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X. The Cylindrical Blizzard

 

“How bad could Thanksgiving holiday with your family have possibly been?” asked Ahir Shaheen as she, Arnulf, Tom, Angelica, Cloudius, Rats and Daphne sat around Tom’s room the Monday after. Eva sat in the window and gazed out, only slightly translucent on this cold and cloudy day.

“Well,” said Arnulf, “the turkey was dry, the potatoes were like wood pulp, the gravy looked like sludge—it tasted like sludge too, actually. Don’t even ask about the Brussels sprouts. And my uncles kept asking why I got sent to reform school.”

“Your mom told them you were in reform school?” said Angelica.

“Some of us,” Rats explained, “have to make up something to explain why we’re not in the local middle school. My mom tells people it’s a magnet school. No one knows what that means, so we’re sort of all set.”

“But why reform school? Did you get in trouble a lot?”

“No, actually,” said Arnulf. “Mom finally got them on the idea it was a Catholic school. I had to make all kinds of stuff up about nuns.” He looked at Ahir, who smiled sweetly. “What do you tell people?”

“Oh, my mom tells everyone I’m at a special technical middle school learning to make computers.”

“What’s your mom do?” asked Tom.

“She used to be a diplomat, but since the revolution she’s just a wizard. Since Dad died, she’s mostly into alchemy, but she’s working on a book.”

“Of Iranian magic?”

“No, a novel.”

The others all went Oh with their mouths and turned to Daphne. “How was my Thanksgiving vacation? Mom made me go on the traditional November hunt. It’s, you know, a nude hunt.”

“Sounds exciting,” said Cloudius. “Wait. In northern Wisconsin?”

“And on into Minnesota, yeah. They bleeping bathe in Lake Superior.”

“Amazons are all crazy,” said Angelica.

“You think I’m crazy. It’s the older ones you should see. Next year I’ll make sure you get an invite.”

“Well, thanks for that. I helped out around the saloon,” said Angelica. “Me and Clary waited tables. I love that. We make sure everyone tips well.”

“By batting your eyelashes, or by muttering spells?” asked Daphne.

“Whatever works.”

“Well,” said Cloudius, “thanks for asking, I got Mom and Dad to teach me some toymaking. I sold a few toys to friends.” He looked around. “Hey, it was all legal. There’s no law against selling magic toys to magic people.”

“Is that what your folks do?” asked Angelica.

“Yeah, anymore. Sell non-magic toys to non-magic people and magic toys to magic people, and you can sell non-magic toys to magic people if you want, it’s just the other thing that gets you in trouble. Or makes you rich.”

“What did you do, Tommy?” asked Daphne.

“Oh, we just had a regular Thanksgiving,” said Tom Hexane. “Well, and we did a late All Hallows, or maybe it was an early Solstice, back in the woods. That was fun.”

“Call up anything you couldn’t put down?” asked Arnulf.

“Not on your life!”

“So what’s up for the rest of the semester?” asked Rats.

“Oh,” said Angelica, “little thing called finals.” The others all groaned, and a damper fell on the conversation—for about five minutes. Then they were laughing and throwing magic paper airplanes at each other, while Eva meowed at them.

 

Finals were indeed coming at them like a Midwestern blizzard, moving slowly and inexorably across the plains, darkening the skies for days ahead. Arnulf and Ahir weren’t studying nearly as much as they should have been; Daphne was spending a lot of time in the weight room, and rehabbing her many assorted injuries, and hanging with Spiny; the rest were getting their time in with the books, at least as much as they were capable of.

Meanwhile the cylinder hid in one of Angelica’s locked drawers, and her fixation with it caused the gang’s only significant quandary; oddly, the problem occurred in Illusions, Angelica’s best class.

Master Shag was in what, for him, was a festive mood. He had a big beard-illusion which started off as Santa; his costume matched. Gradually his beard changed color, and his costume with it, until he was a bearded, horned devil, then a pirate, then a hippie, and then Santa again but in rainbow colors.

He set his class the task of making the most realistic possible blizzard illusion, and it wasn’t long before the room was feet deep in snow drifts. Rachel, Angelica and Natalie were whispering as they cast illusions: the other two were trying to get Angelica to explain to them, in whispers and in the middle of class, just what it was she’d got hidden that she was so obviously smug about.

Suddenly Angelica said, “Oh no. Oh great.”

It was snowing little copies of the cylinder. They were swirling around their table, blowing and drifting.

Rachel and Natalie quickly turned them into pieces of metal pipe, or firecrackers, or cannoli: anything they could think of that was cylindrical. More snow was on the way too, as Angelica hastened to cover up her little slip. But a quick glance at Josh Hubble’s table showed that good old Josh, that MacMorris stooge, was very interested in the weather over at the girls’ table.

The next afternoon, Angelica and Rachel came back from the library just in the deep grey of twilight, as the Chicago wind whipped through the campus. They started up the stairs and stopped: Angelica raised her hand to stop Rachel, whose question froze in her throat. Someone was up there, making noise but trying not to; the door to her room, on the left at the top of the stairs, was ajar.

The two girls made their way to the top of the stairs in utter silence. Angelica pushed the door open just a little more and peered in.

The room was in more of a shambles than usual, and it was getting worse. The top drawer of her dresser was halfway out, but its contents were on the floor. Now the middle drawer unlocked itself. It slid out seemingly of its own accord, and its contents joined the mess. The drawer went back in, and then the mess stirred itself. Soft curses came out of the air.

“It’s Hardy,” hissed Rachel. “Hardy Viner.”

Hardy Viner’s voice said ag and the girl herself appeared in the middle of the dark room, as the spell washed ineffectively over Rachel and Angelica.

Rachel’s ag in return was more effective, but not more effective than Angelica’s reflexive cast of magic combat, which threw the invader against the far wall. She was asleep when she hit the ground, and was not awakened by the fall of a framed photo of the Mississippi at Rock Island onto her head.

“How close was that?” asked Rachel.

“What do you mean?”

“Because I bet I know what she was looking for. I bet it looked like a sort of cylinder.”

Angelica looked at her. “I gave it to Arnulf to give it to Ahir,” she said. “Yeah. I can see it’s time we included you in more of our secrets, Rache.”

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