“Mmmrassmfrasm—no don’t put it in there I swear I’ll be good…”
My head jerks off the desk. “WHATTHEHOOZIS!”
My eyes lock onto Mr. Dinglebat, my Occult History professor, who’s got both hands placed firmly on his hips. Above his impeccably maintained beard and mustache (both the color of driven snow) his caterpillar eyebrows beetle together.
“Here at Avalon Academy, we do not tolerate wizards-in-training SLEEPING—” He raps the head of his cane on the surface of my desk. “—IN—” Another rap, but louder. “—CLASS!” This last rap is loudest, and it’s followed by a hushed silence, the same kind that occurs after an unexpectedly hostile outburst.
“Um…I’m sorry, professor.” I rub the back of my neck and look sideways. “I was just—”
“Are these notes? What are you drawing in here?” He snatches my notebook off my desk and flips through it, his expression turning from angry to exasperated. He flips the notebook disgustedly at me, and I catch it against my chest. “Young man, drawing robot genitalia is NOT conducive to learning incantations. See me after class.”
Girls begin giggling, boys start braying, and my face turns bright red. I mutter under my breath, “I’ll show you what’s ‘conducive.’ ” Then I start drawing another robot cock in my notebook just to spite this crusty old codger.
He’s made it halfway back to the chalkboard when he stiffens in place and looks over his shoulder, cocking one bushy eyebrow at me.
“WHAT did you say?”
“Nothing,” I mutter.
“Good, that’s what I thought.”
The rest of class passes in a slow crawl, and after the students filter out, it’s just me and Dinglebat. He licks his index finger and pages through a voluminous grimoire, muttering and murmuring under his breath. Eventually he glares at me over the brims of his spectacles, tenting his fingers while propping his elbows onto his desk.
“I don’t think you’re Avalon material, Mr. Wayne.”
I blow out an almost-raspberry through my lips. “I don’t think you’re fit to be walking around without a colostomy bag.”
He gives me a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Very clever, Mr. Wayne. Here’s what I propose: a battle of magicks. If I win, you leave Avalon immediately. If YOU win, I’ll give you an ‘A’ in this class…whether you show up or not.”
My eyes search the ceiling as I consider his offer. Then they lock back onto his. “You’re the Dean of Occult studies; there are three other classes you could give me an ‘A’ in if you decided to exert your influence. Not only do I want ‘A’s in those other classes, I also want to teach my own.”
His brow wrinkles in confusion. “Your own class?”
I nod. “Mechanized psychogenics.”
He still looks puzzled. I can see that he doesn’t want to admit that he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I sigh and say, “Robotic instantiations. I want to teach students how to create—”
“A mix of magic and mecha.” He waves a dismissive hand. “Yes, yes—you have potential, Mr. Wayne, but I fail to see why you persist in these asinine pursuits.”
“I could say the same for you, professor.”
A red flush creeps up his withered turkey-neck, but his voice remains calm as he says, “I’ll see you in the Mindscape.”
His yellowed fingernail traces a glowing sigil, and then he whistles a haunting melody. Three blue-glimmered notes dance from his lips, then webs of light creep out from them, enveloping the room in psychic mycelium. An instant later I’m standing on a floating silver disc, suspended in a world of rainbow haze. A dozen yards to my front, I see Dinglebat standing on a similar-looking disc, only his looks to be made from that stout, ultra-serious wood that always seems to coat the insides of lawyers’ offices.
He grins his malicious old man grin. “Shall we begin?”
“Your move, professor.”
His toothy grin widens. “Very well.”
He extends his right arm down to his side. A series of crimson darts appears in his palm. He flings them at me, and as they fly at my face, they carve glowing contrails into the aether. I bat them away with a flap of my hand.
“Syllogisms?” I snort. “I figured you would come up with something a little more advanced.”
“Oh it’s coming, impudent child. I figured I’d start with the basics, as you’re rather basic yourself.”
“How droll. Eat my ass.”
And then it begins in earnest: we duel with ever-more complicated logic, working our way through idemopotencies, conjunctions, commutations…they manifest as bladed weapons and emblazoned shields. This is just the warmup. Once we’re done with the basics, we clash with increasing complexity; weaponizing premises, axioms, and then entire philosophies. The Mindscape transforms into a blur of fast-moving halos as our environment responds to our psychic exertions. As time passes, it’s clear he’s gaining the upper hand. He throws the very essence of ruthlessness and comparison at me, and in short order, I’m pinned on my back. Now he’s hovering above me, weighing me down with an immensity of evidence that threatens to unravel my psyche.
As sweat pours from my brow (this is the Mindscape, so the moisture is only symbolic, although it still feels real), the shadows gather on his face, elongating it into something that looks like a cross between the Joker and a demon. Hellish blazes light in his pupils, and the flesh begins flying off his cheeks in a flutter of parchment-like skin, revealing a horrific set of chittering mandibles underneath. There seem to be thousands of them, and they eagerly clack together underneath a set of eyes that would look right at home on a giant praying mantis.
“You’re finished, Kent,” he buzzes, then rips into my torso with jagged black fingers tipped with wicked talons. I scream in agony as my stomach splits apart into two widened flaps of flesh.
“What the—” Puzzlement infuses his insectile voice as he reaches in to my body. Instead of blood and entrails, there’s nothing but empty space. He rummages through my torso and withdraws a 3-D emoji heart.
I lock my gaze with his, and see my smile reflected in hundreds of insect-eyed facets. “Gotcha.”
He stumbles back. “What is this? What did you put inside you?”
The rest of the items tumble out from my belly-cavity: a laugh/cry emoji head, a book, and a crystal ball that holds swirling galaxies within its confines.
“The very foundations of reality. You’re holding love—”
The heart in his hand pours out wild geysers of radiance that blast through the aether, saturating our surroundings with blazing color. He stumbles back, his form shrinking and turning human once again.
I pick up the laugh/cry emoji head and chuck it toward him. It bursts open into a shining, fluxing mist that resonates with an echoing infinity of jokes and guffaws.
He begins screaming, flailing at the gleaming fog that envelops his body.
Next I throw the crystal ball at him, and it shatters on his disc, blowing open into a storm of black holes, nebulae, quasars, and an infinite expanse of star-spotted black.
Dinglebat is wailing piteously now, looking wildly from side to side and shielding his face from a massive onslaught of incomprehensible energies.
I reach down and open the book.
“And this is Echo.” Magic flash.
Suddenly we’re back in Dinglebat’s classroom.
I’m smiling wide. He’s blinking and flinching, still unsure of where he is.
“Professor Dinglebat. I trust that our conflict is settled? I’ve earned my ‘A’s and I’m free to teach what I want?”
He clears his throat and gets up, hurriedly stuffing his teaching instruments into a well-worn carry-sack. “Yes, yes,” he mutters. “Do what you will, Kent. You may teach whatever material you wish.”
He bolts out the door, refusing to look at me.
I close my eyes, rest the back of my head against my interlaced hands, and prop my feet up on his desk.
Giant robots here I come!
Are you stuck in a sorcerer’s academy and at the mercy of a codgery old fart? Never fear! Get Echo Vol. 1 on Kindle here: Vol. 1 on Kindle. Vol. 2 on Kindle here: Vol.2 on Kindle Vol. 3 on Kindle here: Vol. 3 on Kindle #kindle #kindleunlimited #sciencefiction #scifi #books #novel #book