February passed and projects continued. Daphne was working on a sword to end all swords: her own magic sword, getting a little more magic every time she took it to the school basement. Cloud was working on a line of toys that rolled around and made weird noises and obeyed simple commands. Tom Hexane was building a four-dimensional model universe in his closet: he was using his light and astronomy learning to make it so you could walk into his closet and stand there in awe (or confusion) as the Milky Way’s history transpired at a billion years a minute. Angelica and her pals were making it look like all their walls let onto exotic landscapes, so that Rachel could look out onto a lake tumbling in the distance over an unseen waterfall, and Natalie could sit at her desk and look out on a sidewalk café in some alternate version of Paris; Angelica’s was some sort of Elven castle overlooking a steep green river valley cut from the mountains. And Arnulf and Ahir were researching magic history and the Crisis of 1931.
That seemed safe and non-controversial, and in fact it was neither, of course. But it also was the only project they could actually describe as it really was in general terms. Aside from decorating their walls, Angelica and Natalie and Rachel were researching ways to hide powerful items—and to see things that were powerfully hidden. Tom was creating a lovely closet, but he was also working with Rats and Pinhead to map the Indians’ ways on and under the surface. Cloud and Daph were working on items, all right: they were both becoming junior segmentologists, as was Jen Chang.
And their classes continued, challenging them more as the weeks passed, a rhythm they at least knew from their first semester. And if pentonics and history (of normals) and their specialties weren’t enough, Ash’s defense class could be counted on to wear them out completely. Day after day, the entirety of Ash House, including its mistress, finished class (in the cleared-out front rooms of the house) and all trooped up to their rooms and threw themselves on their beds.
“She’s going to kill us,” said Cloudius as he and Tom lay on the couches one afternoon, unable even to climb the stairs.
“In a good way,” said Tom.
“Just so no one else does,” said Jen Chang, lying on the Persian rug.
“What if you kill someone else?” asked Cloudius. “I mean, Emma Curie. Josh. What if you threw magic combat at one of them and they died?”
“I’d be more concerned about me dying,” said Tom. “I’m fine with them dying.”
They both turned their heads to look at Jen, who lay on the rug facing the ceiling. She got a thoughtful look and then said, “Tommy’s right. I don’t really mind if Josh Hubble does the dying.”
“Really?” said Cloudius.
“I mean,” Jen went on, “I worry about me, I worry about you guys, but I know you’re better than me, and I need to practice a lot or I could literally get hit so hard my heart would stop. Brain hemorrhages. Erk. But if it’s Josh dying? I’m not gonna go get him or anything, but if he’s attacking us? I’ll kill him myself.”
The boys both sat up and looked at each other. “Arnulf killed a guy,” said Tom. “A guy who was attacking us. He said it wasn’t that bad. No, he said, ‘Give it a chance, it’s not as bad as you think.’ That’s what he said.”
Cloudius sank back on his couch. “Oh, mom, oh, dad, can’t I go home and be a kid again?”
“No,” said Ash, passing through from the kitchen. “I am afraid not, Mr Cloud.”
Cloud sat up. “Okey doke,” he said. “Let’s practice some more after dinner.”