A group of a hundred or so youths stood as a unified force. Dressed in black and green sweatsuits. Armed with a mixture of sports equipment, farming tools and a few rare low level magic-tools. They stood at the midpoint of a one-thousand acre plot of land.
Charging in their direction from just a short distance away, was a dust cloud. A storm of clicking mandibles and buzzing wings.
As it grew closer, the forms within that dust cloud grew clearer. Locusts. Frenzied, carnivorous grasshoppers as big as your average man. They jumped and flew, trampling one another in their haste to consume all that lay in the field before them.
A blockade of trembling teens and tweens was all that stood in between the locusts and a garden filled with magically potent vegetables.
Finally, the two forces met, and it was almost instantaneous chaos. The students were almost instantly overrun. The more stout hearted children swung wildly while being bit scratched and kicked. The more craven, read: rational, children broke and ran, screaming.
Getting halfway across the field to the safety of the nearest garden sheds, only to be chased down and buried by the more scattered portions of the swarm.
The Prefects, the young captains of this little troop, shouted orders that went largely ignored. A fair portion of their orders getting lost beneath the deafening drone of the insects’ beating wings and the keen screams of their young wards.
I was included amongst this group of unfortunate enlistees. I was somewhere in the middle of the vanguard, holding a hoe in my hands. Spinning it like a parade leader’s baton.
I wielded the hoe like a polearm, striking down two or three locusts with each frantic swing. Choosing a tactic of popping up at different points in the field, for the sake of A)keeping from being swamped in predatory insects and B)getting caught in the crossfire of my teammates.
Those where older had learned just barely enough magic to be able to shoot out bolts of heat and cold. The Prefects, would shout at whoever shot out a burning bolt for fear of the garden being set ablaze.
As for the bolts of cold, those usually resulted injury for either the shooter, or some random unfortunate. While the ice bolts “were” effective, a single falling frozen locust amounted to a calamity for whoever it fell on.
Ditto for the clumps of freaked out semi-frozen locusts that would usually be hit when the blasts went wide. Dropping down on a few poor unfortunates then rolling over whoever was nearby as they tried to pull themselves loose.
The very worst of this chaos and cacophony was caused by those kids who’d brought firearms with them when they’d left to come the academy. Fighting magic beasts with conventional weaponry as if that were something that had ever really worked in the world at large.
As things degraded further into bedlam shooters gained a troubling tendency of hitting their fellow students more often than they hitting locusts.
While I wasn’t out there trying to play hero and had no intention of giving away any of the tricks that were up my sleeve, I did try to save those I could. I wasn’t a monster after all.
Watching my fellow student get picked up and carried off to who knows where, or get mauled right there on the field was not my idea of a good time.
Unfortunately after three weeks of being here as on Outer-Student of the Silent Glenn School of Sorcery, that was a sight that I’d grown somewhat accustomed to seeing.
By the time the whole fiasco was over and the last of the locusts had either flown off with their prizes or been killed, I was clear on two things. The first was that our class now had thirty-eight less students than we’d started with. The second was that I had absolutely underestimated how hard this whole going back to school thing was going to be.
I had been naïve in coming here. Once they’ve grown up Adults tend to look back at their childhoods and think of it as the most low stakes, carefree time of their lives. They forget that stakes are a relative measure, and that what seems easy in hindsight is harder at the moment.
If you’d asked me, I would have thought I was better than that. I would have thought I would be wise enough to know better, but it seems I was wrong. Even “I” had fallen into the trap of thinking going back to school would be easy because after all, it was “just school”.
I won’t bother speaking about the social aspects of High School. My admittedly low EQ and my tendency, read: skill, of avoiding both people and trouble were enough to assure that I stayed a relative nobody in school. Known by none, but bothered by none…at least for the most part.
I would eventually become that guy that comes to the reunions and has people mistaking him for one of the facility staff, or some other student’s plus one. Or just some person who came off the street to get out of the rain.
“Wait, you were in *Blank* Academy to? Really”
“I’m sorry sir this is for members of *blank*- middle-school/highschool/university onl-…oh, my apologies. Er, have a good time.”
I’ve heard both of those a lot.
Rather than speak of the social, just the academic and societal pressures that came with schooling were bad enough. That need to succeed. Hearing everyone with a mouth telling you that this was “the” time to make whatever one was going to make of oneself come together.
Simultaneously frustrating and frightening, to this day, I still don’t understand how you can tell someone that the period they are living in is the most life or death, and the most fun, period they’d go through.
Worse yet was the pressure to fit in. Which sounds like more social stuff but is more social adjacent. Fitting in had nothing to do with family, friend, or enemies. It had nothing to do with ones connections with the world though it could be helped if one had such connections.
Fitting in was a survival skill, one carried over from the plains of the Sahara onto the sidewalks, classrooms and office floors of modern civilization. It was camouflage. It was the ability to combine clothing, conduct and a believable smile to put the rest of the world at ease.
All these things, were included part and parcel with going to school and I’d forgotten how hard it all was. Or maybe because it was an entirely different world, and because these “schools” were closer to military and political superstructures rather than actual educational facilities, it didn’t click that I would actually be going to school.
So there I was, a new student, an outer-student, on the very lowest rung of the Silent Glenn microcosmos, just barely above the school’s servant and slaves.
It wasn’t till I was there, partitioned out into one of fifty-one first year classes, set up with a low grade dormitory and a spiffy set of uniforms, that it hit me.
“Fuck it’s High School all over again…”