School Daze

Story Five of the Impractical Magic Series

by Lori Bush (

Disclaimer: Not only are the characters not mine, but certain parts of the underlying theory of this whole series are heavily borrowed. Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer belong to Renaissance Pictures and Universal/USA Studios. The atmosphere of the series, along with a few specific concepts, lean heavily on the Discworld books; if you have read them, you will recognize a lot of Terry Pratchett's spirit in these stories. If you haven't read them, try to. They're wonderful. As always, I beg of you not to sue.

Rating: Probably PG-13. There are some adult concepts, more in other stories that this one. I'll just say that to remain consistent.

Violence: No

Sex: Nope.

Archive: SUJE, GJRS, JFFG, TedTalk, TRIS, Raye. Anyone else with permission, probably.

This is story number five (yes, trust me - it goes on forever) in the series, the first being "The Gift That Keeps On Giving", and the second "Ooops, I Did It Again..." - followed by "Spelling Lessons" and "Every Witch Way". You can find them at my website, in the "Serial Stories" section, where this will soon be archived as well. If you want to understand this story, you have to read them first.

This is the only cliffhanger I have written, and Rebecca hasn't even started working on story #6, so be warned! Still, I would in no way release one of these without her approval, so you'll just have to wait. Rebecca Littlehales has been the most wonderful beta reader, catching all the little buggy stuff I used to think only Chris and I cared about!

Professor Magruder winced as he looked over his class. Joxer had raised his hand again. He really had nothing against the young Greek; actually, he sort of liked the fellow. But he asked the most impossible questions, all the time.

"Excuse me, sir, but why do you have to say those exact words to make something disappear? Can't you just concentrate on it, and tell it to go away?"

The tall redheaded professor sighed. Another one of "those" questions. "Joxer, I realize that your country doesn't have the tradition of magic that Britannia has, so you might not be aware of how long it took for the wizards of the past to work out the precise words that would make the right things happen. Spells are more than just skill, Joxer. They require a proper mix of many elements." The young wizard looked as if he would pursue the matter further, but to Magruder's relief, he let it drop.

They had discussed him countless times in faculty meetings. He had absolutely no respect for the fine traditions of wizardry. He refused to follow the Rules. He was occasionally a klutz, and couldn't keep his hat on to save his life. Yet he was the most talented novice they'd had in years. He had to be moved out of the beginning concentration class because they couldn't find exercises difficult enough to keep him occupied for more than five minutes, while the rest of the group required a full hour for even the simplest one. He was co-teaching Barelyn's language class, because he knew more languages than the department head. And even though he refused to say the right words, he was acing Magruder's Spelling Class because his end result was always better than anyone else's. He was Merlin all over again, and they didn't know how to handle it any better this time around.

The gong sounded in the courtyard indicating the end of class. The young men in their identical brown robes and hats and identical pointy-toed shoes shuffled out of the classroom. Joxer lagged behind. "Professor Magruder?"

The teacher smiled in spite of himself. He had been a tall, awkward student like this one, and he had a soft spot in his heart for him, despite the difficulties he engendered. "Yes, Joxer?"

"Sir, I know that it doesn't work for everybody, but, sir, if I tell a tree to go away, it goes away. I don't have to say anything fancy. I mean, are you sure those specific words have to be used?" The younger man saw his professor roll his eyes, and in an instant was transported back in time to the memory of the tutor who had quit after the first day with the triplets, complaining that he could deal with the threats from Jett and that fact that Jace was always combing his hair, but the youngest, and all the questions!

They were under orders to treat him like any other novice. They had been told to ignore the difficult questions if they couldn't answer them. Magruder just couldn't do it anymore. "Joxer, most of the students here have to use those specific words because the magic couldn't find them if they stood in its path and waved both arms to get its attention without them." He sighed. "As the blood of the gods grew weaker in the wizard's line, the words became more important. All we've been getting for years now are eighth sons and youngest multiples - they don't have as strong a connection as those with godly blood in their line. The Rule about having to marry a witch was instituted to try and strengthen the power, but unfortunately, not all witches are started out properly by their trainers, either, so many of them have no better qualifications then the girl on the street. Magic is a struggle for most wizards, Joxer. But not for you. Pull up a couple of chairs."

Most of his students would have walked over and picked up two of the chairs that the class had used. Joxer stared at them and spoke, and the chairs walked over to the two men on their own.

Magruder rolled his eyes and sat down. "There's an example right there. Wizards don't do things like that because it takes a lot of effort to make an inanimate object obey. And the spell would take longer than just going and fetching the chair yourself. But you make it look easier than breathing. Have you ever transported yourself, Joxer?"

The young man blushed. "Only by accident, sir."

The professor gave an ironic smile. "Do you have any idea how difficult that is for most people to do? We only offer transportation as a graduate level course. And you did it by accident! Face it Joxer, you are the real thing, the genuine article. The right combination of blood and birth and inheritance gave you tremendous natural ability. Life will not be easy for you once people find out, if they do. Magic will be easy, but life..." The older man smiled. "How old do you think I am, Joxer?"

The young wizard looked at the tall redheaded man. Was this a trick question? He had learned that if women asked questions like that, ignorance was a safe haven. "Uh, I don't know, sir?"

Magruder laughed humorlessly. "Ninety-five my next birthday."

Joxer gaped at him. "You don't look a day over forty, sir."

"It's one of the questionable benefits of wizardry. Same thing with witches, at least the ones that are done right. The changes in the blood slow aging down to a crawl. So, believe me when I say I've seen a few things in my day. People exploit those with ability. They suck them dry. The Headmaster wants to do that with you, Joxer. He wants to take credit, when you graduate, for training into you what already comes perfectly naturally to you. All I wanted to tell you was to be careful. Make sure you know who you can really trust."

"Bloodswort, henbane, cat's claw, and Jack-in-the Field," Gabrielle listed, slowly, lifting her eyes at the end for approval.

"No, no, no," Mother Wigglewort sighed. "I said five. What five ingredients make up the 'Sleep Like the Dead' potion? I didn't even ask you what parts of each one. You forget the Elf's grass every time. Let's try it again, and this time, do tell me which part of each one."

Gabrielle blew her bangs out of her eyes and chewed on her bottom lip. "Bloodswort root..."

Xena watched the frustration and effort dance across her best friend's face. They had spent weeks now, Gabrielle learning lists of ingredients and different signs of nature from the witch and Xena watching and occasionally pitching in. The only part that smacked even slightly of magic had been the ceremony the old woman had insisted upon before they began.

Gabrielle had been draped in a huge black robe, and Mother Wigglewort wore her usual black dress and hat. There had been incantations and candlelight and a strange brew that the bard had to swallow. But the focal point had been when the old woman had taken a blade and sliced her own palm, then Gabrielle's. Clasping both hands together, she allowed the blood to mix. A few words were spoken, and Mother W sent the bard off to change back into her familiar skirt and green top, with instructions not to wash her hand until the morning.

The witch settled into one of the big chairs and looked at Xena. "That was the part that's usually forgotten. So many think the ceremony's just a lot of hooey, and they start teachin' the young ones without it. That's why so many so-called 'witches' nowadays are no more than healers that like to wear black." The old woman had learned to read Xena fairly well already, and saw the patient expression that said she hadn't heard everything she needed to yet. "She has witches' blood now. Not much, just enough. She may never be a 'real' witch, but she can really be a witch now. Maybe not ride a broomstick well or Borrow a mind, but she has what it takes that makes a witch more than a simple healer. She'll be capable of simple sleeping spells and of bein' able to tell what's wrong when she touches a body. She already has a lot of compassion for others."

"So the tiny bit of blood..."

"Will change her so that she can do some things that are beyond her now. But no, she won't have power like your friend Joxer does. Few witches ever come close to that level. The thought is, they're the ones shoulda been born males. They shoulda been wizards. They're rare these days, as are good wizards."

"Why can't a woman be a wizard, Mother W?"

"Xena! You might as well as why horses don't fly. It just doesn't happen, that's all."

Xena frowned. The explanation wasn't sufficient for her, but she could also tell that it was one of those 'it's been that way forever, the reason has been forgotten' type deals. "You've mentioned Borrowing before, Mother. What does it mean? And how do you do it?"

"I can't tell you how, Xena. You just do it. Mostly with animals. People are too hard. I can enter a person's mind, like I did Gabrielle's, for a reading, but Borrowing one is pretty hard. I can enter an animal's mind - Borrow it - and use their body to do things that this fat old heap couldn't dream of. Fly. Burrow. It's quite useful."

Gabrielle had entered during this explanation and sat on the large hearth. "Is that something I'll learn, Mother W?"

The witch patted the bard's shoulder. "It's hard to say. We need to take it one step at a time, right now." But the old woman looked at Xena and sighed visibly.

Hellena concentrated on returning to her body. The mind of the mouse had been simple, seeking only food and safety, and she had been able to control the little body easily. She made frequent trips into the Academy, seeking information about the Great Wizard she felt she was destined to marry. For the first time, she felt the trip had been worthwhile. The witch shook back her long dark hair and concentrated on reanimating her limbs.

Hellena was a Natural Witch. She was born with the blood in her, and her trainer had properly performed the ritual that awakened her skills. She had learned the herbs and the signs from the old village witch, but she picked up Borrowing on her own.

And now she had found her Great Wizard. Not only that, but he was tolerable to look at, too. She hadn't expected that much. He was a bit old for her tastes, and that new trainee of Mother Wigglewort's seemed to think she had first claim on him. She hadn't exactly said so, but there was an air about her...

Shame, really. Hellena had run into Gabrielle several times since her arrival, and really rather liked her, as much as Hellena liked anyone who had nothing to offer her. She had all sorts of funny notions about Love and Justice and all, but she seemed engaging enough. Oh, well. Hellena knew that nothing was more important than marrying the Great Wizard. Her power would grow beyond belief once they bonded, and they could easily rule Britannia together, maybe even the known world. And if that trainee had other ideas, she would just have to give them up, or else fight for her man. And Hellena knew she was at least twice the witch Gabrielle was, probably more. If it came to a battle, may the best witch win...

"Joxer, why aren't you wearing your robe?"

The older novice jumped at his roommate's voice. "Gods, Milt. Sneak up on a guy, why don't ya?"

"Sorry. What are you doing?"

"Have you forgotten? I go to visit Xena and Gabby tonight." Joxer had already had the talk with Xena about the Rules, although she hadn't been much help. Sneaking out to the tavern when he knew she was alone, he had laid it all out on the table about his concerns. He fussed about never having a chance at winning Gabby's love without threatening her life, and Xena was all vague and said not to worry. Not particularly satisfying. Of course, he worried. He loved the bard more than life itself, and yet, should she ever return the feeling, they would both be killed if they wed. No problem, Xena, I'd been wanting to get to know Hades better anyway.

He dressed carefully, since the object of his affections would be present this time. He had sent Carlyle, his roommate's familiar, through a crack in the wall with a note attached to its back. A rat was a wonderful beast for such a use, as were most familiars. Cats, birds, and other animals were not affected by the spells that kept the walls impenetrable to humans, and had been a prime means of communication for novices with the outside world (particularly the young witches that waited just the other side of the wall) through the years. The rat had returned with the time and place of their meeting confirmed in a note from the Warrior Princess replacing the one he'd sent out.

"See ya," he called to the younger man, grabbing his staff and heading out the door. The roommate counted to five, and darted out behind him.

Joxer stared at the Witches' Door. He could almost see the retaining spell. Concentrating harder, he did see it, and he waved his hand, seeing not only the spell but also the bits that made up the door separate, leaving an opening, which he stepped through.

"See," Milt hissed to Gorlick from the alcove the two had hidden in, "the spell didn't even slow him down."

"I dunno," Gorlick replied thickly, "he did stop for a couple of minutes."

Milt rolled his eyes. Gorlick had grown up in the same town as Miller, and so the wizard's son felt he should keep company with the other fellow. But the combination of Gorlick's pale moon face and big empty brown eyes with his less than stunning intellect had led more than one person in the town to surmise that the family might have been in the dairy business a bit too long. Everyone at the Academy knew that the eighth son of the dairyman had been recruited because, although many of the peasant families paid with milk, only a cow keeper had sufficient animals to supply enough beef to feed a sizable group of post-adolescent males. Just like it was no secret that Percy was there not because of any talent that came with his being the youngest of a set of quadruplets, but because pointy-toes boots for all the students were expensive, and his father was a cobbler.

"The point, is, Gor, did you see how he was dressed?" Young Miller's patience was stretched to the very end of its tether, and straining to get loose. "He had on regular clothes, not his robe. He walked all the way from our room to this courtyard in regular clothes and nobody stopped him. You can't tell me he didn't pass anyone." The last novice to attempt to walk the campus not donning the traditional wizard's robes was displayed in an assembly of the entire school wearing nothing but his skivvies. He was given his walking papers immediately afterwards. "He was able to either charm them into not noticing his clothes, or into not seeing him at all. I think the only reason we can is that we, or at least I knew what to look for. The rest just saw what they were expecting to see."

Gorlick, having finally processed all this information, indicated his awe at the older novice's accomplishments the only way he knew how. "Corr!"

"Xena!" Joxer said, joyfully. His face falling slightly, he asked, "Where's Gabby?"

"She's up there, getting us a pitcher of stout and another mug for you. Have any trouble getting here?"

"Naw. No sweat." He leaned his staff against the tabletop, and it rolled away, around the table corner to end up resting next to the Amazon Staff. Joxer looked at it. "Sorry." It gave the impression of shrugging in embarrassment. Joxer sat on the bench across from Xena. "So, tell me what you've been up to."

Gabrielle saw the tall wizard when he entered the room. She hadn't been watching for him; she just happened to see him. He was wearing the green shirt she now thought of as her favorite. She hadn't known many people who owned multiple sets of clothing for her to even have a favorite among - that was the purview of the wealthy. But she was beginning to realize that she had never known anyone like Joxer before, either. His hair was longer - over his collar in the back, and it looked rather nice. All of him looked entirely nice. It had been several months since she'd seen him last, she assured herself. Seeing any friend after that long an absence would stir such warm feelings in her. She shook her head, clearing it, grabbed the pitcher and mug and made her way back to the table.

"So, tell me what you've been up to."

"Well," Xena began, "I've been sort of watching while Gabrielle study... ouch!"

"Oh, Xena, I'm so sorry! Did I step on you toe?" The bard smiled in a forced way. "How clumsy of me!" She pressed her foot down again to get the Warrior Princess' attention and scowled at her. 'Don't tell him,' she mouthed silently while placing the drink on the table. She didn't want him to think she was studying witchcraft because of him after all. He might get the wrong idea, though, if he knew what she'd been doing. Xena gulped - she hadn't meant to let him know, anyway. She'd nearly slipped.

The bard sat down beside Xena. "Joxer," she said brightly, "your hair sure has grown."

He ran his fingers through the tresses on his neck. "Yeah, long hair is a traditional wizard thing."

"But from what you've told me, you haven't done many other traditional wizard things; why this one?" Xena interjected.

He rolled his eyes in frustration. "The Academy barber refuses to cut my hair any shorter, and I can't do it myself. It's not like I have a choice. I'm sorta getting used to it."

"I like it. It looks good on you." Gabrielle bit her tongue - she shouldn't have let that slip out. Joxer looked grateful, though. Xena looked amused.

"Tell us about your classes."

Milt poured over the scrolls, trying to get some hint of how a wizard handled asking a witch for a date. Now that he knew his roommate could easily sweep aside the barriers that held them within the walls, he had some hope that he could locate the thin dark girl that had caught his eye among the crowd outside when he first came to the Academy. She had a spark many of the others were missing. He was certain Joxer would be willing to aid him in his quest. The scrolls certainly weren't. In documents where there were hundreds of spells or Rules for things as mundane as buttering one's bread and keeping ants out of the honey, there was no mention of Simple Romance anywhere. The idea that Miller thought Romance could ever be Simple betrayed his youth.

"So, anyway, I'm sorta bored. No, scratch that. I'm incredibly, overwhelmingly, painfully bored. And I'm supposed to keep this up for another year and a half?" The wizard ran his fingers despairingly through his long dark locks. "I'll die of boredom by then. Professor Magruder seems to think I have a natural talent, and I need to be careful or people will try to use me. I just can't imagine anyone wanting to use me. For anything."

Gabrielle hadn't realized that stout was that much stronger than mead or wine. She had a few mugs, at least. There was an interesting buzz in her brain. And the idea of using Joxer had a whole new meaning when heard through the invigorating haze. She blinked slowly, noticing how the long hair set off his lovely pale neck. She leaned forward to get a better look...

"Joxer, I think Gabrielle has had too much to drink. Would you help me carry her upstairs?"

The wizard had jumped in his seat at the sound of the bard's head hitting the tabletop. The amusement in Xena's voice calmed him, and he smiled, albeit uncomfortably. "Sure. It's about time I was getting back, anyway." He stood and swept the unconscious woman up in his arms easily.

One of the bard's eyes opened and she saw where she was. "Joxer!" she announced, happily.

"Top of the stairs, first room on the right," Xena instructed. "Her bed's by the window." The Warrior Princess went to the bar to settle up.

"You look sho good with long hair. And you're sho strong. And there was something I was shupposed to tell you. What was it?" The bard babbled all the way up the stairs, clinging to Joxer's neck and slurring the occasional word. "I'm sho glad you're a wizard now, you know? Thass a good thing."

"Gabby? Next time, skip the stout." The wizard kicked open the door and laid the small woman gently on the bed. She wouldn't let go of his neck.

"Ish a good thing, 'cos you can marry witches. You gotta marry witches." She giggled and waved her hands in the air. "One witch, juss one, not all of 'em. Thass good." Her eyes slid closed, and the reason that Joxer marrying a witch was such a wonderful idea was left unspoken. He knew, though. She could get rid of him, and not feel bad about him being all alone. He tenderly brushed her hair off her face, and backed away, almost bumping into Xena on his way out the door.

"Good night, Joxer," she offered. He turned and left without a word.

Gabrielle sat up unsteadily. "Ish a good thing, 'cos I'ma witch now, did I tell you?" She looked blearily at Xena. "Xena, did I tell him?" The Warrior Princess shrugged. The bard dropped back to a prone position. "It was nish to see Joxer. I wish I'd been here." Her eyes slid shut again, and stayed that way.

Xena shook her head. One day, those two needed to have a real conversation. With both of them on the same scroll, at the same time. She really hoped it happened soon.

Joxer strode through the quiet streets staff in hand. Gabrielle wanted him to marry a witch, huh? He supposed he'd never marry, anyway. He had been considering that even before he found out she knew about the Rule.

A soft husky voice interrupted his thoughts. "Aren't you Joxer?" He looked up in surprise and nodded. A tall girl made up of angles and deep black eyes stared into him intensely.

"My name is Hellena. Maybe Gabrielle has mentioned me? She talked to me about you." That wasn't exactly a lie. The other woman had told her he wasn't her brother back when they first met. That was about it. She smiled, which stretched her face uncomfortably, so she quickly abandoned to effort, reverting to intense staring.

This must be the witch Gabrielle had chosen for Joxer. That was why she had said that. He studied the girl. He loved Gabby, but did he love her enough to let her fix him up with someone else? He didn't think so.

She wasn't as tall as he first thought. Maybe it was the angularity of her body, or the yards of dark hair streaming down her back. Of course, it could be the enormous cone-shaped hat that rose above her head that gave the illusion of height. She wore all black, with a swirling cape and lacey fingerless gloves. She wasn't beautiful - Gabby was beautiful. Xena was beautiful. She was pretty, in an intense and dark scary sort of way. She looked frightfully young, when you looked at her just right. All in all, if he had ever sought a woodcarving of the stereotypical witch, she looked like what he would expect the picture to be.

He couldn't deal with this right now. He had just had his dreams dashed, and he wasn't in the market for a new dream just yet. He stammered, "Excuse m-m-me," and disappeared. It was with an audible sigh of relief that he found himself in his room at the Academy, alone.

Hellena looked at the spot where the wizard had just stood, her eyes wide. He was gone. Poof! Just like that. Her face broke into a cold smile. He was good, very good. She'd have this one, and then all the power she wanted.

They watched from the shadows, not yet ready. But all the pieces were in place. The Right One was there, and he had a weakness. This girl's lust for power held the door open to Them already. This generation, They would not fail. Before long, They would dance with his soul, and the rest would be easy. They could afford to bide Their time just a little longer.