Chapter 5: Examination

V. Examination

 

The Lyceum kids were now hurtling headlong towards Exam Week. With or without their proper amount of hair, they were studying. Angelica was not dealing with the stress well. She had submitted to a trim from Mistress Ash, who had chosen not to discipline Angelica for being out all night, even though the librarians had wanted her punished. “Out all night,” said Angelica afterwards, in Tom’s room. “It’s almost funny, get it? I was out all night.”

“Out,” said Arnulf. “Hilarious. You weren’t, maybe, out with Josh Hubble?”

Angelica blushed. She and Josh… sigh. Josh.

“Hey, man,” said Daphne, “how many letters does it take to spell Ahir?”

“No kidding,” said Pinhead.

“I’m going to go study,” said Angelica, rising.

“Not going to go see Josh?” said Arnulf. Angelica didn’t even look at him, but headed for the door. Arn called after her, “Hey, maybe bring your books?” Angelica turned around, grabbed her books, and headed out the door.

“I don’t think she needs her books for the kind of studying she’s going to do,” said Cloudius.

“I don’t think she’s going to do much more than pine for Josh,” said Daphne. “He’s just toying with her. I kind of want to beat him up—should I?”

“Wait till he totally breaks her heart,” said Tom.

“Well,” said Arnulf, “I’m going to go get some studying in.” He stood up, and they saw Ahir Shaheen standing in the doorway, looking shy and studious with her long black hair and black-framed glasses, and also looking extremely cute. “And you guys can say what you want, I don’t care, my grades have gotten a lot better since I figured out who to study with.”

He stepped out, Ahir smiled and waved at the others, and they went up to Ahir’s room to study.

“So,” said Daphne to Tom, “want me to quiz you on alchemy, or work on defense?”

“Alchemy,” said Tom and Cloudius together. “Yeah,” said Cloudius, “can you do your Temple imitation?”

 

Exams were approaching, but classes were still front and center. Tom was doing better and better in Defense class, mastering the “reflect” move that allowed a magic combatant to turn around his opponent’s energy and add his own on top (when it worked).

Angelica was getting better and better at illusions: perhaps this accounted for her continued fascination with Josh (Sigh) Hubble. At any rate, it snowed a lot in that classroom, and there were regular attacks of glowing bats and grinning giant amoebas; Angelica and Rachel and Natalie were all getting better and better, and all anxious to show off.

But then Angelica was also distracted by a book she’d found on a return trip to the Field Museum. She and Arnulf had gone back (free for students!) and had a feel, rather than a look, at the trap door under the Egyptian exhibit. They had also had a look at the discolored felt (and more to the point, the undiscolored felt) under a certain necklace in the gem exhibit. And then they went looking for a book on gems in the museum store.

“I don’t know why we bothered,” said Angelica, standing in front of the geology books as Arnulf leafed through yet another guide to Illinois rocks. “We could be studying.”

“Oh, come on,” said Arnulf. “If we weren’t here, you’d be pining for Sigh, admit it.”

“Sigh?”

“May I beg your pardon,” said an old man next to Angelica. He was short, a head shorter than her, with lots of white hair sticking out from all the folds of his old head, which was polished clean on top. “Perhaps this would be of interest?” He handed her a book. It was a hard-cover with a paper cover protector, with a 1950s-style graphic of geologists smiling as they dug up shining gems in a cave. Its title was A Secret History of Gems in Laurasia.

“Laurasia?” Arnulf read aloud. “Is that a country?”

“No,” said Angelica, “it was one of the two supercontinents that used to be on the Earth’s surface, back when you couldn’t spit without hitting a brontosaurus.”

“That’s right,” said the old man. “And it’s only fifty cents.”

“We want it,” said Angelica, already into the first chapter. “Pay the man, Arnulf.”

“I only have a buck,” said Arnulf, holding out a dollar bill.

“That’ll be fine,” said the old man. “Here, take your change in chocolate. Dark chocolate.” He took the dollar bill and handed Arnulf a chocolate bar in a very plain dark brown wrapper. The old man smiled and trundled off.

“What do you make of that?” asked Arnulf.

“Well,” said Angelica, looking around, “I notice that no one else in the store seems to notice him. I think that’s interesting, isn’t it?”

“Whoa,” said Arnulf.

“Oh, and by the way. It says here, on page 6, that there were humanoids walking Laurasia five hundred million years ago, before there were animals on land. And they made gems.” She looked at him, green eyes into brown. “It says, right here in the Field Museum, if you look at the ancient strata with that one fossil giant amphibian, there’s alien suction cup marks. You know, I actually noticed those.”

“Yeah,” he said, “a year ago I would’ve just thought he was a crazy old guy, but now—yeah, I think that’s definitely interesting.”

 

Daphne was spending all her time either practicing football, practicing swords or practicing magic combat, all with Jen “Spiny” Norman. Somehow she was studying too.

Cloudius was getting interested in machinery: he was making copies of the primitive “sonic screwdriver” they had found in the rubbish pile, and with Timms and Rats both giving lots of suggestions, his imitations were getting to be better than the original model. But then he also burned a hole clear through his cheek with a stray blob of molten steel. “Lucky it didn’t take out your eye,” said Isha Bardipus, the healer. “You have a helmet. Wear it, you stupid boy. No wonder they don’t let you start on the football team.”

Meanwhile Arnulf was studying for hours every day, and going for long walks every day, with Ahir. During one of their outings, Angelica dashed into Arnulf’s room to check his History of Magic book: she couldn’t find her own and suspected Jen Greenbelt of stealing it. She found his copy, and found what she was looking for, and then found something related to it that was interesting, and then—and then a slip of paper fell out of the back of the book. She picked it up and guessed as best she could where in the index it had come from, and then, overcome by temptation, she looked at it.

It was a letter in an old lady’s handwriting. It was “To Arthur Shmoke, from his mother,” Arnulf’s grandmother. It was not long, and not at all newsy, just a note of encouragement. The closest thing to a revelation was this sentence: “Now you understand what we mean when we say that History of Magic isn’t boring, it’s very, very important!” But this cryptic remark was followed by “I’m so proud of your exam scores and the things I hear, and I know your father would have been proud too.”

Angelica folded the note carefully and put it back, and put the book back where it was and the things that had been on top of it where they were, and went back to her studies across the hall. Natalie and Rachel were debating some point, and Angelica had the chance to wipe that odd tear from her eye before reporting on what she’d gone across the hall to find out.

 

On Thursday night, Angelica came out of the library and headed down the walk through the garden behind the building, a pretty short cut to Ash House. The shortened hair on the back of her skull stiffened. She stopped and closed her eyes, clutching her books against her chest with one hand. She whipped 90 degrees left. Bob Flammifer, Jen Greenbelt’s boyfriend, was just standing up to whack her with magic combat.

“Hey, you look stupid,” he was starting to say, when he was cut off as if by a blow to the jaw with an iron bar. Yes, she was good at magic combat. He went down in a heap.

Truman Goth was on the other side. Angelica took a blow from him, then turned her force against him, but they were stalemated. “I should have known,” she managed to say, “you guys wouldn’t fight even up.”

“I missed the library,” said Truman. “Bob said it was a good time.”

She tried to whack at him and landed a half-blow, but his counterblow got through and Angelica went down beside Bob, trying not to get sick the way he was getting. She concentrated on that one goal, which kept her from thinking about why Truman wasn’t kicking her in the teeth right now, magically or otherwise.

“Ag,” came a loud whisper. It was Arnulf’s voice. It was also the closest Angelica would ever come to wanting to kiss him. Truman would not have felt the same: he was yawning and growling at the same time as he tried to hurl his magic combat at the interloper. Interlopers: it was Cloudius’s magic combat that crackled through the garden air. Truman took one more gasp of that air and then fell backwards into the mint patch and commenced to snore.

“Thanks,” Angelica croaked out as Arn and Cloud knelt by her. “Ash is coming, take a powder.”

“Huh?” said Cloudius.

“S’go,” said Arnulf, grabbing his friend and dragging him off into the deep twilight. Mistress Ash, Mistress White and their two House Ghosts came upon the scene and found only the original combatants, who, peculiarly, all seemed to have been on the losing end.

 

Of course they were all grounded. They got to meet the Headmistress, Lisane Charais, a frosty little magical ethicist with a mystical streak, who did not alter her cold little frown as the situation was explained to her. All she said to them as she looked at them, in much the way a gardener looks at a tomato hornworm, was, “You are on high probation. One more event and you are expelled.”

“What does it mean?” asked Truman of Mistress White, outside the Headmistress’s office.

“It means, Mr Goth, that for the next two months, you will leave the house only to go to class at the times for which you are scheduled, and to the library with me as chaperone.”

“No football?” asked Angelica in a tiny voice.

“You have to let her play football,” said Truman very quietly. “It’s a home game this week.”

“We shall see,” said Mistress Ash.

 

But half an hour later, Angelica was asked into Ash’s drawing room by the house ghost. She got there and found Ash and White having a nice tea. A third cup and a lovely Danish were laid out for a guest.

“Come in, have some tea,” said Ash. “We need to have a little chat.”

“Am I going to get to play this weekend?”

Ash and White laughed to each other. Ash said, “Angelica, dear, please do not spread this around, but you are not, in fact, on probation. The Headmistress knows as we do of details of the situation that make it necessary to make it appear that you are on probation with the other two. So do not go acting as if you are not on probation. But you are not on probation.”

“I, I’m not on probation?”

“That is the gist of it, yes.”

“Miss Aliyev,” said White, “may I ask if you have ever heard of the Maroons?”

 

An hour and a half later, the five, plus Ahir, Rats and Pinhead, were all sitting around in Tom’s room. Eva was gazing in at the throng. “The Maroons?” Daphne repeated. “Is that her pronunciation of ‘morons’?”

“She says they’re sort of a magic social club. She said they’re like a big fraternity. But not exactly like Animal House. Like the successful fraternities in Animal House.”

“Did she actually reference Animal House?” asked Arnulf.

“Not as such, no. She said they were like the Rotarians or the Lions. But you have to get asked to join. Some first get asked to join in Lyceum, some get asked at Academy, but if you’re not Maroon by the time to arrive at University, you’re never going to be.”

“So it’s like an elite thing,” said Cloudius.

“Every country has something like that,” said Ahir.

“But some of them are into other stuff,” said Angelica. “Ash and White mentioned the C Group. C is for Controller,” she added in a whisper.

“What do controllers want to control?” asked Tommy, as if it were a silly idea.

“Non-mages,” said Ahir. “Yeah, norms,” said Arnulf. “That’s not actually very nice to call them that,” said Ahir. “It’s not what I call them,” said Arnulf. “It’s what those guys call them.”

“So what about you?” asked Daphne. “Why the talk? Just to tell you who was trying to kill you?”

“Well, apparently,” said Angelica with a smug smile, “they think I’m important.”

“Important?! I mean, not that I’d disagree, of course, you’re very reliable on third and long, but—what does that mean?”

“I don’t know.” She looked up at Daphne, then Arnulf and Ahir. “You guys seem awfully important, not me. I don’t get it. But they kept saying, ‘Do not get caught out alone, especially at night. Remember how important you are! Because we know you would never be a Maroon.’ ”

“I notice,” said Arnulf, “they said alone.”

“They did, yeah.”

“Then alone is what you won’t be,” said Ahir Shaheen.

“I’d have been proud to be there and trade blasts with those guys,” said Pinhead. “I’m so with you guys on this one.”

“Thanks, Pindar,” said Angelica. “That means a lot to me. They’d want you as a Maroon.”

“So would my dad. But not my mom, she told me so,” he added in a low voice.

Angelica looked at Daphne. “So,” she said, standing up, “and I thought this magic school stuff would all be about learning how to fly.”

Before she could leave, Arnulf, then Ahir, then Daphne and Cloudius and Tom and Rats assured her that, like Pinhead, they would stand with her. She suspected most of them would like nothing better than to get in a magical tussle. Still, it was comforting. Several of them were already pretty tough tusslers, as she knew from tussling with them in Defense class.

Half an hour later, Angelica was in her room trying to clear her mind enough to study a little. A small knock came at the door. It was Jen Chang, from upstairs. She was so quiet that Angelica wouldn’t have known if someone else was dubbing her voice. She said a little spell: it sounded like ssshhhh. Then she sat down facing Angelica.

“I wish I’d been there,” she said. “I would have blown them into the ionosphere.”

“Next time, babe,” said Angelica, now much reassured. She had faced Jen Chang in Defense class many times.

 

Exam weekend came, the weekend before midterms. Everyone had his or her own form of studying. For Arnulf, it revolved around Ahir Shaheen. She was getting prettier every day, of course; she was exotic and even a little dangerous, given that people somewhere in the world might well be planning on wiping out her entire family. She had a sad, serious look that could cut through steel. When she smiled, he wanted to do exactly what she told him; she was his height, and practiced with the sword, which gave her added authority to be sure. But the clincher was that she really knew how to study and she made Arn better at it too.

Or maybe it was that she made him want to study, and want to get good grades, and want to be able to keep up with her in a conversation.

Or maybe it was that, with her help and Eva’s, Arnulf had learned more. He had learned a few things about Brutus. There was no master or student of the past named Brutus, of course, but the person that Arthur Shmoke was following—as a detective with the Magic Police—was a former Lyceum and Academy master who had been looking for, and possibly might have found, a peculiar and rare gem.

Tom stayed close by, not so much to listen in as to catch the vibe, and soon they were all three studying for hours every day, and quizzing Mistress Ash about everything. Eva actually met the spirit who wandered the grounds, and introduced him to Tom: an Ojibway mystic, murdered two hundred years ago but not dangerous to Tom or his friends. Tom felt relieved and even happy to know that a threat was not a threat, but afterward, as he remembered sitting there on the grass outside under the moon and talking to this old slightly glowing grey figure with burning eyes, he found it difficult to fall asleep.

The Indian Mystic Spirit (IMS) didn’t worry him anymore; what worried him was what else there might be, given that there really was an Indian Mystic Spirit (IMS).

Meanwhile, Daphne and Jen Norman spent a lot of time together, though only some of that was studying: there was so much else they could do together, like hack at each other.

Angelica’s method of studying involved pining for a glance from Josh (sigh) Hubble. And filling pages with “Angelica Hubble” signatures. It was even less productive than Cloudius’s study regimen of almost getting caught with Rats in the school basement, then almost getting caught with Rats in the house attic, then almost getting caught with Rats in the house basement.

Then on Sunday night they decided to get away from campus trouble. They walked several blocks off, turned and went a block and then turned back toward the school. There were dark figures around them.

“Is this a stickup?” asked Cloudius.

The figures laughed, a sound like a sewer system laughing.

“Gotta go,” said Rats, dragging Cloudius with him. Cloud seemed to have fallen under some kind of influence, but it dissipated as soon as his friend had pulled him down the street half a block. Still, they stopped and had a look back, and Cloudius, his face white, seemed barely able to remain standing.

“Havadrink,” said a black man in shabby clothes. “NoImeanit, havadrink, goodferyou.”

“Uh, no thanks, man,” said Rats.

“Some chocolate then,” said the black man. “Feryerfriend.”

“No, that’s okay.”

“Wait,” said the black man. He turned to look back up the street, then he raised the hand that had the bottle in the bag. “Sek il dak ag ra,” he muttered. A fuzzy lightning flew from the bottle mouth. One, then another, then another dark figure, staggering up, flopped on the pavement and fell asleep. Rats and Cloud just stared at them, then up at the black man with the bottle in the bag. He smiled at them. He held out a piece of something. “Chocolate? Dude could uzit.”

“Oh, yeah, thanks,” said Rats, taking the chocolate bar and handing it to Cloudius, who snarfed it down as they walked on. As they crossed the street to the Lyceum, Rats said, “Some dude, huh?”

Cloudius swallowed the last of the chocolate. “Did any of that actually happen?” he asked.

 

On Saturday morning, they were all studying all through breakfast, and then when they could in the locker room, and then whenever Whelp wasn’t looking on the sideline. Daph and Spiny were quizzing each other as they switched, offense to defense to offense. Arnulf and Henrietta were going over mixing rules for Alchemy between plays. Angelica was putting it all out of her mind and concentrating on football. She was Number One Receiver, and she could at least excel at this.

It was the Hoosier Lyceum’s Hoosier Wizards, a real arch-rival, but not a well-matched one. The Hoo-Wiz quarterback underthrew so habitually that Henrietta grabbed three interceptions with diving catches. Spiny and Arnulf each had one too, which added up to more than the total number of catches by the Hoo-Wiz offense. On the ground, they rarely pushed past the defensive line.

But of course Daphne, a tad distracted, kept the Hoosiers in the game, throwing three interceptions, two to the same cute African-American, both run back for touchdowns. They got one more touchdown on an Estelle-Daphne handoff muff. Extra points, however, were more like offense: the Hoosiers only got one of three.

“Daphne,” said Coach Whelp at half time, with the Zephs up 17-13, “you don’t have to work so hard to keep both teams in the game.”

And in the second half, Daphne got better. She had a touchdown to Angelica in the first half, a ten-yard slant that Ange paid for with a bone-jarring (but not quite concussive) hit. She held onto the ball. In the second half, Angelica got out beyond her defender, and ran in a long empty space, blue above, green below. As soon as she was in that place, she knew it was her favorite place of all. This space had only two inhabitants: her, and the ball, which was coming in on a lovely spiral, coming in on a flattened parabola at great velocity, flying in on the golden sunlight. Into her hands it fell, and she caught it, and she carried it as if she was flying, into the end zone. And then it happened again.

Two more Tom field goals filled a fourth quarter in which Estelle ran a lot, and the Hoosier quarterback, and offensive line, spent a lot of time lying down, looking up. Final score: 37 to 19. The Zephyrs of the Lake Wind were three and one.

 

On Monday the exams began, with Yellow Day eight am classes. For the gang, that meant Ramona Sear’s History of Magic class; Arnulf, being the only one of the group taking just five classes, had the required History of Magic classes on Crimson and not at 8 am. The rest of them cruised on fifty multiple choice and six short essays. The only other class that had exams on Monday were the Yellow 1:10 classes: White’s English I for Angelica, Daphne, Arnulf and Cloudius, and Norbert Match’s Light class, where Tom Hexane was learning all Match’s more elementary tricks and effects.

That afternoon before dinner, he was still showing off his tricks. The others, along with Eva, watched him make showers of light, suck up the light in the room, emit ultraviolet light, make a tiny spotlight, make disco lights, and fly down the range of color and brightness and back again. It wasn’t getting Angelica out of her funk.

“Maybe I should go knock on his door,” she said with a sigh.

“No, no, don’t,” said Daphne. “You need to study.”

“What’s the use. I’m gonna flunk out. I’m gonna be on the train home within the week. They’ll have me back in regular Seventh Grade in no time.”

“Oh, bull,” said Arnulf. “That English test was easy.”

“I freaked out. I couldn’t think of a thing. I stared at the paper.” She shot him a venomous look. “Do not be telling me it was easy. You’re supposed to be making me feel better, not worse.”

“The history test was easy,” said Daphne. “You did fine on it. You said so afterward. You’re just changing your tune now because you want to feel miserable.”

“And think about, sigh, Josh,” said Cloud.

“And feel more miserable,” said Daphne.

“I’m going to kill myself,” said Ange. She looked up, her hand on her short hair. “I’m going to go kill Jen Greenbelt. I swear I am. What have I got to lose? It’ll be a murder-suicide. I only hope I don’t screw up and do the wrong one first.”

“I can’t go sword fighting with you tonight, Spiny,” said Daphne to the girl in the doorway. “I have to sit on Angelica.”

“Oh, can I help?”

 

That night, Arnulf and Ahir went for their usual walk: eight blocks out, eight blocks back. They had gone south from the Lyceum campus only a few times before, and now, two thirds of the way through October, it was dark by the time they turned around. They were in a neighborhood long gone to slum, with abandoned buildings and tenements and storefronts that ranged from shady to vacant to only apparently vacant.

Two guys came out of an alley—they looked like local gang members or drug dealers—and opened up on Ahir and Arnulf with magic combat.

The attack bounced off the two students, who executed perfect reflections and managed to throw their foes back. The two attackers were strong, however, and retreated into the alley ready to do battle again.

Arnulf and Ahir looked at each other and shrugged. They had to pass the alley.

The next thing the two attackers saw was the two youths in the alley opening, waving their wands and hurling force. With the JS wand, Arnulf’s ferocious attack stood up his foe, and there they balanced; next to him, Ahir waved her sharp little wand of black wood and shot her foe back off his feet into a corner of a brick wall. He fell uncomfortably to the ground. Arnulf’s opponent took a look at that and took off running up the alley at full speed. Before he could get out of sight, Ahir’s next bolt of magical force hit him in the back of the skull. He went sprawling and lay motionless in the gloom.

“That felt gooood,” said Ahir.

Arnulf looked at Ahir. “Still,” he said, “that guy had the right idea.”

“I concur,” said Ahir. They did not stop running until they made it back to Ash House.

 

The Tuesday exams were no problem for Angelica: she didn’t have class at 8 or 11 am on Crimson day. As it happened, they weren’t much problem for Daphne, Cloudius or Tom, who were the only ones taking tests.

In Metallurgy, Timms made Daphne and Cloudius work through lots of little things, constantly quizzing them, asking harder and more trivial and arcane questions as the two kept getting the answers right, and kept showing their individual skills with accuracy and safety. He let them spend the second hour of the exam working on their projects. Daphne lovingly laid in another thin layer of steel on her Sword +1, and showed off all the runes she had learned, only to cover them over with another layer, hiding her work but sealing a little more magic in. Cloudius tinkered with mechanics, working on a magic-powered air pump.

In the afternoon, Daphne and Tom had Temple’s alchemy midterm. It was pure Temple: exacting and tricky and long and generally shrouded in a cloud of doom. It was also graded by nightfall: they wondered if he didn’t have an extra-temporal retreat where he graded outside of the stream of time. Thus they were not so gloomy at dinner: Daphne had got a class-high 67 out of 100, and Tom had scored above fifty percent, well into the passing range. Half the class had scored below thirty percent.

“It’s the bewitched true false,” said Tom. “They literally confuse you into guessing wrong.”

“Yeah,” said Daphne, “these kids would have done better flipping a coin.”

“That’s exactly what I did,” said Pinhead. “I got 50% exactly. Hey, it’s passing.”

“Pindar,” said Ash, “one does not employ chance elements in multiple choice environments, unless one is taking a test in divination. And then the passing grade in a true-false would be eighty percent.”

“I’ll have to practice then,” said Pinhead.

“You can practice against me any time you like,” said Ash. “We will flip coins for money. If you can ever win money from me that way, I will exempt you from the Defense test.”

 

But no one was exempted from the Defense test. In addition, Arn and Tom flew through Fred Blaine’s science I test; and Angelica flew through Ben Shag’s Illusions test, where she and Natalie and Rachel, who were Shag’s pet students, amused the prof by making it snow heavily, and then populated the corners of the classroom with penguins and polar bears.

That night at dinner, all the talk was about Ash’s test. She just ate and smiled and said nothing while they commiserated. But Arnulf and Ahir had killed the test and knew it; Ange had managed well enough; Tom and Daphne had gotten by. Pinhead had “almost passed,” according to the sheet posted outside Ash’s office at the school: “That’s almost good enough,” he said with a sidelong grin at Rats.

“I kicked your butt,” said Rats. “I barely passed.”

“What happened to you, Jen?” asked Ahir of Jen Chang. “You too barely—! Do you mind talking about it?”

“No, it’s fine,” said Jen. “I’m just glad I put in that two hours this morning before breakfast.”

 

Arnulf still hadn’t said anything at all by the next morning, even though they all knew that he and Ahir had both killed the defense test. Finally, over French toast, Limpy Month, who had blown the entire last page and flunked rather badly, asked him what his problem was.

“I figured something out,” he said, looking sidelong at Ahir.

“On a test?”

“It’s a good time to figure things out,” said Ash, her first public words since the test.

Arnulf just smiled. He went back to his pancakes, thinking: (1) he now understood the Zen of kno eur. Kno eur enemy. Kno eur spells. Kno eur fate. And (2) he now understood something or other about alchemy. Even a gem was a mix, a matrix of crystal of one sort or another, doped with traces of something else that made it red or blue or green or flourescent—or gave it powers. And finally, (3) Ahir Shaheen had the most beautiful smile in the world, especially when she was panting, pushing the hair out of her face, grinning after an eight block run after blasting an attacker into a brick wall and giving another one a nasty pavement facial.

 

On Thursday’s tests, everyone on the second floor passed: Angelica cruised on Ash’s math test, as did both Cloudius and Daphne; Tom Hexane managed to squeak past Tracy Glohan’s English test; and Arnulf did respectably on the Thursday version of Sear’s Magic History exam, although he was well outscored by Ahir Shaheen, a fact which did not seem to cause a ripple on the stillness of their pond.

Friday was Angelica’s shot at Thomas Temple’s Intro Alchemy test. Afterward, she and Rachel and Natalie were all collapsed in the library, just for a place to collapse. A cloud of gloom hung over them: Angelica had conjured it, because Illusions was still her only friend, and because it seemed fitting.

“We should go see him,” said Natalie.

“We can’t go see him!” objected Rachel.

“Maybe he’d give us extra credit work or something,” said Angelica, fighting down a feeling of dread.

“Like I want to spend any time with him!”

But in the event, the three of them, all of whom were correct in thinking that they had flunked rather badly, did go and find Temple in his upstairs office. As they nervously tried to decide who should knock on the door, they heard his voice asking them to come in. Rachel backed away, shaking her head.

When Angelica and Natalie were lined up in front of his desk, Professor Temple turned from the book he had been studying. He rotated 180 degrees in his chair. “Ah, ladies,” he said. “You have come to ask me how you shall go about passing this class.”

“Uh, that’s right,” said Natalie.

“Extra credit, you know,” said Angelica.

Temple held up one index finger. He smiled.

“Yes,” he said, “you did fall into the usual traps and errors. I will always give you the opportunity to fall into the usual traps. And you did so, as did your friend Miss Rabat—did I detect her outside in the hall? She can hear me from there, I daresay.”

“So,” said Angelica. He was really annoying, but she wasn’t scared anymore. She had the feeling that he was just covering up the fact that he was going to help them out. She had the feeling that all his aura was just him covering up the fact that he was actually a nice guy.

“Yulugensis albus,” he said.

“Yulugensis albus?” they both repeated.

“Yes. It is a tree. I require about four ounces of the bark. Pray do not harm the tree in taking it.”

“What is it? Where is it?”

“There is an excellent herbarium in the library,” said Temple. “Bring me the bark, and you will pass.” Angelica was about to make an objection, but he fixed her with a smile and those watery blue eyes, set amidst great shrubs of white eyebrow and sideburn and moustache. “And you will learn valuable things about research, won’t you?”

Natalie and Ange looked at each other. “Yes, we will,” came Rachel’s voice from outside the door. Ange and Natalie nodded.

 

“We’ll never find it,” Angelica was saying an hour later in the library. “I haven’t seen any citation on Y. albus. We’re doomed.”

“Here,” said Tom, plopping a thick herbarium in front of Angelica. It was open to a picture of a smallish birch-like tree with purple bark. Yulugensis albus.

“It says it’s found in the Forest of Cluth,” said Rachel. “Where’s that?”

“We’re still doomed,” said Natalie.

Then Cloudius plopped a geography in front of her. It was open to a map of the Chicago area—sort of.

“It says it’s just east of the Castle of the Heights of Chicago,” said Angelica. “What the heck kind of map is this? Look, the Lyceum is on there, but where’s, you know, Union Station? Oh, there. Weird.”

“That’s your castle,” said Rachel. “Where you followed him. The Forest of Cluth. It’s right there, um, between Western and Ashland. Who knew?”

“Temple knew,” said Natalie, “as in, Temple knew you were following him.”

“Yeah,” said Angelica. “He knew we were there. He must have known. He’s telling us to go get something from there, because he knows we know where it is, and he wants us to know he knows we know that.”

“Don’t accuse me of knowing anything,” said Natalie.

“Me neither. Especially after that test.” Angelica studied the map. “Beware of shadow cougars.” She looked up at Rachel. “This time, you guys have to come too.”

 

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