This scene contains violence and brief verbal expression of racism.
Minerva Orizaga sensed trouble the instant the Professor walked through the door with a big leather bag under her arm and a lesson planner in hand. It was early Thursday, the clock struck nine and suddenly there was Professor Kolsa smiling at the assembled students, waving; she breezed past Minerva to take the stand in front of the class.
Unceremoniously she dumped everything she was carrying onto the lectern and then started to fiddle with the stand, setting up her notes. That Beatrix had shown up to class was surprising enough. That she appeared to have material with her was ominous.
Minerva watched in silence as Beatrix stood up her lesson planner and turned to class.
“Good morning, dear students! I see everyone’s here!” she said, clapping her hands.
In the front row, a young woman with glowing pink fox ears poking out of her head pointed sharply to the seat next to her. It was quite well bereft of any assumed students.
“Jennifer’s out, Professor. She asked me to hand you– well, to hand to Minerva–”
Beatrix Kolsa cheerfully cut her off. “I see almost everybody is here!” She declared.
Minerva covered her face in her hands.
It didn’t take divination to tell that her day was about to take a turn for the worse.
“Minerva? Oh, where’s my handsome assistant?”
Beatrix stared sweetly at her, and Minerva wanted so dearly to hide somewhere.
At the Professor’s insistence, however she approached the lectern.
Beatrix threw an arm around her and pulled her close in a friendly embrace.
“Come here, pal! It looks like you’ve gotten everyone pumped up for unit three, huh!”
Minerva mumbled. “We’re starting unit two, but okay.”
At this point the front of the room was a study in contrasts. There were the students, the bright young minds of the Otrarian National Academy For The Esoteric Arts, in their blue and gray blazers, suit pants and dress skirts, business-like and proper; and then there was Professor Kolsa, in a tanktop and yoga pants, a flower crown perched atop her long chestnut hair. Everyone was staring; some of the boys and girls were practically drooling. Minerva stared at the bra straps exposed on Beatrix’s shoulders and sighed. She was only a little better in her old coat and jeans but she was at least clothed — she even had a button-down shirt, and all of it was buttoned down. She even did her hair up!
There were eighty students in attendance, crowding the lecture hall’s tight rows of seats. This wasn’t the first lecture, or the second or the third or the fourth of the semester, but the students stared quizzically as if they were bleary-eyed freshmen ripped from orientation. To them Professor Kolsa might as well have been some kind of cryptid.
For a moment the Professor stared at the class as though she expected applause.
When she and Minerva failed to elicit any response, she seemed taken a little aback.
“Perhaps I should introduce myself! I’m Professor Beatrix Kolsa, and this is Introduction To Magical History! It’s my course! Three credits, anthropology deparment, etcetera–”
There were glances exchanged all along the room. Some students had seen Beatrix before. She was at the office, and they talked to her about their grades, confusingly enough, and not to Minerva instead. But the Professor had taught nothing to them.
“My assistant here, Minerva Orizaga, has done a fantastic job, and I would not entrust the care of your education to anyone else! But this morning, I had a flash of inspiration!”
Minerva thought there were good reasons why Beatrix did not teach this class often.
She was busy; she was an important researcher; and she was bad at it.
Nevertheless, the bubbly Professor seemed determined to lead lecture this time.
She stuck her hand in the bag, and Minerva saw something inside glinting.
When Beatrix pulled her arm out she held out a gilded treasure in her fingertips.
All of the students gasped and traded glances. Beatrix held aloft what looked like an old wand, but it was made of silver with a gold pattern of veins across its surface, its shape long and tapering but thicker at its base, held on a thinner, jewel-studded handle.
“You all probably asked yourselves, ‘what is the point of learning magical history?’ And I thought I would show you all a practical example of our knowledge and skills. When I am not working on your grades, I research historical artifacts; I borrowed a few pieces I have been working on, so that you can try your hand at doing my job! Isn’t it exciting?”
There was certainly excitement; the kind of excitement that caused one to choke, and to feel terribly anxious. There were students staring as if an illegal act was in progress, and certainly one could have been; Minerva was almost expecting Academy security to show up through the door and tackle the Professor to the floor (and arrest her by association). These artifacts could have been worth unmentionable amounts of money, and she waved them in front of an introductory history class like they were toys, giggling throughout.
“Now, let’s see, who should come up first? How about miss Kholodova?”
Beatrix stuck her arm out straight, pointing a finger at a set of purple-streaked black twintails peeking out at the back of the room, just over the head of a slightly taller classmate. From behind the student, a pearl-pink face with bright amber eyes stuck out into the aisle, blinking; Kholodova, first name Lyudmilla (everyone called her Milla) pointed at herself in confusion and looked around. But she was the only Kholodova.
Minerva had to believe it was deliberate on Beatrix’s part. Milla never sat up close.
Maybe Beatrix was trying to get her to break out of her shell with this stunt.
Or perhaps it was her grades? Those weren’t quite good–
Whatever the reason for it, Milla Kholodova obediently stood up from the back of the room and walked down the aisle as requested, the ends of an undone ribbon tie swinging around the disheveled collar of her shirt. Her blazer was a little shabby, her skirt a bit frayed; and her socks were different colors. Minerva had to believe that was deliberate too. Her long twintails trailing behind her, Milla strode with a skeptical expression to the front of class. She stopped abruptly in front of the lectern and looked at the bag.
“Should I get out my casting tool?” Milla asked, hands fiddling around inside her coat.
“No need! You see, this itself is a casting tool. Can you tell me what it is?” Beatrix asked.
She held out the gilded wand, and Milla took a step back as if it would jump at her.
“It’s a wand?” Milla replied. Her voice had just the slightest hint of an accent.
“Yes! But what kind of wand is it? You should be familiar with its origin!” Beatrix said.
She happily and gently pushed the wand closer to Milla, who averted her gaze from it.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you, Professor.” Milla said. She didn’t seem to want to catch even a whiff of the wand, and Minerva couldn’t blame her. If there was one thing instilled into magicians from birth it was to beware the magical objects you did not own. Whether you got cursed, or simply broke something and now owed a replacement, it was never good.
Professor Beatrix Kolsa was not the norm for wanting to be so hands-y with magical trinkets from ancient civilizations. She was the exception to the legendary caution endemic to the Otrarian mage. The rest of the room was properly terrified of it all.
“Well, you need to study your history, Ms. Kholodova! It’s a wand that belonged to an ancient court magician, one of the Rus of the country of Moroz! Our northerly neighbor!”
“Beatrix we won’t even hit that unit for months! What is your problem?” Minerva said.
The Weave-Magic of the Old Rus was part of Unit Seven. Even Minerva could not identify that artifact just by sight alone. Wands did not even differ that much among the peoples of the Old World. Beatrix frowned and stared at the wand with disappointment.
“I’m getting out of touch, it seems.” She said wistfully. “But no matter!”
“Can I sit down now?” Milla asked.
“Not yet, Ms. Kholodova!” Beatrix turned the wand over on her fingers, now holding it properly by its handle. “We’re going to do a bit of research work on it, as I promised.”
Like a smiling demon of temptation, the Professor offered Milla an evil bargain.
Beatrix turned the wand on her fingers once more, holding it by the tip and offering Milla the handle. Milla almost seemed like she wanted to jump back, as if Beatrix was trying to throw a tarantula at her and not just hand her a wand. But the Professor made no move to withdraw the object or to accept any compromise; after almost a minute of silence in which she stared between Professor and relic in anguish, Milla sighed audibly and picked up the wand by its handle. She took great care not to swing it around.
“Ms. Kholodova, what spells do you have loaded for today?” Beatrix asked.
“Huh?” Milla looked up from the wand as if waking from a dream. “Oh, just, normal stuff. I slotted the stuff in the class packet. Um. I guess I’ve also been practicing with–”
Beatrix raised a finger over her own lips and winked at Milla, who quieted abruptly.
“Don’t give away all of your secrets, dear. You’re fine.” Beatrix said.
There was chortling from the front row of class that clearly made Milla upset.
“What are we doing next?” She asked, growing impatient.
Beatrix looked away from Milla and address the class as a whole again.
“As magical historians and researchers, there is an additional dimension to artifacts such as these that is extremely valuable to us.” She said. “Someone studying the ancient Kumari could find a mace, and say, ‘well, this was a mace and it was used for beating people to death, as all maces are’. It’s that simple. For us, however, there is always the question of what exactly was done with an implement such as this. When you find a wand, you must ask yourself what magic it has cast. And there’s ways to find out!”
Milla looked down at her own wrist. She pulled back her sleeve, and there was a device clipped to her arm, like a stopwatch with a thick band supporting a much wider, thicker face with a sizable and bright touchscreen surrounded by a few ports, common to any modern digital peripheral. She slid her finger across the face of the watch, pushing and pulling away a few menus. Finally the device, a homunculus, was ready to assist her.
Around the rim of the watch face a faint light glowed. It emanated a low, eerie sound.
“It’s ready to go. What do you want me to cast?”
“Anything you want!” Beatrix said. “But from the class packet, try Kyra’s Force Bubble.”
“You heard her.” Milla said dejectedly into her sleeve.
On her wrist, the homunculus’ screen lit up with a message.
Minerva braced for whatever happened next.
Milla began to twist the wand, as if trying to draw tiny circles in the air. From her wrist the homunculus made a barely audible digital noise, like the struggling of an old modem trying to connect. As she moved, the rim of the device cycled through various colors that shone brightly through her sleeve. Her eyes dilated; she seemed almost to enter a trance.
In an instant, Milla was not merely weaving invisible circles in the air, but trailing a film of glowing particulate energy that was at once dusty and slimy and wet, and it expanded, bloating up into a bubble that escaped from the tip of the wand and floating before her.
“Kyra’s Force Bubble.” Milla said.
Soon as she did, the misshapen, oozing bubble popped with a tiny bang, like a firework.
All the girls in the front row shielded themselves as the bubble’s flowing blue energy washed over them like a sudden wind. Their reaction was irrational. Minerva barely even blinked and the bubble hit her like a gentle breeze. It was barely cold, barely wet.
Milla covered her lips with her hand, stifling an impish giggle and grin.
Beatrix was delighted by the result, while the girls in the front row glared.
“Alright, we know the wand’s core is intact! We can prize its secrets from it now.”
Milla started to twisted one of her twintails around her finger nervously.
“Are you excited, Ms. Kholodova? You’re about to expose historical truths for all of us!”
Milla seemed entirely over what was happening and Minerva couldn’t blame her.
“Why not let another student participate?” Minerva whispered.
“There’ll be plenty of opportunities.” Beatrix cheerfully whispered back.
She then pointed subtly at the bag, and Minerva quickly peeked inside.
Minerva then closed it and pushed it away from her as if it was filthy.
And it was: filthy with stolen objects from the history department.
“Now, Ms. Kholodova! From the class packet, cast Rickard’s ‘Object Memory.'”
Milla flicked her wrist and turned her fingers over on he wand, and held it facing the tip straight up with one hand. While her homunculus sang its stimulating chorus, and her pupils went wild, Milla turned her other hand over the wand as if shielding it from the wind, her hand drawing closer and closer until a single finger slid down the shaft.
As if reacting to the stimulus, the gilding across the wand glowed red.
Minerva felt another breeze blow, but this one was fouler than the last.
Milla’s fingers slipped.
In her hand the wand gained a life of its own and she struggled to hold it.
It was shaking in her grip.
Beatrix raised fingers to her own mouth in a gesture of gentle, aristocratic shock.
“Oh my, oh me!”
Still she seemed much more interested in watching the effects than helping her student.
Minerva withdrew a wand from her coat, but she was too late in intervening.
As soon as Milla grabbed the shaft of the wand with both hands to control it, something blew out from the tip of the wand like a blast of smoke. A blurring being of smoke and colors like a living picture from a busted television slammed into the roof, dimmed the lights in the room, bounced to the back of the class and back, and hit the blackboard.
Milla fell to the floor, dropping the wand.
Beatrix turned around to meet the entity, while Minerva gripped her own wand tightly.
Students stood up from their seats in shock. One boy near the door bolted out the hall.
In moments the thing in front of the class achieved a coherent shape.
Still fuzzy with intermittent gray static and warping color, but with a thick and defined outline that gave it an alien personhood; it was a ghost or a spirit of some kind. It was, more precisely, a man in armor. His armor and helm were decorated with strips fur around the neck and shoulders and along the top. He pushed up his visor, and a deathly pale face, gaunt and grim with burning red eyes, stared with fury at all assembled.
He drew a ghostly sword and pointed at Milla.
“A witch of the enemy Rus! Surrender to the might of the Volker! Our empire–”
“Ah! Oh my! Oh my!”
Beatrix interposed herself in front of Milla, laughing and smiling, much too delighted.
“It’s a centurion from the first Volker Reich! Incredible!” She said.
Minerva blinked and grunted. “Beatrix, now is it not the time–”
“This wand must have delivered a killing curse and sealed him up–”
“Beatrix, exorcise him!”
Minerva’s shouting was not heeded, and before Beatrix could even so much as draw a casting tool or attempt anything freehand, the Centurion put down his sword and lifted his fist. Beatrix was shoved aside as if pulled away by invisible hands, and a dozen lengths of ghostly chain bound her up against one of the walls. Milla was once again visible, on the floor and in shock, crawling away from the ghost. He raised his sword.
“Out of my way peasant child. It takes noble blood to be a steward of Magic!”
Beatrix looked down at the chains, clearly stumped, but still jovially amused by it.
“Oh right, Volker nobles cast silent and freehand. That’s how they conquered–”
Ugggghhhh. Minerva wanted to be swallowed by the earth.
Once more the ghost set his sight and his sword on poor Milla Kholodova.
“For every hand of a witch, the Emperor gives a prize! I shall collect well today!”
Minerva would not have time to jump in like Beatrix did; and could not expose herself to Volker spellcasting in such a way, if she wanted to save Milla. She had an idea instead.
“A pox on Altair II!” Minerva shouted. “May his balls rot and his tongue bloat!”
Never before had Minerva seen a sword swing so fast from one side to another.
In an instant the ghost swung around to meet her with unmatched hatred in his eyes.
“How dare an animal speak against God’s greatest! Alwi devil, I will punish you!”
He made to raise his fist and Minerva made ready. Her timing had to be perfect.
Right in front of her, on the display hidden in her glasses, she saw is aura glow.
For a split second, she focused her thoughts on the mnemonic for silent casting.
A swan, beating its wings and making streaks in the great lakes.
She felt the chill of the ghost’s spell beginning to affect her, and brought up her guard.
In a split second something glowing and blurring bounced off her, back at the ghost.
He found himself thrown back and chained by his own spell.
Minerva ran to him and stood over his chained-up chest as if he were physical.
Her vision wavered between the esoteric and the material world, both because she was casting silently, which took a lot of effort, but also had her leg in a ghost now too. She felt a creeping chill, her skin beginning to turn from brown to grey as the unearthly, furious energy from which he was made started dragging the life from her into himself.
But she needed the connection.
She focused on the mnemonic technique once again.
She saw a vase, like one of those Beatrix brought in her bag, and she saw it shatter.
With her wand she launched a disintegrating spell right into the ghost.
His touch and connection, his sapping of her life, gave him enough life to be affected.
Streaks of awful black energy coursed through his ghostly sinews.
There was a terrifying flash.
Where there was once a ghost, the spell left nothing but a mound of salt over her foot.
Minerva dropped her wand, and coughed violently after her exertions.
Milla sat up on the floor, gasping for breath.
All of the students were speechless.
Beatrix’s chains also turned to salt, and she was freed of the wall.
“That was exciting!” She said, turning to the class. “See? History is a very dynamic field.”
She picked up the discarded wand and lifted it up and everyone in the classroom gasped and stepped back from it, as if they expected another ghost to jump out. Milla was struck dumb and had no response as Beatrix, wand in hand, approached and helped her up.
“Here, you can have it!” Beatrix said. “We’ve extracted all its research value now.”
It was black and dull, the expulsion of the ghost having tarnished its surface utterly.
Milla blinked, stared at the wand with wide, unbelieving eyes.
She then threw it right into the garbage can beside the door and stormed off.
Beatrix watched her leave and smiled helplessly.
“That’s completely fair.” She said. “Let’s see, what next?”