Roshan McKay sat at their desk, staring blankly at the pile of assignments that still needed marking. It’s not like they needed the money; Emma was kind enough to take care of most important things. Even if they did need it, it’s not like they could spend it. Power’s out to half the city, and with the internet down, most of the POS machines and ATMs were off-line. Roshan reached over and picked up the first set of pages and rolled their eyes when they saw the answer to the first question; someone had clearly skipped the lecture about Gibbs’ Law. Their eyes flicked up to the student’s name–Kian McKay–and Roshan snorted. “Figures,” they muttered and set the paper aside. Someone else would have to mark that little blight upon the world. “If anyone else is even still bothering to do work,” they grumbled.
Not coming to work seemed like the more sensible decision. Roshan couldn’t really fault anyone for not wanting to brave the weirdness of the city outside. They had almost stayed home today themself, to work on the walls or garden that was being laid in; there was no telling when the supermarkets would run out of food, or if any new stock was coming in. Especially not from London. Not with the dragon–what had the orcs called her? The Red Queen. She sounded like a lot of trouble.
Roshan had wondered if there was a way to create food magically, but their new mentor, Essaerae, had told them that was the domain of religious magic, not the arcane sciences. “Then what’s the point,” Roshan muttered as they finished marking another assignment.
“What’s the point of what?” a man’s voice asked from the doorway.
Roshan started, and spun to face the intruder. “Oh,” Roshan said, almost disappointed, “I wasn’t expecting you to come in today.”
Their office mate, Gwyn, was staring. “I, uh,” he finally managed, “like what you’ve done with your hair. Very, uh… fire.”
“Same to you,” Roshan said, looking pointedly at Gwyn’s ears, now sticking a little further out of his hair.
Gwyn blushed. “Looks like we’re both freaks now, huh?”
“Freaks?” Roshan arched a brow. “You call me that again Gwynedd, and I’ll turn you into a frog.”
“You…” he gulped. “You can… do that?”
“Not yet,” Roshan said, laughter in their eyes. “Soon enough, I’d imagine. I’m picking it up pretty quick.”
“What, magic?” he said the word with a mixture of reverence and fear.
“Yeah, magic,” Roshan mocked his tone. “It’s actually pretty simple, once you know the rules.”
Gwyn shook his head. “That’s just so you,” he said. “It’s been, what, a week? And you’ve figured it all out already?” He chuckled. “It’s like first-year chem all over again.”
“I’ve got nothing figured out, really. I can chuck fire at stuff–which has been super handy–and put up some kind of invisible shield now and then. But,” they shrugged, “there’s just so much more to learn.”
Gwyn was quiet for a moment and then asked, “Can you teach me?”
Roshan put down their pen, and gave him a quizzical look. “You hate it when I try to teach you things, Gwyn. Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Gwyn said, unconsciously brushing his hair over his ears. “Anything to help make sense of what’s going on out there.”
“Alright then,” Roshan said. “But first, you’re going to buy me a coffee and we’re going to talk about what’s happened to the two of us. Alright?”
Gwyn sighed. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s go then.”
The cafe downstairs was, despite everything, still open. A few of the windows were up, and part of the wall looked like it had been set on fire. The barista was staring at Roshan’s flame-like hair with a look that was somehow both suspicious and deeply resigned. Roshan gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s not actually on fire,” they explained as Gwyn ordered the coffee, “Just looks that way.”
“Hm,” the barista grunted, and looked pointedly at the nearby fire extinguisher. “Better not be. That’s ten quid.”
“Ten?!” Gwyn protested.
“Yeah. Shipments are getting lost. Supply, demand. Etc.”
Gwyn grumbled and pulled a £10 note from his wallet. “Here.” He turned to Roshan and added, “At least you didn’t want tea. Seems barely anyone has it in stock anymore.”
“Yeah well,” Roshan shrugged slightly, “turns out it actually has magical healing properties.”
“Yeah, I’ve been using it to brew magic potions.”
Gwyn looked amazed, and then laughed, “You’re pulling my leg. Right?”
Roshan grinned, and pulled a small vial from their backpack. Inside was a red liquid that shimmered as it moved around. “Never leave home without one. Who knows when you’ll need it.”
“You’re serious,” Gwyn realised. “That’s actually a magic potion.”
“Hey,” Roshan said, “I can literally snap my fingers and set things on fire. A dragon conquered London and is tearing up Westminster. We‘re not entirely human anymore. And you’re drawing the line at magic potions?”
Gywn looked torn between amusement and embarrassment. His hand, almost unconsciously, reached up and touched his ear.
“Shit,” Roshan said, “Sorry Gwyn, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Yeah, I know,” Gwyn said quietly. “I’m just… how do you handle it? All the weird looks, all the hushed comments?”
Roshan snorted with amusement. “Honestly, it’s kind of an improvement. At least these days it’s because I’m actually different, and not just because they don’t like the colour of my skin–though, I am literally red now, so that’s probably not going to change–or the way I present my gender. And,” they added in a hushed tone, “now I can just set them on fire.”
“That would make it easier.”
“Besides, you used to skip through Cambridge holding hands with guys. You don’t think some people weren’t giving you odd looks then too?”
“That’s different,” Gwyn said, “This is a university city. Nobody here gives a shit if you’re gay.”
“Yeah, and most people eventually won’t give a shit that you’re an elf now. The world’s changed; people will change with it. Or get eaten by dragons, I guess.”
“Half,” Gwyn corrected them, and added, “I think. I’m not really sure how it works.”
“Elf. My mother looks like me now, but nothing happened to dad. Same for you, I guess? Your grandmother’s old story about meeting an efreeti in the desert sudden seems a lot less silly.”
“Actually,” Roshan said, “I still think my grandmother was probably hallucinating from dehydration or something. It was my dad, surprisingly.”
“White as hell?”
Now it was Gwyn’s turn to snort. “That’s not what I was going to say, but yes. He is. Was, I suppose.”
The two eventually drifted back to their shared office, still deep in conversation about the current state of the world. Gwyn listened with intense interest as Roshan related their experiences in this changed world, from fighting an Ogre in the train station, to helping solve the now infamous ‘Kelpie Murders’.
“Things have gotten pretty weird,” Gwyn observed after Roshan finished telling the tale. “But I feel a bit better about it now.” He smiled softly, “Thanks.”
“Any time, Gwyn,” Roshan said. A moment passed. “Hey,” they added, “You should come over and see the apocalypse garden we’re laying in. Beats sitting here doing marking while the world falls apart, and I can get started on teaching you some magic.”
“Wait, you’re actually going to teach me?”
“Yeah,” Roshan replied. “It’d be good to have someone to study with, you know?”