Max the Fourth: Max and the Wonders of Capitalism, The Enlightenment and Industrialism
A Whateley Academy story
Max the Fourth
Max and the Wonders of Capitalism, the Enlightenment and Industrialism
“Hello friends, how are we this fine lunch-hour?” Max set his tray down on the usual table he and his friends shared. They were all there. His roommate, and best friend, Toolbox. The group’s second techie, a Devisor named Electrics. The handsome and charming Exemplar with his prosthetic arm, Fused. The scrappy warper, Zeno, the freshman, Bawumba, towering over them all, even seated, the almost seven-foot-tall pyromancer, Firestriker, and lastly, despite him technically belonging to the enemy faction, a PDP named Chant had joined them. Most of them grunted their greetings. Fused as usual barely acknowledged Max, instead maintaining his focus on the beautiful exemplar girl at the next table over. The two of them were engaged in non-verbal flirtation using channels only fully comprehensible via Exemplar minds! Max had not paid much attention when Fused explained his flirting technique. What he did know was that the two of them were definitely undressing each other with their eyes.
Only Toolbox and Chant greeted Max directly.
“Yo Maxi-pad, how’s the fingerwiggling? Not gonna hit on Starlight today?” Chant asked, waving his food-laden fork like a wand at him.
Toolbox settled for a simple “Hi Max.”
Sitting down in his usual spot between Firestriker and Zeno, Max smirked at Chant; “Wakowski, does your gang of goons know you’re slumming it with us down here on the ground floor?” He dug into his food.
Chant took a few bites as well before retorting; “I don’t really know, but it’s not like it matters any, they can’t really do anything about it anyway.”
From the end of the table, showing that despite his eyes being glued to the girl at the other table, Fused showed he was paying attention to the conversations taking place around their table; “Your loyalty to your friends are a credit to the species, Chant.”
Chant grunted a “Whatever.”
Max chuckled; “And I’m not hitting on Starlight. Sure, she’s ridiculously hot, and somehow manages to be adorkable at the same time, but that’s not my main interest in her.”
“Oh, what is, then?” Chant responded.
Max gave him one of his enigmatic smiles in return; “Maybe I’ll tell you, someday.”
For a few minutes they ate in silence with only Firestriker and Bawumba’s nerd talk interrupting. Finally, Max placed a small box about the size of a square Whateley mug on the table.
The others eyed the box with varying degrees of interest.
Zeno asked; “Uh, what’s that?”
Max nodded; “This, Mr. Gamon, is an Escher box. That’s not its actual name, it’s got a difficult-to-pronounce name in a language no one speaks anymore, but they’re generally called Escher Boxes.”
“Uh huh, and what are they?” Chant replied, turning it around to examine it closer.
Toolbox and the others voiced similar inquiries.
“It’s a magical construct used these days primarily for training purposes. I’m sure it used to have some other use, but as far as I know, they aren’t used outside of classrooms anymore.”He took a few more bites before continuing;“The reason why they are called Escher Boxes is because like M. C. Escher’s theory, the enchantment used to create these can be folded and folded, and folded over and over again. I mean, ish.
“So with that, you can create an almost infinite layer of infinite boxes inside it, though no one really has a use for that, because you can’t really store anything inside it. Nor can you combine it with… You know, let’s just leave it at ‘it’s not very useful’, okay?”
The others looked from him to the box and back to him again with big question marks written in their expressions.
“Anyway, through some peculiar property of the enchantment, these boxes are really easy to create, even for beginners. Of course, with training, you can make them even more complicated. “But while they are easy to make, disjoining them is decidedly not an easy task.”
The freshman, Bawumba, held up a hand; “Uh, what does disjoining mean? I mean, I guess it means disassembling, from context, but I do know that with magic, you never really know. Right?”
Max nodded; “You’re right about that, but you are correct. Disjoining is the mystical term for disassembly. Sure, you can dispel an enchantment, or a spell, or whatever magic thingie you want to use. But dispelling always dissipates the essence, and dispelling an enchanted item is very difficult, at least if you want to reuse, that is a thing that happens, yes, some of the components. A Dispel always leaves anything infused with essence inert.
“So instead, you disjoin an item. And to practice this, you use an Escher Box.”
“Okay, so how are you going to disjoin this box? Wait, are you going to disjoin it?” Bawumba asked.
“Yeah, and is this like a homework thing for you, or just another of your side projects?” Toolbox interjected.
“It’s homework, from just before lunch, actually.” Max responded, taking the box from Chant and turning it around, inspecting it.
“This one was made by Circe. Technically, they were supposed to have been made by Al Fayez, but this one is definitely her work. It’s more…complicated.”
“Wait, they gave you a…” Chant started, but was forestalled by Max.
“Yeah, but I knew they would, and they knew that I knew. It’s okay. Anyway, Bawumba, I will disjoin it, with this!”
Max moved his fingers and twisted his wrist. A silvery tuning fork appeared in his hand.
“A tuning fork?” Bawumba asked. “How does that work?”
Max smiled his usual smile; “Well, to explain that, I will have to ask you a question; Any of you familiar with String Theory?”
Some of the others nodded hesitantly whilst Toolbox and Electrics nodded their affirmation. Max continued; “Basically, the whole universe is made of string at some subatomic level, or something. And these strings vibrate. Everything vibrates, and each string has its own frequency, sort of. I’m actually not sure if I understand it entirely, but I do know that it’s the same with magic.
“Now, us mystic types usually like to pretend that magic is different from you science types and your sciencey stuff. But it really isn’t. It’s not the same, but it’s close enough. And despite what you can do with magic, there are some fundamental universal principles that even magic must adhere to. So it is, that essence also vibrates. Because it must.”
“Yeah yeah yeah,” Chant interrupted, “but how are you going to undo the un-undoable box?”
“I’m getting to that.” Max said as he held out the tuning fork for all to see. He ran a finger along both prongs, seemingly drawing coppery runes on the silvery surface after it.
“So, all magic has what is called an “essential flaw”. It’s a basic and immutable fundamental law of magic, because like I said, there some principles magic must obey. String theory says everything vibrates, even magic, and that is basically what translates into the essential flaw. Nothing is ever perfectly still, not on a fundamental level, so it necessarily entails that nothing is entirely stable, thus nothing is immutable. That is, paradoxically, the immutable law of the essential flaw.”
Electrics spoke up; “Uh, so you want to use the vibrations of the tuning fork to, uh, disjoin the box? But if you put runes on it, don’t they change the pitch?” Max shook the fork at his devisor friend; “You are indeed correct, but magic is,” he said in his best Palpatine voice, “a pathway to many powers, some considered to be unnatural.
“What’s in between your neutrons, your electrons and your whatnots?” He asked the devisor.
Electrics hesitated a moment before answering; “Uh, nothing?”
“So, there’s theoretically room between them?” Max asked again.
Electrics nodded; “Theoretically, yeah, but the concept of actual nothing is difficult to understand, and quantify.”
“Yeah, yeah, difficult to quantify, whatever.” Max dismissed his friend’s comment. He mumbled a few words and, it seemed, pulled another tuning fork out of the first one. This new one had the coppery runes whilst the first remained purely silver.
That stopped the chattering around the table instantly. Toolbox was the first to break through his surprise; “How...How the hell did you do that? You phased...What did you do? How did you do that?” He sputtered.
Max waved away his questions; “Magic, pathway, powers, unnatural, blah blah blah.
“Suffice it to say, just to stave off any demands, I can’t help you do it with your science stuff.”
It was Chant’s turn to speak, it seemed; “Yeah, but that seems, I don’t know, particularly advanced. I know Dreadthought can’t do that. You’re in the advanced classes though, right?”
Max smiled again; “Yes, but they don’t teach you this here at Whateley. Anyway, two forks, phased in between each other’s constituent parts. One with runes, one with perfect vibratory pitch, leading to the most excellent tool for disjoining.
“Speaking of disjoining, allow me to demonstrate.”
He pointed out a student sitting at another table; “Observe this delightful young lady. Envy, from Poe. She’s a Seed, her mother is the Strega. She usually carries several magical items.
“Now, a simple little spell for range, one for cancelling out the interfering pitch and…”
He mumbled a few words with some gestures and pinged the tuning fork.
Turning it slightly back and forth, the pitch seemed to change slightly with the angle, Max finally let out an excited; “Aha!”
The bracelet on the girl, Envy’s, wrist came apart into several parts. She sprung up with an outraged outburst.
Max stilled the tuning fork and quickly turned away as nonchalantly as possible.
“See? That was easy.” He looked at the others.
“Oh, she’s definitely going to kill you!” Fused said, now giving Max his full attention.
Max simply shrugged; “Eh, I’m not worried. Anyway,” he pinged the fork again and held it over the Escher Box, “time to disjoin the box.” He pinged the fork a few more times until; “Got it! A’era Ne’char Vellas Dagh!” He spoke a few words in that inscrutable magical language he used, and the Escher Box fell apart.
He held his hands out and looked at the others; “That was easy.
“I think this should at least earn me an A+.” He delivered that annoying smirk he saved for when he had done something he knew other students could not do.
“Anyway, so that’s my homework for Advanced Mumbo Jumbo. What else is new?” Max looked around the table, some of them just shrugged. Firestriker spoke up first;
“Oh, you didn’t hear? I got interrogated by security the other day. No big deal.” The huge pyromancer dug into another hamburger.
“You were? Why? Do I have to go full outrage or something?” Ron, Firestriker, dismissed his friend’s suggestion.
“Nah. It’s actually connected to the other big news. Several of the school bullies have been in Doyle with severe burns, electrocutions and, the rumor says, Legbreaker had to have a whole bush removed from inside him.
“So I guess Chief Delarose thought I had something to do with Buster and Strongarm getting burned to a crisp. Seeing as how, you know, them and I don’t quite get along. That’s the legal term he used.”
“They’re not the only ones,” Toolbox added, “the TNT goons had been sewn together, literally. They were literally sewn together, with some sort of plant vine that doesn’t even grow on this hemisphere.”
“TNT? I thought they were too busy, what’s the word? Boinking the furies to actually have time for bullying?” Max asked as he shoveled more food down.
“They were. But apparently the ladies are giving them the cold shoulder at the moment,” Ron said, and then as an afterthought; “Huh, I wonder if that means Alecto is available?”
All the boys, apart from the freshman, stopped to wonder for a moment.
It was Fused who broke the momentary silence first; “Well, while you all consider that, I’m going to go and console Envy for the loss of her item.” He got up and headed over to the freshman poesie’s table.
Max quickly whispered, quite loudly; “Don’t tell her I did it!”
Fused simply rolled his eyes and then set them firmly on the distraught, yet angry, raven-haired beauty.
Back at the table Max regained his composure and got up; “Well, as totally not sorry as I am, hearing about the woes of the various campus bullies, I best head off, I have business to attend to.
“See ya all tonight.” He collected his tray, the disjoined Escher box and headed off.
The others grunted their see ya’s and their laters.
After busing his tray, he headed up to the faculty area. A few of the teachers gave him some sidelong glances, but as he was clearly headed to the Headmistress’ table, no one said anything.
At the table were seated the Headmistress, Mrs. Carson. With her was the Assistant Headmistress, Amelia Hartford, Langley Paulson, the Imp, and Max’s current reason for being there, Circe.
The Headmistress gave him a not angry, but perhaps slightly displeased, look; “Mr. Powell, this is the teacher’s cafeteria. Students, of which you are one, may only enter with permission. I trust you have a reason for being here?”
Max gave her his trademarked goofy smile, reached into his pack and withdrew the disjoined Escher Box. Dropping it on Circe’s tray, he spread his arms out and leaned in; “What else ya got?”
The Imp reacted first with fake outrage; “Gasp, did you break Circe’s box?”
Max pshawed loudly; “Pshaw, pshaw! As if you’re the only one here who can finger an unopenable box open.”
Circe inspected the parts with a slight frown before sighing deeply; “That, Mr. Powell, was disappointingly fast.”
“Yes, remember that, kid, fast is quite often disappointing for the other party involved.” The Imp inserted into the conversation.
“Fast and furious, that’s the way I roll baby, I do everything fast!” Max returned.
Mrs. Carson quickly staved off further witty rejoinders between the two of them with a disapproving rebuke; “Mr. Powell, please refrain from referring to a faculty member as “baby”, in the future. I believe we have had discussions of this nature before.”
“I remember, something something huge tracts of...I’ve said too much. Anyway, Circe, unless you have something else for me, I’ll take my A+ with me and go work on my newest project.”
“Another project, Mr. Powell?” Mrs. Carson raised an eyebrow, “Is that wise, given that you haven’t finished the detention your last project garnered you? What, pray tell, are you working on now?” She asked, fixing him with her authoritative stare, knowing full well this was perhaps the one student that did not work on.
“Mrs. C! Telling you now would rob me of the pleasure of being dragged, in chains, to your office. You’ll just have to wait and see, but I promise you, it’s very cultured.” The Headmistress sighed and Max turned to the Imp; “Imp, nice to finally meet you, I’d have liked to take one of your classes, but that one,” he pointed at the Headmistress, “wouldn’t let me. Something about you, me and Razorback in the same room. Eh, what can you do?”
Both Max and the Imp gave Mrs. Carson a faux-angry stare.
“Thank you, Mr. Powell, you can leave now.” The Headmistress said, and indicated his presence was no longer tolerated. He saluted, in his mock-ish manner, and headed back out into Crystal Hall. Behind him, he heard Circe sigh and comment; “I didn’t think I would have to find something more challenging than an Escher Box for him.”
Back in the student cafeteria, he surveyed the students on the ground floor a moment, spotted who he was searching for, and headed that way.
“Hi Bleach, I hear stories of some dickwads having been sewn together. I take it you’re satisfied with our transaction?” Max sat down next to the practically beige-colored junior.
“Max, hi. Yeah, that was great, I’d like another, if you got it?” Bleach’s unhappy face switched to a smile.
“Bleach, my friend, are you familiar with Formication?”
Evening, a few days later.
Weathervane breathed heavily as she ran down the path towards the Quad. She looked over her shoulders at her pursuers. They were obviously playing with her. One of them, she knew, was a speedster who should have easily run her down by now.
They were yelling at her, taunting her, insulting her.
She turned out over the grass towards the garages instead, hoping to lose them.
No such luck.
As she ducked through the bushes towards the back of the faculty garage, she quickly realized her mistake. She was surrounded.
Buster, Strongarm, Legbreaker and, she gulped, Counterpoint, came around the building from either side.
Strongarm spoke first; “Who are you running from? We just want to talk, isn’t that right, boys?”
The others, apart from Counterpoint, nodded and grinned maliciously.
“We just want to be friends, hey, you can tell the weather, that’s cool. Isn’t that cool, boys?” Buster said, from his tone of voice it was clear to Weathervane that he was being sarcastic.
She gulped again. “I...I just want to go back to my cottage, I, I have homework…” She stammered.
Counterpoint stepped closer and sneered; “Fuck your homework, you fat weakling. Why the fuck do they admit you pathetic losers at this school anyway? You’re disgustingly weak.”“Yeah, it smells, worse than fucking Killstench!” Strongarm added.
They continued with their insults, but Weathervane, almost frozen in fear, barely heard them. Instead, she had reached into her pocket and pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper.
“Any last words, weakling?” Counterpoint said, harshly, as he closed his hands into fists.
Weathervane didn’t notice, but Buster, Strongarm and Legbreaker did hesitate at the sheer venom in Counterpoint's voice. Their hesitation gave her the few seconds she needed.
She performed a few gestures with her left hand and read the writing on the paper out loud;
“Eala’vach Emass Dockart Eg’ath!”
Counterpoint surged forward in the blink of an eye, and almost landed a hit on the cowering girl. But right before he crossed the full ten feet between them, something grabbed him by the ankles and he slammed, face first, into the ground.
Several roots had snapped out of the ground and were grappling, and piercing, Counterpoint’s feet, ankles and lower legs, with roots continuing up and through his legs. The other three bullies turned and ran, or at least they tried. Soon, they too were being grabbed and pierced by roots shooting up from the ground.
Blood was pouring out onto the ground as the four bullies were inexorably pulled underground.
Weathervane ran, relief and horror coursing through her.
Elsewhere on Campus.
“Now, Bleach, I thought we agreed that you would stop with your faggot bullshit? That if you didn’t, you’d have to leave school.” Matthew Thatcher, aka Dump Truck, drawled in his Boston working class accent. Hiking his thumbs on his biker gang vest, he continued; “And yet, what do I see but you hanging out with that other faggot, Saloon? Not cool, Bleach, not cool at all. You think I give a flying fuck about what those prissy Capes said? You faggots don’t belong here, you don’t belong anywhere. Time for you to find some other school to be a freak at!”
Bleach backed away from the giant senior student. Any other day he would probably have been terrified to his very core. His power was the ability to control color, specifically to draw color out of stuff and add it in as he went along. A decent power, to be sure, just not very useful against bullies that wanted to beat him up.
But he had done business with the school’s resident maniac. And as the maniac had delivered on his promises, and more, Bleach had again availed himself of the merchandise offered by the crazy wizard.
Suddenly, the otherwise towering and powerful bully didn’t seem so towering, or powerful. At all. For the first time since arriving at Whateley, Bleach returned the bully’s sinister smile.
Meanwhile, in the rival group.
“Hey Spartan? Have you ever noticed how Chant’s attention is always elsewhere when we’re having a group meeting?
“I mean, I’d be tempted to say it’s disrespectful.” Dreadthought asked his teammate and friend, Phillippe Apostolos, or Spartan.
At first, Spartan didn’t say anything, realizing that the question was meant for Chant and not for him. He performed a few more reps with the dumbbells before putting them down. Training was important for him, especially because he wasn’t an Exemplar and the only two girls on the team both were. It didn’t sit right with his male ego.
“His attention has indeed been a rare species of animal since he, acquired, that copy of the Venus Inc. portfolio.”
“It has indeed. You think we should take it away from him?” Dreadthought asked, this time directly to the members of the group currently present, all but Apex and Ignite, the two girls.
Without looking up from his newly acquired favorite thing in the world, Chant responded with a chuckle; “I am currently looking at a picture of both Poise and Solange in bikinis. Previous page was Heartbreaker in a skim-”
“Isn’t she a total bitch?” Kyber, the team’s Gadgeteer and Devisor asked. The rest of the boys, save Chant, rolled their eyes at the naive question. “That is adorable, Kyber, but chicks don’t need to be saints for you to partake in their pleasures.” Dreadthought responded. Stryfe, the team empath, nodded vigorously.
For a moment, Chant put down the portfolio. “Don’t listen to these ingrates, Kyber. They might be right, technically, and I certainly wouldn’t push her out of bed. But yeah, she’s a bitch, and if you find that unappealing, that’s cool. You do you, man!” He gave Kyber a closer look, specifically his right arm. “You need a hand with that?”
“It just needs to be recalibrated. I can handle it.” Kyber held up his cybernetic arm for all to see before continuing his work.
“If you say so, but I can hook you up with Fused and Toolbox, they’re pretty good with that shit.” Chant suggested, his nose once again buried in the Venus portfolio.
Dreadthought held his arms out in disbelief; “Hey, they’re Powell’s friends! Don’t let them inside the circle!”
Chant shrugged; “Really not your decision, DT, you’re not the one gradually losing all his fleshy bits and replacing them with some weirdass ridiculous metal.
“Speaking off, we really need to find you a girlfriend, Kyber, gotta lose that virginity before your dick falls off and has to be replaced with a vibrator.”
“It is simply amazing, Chris, how one minute you can be supportive and friendly and then the next you’re a total dick.” Ignite said from the door, Apex right behind her. The two Exemplar girls entered the room and sat down, Ignite next to Kyber and Apex pushed herself onto Dreadthought’s lap; “Hey baby, sorry we’re late, but it doesn’t seem like we missed anything.” She gave her boyfriend a quick kiss and put her arm around his shoulders.
“DT, dude! It’s your girlfriend! In a corset!” Chant held up the portfolio, turned to a page with Apex clad in a black corset. “I think I need some private time!”
“Seriously? Chant, you’re such a dick, fuck you!” Dreadthought exclaimed, almost shouting.
Chant held up his hands in surrender; “Okay, okay. I give up. Apex? You’re a wonderful and classy woman, I respect you.
“Kyber? I’m not sorry for suggesting we find you a girlfriend, I was actually serious about that. Anyway, what are we talking about?” He put the portfolio aside and sat down at the table. “Oh, and by the way? DT? They might be “friends with the enemy”, but Fused and Toolbox are cool. This whole thing is between you and Max, so since that’s what we’re spending most of our time talking about anyway, where are you with that?”
He looked at Dreadthought, who was still looking angry.
Strye spoke first; “Yeah, the guy’s totally disrespecting you, and by extension, the rest of us as well. What are we going to do about it? Beat him up?” Chant snorted, loudly, at that suggestion.
“Oh, and you think we can’t do that, huh? You think we can’t send him to Doyle for the rest of the school year? “Hell, I’d put him in a fucking bodybag, migh-” Dreadthought forstalled any further argument between his two teammates.
“No, we’re not going to be sending him to Doyle for the rest of the year, or put him in a bodybag. Despite the headaches he has caused the school’s administration, I doubt they would let us get away with something like straight up murder.”
“Besides, if anyone here thinks you can get the better of him and not have all his friends descend on us, you’re in for a rude surprise.” Chant interjected. “Besides, he’s getting in tight that hottie, Starlight, over in Poe. And he’s already tight with Fey. You really want to bring that sort of trouble down on us?” He rolled his eyes and fastened his eyes to the Venus lingerie book again.
Dreadthought frowned; “Starlight? Who the fuck cares about some glowy freshman? Sure, she’s ridiculously hot, but-”
“Hey, I’m sitting right here, jerkwad!” Apex interrupted, angrily, not taking well to her boyfriend’s suggestion that some other girl was hotter than her.
The meeting quickly descended into chaos and it was several minutes before order was restored.
Dreadthought took a deep breath before continuing.“Stryfe, I admire your commitment, but murder seems just a bit excessive. Especially considering humiliation is a far better weapon.“Here’s my thinking, Chant, you’ve said that using telepathy and suggestions on him is especially tricky, right?”Chant nodded, and shuddered; “I still have nightmares about that fucking song! And the first one of you to even think about humming it is going to seriously regret it!”
Dreadthought nodded; “Agreed, and messing with Max’s sister over in Poe appears to be out of the question too, yes?”
Spartan reluctantly spoke up; “Yes, she’s roommates with Dancer, not Bladedancer, just Dancer. Exemplar Six? Teleporter? Yes, and seriously scary on the mat. Did you see how she put Lancer on his ass?”
Chant mumbled from his Venus lingerie book; “Who can blame him? I wouldn’t mind being put on my ass by her, girl’s got a killer body!”
Wisely, Dreadthought refrained from providing further comment on Dancer’s body, though he agreed fully with Chant’s assessment.
“Yes, besides, messing with the kid sister just seems low.
“So, here’s my thinking. Yes, Max is undeniably a talented wizard. There is, I am forced to admit, a good reason why he’s on the advanced track already.
“But! He is, for better or for worse, still just a Wiz Two. And I am a Five! I can bring a level of power to the table he just cannot match. We’re going to be antagonizing him, and his friends. But with the focus on him. And then, finally, we’ll get him to challenge me to a wizard’s duel. As the one challenged, I can set the rules and thus dictate terms to further favor myself.
“None of his friends will be able to help him when I crush him in spirit and body.”“That all sounds well and good,” Stryfe said, “and I like the whole deal about antagonizing them, it’s practically my middle name. But how do you plan on doing it? You got some special mojo magic you can use?”
Dreadthought smiled his most sinister smile; “Boys, and girls, I raided my family’s Arcanum over the summer, and believe me, the spells I’ve brought with me? I’m going to make him the laughing stock of the entire school and put a target on him for all the usual bullies to focus on. They will do the final job for us, leaving us with our hands clean!”
Next day, Jobe’s door.
The door opened and Max was greeted with a slate black face, pointy ears, lavender eyes and a scowl that could turn milk sour.
Max returned the scowl with a polar opposite smile; “Freight Train, I’m so glad to see you have taken so well to your new form. Is the boss lady home?” He looked past her into the room filled with various techno-gadgets.
“Jobe’s busy, she doesn-” Freight Train began, but Max slipped past her before she noticed she had been slightly edged to the side. “Hey!”
Inside the room, Jobe was in her white lab coat, eyes fixed on a stack of paper. The room’s third occupant, Belphoebe, the result of an unholy union between pre-drow Jobe and Belphegor, the school’s most notoriously long-fingered Devisor, was looking through some fashion magazines.
“Maximillian Powell, also known as Deus Ex Maximus, what brings you here, barging into my room and disturbing my work?” Jobe asked, with her snide but still velvety soft voice.
Max smiled again and spread his arms out; “Oh, I just thought I’d come by and talk some business with you, M’lady Jobey.”
The slate-black bio-devisor frowned even more, and not just from the cutesy nickname bestowed upon her by the gangly wizard.
“What on earth could possess you, to think I that would want to do business with a finger-wiggler?”
Max, inspecting a vial of green stuff he picked up from the table, shrugged; “Well, you do eat lunch, dinner, breakfast, and whatever else, with at least two of them on a regular basis. So I figured you’d be up for some serious talk. Am I wrong?”Freight Train grabbed his arm from behind; “You want me to throw him out?”
Jobe shook his head; “Freight Train, dear, let’s not antagonize the erratic probability mangler while he’s standing inside my room holding chemicals. Put that down, please, D.E.M.”
Max put the vial down as Freight Train immediately yanked her hand away from him. Max turned and, to her protest, ruffled her hair.
“Jobey, dear, that is an outrageous accusation.” He stepped closer to Jobe, his face only inches away from hers; “Unlike someone else I could mention, by name, who’s right here in this room, I don’t mangle anything.”
Max smiled. Jobe frowned, then snickered. Then she laughed. “Good one, Max. Everyone still buying that line?”
“I am sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, Jobey. Anyway, I’m gonna need to borrow your portable market stall for a, erh, “business” venture I’m working on.”
“I see, it’s in storage right now, but I can have it pulled out for you by tomorrow. If you’re selling something, I’ll want a, I believe it’s called a cut.
Max scoffed, loudly.
He leaned in, even closer, practically nose to nose, his eyes fixed on Jobe’s lavender orbs; “Agreed!”
Max stepped away, ruffled Jobe’s hair and headed for the door; “I’ll see you ladies tomorrow, then.”
“You’re an ass.”
“Speaking of ass. Jobey, any progress on that sexuality thing? There’s a lot of money riding on it, you know.”
“Excuse me?!” Jobe’s face went from annoyed to outraged in a blink of an eye; “Money? There’s a bet? Somebody’s got a betting pool on my...my…?”
Max nodded; “Sure do, I believe it’s sitting around eighty large ones at the moment. Buy-in’s two fifty, winner takes all.
“I got you as “Big-breasted anime elf slut”, but in my defense, when I joined the pool the remaining options were far worse than that.”
“You, you actually bet money that I would end up as some big-boobed slut?” Despite the fury now written all over Jobe’s and the two other Drow’s faces, Max remained unfazed.
“Sure, But like I said, the other options were far worse, there was talk of tentacles, you know? And not the kind of tentacles you would be sprouting.
“Hey, don’t be angry with me, go ask your Seed buddies what they picked.” Seeing the rising anger, Max decided for the better part of valor, his business done regardless, and opened the door; “Hey, you can place a bet yourself, no one’s taken turns-back-into-guy yet. I guess people just think it seems unlikely at this point.”
“Hm? Oh, you mean who started the pool? Dunno. Anyhoo, while you’re stewing here in your anger, I’m going to go get some dinner.
“Let me know if I’m on the right track for winning the pool, okay? Okay.”
Maxed winked at the three Drow elves and headed out before any of them could yell further complaints.
Twenty minutes later, Max was seated at his table, his food, his books and his Norton’s 3 lbs. 2oz. 26 inch heavy duty shear with high-grade aircraft aluminum handles and center oiler bolt for improved performance set out on the table before him.
On his plate, a bacon-cheese burger, some roots, a small scoop of mustard and two slices of whole-wheat bread and sausage. Next to the plate, a pitcher of pineapple lemonade.
“Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn about this dinner.” He said to himself in his best Rhett Butler voice.
Before digging in, he inspected his notes on his current project. There were several orders from various students, mostly underdogs and frequent targets of bullies. Satisfied that all was going as planned, he flipped to a page further back and poured over the schematics for the next enchantment on his fourth big project.
“Yes, this’ll do nicely. Now, to business!”
With that said, he closed his notebook, put it back in his bag and turned his attention to the juicy bacon-filled delight in front him.
As he was about to bite down, a soft and silky voice interrupted him, much to his annoyance.
The red-haired vision approached his table and sat down.
“Oh, and here I was, just about to angrily rebuff whoever dared interrupt my important business. And then it was just you, hello Nixiestick, how’s stuff?”
“Please, Max, I’ve asked you not to call me that,” Nikki, Fey, responded, “I don’t care much for nicknames.”
Max shrugged and offered her some of his roots. She took one, to be polite.
“Oh, parsnips? Not bad.”
“Uh huh, try the mustard, it’s quite delightful.”
“You do a poor Ayla, you know that right?”
“I wasn’t aware I was trying to do an Ayla. I just like mustard with my sides. Anyway, I’m just going to keep calling you Nixiestick anyway, I like it. It suits you, despite your dislike of...Nick...names, Eh, Nixie?”
“Sometimes, you’re just a complete ass, you know that right?” Nikki leveled a displeased imperious glare on him.
Max leaned forwards, resting his head in his hands; “You know that barely worked on me last year, now you just look adorable.”
“You don’t have to remind me of that. What did you want?” Her glare turned from imperious to pouty.
“What do I want? You approached my table. You and yours all sit up top, you’d have to take a detour to talk to me, which you go out of your way to avoid.
“I mean, a fourth elf in one day? Now I just need a fifth, and it’s a proverbial full house.”
She looked confused a moment before responding; “What are you even talking about? And you asked for me the other day!”
“Huh? Oh, hah. Nah, I was just visiting Millie and hitting on Isabel. You, I just wanted to harass a bit while I was there. Just for fun.
“You seen that Elle girl around? Maybe I can make her my fifth elf, put you all on shelves!”
“Max, we’re not elves, and, ugh. Whatever. Seeing as I’m here, you wouldn’t happen to know what’s been going on lately? Earlier today, Noodle was asking me about spell scrolls to use on bullies.”
“Oh? Noodle, huh? She looking to branch out in how she deals with dumbasses? I might have just the thing, send her my way.” Max nodded eagerly.
“So, it is you? You’re the one who’s been selling spells to students! Not very responsible, you know, Aunghadail wouldn’t have-”
“Well, it’s not like she’s around anymore, so who cares what she would have thought?” Max cut her off and dismissed her argument.
“I know. It’s just...giving spells to untrained...Max, it’s dangerous! And could you please stop talking about Aunghadhail like that?”
Max finished his burger before responding.
“Nikki, I like you. Really, I do, but I don’t stick my nose in whatever it is you and your friends do, so please show me the same courtesy.”He picked up his bag, Britney and his tray. Before heading off, he gave Nikki another smile; “And in case no one has told you this yet, let me be the first! If you think that ancient elf queen really cared about you, Nikki Reilly, then you should really rethink the whole thing. You losing that spirit? Very likely that was the best outcome for you, Nikki Reilly. Now you get to be your own person, you get to be Nikki Reilly, and not some long dead and gone queen.
“And hey, look at the bright side, you got the best parts of her, and none of the bad. What’s not to like?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Eh, maybe. See ya around ‘Red!”
Wait, Max, you didn’t tell me how you made all those…”
“Look up Henry Ford, Red, see ya around, I’ll come harass you at Poe sooner or later, don’t you worry.
Max left the red-haired elf at his table as his own friends approached. Fused, of course, walked right past him and headed straight for the elf at the table, giving Max only a single comment; “Thanks Max, you’re a good friend after all.”
Next day, afternoon
“Step right up, step right up! Max and Company’s emporium for all things magical is open for business! We’ve got scrolls. We’ve got...other scrolls, we’ve got...even more scrolls!”
Bawumba called out to the small group of students assembling around the stall.
“You want to take down that bully? Look no further! You want to burn that big exemplar who won’t leave you alone to a crisp? You have come to the right place, step right up!”
One student stepped forward, Weathervane; “Hey, that spell you sold me last week was awesome, you got anything more like that?” She looked over the list.
“Of course,” Max responded, “but why settle for last week’s success? How about a reflection spell? Turn their attacks right back on them, basically letting them beat themselves up.” He held out an embossed scroll for her; “Only one hundred dollars, practically a steal!”
“Whoa, I...I don’t think I can afford that, but it sounds totally awesome.”
Max shrugged; “Eh, take it now, pay later! It’s a money back guarantee.” He held it out for the small underdog.
“Thanks Max, I don’t care what they say, you’re the best!” She accepted the scroll and hurried off, just in case the crazy wizard changed his mind.
He nodded to his third business partner, Zeno; “Write that down, Mr. Gamon, Weathervane for one hundred buckaroos!”
The next customer to push himself forward to the front was the devisor Gyro, a junior who suffered from the unfortunate circumstance of having GSD in the form of cat ears and looking too effeminate for some of the more aggressive students’ liking.
“Gyro, good man, what can I do for you? How about a Blink spell, for easy escape? Very suitable for your pacifist ways.”
“Really? Yeah, that would be awesome! Can...Can I pay tomorrow? I mean, how much?”
Max nodded; “Of course you can, Blink is a higher tier spell, requires more essence. More essence, higher price, obviously.
“One hundred and, let’s say ten. One hundred and ten dollars. Write that down, Mr. Gamon.” Max handed Gyro the scroll.
Quickly, the crowd descended into chaos with everyone wanting a spell to fend off bullies and several minutes later, only one customer was left.
“Gaxx! My main man, what can I do for you?”
Gaxx, the short and unfortunately stocky boy from Mexico muttered something barely audible.
“I’m sorry, Gaxx, yer gotta speak up, what do you need? Fireball? How about some spell to induce capsaicin pain in your vic...your assailants?”
“I...I don’t know how to, erh…how to cast spells…” He muttered, just loudly enough for Max to hear.
“Oh? Oh, that’s no problem, at all. Mr. Gamon, an instruction manual, if you please.” Zeno handed a small pamphlet to Gaxx.
“Mr. Gaxx, inside this small pamphlet, you’ll find everything you need on how to use my merchandise. Here, have a free taste.” Max handed him a scroll. “This is a simple spell to spice up some obnoxious asshole’s dinner, or breakfast, or whatever. It’s very versatile!”
Gaxx hesitatingly accepted it; “Thanks...I think...I...I’ll check it out.”
“You do that, Mr. Gaxx, see ya next time.”
The last customer headed off and Max turned to his two partners; “That went rather splendidly, I thought. Let’s pack up and come back tomorrow.”
“Yeah, let’s just hope people pay up.” Zeno commented, with Bawumba agreeing.
“Nonsense, of course they’ll pay. Let’s have a little trust in our fellow students.
“Besides, they all get so happy when they get store credit. Who’s for dinner?”
“Always,” Bawumba answered, “you think that sexy red-head elf is going to join us again?”Zeno scoffed; “Fey? Nah, she’s up on the top level. She only talks to Max here because he won’t stop harassing her.”The freshman had an amazed look on his face; “Whoa, is that how you get a girlfriend?”Max shrugged; “Eh, never worked for me.”“Yeah, me neither.” Zeno added.
Security Office, Kane Hall
“Ah, thank you for joining me, Elyzia, I’ve got something here I would like you to take a look at.” Security Chief Delarose invited the magic teacher to sit and handed her a pamphlet and a rolled up piece of paper his guards had confiscated from a student.
“Some of my guards found this on a student, Gaxx, who was talking about it being a magical spell he had gotten. I wasn’t sure, but I figured, with what’s been going on lately, that I would at least ask you about it before I dismiss it.”
She nodded as she inspected the pamphlet and the scroll; “Yes, a wise precaution, especially as I can tell this is definitely an actual spell scroll. Though no kind of scroll I’ve ever seen. What’s this pamphlet?“Instructions? On how to...My word, this is elaborate in its simplicity, this could easily be used in basic magic 101. There’s instructions for the appropriate gestures, phonetic pronunciation of Aramaic, Latin and Celtic.”
Intrigued, and worried, she unrolled the scroll.
“And see here, at the bottom of the scroll there’s a list of the needed somatic incantations. Yes, this is…Where did you say you got this?”
“We got it from Gaxx, Mexican student on the Psychic track. According to his power testing, he has shown no magical aptitude at all.”“Hm, he wouldn’t need to, the scroll is infused with the required essence for the spell, but I’m not sure how the creator has managed it. It doesn’t have all the usual hallmarks. In fact, it almost looks like it was…Are there any other scrolls?” She asked with a worried tone.
“No, not on Gaxx, though he did say there were a lot of other students, mostly underdogs, who bought the scrolls. On store credit, if you can believe it.”
Elyzia frowned, feeling a headache not unlike essence-burn growing; “Franklin, there’s really only one student in the magic department who’s talented, and irresponsible enough to make something like this and then just give it away. Only one who’s flagrant disregard for school and magic rules-” “Oh come on, again? He’s not even finished with his last stint of detention! God, do we need to pick him up?”
“Of course we do, Franklin, these scrolls are dangerous. Have your patrols pick him up and take him to Elizabeth’s office, she’ll want to deal with this. Meanwhile, you and I go and search his room. I believe that is sanctioned under the Magical Dangers act.
Delarose nodded as he lifted the phone to call in his patrol; “Goddamn Maximillian Powell!”
Carson’s Office, later that evening
“The two of you have a choice, you can either tell me everything you know, and have your detention transferred to Mr. Powell here, or you can stick by your friend and serve detention alongside him.”
The two boys, Zeno and Bawumba both spoke up in unison, answering the Headmistress.
“All the underdogs!” Yeah, all the underdogs, they bought lots of spells.”“Yep, I got records of everyone who bought one, they got store credit!”
Max looked to both sides, at his friends; “Ya know, they do say that snitches get stitches, you’ve heard of that, haven’t you?”
“Mr. Powell, I am aware that these two are your friends, but please refrain from directing threats at them while in my office, regardless.” Elizabeth Carson admonished him.
“Mr. Gamon, give the list to Assistant Headmistress Hartford in the front office, then the both of you may leave. You, Mr. Powell, you stay here.
As the two boys scrambled to their feet to escape the dread headmistress’ attention, a security guard entered with an armful of paper rolls.
“Where do you want these, Headmistress?”
“Just put them on the table here, please.”
The guard did so and retreated from the office, leaving only the Headmistress, Max and Circe inside.
Circe picked up a few of the scrolls and inspected them.
“I cannot believe I’m saying this, but credit where credit is due, Elizabeth. This is very good work.”“I suppose that is only to be expected from Mr. Powell here.” She picked up a scroll herself and turned her attention to Max. “Mr. Powell, anything you care to explain before Ms. Grimes and Chief Delarose join us? How on earth did you manage to make this many spell scrolls? Not to mention all the ones we have yet to find, and those that have been used already. You know this is dangerous, Max, I know you know this!”
Max shrugged, almost apologetically; “I’m very entrepreneurial, you know that.
“And as for danger, it’s not like any of these are deadly spells.”
“Not deadly? Max, three students were literally sewn together, with poisonous vines from-”
“Dendrocnide moroides. It’s an Australian plant. Not really known for its vines, but hey, with magic many things are possible.
“What? It’s not deadly. Fun little spell, though.”
Max held out his hands as if his explanation made perfect sense.
Both the Headmistress and the head of the magic department sighed, deeply. “Max, I’m sure, as always, you have managed to find some interesting way of weaving various disciplines into your spell work, but you yourself wrote that magic needed to be practiced by professionals.” Circe pointed out.
Max shrugged again; “So? It’s not as if I’m teaching the underdogs how to perform rituals, or anything, I’m just providing them with the means to defend themselves against more powerful students. Bullies, really. I believe that’s actually your job, Mrs. C.
“And besides, I’m an excellent teacher.” He indicated the pile of scrolls; “Exhibit A! Am I not helping you, Circe, teaching the junior class the principles of enchantment stacking? I believe I am. Hell, I could teach magic to a frigging lab monkey!”He sat up straight in a sudden motion; “Whoa, I should definitely teach magic to a lab monkey!”
“No you most certainly should not!” The Headmistress flew out of her chair.
Just then, Elyzia Grimes and Security Chief Delarose entered. Grimes with a trident in her arms and Delarose with a large cardboard box. Following them were three other guards, each carrying a box.
“Put them there, Gentlemen, please. Then wait outside.” Delarose indicated the floor. His own box, he put on the desk and stepped away.
“Elizabeth, Circe, I’m sorry to say that you will both be impressed, and you won’t like it either.” Elyzia said as she opened the box.
They all looked inside. Circe nodded in approval and the Headmistress simply sat down, weariness creeping into her bones.
“Mr. Powell, is that what I think it is?” “I am sure I don’t know, but if you think it’s a tabletop printing press, then you are probably correct. Pretty neat, huh?”
“A printing press? Really?”
“Yes, this I would like to know. How did you manage that, Mr. Powell?” Circe offered, now more interested than angry.
“Well, like I said, I’m an entrepreneurial guy, it was really just a matter of conceptualization, capital and implementation. It’s Capitalism, my friends!”
“Max, will you just answer the Goddamn question, for once in your life?” The Headmistress exclaimed, forcefully.
As Max sat quiet, even Circe took a step back from the palpable anger emanating from the Lady Astarte.
“You took the Lord's name in vain, I’m telling Englund. And sur-” Max happily said, still apparently unfazed by the fury unfolding in the office.
“Just ANSWER the question! No more snark! No more evasion! I am halfway to expelling you immediately, and if you don’t want that, you will answer the questions I have for you!
“Now, if you please, Mr. Powell.”
He shrugged; “All you had to do was say so. All I really needed was some sketches, a ferrokinetic, some Mithril, courtesy of Silver, and Glazier, who graduated last year. Simple really. If your goons here,” he pointed to Delarose and Ms. Grimes, “did a proper invasion of my privacy, they will have found a set of schematics.”
Ms. Grimes pulled a sheaf of papers from one of the boxes along with a couple of glass rectangles with a small silver drop in the middle. On the sides, runes were cut into the glass. ‘
Max continued; “Oh, and for the record? I know you’re angry and all that, but you’re not going to expel me, so don’t even bother.”
“And what makes you think that, Mr. Powell? You have endangered your fellow students with this little stunt of yours.” It was Chief Delarose who asked.
Max looked him directly in the eyes; “Ask Circe, she knows why. And as for this quaint notion that I’ve endangered my fellow students? That’s BS! All I have done is give them the ability to defend themselves against bullies. Something, I believe, would otherwise be incumbent upon you, the faculty, to do. But you didn’t. You failed. So the real question here is, are you just angry that I did your job for you, or-”
“Shut. Your. Mouth. Boy!” Headmistress Carson bit off every word, reigning in a now explosive anger.
She took a deep breath, then another, trying to figure out how this one student could manage to so antagonize her to this level. Not to mention how she hated that he was right, that she would not expel him.
Finally regaining her composure, she continued; “Very well, Mr. Powell. You may consider your detention extended until after the winter semester, during which I will decide your electives. I am sure we can find something to occupy that active mind of yours with.
“As for these items, we will be confiscating the lot. Including the trident, just in case you thought you had plans for it.”“What? That’s unfair and outrageous! Do you know how long it’ll take me to come up with a new idea to mess...I mean, for extra credit?”
“Yes, I am sure you had some elaborate scheme in mind. From the fact that it is a trident, I’m sure you would use it to up the water pressure in the school, or something equally destructive.
“No, it will go with the printing press and these glass rectangles. I’m sure the scrolls can go to the basic magic 101 classes, Circe?”The head of the magic department nodded her assent.
“Good, we don’t currently have time to examine your creations, so they will have to go to the back cage, alongside your other projects. You’ll get your extra credit, but the school will be keeping these. If you spend money on them, well, you can consider that a lesson in capitalism.
“And before you go, I want thirty pages on the properties of the poisonous plant, what did you call it?”
“Dendrocnide moroides.” Max answered.
“Yes, very good. Thirty pages, by the end of next week. You may return to your cottage.”Max smiled as he got up and leaned on the desk; “I almost thought you’d never ask.” He mumbled a few words and pulled a stack of paper out from his secret magical pocket.
On the front page it read; “Dendrocnide moroides, a study of properties and genomes, by Maximillian Powell.”
The Headmistress sighed, the former weariness now returning; “Just get out, Mr. Powell!”
After he left, Franklin Delarose turned to Circe; “Why, exactly, are we not expelling him?”
She shook her head and even chuckled a bit.
“Because however troublesome he might be, Maximilian Powell is without a doubt the most talented wizard at the school of the generations previous, current and likely even the next. There is no one who pushes his, or her, magical aptitudes to the limit, and then pushes that limit even further, like he does. And what is so much worse, yet also heartening? He’s pulling everyone else in the magical track up with him.” She shook her head, laughing out loud. “If we expel him, we’ll never be able to offer him a teaching position here, something Elizabeth, Elyzia and I have already discussed.”
Delarose did not share her positivity, instead demanding answers; “Then tell me again, why can’t we point him at our problem? If he’s so good at what he does, why are we torturing poor Kayda with this?”
Before Circe could answer, Elizabeth exhaled loudly; “Because, Franklin, however right Circe is, however talented he is and however much it rubs off on his fellow students? Can’t you feel it? He’s...he’s up to...something. He’s manipulating us and I can’t help but feel that we are doing exactly what he wants us to do.“Circe is right. There is no one who is as talented as he is. Not Fey, not Charmer, not...not anyone. Hell, I can’t keep up with him. He knew I was going to want him to write a report on poisonous plants. Why? Because he’s two steps ahead of us.”
“Well, why aren’t we doing something else then? Why don’t we just give him the items back?” Franklin demanded, dismayed at the tone of surrender in the Headmistress’ voice.
“What else can we do, but let this play out? And for our problem, do you really want Maximillian Powell to have access to that kind of dark power?
“No, we’ll let this play out. Only then can we figure out what he’s up to. When push comes to shove, he is not an evil boy. And frankly, despite how angry he makes me, I do find it rather refreshing to have a student who is not afraid of me.”
On the path to Melville
Humming a nameless tune to himself, Max headed up the path to the tower of Melville, seemingly not a care in the world. Halfway there, he stopped and turned back to look at Schuster Hall.
“That was suspiciously easy…”
To be continued in Max takes the Fifth!