Adam was in the Morey Building attending his Dark Utilities class, which was by far his favorite. This was the class that taught the most useful applications of black magic, such as making dark tentacles and impenetrable shielding. All his other courses seemed disposable, so he rarely attended them. Classes like College Algebra and Advanced Science were nothing compared to Dark Utilities; for Adam, this one class was his only reason for attending Cooper.
At the head of the room, Professor Rain stood next to a table with a variety of stones. “Today we’ll be discussing ways for us black mages to cross over into the other magic classes. Even though we basically draw our power from darkness, we can on occasion conjure spells that essentially belong in another class. That is because at certain points, all the magic classes are interwoven, sort of like what you get when three spiders build a web in the same space.
“In today’s lesson, we’ll see what we can do with rocks. Usually red mages work with rocks, as they do with all of nature. But black mages can do the same, just not as well as red mages.”
Professor Rain picked up a chunk of what looked like gold except it was very rough, like sand grains crudely glued together. “This is pyrite, commonly called ‘fool’s gold.’ There have been many a hopeful miner who found this stuff and thought they struck it rich—even though it isn’t even worth a dime. Red mages can do whatever they want with this, like change its shape and turn it into pure silica. Black mages cannot change its shape, but …”
The professor held up the pyrite and said a few words in Renlin—“Duru fella saw!”— and the golden rock turned as black as night. He showed it around the class and said, “We can rob it of its luster.”
The class was a little impressed; Adam merely rolled his eyes, wondering what the big deal was.
The professor moved further down the table to a piece of gray stone. “Now, with limestone, we can do a bit more. Red mages are experts with limestone: they can change its shape, add weight to it, and turn it into clay. Black mages can only change its shape. It’s tough, but some black mages make a living out of it.”
With a wave of the hands and another Renlin chant, the professor suddenly gained control of the limestone, changing its shape with his hands held above it. First it turned into a crocodile, which then sprouted wings and turned into a mockingbird, which then grew a long neck and turned into a giraffe. All the while, Professor Rain held a strained expression as though he was lifting a dumbbell. The students clapped politely, even those who had seen the trick done a million times before.
“And so there you have it, even though I’m not very good at it.” The professor tipped the limestone giraffe over, and it broke into several pieces upon landing. “Black mages usually cannot keep the solidity of the limestone, and so this happens.”
“I’ll bet you I could,” Adam muttered under his breath.
Professor Rain moved to the other end of the table where a piece of black, glassy rock lied. “Black mages can only do so much in the realm of red magic … but obsidian is a wholly different matter. With obsidian, a black mage can do whatever he wants with it. He can change its shape, change its luster, and change its weight and mass. Does anyone know why?”
Henry Lud, who sat in the front row, raised his hand with a halfhearted effort. “Because it’s black?”
A few of the students laughed. Professor Rain shook his head. “That would be the most obvious answer, but no, that’s not the reason. The reason is because when the great Voltor jumped into that volcano to launch himself into space, his dark essence flowed from his body into the veins of Renin, where it flows still. Nephus may have created the planet proper, and his magic class may still hold sway over the realm of nature, but Voltor has left his mark on the planet in the form of obsidian. Obsidian, you see, is created when lava with a high viscosity rapidly cools. Now watch …”
Professor Rain performed the same hand motions and said the same chant as before, and the obsidian changed shape just as the limestone did. The glassy stone first turned into a panther, then into a turtle, and finally into a spiny blowfish. The changes occurred more rapidly than with the limestone, and the professor’s features showed no strain. The students clapped more appreciatively.
“I’m going to pass two boxes around the room; each of you will grab your own piece of obsidian, and we’ll all practice together on changing them.”
The students eagerly collected their obsidian, after which the professor taught them the proper hand motions and Renlin chants that gave them control over the stones. Adam thought the lesson was stupid at first; he’d rather work with tentacles and find out more things to do with them. But once he did as told, he had fun. It was great to have a solid object obey his unspoken commands, moving as though it was a natural part of his body. He formed the obsidian into dozens of different shapes, mostly figures he saw in comic books and movie posters. He felt a little strain as he did it, and by the end of class, his fingers felt tired and rubbery.
Dark Utilities was definitely his favorite class, though Professor Rain got on his nerves sometimes, particularly when he made the class work in groups. On one such occasion, he had the students work on forming shadows in full light without the use of solid objects. Everyone first worked individually, then in groups. Adam saw no point in working in a group, for he could do the lesson just fine by himself. When the professor saw him not participating, he asked why in a most nosy manner. Adam said it was none of his beeswax, and the professor tore into him and half-threatened to give him a failing grade.
Adam showed him why working in groups wasn’t his thing. He performed the same spell the professor taught the class, and by himself made a shadow bigger than anyone else’s. And he went further than that: He made the shadow grow beyond the tabletop, into the air. He made what was called a “solid shadow”: a three-dimensional piece of darkness with its own mass and weight. The class was impressed—even the professor who tried to hide it behind a stern countenance. Professor Rain offered his congratulations, then ordered Adam to sit by himself and not leave the room until the lesson was over, lest he be charged with an absence.
Adam did as told, staying in a corner and sulking. He thought perhaps Cooper wasn’t the challenging school it was cracked up to be, and that he should move into another school instead. Why not? He had oodles of money to throw around, and there were a lot of hands willing to take it.
At present, Professor Rain passed around several more rock samples, such as granite and sulfite. Once he called the class out of session, a student named Ray Derring came up to talk to him. Ray was a slightly chubby kid who loved to chat; he was often seen in the lounge in the John Norris Building talking his head off about fun, politics, food—anything he could think of. As Adam headed for the exit, he heard something that made him stay a little longer.
“So professor, you heard about the shooting in New Venice?”
Professor Rain sighed and nodded. “Yes, I saw it on the news.”
“Did you hear about how the guns were enchanted to pass through the metal detectors?”
“Yes, the sheriff mentioned it.”
“Well, what kind of magic was that? Do you know?”
“It had to have been white magic.”
“White magic? You sure? I thought it might have been black magic, ’cause black magic is usually used by criminals and stuff, so, you know …”
Professor Rain shook his head. “No, it was white magic. White magic is used to manipulate light and energy waves, so it was white magic that tricked the X-rays in the metal detectors.”
Ray raised his eyebrows. “Whoa, that’s sneaky. I mean, who would have thought a white mage would want to do a spell like that? I mean, they’re all a bunch of flakes, you know?”
“Flakes? You mean that white mages are usually unintelligent goody-two-shoes? Hardly.”
Another student, Billy Weston, piped in: “Well, what about another kind of mage? You just said mages can use certain spells from other kinds of magic. So can’t a red or black mage use this kind of white magic?”
“Black mages cannot manipulate light, only shadow. In creating shadows, you don’t manipulate light, you work against it. Only a red or white mage could possibly make the enchantment on those guns.”
“Dear gods,” Ray said. “I can’t believe someone would want to do something like that. I mean, this is definitely going to make us all look bad, won’t it, Professor Rain?”
The professor looked at Ray with an almost guilty look; Ray must have reflected one of his innermost thoughts. “Yes it will, Ray. Yes it will. But what’s done is done, and there’s no changing the past. All you can do—all that any of us can do—is to not pull something stupid like this ourselves. People have always been suspicious of mages, but if you keep up a good reputation, they’ll trust you just fine.”
“Yeah,” Ray said with a low tone. “But over the next few days, people are gonna distrust all us mages, no matter who we are. Some mage out there didn’t care that those two kids were gonna go in their school and kill people like that. It sucks.”
Adam slowly walked out of the classroom, having decided he’d heard enough. He wasn’t very surprised to hear of another school shooting; in his opinion, the whole world was going insane except for him. Still, killing people just wasn’t right, even to a cynical guy like him.
He headed down the hallway of the Morey Building, with its lockers painted a sickly shade of green and a tile floor the color of old cream. Other students were going to and fro, either on a leisurely stroll or hustling to reach their next class. Lockers were ripped open, books were taken out, and new pictures of girlfriends and boyfriends were taped up inside. Backpacks were zipped up, tread marks were left on the floor, and cold water and sugary soda were chugged down warm throats.
An entire little world was going on around him, but Adam wanted nothing to do with it. To him, the entire wide world was cheap and surreal, where people struggled for nothing and nothing was worth struggling for. Even though he wanted to learn magic more than anything else (well, that and being a rock star), he wanted it only to help himself while others could go piss in the wind. In that moment, all he wanted to do was to get the hell out of the building and into the sanctity of his dorm room.
But of course, the world always noticed he was there, standing amidst its everyday order and chaos. In this particular moment, the world came to Adam in the form of a young lady named Delhi Marigold: a red mage over a year older than him. She tended to talk to him after his Dark Utilities class, though he didn’t know why.
“Hey, bug-boy,” she said, calling him by her little pet name he hated. “Playing with your tentacles again?”
Adam gave her a quick sideways glance as he continued down the hall.
“Or are you working on that see-through spell? You know, the one that lets you see through other people’s clothes? Maybe you could teach me—’cause, you know … I gotta know where everyone shops for their underwear!”
“So why don’t you ask them and leave me alone?” Adam said grumpily, even though it was no use getting Delhi to shut up. Her mouth was like a machine with its lever stuck on GAB; stopping her endless flow of words was like plugging a cork into Niagara Falls. Then again, that had happened when a mage wanted to try it one day …
“I can’t do that!” Delhi cried in fake astonishment. “People will think I’m weird. It’s bad enough there’s a rumor that me and Justin are an item. I mean, come on! Me and Justin, the wolf-boy? Please!”
“You are weird if you keep talking to him,” said Margaret Cahill, Delhi’s friend walking beside her.
“Oh, don’t pay her any attention,” Delhi cheerily said as the trio headed down a stairway. “She’s just upset she and her man broke up. He never cheated on her, but he kept having impure thoughts, and you know you can’t hide any of those from a white mage. Isn’t that right, bug-boy?”
Adam stopped on the next landing and turned to her with gritted teeth. “I said leave me alone! I don’t care about you! Why don’t you go find this Justin guy and let him beat you or something?”
To most girls, this would have crossed the line, and Adam would never be bothered again. But Delhi was not most girls; she tilted her head and said, “Ah, you’re so cute when you’re mad! Tell you what, we’ll name our first son Carl, after my dad, and we’ll name our daughter after—”
Adam hit Delhi on the left shoulder. She placed a hand on it and dropped her mouth wide open. “He hit me!” she cried. “He hit me, I can’t believe he hit me!”
Adam stared impassively into her shocked eyes, though his gaze sometimes turned at Margaret behind her. Margaret wasn’t going to tolerate him punching her friend again; if he tried it, she’d do her best to make him sorry. In fact, under other circumstances, Margaret wouldn’t have tolerated that first punch to begin with. But this wasn’t the first time Adam had hit Delhi. Delhi had pestered him before, and he had hit her just as he had now. Delhi had even seen it coming, and her act of surprise and shock was just that: an act.
“I’m no fortuneteller,” Margaret said, “but I don’t see you and him having kids, Delhi.”
“Oh, it’ll be fine,” Delhi said, putting on a sudden smile. “He could teach little Carl how to box. It’ll be fun!”
“I don’t think he even wants to have kids with you.” Margaret gave Adam a cool but distrustful look, anxious about what he’d do next. “Just what are you thinking, anyway?”
An alarm suddenly rang within Adam’s mind, for he could sense what Margaret was doing. One of the basic abilities white mages had was telepathy, commonly called “mind-reading.” In being a white mage, Margaret could use the power of her mind to peer into the heads of others and read them like a book. But this ability had its limits: If someone wanted very badly to hide his secrets, he could make a conscious effort to hide those secrets from a white mage. Telepathy was mostly successful if it was done on an unsuspecting mind, one that had no idea a white mage was around.
But Adam was a black mage, and black magic and white magic were like polar opposites. Black mages could oftentimes sense the presence of white magic and vice versa, and so Adam could easily tell that Margaret was attempting to file through his thoughts like a librarian. In response, he called to mind some of the foulest, nastiest, most terrible images he could come up with on short notice.
Margaret wrinkled her nose. “Nothing good, I see.”
“Wanna see more?” Adam said with a wry smile. “Then leave me alone.”
“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow I guess,” Delhi said with a mischievous smile. The two girls headed back up the stairs, Delhi’s long red robe swishing alongside Margaret’s silky white one. Margaret wasted little time in reprimanding her friend from talking to Adam, whom she called “that loser.”
Adam grunted and went on his own way, glad to have Delhi out of his hair. What the hell does she want from me? Man, she is weird, talking about underwear and this Justin guy. Is she like, stupid or something?
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