“You are golden, you are opulent, you are regal and lavish,” Fredrik exhaled, a smile on his face as he readied himself for his daily duties. Tuesday was a special day for him, as it was the only day of the week he was able to work at the academy’s mailroom, his favorite duty second to studying metallurgy, which was his first and only class today. He adjusted his wizardly uniform, today’s robes black with golden trim embroidered like thunderclouds and lightning in a greco-roman style. His mask, today’s an ever golden and ever polished, curly-bearded helmet mirrored his jubilant expression and looked like that of an ancient learned Greek philosopher crowned with a golden wreath like Zues himself. He tilted his head in the mirror, looking at his mask from every angle. To his satisfaction his own face was hidden on all sides, not for any real reason beyond the mystique. He loved when people talked about him, or better still his golden masks of his own making. They were his greatest works of art, so be it if rumors of a scarred face followed him - the golden masks were his true face. After he was done, Fredrik quickly gathered everything he needed for the day, books for classes, polish for his mask and his official mailman work lanyard, gaudy though it be. He turned the crystal to his dorm and exited into the labyrinthian halls of House Karak-Albrac. “Another wonderful, golden day!” He cheered as he walked down the halls into the common room. “I can tell today is going to be sunny all day!” “Then we’d better take our umbrellas,” Suzie teased him from across the room. Fredrik smiled wider at his gnomish friend, “Oh, Miss Suzie, how are you today?” “Better than yesterday, gosh, I’m still embarrassed…” She grumbled. “Lunch with Galahad?” He deduced, the gnomish woman groaning at the mention of it. The two made their way outside and walked together towards the transmutation building. “As far as first impressions go, Holmit blew it. I’d be surprised if Galahad would even want to join our stupid house as long as he’s around. He completely wrecked any chance of that.” “Oh come now, it couldn’t have been that bad. Besides, you and I are still factors, I think he likes us,” Fredrik gently pat Suzie’s shoulder before leaning down to her ear, “Not to mention Miss President seems to have caught his attention.” Suzie shot him a look of surprise, “Really?” Fredrik merely nodded, “Though in what capacity I cannot be sure. He asked me for her schedule yesterday, he may have just had a few questions. He is in one of her classes after all. I presume he went to meet her before her first class.” “At the crack of dawn? Hooey, I feel bad for him if he did. Well, whatever it is I hope the three of us are enough to tip the scales in his favor,” Suzie said before letting out a big yawn. “I have no doubt that he will join House Karak-Albrac, Miss Suzie. His interest in transmutation will outweigh our dwarven friend’s brusque behavior.” “I hope you’re right. Say, did you hear? Two new students already got locked out of Mr. Corvelli’s Necromancy one-oh-one class,” The gnome giggled, “They’re gonna have a hard semester if they’re tardy again.” “Mr. Corvelli might fail them if they’re not careful. He takes necromancy very seriously." Fredrik pointed out. "And with good reason," Suzie added, "It's not magic to be taken lightly. "I do hope the seniors of House Hemlock offer to help them,” Fredrik sighed, “Well, here we are. Another wonderful year under Professor Sargwyn. I tell you, Suzie, you and I will be masters in no time.” He quickly opened the door and held it for the gnome, following her in as the two made their way to their classroom upstairs. “Oh, I hope so.” The gnome grunted as she took each step, “I hate going up these stairs. Why can’t we just install a televator?” “You know the academy can’t afford that. Teleportation for just one flight of stairs is an exorbitant expense, let alone for every building on campus.” Explained Fredrik as he allowed the Gnome to grab his arm for support. “Well what about levitation? The lifts can’t be that expensive.” Suzie pointed out, finally reaching the top of the steps, nearly out of breath, “Can’t you be a gold plated gentleman and carry me next time?” “And miss the show? I dare not think of it,” Fredrik chuckled, “As for levitation lifts, well… maybe we could convince our dear Miss President to petition for your sake, however I fear many of our witches would need to make permanent changes in their attire.” Suzie sighed, “No more skirts?” “No more skirts.” He affirmed. “Can’t I just wear shorts under them?” The gnome complained, reaching for the door handle to their classroom. Fredrik grabbed it and held it ajar for the gnome as she stepped inside. “I wish you good luck convincing the other girls to do the same in the summer.” He said before closing the door. “Ha, ha, very funny Fredrik, but think about this: it won’t just be the girls benefiting from it, and it won’t just be the shortfolk either. Even you wouldn’t have to use the stairs ever again! Huh? Whacha think of that?” “I quite like the exercise.” He smiled, taking his seat beside his gnomish friend. Suzie stuck her tongue out at him before taking her seat. “Suzie complaining about stairs again?” Holmit grunted as he walked through the door. “You know your 'airbrained schemes will never be put into practice, right?” “Oh, please. Even you couldn’t turn your nose up at a levitation lift,” Suzie leered at the dwarf. “Oh, yes I could! A dwarf needs sturdy legs for work, no better way to keep ‘em ‘ealthy than climbing those stairs on the daily.” Holmit slapped his thighs proudly. Fredrik turned to Suzie who furrowed her brow, “See?” “Shut up, Holmit. I’m still mad at you.” The Gnome scowled at him, which only made the dwarf laugh. Soon after Holmit took his seat the rest of the students began filing into the room, followed by Professor Sargwyn, a tall half-dragon with copper scales forming a beard on his chin. “Good morning, good morning everyone.” Professor Sargwyn greeted them, taking his place at the front of the classroom. “Welcome back, new semester, one step closer to mastery. I won’t bother writing my name, we all know each other here so let’s get started right away.” . . . . . Carly idly picked twigs out of her hair, tossing them aside as she followed the metallurgy obsessed wizard, Fredrik. He had just come out of his class at the transmutation building and after saying his goodbyes to both Suzie Bottomhill and Holmit Drak-hide, he was now on his way to the Grand Hall. “The golden mask, what could be behind it?” Carly recorded herself asking no one in particular. “I have followed Fredrik Alistair Jeoffrey today to finally reveal what he’s hiding. Who is the man behind the mask? Does he really have some kind of horrible scar? A spell gone wrong, perhaps? Is he an interdimensional, alien android sent here to enslave humanity and suck up all the mana on Earth? ‘Probably not,’ you say, but it’s happened before!” Quickly she hid behind a tree as the person of interest stopped to greet another student. “Fredrik’s cheerful demeanor may fool the other students of Fairgarland, but not Carly Halestorm, oh no. I see his mind, no man that wears that much gold can spell good for anyone. I’ve asked everyone on campus if they’ve ever seen him without his mask and not a single soul can confirm or deny that he is in fact… a subterranean moleman. Why else would he need to cover his face and block out the sun? Carly Halestorm will shine the light on this gaudy villain - oh crap,” She hissed, ducking into the bushes around the Great Oak as Fredrik turned her way for a moment. He shrugged and quickly entered the Grand Hall, leaving Carly spitting leaves from her mouth. “Almost got caught - oh, what am I doing, I should just go up to him and rip that mask off already! I've tailed him enough!” She told herself, standing up from the bushes and dusting off her dark blazer and skirt before heading for the Grand Hall’s door. As she entered she scanned the room for any sign of the golden masked man, finding Wanda the head of security and a few of her colleagues chatting in the lobby. “Wanda Alstaff… Head of security… Her existence proves that lizard people are in fact real.” Carly half-jokingly spoke into her recorder. “Carly?” Wanda called out to her, “What are you doing here?” “Oh, nothing Miss Alstaff, just looking for the next big scoop. Say, have you seen Fredrik? I saw him come in here.” She replied cheerfully. “Golden boy? How could I miss him? It’s Tuesday, so he probably went back to the mailroom.” Answered the lizard woman as she pointed a thumb over her shoulder and down the hall. “If you’re gonna badger him, try not to get in his way, he’s got work to do.” “Thank you, Miss Alstaff.” Carly smiled before trotting down the hall, “Could Miss Alstaff be in league with the golden mask? The thought had crossed my mind, but she seems to be the only one on this campus who sees him as a credible threat to society. But she could just be putting on an act. What if this is a trap? Is Carly Halestorm doomed?” Soon enough the campus reporter found herself entering the mailroom in the back of the Grand Hall. Inside was a counter with several bound up letters on shelves behind it to and from everyone at Fairgarland. All were to be diligently sorted out by the mailmen and student volunteers on duty and sent into the enchanted tubes that would magically shoot them off to their destination. Today it sounded like it was Fredrik’s turn to sort, though Carly did not see the wizard anywhere. Instead she only saw one of the campus mailmen leaning against the counter. “Excuse me,” She asked him, “Has Fredrik been here?” “You rang?” Fredrik’s voice came from behind her, causing Carly to scramble over the counter and hide. “Fredrik– DON’T. DO. THAT!” She yelped from behind the counter, much to the amusement of both Fredrik and his coworker. “How’d you sneak up on me like that?!” “You were following me, so I merely cast an invisibility spell on myself and waited,” Fredrik explained, walking around the counter while he placed his volunteer lanyard around his neck. He quickly got started sorting the letters and stamping them with magic ink before tossing them effortlessly into each of the enchanted tubes. A gust of wind carried each letter off and gave a satisfying ding every time. "Note to self, Fredrik knows illusion magic," Carly quickly recorded. “So why are you here?” He asked, “Did you finally come to your senses and wish to spread the word of my gloriously golden art?” Carly furrowed her brow and scoffed, “More like garishly golden. Your infatuation with gold would make even the greediest dwarf blush.” “Oh, please, tell me more, sweet Carly.” Fredrik swooned, throwing several more letters in their slots followed by more dinging, “What about my masks, would you write about them?” “Actually, much as I hate to admit it, that is partly why I am here.” Carly bit her lip, she had come this far, she may as well ask him the question, “Why do you wear the masks?” “Why? I want the world to behold their beauty, obviously.” He answered with a snort, “Why do you write articles and opinion pieces, my dear Carly?” “Well…” The witch bit her tongue, not wanting to give him the answer he wanted. Fredrik turned around to her, his mask smiling knowingly, “Obviously you want people to see what you have to say, is that not so? You and I are the same in that respect; I want people to see what I have to say, as well.” “We’re not the same,” Carly pouted, “You hide behind those masks! If you wanted people to really know what you have to say, you’d take that ridiculous thing off and face me!” Fredrik laughed behind his mask, flinging more letters across the room on the opposite side this time. “Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Carly. As soon as I take off this mask, you’d never write about me again. I very much like reading your articles about me.” "So you won't tell me what secrets you're hiding behind those masks?" She pressed him. "Are you afraid of the truth getting out?" "I predict that you are afraid of the truth being boring, Carly. Think of it, what would become of your weekly articles about the myth of my golden masks if I was just another plain-faced student?" Frustrated, Carly slammed a fist on the counter and pointed at the wizard, “I will unmask you one of these days, Fredrik! I’ll show the world who you really are!” “I look forward to it,” Fredrik chuckled as the reporter stormed out of the mailroom. Carly was beside herself, grumbling and cursing under her breath as she retreated back across campus. As usual, Fredrik was a bust - in several ways. He may have been right, that mask of his was probably the most interesting part about him, and even though people were amused by the articles she wrote about him, Carly felt defeated. She needed something big if she was going to start her own news station after she graduated from Fairgarland. Sure, she had joined House Fritz’Eleo to further her studies in evocation, but her priorities changed when she joined the Fairgarland Inquirer and rose up to be their head reporter. But lately the gossip had dried up - sure there were new students to report to, sometimes report on, but she needed some excitement to print, something that would draw the attention of the whole academy. As soon as she reached the house for evocation the campus clocktower’s bell tolled twelve. Maybe some lunch will clear my thoughts, Carly told herself, turning swiftly down the road towards the campus cafeteria. As usual the cafeteria was crowded. To even get to the restaurant she wanted Carly had to duck and weave her way through the crowd, something she had gotten good at over the years. Some traditional halfling cuisine was sure to cheer her up, she mused as she got to the line. Salted pork and roasted potatoes was all she could think about now, and soon enough she found herself at the front of the line ordering just that. The halfling cooks prided themselves on their quick and excellent service, not to mention their divine cooking skills and magical culinary prowess. Her food was out to her in less than a few minutes, the reporter's nose was filled with the savory scent of the roasted beast. As she began to dig in she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye. The Multifold Manus was sitting in the food court, and sitting across from her was none other than that new student, Galahad she believed his name was. Acting quickly, Carly drew out her recorder and her cellphone, expertly operating both with one hand each. "The Multifold Manus has ever been the reclusive type, not engaging with anyone beyond common pleasantries. However, today Carly Halestorm has witnessed her having lunch together with a new student, a one-on-one luncheon with Galahad Loxley. Could this be a budding relationship, will there be romance? Heartbreak? Will someone in Fairgarland finally learn what her real name is? I will watch from a distance and see if Galahad strikes out, and who knows, maybe I can finally get Harold to forget about Manus and finally notice me…" she sighed, quickly rewinding her tape by a few seconds to record over it. She watched the two talking with one another for some time, snapping photos with her phone every now and then. She even managed to snap a photo of the new guy splashing himself with water over a botched spell, which Carly found herself smiling over. Maybe not a big scoop but someone was sure to get a laugh. It felt like an hour had gone by when the fey witch finally left, but not before exchanging numbers with Galahad and leaving him sitting alone to practice. This was huge! Carly snapped a photo of the event, quickly checking if she had gotten it. Perfect! That was a front page photo, she thought. When Manus did finally leave, Carly noticed something about the new guy: his attention had stayed on his tutor until she left. Did he actually like her? With another photo snapped, Carly picked up her things, deposited her tray and made for the clubroom for the Fairgarland Inquirer. Who cares if he liked her or not, everyone would eat this up! A new, unknown student finally melting the heart of the ice princess Manus, this was sure to get eyes on her paper! "Carly, you genius, this is it!" Once she made it to her clubroom, Carly let out a sigh of relief, "Carly, back so soon?" Dora, her dwarvish editor asked. "What's with that look, did you find something?" "Oh yeah, Dora, I found it!" She exclaimed, throwing her bag beside her desk and hanging her blazer on her chair. "It?" The dwarvish woman repeated. "It!" Carly grinned. "You're gonna love this, Dora." "We gonna pull an all-nighter again?" Asked Dora with a grin to match her partner in crime. "Oh yeah, you know it. Maybe even two, I got some juicy things to say about this one," Carly said, cracking her fingers before getting to work on her keyboard. . . . . . “Wednesday,” Wanda grumbled to herself as she entered the security office that was on the north end of campus with a bit of rain dripping off her enchanted poncho. Her coworker, Catherine, a tall gargoyle with smooth, stone skin but for the cracks that had formed due to years of peacekeeping, was preparing to leave, “Morning, Catherine,” Wanda grunted as she clocked herself in. Catherine clocked herself out, “Morning, chief,” She stretched the stoney wings on her back. Her skin was very slowly turning from a bright-gray to a dark-gray in a few spots. Though she was an enchanted gargoyle and her granite-like flesh was flexible and springy, she was rapidly stiffening as her body turned to a robust stone with the rising of the sun, “Nothin’ to report.” “Good. That’s what I like to hear. Get home before you turn into a statue, friend. You should have left before now, there ain’t much time left for ya,” Wanda dismissed her underling with the wave of her hand. A few others slowly rolled in as Wanda prepared her anti-magic tools. A sword that could cast counterspell and anti-magic zones a few times a day. Armor that would cast a magic shield on her as a reaction if a wayward spell was coming at her. A wand that could cast sleep without her needing to know the spell herself. Lastly was a mundane first aid kit and some health potions and ointment. “Morning, boss,” Her dwarven underling grunted as he armored up. “G’morning, Bandan,” Wanda replied. Unlike Wanda, Bandan knew magic, as did Catherine. Two others arrived, a human woman and a gnomish man who were both quickly assigned their posts for the day. The woman was sent to the boarding school to check for contraband and the gnome was to make sure things were going smoothly at each of the class buildings on the west side of campus. Wanda and Bandan were on patrol. Wanda loved patrol. Though patrol in the autumn and winter forced her to bundle up more than Bandan and the others, she didn't miss a day if it could be helped. "So, where’re we starting today?" Bandan asked as he adjusted his belt and sighed. He was a good coworker, but the dwarf was getting on in his years and his knees creaked with age. Wanda smiled and pointed towards the cafeteria. Several students had gathered around a statue standing with its arms on its hips, wings folded behind itself, "Oh, Catherine… not again." Bandan groaned, following his superior over to the petrified gargoyle. "I gotta hand it to her, she's a hard worker. Alright everyone, what happened?" "We just asked her for directions and she had just pointed us across the street to the class buildings when she suddenly turned to stone!" One exasperated student hastily explained. "Okay, clear out, head to your classes, we'll take care of this," Wanda announced to the small crowd of mystified newcomers, "Bandan, go get the cart, we'll take her back to the apartment." Said the lizard woman. The old dwarf nodded, "On it. Be back in a jiffy," He said, his short legs carrying him surprisingly fast as he headed north to the campus security building. "You know, Catherine, there is such a thing as working too hard," the lizard woman snickered. All she could hear in response was the gargoyle's snoring from inside her hard, stoney shell as rain streamed down the various cracks in the stone. Wanda shook her head and laughed, poor thing, must be hard being restricted to nights. Soon enough Bandan showed up with the long golf cart, the back end open like a truck. With his help the two of them easily lifted the gargoyle and placed her in the back end of the cart, Bandan groaning and rubbing his back as he hopped back in the driver’s seat, “Thank the Hammer we don’t have to go far,” He grumbled, waiting for Wanda to take her seat. The lizard woman nodded, “Yeah, we’ll just drop her off at the apartments. Get her inside the lobby and go,” Fairgarland Academy allowed for staff and teachers to stay in their apartments a little way north up the road in the middle of campus, if they chose to do so. It was a nice way to save money and all the amenities were there at a reasonable price, not to mention the nearest town wasn’t too far for those who wanted non-magical entertainment. Wanda had been at Fairgarland for at least a decade, Catherine half that and Bandan twice as much. The three were the most senior of the security staff, though with Bandan’s age, Wanda had been picked for Head of Security. Thankfully the old dwarf was understanding, in fact given his age it was a wonder he hadn’t retired yet. “Alright, let’s get her situated,” Bandan said before parking in front of the door and climbing out of the cart. Wanda grabbed the gargoyle’s shoulders and hoisted her out of the cart with the dwarf’s help. Together the two managed to get her inside with little effort, putting her just inside the lobby and out of the way. “Catherine stay out too late again?” A familiar voice asked. When Wanda turned to look she saw it was one of the other security guards, off duty and lounging on one of the lobby’s couches. “Hey, Chris,” She replied, “Can’t wait for the sun to start rising later in the morning…” “That might save us the trouble a few times, but this is still Catherine we’re talking about,” Chris chuckled, “I’ll keep an eye on her, boss, make sure she doesn’t fall over and crack her head again.” “Thanks. Alright Bandan, back to work,” The lizard woman said before exiting the lobby. “Work? What was all that we just did? Ha,” The old dwarf followed after her. “Ha ha, very funny. We still gotta do the rounds,” She reminded him not-so-gently before climbing into the driver’s seat. The dwarf was quick to follow and get into the passenger seat, “Even if I wasn’t so old, I think they would've picked ya to be head of security anyway.” “Why’s that?” “Ya take this job so seriously.” “I don’t follow,” Without another word, Wanda stopped as she saw a student who was having bicycle troubles. She hopped out of the golf cart and grabbed her tools from the trunk. Within a moment she had the bike’s chain back on and the student was off, headed down the road toward the library. “Above and beyond the call of duty,” Bandan chuckled. The lizard woman rolled her eyes, “I am just doing my job, Bandan.” The dwarf laughed, “I don’t remember reading ‘bike mechanic’ in our job description.” Wanda slowed down as they neared the library, watching as students crossed the road through the rain. She remained there for a moment to be sure they all made it across safely before she started to drive toward the Great Oak in the center of the campus, “To you, the job might just be ‘keep students and faculty safe,’ but that’s exactly what I was doing. What if that kid would be going home at night? Or if he had to walk through all this rain and catch a cold? I didn’t see a rain repellant spell on him. He’d have to walk his bike back to town like that. Just making sure he stays safe in the long term.” The dwarf nodded, “And that’s why you’re Head of Security, Wanda,” He nodded toward a congregation of students under the oak. They were shouting and cheering as a few spells flew wildly overhead, “Looks like it's time to keep some other kids safe.” Wanda pulled the cart over, parking it and hopping out with one hand on her sword. “Move aside,” She stiff-armed her way through the crowd, forcing her way toward the center. As soon as she had vision on the duo, two smaller casters, she drew the sword and pointed it. The air in the area was yanked away from the center, ripping all mana and aether from it into her blade. Both spells about to be slung were fizzled, leaving both magi staring and glaring at one another. From outside the field, Bandan pointed his wand at each student, summoning a pair of ethereal shackles that bound both of their hands and forced them behind their backs. “Hey! C’mon I was just about to win!” The first combatant, a goblin in a black cloak and a red, brimless hat whined. “Win? I was about to clean your clock!” His opponent, a dwarf in armored robes spat. “Syrus Rockshaper?” Bandan scolded with just the mention of the young dwarf’s name, “Young man, how many times have I broken up fights you were in?! Your mother and father would be disappointed to hear their son was acting like a beardling! The grudge between green skins and stout folk died in the old world!” “B-but–” The dwarf was starting to protest. He shut his mouth tight when Bandan’s already unhappy face contorted into a death glare that would singe every hair off the face of lesser dwarves. “And you,” The elder dwarf turned his stubby finger to the smug goblin, “Blud. I know ya get all defensive when insults at goblins are hurled, but you’re better than the wild goblins that used to roam the old world. Are ya about to throw away an opportunity your ancestors never had? To learn from the greats? Ya gonna go back to readin’ dung and crumpled up leaves after a rainfall?!” He spat on the ground, the saliva mixing with the rain in the mud as disappointment crossed his face. Blud’s face reddened, but he bit his tongue, knowing better than to antagonize campus security. “Both of ya are coming with me. Marchin’ ya straight to the dean. I know that man’ll go easy on ya, but at least I can embarrass ya!” The dwarf’s booming voice alone shook both young casters. They said nothing as their heads hung low. The power of his words was akin to a dragon’s flaming breath in effect, completely burning them with shame. The students who had gathered around to watch the fight all looked uneasy as Wanda and Bandan gave them all the stink eye, “Reminder, all fighting is to be done under supervision in the arena!” Wanda hollered as she sheathed her sword with a satisfying and weighty noise, “Rules are here to keep you safe and alive! Need I remind you of the story of poor Paula Button?” With the mention of her name, the entire crowd of students dispersed. Bandan grabbed Blud and Syrus by the shoulders before the two could escape with the rest, “I’ll take these two to the office, meet back up with ya on the west side.” “Copy. See you there,” Wanda nodded as she returned to the golf cart and headed off to the south end of campus with the woods bordering it. Benches, each one enchanted to repel the elements, sat beneath trees with leaves that were now yellow. Most sat unoccupied, but a few had students who were relaxing or meeting classmates. At the far end in the corner before the path turned north and went up to the arena and gym, nestled in a large corner bench was a young man and woman cuddling up to one another. Wanda’s brow furrowed as she drew near, when the two were just about to do something terrible: a kiss! Her golf cart screeched to a stop as she parked parallel to the benched lovebirds, “Hey!” They stared at the lizard woman with wide eyes, “Do that in private,” Was all she said before peeling out and moving on, adjusting her rainproof poncho as she went. . . . . . Rain pitter pattered against the windows of the library. Outside the cozy library thunder boomed and lightning struck in the woods around the campus. Blud’s foot tapped the floor in rhythm with the music that quietly played out the earbuds that were clipped to his long, green ears. It was Wednesday night after his four classes and now he was waiting for his sister to finish her time working at the infirmary on the eastern side of the campus. He grunted to himself, turning up the music to drown out the brain goblins in his head that kept whispering words of doubt and negativity. He returned to his alchemy studies. Galahad had been right, he had been over grinding the ingredients. He found his thoughts beating himself up over being wrong, but even worse Galahad, a human, was right. Good as a guy he might be, it still didn’t sit well with the goblin. He needed to continue studying. At this point, he believed he was getting the hang of it, having made several minor healing potions and testing them on himself despite his sister’s warnings. Those papercuts and shaving knicks wouldn’t be for nothing! Another intrusive thought crossed his mind, letting that dwarf, Syrus, get under his skin earlier in the day. Galahad’s lecturing he could deal with, but people acting like he was no more than a monster, a bloodthirsty creature and a freak was something he could not abide by. With that stout dickhead’s anti demi-human spiel he kept regurgitating, how else was he supposed to react? I bet Bandan wouldn’t’ve reacted any better if it was a goblin insulting his entire race, the thought bounced around in his head. Blud struggled to keep his cool when that guy started acting like that. Neither had really gotten into trouble, but the dean and that gray-beard Bandan had chewed him and Syrus out. Neither got preferential treatment. A stern talking to with words that hurt more than any spell could and a warning that parents, or siblings in Blud’s case, would be notified if either of them caused any more problems. His phone buzzed, his timer letting him know that his sister’s work was just about over. Blud let out a sigh and shoved everything into his messenger bag before using a quiet spell to send the books he had taken off the shelves back to their homes. A meticulously crafted system by the Academy’s crazy old librarian. With a stretch, the goblin picked up his cap off the table and pulled it over his bald scalp. He jumped down from the chair and shouldered his bags before stomping down the stairs and out into the pouring rain. With the brandishing of his wand, Blud enchanted his hat to repel the water before starting his trek through the rain with his cap now silently blowing away all the rain that would otherwise be soaking him. He yawned as he walked across the desolate, dark academy grounds that held naught but a howling on the winds and the rolling of thunder that rang out after the flashes of lightning. They casted only seconds of light giving him brief glimpses of the school grounds around him, almost like a flash photo. It made him shiver, it was anxiety inducing, yet exciting as the storm started to pick up, getting close to raging. Blud would have to get his sister to leave immediately to avoid the worst of the storm. Rald would definitely want to stay to continue practicing but the two were already late for dinner at home and Blud’s stomach was rumbling. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the funds to buy food on campus this close to the beginning of the semester, his monetary assistance wouldn’t arrive for another week or two and his job prospects have turned up empty for now. His siblings’ home cooking would have to do. Another flash of lightning illuminated the grounds as a scent hit Blud’s nose. Something he was wholly familiar with… To his goblin nose it smelled pretty good, though to others it probably would have been nauseating. It was the scent of viscera and gore being carried north by the powerful winds from the forests on the south end of campus. The campus was already dark, but the forest was even more so. Blud felt nothing but anxiety and unease– even the brain goblins had shut up for once but for the danger they warned him of. He ducked into a bush before undoing the enchantment on his hat and quickly prepared a lightning bolt spell in his right hand. He made a finger gun, his thumb was straight up and his middle and pointer finger were rigid, pointed straight forward as he searched the darkness for where the scent of blood was coming from. As the spell took form he quickly covered it with his sleeve, doing his best to remain hidden. His fingers twitched with electrical energies, spell slinger style was uncommon but he found it useful for situations like this and all he had to do was lower his thumb like the hammer of one of those pre-Cracking revolvers or pistols. The scent was getting stronger, they were getting closer. Blud’s heart pounded with fear. His body shook and his eyes darted back and forth. As a goblin, he had vision in the dark up to a point, but the rain made it a little hard to see even for him. But at the very edge of his vision, he saw a cloaked figure, making his heart pound even harder. The figure was shrouded in darkness as they lightly stepped through the muddy grass, almost gliding across it as they made their way north toward the dorms. With a flash of lightning, the figure was illuminated momentarily revealing the gore and blood staining the front of their black robes and their skull shaped mask. Blud froze. His spell fizzled as his heart, mind and body stopped dead. He could only watch as the figure walked by him, unknowing that the minute goblin hid in a bush next to their path. Even as the person left his vision, the little goblin’s body wouldn’t stop shivering with fear. He was getting light headed but couldn’t get himself to start breathing normally. Within minutes, his world went dark as he fell out of the bush toward the pavement. . . . . . Rald made a face, one of confusion as she waited for her brother to come get her so the two could go home together. He was a good brother, but kind of an idiot, at least in Rald’s opinion. Despite all that he was never late, except for tonight. Usually he would show up and whine and moan until she was ready to go. There wasn’t a chance he had forgotten, had he? Blud’s not that much of a dummy, is he? Rald sighed as these thoughts crossed her mind. Even if it would make Blud angry, she decided she would head over to the library to look for him. She bid farewell to the next volunteer, a necromancy student that had come to cover the infirmary overnight and left the building. It was to the east of the arena, just behind it and saw a few students every day. Usually they only treated people who hurt their hands in magical mishaps and the odd bone breaking if the mishap was very bad and it was good practice for simple healing magicks. Rald took a path along the east edge of campus and then along the south side, staying near the forest as she used a spell on her cloak to keep water off of herself. She looked around when she took the turn onto the southern end of the campus. There was a lingering scent. Blood? She frowned, getting a tiny bit worried as she started to look around. Rald shivered as she nervously eyed the bushes that sparsely lined the path. A form further up the path came into view, something small was slumped over on the path. Throwing caution to the wind she ran to it to find her brother collapsed on the ground with a line of blood streaming down his face, “BLUD! BLUD?!” She screamed her brother’s name as she tried to pick him up. She wasn’t too far from the boarding school buildings but she struggled to drag the bigger goblin across the ground as she grabbed his rain soaked cloak. She put him down and pointed her gnarled stick of a wand toward the air and shot off a simple light illusion of a blood red color. Next, she enchanted her cloak to glow brightly and continued to try and drag her brother to the nearest building. The earth shook around her as something landed nearby. In the darkness, Rald could see a tall imposing form that hurried to her side. In the glow from her cloak, Rald saw the night watch of campus security, Catherine the gargoyle, “What happened?” She asked as she gingerly picked up the unconscious goblin. “I-I don’t know! I found him like this! Bring him to the boarding school so I can patch him up there!” The goblin’s shaky and terrified voice made the gargoyle hurry as she followed Rald. Blud was laid down on a plush couch in a dim, empty hallway as Rald prepared a healing spell. Catherine grabbed her tiny spell book and thumbed through it before finding a drying spell which she used on the three of them. Rald’s magic reached out as green tendrils that stitched the wounds on her brother’s forehead. The oozing of blood stopped, allowing Catherine to clean up the scuffs on his face before applying some healing ointment to the lesser scratches. “Thank you…” Rald sighed as her brother started to stirr, “Thank you so much, Catherine. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t shown up.” “Any time,” The gargoyle breathed out, relieved that Blud’s eyes were opening slowly. “Rald?” The goblin grumbled as he gingerly sat up, “Ugh, my head…” “Try not to move too fast, Blud. You’ll just hurt yourself,” Rald scolded. Catherine knelt down, “Did something happen, Blud? Did you slip in the rain?” “I…” The goblin wracked his brain, “Crap! I remember!” Both girls jumped as the panic crossed his face, his green complexion turning a ghastly white, “There was some guy in a cloak, that guy had a bunch of guts and blood on him! I-I saw it! I could smell it!” He panted and tried to jump up. “No way, you probably just slipped and knocked yourself out!” Rald retorted, prodding a finger on her brother’s forehead. Blud shook his head, refusing to back down, “I’m tellin’ ya, there’s some dangerous guy lurkin’ out there! There was SO MUCH BLOOD! And–” Rald reared back and slapped him across the cheek. The meaty whack shocked Catherine, “BLUD!” The goblin shouted, completely silencing her big brother, “Stop trying to make up stories to look cool after taking a spill,” She groaned, “I’ll take him home, Catherine. He just needs to sleep and calm down.” “I see… I’ll walk you two over to the bus stop and keep an eye out for… blood covered cloaks,” The gargoyle nodded. “I-I’m not lying…” Blud whimpered, rubbing his now red cheek. He kept his mouth shut as the vivid images continued flashing in his mind. . . . . . Morning sunlight streamed in through the portal viewer on Prince Harold’s wall. It was a view of the ocean with the noises of seagulls and waves pleasantly filling his ears. It brought images of the tales his grandsire would tell him of their kingdom in the old world. In the corner of his massive extra dimensional room, he had a kitchen which was all but disused except for his personal espresso maker. Sure, he could go buy it at the cafe in the library or even the food court, but who knew how dirty their machines were? Plus his genius needed a long, relaxing morning to get fully ready for his studies. It was Thursday, a day with only one late class. Currently he was lounging in his silk bathrobes after taking a long and relaxing bath. His dorm had its own wide screen TV, a leather couch, a dining table, and two other rooms. In the second room was his bedroom, lavishly decorated with horses and ships, those befitting for a son of Babarry. The third was a large bathroom with a wide tub where he could relax for hours if need be. The scent of coffee filled the room as Prince Harold heard a knock on his door. With the wave of his hand, the door opened revealing one of his assistants who was carrying a bag of food, “Good morning, Harold,” She was a tall half-elf with beautiful golden hair. “Ah, good morning. I assume that is the breakfast I ordered?” He guessed as he stood and stretched his legs. “Y-yes sir,” The half-breed replied as she set down the bag and brought out the containers of food. Fluffy potato pancakes, crispy bacon strips, and a cut of chicken fried steak. Nothing fancy, but those halfling chefs always did a wonderful job. “Wonderful, wonderful,” He nodded before putting a small leather pouch of silver coins into his assistant’s hand, “I am sure you have studying to do.” “Yes I do. Thank you for the generous tip, Harold,” She dashed off, still flustered in the prince’s presence. “What a nice girl,” He mused before closing his door and settling down at his table. With the flick of his wrist, he brought his freshly brewed coffee to himself along with the day’s newspapers and magazines. He set the magazines aside, ‘Wizard Living,’ a monthly magazine on new spells and trinkets being produced to help magical casters live comfortably. He felt a little bad for people born without the gift of magic, he could hardly fathom living without it. The lowborns he was surrounded by had magic at least. But being low born and without magic must have been quite horrible, Harold pitied them. The other magazine was a men’s health magazine and the last was about technology that was up and coming. Even if he was a wizard, he understood the uses and importance of technology in the modern age. Harold knew he needed to be in the know of modern tech so he could get in early on investing. It was how he made his own money, afterall. The newspapers were next. A few global papers to keep up on events, but the most important to him were the two campus papers. Firstly was the Fairgarland Newspaper. The main news he wanted to check was who was being entered into the tournament that was going on in two weeks. He needed to check who his competition would be and to prepare accordingly. Most houses still had not put a person forward. No doubt they were still in the deliberation phase of deciding who their champion would be. He chuckled, it didn’t really matter. He was sure to win again. He set this paper with the magazines and picked up the Fairgarland Inquirer. Harold’s smug expression vanished as he read the front page headline. ‘MULTIFOLD MANUS OF ALDERIA, PRESIDENT OF KARAK-ALBRAC SPOTTED WITH NEW STUDENT IN A ONE-ON-ONE?’ The black and white picture on the paper was a clear photo of President Manus, Harold’s beloved, exchanging phone numbers with the new student. It took Harold a moment to recognize him, “Galahad Loxley…” He growled as he continued reading. ‘The ice cold witch has been spotted with a new flame, the young Galahad Loxely, a new student of the Seeker’s House. The two were spotted on a lunch date filled with casting and hushed chatter that ended with the two swapping numbers! Could they now be going steady despite Prince Harold’s desire to marry the fair President Manus? More to come…’ Harold furiously crumpled up the newspaper, “Manus, my sweet. How could you do this to me?” He asked the now wrinkled pictures of her. His mind paused for a moment as he quickly decided what he should do, “I cannot wait for Carly to print another article, I must talk to Manus,” He decided, “To get to the bottom of this myself.” He got up, ignoring the rest of his breakfast as he went to summon all unoccupied members of his house. He needed some extra eyes to quickly find out where President Manus might be.