On the practice field things went very well, at least for the second floor of Ash House: the starting quarterback, a third-year boy named Billy Swett, broke his throwing arm and Daphne became the starter. Arnulf was officially named starter at free safety, and Tom Hexane actually made the team as a kicker; Angelica got in at third receiver, catching everything Daph threw her way. Unless, of course, Spiny got it instead: Jen Norman, of Mistress White’s house, was starting at defensive back.
“I don’t know,” they overheard Coach Whelp gripe to Professor Match, “we got a lot of young folks starting.”
Daphne smiled at Angelica, turned and shoved Arnulf, who was kept from falling by Jen “Spiny” Norman. Laughing, they headed across to Ash House, watched from her window by Jen Stinking Greenbelt.
The third week was harder than the first two. The team was practicing hard, getting ready for their arch-rivals, the Dragons of Marquette. Meanwhile their classes were just getting up to full speed.
“Full speed!” shouted Mistress Ash as her Defense class stood before her, paired up for warding off attacks. “No, full speed, Miss Golden!”
“I’m faster than him,” said Daphne.
“Do not talk back, Miss Golden,” said Ash, giving her an expressionless blue glare that was truly frightening. Daphne shut her mouth. She turned and saw that her partner, Cloudius, was joking around with Rats Laguna. Daphne flicked her wand at him and her magic combat flicked out like a whip. With a snap, Cloudius was thrown flat. He rolled over and jumped up.
“What’d you do that for?” he asked.
“Better,” said Ash. “Pay attention, Mr Cloud!”
There was an odd sizzling noise, and two girls cried out. Everyone turned to look. The other end of the room was full of smoke. Olympia (Limpy) Month and Angelica were trying to put out each other’s shirts.
“What happened?” Ash challenged them as they got the embers extinguished.
“I, uh,” said Limpy. “Well, I,” said Ange.
“You threw fire spells at each other, didn’t you.”
“She started it,” they both said.
“And you do not have control of the fire spell, do you?” She turned to the rest of the class. “I am going to tell you one more time. Do not use spells you don’t have control over. The results could be quite unexpected. You two are lucky you have most of your shirts.” Pindar and Arnulf chuckled. Ash turned to them. “Trt sko,” she said. She pointed her wand and a laser of flame hit a piece of paper on the floor between them: it burned to a crisp.
There was a noise behind her. Ash turned and Rats and Cloudius were trying to use magic combat on each other. “Sek nyk min,” she said. Cloudius froze in place, then slouched as he realized that she had Held him. “Now listen. You knew the words to the fire spell. Lots of people know the words to spells. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is being able to control the spell. And not a one of you, except perhaps for Mr Shmoke, can control your spells well enough to ensure you do yourselves less harm than good. You need to be able to control straight magic combat before you can have any hope of controlling a fire or a hold or a stone sleep. Or, need I say, trt kar ho nin goth.”
She raised her wand and slowly waved it high over their heads. They all watched its tip, waiting to see what she would do. “You know that one, don’t you?” she said. “I would not try to use it for a long, long time. You do not want to see what happens when you can’t control a death spell.”
She pointed the wand to the side, without looking, and let the dull black lightning shoot into the air. With a tiny blue spark, a big fat fly in the window buzzed one more time and died.
“There’s an Emily Dickinson poem right there,” said Limpy.
“Shut up, Limpy,” said Angelica.
“So,” said Ash, “no more spells. But I want to see some magic force. If you don’t start doing it to each other, I’ll do it to you.” She waved her wand at Cloudius. “All right, Mr Cloud, you can move now. I doubt you can do much damage anyway.”
“I have never worked that hard,” said Cloudius. “It was crazy.”
“She went nuts, she did,” said Rats.
“She scares me,” said Jen Chang.
“Good,” said Ahir. “She should scare us. Because there are people out there who should scare us.”
“Iranian Revolutionaries?” said Limpy.
“Shut up, Limpy,” said Angelica.
“No kidding,” said Arnulf. “She’s setting up duels. It’s a good thing.”
“I’m not dueling you,” said Pinhead. “You practically killed me.”
Arnulf gave him a steady look. “My dad got killed in a spell battle,” he said. “He was in the line of duty. He was a mage cop. My mom’s not magic, she told me he was killed in a car accident.” He looked up at Ahir. “Her dad got killed in Iran. Not by terrorists either. It was magic. Wasn’t it?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Ahir.
“I don’t know what side we’ll be on,” said Arnulf. “My dad was just trying to keep the peace.” He looked down. “I don’t know. He must have been. Walking the beat, you know? There’s stuff out there. We have no idea.”
“I do,” said Ahir. “I saw them.”
“Okay, okay,” said Limpy, “I’m sorry, okay?” She looked around. “You know what this is about, right? That kid who got killed downtown—?”
“What kid? Lots of kids get killed downtown,” said Rats.
“This was an Academy senior. He was killed by magic. It was a freakin’ spell battle right on Wabash Street. It’s not funny. That stuff’s not supposed to happen anymore.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Angelica.
“No, she’s right,” said Tom. “I read about it in the Wiz.”
“Yeah,” said Cloudius, “Bailey Lamonica said she heard about it from Academy Radio. MacMorris had it on loud while he was in the shower. Some Academy kid got blown away by magic—they think it was the death spell!”
“What do you do against a death spell?” asked Tom.
“You make your resist,” said Arnulf. “And it helps to have cancel death.”
“How big a spell is that?”
“Five words.” He looked around with a grin. “Just like the death spell itself. So yeah, it’s good she makes us work.”
“Yeah, you didn’t have to convince me,” said Daphne. “I just think you need the sword too.” She picked hers up from where it was leaning against the frame of Tom’s door, and swung it up through empty airspace. “I call it my whack spell.”
“I’m not betting against you,” said Angelica. “I gotta get me a blade too.”
“You trashed Trenton Hager today, Ange,” said Cloudius with admiration.
“Oh, yeah,” said Ange. “You and Tarim had a good duel. It was what you call an exciting draw.”
“White stopped you because she thought you were going to kill each other,” said Pinhead.
“I like him, he’s a good guy,” said Cloudius.
“You want trashing, look what our little Tom did to Leonard Harris,” said Angelica. “Poor Leonard was carried off.”
“He’ll be fine,” said Tom, looking mean.
“We all did well,” said Daphne, who had finished off the gangly Hyacinth Potts with a two-handed wand stroke.
“But we gotta learn more,” said Arnulf.
“Thanks for not killing Natalie, Arn,” said Angelica.
“Hey, no prob, I was trying to keep her from killing me.”
“It was never in doubt,” she said in a low voice.
“That’s kind of the idea,” said Arnulf quietly. He looked up and saw Ahir Shaheen looking at him. She had gone up against some kid from Match’s house. All Arnulf remembered about the kid was that he was carried off with a blank look on his face.
It made him wonder about her dad. It made him wonder about the people who had killed her dad.
Sneaking around the basement was still the chief outlet for their quest for knowledge. On Tuesday Angelica, with her friends Natalie Lopez and Rachel Rabat, was leaving Illusions in the afternoon when she stopped the other two. Down the hall, Professor Temple seemed to be lurking by a statue of a past headmaster. As they watched, young, handsome Professor MacMorris came out of his office and set off toward the cellar stairs, and Professor Temple followed him at a discreet distance.
“You guys don’t want to get involved in this,” she told Rachel and Natalie. “I’ll catch up with you in the library.”
“We’re going with you,” said Natalie, “we don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel, “those guys don’t like each other.”
MacMorris turned toward the stairs down, and Temple watched from the corner, and as Angelica moved up, she caught Cloudius’s eye. Cloudius was coming out of a classroom; he winked and hurried off, and by the time Ange and Natalie and Rachel had made it to the forbidden stair door, she looked up and there were the rest of the second floor gang.
“You guys are going to go down the stairs?” whispered Rachel.
“Hey,” said a voice from down the hall, “you guys aren’t going down the stairs, are you?” It was Jen Greenbelt. At 4pm, the school was far from a buzzing anthill, but they were all sure a dozen teachers had heard her.
“Obviously not, Jen,” said Natalie, walking quickly toward her. Natalie and Rachel closed the distance as quickly as they could, talking a mile a minute. “I mean,” Natalie went on, “you weren’t thinking of going down there, were you? It’s off limits, you know.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel, “I don’t think you’re even supposed to be within sight of the stairs. It’s suspicious. Sometimes I have to go by here, but I always hurry by as quick as I can.”
“Anyway,” said Natalie, “after Illusions my brain’s a little fried. I got a great idea, Jen. Let’s go out and duel it up a little? I got some new moves your friend Angelica showed me.”
“I need to go study,” Jen was saying as she was swept around the corner.
“Phew,” said Cloudius, “that’s taken care of.” He opened the stair door and they slipped into the darkness. Tom didn’t dare make a light, because they could still hear MacMorris moving across the cellar floor below. The darkness was thick, all the thicker for the few photons of light escaping from MacMorris’s wand. The clutter of objects, even on the stairs, seemed to become monsters and horrid machines in the gloom.
“Yeah,” said Arnulf, “now the easy part, right?”
They crept down the stairs in time to see MacMorris unlocking his cellar room, along the south wall beyond the rubbish pile. As soon as the door was shut behind him, Temple came out from among the pile and checked MacMorris’s door. The five hid out among the rubbish pile: Tom picked something up and played with it, while Cloudius just kept finding obviously broken things and the others fidgeted. After a minute, Temple gave up his vigil and went around the corner to his own basement room door. He unlocked it and went in.
“What do we do now?” asked Angelica.
“This was your idea,” said Daphne. “What do you want to do?”
“Well, there are those other shelves over there,” said Ange. “Those have books on them, not records like the shelves we were looking at before.”
“A lot of interesting things could be in the Records,” said Daphne.
“A lot of interesting things could be in those books,” said Angelica, “and we haven’t had a look at them yet.”
“I just want to try my Sleep spell on someone,” said Cloudius.
“Well, you have two choices,” said Arnulf, “and they’re both professors, so I’d say don’t.”
“Books it is, then,” said Tom.
They headed over to the bookshelves and fanned out. Cloudius kept looking back at MacMorris’s door, but Arnulf kept nudging him and whispering “Pay attention, boy!” Angelica and Tom were looking for spell books and presently discovered that they were in Memoirs. “Look,” said Tom, “it’s Dr Edward H Fred’s autobiography.”
“I bet he knew some interesting spells,” said Angelica, looking over his shoulder.
“Uh, kids,” said Daphne.
Angelica and Tom hurried to where the Amazon stood, by the shelf nearest and parallel to the south wall. She was about halfway along, and looking at a book.
“See that? This is what I saw,” said Daphne.
“The dust is disturbed,” said Tom.
“Very good, Tommy. And there were footprints, which are now wiped out by you guys. Anyway, yeah, Remediae medioevales de plantis, I’m sure lots of people come down here to read that in the dark. So I pulled it out,” and she pulled the book out, “and then I looked through it,” and she leafed through it: lovely old plant pictures. “And then I put it back,” she said, putting the book back upside-down. She turned around for no obvious reason and looked past them.
The huge stones of the south wall suddenly showed the lines of a door two feet wide and five feet high, which swung back without a sound.
Just then they heard a spell.
It was Ag. It was Cloudius’s voice.
Arnulf had been watching Cloudius, so he hadn’t got anywhere searching the books, which he didn’t especially care to do anyway. But somehow a book on healing plagues distracted him, and the next thing he knew, Cloudius was over by MacMorris’s door. Arnulf put the book down and hurried over, hoping to drag the boy away. “Children,” he said to himself. Sometimes he thought he was thirty years older than Cloud.
It looked like he’d have no trouble. Cloudius was backing away, and gave Arnulf a smile. But just then the door opened. Cloudius whipped around and said his spell.
MacMorris came out, wand lit, and he was not put to sleep.
Instead, he flicked a little of his magic combat skill at the boy, gently in fact, and laid him out flat. He knelt down by Cloudius and got a shiny wrapper out of his pocket. From it, he produced a piece of dark chocolate, which he gave to Cloudius. Then the young professor looked up and saw Arnulf.
“Uh, hello, sir,” said Arnulf.
“Mr Shmoke, I believe,” said MacMorris. He stood up, quite tall, inches taller than Arnulf, who was already nearly six feet tall at age twelve. His hair was fashionably too long, and perfectly combed. “Would you come in for a moment? And bring your friend, he’s coming around nicely.”
MacMorris’s rooms consisted of a short entry way with a curtain at the back, and beyond that an office that they did not get to see. “Sir,” said Cloudius once they were inside MacMorris’s door, MacMorris standing with his back to the curtain, “we just came down to ask Professor Temple a question about alchemy, and—!”
“Ah, Mr Cloud,” said MacMorris, “ yes, I know your parents. I suspect they would be proud of their trouble-making son!” He turned his blue eyes on Arnulf. “I also knew your father, Mr Shmoke. He was a good student, a good man. He was in the class after mine at the Academy. You have big shoes to fill. So what were you going to ask Temple? Ask me instead.”
“Oh, uh,” said Arnulf, thrown off by the sudden change in tone, “it was about the homework.”
“What about the homework? What’s the old codger making you do?”
“Uh, he’s all about gems,” said Arnulf, who was in White’s Intro Alchemy class, as was Cloudius; in point of fact, neither one of them had Temple for anything, but MacMorris wouldn’t know that..
“Yeah,” said Cloudius, “calcite and fluorite and stuff like that, what happens if you put a little radioactivity into a potassium chloride and stuff.”
“It turns purple,” said MacMorris. “I took that class. Actually, I had White, but I’m sure Temple teaches the same things. Well, Mr Shmoke, Mr Cloud, I’m going to escort you back to the first floor and leave you with the hope that you will remember, in the future, that the cellar is forbidden to students unless you are with a professor, and by that I mean that he knows that you are with him. Do you understand?”
So what Angelica, Tom and Daphne saw from the shadows of the shelves was MacMorris coming out, his wand lit, and the boys on either side of him, their wands down. Making sure the secret door was shut again, the three kids followed their two friends, waiting at the bottom of the stair in the shadows in case MacMorris came back down. He did not, and Temple did not come out.
“Phew,” said Angelica, as she and Daphne and Tom stood with their backs to the closed stair door. No one was to be seen on the first floor. They turned and came to the cafeteria, where Natalie and Rachel waved them over to a table: the dining service had closed, but it wasn’t dinner time yet at the houses, and kids could get a few things like milk and tea and cookies and fruit.
“So what happened?” asked Natalie.
“Ask them,” said Daphne, as Arnulf and Cloudius came up. “We just found a secret door. They got busted.”
“So Cloudius got in trouble,” said Rats later in Tom’s room.
“So we found a secret door,” said Angelica.
“I found this,” said Tom. He held out something that looked like a tire pressure gauge with a few extra buttons and knobs.
“Wow,” said Cloudius, “what is it?”
“I don’t know, but it must be something cool. I’m keepin’ it.”
“It’s a sonic screwdriver,” said Daphne. “My mom has one of those. She uses it all the time.”
“So it really is something cool?”
“I wish I had one. So yeah.”
“That might be of some use,” Angelica allowed, “when we look into this secret door thing. Because, yeah, Daph found a secret door.”
“But it’s way down in the basement,” said Pindar. “Who’s going to go try it? Not me!”
“I guess it has to be the Second Floors,” said Daphne. “What do you third floor guys have, in the way of, you know, team spirit and all that?”
“We have we’re not going to get expelled,” said Rats.
“I wouldn’t be so sure in your case,” said Arnulf. “What do you think, Dapher?”
“ ‘Dapher’?” replied Daphne.
“Yeah. Go down there tonight?”
“You know we’re going to,” said Angelica. “We have to know.”
So the Fab Five stirred themselves, with the help of Eva, at 2 am between Tuesday and Wednesday of Week Four. They got out of the house without being marked. They got across the yards among the houses and the School without alarms. Then they huddled around the back door while Angelica and Daphne tried to pick the lock.
“I don’t know if I saw it,” said Cloudius. “But I saw something.”
“Of course the place is haunted,” said Tom. “There’s house ghosts, there’s Eva.”
“What’s she think?” asked Arnulf. “Is there something wandering at night on the grounds? A bloodsucking monster perhaps? Maybe the Living Dead?”
But they could see Eva in the moonlight, sitting there by Tom, looking fixedly at something that might be standing along the side of the second house down.
“Got it,” said Angelica. She had the door open, and then she was inside, and holding down with her finger the hair of gold that tripped the alarm. She nodded to urge the others through, and they were eager to go. Inside, they slipped down the stairs easily enough.
“One of these days,” said Cloudius, “we’re going to have to really canvas this place.”
“One of these days you’re going to get expelled,” said Ange. “Eyes on the prize! Secret door! And no more spells, for gosh sakes!”
They turned to their left, and left again, and headed for the south wall. There was a little light under MacMorris’s door.
“Secret door,” said Daphne as Angelica and Cloudius both showed reluctance about passing by the professor’s door.
They filed back along the wall by the shelves, and Daphne had no trouble finding Medieval Plant Remedies. The book was moved, the door opened, they went through: Daphne, hanging back, put the book back and ran through before the door shut on her.
They found themselves on what was a narrow, rough hall carved out of bedrock. Tom let his wand go up to a dim but penetrating blue. They passed by some chairs and a couple of sofas in a slightly wider place. Then they came to another secret door, although it was so obvious as to hardly deserve the name: the hall ended with the only flat wall on it other than the other end. A little work by Angelica and Daphne and it was open.
Through it, they found themselves in a hallway ten feet wide and nicely finished. It ran east-west, perpendicular to the rough little hall they were leaving behind. To the left, east, it ran thirty feet and ended in a blank wall; to the right, west, it ran back into darkness. Just at the edge of what Tom could see, there was a flight of steps downward. Faint, watery noises, and faint sounds that might have been breaths of far-distant monsters, came from below.
“Okay,” said Daphne as they all felt the willies, “I guess it’s left.”
“Wait a minute,” said Cloudius. He stepped forward, to the left, then stopped and crouched down to look at a little pile of leaves.
“Cloudius…!” muttered Angelica in a warning tone.
“Ssh,” he said. He seemed not to be moving, but then he uttered a slight cry of success and picked it up: a little crystal. “It was a booby trap,” he said, “but I disconnected it and this crystal is the prize!”
“What is it, a bomb?” asked Tom.
“No,” said Arnulf, “probably more like a detector. You sure it won’t tell people where we are?”
“No,” said Cloudius, “it was triggered to set off an alarm. I disconnected it. Don’t you trust me?”
“I trust you,” said Daphne. “I don’t have much choice.” She led them down to the end of the hall, where she pulled out her wand and whispered “Xu.” Not one but two secret doors became evident: one at the end of the hall and one on their left.
“That one’s Temple’s, I bet,” said Arnulf, pointing to the end of the hall. “That’s about where his room would be.”
“This one’s MacMorris,” said Cloudius, “and he’s in there talking to someone!”
“He sure is,” said Tom, as Eva came through the wall. She softly mraowed at him, and Tom said to Daphne, “No one’s in Temple’s office.”
“You’re not going through there, are you?” asked Angelica.
“Will you guys shush?” said Daphne. She and Tom and Cloudius were all leaning against MacMorris’s back door listening to MacMorris having a chat with a Deep Voice.
MacMorris was saying, “So show me something.”
Deep Voice: “You don’t want to ask that.”
Mac: “I’m scared, I’m so scared.”
DV: “You should be.”
Mac: “I’m weeping like a baby child. I could mop your whole group up any time.”
DV: “You and who else—Temple?”
Mac: “Temple! Ha. There are lots of us too. So tell me, what you got?”
At that point spells were thrown. The Deep Voice uttered a spell that sent shock waves through the floor and walls; Cloudius took it hard and went down, holding his head. The others staggered back away, dragging Cloudius. Deep Voice threw the same spell again, and now there was a distinct howling from down those far stairs: an answering call, or a complaint about the disturbance?
The five panicked briefly. The girls retreated to the secret passage and thence out to the cellar and out of the school. The boys got through into Temple’s office, where new forms of the willies washed across them. The place was dimly lit by a magic lamp on the desk. Anything could be a booby trap: everything seemed to have been bought at a yard sale at a museum of nineteenth century scientific instruments. There were books everywhere: tomes abounded. It was somewhat messy, and the dim light increased the sense of mess and the sense that something menacing might hide among the scattered barometers and sextants.
The anti-burglar items, one by each door, whispered to each other. They seemed to be whispering about young boys. Eva brushed past the one near the secret door and it whispered less.
But, avoiding the temptation to touch anything, the boys got out, past the other anti-burglar item, up the stairs, out onto the grounds, and back to Ash House and their warm beds. A minute after they were all in their bunks, Daphne and Angelica came up the stairs. They went into Daphne’s room and sat on the bed in the dark talking.
“I definitely saw it,” said Angelica.
“Yeah, so did I,” replied Daphne. “We weren’t hiding from nothing, we were definitely hiding from something out there. But maybe we could have just kept on walking across the garden because I’m pretty sure it’s not interested in us.”