A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Unpacking Your Life"
A book asking for your blood? Now you’re curious, and this stupid thing cost you two hundred and twenty-five bucks. You can afford it, but that’s hardly the point.
Rummaging through your things, you pull out the small sewing kit you brought with you and, back turned to Tammy-Lynn in case she’s watching, prod yourself in the thumb. You wince as a small pool of blood rises into a bubble, dark and shiny in the dim light, then begins to dribble down. You give a moment’s hesitation, then press your bloody print onto the page filled with Latin. It holds fast there for a moment, stuck. And then, to your horror and surprise, as you pull your thumb away the page comes loose. Beneath is yet more incomprehensible Latin, set around a diagram of a beautiful Venetian mask.
You don’t know how you’re going to translate it, but one thing’s clear in your mind: there’s no way you’re returning this book.
“Hey JM,” Sean Ince says as he slides up to you in chapel. It’s Monday, 1 September, the first day of term, and the chapel is mostly empty while the lower forms go through orientations of what is expected of them. As such, only the fifth and sixth forms are present, all dressed in your neat green and gold trim uniforms. “Buy any good books recently? Anything you’d recommend?”
You roll your eyes. Tammy-Lynn really didn’t waste any time, did she? “Yeah,” you reply, “I bought your book, How To Be A Virgin. Can you sign it for me?”
“Why would you buy a book called that?” he asks, bursting out in peals of laughter as he watches your face fall.
Your morning is an easy affair, with most of the classes really establishing the agenda for the coming semester. It’s not until lunch that you have a chance to really delve into the book’s mysteries – and you know just the trio to help. The building out back, set aside for private study and computer work, is called The Stables. As it’s the first day back no one really has any homework, but you still expect the nerdier elements of the school to congregate there. And, sure enough, occupying a table are three of the biggest dorks you know, a box filled with a book and old computer discs open in front of them.
Some kids are cool. Some try to be. And some just never even bother. Aiden Nichols, Niamh Stirland and Mariah Alloway are in the latter camp. Only Aiden is a boarder; Niamh and Mariah are locals – although unlike the charity cases paid for by the local church, Niamh is on a scholarship and Mariah’s parents pay full tuition.
“’Sup guys,” you say, giving a slight wave and walking over.
“Hey yourself,” Niamh says, with her fake-ass Irish lilt. She’s had a haircut over the summer, shorn her lock blonde locks into a pixie crop, and you can’t help but think how awful it looks. She’s blatantly trying to copy Roxanne Hurley, one of the cooler kids, but while Roxanne is a natural beauty who gives the cut a punk vibe, Niamh just looks like an office worker.
“Good summer?” You keep the question open to all three.
“Oh yeah,” Mariah says. “So much going on. The county fair was a hoot. There was a hay ride and everything. Where’d you go, the Bahamas?”
“No, I just stayed at home, mostly.” There’s no point telling Mariah Alloway that ‘home’ is a sprawling mansion in Pebble Beach and you spent every morning paddling out past sealions. “What you got there?”
Niamh answers. “A very old computer game. Starcraft. Comes with a manual as thick as your arm and filled with lore.”
“Well, I’ve got a manual of sorts, too. I was wondering if you’d take a look, tell me what it’s about.”
“Is this the legendary prop book that Tammy-Lynn was harping on about?” Aiden says, noting your face fall into a tired scowl. “Oh, we’ve heard. Everybody’s heard. Where’d you get it, some flea market back west?”
“No,” you grunt defensively. “I picked it up in town at some bookstore. Huge place, owner was kind of an asshole.”
“Arnholm’s?” Mariah says, suddenly interested. “Huh. That place is full of interesting stuff. The owners are kind of jackasses, but I’ve never heard of them knowingly cheating someone with a fake book, and their prices are always about fair. Slide it over.”
You set the book in front of them, flicking through to the open page, the illustration drawing an appreciative murmur. “It’s only three pages, the rest of them seem bonded shut. But I think it’s Latin.”
“It is,” Aiden says, taking charge almost immediately and dragging the book into his vision. “Really bad Latin, though. I think… this is like… some kind of… alchemy textbook?”
“Definitely,” Niamh says. She points to a picture of a wheel that takes up the bottom half of the page. Intricate symbols, like a cross of algebra, Arabic, and Chinese, are written in an elegant script around the inside of the rim. "This symbol is intense, too. Pretty rad.”
“More like it’s some kind of hard math problem using geometric distribution,” Mariah chips in. “And look, calx… as in calculus, to calculate, right?”
Aiden furrows his brow and gives her a look. “Calculus means ‘pebble’, dumbass. It’s talking about some kind of stone.” He and Niamh take charge, hunched over the book with fascination, their old-ass game manual forgotten for a moment.
“So, what does it say?”
“Honestly?” Niamh says, looking at Aiden briefly. “Not a clue.”
“Nor I,” Aiden says. “I think it’s an alchemy recipe. But for what… something to do with a face? It’s incredibly sloppy Latin. It’s almost like the owner was trying to be a pretentious ass and wrote it in a foreign language to get laid.”
“Because all those alchemist groupies love pig Latin, huh?” Mariah interjects, twisting herself to look up at Aiden with a grin. “Talk Roman to me, big boy.”
“Alright,” you say. “So, it’s some kind of, what, a spell book? Lead into gold, that sort of stuff?”
“No,” Aiden says. “Alchemy wasn’t like that. Sure, there were wizards like John Dee, but most alchemists were scientists: chemists, physicists and biologists. They were trying to make sense of the world they could perceive, and it looks like spells. Plus a bunch of them wrote mystic mumbo-jumbo to keep their secrets obscure, prevent rivals from copying them.” You take a step forward to reclaim the book, only for Aiden to gently tug it away. “Let us work on it a bit? We’re not going to have any homework assignments proper for a week or so, we should have a translation by then.”
You think about it for a moment. The book is way too valuable to simply hand over to anyone, and you’re a little embarrassed you tried some kind of blood ritual last night – you chalk that one up to jet lag. But if you’re going to trust anyone in this school with something, it’s Aiden and Niamh. The two are probably the most honest kids in your year.
“Kay,” you say. “Just let me have it back when you’re done.”
You watch as the trio seem to perk up with hardcore nerd energy. “This is gonna be so sweet!” Mariah exclaims, hopping up animatedly. “For science!”
You forget about the book for the next few days, lost in the repetitive rituals of the St Francis Xavier school. Then, on Wednesday, whole girls’ wing is subjected to a 10pm ‘surprise dorm inspection’ by a furious, wild-eyed Abigail Steiner with an apologetic Kate Gross in tow. You breathe a sigh of relief as Kate just checks you’ve made your bed and organized your personal items, then takes only the briefest glimpse inside your footlocker, apologizing for your time. Any room with an Adams girl, however, gets tossed by Hurricane Abi, with bedding thrown and drawers ransacked in search of contraband. You watch from your open door as she rushes past, eyes wild and nostrils flaring in a state of near-psychosis, sweating and jittery, looking for another victim.
“What the hell is this about?” you ask Tammy-Lynn, knowing she’s going to be fully plugged in.
“Tennis,” she replies. “You’re not going to believe it, but for the first time in, well, ever, the school got knocked out in the county qualifying round. Abi won her game convincingly, but Tom Darke lost a tie break and Hope O’Malley goofed up her match real bad. And you know how Abi doesn’t like to lose at anything.”
Great, you think. Abi’s going to be like this for the next few days at least. I just hope it doesn’t put paid to our planned ‘welcome back’ party on Saturday night.
It’s not until Thursday that Aiden approaches you in the corridor of Founders Hall, while you’re getting a coffee during a break in your study session with Mary and Corinne. Waving the book, he gives you a delighted grin.
“It’s an alchemical recipe,” he says, excitedly. “A weird one, that uses a metal bowl and a convex mirror, but it’s pretty straightforward to do. Ice cubes, quicklime, some other stuff. We can snag it all from the chemistry department. I’m thinking we try it tomorrow? Niamh and Mariah say they can hang back for an hour or so, and I’m sure you know somewhere we could work?”
Although Abi is now back into her good-girl routine during classes, you know she’s still smarting from the school’s tennis defeat. If she catches you, Aiden, Niamh and Mariah doing anything even remotely out of the ordinary, she’s going to come down on you all hard.
But you want to know what the book is actually about. And this is the perfect chance to find out…
Next: "A Little Magic Trick"