Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
“Well, well. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice says,” Isaac muses aloud as he lays abed in his room. The hour is late, the homework finished, the lights are off, and for once Isaac isn’t playing on his smartphone—the internet has already yielded all the information Isaac thinks it’s going to. Instead, he’s relaxing on his bed, his hands languidly shuffling and cutting an old, faded deck of cards; occasionally, he casually draws one of them from the deck and sends it arcing towards the cardboard box in the corner. “A day of great portents! Omens hinting at unfathomable revelations yet to come! All that and likely many other assorted varieties of grandiose bunk,” Isaac gently shuffles the deck again—these old, faded cards are a memento from an earlier chapter of Isaac’s life, and even if he was not particularly fond of that period, he handles them with care.
You seem skeptical, Isaac. Do you not think it was such a day? the shadow asks.
Isaac wrinkles his nose. “A day of grand portents, et cetera? I’ve never been fond of that particular brand of melodrama.”
You? Not fond of melodrama? the shadow retorts, sounding more than a bit amused. That is an odd thing to say, considering how well you employ it.
Isaac glowers, puffing himself up with overblown indignation. “Melodrama?! You accuse me of melodrama? Bah! Melodrama is by its very nature overblown and about as subtle as a two-by-four. I prefer to use at least some subtlety, which means that what I employ is more ‘politicking’ than ‘melodrama’,” Isaac finishes, looking wounded… the effect is only spoiled by the fact that his hands haven’t stopped moving in their slow, lazy shuffling of the cards.
Ah. I stand corrected, the shadow says drily. Seven marks of ten for melodramatic explanation of melodrama.
Isaac grins at this assessment. “Scoring me a bit low, given that it was entirely an ad lib performance, aren’t you?”
I make no apologies; it is my nature to be a harsh critic, the shadow says. But my original question stands: you do not think that this day has been one of portents, and of hints at revelations to come? I certainly do.
Isaac makes a sour expression. “I suppose so,” he concedes, his hands moving into a more complex shuffle with the ease of long practice. “That whole mess at the Warhammer game this afternoon was certainly portentous enough. I know who’s actively gunning for me at the moment, at least.”
A pity that the spider crossed our path in such a public venue, else we could have conducted a more thorough interrogation, the shadow observes.
“Agreed,” Isaac sighs. “It’s probably just as well, though. I suspect ‘Lady Johnson’ was probably being truthful when she said she didn’t really know anymore. Still… remind me to look up Ms. Kotomine’s e-mail, later. If they do manage to get her to divulge anything, I’d like to hear about it.” Isaac tosses a card; the ace of clubs flutters lazily through the air, but the shot is just a bit too strong; the card hits the far wall and slides downward, pinned between wall and box. Isaac grimaces in annoyance at the missed shot, but continues on with the matter at hand. “Then there’s the whole affair with this ‘Grand Prosecutor’ coming to visit. Our dear Professor Inkless certainly doesn’t seem happy about it, which… promises potential. Perhaps this will finally help to shed a bit of light on her.”
Perhaps, the shadow agrees cautiously. But given the arrangement between them, it is doubtful that he will be particularly forthright.
“Hm… yes, you have a point. She’s providing him with her local expertise in the hopes that he refrains from leaking details about her…” Isaac muses. “He’s probably not going to be particularly responsive to overt prying, then. The indirect approach would likely be best.”
Isaac feels the equivalent of a satisfied nod from the shadow. I agree. Your professor, at the very least, seems prone to saying more than intended when she is off her guard; even if her guest does not share that trait, he may say something interesting in response to any slip she makes.
“I certainly hope so,” Isaac grumbles. “So far she’s been exceptionally elusive. I know she’s been around for awhile, that she likes the American Midwest, and that she’s not much into housekeeping. I’ve gotten a few hints as to her character from her actions, and the research project on her gave a few pieces of her history, but that’s about it; I have nothing else save some nebulous theories that I can scarcely believe I’m giving serious consideration… but when in Rome, right?”
There is one other thing worthy of consideration; she still seems to have an interest in you, the shadow observes. In fact, she seems to have taken something of a shine to you, Isaac. It’s quite an interesting mental image she seems to have formed of you; it seems she sees you as a tragic rebel, rebelling against the unhappy path fate has set before you.
Isaac laughs. “For someone who’s been around for a bare minimum of two hundred years, you’d think she’d know better; I have to admit, that caught me off-guard—what she said earlier, I mean,” Isaac says, chuckling as he draws a card from the deck and casts it towards the box in a lazy, backhanded throw; a single large spade is visible on the face of the card before it lands, face down, atop the pile. “As loathe as I am to admit it, it seems the old man really did have the truth of it—admiration is the emotion furthest from understanding. Or perhaps it’d be fairer to say that people see what they want to see. It’s the first rule of magic—stage magic, that is, not what goes on around here—but still appropriate, I think.”
Isaac is silent for a long moment, shuffling and cutting the cards by muscle memory; his lips twist up into a crooked smile. “A tragic rebel… that’s a nice thought. Maybe I’ll play it up… too bad it’s wrong. Coming to this place wasn’t some half-assed stab at rebellion to piss off the old man,” Isaac says. A moment later, his grin broadens. “Though I admit, that was an added bonus.” Isaac flicks a card at the box with a backhanded throw; the five of spades sails through the air in a lazy arc, landing neatly atop the pile.
“But I chose this path. She thinks I’m afraid of following in the old man’s footsteps? Angsting alone because my life isn’t what I wanted it to be? Ha! She’s way off the mark,” Isaac chuckles, shaking his head. “This path… this path is one I chose to take. I’ve been unhappy before; I remember those bad old days, before…” Isaac trails off for a moment before finishing, “… before. And you know what? In all that time, the only good thing—the only good thing—that ever happened to me was you!” he exclaims, sitting up in a sudden surge of fury and hurling a card; the king of hearts flies straight and true, hitting the side of the box with enough force to embed itself face down in the cardboard.
For a long moment after that, silence reigns… then Isaac lets out a jovial chuckle and sinks back into the bed, grinning. “Temper, temper…” he chides himself, shaking his head as he goes back to gently shuffling the cards. “This isn’t so bad… it really isn’t bad at all, would-be assassins notwithstanding. This school isn’t bad, either, and I’ve definitely learned a thing of two… but I think I’ve had enough of keeping my eyes open and sitting on my laurels.”
Then… you plan to act? the shadow asks, for a moment sounding uncharacteristically diffident.
“Yes. I think the time for reconnaissance is just about done. Just a few more things to pin down, and it’ll be time to make our move.” Isaac’s crooked grin grows a touch wider as he takes careful aim and casts one last card; the seven of spades whirls gently through the air, landing dead center in the middle of the pile.