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XVII. March Maroon Madness

 

On a breezy Monday night in the middle of March, Angelica and Rachel were walking from the school back to Ash House when Rachel lost control of a piece of parchment and the two of them chased it down in the alley between the houses presided over by Shag and Sear. Someone was unloading something from a cart, nearly invisible in the night but right in the way of the parchment. The two girls pulled up short twenty feet from the parchment, which had secured itself to the thigh of the otherwise invisible person.

Obscenities came from the molecules of air above the parchment. There was a flash and it flew off as if repulsed by static, and then with the two words trt sko, it burst into flame.

But the spell’s caster lost his invisibility. It was Andrew Andrews’s older brother David, a student at the Academy across town. Andrew’s own voice said something from the shadow of Shag’s back cellar door. But Dave was looking up at the two girls.

“Sek ag min,” he said, flipping his wand out of his jacket’s inside pocket and flicking it at Rachel, who grabbed Angelica’s arm as she struggled to resist the “stone sleep” spell. It was the cheapest really effective attack spell and most Academy students knew it; even some Lyceum kids knew it, and Angelica knew it was the next thing she would work on, or possibly the thing after next.

Both girls squeaked out Kno eur, the reverse spell against that frighteningly effective three-word sleep. Yes, a truly effective spell. It was so effective that when both Angelica and Rachel at least half resisted, and their reverse spells took effect, poor Dave sighed a regretful obscenity, slumped against the card and then crumpled to the ground, dozing.

They stood there swaying together, not yet willing to go over and grab the parchment. Andrew and someone else threw magic combat attacks at them from the cellar door, and both girls woke right up. Backing up from the scene, they batted away the attacks, and then took to their heels and dashed for Ash House.

Behind them, the alarms were whispering like mad. Ash came out of her house, pulling a sweater over her robe-like blue dress. She reached her hands out to her sides, and the girls came to a stop on either side of her.

“Is there anything I need to see?” asked Ash.

“Probably not, by now,” said Angelica.

“Well, all right, run along,” said Ash. “I had better go turn off the alarms.”

Angelica and Rachel found Ash’s cat Kenneth sitting on the walk in front of them as Ash swept past. Kenneth gave the girls a little inaudible mew, and then turned and led them back to their own side door. In a few minutes, there was a spirited discussion, though brief, on the subject of what was on the cart. The issue of whether or how Dave would pay for throwing an attack spell on Lyceum grounds had not been addressed by the time Ash got back and came up to tell them, in no uncertain terms, that they all needed to get to sleep.

Then Ash went back downstairs and found Susan White in her parlor, and they got behind a magical seal to discuss such matters themselves, over brandy.

 

The next day in Defense, Angelica asked Ash if they could start learning spells like that. As usual, Ash paused a moment, did a calculation and decided between a gently sarcastic brush-off and a grudging acquiescence. This time the acquiescence won.

“All right,” she said, “you only know the one-word sleep spell at present, is that right?”

“Yes, Mistress,” said Angelica, Cloudius and Tom all together.

“All right, everyone please break off what you’re doing now—Mr Laguna, would you mind helping Mr Webb up? I believe you did not quite knock him unconscious.”

“What are we doing, now?” asked Arnulf.

“Two word sleep,” Angelica said to him in a low voice. “If we’re good maybe we’ll get the three version.”

“Mistress,” said Pinhead, as Rats helped up to his feet, “if it’s okay to ask, why would we want to know a sleep spell? Don’t we just want to whack the snot out of them with magic combat?”

“That is an excellent question, actually,” said Ash. “Why would one prefer the sleep spell to other spells, or to just whacking the mucus out of one’s opponents?”

“I don’t know,” said Cloudius. “Whacking is faster.”

“Not necessarily,” said Angelica. “I can say spells pretty fast.”

“You’re pretty good with magic combat,” said Arnulf. “Some of us aren’t so great at it, right, Pinhead?”

“Shut up, Nulf,” said Pinhead. “Okay. But it’s still quick and you don’t have to remember words.”

“I can see how that might be helpful for you,” said Daphne. “But you’re more likely to beat their resistance with a spell.”

“But a sleep spell? Anyone can beat that.”

“The two word sleep,” said Angelica, “is harder to resist, and the three word sleep is really hard to resist and there’s a five word version.”

“And the sleep spell,” said Daphne, “is just a teeny bit subtle, which apparently comes in handy sometimes. My usual spell,” and she drew her magic sword and turned it in the sunlight through the classroom window, shedding reflected photons in streaks about the room, “tends to get blood all over.”

“And, Daphne dear,” said Ash, “you know school policy is very much against actual murder.”

“Yeah.”

“And,” said Angelica, “it’s the spell everyone at the Academy knows.”

“In any case,” said Ash, “please pair off, and find a good wand flick, and let us practice just the words at first, no energy behind them please, just the words. Sek. Ag. Repeat?”

Various versions of “sek ag” were heard around the classroom, nearly all of them with no energy behind them. They all tried it three times, and the third time they were more or less in chorus, flicking and flailing their wands like orchestra conductors. Then they all looked at Ash, except for Pinhead, who swooned and fell snoring to the floor.

“Mr Laguna,” said Ash, “I did ask you to—!”

“I’m sorry, Mistress Ash.”

“You are, and you are also doing the dishes tonight. A light punishment, except that we are having lasagne. Now, I think you all have the basic idea. so let’s try putting each other to sleep. Mr Laguna, I will be your partner.”

“Great,” said Rats, and indeed, one minute later he was lying on the floor dozing with a smile on his face.

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