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XI. Finals and Yule

 

The next week was Final Exam Week. The Saturday before, the Football Zephyrs were out practicing: the temperature was in the sixties and the sky was brilliantly clear. Daphne was finally feeling okay: she was looking more than okay. The last four plays they ran as the sun went down were long passes from their own five: a deep cross to Angelica, a post to Bertie, a corner route to Kate, and then a bootleg bomb out in front of Angelica, a good seventy yards in the air. Angelica was in that favorite place of hers, far out in front of Spiny, her legs moving her at the limits of speed. It seemed like they were wings, not legs. And there was that ball, impossibly far out in front of her still, in the last rays of the sun against the deep blue sky, so beautiful, so impossibly beautiful. And down it came, down and down, and she could hardly believe she was so lucky that somehow she found the speed to reach just the place where her outstretched hands could grasp that lovely football, clutch it to her thirteen-year-old breast and cruise grinning into the end zone.

Daphne stayed to do some extra stretches and get checked by the healer, an alumna of the Lyceum who volunteered her time. Daphne headed home by twilight singing Queen’s repertoire to herself.

She went along Birch Street, as she usually did: somehow she had come to think of it as safer. But a couple of bums on the street turned to her as she passed and began throwing spells and magic combat bolts.

The tall one, the one attacking her directly with magic power, found himself meeting her blue eyes and flinching at what he saw there. Then she snapped her throwing arm at him and the bolt of power she tossed threw him back against the street lamp. He slumped unconscious: ah, she thought, that felt good, the arm felt very good.

Sek nyk min! came from the other. But Daphne had her favorite new spell, and it was no three-worder: kno eur. She felt his spell hit, and she stiffened to resist: the next thing either of them knew, the faux bum was failing against his own hold spell.

Daphne quickly checked the unconscious one. “Listen,” she said to the guy she’d managed to hold: he was now sitting on the sidewalk, his knees up to his chin, looking glum. “I’m not gonna try and rifle your pockets or anything, it’s too difficult. So you just go back to whoever and tell them they’re cowards for not doing this themselves.” She checked the hobo’s two rings: one was some tourist turquoise from Arizona, but the other was plain gold and held a Power. She pulled it off and pocketed it. “You gotta be a hired hand, huh? Well,” she said, pulling a $5 bill and then a pouch, “you should ask for more. Is this what they paid you? I’ll bleepin’ kill you next time, you should ask for hazard pay. Five bucks!” She opened the pouch. “Oh. Wait.” She grinned at him: he obviously did not share the joy. “This is a little better.” She stood up and looked down at him. “I should shake you down for your share, I really should. But just look.” She reached over her shoulder to her backpack and slowly, reverently drew the magic sword she had been working on all semester. It looked quite lovely now, with runes of power carven wherever she could put them, and with a loving polish and an exquisite sharpness. “You like the look? I made it, and I carry it everywhere. Just—I haven’t had enough chance to practice. Not nearly enough.” She sheathed her sword and strolled away.

Her cool only lasted a few seconds, and then her excited joy took over, and she practically ran back to the Ash House.

“Ah, yes,” said Ash, when Daphne dumped the contents of the pouch on the table next to the Mistress’s bowl of soup. “The real thing. There is a story here.”

“There sure is,” said Daphne. “I got jumped by two street people. One used magic combat, the other threw Hold.”

“And?”

“Well, obviously I won.”

“Obviously,” said Angelica, “but tell us how, annoying girl!”

“I blasted the guy with the magic combat, and I used Kno Eur on the guy with the hold. Yeah, I lucked out. What the heck. This was on the guy I knocked out. This and $5 and a ring.” She gave the ring to Ash.

“Saving ring,” said Ash. “Wear it, it’ll mean you’re more lucky in the future in these types of things. I have the distinct feeling that you’re going to have more of these types of things in the future.” She inspected the former contents of the pouch: coins, eleven of them, solid gold.

“They’re solidi,” said Ahir. “Byzantine, I guess. We see them sometimes, even in Iran, in digs from the middle ages.”

“These,” said Ash, “are from the Emperor Basil I, the founder of the Macedonian Dynasty.”

“Ah,” said Angelica. “Yeah. Basil. Right.”

They all looked at her skeptically. It wasn’t until later, with just Daphne, Arnulf, Ahir, Cloud and Tom in Tom’s room, with the door shut securely and shesh put on it, that she added the pertinent information that Basil I was Emperor for much of the time that Photius and Ignatius were alternating as Patriarch.

 

The next evening, Sunday evening before the start of exams, Angelica, Natalie and Rachel ambled over to the School to study in the library. Most students were at their houses by now, studying or avoiding it within the friendly confines, but in the middle of the nearly empty library, Arnulf, Cloudius and Tom sat around a big table piled with books, quizzing each other.

Ange, Rach and Natalie threw themselves into empty seats around the table. “Guess what,” said Angelica in a low voice. “My sister Clary called, from the Windy City Academy. She says she overheard the Maroons are planning to ambush us. It’s kind of a big deal, I guess—it’s the talk of the Academy.”

“Really,” said Arnulf. “That so,” said Tom.

“We should go get help,” said Cloudius. “Get a teacher coming so they’ll get caught in the act.”

“This is pretty serious, Arnulf,” said Angelica. “This is getting dangerous. They’re taking a huge chance. They must be hoping to do us some real damage.”

“Maybe they’re trying to set us up,” said Arnulf. He looked at Cloudius. “This is going to require timing.”

“I’ve got timing,” said Cloudius defensively. “I’ll have you know I have great timing.”

They were pretending to study, five minutes later, when Ahir came in and took the remaining chair. She picked up a book, flipped a couple of pages and said, in a calm voice, “There are some of our fine friends out in the garden hanging out with the bushes.”

“Which fine friends?” asked Angelica.

“Oh, I saw Jen Greenbelt. And those two second years, George something and I think her name is Heather? And two third years, including, um, Kevin the Student Body Leader.”

“Oh, Kevin,” said Angelica. “The cute girls sigh for Kevin.”

Ahir and Angelica looked at Arnulf. “Okay, okay,” he said, “I’ll go get whoever. Cloud, you want to come? With your great timing?”

“Don’t get in any fights,” said Cloud with a grin. “Without me, anyway.”

The two slipped out the back of the library and out through the back door facing the athletic field. At almost the same moment, the front door of the library opened and Cath Place came in. “Hey,” she called to the five still around the table, “everyone has to get out! There’s Mangle Trucks coming!”

“Are there,” said Daphne, who had walked in right behind her.

“Well,” said Angelica with mock panic, “let’s by all means get out, huh?”

Arnulf and Cloudius took a few seconds debating whether to head for Ash House or toward the Headmistress’s house or what. From just outside the school door they moved to the lee of the big garbage can and the kiosk where campus announcements were posted. They peered into the garden: yes, there was Jen Greenbelt, obvious as could be, standing with her back to a tree, wand in hand. Several shapes lurked in the bushes.

They had just decided to head for White House across the way when they saw Ash and White coming along the hedged walk from there.

“Gentlemen,” said Ash, “are you practicing for football?”

“Looks like track to me,” said White.

“Mistress Ash,” said Cloudius, “there’s some Maroons in the garden by the library getting ready to ambush us.”

“What? How do you know?”

“They’re right there,” said Arnulf. “You can see them.”

White and Ash looked at each other, then wormed into the hedge to look. Arnulf stood behind Ash, Cloudius behind White. “There, see?” said Cloud.

“Yes, that’s Miss Greenbelt, isn’t it?” White remarked.

“I see two more,” said Ash. “Oh. Look. It’s Kevin Minehart. Oh, my.” She pulled herself out of the hedge; White did the same. “Oh,” said Ash, pulling out her wand, “I’ve wanted something on him for a while.” They both got smiles on their faces, smiles that, on any two other faces, Cloudius would have called evil smiles.

“We’ll have to catch them in the act,” said White. “You can’t just wheel around and attack, Ann dear.”

“Oh, I know.” They moved to the end of the walk, by the kiosk, and peered out at the garden.

Just then, the front door of the school opened and out came Angelica, Daphne, Ahir and Tom. Cath Place was behind them, and behind her were Rachel Rabat and Natalie Lopez. Five students jumped up or out from behind trees, five wands swept and five magic combat attacks flew. Five magic combat attacks impacted the brick wall of the school or the concrete of the sidewalk, casting sparks and raising dust.

The illusion Ange and Daph and Ahir and Tom popped with cute little waves goodbye. The real Ange and Daph and Ahir and Tom were back with Rachel and Natalie.

Ash was already out from behind the hedge. Her wand flicked. The two second-years flew against the wall hard, and slid down unconscious. “Suspensions!” she shouted before they hit the ground.

Behind them, Arnulf heard the crack of a magic force strike. Cloud was smiling, blowing his wand as if he were blowing smoke from a gun barrel. Bob Flammifer, late for the party, had come running around the corner of the hedge walk, and just as he came into view he was in the battle, for as long as it took him to fail to save against Cloud’s magical fists.

“Everything we do is legal, Daph!” shouted Angelica. She turned and found Cath Place pointing a glowing wand at her. There was a crack, close by: Cath grimaced and fell forward, knocked out by Natalie, Rachel and Tom all at once. Angelica turned and saw the two third years: Kevin managed to get off a magic bolt which flattened Tom, but the other, a girl, fumbled her words as she tried to say her biggest spell.

Another crack was Daphne zapping (sigh) Kevin; Ahir threw the same thing in the direction of the third year girl, but the girl, a cheerleader and student councilor, was already succumbing to ag from White. She was quite unconscious when she hit the ground.

Angelica found herself facing the only remaining opponent: Jen Greenbelt, of course. They squared off and threw spells. Angelica shot an ag at her nemesis—whose reply was gyor gao, as she tried to whip up a fog to cover her escape. But the conservative option fell flat, and so did Greenbelt, snoring as she hit the sidewalk.

“Well,” said Ash as she and White and Arnulf and Cloudius came to join the others, “anyone up for a celebratory pizza party?”

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