So here’s a bit of a break from the science fiction. This is another story I wrote that was originally published in “Quantum Muse” e-magazine. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed around that time so I can’t find the confirmation of the exact date but I believe it was somewhere around 2006. Darn hard drive crashes.
“The Sorcerer’s Teaching Assistant”
The eleven year olds filtered into the auditorium, chattering about nothing in particular.
“Hey, Dan, I thought you were going into the Illusionist school,” said one.
“I am. Aren’t you going into the Necromancer’s school, Beth?” asked Dan.
“Yep. But I thought our schools didn’t interact,” the girl said. “Look, there’s Dave. I thought he was going into conjuring.”
“Must be some special class for all of us. Weird.”
“Do you think we’ll get to learn some magic today? I’m so tired about learning the history of my school,” Beth said.
“Yeah, who cares about that? I want to learn to make ghost sounds and phantom steeds.”
“And I want to start learning medicine. I hope we get to it today.”
“We should. Look, the desk is covered with stuff. This will be great,” Dan said, suddenly excited.
The two took seats together, down near the front, with a few other of their friends they hadn’t seen since they started their training.
There was a large desk in the front, and behind it was a chalkboard. The level of noise increased until a wizard walked into the room.
“Oy, you kids, quiet down,” he snapped.
Immediately a hush descended on the crowd.
The wizard was old, wearing the robes of a universalist. “Alright, this here will be your first lesson about magic. This is ‘Wizarding 101′ and it applies to all you lot, no matter your school. Got it?” he growled.
The kids nodded silently.
“Right then. I’m Professor McDougal. Take a look at the stuff on my desk. Just look, stay in your seats,” he barked, seeing a few standing.
They hastily sat back down, looking embarrassed. Many were taking notes in their notebooks.
“Right.” The old wizard gestured to the back, and a thin, tired looking young wizard on the verge of his first mastery test came forward. “This here is Ed.”
“Edward,” muttered the grad student.
“Ed here is going to help me with the lessons. If Ed here tells you lot to shut up, you shut up. If Ed here tells you lot to do something, you do it. Got it?”
There was a nodding of heads.
Ed looked most put upon.
“Right. Everyone get a good look at the items on my desk?” asked McDougal.
The kids nodded.
“Right. This is your first lesson about magic. NEVER PUT ON ANYTHING IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT DOES!” he yelled, pointing his finger out at them.
The kids jumped back, surprised by the shouting.
“You got that?!”
“I don’t believe you.” He held up a very lovely amulet.
There were a few “oooo’s” from the crowd.
“Right, I heard that. You want to put it on. You know it’s magic, and it looks harmless, right?”
A few brave souls nodded.
“WRONG!” yelled McDougal. “Lesson one – NEVER put on ANYTHING if you DON’T know what it DOES!” He slammed his fist down on the desk. “It could be cursed! You could find you lose all your spells. You could end up turned into an undead newt! And then you’re STUCK ’cause you can’t take it OFF! That’s why it’s CURSED.” He gestured to the grad student.
Frowning, Ed approached.
“Now, here’s what could happen to you. You find this nice shiny amulet and think to yourself, because you’re kids, ‘hey, this looks neat,’ and you put in on. Ed, put it on.”
A look of pain crossed Ed’s face and he slowly put the amulet on. Immediately the tall, lanky, and undernourished grad student shrank and ended up a large, but still undernourished, bullfrog. “Rrrrrriiibbbbbiiiitttt.”
There were a few giggles in the audience.
“IT’S NOT FUNNY!” McDougal snapped. “This could be you. How funny do you think it would be, stuck as a bullfrog. You’ve got no hands, you can’t speak properly, so what do you do??? Huh?! Cast a spell? Yell for help? NO!! Because you’re a bloody FROG!”
The kids were stunned into silence.
“Now, you,” he said, pointing at Beth. “Come try to pull the amulet off of the frog.”
Beth nervously stood up and approached the desk. The frog was sitting on it, practically asleep. She put her hands on the amulet, and tried to lift it off of the frog’s head.
“Well, come on then, just pull it off,” McDougal barked.
“I-I-I can’t, sir,” she said in a low voice.
“What’s that? Speak up, for the whole class.”
“I can’t get it off, sir. It’s too heavy, or something,” she said, in a louder voice.
“See! That’s CURSED. So even if you’re lucky enough to have one of your friends handy, you STILL can’t get the bloody thing OFF. You’re still a FROG,” he barked, glaring at the students. “Go sit down, girl.”
Beth scurried back to her seat.
“Now, I happen to know a spell to remove this amulet,” he said, and waved his hands, said some words, and pulled the amulet off.
The frog quickly grew back into Ed. Looking pink and embarrassed, Ed slid off the desk.
“So, what’s the first lesson?” McDougal snapped.
“Never put on anything if you don’t know what it does,” the class intoned.
“Right then. Next lesson.” He moved along the desk to a number of glass vials with interesting and strange liquids in them. “Lesson two – NEVER DRINK SOMETHING IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT DOES!” He glared at the kids again, and held up a vial. The liquid was deep blue, with sparkles of light in it. There were a few ‘oooo’s’ in the audience. “You want to drink it, don’t you? It’s just a potion, what harm can it do, you’re thinking. Well, let’s find out, shall we. ED!”
The poor grad student walked over to the professor.
“Let’s assume you kids are even thinking you’ll be careful, and only sniff the potion, or just taste a little of it. I doubt you’d be THINKING, but let’s assume you are. Tell me Ed, what does this smell like?” he asked, handing him the vial.
Ed gingerly uncorked it. “It smells like fresh strawberries,” he replied, sniffing.
“And what does it taste like?”
Ed ran his finger around the top of the vial, and cautiously licked his finger. “It tastes like chocolate.”
McDougal took the vial away. “How do you feel, Ed?”
Ed suddenly looked green around the gills. “I…er…” and the grad student’s jaw went complete slack, his eyes blank, and he just stood there.
“You,” McDougal snapped, pointing at Dan. “Try to wake him up.”
Dan nervously got up. He waved his hand in front of Ed’s eyes. No effect.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” McDougal laughed. “Stomp on his foot. Poke him. Wake him up.”
Dan obligingly stomped on Ed’s foot, very hard. Nothing. He poked the grad student in the arm. He slapped his face, punched his back, pinched his arm, nothing. “I can’t wake him up, sir.”
“Of course not. Go back to your seat.”
Dan scurried back.
“Now, some of you think this is FUNNY. It’s NOT FUNNY!” he roared. “Imagine this is you, completely at the mercy of your friends. Now think of all the things you would do your friends in this catatonic state.”
There were many smiles and some evil grins in the audience.
“Now, imagine all of that was done to you, because you were STUPID and DRANK SOMETHING without knowing WHAT IT DOES.”
Immediately the amused looks were wiped off the student’s faces. Some even gave their friends dark looks.
“Now, I happen to know the antidote,” McDougal said, and took another vial out his pocket. He carefully poured a few drops into Ed’s mouth.
After a few seconds, Ed’s eyes came back into focus and he closed his mouth. Then a look of pain crossed his face. “Owwww…” he muttered, and limped aside, holding his now bruised arm and favoring his now crushed foot. He rubbed the red mark on his face where he’d been slapped.
“What’s lesson two?” he barked.
“Never drink something if you don’t know what it does,” intoned the class.
“Now,” McDougal continued, still among potions and vials. “NEVER MIX SOMETHING IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS, OR WHAT IT DOES!”
The kids were silent.
“Now, things ought to be labelled. LABEL YOUR CHEMICALS AND HERBS!” he roared. “But if you run across strange potions, or labels you can’t read, never assume you know what this stuff is.” He gestured to the grad student. He held up a vial, and showed the label to the class.
A few kids squinted at it, trying to read it.
“Can any of you read this?”
Those who were close enough to see shook their heads.
“Ok, Ed, take this potion, and tell me what you think it is,” McDougal said, and handed it to the grad student.
Ed winced, and very gingerly took a sniff. “By the color, smell, and viscosity, I would guess that this is essence of orange. That is, citric acid.”
“Now then. Dilute that for me to one one-hundredth strength.”
Ed poured only two drops in a large flask, then added water, and started to shake the vial to mix the liquids. “Eeeoouch!” he exclaimed, and suddenly set the flask down, and placed his hands into a basin of cold water.
“Well, what happened?” McDougal asked.
“That wasn’t citric acid. That was much stronger,” the grad student said.
“Right. Who can tell me what happens when you dilute a strong acid?” McDougal barked.
A hand timidly went up.
“Diluting acids releases heat. Strong acids release a lot more heat than weak acids,” said the student.
“Right. So Ed here thought he was diluting a weak acid, when in fact it’s essence of green dragon blood he was trying to dilute.”
There were gasps in the audience.
Ed glared at his professor behind his back, and rubbed burn cream into his hands.
“Luckily Ed here reacted better than you lot. You probably would have DROPPED THE FLASK. And then what?! You’d have been BURNED! You would have had your feet EATEN away by the acid.”
The kids were silent.
“What’s lesson three?”
“Never mix something if you don’t know what it is, or what it does,” they intoned.
“And what’s the collorary to lesson three?” he barked.
“Always label your chemicals and herbs,” they intoned.
“Right then. Lesson four, and this is your last lesson for the day. NEVER OPEN A STRANGE SPELLBOOK WITHOUT LOOKING FOR TRAPS AND TRICKS!!” he roared. He walked over to the last prop on the desk, which appeared to be a spellbook. “There could be wards. It could be locked. There could be illusions keeping you from seeing the spells. Ed, come here.”
The grad student slowly walked back, his hands crudely bandaged, and with a slight limp from his stomped foot.
“Ed’s going to pretend to be one of you lot. You don’t KNOW NOTHING! So, open the spellbook.”
Another look of pain crossed Ed’s face, and he nervously reached out and touched the book. Lightning coursed through his body. He fell backwards.
The audience gasped.
“This one was set with a lightning glyph. Have to deactivate first, but you wouldn’t know that IF YOU DON’T LOOK!”
Ed slowly got back up, looking singed now.
McDougal performed a quick spell. “There. Now that glyph has been deactived. Ed, open the book.”
Very reluctantly, Ed, touched the book. Nothing happened. He sighed with relief, then tried to open it. “It’s locked,” he said, sounding grateful.
“That’s right. It’s locked, like all spellbooks ought to be. So you’re thinking, ‘hey, a knock spell will do the trick.’ Well, Ed, knock it.”
The grad student winced, and tried the knock spell. It seemed to work, so he reached he pulled the book open. There was flash as a snake seemed to jump from the pages, and suddenly Ed was covered in an amber shell.
The audience gasped in surprised.
“This here is Sepia’s Snake Sigil. Notice how Ed is now immobilized. He can’t be hurt, but he can’t do anything. THIS COULD BE YOU!” he barked.
The kids nodded.
“Right, I’ll just fix Ed here to continue the demonstration.” He waved his hands, spoke some words, and the field dissipated.
Ed shook his head, looking confused.
“Ok, Ed, open that book.”
“Do I have to?” he whined, looking scared.
“DO IT!” McDougal barked.
Ed touched the book carefully, then opened it. The sigil had been spent, so he opened it to the first page. It was blank. “It’s blank,” he said.
McDougal nodded. “Keep going.”
Ed turned page after page. Suddenly another lightning bolt jumped out at him. “Oooww!”
“There’s NO LIMIT on the number of GLYPHS and TRAPS a book can have,” McDougal said.
After being singed by lightning, scorched by a fire, soaked with a create water glyph, and finally forcibly dried by a wall of wind glyph, Ed reached the end of the book.
“Hear that? After all that, the book is EMPTY,” McDougal barked. “Or is it?” He waved his hands, said some words, and a spell suddenly appeared on the first page. “GET IT? Tricks and traps. Illusion spells to hide the pages. Invisibility runes. TRAPS AND TRICKS!!”
The class nodded.
“Now, what was lesson four?”
“Never open a spellbook without looking for traps and tricks,” the class intoned.
“Right then. That’s all for today. I’ll warn you now, my tests are all practicals.”
The kids slowly filtered out. “That was awesome,” Dan said to Beth.
“Yeah! Now I know what I’m doing to my spellbook when I get it,” Beth said.
“Well, Ed, you look awful,” McDougal said to the grad student.
Ed glared at him.
McDougal didn’t seem to notice or care. “You’d better get down to the medical ward. If you can’t cut in a first level class like this, you’re never going to make it to professor.”
“But-but…” Ed stuttered.
“Now, now, down to the medics with you,” McDougal said, and pushed him out of the room.
Ed burst into tears and made his way down to the medical ward.