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  • Home > Connie Suttle > Blood Sense     

    Chapter One

    I was on my hands and knees yet again, palms scratched by gravel, face no doubt an attractive shade of green, whilst I retched my guts up onto the ground.

    “Are you quite alright, Miss Mackenzie?”

    I couldn’t help but note the lack of solicitude in the inquiry. I dragged myself to my feet. “Yes,” I muttered, embarrassed. “I’m fine.”

    “Then we should go in. The Dean is waiting for us.” Without pausing any further, the mage beside me swept through the door of the large sandstone building in front of us.

    I glanced around, taking in my surroundings. We were at the end of a long driveway; in front of the training academy were large manicured grounds, covered with a layer of icy frost. A few crows cawed overhead, sweeping their way across the sky in search of some scarce winter food; to my left, the portal through which we had entered shimmered briefly in the air. I sighed deeply, turned, and followed inside.

    My escort was waiting, a look of exasperated irritation on his weathered face. He didn’t say anything further, however, merely moved deeper inside through the main vestibule area before turning right down a scuffed corridor. A young teenage girl bustled out of a door just up ahead, carrying a few china plates with the remnants of some half-eaten food on them. Whatever the recipients of the plates had eaten, it didn’t look particularly appetising, especially to my still nauseous stomach. It was probably just as well that the meals weren’t fresh though, because when the girl looked up and saw me, her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open with a comic half ‘oh’ of surprise and dismay, and the plates went crashing to the ground. I paused, kneeling down to help her pick up the shards, but she backed away like a frightened rabbit.

    The mage tutted to himself. “Really, Miss Mackenzie. We do not have time for this.”

    He cast a stern look towards the poor girl, who seemed to be getting whiter and whiter by the second and was evidently praying that I’d just leave her and the smashed contents alone. I gave up and straightened. The mage made a moue of distaste and then continued forward.

    At the end of the corridor a wooden door lay slightly ajar. He knocked on it briefly. A deep voice from within muttered something I didn’t quite catch, and then my ever-so friendly guide motioned me inside. I gave him a dazzling smile, ignoring the flickers of heat in my belly caused by a mixture of my nervousness and his rudeness, and went in.

    Sitting behind a large desk that was strewn with all manner of books and oddities was an older man wearing a pair of half moon spectacles perched on the bridge of his nose. He stood up as I entered, clasping his hands behind him, and I realised that he was wearing an antiquated black academic gown in the ilk of someone who felt the need to proclaim his importance to the world. He gestured at me to sit down on a small chair in front of the desk and then seated himself again. The chair I was on was cushioned and fairly comfortable, but it was also considerably lower than the chair of the man in front of me, making me feel somewhat like a small child. It was a very old intimidation ploy, although knowing that it was a trick still didn’t stop me from actually feeling intimidated. I leaned back, trying to look relaxed.

    For several moments, silence hung in the air. I bit my tongue to refrain from saying anything stupid. It was possible, well probable really, that I was going to be here for five years. The deal I’d made with the Arch-Mage in return for the mages freeing Mrs Alcoon, my old employer, from a particularly disagreeable stasis spell, meant that I had promised to submit to training here at the mages’ academy. Apparently the average length of time before graduation was five years; I was determined, if not for my sake then for Mrs Alcoon’s, to be much quicker than that. Pissing off the dean of the school probably wouldn’t help my cause much, even if he was being pissy himself.

    Finally, he looked up from whatever he was doing to appear busy and stared at me over his glasses with a look that would no doubt freeze the balls off many young school-boy wizards. If he thought that looking at me was going to scare me though, then he hadn’t read the full report from the Arch-Mage. I might have been feeling intimidated by my surroundings, and by what was going to be expected of me, but I’d faced down scarier things than teachers. I straightened my back and gazed at him straight in the eye.

    “So, Mackenzie Smith.”

    I stayed silent and just continued to look at him. He raised his eyebrows slightly. “Your name is Mackenzie Smith, isn’t it?”

    “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said innocently. “I hadn’t realised that you were asking me a question.” I smiled at him pleasantly. “Yes, my name is Mackenzie. But please call me Mack.”

    The Dean refrained from smiling back. “There is no need to get smart with me, young lady. We don’t tolerate attitude from students.”

    Young lady? Attitude? Why that jumped up little…I continued to smile. “There was no, uh, attitude, intended, Mr. Michaels.”

    “Dean.”

    “Huh?”

    “Dean Michaels. We expect you to display appropriate humility whilst you are here. You will address me as Dean Michaels. You will address everyone else with their full titles. The trainers you will address as Mage, followed by their surname. And that same humility goes for your attitude towards the other students who are here due to their lineage and ability –neither of which I believe you possess. You will address them as Initiate followed by their first name.”

    Well, I actually did have some ability. In fact, I had a pretty nifty trick with fire that I could happily show him. But I reminded myself that I was trying to be conciliatory and unthreatening, so I just gave a perfunctory nod and ignored the seething coils of fire inside me.

    “I apologise, Dean Michaels.”

    He didn’t appear particularly mollified, but he inclined his own head slightly and continued, shuffling more paper around. “You will start at Level One with all our other Initiates. You are expected to attend every lesson and every gathering unless told otherwise. There are certain events which are reserved for real mages only and we will not expect you to attend them.”

    Or want me to attend them anyway. That was okay. I was pretty sure my ego could survive not having to pitch up to some dull-as-dishwater magic parties.

    “Breakfast is served at 5.30am. Lessons begin at 6am. You will have to master all five disciplines before you can move onto Level Two studies.”

    I cleared my throat.

    He blinked at me and flicked a finger in my direction. “What?”

    “What are the five disciplines?”

    The Dean stared at me as if I had just sprouted purple horns with yellow polka dots. “You mean you don’t even…” His voice trailed off, and he rolled his eyes. “Kinesis, Divination, Protection, Evocation and Illusion.”

    “Ah, I see.” I nodded sagely.

    “You have no idea what any of those actually are, do you?”

    “Kinesis is moving things around, I guess. Protection will be warding, I imagine, and learning how to kick the shit out of nasty things.”

    The Dean winced. “Language, please.”

    “Oh, sorry. Learning how to utilise one’s alchemical hocus-pocus in order to suppress and extirpate the existence of any objectionable entity that threatens either to subjugate or generally cause botheration.” I crossed my legs and leaned back again.

    He didn’t look very amused. “Trying to be clever here, Miss Smith, will not help you. Neither will showing off, provocation or violence. I have been ordered by the Arch-Mage to train you, and train you is what I shall do.” He stood up, towering over both me and the desk. “But that does not mean that you are to be anything other than tolerated. You are not a mage and you will never be a mage. You are a thug that we have had foisted upon us. I expect you to be seen and not heard, and to not bother me in this room again until it is such time for you to leave. You will not bring shame and disrepute upon our institution. The oath-taking ceremony begins at dawn tomorrow, after which point you are bound by our laws. Break them and suffer the consequences.”

    He lowered himself slowly back to his seat, and looked down at his desk, picking up a squat pen. “You may go now.”

    I stayed in my chair for one slightly stunned moment, before gritting my teeth and standing up. I opened my mouth to say something back to the stupid old fool, then thought better of it, and turned back to the door, curling my fingernails into the palms of my hands. I told myself that there was little else that I could really have expected. Absolutely the best thing that I could do would be to excel in every area that this jumped up Hogwarts offered and get out with my dignity intact and Mrs. Alcoon’s consciousness restored. My bloodfire was screaming at me to do differently, but sanity thankfully prevailed.

    My escort was waiting outside, smirking at me. Clearly he had heard every single word. I gracefully resisted the impulse to slam my fist into his face and forced the edge of my mouth into a smile.

    “Well, that was fun. The Dean is such an inspirational and motivational guy.”

    The mage ignored me. “I’m going to take you to your room now.” He pushed himself off from the wall and motioned down the corridor. “It’s this way.”

    I followed him again, back down the corridor and then up three flights of stairs. We passed several people, some of whom seemed to be students, wearing different coloured robes, and some who were older and were no doubt teachers, judging by their black academic gowns, which mirrored the Dean. None of them appeared particularly thrilled to see me, in fact more than a few moved swiftly out of my path in case they might happen to brush past and actually, shock horror and heavens forbid, touch me. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t here to make friends, and after already being thrown unceremoniously out of Cornwall where all my real friends were, I was pretty sure that this bunch couldn’t do much to hurt my feelings.

    We passed a row of rooms that were filled with bunkbeds, and a few terribly young looking girls, again wearing robes of various colours, were milling around inside them. Great. Not only was I being put through all this ridiculous rigmarole, but I’d have to share a room with some giggling adolescents. I had a flicker of a memory of my old bed in the dorms at the keep in Cornwall and pushed it away out of my mind. What was past was past.

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