“I hate him so much, Kat.”
“Oh my holy fuck,” Kat sighed with exasperation. “Let it go.” She flopped backwards in the grass and stared angrily at the clouds. She squinted and one of them dissipated with a satisfying ‘pop’. Next to her, Mark fumed over the sheet in his hand. He was staring at his name, halfway down the page. Just above it was the name of the offender.
“I can’t let it go, Kat!” Mark Rose said through gritted teeth. “He beat me! Again!” He waved the piece of paper as if it would make a difference, as if shaking it enough could scramble the words into an order he’d be more satisfied with. Kat groaned.
“That’s just one class, Mark. Don’t be an asshole. Besides, you beat him in Calculus and Abjuration,” she said, remembering only because Mark hadn’t shut up about it for a week after his results had come in.
“Yeah, but he had a higher score in Evocation, and everyone knows that’s the most important school they teach here, anyway,” Mark grumbled, but her attempts at soothing his ego had worked. A little bit.
“Coolest, you mean. Just because you don’t throw fireballs as well… besides, that makes you tied, doesn’t it?”
Mark shook his head. “He was higher on Transfiguration.”
“Who even cares, Mark? There’s five hundred students in our class and half of them are better than you. Why are you so obsessed with this Roland character?”
“Because!” Mark lashed out, and then sighed, mumbling a sorry. Kat knew he got upset about Roland easily, but she wasn’t going to let him get away with verbally abusing her. “Because,” he said, calmer this time, “he’s a rich boy who’s only lucky to get as far as he has because of his dad’s money. I’ve had to work harder than him my entire life. He shouldn’t get to coast like he does.”
“And,” Kat added, clearly angling for an honorary psych degree, “if you beat him, you prove you’re good enough despite your lack of money?”
“Shut up, Kat,” Mark said, but his tone made her smile. She’d gotten through his defenses. He was honestly a good friend, when he wasn’t obsessing over his classmate.
“If I recall correctly,” Kat said, pressing on, “you had the same score on Transfiguration, didn’t you?”
“Well,” Mark said, “sort of.”
“What do you mean, sort of? Either you did or you didn’t.” Kat propped herself up on her elbows and looked at Mark, who fished a different paper out of his back and handed it to her.
“We got the same score, but he’s ranked higher,” Mark said, pointing out the spot.
“That’s because it’s first alphabetically, dumbass. Let it go,” she said, but he wasn’t listening.
“I wonder if I could change my last name,” he said. “It’d be definitive proof I’m the better warlock.”
“I literally don’t have words for how stupid of an idea that is,” Kat said, executing a perfect facepalm. “Why don’t you challenge him to a duel? Last man standing is the best, and if he kills you, I don’t have to listen to you whine anymore,” she joked.
“That’s a great idea!” Mark said, perking up.
He jumped up and slung his backpack over his shoulder. “I’m going to go find him right now!”
“Mark, please.” Kat was trying to get up fast enough to stop him, maybe tackle her dumbass friend to the ground to get him to keep from getting his head blown off, but he was already on his feet and running away.
“Thanks, Kat!” Mark yelled over his shoulder as he ran towards the campus building. Kat finally got up and with a resigned, frustrated groan, she grabbed her own bag and followed him in the same direction. With any luck, he’d be a pink stain on the atrium floor before she got there. She wasn’t in the mood to defend her dumbass of a best friend. It was Friday. She wanted to go home and watch television.
She made her way to the main faculty building, partly because that seemed to be the most likely place where she’d find Mark, but mostly because she was still half a mile away and she could swear she already heard yelling. Boy howdy, Mark was an exhausting friend. But he’d been there for her when she needed it, so the least she could do was scoop up his remains and hand them to his family in a bucket if this all went sideways.
A small crowd had gathered around the yelling figures. She already recognized one of the voices, much as she wished she didn’t, and she assumed the other one was Roland. They were yelling the way only teenage boys can; that is to say that they both tried to sound intimidating while having shrill, cracking voices. It was awful. She pushed her way through the crowd and found herself at the front of the ring of people surrounding Roland and Mark.
“You’re a second-rate Warlock, Rose, and you’re just jealous because I’m better than you.” Roland sounded snobby, but the fact that he was shaking betrayed that he was upset, more than anything. Roland was a head taller than Mark, who didn’t exactly stand very tall at a ‘meagre’ -- compared to Roland, anyway -- five foot and eight inches. Roland also had a chiseled jaw, piercing blue eyes and short, greyish-blonde hair that looked tactically disheveled. He was, Kat had to admit, handsome, if on the lanky side, the way only teenagers managed to be. He looked like he’d one day be athletic and beautiful, but right now he moved like he was all elbows and knees.
Mark, by comparison, was positively frumpled. His clothing was second-hand, compared to Roland’s brand clothing, and he had a light stubble on his chin that made his pale skin look even grayer. His brown eyes and brown hair made him look positively unremarkable and, while she couldn’t be sure, Kat assumed there was an element of envy to Mark’s dislike of Roland. “The only reason you’re higher than me on Transfiguration is because of your last name!” Mark said angrily. “You were born with everything, and you just take it all for granted! Even your name helps you out!”
“Shut up! I work just as hard as the rest of you! Do you think I like the way -- where -- who I was born as? Fuck you!” Roland’s voice kept breaking and Kat wondered if he was going to cry. Mark didn’t seem to notice, however, because he was just as upset.
“Then -- Then --” Mark stammered, and fished his tome out of his backpack. The crowd around them gasped. The Grimoire was unique to each student, the culmination of their studies, and the most powerful focus any of them would ever have. It was not to be wielded lightly. “I challenge you, Roland! I’ll prove to you that I’m better!” He waved his Grimoire around. It was a small but thick tome, bound in dark leather with only a few sigils on it. It wasn’t going to ward off any demons any time soon, but it was clearly used well. For all his bluster, Mark did study hard, even if he wasn’t, yknow, good.
Roland stood there shaking for a second and Kat was now certain he was on the verge of tears. But he mirrored Mark’s display and produced his own Grimoire. It was a beautiful red book, inscribed with gold lettering, the best money could buy. He’d probably received it as a gift from his parents. “Fine. I get to choose the school of magic.” Hoo boy, Kat thought. Here we go. Kat assumed that Roland would pick Evocation and then pelt Mark with fireballs until either one of the teachers intervened, or Mark could be served Well Done. “I choose… Transfiguration!” Roland shouted. Huh. “I’ll prove to you that I can defeat you in a duel, Mark Rose, and then you’ll know it’s not just my name that got me this far!”
“Deal!” Mark opened his grimoire to a page. On it were scrawled the infernal and arcane symbols that had, for Mark, worked best to transfigure reality. They would be useless to anyone else. “What are we transfiguring?” He sounded like he was trying to figure out what they were actually going to do while still sounding angry and combative.
“We --” Ronald paused, thinking. “We transfigure… each other!”
“In… in a shape that means you can still talk, and you can still attend class! Whoever can keep up the spell the longest is the better warlock! And the first to ask to be changed back,” Roland grinned, ”automatically forfeits.”
Mark glowered at Roland. Kat knew he was suppressing a smile. He wasn’t great at deeply complex changing magic, but he knew he had great magical stamina. Whatever Roland threw at him, Kat knew that Mark was sure he could endure it longer than Roland could keep up the spell, and that he could keep up the spell longer than his rival could withstand the horror he’d be turned into.
“Ready?” Mark said. “Before the teachers get here!”
“You’re bluffing, Mark. I’m going to prove once and for all that you’re all talk.”
Both of them started incanting, quickly, their tomes glowing as they activated the magic sigils on the pages, the words almost visible in the air as they changed reality to suit their whims. Both, Kat knew, would probably turn the other into the most heinous thing they could think of, and they’d both probably be punished for causing a ruckus on campus. But there were no actual rules against using non-lethal magic on another person if they consented, so the teachers wouldn’t be able to force them to turn back.
Mark was the first to finish his spell and stretched out his arm, a little awkwardly, at Roland, and the magic, a beam of reds and purples, flickering and flashing, flowed through him and into his opponent. Just as it hit, Roland did the same thing and a beam of blues and greens flowed directly back into Mark. Both of them made noises that sounded like they were trying not to scream out, like they were trying to keep their cool, both in front of each other and in front of the gathered crowd.
This, Kat thought, was probably better than the alternative. Combat duels, contrary to transfiguration magic, were expressly prohibited on campus because of the damage they could do. Students were known to blow themselves up in their dorm rooms and because of this, most campus buildings had wards against Evocation and similarly destructive schools of magic. But Transfiguration was, all things considered, mostly harmless. It turned thing A into thing B and required a constant stream of magic to keep the thing in that state. When the Warlock turned off the stream of magic, it would, like an elastic band, snap back into shape A. Occasionally, things would stay in shape B, but, Kat remembered, that applied only to inorganic material, so she wasn't worried. Worst case scenario, she figured, she’d have to carry around her friend as a talking tree frog or something for a month. And his books, she realized, and sighed. She hoped Roland would have a measure of mercy. Maybe the worst thing he could think of turning Mark into would have hands. That would be ideal.
The magic exploded and threw both of the teenagers backwards in a cloud of red and blue smoke. It was easy enough for Kat to figure out where Mark had landed, all she had to do was follow the trail of magical vapour in the air that indicated his trajectory. It was almost comical how far they’d both flown, and she hoped that the residual energy would protect them both, to a certain extent, from the impact. Not that she really cared about Roland. In fact, she nothing’d him. She didn’t give two shits about him. He was another student in class and she most certainly did not share Mark’s obsession with him, despite the fact that he was handsome. Kat simply wasn’t interested in guys like that.
She followed the trail all the way to a beautiful arrangement of, ironically, rose bushes, where she heard groaning coming from a hole in the wall of thornless branches. Some poor gardener was going to be real upset when he found out what had happened. “Mark?” she asked, and was greeted with another groan. She stuck her hand in the bush and found something to grab onto and pulled. Mark came stumbling out and Kat froze in place. Her eyes were wide and she couldn’t help but stare.
“What is it?” Mark said. “You look taller. What did he turn me into? How bad is it?”
“Well, It could definitely be worse,” Kat said as she moved some of Mark’s hair out of his face. “You make a pretty cute girl.”