The Books of Magic: The Spirit World, Chapter 1: Spirits and Spirit Folk

by Christine Nightstar

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Continued from The Books of Magic: The Mysterious Student

One week had passed at the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge, and Timothy Hunter was already feeling a growing disdain for Devin Burgess. The boy seemed to excel when it came to being insufferable. From the dark corners of the classrooms, the same mysterious student in black he had seen before observed Tim, Rick Billings, and their friends. But only Tim and his closest companions had caught a glimpse of this shadowy figure so far. When he asked Mr. Gallowglass about it, the headmaster had told him he would look into it, but Tim didn’t hold much hope for a serious investigation of the mystery.

Mr. Drake’s class had become Tim’s favorite so far, but to his dismay, it was also the class in which Devin Burgess endlessly griped about being mistreated. Unfortunately for Devin, Mr. Drake had chosen Tim and Naala the satyr as leaders of their study group, much to his annoyance. Completing the group were fourth-years Joshua Cantrell and Alfred Twitchell, who often failed to take the thirteen-year-old Tim seriously due to his younger age, despite the fact that he had proven himself several times last year. Thankfully, the two fifteen-year-olds didn’t side with Devin, either.

Tim had grown tired of Devin’s constant lamenting about why he wasn’t chosen as the group leader. He would belittle Naala as the “goat-girl” and mock Tim as the “teacher’s pet.” Furthermore, Devin seemed to enjoy boasting about his father’s affluence and connections. The Lord Magus of the Order of the Ancient Mysteries, Devin’s father, often engaged in secret and not-so-secret meetings with influential figures of both political and mystical power. The mystics that Dr. Anton Burgess associated with tended to lean toward the super-villain persuasion. According to Rick’s explanations, these mystics usually posed a threat to the Justice Society of America or Infinity Inc., two renowned Earth-Bet super-hero teams equivalent to the Justice League and New Titans. (*) Tim could recall the names of five of these villainous mystics — the Wizard, Zor, Fredric Vaux, Bandar, and Haldane the Sorcerer. Nevertheless, he suspected there were countless others lurking in the shadows.

[(*) Editor’s note: Earth-Bet is the term for Earth-Two in mystical circles.]

In the bustling halls of Grimoire Academy, Josh and Twitch found themselves under the tutelage of an unlikely ally — Naala. While her assistance in their respective classes proved invaluable, the two boys couldn’t help but see her as a bit of an airhead. It wasn’t that Naala lacked intelligence; she simply seemed blissfully unaware of the world around her, perpetually lost in her music.

Unbeknownst to them, Naala’s immersion in the Hidden Land had granted her a unique perspective on magic. She effortlessly guided Josh through Enchantments, and her expertise in Techno-Magic proved invaluable to Twitch. However, her conversations mostly revolved around the superficial topics of fashion, music, or tantalizing delicacies, which only reinforced their image of her as a flighty individual.

Tim, on the other hand, found himself captivated by Naala’s ever-changing outfits. He marveled at the numerous variations she could conjure from the same ensemble, save for her trusty hat. Unable to contain his curiosity, he turned to his friend Patsy, hoping she could shed some light on Naala’s sartorial wizardry. To his astonishment, Patsy replied, “I can’t count that high.”

Devin Burgess, a boy who fancied himself a leader, surrounded himself with a band of lackeys he called friends, although they were little more than toadying thugs. Together, they sought to exclude students like Naala from the academy, emphasizing their belief in a human-only environment. Propaganda-laden posters adorned the walls, promoting their discriminatory ideals. Yet, Tim couldn’t help but notice the irony — how could Burgess claim superiority when his own friends seemed closer to being inhuman than Naala?

Naala, deep in her studies and her own world, seemingly paid little attention to the posters or the threats hurled her way. However, occasional whispers of private tears in the girls’ room and Memorial Park reached her friends’ ears, leaving Tim, Rick, Patsy, and their small group of allies concerned. They defended her as best they could, standing up against the discrimination Naala faced. However, they knew that true change could only come from dismantling the humans-only activities orchestrated by Devin.

Desperate to protect their friend, Tim pondered their options. A plan formed in his mind, a solution that might bend the rules but had the potential to make a difference. They needed to challenge Devin’s power directly, no matter the consequences. Determined to help Naala and others facing intolerance at Grimoire Academy, they knew that they had to act. It was a risk, but it was a risk they were willing to take.

***

As the students settled into their study groups, the tension in the classroom was palpable. Tim and Devin, sitting at opposite ends of the table, glared at each other with a burning animosity that seemed to fill the very air. Naala, sandwiched between Tim and Josh, sensed the tension and tried to hide behind Josh, while Twitch, oblivious to it all, sat next to Devin.

At the front of the class, Christopher Drake, their enigmatic teacher, stood in the central hub and cleared his throat, capturing the attention of the students. His voice had a soothing quality that somehow managed to command attention. “Now, before we begin,” he began, his eyes scanning the room, searching for a brave soul to answer his question, “can anyone tell us what the difference is between spirits, faeries, and demons?”

A timid voice from the back of the room piped up. “Um… Spirits don’t have bodies, while the others do?” Kate Gunn suggested uncertainly, speaking with an Australian accent.

Mr. Drake smiled approvingly at the red-haired second-year girl, but his eyes revealed a hint of mischief. “Well, that’s a good start, Miss Gunn,” he admitted. “Anything else?”

Feeling bolder, another voice spoke up confidently. “Demons tend to be evil beyond comprehension,” stated Kirk Pike, a fourth-year student known as the best all-around athlete at the academy.

The teacher chuckled, shaking his head slightly. “Not quite,” he corrected gently. “Let’s set some ground rules for our discussions, shall we? We’ll focus on things that can be proven. Spirits, my young friends, are non-corporeal entities capable of traversing between dimensions. They have deep connections to people, places, animals, even specific moments in time. Some can even assume physical forms for prolonged periods. Fascinating, isn’t it?” He paused, allowing the students to absorb this information.

Moving to the next topic, Drake turned his gaze toward Naala. “Faeries, on the other hand, are corporeal beings with a strong affinity for the spirit and dreaming realms. They have the power to travel between these realms and our own. When they manifest themselves, their appearances often appear surreal or unusual to us humans. Take Miss Naala as an example,” he said with a playful glint in his eyes.

Naala blushed, attempting to hide her embarrassment behind Josh, who grinned and offered her a reassuring pat on the back.

Mr. Drake continued, delving deeper into the secrets of the Fae. “Faeries have a unique duality to them. They possess a friendly, light personality known as ‘Seelie,’ but they also have a darker, manipulative side known as ‘Unseelie.’ Most faeries are renowned or infamous for some sort of distinctive trait.”

The instructor’s voice grew solemn as he approached the next topic of discussion. “Now we come to the final area of our study — demons,” he said, his voice filled with a weight that hung heavy in the room. “Unlike spirits and faeries, demons often started as beings with physical forms, being part-celestial and part-human or animal. Because they belonged neither to the physical world nor the spiritual realm, when they ultimately met their first death, they found themselves denied a place in the afterlife.” He paused, allowing the gravity of his words to sink in.

“That is why they are also known as wandering spirits,” he continued, his voice low and haunting. “They are endlessly searching for a place to dwell, with the ability to inhabit houses, animals, humans, or any sentient creatures they could find, if permission allowed them to.” He paused, his gaze sweeping across the room, capturing each student’s attention.

“And then, there are those beings who began their journey as spirits, humans, or even faeries,” Drake whispered, his voice heavy with the weight of evil. “These started their existence as celestial or otherworldly beings and underwent a transformative process over time for reasons unique to each of them. As they embraced wickedness and indulged in unspeakable acts, they slowly transformed, ascending to a new, lower plane of existence — a demonic level. Their evil is incomprehensible, their depravity unimaginable.”

Drake’s eyes surveyed the room, filled with an intensity that sent shivers down the spines of his students. “Lastly, my young charges, there are demons we cannot explain — evil alien entities that defy all known comprehension.”

A moment of silence hung in the air as the students absorbed the knowledge, their minds buzzing with excitement and trepidation. As the students eagerly jotted down every word uttered by Mr. Drake in their notebooks, some occasionally looked up at the enchanted chalkboards adorning the classroom walls that had magically captured the teacher’s lecture in full. Mr. Drake paused, bringing a cup to his lips as he waited for his eager students to finish writing.

“Now that we have our definitions,” Mr. Drake began, his voice both firm and wise, “can anyone name a type of spirit?”

Devin, his voice laced with an air of superiority, swiftly raised his hand. “Ghosts, phantoms, and other once-living beings,” he proclaimed confidently.

A nod of approval graced Mr. Drake’s face. “Very good, Mr. Burgess. Any others?”

“Totem spirits?” another student suggested hesitantly. Tim and Naala swiveled their heads to acknowledge a Native American student in their neighboring group as he spoke up.

A smile tugged at Mr. Drake’s lips. “That’s another excellent addition. Well done, Mr. Eagle Feather,” he commended warmly.

Unyielding curiosity bubbled within the class. Another student piped up, unable to restrain her excitement. “Elemental spirits?” asked the olive-complexioned student wearing a vibrant yellow headscarf, her voice tinged with anticipation. “And Djinn?”

“Ah, yes, Miss Conjura,” Mr. Drake confirmed, a twinkle in his eyes. “And there are indeed countless more.”

Murmurs of intrigue and awe filled the air, as the students fervently continued to list an array of spirit types, their words cascading upon the enchanted chalkboards like a waterfall of knowledge. One by one, the boards behind Mr. Drake became adorned with their vibrant insights.

With a gentle smile, Mr. Drake addressed his captivated audience, his hand extending toward the rows of chalkboards. “Tomorrow, we shall consolidate all of this, as well as several other types of ‘spirit folk’ that we have not yet touched upon, into a simpler understanding.”

A hush fell upon the class, anticipation thick in the atmosphere. The instructions that followed were met with a mix of determination and anxiety.

“I want you all to read The Spirit World, chapters one through six,” Mr. Drake instructed, his tone brimming with expectation. “Answer all the questions at the end of each chapter, and do remember that I employ an anti-cheating ward. Those who resort to dubious means, such as paying someone else to complete their homework or copying from those who have already completed theirs, shall find their work swiftly erased.” His piercing gaze shifted, fixing on Devin Burgess, as he emphasized his point. “Additionally, this Friday we will embark on field trips,” he continued. “Remember to have your permission slips signed and returned to me by Wednesday.”

Exchanging glances, Tim, Rick, and Naala couldn’t help but feel the weight of the forthcoming workload. Rick, scrutinizing his notes, expressed his disbelief. “I can’t believe there are so many types of spirits,” he muttered to himself, eyebrows furrowing in concentration.

Naala, her eyes shining with intrigue, leaned closer to him, comparing her own scribbles. “He did say that there were even more than we can fathom,” she remarked, her voice filled with wonder. “I wonder what he means.”

The bell signaling the end of the class snapped them out of their musings. Determination now etched upon their faces, Tim declared, “I don’t know about you, but I’m diving into my homework over dinner.”

Rick and Naala nodded in agreement, their anticipation palpable. “We’ll meet you in the cafeteria, books in hand,” Rick assured him.

With that, the trio parted ways, fueled by the boundless mysteries awaiting them within the pages of The Spirit World.

***

Tim and Rick walked side by side, casting quick glances over their shoulders. The mysterious figure in black kept a safe distance, its face obscured by a hood. The friends had spotted it following them earlier, its appearance shimmering off the window’s reflection.

“Tim, do you see it, too?” Rick whispered, his eyes darting nervously.

Tim nodded, his heart pounding in his chest. “Yeah, it’s definitely following us. But why?”

They quickened their pace, their thoughts consumed by the enigmatic stranger. Soon they met Naala and Patsy in the bustling cafeteria, their conversation soon centering around their best-liked teacher, Mr. Drake.

“Can you believe what he did in class today?” Naala exclaimed excitedly. “He shut down those bullies and spoiled kids before they could even begin with their usual nonsense. I mean, I always liked him, but today he gained massive respect.”

Patsy nodded in agreement as they settled down at their usual table. Tim and Rick, still on edge, found solace in their friends’ company. They had enough space between them to allow them to read their textbooks while eating dinner at the same time. Yet their eyes would occasionally drift from their textbooks, searching for any sign of the figure.

Meanwhile, Naala and Patsy had devised a clever spell that held their textbooks upright, above their plates, allowing them to read while eating. The boys were awed, wondering how their friends had managed such a feat, and the girls refused to divulge how they had done it.

As they immersed themselves in their assigned reading, Tim and Rick struggled to maintain their focus. Occasionally, they glanced up, their eyes searching for the mysterious observer.

Chapter one of The Spirit World covered everything they had discussed earlier that day — the different types of spirits they were studying and provided examples of each. With a helpful chart in the middle of the chapter, answering the questions was relatively easy.

Chapter two proved to be more challenging, as it explored spirits of the dead, such as ghosts, and delved into the reasons behind their appearances. The chapter also cited numerous haunted locations worldwide and identified the various entities inhabiting them. Answering the questions required careful searching throughout the text, making the students feel a sense of accomplishment when they discovered the answers.

With each chapter in The Spirit World textbook growing progressively harder as the evening wore on and curfew loomed, the group found themselves feeling exhausted. They closed their books reluctantly, aware that a daunting task awaited them the next day.

“Summarizing those six chapters already feels tough,” Tim confessed, rubbing his tired eyes. “I don’t know if I can handle what’s coming next.”

Rick, Patsy, and Naala nodded wearily, their enthusiasm dampened by the thought of the challenges in Mr. Drake’s next class.

***

“Well, I can see that most of you have managed to complete the assignment,” Mr. Drake said, his eyes scanning over the stack of papers. He took a moment to settle on his desk, leaning back with a thoughtful expression. “Now, why don’t you all tell me what you’ve learned?”

“Spirits are among the most boring creatures out there,” Devin asserted.

Mr. Drake arched an eyebrow, his interest piqued. “And what makes you say that, Mr. Burgess? Care to back up your claim?”

Devin sneered, brushing off the question. “What do you mean by ‘back up your claim’? I think it’s pretty obvious that spirits are boring, don’t you?”

Mr. Drake maintained a calm demeanor, opening the textbook and flipping through its pages. He stared at Devin, waiting patiently. “What I mean, Mr. Burgess, is how can you come to such a conclusion when you’ve only scratched the surface of the different types of spirits? And from a source that lacks extensive expertise, I might add.”

Devin shifted in his seat, trying to come up with a coherent response. “Well, you have these nature spirits, right? They have all this power, but all they do is preserve things, places, and people. They could use their abilities for more… interesting purposes.”

Mr. Drake smiled, challenging Devin’s remark. “So, let me get this straight, you find a spirit that tirelessly preserves the things it cares about or strives to improve them, rather than using its powers selfishly, to be… boring?”

Devin stumbled over his words, realizing he may have misspoke. “No, that’s not what I meant. I just think…”

Mr. Drake interrupted him, changing the subject. “All right, let’s move on. What about spirits of the dead? What do you think of them?”

Devin perked up, eager to share his thoughts. “Well, those are actually kind of cool. But according to the accounts we’ve read, they often seem unhappy and can even be downright mean in certain situations.”

Mr. Drake nodded appreciatively. “That’s a very perceptive observation, Mr. Burgess. You’ve hit the nail on the head.”

Naala couldn’t help but interject with a burning question. “Mr. Drake, who actually wrote this textbook?”

Mr. Drake paused for a moment before answering. “Anton Burgess and I, back when we were friends in college. The Spirit World was our master’s degree thesis.”

Naala’s eyes widened in surprise. “Then, what did you mean when you said the source didn’t have extensive knowledge on the subject?”

Mr. Drake shook his head, a hint of regret in his voice. “Not quite. We both took on spirits as a sort of side subject, just to support our main interests. Anton was more focused on demonology, while I delved into necrology — demons and the realm of the dead. We wanted to be the best in our chosen fields, and that’s how our friendship blossomed. However, life took us in different directions after college. Anton became a wealthy occultist, inheriting his father’s position as Lord Magus of the Order of the Ancient Mysteries on Earth-Bet, while I traveled as a necromancer on Earth-Alpha.” Mr. Drake’s face flushed slightly as he finished, realizing he had diverted from the topic at hand. “But, fascinating as my past may be, we should probably steer back on track.”

The air was thick with the weight of disappointment as a collective groan echoed through the classroom. The students, enthralled by their teacher’s mysterious background, couldn’t help but be captivated by the story and had begun to see their teacher in a different light. It was clear that Mr. Drake’s expertise extended far beyond the textbook.

“We’ve talked about nature spirits and spirits of the dead, but what can you tell me about technological spirits, Mr. Hunter?” Mr. Drake inquired, his eyes fixed on Timothy Hunter.

Timothy’s heart skipped a beat as the attention fell upon him. With a gulp, he mustered the courage to speak. “They… they seem to follow a similar cycle to nature spirits — the creation, existence, and decay cycle,” he stammered, offering what he had managed to glean from his reading. “Just like nature spirits are tied to the birth, life, and death cycle. Many of them appear in forms closely related to the animal spirits of nature, yet they also share traits with spirits of the dead. It’s as if they are a merging of the two types.”

A flicker of approval danced across Mr. Drake’s eyes. “Very observant. Anything else?”

Emboldened by his teacher’s response, Timothy continued, “They are similar to those spirits of the dead, but instead of being connected to specific places or people, they are strongly tied to constructs.”

Mr. Drake nodded, his lips curving into a small smile. “Very good, Mr. Hunter. You’ve clearly delved into the depths of your research. Now, class, listen up.”

The room fell into a hushed silence as Mr. Drake addressed his students. “You all have your textbooks for reference on the various types of spirits we will be studying. Each week, we will be exploring the lore connected to these three types. But here’s your task: in your groups, decide on one spirit type, head to the library, and read three books on it every week. Your mission is to find the similarities and dissimilarities between these spirits, discuss them in class, and collaborate on a joint paper detailing everyone’s views on that particular type of nature spirit. Each week, one member from each group will present the previous week’s paper to the class.”

A voice pierced the quietude, laden with concern. “What if the groups can’t agree on which type of spirit to study?” Naala, the ever-practical student, voiced her worry, her eyes darting toward Devin.

Mr. Drake’s eyes twinkled with understanding. “Each group will be assigned a different spirit type to study, so that shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you mean within your own group, allow me to offer a solution. You have eight more weeks to delve into the vast realm of spirits before we move on to faeries. The final three weeks will be dedicated to covering the last two chapters in your spirit guide, while the remaining five weeks will be for you and your group members to decide on the types of spirits you wish to explore.”

The various groups exchanged glances, catching on to the unspoken suggestion. Josh Cantrell leaned in, his voice hushed as he proposed, “Let’s draw numbers. The lowest goes first, and the highest goes last.”

Tim nodded in agreement. “Sounds fair to me. Any objections, Devin?”

Devin snorted, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “Why would I object, O wise and all-knowing group leader?”

Rolling his eyes, Alfred Twitchell chimed in. “Enough with the sarcasm, Devin. The sooner we reach an agreement, the sooner we can start working on the assignment and finish it.”

Devin shot Twitch a disdainful look, but when the group began drawing numbers, his obnoxious air of superiority quickly vanished. Devin drew the number one, Tim drew two, Josh drew three, Twitch drew four, and Naala drew five. An undeniable smugness played on Devin’s face, until Josh nudged him and shot him a pointed look that clearly said he was being a pain.

“Mr. Drake,” Devin began, addressing the teacher. “Should we focus on a specific category of spirits or a particular spirit?”

“Stick to broader categories for now, like totem spirits or rebirth spirits,” Mr. Drake replied. “In the catalog behind me, you’ll find the spirit types that have at least fifteen books or copies written about them in the library. Remember, the goal is to separate truth from legend.”

Devin’s eyes gleamed with triumph as he turned to his group. “Well, then, I choose death spirits.”

Twitch raised an eyebrow. “Do you mean spirits connected to death or spirits of the dead, Devin?”

“I believe he means spirits connected to death, Twitch,” Josh interjected flatly.

Devin couldn’t help but taunt, “You aren’t afraid, are you, Hunter?”

Tim chimed in with a playful grin. “Afraid of what? The spirits themselves or the lore surrounding them?”

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