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A GOOD MAGE IS HARD TO FIND

 

 

CHAPTER ONE: THE SIXTH-YEAR-STUDENT

 

 

 

 

 

            Long, long ago, in the ancient future... Or was it far, far, ahead, into the upcoming past? For that matter, who's to say that this story takes place in the real world? Or even in a real world? But the question that we all must ask ourselves whenever we read such a work, is:

 

Do I have to read this to get an A?

 

***

 

            Far off in the hills, situated in a little valley of its own, was the magical town of Veros. Veros was so named because its claim to fame was that it had the seventh-best magic academy in the Western hemisphere. Most of the school and a good portion of the town were run by one man- the grand mage Alexander Dioti, who served as the dean of students, and assistant chairman of Veros. A man of about sixty, or so, Dioti had long ago mastered the incomprehensible secret of agelessness magic, and thus looked far younger than his years. Some would argue that he acted that way, as well. Particularly, his ex-wife, Gretchen. But that is another story entirely.

            Dioti lounged in his chair, awaiting the flood of incoming mail. Generally, he received an odd mixture between reports from the school and general "important" bills involving the town itself. The fan mail had ebbed a bit in recent years, a development which had annoyed him to no end. But still, the day never truly started until the mail came in.

            Dioti was twirling his pencil around when Mrs. Blackwell, his secretary, came in with a medium-sized stack of envelopes.

            "The mail for you, sir," She said in his general direction, dropping the stack in the "in" box. "A little sparse today, I fear."

            Dioti gave her a smile. "That's perfectly all right, Jenny. Fewer bills, and all."

            Mrs. Blackwell shook her head as she left. Grand mage or not, the man was a nutcase, in her opinion. As soon as his secretary had left, Dioti got to work on the day's mail. he came across one short letter, school-related. It was an incident report on one Sypha G. Belnades, a sixth-year student at the university. She had graduated from the academy to the university due to a small miracle at age eighteen, and currently was attempting to major in elemental magic. Attempting being the key word.

            Sypha was severely dyslexic, and most of the time could barely read a sentence without screwing some important word or another up. As a result, her magic proficiency was... interesting, at best. Nearly everyone on campus remembered her for the "Clocktower" incident of the previous year, which had nearly gotten her expelled. Dioti sighed as he broke the seal on the envelope and found out exactly what it was that the poor girl had destroyed this time. It wasn't anything huge- just a desk in a minor alchemy class and the professor's hair, but the cost alone was annoying. Personally, Alexander Dioti did not like the girl very much. He had met her once or twice already, and his opinion was that she was more of a nuisance than anything else.

            Sypha had escaped expulsion more than once solely on account of her great aunt, Vava Belnades. Vava, an alumni of Veros, had made herself famous for truly learning how to turn ordinary, useless household objects such as yarn, lead, and the pet cat into gold. Not that she would actually turn a cat gold, mind you, but the thought still remained. Vava was the best alchemist that Veros had ever put out, and when she ordered that her grand-niece be enrolled in the school (And sent a lot of gold in the process), Sypha got an education. In fact, in the mail along with the report about the girl was a letter by Vava, addressed personally to Dioti. In it was a very large amount of money, easily paying for both Sypha's tuition and the random objects that she had accidentally blown to smithereens recently. The letter came like clockwork every month without fail, a testament to Vava's care for her niece. Dioti gladly accepted it. But still, the university itself was only meant to last for four years, and Sypha's education showed no sign of coming to an end any time soon.

            Next up in line was a small envelope, also addressed personally to Dioti, written in a semi-sloppy handwriting. It was sent by Michael N. Lovejoy, the town's resident demon/monster/villain-thing.

 

 

Dear Mr. Dioti,

 

I believe that according our accounts you owe me a small stipend of nine (9) hundred gil, overdue from last month's payment. This letter is your first (1st) and primary warning and admonition to fulfill your obligations to me and to the residents of my Keep as per our agreement.

 

-M. N. Lovejoy

 

P. S. Pay up, fuzzball!

 

(Author's Note: See http://ridureyu.tripod.com/images/lovejoy1stletter.jpg )

 

 

True, that. In exchange for "Personal peace and safety," Lovejoy demanded a "tribute" of roughly 2000 gil a month. In truth, the payment was small and easily taken care of, but is was also true that paying off Lovejoy only encouraged him more each month. This last time, he had raised the price to 2900 gil without any prior negotiation, and Veros had refused to pay the extra difference.

            Dioti looked the note over, as well as the little doodle in the side margin, and promptly crumpled the paper up and threw it in the trash. He, for one, was sick of Lovejoy's constant begging for money when the character obviously didn't have the resources to back up his threats, if there were any to begin with. The money was nothing- the Veros academy basically breathed it- but it was still a nuisance, if nothing else.

            "And besides," he said to himself, "If things go out of hand we can always hire a hunter to take care of him."

            And that, on a sunny March day, was how everything started.

 

***

 

            Sunlight peered through the window of Sypha Belnade's bedroom, thoroughly wrecking her good night's sleep. She made a muffled noise of disgust and shoved her head further under the covers, trying her utmost to preserve whatever was left of her nocturnal bliss. But it was all in vain. After a few minutes of muddled frustration, Sypha finally gave up and began her day. With her mind on autopilot, Sypha went through the basic motions of showering and dressing, clothing her 4'11" frame in a loose-fitting greyish-white mage robe, and tying her sandy blonde hair back in a small ponytail, before she finally woke up for real. Looking into the mirror, one simple thought entered Sypha's mind.

            "It's the weekend, isn't it?" she said into the mirror. Her reflection didn't respond.

            "Then that means," she continued, "I didn't have to wake up, did I?"

            Weighing her options, Sypha decided to stay awake. She felt bad enough as it was, after the incident in prof. Greyhame's class- it was going to take the old man a long, long time to regrow that beard- and she had gotten very little sleep because of the cleanup.

            Souldering a small backpack, Sypha Belnades left her home to run a few errands in town. She lived in a small house on the outskirts of town, mostly financed by her overly charitable aunt. In all honestly, Sypha had absolutely no clue why her great aunt paid for her tuition, housing, and the occasional "Mistake." They'd only met a few times, and each of those were years in the past. In fact, Sypha could only barely remember what Vava looked like, much less understand why she was helping her out so much.

            The sun shone brightly in the clear morning sky as Sypha walked into the town square. The first order of business for the day was in the marketplace, more specifically with one of the apple carts. Apples, usually a small snack for most people, were a staple in Sypha's diet. For all intensive purposes, they were her lunch. Apples are healthy, cheap, easy to come by, and don't poison you if you forget to cook them in a certain way.

            "Can I help you with anything, Miss?" Said a rather cheerful middle-aged man who apparently owned the cart.

            "No, thanks," she said, offering him a smile in return. The man smiled back, and tweaked his mustache slightly as he stood there. Sypha started to reach for a healthy-looking apple near the middle of the pile, and then thought better of it. She instead went for one of the apples sitting on top of the pile, which theoretically would not cause everything to come crashing down.

            However, Sypha was, as previously mentioned, only 4'11" in height. The average apple-cart stacks its goods up until the cart itself is roughly 4'10." This gave her a small amount of inconvenience, which the overzealous owner apparently interpreted as cause for him to help out the "poor little girl." Between his reaching over the cart and Sypha's sleeves already brushing into the apples, the young sorceress soon found herself underneath an avalanche of round, green fruit. Witnesses later recalled that she had exactly enough time to make a light squeaking noise as she went under.

            Filled with a sudden distress over possibly both losing a customer, and accidentally causing the death of a customer, Jove the apple-salesman rushed down into the pile of fruit, in his attempt to heroically rescue his unfortunate patron, and became so wrapped up in his rescue attempt that he didn't notice Sypha crawling around, trying to gather up some of the fallen apples and return them to their proper place.

            "Um... sir...' She said, trying to get his attention, "You're scattering the apples."

            "But I've got to..." Jove started, looking up at her. "...Oh."

            She chuckled. "It's all right... I'm just fine, sir," she commented, "I honestly don't think that you have to worry too much about me."

            He nodded slowly, taking it all in. come to think of it, there weren't enough apples in the cart to even bury a small child underneath. He blushed a little. Sypha went back to picking up the apples. A couple other townspeople started to help out.

            "I'm terribly sorry, miss," Jove said, taking off his hat. "I hope you weren't hurt, or nothin'."

            "These are apples," she responded, replacing a few more, "Not bowling balls. I think I'll be fine."

            He shrugged and went on. After the cleanup, Sypha bought a few of the offending fruits, paying the poor, confused man a little extra for the hassle before she went on her way. Such was life.

            A short while later found Sypha on the Veros main campus, sitting under an oak tree and reading from a book. Dyslexic or not, Sypha was, beyond all doubts, a bookworm. Mind you, it took a while longer to make it through a good novel when the letters appeared to randomly jump around on the page, but it was still possible. it was the spells written in an ancient tongue that proved interesting. One only needed to remember the infamous "Clocktower" incident of the previous year to remove all doubt of that fact. When sitting under the oak tree, however, all worried memories and fears of her problems with magic faded away. There, it was peaceful.

            Sypha spent half of the time reading, and half of it just thinking on her own, enjoying the day. Sypha G. Belnades' childhood was an interesting one, to say the least. Her mother had died early, and quite frankly Sypha didn't have a clue who her father was. Her great aunt, her only other living relative, lived who-knows-where on the other side of that-way, and yet still insisted that her grand-niece be put through a full education at Veros. Up until her teenage years, Sypha was raised for the most part by some very caring neighbours, but for the last several years or so she had pretty much raised herself. With everything financed by Vava, this actually proved possible. In truth, the people at the school were her real family. Despite her rather low grades, Sypha's teachers for the most part treated her like a daughter, usually out of a level of pity. Due to her disability, Sypha usually took fewer classes than the average student (Which isn't very many to begin with), and generally worked harder on them, with worse results. As a result, she was twenty-four years old, and graduation still didn't seem all that close.

            As far as magic went, though, Sypha knew that she had a lot of power. This explained the overly destructive results of her mistakes. She just lacked control, and precision. She also had the knack for finding the one small mistake in a chant that resulted in a large explosion, or an army of flaming salamanders, or snow for a week in the middle of summer, or some other absurd calamity. Life was like that. Crazy, chaotic, but somehow it was home, too.

            About a half hour passed by before another student approached Sypha, leaning over her shoulder.

            "Morning, Sypha," he greeted her.

            She smiled to him. "Morning, Lan."

            "Hey, how's the paper coming?" he asked. Sypha blinked.

            "Paper?"

            "Yeah, the paper..." he started, "You know, the ten-page essay on how the Merlin legends have influenced the view of elemental magic in the fine arts, particularly in painting? that one?"

            "Yes... that one..." She said slowly, raising an eyebrow, "I haven't started yet. it's due next month, right?"

            Lan's eyes widened for a moment. "No, Sypha... it's due on Monday."

            She blinked. "Monday?"

            "Monday."

            "Day after tomorrow?"

            "The day after tomorrow," He said with a nod. Sypha stopped dead for a moment, her eyes widening in abject shock and horror as she took it all in.

            "Then... I guess... I'll.... See you on Monday goodbye!" Sypha shouted as she gathered everything up and took off running for her home like a bat out of the Inferno. The other student watched her go, shaking his head.

            "For such a short little girl," he commented, "I'd never have expected her to be able to run so fast."

 

***

 

            On Sunday, Alexander Dioti got yet another letter in the mail from a certain M. N. Lovejoy. It read:

 

 

Dear Deadbeat,

 

Pay up or I'll repossess your teeth.

 

Sincerely,

 

M. N. Lovejoy

 

P. S. This is your last warning, bub!

 

(Author's Note: See http://ridureyu.tripod.com/images/lovejoy2ndletter.jpg )

 

 

            Dioti crumpled up the letter and threw it in the trash. "Of course," he muttered, "It figures he had someone watching my reaction. Let's see what they think of this!"

            Alexander Dioti was nothing if not stubborn. He wasn't afraid of Lovejoy, and frankly, he was sick of the guy. Dioti knew fully well that something was going to come out of this, but at this point, he really didn't care. Whatever happened, it could be dealt with. Easily.

            Or so he thought.