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7

Benjamin hummed, almost singing with his thoughts as he mulled and lumbered around his office, from every single bookshelf back to his desk only to repeat itself again and again. So many tomes, so many spines pulled wide and rifled through only to be closed and yet never be truly shut again, forced to straighten under the weight of other victims. Really, when you think about it, books live a rather morbid life. First, they are made either from the carcass of a tree or dried skin, then either you had to pluck a feather from a fowl and dip it in a concoction that could have been made from the very beast the bird leaf came from or a number of other origins or someone chiseled a tube out of a tree and filled it with graphite then possibly capped it with a rubber or maybe it’s one of them new fangled pen contraptions. In any case, the item is then used to desecrate the remains with crude marks that could be as beautiful as a sonnet... or as crude as what many insecure middle and high schoolers draw. If that wasn’t enough, many of their own kind were bound together, forced to face the same fate, sharing the same back that was bent and stretched every time it was defiled; suddenly, Mel was happy digital was gaining such a foothold.

But, just as suddenly, Benjamin stopped his humming, stopped his lumbering, his once vacant, almost zombie-like gaze given life by the big black tome set before him. Its oiled leather was only paled by the deep black bags under his eyes, sagging more than Saliim or even Brin’s chest on either side, which Brin was simply tickled pink to no longer be made of stone. Her first act upon waking up and finding herself in the office was asking if Fluffy was being sent back.

“Soon enough,” Benjamin had stated. Almost three hours ago... but now it seemed the end was at hand. Fluffy held Mel tighter, whimpering. Her snakes wrapped about his shoulder, licking at his nape, rubbing, squeezing against as she pawed and held his chest, gripping tighter as the dean looked up and at her. “Okay. This spell is far easier than expected. Only needs about... fifteen seconds of prep time.”

“Then what?” Mel said.

Penelope giggled, throwing an arm around Mel’s shoulders –much to the ire of the gorgon. The snakes hissed, snapping at her arm, as the once pitiable look on the bluish green girl’s face turned sour.

“Then we head to class,” she said. “We should be able to catch the tail-end of the lesson.”

“What if we don’t?”

“Then we enjoy a small stroll, get there, realize we missed it, then head back to the dorms.”

“And? If we don’t?”

“But... that’s the only other option.”

“Is it?”

“I mean, there are other things we could do, but you said we weren’t together.”

“What if we were?”

“Then I would think I’d have severe problems with you sleeping with two succubus and a gorgon.”

“Trust me, girl, you don’t have to worry about that,” Saliim grumbled, back popping in agreement.

All went silent, however, as the room flickered and buzzed. It wasn’t as strong a buzz as, say, when Penelope besieged Mel’s room, but it was enough to catch on the edge of hearing, like small snaps, crackles, and pops without the cereal –in fact, did anybody actually eat the cereal normally? Mel always dumped a metric fuckton of sugar on the puffed rice, which made him wonder: did the cereal company know this and have a deal with sugar companies? It was the “healthier” option, but it tasted like cardboard, so he had to use sugar, which, overall, cost more than to simply buy the sugar-laced diabetes bombs that was the other cereals. He didn’t know, but it made far too much sense.

Benjamin raised his hands, and on the tip of his index a green ball throbbed and pulsed. It unraveled from it, in short, janky bursts, creating jagged tendrils that seemed frozen in the air yet writhed with such hunger towards the gorgon. Fluffy mewled, looking up into Mel’s eyes, and he knew all too well what she wanted. However, their fates were sealed the moment the first of the many tendrils touched her arm. It pierced it, pushing under the skin, and wrenched her out of his embrace and into the rest of the web of vines. They laced around her, attaching to each other, the gorgon’s silver eyes slowly choked behind the densing foliage until, with the softest pops, she was gone.

The room returned to normal. Benjamin let his hand fall hard onto the desk, to the left of the tome, and his head followed, laying on the corpses of a dozens trees.

“You may return to class now,” he mumbled through a yawn, snoring before anybody else even stirred. In fact, though the gorgon had been lifted, Mel felt a great weight on his chest yet, inside, it felt like a piece of him was ripped out. He wasn’t sure if he could stand let alone go to class, knowing his gorgon was gone. Forever. It felt like she only came into his life yesterday and yet she had added so much to his life in that small span, a length he wished he could have extended if only one more minute.

Everybody was silent, waiting, but it was Brin who broke the silence, clapping her hands.

“So,” she mused, dragging it out. “Now that she is gone, that means that bed in your room is up for g-”

She yelped as Saliim slapped her.

“Bitch, you better not even be thinking of it,” Saliim said. “Seniority. I had to put up with this shit for far longer, and it’s about time I got something out of it.”

“Okay! Okay... Just... putting it out there...”

Penelope shook Mel, giggling.

“Let’s get going! You like Alchemy.”

“Sometimes,” he said, and pushed out of his chair. He folded his arms into his sleeves, lead by Penelope down the flight of steps to the first floor. However, they didn’t need to go any further; the first door on the left just outside the office lead to Professor Lou’s house of otherworldly delights. They were met with the smell of ginseng and rotting flesh at the door, masking the true horrors within, the scariest of which was Professor Lou, herself- themselves- itself. Mel was never sure how to address her- them- it. Wisps were always confusing; they might appear to have tits and a curvy figure, but, at the end of the day, they are nothing but balls of hot air.

Of which that opaque gas cloud zoomed up to the party as they entered.

“Finally showed up, I see,” she- we’ll go with she. For now. Maybe. She said, her voice just as airy, seeming to float out. Her slightly-whiter hair undulated in the air, rippling with each word. “Take your seat; you should have enough to do a bit of free exercise before we call it.”

“I mean, we can always leave now-” Mel began, but was dragged to their desk. The interior of the room was mostly hidden in darkness, but the way the cauldrons and phials glowed and pulsed gave the room a cascade of sickening shades, giving those corners some light every so often, a glimpse into the nightmares truly around them. There was no shortage of supplies in there, even if most mages swapped to artificial replacements and extracts almost twenty years before. After all, killing a newt for an eye was so last century; now they come in fourteen different flavors! There were fourteen desks in the room, each of which given well more than enough space, at least enough for a splash radius –which, considering the colors melted into the stone, at one point there were more desks, thinned out through natural selection.

Mel usually loved to make potions. He loved to dabble in the weird; it was his favorite thing to do at home. The amount of “recipes” he found that could make a fire or explode, just from your average, everyday home supplies... but, today, he simply wasn’t feeling up to it. He poked at their cauldron, swirled that big, black basin as Penelope added the ingredients, but his mind was elsewhere. Dare he say... on a safari? What else would be in that forest; it’s a forest, after all, filled with so many deadly things... and Fluffy was simply sent there. Alone. She must have been scared, frightened, not sure of what to really do. She was gone almost a whole forty-eight hours! How could she survive out there now, after being gone so long?

“Mel?” Penelope called out... for the sixth time. Maybe. “Hey! Could you hand me that spice rack.”

“Sometimes,” he said, but gave it to her anyways, continuing to toil over the cauldron and his thoughts, plagued with visions he did not want. He could see her, walking through a misty bog, and, out of nowhere, a wild communist could appear! They could demand her to seize the means of production and make her vegan. VEGAN... or, she could happen upon the Spanish Inquisition. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, or the Spanish Inquisition on the Spanish Inquisition. Monty Python didn’t warn of that; they didn’t want to alert the Spanish Inquisition that they may be hunted by the Spanish Inquisition. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, after all. Not even the Spanish Inquisition.

Penelope handed him back the spice rack, and he thought he might as well add to this brew. He wasn’t sure he would drink any of it, but the least he could do was say he tried to make the baby shit green concoction somewhat appealing. Maybe, after simmering for a fortnight, it’ll be a little less repulsive. Just like the last mixture they made; sure it was the same shade as what he made every morning after eating nuclear hot wings and downing it with the best soft drink ever made, but it tasted like fresh citrus squeezed over a piece of grilled chicken. Thankfully, though, Penelope didn’t have any of it. He didn’t want to wonder what would have happened under her robes; gave him a solid four more inches.

So, he pulled off the one that was labeled Essence of Vampire and sprinkled it into the pot. It sparkled a little, making him smile, thinking somebody must have crushed up the vampire to get it-

The vat flashed blue.

It was only a moment, but that wasn’t the end of the light show. More and more rays plumed from the cauldron, rising, spreading through the room, as the liquid inside bubbled and frothed out onto the cold stone. The black kettle started to ting, to clatter and ring, bouncing a little until, with one, gushing geyser, the room was filled with blinding light. Slowly, it died down.

And, from it, Fluffy emerged.

She blinked, looking around, and gasped, seeing Mel. She flung herself at him, covering his face in kisses while her snakes flared out, hissing with joy.

Quickly taken.

She gasped again, and backed away, looking at her belly. It was rumbling, and not in the way of sound. The entire skin of it roiled, rippling out towards her thighs and up to her breasts before her whole form seemed to jiggle –and not in the good way. Her eyes darted around, wide, her snakes trying to flee, but, with one, ear-splitting shriek, she was no more. The room rumbled with her explosion, but she didn’t leave anything more than a green paste, splattered across everybody. Even Professor Lou.

She flitted over, her gaseous body red under that smattering of green.

“What did you two do?” She exclaimed.

“Nothing. Honest, Professor Lou,” Penelope said, patting Mel’s shoulder, too shocked to even turn his head. “We were simply making a draft of vigor when... that happened... Are you okay, Mel?”

“I... need to be alone,” he said, and rushed out of the room, heading to his dorm. He practically flew into the shower, washing off what remained of Fluffy, his precious, before he lumbered back into the bedroom and threw himself on the futon, wanting to die right there and then. If only to be with Fluffy.

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