Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
It’s 3 am in Ravensglass, California, and tonight—for once—Isaac does not sleep the untroubled sleep of the innocent.
The clock ticks, marking the slow, endless parade of seconds; a faint violet light shines through the window, making the posters on the walls gleam eerily. Isaac tosses and turns, but finds no respite from his restlessly circling thoughts, no position comfortable enough to ease his worries.
The beast that attacked his home was vanquished, but it is precious little comfort—his adoptive ‘father’, Erich Parrish, numbers among the missing, which counts as a pretty big problem for Isaac—his father’s business empire is currently without the benefit of Parrish’s ruthless, insightful intellect. Though it can function for a time without his leadership, sooner or later his loss will be noticed, and his enemies will descend, drawn like sharks to the scent of blood.
There are other worries, too, that leave Isaac ill at ease. This recent attack does not mark the first time a place that Isaac has called home has been razed, and that parallel is one that Isaac finds deeply uncomfortable. It feels like an attack against him personally, not the Isaac he is now, but a much younger one… someone who, in the back of his mind, Isaac had long considered dead and buried.
Then there’s what had happened at his home. After his rage-fueled display of his powers, that there will be questions seems a given… but thus far, no one’s said a word about it, and that worries him; he’s never liked waiting for the other shoe to drop. He lays like that for awhile, tossing and turning as his thoughts chase themselves in circles…
The voice is distant, but there is something about it that is soothing, compelling; something about it that calms the endless buzzing of Isaac’s thoughts, like smoke drifting over a beehive.
Let’s talk. Come… come closer.
He rises and moves to the door, his white coat rustling gently as he slips out into the darkened hall.
Come closer. Speak with us. We have so much to speak about…
He walks down the silent hall, aglow with the same dim violet light that permeated his room. But the further he travels, the more things seem to change; drywall and carpet give way to tunnels through ancient ice, the dim violet light refracting through warm mist to become another color entirely, a color he’s never seen before and lacks the words to describe.
We have much to talk about. You have such potential. We see how you strive… but why is it that you seek mere material wealth? Come closer… let us show you things far grander. What need have you of mere metal and paper, when you could instead possess true wealth? Come closer! Let us open your eyes to what you could have…
Shadows move through the mist, far ahead; here, something with the loping pace of a wolf; there, a glimpse of an ebony wing, like a raven; there, something that might a stag, and over there, something that glides along the ground like a serpent. Something about the shapes isn’t quite right, though, some aspect of the proportions seems just off enough to render them… wrong. He is somehow certain that if he were to look behind him, he would see them there, too—a silent parade of flickering shadows in the mist, trailing in his wake. There is something dangerous about that thought, though, a suggestion that he wouldn’t much like to see those shapes that closely… and besides, the voice lies ahead.
Why settle for less than you deserve? Come… come, and let us speak of your future.
Ahead, an opening in the ice; stars blaze with impossible brilliance, and as he approaches, the world seems to shift around him. Now he stands atop a high cliff, the ice creaking and groaning beneath his feet. Overhead, the moon looms impossibly huge, blazing blood red, and shooting stars tear across the sky; wolves howl in the distance far below, and there is another sound as well, something that might, just might, be screaming. But all of that is far away, unimportant; what matters here and now is the voice, the impossibly huge moon… and there, up ahead, the small mahogany table sitting incongruously at the edge of the abyss.
The time has come. We offer a gift to you… accept it, and embrace all that we can give you.
Atop the table sits a box, perfectly wrapped in lilac paper, tied with a lovely bow of deepest violet silk. It feels as delightful as it looks.
Accept our gift. See for yourself the fruits of our generosity; we offer you a place of highest honor at our table!
He pulls the ribbon free and lifts the lid, and inside is darkness without limit.
Ravens—or things like them—flood from the box, eyes aglow with baleful red light, their wings and shrieking cries obscuring the rest of the world as the stars die in the heavens and the endless dark floods in, an abyss beyond waking looming from below like a maw big enough to devour all creation, and for an instant Isaac remembers himself and screams—
—and wakes, sitting bolt upright in his bed.
For a moment, he sits there, letting reality reassert itself; the clock ticks in the background. His eyes flicker around the room, but there are no walls of ice, no river of mist; everything seems ordinary here. A set of wind chimes hangs motionless in front of the window, while posters adorn the walls—one shows the Midnight Five, while another shows the Six Knights of Summer.
After a long few minutes spent regathering his composure, he rolls and gets out of bed—sleep might come again later, but he doesn’t intend to risk falling back into that dream if he can help it.
He heads to the bathroom, turning on the light and looking in the mirror—his face doesn’t show how rattled he’s feeling, thankfully. He turns on the faucet, lowering his head and splashing some water in his face. He straightens back up, studying his smiling reflection in the mirror. He smiles back.
It takes him a moment to realize that something is very, very wrong with that. His reflection is still smiling, but now it doesn’t look nearly as nice. It runs a hand across the left side of its face, and now a hideous black mark stretches across that side of his reflection. The reflection’s left eye glows with an eerie yellow light, and as he watches in horror, more eyes flicker open in the corrupted flesh on the reflection’s left side. “Be seeing you,” it whispers, and—
—for a second time Isaac wakes, his eyes flying open. This time it seems likely that he’s finally really awake—no clock ticks in the background, no posters decorate the bare walls of his room, and most of all, his sheets are absolutely disgusting with sweat. Isaac groans.
“Isaac?” a familiar voice calls. “Are you awake?”
“Yes,” Isaac croaks.
“I tried to wake you before, but you didn’t seem to hear me. Are you well?” the shadow asks, concern in its voice.
Isaac laughs, a hollow, broken noise. “I think so,” he says. “Just… bad dreams. I think I’m awake for the day now,” he groans, getting out of bed. “I need a shower,” he says, heading to the attached bathroom to take care of that.
As he shuts the door behind him, he pauses… then, carefully, he throws his towel over the mirror. Just in case.