Tess grumbled for the umpteenth time as she spun around in the parking lot to begin her search anew. She fumbled in her purse for her phone, pulling out the bright pink device and swiping at the screen in a ritualistic motion. The dial tone rang and a freckled face with Tessa’s matching brown eyes appeared on the screen.
“Hey Tess,” her sister’s voice was smooth and cheery. Hearing it made Tessa relax a little.
“Beth, I’m lost,” Tessa groaned with a dramatic sway of her shoulders.
“Tess...come on, again?” she sighed. “Where are you?”
Tessa spun around, taking in the scene once more. The sun beat down on the expanse of cracked pavement which was nearly vacant save for a few trailers and trucks on the edges of the buildings around her. Stairs and ramps crowded around the doors, which all looked as though they hadn’t been cleaned in a long time.
“Some awful parking lot - it’s totally empty, and half of the buildings are locked.”
“Hang on,” Beth’s voice muffled slightly and her gaze left the screen, focusing on a new task. Tessa heard the clacking of keys in the background as Beth did a search on the computer. “Address?”
“Skyline Centre - 886 Mason Road? I’m here but there’s no-” she glared at the vacant warehouses surrounding her, “anything! There is literally nothing here!”
“Well that’s not true. Gimmie a sec.”
Tess tapped a foot on the hard ground, seeking any sort of sign that she was in the correct place. The sun beat down on her, sweat beading on more than just her brow. She twisted her lips at her slightly damp shirt, wishing she’d left a change of clothes in her car.
“Anything yet?” the sweaty blonde asked.
“Hold your horses - I’m workin’ on it.” More key clacking sounded between Beth’s steady breathing until finally she fumbled with the phone and looked at Tess again. “Alright, apparently, you’re not the only one who’s gotten lost there. Some people even gave up and left. Wow, okay. I’m sending you a detailed map of the complex.”
“Ughh, thank you so much,” Tessa sagged pitifully.
“Mmhm…” her mouse clicked a few times. “Okay follow that link and it’ll lead you straight to the room.” Her bright smile flashed over the screen. “Good luck, sis.”
“You’re the best,” Tessa beamed back at her.
“I know,” Beth winked. “Don’t worry, you still have time to get there. Just be yourself.”
Her sister’s words stayed with her as she pushed open the heavy double doors into the studio where the meeting was being held. She flicked through the map on her smartphone, turning it so that she could plot out her destination.
She wandered through the empty halls for a while before finally coming across a small room labeled “Studio 18”. Finally. Tessa tiptoed inside, taking in the stark white walled room. Her footsteps echoed on the unpainted concrete floor, lines of stacked chairs sat propped against the walls in between long black tables filled with clippings, books, papers, and fliers. Her peers were seated around four tables that had been shoved together irregularly, the cracks and indents between them causing problems for both the students’ legs and the papers atop them.
On the left, a whiteboard covered most of the wall, the stains of previous lettering faded over its surface. One of the markers sitting on the edge was missing its cap; there was no eraser. The rest of the wall was taken up by square pictures and paintings of various locally famous people with scrawled quotes from their life along the bottom.
Bright fluorescent lamps exuded unnecessary heat and light under the rusted steel beams of the ceiling. Despite the openness of the room, it felt both dirty and murky, as if the building being rented out didn’t care to bother with more than wiping down the tables after each use. The whole thing struck Tessa as rather cheap, and made her hope she wasn’t getting conned.
She pulled up a chair next to a couple of conversing women, catching a few words about running makeup and an overheating car as she sat down. She pulled out her ‘magic’ binder and a pen, ready to begin the lesson and hoping that all her former research would make up for the fact that she hadn’t attended the first few of these lessons. Perhaps the teacher would be impressed by her knowledge on the matter without a single class!
Her thoughts were depleted though by the entrance of a tall, lanky man holding a stack of papers and a takeout coffee. His long hair was pulled back in a spiky ponytail by a cord of string decorated with strange stones. That might have been the strangest thing about him if it weren’t for the way he was dressed. Despite the sweltering heat outside, this man was wearing a tan overcoat that brushed his knees as he walked to the front of the room. He seemed to have thrown together something semi-formal for this meeting. A dress shirt and tie were visible under the jacket, but he wore dark jeaned pants with slight fading creeping up the bends.
He strode up to the end of the table, standing in front of the whiteboard and sat the coffee and papers on the table, using a hand to nervously brush a few loose tendrils of his red hair out of his eyes. He turned his attention to the group and gave them a warm smile that wrinkled the sides of his blue eyes.
“Greetings, class,” he said formally.
“Hello Archmage Mory,” a few students chittered back.
Tessa’s eyes widened. An Archmage here? She’d never even seen a Totem mage, let alone an Archmage! Tess could only wonder to herself what element this man was bound to as he lifted the papers with a delicate touch.
Her chest tightened and she gulped air, looking at the Archmage with renewed nervousness. He straightened his tie and tipped his head at the students.
“Today’s lesson will involve free-casting and the effects of emotion on the force of contact.” His blue eyes skimmed over a clipboard with papers messily stuffed into them before setting his things on a small podium near the front of the room. Tessa noted the hue of his eyes to not only mean that this man was a mage, but it told her what sort of energy he exuded.
Tessa had learned the basic information concerning Draw magic, and therefore knew that there existed four types of energy magic: Calm, Alert, Aggressive, and Defensive; represented by four colors: blue, green, red, and yellow respectively. Mages were born with one of these eye colors, and it gave the person a ‘default’ emotion, as Tessa had gathered from her research. Civies like her were born with brown eyes; no magic flowed through her, but that never stopped her from feeling the pull to learn more about it.
Rubbing a thumb over his stubbled chin, the teacher held his hand aloft with a single finger extended, pointing to nothing, and a stream of azure light followed his finger as he traced it through the air in a looping symbol.
Wait, what? Tessa’s head spun as she flipped through her binder. She thought to use the Draw, a mage needed an Easel - a base to hold the magic in place. She chewed her lip, looking around at the rest of the class who didn’t seem perturbed by this at all. What else didn’t she know? How many classes had she missed? Did these lessons go on from year to year, or did they start over annually?
Her bewilderment must have been obvious, as the boy next to her turned and gestured to the teacher. “He’s Drawing a vision rune.” She wrenched her eyes away from the teacher to see the raven-haired man wearing a white silk shirt under a black button up vest. His skin was smooth and his nails were groomed elegantly -- he seemed way too overdressed for such a small, informal class. Recognizing her look of confusion, he continued, “You can use them to enhance lighting in a room as well as assist with nearsightedness.” He smiled, hope filling his deep green eyes, the eyes of an alert mage.
“Yeah but,” Tess shook her head, “I thought you needed an Easel to use the Draw?”
The man chuckled, brushing dark hair out of those bright green eyes. “That’s old-school magic. We used to think we needed an Easel, but not anymore. Where’d you learn that?”
“Uh, uh…” Tessa flushed, embarrassed. “A book and… the internet.”
Now it was his turn to shake his head. “You won’t find a ton of useful stuff about magic online. It’s hard to weed out the facts from myths because it’s not very...” he winced with a lift of his shoulder, “socially accepted subject matter.” He pointed to the teacher who had erased the rune and was now speaking with vigorous hand gestures. Clearly this man was passionate about the subject. “I go to his classes every summer.”
“Are they all the same?” Tessa asked. “Do the lessons… start over?”
Her peer nodded, “Yeah, for now. This is the third year he’s done this. Not many students last the entire semester. Lots of them quit.”
Tessa gaped, “What? Why?”
He shrugged, “Magic is complicated and people here are scared.”
Tessa nodded. “I was scared to come here, but I’ve liked magic since I was young. It’s been my sort of secret hobby for years - just researching it and collecting info about it all. I was saving up to go to the Mage Zone one day.”
Why was she unloading her secrets to this man she’d only just met? Maybe she was desperate for someone to show interest in a thing she could never share before. She expected him to initially cringe or at least withdraw from her obvious obsession, but his smile only widened as she spoke.
“I know what you mean,” he said, holding his hand out. “I’m James. James Walthorn.”
“T-Tessa Wurr,” she took the gesture and shook.
“Great to meet you, Tess,” he nodded as his pen slid across his own paper. “This is my email,” he handed the sliver to her. “Why don’t we keep in touch? I could help you catch up on what you’ve missed~”
Tessa blinked at him. “Really? Sure!” She drank in a gulp of air, her heart soaring at the prospect. She’d never really known anyone else who was as interested in magic as she was. Sure, her friends went through the ‘taboo magic research’ phase, but they’d eventually grown out of it. She doubted any of them could even recognize a rune if they saw it, let alone identify what type it was. She finished scribbling her email address and phone number on her own slice of paper and traded it for James’.
Elated from her encounter, she left the classroom in a better mood than she’d ever remembered being in since she was twelve and went on her first tour of the Imperial City Arboretum.
This was it. She was finally going to learn about magic!