Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 197,607,338 Issue: 992 | 22nd day of Gathering, Y25
Home | Archives Articles | Editorial | Short Stories | Comics | New Series | Continued Series
 

The Sleepers of Saint Garfir


by josephinefarine

--------

Miphie woke up precisely seven minutes before her alarm clock rang. She was, therefore, already vexed.

     Without a good reason to fall back asleep, the Draik dragged herself out of bed and padded silently through the third-year sleeping quarters and towards the shared bathroom. She passed identical cots, each separated by a flimsy, curtained divider, and each occupied by a sleeping Neopet or faerie. The steady rhythm of soft snoring was lightly punctured by the birdsong outside.

     In the bathroom, Miphie inspected her reflection’s eyes and the permanent, crescent-shaped shadows underneath them. By all accounts, she was a strange-looking Draik. For one thing, her hair, cropped at the jawline, and with the wrong amount of frizz which took it from “soft” to “shapeless,” was moss-green. Miphie combed it into its tidiest conceivable form, tucking her fringe (an experiment in hairstyling from last winter—an experiment that had long overstayed its welcome) into a handful of pins. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and splashed cold water on her fossil-grey scales. They clashed atrociously with her hair. She was already dressed and heading out by the time the first alarms began to ring, but Miphie did not pause to greet her classmates. Satchel hanging from a slumped shoulder, she ducked her head and slipped out of the dormitory before anyone would notice her.

     The vaulted corridors of Academia Magika were still empty at this time. Without the presence of professors to reprimand her, Miphie allowed her tail to drag heavily on the stone floor.

     The school was positioned at the heart of Altador’s capitol, its ancient facilities and ornate buildings spread out across several city blocks. On account of the region’s temperate climate—characterized by long and hot summers—much of campus was outdoors. Miphie walked along sandstone colonnades, feeling the warm air through her stiff uniform. The sun had hardly emerged, the temperature was already rising. A mild breeze blew in between the columns, carrying with it the scent of the sea.

     She passed the heavy double doors to the cafeteria but did not enter. Miphie was much too nervous about food today. Nauseous, even.

     Today was Presentation Day. Every grade at the Academia had one week, around the end of the term, to present and demonstrate that which they had studied all semester. As students moved through the ranks, from first-year Neophytes, to second-year acolytes, and then advanced to the rank of primary and then secondary magi in the third and fourth years, their studies grew more and more specialized. Consequently, their presentations became more elaborate. Passing Presentation Day was essential for advancing in study ranks, and eventually, earning the promise of graduation.

     And Miphie had been getting through each and every Presentation Day by the skin of her teeth.

     The Grey Draik stopped in front of the vast, copper doors to the library. Today more than any day, she couldn’t merely pass: she had to succeed.

     It is said that Academia Magika was established long before the Kingdom was founded, almost a millennia ago. Its library was the oldest standing fixture from the ancient campus, and while its facade had been rebuilt and restored many times, its original foundation remained. A hall, twice as long as it was wide, made up the principal chamber. Trefoil windows along its sides bathed the rows and rows of towering shelves, groaning under the weight of historic books and scrolls, in splinters of golden light.

     Stepping inside, Miphie could see that the second-floor balustrades had been adorned with the school’s five illuminated banners to commemorate the event. One banner for each college of magic. Academia Magika was the most prestigious institution for learning magic in Altador, if not Neopia (second only to Faerieland’s own Preparatory School of Magic and the Arcane Sciences), not least of all because it specialized in all major arcane studies:

     Multicolor, for Elemental — the magic of the faeries,

     Midnight blue, for Divination — the magic of time,

     Shimmering gold, for Illusion — the magic of creation,

     Iridescent rose, for Enchantment — the magic of wonder,

     and Pure white, for Transmutation — the magic of communication.

     She dwelled briefly on the banner for the school of Elemental magic. When she had been accepted into Academia, her advisor had encouraged her to apply for the school that specialized in faerie magics, so that she could study earth faerie techniques. Fitting, for a student with an affinity towards plants.

     But the Elemental college boasted the smallest, and most elite, student body, hardest to be accepted into because faerie magic often required years of preparatory studies and training. Students only specialized in a type of faerie magic in their third year. Miphie had considered applying to the program for all of five minutes. But she wouldn’t have been offered a spot anyway. Why bother?

     Instead, Miphie had earned a place in the school of Transmutation. It held Academia’s largest program, thanks to its far-reaching disciplines. And as primary magi—approaching her fourth and final year at the academy—she was now expected to know how to… well, transmute things.

     The Draik sighed deeply and dragged an enormous textbook from her bag and onto the desk. She turned to page 432: How to create a homunculus. The spell she had chosen for Presentation Day was not particularly advanced for her class, the steps for its execution relatively straightforward. Miphie only had to find an object—something small, something mobile—and imbue it with an animation spell. Then, the object would follow her commands. It was simple enough, but in the two months that Miphie had practised the spell, it had only been successfully executed twice, and even then, the homunculus always slipped out of her control. Last time, this had caused a disaster in the kitchens. The cafeteria staff were still finding bits of ceramics in the recesses behind the stoves.

     She should have picked a different spell to present, but she hadn’t thought much of it until it was too late. Make your bed, now lie in it; or so the saying went.

     A creased blue-ish envelope was serving as a bookmark to the page. Without really thinking about it, Miphie slipped the greeting card out from within.

     ‘Dear Miphie,’ the message read, ‘wishing you the best of luck in school! Love: Vaso’ Miphie closed the card. The front of it had a simplified image of a Yooyu donning a pair of spectacles and a graduation cap. She thought of Saint Garfir, her hometown, and of its sloping hills and acres of permanently autumnal forest. Her childhood friend had given her this card on the eve of her departure to the academy three years ago. Vaso who, like the rest of the hamlet, who like her father, had been so in awe, so proud of Miphie’s admission into the school.

     She hadn’t deserved it then, and she did not deserve it now.

     She shook the thought away. Today, she would master this blasted spell. There was no alternative. The Draik pulled her hair back into a half-ponytail, and reached into her bag for the clay figurine she had crafted. It was small, and fit within the palm of her hand. Without an eye for artistry, the object hardly resembled, well, anything, but it had been fashioned with a pair of (what might pass for) legs and arms, to help it move.

     She placed the figurine on the table and took two steps back. Just as she was about to recite the incantation, the doors to the library slammed open.

     Edith Lockwood stepped into the hall. She was another third year in the school of Elemental Magic. Miphie’s back tensed. The kyrii had risen even earlier than Miphie to study, and now stood directly behind her, surrounded by a posse of magi and acolyte students. They all eyed each other.

     “What do you want, Edith,” she said through gritted teeth. From her very first week at Academia, it had become painfully clear who Miphie disliked. Edith topped the list. Hailing from northern Altador, the kyrii was the school’s metropolitan ‘it’ girl. Her Candy paint job made her glamorous. Trendy. Wealthy.

     But more than that, Edith was also gifted. The daughter of an ancient and esteemed lineage of magic users—the Lockwood dynasty—the kyrii had taken to Elemental magic almost immediately. As such, Edith was serious about her studies and erudite in conversation. She didn’t take kindly to students who, in her eyes, wouldn’t apply themselves to their studies as thoroughly as she did.

     In brief, everything that Edith was, Miphie wasn’t.

     “Relax. We’re just here to prepare for the presentations later,” snickered Flora, a young air faerie standing beside Edith. “Just like you.”

     Edith walked over to where Miphie had set up her things. She leaned over the table for a better look: “A homunculus spell.”

     “Not something we see a third-year perform every day,” said Flora.

     The second-year ixi beside the air faerie snorted. “Must be very advanced, eh Miphie?” Edith did not laugh. She blinked at Miphie like a bored sentinel.

     Miphie clenched her jaw further. Frankly, she was impressed her teeth hadn’t been ground to a fine powder after three years of this. But after one too many reprimands for misconduct this semester alone, Miphie knew better than to snap back. From her very first month at school, she had learned her place. Rarely excelling, often grasping concepts long after her classmates had, and certainly not helped by a cutthroat atmosphere, she had quickly been cast out of the student body. She had more or less grown used to the relentless teasing and whispered remarks, but the rejection still stung, especially when she was so well regarded back home.

     More snickering. Miphie shoved her things back into her bag and stood to leave. As she did so, she caught Edith’s frigid eyes watching her.

     ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

     The courtyard cobblestones were already baking in the Altadorian morning sun.

     “Anumatum, totem. Anumatum.” Miphie repeated the spell dutifully, again and again. Her heart just wasn’t in it. A few times, the figurine sputtered to life and hobbled about the bench, but never for very long. It would heed Miphie’s command to “walk,” take three steps, and grow inanimate once again.

     The Draik groaned and dipped her face into her hands. All the tension from before had dissipated, and now, Miphie just felt pathetic. A homunculus spell was something even a second year could master. A simple bit of animation magic, something elementary to Transmutation. “What is wrong with you?” she mumbled.

     Over the years, Miphie had observed student after student come to a revelation. Each and everyone eventually discovered some pull of magic from within: confirmation that they were meant to study it. That they had powers and deserved to use them. But after three, nearly four years at the academy, Miphie had never found this source for herself. Every day, every class, every test, had been a struggle. The academic professors claimed that every student to walk its hallowed halls had been selected because they had magical abilities. But how could this be? She drifted through the semesters with her head down, doing her best to keep up. She could study her spells on paper all she wanted, for all the good it did her when it came to actually perform them.

     She suddenly took notice of two formidable Earth Faerie Mushrooms growing beneath a bush. On her knees, Miphie made her way towards the specimens. The soil in this sunny spot on campus must have been especially rich: Miphie rarely saw any wild mushrooms growing on school grounds. There was far too much stone and sun to accommodate them.

     Delicately, she dug the fungi out of the ground and placed them into a side pocket of her satchel. They had studied this fungus last week in her herbology elective. Mushrooms with astonishing levels of caffeine, albeit inedible. While the professor was explaining the relative rarity of the specimen and their tricky yet indispensable medicinal applications, Miphie had been convinced that she had seen them in Saint Garfir. She would study them later.

     “Earth Faerie Mushrooms, growing out here?” Miphie looked up. Sitting on the bench opposite her was a light faerie.

     “Lucenza,” Miphie bowed, hoping her breath was measured enough to hide how upset she felt.

     The faerie smiled and patted the spot beside her on the bench. Lucenza’s warm, dark skin provided a striking contrast to her luminescent hair, styled into long braids running down the length of her back. Whenever she saw her, Miphie felt calmer. She joined her on the bench.

     They sat there in silence, which eventually curdled into something uncomfortable the longer the pause stretched. Miphie was relieved when Lucenza finally took a breath to speak:

     “How are you holding up?”

     Miphie very much wished the faerie hadn’t chosen those words. She crumpled like a leaf, a quiet sob escaping her lips. ‘I’m not,’ she wanted to say, ‘I haven't been holding up, I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore.’ Instead, she hid her face in her hands. Lucenza's warm touch enveloped her hunched shoulders.

     “I take it that your presentation is not going as planned?”

     “Nothing is going as planned,” Miphie gasped, “and everyone else is right! A homunculus spell isn’t advanced at all, but I can’t get it. I just can’t get it. I don’t know why.”

     “Miphie…”

     “I’m going to fail, I’m not going to make it to fourth year, I’m barely keeping up.”

     Lucenza’s hug tightened. More than an academic advisor, the light faerie had taken on a mentoring role in Miphie’s life, long before the young Draik had been admitted into Academia Magika.

     “Why are you still trying to help me?” Miphie whispered into her hands.

     “Because, my dear, you’ve always found a way. I know it hasn’t been easy—not at all. But you’ve risen to every challenge this school has thrown at you, and I know you can do it again.” Lucenza pushed a stray hair out of Miphie’s eyes. “You have more power than you think.”

     Miphie forced a small smile—forced herself to feel grateful. Lucenza had sponsored her entrance into the school when no other professor would. She had this faerie, and this faerie alone, to thank for her admission into the elite magic program. But that she had any power? Miphie felt bile rising in her throat. She had no power.

     Sensing her body tense, Lucenza pulled away from the Draik and looked her squarely in the eyes: “You’ll find your power too, Miphie Morchella.” The light faerie stood and took the clay figurine from the bench, “perhaps it might help to reflect on what it is that drew you to magic in the first place.”

     She placed the object in Miphie’s hands, who scowled at it. “Now off to class with you.” When the Draik looked up again, Lucenza was gone.

     ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

     As the sprinkler system at the school conservatory sprang to life, Miphie and her expensive textbook were showered in a fine mist of water. The Draik scrambled to get away from the deluge. Evidently, her day was not improving.

     After her History of Magic class, she had hurried to the conservatory to practice her spell—to force it to work. She would not fail her presentation.

     She also had two hours left to prepare before the ceremony began.

     In the brothy heat of the greenhouse, Miphie shoved the wretched figurine against a watering can. She loved the conservatory and its atlas of rare herbs and unusual flowers. She wished she could sink her hands into the damp soil. But no: she needed to concentrate.

     “Anumatum, totem. Anumatum, totem. ANUMATUM, TOTEM. ANUMATUM.”

     The clay figure sprang to life, shuddering. Miphie leapt to her feet. At last!

     “Step forward,” she ordered. The figurine took one tentative step forward after another. Miphie could barely contain the grin spreading out to her cheeks. Could it really be working? “Jump!” It hopped unsteadily. “Pick the flower.” It hobbled towards a cluster of lily-of-the-valleys and yanked at the stem.

     “Now bring me the flower,” she whispered, goading the figurine back towards her. But the object did not listen. Instead, it turned its attention to the next flower in its path, and viciously tore at its stem. Then on to the next.

     “Stop. Sile!” The figurine tore and tore, faster and faster, yanking flowers from the earth, from their planters. Roots snapped as they were pulled from the ground. It stomped through the planters lining the windows, plucking, ripping. “Stop! STOP!”

     Miphies snatched the wriggling figurine away from the flowers, but the damage was done. She felt the thing twist frantically in her grasp. It was revolting. She aimed at the nearest tree and threw the figurine at it with all her might: it shattered into pieces.

     In the stillness that followed, Miphie sank to her knees. The academy’s precious collection of rare herbs and flowers lay ruined at her feet. Maybe some could be replanted? She began gathering the mess into her lap: no one could see the damage she had caused.

     Behind her, someone gasped.

     “What did you do?”

     A pair of students, one Ogrin and one Kacheek, which Miphie took for first years, stood at the entrance to the conservatory, expressions of shock plastered on their faces. The Kacheek whispered something in his friend’s ear—probably something snide about Miphie and her crude reputation at the school. But unlike the older students in her grade, first years were easily frightened.

     “What?” she snapped, standing to her full height (which wasn’t much, but it would have to do). “You’re going to run and tell on me?”

     The Ogrin took a tentative step back, pulling his friend with him.

     “Get. Out.” Miphie emphasized each word with all the venom in her voice. They scrambled out of the room. She waited another moment and released a shaky breath. It was altogether likely that the Kacheek and his friend would head directly to the nearest professor, and then she would well and truly be in for it.

     She had to do something—and quickly. Yet, Miphie took her time assembling each bit of vegetation from the ground. There was yarrow and parsley. Sprigs of nightshade and wolfsbane. Damaged foxglove, roots intact. Delicate vervain, petals shredded. Miphie recognized each plant like an old friend. She knew of their properties, their usefulness in spells or medicine. She had once studied many of them at the edge of the forest in Saint Garfir. She could not merely shove the flowers back into the ground — the trauma to their stems and roots was too extensive.

     Miphie’s textbook on spells had been kicked to the side, and she could see it had fallen open to her bookmarked chapter: page 432 — how to create a homunculus. She stilled, considering the pages.

     “Imbuing sentience into everyday objects is a useful skill to learn, and may be applied over a wide field of subjects. Advancing from a clay figure, the standard anumatum spell may be modified to fit various objects. The spell can be stopped by uttering ‘sile,’ the concluding incantation.”

     Perhaps…? It was not probable, but still, perhaps…?

     Miphie gingerly raised the ruined plants to eye level.

     “Anumatum,” she whispered, she cooed. She summoned their scientific names in her mind, the ones she had studied in Herbology. “Anumatum, florae. Anumatum, radici.” It was a prayer. Miphie willed her mind to reach into the stems of her flowers, to discover them anew, as though she were charting a map of their intertwining vascular roadways. “Anumatum, anumatum, anumatum…”

     The plants shivered. Roots stretched, petals opened. Miphie could hardly believe her eyes.

     “Tell me what you need,” she implored them. “Tell me how I can heal you.”

     And the yarrow, the parsley, the nightshade; the wolfsbane, the foxglove and vervain: they whispered back.

To be continued…

 
Search the Neopian Times




Week 992 Related Links


Other Stories




Submit your stories, articles, and comics using the new submission form.