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Story Time: Keepaway

Enjoy some cathartic violence towards the concept of academic snobbery!


Zara couldn’t help but feel some satisfaction at the jingle of coins in the heavy bag she laid on the Headmaster’s desk. Not that she let it show.

The Headmaster regarded the bag carefully with her beady blue eyes. “You understand, of course, that we don’t just accept any student who has the money. There are standards. Protocol to be observed.”

“The charter of your circle says that you’ll admit any student if they can meet the tuition cost and show magical aptitude,” Zara said. She’d read the charter. Best to be prepared.

“And your magical aptitude?” The Headmaster said with barely hidden disdain.

By habit, Zara took a slow breath in and out, and held out a hand. A small, carefully controlled flame flickered to life above her palm, a bright sweet thing.

The Headmaster frowned. “Put that out at once. We do not deal in wild magic here, young woman.”

Zara closed her fingers around the flame, extinguishing it. That, too, she knew. “So that doesn’t constitute magical aptitude?”

The Headmaster pressed her lips together, and then leaned back in her chair, fingers steepled. Zara did not back down from her gaze.

“You do realize,” the Headmaster said eventually, “that you are older than most of our first-year students. In maturity if not actual years.”

“Yes,” Zara said brightly. “And I’m much more of a demon as well.”

The Headmaster’s eyebrows jumped up in surprise, but not disapproval. “You will not be well liked by your peers.”

“Nothing new for me.” This was all pageantry now. She’d already won.

“Very well.” The Headmaster took the heavy bag of coins from in front of Zara and replaced it with one of the largest books she had ever seen. “Sign the last blank page, please. With the date.”

Zara opened the book carefully, moving pages in chunks until she spotted one that was blank and then back-tracking until she found the list of names, all lined up three columns to a page. The pages felt thicker than normal paper, but somehow still fragile. She accepted the quill offered by the Headmaster and wrote the date, and then Zara.

And hesitated.

“No surname?” The Headmaster asked.

Zara gritted her teeth. “No.”

“You’re not the first.” The Headmaster accepted the quill back. “Welcome to the Circle of the Greenish Fire.”

Zara glanced up at the crest hanging on the wall behind the Headmaster. “It’s more sort of aquamarine, isn’t it?”

“Assuming you can refrain from using wild magic,” the Headmaster said, replacing her quill in its inkwell and closing the book, “I think you’ll do well here.”


It was like school again, Zara thought, gathering her things from her desk. Which was a little infuriating, now that she was a full grown woman, but at least it was just whispered gossip and dirty looks. Nobody had tried to bully her, and they’d be sorry if they did.

Her next class was called Philosophy of Evocation, which had made her laugh when she’d first read it, but turned out not to be a joke. She rolled her eyes as she left the classroom and turned into the hall. These wizards were all so pretentious. At least they were teaching her magic.

“Please, give it back!”

Zara raised an eyebrow. That sounded familiar. She turned another corner.

Two members—students who’d been here for two years at least, but were not yet masters, Zara had learned—were playing keepaway with a book, one of the heavy textbooks they used in Philosophy of Evocation. Between them was a raggedy teenage human in peasant’s clothes and a wizard hat that was definitely homemade, wringing his hands.

“What’s wrong, Meltyre?” taunted one of the members, a willowy elf, flipping through the book casually before tossing it back to her counterpart. “Can’t you just buy another one?”

“You know I can’t,” Meltyre said, the picture of despair. “Please, if I don’t have it for my next class, Professor Althette—”

“What, he’ll mock you again?” said the other tormentor, a human who exuded my daddy has money. He flipped the book in his hands, preparing to toss it back. “Won’t he do that anyway?”


Zara spoke before she considered the consequences of doing so. Dammit, that was foolish. She wasn’t supposed to get involved here!

The bullies turned to look at her. Sure, get an eyeful, she thought.

“What are you supposed to be?” demanded the rich boy human.

“Haven’t you heard about our new classmate?” the elf said with relish. “Pleased to meet you.”

“If only it was mutual,” Zara said acidicly. “Give the kid his book back.”

“Oho!” the rich boy chuckled, and tossed the book back to the elf. Meltyre flailed in vain to catch it.

“And why should we do that?” the elf sneered.

“You gonna make us?” the rich boy said. “If what I’ve heard is true, you’ve got some wild magic up your sleeve.”

“Too bad doing magic in the hall will get you tossed out of the circle,” the elf said, spinning the book in her hand. “Much less doing sorcery.”

Zara advanced on the rich boy, who was closest. “Is that so?”

He crossed his arms smugly. “So what are you going to do?”

Zara smiled brightly.

And backhanded him hard enough to leave him spinning.

Zara didn’t wait for him to hit the floor before going for the elf.

“Woah, hang on—” she said, holding up her hands and dropping the book.

Zara sucker punched her throat, and she dropped.

As the rich boy groaned and the elf coughed, Zara picked up the book and handed it off to Meltyre. “Here.”

He took it with reverence. “Um. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said, and walked away. Please, don’t mention it.

“Wait, hey,” Meltyre said, scrambling to follow her. “You’re new, right? Is there anything I can do to repay you or—”

“You can leave me alone,” Zara snapped.

“Oh.” He kept pace with her. “But—”

“Look, kid, I didn’t come here to make friends,” she said, refusing to look at him.

“Well yeah, neither did I, but I could use one anyway.”

“I’ll say.” She stopped, and he almost ran headlong into her. She rolled her eyes. “You know I’m at least ten years older than you, right?”

“I’m gonna be honest, that’s kind of a perk,” Meltyre said, looking embarrassed.

Zara scowled at him. He reminded her of…of Larkin, a little, except more of a mess. But also, maybe, more of a spine.

Gods, you didn’t just ignore vulnerable people who needed help. Even if it was annoying. She sighed. “You can walk with me to class if it’ll keep those idiots from bothering you. But we’re not friends.”

“Deal,” Meltyre said, and started walking. Zara kept up with him. “And,” he added, “if you want to know anything about the circle, people assume I’m deaf or stupid, so I know everything.”

Zara conceded to herself that this might be useful.

“You’re a sorcerer?” he asked.

“No,” Zara said sharply.

“Well—good, cuz they’re right, that will get you kicked out.”

“How about you mind your own business?” Zara said, glancing over her shoulder to make sure those book-tossing bullies weren’t following them. They weren’t; good.

Not that she cared.

Published inStory Time