Fantasy comes in many forms, simple magic to epic adventure tales. This is another of my early short stories, the original penned a little before I was introduced to J.K.Rowling’s - Harry Potter and I have to say influenced more by Roald Dahl and Terry Pratchett.
Gemma sat concentrating on the spider. She watched every movement, mentally noting every detail as the creature spun out the silken thread. She studied the detail of its construction. In the Secura language, there were a hundred and sixteen words to describe a spider’s web. Its shape, the various radial lines, the link struts, there were twelve words just to describe the thickness of the thread alone.
The Snowtops Academy was all right as far as it went, but it wasn’t the top school for learning magic. Mennchek her father was not happy about the arrangement either. However, as with the Law of Semitra she must follow in her father’s footsteps, just as boys followed their mother’s calling. In the end circumstances beyond his control had dictated putting her here. Being the daughter of a Siren gave her a natural ability to sing. Her voice was exceptional, her range of notes well over two hundred, almost the full range of two fifty-six. So she had made the best of it. At least she stayed out of trouble, and was clever enough to return acceptable scores in her exams.
Gemma staying perfectly still, continued to study the spider’s web until it was finished. She sat until the bell call for evening supper. Then she rose and made her way back to the main hall. Here within the ancient stone walls, carvings of weird and sometimes terrifying creatures surrounded you. All the young trainees remained quiet while consuming the meagre ration of thick vegetable soup and chunks of bread. Nearly every day was the same, gruel for breakfast followed by lunch with slices of apple and cheese. In the evenings, a ration of vegetable broth with chunks of bread. The only change was on the weekend. Saturday’s evening meal was complimented with a slice of cake. Sunday they were allowed to lie in. That meant a late breakfast, no lunch, and the usual evening vitals.
This was Gemma’s sixth year at Snowtops. Her final exams were in six weeks. She still hadn’t come up with an idea yet. An overly extravagant display of bravado wasn’t her style, not like Nockweed Junior, Harshnell or the Beedum twins. That was why to some extent she was studying the spider’s web. It was the network of patterns, the spider’s movements, and the order with which she carried out the task. It was examining how it was constructed, not the end result that mattered. If Gemma could only train her mind, focus on the method deployed by the spider, build her thoughts around such a theme, then that would be the real prize of the study.
In the final year of graduation, every student had to present a piece of magic. For most students, it would be just a demonstration of their main accomplishments. However, that would not do for Gemma. Prizes were given for the best from each area of magic taught at Snowtops. Then there were two other prizes. One for overall best and what was considered the runners up prize, one for the most unusual.
Gemma knew for a fact that those competing for the most unusual were almost nonexistent. By no means did that make it an easy choice. In fact it hadn’t been awarded for nearly three years passed, because no one had come up with any magic unusual enough to warrant the prize.
Now what was it going to be? She had thought hard and long, deliberating on what area of magic she should use. Three main types of magic were taught at Snowtops. The Sorcerers academy, like all registered academies in Semitra, did not teach the other sort, the dark kind. Semitra Law did not permit meddling in the occults and any decent establishment worth its weight strictly forbade any such practice.
So what options did she have? The sorcerer’s academy of Snowtops went strictly by the book. Level one was potions, healing medicines mostly. Love potions were considered a form of healing medicine as well. Then there was the punishment potions to inflict things like boils and hair loss, or maybe even excessive hair growth. Those extra studies were mostly taken up by those going to work for the government, Tax collectors, and the like. That was pretty much it, as far as formulas and getting hold of the right ingredients went. It was what was taught in the formative years.
Level two was thought suggestion or transition. Gemma quite fancied herself being able to mind control. Having a wide range of vocal tones was a great asset in that line of magic. Through the tonal use of her voice, she could call others to do her bidding or act like an animal. Some liked to believe that you could actually turn people into animals. At best, most pupils by graduation could only work their transitions for a few minutes, or a lucky few might manage it for half an hour.
Gemma had had some success at this sort of magic. Ray Kinder she’d managed to get to follow her around all day, doing her bidding. Well that wasn’t perhaps the whole truth. In fact it was Minnie Daveen that had slipped Ray a love potion. Ray, when the potion had worn off, forgave them both. It was fun though and they had all had a good laugh about it later. In fact, all three had been good friends from that day on.
Now level three was transportation. That was a different sort of magic altogether. Pupils in the first three years didn’t get to do much other than some simple levitation exercises. For many that was as far as they went. In year four and only then if you had shown some ability, they might teach you to do some small leaps. That was transport yourself from one place to another in a flash of an eyelid. Usually it only meant making it across the classroom or if outside a distance like half way down the hallows.
Now there would be a challenge. Something impressive, out of the ordinary and yet if accomplished very simple in its execution. For a sixth year student, a leap the full length of the hallows would be an achievement. Gemma checked out the school records. She was somewhat put off by the fact it had already been done by a number of students in their fifth year and even one from the forth.
In the next four weeks, Gemma read just about everything there was to read on transportation. There were suggestions that one or two of history’s most famous leapers had even made transitions in time. Now for a sixth year student such as Gemma, that would be something to die for. As Gemma read more about transportation, what did catch her eye, was that in the past Snowdrop had been the top academy for leapers. They even had a special chalice that was presented to the top leaper. A picture was shown with it in the central place of the trophies cabinet.
The cabinet stood in pride of place behind the high table of the Wizards in the main hall. It was a large cup with unusual handles shaped like dragons. Their heads peered over into the interior of the cup, almost as if they were about to sip from the contents. Gemma had never seen it before and for a moment wondered why. The text written under the picture explained it all. It had happened nearly a hundred years before. Apparently, the chalice had been cleaned ready for the end of term presentations. Then on the morning of the prize giving, it was found to be missing.
By the third week before the finals, Gemma with her stepped up training schedule could control her leaps to more than twenty paces. It had helped taking Minnie Daveen and Ray Kinder into her confidence. Both promised to keep her secret and not only gave encouragement, but they spent time looking out for her. Leaping was a hazardous process. Quite often, you ended up not quite where you expected.
Transportation studies were a continuous refinement of one’s spectral presence. In the first instant one had to balance your physical being with your spectrum. It was all a matter of making the latter absorb the first. That allowed you to project your physical within your spectral being to another location. The levitation bit was accomplished by making small changes. A typical error was not judging ground level when you arrived at the projected location.
You might leap in a straight line from point of origin to your destination. Yet somehow, the ground was never where you expected it to be. First, you had to visualise your new location. Not just its physical existence, but also its presence in the spectral plain. The second part was the most difficult and why so many students failed to master the technique. This was where Gemma had to learn about visual projection. The worst so far was Gemma’s first big leap. She reappeared twenty feet up in the air and so surprised, that if Minnie hadn’t used her own levitation spell she would have literally crashed to the ground.
The essence of transportation magic was through projection of the spectral eye. First you enabled your aura to journey forward to the required location and so form a perfect visualisation ready for the leap. This was where the study of the spider’s web spinning movements had served its purpose. Mentally building the projected visualisation in a similar way, Gemma literally spun a thread between aura and physical existence. By using this method, Gemma realised she could leap to almost anywhere that would allow her to penetrate in her aura form. It was Ray’s suggestion to add a twist to what she had been planning. It was after the evening meal and the three of them were just leaving the great hall.
“When you do your leap you should add something extra like a change of clothes. You know do a rainbow effect. That would catch old Wizard Lockweed and Miss Taretneaths attention.”
That got Gemma thinking; perhaps she should do something to spice up her simple demonstration of transportation. The rainbow clothes effect was a good idea, a theatrical twist that might help. Then a further idea came to her that was perhaps risky to even contemplate. There again, whatever she did would have to be special if she intended to win the prize of most unusual magical innovation.
The great day arrived and Gemma waited for her turn to be called. Each of the six formers went and performed their final piece before the assembled school. The twelve senior lecturers who would judge the magic, sat six on either side of the great chair. It was where Old Wizard Lockweed sat with his wrinkled face drawn into an almost permanent frown. As Gemma recalled, it was the only look he ever seemed to wear.
Those opting for potions went first, as expected they all gave good solid demonstrations of their knowledge. The best was by Tommy Treadle and Daisy Noaks. They had everyone in fits. The unfortunate first year volunteers, on taking their potions had suddenly sprouted hair growth at an alarming rate. Then they ran around the high table platform shouting out in high-pitched squeaks. It lasted longer than any of the other potions. In the end, matron took the two unfortunates to recover in the infirmary.
The mental powers of students presenting their transition demonstrations were in the main generally unimpressive. There was Simon Hagglers, who had managed to memorise the entire three hundred and sixty-four volumes of Semitra’s ancient and modern fish laws. He at least used thought projection to send some scary looking creatures swimming through the air of the main hall. One or two first years actually tried to attack them. That at least brought some humorous moments. Miss Taretneaths had to intervene and bring order among the students.
Of those who had chosen levitation and transportation there was only a few, one being Martin Hoblangly. It was said he came from a rich family. The only reason for being at Snowtops, was because he’d been expelled from Sundawen, the top most rated academy in the country. Anybody who had the misfortune to get on his wrong side immediately felt the outpourings of his talent to make mischief. No one liked him and those he made to do his bidding, did it out of fear rather than out of any respect.
The presentations were nearly over just two of them left, Gemma and Hoblangly. Standing ready, old Lockweed gave Hoblangly the nod. As he went forward to give his performance, he gave Gemma a wicked looking smile. Swirling his cloak about him he started with a slow levitation, which took him to six or seven feet above the floor. Then he simply disappeared. In the next instant, he reappeared at the far end of the hall his clothes having changed from the sombre school uniform to a dazzling suit embedded with all the colours of the rainbow. He wore a smirking great smile as he walked the last few feet back to the wizard’s rostrum. Everybody, well almost everybody was clapping wildly.
Gemma felt weak at the knees. She glanced across at Minnie Daveen and Ray Kinder, they both looked as surprised as she was. Ray even shrugged his shoulders and held out his hands in a gesture that emphasised his utter disbelief. How had Martin Hoblangly managed to come up with an almost identical scenario to Gemma’s.
Martin Hoblangly standing next to Gemma whispered out the corner of his mouth. ‘Beat that if you can shrimp.’
In academy circles, calling someone a shrimp was the equivalent to calling them a simpleton. Gemma was fuming; no one was going to get away with that. Taking her place, all sorts of thoughts were going through her head. Martin Hoblangly was right of course, how could she top his performance. In her own version, she had a least added one extra element, but she doubted whether it would be enough.
When one made a transfer there was always that slight moment in time between disappearing and reappearing. It was due to the temporal shift between the real world and the astral plain. Now the essence of her own plan had included two transportations. The first was a leap behind the chair of Wizard Lockweed. Then by hiding for several seconds, she would delay her reappearance. The second jump was to reappear much as Hoblangly had with a change of costume. Not perhaps as grand as Hoblangly’s, but with a similar twist. But now she felt angry, unbelievably angry. Well she didn’t have much choice now did she, there wasn’t much she could do after all the hard work and preparation. At least her delayed reappearance might make it worthy of comment.
Taking a deep breath, Gemma started to back down the main isle of the great hall. She looked across and caught Minnie Daveen’s expression. She was obviously wondering as to what Gemma was doing. This certainly wasn’t part of what they had rehearsed. Gemma continued to move backwards until she sensed the main doors were only a few feet behind her. All the school turned and watched. Half the pupils were of the opinion that she was about to do a runner. Taking a last glance around the hall, Gemma closed her eyes. She concentrated on the area behind Wizard Lockweed’s chair and the space in front of the trophy cabinet. The spectral vision of herself crouching behind the chair started to form. Then in the next instant, she made the jump and disappeared. Among those in the hall, some had already decided Gemma had done a runner. Then as the seconds began to tick by and she didn’t reappear, they started to convince others.
Gemma thought the transition had gone on for a lot longer than she normally experienced. She half opened her eyes to take a squint. At least she had made the leap successfully. Being back in the real world she started to relax, then it dawned on her it was far too quiet. She strained her ears in trying to listen. This was not what she had expected. Opening her eyes and turning her head she leant sideways to risk a peep around the side of the chair. The hall was empty, yet how could that be? She quickly slunk back behind the chair. As she did so, her vision was filled with the big bulk of the trophy cabinet. What she saw next, made her eyes nearly pop out of her head.
Back in the hall it had started to become very noisy. After the disappearance of Gemma Thorbane, heads had twisted and turned with the accompanying raised voices. Some were convinced she had simply slipped out of the hall, while others were trying to guess where Gemma’s reappearance might come. Wizard Lookweed stood up and waved his hand to silence them all. The noise in the room quickly abated to the point where you could have heard a pin drop. Wizard Lockweed was standing looking out across their faces, all attention was on him. It was at this precise moment that Gemma reappeared right in front of him.
Minnie Daveen and Ray Kinder were aghast. Gemma hadn’t done the switch and still remained in her school uniform. However at that point Wizard Lockweed smiled, which was most unexpected. There was a look of puzzled amazement across the faces of the whole school. Very few and none of the present students had ever seen Wizard Lockweed smile. Could it mean that Gemma had possibly pulled it off? Perhaps the delay in time between disappearing and reappearing had done the trick. Minnie and Ray started clapping their hands, one or two others followed suit.
The one not showing his appreciation and positively fuming was Martin Hoblangly. He was on the point of making an objection, when Gemma’s next action forestalled any doubt that she should have the prize. Folding back her cloak, there tucked beneath her arm, a hundred years from the day of its sudden disappearance was Snowtops most coveted prize. It was the chalice with its unusual dragon shaped handles. As Gemma held it up it looked as if they were sipping from its hidden contents. However, it was Gemma who was now sipping from the cup, the cup of success. The whole school were suddenly on their feet and clapping wildly.
Wizard Lockweed declared Gemma Thorbane the winner. But not only was she awarded the best student and the one with the most unusual magic, but also the winner of the Dragons Cup, the Leapers Cup, the first student in all the history of Snowtops to have won all three major prizes. To a thunderous and rapturous applause Gemma made her thanks.
It was later, much later, when she finally had a few moments to herself that she remembered the name of the previous most famous leaper of all time, Rodal Thorbane.