Crucible of Mars Part 2: Magic School Infiltration by Alexander Schmid

Miss Part 1? Read it here.

Grendel walked towards the open gates of Augustus High School for Magical and Mundane. 

To infiltrate the school, Grendel had had to change his body in order to not stand out from the rest of the crowd. Through the use of potions and other little pieces of magic, Grendel had changed from his normal dragon exterior to one that resembled a handsome human. 

Although out of a touch of vanity, Grendel had chosen to keep his old colour scheme. He had made his hair red and his eyes gold, an inversion of the normal colour of his eyes and scales. Yet for all of these changes, Grendel’s true nature still besmirched his skin. Faint scales  glinted under the light of the diome day. His eyes, despite being different colours, were still the eyes of a dragon with slitted pupils. 

Nearing the school, Grendel took a single moment to assess himself one last time before he entered the school grounds. Grendel checked that his black and white uniform was correct, and that he was carrying with him everything that he would need to infiltrate the school. But most importantly of all, Grendel checked that there was no magic clinging to him that would give him away. 

Satisfied that everything was in order, Grendel continued into the school amidst the tide of other students. And as he mingled with the students around him, they didn’t so much as give him a second glance as they went about their business. 

All except for two. 

One looked at him with curiosity and concern while another held a hatred within it that made Grendel want to smile not out of amusement, but out of a desire to meet said hostility with violence of his own. For this second glare was a challenge that made his dragon blood sing out with trills of war. 

Yet before Grendel could even begin to formulate a plan with what to do with the gazes that were upon him, they both began to move closer to him. One was a force to be reckoned with that caused the crowd to part for him, while another was able to freely slip through the crowd uncontested and disturbing no one. 

Looking first at the source of the calm and caring gaze, Grendel spied a werewolf with red hair coming his way. She was tall and slender and carried herself like a warrior. There was strength in her step and speed in her fluidity, but both were tempered with practise and patience. Grendel could see that she was going to be the more challenging of the two to deal with as her kind and caring green eyes would see more than eyes clouded with hate. 

Grendel changed the focus of his attention to the incoming source of malice: a haughty elf who had parted the sea of students. The elf was tall as most elves, standing long and lithe, however, unlike the werewolf, this elf was no warrior. Instead, the elf was a mage. He stunk of magic and it was old and strong, the kind of magical power that one builds up over decades of practise and mastery. 

Grendel could tell by how the elf seemed to radiate magic that he was not even bothering to hide it, a fact that marked him out as stupid and arrogant. For if even one other magical creature marked him out for the humans, then the elf would have the full weight of the UEF fall down upon him. 

“Why are you walking in this direction?” snapped the elf as he came up to Grendel, the elf’s gaze with golden eyes trying in vain to make Grendel squirm. 

“I’m going to school here,” said Grendel with a smile, knowing that he had everything in order and that no elf would be able to break through his false persona or paperwork. 

“Foolish mongrel, I know that. I’m asking why you are heading in this direction,” the elf replied, his words a question but his tone making it clear he was asking why the sun rose in the east and set in the west, something that should have been immutably obvious. 

“Nidus, he’s new. He doesn’t know about the division of classes,” said the werewolf. 

“Do not interfere, Morana. I know, and I am making sure that he will never forget this lesson,” said Nidus. His golden eyes, which matched his golden hair, containing a look that could have withered stone. 

Nidus Rustwood, thought Grendel as he watched the elf try and cow the werewolf who had come to his defence. Grendel had taken the time to memorise the names of the entire student body. 

Hailing from a semi-prestigious family, the elf was said to be the youngest son of a cousin to the main head of the Rustwood family. However, seeing the elf up close, Grendel could tell that the elf was not who he said he was. In fact, it was entirely possible that the elf was actually the head of the main family himself. Yet either way, Nidus’ recorded age was clearly false. Nidus’ magic was far too advanced. 

“Are you listening to me, you slimy reptile?” said Nidus. 

“Not in the slightest,” said Grendel as he focused back in on the elf before him, his tone one of apathy. 

Twitching as if he was barely containing his rage and desire to obliterate the being before him with magic, Nidus let out a breath before continuing to speak. “Then, listen well. While we might both have been born from myth, we are not the same. You lack the power to call down magic. You are a mongrel born of a mixing of myth and mundane. You do not deserve to learn the secrets of magic and divinity. As such, you are a part of the general class and not the arcane class,” explained Nidus. His words dripped with condescension and superiority.  

“A wonderful little speech,” said Grendel with renewed apathy as he stared blandly at the elf before him, “but in the end, while informative, it was nothing but hollow words without meaning.”

Hearing Grendel’s words and gasping both in shock and delight, the school body turned their attention to Nidus to see how he would react to being so blatantly disregarded.

“He means that as part of the general class, we go over here and the arcane class goes over there,” said Morana as she stepped in to try and diffuse the one sided tension between elf and dragon. 

“You dare call my words hollow?” snarled out Nidus as he raised his hand as if he was about to spin forth magic. 

“Go ahead, cast whatever you want. The UEF are capable of shackling you before you could even touch me,” said Grendel with a careless shrug. “And anything powerful enough to bypass them will earn you and yours a death sentence.”

Hearing Grendel’s words, the entire student body went dead silent as they watched the two before them. One was caught in a hell of his own making and the other silently laughing at the elf’s predicament. 

“Go on, mighty elf. Show us your power. I’m waiting,” said Grendel, his words a clear invitation to begin. 

Yet everyone present knew that Nidus could not, lest he become a target of those who lived above them all. A fact that made Nidus seem to rage enough that not even his veneer of elfish nobility could hide it from those around him. 

“You will pay for this with your life,” said Nidus, his words a cold and deadly promise that made many shudder back from the elf. 

“Fifty years upon this world, and that’s the best threat you can muster. I expected better, Alfar,” said Grendel as he leaned in and whispered so that only Nidus could hear him. 

Freezing in shock that the being before him knew of the ancient name of elves when even most elves failed to remember it, Nidus looked like the ground beneath his feet had given way. For now that he was no longer buoyed by the weight of his self importance and the rage of being contained within a high school, Nidus saw the weight of time within Grendel’s eyes. A weight that none Nidus had ever met before had bore. A weight that made it clear that whatever he had picked a fight with was far too ancient and powerful to challenge even for the greatest and most insane of madmen. 

Backing away from the ancient creature before him, Nidus seemed too lost in fear to say anything and once he was a few metres away from the dragon in disguise, he turned and ran, leaving many present to wonder what had just happened. However, the students’ wonder soon turned to mirth as they saw that the other elves in the school had decided to follow after Nidus and not bother Grendel.

Celebrating that Grendel had seemingly shut up one of the pretentious, highborn elves, the crowd were eager to place their praise on Grendel. Yet this praise dried up the moment the school bell rang aloud for all to hear, The mass of students turned to walk into the school and their classrooms. 

Standing still and watching the scurrying masses of students with amusement, Grendel turned his attention to the werewolf who was still watching him. Wondering if maybe the werewolf had seen through his disguise, Grendel smiled and walked over to talk to her. 

“You shouldn’t have antagonised him,” said Morana with a sad shake to her head, her red hair flailing about in the artificial wind of the diome. 

“Why?” asked Grendel, truly curious to her reasoning.

“Because he will be worse than if you had just left him alone,” replied Morana, clearly thinking of those who would cop the brunt of Nidus’ impotent rage. 

“I was under the impression that not fighting back was a bad thing,” said Grendel as he tried to prompt Morana to speak more of her mind. 

“Normally, yes, but elves like him stay here for decades if not a century. What you did creates rage that festers, and he won’t be able to escape it,” explained Morana as if what she was saying was common sense.

Humming in an indifferent tone, Grendel turned his attention to the building that he was apparently going to have classes in. Yet even as he watched the building and seemed to refuse to move, Morana remained by his side. Eventually realising she wasn’t going to be leaving soon, Grendel turned to look at her questioningly. 

“My name is Morana Erikson, and I was sent by the principal to help get you on track for all of your classes,” said Morana as soon as she realised Grendel was looking at her as if awaiting answers. 

“So then, I assume you know that my name is Gren Delving,” said Grendel as he used the false name he had created for himself when he had gone to enrol in the school. 

“Yes Gren, I do and I have to apologise for this, but since you came here in the middle of a semester, you won’t get a smooth transition into class and must instead catch up as soon as possible,” explained Morana.

“So what will be my first class of the day?” asked Grendel without a concern for the fact that he was being thrown into the deep end. 

“You will have history class with me,” said Morana as she gave Grendel a tight smile that told him she wasn’t looking forward to shepherding him all day. 

“Well then, lead the way,” said Grendel with a flourish that made Morana sigh before she turned to lead Grendel to their classroom. 

And as Grendel followed after Morana, he couldn’t help but give a fleeting glance towards the direction that Nidus had gone. For if he was right, then this investigation would soon be over and not take the potential months that he was expecting. 

~~~

Sitting in his history classroom, Grendel looked on as the teacher before him droned on about the history of Mars and magical creatures in general. 

“The first recorded encounter with a magical being after the UEF had begun travelling to and from Mars happened where?” asked the teacher, another red haired werewolf that had a last name of Erikson. Receiving no answer from the rest of her class, who were all clearly monsters of one kind or another, Mrs. Erikson  turned her attention to Grendel. “How about you, Mr. Delving? Would you happen to know the answer to the question that was just posed?”

“If you want a generalist answer, then yes, I can answer your question. If you want an answer of specific coordinates, then I’m sorry, but I can’t,” said Grendel with a small smile as his red eyes gleamed with amusement. 

“Any form of an answer will do,” said Mrs. Erikson. She was clearly used to dealing with rebellious beings, teenager or not.

“The first confirmed official mythical being encountered by the UEF was an angel that stopped to help an astronaut who had become unmoored from his spaceship while it was en route to Mars. I believe the year was 2112AD,” answered Grendel as he still remembered the fact that many had tried to deny the existence of an angel back when the news story had first broken. “If I remember correctly, the reason she’d given for saving the astronaut was that she refused to let anyone die such a horribly lonely death. This was despite what she had been ordered to do.”

Hearing murmurs from the rest of the class, it became clear no one present seemed to like the angels that much. This one angel had been the start of the decline and eventual deportation of mythological beings. 

“Correct,” said Mrs. Erikson, her tone neutral, but Grendel could sense that even she was most likely unhappy with the angel. “So can anyone tell me where most angels were deported to when mythological beings were sent to Mars?”

“Nowhere,” said another student emboldened by Grendel getting the question correct, “they can’t be found anywhere on Mars.”

“Partially true,” said Mrs. Erikson as she  pointed to a map of Mars. “While angels cannot be found in the Sakura Empire, the Pyramid Alliance or the Augustus Republic, they have been spotted in the many smaller one-off diomes that make up the Nomad Union.”

“Ah, Mrs. Erikson, I have family from the Pyramid Alliance and they say that those in that diome want to be called the Ziggurat Theocracy, not the Pyramid Alliance,” said one of the students who looked to be a proper Greek Dryad. 

Mrs. Erikson turned to look at the Dryad,  giving him an appraising look. Grendel was able to see that the teacher was not weighing how she would respond to the student. Instead, she was looking at the Dryad with the eyes of a person trying to measure how truthful she could be without breaking them. 

“I know,” said Mrs. Erikson with a sigh, one that showed she hated to break the news and history to the students before her. “The reason that we still call it the Pyramid Alliance is because that is what the UEF named it when it was officially founded in the year 2160AD. And the only reason they named it that was because all the various mythological culture put into that diome had pyramids associated with their civilisations. The Babylonian, the Egyptian, the Aztec, the Inca and a few others! They all had pyramids and they were allied together. That was all that the UEF needed to name them.”

Every mythical creature in the room contemplated silently on their lot. All except Grendel, who watched on with a smile as he knew that it wouldn’t last. Eventually they would be free and then the various diomes could call themselves whatever they wanted. 

“All right then,” said Mrs. Erikson as she straightened up and seemed to regain a measure of composure. “Since we just spoke about the founding of the Pyramid Alliance, who here would like to tell me about the founding of the Augustus Republic?”

“The Augustus Republic is one of the first diomes that was created, although, they were not called that back then. Instead, they were simply bio-habitats for human occupation. This diome was created by Augustus Remusson. The Diome was officially created in 2089 and has since grown larger,” said Grendel as he put his feet up on the table and leaned back in his chair, giving off an aloof air that made the teacher give him a stern look. 

“Anything else you would like to add?” asked Mrs. Erikson, her tone making it clear that she would not look fondly upon him continuing to speak. 

“Originally, the Augustus diome was meant to contain only the Greek and the Roman mythologies. But eventually–much like its namesake–it came to include all mythologies found on the continent of Europe,” said Grendel with a grin and a flippant gesture of his head making it clear that he was not cowed by the wrath of a werewolf teacher. 

“Go to the principal,” said Mrs. Erikson, her voice echoing through the now dead quiet room. 

Blinking at the fact that she had ordered him out of the classroom so quickly, Grendel couldn’t help but give out another witty retort. 

“Don’t you want to hear about the Sakura Empire? How it’s comprised of the Asian cultures and how it was founded in 2120AD?” asked Grendel only to be met with a stony silence. 

“Out. Now,” said the teacher, her voice a deadly calm that made many in the room shrink back from her, knowing that her bite was far worse than her bark. 

Getting up from his seat, Grendel walked out of the room and closed the door behind him, making sure that it was so secured that it would not let anyone hear or see what happened next, even if they had supernatural hearing or sight. 

Glancing down the white sterile corridor and seeing that it was empty in both directions, Grendel set off to see just what he could discover. More specifically, Grendel wanted to see what he could find within the school’s archives. 

~~~

Leafing through the various different documents arrayed in front of him, a cigar in his still human mouth, Grendel shook his head at the appalling bookkeeping. 

When Grendel had first come here, he had expected to find impeccable records that would require hours to go over. All to find the single thread that would untie the knot that was the secrets of this school. Yet now that he was staring at the paperwork before him he knew that it would be so simple to figure out. 

The bookkeeping before Grendel had been done with so little effort that it was all but impossible for it to have been done out of any other emotion than apathy. The bookkeeping told a tale that said whoever had been keeping record for this school wasn’t even trying. They simply did the bare minimum and went on with their day. 

However this in turn told Grendel all manner of things about the bookkeeper. They were falsifying the records not because they wanted to, but because they were forced to. 

Musing at the information spread out before him, Grendel could see that this investigation was changing from one form of challenge to another. Except that this next challenge was not about figuring things out, but protecting and safeguarding others, something that was often harder but more rewarding. 

“There you are, Mr. Delving,” said a voice as its owner burst into the record room. 

“I wasn’t exactly hiding,” said Grendel with a puff of his cigar, allowing smoke to plume out of his mouth in a way that made it clear the cigar was not wholly responsible for the smoke. 

“No but you were meant to meet me in my office, not stow away in here,” said the principal as he walked into the room, shutting the door behind him.

The moment the door clicked shut, Grendel could feel a change in the room. Like it had become air tight and thus, the smoke that he was breathing out remained steady and still. But this fact also told Grendel that the room had also become soundproof, a fact that would send most up the wall with paranoia, especially since the principal was a human who had a nanomachine swarm around him. A nanomachine swarm that was eating away at the smoke that Grendel had filled the room with. 

 “I must admit that I am disappointed by what I found,” said Grendel as he waved his hand over the paperwork before him. “Although I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to know that I am not the only one that still uses paper.”

“It’s not paper,” said the principal as he walked closer to see what it was that Grendel was looking at. 

“Oh, then what is it?” asked Grendel as he raised an eyebrow at the principal.

“It’s kind of like plastic, but it imitates the texture and material properties of paper when needed. For example, you can write upon it with ease, anything from ink to graphite, but you can’t burn it,” said the principal as he came to stand on the opposite side of the table from Grendel. 

“Why create hard copies then?” asked Grendel as he flicked his fingers at the edge of the paper to create a spark that would attempt to burn the paper before him yet somehow resist the fire. 

“Because it makes it so much harder for people to tamper with the records, no matter whom they have an allegiance to,” said the principal with a notable tremor to his voice, a tremor that spoke of fear and dread. 

“And who do you think I have an allegiance to, Principal Aaron Reinhard?” asked Grendel. 

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” said Aaron as he leaned forward all the while trying to stare down Grendel. 

“Oh, I think you do,” said Grendel as he watched how the principal responded to his words. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have let me in. You wanted to find out who, or more precisely, what I am? A clever tactic especially if you sent that girl to try and win me over.”

Twitching at the mention of Morana, Aaron’s glower seemed only to worsen, yet there was also a note of hesitation in his eyes. A note of hesitation that made Grendel feel something more was at play here. 

In fact, as Grendel sat, looking up at Aaron, Grendel felt the faintest of chills run up his spine, a sensation that made Grendel almost instinctively fill the air with fire. Yet Grendel resisted the urge and continued on with the conversation.

“What’s more, all of this,” said Grendel as he waved over the pseudo-paperwork, “is truly disappointing. You haven’t even attempted to cover your tracks. In fact, the only reason that you haven’t been found out yet is that no one’s looking.”

Aaron was not twitching in rage, but as if he was trying to hold himself up as if it was only his sheer will that prevented him from collapsing to the ground. 

“For example, let’s look at the records for Nidus Rustwood. You say here that he was born in 2460AD, yet anyone who has met him can clearly see that the elf is not 17-years-old. In fact, you can clearly see that he is much older,” explained Grendel, trying to impress upon Aaron that he needed to get the basic details right. Otherwise, someone like Grendel could just walk into this room and unravel everything. 

“Errors occur,” said the principal slowly, clearly trying to muster some form of defence for the lacklustre records. 

“In fact, he was my first clue,” explained Grendel as he poured over the notes about Nidus Rustwood. “His attitude alone makes it clear who he is and what he stands for. The fact that Nidus feels that he can freely walk and talk around the school like that means that he counts on the staff to cover for him. And when I get here, I find this mess.”

Not even trying to respond to what Grendel had said, the principal waited for Grendel to finish his little rant while his eyes flickered about the room. 

“It gets worse when you read up on your career and see that you started teaching here in the year 2461AD. But records show that Nidus has been here even longer. There is incompetence and then there is not even trying,” said Grendel as he puffed a plume of smoke out at Aaron Reinhard. 

“What do you want me to say?” asked Aaron as he slid down to sit across from Grendel. 

“I want an explanation. I want to understand how it was possible to mess this up to such a degree. I want to know why you are trying to help the magical community but at the same time, failing to live up to your attempts,” explained Grendel as he tried to gauge why the human before him had become involved with this conspiracy. 

“Why?” asked Aaron, clearly defeated by what had been said to him. “Why care about me at all? Either report me to the UEF or tell the elf insurgents that I am terrible at my job. Why try and help me?”

“Because I’m curious and greedy. Because I want to know. And mostly because I don’t want to rip your family apart,” said Grendel as he smiled at Aaron’s surprised face. “You might have been able to scrub her stink from you and she most certainly got the smell off of her, but you look like your daughter.”

The room went dead silent as Grendel’s words echoed through the air tight room. And in this stillness, Grendel looked at the stunned principal and smiled, because what he saw there was fear not for himself but for his family.

“Who are you?” asked Aaron at last, clearly unsure what to make of the draconic creature before him. 

 “Grendel Godsbane, Private Investigator for everyone and anyone magical and mundane,” said Grendel as he leaned back in his chair, the tip of his cigar glowing with unnatural fire.

“Gren Delving,” said Aaron, his voice seeming to be filled with disgust at having failed to see what was right in front of him. 

“It gets even better if you know that ‘Delving’ means to ‘dig for information’, among other things,” said Grendel with some pride at having created this alias. 

“I’d heard rumours of a dragon going about using that name, investigating anything and anyone. Why are you here?” asked Aaron, clearly already aware that he was doomed in one manner or another. 

“Because your apathy to all of this,” said Grendel, “is finally catching up to you. Soon the fact that you are a pure human with access to the UEF’s best science will not be able to keep your daughter safe.”

“Then, what can?” asked Aaron with a note of desperation. 

“Telling her to put her claws away would do for a start,” said Grendel as he looked over his shoulder to see Morana standing behind him, her hands transformed into wolf-like claws waiting and willing to rip him to shreds. 

Freezing , Morana gave her father a quick look before slowly prowling around so that she was standing next to her father’s shoulder, still waiting to kill the one who would destroy her family. 

“The ice magic you used to get in here was subtle but not to a creature of fire such as myself,” said Grendel as he glanced back at a wall still covered in frost. 

“What do you want?” asked Aaron as he gave Grendel a hollow look, clearly knowing that the dragon held all the cards and that his whim would decide his family’s fate. 

“How did she come into being?” asked Grendel as he pointed his cigar at Morana, curiosity radiating from him. 

“Because I love her mother! Now, what do you want?” asked Aaron with a controlled anger at the dragon before him.

“The end to the conflict between the mundane and the magical. And to get it, at least for the moment, I need to take out the elf insurrectionists,” answered Grendel earnestly, his words making both human and werewolf twitch. “I want a world where I can fly freely, where families born of love can thrive together. And most importantly, I want a world not of mundanity or magic. I want a world of miracles.”

The two in front of him blinked back tears at the sudden realisation that the dragon before them had not come to destroy their lives but instead grant their greatest wish. Aaron glanced at his daughter and for the first time since he had walked into the record room, looked truly alive. 

“How can we help?” asked Aaron. He was caught firmly between science and magic and those that didn’t want the two to mix.

“Tell me everything you know…”

 

Continue to Part 3 in August.

About the Author

Alexander Schmid was born, raised and lives in Geelong, Australia. He has a bachelor in Engineering and Science from Deakin University, and is currently working as a Science Technician. He is an advert lover of games, movies, books, anime and manga. His love of books led him to start writing during university and in time, he created the Geb War Chronicles of which the Mirror of Reality is but the first book of many.

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