Outbreak; Spellslingers Academy of Magic – Annabel Chase

PROFESSOR GRANTHAM FRASER stood behind a table that was covered in bottles of different colors, shapes, and sizes. He was relatively new to Spellslingers, and seemed to be taking his time adjusting to the mixology lab. He was accustomed to running his own private lab and I got the impression that he struggled to fall in line with the academy’s standard operating procedures. “I thought today would be a good day to cover what I refer to as ‘poison on the fly,’” the professor announced. Justin frowned. “You use a fly as a carrier of poison? That seems unnecessarily hard.” The professor took Justin’s stupidity in stride. “‘On the fly’ is an expression that means without formal preparation. I believe it’s a Terrene idiom that’s worked its way into our vernacular.” “Clearly didn’t work its way into Justin’s vernacular,” Bryn muttered. “You’re encouraging us to poison someone?” Lucy asked. The curly-haired witch seemed appalled by the suggestion. “That seems at odds with the tenets of the academy.” Professor Fraser leveled her with a look. “You have an armory and lessons that involve attacking each other with flaming swords.

I hardly think teaching you how to defend yourself with simple household items is worse than that.” Lucy’s mouth opened and closed like a fish. I liked Professor Fraser more with each passing day. Of course, he and I had bonded over the fact that I’d helped to save his life when he’d been kidnapped by rogue giants, so there was that. “So this is meant as a defensive tactic?” I asked, trying to steer the class back on track. I was a teacher’s pet for a reason. “Defensive or evasive,” Professor Fraser said, appearing relieved by my intervention. “As agents, you’ll often be acting undercover. You may not be able to whip out your wand and defend yourself or you risk kicking off a fight you’re not ready to win. One of the ways to potentially maintain your cover, but still disable an opponent, is to use everyday items to prepare a poison.

” Mia raised her hand. “So the poison is to incapacitate, not to kill?” “Depends on the situation,” the professor replied. “Perhaps it’s just to buy you muchneeded time to complete a mission or execute your exit strategy. I often think that if I’d be quick enough, I could’ve evaded capture entirely.” My chest tightened at the memory of finding Professor Fraser’s broken and beaten body in the giant’s underground lair. This lesson clearly had been inspired by his own experience. “As you can see,” he continued, “I have multiple tables full of common herbs, seeds, roots, and liquids that you can use to your advantage. You have ten minutes to gather and prepare a poison.” “But I’m not going to have ten whole minutes to concoct a poison in the real world,” I said. “Perhaps not, but it’s a good window of time for your first effort,” the professor said.

“The more you practice, the faster you’ll be at both identifying and mixing. Consider this your starter lesson.” “How do we know if we’ve been successful?” Bryn asked. “Do we get to choose a guinea pig?” She turned to the side and winked at Priscilla Peacock. “I assume guinea pigs are some sort of testing animals where you come from,” Professor Fraser said. “As it happens, I can measure your results using a device known as a venenumeter.” He pulled a small object from his pocket that looked like part dipstick, part thermometer. “No need to put anyone at risk.” “Will it be a competition?” I asked. “See which one of us can finish the fastest?” The professor offered an indulgent smile.

“I’d rather you focus on learning than trouncing your colleagues.” “But isn’t that what being an agent is all about?” I countered. “If we don’t trounce the competition, we’ll have failed at our jobs.” Professor Fraser moved to stand directly in front of me. “Dani, your competitive spirit is admirable, and your determination will help you achieve your goals, as I’ve been fortunate enough to witness firsthand, but let’s not lose sight of the reason you’re all in this room with me today.” He tapped my desk with his wand. “You’re still learning.” He pronounced each word slowly and deliberately. “Fine,” I huffed. I stopped short of crossing my arms and pouting.

It was close, though. “Ten minutes, everyone.” He consulted his pocket watch with its strange lights and symbols. “Starting now.” Everyone scrambled to their feet, carrying their empty mixing bowls. I examined the various ingredients on the table against the far right wall. It had the most colorful items of any of the tables. Bright colors often meant more potent. I recognized most of the items and mentally ran through the most poisonous options before making my selection. I added elder berries, toadflax, and a couple of other things to my bowl and mixed them thoroughly.

The elder berries would mask the taste, so that my victim wouldn’t realize he was being poisoned until it was too late. I glanced around the room, and felt a twinge of pride when I realized that I was the first one finished. I surveyed the table and began to contemplate a second mixture. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a competition to finish first, but how many mixtures could I make before time was called? I grabbed a second empty bowl and set to work. I decided that this one would be designed to kill, not incapacitate. My mind raced through the various options, debating amounts and combinations until I settled on the most poisonous mixture. “Better watch your measuring stick on this one,” I called across the room. “My second poison may just melt it.” Professor Fraser clapped a hand on my shoulder. “How many of these do you plan to make, Dani?” “That depends,” I said.

“How much time is left?” I grabbed another bowl and identified yet a third poisonous mixture I could make. My adrenaline was pumping now. I was what Bryn referred to as ‘in the zone.’ “Dani, you can stop now,” Professor Fraser said. “Two is quite enough.” I craned my neck to look at him. “But time isn’t up.” “The assignment was to make one poisonous mixture in ten minutes or less and you’ve accomplished that.” “But I can do more,” I said, picking up the second bowl and showing it to him. “Why would I stop at one when I can do better than that?” I thought he’d be impressed.

Instead, he looked mildly frustrated. “You’ve done well, Danielle. Now please return to your seat.” I scowled before complying with his request. Spellslingers was supposed to be an elite training ground, not a place to coddle those less able. If I could concoct twenty poisons in ten minutes, why not let me? The Academy of Magical Forces would be thrilled to have an agent with such advanced skills. I slumped in my seat, still stewing when the professor announced that time was up and asked for demonstrations. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t choose me. I bristled with every name called, and, by the time the lesson ended, I was ready to feed him one of my mixtures. “Thank you for your excellent work today,” the professor said.

“I hope you haven’t expended all your energy because I believe you have Advanced Divination with Professor Langley next.” Audible groans followed. As I gathered my belongings, I looked up to see Professor Fraser hovering in front of me. “Might I have a word, Dani?” he asked. I motioned for my friends to carry on. No one wanted to be late for Langley’s lesson and risk his wrath. The professor waited until everyone left the room to address me. “You know I’m immensely fond of you for personal reasons,” he said. “That being said, I must express concern regarding your behavior.” “My behavior?” I repeated.

“Since when is exceeding expectations a bad thing?” He sighed gently. “It’s important to pace yourself. When you rush through magical exercises, just adding more and more…” He shook his head. “It isn’t going to help you in the long run.” “Doing more and more is what makes me an overachiever,” I said. “Overachievement doesn’t need to be your badge of honor,” he said. “Live for yourself, not for meeting others’ expectations of you. They don’t own you, Dani.” “Exceeding,” I corrected him. “Not meeting.

” His brow creased. “With your history….” “First of all,” I interjected. “It’s not m y history. That distinction belongs to my grandmother. Second of all, you’ve worked here for all of five minutes. Don’t act like you understand my situation because you don’t. Whatever file they gave you to read isn’t the whole story. It never is.” “They haven’t given me any file on you, Dani,” he said quietly.

“This was simply my observation. You have such promise. I support your desire to succeed. Believe me, I have no desire to undermine you.” “Then let me overachieve,” I said, beginning to feel guilty for the disrespectful tone I’d used. “That’s what we do.” “It isn’t simply that you’re overachieving,” he said. “It’s the look in your eye that you get when I attempt to interfere.” My hands rested on my hips, indignant. “What look? The one that suggests I might burn off your nose hairs with an expertly placed flame?” “No,” he said, hesitating.

“The one that suggests you might kill me.” By the time I slid into my seat in the next classroom, I was in a foul mood. What did Professor Fraser know about my family history? If he didn’t have a file on me, then he was relying on rumors and innuendo, which somehow seemed even worse. I already had an uphill battle with some of the professors here. I didn’t have any desire to add Professor Fraser to the list. “So nice of you to join us, Miss Degraff,” Professor Langley said. “Ten more seconds and I would have locked the door and refused you entry. I can’t imagine you’d have taken kindly to that.” “Professor Fraser needed to speak to me after class,” I said. Professor Langley raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

“Today we shall focus on generating predictions through a variety of methods,” he announced. Inwardly, I groaned. I’d been hoping for a more challenging lesson from the academy’s most difficult professor. “They call this Advanced Divination?” I grumbled. “More like Tea Leaves for Dummies.” Bryn laughed. “There’s probably already a book with that title in Terrene.” Mia scrunched her nose. “Why would people buy a book that basically called them stupid?” Bryn shrugged, unconcerned. “We’re an odd race.

” Professor Langley cleared his throat. “When you are finished contemplating the sad state of the universe, I humbly request that you direct your attention to the current presentation.” The ‘current presentation’ appeared to involve Hestia, Chancellor Tilkin’s familiar. I was surprised she’d agreed to participate in any lessons. The haughty feline was usually sprawled across the chancellor’s desk, giving off a disinterested vibe. “How many of you have experience with felidomancy?” Professor Langley asked. I raised my hand with a bored sigh. Bryn, on the other hand, looked thoroughly confused. “What does a cat have to do with divination?” “It’s a form of theriomancy,” Wilcox said. The wizard seemed pleased to be able to contribute to the academic discussion.

His physical reflexes tended to be faster than his mental ones. “Theriomancy is just another big word to describe the first big word,” Bryn complained. “It enables us to predict the future by observing a cat’s movements,” Professor Langley explained. Bryn snorted. “What is this? Feline interpretive dance? People would pay good money in the human world for a show like this.” Professor Langley wasn’t amused. “Allow Hestia to demonstrate.” We all watched as Professor Langley aimed his wand at the far wall where the fireplace sat empty. A small fire sprang to life and Hestia immediately sauntered over and turned her tail to the flames. “What has Hestia told us with this simple movement?” the professor asked.

“She’s cold,” Priscilla Peacock ventured. Professor Langley gave her a withering look. “This is Advanced Divination, not Lessons of the Most Obvious. The cat is predicting the future, not relaying her present condition.” I stifled a laugh. If it had been anyone else, I might have felt sorry for her, but Priscilla didn’t deserve my sympathy. “A change in weather is coming,” Wilcox piped up. The professor observed Wilcox. “I take it you have family members that are practitioners of this particular method of divination?” “We had a lot of cats in the house where I grew up,” Wilcox said. “One of them was always predicting something, usually how much trouble my brother would be in before bedtime.

” I waved my hand in the air and saw the flash of annoyance that crossed the professor’s features. “Why do we care about predicting the weather? I’ll just stick my head out the window and look for rain clouds.” “You never know the type of information that will be useful to you in the field,” Professor Langley replied, smothering the fire with the flick of his wand. “Nor how you might be limited by circumstances.” “My grandmother liked to know when a storm was due in,” Wilcox said. “She always watched the cats to see if one of them curled up and pressed their forehead to the ground.” “Precisely,” Professor Langley said. “An incoming storm is useful information.” “To a farmer,” I mumbled. “Or to an agent looking for a distraction in order to achieve her goal,” the professor said in his clipped tone.

“What better way to drown out your approach than with thunder and lightning? Now, what are some other methods of divination?”

.

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