The Books of Magic: The Mysterious Student, Prologue: Ramphastos

by Christine Nightstar

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Timothy Hunter couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement as he stepped foot back into the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge. He was a second-year now, and with that came a newfound sense of confidence. After surviving Hell Week last year, he knew he could handle anything the academy threw at him.

The bespectacled, brown-haired boy from London, England, had turned thirteen years old during the Christmas holidays, but it had been a fairly lonely birthday for him. None of his friends from the academy were able to visit him on Earth-One, since most of them did not come from his Earth, which was referred to as Aleph in the academy textbooks. His best friend Rick Billings, for example, was from Earth-Two, called Bet. Nevertheless, Tim had spent an enjoyable two months with his dad, even though Bill Hunter was still under the mystically induced impression that Tim was attending an ordinary boarding school on a scholarship, rather than a so-called school of magic on an island in the South Pacific. That had been Zatanna’s doing; it was the only way that Tim had been allowed to attend this school for selected children from five parallel Earths.

Tim watched from a catwalk that circled the main hall had been created during the break as the new first-year students tentatively walked into the main hall. He found that this was a perfect vantage point to just stand and relax and watch the new kids coming to the school.

Most of them wore the standard school uniforms, blending in with the crowd, though a few of them seemed to have no idea how to dress for weather in the tropics. But there was one student who stood out like a true enigma. Draped in an Old World-style black cloak, the face completely shrouded by the hood, it was impossible for Tim to even catch a glimpse of who he or she might look like. Tim wondered if this mysterious student could be one of those post-graduate students taking advanced classes at Nommo Hall or something like that.

Once the students had made their way into the main hall, a couple of new teachers followed suit. Normally, the Grimoire Academy boasted twelve instructors, along with the headmaster and a few other staff members. However, a change had occurred mid-year last time, resulting in the departure of Mrs. Cable. She was replaced by Mr. and Mrs. Martine, making them the twelfth and thirteenth additions to the faculty. Although they worked together for their elective super-heroics classes, each of them taught other subjects individually: mathematics and music. There would be thirteen teachers again this year, and if Tim had been more superstitious, he might have wondered if that was a bad omen for the year to come.

One of the new teachers was a sight to behold, not just because of his towering height and upright posture, but because he possessed a magnificent beak and a crown of black feathers instead of hair. He bore a striking resemblance to a toucan, a tropical bird.

“Having a look at our new acquisitions, Mr. Hunter?” came a voice from beside Tim. Startled, he peered up to find Mr. Gallowglass leaning against the railing next to him.

It was unusual for the Headmaster to address him with such warmth; he was typically notorious for his severe mannerisms. Tim found himself taken aback by this unexpected friendliness. “Y-yes, sir,” he stammered in response. “Who — what is he?”

Gallowglass, his distinguished presence emanating wisdom, began to enlighten Tim about the mysterious being. “That is Mr. Ramphastos, hailing from the distant city of Feithera on Earth-Bet,” he explained. “And he is one of your new teachers.”

Curiosity got the better of Tim, and he couldn’t help but inquire further. He glanced back at the toucan-like figure, trying to make sense of the situation. “What does he teach?” he asked, a mixture of confusion and intrigue coloring his voice.

Rather than providing a clear answer, Gallowglass simply responded with an enigmatic remark. “To discover the wonders of Mr. Ramphastos’ teachings, Mr. Hunter, you will have to attend his classes.”

This response left Tim even more perplexed, but before he could further probe the matter, he spun around, only to discover that the headmaster had vanished into thin air. Tim couldn’t fathom how someone could instantaneously dissolve like that. Lost in thought, he pondered this peculiar phenomenon when suddenly, his red-haired American friend Rick Billings bolted down the hall leading to the catwalk, his excitement palpable.

“Did you see the bird-man?” Rick gushed, brimming with enthusiasm. “I can’t believe we have a Feitheran like Northwind here this year! Can you believe it?”

Tim nodded, pretending to understand Rick’s otherworldly references, as was often the case. “I saw him,” he replied. “He’s a teacher.”

“He is?!” Rick exclaimed, his eyes widening in awe. “That’s so cool! I wonder what he specializes in.”

“I don’t know,” Tim admitted, his bewilderment evident. “But I heard his name is Ramphastos.”

“Ramphastos… it carries this sense of danger, doesn’t it? So befitting,” Rick mused aloud. “I can’t help but wonder what he’s like.”

Frustrated by Rick’s barrage of queries, Tim let out an exasperated sigh. “Instead of bombarding me with questions I can’t answer,” he suggested, “why don’t you trail the Orientation Day group and find out for yourself?”

“I better hurry,” Rick said, his excitement infectious. “Did you see which group he went with?”

“Baron Weirwulf’s, I think.”

Before Tim could utter another word, Rick dashed off in pursuit of the group that Baron Weirwulf was leading. Tim, left alone, slumped onto a nearby bench in the hallway, feeling a pang of frustration. Rick hadn’t even bothered to inquire about his break, what he did for his birthday, or anything at all. So far, the new year of 1988 wasn’t living up to his expectations.

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