Dissonance: 4.3

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Author’s Note: Alrighty, guys. Once more, I am linking to the ongoing one shot anthology thing being run by Revfitz. This week, the story I’m linking to is called Curse of The Magi and it’s written by Walter. Now that that’s been said, ON WITH THE STORY!!

Casper:

Casper held the toothbrush under the tap for a second, then lifted it to his mouth. It was the third time he’d brushed his teeth that morning. The first two had been to get rid of the lingering taste of vomit. This one was in hopes of chasing away the memory of Father’s lips. He ran the brush over his tongue, forcing the minty foam in between his taste buds in an attempt to force everything else out. It didn’t work. He brushed harder.

He heard a knock on the bathroom door behind him, then heard Mel’s voice speaking through it.

“Casper? Freja went out and picked up some clean clothes for you. I’m leaving them by the door.”

“Thank you.” He replied, his words muffled by the foam coating the inside of his mouth as he stepped towards the door.

For a brief moment, he felt Mel’s mind inside his bubble before she stepped away. The woman was practically radiating concern. He felt a pang of guilt at that. He must have been quite the sight when he’d turned up on her doorstep the night before, his ragged clothes covered in a mixture of bile, dirt and his own blood. She’d ushered him up to the apartment above the shop and sat him down on her couch before setting off to get Freja. He’d been asleep by the time either of them got back.

Casper sighed. He still wasn’t sure how he was going to explain this to them.

He opened the door a crack, saw the neatly folded shirt and pants sitting just outside, and grabbed them. He got halfway through taking off his current shirt before deciding he needed a shower. He hoped Mel wouldn’t mind.

He stepped out of the bathroom twenty minutes later cleaner than he had been in days, the soiled remnants of his old clothes held in a loose bundle under one arm.

Mel and Freja were waiting for him outside, sitting at Mel’s small breakfast table, a pot of tea between them. Both women turned to look at him as he stepped through the door.

“… Thanks for the clothes,” he mumbled. “… And for letting me sleep here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Freja murmured. “Are you gonna tell us what happened?”

“I…” He paused, trying to think through the events of the last day enough to even make sense of them for himself, let alone anyone else. “Honestly, I don’t know.” Freja raised an eyebrow at that. Mel opened her mouth to speak, but he clarified before she got a word out. “I mean. I sorta know what happened; it just doesn’t make any sense, you know?”

Neither Mel nor Freja said anything at that; they simply gazed at him, waiting for him to continue. After a moment’s awkward silence, he sighed, stepping over to the couch on which he’d spent the night asleep and planting himself on the arm of it so that he was facing them. He spent a moment looking for an appropriate place to deposit his old clothes that wouldn’t seem rude, before Mel flicked a finger and the entire foul smelling bundle pulled itself from his hands, wrapped itself into a tight ball, and launched itself into the kitchen, where it landed in a bin with a clang. On any other day, Casper would have been impressed. Today, however, he barely even noticed.

Instead, he took a long breath, and began to speak. He told his teachers about the birds, about the strangers he’d found following him, and their mutual flight from the swarm. He told them about the attack on the bridge; he tried to play off his trick with the grenade as more of a lucky shot than anything related to his power. Through all of it, the two women just listened; Mel occasionally nodding, Freja impassive. He left out his encounter with Father, however. It was too… embarrassing? No. That wasn’t quite the word. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something he wanted to share with a pair of near-strangers. Instead, he simply said that the agent had healed him before he ran. Neither of them questioned it.

“So, yeah,” he murmured as his tale drew to a close. “I came here cuz… well, it was the only place I could think of that might be safe to spend the night with all the stuff going on. Sorry.”

Freja nodded at that.

“Fair call,” she murmured. “So, you got caught up in that mess with the elves, huh? We heard about that. You’re lucky you got away. Far as I can tell, most of the other victims were found unconscious in a cavern below central park.”

“Elves?” Casper asked. He dimly recalled Father making some mention of them the day before. But couldn’t remember any explanation. “What does them being elves have to do with it?”

“Because that’s what elves do,” Freja grunted. “Hop across the border to our world every couple months to kidnap people with magical potential. It’s rare that they target cities, though. Too many people who can fight back.”

“You should be safe now, though.” Mel added. “Word is that the last of them was captured last night. The birds have been rounded up, too.”

Casper spent a few moments trying to absorb that new piece of information. He didn’t succeed. Superpowered interdimensional kidnappers was too much to take in when he was still so tired. Instead, he set the idea aside for later.

“… Is there a phone I can borrow?” He asked. “I need to call some people. Kinda promised a friend I’d let him know I’m okay.” Mel nodded, pulling a battered looking flip phone from her pocket and tossing it across to him. “Thanks.”

He dialed the number by memory, watching Freja take her leave as the line connected. The person on the other end didn’t speak.

“Hey, James,” he murmured, trying to push some of the tiredness out of his voice. “It’s Cas. Are you there? I… I could really use someone to talk to right now.”

“James isn’t here right now, Casper,” Replied a man’s voice. “This is his father.”

“Oh.” He mumbled. “Uh, hi, Mr Toranaga. Can uhh… Can you tell me when he’s gonna be back?”

“Oh, he’s home,” the older man replied. “He’s downstairs. I’ll take you to him in a minute. I just wanted to ask you a few things first, okay?”

“… Is this about me running away?”

“Yes.”

“… Did James tell you?”

“No, your dad did. He’s very worried about y-”

“I don’t care if he’s worried.” Casper grumbled. “He deserves to be.” He didn’t have the energy to be truly angry. He settled for disappointed. Couldn’t the universe just let him talk to his friend for a bit without making things all complicated?

“… Yeah, I can understand that,” there was a deep sigh on the other end of the line. “Doesn’t stop it being true, though.” The reaction caught Casper off guard. He’d been expecting judgement.

“… How much did he tell you?” He asked.

“That he hurt you,” came the reply. “That it’s his fault you ran away.”

“… Well,” Casper muttered. “He’s not wrong.”

“Are you still in New York?”

“… Yeah.”

“Good. In that case, I’m going to give you a phone number for a place that will make sure you’re housed and fed while all of this is sorted out, okay?”

Casper was silent for a few seconds at that, trying to force his exhausted brain to think through the implications of the idea.

“… Is there a nice way of saying I don’t trust you?” He asked.

It was a long while before the older man answered.

“That stings, Casper,” he said quietly. “I haven’t done anything to earn that from you.”

“Sorry,” Casper lied. “But it’s true. How do I know I won’t go there and find my parents waiting for me? I’d rather just handle it myself.”

“Oh come on,” Mr Toranaga replied, annoyed. “That’s just dumb. You’re a thirteen year old boy. You know you can’t do it all on your own.”

“I’m not on my own,” he snapped back, irritated. He could feel Mel’s eyes watching him from across the room. He didn’t look at her. This was his business. “I’m staying at a friend’s place. I’m handling it fine!”

He heard the other man begin to retort, before being cut off by another voice, too quiet for him to make out the words. The two seemed to argue back and forth for a few moments, before there was a rustling noise, and a woman’s voice spoke into the line. It was one he recognized; James’ mom.

“Hey, Casper,” she started, sounding almost as tired as he felt. “I’m sorry about Peter. He gets stupid about stuff he cares about.”

Casper forced himself not to groan. Great. Another adult to deal with. All he wanted was to speak to his friend. Was that so hard?

“Look,” he pleaded, raising his fingers to pinch the bridge of his nose. “If I let you give me the number, will you just let me talk to James?”

The older woman sighed at that.

“Okay,” she said, her tone calm. “That was sort of rude, but I’m gonna let it slide because we both know you’re not having the best time right now. I get it. You probably feel really ganged up on and you’re worried we want to send you back to your parents and maybe a hundred other things I haven’t thought of. But this is a conversation you need to have with someone, because running away just isn’t enough of an answer on its own. Would it help if I brought James up here to join us? Give you someone you know for sure is on your side?”

“… Yeah,” he muttered. “Yeah. Do that, please.”

There was another quiet exchange on the other end of the line, before Sarah’s voice came back.

“Right. Peter’s just getting him. I’m gonna put you on speakerphone, okay? It’ll be just you, me and James. Peter will be here too, but he’s going to be being quiet just in case he starts being dumb again.”

“… Okay.”

Once again, the phone line rustled, then he heard a thump, and what sounded like the distant blaring of a television.

“Hey, Casper,” murmured James’ voice into the following quiet. “You doing okay?” It was a surprising relief, hearing that. Casper felt himself sag slightly in his seat, muscles that he hadn’t even realized were clenched suddenly going loose once more.

“Heh,” he chuckled. “God. I hope I am. It’s good to hear from you, bud.”

“Good to hear from you too,” the other boy replied. “I was worried, you know?”

“Yeah. Sorry.” Casper leaned back in his seat, letting himself fall back off of the arm of the couch and into the cushions. “I’ve had a long couple of days.”

Before James had a chance to respond, Sarah cleared her throat.

“Anyway,” she murmured. “Back to the big issue here, alright? Casper. I know you don’t trust us, but I want to ask you something about that, okay?”

“… Yeah?”

“Is there any reason I’d be on your parents’ side here?” She asked. “I like you, Casper. You’re a nice kid, you’re kind to Bex, and from what I’ve heard, you’ve been helping James deal with some of the things that happened to him that he doesn’t feel comfortable bringing to us. Your parents, on the other hand, are two people I’ve never met, who apparently abuse their son. So, again, why in God’s name do you think either one of us would not be on your side?”

Casper opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. He could think of no real counter there.

“… Sorry.”

“Okay,” Sarah murmured. “Moving on. I’ve been thinking it over, and I have an idea that I’d like you to think about, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Right,” she continued. “So, you don’t really trust the number we were going to give you. That’s okay. But the fact remains, we need to get you to a place where everyone can be sure that you’re getting all of the things you need, and where you’re around people you can trust. So hear me out. What if Peter and I called your parents, and told them that you were going to be staying at our house until we can get everything sorted out that needs to be sorted out? That way, we can be sure that you’re safe and secure and are even able to go to the same school as normal.”

“That’s a thing we can do?” James asked excitedly. “You promise?”

“Depends if Linda and Ray are willing to agree to it,” Peter spoke up. “But if they’re given a choice between him staying with us and living on the streets, I’m pretty sure they’ll agree to it.”

“Well, Casper?” Sarah asked. “What do you think?”

Casper didn’t answer. He was busy thinking. It sounded like a good plan; a really good plan. Almost too good to be true, if he was honest, but he wanted to be sure.

“Cas?” James asked. “You okay?”

“Do you promise my parents won’t be allowed to come near me till I say so?” He asked, his voice quiet.

“… No,” Sarah replied. “Only your parents can promise that.”

“We can promise they won’t be allowed inside our house until you say so, though.” Peter interjected. “If they do, I’ll have to punch your dad in the face again.”

“You punched my dad?” Casper asked, surprised.

“He’d just told me he was beating his kid. What was I supposed to do?”

“… I like you now.”

“Peter,” Sarah chided. “Shush. You’re being quiet now, remember? Well, Casper? Is that everything? Now’s the time to ask.”

“If my parents agree to it all,” Casper muttered. “Then sure… But only if they promise to stay away from me.”

“I’ll make the call.” Said Peter.

From their end of the line, Casper thought he heard a door swing closed, the distant sounds of the tv shutting off in its wake. For the next few minutes, no one spoke, all three of them simply waiting for the verdict, breath bated. Then, the door opened again, and Peter spoke.

“Well, they agreed to it,” he murmured. “Not sure if Ray wants to hug me or kill me right now, but they agreed.”

Casper let out that stored up breath in a long, low sigh.

“So,” he mumbled, somehow even more exhausted than he had been a moment ago. “If I’m at the GameStop near your house in an hour, can we meet up there?”

“We’ll be there,” Sarah murmured. “James, too.”

“Yup!” James agreed brightly. “Holy heck, it feels so much better knowing you’re okay!”

“Heh,” Casper chuckled. He really needed to teach James some real swear words. “Yeah. It does. See you there.” With that, he hung up, leaned his head back against the couch cushions, and closed his eyes. Why did everything feel so much lighter now?

“So,” Mel’s voice asked. “You have a place to go now?”

“Yeah,” he replied exhaustedly. “I do. Thanks for all your help, Mel. How much do I owe you guys for the clothes? Cuz I’m pretty sure there’s, like, three thousand dollars in those pants you threw in the garbage.”

Mel snorted. Casper grinned.

Fifteen minutes later, he bid his teacher goodbye and made his way down the narrow steps that led from her apartment to the Rose Bouquet. The store was almost empty when he stepped inside, in spite of the veritable crowds of people making their way along the pavement outside. He gave Freja a wave on his way by and received a curt nod in return. Apart from the two of them, there was only one other person in the place, a well dressed boy who looked perhaps a year or two older than Casper himself, perusing what looked like a collection of birthstones on one of the shelves. Casper glanced casually at them as he passed, wondering what had the older boy’s interest. That was when he felt it.

He had his bubble wrapped in close around himself, too tired to willingly take on too much of the emotions of those around him. Because of this, he only felt the other boy’s mind touch his own when they came within a few feet of one another. Casper didn’t recognize the boy’s face at all; but he recognized the feel of his mind immediately. Calm, collected, and just a little bit kind.

Father.

He began to run.

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Escapism: 3.7

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Casper:

Casper grinned down at the tiny flower pot that Mel had placed before him, sweat trailing a thin line from his brow to the lining of his shirt. He’d done it. It had taken three tries, and what had felt like the mental equivalent of a three hundred pound deadlift, but he’d done it. He wiped the moisture from his face with a sleeve and turned to his teacher, giddy.

“I did it!” He crowed. “I made a flower!”

“You made a daffodil,” Mel corrected from her seat off to the side, gracing the boy with a small chuckle, a note of genuine surprise sounding out in her mind. “Or a seedling of one, at least. Good job, kid. It usually takes weeks for newbies to build up the reserves for a new spell. Guess you must have been training with your power a lot, huh?”

“Eh,” Casper laughed tiredly. “More like I never figured out how to turn it off. Guess that counts as training, sorta.”

“I guess it does,” Mel agreed. “Right. Now, you get to go home. You’re done for the day. Practice that spell every day until you can cast it without feeling like you’re passing a gall-stone, and then you should be about ready to choose what you wanna focus on.”

“Focus?” The boy asked. “What do you mean?”

“What you want to specialize in,” Mel shrugged. Then, seeing the blank look he was giving her, she sighed. “Right, sorry. Forgot you’re a newbie.” She leaned back against a drawer, shifting around for a moment until she was more comfortable, then continued.

“Okay,” she started, her tone businesslike. “So, the first thing you need to know is that there’s basically two kinds of spells out there. Number one-” she held up a finger demonstratively. “-Is what you call your innate magic, or Sorcery. This is a spell that’s completely unique to you, and that only you can ever really cast; your power.” She glanced across at Casper to make sure he was listening. He nodded, and she continued. “This is a spell that’s basically just the magical representation of your soul. Your personality, your genetics; a little bit of everything, really. Distill that all down, and you get your first spell. You can’t really teach it, because you don’t even consciously know the steps you’re taking to cast it.”

Casper nodded again, listening to the older woman intently.

“Now, type number two-” Mel raised a second finger. “-Is what you’d call learned magic, or wizardry. These are the spells that can be learned because the steps needed to cast them are simple enough that they can be memorized and passed from person to person. The flower growth would be your first wizard spell. Now, these spells tend to be a lot weaker and less flexible than your innate spell at first, because your soul is having to waste a lot of energy doing something that isn’t familiar to it.” She chuckled again. “That’s why you’re so tired after only making half a flower. Don’t worry, though, that becomes less of a problem with practice. You’ll develop a bigger supply of energy, and the spells will cost you less as your soul becomes more familiar with them. The more you use a spell, the less it costs.”

“Okay,” Casper nodded. “That makes sense, I guess.”

“Good,” Mel grinned. “Now shush, I’m not done. Thing is, that one intuitive spell you’ve got there isn’t the only one you’ll have, in the end. See, the more new spells you learn, the more new information and material your soul has to base all new innate spells on. So every once in a while, it’ll start growing new spells out of all the stuff it’s learned, combined with all the bits of you that made your first spell.”

“Uh,” Casper began, confused. “I… think I get it?”

Mel shook her head.

“Here,” she chuckled. “I’ll give you an example. Say your base spell is that you can breathe fire, right? And you spend a whole lot of time learning spells that are all about being able to move things around with your mind. Eventually, your soul might develop a new power based around controlling the fire with your mind, or you might learn to control stuff by breathing on it. It’s a stupid example, but basically that.”

Casper sat there for a long while, gazing blankly across at the older woman while he absorbed that new information. After a few minutes, she spoke again.

“You’re trying to think of cool things to mix your power with, aren’t you?”

“… Maybe.”

“Good,” she grinned. “Then you’re starting to understand what I mean by choosing what to focus on. Let’s take Freja as an example,” she gestured absently at the corridor leading back into the shop. “She started out with a power based on enchantment. She could make things a little harder to break when she touched them. So, she decided to focus on that enchantment part of her power. She started to learn as many different kinds of magic as she could, because she wanted to be able to put a bunch of different magical effects into the things she touched. She became an enchantment specialist. Your job, while you’re mastering that plant growth spell, is to figure out how you want your magic to grow from here on out. Do you want to focus on feeding your innate powers and try to learn a little bit of everything, or do you want to learn a lot of one particular kind of spell to try and grow your magic in a more specialized direction?”

Casper opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again, thoughtful. That was a big question. Mel patted him on the shoulder.

“No need to answer right away,” she said, her tone brusque. “Just take some time to think about it, okay?” She thought for a moment, then added: “Don’t worry. It’s easier than it sounds. You just need to figure out what you want to be.”

Yup. Big question.


Casper stepped out of the Rose Bouquet that afternoon feeling utterly drained. His pocket was a good two hundred dollars lighter and he had been instructed to keep the small flowerpot that he now held clutched under his arm, but for now, he didn’t really care about it. Right now, he wanted a donut. Everything else could wait.

He stepped out onto the street and, seeing the people still littered about the sidewalk, took a moment to compact his power back down to allow him a modicum of privacy. Now, where to find a good donut? Thinking about it, he thought he recalled seeing a small bakery on his way over from Tasha’s place. That would do. He would go there, sit down, and devour as much sugar as he could find. Casper nodded to himself and set off down the street at a jog, hunger winning over against his exhaustion.

He felt the thing enter his power’s range just a split second before it struck him. In the single moment that he had with it inside of his awareness, he registered that it was small, fast moving, and very, very hungry. Had his power been extended to its fullest range, he might have had time to move himself out of the creature’s path, but as it was, he felt it impact against the back of his shoulder before he’d even had time to move, heard something tearing at the fabric of his shirt, then felt something sharp digging a number of thin, shallow lines along his skin.

He let out a cry of surprise and pain, swatting blindly at the thing with his free hand in an attempt to dislodge it dropping his flower pot in the attempt and sending his seedling spilling out onto the pavement. He felt the creature pull away, taking to the skies with a rustle of its wings. Casper stared after the thing as it flew away, the first instinctive traces of tears drawing themselves unbidden to the corners of his eyes. Was that a bird? It looked like one, but he’d never felt a bird so… focused. What the hell had just happened? He tried to move his shoulder and winced. Whatever it was, it had done a number on his back, tearing a ragged strip of his shirt free in its attempt to burrow towards his skin. He tried to turn his head far back enough to check the injury by eye, but couldn’t quite manage it. He settled for checking it by hand, twisting his arm behind his back to brush his fingertips against the skin, trying to ignore the sting of it.

When he pulled the limb back, he saw his fingertips coated with a thin layer of blood. Well, that sucked. A few people around the street were looking at him, most with a degree of sympathy to their expressions, one or two with surprise. He ignored them. Instead, he focused his attention on pressing his power outwards, swelling it out to encompass the full length of his range, trying to find that bird again. It felt weird, and he wanted to know why.

What he found was not reassuring.

There were more of them, now. Gathering on the insides of rooftops, flying in low so as to keep the sky clear, hiding; all of them with that same, insatiable sense of hunger. He frowned. This was not how birds were supposed to act.

Nervously, Casper continued his route home, keeping his power unfurled, painfully aware of the swarm continuing to gather on the rooftops around him. Whole groups of them were flitting from building to building as he moved.

They were following him.

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Escapism: 3.4

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Casper:

It took nearly two hours, all said, for Casper to find what he was looking for. Even with a calm achieved, itself a task that he doubted he would have managed without his teacher’s mind as a reference, it took him a while to find the right part of himself. It wasn’t, as Freja had described, like a light inside his mind. He had tried envisioning it that way at first, and it had felt stilted, out of shape. When he finally found it, the idea it brought to mind was, for him, something a good deal more quiet. A single head of dandelion seeds in an empty field of grass, swaying gently in the breeze. The picture was oddly detailed for a mental image, vivid and consistent enough that he could count the individual seeds branching off of it. When he relayed the image to her, his teacher let out a dry chuckle.

“That so, huh?” She asked. “Well, try using your power. See if your flower changes at all.”

“Well, uh…” Casper started. “Thing about that is… My power’s always on… I’m never not using it.”

Freja grunted.

“I see.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “Well, can you change it somehow? Put more energy into it or something?”

The boy nodded, closing his eyes and focusing for a moment on his power. He began to swell his boundary out, from just large enough to encompass him and Freja, to large enough to fill the whole room, then even bigger. He pushed it out far enough that he could feel the minds of those passing in the street outside, the happy woman still selling her flowers. In his mind’s eye, the dandelion shifted, grew larger, the individual bristles of it opening up a touch wider. It was a strange feeling, watching what felt like an imaginary picture change without any conscious input from himself.

“It’s doing stuff,” he said aloud. “Changing shape the more I use it. Getting bigger.”

“Yup,” Freja murmured, nodding. “Good job, kid. You’re a mage. That flower you’re seeing is your spell. You’ll probably start seeing more of them turn up as you start learning new spells.”

New spells.

Casper took a moment to absorb that idea, the image of the flower nearly slipping from his mind as a wave of excitement threatened to push him from his present calm. He thought for a moment, before asking a question that had been lingering in the back of his mind for what felt like weeks.

“Is… is there some way I can turn it off?” He asked, earning himself a look of confusion from his teacher. “M-my spell, I mean. It… gets in the way of life, sometimes. I’d like to not have to deal with it all the time.”

“Ah,” she nodded, understanding. “Sure. There’s a couple ways you could turn it off for a while, I think. You could probably play around with it for a while and see if you can find an off switch-”

“No,” he cut her off. “I tried that. Three months. Couldn’t figure it out.”

Freja gave him another nod.

“Fair enough. Thought you might say that. Well, I could probably put together an amulet or something to keep your spell suppressed,” she raised a hand to forestall the boy as he opened his mouth to speak, excited. “Don’t get all yappy yet. It’d take a few weeks, I’d have to take a very close look at what your spell does, and it’d cost you about twenty grand.” She chuckled slightly as his face fell once more. “Easiest answer? Just keep yourself exhausted, I guess. A spell won’t work if you don’t have enough energy in you to fuel it. Start learning some other spells and just work all your energy out on them so your power goes away for a while.”

Casper sat for a moment, mulling it all over in his mind, then nodded with a sigh. It wasn’t ideal, but at least it was something he could do. Better than just holding his bubble close and hoping.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “Okay. So, how do I learn new spells?”

“Simple,” Freja shrugged. “You get someone to teach you.” She pulled herself to her feet. “For that, gimme a sec.” With that, she walked out of the room, leaving him alone.

Curious, and lacking anything better to do, Casper followed the older woman with his power, tracing her mind back through the narrow hallway and into the shop, then out onto the street, where she came to a stop beside the cheerful flower woman. He felt their emotions fluctuate briefly, flickering slightly in minute response to concepts introduced and discussed. He felt the flower woman become a touch excited, Freja a little amused, before the two apparently swapped places, his teacher remaining out by the flowers while the second woman made her way inside, passing through the cluttered shop and into the hallway behind him.

“So,” she called out cheerfully as she caught sight of him. “You’re the new kid, huh?”

“Guess so,” he answered, glancing behind himself towards the same, slightly portly woman who’d been selling flowers when he’d arrived. She was carrying, to his momentary confusion, a pair of small, cheap, plastic flower pots, each apparently filled with plain garden soil. “My name’s Cas. Hi.”

“Nice to meet you, Cas,” she replied, stepping forwards into the room and bending at the waist to place one of the pots beside the boy. “I’m Mel. Now then. Let’s not waste time. Freja said you’d earned yourself a particular spell, and I’m better at teaching this one than she is, so watch closely.”

Casper nodded and Mel lowered herself down into a sitting position off to his side with just a touch more ease than Freja had before. She lifted the second flower pot in her hand, holding it just below eye level between them. Casper gazed at it, waiting. He didn’t have to wait long.

It started out relatively small, a slight disturbance in the soil filling the container, before a tiny nub of green poked its way out from underneath; a seedling. The tiny plant grew a little faster now, extending into a stem like a video in time lapse. The stem sprouted leaves, grew higher, and formed a bud, which quickly colored itself into a light, orangish pink, before dividing out into petals that then spread apart into a flower bulb. The whole process had taken perhaps eleven seconds. Mel placed the newborn flower on the floor between them, and turned her eyes towards the boy.

“Thoughts?” She asked, her tone suddenly very serious, matched by what he felt in her mind.

Casper hesitated. It felt to him like his teacher was waiting for him to judge her. He could feel a note of something that almost felt like anticipation in her mind. Like she was waiting for him to miss the point somehow; to say the wrong thing. In the end, he opted for honesty.

“Well,” he began. “I gotta admit, a little bit of me’s disappointed that nothing caught fire and exploded.”

Mel rolled her eyes, a momentary amusement touching inside her mind.

“Kids,” she snorted. “They never change. We don’t teach combat magic to children we’ve only just met, Cas.”

“Yeah, I figured,” He admitted, returning his eyes to the plant between them. “… What sort of flower is it?”

“This?” She asked, gesturing down at it absently. “It’s a tulip.”

Casper nodded.

“It’s pretty,” he said eventually. He meant it, too. He liked flowers. Growing up in the city, they were a little bit of a rarity. “The petals make me think of sunsets.”

Mel gazed at him as he spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly as she considered him. Then, she smiled, a surprisingly powerful note of pride settling down in her thoughts as his words hit home.

“Aww,” she chuckled. “Such a nice boy.” With that, she leaned forwards a little, her hands coming to rest on her knees. “Yup, that’s good enough for me. You’re learning this one.”

Casper cocked an eyebrow at that. Had he just passed a wizard test by complimenting a flower?

“This one?” He asked. “You mean there’s other ones I could learn instead?”

“Yup,” Mel nodded, gesturing a hand absently towards the tulip, which slowly began to swell once more. “There’s a bunch of other ones. Freja could teach you any number of flashy spells, and you’ll probably learn some of them too, in time, but this one’s a little special. I only teach it to the kids I like. Not every youngster gets to be a nature mage, you know.”

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