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The Lyceum of the Lake Winds

I. The Second Floor

On 15 August 1982, Angelica Aliyev, twelve and three fourths years old, got off Train 4π from the Quad Cities, leaving Moline at 8:15 am and arriving, at Union Station after a lovely all-day train ride across the prairie, at around a quarter to nine the same morning. She came out, feeling terribly alone and incredibly grown-up: she had been so on her best behavior that her parents, Vladimir and Audrey, had let her take the trip on her own. Now she sat in the café and sipped hot coffee with lots of cream. She sat, pushing her black hair out of her face in the wind, squinting her brown eyes against the sunlight. She felt like she should have a cigarette, except that she felt very strongly that cigarettes were stupid.

She was early. The subway left any time. She watched the people wander by. She wondered how many of them were mages.

Angelica was finishing her coffee when she saw a kid come up the escalator. Like her, he had an inconspicuous badge around his neck. He was dressed too warmly: his fall coat was on him so he wouldn’t have to squeeze it into his bags. He had light brown hair and blue eyes and a face that tended to smile. He was her age, or a little younger, and he was bigger than she was, but the way he looked at everything seemed like a seven-year-old, interested in every detail of what was around him. Angelica, with her teenage detachment, found herself wanting to talk to the kid. And then there was something else: the shadow, it seemed, of a large cat, following him without stealth.

By the time they got to the L station, Angelica and Tom Hexane of Maine were best friends.

“My folks are college professors,” said Tom as they rode south.

“My folks run an inn,” said Angelica.

“Are they both—?” asked Tom.

“Yeah, yours?”

“Yeah,” said Tom.

“And is that a ghost of a cat?”

“That’s Eva,” said Tom. Eva, sitting on the empty seat between Tom and Ange, looked around. None of the thin crowd at the L station seemed to notice.

The other people came and went, but Ange and Tom stayed on the L train, which looked like an orange line but, they could see, was actually a pale ocher. When it stopped at the Lyceum station, no one else seemed to notice, but an old black man in a police uniform walked up to them and said, “This is your stop, folks.”

They got their stuff together and got off. The train pulled away.

“Well,” said Ange, “I wonder if someone’s going to come get us.”

Eva was staring at a post on the platform. Once the train was gone, the post transformed, just quick enough to notice from moment to moment, into a woman. She had red hair of a muted shade, she had the facial lines of a forty-year-old, and she dressed in long black robes.

“You must be Miss Aliyev and Mr Hexane. I am Mistress Ann Ash. You will call me Mistress, or Mistress Ash. When not in my presence, you may refer to me as you like. Come with me, and bring the cat.”

Ash’s students, ten first years at the Lyceum of the Lake Wind, lived in one house on the hidden, and dimensionally odd, campus. Their rooms were on the second floor. Ange, thinking of August heat, chose a room on the north side of the house with a nice view of the Lyceum building, which looked to outsiders exactly like a boarded-up elementary school. Tom took the corresponding room on the south side, and there they sat for a talk, Eva a shadow against the curtain in the window, staring in at them and not out at the next house.

Within an hour, the other three kids who would live on the second floor were in the room, being interrogated by Angelica and getting Ange’s and Tom’s stories in return.

There was Claudius Cloud: “Everyone calls me Cloudius.” His folks ran a shop in Rockford: apparently they had gotten in trouble in Philadelphia for fixing ordinary folks’ stuff using magic. Now Mom and Dad, of whom he was the only child, ran a toy shop and were very closely watched. Now they sold regular toys (and tried to fix them in regular ways if needed), while on the side they sold magical toys to people who knew about magic. It all sounded so cut and dried.

There was Arnulf Shmoke. His dad had been in the Magic Police, and had been killed in action when Arn was a toddler. His mom was not a mage at all. His fees for the Lyceum had been paid for by the union. Arn didn’t say so, but Ange had the feeling that his mom had not especially wanted him to go.

And then there was Daphne Golden. She was taller than any of them, and at least as heavy as Arnulf, all of it muscle. She was blond of hair and blue of eye. She looked like a basketball player: “Yeah, of course, obviously,” she said with impatience. What she preferred was football. What she really preferred was the sword: she showed them hers, drawing it from the leather sheath with a whispered prayer.

“It’s just a short sword, though,” she pointed out. “I’ll need to earn my warrior sword.”

“Mom, Dad or both?” asked Tom.

“Mom,” said Daphne. “Who cares about Dad?” The others laughed, but Daphne caught Arnulf’s eye. “My dad, I mean,” she said to him.

“What classes are you guys taking?” asked Angelica.

“Everyone has to take defense,” said Arnulf. “Everyone has to take Magic History. Intro to Alchemy, math or science, and English. That’s what everyone has to take. So that’s what I’m taking.”

“I’m taking Metallurgy as a side,” said Daphne.

“Really?” said Cloudius. “Me too. Playing with dangerous hot metal early in the morning! My dad took it from Timms, he said it was the best class.”

“I have Light,” said Tom Hexane.

“I thought I’d try illusions, yeah, wow,” said Angelica. “I am not the one you seek. I am not the one you seek. I am not the one you seek.”

“I’d have to agree,” said Arnulf.

Later, after she thought of lots of cutting replies, Angelica, lying in a strange but comfy bed, thought of how varied their backgrounds were. Arnulf had lost his dad, and his mom wasn’t magical; Daphne only had her mom; Cloudius was an only child of parents who were rebels against the magical regulations. Tom Hexane’s folks were almost normal, teaching at the teachers’ college and tutoring in magic a little on the side.

Angelica thought of her own parents. They ran an inn—a bar and a hotel for mages. In the Quad Cities, they had a full house every Friday and Saturday. Mages came out of the woodwork, all dressed up in their best carousing duds. Most of them were conjurors, who never used a spell outside the house; in this crowd Audrey and Vladimir were Queen and King, and Ange and her older sister Clary were the royal princesses. Their parents were bartender pillars of the community, alchemists who kept a protected zone and made the best beer anyone had ever heard of. They didn’t like the authorities, but they believed in following the rules. They wanted to improve the lot of the rest of humanity, but they didn’t want to reveal themselves.

Audrey had explained it to Angelica this way: there were the improvers, who wanted to help humanity in spite of sometimes being lynched by it; there were the hiders, those who preferred to stay out of the way completely. Then there were the balancers, who wanted to maintain an equilibrium within the magic and the non-magic worlds; and then there were the anarchists. And then there were those who wanted to use magic to rule the non-magic world. And most mages believed in most or possibly all of these things. They wanted to help out, they wanted to be left alone. They wanted to keep things from crashing, but they wanted everything to work itself out naturally. And sometimes they put a non-mage to sleep, or the like; often they hid themselves by casting illusions to fool the non-magical; occasionally, no doubt, a mage youth rolled a non-mage acquaintance and stole his Walkman. “We’re all everything,” said Audrey. “Never trust anyone who thinks he’s just one of those things.”