The Books of Magic: Orientation Day, Chapter 2: A Tour of Grimoire Island

by CSyphrett, Martin Maenza and Doc Quantum

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Abby Cable fell in with the group led by Eve as they left the auditorium. While Adam Frankenstein’s guidance earlier had been helpful, she felt that the misshapen groundskeeper felt a little awkward around her. But she couldn’t come right out and tell him that his appearance didn’t bother her in the slightest, since that might come off as insulting and would perhaps alienate him from her. She knew how Alec had felt about having become the Swamp Thing and how much of an adjustment it was for him, especially being around strangers. Abby liked Adam well enough and was hoping to count him among one of her friends here. She had a feeling she might need some.

The students followed the two women, chatting among themselves. All of the students except for the first-years were well-acquainted with the academy, so they hardly paid much attention to what Miss Eve was saying. The first-years, however, had to strain to hear every word, thanks to the murmuring from the group.

“The student dormitories, which we call halls of residence, are divided by various criteria,” explained Eve. “While most of you have been placed in the same halls as other students from your world, a select number of you have been chosen to participate in multi-Earth halls, where you will interact with students from Earths that have very different histories. Now, if our older students will quiet down a bit, I’ll explain to our first-years how the halls of residence work.” The beautiful professor looked around at her group until the hush finally died down, before she continued.

“Our biggest and oldest hall is Nommo Hall,” explained Eve. “Named after one of our school’s founding fathers, Nommo Hall predates the Grimoire Academy and, in fact, was first founded in ancient Persia on Earth-Aleph — more popularly known as Earth-One — roughly two-thousand, five-hundred years ago.” (*) She paused for a moment to let that sink in. “Yes, on my Earth, at least, there have always been schools devoted to the esoteric arts. Most of the student body of Nommo Hall is Homo Magi, a race of magically gifted humans, and thus the studies of this hall more than any other is decidedly focused on magic. In fact, a few of those Homo Magi students do not even live on Earth as we know it, but in another dimension called Gemworld, while still others come from different locations entirely. Nommo Hall is thus the only one of our student dormitories that holds specialized classes for magically gifted students, and it holds an extensive library like none other on earth, containing copies of all known books of magic.”

[(*) Editor’s note: Nommo is the ancient name of Doctor Mist, leader of the Global Guardians.]

Eve continued walking as she said, “Maugris Hall, named after the enchanter from Charlemagne’s court who was also known as Malagigi, houses most of our student body from Earth-Bet, or Earth-Two. (*) It is our second-largest hall of residence on the island and has a long history of its own, dating from the twelfth century, A.D. Our third-largest hall is Zatara Hall, founded in the 1950s, which comprises a mixture of students from each of the worlds, though most are from Earth-Aleph and Earth-Bet. And our final three halls, each somewhat smaller than the first three, comprise the student bodies from Earths Dalet, Samekh, and Qoph — known in modern terms as Earths Four, S, and X, respectively. Although the individual halls are known by the names Dalet Hall, Samekh Hall, and Qoph Hall, they are actually contained in the same building, and they are collectively referred to as Merlin Hall after the famous magician known to all of the Earths. Thus Grimoire Academy comprises four well-respected and long-lived halls — Nommo, Maugris, Zatara, and Merlin. Please make yourself well-acquainted with the location of your halls and with the professors in charge of them. They will, in turn, tell you more about the various histories and traditions associated with each hall.”

[(*) Editor’s note: Malagigi first appeared in “The Devil Takes a Bride,” Arak, Son of Thunder #2 (October, 1981).]

A nervous-looking, blonde first-year girl raised her hand. Given an approving nod, she asked in an Australian accent, “How will we know if we’re supposed to live in our Earth’s hall, or if we’re supposed to live in Zatara Hall instead? I think I should be in Maugris Hall, but I’m not sure.”

“That’s all right, Kate,” said Eve, astonishing the girl for knowing her name. “All of you will be informed which hall you belong in this afternoon, including those of you selected for Zatara Hall.”

Timothy Hunter was wondering whether he would have to go to Nommo Hall or if he could go to Zatara Hall. He knew that his new friend Rick was not from his own world, since the Superman who lived on Rick’s world was old and had gray hair. So they would be separated into different halls of residence unless they were both placed in Zatara Hall. He hoped that would happen, because he’d never found it easy to make friends. Still, if Nommo Hall specialized in magic more than the other halls, Tim realized he might end up being placed there instead, since John Constantine and Mister E had already told him he had the gift. But if Nommo Hall was mostly Homo Magi, Tim realized he might be outnumbered by students who had been brought up to be sorcerers since they were born, and he doubted they would have much in common. He kept his fingers crossed and wished for the best.

The boy had been hanging near the back of the group since they left the auditorium. It had allowed him to take things at his own pace, but he still wanted to be cautious about drawing too much attention to himself. The way Headmaster Gallowglass had singled out the one student in assembly had really driven home the point to him that the administrators took their jobs here very seriously. And why wouldn’t they? It’s not like magic academies — or whatever we’re supposed to call them — are a dime a dozen, even if Nommo Hall is thousands of years old! Tim thought to himself. This place was special, probably one of a kind. If he were truly serious about plying the trade, he needed to keep out of trouble and do well here.

The group made a stop at the administration building and its classrooms on the second and third floor. Eve addressed the group in a sultry voice. “Many of your classes will be held in this building,” she explained. “Also note that many of the faculty have offices nearby, in case you need to schedule some one-on-one instructin.” She gave one of the older boys a sort of flirty smile; when he blushed, she smiled more. How she enjoyed teasing the young lads.

Eve turned to Abby. “Ms. Cable, your office is over there, by the way.” She pointed to a closed door with a freshly painted name plate on it.

Abby paused for a moment to look at the gold lettering. She felt a slight surge of panic within her, as if the name plate made it all seem so official. Was she up for this? She shook her head as if to drive the doubt away. Of course she was.

Turning, Abby noticed a young boy with glasses straggling along. She figured she’d better start acting like one of the staff. “Are you with our group?” she asked.

“Yes… yes, I am,” he replied.

“What’s your name?”

“Tim Hunter.”

“You look like you’re new here, Tim Hunter.”

“I am, ma’am.”

She held out her hand in greeting. “Well, I’m Ms. Abby Cable, and I’m teaching botanical studies. I’m new here, too. Maybe we can help each other acclimate, eh?” Abby gave him a little wink.

Tim smiled. “Yes, ma’am.”

Abby was pleased to make another new friend. Then she noticed the two were alone. “Come on, Tim,” she said, taking the twelve-year-old’s hand. “We’d best hurry up and join the others before Miss Eve notices we’re gone.” They rejoined the group just outside the gymnasium on the first floor.

“…and next to the boy’s locker room is Mr. Peril’s office,” Eve was saying. “Over there, on that side near the girl’s lockers, is the office for Mrs. Peel. These two are responsible for overseeing your physical education, among other things. Mr. Peril and Miss Psychic also teach classes in investigation and deduction, which will come in handy if you ever need to debunk a phony medium or a fake haunting.” Then Eve led the group outside to continue the walking tour.

The tour eventually led through several gardens that were designated as natural areas. Abby noticed that the area put aside for her resembled part of the swamp near Houma. She found it strange that she that could not see across to the rest of the island, which should have stood behind the apparently small bog.

An area set aside for Rose Psychic was a simple grass strip with concrete benches to sit on. In briefly talking with Rose on the way to the first assembly, Abby could tell the woman was very focused and very introspective. Rose must have preferred a natural setting when tutoring the students in areas of mediation and the like. Abby understood that; she always felt more at ease in a natural setting away from the clamor of the city.

Eve led the group out of the natural areas to the beach. “The teachers’ bungalows are above on a cliff overlooking the narrow strip,” she said. “Naturally, those are off-limits to students without invitation. We all need a place where we can retire after long days of lecture.” A stone boat rested against the cliff next to the pier that jutted out into the water.

“This way,” Eve instructed. The group climbed a set of stone steps to get to the top of the cliff. Instead of turning toward the bungalows, the group went to the left. Eve led them toward another building. “And this,” she gestured with her arms into the air at the high stone structure, “is the infamous clock tower that Headmaster Gallowglass was speaking of.”

There was a wave of hushed voices among the students, a number of them in awe. The tower itself stood in the center of the glade. On each side was a clock face, four in total. Strangely, they had numbers but no hands.

“One can’t rely on that to avoid getting to class late, can one?” Timothy said.

Abby, standing next to him, nodded.

“I want you all to understand something before we enter,” Eve said in a rather serious voice. It was the first time she had used one since their tour began, almost as if she were echoing Gallowglass’ own words earlier. “Nothing is to be touched inside the clock tower or the clock room within. No map is to be pulled from its place, no clock wound or stopped in any way, no book opened at all.” She regarded her charges calmly for a moment. “Is this understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the students with a bit of muttering and slowness.

“Very good, then!” Eve then proceeded to lead them into the tower.

The place was enormous on the inside. Shelves covered every wall, stretching to the top of the building, which seemed to be much farther away inside than out. A wood and steel staircase spiraled through the center of the tower to the uppermost rafters. Suddenly, as if materializing out of nowhere, a man appeared before the group.

“What do I owe the pleasure?” asked a thin man with a frown. Bushy white brows were drawn down, accenting his long nose. Thin hair was swept back, almost covering a wide bald spot.

“Orientation day tour, Mr. Belmont,” said Eve, trying to smile and lighten the mood cast by the grim keeper.

“Oh, bother,” said Belmont, glaring at the assembled students.

“Excuse me, Miss Eve,” said the same first-year girl who had spoken earlier, raising her hand. “But what is all this stuff for?”

“Good question, Kate,” Eve said. “Mr. Belmont, would you care to field the inquiry?”

Mr. Belmont sighed. How he despised orientation day. He pointed out a cabinet in the left side of the room. “The card index is there to look up information,” he said. “It is an extensive catalog of history.” But the students did not seem that interested.

Frowning, Mr. Belmont continued. “Perhaps the view from the top of the tower might excite you more.” He began to climb the great stairs with the group moving cautiously behind him. The spiraling height didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest, for the clock tower was his responsibility and had been so for quite a number of years.

When they reached the top, the group gathered around. There the clock faces appeared transparent, allowing one to take in the entire expanse as far as the eye could see. Grimoire Island spread out before the visitors in all directions.

Abby noted that she could see the main building easily, and the bestiary fence nearby. Baron Weirwulf’s group had just exited the enclosure and were headed toward the tower.

As the group made its way down the stairs, Joshua Cantrell picked up a book near one of the shelves and flipped it open. The title was Jurassic for Beginners. As he opened the book, the inner surface of the clock faces changed to show a blonde man in green running from a dinosaur through a jungle. All the other children ooohed and aaahed at the sight.

Mr. Belmont turned on the hapless student with whip-like speed. “What do you think you are doing, young man?” He yanked the book out of the boy’s hand with a paint-stripping glare. The book’s cover slammed shut in an instant.

“I think we have seen everything,” Eve said smoothly, interposing herself between the older man and boy. “Come along, students. I think the bestiary should be next.”

Mr. Belmont finished tweaking Josh’s ear. “I have my eye on you, boy,” the man said. “I don’t take to troublemakers around my tower, understand?”

Josh started to shuffle off and ran right into Tim Hunter. He glared at the boy and said, “What are you looking at, four-eyes?”

Tim said nothing and then followed the others.

Eve’s and Baron Weirwulf’s groups met on the path between the bestiary and the clock tower. She paused for a second and leaned in to the hairy man’s ear. “Just a heads up,” she said. “Belmont’s not in one of his better moods.”

Weirwulf nodded. “Thank you for the warning, Miss Eve,” he said in a deep voice before leading his group toward the memorial park Abby had found on her wanderings earlier in the day.

“This way, students.” Eve resumed leading the way to the private wildlife enclosure.

Abby wondered what kind of animals would be present. She was unprepared for what she did see. From the way the students gaped, she knew they were, too. She closed the door of the enclosure behind her.

Birds of every shape and size soared through the air. Huge enclosures kept the earthbound species separate from those able to fly above. A unicorn seemed to flash by in a blaze of white. The habitat was full of wondrous sights and sounds, a bombardment to the senses.

The group looked around for a few minutes, marveling at the creatures. Eventually, Abby helped Eve shepherd the children along the path through the zoo.

One black horse stood in a small meadow by itself. Abby noticed it, because it was as still as a piece of metal under the pleasant sky. She noticed Tim standing by her. “Beautiful, isn’t she?” she said to the boy.

Tim nodded.

“I’ve been around horses,” Josh said with a bit of pride in his voice. “Wonder what makes that one so special?”

Suddenly, the head of the beast moved to take in the children and teacher with a spark of fire in its eyes.

Abby had an impulse to run, but kept herself in check. Instead, she hurried Tim and Josh along.

The tour left the private zoo behind and made its way through Memorial Park with its seven statues. They then walked to the stadium for school sports. At the moment, the crews were setting up a soccer field on the rectangular grass. Large net goals were folded on the ground at each end. Tim’s eyes lit up. At home, he enjoyed a good football match, more watching it than playing it. As Miss Eve explained, each of the four main halls of residence would compete against the others, with the teams chosen from those halls. Although first-years were welcome to try out to play, the teams mostly comprised older students.

The group walked across the field to the other side. Eve led them to a small canyon and the river that ran through it. The water sparkled dizzily as it rushed to meet the sea. “Hopefully, in October, all of you will be able to navigate the water as part of the year-end exams,” Eve said.

“It looks dangerous to me,” said Alfred Twitchell, nervously fiddling with his tie.

“Yes, it is — for those who don’t pay attention in class,” agreed Eve. “I think it’s time for a little something to eat, so let’s head back to the school building and the cafeteria.” The group retraced its steps toward the administration building in the distance.

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