Magus Vol. 1, page 1
Magus Vol. 1
By Jesse Freeman
Copyright 2014 Jesse Freeman
My head smacked against the window and scraped down the metal frame. It cut across the side of my scalp.
The bus screeched to a halt, skidding for several feet. Car horns blared from behind.
I wiped an arm against my head. “What the hell was that!?” A red smear ran across my arm.
Everybody else on the bus glanced around, some standing up, most trying to look out the left side of the bus. The driver opened the door and stepped out. I followed.
Traffic diverted around us. People poured out of the bus behind me, filling the sidewalk. A few heads peeked out from behind the bus's windows.
The bus's front left tire had busted open, leaving behind only a metal rim with bits of black rubber stuck to it.
An open manhole lie behind us.
The driver knelt down in front of his destroyed tire, then gave me an apologetic look. I looked back and forth between him and the manhole.
“We can get this thing moving again, right?” I asked.
The man shook his head. “I don't carry any spares. It's gonna take a while for someone to come out here and replace this.”
I ran my fingers through my hair, taking a deep breath. “Listen, I really need to get moving again. I have a very important interview!”
He crossed his arms, looking me over. “How old are you?”
Evidently being a scrawny teenager somehow made him take my statement less seriously. “Sixteen.”
“Right.” He rolled his eyes, fishing for something in his pocket. “I'm sure the manager of whatever fast-food place you were going to will understand.”
I crossed my arms. “I'll have you know, sir, that my interview is at the institute.” I smirked. “That's right, the academy that trains heroes. You know, the one we all owe for our continued safety. Maybe it rings a bell?”
He placed a hand on his hip.
I nodded. “Yeah, so for the good of humanity, it is critical-”
“I'm sorry.” He raised a hand to cut me off. “What position are you interviewing for?”
My eyes narrowed at him.
He stared back, utterly unimpressed.
“You mean janitor?”
And that's the story of how I found myself sprinting across several city blocks to reach my job interview. Well, sprinting part of the way. I got tired after the first block and power-walked the rest of the way.
The institute trains heroes starting from about fourteen. It only operates as an actual academy during the summer break. It becomes more of an extra-curricular activity when school starts up again. Apparently society thinks you still need to know math even if you're learning to use magic and guns for a long and luxurious career of stabbing horrifying things to death.
Needless to say the fact that fourteen year-olds have to forgo ever getting a summer vacation to attend an institute that prepares them for a future of risking their lives on a daily basis means volunteers are not particularly forthcoming. At least they know the kids that do join are dedicated.
Or have parents that cajoled them into it.
I found myself within the institute's pristine lobby only a couple of minutes late. The secretary had me wait a few moments before sending me into a nearby office.
The name Yvette was displayed prominently on the open door.
A woman waited behind a desk, typing away on her computer. She wore a pair of slender glasses, the computer's screen reflected off of them, giving me an unclear image of the display. Her pale blonde hair was tied back into a bun.
Papers, folders, and binders were scattered around her desk. The stationary hid a layer of staplers, mouse pads, and a colorful assortment of pens and pencils. A couple of wrinkled papers peeked from the crevice of a filing cabinet’s drawer.
I did, however, appreciate a poster of a cat raising its paw, with the caption 'Your meowtastic!' underneath it.
I don't know what a 'meowtastic' is or how I could have one, but I do love painfully forced puns.
She sighed when I stepped in, and tore herself away from the screen. Yvette planted her elbows on the desk and entwined her fingers together.
Wow, really? It was only a couple of minutes.
I pushed that thought to the back of my mind immediately and forced a smile. “I'm sorry, ma'am. My bus... got a flat.”
“Right. Well, it doesn't really matter-”
I held a hand up. “Now hold on a moment there. I may have been a whole sixty seconds late, but I will have you know that I, Ronan Hyland, am undoubtedly the most qualified man for this job.”
“Because,” I interrupted. “I'm not just a groundskeeper, I strive everyday to be the greatest groundskeeper there ever was, or ever will be.”
She stared at me before releasing a long, tired sigh. “The last two people didn't show up for their interviews, and my last groundskeeper is leaving after today. Show up tomorrow for work, and you've got the job.”
I raised a brow at her. “That's it?”
She nodded. “If you have time, please take a look around our campus. It'll save me trouble tomorrow when I have to walk you through your responsibilities.”
I scratched the back of my neck. “Uh, Ma'am? Won't the old guy be teaching me everything?”
“Normally.” Her eyes shifted. “But he's leaving very suddenly.”
“And he's the only groundskee-”
“If that's all you need?” She quickly stood up and pushed me towards the door. “I'll see you tomorrow. Please be here by eight.”
The door slammed shut behind me.
What in the world was that all about?
That job interview had been weird, but on the other hand...
I fist pumped. “Nailed it!”
Getting a summer job wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it'd be. All I needed was to poke around the campus for a bit and then I could go home.
It was mid-June so school had just let out, and the institute had fully opened. The students' day was nearly over.
I never really understood how the curriculum around there worked. The day was over only an hour after noon, but students rarely seemed 'done'. They always ran around town doing something.
Considering the institute was training these kids to fight monsters someday, most people didn't bother asking questions when a few students showed up on their property, asking if they've seen anything strange lurking around the neighborhood.
I counted myself amongst those same people. I'm not saying I'm not curious, but I'm pretty confident I'd rather not know.
It was a nice enough campus. Four buildings surrounded a large fountain with gray brick roads connecting them together. Flowers were grown along the side of the pathways, though I did note more than a few of them were wilting in the heat.
Maybe the reason they're losing their last groundskeeper today is because Yvette fired him. How hard is watering a plant though?
I can't really deny that it worked out in my favor.
The eastern-most buildings contained a cafeteria, auditorium and gymnasium. The northern a library. And the western building contained all the classrooms. The last classes had let out by the time I entered.
Students scrambled by me and I kept to the side. Some of the older ones carried weapons ranging from swords and knives to machine guns. I never saw any younger student carrying weapons.
At least not openly.
It was better not to think about it, given that they were already effectively child soldiers and all.
I rounded a corner, just about done taking in the last section of the third floor. I tried to memorize the names listed nex
“I'm telling you, there's a story here!” Some girl was yelling at someone on the phone. She was, well...
A mouse. Person. Thing.
I mean she was pretty much human. Two legs. Two arms. But also mouse stuff.
Fur coated most of her body, the only exception being her palms and the underside of her fingers, which were a pinkish color. A pair of rounded ears poked around the side of a newsy cap. A slender tail hung behind her.
It twitched every few moments. I stared at it.
“Gah!” She yelled into the phone before firmly pressing her finger against the screen and pocketing it.
The tail twitched.
My gaze drifted from the tail to her eyes after a long few moments.
She was staring at me, staring at her.
I tilted my head. She looked around before focusing back on me.
I'd like to think that I could have said something, could have come up with some witty line to repair that entire awkward situation.
Instead I did a nice little one-eighty spin, pivoting on my right heel, and walked away.
I only made it a single step.
My weight sunk into my right foot as I slowly shifted forward. After a brief moment of hesitation I continued my pace.
A hand tugged at my shoulder, forcing me to stop.
“I'm talking to you.”
“Of course you are,” I said, spinning back around.
“Listen, I'm doing work for the school paper.”
“Of course you are,” I said, looking up at her newsy cap.
“Hold on a second. The institution has a newspaper?” I frowned. “Aren't they training you guys to kill monsters? Does the institute have-”
She firmly pressed her palm against my mouth, leaning in close. “Shush.”
I nodded once. She let go.
“I...” She shifted her weight between her feet a couple of times. “Look, I know you don't know me, but I need help with-”
“No.” I walked away immediately.
A choked hiccup came from behind me.
I hung my head back, running my fingers through my hair while staring up at the ceiling.
“Y-your just going to... to...” She buried her face in her hands.
She fell to her knees, openly sobbing.
I tugged at the collar of my shirt. “Please. Don't.”
She shook every few moments, occasionally releasing a pained hiccup.
“Fine!” I threw my hands up. “I'll do whatever, just stop crying!”
She leapt to her feet in a flash. “Thank you!”
She hugged me, and in that instant before her arms wrapped around me I got a good look at her face.
There was not a single sign of her having been crying.
My arms hung limply at my sides. If only I had more of a spine, I probably would have walked away immediately.
With a tired sigh I asked, “What exactly are we doing?”