Mother always told Priscilla - "No jinxies in public, dear. It's not proper behaviour."
Of course, she also said, "Not in the house, dear, it's not civilised," and "Not in the garden, dear, someone could see you passing," In the end, Priscilla just had to wonder where magic was ever appropriate and had even held out a hope that they'd be allowed to do it at school, until the teacher said that the first rule was "No magic in class or around school, children." Thus, her efforts of discovering her own magical abilities were continuously thwarted by what she'd later dub "the grown-up conspiracy".
Priscilla Halsian wasn't very sure she liked going to school. The idea of sitting in a desk for several hours a day, along with sixteen other girls her age while the crotchety old woman who'd introduced herself as their teacher explained various things to them was strange and new to her. Being six years old, she didn't consider 'knowing things' as important as, say, catching butterflies or skipping stones across the pond. However, since her parents felt otherwise, here she was, sharing a desk with one of her best friends, Bob Soleigh (who, despite her name, was actually very much female). Sitting right behind Bob was also Orvelle Oktaff, a slightly prissy redhead who completed their little group.
At the moment, while Miss Punctillian, their teacher, had allowed them a ten minute break, Priscilla and Bob had turned around to face Orvelle, who was demonstrating the full extent of her magical abilities by making a small pen shake without touching it. True, it wasn't much, but most children hardly ever had more than one or two paltry tricks, which they often weren't even allowed to use. So they were quite taken with Orvelle's demonstration, until a looming shadow fell over them.
"Orvelle, I wish to remind you the rules," Miss Punctillian's sharp voice came. Orvelle looked up, quite startled. The pen twitched and cracked itself against the desk. She was very unused to displeasing adults. "What you are doing is forbidden."
"Why?" Priscilla asked, spurred by a bout of impertinence.
"Because it's rude, Priscilla," the teacher replied, her cold gaze now fixated of Priscilla.
"Why?" Priscilla insisted, this time just to make herself obnoxious. She discovered she quite disliked school already.
Miss Punctillian pursed her lips. All the other girls in class had stopped talking or playing and turned to look at the scene unfolding. They were quite curious as to what their new colleagues had done to get in trouble on the first day.
"Everybody, take your seats," Miss Punctillian said, as she made her way to the front of the class. There was a rush of motion, followed by complete silence, and by the time the old woman turned around, the girls were sitting in their seat, staring fearfully at the teacher. She, in turn, only smiled and sat at her desk. "And here is your first lesson, girls. Miss Halsian asked why you aren't allowed to do magic. Well, that wasn't always the case in Kallern. That's the name of our country, but you knew that, yes?" A flurry of nods followed, even from those who hadn't known for sure. "Good girls. Now, up until about thirty-five years ago, Kallern was traditionally ruled by a Monarch. During those times, the noble houses had Mages in their service. Mages were people who trained from a very young age and became very good at using their magic. And so, they did the bidding of noble houses and were paid in kind. In fact, because they were so useful, they were allowed to do pretty much everything they wanted."
Several of the girls were grinning at the prospect. Miss Punctillian continued.
"And because nobody would stop them, they started doing very bad things. They used their magic to hurt other people. They even kidnapped small children from their families to test spells on them," she added in a dreary voice. Some of the children were cowed by this. Priscilla was still looking on defiantly.
"So, one day, the common people grew tired of this and started what we would call the Revolution. They hunted down the Mages and punished them. The ones they couldn't catch ran away. In fact, the revolution even touched our little village, River-Under-Ridge. Does anyone remember the house with three walls on the northern hills?"
"I do," Bob spoke up. "I heard a Mage lived there."
"Quite right, Roberta," Miss Punctillian nodded.
"Her name's Bob," Priscilla muttered under her breath.
"Don't be silly, Priscilla. She's a girl, she can't be named 'Bob'," Miss Punctillian replied, proving to have uncannily good hearing for her age.
"But my uncle Robert's called Bob, and I'm named after him," Bob insisted.
"Now, Roberta, enough of this silliness, let me continue my story." Bob deflated at the teacher's words and sunk deeper in her seat. "As I was saying, the house with three walls did, indeed, belong to a Mage. If I recall correctly, his name was Pompey Suud. He worked for the house of Vanakarad-Phocy, which, at the time, had a great mansion up those hills. Well, when the village rose against the nobility and their Mage, Pompey Suud did something, a spell, and made the mansion disappear-- along with a wall of Suud's house-- just as the mobs were at the gates."
"Where did it go to?" a girl from the back of the class asked.
"Who knows?" Miss Punctillian answered. "It just disappeared. There were no strange flickers of light, no unusual sounds; one moment, the mansion was there, the next, it disappeared. At any rate, after the Revolution, a law was passed and it became illegal to train children to be Mages. Because, you see, everybody is born with magic, but if they do not train from a young age, by the time they're teenagers, they can no longer use it. And because the Mages were such bad people, everybody agreed that children would not be allowed to do any magic. Do you understand now, Priscilla?" Miss Punctillian glared pointedly at the little blonde girl. Priscilla, in turn, muttered something under her breath that the older woman chose to ignore.
It would be the beginning of a very antagonistic relationship between the elderly teacher and the little girl who would never admit to being wrong about anything.
By the time Priscilla had gotten home, she could see that Miss Punctillian had already sent a message to Mother. 'Shouldn't have taken that detour by the pond,' Priscilla mused to herself as she walked through the door and was met with the sight of Mother glaring furiously from her armchair in the lounge. The servants had made themselves scarce, Father was probably in his study and her brother Edvin was peeking down from the staircase, probably curious to hear what Priscilla had done to incur Mother's wrath.
"Scilla," Mother started, "I have had an interesting chat with your teacher today."
Priscilla huffed angrily and plopped herself on a sofa.
"In fact, given what she's told me, I've decided you are grounded for the next week. You will come right home and you will most certainly not be allowed to go play with Orvelle or Roberta," Mother continued. Priscilla looked up haughtily at her mother. She felt a warm fuzziness on the back of her skull and concentrated as hard as she could on giving her mother a migraine. As magic went, Priscilla realised she was quite limited, but at least the one thing she could do had its uses.
"Do you know why?" Mother asked, rubbing her temple. Priscilla resisted the urge to smile smugly and shook her head no. "Because you keep giving everyone these terrible migraines." The woman immediatly felt the pain in her temples dissipate as Priscilla gaped, incredulous. This time, Mother was the one who had to resist smiling smugly. "Oh, you thought we wouldn't figure it out, stupid adults that we are? Well, we have. Scilla, you're almost eight years old," she sighed. "You need to stop giving in to these childish impulses."
"Why? Because you say so?" Priscilla snorted. "You also said there was a river-nipper living in the pond, and Grampa told me you were lying so I wouldn't go there anymore."
"It was for your own good--"
"Right!" Priscilla interrupted. "When I lie, it's a very bad thing, but when grown-ups lie, it's for my own good! I'm not listening to anything you say anymore!"
The girl jumped up and zipped up the stairs while Mother angrily yelled for her to come back. At that particular moment, Priscilla didn't have much regard for what her mother was saying. She had every intention of locking herself in her room, but she stopped right in front of the door, recalling suddenly that Mother had a key and could enter at any time. She looked at the end of the hall and saw the door to the attic. Struck by sudden inspiration, she ran over and flung the door open. Stairs lead upwards, into the darkness. She'd never been there before and was not allowed to go by herself, but at this point, the attic was a perfect hiding place. Just to make Mother worry a bit when she couldn't be found.
At the end of the stairs, Priscilla discovered it wasn't quite as dark as she'd previously anticipated. It was very dusty, very hot, but light was streaming in through two small circular windows from opposite sides of the house. It was quite bare, because Mother rarely kept anything there, preffering the shack behind the house, so the only things to be found in the large attic were a few wooden trunks, an old bed without the mattress and a small, old-fashioned nightstand.
Curious, Priscilla went to the nearest trunk and inspected it. Unfortunately, it had a rusty old lock which she wasn't sure she could break, so she went to the next one, thankfully lock-free. She flipped the lid and peered inside. It was filled with books, but she couldn't quite make out the titles. She picked one of the books up and went to the nearest window. She opened it, since it was insufferably hot and hard to breathe. A cool breeze swept through the attic, ruffling Priscilla's hair and unsettling the dust.
Brushing the dust from the cover, Priscilla read out, 'Talents For The Uninitiated'. Curious, she flipped to the first page, which had the publishing date. 'Published in the Year 890, under the Enlightened Monarch Phantasus the Scholar'. Clearly, Priscilla concluded, this book had been published before the Revolution. She was just about to ask herself what it was doing here when she recalled her grandfather telling her of how they raided Pompey Suud's house after the Vanakarad-Phocy disappeared. The lynch mob, quite displeased with this, settled for a good old-fashioned pillage. "What if the Mage came back?" Priscilla had asked, quite logically. "Then we would have lynched him," Grampa replied, just as logically.
She sat down on one of the trunks and studied the book for a long time after that. It described "talents", the main branches of magic, and explained rather vaguely how Mages started out with a talent and had to develop the others on their own. Priscilla couldn't find a talent description that had "inducing headaches" in it, so she started reading each chapter, trying to find her friends' respective talents. Bob had thermal talent. Orvelle had vibrations. Orvelle's brother Niv-Niv had telepathic. Eventually, Priscilla found out she had healing talent, though for the life of her, she couldn't figure out how giving migraines could soothe anyone's ailments.
At any rate, that was the day that the seeds of an idea were planted in her head.
One summer day, Priscilla had called her friends to Pompey Suud's house to victoriously present them with Suud's own copy of "Talents for the Uninitiated". As she waited for them to arrive, she set herself up on a large table (bolted to the ground, she noted), preparing her very persuasive speech. Strictly speaking, they weren't allowed to play around the old house, but none of the adults were terribly bothered if their children did. While an ordinary house would have collapsed without a fourth wall, Suud's house had been built using all kinds of consolidation spells, and thus would probably not collapse except under extraordinary conditions, such as earthquakes, tornadoes or rampaging tigerbulls, none of which were readily available in River-Under-Ridge.
Bob was the first to arrive. She greeted Priscilla and perched herself on what had once been a window sill. Finally, Orvelle came, her brother Niv-Niv in tow.
"Why did you bring him along, Orvelle?" Priscilla scrunched her nose at the little boy. "This is supposed to be a girls-only thing."
"Well," Orvelle flipped her red hair over her shoulder and replied, "I'm supposed to take care of him. I have responsabilities, you know."
Orvelle Oktaff loved reminding people she had responsabilities. She took singing lessons, because much like everyone in her family, she had great musical talent. She practiced all the time, because she knew she'd receive praise from her instructor and she enjoyed it greatly. And she took care of her little brother because he was mute and helpless and she knew she stirred up sympathy when she so selflessly sacrificed her free time to take him to the park and tell people of his plight.
Niv-Niv Oktaff, on the other hand, was nothing like his sister. He was quiet, and not simply because he couldn't speak, but because he tended to melt into the background. He was the only child in River-Under-Ridge allowed- even encouraged- to use magic, because it was his way of communicating. On the rare occasions that he had something to say, he turned to a person and gesticulated as if he were speaking out loud, but his words would emanate like a strange aura and wash over that person's mind and many a houseguests had come away from the experience thinking it was "quite the oddest thing" they'd ever felt.
Currently, Niv-Niv's aura was apologetic. 'I'm sorry, Priscilla, I didn't mean to bother'.
"It's okay," Priscilla shrugged, her brow furrowing. "Now that I think about it, you're perfect for our little group."
The aura now expressed contentment.
"Anyway, here's what: we're going to become Mages," she announced loudly.
Bob seemed gobsmacked, Orvelle raised an eyebrow, and only Niv-Niv seemed to share Priscilla's enthusiasm.
"Ridiculous, being a Mage requires years of discipline and education," Orvelle dismissed the idea. "We would most likely never succeed."
"Yes, yes, but... Vel, you take singing lessons, right?" Priscilla asked.
"Yes, I do," Orvelle replied, flipping her hair again, utterly pleased with herself.
"And you practice all the time, right?"
"Well, of course!" Orvelle continued, "Talent must be nurtured to grow! Skill is one part talent, two parts practice. That is what my Instructor always says!"
"So why can't that be true for magic, too?"
Orvelle had no reply for this.
"Scilla's right," Bob inferred. "But we don't exactly have a magic instructor, now do we?"
"A-hah!" Orvelle exclaimed, "She's right! We have no instructors!"
"Neither did the first people to learn magic," Priscilla shot back. "But unlike them, we have this." She raised the book and smiled widely.
Orvelle scoffed, but made no move to leave.
Mother was angry with Priscilla again. This happened often enough, to the point that Father found it amusing and the servants ignored it outright.
But today was supposed to be a special occasion. Priscilla's older brother, who had been gone all year at Mellow-Hills Academy to further his education, had finally come home. Mother had fretted all day, making sure dinner was cooked, his old room tidied and everybody present for when he'd walk through the door.
Priscilla didn't much participate in all of this, claiming that clearly, Mother wanted to keep the ensuing aneurysm all to herself. Nobody was quite sure how Priscilla knew what an aneurysm was, but the fourteen-year-old girl had taken an interest in medicine lately. ("Marvelous," Mother had said about it. "First Edvin receives a scholarship and now we're going to have a doctor in the family. Finally, that girl has her head on right.")
"What has she done this time, love?" Father asked his wife eventually.
"She sprinted off with her friends this morning and hasn't come back yet. If she misses Edvin's arrival, then so help me--"
"Priscilla is home, love. She's upstairs in her room right now, just as eagerly awaiting for Edvin as you are."
Mother's shock was obvious enough to have made Father burst in laughter and hug her before leaving the room.
"Did you bring it?"
Edvin gave a lopsided grin and a sideway glance, then took the book out of his suitcase.
"Have I ever disappointed you?" he replied.
Priscilla didn't listen to him, instead swiping the book and flipping it open eagerly.
"You know," Edvin said, "Mother would thoroughly disaprove of your choice in career. She thinks you want to be a doctor."
"Disappointing her IS my career, Ed," Priscilla replied, not taking her eyes out of the book.
"Yes, but still, Mage? Dear gods above, Scilla," her brother shook his head. "Nobody needs Mages these days."
Priscilla smiled thinly, still not taking her eyes out of the book.
"They're relics of an unhappy period," he continued unnecessarily.
This time, Priscilla put the book down on Edvin's desk and approached him, grinning broadly.
"Give me your hand," she said, searching through her pocket.
Edvin hesitantly gave her his hand. His skin was pale, contrasting with her tan and calloused palm. While he was contemplating this, Priscilla took out a pocketknife and slashed his hand. Edvin yelled and cradled it to his chest.
"You little psychopath!" he yelled. "What's come over you?!"
"Oh, stop the drama and give me your hand again," Priscilla shot back.
Edvin glared at her nastily. His eyes shifted from his sister to the bloodied knife she was still holding. Priscilla smiled sheepishly and dropped the knife.
"Come on, I can stop the bleeding. Trust me, there's a reason I did that."
Edvin hesitantly obeyed. She took his hand in hers and covered the gash with her palm. Edvin would have liked to pull back his hand, because it bloody well stung, but now the stinging sensation amplified his pain and made it climb up his arm. He finally decided to pull his hand back, no matter what, but before he could do it, the pain disappeared and left behind only a slight tingling. Priscilla removed her hand, now smeared in blood, and Edvin could see the gash was gone.
"Exraordinary!" he mouthed.
"Eh, yeah. The new skin is probably a lot paler, but it'll tan."
"Priscilla, my dear, I truly have underestimated you!"
"Oh, you should see Bob. She can heat up a room better than any fireplace, and you should see the sparks she sets off. And Orvelle? Hoo, boy, can she make a room shake. And they're not the only ones. There are others, they joined up later, but there's this one boy-- he once made ice melt and boil in under thirty seconds. And Elisse from across the street, she--"
"Dear gods above, Priscilla," Edvin said for the second time that evening. "You're responsible for all the kids in the neighbourhood keeping their magic longer?"
"Well, of course. We're The Order of the New Mages," Priscilla announced proudly. "I came up with the catchy name myself."
"How... Priscilla, how did you do this?" Edvin asked incredulously.
"Oh, well, kind of like singing, really," Priscilla replied, smiling. "One part talent, two parts practice."
Author's note: Yes, my pretties, the long-overdue rewrite of chapter one is here.