This chapter contains repeatedly vulgar and sexually suggestive language.
Tyrant: Spells made real; the wrath of nature; manifestations of faith, power, the elements. Gods. In short, Tyrants are entities that within certain parameters can perform magic beyond the bounds of human performance. The limits of their existence are not understood. Most Tyrants spread a territory known as ‘demesne’ that represents them and their claim on the world. Tyrants who have lost their demesne possess humans or objects instead.
All around her the streetlights went on as if acknowledging her presence, a tunnel of light that bisected the park. It was a white carpet spreading out before her, and for an instant, she reminisced like a child, about the feeling of eyes, about the wonderment that others might have had at the sight of her. She felt almost as special as she wanted to.
However, they were only streetlights. This was not a runway. Nobody was watching.
In this case, that was good and fine. She went to the meeting place and made the exchange. Money left one hand and a brown paper bag filled the other. She grinned.
Night fell quickly after, but Lyudmilla Kholodova paid the gloom no mind.
As she departed the park and made for the dorms on foot, she sparked her own light.
She withdrew a rolled paper cigarette from the bag and a pristine silver lighter from the pocket of her uniform blazer. She took a long drag from the cigarette; the taste was grassy, and the pull a little harsh and spicy on the tongue. It was of poor quality.
“At least it was cheap,” Milla said to herself. She laughed a little through the taste.
She put it out before approaching the dorms, but she’d light another up when she could.
Though she referred to her residence as “the dorms,” the National had all kinds of housing. There were inns and hotels with small rooms up for cheap. Whole apartments and flats were up for sale in town if you applied and the landlord thought you could keep the place together. Private places were the best, or so Milla had heard. There were fancy ultramodern flats going for thousands of thal that had hot tubs and parties going 24/7; Milla couldn’t have hoped to get something like that, given she was practically living on the National’s charity at the moment. Instead she was in the dorms; specifically in what was known as The Estate, a three-winged complex near the center of town. This was not a plebeian state of being by any means. The Estate was well located and rather fancy.
It was just not hot tub sex party fancy; not that Milla really wanted such a thing anyway.
Everything was clean and smooth and well-lit. These weren’t like the school dorms she’d slummed in at various points in her life. Seeing into open rooms there were computers and big bunks and mini-fridges and microwaves for the beer and noodles. There were students everywhere in the halls, chatting, grabbing stuff from the vending machines, making out; each floor had a bulletin board and there were posters and notices on the walls, messages left for people. Every hall was like its own little village, Milla thought.
When she made it to her room, the sixth door on the ninth floor hall, Milla found the door open and her roommate waiting on a desk chair, sitting with the backrest forward and leaning on it. She had been looking out the door with gloomy, expectant eyes.
“Hey Milla. Glad I got to see another human face before the end times.” She joked.
“Okay.” Milla replied. She looked over her shoulder at the door. “Waiting for someone?”
“Yeah, my dirtbag boyfriend and my shitty friends.” She replied, sighing.
“How late are they?”
“Ugh, they were supposed to be here an hour ago, and he should’ve been here all along.”
“Oh well. You’ve got the rest of the night ahead of you Cheryl, lighten up.”
Milla walked past her and dropped onto the bed, and pulled off the screen unit from the homunculus on her wrist. While pretending to toy with the unit, she surreptitiously photographed Cheryl with it while she was still looking out the door and distracted.
It was a good photo.
Cheryl was rather pretty and flashy. Her luxuriantly long blond hair was studded with glittery pink stars, and her eyes had a magical glamour on them that superimposed a star in each. She had her uniform mostly on. Her shirt seemed like it had been tugged until the buttons burst open halfway down her chest, but the tie was still on and done up right. It had a striped pattern of lush pastel colors. Her skirt was a bit loose. She wore a pair of open-toed shoes with short heels and had her blazer tied around her waist.
Her homunculus lay discarded on the desk behind her. Its straps were pink, and there were a dozen little things hanging from it, like peace symbols, a tag that read sexy bitch and keychain cats and little figures of cute characters from animated shows.
“Can I borrow one of your ties sometime?” Milla asked.
She clipped the Homunculus screen unit back to her wrist.
Cheryl seemed to awaken from her previously single-minded focus on the open doorway.
“Yeah, sure. Go for it. Just don’t take the one I put out for tomorrow.” She said.
“Can I grab a bra too?” Milla said cheekily, spying one of Cheryl’s red straps and grinning.
“You wouldn’t be able to fill it.” Cheryl said. She fixed her shirt, tying a button up.
She was quickly back staring glumly at the door.
Milla burst out laughing. “I was trying to have a good time and I feel so attacked now.”
“Ugh, fucking, Amber and Jenn, I’m so mad!” She said. “How are they this late?”
“Maybe they got kidnapped. Maybe they’re getting bled for a dark ritual right now.”
“Eww, you’re so gross Milla!” Cheryl said, but she said it while laughing uproariously.
She reached a hand to the bunk and delivered a friendly smack to Milla’s stomach.
“Amber’s real mad at you, you know.” She said, wearing a little grin on her face.
“What did I do?” Milla asked, her tone dispassionate and largely unconcerned.
“You popped that bubble in front of her in class. She looked dumb.” Cheryl said.
“Tell her to stop being such a baby.”
“You can tell her when she shows up. I’ll have your back.”
“I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
“Aww, come on. We’re pals. You wear my clothes. Don’t be like that.”
“It’s true. I’m wearing your clothes right now.”
Milla patted the sides of her skirt, her lips curled in a demonic smirk.
“You’re gross.” Cheryl said.
“You were pretty cool today, y’know?”
Milla thought that came kind of out of nowhere, and she raised an eyebrow.
“You summoned a ghost out of that wand.”
“I didn’t summon anything.”
“I bet you did. I bet it wasn’t there before.”
“I’m not some kind of witch. I’m not even that good with magic.”
“You’re better than me.”
“It’s not hard.”
“You probably know some like, real fucked up dark arts stuff, don’t you?”
Cheryl giggled, clearly pleased with the glum look on Milla’s face. She loved to tease.
“I wish.” Milla said.
From her bag, Milla withdrew another cigarette.
Cheryl noticed her lighting it up, her eyes darting to it as if tracking it by GPS.
“Hey, open a window or something, I hate that smell.” She said.
“I guess you don’t want a taste then?” Milla asked.
“I extremely do not want a taste, Milla.”
“Pity, it’d take your mind off this nonsense.”
“Yeah it’s a real tragedy that I’m not high right now. But I’ll live through it somehow.”
Cheryl hugged the backrest of the chair tight against her chest.
She blinked for a moment and then raised her head.
“Oh, hey, right– you got a letter this afternoon. Sorry, I forgot all about it.”
Cheryl reached behind herself and picked up an envelope from the desk.
“It’s from the school. Can’t be about your grades this early, so I dunno what’s up.”
She handed Milla the envelope. Milla looked it over: it had the seal and everything.
From her pocket, Milla withdrew a knife, hidden as a pen, and cut the envelope open.
Cheryl gaped at the sight. “Oh my god, put that thing away. I’ll pretend I didn’t see it.”
Milla sighed internally, the cigarette still in her mouth. She pocketed her knife again.
Cheryl was mostly cool but she could also be dreadfully boring about certain things.
Inside the envelope was an average-seeming, very ordinary letter from the college.
Milla read it carefully, and stared at Cheryl as if she had any answer for the contents.
Cheryl stared back at her and lifted one hand up for a half-shrug, blinking rapidly.
Looking back down at the letter Milla felt her heart exploding in her chest.
“What is this crap?” Milla shouted. “I can’t– I don’t understand any of it!”
“Do you want me to read it? Is this a language barrier thing?” Cheryl asked.
“I read Otrarian just fine!” Milla replied. “It says I’m going to be apprenticed!”
“Huh. I thought that’s usually a thing you like, consent to.” Cheryl said.
“I know! I’m being apprenticed to Minerva Orizaga, effective immediately! There’s not even any explanation for it, it just says owing to my performance and conduct!”
“Oh, well, Ms. Orizaga’s pretty cool. She’s got that kinda ponytail butch look to her.”
“I don’t care! This is crap! I’m not going to be some teacher’s slave for no reason!”
“I mean, that’s not how it works, it’s 1998. We got like, laws. Your grades are probably not good and you weren’t showing up to office hours either so they probably wanna help.”
“I don’t need help with my grades! Or office hours! I am doing just fine!”
“Hey, don’t yell at me!” Cheryl said, wincing. “If you’re that mad, go talk to Ms. Orizaga.”
At that moment they heard a knock on the open door.
Cheryl’s face lit up as a young man let himself into the room.
“Hey baby, sorry I’m so late. My dad showed up to be a hardass at me.” He said coolly.
“Aww that sucks sweetie, I hope it’s all chill now.” Cheryl replied, all sugary sweet.
Her boy grinned at her. “I’m recovering. Maybe a kiss will make it better.”
Cheryl threw herself on him and practically started to rub up and purr like a cat. She was completely doting on him, and Milla watched with a detached humor. She almost wanted to say something about ‘dirtbags’ at that point but she figured that was the easiest way to make Cheryl turn from reasonably friendly to complete and utter enemy. Milla knew too well the kind of reactions one got from these girls where their boys were concerned.
Milla raised a finger. Quietly and magically she spun one of her hair bobbles around one of her partly-dyed twintails, bored of the romantic display happening in front of her.
After a long kiss, the couple paid her mind again.
“You look like you got the goods as usual, Milla.” Phillip said.
He looked at the brown bag at Milla’s with a knowing smile.
“Stay on my good side and I could share, Phillip.” Milla said, playing it cool.
Phillip looked like all the guys in the school looked. Blond hair, lots of gel. Cheekbones. Leggy, kinda big, but not too big. Button-down, jacket. Some kind of shoes. It was whatever. Cheryl saw something in him, Milla could not have imagined what it was.
Maybe it was football or something. At any rate, Cheryl was revitalized in his presence.
“I saw Amber and Jennifer with the guys.” Phillip said. “We should get going too.”
Cheryl’s eyes lit up and she smiled euphorically. She turned around with a hop.
“Milla, you should come with us!” She said. “We’re meeting a few friends to get a couple drinks and check something out. We’re going somewhere real cool, right Phillip?”
“Real cool?” Milla asked.
“Few nights ago a quake shook up a hillside in the wood. They say a shrine to Baphomet popped right out. We’ve been meaning to go hang out there.” Phillip said, grinning.
“They say if you offer blood to the shrine it’ll bring passion to your life.” Cheryl said.
“That’s so gross.” Milla said, in a mock-Cheryl kind of voice.
Cheryl stuck her tongue out at her.
“What honest Magician doesn’t like a little devil worship, am I right?” Phillip laughed.
“Come on, this is so your scene, Milla. You love this weird shit.” Cheryl said.
Milla tried to cultivate something of an alt girl kind of aesthetic, this was true.
But she had other things on her mind than partying at some creepy sex god statue.
“I gotta talk to this teacher about this letter.” Milla said. “I gotta get out of this shit.”
Cheryl looked disappointed, while Phillip tried to play it off like he had no investment.
“Fine, I guess. Do you know where Ms. Orizaga could even be at this hour?” Cheryl asked.
She had that tone of voice like she was trying to dissuade Milla from being uncool.
Phillip looked at Cheryl for a moment and then back at Milla with a smile. “Minerva Orizaga right? She lives out near the lake. We’re going that way; you could hitch a ride.”
Milla had heard that Minerva Orizaga was big news around here before, being the first Alwi teacher and all of that, but she didn’t think people were on a ‘know where her house was’ basis like this. Still, it was good that this information got to her; she really wanted to get this situation sorted out. Minerva was a cool teacher, but not cool enough to become subordinate to. Above anything else, Milla valued her privacy and freedom.
However Milla also didn’t want to end up at Cheryl’s weird woods party if she could help it. Not that it wasn’t intriguing to see a demon statue, but, she knew there’d be a bunch of weird auras all over that place and she was not in the mood to be there all by herself. No gaggle of college girls and their boyfriends ever went somewhere for chaste reasons.
“That’d be convenient, but I’m not getting roped into bringing you weed.”
She had to register her discomfort, but she still had to be cool about it.
“Hey, relax,” Phillip said, “We’ll drive there, but you can leave whenever you want. It’s just a quick walk from the woods to the inn by the lake. Nobody’ll mess with you.”
“I’ll make sure they don’t.” Cheryl said.
He sounded almost insistent. Cheryl made eyes at Milla as if begging her to be cool.
Milla had no idea why anyone was interested in her company, but she finally relented.
“Fine, I’ll tag along. But I’m leaving real quick. So don’t get too attached.”
“Hell yeah! That’s the spirit.” Cheryl said. She grabbed hold of her boyfriend’s arm and looked up at him, giggling. “Milla’s real cool, Phillip. Cooler than Amber and Jenn.”
“Hey, I can tell just by looking at her.” Phillip said. “Glad you’re joining us.”
Milla averted her eyes. “I said it was only for a little while, you know.”