing," Virginia says sagely.
I raise an eyebrow. " 'Big Steve thing'?" I ask.
Virginia nods. "Big Steeeve thiiiing," she says, all seriousness.
"Was it true about the bunny?" Ellen asks. "Virginia told me all about it, but I didn't believe it, and I thought it was rude to ask, and-"
"Slow down! Slow don, Ellen!" I tell her. "But yes, it was true about the bunny," I add, relieved they they fell for it, and a bit ashamed at lying to them and badmouthing Big Steve.
For their part, Ellen and Virginia look at each other and nod. "Big Steve thing," they say knowingly.
It's good to be back.
The next day's classes are somewhat uneventful, with everyone in a holiday mood- especially Grabiner, who celebrated by informing us that there was a test at the end of the week. "That's our Grabiner," I mumble, heading out of class and straight into-
Well, maybe not 'straight into', more like 'pass by unknowingly', but the general gist is there, maybe kinda somewhat.
"You came back, Mary!" he exclaims.
Is that genuine joy I'm hearing? "It's good to see you too, Damien," I grin unsurely. "Why wouldn't I be back?"
"Well," he says wistfully, "sometimes people just don't come back," he tells me. I can't imagine why- if magic was one tenth as wonderful as it was for me now, I'd still be reluctant to abandon it. "Did you have a nice holiday?"
"It was... normal," I tell him, and he nods knowingly. "Yours?"
"It was pretty quiet here," he shrugs. "Practically the whole school was away for the holidays."
"You didn't go back," I say. "I... I don't know what to say."
"Still, Christmas," I say. Even if I decide to embrace magic full-time, I simply can't imagine cutting ties with my whole family. Evidently, Damien felt differently.
"It's mutual," he says with quiet finality, and I decide to back down. Even my near-omnipresent curiosity stands down.
"But first, close your eyes," he grins.
"...all right," I say warily, but with my curiosity coming back to the fore. "But if this is a practical joke, I swear I'm going to kick you."
"Don't worry," it's perfectly all right," he grins, and I close my eyes. "Now, Mary, hold out your hands."
Well, what else could I do? I hold out my hands as per Damien's request, and as I do, I feel something small, slim and hard pressed into it. It takes all my willpower not to start kicking right there and then.
"Now, open your eyes," Damien says.
When I do, I find my breath stopping in my throat, and I silently thank anyone who's listening that I didn't kick. In my hand is a flower- no, a rose. A single rose, made out of some strange black substance, as if night itself had been shaped into a flower.
"Is it- is it stone?" I ask, holding it up to the window, where light gleams off its smooth surface.
"Advanced Black Magic," he tells me with delight. "They teach you stuff about fine detail in your senior year," he grins. "And before you say so, because I know you're going to say so, I know it's ironically fitting that I of all people am good at Black Magic."
"You know me all too well," I smirk. "Must've raised a few eyebrows too," I add.
"And that made it all worth it," Damien smiles, before leaning back-first next to a window. "Honestly though, I like Black Magic, and not because it's so thematic," he says. "I've never... never..." he adds, snapping his fingers in an attempt to find the right word. "I've never really had anything permanent, you know? I wasn't the boy I thought I was, life here wasn't as fun as I thought it would be when I first came..." He whispers something next, and I pretend to not have heard his "I thought I'd be alone for the rest of my life."
He shakes his head to clear his mind, and turns to me. "All the other magics, they're all about changing stuff- Red Magic does it forcefully, Blue does it by hiding and literally changing it, Green shapes biological stuff, White messes with your mind- but Black Magic?" he asks. "That's all about making things permanent. Not just changing things, but making things as well. Things that last. Things like that rose."
"That's... wow," I breathe. "I- I don't know what to say, Damien. I should have brought you a present myself."
"You don't have to," he grins. "You're here."
Yes, Damien's "You're here," line is in the game, and yes, this is how Mary reacts if you're on good terms with him, and yes, it really is this cheesy. I love it
My giggles build up into guffaws, and then into full-bodied laughter, to which Damien responds with a simple nod and a "That bad, huh?"
"That was terrible!" I gasp out between bouts of laughter. Damien tries to respond, but he starts snickering, and pretty soon we're both out there in the hall, laughing our guts out, and I can't help but feel that it's nice to be home.
And it only gets better the next day at Blue Magic class. The potential of Blue Magic had been nagging at me all holiday, so I came to class practically bursting with questions- which are answered after class with Professor Grabiner bursting with laughter- and perhaps a little curiosity. "What makes you believe that you can achieve with a little magical theory what some of the modern world's greatest minds have failed to thus far do satisfactorily?"
"Well," I say with a confident grin. "I have magic on my side, for one."
"And yet I find myself driving to and from work," he retorts, "not flying here on a broomstick. Not a very cogent argument for your theory, Miss Sue."
"Can't prove a hypothesis without an experiment," I tell him smugly. "Or are you too scared to help?"
"Tch, Miss Sue, I ought to give you demerits for that," he says. "Thankfully for you, my office has seen a dearth of reliable electrical supply lately, hence my preparation of a Light spell. True, they say it would be fixed by today, but why take chances? On the electricity, I mean- you're clearly a no-hoper."
"We'll see about that," I tell him. Grabiner casts his Light spell- and gasps sharply when I presumably disappear before him.
See, the problem with trying to make an invisibility cloak, field, whatever, by technological means is that it tries to bend light around the generator. Yeah, this does make the wearer invisible- but our eyes depend on the light wavelengths reflected and emitted by everything around it to see, and by bending light around a person, that person is blind. True, you can achieve the same effect by using many hidden cameras to project images onto a wearable fabric that can display pictures, but that's just waaay cumbersome.
Magic however, can not only bend and contain light, but manipulate it as well, which is why my method seems to work. I create a field that doesn't bend light coming at me, but bend light wavelengths coming from me while bending all the wavelengths around me. Long story short, my eyes still pick up the light wavelengths from around me, while nobody picks up mine.
It's not perfect though; trying to focus on bent wavelengths is tedious and headache-causing, and I cannot focus on being invisible for long periods of time- at most, I can hold it for around 10 seconds or so. Still though, judging by the shocked admiration on Grabby's face, I think it's all worth it. Mind you, I still have a splitting headache.
Which is how I find myself lying down in bed, Virginia doing some rare studying at her desk, when there's a knock on the door. "Yo, Urchin!"
"Fine, I'll get it," I sigh, walking over to the door. As expected, Donald's outside.
"Hey, Mary," he says. "Urchin- I mean, is Virginia in there?"
"Virginia?!" I hear my roommate say in disbelief. "Now I know there's something up," she says, coming towards us. In the brief moment before she does, Donald shoots me a quizzical look. I shake my head slightly, and he gives me a small nod with an equally smaller grin.
"Look, Logan's doing this thing, and he asked me and Luke to rustle up some people for it," he goes on.
"Hearing the word 'rustle' in anything you say isn't exactly putting me at ease, Donald," Virginia scowls.
"Relax, he's just running a bingo game," Donald tells us. "The more people join, the more you could win. $5 gets you in."
"Count me out," Virginia says, holding up her hands. "I'm not getting involved in anything you're involved in," she says.
"Fair enough," Donald shrugs, before turning to me. "How about you, Mary?"
"Why not?" I say. "It's only $5, and I'm not really planning to go buy anything at the mall anyway."
"Great!" Donald exclaims. "Follow me to Falcon Hall, and I'll get Logan to set you up." As we walk away, he shoots a glance at the door rapidly disappearing behind us before turning to me. "Thanks for not telling Virginia about... you know."
"It didn't seem like the kind of thing to tell her," I shrug. "Not like a few words from me would fix things."
"Guess not," he sighs. We make small talk for a few more minutes, before reaching the Falcon Hall hallway.
While the game goes on, Logan calling out numbers from his "One hundred percent mechanical and campus-legal machine", I look around at the other players. I don't see any seniors playing alongside us, though I do see a few Falcons whom I don't recognize keeping watch. Out of curiosity, I turn my attention to the device, and slightly enhance my senses magically. There is a slight enchantment on it, but it's more defensive than anything- guess it's to prevent cheating. Duly satisfied, I get back to the game...
...and wonder whether I should have cheated, since I'm left $5 poorer. "Wait, is that it?" I ask, when I see Logan packing up.
Assuming there is a next time- not like I could afford another game, anyway. Besides, I have a test to get ready for, which is how, come Friday, I find myself standing in front of the exam room door again.
"To pass the exam," I hear the voice announce, "you must reach the exit safely. But be warned- you are not alone."
"Oh goody," I mutter to myself.
"Oh goody indeed," I hear something say behind me. I turn around...
Okay then, sports fans! It seems Mary's found herself in on hairy situation, but unless we do something, this shaggy dog story's going to be a whole lot shorter than expected! Do we:
-Try outwit the beastie (suggest something)?
-Fight the Hodag?
-I'm too scared, CommissarMega! You do it for me- get max merits!
For an idea of what we can do, here's our spell list. Remember, we only have 35 Magic points, so whatever we do use, let's make it count!:
Voting ends in 36 hours, since I have a lot to do today (and it's not like I'd get to things any faster anyway )