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5

And so Mel donned his robe, the same robe he received upon the dawn of his second day almost two years later. The once-black fabric had seen its fair share of frights, almost stark white, already as pale as a sheet along its hems, but it did not have a single hole nor burn or even stain on it whatsoever. It didn’t have a single wrinkle in its flowing length, either, no matter how much he balled it up or how maliciously careless he got. Indeed, those robes were the true hero of the story, for he wore nothing else but the robes, day-in and day-out. The only time he was forced to consider pants was when that pocket dimension decided it wanted to be winter and shower all in the evil four-letter S-word.

The first time Mel experienced it, he was practically a meat popsicle. The night before, it had been warm, as it had every night before. Not too hot, but just enough where he didn’t sleep under the covers nor in his robes. Come morning, there was a fine layer of frost through his room, and he almost had to change his name to Melanie. Thankfully, a warm shower perked it right up, but it was then and there that he was forced to throw on those villainous trousers, those heinous, long-armed traps that snare in and crush his family jewels. It didn’t matter how slack they were, either, how big, kept up by two-to-four belts; they always got squeezed in anything but shorts.

Sadly, the shower couldn’t cure all that ailed him, and it only compounded as he stepped out of his room and sneezed. Right at Penelope. She stopped standing right in front of the door, so he had to take a gamble if she was on the left side of it or the right. His elbow guided him, the left raising to cover his sudden nasal assault, and it clipped her chin, making her squeak and reel back.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, snorting, and followed it up with another sneeze. Then another, and another. But that was it; only ever four in a row. Never more. Never less... but he cocked his head, almost teetering with it, and snorted again as Penelope started to laugh. “What?”

“Those are some really cute sounds to come from such a big body,” she said, mimicking his almost kitten-like blasts of cold terror before giggling more. “It’s funny. And cute.”

“I doubt it.” He sneezed again, bracing for all four, and groaned as his back popped with each one. “Oh, G-” He caught sight of the arch at the beginning of the hall, its window before it descended down the steps... and the white veil on it. He rushed over on aching feet and looked upon the courtyard, filled to the brim with more of the vile fluffy rain. “Where the Hell did all this come from!”

“The s-”

“Don’t say it!”

“But you mean the sn-”

“Don’t! Say it!”

“Well, we’re from the East Coast, right? The first frost must have hit it, so... we get snow.”

“Nope.” He wheeled around, heading back to his room.

“Mel-”

“I refuse! I’ve learned to put up with the four-hour, minimum, lessons a day. At least there was ONLY one a day. I accepted that there were only five different classes. I especially adore Alchemy, but THIS? I thought we were free from all weather here, and now you mean to tell me we deal with the worst one? I’d rather have a volcano sprout out of nowhere and melt us, not deal with this frigid abomination!” The eye flickered on his door. “Fahrfergnugen.”

It rippled and opened, but Penelope grabbed his arm.

“Come on... Today is Alchemy, and you know I need my lab buddy. Plus, we can always play in it before going.”

“I’d rather crush my testicles back into my body.” He sneezed four times again, and that was the window she needed to pull him out of his doorway, snapping shut again. The eye flickered on it, looking at the two of them, and started to snicker. “What! What is it?”

“Nothing at all, sir,” it said in a Cockney accent –at least, for this week. “You two are just so cute together. It’s only been six months and you are like an old married couple.”

“How convenient. I want to die. Feel like I’m going to, as well.”

Penelope groaned and hooked her arm through his, pulling him to the stairs.

“Come on. There are potions ready in the dining hall to fix you.”

“Wait... you mean mages have found the cure for the common cold?”

“It’s really rather easy, in truth, but the trick is adding flavor that isn’t completely crap.”

“What are the flavors, then?”

“Cherry, strawberry, watermelon, avocado, kiwi, lemon, carrot, and, if we’re lucky, some orange is left.”

“Huh... but. Really? Mages. Have found the cure. For the common cold... and haven’t shared it with the rest of the world?”

“Ever heard of a super bug? The rhinovirus is simple and easy to deal with; however, what do you think will take its place if we give everyone the cure?”

“Not much of an argument when we’re living in a vacuum. So you tell me: what has replaced it here?”

“The dragovirus.”

“What’s t-”

They reached the bottom of the steps, just in time to see another student sneeze. Her face was engulfed in flames, spraying out into the courtyard through the snow for easily seven feet. She sniffled, smoke rising from her mouth, nose, and ears, and hurried along to the dining hall, just as another gout of fire carved a path in the snow in the upper right corner –and another erupting out of the entryway of the dining hall.

“Huh... is that treatable?” Mel said.

“With a few layers of aloe and a draft of rime tonic. Really, it’s the later stages that get nasty; scales, irritability, bowel distress, and, for the women, sudden egg laying.”

“There’s plenty of people who would pay good money for that.”

“Are you one of them?”

“Me? Nah. I prefer doing the opposite.”

“You mean shoving eggs... up there?”

“It doesn’t have to be eggs.”

She rolled her eyes, and pulled him across the iced marble, slipping and sliding and dodging even more gouts of flame that burned away the rest of the memory and returned him to his room. He made a bit more progress on rootin’ tootin’ pointin’ and shootin’ two then allowed to it to fade into the boring wall it once was before heading for the door, knowing all too well Penelope would be there. You would think it being her senior year and all she wouldn’t want to hang out with a sophomore scrub like him, but that’s the “beauty” of this place: no one is ever truly done. Ever. You’ll be going to class and learning stuffs and helping to teach the stuff until you are little more than a blast of red paste on the carpet from finally ending it yourself... or another student gives you the mercy.

At least she was starting to appear to not enjoy this either.

He stepped out, with his two shadows in tow, which only made Penelope’s face that much darker.

“Hi!” He said. “You’re stupid; me too.”

“Morning,” she grumbled, and huffed as she snared his arm, glaring at the succubus, as she did the day before and the day before that, which only made the succubus perk up even if a little perplexed. “You woke up late; there’s no time for breakfast.”

“I don’t care about most things.”

“Well, you should!” She mumbled something under her breath, her look even darker than before, bordering on racially insensitive, boring into the two succubus. Which, again, only made their day a touch brighter, hopeful. “It’s Art day, and you need to focus.”

“I am always focused.”

She scoffed, and dragged him along, down through the stairwell, across the courtyard, and in the left tower, going up three flights before coming out on a landing. At the very end of the perfectly square room there was a veil of shimmering fabric, tinkling and singing on the edge of the senses. She shoved through it, pulling him into Professor Potter’s arboretum. Flowers, plants, trees of all shapes and sizes grew towards the starry heavens, some familiar but most exotic to Mel, even after the last two years. The air always had a soft buzzing to it, as if a thousand bees just waiting, out of view, ready to pounce and tell him that how she manhandled him was most unorthodox, but they climbed down the root-made steps to the art room below, set in the middle of nine great steps. There were supplies, easels and stands on each layer, all surrounding a woman that knew her plants.

Professor Potter waved at them from that center, her eyes already filled with more smoke than her pipe, glowing bright as she took a deep inhale. She was the only professor that didn’t have the uniform black robes, instead tie-dyed into ripple shades of oranges, purples, and greens. Her long, brown hair was tied into forty dreads, each as long as an arm and just as thick. There were three other students there, as well, New Jersey, Maine, and the newest from Massachusetts, all giving Mel such an evil look.

“Good morning, Deep Song and Dark Water,” Professor Potter said, blowing out her smoke slowly, and laughed at Mel. At least, he thought it was at him, the way she waved her pipe his way, but you can never tell with that kind of laughter. “Deep Song? Why do you carry bad vibes, man?”

“I don’t know. They just sort of... came to me,” he said.

“Well, tell them to get out of the room. They’re harshing the mellow, man.”

He sighed, and looked back at the two succubus.

“You heard the lady. Vamoose.”

“Oh, thank Luc-” Brin exclaimed, spinning around, and flew towards the exit.

“Wait! D-” Saliim started, but it was already too late. Lightning flashed out of the heavens and cracked down on the eager succubus, sizzling and crackling as it dragged her back into the fold twitching and frothing at the mouth.

“Oh! That’s right. They can’t,” Mel said, shrugging. “Sorry, Professor Potter. The mood is just going to have to be harshened.”

“Nah. That little light show brought it back up, man,” she said, and took another long drag on her pipe. Her left eye started to twitch, watering, losing more of its bright blue as bloodshot continued to fill it, and blew out, towards the heavens. She tapped her pipe out onto the soft earth underneath her, then stood on her four legs. Her dainty, brown tail swished behind, making the area reek of feminine lust, and downside to her partaking the herb, but everyone’s eyes were on her pipe, spinning it thrice between her fingers. When it came to a stop, it had grown into a full-length staff, made of ebony and topped with a large diamond. “Right. Everybody’s here, so let’s get st-”

“Everyone is not here, professor,” New Jersey piped in, his bitterness seen in how his hands moved. “Janie isn’t here, and neither is Gwen. That mook over there gave everybody fire ass last night!”

“I thought it was fine,” Mel said.

“As did I,” Professor Potter said. “However, I already received word from Professor Klan that they will be out for a while.” She struck her staff down on the soft soil, but it did not sink. No, it struck hard, booming through the arboretum, darkening it. The diamond at the top of the staff warmed to life, its many facets shining, casting color upon them all before focusing into a singular picture above her. It was a little hazy at first, but it came into focus, showing to be Michelangelo’s David. “Something classic today. Note the lines in the marble, the finesse in every chisel and pick.”

“Wasn’t too careful around the most important area,” Saliim mumbled behind Mel, but he wasn’t paying much attention. He was already lost to the canvas; he always did love to draw. Normally, though, it was swords and guns and other things that almost got him suspended because even drawing them was bad. Got to love the American Education System for that, where a student gets more in trouble from drawing something bad than using the item being used to draw said item to gouge out somebody’s eyes or throat. Wasn’t even that hard with a pencil; could even snap it in two for both eyes and leave them a pin cushion screaming. But that’s why he drew; drawing was such a good stress reliever, even if it had to be an interpretation of a naked man chiseled out by a man steeped in mystery and fame.

He glanced to the left of the canvas a few times, always avoiding Penelope’s studious stare at what he was doing, most of the time bordering on incredulous. So what if he gave the naked man a machine gun for an arm? Everybody knows that gun arms are cool as hell. Of course, he also added pants with the top button undone and a bit rumpled, showing where it got snagged on an... added addition. Different time, different norms; nobody wanted a micro, so he thought he’d hook his pal David up. Now he had his own Goliath

After a while, he started to notice that the drone of Professor Pothead had dwindled away, that the room had gone awfully silent. He didn’t want to, but he had to bite the bullet and check on Penelope. She wasn’t easy to see in the dark, behind her canvas, but he could see that she was not trying to sneak glances at his painting. That already set off an alarm bell; he looked back, at his two annoying shadows, and saw that they had gone pale in the worst way possible, both as still as stone, eyes locked forward, over the canvas. He reached out for one of them and touched their own, finding they were quite literally stone.

“Huh? Did I miss something?” He said, and looked across the ring at New Jersey. His hands were up in surprise, the light showing it to be of stone, but only his hands. Meaning he was completely turned. Mel took a deep breath, sighed, and eased away the canvas.

Finding himself face-to-face with something... something... SOMETHING...

“Adorable!” He exclaimed, and cooed as he hugged the gorgon. Its snakes hissed at him... but none of the seven straightened cobra serpents tried to attack, instead simply lulling on his head and rocking as he squeezed her against. “Where did you come from? Aww, you’re shaking; you must be hungry. Let’s go get you something to eat; I’m a bit peckish myself.”

The gorgon’s eyes lit up, those silver pools beaming at him, flashing, singeing his hair with layers of stone... but couldn’t hold, just adding more to the succubus behind him, dragged along as he helped the beast up the steps and into the Institute.

And that was the story he gave Benjamin when he was culled to his office that evening.

The gorgon purred, rubbing her cheek against Mel’s, both sitting in his office. The succubus were no longer in their stony prisons, and neither was Professor Potter, clomping her left hoof indignantly.

“He lies,” she said, pointing at him and his gorgon, whom glared at her brown finger. Her snakes rose, hissing, snarling at it, coiling towards it. “He summoned it! I saw it with my eyes.”

“You mean your inebriated, bloodshot, insomnia-laden eyes?” Benjamin said, pinching his brow... then shook his head. “I’m sorry, but your story cannot be trusted.”

She snorted, whipping her dreads. “But he did!” She sneered at Mel, twirling her staff, and pointed the diamond at him. “I forgave his pranks before; they were simply creative, showing him to be a kindred spirit, unbound by the norm and sick of it... but this? Summoning a GORGON to the school?”

“I’m telling you, I didn’t,” Mel said. “I was... zoned out. Drawing. Focused on David’s mighty Goliath. Why would my mind be on snake-top tits when it was focused on titanic trouser-snake- no offense meant, Fluffy.”

“You named it?” Saliim said. “Y...you actually named it!”

“But of course! I plan to keep her.” He rubbed her snakes, making her purr and them lull their tongues. They gave his arms love nips... drawing horrible, pustule sores on the succubus’s arms. “She’s just too adorabre to let go to the wild.”

“Regardless, we must consider replacing her in the jungles of Fenres once more,” Benjamin said. “She’s a danger to all here.”

“How could you say that to this face?”

He gave the gorgon a bored look, staring into her silver eyes, her rosy lips quivering in a protruded pout, her fangs just seen behind them. She leaned a touch away from Mel, showing off her staggering amount of cleavage, a valley of deep green encrusted with copper scales down to her four-toed, clawed feet... and he was turned to stone.

“Mein Gott,” Professor Klan cried out as she stormed into the room. “My work never ends with you around. Get out, and take your harem with you.”

“All three better be gone before you step foot in my realm again,” Professor Potter grumbled, striding out ahead.

“What did we do?” The succubuses screamed after. Saliim waved towards Mel. “We are just as much victims!”

“How could you say that?” Mel said, hugging Fluffy. “Just look at her; does she look like a monster.”

“Oh no!” Brin said. “No no; we’re not following for that again.”

“Falling for what again?”

“Don’t play coy with us! It lost its luster the moment we met! You want us to look at her, turn us back to stone again, so you can laugh.”

“Laugh at what?”

“Exactly!” She and Saliim spun towards the door.

Right into Fluffy’s stare.

They fell back, clonking on the floor, and Mel simply sighed, walking Fluffy back through the courtyard then up to his room, stone scraping and following after.

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