“He gave you a B??” was Angelica’s reaction the next afternoon, when they finally got to debrief. “I thought you might manage to end up with a C–, but—!”
“Yeah,” said Tom, “and all I had to give him was the silver key. I got to keep these!”
“It’s a mask,” said Arnulf, looking at the golden mask from several angles.
“Brilliant deduction, Holmes,” said Daphne. Ahir Shaheen smirked, but then leaned her head against Arnulf’s shoulder.
Arnulf gave Daphne a long sarcastic look, then looked at the mask again. “It sort of reminds me of Aztec art, you know?”
“Yeah, actually,” said Angelica. “It does. Indians, huh?”
“Mississippian culture!” shouted Cloudius. “Bingo! You guys ever go to, you know, Effigy Mounds? Or Kahokia?”
“Yeah,” said Angelica, “we go up to Effigy Mounds every summer. My dad loves to camp, by which he means, of course, a Winnebago Chieftain that’s twice as big on the inside as the outside. Gotta hope the authorities don’t catch on to that.”
“Well,” said Arnulf, handing back the mask, “let’s see the skeleton key.”
“Ha,” said Cloudius, “skeleton key.”
“It’s real bone,” said Arnulf. He gave Daphne a sharp look. “Don’t even say anything, Dapher.”
“What could I add to that?” Arnulf shrugged and looked at the key again. “Anyway,” she went on, “is it going to help us unlock the Texas Rose defense?”
The Zephyrs practiced every day that week, notwithstanding Tom Hexane’s distractions. Other things concentrated their minds: Coach Whelp posted an average of two news stories a day from The Wiz or Weird Sporting about the fascinating lives of the Texas Rose’s quarterback, Marita Hernandez, whose parents had fought a spell battle with vigilantes trying to cross the Rio Grande to a better life; the Rose coach, Maximilian Dodge, descendant of an Iowa governor and a medieval German witch; and several famous and important wizards who were alumni of the Yellow Rose Lyceum and its storied football team, owner of seven national championships in the past fifty years. And then there was this, on Friday:
TEXAS ROSE FACE SOMEBODY FOR CHAMPSHIP
New Orleans (Wiz) — When the witching hour arrives on Saturday night, the Texas Rose, the football team of the Yellow Rose Lyceum of Dallas, will play some other team, and the result will be the same as last year: the Rose players hoisting the Lyceum Trophy and also hoisting Max Dodge on their shoulders.
“We like our chances,” said Dodge at his press conference on Thursday. “Chicago plays a pretty plain vanilla scheme, and we just have to execute. We been doing that all year.”
Ah. Chicago. That would be the Lake of the Winds Lyceum’s Zephyrs. Don’t waste any time remembering that name: 8-1 in a very weak region, winners by accident several times; don’t be fooled by their blowout of the Jersey Devils, who had the triple whammy of bad luck, bad tempers and horrible officiating. The Zephyrs are possibly the weakest opponent anyone has had in the Lyceum championship in fifty years. Their quarterbrack is fragile, their defense is suspect, and their receivers are snail-like; even their magic, legal or otherwise, is slow. Expect to see a lot of their defense.
But it’s the Rose offense that will attract the most attention, and rightly so as Marita Hernandez and Bob “The
“That’s kinda harsh,” said Cloudius.
“I wanted to read the rest of the article,” said Arnulf, looking at the clipping. “I wanted to see how they misspelled my name.”
“Where there’s shmoke, there’s fire,” Ahir whispered in his ear.
“What exactly is a ‘quarterbrack’?” asked Daphne.
“Slow, are we?” said Angelica. “Bertie, are you slow at all?”
“I wasn’t last week, and neither were you,” he replied.
“Oh, but last week we only won because of their bad luck and horrible officiating.”
“We’ll see,” said Jen “Spiny” Norman. “We’ll see.”
In the event, the Wiz article was correct in a number of ways. The title game was not a defensive masterpiece. It wasn’t especially exciting: the winners scored enough in the first quarter to win the game. One offense spent a lot of time on the sideline.
The Rose won the toss and elected to receive. Their returner took the ball on the ten, zigzagged up the field and dodged an especially tricky combination of tacklers at the thirty-five. Spinning out of the mess, she saw open field ahead. Unfortunately, the ball seemed to have other ideas: Spiny Norman’s hand dislodged it, it bounced smartly on the artificial turf, and Arnulf seized it out of the air. The tricky combination of tacklers became a convoy, and Arnulf jogged in the middle of the convoy all the way to the end zone. Tom Hexane kicked the extra point and the Zephs actually led 7–0.
The Rose came out and ran two plays. On third and one at the thirty-two, they were called for illegal procedure: the right guard tried ag five times on Henrietta, never succeeding, and finally the referees threw a flag just to end the charade. On third and six, Marita Hernandez dropped back to pass—and had her clock cleaned by a blitzing Cloudius. The Rose punted. The Zephyrs went out and soon found themselves at third and six as well, but this time Daphne dropped it over the middle to her newly discovered tight end, Peterboro Case. (Who knew we had a tight end? she kept thinking.) He rumbled for ten yards beyond the first down. On the next play, Whelp rolled the dice and called for a deep one. Angelica was triple covered—but Bertie whispered his own ag at his defender in single coverage, and while the defender was shaking it off, Bertie was wide open in the middle. They didn’t run him down till he was on the five yard line, and from there, on first down, Daphne called an option and didn’t even have to make the pitch to Estelle. The Amazon was dancing in the end zone, and the Zephs were up 14–0.
The Rose managed a decent drive, centered around a 60-yard pass play, but they were stalled at the ten and settled for a field goal. The Zephyrs came back out on offense, and the huddle was a happy place. It got happier, as Estelle knocked off a series of four to eight yard runs that put the Zephyrs at the Rose fifteen on first down with one minute left in the quarter. Bert caught a four yard pass and got creamed, Katie dropped one (and blamed a spell), and then on third down Daphne dodged a blitzer and found Angelica wide open at the goal. The pass was so hard that Angelica couldn’t drop it: the tip of the ball lodged between her bottom two ribs. The Zephyrs led 21–3.
The second quarter saw the Rose manage a long drive and a rushing touchdown by huge fullback Bob “The Blob” Rumboni, and then the Zephs manage a long drive and a five yard pass for a touchdown to Katie. The third quarter was dominated by the Texas offense, which managed another field goal—and a Marita Hernandez touchdown pass. Unfortunately the recipient was Arnulf Shmoke, who caught it on the Zephs ten and ran, with Spiny running beside him laughing and hooting and Henrietta and Cloudius blocking, ninety yards to put “Chicago” ahead 35–13.
The fourth quarter was downright sleepy. Spells were slung around—and players thrown out, as the referees clearly did not want to prolong the event or put up with a spell battle. Bob “The Blob” and Cloudius were benched after throwing ag at each other repeatedly to no effect. The offenses wilted; the Rose managed a field goal to cut the margin to 19 points with ten minutes left; Daphne was content to run the ball for eight of those last ten minutes, culminating in a Tom Hexane field goal. The Rose’s last possession consisted of two spell-assisted drops and two Henrietta sacks; the Zephyrs’ last possession consisted of two Daphne kneel-downs. Before any further spells could be exchanged, the referees force-marched the teams through handshakes and into their respective locker rooms. The clock ticked from 12:00:00 to 12:00:01. The Zephyrs, 38–16 winners, were national Lyceum champions.
Or World Champions, since the game of choice of wizards overseas was some sort of rugby equivalent played in the air on broomsticks.
And with that, Daphne and Arnulf, Ahir and Spiny, Cloudius and Rats, Natalie and Rachel and Jen Chang and Pinhead, Tom Hexane and Angelica Aliyev had made it through their first semester in the Lyceum.