Art by:  Jason Kang

Art by: Jason Kang


Master Taos sets a large cloth-covered object on his desk. He pushes the glasses back up his nose with stacked middle and ring finger. “Good morning, class,” he scans his students. Takes a moment to do roll call in his head. “Where’s Gui?” he asks the class, staring at the empty seat. He turns to Assa, “Any idea where your buddy is?”

Assa shrugs, “I think he’s pooping.” Half the students chuckle, the others do their best to hold their laughter.

Taos ignores the mirth and whips the cloth from the squat jar. The Elf twins, Gailo and Eider, bare their teeth and hiss. An involuntary reaction to the Blightbeetle, but one the rest of the class understands. Taos smirks, “Yes-s-s, I thought you might feel that way. Anyone else know what this little guy is?” The whole class nods, a dozen hands raise. “Assa, how about you?”

Assa shrugs. “Some kind of beetle, I guess?” The twins turn around and glare.

“You don’t know a Blightbeetle when you see one?” Eider scoffs and rolls his eyes.

"Alright,” Taos waves a hand. “For those of you that don’t know, Eider is right. This is a Blightbeetle. Nasty buggers.” He taps the side of the jar. The black skin of the beetle shimmers with a sick green glow. Lines pulse and run towards the massive horn where they gather and causes it to ripple with energy. “Much to the chagrin of the Elves and other forest dwellers the Blightbeetle feeds off green mana. You won’t see them because...Because why, Gailo?”

Gailo, in the front row, turns to face the rest of the class. “Because they burrow under topsoil, hide beneath the leaves, leave a tiny bit of their horns poking out. Their horns can sense green mana. See how it’s aimed at us?” she glances at Eider.

The classroom door pushes open and Gui, hand on head, goes to his chair. “What would it do,” he asks, scowling.

“Do you need to see the nurse, Gui?” asks Taos.

“No, I’m okay.”

“If it got out of that jar?” Gailo grimaces, looks back at the beetle and shakes her head. “It’d rush right towards one of us, jam that nasty horn someplace soft and start burrowing. Tunnel right through our body, once it killed us it’d sit and draw every last bit of green mana into itself.”

“Why?” asks Lena.

“Good question,” says Taos. “No one really knows. They eat small animals, squirrels, birds, rabbits, anything they can catch. A swarm can take down a rhox.”

Both Eider and Gailo are shaking their heads. “The elders say it’s because they’re minions of—”

“That’s nonsense. Pure story. Old myth. Not a hint of research backs those tales.”

The twins frown. It’s hard to dismiss a story they’ve been hearing for as long as they can remember.

“All we know is that these nasty buggers will destroy whole sections of forest if given the chance. This one is about a third of the size of a full grown adult. Just imagine something twice the size of your hand trying to carve its way through your leg towards your heart.”

The twins scowl and push themselves farther into their seats. The beetle hasn’t stopped pointing it’s pulsating horn in their direction. The only real movement it’s made is when it snaps from aiming at Eider to Gailo. The shift happens when one of the two Elves moves in their seats.

“Feisty bugger, eh? Looks like Ressler found one with some real spunk to it.” Ressler, the schools groundskeeper and forager, has been known to try and find the most rambunctious specimens possible for Taos’ class. Bit a of cruel sense of humor on that one. Always hoping something will break free, fly off, or bite someone. Taos taps the jar and chuckles.

The beetle begins slamming it’s horn into the jar’s side. The first hit startles the class, a few of the students yelp. Eider gasps. Gailo stamps her foot and scowls.

“Professor Taos,” says Eider, “get that thing out of here. If it breaks out it—”

"It’s not going to break out,” Taos says and sets his hand on the curved glass. A half second later the Blightbeetle bursts through both the glass and Taos’ hand. The professor screams, pulls his hand to his chest, and crumples to the floor. Where the back of his hand should be is a hole the size of a wine cork. Students jump from their chairs. A commotion of sound explodes in the room. Scraping desk legs, falling books, screams and yells. A classroom of terrified students and a professor losing far more blood from his hand than anyone ever should.

The beetle rushes the twins, but both were on their desks the moment the glass broke. The beetle gets the metal legs of Eider’s chair and falls still. At the back of the classroom Gui’s half-closed eyes flutter. The river of blood running from Taos’ hand turns to a small trickle.

“Someone get the nurse,” says Gui. “I don’t think I can hold this time-slowing spell much longer.”

“Since when can you slow time?” Assa asks.

“Ever since I wanted to take longer bathroom breaks,” Gui smirks. He rubs the side of his head, concentrating. “Looks like that stupid beetle ruined my alone time.”