Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
The hallways of Parrish Manufacturing’s corporate headquarters are essentially the same as any other corporate rat’s nest one might have the misfortune to wander into: walls painted a soulless beige, floors covered variously with grey tile and scratchy grey carpet, cubicle farms filled with discontented and miserable drones interspersed with offices filled with somewhat less discontented and miserable drones.
Isaac Faulkner doesn’t particularly care about any of them; his business is with someone of a higher paygrade. The highest, in fact: Isaac has a noon appointment with the CEO, Erick Parrish… his adoptive ‘father’, not that either would ever deign to use that term.
Isaac strides through the door and into Parrish’s antechamber at 12:03, exactly three minutes late for his appointment, precisely as planned. He enters the CEO’s office without announcement, settling into one of the maximally uncomfortable chairs in front of the monstrous mahogany monument Parrish calls a desk without comment. Parrish affects not to notice Isaac’s late arrival, remaining focused on the papers before him; Isaac affects to ignore both the miserably uncomfortable chair and Parrish’s feigned obliviousness, eventually pulling out his smartphone and firing up a game of Laser Run™ while surreptitiously observing his adoptive ‘father-figure’.
Physically, Parrish doesn’t look like much. He had looked old when Isaac first met him, ten years ago; now he looks ancient, cadaverous. Time has taken a toll; the cane sitting by his desk attests to that. On the other hand, to underestimate Parrish based on age would be a deadly mistake; the fact that he recently broke an employee’s arm with that very cane indicates that the old man is not quite out of the fight just yet. Not that that particular incident ever saw print, of course; Parrish’s public relations department is a well-oiled machine, tirelessly maintaining his fine-spun shroud of hype and publicity. Parrish, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, is a magnate in the field of toy and game manufacture, a captain of industry, and a philanthropist who donates millions of dollars every year to help the underprivileged and the less fortunate; a man worthy of admiration and an American success story.
The reality with which those close to Parrish are acquainted is somewhat… less pleasant. He is a powerful magnate, yes, but his methods of business are as cutthroat as they come, his temper is brutal, and he spends more on his litigation fund annually than all of his charitable donations combined (and most of those donations are chosen for tax write-off purposes). For those who admire him, he holds contempt. On more than one occasion, Parrish has admonished Isaac that ‘admiration is the state furthest from understanding’… though he takes care only to express this in private.
Parrish still doesn’t seem inclined to look up, so Isaac returns his attention to the smartphone game; for another seven minutes, the only noises are the scratching of Parrish’s pen and the faint taps and slides of Isaac’s smartphone. Then, at last, the old man sets aside his papers and speaks. “‘Consummate Obice Magicae’,” he says darkly, regarding Isaac with a cold stare.
Isaac affects not to notice his tone, setting aside his smartphone and smiling faintly. “Ah, good, you did get the documentation. Yes. ‘Consummate Obice Magicae’.”
The old man’s expression sours further. “Seriously, boy? You could have gone to Harvard, or to Yale… or Oxford, or Cambridge, for that matter… and you choose this place? What do you think to learn there, bricks without straw? Cloud architecture, perhaps?” he growls, lips curling up into a sneer of contemptuous amusement.
Isaac only looks amused in turn. “Oh, come now. Weren’t you the one who told me to plan my own educational career? Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge—prestigious, to be sure, but for all that they’re rather… staid. This place, though… this place looks interesting. If it fails to live up to my expectations, well… it is accredited, and it’s in California, not on the Moon; transferring elsewhere will just be a matter of paperwork. No space shuttles required.” Isaac spreads his hands and shrugs expansively, his grin faintly mocking.
The old man stares at Isaac for a long moment, his expression stone-like… and for all of Isaac’s bravado, he has to work to repress a shiver. After a long moment, the old man sneers. “‘Interesting’… pah. It blew up last year, boy. There was a bloody quarantine, in case you missed the news; took them most of a year to get the mess cleaned up. Apparently the place was built on some kind of pre-war dumping ground for toxic waste or somesuch.”
Isaac looks amused. “Aw, are you worried about me? I’m touched.”
The old man’s expression shifts to one of withering contempt. “Idiot boy. I look out for my investments; I don’t. Like. Losing,” he growls, giving Isaac a particularly baleful glower. “You wanted to be my heir? Fine, so be it—not like I have any blood relation I trust with it anyway. But I expect you to be able to run this company someday without pissing away everything I’ve built. Remember this well, boy: time is no man’s friend. You have little enough of it that you can afford to go haring off after wild goose chases because they amuse you.”
Isaac rolls his eyes. “No wasting all my time on idle debauchery, fine, I understand. Returning to the issue of the quarantine: yes, I was aware of it. That sort of thing isn’t really that shocking though, and I’m sure you’ve noticed that the quarantine has been lifted and the place is open for business again. There have been enough inspectors from enough different agencies crawling over the place that if there was anything unsafe left there, it would have been found by now. It hasn’t.” Isaac leans back, smirking. “Now, do you have any further objections beyond ‘it makes my bunions itch’, or are we done here? Or do you plan to go back on your decision to allow me to choose my own education?”
Parrish’s expression is so sour now that it looks as if he’s bitten into a rotten lemon. “Pah. I’ve said my piece. If this is the path you’ve chosen, so be it; I’ll not interfere. Learn what you can… but you’d damn well better get results. Now get out.”
Isaac stands smoothly, making a slightly over-elaborate bow. “Excellent; I’ll see you next at Thanksgiving, most likely. Until then.”
The old man only waves a hand, absently pitching the burgandy and silver ‘Consummate Obice Magicae Academy’ pamphlet into the trashcan beside his desk and moving on to some other item of paperwork. Isaac strides out of the office, still smiling faintly, until the elevator door closes behind him. Only then does he permit his smile to slip, taking a deep breath and leaning against the wall of the elevator. “Well, that was fun,” he grumbles. He pulls out his smartphone again, checking the time. “Ten minutes? Seemed like longer…”
Hateful old man… a voice that is not Isaac’s grumbles at the back of his mind.
Isaac’s smile returns; there’s no surveillance in the elevators, which means he can speak freely. “He is that, certainly… but who knows? Absence may make the heart grow fonder,” he says.
One must have a heart for that to be a possibility, and I am not convinced that the old man does.
Isaac laughs. “Perhaps he doesn’t… but a thousand miles of distance makes that more someone else’s concern.” As the elevator doors open, Isaac strides out, still smiling as he mentally goes over a list of preparations to make for his upcoming trip to Ravensglass.