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.”
“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?”
The next morning, the final exams started after breakfast. During breakfast, the loudspeaking item was busy announcing the fact that seven students, including Jen Greenbelt, Bob Flammifer, Cath Place and even (sigh) Keven Minehart, were going home early with grades of F on all their finals.
“They should be suspended,” said Cloud.
“I was hoping they’d be expelled,” said Tom, rubbing his head, which still ached a little.
“It’s the best we could hope for,” said Angelica. “These are the Maroons we’re talking about. Their parents have pull like you wouldn’t believe. What are ours? A couple of teachers, a couple of troublesome toy makers, and a couple who own a bar.”
“And a dead cop and a Normal,” said Arnulf. He looked at Ahir, who held his hands on the table. “And a couple of Iranian dissidents.”
“And a soulless Amazon,” said Daphne grinning. “Let’s talk about something more upbeat. What finals have you guys got today?”
The answer was: Sear, History of Magic, which everyone but Arnulf had. Tom: “I’m glad I read that footnote about potion regulations in the Ministry period.” Cloudius: “What was the Ministry period?”
Then it was Ash’s Defense final all afternoon, which all of them had to get through. Arnulf: “Sorry, um, Cloud, man, I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.” Cloudius: “Wha—?”
Then they were eating dinner and studying and studying some more. Angelica: “I don’t see how Arn’s going to pass anything tomorrow, unless there are a bunch of questions about smooching.” Natalie: “He’s spending a lot of time looking deeeeep into her eyes, so if they ask her eye color, he should get that right.”
Then it was a rainy Tuesday and Temple’s alchemy final, which only two of them had to take. Daphne: “He’s not nearly as evil as you’d think, that Temple.” Tom: “I think I got my name right, anyway.”
That afternoon was White’s English final, which all but Tom were in. Cloudius: “I Englished that real good!” Daphne: “I’m almost sure I misspelled annihilate. Ergh!” Meanwhile, Tom was redeeming himself in Norbert Match’s Light final; his gloating was giving him a glow the others could read by over dinner.
Then they were all back at the School, because first half grades were posted Tuesday night. Arnulf: “A. A. It’s only two, but it is all As.” Ahir: “Very nice, Arnulf! You’re keeping up with me.” Angelica: “I am underperforming. It is not acceptable.” Daphne: “A in History? Two As? How did that happen?” Spiny: “You been working hard, Dapher. I got all Bs so far.” Cloudius: “Ange, I think it’s acceptable.” Rats: “I’m not quite totally doomed.”
Tom was staring up at his Alchemy grade. “So,” he asked no one in particular, “is ‘see me’ better than an F or worse?”
“Depends,” said Arnulf. “You know Temple’s going to give you a Task. That could be good or bad.”
“But probably both,” said Rats.
Then it was Wednesday’s finals, while freezing rain accumulated on the houses, roads, trees and power lines, but it was too much to hope for that the power would go out. In the morning, Tom had Glohan’s English exam: “Not splendiferous, more mediocre, but definitely not a debacle.”
Meanwhile, Cloudius, Ahir and Arnulf had Ash’s Alchemy final. Cloudius was laughing: “I survived. I’m still alive. I might have gotten, oh, a C+!” Arnulf was shaking his head: “There goes my all A semester. My mom would have assumed I cheated.” They looked at Ahir, who tried to damp her bright smile and managed to stop singing for a minute.
That afternoon, Angelica took her Illusions final: “I’m still holding on to my illusion of getting an A in that class.” Rachel: “Oh, honestly, Ange. You killed that class.”
At the same time, Arnulf and Tom had Blaine’s science final. Arnulf: “Mom is not going to believe it. She’s going to think my report card got switched with Ahir’s.” Tom: “Mom’s not going to like this. She thinks a B in science is heinous. Heinous. Good word, that.”
Then it was early morning Thursday, as the three inches of snow that fell the previous night blew around Chicago at fifty miles an hour and the mercury in the thermometers dropped through the floor, through the basement, into the sub-basement. Naturally, that was time for Daphne and Cloudius to do their final with old Timms in the metallurgy shop downstairs. They had nothing to say when they came back up, although they both had smug looks on their faces (and Daphne was nursing a newly healed-up burn down the length of her right arm—not her throwing arm.)
The final finals were Ash’s Math One, with Angelica, Cloudius and Daphne, and Sear’s other section of History of Magic, with Arnulf and Ahir. Daphne swung her imaginary math sword through the air: “Linear inequalities: whack! Laws of exponents: whack! Fibonacci numbers: whack!” Cloudius: “What kind of numbers?” As for History of Magic, all they could get out of Ahir and Arnulf was cuddles, smooches, sweet nothings—and smug looks.
The grades, amazingly, were up that night, and by the next day they had copies of the grade reports that were also winging their magical way home to their parents.
Student: Arnulf Shmoke GPA: 3.73
Class Teacher Grade
Defense I Ash A
English I White A
Science I Blaine A
History of Magic Sear B
Intro to Alchemy White A-
“Not too bad, actually,” said Arnulf. Then he looked over at Ahir’s: six classes, six As. The others looked over her shoulder: her skin was dark enough that it was hard to tell if she was blushing.
“I’m not surprised,” said Angelica. “With all the cuddling you two do, some of you must rub off on him, Ahir. I’m just disgusted that with all my studying, I barely beat Arnulf. I worked so hard in Temple’s class and all I got was a B+!”
“Oh, please,” said Rachel, “you actually got a note from Sear about how great your paper on the Renaissance system was, and you know Shag worships you.”
Student: Angelica Aliyev GPA 3.77
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear A
Defense I Ash A-
Introduction to Alchemy Temple B+
English I White A-
Illusions Shag A
Mathematics I Ash A
Notes: Excellent work in History of Magic. –Ramona Sear
Exemplary work in Illusions. –Ben Shag
“Acceptable, I guess,” said Angelica.
“Better than me or Rache,” said Natalie. “So shut up,” said Rachel. “No doubt,” said Cloudius.
Student: Cloudius Cloud GPA: 3.06
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear C
Defense I Ash B-
English I White A-
Metallurgy Timms A
Mathematics I Ash B
Introduction to Alchemy White B
Notes: Commendation for hard work. –Andronicus Timms
“I don’t care about anything,” said Cloudius, “except for that commendation.”
“I got one too,” said Daphne. “He never gives you a compliment in class. He must really like us.”
“What’s not to like?” replied Cloudius. “We work super hard and we recover quickly from superficial burns.”
Student: Daphne Golden GPA: 3.72
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear A-
Defense I Ash B
English I White A-
Metallurgy Timms A
Mathematics I Ash A
Introduction to Alchemy Temple A
Notes: Commendation for Hard Work. —Andronicus Timms
“Badabing, badabang,” said Daphne, “badaboom.”
“Who needs defense,” said Spiny Norman, “you have your sword. You’re gonna make me one, right?”
Student: Thomas J Hexane GPA 3.33***
Class Teacher Grade
History of Magic Sear A
Defense I Ash B+
Light Match A
Science I Blaine A-
English I Glohan C-
Introduction to Alchemy Temple Deferred***
Notes: Exceptional work in Light. –Norbert Match
Extra work assigned, yet to be evaluated. –T. Temple
“Extra work, huh?” said Cloudius. “I gotta go see him,” said Tom, looking spooked. “We’ll head over there with you, okay?” said Angelica. “Thanks,” Tom replied.
Meanwhile Rats and Pinhead were barely above water; Spiny was getting a solid B average; Natalie and Rachel were breathing down Angelica’s neck; several of the Maroons would have to seek exemptions to even return to school, since their automatic fails on finals had dropped them into F territory on most of their classes. And Jen Chang was smarting over her B in English, a blemish amongst a sea of As; it dropped her behind Ahir Shaheen, who not only had all As but had a commendation in Defense and another in Alchemy.
“Of course she got a commendation in Defense,” said Jen Chang. “Everyone’s scared to go against her in magic combat.”
“If they’re not,” said Arnulf, smirking at Ahir, “they should be.”
But soon everyone was gone from the first floor hall outside the Library except for the five second-floor Ash House residents. Tom shrugged and said, “Let’s go, okay?”
“We’re with you,” said Daphne, and they were, all the way up to Temple’s office.
“Ah, come in, Mr Hexane,” said Temple when he saw them. “Shut the door, would you?”
And fifteen minutes later, Tom came back out, took a breath and said, “I’m allowed to tell you what the task is, um, when I finish it.”
Even though they were done with classes and done with tests, no one went home just yet for Christmas. In the Lyceum world, there was still the Yule Festival.
“What happens at the Yule Festival?” asked Cloudius.
“Well,” said Angelica, who knew all about it from her sister, “there’s the banquet, then the Ball, and then the Yule Hunt. They put up this big maze on the football field and then everyone sort of wanders around in it, and we find stuff and win prizes. And we get to go first, the first years do.”
“What if we find all the prizes?” asked Tom.
“They restock them, silly.”
“You going with anyone?” asked Rachel.
“Yeah. Josh Hubble,” said Angelica. They laughed and gave each other shoves: they were sitting on Tom’s floor with Natalie. Angelica turned her head to look at Arnulf, who stood quiet in the door. “Hey Nulf, you going with anyone?”
He smiled, then turned to the hallway. He turned back to mouth See ya, raised his eyebrows, and went down the hall. Ahir smiled in at them and waved. “Hey guys,” she called, and then followed Arnulf down the stairs.
“Where are they goin’?” asked Rats. “Studying?”
“They go for walks,” said Cloudius. “Isn’t the Yule Ball where they give awards?”
“The banquet is,” said Daphne.
“You’re going to win one,” said Tom.
“No I’m not. No way. Not gonna happen.” She frowned and looked down.
“The first of the Yule Awards,” said the deceptively delicate Headmistress Lisane Charais, “is the Athletic Trophy.” She looked to her left and right along the high table: all the dozen plus masters were smiling. Charais herself, who taught only the third-year class on ethics, looked extremely happy. She said, “I am extremely happy to present the Athletic Trophy to the student athlete most responsible for the fact that next week Lake Winds will blow in the continental semifinal in football. Daphne Golden! Come up here, don’t make me throw it to you.”
Daphne did not look as if she hadn’t expected it. She looked as if she’d been dreading not winning. She was dressed as well as anyone had ever seen her, in a long blue dress of Angelica’s, which on her went as low as mid-thigh. She didn’t submit to high heels, of course, but had spent hours polishing her boots; in her hair was a jeweled comb Ahir had loaned her; around her neck was some sort of Amazon medallion that most of them had never noticed her wear before. Walking like an adult (an adult cheetah, that is), she approached Charais, bowed a little and took the award with a humble and quiet thank you.
Ahir Shaheen, though dressed even better than Daphne, did essentially the same act as she accepted the First Years’ Academic Prize: she was the only first year to manage a 4.00 grade point average with a six-course load. But with her out of the running, Angelica was still surprised when she tied with Jen Chang for Ash House academic prize.
“Daphne, you would have been there with us except for one stupid B instead of a B+,” said Angelica.
“I don’t care about that,” said Daphne. She put on a glum look, but then she looked at Angelica and her grin broke out. It didn’t go away all night. She turned to her other side, where Ahir Shaheen was also grinning, while Arnulf whispered sweetly in her ear. “Good job,” Daphne told her, “you deserved it, sister!”
“Some of those Second Years,” said Ahir. “One third year got straight As, but a couple of second years did. They have really hard stuff, too. Henrietta Longbeam. Wow.”
“And she had two interceptions and eight sacks on the season,” said Arnulf.
“What about that Anna Leith?” said Angelica. “She’s way too quiet.”
“What,” Daphne put it, “about Treymond Framer?”
“Is he that funny-looking second-year—?”
“No,” said Arnulf, “he’s that big halfback who plays for New Jersey Consolidated. The one who has twenty-two touchdowns and eighteen hundred yards in eight games. We play them in two weeks.”
“Yeah,” said Spiny, “they beat Boston Poly 42 to 31, and he had five of their six touchdowns and ran for two hundred yards plus.”
“Oh.” Angelica smiled and punched Arnulf in the arm. “I’m sure this big boy here will find a way to tackle him.”
The Yule Ball was not the high-pressure affair for the first-years that it would be for, say, the third-years, those towering, somber creatures dancing as though it mattered, eying each other’s dates and costumes across the room and maneuvering to back or undermine each other’s alliances. Daphne and Spiny danced with a couple of second year Amazons and a few other tall tough-looking girls; then each of them danced with a second-year boy, then they traded boys, and then they went out onto the moonlit field and practiced patterns. Tom and Cloud messed around, trying the Pencil before settling on the Hokey Pokey. Angelica, Rachel and Natalie cut up on the dance floor and enjoyed noticing boys watching them. Angelica especially enjoyed not caring whether any particular boy was really serious about her. Eventually they were all back at Ash House, winding down and then drifting off to sleep.
Arnulf and Ahir danced the night away. By the end of it, she had taught him to waltz and to tango, and he had given her total permission to do all the leading that needed to be done. Finally she led him back to the house. They went upstairs to her room, and he kissed her good night. After thirty seconds, a ghostly whistle blew nearby.
There stood the House Ghost. He waved a ghostly stop watch at them: the ghostly whistle swung on a rope around his neck.
“Okay, okay,” said Arnulf. “Honestly,” said Ahir Shaheen. She caressed Arn’s hair: he was washing it a lot more these days. “Good night, Arnulf, shah of my heart.” They kissed again quickly while the ghost heaved a sigh (despite his lack of lungs).
The next day was the Yule Hunt. The day was bitterly cold, but the athletic field, was now filled with hedges—and balmy, even misty, air. The field was already twice as long and twice as wide as it would appear to be from the street (from which it appeared to be a trash-strewn wasteland); it seemed today to have expanded to five or ten times as long and wide as it usually was.
“First years first,” called Mistress White, using her wand as a megaphone. “You will be given an hour. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to wreak too much destruction on each other, and the maze will automatically grow back. Now we have suppressed violent magic on the Maze grounds—but if you even attempt a damage-causing spell, you will be disqualified from the Hunt. There are three items out there as prizes, and each one is also a one time portal item which will transport the one who finds it to the winners’ stand. The items are: a Gem of Energy Storage, a Ring of Saving and a Thermos of Constant Cola.”
“Pepsi or Coke?” someone called out, and was rewarded with a glare that was chilling but hardly refreshing. That segued nicely into the Lining Up, which White and Ash managed with their usual ruthless efficiency. Then MacMorris fired a burst of purple light over them and they were off into the Maze, forty twelve- and thirteen-year-olds pushing and shoving and throwing sleep spells. Within a minute, eleven of them were snoring or puking or otherwise exhibiting the symptoms of magic attack which, while it would not permanently harm them, would put them out of action.
The beginning of the maze was a wide rectangle on the west side of the field, roughly the area of the soccer penalty box, with at least a dozen hedge paths running out from it, north, east and south. The two dozen plus still in the running split among the many ways, and there was a further attrition as the students on a particular path fought it out.
Tom and Daphne went around a corner and then around another, and when they stopped at an F intersection in the hedges, magic blasts began to land around them. Shawytha Green and Hyacinth Potts, who normally were on perfectly friendly terms with Daphne and Tom, came around the corner at a run, yelling and holding their wands straight forward; blasts were coming from them. Daphne dodged to the side and tried to think of a spell, while Tommy stood in his spot and aimed a blast back at Hyacinth. The girl went down in a blur of dark skin and orange dreadlocks.
Daphne swung around the corner, aimed her wand at Shawytha, cried out dramatically and fired off a blast—it was either that or throw trt asht, which could cause frostbite and was thus on the forbidden list for the Hunt. Shawytha dodged and fired back, and Daphne did exactly the same. As the two girls, one tall and muscular and black and the other tall and muscular and blond, fell into a mad blasting game, Daphne muttered, “Beat it, Tommy, make some time while I hold her.” Tom began to back away down the hall, still firing blasts at Shawytha, who fired a few at him. Daphne charged Shawytha, who was almost handcuffed by the closeness of her foe, dodging and retreating. As Tom stood watching, Daphne dashed around the corner. There was a bright flash that held in the air for a solid second, and a sharp clap as of nearby thunder. He turned and ran on.
Angelica and Arnulf and Ahir Shaheen went careening down the hall they seemed to have to themselves. They shirked left, then whirled right, then stopped for a moment before following Angelica hard to the left, and then they came around three bends and out into a small open space with a pillar in the middle of it.
“Dang,” said Arnulf. “It sure looks like there should be an item on top of that.”
“Let’s be very careful,” said Ahir. “This could so easily be a trap.”
“I’m just going to put my hand there,” said Angelica. “I don’t know any better.” As the other two watched, she put her hand, palm down, on the top of the pillar. Nothing happened. She felt around and above the pillar. Nothing.
Footsteps turned their heads. Geen Tiaw and Leonard Harris came charging in, and skidded to a halt. “Hey,” said Leonard, who was good with alchemy but had a glass jaw for magic battles. His first priority, clearly, was not to have Ahir Shaheen throw anything at him.
“What is this all about?” asked Geen, walking around the pillar in a closing spiral.
“Well,” said Angelica, “it’s not a trap and it’s not there and invisible, it’s really not there.”
They walked around and around the thing. Suddenly there was a shout and trumpets—from some distance off.
“That’s a winner, that is,” said Leonard.
“I wonder who won,” said Ahir, a little sadly.
They were still walking around the pillar and muttering when another cheer went up and more trumpets sounded. They all looked at each other.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Leonard, “we’ve got third place locked up right here.” They returned to their circling.
Ahir and Geen suddenly stood up. They both shouted, “Got it!” —but in Farsi, and in whatever language it was that Geen had learned as a baby. “Arnulf,” said Ahir, “push the thing over.”
“What?” But he and Leonard did as they were told and pushed on the pillar. It slid grindingly along the stone it sat on. As it moved off, with a pop an amulet appeared: a wrist-sized strap of fine leather studded with little gems, with a large clear crystal fixed in a gold setting on it.
They all looked at each other. Then their wands were out. Then bolts were flying among them. They were right in each other’s laps, and they were all squinting as if it were a water pistol fight, but in a moment Leonard went down, then Arnulf, and then Angelica. The whole time Ahir was blasting them, knocking them out with one shot each, Geen Tiaw, who was pretty good, was blasting her, but to no effect.
Cloudius had stopped to consider an H intersection and lost the girls he had been following. He saw them go around a corner ahead, and a few seconds later heard a zap and a laugh. He headed that way, came around a corner with wand out, and nearly tripped over Rachel Rabat. Near her was Cath Place, also knocked out.
He got to the next corner and turned left. Ahead he could see the path opening into a small rectangle. A pillar stood in the middle of it. There was a box sitting on top of it. Christa Place, twin sister of Cath, stood inches away from the pillar. She was examining the box: it seemed to be made of red plaid crystal, whatever that meant. She looked mystified and a little miffed.
Cloudius considered. She didn’t know he was behind her—just ten or fifteen feet away. He moved up a little, extended his wand, and whispered ag. Christa looked up, turned around, got a disgusted look, yawned and crumpled to the ground.
Cloudius took up the box. He found one square on the side where the plaid did not quite match. He pushed it. The box flipped open, and he reached in and took out the Thermos of Constant Cola. In a moment, he stood atop the Winners’ Stand. He accepted the appreciation of the crowd—mostly faculty, of course, with some visiting relatives. He took a big swig from the thermos, closed it, opened it again and took another, then another. Constant, he thought, it might be interesting to test that!
There was a clap, not as thunder but as molecules being town apart. On the stand next to Cloudius, Tom appeared—holding a Ring of Saving.
“Have a drink,” said Cloud.
Tom did, and grimaced. “Eww, that’s—that’s milk of magnesia, isn’t it?”
Cloud shrugged and smiled. “To you, maybe. To me it tastes exactly like—!” He took a big swig. “Ahh! Not milk of magnesia, that’s for sure!”
There was another clap. There, on the third place stand, stood Ahir Shaheen, holding an amulet bearing a Gem of Energy Storage.
The hedges went down. Gradually, the many stunned, snoring or puking students recovered. The first years came together and led the winners off, and they all went inside for ice cream while the hedges were remade, more complicated, for the second years.
“I can’t believe you didn’t win,” Cloudius said to Ahir.
“We couldn’t figure out the stupid pillar trick,” she replied, clearly angry with herself.
“Well, you got a pretty cool Gem.”
“Oh,” said Ahir Shaheen, “but all I had to do to win that was knock out the four people I was with, and how hard could that be, really?” She smiled at Arnulf.
“Uh, yeah,” said Arnulf coughing. “I definitely plan on not having you mind blast me from now on.”