In the library of the Unconventional Academy, things were getting ready for the holidays. The heels of the librarian were clacking all over the place as she conjured little orbs of light into existence which drifted lazily through the air. On the floor lay a thin layer of shimmering snow that wisped up as you walked past, but you couldn’t pick it up for it was quite incorporeal. 
The more docile books were wearing their jolly holiday jacket with stars and bows, to the scorn of the dark magic books. They would rather have a close encounter with a Wordel than wear anything brighter than a dark grimy purple.
It was quieter than usual, most of the students were already so busy with the upcoming holidays there was simply no attention left for scolarly studies.
Yet in the back by the old leather chesterfield sofa were four students gathered around an old weathered map decorated around the edges with monsters and beasties and a plaque reading “school grounds.”
A girl with long, dark purple hair and pink eyes point a black polished nail to the map with a flourish “Okay so what about the catacombs?”
“I dunno Isobel, partying with a load of dead people seems pretty wrong.” Another girl replied, she looked less goth and more Celtic with her pale green cloak and white hair plaited in a complicated pattern that wrapped all around her head. Her name is Kari
“Oh come on sis, you partied with countess Valery last summer.” Isobel countered with a sneaky smile.
“You did!?” Joshua shouted earning a ‘shhh’ from the librarian and a soft bonk on the head from Kari. “Sorry…but did you?” He asked again and his tail started thumping excitedly against the back of the couch, his little dog ears peaking straight up from his dishevelled hair. 
Kari sighed “First off, she’s a vampire, that’s different. Second, of all we did was play Mareia and exchange alchemical circle designs.”
“You should invite her.” Joshua was almost jumping up and down on the couch with excitement, another guy, dark-skinned and dressed in tweed was holding on to the fluffy tail so it wouldn’t sweep the glasses from his face. His name is Nelson “Are you crazy, she’s faculty, she’ll tell on us.” He hissed in an attempt to contain the wolf-kid’s enthusiasm.”
“Not if Kari asks her.” Isobel teased, causing a red streak to appear on Kari’s face.
“Not helping Isobel.” Nelson sighed, covering his face with his hand in a sign of ‘oh my god these kids’. “Am I the only one taking this party seriously?”
“Nelson’s right, let’s not take any unnecessary risks okay? Besides, we haven’t even settled on a location yet.” Kari said and turned her attention back to the map. 
“I liked the catacomb idea.” Joshua shrugged, a bit salty about the prospect of no countess Valery.
“Well I don’t, so what about the forest?” Kari retorted pointing at the dense thick foliage surrounding the school.
“Isn't the forest filled with monsters?” Isobel asked pointing at the myriad monsters that line the map.
“So? I’ll just draw a couple protection circles and mark the border with torches,” Kari said and suddenly Joshua doesn’t seem that annoyed anymore. “That’s not a bad idea.”
“Better than the catacombs,” Nelson added.
“Wouldn’t partying in the open be risky? What if someone sees us?” Isobel crossed her arms, not quite convinced.
“We’re not partying on the edge of the wood, we go-” Kari started but then Joshua cut in bursting with enthusiasm “Hey I know! We should head to Crackaby ruins!” 
“Shhhh keep your voice down.” Nelson seethed squeezing the tail hard, Joshua yelped “Fine fine.”
‘Still, Crackaby ruins is not a bad idea. It’s a bit more sheltered.” Kari admitted.
“It’s also off-limits for students.” 
“Isobel, we’re organizing a secret Christmas party, if we get caught we’re in trouble no matter.”
Isobel drooped her shoulders “Yeah okay, fair point.”
“I think that settles it then. Crackaby ruins it is.” Nelson said and added the location to his notes. “All right then, next up, the guest list.” 
“Countess Valery?” Joshua asked employing his very best puppy eyes but alas the others unanimously told him “No.” before moving on with preparations.

Two days later the band got together again ready to put the plan in motion.
Step one, invitations.
There were a couple ways to get secret messages across the Unconventional Academy, but amongst the invisible ink and shapeshifting mice, there’s no tactic more secure than straight-up telepathy, which happened to be Isobel’s strong suit…however.
“Look if I invite everyone separately its gonna take forever so I thought I’d do things a bit more efficiently.” She pulled a book from her bag and laid it down on the table.
“The Dreamlands?” Nelson asked.
“You wanna send our invite over another plane of existence?” Kari asked with a hint of scepticism in her voice.
“Kinda but not really, what I wanna do is create a shared dream in which we can invite everyone and explain the details and then when everyone wakes up they’re all up to speed. It’s telepathy but better”
“I don’t get it.” Joshua said and Isobel shrugged “It’s okay I didn’t expect you to.”
“Oh okay, good.”
“What if people aren’t asleep though?” Nelson asked scratching his chin “Wouldn’t they miss the message?”
“In that case, the moment they go to sleep he message will play back to them. Now they won’t be able to interact with the people inside the shared dream considering they’re not dreaming about it anymore but they’d get the general gist nonetheless.”
“Very well…any dangers?”
“Well I mean our consciousness will be in the dreamlands for a while...But Kari can protect us from whatever dangers there may be, right?”
“Isn’t it better to just telepath each message separately instead of taking extra risks?”
“No, cause if I do that I won’t be able to get all the invites out on time and we’ll have to revise the invitation list.”
“Do it then.” Nelson said resolutely “We worked far too hard on that list to revise now”
Kari sighed “Okay fine just make sure I’ll be added before the others, I’ll draw up some wards to keep our to-be guests safe.”
“You’re the best sis,” Isobel said and gave Kari a hug.
“I mean of course,” Kari replied cheekily.
And like that the plan was set.

“Kari? Kari, can you hear me?” Isobel's voice pierced thick inky darkness. 
“I can hear you but I can’t see you.”
“Right, one sec I think I may have my sigils backwards.”
“You didn’t check your sigils!?” Kari shouted into the void wondering how this kid is even in the same year as her. But then a bright light flashed up burning her eyeballs and she covered her face in shock.
“There that should do it, can you see me now?”
Carefully Kari opened her eyes and found herself in a dessert with Isobel standing by her side.
“I figured a wide-open space would keep us from being ambushed.”
“It also makes us sitting ducks.”
“Should we relocate?” Isobel asked worriedly. 
“No, just hurry, the less time we spend in here the better.” Kari pushed her hands together, then separated them again producing her trusty chestnut and emerald wand. The wood was encrypted with runes and sigils, the crystal on the end of it started to glow as Kari began to chant. The light turned from green to a deep purple. She then set out to draw circles in the sand. “Okay, so I’m gonna start with a basic protection ward, then expand it to include otherworldly beings.”
“Why not start with that?”
“Because it takes a lot of time to cast and I want to at least be protected from the scavengers while I do it.”
“Fair point. Can I start pulling people in?” Isobel asked as her wand made complex motions.
“Gimme a minute. Also what about Nelson and Joshua, are they joining today?”
“Joshua would freak, Nelson said he’d be on standby. He got his transmutation exam tomorrow and would like a good night sleep if possible.”
“Wait, he didn’t do his yet?” Kari raised an eyebrow.
“Remember last May? Nelson was kinda out of the running.”
“Oh right…I remember now.” Kari shuddered thinking back on it “Well anyway that should do it for the scavengers and smaller beasties. You can bring the others in I’ll be working on the wards while you do the talking.“
“Got it.” 
And just like that the circle Kari drew was full of people who were looking around confusedly.
Kari’s eyes widened with surprise “I thought you had to pull them in one by one?”
“I did some preparations.” 
“All right, respect. Now do your thing.” Kari said and Isobel nodded, puffed up her chest and clapped her hands to grab the attention. “Ladies, gentlemen and others I welcome you to the dreamlands to bring you a message. You have been selected as guests for the hidden Christmas party which will take place simultaneously with the school’s party, but ours is better because only the best of the best are invited and we’re not being stuck up about intoxicating substances and rules and the like so if you wanna have an evening you’ll never forget to get your ass to Crackaby house. We’ll be welcoming from eight but feel welcome to drop in whenever, we’re gonna go on all night.”
The murmurs among the group turned to cheers the moment the first guy started and within the second people were more than pumped.
“All right that’s great, now can you send them all back, we’re getting company,” Kari interjected and all eyes turned to the waste beyond their magic circle where a mass of black…things tried to crawl their way in. They looked like maggots but slimier, like leeches but longer, one thing was for certain though, they were small, had teeth and they were absolutely disgusting. They clumped together into big slimy lumps and gnawed at the invisible wall that was keeping them out.
One of the girls started to scream followed by another and soon everyone was panicking.
“All right all right keep calm I’ll get us all out of here,” Isobel yelled over the ruckus and started to chant. Slowly but surely everyone began to turn translucent as they were fading out of the plane.
Then Kari started yelling.
“Isobel you’re fading me too! I can’t hold-” and then the walls around them collapsed. A cascade of slimy creatures rained down onto the crowd in a chorus of screams.
Kari woke up in her bed. She looked around trying to gather her thoughts. 
She then stuck her feet into her slippers and rushed out to the common room. 
She slammed the door open to find Isobel sat in a lotus position, her eyes glowing, at her feet the worms circled around her leaving a slimy trail.
“kuihtua ja kuolla!” Kari shouted at the slimy creatures and they shrivelled up like autumn leaves before crumbling into dust. “Isobel, Isobel are you okay?” Kari shook her sister’s shoulder and the light that shone from them started to fade away as Isobel sighed “Kari?”
“Are you okay?” Kari repeated herself and Isobel nodded and grasped her head “I feel like I got hit by a truck but I think I’ll manage.” 
“Good” Kari embraced her sister and they spent a couple minutes enjoying the silence until Isobel sighed and said, “I do hope that didn’t scare all the guests off.”
Kari shrugged “If it did they’re wimps, come on. We should get some sleep.”
“Not sure if I can get to sleep now but, good idea.”
They headed back to the sleeping chambers.
No one was left in the room to see the pile of ash move and jerk, turn back into a worm.
And crawl away.

No one mentioned the dream outside of the dream.
This was of course how our quartet intended it but it also meant they didn’t know whether people actually wanted to show up after the debacle with the worms.
“Perhaps we should have arranged for people to show a sign if they wanted to come, like wear a red scarf of something like that.” Isobel coined back at Crackaby house as she unwrapped the Christmas pudding and doused the thing in brandy. 
“I think a universal signal may have tipped people off.” Nelson countered as he worked on the magical candy buffet. “Besides I wouldn’t mind having to eat all this myself.”
“I’m pretty sure eating more than one fireball would be fatal.” Kari joined the conversation holding a crate of booze in her hands “Okay so I got witches blood, fiery dragon, ghost potion, Merlin’s forest beer aaaand rose mead.”
“Splendid set it on the table and…has anyone sees Joshua?”
“You mean he’s not here?” Kari asked surprised.
“As you can see, he's not,” Nelson said a bit impatiently.
“Maybe he’s upstairs?” Isobel proposed and Nelson sighed “I’ll go check.” 
“If you find him tell him I brought the nail polish he asked for,” Isobel added and with that Nelson went up the rickety stairs of Crackaby house. 
Crackaby house once belonged to one of the professors of the university, no points for guessing his name was professor Crackaby. But since his subject was the art of illusions his house was riddled with hidden doors, secret rooms and illusions meant to make you go insane.
No one really knows what became of professor Crackaby, he just didn’t show up for work one day and after three fellow professors entered his house and didn’t come out the other end. The whole place was sealed off and it’s a generally accepted theory that the professor simply got lost in his own house.
This is why Nelson wasn’t particularly thrilled to be veering away from the central hall and up the impossibly tall staircase.
Wait a minute…
Nelson sighed and pulled out his ivory wand while murmuring “paljastaa” under his breath.
A thin smoke came pouring out of his wand and as it dispersed in the air it revealed a door to his left. 
“Well here goes nothing.”

“What were you doing outside?” Kari asked as Joshua came sauntering in.
“Uhm…nature was calling? You think I wanna go look for the loo in this place?”
“I mean he has a point.” Isobel added but Kari was already rushing to the stairs to yell “We got him down here! NELSON!?”
“What’s going on?”
“We may have sent Nelson to his doom…on the bright side I brought the nail polish you wanted.”
“Sweet!”
“I’m going after him.” Kari called out but Isobel clicked her tongue “So you can both get lost? Sounds like a swell idea.”
“What else-“
“I’ll send him a message through telepathy, of course, you just focus on enchanting the musical instruments, I got this.”
“Right.”
“Can I have the nail polish?”
“Sure, it’s in my purse, now remember three strokes on the belly and a scratch behind the ear else it’ll try to chomp your hand.”
“Oh, I remember” Joshua replied darkly while rubbing his wrist dramatically.
Isobel rolled her eyes, found a comfortable spot on the dusty couch and sat down in a lotus position. 

“Joshua! Joshua where are you, you stupid dog!” Nelson shouted into the empty rooms. He’d surrounded himself with glowing orbs to light his way but it’s almost like this particular room was built to suck up light as the balls kept dimming and faded out in less than a minute. “I’m just gonna doubt he went this way.” He murmured under his breath, then turned around to the hall to find that on the other side of the door there was no hall but instead a gigantic ballroom lit with ghastly green chandeliers. “Now this place would be so cool if I could actually find it back after I reconvene with the others…but I doubt it.”
“Nelson, heeeeeello Nels?”
“Isobel? Did you find Joshua?”
“We did…well actually he wasn’t really lost he was just outside taking a leak.”
“Can you tell that furry disaster that next time he decides to disappear he could at least tell someone? Before I end up in a creepy ballroom, that is.”
“Creepy ballroom!? Can I see?”
“Be my guest.” 
“Thanks.” A small shock of electricity travelled up Nelson’s spine and straight into his skull “Oh damn that looks so cool! I never expected Crackaby to have actual taste.” Isobel mused as she gazed through Nelson’s eyes.
“That’s all well and good but do you have any idea how I get out of here?”
“Sure you don’t wanna just like…stay there and we can go find you?”
“Positive, get me out of here.”
On the other side Isobel sighed “All right, uhm, I’ll see if I can find out where…hmm that’s weird?”
“What is it?” 
“You’re moving.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes you are, you’re making circles.”
“Must be the room then, I mean you can see I’m just standing here.”
“Right, I’d love to help you but-“
“Isobel? Isobel!?” Nelson grunted taping his ear as if that would help. “Looks like you’re on your own again Nelson.”

“Welcome, welcome, have a drink,” Kari said walking around the room and sent worried glances to her sister whenever she thought no one was looking.
Then Isobel started to grunt and shake her head.
“You okay sis?” Kari asked putting the tray down and walking over to her.
“I lost Nelson.”
“What do you mean.”
“The rooms move. I lost the connection.”
“Shiiit.” 
“Oh no…” Joshua whined and immediately Isobel perked herself up “It’s gonna be okay, we’ll find him.”
“It’s my fault.”
“Kinda yeah.” Kari shrugged.
“Kari! Okay, so what about a portal?” Isobel suggested,
“You know how to make a portal?” Joshua asked, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
“Well…no but maybe Nelson does?”
“I know how to make one, but both Nelson and I will have to draw half the spell.” Kari said rolling up her sleeves “Think you can contact him again and suggest the idea?”
“I can try, though I gotta admit this is not how I expected my evening to go.”
“I don’t think any of us did. But at least the guests seem to be having fun. Speaking off…” Kari picked up her tray again and walked to the door “Welcome to the party, glad you could make it. Want a drink?” 
Joshua hung his ears in shame. 
Then strengthened his resolve.

In the meantime, Nelson was occupied running from a bunch of gigantic ferocious dogs. Bolting blindly through door, after door until the whole thing turned upside down and he ran straight into them again “Oh for heaven’s sake!”
“Nelson, heeeey.” Isobel sent into his brain again.
“WHAT!?”
“Oh dear, you ok?”
“Tell me you got a plan!”
“Right, about that, you know how to make portals?” 
“How would I know that!?”
“You’re a nerd right?”
“I’m not!”
“It’s not a bad thing, Kari’s a nerd and she’s amazing.”
“OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE!”
“What is it.”
“It’s a dead-end!”
“What?”
 Behind him, the dogs growled and huffed.
“Welp, guess I’m gonna die, say bye to Kari and Joshua for me kay?”
“What’s happening?” Isobel’s voice sounded panicky.
Nelson just sighed and turned around to face the growling monsters.
Then he heard Kari ask Isobel through the mental link “Did you see Joshua?”
“Wasn’t he with you?”
“No, I thought-“
Then a large wolf jumped in between Nelson and the dogs, his teeth flashing a pearly white danger. The hair in his neck was bristled up to make him look extra big.
He growled and barked fiercely at the dogs and as he did they grew smaller and smaller till nothing’s left but a handful of puppies. 
“NELSON WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!” Isobel suddenly shrieked over the sound of barking and Nelson just grinned “Found Joshua.”
“What!?”
Nelson walked up to the wolf and put a hand on his back “I think that’s enough, thanks, buddy.” 
“Nelsoooooon I’m sooo soooooowy.” The wolf wined and Nelson gave him a couple scratches behind his ear “It’s okay. How did you find me?”
“Followed my nose.”
“You think you can find the way back?”
“I doubt it, this place keeps shifting.”
“What?”
“That’s okay though. Gonna turn back so uhm…”
“Right.” Nelson looked away until Joshua told him it’s safe to look.
Joshua then pulled out his crystal wand and starts a chant turning the tip from clear to purple to red. He then starts to draw a pattern on the floor. “You still in contact with Isobel?”
“Bell, you still there?” 
“Ugh, I told you not to call me that.”
“She’s still on.”
“Tell her to tell Kari to activate the portal, this side is done.”
“You know how to make portals?”
“Look I wanted to impress countess Valery so I read our book back to back already.”
“I can’t believe your hopeless crush is saving the day right now.”
“Yeah whatever…you ready to party?”
 “Hell yeah.”
And so they zipped back to the party, had a well-deserved blast and woke up the next day with the expected hangover. 
Unanimously promised to never again pull a stunt like that.
Which let’s be real, probably lasts till the end of the holiday.
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