VI. Yulugensis albus
The whole thing seemed a lot easier to Angelica after she and the rest of the football team took a short portal to visit the Ann Arbor Lyceum and drub their fine squad, the Michiganders. The scoring began with a fine drive that stalled, and led to a Tom Hexane field goal; the Michiganders went three and out. Then the fun began. Angelica got open on a center route on second and ten, and made a move that caused the safeties to run into each other, and she was gone. She was triple teamed most of the game, but she still got loose for four touchdown catches and a kick return for a touchdown. And Daphne, without an interception, hit Bert for two and Estelle for one on a flare-out. The other two touchdowns of the 66 to 28 rout were an 80-yard run by Estelle and a 74-yard interception return for Jen Norman. The Michiganders put it in the air a lot, and reaped four long touchdown passes, but also handed over three interceptions, with Arnulf and fellow safety Maggie Melillo, on successive drives in the fourth quarter, jumping in front of deep receivers and taking away their footballs. The Zephs were 4–1.
Then they were portaling home and Angelica was back to thinking about the extra paper she’d have to write for English, Josh (that scum) Hubble and Yulugensis albus.
On Sunday, after a lovely breakfast, Daphne and Cloudius headed to the basement to take the short cut. Daphne opened the stair door and there was Ash.
“Ah, excellent,” said Ash. “You’ve volunteered to help me with the tarts.”
Twenty minutes later, they had made up six pans of tarts and they were all in the oven. “You may go now,” said Ash. “You’ve been a great help, but I fear metallurgy training may not recommend you especially for the actual baking.”
Daphne and Cloudius laughed politely and excused themselves. This time they headed to the school and snuck into the basement that way.
“We were wondering,” said Rachel Rabat, as five figures condensed around them at the bottom of the stairs: Rachel, Natalie, Angelica, Arnulf and Tom.
“This’ll come in handy,” said Tom, handing Daphne a book and then illuminating it with his wand. It was a pocket herbarium, a beaten-up but serviceable hard cover with pretty pictures.
“Definitely,” said Daphne. They all looked around. The frightening thickness of the gloom, the impenetrability of the silence: these were oddly comforting.
“You say there’s a tunnel from Ash House to here?” asked Natalie, whose house master was Norbert Match, Tom’s Light teacher. “I wonder if there is from our house.”
“There probably is from every house,” said Angelica.
“If there were from my house,” Rachel put in, “MacMorris would never let us near it.”
“A lot of secrets, huh?”
“Yeah, and like half my house worships the ground he walks on, including your old boyfriend Josh.”
“Sigh,” said Cloudius, then “Ow!”
“That scum,” said Angelica. “Best not to mention him.”
“Gotcha,” said Cloudius.
Daphne managed to get the others up and in some sort of formation, and all the way over to the secret door together and without too much discussion. Cloudius wanted to rummage in the rubbish some more; Tom was getting distracted by book titles; Ange, Rachel and Natalie were laughing about something. She looked to her left and there was Arnulf. He nodded. She looked to her right, and there was Eva, who mouthed a mraow. Daphne reached out and pulled Remediae out.
“Everybody with me?” she asked.
No one dissented. She put the book back upside down. “Okay, troops out, move it or lose it,” said Arnulf, leading the way into the passage. Natalie and Rachel looked quite impressed. After the three girls, Cloud went in, and then Tom, who looked back to Daphne. She put the book back right side up and ran in ahead of the closing secret door.
“This is cool,” said Natalie.
“Glad you like it,” said Arnulf. “Keep your voices down.” He turned and pointed a finger at Rachel. “No giggling.”
“Okay, okay,” said Rachel.
Arnulf led the group out into the passage with the steps. They went on and on and on into silent darkness, down and down. Finally, just as they began to suspect that no one else was within ten miles, they saw a little light ahead. They came to where the hall opened out into the so-called dock area, and peered out.
The light came from a couple of torches in brackets. There was no one on the dock, but they could hear voices out on the dark water: not the voices of mermaids or fish demons, but a couple of teenagers and one familiar voice.
“It’s MacMorris,” whispered Rachel.
“What’s he saying? I can’t hear!” said Natalie.
“Sssh!” Daphne glared around, and they could see her dangerous blue eyes in the shadow of the passage. She looked out, then cocked her head sideways to listen.
The next voice they could get at all was a female student, a third-year they all knew. Her high voice was audible over the water: “So it’ll help with the Eleven?”
Then they could hear MacMorris’s voice mumbling. Daphne listened, then pulled Arnulf and Angelica across the dock to the hallway on the opposite side. The others followed, hidden in the gloom among the pillars. Once they were all inside the far hall, Daphne stopped and turned. “He said, ‘it’s not one of the eleven, but if we find it, the next thing we find will be a segment, or several of them.’ Then they sort of splashed. I think they were going under.”
“Yeah,” said Cloudius, “I bet it was a submersible rowboat. My dad’s made those before. They’re great, yeah, if you’re, oh, say, looking for something way down underwater.”
“So, any clue what it was, if it wasn’t a segment?”
Cloudius mugged and shook his head. Tom shook his head. Angelica, Rachel and Natalie shrugged. “I have no idea myself,” said Arnulf.
“Great, then,” said Daphne. “On to the Castle.”
The hakken-kraks were howling up a storm, but they might as well have been urging haste: in just a few minutes the seven were climbing the stairs to the Castle. The gate at the bottom of the cellar was shut and locked, but after a moment of hesitation, Daphne and Arnulf led them up a narrow stair that led outside.
Well, it was outside of a sort. The sky was blue, the wind was blowing, the air was cool but not cold. The castle’s outer walls were behind them as they came up out of the underground. They stood on a pillared walk, a gallery just beyond the outer walls. Before them was a forest: the Forest of Cluth.
But it was no overgrown Illinois wood lot. It was the sort of forest that children’s book illustrators salivate over. A thousand different kinds of tree grappled for the air, populated by a thousand different songbirds and a thousand patterns of butterfly—and snake. The forest floor was deep moss with occasional boulders, some of which looked oddly egg-like; here and there a stand of mushrooms rose as high as it was wide, a few inches, a few feet, some a few yards tall. From the shadows of fallen limbs and from holes in dead trees a dozen pairs of eyes fixed on them.
“It’s that,” said Natalie, looking at Tom’s book and pointing. And there it was: Y. albus. It was a sort of purple birch. It was also the bearer of hundreds of purple berries. There was a little grove of the trees, on a hillock in the moss.
“So, we just grab a strip?” asked Rachel.
“Come on,” said Angelica. “This looks good.” The bark of the biggest of the trees was loose in several places. Angelica and Rachel each took a piece.
“The berries look interesting,” said Cloudius. “Any good to eat?”
“Sure,” said Natalie, “if you want to sleep for a while. They’re a powerful somnolent.”
“Really? You can put people to sleep with these?” Cloudius looked at Tom.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Tom. He and Cloudius went for the berries.
“Careful,” said Natalie. “Don’t even get juice on your hands. You guys done? This place is weird.”
“We’re done,” said Rachel.
“I got a bag, Cloudius,” said Tom. Cloudius poured a dozen of the purple berries into the bag, joining Tom’s dozen. “Um drops,” laughed Tom. “Could be useful on Jen Greenbelt.”
“Natalie’s right,” said Arnulf. “This place is weird. Let’s blow.”
So they turned and started back across the short stretch of forest-edge they’d traversed to reach the stand of Yulugensis. But Eva was disconcerted by something. She ran in front of them and mraowed. Angelica looked back and caught her breath. “Oh my goddess,” she said. “What’s that?”
They looked. It was a shadowy thing, of cat form, black in the shadows, never seen in the light. They couldn’t even tell how close it was. They kept moving as best they could while still looking back, but they kept losing it.
And then they were running wildly, hurtling through the mosses, dodging the trees as if the trees were trying to get in front of them. And still they felt it behind them, stalking and chasing, in the canopy, in the mosses, in the shadows of the boles. And then it was pouncing, flinging itself toward an unsuspecting Cloudius.
Angelica gathered her wits, closed her eyes and said, poj kar. A howl broke out nearby: the shadow cougar dropped the boy from its jaws and hissed. It saw a shadow wolf give one more long bark and then attack. The cougar reared back, batted, and finally landed a blow. The illusion of a wolf popped like a soap bubble.
But by then the seven kids were back on the steps down. Arnulf and Daphne were carrying Cloudius.
“I’ll be fine,” he said as they stood him up. “I’m feeling good already. I thought I was dead, but now I’m feeling okay.”
“I’m glad,” said Daphne, “you’re heavier than you look.”
“Ssh,” said Angelica. “Someone’s down the stairs.”
They all moved over to the top of the stairs, just outside the gate to the castle basement. They could hear, up from below, a girl talking: giving an excuse, something like that. Then they heard Temple’s voice: “You’re not the sharpest pin in the cushion, are you? Do not try to go places where you don’t belong. You’re not strong enough and I doubt you ever will be.”
There was some objection from the girl. Angelica and Natalie looked at each other and mouthed, Jen Greenbelt?
“Sek y min go tfa,” said Temple. “Fly away, birdie! Your master will find the proper form for you.”
He began climbing the stairs just as Arn was whispering to Daphne, “He threw a stone polymorph on a student?!”
“I’m hiding,” said Daphne. She moved with all speed to a barrel, climbed in and managed to retract herself inside.
“Hey, good one,” said Cloudius. “Shades of Bilbo Baggins!”
In moments they were all in barrels. Moments later, Temple came up into the passage and paused to gaze across the scene. “It’s so foolish,” he said aloud, right over the barrel that hid both Tom and Cloudius, “when students try to sneak into places they are not strong enough to handle. Well, I think what I meant to accomplish here is done. I think I’ll go back to my office upstairs and wait to see if those bright girls, Aliyev, Lopez and Rabat, might stop by for some tea. If they were hiding here in the basement, I would advise them to remain hidden until old Professor Temple is gone, and then hurry along after him.”
Then he was gone down the steps. The others managed to crawl out of their barrels. “The things we go through for you,” said Cloudius.
“You love it,” said Angelica. “If you don’t, just say so, and you can hit the road, Jack!”
“You’d think,” said Rachel, “he’d let us give him the bark here and now.”
“You don’t think like Temple,” said Arnulf.
When they got to Temple’s office, they found seven tea cups and seven croissants laid out with butter and jelly. Temple himself appeared as soon as they had counted up, counted heads, and decided that they were all supposed to sit down. He had his usual big cup of coffee (or something). He regaled them with the wonders of the croissant for fifteen minutes, then took delivery of the bark. “You have completed your special project with distinction, ladies,” he said. “And do be careful with those berries that I’m sure you picked.”
Angelica spent the rest of the weekend writing up her project for English, and felt tired and behind when Monday morning rolled around. But she found a strange thing in Temple’s alchemy class. He seemed to be teaching directly to her: making eye contact with no one else besides Rachel and Natalie, often standing directly in front of Angelica and saying, with great emphasis directed straight at her, things like, “It’s vital that you use exactly 3/8 teaspoon. A grain less, and you get nothing. A grain more, and you get a deadly poison.”
All through lab time, she heard his voice echoing in her head. It even seemed to be saying things he hadn’t actually said: “Stir with the flat of the dipper. Stir in just a layer of grains at a time. The mixture should turn blue, but it should pass through a purple phase for just a moment. Yes, just like that.”
“The effect was so weird,” Angelica was explaining later, in Tom’s room. She looked at Natalie.
“Yeah,” said Natalie. “I guess there’s worse things. I mean, I’m starting to think he’s on my side, and I guess that’s better than the other way.”
“It’s creepy,” said Rachel. “But what about Sear? What’d she tell you, Ange?”
Angelica took in a breath and looked around. Everyone stopped thinking whatever they were thinking and watched her.
“Not one of you noticed,” she said.
“We all noticed you went and asked her stuff in her office,” said Natalie.
“Well, you didn’t notice when she was talking about the Magical Crisis of 1930, did you? All right, fine, I know it’s History of Madge, and it’s supposed to be boring. But she’s not boring, is she?”
“I think she is,” said Rachel.
“I think she’s kinda hot, actually,” Arnulf said in a very low voice. Tom and Cloudius nodded.
“Well, okay, then,” said Angelica, “I think we’ve established that you didn’t hear what she said. Please allow me to fill you in. There was an Axis that attempted to destroy the MPW in 1930.”
“A what? The what?”
“The MPW. The Most Powerful Wizard.”
“Who’s that?” asked Cloudius.
“Well, that’s what I wanted to know. So I asked her. Like three times, in class. When she finally admitted to hearing me, she sort of looked around and said, ‘If you have questions, please hold them till the end.’ She never says that.”
“So you asked her,” said Daphne.
“She told me to come to her office at lunch hour and bring my lunch.”
“And what did she say? What did she say?” asked several.
“Oh, where do I start?” They all rolled their eyes. “Okay,” she said in a very quiet voice, “so there was this really rich French lady named Madame Lacanthe. She was at least four hundred years old. Sear doesn’t know how old.”
“Well, how old is she?” asked Cloudius. “Like a hundred and twenty.”
“But she looks about 18,” said Arnulf.
“Well, this Mme L, as they called her, she came to be known, and I don’t get how this came to be known, but she came to be known as the Most Powerful Wizard. The MPW. It’s sort of like being the Richest Person in the World.”
“J. Paul Getty?” guessed Tom.
“Sultan of Brunei?” guessed Arnulf.
“The Axis,” said Daphne. “You said Axis. Like the Nazis?”
“Yeah, actually, but not,” Angelica replied. “Any number of major wizards got together and decided she controlled too much of the magical, what, airwaves? Anyway, she was always kind of a recluse but all during the 1890s and on into the teens and twenties, while all these magical wars were going on, she was getting more and more powerful, just real quietly. All these famous wizards were against her. Sear told me a bunch of names.”
“What names?” asked Arnulf with a lot more attention.
“Funny I remember them, she just said them once. There was the Comte d’Avignon, um, Ririan Noir, Arro Ono, they were together in one rebellion, and then there was Roald Gror and Anona Har, I guess she was this beautiful wizard spy that Sear actually met once, and Friedrich Fissalf, they were another rebellion, and somehow these linked up, I don’t know. Three and three. And there was one more three, but Sear was really unclear about that one. I know she mentioned Caterina Paré, I’ve actually heard that name before, and Nura Neurin. And there’s other rebels still around: Gahan de Gahan, Abraham Glassni, Perez Zerak, she kept naming off names. She said, and this is what I really remember, you know it all ended only fifty-two years ago. Wizards can live a long time, if they keep their heads down. Know any of them?”
A moment passed. Then, “Yes,” said Ahir suddenly, and Arnulf at the same moment said, “Yeah, actually.”
Angelica raised her right eyebrow. The others looked back and forth between her and the couple. Arnulf just smiled, but Ahir said, “Zerak. He died, actually. In the desert. He did—he did a ritual. A ritual of death. But my father met him.”
They all looked at Arnulf. “Gahan and Glassni,” he said. “They came to talk to my mom about getting me in here, in school. She wasn’t going to let me.”
“Really?” replied Angelica. “Those guys talked her into letting you get trained? I bet they knew your father, huh?”
“Yeah, well, let’s talk about this big battle,” said Arnulf. “She lost?”
“No, not really. She seemed to have retreated. But no one’s heard where she went. So there are all kinds of theories and everyone thinks she’s manipulating everything behind the scenes, of course. But all these other people died or disappeared. There was a lot of turnover in the wizard world.”
“Gahan is definitely still around,” said Daphne.
“My grandma knows him. He hangs out with Amazons sometimes.” She smirked.
“Well, anyway, so. The Nazis.”
“Yeah?” asked Arnulf.
“Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler were wizards. So was Rudolf Hess, that guy who escaped to England and is locked up in that castle. They were fighting Communist wizards in the streets of Berlin, and then in the forests of Russia. And then in Berlin again. The Nazis got together seven of the segments. And you know, they wrote everything down, they were like these compulsive German types, right? They wrote everything down.”
“And there are like a hundred copies. Of the book.”
“A book about the segments?” asked Tom.
“About what they knew about those seven, which I guess was a lot, and what they thought about the other four, where they were and so on.”
“Do you suppose it’s down in the basement?” asked Cloud.
“Oh, right. Let’s take this valuable book of secrets and stick it right where Claudius Cloud would look first. Maybe in the basement of the North American Magical Library and Archive.”
“The what?” asked Cloudius.
“NAMLA. It’s under Fort Knox. Yeah. That Fort Knox.”
“Not the one in Maine?” asked Tom.
“So, back to the story,” said Daphne. “This Mme L, she supported the Nazis?”
“No, no, that wasn’t the idea. L was forced to go into hiding, or maybe she was killed but no one thinks so, and at the same time bunches of major wizards were killed, and the Controllers began to come out of the woodwork. Especially the Nazis, because Control wizards tend not to cooperate very well unless they have some kind of idea they’re all into.”
“And she wasn’t a Controller.”
“I guess she was sort of a Hider, but she wound up doing Controller things just to fight back. She organized a Council to try and enforce magic peace. I guess that didn’t work out. But the Nazis were Controllers, and there were lots of Controllers in the US and England who were waiting for the chance to raise the flag here.”
“Like any profs here?”
“The point is, all the older ones were involved in those days, on one side or another. Temple. Ash. White. The Headmistress. Blaine, Match, yeah, Sear, she was what, fifty or so in 1930?”
“So are you gonna tell us,” said Cloudius, “that Hiroshima was a spell battle?”
“No, it was a Final Strike,” said Arnulf. They all looked at him, then at Angelica.
“Something like that,” said Angelica.
“So what side is Temple on?” asked Rachel.
“I don’t know. That’s the funny thing. A month ago, I would have said he was one of Them.” She leaned toward Rachel and added in a whisper, “But he changed. Whatever he was, he dropped out and changed sides.”
“He’s still creepy.”
Meanwhile they all began working on the projects that they would be concentrating on for the rest of the term. Angelica and her pals were working on an elaborate illusion. Cloudius had magical pumps—apparently they could even be used to pump pentons. Pentons pumping pentons! Tom was into an investigation of astral travel—Professor Blaine let slip that he himself went every year to Marslebee’s just off the Mars Mall, and that the Moon really was a must-see. Tom ate it up, of course. Daphne’s sword looked finished to everyone else, but she was adding micro-layer upon micro-layer of steel and spells glyphs and then more steel and more spell glyphs.
What Arnulf and Ahir were working on was the subject of some speculation. They went often to see Professor White, who shut her office door to talk to them. Naturally, the long hours the two young people spent together gave rise to gossip, much more than the long hours Daphne and her defensive back friend spent together. “Yeah?” said Daphne. “We’re fighting. I bet they’re not fighting.”
Speculation was not limited to friends.
One day Daphne was in the girls’ room washing her hands when Bob Flammifer, probably absent-mindedly coming in, surprised her. Their first instincts were the same: their magic combat came to hand immediately. Daphne’s was much stronger and almost infinitely more savage: in a tenth of a second, the Flam was lifted off his feet and hurled back through the door.
“What have we here?” asked Ash.
“It’s Mr Flammifer,” said White. “Robert, come with us.”
“But she, but,” he said.
“Wait,” said Ash. She stepped inside the girls’ room and looked around. “I don’t see anyone,” she reported. “If there was, she was understandably upset at your entrance. Come, I see you haven’t been grounded enough.”
“Mistress Ash,” said White, “he is in my house and I will decide the punishment. It is quite wrong for you to deny me the pleasure.”
“Very sorry, Mistress White,” said Ash. They walked away saying more of the same over the protests of Bob Flammifer.
The next evening, Arnulf and Ahir and Pinhead were studying in the library. Ahir was tired and excused herself. A minute later, Arnulf and Pinhead looked up at each other.
“Miss Donati,” said Arnulf, “can we leave our stuff? It’s only for a moment.”
“Oh, all right, go ahead,” said the ancient redheaded librarian, as they knew she would.
Out the door they went and around to the garden in back. In the twilight they could make out four people: one kneeling by a backpack, two standing and one on the ground between them. The two standing were taunting the one on the ground, and shooting little sparks of force from their wands. They were the twins Cath and Christa Place. As Arnulf and Pinhead came into the garden, Cath Place looked up at them. Arnulf’s wand was faster than hers, and her wand flew high into the air as she fell back semiconscious. Then Arnulf was up against Christa, who held him even and then threw zing trt at him.
“Kno eur,” he cried, and with some effort he managed to throw her spell back. Christa Place’s own spell knocked her off her feet, but in a moment she was getting back up.
Meanwhile Pindar was blasting away at Truman Goth, who dropped the backpack, picked it up, dropped it again, took off running, took another blast in the back from the Pin, fell down, and then galloped away.
Arnulf was still having difficulties with Christa Place when Ahir, who had been lying on the ground, said ag and finished the fight.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” said Pindar as Arnulf helped Ahir up. “They’re coming to check.”
“Hey, you guys,” came Rachel’s voice from the back door of MacMorris House. “Over here! Get in here, you dopes!”
And so the four of them, Arnulf, Ahir, Rachel and Pindar, crowded to watch through the back door window as Mistresses Ash, White and Sear came up and found no one left at all: both sides had already carried off their casualties.
The next Saturday, the team portaled to Memphis TN, where, invisible in a city park along the Mississippi, the Lyceum of the Pharaohs raised its faux Egyptian aura in the middle of the Sun Belt. They may have been believers in old-fashioned religion—Horus, for instance, and Isis and Osiris and Thoth—but they had Sun Belt priorities. The football field was amazing, with masterpiece scoreboards and comfy seats and sumptuous concessions and an awesome field, all hidden in the middle of the park.
It was another gorgeous day. The Pharaoh crowd was insane, in a very nice way. The team was all worked up. They came down and looked unstoppable until they stalled at the five and settled for a field goal. Daphne led the Zephs back up the field and stalled at the thirty, and Tom missed what would have been his longest field goal yet. The Pharaohs came down and stalled at the seven: result, field goal. The Zephs came down and stalled at the twenty-eight: result, missed field goal. And then the Pharaohs did it again: Spiny knocked down a pass on third down and stopped the drive on the Zephs’ thirty; the Pharaoh kicker, with great smugness, came out and nailed it.
Finally the combination of Angelica and Estelle told on the Pharaonic defense. In two drives, Daphne let Estelle move them from one twenty to the other, and then hit Angelica on a deep slant. It seemed like it might just work every time: it didn’t occur to other teams to double cover Ange on that slant. Result: The Zephyrs led 14 to 9 with a minute left.
Then the Tennessee Egyptians used four quick passes to get in the end zone (and embarrass all four starting defensive backs and safeties) before halftime. With great shouts (in ancient Egyptian) the Memphis Pharaohs went in for halftime ahead 16 to 14.
Coach Trena Whelp pointed out, not patiently, a number of areas of concern and outlined, not politely, several roads to improvement. And lo, it came to pass that in the third quarter, as the cold wind brought clouds in, the wheel fell off the chariot. On their first drive of the second half, the Pharaoh quarterback threw a lovely pass directly to Spiny, who ran the interception back for a touchdown. On the next drive, Cloudius got thrown in at right outside linebacker in place of a third year who had been put half to sleep. He resisted the tight end’s spells but seemed to attract attention from the quarterback. On first down, he knocked the pass down. On second, he was turning to cover the tight end when the ball hit him, hard, between the numbers on his back. On third down, the quarterback hit Cloud between the numbers, but on the front this time: he bobbled and then caught the ball, went down with it in the fetal position, and hopped up to toss it to Daphne. On the Zephs’ next play she in turn tossed it to Estelle flaring out to the left, and the halfback ran for a touchdown from there.
The rest of the way was no improvement for the locals. Daphne threw another touchdown to Angelica and one to Bert, and then threw a couple of meaningless late interceptions. These did not help the Pharaohs, who couldn’t make a first down and turned the ball over on downs three times in the fourth quarter. The final score was 42 to 16. The Zephyrs were five and one.
It was getting to be a routine. Win a game, fight off an ambush, win a game, fight off an ambush. On the following Tuesday, Angelica had a funny feeling on her way out of the library, and she decided to come around behind the library from the opposite direction of the usual short cut to Ash House. Jen Greenbelt and poor old Truman Goth were waiting in ambush—looking the wrong way. Ange smiled to herself, running a hand through her short but growing hair, then used that hand to shoot a lovely bolt at Jen, who went down in a heap. Truman hurled Ag at Ange, who shot a bolt of blistering power back at him; he went down too, but so did she, snoozing.
She woke up as Tom Hexane was prodding her. “Up, up, let’s go,” he was saying. It took her only a moment to work it out, especially as she could hear a whispering that she had come to recognize as the sound of the magic sensors going off. They retreated into the dark, and by the time they were back upstairs, Jen Greenbelt and Truman Goth were being grounded and given a thorough dressing down by Mistress White.
That weekend, the last before Halloween Week broke up the monotony, the team visited the Downstate Lyceum in Springfield. It was brand new, just two years old. “Did you know,” Angelica asked as they were getting in uniform on opposite sides of the invisibility barrier, “that Lyceum and Academy attendance have gone up five to ten percent per year every year for the past thirty years?”
“That’s quite a rate of growth,” said Daphne, pulling her Number 1 shirt on.
“A lot more people are realizing they have magic,” said Tom.
“And not all of them are getting into school,” said Kate. “That’s why there are more magic gangs. It’s scary.”
“It’s also why these Downstaters suck,” said Arnulf. “If they could have got into Lake Wind, they all would have. We’re going to kick hiney.”
“Do not brag till you accomplish,” said Coach Whelp, coming into the locker room. Arnulf pulled up his pants.
On the field, the Zephyrs toyed with the Downstate Pterodactyls before finishing them off. Daphne did not have a terrible game, but she took the first half to really get going: she managed a touchdown to Angelica and one to Kate, but Tom had to hustle out as the seconds ticked away to kick a field goal to tie it at 17 at the half. Once the third quarter started, Daphne hit Angelica again on a very deep slant, and she kept slanting right into the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Cloudius got his second interception at outside linebacker, at the Zephs’ ten, and on the next play Daphne handed it to Estelle, who broke through and ran right past the safeties, who seemed to be picking their noses and comparing results: her result was ninety yards and a touchdown.
Two more possessions led to two more Estelle touchdowns, although Arnulf managed to fall down and allow the Pterodactyls a deep touchdown pass, and then do the same again before he realized that the receiver was using sern to make the turf under his feet slippery. It wasn’t enough to get them back in it. Up 45 to 31 in the fourth quarter, with Estelle for once held to four yards on first and second down, Daphne rolled out, unable to find a receiver. Instead she tucked the ball away and rumbled forty yards for a touchdown, with a skinny blitzing safety hanging on the whole way.
“Is there something on my back?” she asked Angelica.
“Not any more.”
Tom Hexane added one more late field goal and the Zephs went home with another win, 55 to 31. Of course Coach Whelp could think of lots of areas they could still improve, but at 6 and 1, with but one game left (against the Lexington Colonels) in the regular schedule, they were surely looking at playoffs.
“But that won’t be till over Christmas,” said Angelica as they were all studying in Tom’s room. “We need to concentrate on school for a while.”
“Yeah,” said Daphne, “those of us not receiving special training from Dr Temple.”
“Hey now,” said Rachel. “It’s not like we like him.”
“But he wants us to see Yulugensis albus in action,” said Natalie. “We can’t miss the chance!”
“And Halloween’s coming up next Sunday,” said Tom. “I guess that’s a pretty big deal around here.”
“I should think so,” said Rachel.
“I do not yet understand Halloween,” said Ahir. “Could you explain it to me?”
“Sure,” said Angelica. “American kids dress up as demons and Star Wars characters to extort candy treats from homeowners on threat of having toilet paper thrown in their trees. But what no one seems to remember is that real demons are wandering about that night looking for real treats and they can do a lot worse than T P the flora.”
“Are there any real Star Wars characters around?” asked Tom.
“Sure,” said Rats, “shooting and swinging light sabers and talking about the Force.”
Ahir smiled. “It’s about fighting demons,” she said.
“Know anything about that?” asked Daphne. In answer, Ahir reverently lifted her sword: black but shiny. Daphne lifted her huge long Amazon sword. They grinned at each other.
“So,” said Rachel, “looks like a somewhat atypical Halloween this year.”
“Wait till we see,” put in Angelica, “what Yulugensis albus does.”