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Midterms at the University of Pandemonium, Continued



***
Steve walked past the hallway outside the engineering and noticed something weird.

“Hey man,” he said to Crowley, “how did you get inside a locker?”
“Don’t want to talk about it,” Crowley said.
Steve picked the lock and helped him out.
“What’s this ash on the floor?” he asked
“It was my Latin notes,” said Crowley.
Hastur had burned them.
“That sucks,” Steve said.
“We’re only three weeks into the course, anyway,” Crowley said nonchalantly. “I can recopy them from someone.”
“You can recopy them from me,” Steve offered. “Not now, though. Right now you look like you need a drink.”
“You’re a good friend, Steve,” Crowley said.

***

Steve led him down a series of corridors and tunnels to the student pub.
“I can’t believe you didn’t know about the student pub, Crowley!” he was saying excitedly. “It’s the most important place on campus. Where were you during freshman orientation?”
“During what? I got here the first day of class. What is freshman orientation?”
“I can’t exactly remember,” Steve said, “but there was a lot of alcohol.”
It sounded good to Crowley.

“Behold!” said Steve, once they arrived. “Here she is! The beautiful Tamora!”
There was a sign that hung crookedly outside of it. It read “TAM’S” in flaking red paint.
“Ahh, thank Satan,” said Steve, rubbing his hands together, “Friday specials.”
The two sat down at a table. Steve reached for a drinks menu while Crowley idly scraped grime off the table with his fingernail.

“What do you like?” asked Steve, “Wine? Mead? Beer? Cocktails? They’ve got some interesting cocktails here.”
Crowley looked at the cocktails. They had rather poetic names like “Waters of the Nile” and “Nepenthe Balm” and “Spirit of Mediggo.” He didn’t see any ingredients listed.
“Just red wine for me, I think,” he said.
“Cool,” said Steve. “I’m having a Maiden’s Tears.”
He waved at the bartender.
“Hey Hieropheievus! Can I get a pitcher of Maiden’s Tears and a glass of house red?”
The bartender gave him a thumbs up.
“Just one glass?” asked Crowley, raising an eyebrow.
Steve laughed.
“I expected you’d be wanting more. The pitcher’s to share. I think you’ll like it. What, you didn’t think I would finish off the whole pitcher myself, did you?”
Crowley shrugged.
“Well, it’s not impossible,” Steve said mysteriously.

When it arrived, the drink had a honeysuckle garnish and beneath the floral scent, smelled like it could be used to disinfect a stable floor.
“Cheers,” said Steve, and knocked a glass back.
Crowley sampled a sip and nearly heaved.
“Ahh,” said Steve, “Hiero is a goddamn genius.2 Good, innit?”
“Well...no,” said Crowley, “but it is strong.”
“That’s the very thing I mean,” said Steve, grinning loopily.
Crowley poured himself a whole glass. Then he drank it straight down.

After a few of those, Crowley felt as if his spirit was slipping out of his body and floating pleasantly above it. His body itself was nearly slipping off the chair.

Floating, his detached consciousness observed the rest of the occupants of the bar. He overheard some students in their final year chattering anxiously about what they were going to do after university– I mean I’m getting a dark arts degree, you know?– and Thaïs and Malbah on the other end of the room, slightly drunk but not as drunk as him. Thaïs’ face was suffused with pink and she was going on about some magnificent girl in one of her classes.
“She invited me for a walk through the botanical gardens, Malbah, what does that mean?”
“Well, what did you talk about?”
“I don’t know. Stuff. And things? She met Cicero, you know.”
“What’s the big deal about that? It’s not like anyone can’t just summon up his ghost for a chat now.”
“It is, though!” Thaïs said, “Our side didn’t get him! You could only meet him while he was alive! And she met him, which is really cool.”
Thaïs sighed, “she’s so cool, Malbah.”
Malbah mimicked her to show her what she sounded like, and Thaïs snorted.

Crowley eventually gathered that Thaïs was talking about Corinna, but he was far too drunk to care. He and Steve blissfully staggered back to their dormitories, and Crowley slept on the floor with a pillow rather than on the top bunk, because he didn’t trust himself with ladders. Snakes and ladders did not sound like a good combination.

2.This was not just an expression. He was, in fact, damned by god.
***

Half of the weekend was spent recovering, and by Sunday night, the usual rhythm of things had begun again. The weeks passed as normal: they felt long till they were over, and then one would remark, “hey, where did the whole week go?” and “oh Hell, I had so many things to get done and I only finished half of them,” or, “guys, did you realize it’s almost Midterms? It’s almost Midterms.”

And so they began to prepare themselves, mentally and physically, for the midterm exams.

Pera had told them not to stress themselves out too much, that it would be multiple choice, for the most part. There was also a ‘short’ essay, a composition passage, and thirty lines of sight-reading. Somehow, the multiple choice would still make up the most part. Oh, and did he mention that a lot of the multiple choice options would be incredibly similar, with only one letter difference? Well, they would. And they were to be filled in on a different answer booklet.

"It's just too much information at once! Is this supposed to be the pace of a regular intro course?" Steve asked when they were gathered in the library.
"No," said Thaïs and Malbah in unison.
“You never get to sequence of tenses before midterms in an intro course,” Thaïs explained darkly, “This is barbaric.3”
“Well,” said Malbah, “this is an intense-intensive beginner course.”
“Think of it like this,” said Crowley, “we are doing it all at once and finishing what would be a longer course in just one semester. Isn’t this better than dragging it out?”
Two pairs of perplexed eyes stared at him. Steve was probably staring at him too, but Crowley couldn’t tell what was going on behind all of his hair. Crowley tried something else.
“Look,” he said, "at least the final isn't cumulative."
"It is," said Thaïs.
Steve whimpered something under his breath that sounded like "help."

3. She was allowed to say this, since she was technically a barbarian, even though she had named herself after a Greek. They all were, technically, barbarians.

***

Latin dragged on as usual. Crowley yawned, or perhaps he sighed. Possibly both. He looked over to Steve, who was likewise bored.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Steve said gloomily. “This class is torture.”
“I think you’re in the wrong class,” said a nearby goat-eyed demon helpfully. “Intro Torture is in Arts B-19.”
Crowley glared at him with glowing eyes and the demon shrank back in his seat.

They were studying conditionals now. Pera refused to clarify whether conditionals would be on the exam or not.

“Regardless of whether you need to know this for the exam,” he explained sweetly, “you will need to know this for life. Suppose a human summons you. How do you make a deal? How do you tell him–or her, or them–that if they renounce their salvation, you’ll grant them a bishopric? Hmm? ‘If” is a very important word, you see, and the constructions that go with it are important as well.”

Throwing caution to the winds, Steve raised his hand and started speaking before Pera could call on him.
“Professor? What happens if we don’t get summoned in Latin? Like, what do we do if we get summoned in another language?”
Pera snapped the chalk he was holding and smiled thinly.
“Ask that,” he said, smiling, “again, please,” another smile, “but in Latin.”
Crowley heard Steve gulp.
“Uh, magister, um, si aliquis voc–um– vocatur? Vocaretur? Vocetur?”
“Yes, good. Depends on whether you mean to use a factual or counterfactual or future less vivid conditional.”
“Si aliquis vocetur alia lingua...”
“Not bad. Just try to keep your verb near the end of the sentence.”
“Right. Si aliquis alia lingua vocetur…”
“Ut qua?” Pera interrupted.
“Sorry?”
“You heard me,” said Pera. “Ut qua lingua? ‘If someone were summoned in another language…’ Such as which language?”
“Um, I dunn–I mean nescio.”
“Ut Graeca,” Thaïs suggested helpfully.
“Let him finish his question,” Pera tutted.
“Si aliquis alia lingua vocetur,” began Steve, and then screwed up his face in concentration, “uhhh, quid tunc?”
“What then? Here’s what then. If you get summoned in Greek, don’t go.”

“Excuse me?” said Thaïs, standing up.
Crowley and Steve exchanged a look.
“This is the sort of flippancy towards other magical languages–” she continued.
“I was merely about to say that if you’re summoned in a language you’re not familiar with–
“Why should Latin be the most important language?”
There was a murmur in the room and she felt emboldened to continue.
“I mean, sure, Rome conquered a whole lot of the world, but did it conquer Hell? We shouldn’t have to bend to it!”
“Complaining about what we have to do doesn’t change what we have to do,” Crowley told her quietly.
“An excellent point!” said Pera. “Thank you, dear boy. Did you hear that? All of you in the back? No? Let me repeat it.”
And he did. And everyone glared daggers at Crowley. He envisioned himself being stuffed into a locker again. The murmur in the room grew. Crowley’s head spun. He stood up.
“What I think about all this is that getting summoned is the wrong way of going about our jobs. Talking to humans through occult magic is an ineffective way of getting souls. It takes decades per soul. What about souls who don’t know about us, or who think they’re too holy to talk to us, hm? How do we get them? This is the sixth century. Demons need to be cleverer than that. Demons need to think on a larger scale.”
“Like heresies!” suggested Corinna excitedly, standing up.
“Or factionalism in general!” said Thaïs.
“Or wars!” said a snub-nosed demon.
Crowley began to feel sick about what he had just said.
“Sit back down!” Pera cried angrily.
The murmur in the room grew to a roar.
Class was dismissed early.

***

“Give me a human city,” called Steve from the lower bunk, “any city.”
“Adana,” said Crowley without blinking. He had pasted the map of the provinces of Asia minor, where Aziraphale was, above his bed, and he was looking at it right now.
“Adana,” repeated Steve, “Adana. Good. Well, see you later!”
“You’re not running off to Adana, are you?” asked Crowley. “That may be the most ridiculous plan I’ve ever heard.”
“Right now, I’m going to the library.”
“Oh. See you in a bit, then.”

After he heard the door shut, Crowley leapt down to the desk and pulled out the enchanted half-sheet of vellum he used to talk to Aziraphale.

How is it going?, he wrote.
How, the answer slowly appeared, is what going?
Yep, Crowley thought to himself, that was definitely Aziraphale.
You know, things in general.
Things in general are going well enough, God be praised, Aziraphale wrote. And for you?
Busy with classes, most of the time. And I miss Earth.
You? wrote Aziraphale, Busy? Now that’s a sight I really must see to believe.
Crowley laughed quietly to himself and got ready to write a retort, but Aziraphale kept writing.
When do you have a break?
Not till eight weeks from now. Winter.
There was a pause. Aziraphale was probably thinking of a response.
What are you doing over winter break? he asked.
Was that an invitation?
No plans yet, Crowley wrote. What are you doing?
I will be observing the holy season of Advent.
Sounds nice, Crowley wrote, I’ll try to visit for the holy season if I can.
There was another pause.
I do not understand your joke, Crowley.
I was not joking.
In that case, then, sounds nice.
Crowley beamed.
I have to go in a few minutes, Aziraphale added, the brothers will be starting evening prayers.
That’s ok, I have to be going soon anyway too. I have to be studying for a Latin exam I have next week. Crowley answered nonchalantly. It was easier to seem nonchalant in writing.
Is it difficult? Aziraphale asked.
Yeah.
Would you like help preparing?
Yes, please.


***

They all prepared for the exam in different ways.

Steve, for example, did not prepare at all, but concocted a harebrained scheme to avoid the exam. The scheme also involved some Latin. And stealing from the library. The latter was what the scheme really hinged on. He stayed up many late nights planning a book heist, and then when he had acquired the half-burnt grimoire, under the light of a midnight candle, he began the crucial modifications with scraps of pilfered vellum, a delicate scalpel, glue, and a steady quill. Next was a series of furtive trips between Hell and Earth. Crowley had to leave the dorm room key under the mat for him, (sloth girl had the other key) and he slept with one eye open just in case.

Crowley studied for the exam by following Aziraphale’s advice. One piece of advice was to try to talk to native speakers. That weekend, he hitched a ride to the pits of torment on the edge of town to try to talk to some dead Romans. It was no use. They were screaming too much.
He asked Aziraphale for different advice. He also looked over his notes and did some of the practice exercises from the textbook.

Malbah sat for hours in the library, keeping herself awake by drinking a dark, burnt-smelling concoction. Occasionally, she would burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter.
"I have the illusions 301: housebreaking and forgery midterm on the same day,” she said, wide-eyed and shaking. “I can't study for both! AHAHAHAHA!"
“Is she okay?” Crowley asked Thaïs, who was sat across the table from her.
“More or less,” said Thaïs.
Malbah started laughing again and slid under the table, where she lay on the floor, staring upwards.
“Are you sure?” asked Crowley.
Thaïs nodded. “She just needs to do this for a little while.”
Melbah fanned her set of lockpicks out over her chest and held them like a martyr’s palm branch.
"I hope professor Faland is feeling merciful," she said to no one in particular.
“You’re one of his favourite students,” Thaïs told her reassuringly.
“I won’t be after the midterm.”

Thaïs herself went to Corinna for help with Latin. Corinna had told her she would be fine, since she understood the grammar, but Thaïs asked, please, if she could review vocabulary with her.
"It's no use, you see.” Thaïs said, “I get so mixed up. Whenever I try to think of something in Latin, I think of it in Greek instead. Or I'll think of a Latin verb but with the Greek verb endings."

Hastur and Ligur were thinking about the exam as well. Crowley passed them in the hallways and overheard them talking.
"I reckon if I only study for Latin and do badly on the scientia humana midterm, it won't be as bad, right?” Ligur was saying. “It would be worse to fail the Latin midterm."
"Are you taking sci-hum pass/fail?"
"Yeah."
"Well, there you go,” Hastur answered, “When's the test for advanced lurking?"
" 'S an essay for lurking, not a test."

***

Steve and Crowley had breakfast the morning of the exam. Their roommate, the sloth demoness, had turned up again. All of them were silent, but for different reasons. Crowley was going over verb paradigms in his head. No one knew what the sloth demoness was thinking. Steve was having cheerier thoughts.

“Any minute, now, I’m going to be out of here,” Steve said.
“Sounds fake,” Crowley said.
The sloth demoness agreed.
“No, I mean it,” said Steve, “I’ve gotten a job. I put my name into one of the library grimoires, left instructions for how and when to summon me, and I sold it to a man in Adana, and made sure to show him the most important page. I’m basically out of here already.”
“Sure, but how do you know that out of a list of demons, he’ll summon you?”
“Aha,” said Steve, “well, you see, I may have put my summoning information under the header for Satan.”
“Huh,” said Crowley, impressed.
“Any minute now,” said Steve, quieter now.
The sloth demoness nudged his plate closer to him, reminding him to eat.
Steve sighed, and sunk his fork into a hash of unidentified meat. Then he froze, coughed, and vanished.
“Wow, it really did work,” said the sloth demoness.
“You speak?” asked Crowley, astonished.
“It’s too much work to speak all the time,” she said.
That seemed fair, Crowley thought. He respected that level of sloth.
“My name’s Acedia, by the way,” she said, and then said nothing else.

***

On the day of the exam, it was easy to see who was a first-year. There were three sorts of first-years: those who had stayed up all night cramming (fools), those who had stopped studying at eight and called it an early night, reckoning it would be more of an advantage to get a good night’s rest (likewise fools), and those who had started studying weeks ahead of time, and didn’t have any marks of worry on their faces (bastards.) (Also, rare.)

The older students, world-worn spirits, didn’t look as worked-up about the midterm exam. The final was the one they really had to worry about, they said. But they also fell into the same three types as the first-years.

Crowley had gotten his rest. He hadn’t gotten to review the last two chapters, but he knew the other ones very well, and that was probably enough, right?

They were all waiting outside a room in the fitness dungeon, where the exam was going to be held, since it was one of the largest rooms on campus, and since it would prepare them for the feeling of the final, which would also be held in the fitness gym.

Crowley found Thaïs and Malbah as they were walking into the exam room.

“Let’s get lunch after this is all over,” he proposed.
“We should go somewhere actually good, off-campus,” Malbah suggested.
“But first,” said Thaïs, “we get off our faces at Tam’s.”
They all agreed.

***

All the students sat down at their tiny folding desks and sat still, waiting for the water clock to start dripping. They had four hours. The whole room smelled like fear and armpit.

Finally, one of the invigilators blew a whistle, and they all began at once.

Filling in the multiple choice bubbles on the answer sheet was straightforward enough, until the end, when Crowley realized that all his bubbles were one row off. There was a moment of panic and he nearly chewed through his pencil, but he realized that he had been circling the answers on the exam sheets as well, and that he didn’t have to do the whole first portion over again.

It was quite possibly the best feeling of relief he had felt in his life.

Malbah seemed to be doing fine, though she was also gently rocking.

Thaïs had started the written portion first and she had already written though two whole exam booklets. Crowley didn’t think anyone needed two whole booklets.

Corinna seemed to have gotten a hand cramp and she was massaging her hand as she stared fixedly at her papers.

Ligur was leaning over the side of his desk, peering at Hastur’s paper, and Hastur was pretending not to notice. The invigilators, however, did notice, and dragged Ligur out of the room. It was not known whether he would ever be seen again.

The sloth demoness worked quickly, finished the exam twenty minutes early, handed it in, and walked out of the room. It seemed like she had been saving up all her energy all these weeks for this.

***

After the exam, Crowley, Thaïs, and Malbah met up outside the fitness dungeon.

“How did it go?” Crowley asked.
“Excellent,” said Thaïs, “or terrible. I have no idea.”
“I think my brain might fall out,” Malbah said.
“I’m certain we all feel that way,” Crowley said sagely.

They found a decent table at Tam’s bar and ordered a pitcher of something truly awful. The best cure for a brain feeling like mush was to give it something real to feel like mush about. They had no idea what they were drinking, but they trusted the bartender.

Steve came running into Tam’s dressed in new sleek black robes and holding a huge scroll in aloft.
“The next round is on me, guys! Guess who got a job AND a commendation?”
Crowley clapped him on the back.
“Nice work, Steve!”
“Ooh, you bastard,” said Thaïs, and squeezed the air out of him in a tight hug, to his surprise.
Malbah gave him a fist-bump.
“So, tell us everything,” she demanded.
“I will tell you everything!” Steve said, theatrically, “Gather round.”
And they did.

The human fool’s name was Theophilus, and Steve was going to serve him and make him a bishop, in exchange for…Steve made them all guess.
“Firstborn!” Malbah guessed.
“Nope!”
“His singing voice!” cried Thaïs.
“Not that either!”
“His shadow!” suggested Crowley, knowing full well what the answer was, but wanting to let Steve have his moment.
“Still no!”
Steve reached into the folds of his robe and pulled out a real, genuine deed of soul. They all oohed.
Crowley felt a bit uncomfortable about the whole business, but he was happy for his friend.

They finished their round of drinks, and Steve paid, as promised, and then told them he had to leave, because Theophilus would be expecting him. After some heartfelt goodbyes, he left.

***

“See?” said Pera, the first day of classes after the midterm. “The test wasn’t so bad now, was it?”
There was a murmur among the students. It was partly of agreement, and partly of disagreement, and partly of being thankful it was over.

“There are a couple of announcements I have to make before class,” Pera announced. “The first is good news! One of your classmates, using what we have learned in this class, has gotten a summoning and a job on earth! Let’s give him a round of applause in absentia.”

Most of the class clapped halfheartedly, but Crowley, Thaïs, Malbah, and the sloth girl clapped heartily. The sloth girl and Malbah even let out a little whoop.

“The second piece of news is that he did so illegally, and that Hell is now not allowing C.Lat students to visit Earth unless they have a permit signed by the dean or proof of graduation.”

Crowley’s heart sank and his shoulders sagged.
“Are you okay?” whispered Malbah with concern.
He nodded.
Thaïs rubbed his arm reassuringly.

***

That night, Crowley wrote to Aziraphale to let him know that he wouldn’t be able to join him over winter break. There was a long pause before Aziraphale replied.

I’m sorry to hear that, Aziraphale replied, sincerely. Do you think they’ll allow you to visit Limbo?
Probably, Crowley wrote. Why?
I might be visiting Limbo this winter. We could meet up for a few days.
Crowley’s spirits lifted.
You know what? That sounds like a plan.
Great!


Yes, thought Crowley to himself, it was great. He had something to look forward to at the end of the semester. It was just eight weeks away. He could make it through another eight weeks.


~the end

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