Sickle Moon Academy
Author's Note: This is my attempt at a magic boarding school story set in one of my fantasy worlds (Granat). I used to write a lot of Harry Potter fanfic. My personal take on this genre is using a hard magic system instead of a soft one, and having the kids start the school at sixteen. Also there is a price to having magic. The girls have to be transformed into living supernatural beings and they can't go back once they're committed to that.
The sun was going down as Sukie stood in front of the crumbling building. The place was made of great grey blocks and its towers loomed above her. She felt a thrill of nervous anticipation as she lifted the iron knocker and let it fall against the oaken door. Would anyone hear? Then there came a creak as the door opened slowly to reveal a tall woman who glared down at Sukie. Sukie's eyes widened, but she stopped herself gasping. This woman had bright green skin, a fluorescent yellowish-green, halfway between grass and chartreuse. She would certainly stand out in a crowd of a thousand women. Even though her shoulder length brown hair looked neatly brushed and she was wearing a smart, short black dress. Was Sukie's hair neat? She nervously brushed it out of her face. This lady was unmistakably a witch, so Sukie had better make a good first impression.
The witch glared down at Sukie, making her nervous. What could Sukie say? "Um… Excuse me, but are you the Principal of Sickle Moon Academy?"
"I am not," said the green woman. "I am Marilla Fang, Deputy Principal." She pursed her lips then – her lips were dark green, almost black. She didn't make any sound that Sukie could hear, but a dark shape came rushing down the dingy corridor and Marilla lifted a long, bright green hand and the shape alighted on her palm. Sukie smiled to see it was a bat. It wriggled onto the witch's palm like a black frog.
"So cute!" said Sukie, clasping her hands together.
Marilla just raised an eyebrow and then fixed the bat with an intense stare. Then the bat took off again and flitted back down the corridor. The witch clapped her green hands together. "Come!"
Sukie had to trot to keep up with Marilla's long strides down the stone hall. The walls were a dark grey stone and spiders with weird patterns and beetles with distorted shapes scuttled out of the cracks. "I like the feel of this place," said Sukie.
"Mmm," said Marilla.
Marilla stopped at a heavy wooden door. On the door was a shiny brass plaque which said Regina, Principal. The witch lifted the door's iron knocker and knocked, then pushed the door inwards without waiting for an answer.
The room was lined with rows and rows of books. A crystal orb floated near the ceiling, casting silvery light. A witch sat at the desk scratching rolls of parchment with a quill. She looked up as they entered and grinned at them. The light of the orb shone off her green nose and cheeks and glinted off her golden plaited hair.
"Sorry to intrude, Regina," said Marilla, her lip curling slightly.
"Always welcome, Marilla!" said Regina. She had a strident sort of voice. She smiled at Sukie. "Hello, my dear. Welcome to Sickle Moon. Now you're with us, you will get the chance to study the mystic arts. Yay!" Regina lifted her green hands in a gesture of celebration.
Sukie felt a glow of happiness at her welcome and stepped forward, beaming at the Principal. "Thank you, thank you! I'll study hard!"
Regina smiled again and gazed at Sukie. Regina's blue eyes were captivating. Sukie gazed back.
"Sukie Hartwood. It's great to have you here." Regina lifted the quill and scratched something in the middle of a page. "It's official."
A clock chimed from somewhere in the distance.
"Eight O'clock," said Marilla.
"So late," said Regina. "You must be tired."
"I'm fine, thanks," said Sukie smiling at her.
Regina smiled back at her. Her eyebrows lifted a little and her blue eyes sparkled. "You really must be tired, Sukie. Going to bed is the sensible thing now."
Sukie hadn't been tired, but now she imagined a bed with warm blankets. She would definitely feel better after a good night's sleep.
"This way," said Marilla. Sukie followed her down the dark corridors, feeling strangely sleepy. They turned right, and then left, past a gloomy corridor hanging with cobwebs. Sukie liked the look of it and wanted to explore, but not now. She yawned… she really was sleepy. They turned another corner. It was cleaner, but not much.
Marilla stopped and Sukie almost bumped into her. They had stopped outside a door with a brass knocker shaped like a weird plant with a fanged mouth.
"Cute!" Sukie giggled.
Marilla raised an eyebrow. "This is your dorm. You are a rookie witch. Comply and conform, and all will be well."
She left, sweeping down the corridor. Sukie knocked on the door and went inside.
Four girls looked up as Sukie entered. They were sitting on iron framed beds in the bare stone room.
"Hello everyone!" said Sukie, beaming round at them. "I'm Sukie. Sukie Hartwood."
"Hey! How are you!" A pink face girl with blond pigtails leapt up and threw her arms around Sukie.
"Great to meet you!" said Sukie, hugging her back. How nice to have such an enthusiastic greeting! Sukie grinned.
Another girl, one with shoulder length black hair and glacial blue eyes smirked. Chrissy's on a caffeine high. She's greeting everyone that way.
Chrissy jumped over to this girl. "Maddie! You're so cheeky."
She reached out to touch Maddie on the nose, but Maddie whacked her hand away.
Chrissy pulled a weird face. "Why're you so grumpy?"
"Whatever do you mean?" said Maddie, curling her lip. "The ambience of this place is fantastic."
"I'm looking forward to playing ball games in the air!" said a girl with short brown hair and a sculpted jaw.
"Hee hee! Amy - you love ball games – just like a boy!" giggled Chrissy.
"Thank you for the compliment," said Amy with a curtsey.
"Why'd you wanna be a witch, Sukie?" demanded Chrissy. "Huh? Huh?"
"Glad you asked!" said Sukie. "I want to learn about healing with magic…"
"Pssh!" said Maddie. "Hexing is a lot more interesting."
"Huh!" said the fourth girl. She had a handsome aquiline face and fluffy white blond hair. Her arms were folded and she wore a sullen expression.
"'Huh' yourself, Tia," said Maddie. "Anyway, why don't we try out the showers? So we don't have to smell each other's sweat, or the dust of the road."
Their shower room was a bare stone chamber, bigger than the dorm. The showers were cold and the soap gritty.
After she was dry, Sukie tried to get comfortable in the bed, even though the mattress was thin and the blanket was ragged. Amy and Chrissy were breathing gently. Chrissy's caffeine high had worn off then. Suddenly, Sukie became aware of someone sniffling.
"Keep it down, Tia," said Maddie. "Some of us are trying to sleep."
Sukie slipped out of bed. "Tia? What's wrong?"
Tia's face looked eerily pale in the moonlight streaming in through the windows. She glared at Sukie. Her eyes shone with tears.
"Tia…" Sukie touched her shoulder.
"Night owls are you?" grumbled Maddie.
If Maddie was going to make such a fuss, Sukie wanted to comfort Tia somewhere private. "Come…" Sukie took Tia by the hand and led her to the shower room. Tia followed her unresisting. Sukie sat her down on the wooden bench and put an arm around her shoulders. "Tell me what's wrong?"
"You know absolutely nothing," said Tia, curling her lip. "How refreshing."
"Please enlighten me," said Sukie softly. "I want to help."
"My Mum's dead," said Tia baldly.
Sukie felt her gut clench. "Oh Tia…"
"I'm utterly alone," said Tia in a hollow voice.
"Noo… I'm here," said Sukie. "If you want to talk…"
Tia turned her pale face to Sukie. Her brows had contracted. "People say she's in the ground… but I still feel her here with me."
"Go on," said Sukie softly.
Tia flicked a strand of blond hair away from her eyes. "My father's the greatest of pretenders!" she said fiercely. "It's like… It's like he's saying; 'hurry up, get happy. Move along now. Forget about your Momma!"
Tia's voice was quivering and she was breathing through her nose. Sukie gave her a one armed hug.
"I need something to believe in…" said Tia.
"The Dark Goddess will accept us," said Sukie, rubbing Tia's back. "That'll give us something to believe in."
Tia's lips twitched to form a small smile. "Mm hm."
They sat in silence.
"I'm here. For as long as you need," said Sukie.
"You at least are a brick," said Tia, glaring at Maddie's bed.
That first night seemed to go on forever, even though Sukie had her arms around Tia.
The next morning, Sukie was awakened by the sound of a gong. She sat up and blinked around. Sunlight streamed through the grimy windows.
Amy slipped out of bed. "Up and at 'em."
Chrissy groaned. "Go away. I wanna sleep."
"Serve you right for guzzling all that coffee," said Amy.
Sukie went up to Tia's bed. "Are you alright?" She was still anxious about her.
"I'm not so alone now I think," murmured Tia with a small smile.
There were five iron basins and toothbrushes. As the girls washed themselves, there was a knock at the door and a young woman came in. She had long brown hair and bright green skin. A witch, then. Her arms were full of midnight blue robes. "Heyy, rookies!" she said, grinning at them. "Put these one." She chucked a robe at each of them. The one she chucked at Maddie landed on her head. "Oh, excuse me!" said the witch. She laughed and her dimples showed.
Maddie pulled the robe off her head and scowled.
"Look lively!" Urged the witch. "And don't scowl at me like that," she added, waggling her finger at Maddie. "Am I your enemy? Ask yourself." She clapped her hands together. "I'm Wynona, and I'm a fully trained witch." She touched her tight fitting, black top. "See, I've got the T-Shirt to prove it. You're rookies, so you have to dress in blue."
"Hellooo!" said Sukie. "I'm Sukie. I'm very pleased to meet you."
Maddie rolled her eyes.
"Pleased to meet you too," said Wynona. "Welcome to Sickle Moon. Now hurry up girls, it's past time for breakfast."
Wynona led them down the dingy corridors and they trouped after her. The witch's green skin seemed to glow in the near darkness. They went down a flight of steps that ended at an old oak door. Wynona pushed it aside, revealing a hall with rickety wooden tables and chairs. Sunlight streamed through the diamond paned glass and shone off the witch's green nose and cheeks. There were girls sitting at a number of tables already.
"Do sit," urged Wynona. As the girls sat down, bowls of sludgy grey porridge appeared on the table.
Maddie wrinkled her nose. "Ugh! Is this all there is?"
"No. Not all." Wynona pushed a bowl of brightly coloured grubs towards Maddie, who gave a little cry and moved her chair back.
"What? They're slimy, but satisfying. Quite the delicacy," said Wynona.
"I'd stick with the porridge. Grey. Dull. Bland. A metaphor for my life," said Tia.
A faint frown line appeared on Wynona's smooth green brow. "Are you alright?"
"Absolutely peachy," said Tia. "You've no reason to worry about me."
Wynona blinked. She gazed at Tia for a moment, then addressed them all. "You're first class is with Cathy, girls. Don't be late."
The five of them arrived late. Cathy's classroom was big and bright, with French doors open to an expansive garden with plants that turned their leaves towards them.
Cathy was a tall, willowy witch, with long rusty brown hair. Like the other witches, she had bright green skin.
"Good morning girls," she said. She had a high, girlish voice, Sukie thought. "Please sit down."
The desks were arranged in an arc, and the quintet scrambled to sit down in five vacant seats and one end.
"So, girls," said Cathy. "Since none of you are witches yet, none of you can cast spells. But I can tell you about witchcraft. Witchcraft radiates down from Shekka, the dark goddess. Witches are women recreated in her image and filled with her power, thus able to bend the matter of this world to their will. A witch can commune with the dead, and even create life."
Sukie could see Tia listening with rapt attention. Her eyes were strangely bright. Sukie hoped Tia was OK.
"And as witches it is to keep the Revenants at bay – the restless spirits that haunt the wilderness beyond the norther border." Cathy continued. "The great bell of Sickle Moon keeps the lesser shades at bay. Witches who have honed their powers can fight the greater. To be a witch, you have to take the oath."
Sukie knew that it would be time to take the oath that evening. She felt a thrill of anticipation.
Cathy gave out little vellum scrolls bound with midnight blue ribbons. On the scrolls the oath to Shekka was written:
I dedicate myself to Shekka, Dark Moon Goddess. I let her power flow through me so that I will be transformed. In her embrace, I am reborn as her creature.
"Now the Revenants include the malevolent, and those who are just troubled," said Cathy. "One example is the Weeper. The one believed to be in constant search of her lost children."
"Do you find that funny?" said Cathy, narrowing her eyes. "I hope you don't have to face the Weeper. I'm thinking you have no tact. We all need to take this seriously. Make no mistake. The ghosts have been restless lately and any of them could show up at any time."
That evening, Sukie, Tia and Maddie waited their summons to the dark goddess.
"Where are Chrissy and Amy?" wondered Sukie.
At that moment, Chrissy and Amy came bursting in. They looked very different. They both had bright green skin and were beaming.
"You look dorky!" said Amy, poking Chrissy in the ribs.
"You're face is green as mine!" said Chrissy, sticking out her tongue. Her tongue was now very dark green, almost black. Her green skin did contrast strangely with her blond hair, but Sukie thought that it was kind of cute.
"You're both looking great," she reassured them.
"Great? They look dumb… I dunno about this," said Maddie.
"Don't chicken out now," said Amy, waggling her finger. "We're to take you to the shrine."
Maddie glowered, but made no further protest. They followed the new witches down the murky corridors and into the entrance of one of the towers. Then they went up a winding flight of stairs which ended in a heavy wooden door.
Maddie nudged Tia. "What about you? Are you chicken?"
"I'll go first," said Sukie hastily.
She pushed open the door and stepped out onto the tower top. The wind blasted her cheeks and blew her hair this way and that. The moon was shining bright as day. Sukie gazed up. The moon gazed back at her.
Sukie recited the oath:
"I dedicate myself to Shekka, Dark Moon Goddess. I let her power flow through me so that I will be transformed. In her embrace, I am reborn as her creature."
Suddenly, Sukie felt her jaws clamp shut and her arms pinned to her side. She was paralysed. Her vision became hazy and filled with green light She felt a burning sensation spread through her… her bones were on fire and her flesh was bubbling. A burning smell filled her nostrils… She was spinning round and round, caught in a maelstrom of lurid lights and agonising sensations. Swirling round and round and round…
Then she was released and she collapsed onto the stones of the tower top, gasping and sobbing. She looked at her hands. They were bright green. She pulled up her sleeves. Her arms were green. She rolled up her blue dress. So were her legs. It was hard to see, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see that the tip of her nose was green too. Her new life had begun!