The Books of Magic: Curiosity Kills, Chapter 1: Pursuing a Mystery

by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza

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Continued from The Books of Magic: Orientation Day

It was the third week of January, the third week of the new school year at the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge. A group of teenage boys, all in their third year and around the same age, sat together around a large wooden table in the study room of Zatara Hall. Instead of using this time to catch up on their readings and reports, they were engrossed in a lively discussion about their latest fascination.

“Have you seen Mrs. Cable’s legs?” Gray Murphy remarked, his stringy hair falling into his eyes, which matched the gray of his namesake. “It’s such a shame she has to cover them up with those long skirts in the classroom.” He frowned thoughtfully, and the others at the table nodded in agreement.

“I saw Power Girl once,” Alfred Twitchell chimed in, his navy school sweater fitting snugly around his round stomach. “She was most… impressive.” He held his hands a foot away from his chest, his cheeks reddening ever so slightly.

“Did she have… you know… a rack?” Murphy asked, worldly wise at age fourteen.

Twitchell nodded sheepishly, the blush on his chubby cheeks deepening.

“I feel the same way about Phantom Lady,” Kirk Pike added, his wavy brown hair framing his face. “Her costume leaves little to the imagination, if you catch my drift.” A sly grin appeared on his face as he conjured up an image of the seductive, dark-haired heroine.

“I used to have a thing for Nightshade, but now… give me Starfire any day,” Murphy declared, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Just three more years, and I’ll be able to steal her away from Nightwing!” The boys burst into laughter, shattering the usually quiet ambience of the study hall.

Unbeknownst to them, two first-year students sat at the next table, their twelve-year-old ears perking up at the conversation unfolding before them. “Hmmmph,” Rick Billings murmured in a soft tone, his red hair tousled. “Just listen to them. I doubt they’ve even met any of those women they’re talking about.”

“I actually met Zatanna once,” the bespectacled Tim Hunter chimed in, adjusting his glasses.

“Yeah?” Rick asked. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Talked to her, too.”

Rick’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “Well, then, let’s put these guys in their place!” He grabbed Tim’s hand and pulled him over to the table where the older boys were seated.

Gray Murphy smirked as the two younger boys approached their table. “What do you babies want?”

“We’re not babies!” Rick protested, though he was noticeably smaller than the others. However, his size didn’t deter his determination. “And besides, Tim here has something important to say.”

The older boys exchanged curious glances, sensing there might be more to these younger boys than met the eye. They leaned in closer, eager to hear what Tim had to say.

“Well, spit it out, then!” Murphy snapped, his voice sharp and impatient.

Tim looked down at the floor, scuffing his foot back and forth nervously. He hesitated for a moment before finally speaking up, his voice barely audible to the group. “I-I’ve met Zatanna,” he said softly.

“What did he say?” asked Kirk Pike, leaning forward with curiosity.

“He said he’s met Zatanna!” Rick exclaimed, excitement bubbling in his voice. “Didn’t you?” Tim nodded, his expression earnest.

“No way!” Murphy scoffed, disbelief etched on his face. “He’s lying!”

“No, it’s true,” Tim said, his voice gaining confidence as he looked up. “I really did meet Zatanna. And Mister E and John Constantine, too. It happened last year in London.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Night Force: Night Forces.]

“Yeah, right!” Kirk Pike sneered, rolling his eyes. “Next you’ll tell me you believe in a Phantom Stranger, too! Go back to your table, babies!” With a swift and dismissive shove, he pushed the two younger boys away.

Gray Murphy shook his head in disbelief. “Can you believe that? What a little liar!” He turned to the last youth at the table, Joshua Cantrell, who seemed to be engrossed in some papers. “Did you hear that, Cantrell?” Murphy asked, his tone incredulous. “Hunter claims he’s met the delicious Zatanna!”

Joshua Cantrell, who had been lost in his thoughts while studying blueprints, looked up from his work, his brown eyes momentarily vacant. “What?” he asked, blinking in confusion.

“No way he’s met Zatanna! What would a fine babe like her be doing around a dork like Hunter?” Kirk chimed in, unable to contain his laughter.

Annoyance flickered in Joshua Cantrell’s eyes as he regarded his classmates. “What are you guys talking about?” he said, his voice rising slightly in irritation.

Their continued outbursts had not gone unnoticed.

“Oh, no,” said Twitchell nervously. “Miss Eve is coming over here!” All the boys quickly reached for their books in a vain attempt to appear to be busy.

The buxom brunette teacher had been observing the group from a distance and now decided to intervene. With purposeful strides, she made her way over to their table, her gaze taking in every detail. She fought to stifle a laugh when she saw Kirk holding his book upside down. “A little peace and quiet for the students who are actually working, please, gentlemen,” Eve said firmly.

“Yes, ma’am,” Murphy replied respectfully, while the others scrambled to hide behind their books.

“Good!” Eve proclaimed, sweeping a hand through her dark tresses to reveal her striking face. “As some of you may already know,” she continued, her voice filled with an air of mischief, “Mrs. Peel happens to be in charge of detention today. And believe me, boys, I would hate for any of you to fall under her gentle clutches.”

A mischievous laugh escaped her lips, causing the listening boys to suppress a collective groan. There was something peculiar about her laughter, a slight cackle that seemed out of place on such a beautiful woman.

Murphy glanced over at Tim, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Hey, Hunter, why don’t you tell Miss Eve about your encounter with Zatanna? Maybe she can perform some magic tricks for us!” He smirked, clearly enjoying his own joke.

Tim’s face flushed as he looked at the attractive brunette teacher. “It’s true, Miss Eve. I really did meet Zatanna, Mister E, and John Constantine last year in London,” he explained, his voice wavering slightly.

Eve raised an eyebrow, clearly intrigued. “Is that so? Well, Tim, I must say I’m impressed. Meeting a famous magician like Zatanna would be quite an extraordinary experience for someone your age.”

“I swear, Miss Eve, it happened,” Tim insisted, a mix of excitement and frustration in his voice.

Kirk Pike let out a loud snort of disbelief. “Come on, Hunter, you expect us to believe that? Zatanna, daughter of Zatara, the patriarch of this hall? You’re just making things up to sound important!”

Tim clenched his fists, his frustration boiling over. “I’m not lying! I really did meet her and the others. They performed some amazing magic tricks, and even taught me a few things!”

Murphy crossed his arms over his chest, his skepticism unwavering. “Yeah, right. And I suppose you can do magic now, too.”

Tim’s eyes lit up, a determined spark in them. “Actually, I’ve been trying to practice some tricks they taught me. I haven’t got that far yet, but…”

Kirk and Murphy burst into laughter, unable to contain their amusement. “Oh, this is rich. Tim Hunter, the master magician!” Murphy said, still chuckling.

Just then, Joshua Cantrell, who had been silent all this time, looked up from his blueprints with a stern expression. “Enough already. Can’t you guys give Hunter a break? You don’t have to believe him, but there’s no need to make fun of him, either. Also, just because I think Mary Marvel has great legs, doesn’t mean she’ll ever fall in love with me. Get real, guys!”

Kirk and Murphy exchanged surprised glances. It was rare for Cantrell to speak up, let alone defend someone or call the others out on their unrealistic fantasies. His words hung in the air, momentarily silencing the group.

Before anyone else could respond, Miss Eve’s voice broke through the tension. “All right, enough distractions, boys. Let’s get back to work. And Kirk, please make sure your book is right-side up this time,” she said, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

The boys quickly turned their attention back to their books, some sheepishly smirking at Kirk’s expense. With a graceful sway of her hips, Miss Eve retraced her steps back to the table at the front of the room. The boys couldn’t resist glancing over the edges of their books, their eyes fixed on her retreating figure. How they loved to watch Miss Eve walk, her every step casting a spell of fascination upon them. All, that is, except for Josh Cantrell, who had retreated back into his own little world, lost in a realm far beyond their reach.

Now that Miss Eve’s backside was no longer a distraction, the boys resumed their conversation, this time in hushed whispers. Their talk centered on the ominous threat that Miss Eve had unleashed upon them. Mrs. Peel, the girls’ gym teacher, had already gained quite the reputation in just three weeks of the new school year. Rumors swirled among the students that she had undergone brutal training to fight the Nazis on her world, Earth-Qoph. (*) Whispers filled the corridors, revealing that she had adopted their sinister psychological methods to train the students at their espionage school for girls. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: Earth-Qoph is Earth-X, where the Nazis ruled for several years; see Freedom Fighters: The Fight Continues, Chapter 11: Our Lady of the Shadows.]

“I heard that Guy Corbette got Mrs. Peel last week,” Kirk whispered, his voice filled with concern. “He stumbled into the dormitory looking like a complete wreck after just two hours of punishment!”

“Yeah,” Twitchell chimed in, his voice barely audible. “No one even dared to ask what could have produced that putrid smell that clung to poor Guy. Word is it took him hours of bathing to finally rid himself of it.”

Murphy shuddered, the memory of the nauseating odor assaulting his senses once more. It was worse than the stench of cooked liver and onions, combined with a dash of vinegar. There was no way he would allow Mrs. Peel to subject him to that horrifying fate. Determination burned in his eyes as he spoke up, his voice resolute.

“We better keep our voices down then,” Murphy cautioned.

“Agreed,” Kirk whispered, his eyes darting around the room to make sure no one was listening. “We don’t want to end up like Guy.”

“Definitely,” Twitchell chimed in, his voice filled with unease. “I can’t even imagine what Mrs. Peel might have in store for us today.”

Murphy glanced at his friends, his eyebrows furrowed in concern. “Do you think she’s really as dangerous as they say? I mean, fighting the Nazis and all…”

Kirk shrugged, his eyes searching the room for any sign that Miss Eve had overheard them again. “I’ve heard stories, man. They say she’s ruthless. Like some sort of secret agent.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Twitchell muttered, his voice barely above a whisper. “I mean, look at Miss Eve. She’s not exactly what she seems, either.”

Murphy glanced back at their enchanting teacher, his heart racing with curiosity. “What do you mean?”

Kirk leaned closer, his eyes flickering with a mixture of fear and intrigue. “Have you noticed the gray strands in her hair? They come and go, like she’s suddenly getting older and then making herself young again. It’s strange, man.”

Twitchell nodded in agreement. “And her laugh… it’s almost sinister, like a witch’s laugh. Doesn’t sound right coming from someone so beautiful.”


Joshua Cantrell stared intently at the meticulously folded blueprints that lay sprawled across the table before him. The administration building, with all its secrets tucked away within, gleamed invitingly. It was a labyrinth of possibilities, an enigma waiting to be unraveled. A mischievous smile played on his lips as he pondered the notion of breaking curfew to embark on an escapade through its hallowed halls.

Lost in his own world, Josh absentmindedly traced his finger over the intricate maze of hallways, his thoughts consumed by the tantalizing mysteries lurking within. As his finger came to a rest over the hall leading to a dead end in the basement, a perplexed frown creased his forehead. There was something amiss, a detail that refused to align with his imaginative map of the building.

“Josh?” a hesitant voice interrupted his reverie, causing him to startle. The sound of his name snapped him back to reality, and he gazed up to find Alfred Twitchell, a studious classmate, peering at him with a mix of curiosity and concern. “Study hall is over.”

Startled, Josh blinked rapidly, attempting to shake off the mental cobwebs that had momentarily clouded his vision. “Oh, right, Twitch,” he responded, hastily gathering his belongings and stuffing them into his trusty book bag. “Let’s not keep Miss Psychic waiting for her soul-crushing anatomy exam.”

A flicker of surprise danced across Alfred’s face. He had spent the entire study hall meticulously cramming for the dreaded test, occasionally engaging in the odd conversation that threatened to distract him. But Josh, unfazed by the looming assessment, had ignored his textbooks entirely. Twitch couldn’t comprehend how his unconventional friend consistently managed to excel academically without a seemingly essential ingredient: studying.

“True, the lack of dismemberment shall provide a welcome respite,” Twitch quipped, leading the way out of the study hall. Side by side, the duo forged ahead toward the classroom that held their impending examination.


Josh Cantrell, his book bag slung over his shoulder, treaded carefully toward the secluded Memorial Park, the late afternoon sun casting long shadows on the ground. Dodging the watchful eyes of the teachers and staff, he maneuvered through the scattered classmates who were engrossed in their own activities. Secluding himself was exactly what he craved, especially in the tranquil confines of Grimoire Island’s quietest spot.

As he finally reached the park, his heart skipped a beat. No one else seemed to be around. It was the perfect place for him to examine the important blueprints he had tucked away. The furtive glances of the seven statues in the vicinity did not faze him; he dismissed them as mere illusions conjured by clever sculpting techniques. The rumors of the statues being alive were nothing more than fictitious tales spun by the older students to frighten the newcomers. Josh knew better than to be swayed by such nonsense.

With a focused determination, he unfurled the blueprints once more, his eyes scanning the intricate details. The observing eyes of the statues seemed to intensify, but Josh nonchalantly brushed off the sensation. Something wasn’t quite right about the measurements of the basement in the administration building. The disparity between the exterior walls and the interior layout intrigued him. What could be hiding there? he wondered.

Closing the blueprints and stashing them away, Josh surveyed his surroundings, mapping out a mental route from his dormitory to the administration building. If he planned it well, he could slip in and out unnoticed during the veil of night, provided he avoided any encounters with the ever-present Adam Frankenstein on his rounds. In his mind’s eye, he effortlessly traced his path. All I have to do is get out of a window and walk across the lawn, he thought. Avoid the teachers’ bungalows and then dash down the stairs, a right and then two lefts. That would lead him to the enigmatic blank wall.

Josh congratulated himself on being so clever. The decision to venture into the Clock Room when no one was watching had proven to be a stroke of genius, or so he believed. However, his own arrogance caught up with him as a presence made itself known — someone had witnessed his clandestine exploration.

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