Bartley hoped he’d reach Wizard Rizzkle’s class on time. No thanks to Mom or Dad, always worried about the new baby. He sighed. His mom had forgotten to pack his lunch again, and, to top it all off, he’d been forced to clean Quentin’s spit up that morning. He could still smell it on his paws. He double-checked his short, purple fur for signs of the slimy mess.
Finding nothing, he looked toward Merlin’s Beard Academy from his spot on the moving mountain. The mountain jolted around on its track but kept rumbling along. As the trees of the Worian Woods cleared, Bartley caught sight of the blue-grey façade of the school. Getting on all fours, he counted down the seconds…three, two, one.
He tensed his hind legs and leaped from the moving mountain. His wings wiggled uselessly, but he didn’t need them to land safely on the platform. He’d had seven years at Merlin’s Beard to practice that jump.
There was no time to watch the rumbling mountain pull away from the station and follow its track around the kingdom. Bartley ran up the path and through the gates of Merlin’s Beard. He pushed the front door open and sprinted through the empty hallway. The click of his claws echoed off the walls.
A shadow leaned against the flying team’s trophy case. He shouted, “Hey! Help would be—” but Bartley didn’t slow down to hear the rest.
He entered the classroom and scooted into his desk, tucking his tail to the side. He placed his paws on the desk. The bell clanged. His friend Jenella glanced at him with concern.
“Bartley, are you okay?” Her high-pitched voice raised an octave in concern. He nodded, doing his best to reassure her. With Quentin around, every morning was complicated and chaotic. The baby’s unicorn horn, which was way more like their dad’s than Bartley’s little nub, was always knocking things over, and he cried constantly.
“Come on. I know something’s wrong,” Jenella continued.
Bartley opened his mouth to explain but snapped it shut at the sound of footsteps outside the door. Everyone quieted. Those fast treads could only belong to one creature or, more accurately, teacher.
Wizard Rizzkle walked in. His green face and bulbous nose looked more menacing than usual to Bartley – and to the eight dragons, three fairies, four unicorns, and six elves in the class. It was rumored that Rizzkle had lived in Tilantia’s ancient caves, studying magic for seventeen years before mysteriously obtaining a job at Merlin’s Beard. Bartley’s dad always whinnied, “You can get anywhere with connections. A mean wizard got a job teaching kids after all!”
Without taking his eyes from the class, Rizzkle reached behind him and shut the door firmly. He didn’t bother to lock it – even Principle Buckwheat, a grumpy dwarf, steered clear of the classroom.
“This week, we will be covering the history of the modern Tilantian state, the 72 capitals of each kingdom on this continent, and long division. As usual, there will be pop quizzes. Your paper is due next week,” Rizzkle said. He scanned the room for signs of note passing, spell casting, or smiling.
Rizzkle started writing on the board. The chalk squeaked – Bartley suspected it was intentional. Suddenly, three sharp knocks cut through the noise.
The shadow peered through the door’s window, waving and tapping on the pane.
Rizzkle glided over. He opened the door a crack.
“Can I help you?” he asked unhelpfully.
“Yeah, I’m new, and I’m also late,” the shadow said. He slipped through the cracked door and past Rizzkle. He strolled to the far end of the classroom and pulled a textbook from the shelf, whistling the whole time. The students looked toward Rizzkle. On the first day of school, the nicest of the fairies had been sent to detention for using green ink instead of black or blue. There was no telling what Rizzkle would do to the new kid.
“And why are you late?”
“I got lost on my way in. Didn’t know which room—”
“I don’t really care,” interrupted Rizzkle. “That’s quite unacceptable in my classroom.”
The shadow turned a shade darker but remained silent. Bartley felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. I should have stopped in the hall and walked to class with the shadow.
Rizzkle continued, “Especially, on your first day of school. This lack of preparation is appalling.”
The shadow glanced toward Bartley but looked away quickly when Bartley stared back. Bartley thought about his first day in Rizzkle’s class. Without Jenella’s help, he would’ve been late too.
Before he knew what he was doing, Bartley squeaked, “I should’ve helped him. I ignored him on my way in cause I didn’t want to be late.”
For once, Rizzkle was caught off guard. He wasn’t used to the shy dragicorn talking in class.
Bartley’s short, purple hair stood on end. He squirmed in his seat and avoided eye contact by examining his paws.
“Is that so, Mr. Silvermane? Well, in that case, detention for both of you. Report to the dungeon during lunch. Now, you, what is your name?” Rizzkle said.
“Scott. Scott Shade.” The shadow took the empty seat beside Bartley, who nodded and looked away.
Steam rushed in uneven puffs from Bartley’s fuzzy snout. Not for the first time, he wished he could breathe fire like his mother, the dragon in the family. If I hadn’t been forced to clean Quentin’s barf, this wouldn’t have happened!
The wizard looked down his nose at Bartley. “Do you have anything you would like to share, Mr. Silvermane?”
Bartley merely shook his head and reached into his backpack for his quill and scroll.
“Now, that we all understand attendance policy, let’s begin.”
As his anger subsided, Bartley focused on Rizzkle’s lesson. The wizard spoke quickly and took no questions. Jenella didn’t even bother taking class notes anymore. Mostly because she copied Bartley’s.
Bartley looked over at Scott when the bell rang. The shadow raised a hand and waved. It was time for lunch in the dungeon.
Bartley had never been in the dungeon before. In fact, he usually avoided its entrance and the musty smell that filled the hallway. Now, standing at the top of the stairs, he swore he could see the stench rising through the air.
Before heading to the safety of the cafeteria, Jenella had warned him to avoid the puddles and slime covered walls. She’d also described, with great enthusiasm, the enormous double chin of Mrs. Moldover. The giant slug lived and worked in the dungeon.
“You’ll be fine if you just relax. As always, Bartley, relax,” she’d called over her shoulder. Bartley hoped she was right. He’d been peering into the depths of the dungeon for a couple minutes, preparing himself.
“You ready to go?” A gravelly voice came from his left. Bartley looked over, startled. It was Scott. The shadow was far taller than a fairy or elf but not a dragicorn - he looked up at Bartley expectantly.
“Uh, yeah,” Bartley lied. “Just got here actually.”
“Cool. Let’s head down. And, hey, thanks. You know. For earlier. It’s Bartley? Is Rizzkle always like that?”
“Hate to say it but yes,” said Bartley. He carefully took his first step down.
Scott swept past him and was quickly lost from sight. Not wanting to be separated, Bartley scooted after him.
At the bottom of the steps, Bartley peered through the murky darkness. The dungeon was small, way smaller than he’d expected. He saw Scott standing in front a pale green blob. The blob, Mrs. Moldover, nodded toward one of the five cells that lined the far wall, and Scott entered it. The slug slid over, leaving a trail of slime behind her, and shut the door. She pointed Bartley toward the cell next door.
Bartley walked in and found the driest patch of floor. He was almost thankful for the dim light, which hid some of the dungeon sludge. The door slammed shut.
“Complete silence. You will be free or shall I say freed to go in forty minutes,” Moldover whispered. She slid back to her desk at the entrance.
“This is going to be the longest forty minutes of my life,” Bartley muttered to himself.
“You’re not kidding,” said a low voice from the back corner of the cell.
Bartley stifled a scream and peered into the darkness, dreading what he might find there.
“Don’t pee your pants. Just me,” Scott said as he materialized from the back of the cell. “You’d think you’d never been in detention before.”
“Well, I haven’t,” Bartley hissed. “And quit talking so loud. Moldover will get us.”
“Oh. First detention? Wow,” Scott lowered his voice. “Sorry about that. Maybe you’ll be a good influence. My mom is always saying I need one of those.”
Bartley shrugged, flapping his wings a little.
“It’s alright. It was my fault so sorry about that. Rizzkle is the worst teacher in this place. Where are you from anyway?”
“I knew you’d warm up to me! Silvermane and Shade – nice ring to it. I’m from out west. My mom and dad…well, they both got new jobs. We move a lot. That’s how I ended up at Merlin’s Beard. Not many shadows go to school here, huh?”
“No, not at all. We’ve only got a few shadows in the kingdom,” Bartley admitted.
“Huh. It might be hard to keep a low profile. Whatever.” Bartley thought Scott didn’t sound too worried about being the only shadow. “But enough about me! What’s your story?”
“Eh, there’s not much to it. I’ve never lived anywhere but Tilantia. If you’re wondering about the wings and horn and stuff…my mom’s a dragon. I get my opposable thumbs from her.” Bartley put both thumbs up in the semidarkness – Scott chuckled. “And my dad’s a unicorn. So I guess that makes me a dragicorn.”
“Are you the only one?”
“Yeah. Uh actually, I’m one of two. The other is my little brother,” said Bartley. “He looks nothing like me though – except for the purple fur. He’s got no wings and a long horn.”
The shadow nodded. “Cool. Now, what’s there to do for the next half hour, Bart?”
Bartley found a stick and soon they were tracing tic-tac-toe in the dungeon slime. They heard snores coming from Moldover’s corner. Scott slipped out the cell to investigate. “Completely knocked out,” he reported.
“Well, if this is her only job, she sucks at it,” Bartley said. Scott laughed loudly before Bartley shushed him.
They continued their game. Suddenly, Scott looked at Bartley and said, “Can I trust you?”
Bartley nodded. Before he could ask what that had been all about, Moldover’s snores stopped. Scott returned to his cell just in time for her to unlock the door.
“Hey Scott? Why’d you ask that?” Bartley questioned, as they left.
But Scott didn’t hear him. He was already half way up the stairs and calling Bartley a slow poke.
Bartley sighed in relief as the final bell rang. He packed his bag and headed for the mountain track. As he walked by the stadium, he heard the wooshes of flight practice overhead and wished for the millionth time that he could fly. He searched for Jenella’s blue form. She was the fastest dragon on the team. Bartley caught sight of Jenella as she flew laps around her teammates. She was a shoo-in for the kingdom champion this year.
Although her wings were at least eight times larger than his puny ones, Jenella was one of the few people who believed Bartley would be able to fly eventually. She’d ordered him to practice every day after school.
He walked to the platform, sat, and listened for a moving mountain. “That was definitely not my best day,” he muttered.
“Hey, let’s cut back on that negativity, Bart. You’ll never guess what Rizzkle has in store for him.”
It was Scott. Bartley recognized his firm, gravelly voice. He was also getting used to being sneaked up on.
“What do you mean by that? And that whole ‘trust’ thing?” he asked.
“Oh, I know a little magic and my way around potions. Let’s just say Rizzkle is going to have a really interesting morning. You hopping on this mountain?”
In response, Bartley took a leap onto the rumbling mass rolling by. Scott wasn’t far behind. The two settled in, sitting atop a bed of moss. Bartley tried getting his shady, new friend to reveal more without success. His snout was starting to get hot with frustration. Seeing this, Scott changed the subject.
“We don’t have moving mountains out west. Did you know?”
Despite himself, Bartley responded. “Really?”
“Yeah. Still getting used to this. Really cool though.”
“These things were my nerdy obsession when I was little. I still have their paths memorized from staring at the maps so much,” Bartley admitted.
“Do you know how they work then?”
“No. They’re definitely from some old school magic though. It’s a powerful spell. The mountains – there are seven of them – haven’t slowed for as long as anyone can remember...”
Bartley couldn’t help himself. He spent the rest of the ride explaining his theories about the moving mountains to Scott. The shadow asked plenty of questions, although Bartley suspected they were just part of the effort to distract him.
As the turrets of his house came into view, Bartley said bye to Scott. He was still nervous. What was Scott up to? The shadow was going to get them both in trouble. Again.
About the Author
When Aubrey left Long Valley, New Jersey to study "something-sciency" at Penn, she never imagined dabbling in children's fantasy stories. It does make sense though, given her intense love for Harry Potter, babysitting, and making things up (which some have inaccurately labelled as "lying"). If she were a storybook character, she would probably assume the form of an atypically active manatee.