XII. The Jersey Devils and the Water Tower
They got to go home then—for the two weeks including Christmas and New Year’s. At midnight between Saturday night and Sunday morning, 8–9 January, they were due at the Louisiana Superdome for the semifinal against the New Jersey Consolidated Lyceum’s Jersey Devils. The residents of Louisiana were not aware, for the most part, of the athletic events taking place, since they happened in the intervals between seconds: between 12:00:00 and 12:00:01 for the east-north Lyceum level semifinal, 12:15:00 and 12:15:01 for the Academy level west-south semifinal, and so on.
The place was packed. The Lake Wind fans were in their crimson and yellow, and were fairly polite (for people who had spent formative years in Chicago); the Jersey Devils fans, in their green and silver, were complete bleeps. The field shields were constantly alight with repelled wand blasts during the pregame warmups and introductions. All insults, including signs, that did not meet standards for taste and sportsmanship were magically translated into a nearly extinct Inuit language.
“Aa iktiq Daphne!” shouted one fan. “Tiqshuqalushkik Arnulf brik-tiq tunk!” A carefully lettered sign showed Angelica’s head and the words “Ariqshuqliuk Angelica Aliyev ayyuqi-qattuk shik!”
The Zephs were intimidated enough. The Jersey Devils were huge. They were confident. They were scary. And Treymond Framer was all those things especially.
The Zephyrs won the toss and, unusually, chose to receive. “Coach thinks it may be the only time we get the ball,” said Angelica to Bertie.
“She wants to be ahead just once, at least,” he replied. “We have to get her a field goal.”
“Okay,” said Daphne, looking across Angelica, Kate and Bertie. “Ange post, Kate corner, Bert, oh, give me a hitch and go. And look sharp, okay?”
“Zephs,” they all chorused.
Daphne stood in shotgun formation, which she had started doing once or twice in games. Right now she wanted to give herself as much of a head start as possible against those big lines folk. She looked left. She looked right. Someone shouted a suggestion in Inuit.
“Red forty-two,” she yelled. “Hut.” Half the Devils line came across. She glared at them, then over at the ref. They jumped back, but the left defensive end stumbled over her own big feet. Daph yelled, “HUT!” The ball flew up into her hands. The yellow flags flew: offsides! Free play.
Daphne rolled out and had a look. The Devils were starting to break through here and there but seemed a bit confused. Bonnie the center was muttering confusion spells as she blocked.
Angelica was way deep, and covered. Kate was out on the sideline, double covered. But Bertie, on the hitch and go, had made two defenders fall down. He was so wide open. No way he could drop this. Come on, Bertram, no way you can drop this…
And there it was, in his hands, and it didn’t get away this time as he gripped it with his fingertips and ran his way into the ball, and twenty untouched yards later Bertie was in the end zone.
On their first play from scrimmage, Treymond Framer rumbled for six. On the second down, he rumbled for fourteen more. Then on first down at the Devil forty, he took the ball, headed into the line and burst through, and he was in Henrietta’s arms when he realized that he didn’t have the football.
“Missing something?” she asked—as a blitzing outside linebacker with the name “CLOUD” on his back picked up the bouncing ball and ran it forty yards into the end zone. And if Cloudius spent just a moment looking around to make sure he was in the correct end zone, no one else noticed, because he was, and one Tom Hexane extra point later, the Zephs were suddenly up 14–0.
One minute later, Treymond was back on the field. They gave it to him on second and ten, and he rumbled right through every Zephyr defender, and was dragged down after a sixty yard gain, at the Zephs fifteen, by Arnulf, Henrietta, Spiny, Cloudius and several others. The next play they tried to give it to him again, but this time Henrietta and Arnulf were both blitzing and they presented themselves as alternate candidates for the handoff. In the event, Henrietta took the ball from the quarterback, and, with Arnulf running right behind her and Cloudius blocking Treymond completely out of the play, the Zephyrs made it 21–0.
Of course that meant the Jersey Devils were back on the field almost immediately. This time, they tried three passes and saw all of their receivers completely blanketed. In fact, Arnulf and Spiny had used just a little ag successfully on their quarry, nothing more than what the rules generally winked at, but after the third down incomplete was almost an interception by free safety Maggie Melillo, the Jersey quarterback threw lek ayn goth at her. She went down hard and the referee threw a personal foul on Jersey. The Devils punted.
This time it was Angelica for twenty, then Daphne’s rarely used tight end Peterboro Case on an out for fifteen, then Bert for nine on a slant, and then Angelica on a post, running wild and free, the lame spells of the hulking but slow Jersey safeties washing off her. It was 28–0.
But the half got even worse for Jersey, because when Treymond Framer was stuffed by an all-out safety and linebacker blitz on first down (“How obvious is it that they’re going to keep running that guy up the middle?” asked Maggie) the quarterback, finding Arnulf on top of him, tried lek ayn goth again. Arnulf said kno eur, and the spell rebounded at close range; the result was a headache so bad that the quarterback couldn’t see for hours.
Framer jumped up from the pile and started to yell trt kar ho at Arnulf. His offensive line quickly pushed him down and stopped his mouth, but it was too late. The yellow flags were flying, and Treymond Framer was ejected.
They eventually decided that the quarterback’s infraction was worth fifteen more yards, and Arnulf’s spell was clearly allowable, so the Devils were now hopping mad—and without their two best offensive players. The substitute quarterback fumbled the pitch on the option, and Spiny scooped it up and ran five yards for the touchdown: 35–0.
From there, things slowed down, as the Devils became ever more unglued and the Zephyrs tried to let up. The final score included a Daphne quarterback sneak before halftime, then second half touchdown catches for Kate, Estelle and Peterboro Case, as well as two field goals and two safeties. The final was 73–0.
“That was different,” Daphne said to Arnulf while they were showering on opposite sides of the No-See-Nothing blinder seal.
“Dapher,” said Arnulf, “that was good practice for spell battles.”
The next morning, after a rowdy night at Magical Pizza in Baton Rouge, they were whisked magically back to the Windy City to practice and get ready for the Texas Rose, who had beaten the La La Lyceum by a solid 34–8 to advance. On Tuesday afternoon, after he hit ten field goals in a row from forty yards out, Tom went in to talk to Professor Temple in his office.
“Ah, my boy,” said Temple. “Come in. Some tea?” Tom didn’t feel he could ask for root beer instead. So he and his scariest teacher sat and sipped Constant Comment while Temple told him where he would look, but not so much what he would look for. “You already know,” said Temple, “the way to Giordano’s. Right?”
“Right,” said Tom.
“But you may not know that there are hidden ways that meet about eight meters this side of the opening into the Giordano basement. Well, now you do know, eh?” Temple leaned forward, his hands clenched in front of him, his glasses perched on the very end of his nose. “Xu won’t do the trick, I’m afraid. It’s not a simple case of invisibility. The ways are hidden. So, what do you use to see what is hidden?”
“Light,” said Tom brightly.
Temple just smiled. He leaned back in his chair and sipped and watched Tom over his steaming cup. Then he said, through the tea mist, “And I suppose you must still be wondering what else yulugensis albus does. Put this in your pants pocket.” He pushed a little packet that looked like potpourri.
“It’s got that bark in it,” said Tom.
“You will see things that otherwise are unseen, and you will be unseen by some who might otherwise see you. Isn’t that sort of cool, Mr Hexane?” Tom grinned, took the packet and put it in his back pocket. “One more thing. You don’t need to be in the basement, the pumping station itself. You want to go into the sub-basement. You do not, I think, want to go into the below-sub-basement. You might look, if you feel strong, but you will not want to go there.”
It was Wednesday night. Tom spent some time with Angelica studying in the library, which was empty but for them and the librarian’s assistant rearranging the history shelf. Then they went back to his room where Daphne and Angelica and Jen Chang tried out a ritual of calming that Chang had found in a book. Finally, at midnight, the three girls walked him back to the school, Angelica got him in the back door and they wished him well before walking together back to Ash House, followed by a watchful and protective Indian ghost. Tom had his own watchful and protective ghost.
“I think it’s going to be fun, anyway,” he said to Eva as they quietly slipped through the door to the cellar. She just took one long gaze at him as they walked down the ramp in the dim blue light of his wand.
The packet seemed to be working. Timms unexpectedly came out of his work room, rummaged around not ten feet from where Tom stood absolutely still, his heart pounding, and then picked up a couple of things, grunted, scratched his butt and went back inside.
Meanwhile, here and there in the rubbish pile, and here and there among the shelves, individual objects—several books, for instance—had the slightest glow, as if they were lit by their own spotlights.
The boy and the ghost cat made the passage of the Medieval Remedies—that book too had a slight pink glow. He found the panel on the left on the hall that led to the underground docks—the panel also had a certain look to it, as if oddly lit. They made it far enough down toward Giordano’s that he could smell the tomato sauce.
He came to the partition that led into the basement of the pizza place. Turning around, he counted off eight paces and looked around. The hall seemed like everywhere else: not exactly squared off, more hollowed out, but clearly two-way and not more.
Tom let his wand light shift from blue through green and yellow to orange and red and beyond, and then back again all the way to ultraviolet. He let it slide a little further. Eva growled.
The passage had become completely black to his physical eyes, but now they were adjusting to whatever wave length this was. He was standing in a six-way intersection.
One hall led eight meters and ended in a partition. He could now see that the Giordano’s menu was posted there, visible only in black light. Opposite it, the spell-hollowed hall he was familiar with led away. Of the other four, two led to the south—back in the direction of the Lyceum. Of the other two, one smelled wet. Peering down it, he could see that it was wet, some distance on. He wasn’t sure he couldn’t see other things down there that might prefer a deep water environment: things with tentacles, perhaps, tentacles that might, perhaps, hold spears.
The other way seemed better. It had an Indian ghost standing a ways down, beckoning.
Tom and Eva headed that way, and the ghost, an old woman, kept ahead of them, turning her terribly pale face to look every so often. Presently the hall they were in opened into a long straight passage, perhaps five feet wide and high with a square cross section. A few pipes and wire conduits ran along the far wall. The old Indian woman turned to the left along the passage, and for a long time they walked in the darkness far below Michigan Avenue.
There was a certain smell. It wasn’t sewage, exactly. Tom thought about it as he walked, the ghost cat in front of him, the ghost Indian ten paces in front of her, and he finally decided that it was a memory of sewage from a century ago.
Eventually they came to a dead end, sort of: the passage entered the side of a vertical shaft, and did not go out the other side. The shaft was totally dark, like the passage. Up, Tom’s blue light showed the underside of a manhole perhaps twenty feet above; down it showed nothing at all. The ghost Indian floated in front of Tom and Eva, casting downward glances.
Tom lay on the floor and held his wand downward as far as he could reach. Just beyond its tip, he could just make out ladder rungs carved in the wall, partly eroded.
“Well,” he said to Eva, “I guess this is where I earn my passing grade.” Then, putting any concerns about what might be at the bottom of such a shaft behind concerns about maintaining his hold on the concrete, he let his feet dangle over the edge. Lowering them a centimeter at a time, he was at chin level with the floor of the passage and his legs were fully extended when his feet found a rung. From there, he let himself down slowly until only his fingertips held onto the floor above, and he found he could just get a foot down onto the next rung. Groping further, he managed to find another rung, and then he was good to go for a while. Looking up after a few more rungs, he could see the Indian watching, but there was no sign of Eva.
Tom was not entirely surprised when he heard a soft mraow and found the ghost cat watching from a black opening about two feet high, directly behind him. He managed to lean back against the wall of the shaft, and from there somehow he finagled his way into the narrow side hole. This seemed to be a drain of some sort, perhaps to let backed-up water drain from the sub-basement. For that was where he found himself, as he crawled through, stood up and raised his wand over his head. Letting its glow increase tenfold, he could get a sense of the size of this chamber: it was at least a hundred feet on a side, roughly square, with ceilings perhaps twenty feet up. The ceilings and floors were not even, but included conical vaults upward here and there and basins and cement tables at random.
Boy and cat wandered the place, looking at everything. The darkness receded as they approached a table and climbed onto it, and closed in behind them.
On the stone table, the biggest of the tables he could see, Tom saw a little wooden box. Eva and Tom approached it with caution. He knelt to examine it, and she gave it a thorough if ghostly sniff. “Is it okay?” he asked her. She stared at him, her mouth moving silently. “I take that as a yes,” he replied. He put his hand on the box, cautious again. Then with an inward cry, he flipped it open.
Noise of wings filled the air. Leathery flapping and a mentally heard cawing made him cower down. He didn’t look: he could see that Eva was looking, and crouching. But in the box, on the red velvet lining of the bottom, was a key.
He grabbed it and jumped up. The things in the air were diving down on him, their horrible half-seen claws out. He dove, his wand skittering from his hand; the light went out and the room was plunged into darkness. He rolled out of the way just as something hit the table where he had been; he could hear the box tumbling away from the impact.
Tom rolled over and tried to look around. Desperately he felt out in all directions with both hands and feet; the hand that held the key met familiar wood. He grabbed his wand in his other hand, sat up and shouted “Gao!” Light flared to a terrible brightness as his energy flowed unchecked into the wand.
The things were there, but they hated that white light and fled to the far ends of the room. Tom jumped up and started off, then fell off the edge of the table, blinded as he was by his own light. The things came hurtling back toward him, but again, shielding his eyes this time, he let the brilliance do its work. The things fled on their leathery wings, and Tom, half running backwards, let Eva guide him to the hole.
He had his back against the wall and was about to duck down and into the opening when he noticed a golden gleam. He looked down, and in the bright glow of his wand he could see gold and pale ivory. He squatted, still holding the light out as a weapon, and put the hand with the key down. Up it came with three things now: the key, another key made of bone, and a gold mask. Slipping these in his jacket pocket, he sat down and worked his way back into the hole. In a moment, he was in the shaft again.
It took Tom a few seconds to work out where the rungs were and how to get onto them. The leathery-winged things did not seem able to follow. Now, perched in that impossible place, Tom did not resist the urge to look down toward what Temple had called the “below-sub-basement.” No, best not go there, but look? He looked.
It seemed utterly black. Then he began to think that there was a shine down there, as if the black was not just darkness and distance, but a black object a finite length away, gleaming slightly, like a viscous surface, a bulging meniscus, or possibly the pupil of a Cyclopean eye. Whatever it was, it was motionless—for now—but he was sure it was there, not just his fertile imagination.
Eva mraowed very softly. He looked for her. She was up there, now, looking down at him, the Indian woman ghost beside her.
Tom swallowed. He began the climb. Many minutes later, the next thing he knew, he was very thoroughly washing his hands in the bathroom at Giordano’s.
Tom was not surprised especially to find Temple at a small table in the lower level, the level only mages could find. Tom was perhaps more surprised when Temple saw him, smiled and beckoned him. “Ah, Mister Hexane,” the old man said, “come join me. You like black olives?”
“Of course I do!” Tommy said, then, “Professor.”
“Root beer?” asked Temple, waving to the waitress.
“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.