Magicademy, Story 1: Jacob's Arrival
"Welcome to the rest of the world."
Jacob was relieved that the first person he met at college was human.
He'd arrived at the campus bus stop, dropped his heavy bags, and taken his first look around at the place that was supposed to be his home for the next four or five years. The campus didn't look like he'd expected it to, and he'd seen the brochures. Arts Magika University, the brochures said, had run out of room to expand out, so it went up instead. Looking at the buildings, Jacob could tell. Most of them looked like they'd had extra stories added on, but in a completely different style. The place in front of him looked like a regular office building until it reached the fifth floor. The next three floors were ringed with pillars, like it was some kind of old Roman temple.
Jacob had let his eyes trace around the building until he saw a long bridge that jutted out from the sixth floor and led to the fourth floor on another building. He raised an eyebrow, and wondered how the school kept people from falling off of the bridges.
"I knew," Jacob had said, nodding to himself, "that Magik Basics class I took wouldn't cover everything." He shrugged. "Then again, it was Modesto, so I shouldn't have expected much."
Just as he was about to pick his bags up and head toward where the map said the dormitories were, someone sped past him, nearly knocking him down. Jacob got his balance back quickly and looked to see who it was.
The guy was human, and looked about Jacob's age, maybe a year or two older. He looked a little shorter than Jacob, and his light brown hair was plaited into dozens of tiny braids, all with beads of different colors at their ends. He was wearing a black shirt that was a few sizes too big and khaki shorts with a multitude of pockets. He also wore black combat boots. Several metal bands with small jewels embedded in them were on his arms. As Jacob looked, he saw how the guy had sped past him so quickly.
He was riding what looked like a skateboard, but Jacob saw that it was actually a small flying carpet, hovering a few inches above the ground. Jacob tried not to stare. He'd hardly dealt with magik before, as no one he'd known in Modesto had practiced it, and it wasn't very common there. He knew that it'd be a lot more common here at the university, but he hadn't thought he'd come across it this quickly. As Jacob watched, the guy made a tight turn and floated back toward him.
"Sorry, dude," he said as he came to a stop in front of Jacob. He had blue eyes and a thin face, and a small amount of stubble on his chin. "Didn't mean to buzz by you like that."
"It's all right," Jacob said with a nod. "That's what I get for standing around staring."
The guy grinned. "Hey, it's easy to do around here. Especially once classes start, and the place gets populated . . . very nice." He held out his hand. "Name's Aidis. You just get here?"
"Jacob," Jacob said, shaking his hand. "Yeah, the bus just dropped me off. You know where Valhalla dorm is?"
Aidis nodded, and his braids jostled back and forth around his head. "A freshman, eh? Can't let you fumble around too much. C'mon, I'll show you around."
Jacob shrugged, and hefted his bags onto his shoulders. "I've looked at the maps a lot, I could probably get there without a problem."
Aidis grinned again, and his braids shifted back, tucking themselves behind his ears. "If you want, but the campus is a big place, in every direction, so you can get lost easy. Besides, I can let you in on all the stuff they didn't tell you in the brochures."
Jacob paused. Aidis seemed like a decent guy, even if he could already tell he was nothing like the people he'd known in Modesto. It just seemed strange to bump into someone, almost literally, and have him be so willing to help out. But it was better than learning everything as he went along. And if Aidis knew what life was really like here, he might be able to answer some of Jacob's questions.
Jacob nodded at Aidis. "Sure," he said. "Lead on."
The two of them walked away from the bus stop, and started heading toward the ocean, to the western side of campus. More buildings of many different styles surrounded them. When they reached a wide tree-lined walkway between the buildings, Jacob stopped, and looked up as something caught his eye.
Someone, or several someones, were leaping from tree to tree, almost flying over the walkway. They were very tall and quite thin, and dressed in clothes that matched the trees' colors. As Jacob looked close, he caught a glimpse of long, pointed ears.
"Elves," Jacob said.
"Yeah, elves," Aidis said, giving Jacob a strange look. "What, you haven't seen elves before?"
Jacob shook his head. "Not really, only in books, mostly histories." He watched the elves as the last of them passed overhead. "They don't look that different from us, not as much as the books made them look."
"Dude," Aidis said, his eyes wide, "where are you from and why didn't you leave earlier?"
Jacob rolled his eyes. "I'm from Modesto, about five hours north of here, in the middle of nowhere. There aren't many people there who use magik, and they didn't teach much about it in school, just the history. If there's anyone living there who isn't human, I never saw them."
Aidis put a hand over his heart. "I am so, so sorry. I just thought . . . I mean, it's been almost twenty years since the Change, I figured the other races would be just about everywhere. How'd you end up here if you grew up in a place like that, anyway?"
"My parents went here," Jacob said as they kept walking. "When the time came for me to graduate high school, I got a letter from the school's alumni association. They have some kind of legacy scholarship thing, so getting in wasn't too hard." He shrugged. "I wasn't too sure if I wanted to come here, but I think my parents would have wanted me to. My grandpa hasn't had much good to say about this place since they changed the name, though."
Aidis nodded, smiling. "Yeah, back when it was just California Coastal University, the lamest name for a school ever. I like it better as Arts Magika. You'll get used to having other types around, I'm sure. I'm from L.A., and I've been living with elves, dwarves, and nekati all my life. Some of them were in my kindergarten class."
Jacob chuckled at the thought. "That wouldn't have happened in Modesto. It's not segregated, I don't think anyone would have wanted that, but it's like only humans live there. I can't really blame anyone for not going there, though."
They kept walking, turned a corner, and reached the side of an amphitheater. The back of the theater's half-dome stretched into the air, and circular stairs formed seating all around the stage at the bottom of the dome. Jacob heard some people laughing, though one sounded a lot more shrill than the others. He glanced at Aidis, who nodded toward the theater, so Jacob peered in.
Three girls were sitting on the stage, talking with someone who didn't quite look human. Jacob could tell it was a she, but she was covered with short yellow fur, and had ears near the top of her head, pointed and furred like a cat. Her face and eyes were also oddly both human and feline, and her hair looked like a short blonde mane. She also had a tail, which was draped across her legs. She laughed again, very shrill, and Jacob could see that her teeth were far too sharp for a human.
"Nekati," Jacob said to himself.
"First try, not bad," Aidis said. He laughed when Jacob glared at him. "I figured you'd get it. Even dwarven women don't have that much hair."
Jacob grimaced. "I didn't need that thought."
"Don't worry, dude, I'm just joking. It's more fur than hair."
Jacob rolled his eyes and followed as Aidis started walking away from the theater. "Pretty easy to tell I haven't seen much of them either, isn't it?"
Aidis nodded, but made a dismissive gesture. "No worries. Everyone stares when they first get here, I did that too. What'd you think about the nekati chick, anyway?"
"Looks like they're kind of like the elves," Jacob said, "not quite the same as us but not too different." He could tell by the look on Aidis's face that he hadn't quite answered the question like Aidis had wanted him to, but he let it pass. "Are we near the dorms yet?"
"Sort of," Aidis said. "But first, we have . . . the tower."
Jacob raised an eyebrow as they walked. "The tower?"
They turned a corner around a large brown building, and Aidis thrust an arm into the air as he motioned to his left. "The tower!"
Jacob stopped, and looked up. He kept looking, until he couldn't tilt his head back anymore. He blinked. "High school never had anything like this," he said.
An octagonal tower stood in the center of a plaza, stretching eighteen stories into the sky. It looked to be made of some kind of reflective black stone. Jacob thought for a moment that it could be obsidian, then shook his head. That seemed impossible. Jacob stepped away from Aidis and walked around it, searching for a door. He saw that the colors of his reflection were reversed, like a photo negative.
"Okay," Jacob said to himself, "I thought that living with the other races would be the weirdest thing about being here. Now this. . . ."
They finally reached a door, a wide arch that reached up about ten feet. Jacob peered inside, and saw nothing but a long hallway with doors on either side.
Jacob shook his head. "Doesn't matter what it looks like on the outside," he said, then looked over at Aidis. "Inside, it's still just more classrooms."
After Jacob finished staring, he and Aidis continued across campus. Jacob kept his eyes on the multitude of bridges that crossed from building to building overhead. Soon, they reached the cluster of tall, hotel-like buildings near the coast. He was about to ask Aidis which dorm was Valhalla when he heard a sudden burst of raucous singing.
Jacob glanced off to the side, and saw a small group of short, stocky guys with beards that reached down past their belts. As he looked closer, he saw that they were far too wide to be human. They were dressed in fairly drab colors, and were all wearing heavy boots. He couldn't understand what they were singing, as it sounded more like rocks scraping together with a Scottish accent than anything else.
Jacob nodded. "Dwarves," he said to himself. "That's everyone."
"And all of them in one day," Aidis said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "At this rate, you'll be a master at living here in a week."
Jacob glared at Aidis again, who grinned. The two of them headed toward the parking lot in front of the dorms. He was somewhat surprised to see that there were a lot of people there. Today was Saturday, early move-in day, and the real flood wouldn't be until tomorrow. Still, he'd known that he wouldn't be the only one moving in today.
There was a table set up in front of the dorms with a sign labeled 'Freshmen' hanging over it. As Jacob got closer, he saw that it wasn't a sign. The word was just hanging in the air above the table. As he watched, one of the people sitting at the table stretched and passed their arms through the sign like it wasn't even there.
Jacob shook his head again. If magik was so commonly used here, he'd better get used to it, so he wouldn't be staring at it all the time. He glanced over at Aidis, but he didn't seem to have noticed.
There wasn't much of a line at the table, which Jacob was grateful for. His bags were starting to feel a lot heavier than they should. The people at the table were all human, which he was almost surprised to see. He wasn't quite sure if he'd been expecting otherwise, but. . . .
Jacob blinked as he looked at the guy sitting at the table in front of him. His short hair was in the process of shifting from a dark blue to a painfully bright orange.
"Hey!" the guy said as he nodded at Jacob. "Freshman, right?"
"Right," Jacob said. "I'm in Valhalla. Jacob Coffman."
"Freshmen in Valhalla?" The guy shook his head. "No shit. Doesn't happen very often, they usually let sophomores and upperclassmen have the suites. If they don't move Next Door."
"Next Door?" Jacob asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Newman's Dale, Next Door, or just ND," the guy said. "Our own little college town, it's on the north end of campus. Everyone finds their way there eventually. You will too."
"Still giving bad advice to freshmen, Matt?" Aidis said, smirking.
Matt snorted. "Aidis? They let you back for a second year?" He looked at Jacob. "Just be glad you're not stuck with this guy. He doesn't have as much control as he'd like everyone to think he does."
"At least I'm not on my fifth year," Aidis cracked. His braids swept away from his face dramatically.
Matt snorted, then handed Jacob back his information sheet and a set of keys. "You're set, you're in room 3042B. Dining commons is at the middle of the dorm cluster, they've all got laundry in the basement. Good luck, and ditch this loser whenever you can."
Jacob and Aidis walked toward one of the dorm towers. When they were almost to the front lobby, Jacob asked, "What was his problem?"
"Matt's just a dick sometimes," Aidis said. "He's in his second senior year because he doesn't have the focus it takes to master magic. He wasn't raised with it like I was."
"Really," Jacob said. "Then what was that he said about your control?"
Aidis rolled his eyes. "It was one thing, okay? I was working with some liquid-to-solid stuff and it was starting to bubble up. It was this big pink blob, and I had to let it go somewhere. Matt was at the lab table just in front of mine, so I made it look like an accident."
Jacob couldn't help laughing, the image was too much. "Okay, that's not all that bad," he said as he and Aidis walked into the dormitory's lobby. Several other students were coming in and out of the building, most of them carrying luggage.
"Yeah, it wasn't but there's still one thing you should worry about," Aidis said.
Jacob frowned. "What?"
"Matt did give you warning." Aidis grinned, and his eye twinkled. "I'm one of your roommates."
Jacob stared at him. ". . . What?" The elevator doors opened in front of them, but he didn't move.
"Just what I said. We're both in suite 3042." Aidis stepped into the elevator, and Jacob hurried after him. "I heard that we were going to get a freshman in the suite, and I know what this place is like when you're new. If I'm going to have to live with you, it'd be better if you're not too clueless."
"I'm touched. Really, I am," Jacob said flatly. "How'd you know how to find me?"
"Basic divination spell," Aidis said with a shrug. He hit the button for the third floor, and the elevator doors closed. "Once I had your name on the forms we got, finding what you looked like and where you'd show up was easy."
Jacob wasn't sure how he felt about having someone look in on him using magik, but Aidis had meant well. "Thanks, I think. I could have figured things out, but I guess it was better to have someone who actually knows this place."
"Heh! We'll see just how much you thank me later. As for now, our lovely suite awaits."
The elevator doors opened, and the two of them walked out into a narrow hallway with doors on both sides. A single window was at each end of the hall. They walked down to room 3042, and Jacob opened the door.
The suite looked much as Jacob thought it would, fairly generic but not too bad. He could tell that Aidis had already been at work making the place his own, though. The couch and chair were obviously included in the room, along with the lamp in the corner, but Jacob figured that the tiny lights hanging around the room where the walls met the ceiling weren't part of the room's standard decor. A small entertainment center, made of a kind of plastic that looked like blue crystal, held a TV, a DVD player, and a selection of DVDs. A poster of a rainforest half-hidden in mist took up most of one wall.
Jacob dropped his bags with a thud as Aidis walked in behind him. Two doors led out of the main living room to the bedrooms, and a third led to a bathroom. Jacob peered into one of the bedrooms, and saw a sudden flash. There was a smashing sound, and a small green ball of energy flew out of the room, bounced off of three walls, and slammed into the ceiling, where it shattered in a shower of red sparkles.
Aidis smacked himself on the forehead, and groaned. "Dammit! There goes lunch!"
Jacob stood in the fading sparkles, almost afraid to move. He suddenly realized that all hope for a life here that could be considered 'normal' were now gone. Then again, considering the Modesto standards of 'normal,' that might not be so bad. "Aidis? What was that and how could you eat it?"
"That was a little sustenance spell I've been working on. Y'know, something for during finals when we have to study instead of eating just to pass. But if it's managed to get out of the jar by itself, then it looks like I'll need to do some more work on it."
"That was alive?" Jacob asked, raising an eyebrow at Aidis.
"Not really alive, just self-reproducing." Aidis shrugged. "Sometimes, they get out of hand." He paused. "Maybe Tim saw something." He leaned toward the doorway, and yelled, "Tim! Stop being rude and come greet the new guy."
"Rude?" A mellow, cultured voice came from inside the room. "You, of all beings, call me rude?"
"Beings?" Jacob said quietly, wondering just who Tim was.
"Yeah, he talks like that a lot. You get used to it." Aidis shrugged. "Come on, Tim. I know you have a lot to unpack, but you have time."
"That I do." A shadow moved inside the room, and a moment later, the door frame was filled with a tall, slender figure.
Tim stood nearly a head taller than Jacob, who was only now realizing what elves looked like up close. He had dark green eyes, and the fine, narrow features that all elves seemed to share. His ears were long and pointed, and his white hair was long, swept away from his forehead and down his back. He was clad in a long-sleeved button-down dress shirt with a small leather vest over it, and a pair of jeans that only reached his knees. He was barefoot.
Tim regarded Jacob for a moment, then said, "Greetings, Jacob. I am Timorfildor Windwalker."
"Yes," Aidis said with a wry grin. "But there are those who call him . . . Tim."
Tim turned a frown on Aidis. "Must you make that joke every time I am introduced?"
Jacob laughed. While Tim seemed to carry a great air of dignity about himself, it all disappeared as soon as Aidis made him the punchline of an old Monty Python gag. Jacob had a feeling that living here might not be too bad.
Tim took a deep breath, then turned back to Jacob. "I don't believe I've seen you on campus before. Are you a transfer student?"
"No," Jacob said. There was something unusual about the elf's gaze, but he let it pass. "I'm a freshman."
"I knew I forgot something," Aidis said, and gave Jacob a hard stare. For an instant, his eyes flashed blue, and a line of red light passed over Jacob. "Yeah, definitely a freshman."
"What was that?" Jacob had the strange feeling that he'd just been scanned.
"Blood alcohol check," Aidis said, and grinned. "My brother-in-law's a cop, and he taught me the spell. I didn't get any large amounts of alcohol or caffeine in your blood, so you're definitely a freshman."
"Yeah. . . ." He started to realize just how familiar with magik Aidis was, and figured he'd probably use it a lot around the suite. Jacob had the sudden urge to claim his own space as soon as possible.
"So, this room is mine?" he asked, and stepped into the other dorm room. "I'm going to start unpacking."
Jacob stuffed some of his clothes into the room's small dresser as quickly as he could, then started hanging his shirts in the closet. Half a dozen thoughts were speeding through his head, most of them about his new roommates and what he'd just seen. "I can't believe this," he said to himself. "I spend my entire life somewhere that has almost no magik, and I get here, where I'm just about the only person who doesn't do magik. Maybe there's some sort of non-magik hall in one of the dorms that I could transfer to."
Jacob paused, and sat down on the bed. He still hadn't put his sheets on it, and the mattress twanged under his weight.
"But I don't want to go back to that. This is really weird, but I like it. . . ." He nodded to himself. "It'll take a while to get used to it, that's for sure, but it shouldn't be a problem."
Jacob looked up to see Aidis standing in the doorway.
"Anybody ever tell you that you talk to yourself?"
Jacob smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I'm used to being by myself, so it's kind of a habit."
Aidis grinned as he walked into the room. "Don't worry about it." He leaned up against Jacob's desk, almost knocking over a small stack of books. "I'm used to it. My mom talks to her familiar all the time, even though only she can hear it answer."
Jacob blinked. "Her what?"
Aidis stared at him. "Okay . . . you're worse than I thought. You really don't know much about magik, do you?"
"I took a Magik Basics class at a community college back in Modesto," Jacob said. "They didn't teach much about magik in high school, just the history. The college class wasn't a great help either. They didn't say anything about what you've been telling me."
"Man, you have a lot to learn," Aidis said, sounding amused. "Okay. A familiar is something that some people have, it's an animal that they're magikally bonded to. They can talk to each other in their heads, but familiars understand us, even if they can't talk back. My mom, she has this big black cat, and she talks to him all the time."
Jacob nodded slowly, trying to take it all in. "So why do people have familiars? How do they bond to them?"
"Why depends on the person. Some people just like it, others say it helps with their spells. As for how. . . ." He chuckled. "I could tell you, but it wouldn't make any sense if you don't know much about magik. It'd be like someone trying to explain physics to me."
Jacob laughed. "I might be able to. I was pretty good at physics in high school." Aidis made a face. "Or not. So, you're not into science . . . your major's something magikal, right?"
Aidis snapped his fingers, and there was a sparkling flash of orange light. The light floated on his fingertip. "Sorcery," he said. "I'll take a focus on Magikal Engineering, probably; it's what I'm best at."
"Sorcery?" Jacob asked as he stared at the bit of magik. "Does that just mean you're a magik major, or what?"
"Not quite." Aidis flicked the orange glow at Jacob, where it settled on the end of his nose. "Sorcery is mostly applied magik, how to make it do what you want, as opposed to something like magik theory, which talks about how magik works without actually using it." He shrugged. "I have to take Magik Theory 1 this quarter, but it's mostly stuff I learned in high school. You should take it with me."
Jacob stared, cross-eyed, at the end of his nose. "Why?"
"Because my seven-year-old cousin knows more about magik than you do," Aidis cracked.
Jacob frowned at Aidis, who snapped his fingers again. The small bit of magik turned into a puff of green smoke. Jacob jerked back, then glared at Aidis, who grinned.
"Case in point. I might have to drag you to that class anyway, even if you don't register for it. If only so you're not completely ruined by a life in Modesto."
"Yea, I can see that," Jacob said with a sigh. "This place does feel weird, and I haven't even been on campus for an hour. I mean, I'm staring every time I see someone do magik, same when I see someone who's not human."
Aidis nodded. "Yea, you said there weren't many non-human types in Modesto."
"Almost none," Jacob said, "and none that I ever really saw. That's probably why my dad wanted to be there." He looked at Aidis, who motioned for him to continue. "My parents went here, same with my grandpa, all before the Change. I was born about a year after they graduated."
"Right around the Change, then?" Aidis asked.
"Just about, a few months after. My parents moved to Modesto when I was about a year old. By then, the University had already changed its name."
"Sounds about right," Aidis said. "Hallahan, the guy they named the tower after, he pushed real hard for magikal studies right from the beginning. And California Coastal University was just a stupid name."
"Yea, like you said. So, we lived in Modesto, and my parents never said much of anything about the college. My grandpa was pretty pissed off when he heard that they'd changed the name. He and my dad didn't like the other races much, from what I remember them saying." Jacob shrugged. "I don't know."
"So why'd you come here?" Aidis asked. "It doesn't sound like your parents would have been too big on it."
"My parents died when I was thirteen," Jacob said. "Car crash."
Aidis gave Jacob a sympathetic look. "That's rough. I'm sorry, man."
Jacob nodded. "Thanks. It's been five years, I'm all right with it. Anyway, my uncle Carl set up a trust with the money that my parents left me, and like I said, I got a letter from the college's alumni association when I was close to graduating high school."
Aidis smiled. "Ah, that's why you're here. You mentioned the legacy kicking in."
"I"m glad someone sees why I'm here," Jacob said, and leaned back on the bed. "So, what about you? What's your family like, and why are you here?"
"My parents got divorced when I was twelve; I've lived on and off with both of them since then. My mom's big on magik, she's old-school Wiccan. She's got this big coven of friends, they're pretty much my aunts." He raised an eyebrow at Jacob. "My dad's an accountant. He's engaged to Shihalai. She's an elf."
Jacob blinked. "Oh. So you're used to this kind of thing."
"Yeah, you could say that." There was an awkward pause, then he asked, "What's your major?"
"I don't know." Jacob walked over to his desk and started unpacking one of his boxes. "I was thinking about some science or another, but I'm not sure." He saw Aidis cringe out of the corner of his eye. "Okay, I know how you feel about that."
"No kidding. I don't know why anyone would want to put themselves through that. A friend of mine, Ulf--"
"He's a dwarf. Not his real name, but I don't think anyone who's not a dwarf could pronounce that. Anyway, he's in engineering, but that's about as close as I could go. Real engineering, not magikal. You ever think about majoring in a field of magik?"
Jacob shook his head. "No. But like I said, Modesto is probably about the least magikal place on Earth."
"Not quite. That honor goes to the Sahara desert, for some reason. England's not much better."
"Really. So what's the most magikal?"
"Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where we dropped the bombs that broke the seals and started the Change in the first place, and Jamaica, for some reason. I think a lot of ley lines pass through the islands down there." He raised an eyebrow at Jacob. "I'm not losing you, am I?"
"No," Jacob said. He chuckled. "I learned about how the Change happened in high school, and a friend back home told me about ley lines. The class I took covered some of that too."
"Ah, yes, the streams of magikal current that run over the world and hold everything together. Beautiful." Aidis toyed with the end of one of his braids, and flicked it into the air, where it remained. "There's one near campus, in the mountains. It's about a twenty-minute flight. We should go there sometime."
"Flight?" Jacob asked, feeling sudden anxiety, although he couldn't quite say why. "As in airplane?"
"No, as in spell," Aidis said. "Wow, you really are new to this. You should take some magik classes on principle alone."
"Like what?" Jacob asked.
"Let's see . . . the basic magik disciplines they teach here are Sorcery, Elementalism, Summoning, Illusion, Transmutation, Divination, Travel magik, and a few others that I'm not sure about. You have to major in one of those, but you can get a focus, like I was talking about."
Jacob learned back against his desk. "I don't even know what most of those mean."
"It's not that bad. I already explained Sorcery. We tend to delve a bit into the other parts of magik, because we need to know how to deal with all of them.
"Elementalism deals with the four magikal elements; fire, water, earth, and air. I know a few people who study Elementalism and Environmental Studies."
"Sounds interesting," Jacob said. "We didn't have elements like that back in high school chemistry."
Aidis nodded with a grin. "Makes things easier, doesn't it? I've seen some interesting arguments between elementalists and Chemistry majors."
"Know anybody who's majoring in both?" Jacob asked, starting to grin.
Aidis grimaced. "No. Anyway, Transmutation is mostly making one thing into another. It doesn't have a very good reputation, though, because some people use it on themselves. You'll probably see a few of them around campus – they don't look quite human anymore. A lot of Illusionists use magik on themselves too, but it's only illusion, so it's not permanent. After a while, you learn to see what's not real."
"Yea, like Matt's hair," Jacob said. "I didn't think his hair was really changing color, just a spell that was doing that."
Aidis nodded, and rolled his eyes. "I don't know, I find little tricks like that kind of immature." The braid that was sticking out twitched and fell back down.
"Let's see . . . Divination is basically finding things out, both past and future, like what I did before you got here. Seeing into the future is really hard, though. Most people can't see much that's reliable. Summoning is exactly what it sounds like, bringing things to you. Watch this."
Aidis held up one hand, palm up, and whispered under his breath. Green smoke puffed out of his hand, and when it cleared, a wallet was sitting there.
Jacob felt his back pocket. To his relief, his wallet was still there. He looked at Aidis, who was laughing.
"No, it's not your wallet, it's mine," he said, and stuffed it into one of his pockets. "I'm not very good at Summoning, but I keyed my wallet for it, so I never need to worry about losing it."
"Couldn't you just get a wallet chain?"
"Those look stupid. Anyway. . . ." Aidis counted on his fingers. "Travel magik is also just what it sounds like, but it's a pretty broad area. It covers everything from flight to teleportation to ley surfing." At Jacob's confused look, he continued. "That's when you fly through a ley line. You can go a lot faster that way. My mom swears it's the only way to travel, but you can't get everywhere. Some ley lines just aren't long enough." He glanced at Jacob, and saw a confused expression on his face. "I'm going over your head, aren't I?"
"So far that I'm not even going to bother looking up." He turned back to his desk and kept unpacking. "So, how long have you been here?"
"Today? A few hours. In my life? This is my second year. I might be able to get out in four years, but I'm not sure."
"What about Tim?" Jacob asked, nodding toward the other room. "Elves live for a really long time, I know that, so four years doesn't mean much to them."
"Most of them," Aidis said, "live for about six or seven hundred years, so ten or twelve years for them is about one for us. Tim's been here for eleven years, I think. It's kind of the same for dwarves, they live for about three hundred years."
"What about the other elves?"
Aidis's braids twitched. "What?"
"You said that most elves live for a long time. Some of them don't?"
Aidis leaned to the side, and peered into his own room. "Some elves don't like to talk about it," he said quietly. "Most that I've known are okay with it, but Tim's from a really old family, and they're what we'd call conservative."
Aidis walked over to Jacob's bed, and held his hands out in front of him. The air above the bed started to shimmer, and an image of a female elf appeared.
"Most elves look something like this – you know, they have some differences, but they're not all that different-looking than humans."
Jacob raised an eyebrow at Aidis.
"Okay," Aidis admitted, "less different-looking than dwarves or nekati."
"I don't know, I knew some pretty hairy guys in high school--"
"Anyway," Aidis interrupted, "some elves have something in them that changes them. Nobody's really sure what causes it. Shortly after elves are born, their parents take the child outside and hold them up to the sun."
Aidis twitched his fingers at the illusion. The elf's skin turned a dark grey, almost black, and her hair became stark white. "They're called twilight elves. They don't live for more than about a hundred years, and they can't have children."
Jacob walked over to his bed and peered at the illusion. He saw that the elf's eyes had changed as well – the whites were black, the irises a brilliant blue, and the pupils were white. "That's really weird," he said.
Aidis nodded, and dispelled the illusion. "They're not that common, but there's a few of them on campus."
"Hmm. What about nekati? I mean, as compared to humans."
Aidis paused. "I'm not sure. I think they live about as long as we do. But they burn energy like you wouldn't believe."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if you ever date one, go Dutch, or you'll be spending the rest of your life working off the debt."
Jacob winced. "That bad?"
"Almost," Aidis said, and grinned again. "If you ever see a group of them, watch them eat. You'll either be amazed or really scared."
"Probably both." Jacob walked over to the room's window, and threw open the curtains. "Nice view," he muttered.
"Eden hall's not that bad to look at," Aidis said as he walked over to the window. He looked down, then leaned closer to the glass. "Ooh . . . she's cute."
"Her. The one in the brown pants."
Jacob blinked. "She's an elf."
"So? What's the matter, you not big on interracial dating?"
Jacob snorted. "No. She's not human, why would I bother dating her?"
"She's female," Aidis said, peering at Jacob. "Why would you not want to date her?"
"Because she's an elf," Jacob said. "Is there an echo in here?"
"Is there an echo in here?" Aidis grinned as Jacob glared at him again. "Work it out, dude. You don't know what you could be missing." He clapped Jacob on the shoulder. "Some friends of mine are coming over later, you should meet them. I need to finish unpacking."
Aidis walked out of the room, leaving Jacob alone with his thoughts.
Later that evening, Jacob had finished unpacking and was laying on his bed, looking around his new room. It seemed strange to have so many of his own things in this new place, but he knew it wouldn't feel like home without them. Several of his favorite books were stacked on the shelf above his desk. Jacob wondered if he'd even have time to read once classes started. An old pair of rollerblades sat in the corner, and Jacob smiled at them. They'd belonged to his dad, and Jacob was fascinated with them when he was a kid, because nobody else that he knew had them. In high school, when his feet were big enough, he'd learned how to skate. He liked them better than the bicycle he'd left in Modesto. He wondered if anyone else had rollerblades, then remembered Aidis's carpet. If his suitemate was any example, most people here probably had some way of getting around that wasn't what he was used to calling normal.
Then again, he wondered, what could he really consider normal anymore? The university was already proving to be different from Modesto in just about every way he could think of, and he'd hardly even seen half of campus. Aidis seemed well-adjusted to life here, but he'd also been here a year already. Jacob thought back to when he and Aidis were at the window, and nodded to himself. That was what was bothering him the most.
Jacob remembered someone back in high school who'd been teased ruthlessly after he leaned that the girl he'd started an online relationship with was a nekati. It was a pretty common attitude in Modesto that nobody thought any of the races should date each other. Jacob hadn't expected Aidis to say that the elf who'd walked by was cute. Jacob pondered for a moment, then shook his head. He didn't think he'd ever be able to think that way about anybody who wasn't human. He didn't want to think that he had a closed mind, but–
A sudden knock at the door brought Jacob out of his thoughts. Whoever it was, they were pounding hard.
"Jacob, get the door!" Aidis yelled from his room. "It's Ulf and Elisa."
"If you know who it is, why don't you get it?"
"But your room's closer."
"Yours is facing the door!"
Pound. Pound. Pound.
"Fine, fine," Jacob muttered, and walked to the front door. He pulled it open, and looked out. There was nobody there. Jacob blinked. "Hello?"
"Down here, lad."
Jacob looked down, and blinked again. A dwarf was standing there, clad in a loud Hawaiian shirt and jean cutoffs. A pair of sunglasses with thick black frames sat on his large nose. His red beard reached halfway down his chest and a long red ponytail grew out of the back of his head.
"Evenin', lad," the dwarf said. "They call me Ulf. Yer roomin' with Aidis and that twig of a friend of his?"
Tim's voice came from his room. "I heard that, Ulf. If I'm a twig, then you must be a stump."
Jacob laughed as Ulf muttered. He'd heard of the old rivalries between elves and dwarves. "I'm Jacob," he said. "I just moved in. I'm a freshman," he added.
"And yer got stuck with these two?" Ulf grunted. "Yer could do worse, true. But I'll stick with the Mountain and me own people."
"The Mountain?" Jacob asked.
"The school made a mountain," Aidis said as he walked out of his room, "and it's the dorm for most of the dwarves here. How goes it, Ulf?"
Ulf grunted again. "I bloody hate movin' in. The whole damn dorm's in chaos, 'cause everybody's gotta move in on the same damn day."
"But today's early move-in day," Jacob said.
"Yer couldn' tell by lookin' at the Mountain," Ulf said. "Yer'd think classes were startin' tomorrow. Everybody tryin' to get in at once, all goin' on 'bout what they're takin' and who's gonna win at rugby this season."
"Rugby?" Jacob asked quietly. He'd heard that dwarves were built very sturdy and could take a lot of punishment, so the idea of them playing rugby. . . . That sounded like it could hurt. A lot.
"Hey, where's Elisa?" Aidis asked. "I thought she was coming with you."
Ulf muttered something into his beard. "She didn' come up with me. She's tryin' to get some spell of hers to work, some air thing that'll lift her up like she's flyin'."
There was a sudden gust of wind. Out of the corner of his eye, Jacob saw something or someone fly up past his window.
"There she is," Ulf said, and headed for Jacob's room.
Jacob followed Ulf, wondering if he'd just seen what he thought he'd seen. A moment after he entered his room, someone dressed in dark colors floated down to the window and tapped on the glass.
She smiled. "Hello! Can you open up? I can't hold this for much longer."
To Jacob's surprise, she had an English accent. He shook his head violently, trying not to remember that they were on the third floor, and opened the window. A gust of wind pushed him back, and he jumped away easily as the woman pulled herself through his window and into the room. The wind stopped blowing as soon as she was inside. She pushed her long, dark brown hair away from her face, then turned to Jacob.
"You must be Aidis and Tim's new roommate. Hello, I'm Elisa."
Elisa was a head shorter than Jacob, but her thin face and figure made her look taller. Her hair fell nearly to her waist, and several small silver rings were tied into it. Her skin was pale, and Jacob was a bit surprised to see that she wore no makeup, as most of the girls at his high school had worn at least a little. She wore a purple shirt with a wide collar and black pants, along with black sandals. She also wore rings on her fingers, a few on her toes, and when her hair swept back, Jacob saw that she had three earrings in each ear.
"I'm Jacob," he said, still trying to take in the fact that she'd come in through the window. "That thing you just did – with the wind – what was that?"
Elisa cocked her head at him. "You don't know?" she asked. "It's not that complex. You just--"
"Don't try to explain it too much," Aidis said as he walked in. He grinned at Elisa. "Jacob's from Modesto."
"Why should that make a difference?" she asked.
Jacob sighed. "There aren't many people who use magik in Modesto." He paused. "There's not much of anything in Modesto."
"All the better for you to be here, then," Elisa said. "I don't know how I'd get along without magik."
"That's because you use the air to pick up something that's just across the room." Aidis ignored Elisa's glare. "Come on, let's head out."
"Where are we going?" Jacob asked as they walked out of his room.
"The Crystal Ball. Tim! Come on!"
"The what?" Jacob asked, stopping in his tracks.
"Coffee!" Aidis said as Tim emerged from their room.
"I don't drink coffee," Jacob protested.
"Give it a week, once classes start." Aidis looked back at Jacob. "Now, are you coming, or are we dragging you?"
Jacob wasn't sure what to expect from a college town like Newman's Dale, but he wasn't too surprised at what he saw. Most of the houses were apartment buildings, although he was glad to see that they only went up to three or four stories and none had bridges between them. He passed by a few larger houses with Greek letters on them, and guessed them to be fraternities and sororities. Ulf pointed out a few dwarven fraternities that used some kind of runes as their letters.
The three center blocks of Newman's Dale were circular, and they were home to a great deal of shops and restaurants, all of which Jacob thought looked nothing like the places he'd hung out at back in Modesto. He followed the group toward the Crystal Ball, a coffee shop with low stone walls and arches around it that reminded him of pictures he'd seen of Stonehenge. The five of them walked under the high arch and past the tables in front of the shop.
The inside of the shop surprised Jacob, as the walls had dozens of small pieces of art all over them. One wall was a mural of a jungle that looked strangely familiar. Jacob paused and stared at it. There was something about it, a feeling that he couldn't quite place.
"You've seen little of elven art, I presume?" Tim asked from over Jacob's shoulder.
Jacob shook his head. "I've never seen a picture like that before," he said. "But it feels like I have."
"It's the way the picture is painted," Tim said. "It's supposed to evoke the feeling of a place, not merely the image. I'm surprised, though, that you can feel it. Most humans don't."
After buying their drinks, the five of them gathered around one of the stone tables outside. Aidis leaned back in his chair and gazed up at the evening sky.
"Another year," he mused. "Back to classes, books, papers, midterms, long nights of studying. . . ." He trailed off, and grinned at the look of panic on Jacob's face.
"Don't listen to him, Jacob," Elisa said. "It's not as bad as all that. You'll have to read more than you ever did before, but your freshman year ought to be a good one." She sipped her coffee. "Just study more than Aidis, no great feat, and you'll be fine."
Aidis snorted. "No great feat? I study!"
"Glancing over your notes before you leave is hardly studying," Elisa said, looking smug. "I just don't want you to provide a bad example."
"Regardless of what these two say," Tim said, "there's little to worry about. Simply make sure that you do all the work for your classes, and you'll be fine."
Jacob sighed. "Thanks, I think. Got any advice for getting through my first week without going insane?"
"What d'yer mean?" Ulf asked. "Not that bad of a place. Shouldn' be enough to drive yer nuts. Other than livin' with the elf."
"This place is just very. . . ." Jacob struggled for a word. "Very not Modesto."
Aidis grinned. "That's saying a lot, but it's a lot of good. Don't worry, dude. You'll adjust."
Jacob looked around as the others nodded. "Thanks. I hope you're right." He paused, then matched Aidis's grin. "Because there's not a chance in hell that I'm going back."
"I'll drink to that," Aidis said, raising his cup. The others did the same.
"There's no alcohol in that," Elisa said. "Aren't you only supposed to toast someone with alcohol?"
"Doesn't matter. There's enough caffeine in this to kill a horse." Aidis ducked as Elisa swung a punch at him.
"Ach, just shut up and drink," Ulf muttered.
Jacob kept grinning. "This will work," he said to himself, quietly this time. "I can live here."