Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
In the dim light of his room, Isaac Faulkner paces. He looks dreadful—his face is nearly as pale as his coat, save for a spot of almost luminous red burning across his left cheek; cold sweat beads on his forehead, and his face is twisted into a snarl of irritation that is startlingly similar to the old man’s usual facial expression.
Occasionally, Isaac pauses in his pacing to glower at the mound of paper atop his desk—sheets and sheets of thin paper, the old man’s crabbed handwriting detailing weeks of moves and countermoves, references to operations current and future…all the intricacies of operating a business empire. “I’m half tempted to shred them,” he says aloud.
There is a sense of a presence among the shadows; it’s something Isaac is used to by now. Why?
“It’s an insult. He left directions plain enough that even an idiot could run things as he would! I don’t need idiotproof directions.” Isaac growls. After a moment, he sighs, relenting. “I won’t actually shred them, of course. The keys to the kingdom are in there, as it were, and I’m not prideful enough to ignore them just because he’s being a patronizing jackass with them.”
The shadow chuckles. Him patronizing you is hardly unusual, in any case. the shadow observes.
Isaac sighs again. “I know. Him cutting me a break, on the other hand, is. Maybe he gave me the idiot’s guide to annoy me enough that I wouldn’t worry. Or maybe he did it just for spite. Or maybe he’s just being thorough because he doesn’t believe in doing anything half-assed. Could be any of those… though the last is the most likely,” he grumbles, starting his pacing again. “Hmph. Cantankerous old bastard. Someone knocks him off the board for me, and I’m actually seriously pondering what can be done to track him down and bring him back,” Isaac grumbles. “Not that it matters. Not enough to go on yet.” Isaac falls silent, but his pacing grows more agitated. “Him being at Eden is a long shot if ever there was one.”
What else is on your mind? the shadow asks.
“How about that horribly named ‘Garden of Eden LLC’ that we’re scheduled to burn down later tonight? We know nothing about what they do there, and for all I put up a good front about looking forward to fireworks, it won’t be nearly as satisfying if we’re the ones on fire. Or worse. I really hope the ‘or worse’ part doesn’t show up, though, because Desi might try to pet it,” Isaac snarls, his free hand coming up to wipe at the left side of his face in an unconscious twitch; as soon as he realizes what it’s doing, he jerks his hand away as if it had been burned. “Then there’s the mess with Amanda. I don’t even know what to think about that one. Lucifer? Really? I don’t buy it. She thought the Horcrux idea was a joke, but it makes more sense to me than her being actual Lucifer. I don’t think she’s a good enough bluffer to have been holding back this whole time. Besides, shouldn’t she have a lot more under the hood than she’s shown, if she actually was Lucifer?”
Hm… not necessarily. Mortal flesh… complicates matters. It has some distinct advantages, but also certain limitations. Instincts—the instinct towards self preservation, among others—that could be limiting her ability to make use of her potential. Also, in the interests of playing devil’s advocate, I feel compelled to point out that you have had limited opportunities to observe her.
“So you’re buying into this, then? You think she might be Lucifer?”
I… would not go that far. I do agree with your assessment of her abilities with regard to her aptitudes for deception; if she truly is the second coming of the Lightbringer, then I do not think she is aware of it. What is clear is that she is a magus with a not-inconsiderable measure of power, with some sort of tie to the Lightbringer. I reserve judgement.
“Hmph,” Isaac snorts. “If nothing else, this means I’m probably going to get some more chances to step on spiders skittering around here,” Isaac says as he resumes his pacing.
A sound plan. Now, are you through evading the actual source of your worries yet?
Isaac pauses for a moment, then growls. “Alright, how about this? They want to set my blood on fire,” he says abruptly, slashing the air with a hand. “She said it like a joke, but it wasn’t. ‘How good are your Houdini skills,’ huh?” Isaac growls. “Let her TRY and get me to hold still for that; we’ll see how aggressive her ‘narcolepsy’ starts getting. Ditto the paint thinner baths.”
The shadow pauses for a moment before responding; it seems to be gauging its words carefully. Far be it from me to chide you for finally exercising an appropriate level of threat awareness, but you seem… excessively anxious about this.
“Bah!” Isaac exclaims incredulously. “You don’t find that whole thing they were talking about a bit alarming? ‘Reconstructing’ someone? What they’re talking about—with all the gravity of Nero assessing Rome as it burned—is essentially remaking someone in the image of what they see them as. That’s about as worrisome as it gets!” Isaac snarls, whirling around; again he slashes at the air.
Isaac takes a deep breath, forcing himself into some semblance of calm. “Let me spell it out for you: first rule of people, it’s impossible for anyone to ever truly, completely know another. Take a look at divorce rates. Take a look at incidents of domestic abuse. Take a look at all those cases where someone turns out to be making lampshades out of human skin and all the neighbors are like ‘oh, I can’t believe he did that’! Hell, take a look at my life if you want proof! Doing something like this… it’d be like some kind of fucking body snatcher using me for a sock puppet. It’d be walking around in my skin, smiling my smile, maybe even cracking my jokes, but it wouldn’t be me. And Little Miss Voldemort is just itching to strap me in and pull the switch! Am I dripping black goo anywhere, or spontaneously combusting? She’s the one who’s writing fucking gothic poetry that’s flying around attacking people!” Isaac snaps, punching the nearest wall.
I have no issue with your dislike of the idea, but you seem a bit more… overwrought than I usually see you.
Isaac doesn’t respond immediately, but he seems to slowly deflate, the manic energy leeching out of him. “I took a faceful of that black goop, as dear Desi so thoughtfully blurted out in front of the faculty, thus exponentially increasing the number of my worries,” Isaac growls. “Marisa was talking about it rewriting memories; maybe I’m a little twitchy about it. That, and the whole ‘turning into someone else’ thing.” Isaac remains silent for a moment, waiting for the shadow to say something, but the only answer is silence. Isaac sighs. “I had some weird dreams, too. Not right after, but the night after that.”
“There were ravens,” Isaac says quietly. “Or things that seemed like ravens, but… weren’t. Not quite.” Isaac starts to pace again, his lips twitching into a nervous rictus that could almost pass for a smile. “I saw them again, though, soon enough.”
The ravens swarming over the campus the next morning… the shadow says.
“Yes. Ravens, or things like them,” Isaac says darkly. “But that wasn’t the only thing I dreamed of; there were other things, too. There was a voice…” Isaac trails off, shakes his head. “It’s muddy now, but I saw some things that are… worrisome. Something… something that looked like me, at first glance, but…” Isaac breaks off, shuddering. “It wasn’t.”
For a long moment, the shadow is silent. You fear that you are being influenced, then? the shadow asks at last.
“I fear worse than that. The stuff spreads—you saw the ravens. What happens if that stuff does to me what Marisa was talking about it doing to the old man? Or turns me into some kind of freakbeast or something? Either I get to run around in a state of eldritch insanity, or my ‘friends’ probably obliterate my identity trying to perform mind surgery on me. Fates worse than death on all sides,” Isaac laughs despairingly.
How tragic, the shadow says, a hint of a sneer creeping into its voice. And of course, there is nothing for the hero of the piece to do save march obliviously to his death, lamenting and gnashing his teeth in a fit of self-pity.
Isaac snarls, his fists clenching in rage.. then sighs and falls backwards onto the bed. He lays in silence for a long moment, then sighs. “You… you are quite possibly the world’s absolute worst at inspiring pep talks.”
Needs must when the devil drives. I saw no one else around to do it. Would you perhaps have preferred that I went and fetched the professor? Or the girl?
“Oh, yes, because I’m sure any one of them would love receiving a visit in the middle of the night from an ominous black shadowy darkness thing,” Isaac snorts, tossing a pillow in the direction of the shadow. “I’m not sure if Thessa actually sleeps, anyway, but if I started talking to her about this she’d either get gloomy or mad, or both, and after this afternoon, I don’t think I’d rather be at the top of her list. As to Chun… she does sleep, and I’m pretty sure she probably is at this hour, getting ready for our little field trip; she’d kill me for waking her up.”
I am skeptical of that, the shadow scoffs.
Isaac sighs. “No, she probably wouldn’t, but I don’t want to talk to her about this. I really don’t want to talk to her about this.” He raises his hands to his face, letting out a long breath. “Shit. I would really like a way out of this that doesn’t end with hands getting shoved into my brain and the contents thereof rearranged…”
Again, the tragic hero laments his fate! Woe, woe unto him, for there is no one who can help him shoulder his burden! the shadow sneers. Have you really grown so soft, so quickly? Have you not been relying on your own resources for years before you came to this place? Why is it, then, that your spine seems now to have turned into dough?
Isaac is silent for a long moment. “You’re right,” he says at last. “Sitting here whining about this… it’s not doing me any good.” Isaac sits up, one hand rubbing at his temple as he takes a shaky breath and musters his willpower. “If I want another way out of this… it’s up to me to make one, isn’t it.” Isaac comes to his feet. “I was planning to try to catch a nap before we hit Tokyo, but it looks as though I’ve got some work to do, first.”