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3

There was a soft ringing in Mel’s ears, as well as a rippling throb pulsating back and forth between them. It was as if somebody turned him over and started to slap him in the head with a giant, oiled-up fish... at least, he hoped it was a fish. He would have been content with a really pink and overly eager eel over the alternative it could have been, especially with whatever it was leaving behind. Mel really didn’t want to express his fondness for tea parties any time soon, so he simply kept his mouth shut, a task he always found rather taxing.

The light he had been engulfed in still held so strong, its corona a moldy shade of yellow. Sulfur? Had he been SWAT’ed on his eighteenth by his guild mates as a joke? Well, nobody was laughing; not anymore, at least. The Arby girl from the strip joint was the last thing on his mind now... well, not true. The last thing on his mind were those two naked lumberjacks in the middle of Alaska hacking away at the knee-high tundra with jars of pickled beets, but one does have to wonder: Why? Like... you could open the jar and dump out the brine to melt the snow faster. Or they could use the shovels strapped onto their backs like sails. Mel understood the importance of being snow sharks- snow angler fish? But you are just making it harder on yourself; wait until after you get a good bit back to the town before burying in wait.

There we go! The light was starting to fade, taking with it the buzzing and the rippling and the two aging men with their gentlemen choosing to be lady parts instead of Santa’s true gift for children. The guy is surrounded by elves all day; what’s one short person over another? In this day and age do you really think he leaves coal for naughty children? That shit’s too expensive. In fact, he now owns majority stock. He makes the forgotten state’s stake in it look like child’s play –something he knows all too well. And yet parents allow their younguns to sit in his lap. Just like Uncle Drew, which that was the worst part: Mel didn’t have an uncle.

As the buzzing fell, he could make out voices, slowly winning against the drone but winning all the same. He could hear his father, which he must have been upset; there was a whistle in his voice, as if a kettle was steaming. He wasn’t sure who the other person was, but there was no way it was his mom, unless she decided to smoke forty cigarettes every minute for the past ten years.

Though the light was fading, he still couldn’t really see where he was. The room was dark, with soft, blue light just pulsing before him. The TV? No. There was no way they were still home; it didn’t smell like lavender and sage. Instead, there was a musty scent in the air, as well as a hint of hickory and a staggering concentration of disappointment. Did it follow him from the strip club? Again, no. This was stronger than it, no small feat.

Which only meant one thing: he was in a school.

“... should have told him, Bart,” a new voice, a deeper, calmer voice stated. The buzzing finally faded enough for it to be comprehensible. At least, comprehensible enough for Mel. “You should have prepared him.”

“I keep telling you, he didn’t show any signs until then,” Bart exclaimed. “He didn’t show any signs at sixteen. Not a one, so I thought it skipped him-”

“It never skips, never goes against the cycle,” the gravel factory said. “It has been this way since our founding mother.”

“Due to your pride and envy, you have allowed the house of Llorwyn to be sullied,” Deep Throat chided in.

“Like you’re ones to talk!” Bart steamed. “You never visit, never write or call-”

“We sent him a gift on his sixteenth,” Rockman interjected.

“Like I was going to give a sixteen-year-old boy that. You don’t know him like I do; he would have stuck that up his a- let’s say he would have been experimenting, and not in the ways you wanted him to.”

An uncomfortable silence fell on the room, which now Mel could see clearly, though he wasn’t sure if that word meant anything. It was still his house, in the living room; the blue light was coming from the TV, but the room seemed to be... melting. It rippled and warbled, jiggling like jelly. His mother was on the couch, her face flushed, clothes spread on the floor under a blanket, lifted where his father had been, thankfully fully clothed. He was with two other men in the archway, all three of them looking incredibly tense... and yet very similar to one another. It was like each one showed a different moment of a single person’s life, from Bart being the young and husky, to the deep-voiced man with his fiendish goatee and pensive glare, to the crypt keeper standing up straight and just waiting for a light breeze to be turned to wind.

The walking corpse’s eyes seemed to swing over to Mel, thin, beady things with a yellow glint in them, brightening as they locked on his.

“The boy is aware,” it said, and the other two focused on Mel, as well.

“What if I’m not?” Mel said, and tried to take a step, but found that he was unable to move. He looked down at his feet, and his heart skipped a beat, seeing bright neon blue donuts wrapped around his ankles. They pulsed, brightening, holding him tighter as the ones on his arms did the same, stopping him from reaching down. “What kind of black magic fuckery is this!”

“I thought you didn’t talk to him about any of this?” Deep Throat said.

“I didn’t,” Bart grumbled, pinching his brow as he walked up to Mel. “He says things like this all the time... It’s okay, bub. You’re not in trouble-”

“That remains to be seen,” the Cryptkeeper said, each step ready to fall from under and bury him in the rippling mass around. As he drew closer, he could see his skin had an unnatural blue hue to it, matching soft runes flowing from his eyes and down his neck... under deep, purple robes. The yellow light in his eyes only grew as he approached, making Mel feel like he was in a summer camp with Scoutmaster Kevin and Jared. “So... you’re Mel... At least you didn’t blow up like a blimp like your father.”

“It’s a glandular problem-”

“It’s a fat fuck problem... I must say, I’ve been looking forward to meeting my namesake’s heir. If only it was under better circumstances-”

“Who are you?”

“I am Melvin Llorwyn, your father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father.”

The would-be super villain bowed. “And I am Benjamin Llorwyn, your grandfather and the current dean of IIII.”

“... I’m sorry, what?” Mel said.

“IIII.”

“Okay. Where do the power rangers need to go next?”

“It’s short for the Isis Institution for Intrepid Intellects-”

“Oh! So you’re a terrorist. Are you going to start screaming ‘Allahu Ackbar’ and turn into flesh confetti?”

“I-I’m sorry, but... what?” He looked to Mel’s father, who was still simply massaging his brow and shaking his head. “Why does he besmirch the name of Isis, goddess of knowledge and magic?”

“Because the name is now synonymous with a terrorist group.”

“What! Who would do such a thing?”

“Well, if you decided to hop out of your little hug box every decade or so, you would know why!” He groaned, but still showed such agitation as he gestured to Mel. “Will you unbind him now? This is no way to treat family.”

“Standard procedure,” Melvin said. “He broke our laws-”

“Laws he didn’t know about-”

“Because of your ignorance! But they are still laws that need to be upheld regardless of how oblivious one is of them. He casted around the normal populace; he scarred so many lives.”

“Do you mean when that stripper’s puss decided to speak?” Mel piped in, and all eyes were on him again.

“... You did what now?” Bart squeaked, shaking his head. “Y... you did WHAT now!”

“I thought I tapped into some unknown talent that I only had when I was drunk.”

“AND you were drinking... I thought your mother and I raised you better.”

“So... I’m not a drunk ventriloquist?”

All three men looked at each other, and a grim understanding crossed all their eyes. Melvin waved his hand dismissively towards Mel, and all four blueberry bagels disappeared, with only small, blue wisps left behind. They all slowly faced towards Mel again, all with such sad smiles, though Melvin’s only made Mel shudder, wondering where the church bells were ringing.

“Mel,” he said, slowly, his gravel now akin to a mixer dying a slow, painful death. “You do have a special gift, but it is not the simple act of throwing your voice when inebriated-”

“Then I don’t want it,” Mel interjected.

“It’s not that simple, bub,” Bart said.

“Oh yes it is.”

“No. It’s not. Not with how you are... You’re a mage, Mel. In fact, your real name isn’t even Mel Mason.”

“So I’m not a nice, chocolate treat? Damn. This whole time I thought I was a black man in a white-shelled body... Does this mean I’m not allowed to use the N-word anymore?”

“The what word?” Benjamin said, and Mel’s answer was cut off by Bart’s exclamation, waving him to be quiet.

“We are living in a Politically Correct world at the moment, dad,” Bart explained.

“So a world where your every word must be controlled and self-censored lest you are criticized for every little thing you say? Sounds dreadful; when it plummets into full chaos, I am bringing you in for asylum.”

“Into your terrorist academy?” Mel said. “Tell me, do you guys play pranks on each other? Do you short out each others test bombs?”

“It’s not a...” Benjamin huffed, and turned on Bart again. “You really should have prepared him for this day. He has no mental blockers; Lords know what is going to happen once he actually is in class.”

“Whoa! Whoa whoa whoa... what’s this about classes?” Mel said. “Oh no. Nononononono... I was done with school. I was going to do my little stripper routine down the walkway, get my diploma, then tell that entire school to kiss my ass and go on about a working summer.”

“Time’s have changed, bub,” Bart said, and sighed again as he patted his son’s shoulders. He had a sad glint in his eye, matched in his wavering smile. “Like I said, you were so smart... I was raised in that world, the magic world, before I was dumped out here at the age of sixteen. Because SOMEONE hoped I would break the cycle!”

“You had great magical potential, but the cycle cannot be broken,” Benjamin said. “And nobody ‘dumped you out’. I offered you a custodial job at the Institute, which you turned down-”

“Because I wanted more out of life than cleaning magical shit holes!” He shook his head, sniffling. “I wanted to do more, be more... I would have been counted as a second-class citizen there and you know that! You think what my son did was sullying your name?”

“It was to be expected, though. Every other generation is forgotten-”

“Well, I didn’t want to be! I wanted to make a name for myself... so I came to the normal world. I started out by trying to be an author, writing out great sagas about the magical realm, but, wouldn’t you know it, every time a publisher got interested they upped and disappeared from the face of the world!”

“You were treading too close and you know it,” Melvin said. “People cannot know about our world.”

“And what am I to tell my wife? What am I supposed to tell her when you kidnap my son to imprison him in that Institution tonight?”

“What?” Mel said. “I’m doing what now?”

Bart shook his head, and his smile was fully taken from him.

“I’m sorry, bub... I should have told you... You are a mage. From one of the most powerful houses that ever existed. You were destined to go to IIII since you were born, and were going to be taken tonight... I prayed that you weren’t. I hoped and prayed so much that you wouldn’t be one, but, as you’ve heard a plethora of times by now, the cycle cannot be broken... Which is why I wanted you to stay home. I wanted you to spend one last night with your old man... and your mom before you were whisked away for gods know how many years.”

“And mom? Did she know?”

He sobbed, shaking his head while thick, greasy tears fell down his face.

“No. She doesn’t know any of this... She’s normal. She isn’t allowed to know.”

“So what’s going to happen after I leave?”

Bart looked to Benjamin, who was stroking his goatee.

“Thanks to you, it’s a lot easier to work around than we expected,” he said. “She’s pregnant again... or, rather, after I get done, for the first time.”

“But wouldn’t that child, also, be taken at eighteen,” Mel asked.

“Yes, but she won’t live that long. She already shows signs of cancer-”

“What!” Both Mel and Bart said.

“Not my doing, so, either way, she was going to die.”

“Why do I have the feeling I’m going to hate you?” Mel said, but felt a tear slide down his face. He looked over at his mom, noticing her smile as if it was the first time... She really did not have a good smiling face. It wrinkled and curled in so many places, and her chin seemed to narrow into a bony penis, throbbing at the air. Her lips curled away to show too much gum, her teeth large and tight together, but seeing it in that warbling blue light made his arch ache, thump as if taking a photograph of it, remembering it. Forever... He gasped as the room started to truly dissolve, fading into black, and snapped his attention back to Benjamin. “What is this? What’s happening?”

“It’s but a tunneling spell,” he said, his hands lazing around each other before him, the digits just passing, grazing at each other. Red energy sparked with each passing, the world slowly turning red around them before cracking and peeling away to the entry to IIII. He clasped his hands before him at last, and wheeled about, his foot landing on the first of seventeen long marble steps, leading to a pair of pulsing marble doors, cascading with every color. “If we hurry, you might be just in time.”

“For what?” Mel said, goaded along by Bart, squeezing his shoulder tight.

“For your first day, of course.”

“It’s a little bit late for that, isn’t it?”

“Time has no meaning here... but most mages tend to be night owls, regardless.”

“Am I not in trouble?”

“That has been taken care of,” Melvin said, the yellow gone from his eyes. “The Council decreed you were but an idiot.”

“... Can’t argue with that.”

The marble doors opened, revealing a grand entrance. Two wide stair cases took up the majority of it, spiraling into one another as they continued to climb ever upward, passing easily twenty levels in their rise up that tower, while there were three great arches on each side of the entry. The left one lead to a sitting room, filled with fat, plush furniture, some taken by students in black robes, while the right lead to a row of doors. Though they, too, rippled, as if they weren’t truly there but were... Melvin headed that way while Benjamin continued to the stairs. They went up four flights, getting off on the left platform, and there were another set of “doors” there. He went through the middle, and it was the entrance to the dining room, at the bottom right.

“This is the NAEC realm. North American East Coast,” Benjamin explained, plowing through the room with great haste to the courtyard across. He stopped at its arch, though, and wheeled about, putting a hand to Bart’s chest. “I’m afraid this is as far as you go... Would be rather queer for a father to chauffeur his grown son to his class.”

“Let me just say goodbye,” Bart said, and Benjamin sighed.

“Very well. Make it quick, though. Professor Molly is already a tad irked that I stalled her class.”

“I’ll take as much time as needed.” He pulled on Mel’s shoulder, turning him around, and looked his son in the eyes. His were bloodshot, still leaking so many heavy tears, but at least he was able to smile again. “I know this is all so sudden, bub, but I can tell you you’re going to go far here. Your creativity, coupled with the natural potential you possess... you have such greatness in you.”

“Is this the whole Uncle Ben speech?” Mel said, patting his dad’s head. “I’ve got to tell you, it didn’t turn out well for him in the end. Not him or Stan Lee.”

“Just... do your best here, son. Okay? Don’t ever think you can’t do anything. This place... it will allow you to do whatever you want.”

“Whatever I want... and you think this is a good idea?”

“I never did, but I have hope in you... you are my son, after all...” He sniffed, and pulled Mel in for a hug, crushing him in his arms. “Make me proud.”

He held for a moment longer, but after the sixth time Benjamin cleared his throat he finally let go. He watched after them, gone as they swept into the southern arch of the courtyard and through a hall filled with seven “doors”, coming to its end. He swiped right on the “door” there, and it turned purple, glorping as they stepped through into a classroom. There were forty desks packed into the tight space, split into four rows, but there was enough room on either side of the desks to get up and walk, all facing a large table in the front. An electric field buzzed behind a rather stout woman in the front of the room, filled with such strange runes and encryption that only showed that magic could not make somebody write perfectly.

“I am sorry for delaying your class, Professor Molly, but I have... acquired our most recent student,” Benjamin said, patting Mel’s shoulder, which only made the tennish other students pay attention at last.

“It’s quite all right,” she said, though her voice showed that to be a lie. “It’s not like we got passed chapter 3 before the OTHER student interrupted class... why don’t you introduce yourself. Tell us a little about yourself.”

“It seems I am Mel Llorwyn... and you’re all gonna die,” he said, then goose stepped to the back of the class, sitting down with his father’s words in mind. Oh, he was going to aim for greatness, and he finally had a clear goal in mind: Make Benjamin’s life Hell.

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