We were woken up with a bomb.
A small one. Just enough to get our attention, and tear apart our new front door. A front door I had made, mind you, and had just gotten to fit right. The remains of some rubble, sure, but I was proud of it.
I woke with a start. And stopped. A bomb? There was no way that was a bomb. We were in the middle of Gratitude. They wouldn’t do anything that loud this early in the morning, would they?
A fireball burst against the walls of the spire. I sat up, and nodded. “Right. Bomb.”
Sela groaned, and yawned. “Emelia?” She mumbled. “Stop spell casting first thing in the morning.”
I threw on some pants crumpled by my bed, and sighed. “It wasn’t me this time. Wake up Lana, I think we’re under attack.”
Sela nodded, and rolled out of bed. I grabbed my staff, stopped, and laughed.
We had beds.
It was probably one of the reasons we were under siege. The spire we were living in had until recently been the lair of a wyvern. Which wasn’t a problem, wyverns had a right to a home too. Except this spire was in the middle of a city, and the animal had taken over by killing anything that had come into its territory.
I paused in my dressing. That sort of explained how we showed up in Gratitude and taken over the spire too. Maybe that was it.
Though it could also have been me declaring that our territory was going to be crime free. Six square blocks in the middle of the most corrupt city on the West Coast, quite possibly on the planet.
I had stood just outside the ruined front door, and said that anyone who came into our territory was protected. There would be no more thieves, no crime, and certainly no murder. If you lived where we did, you had to behave.
Someone bellowed a challenge from outside. Sela carried a still-drowsy Lana out.
“Have they made it in, yet?”
I shrugged. “Not yet.”
Lana flew up to the ceiling, and looked down. “What’s taking them so long?”
“Good question,” Sela said. “We declared ourselves public enemy number one three days ago. And then we beat up the Mayor. What took them so long to do this?”
“Probably just figuring out jurisdiction,” I said. “They all want our heads, but only one of the gangs is going to have an opportunity.”
A mess. Merryl would say this is all a mess. When I made that statement, I knew that it would lead to trouble. That it was a challenge to all criminals to come get us. And…it kind of was.
But I had to. It was the only way I thought we could make some change.
“Where are those…” the raised voices echoed up the stairs.
I looked to Darkling and Lady Violet. They nodded back, grim. Time to work.
“CHILDRENNNN!!!” A voice thundered.
The floor shook. I grabbed at the bed, and hung on tight. Darkling flew around, screeching. Dust fell down in waves from the rafters.
Lady Violet and her blade remained centered.
The noise subsided. So did the thumping downstairs, and the mutters and death threats.
The three of us looked at each other, confused. Was there a new terror in the building? A wyvern egg hatch? A god? The Mayor?
“Children, if you will, please come down,” the voice said.
Please. They said please. We raced for the door and the stairs. We had to see the villain who said please.
Lady Violet stopped just above the landing. She looked down, Sir Violet at the ready and raring to go. I snuck a peak behind her, Darkling floating up above her.
The three of us slept on the third floor. It was the cleanest, the one that was easiest to get beds in. And it only had one window, so cut down on possible assassins. That was Sela’s reasoning. All this meant that we had two floors of thugs and cronies spilling down the stairs.
There were the mechanical Half-Men, off-duty deputies, and a bunch of people I didn’t even know what they were angry about. Armed with magic, weapons, claws, anything that could be considered a weapon.
I ran through a few spells in my head. If Lady Violet could get the first few, we might be able to make a barricade of the bodies at the stairs. That could slow them down while Darkling ran for the Reza.
“Oh, do put those things down,” the voice said.
A little woman stood up from my chair. My comfy chair, right next to my spot and where I hid the comic books. I gripped my staff tighter. But she didn’t seem to have read them.
She handed an empty tea cup to one of the Half-Men, and smiled. “That was wondrous, Harald. Do give your maker my compliments.” The Half-Man creaked his welcome, and tottled off happy.
She looked at us, and I took an involuntary step backwards. Dressed in a tweed dress jacket, with a prim hat and a single feather. Tan skin, the color of toffee. She had pale hair that was curled like some of the earlier Batman comics, but the eyes. Dark eyes, that saw straight through each and every one of us.
“I don’t like to repeat myself, ladies,” she said. “Put that stick and piece of steel away. Some of you have classes.”
Lady Violet took a step forward, keeping Sir Violet at the ready.
The woman cocked an eyebrow. “I see.”
She clapped her hands. Everyone came to attention. Everyone.
“Listen up. Emelia McKay and Lana Woodland are currently tardy for their first classes at Blue Wheel Preparatory. If I have to bring them in any later than absolutely necessary, I shall blame each and every one of you.
“Do I make myself clear?”
The building cleared out.
She smiled, and nodded to me. “Come along, then.”
I folded my arms over my staff. “We’re not going anywhere,” I said.
The lady sighed, and nodded. “That is already one demerit. Add another because you were late, and you are already in the bottom third of your class, Miss McKay.”
She tutted. “Emelia. No nicknames at Blue Wheel.”
“Good, because we’re not going.”
“Two.” There was a notebook in her hand, and a slim pen in the other. She made a notation. “Miss McKay will be tending to the fourth floor Zen garden it seems.”
I stuck out my tongue. “Get out of our house.”
“This spire, as you illegally house yourselves here, is of no consequence.” She looked up at me. “What is important is that you and Lana Woodland come with me, now.”
“And I said no.”
“You might as well give up,” Sela removed her mask, and sat down. “Mel’s got an idea in her head, and she isn’t going to let go of it.”
I nodded. “So go ahead and make your threats or promises. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do today and we can’t have school messing it up.”
“I see,” she said. “You believe that being at school will make it harder to accomplish your goals?”
She set a pendant on the table. “Well, first let me assure you. Blue Wheel Preparatory Academy is the finest school in the hemisphere. We mold young minds into the leaders of tomorrow, exemplars of their ages. The fact that you were accepted out of term, and with no recommendations, turns my digestion. But you will find an education that will exponentially aid in your endeavors.
“As to threats,” she sneered. “We do not deal in threats. Our reputation precedes us. We are the elite. We are respected. Something that you may need should you hope to survive the fortnight.
“Now, will you come with me, or shall I inform the school of your declining their invitation?”
I was about to shout a yes, when a voice below us answered.
“They say yes.”
An elf popped her head up. Surly, looking at me.
“The idiot doesn’t want to be an idiot anymore.”
Merryl. The proprietor of a local bar, she was a survivor. The two of us had already run into problems with each other.
I knew she was only trying to do her best. But it was not going to work.
“Merryl,” I said. “We’re not going.”
“Yes, you are.” She looked at me. “Blue Wheel is the best school for miles, even days. Can’t find anything better.”
“Doesn’t matter, it isn’t going to help in superheroing.”
“You don’t think knowing new spells, or having the best physical education, or actually knowing the criminal code, is going to help?” she asked.
I stopped. “Well, not help that much.”
Merryl sighed, and knelt down next to me. “Tell you what. For every day you spend in that school, I’ll help fix up one building. I’ll even talk the Half-Men into helping.”
“Then no city,” she muttered. “Mel, you have to work with what you’ve got. You’ve got a death threat outside the school, and peace in. Might as well take the offer, and figure out where to go from there.”
I fumed, but it started getting in my head. I nodded. “Come on, girls.”
“No, just you and Lana,” the lady said. “Sela is far too old for the Academy, she shall remain here.”
Sir Violet twitched in Sela’s hand. “I’m not letting them go without protection.”
The lady stared at the sword. “I’d like to see you try.”
She pointed at the two of us. “They are still children. What a twenty-three-year-old is doing taking orders from one is another matter, but Blue Wheel is very clear. No unsupervised adults on school grounds, and certainly not armed.”
Sela herself kept making tiny movements. I walked over to her, and sat by her side. She gripped my hand, and calmed a little.
I sat, and thought about it for a while. We should be out there, heroing. Definitely not splitting up the team.
But…there was a reason heroes stayed in school. We were going to have to Peter Parker this.
I pointed at the lady. “I’m still not sure you’re not an elaborate trap monster set to devour our souls.”
She looked disdainfully at me. “I am a truant officer. Just what do you read, child?”
“Comics,” I muttered. “And they’re probably better than your stupid textbooks.”
She decided not to comment, and led the way out of the spire.
The criminals were all waiting outside. They must have realized that the mean lady had only mentioned me and Lana for protection. As soon as we left, Sela would be exposed. Unprotected.
I was only a little worried about her safety. Sela knew how to take care of herself. But she did it in a way that left a lot of bodies to pick up after. I didn’t want to start our career in Gratitude with a massacre on our front step.
I looked up at her, concerned. She looked back, and shrugged.
People licked their lips. A few made motions that were suggesting something, and given Sela’s, Merryl’s and even the lady’s expressions, they weren’t exactly friendly.
“Going to have us a nice welcoming party for you, Sela.”
“All of us.”
“Carve you up with your own sword.” That last remark. If he actually tried it, it would be the last mistake he ever made.
I tugged at the lady’s dress. “Look, can’t Sela just come with us to the school, and then just, I don’t know, slip out the back?”
Sela’s eyes flashed, and she strode forward. “Don’t worry about it, Mel.”
She moved towards a hairy little gnome, waving to her. “It’s all been arranged.”
The gnome was chugging from a bottle of spirits this early in the morning. After a long draught, he passed the bottle to an ogre dressed in velvet. He took a sip, and bowed low to Sela. The ogre held a sword in its scabbard, seemingly letting everyone know it was there.
At the sight of the two men, the rest of the criminals paled. Those who didn’t run off skulked away. There were promises, threats, and more than a few hurt feelings.
Merryl grunted. “Your duelist seems to have made some fast friends.”
“Who are they?”
“Regni is the fight promoter at the Rusted Grip,” the elf said. “Has more killers on contract than most of the gangs know exist. And Bill, the ogre, could quite possibly be the deadliest person in all of Gratitude.”
I looked at him, and then looked at Sela. She was gazing at the ogre. Watching every movement, measuring him. Memorizing him.
“Quite possibly,” I said.
Not a sure thing anymore.
Blue Wheel Academy was just a few blocks away from the Mayor’s manse. In the northern part of town, and up-scale to a point that didn’t seem possible. The Academy had a fully manicured lawn, shimmering bluegrass that sparkled when I looked closer. Trees were lined up along the walk to the three-story building. And above the main doors to the building, was the eight-spoked blue wheel that must have been the symbol of the Academy.
As we walked towards our new school, Lana and I tried to appear confident, and relaxed. We were superheroes. We had saved towns, defeated big criminal gangs. We just faced down a wyvern.
I tried not to let it show that we were absolutely terrified.
I hadn’t been to school in years. Even before we left Littlebrook. We didn’t have a school teacher for a while, and I had been fine with that. I mean, what did you need to learn after you could read and write? I just kept reading more comic books, and other stuff if my mom had made me.
But this school thing was important to people in the city. We couldn’t run away, we couldn’t fight, and being good wouldn’t cut it. It would be all about smarts. I was doomed.
The woman stopped at the entrance to the school. “Emelia, you enter through here. Lana and I shall walk through the Reza entrance.”
“The what?” I asked.
“Just go down this hallway, up the stairs, and turn right. Third door on the left, Mr. Grumbly.”
“Laughing at your teacher’s name shall result in more demerits.”
I sighed, pushed my way through the door. I had made it up the stairs, down the hall, and to the classroom door before I realized what she had said.
An old man looked down at me. Mid-forties, hair starting to go gray. He had a stare that was full of derision and scorn. Must have been standard for working at Blue Wheel.
“Mr. Grumbly?” I asked.
He sniffed, and bowed his head. “I am he. Are you Miss Emelia McKay?”
“Yup is not a definitive response, young lady.”
I grit my teeth. Merryl was going to be fixing up houses. We were not being blown up. This was a good way to deal.
“Miss McKay, you are late.” He jotted a note on a pad of paper on the desk. “That brings your total demerits up to five.”
“Five?” What had I even done? I just showed up to school, and already I was in that much trouble?
“Six, if you do not take your seat.” Mr. Grumbly held out his hand. “And ten if you do not hand over that ridiculous stick.”
Right, I was still holding on to my staff. It felt warm in my hands. Comfortable. I had built it with my own hands, over months of effort in secret. It had helped liberate my town. Helped bring down a dragon.
“I’m okay with ten demerits, Mr. Grumbly sir,” I said. “Could you please point in the direction of my seat?”
Mr. Grumbly’s hand twitched. He obviously wasn’t prepared for me to both accept the punishment of holding on to my staff, and be polite about it. I thought his head might burst into smoke processing it.
After a long moment, he pointed at the seat in the back. “Just take your seat.”
I nodded, and walked through the classroom. The rest of the students were all in rows, long wooden tables. They looked back at me, a mix of smug, scorn, and curiosity. As I walked past, I tried to take note of who looked at me in what way. It might be useful later, and Sela would be proud.
The last table had one spot open, right on the end by a window. I settled in, and looked around. No one looked back at me now.
Fine. I nudged the boy next to me. A bit of a burlier boy, dark-skinned and dressed closer to my fashion.
He ignored me. Stuck his head into his notebook.
“I’m not listening.”
I smiled. “My name’s Mel.”
“I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Because I already have enough problems.”
“Me, too!” I said. “Ten demerits, whatever that means.”
“Ten means you need to speak with the headmaster after classes today,” He said. “And you don’t want that.”
“We’ll see,” I said. “Now what am I supposed to be doing here?”
“Miss McKay,” Mr. Grumbly said. He held up a big book, and frowned at me and the boy.
“If you and Mr. Jones are quite finished, could you please open your textbook to page three-hundred and ninety-four?”
Mr. Grumbly’s eyes bulged. “Eleven demerits, Miss McKay.”
My head slumped onto the table. This was going to be a long day.
Today seemed to last a thousand years.
First Mr. Grumbly was talking about history. But he kept referring to pages, and historians, and dates upon dates upon dates. After a few minutes, I decided to catch up on sleep. Demerit twelve.
I perked up a bit when he started to talk about spells. But again, there was so much talking. Words like conservation of energy. Transmogication of the elements, mass and signs and quations. It was so much more boring than actual spell work.
I had asked if we were actually going to practice. That had gotten a few laughs and number thirteen. After that, I stayed quiet for the rest of the morning.
For lunch, we left Mr. Grumbly’s class and went down to a lunchroom. Lunch. Where you were supposed to pay for meals, and then go into your own group while you ate and judged people. At least, that’s what it looked like.
Like everything at Blue Wheel, it seemed to be made to look as grand as possible. Two stories tall, for no real reason than be important. The food was on one side, and more long tables.
Light streamed in from the floor-to-ceiling windows, revealing more gardens. Where did they even find a place to make the gardens?
Luckily, I had been smart enough to grab some of the money off the dresser as we left. I was sitting down next to the windows, and looked outside as I ate a really over-priced salad. And thought.
So far school was exactly what I imagined it to be. A bunch of people that were convinced of their own importance, because they talked really nice. No doing stuff, and I wasn’t really finding a reason to be here besides making Merryl work. And not die, that was also important.
I finished the salad, and set it aside. Picked up the staff, and tapped the glass. I was supposed to be out there. We had an evil mayor, and an even eviler town. There were good people that needed saving. And instead I was catching up on sleep.
The glass tapped back. I frowned, and tapped it again. It tapped a third time.
I looked up. There, high up, right at the top of the window, Lana looked back at me. She was upside down, holding on to the windowsill by her clawed feet.
She floated down to the ground, and leaned against the grass. “What are you doing alone?”
I shrugged. “Thinking.”
“About why I’m in here…” I stopped, and frowned. “And you’re out there.”
Lana looked downcast. “I’m… they say I’m supposed to be out here.”
The two of us looked back. A blonde boy stood up in the center of lunchroom, and pointed at Lana. He was wearing snooty clothes, and a badge on his chest. It was of a knife with three red paint drops on it.
“You! Get back upstairs where you belong!”
Lana started to move. I slapped my staff against the glass, and it stopped her.
“Why does Lana have to go upstairs?”
The boy laughed. “Are you as stupid as you are delinquent?”
He chuckled. “So yes. Let me explain it to you, new girl. The…Reza, as the beasts insist we call them, have other duties here at Blue Wheel. They have to pull their weight around here. Doing gardening work, making food. Their sort of work.”
He pointed at Lana. “And she needs to find that out now, before someone else explains it to her.”
I looked at Lana, and then at the boy.
“Oh, I see. You’re a jerk.”
I smiled. “You’re all jerks.”
So I blew the window down.
I climbed out of the wreckage, and waved to everyone.
“This entire Academy is dumb. I’m leaving.”
I stretched, and kept walking. I looked up, and saw that Lana had followed me. I waved.
She motioned back to the Academy. “You’re going to get in trouble.”
“Mmhmm.” I smiled. “Probably get about a bajillion demerits for that.”
“Isn’t that a bad thing?”
“Nah.” Of course it was. But it was a school bad thing. What were they going to do? Give me a bad report card? Whatever
Throw us in jail? If that could happen, the Mayor would already have done it.
Try and have me killed. I laughed. Get in line. Today I was going to enjoy the day.
Lana finally gave up, and just walked with me back towards the Spire. I started talking with Lana about the various gangs we’d have to deal with. The sheriffs and their deputies were a big one, especially if we ever moved out of our area. The Mayor’s Guard was like them, but actually scary.
Then there was the Half-Men southeast of town, and the Mer-Derers by the docks. Would really need to know more about them.
“And the Reza!”
The little pink-and-black bird boy was back. Dangling from a streetlamp, he was spinning in his ridiculous clothes. A few other bird people, or Reza, were flying around the area. Given the upturned hat on the ground with coins in the ground, I thought it was supposed to be a performance.
The bird boy flung himself off the lamp. Somersaulted and cartwheeled into the air, before landing in front of Lana.
“Lana!” He crowed. “Dearest Lana, the effervescent, the beauteous, the sublime. Marry me?”
The other birds burst into laughter. Lana blushed, and turned away. My eyes narrowed, and I could feel my mouth tighten. So I bopped him on the head.
“No joking like that,” I muttered.
“Who’s joking?” He said. “Lana, tell your bodyguard I only have honorable intentions for your…honor.”
Lana, however, was still turning a furious shade of red. She flapped around, trying to stay calm. “Um, hi Nahc.”
“Greetings and salutations.” He bowed low to me. “Nahc, the greatest crow that ever lived.”
A braggart boy. One of those. “Emelia.”
Nahc walked over to the hat and plucked a fruit out from its depths. He held it in his talon, and sat, taking a bite.
“So what brings you two lovely ladies outside here?” He asked. “Would have thought you’d be defending that tower. Or yourselves from every gang in town aiming for your head.”
“Thanks for the concern,” I said drily. “If not your help.”
He held up his wings. “Mr. Clops said not to get involved. We just got our curfew lifted. If you want to come to the Waste Quarter, even you humans will be tolerated.”
“Pass,” I said. “We were just at school. One place we’re tolerated at per week.”
“School?” Nahc looked perplexed. “Really?”
“Yup,” Lana said. “Blue Wheel Academy.”
“Blue Wheel?” the birds all crowded around Lana.
“What’s it like?”
“Is it really shiny?”
“Did you die?”
“It was stupid,” I said. “We had bad teachers, demerits, and a lot of jerks!”
I was fuming now. “I didn’t even want to go to that school. And then that stupid boy started being mean to Lana for no reason, so I blew up the window and walked on out of there.”
The birds were quiet. They looked at me, considering. Then they turned to Lana.
“Someone was mean to you?”
Lana tried to disappear. When that failed, she nodded. “Uh huh.”
“What did he look like?” Nahc said.
“Nahc, you’re not going to do anything.”
“Did he have a badge?”
“Mr. Clops said…”
“Yeah,” I said. “A knife. With three paint drops on it.”
Whatever I said must have been the wrong thing to do. The other birds turned on Nahc, wings up defensively.
“No Nahc. You’re not going.”
“They’re going to try again.” He said.
“They always do. But Mr. Clops made that a BIG rule. No talking with them. Ever.”
“Heck with that!” He said. “If the Gratefuls want to start in on this again, I’ll settle this. Right now, you watch me!”
Lana and I looked at each other. “Gratefuls?”
“Human supremacists,” Nahc growled. “The paint drops are blood. Red, like real blood should be. They hate elves, dwarves, all the fae. But they despise the Reza. We’re tainted stock, even worse than the alien stuff.”
“And they live next to the Quarter,” one of the birds said. “Looking for a reason to mess with us.”
I glowered. I was right next to that boy. Relatively. He hated Lana, was probably thinking about hurting her too.
“They’ll be out of school in a couple hours,” Nahc said. “He’ll be out. Alone.”
“They’re the ones who put us in curfew!” He shouted. “They beat up on Juan, and we were the ones who got blamed for making sure they didn’t kill him!”
“And what are they going to do if you retaliate?” The bird said.
“We’ll tell Mr. Clops!”
“rrrrrrgggghhh…” Nahc flew up into the sky. “Zep Skargle Fla farktassikit! And sit on it too!”
I was hearing these words fade away. Nahc was being calmed down, he wasn’t going to do anything. The other birds were going to lead him back to the Waste Quarter. Maybe even Lana was going with them, make sure he was okay.
Perfect. That gave me a chance to do some good.
I ran back to Blue Wheel Academy. Finally, this was a problem I knew how to fix. Bad person at school. Beat him up, and suddenly there was one less one problem.
I saw the gardens come back into view. I gripped my staff, ready to fight. All right, whoever you were. Prepare to have your butt handed to you by…
“The Green Witch.”
A woman appeared in front of me. I stopped, and even backpedaled. The woman was tall. Easily over six feet, dressed in a magenta dress that highlighted her yellow skin. Dark hair fell in a wave around her face in elegance.
I hadn’t heard her approach at all. No magical signature, no portal. She was just there.
I couldn’t focus on that. The woman her hands from the folds of her dress, and pointed at me.
“Let us begin our lesson.”
I glowered, and stamped my staff on the ground.
“Lady, you have no clue what you are dealing with.”
“No,” She said. She cracked her fingers. “It is you who have decided that one small taste of the truth defines it all.
“But as words have little worth to you,” she bowed to me at the waist. “Come. Show what you can do.”
Who was she? Mayor’s guard? A contracted assassin? Didn’t seem to be the case. But she wanted a fight, and I needed to have one.
I lashed out with fire. Quick, easy, some of my best work.
She snapped her fingers. The flames winked out.
I charged forward, casting bursts of fire with every other step. Snap her fingers, it was all gone. I spun around in front of her, lashing out with the staff.
She grabbed my staff. With a hard tug, she flung me away. I was up in an instant, but weaponless.
The lady held the staff in one hand, gingerly. Testing it. She pointed it at me.
And then she tossed the wood back to me. “Try again.”
I sighed. Okay. She was good. But I would find a way to be better. If fire wasn’t going to work, maybe pure magic.
I barked out a harsh phrase. Magic poured through me towards her. More than I had ever done. More than the wyvern had took.
She didn’t even snap her fingers this time. Just let it wash it over her in a wave. The best I could do, and she didn’t even move an inch.
The lady arched an eyebrow. “Was that all?”
I turned and ran. I wanted a fight. I didn’t want to die. And going against someone I was clearly outclassed against wasn’t going to help.
Turned a corner, and kept running towards the Spire. Maybe Lana, and Sela. Get the lady trapped, and then I had a chance.
“Running isn’t going to help.”
Her hand reached out, snatching the staff again. The force of the grab made me leave my feet. Tumbling head over heels, and slammed into a building. Ow.
The lady walked out from around a corner. Again she pointed the staff at me.
Tossed the staff to me again. “What are you going to try next?”
I tried everything I could think of. Earthquake, lightning. I poured every ounce of magic I could think of.
She wouldn’t even let me get off a spell. She knew every counterspell, every movement that could negate my actions, almost before I did it.
And every time she would disarm me. Point the staff at me, and say it. I was dead more than I could count.
I screamed, and struck out again. Punches, kicks. I lunged at her. She blurred, and I was yanked up by my hair.
“That’s it?” she asked. “Your magic gone, this is what you do last?”
“Get off me!”
“Do you have any concept of what you are going to do before you do it?”
“What do you want from me?”
“That you learn!”
I stopped struggling, and looked her up and down. Oh, darn it.
“Headmaster. I thought we had a meeting.”
The Headmaster nodded towards me.
“Headmaster Lien. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Lien let me go, and pulled out a notebook. “Let us talk. I have received notes from the truant officer, your homeroom teacher, several chefs from the cafeteria. A total of seventeen demerits thus far. There is also witness testimony of your leaving the school without permission, another two.”
The corner of her mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. “Attempting to attack the Headmaster…will be discounted as a provoked lesson.”
She closed the notebook. “You, Emelia McKay, were already shown to be obstinate, belligerent. You are unwilling to move from a course of action that you have predetermined as right. And your moral code is so set that any digression is seen as surrender.”
Lien nodded. “I suspect the only reason you returned to the school was to teach young Jonas a lesson when you discovered his affiliations and true meanings of words towards Miss Woodland.
“But what is truly disheartening, is your lack of ability to think.”
I stared. “Come again?”
“Reasoning. Your awareness of the world beyond your own senses.” Lien waved a hand. “Consider today. Why was the truant officer able to whisk you away from maledictions? Why was your compatriot Sela able to walk free accompanied by one swordsman and a book-maker? Why is Lana even here?”
I waited for an explanation. When it didn’t come, I realized that she wanted me to answer. “I don’t know.”
“Do you have any idea?”
“Because you fixed it?”
“Is that a guess, or a theory?”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “We left because you were there. Blue Wheel has to have a reputation, something the gangs don’t want to mess with.”
“Why would that protect Sela?”
“It wouldn’t,” I admitted.
“Why is Lana here?”
“Because she wants to!” I shouted. “And no one is going to tell her where she can and can’t go!”
The headmaster tutted. “You were so close to actually thinking.”
“Yeah, well…you’re stupider!”
“Is that the best that you can come up with?” Lien asked. “Bad insults after a poorer performance?”
“It wasn’t that bad,” I said. “And when I get home, I’ll train, and come back even better.”
“How?” Lien asked. “Explain it to me. How are you getting better?”
“Hard work,” I said. “Keep going over the magic.”
“How?” she asked. “You saw how I could dispel all your magic in an instant. For all your training, you could not stand a chance against me.”
“I am barely competent in comparison to the true masters of magic,” she said. “Just as Sela’s duelist friend is considered average. And Mr. Clops is just coming into his own as an orator. And yet we are all your superiors in every way.”
“Why?” I asked. “What makes you think you’re better than us?”
She handed me a badge.
“We went to school.”
“You have a choice, Miss McKay.”
Lien picked up the staff again. “You can try and stumble your way through your little quest. You will be quite the scourge of the riffraff. Until someone with real power is annoyed enough by your nuisance to swat you down. And then your quest is done.”
She scratched the wood with her fingernail, gouging into it. I gave a cry of protest, but what could I do?
“Or you could do what is hard. You are not about to give up your little crusade against evil. Anyone can see that. But what they cannot see is that glimmer of potential for true wisdom.”
The staff glowed, and narrowed. It became thinner, and yet stronger. She handed the staff to me.
“You know basic evocations. Some elemental work. The basics that any child can blunder, as you yourself have shown. But your ability to craft your own staff, crude though it may be, belies a talent for artistry. Your obsession with comics may grow your imagination, and help with the deeper schools of magic.”
She smiled. “Perhaps with some training, you could become the Green Witch you always hoped to be.”
Lien bowed, and moved back towards the school.
“If I see you at the Academy on the morrow, I will know whether my time has been wasted or not.”
“What about Lana?” I asked.
She considered. “That she was spoken to in such a disgusting manner, your reaction was understandable. But I will not subject my school as a test case for social progress.”
“If we can’t do good together, then coming will waste my time.”
Lien nodded. “Tell your Lana that I expect Mr. Clops at the Academy. To discuss an endowment for the Reza.”
I almost jumped, but managed to keep it calm. “That is acceptable.”
“It will not be admittance to the school. And we do not deal in free scholarships.”
“You gave me and Lana full rides.”
Lien smiled. “Gave is such a generous term.”
She bowed once again. “Good day, Miss McKay. I hope to continue our lessons again tomorrow.”
I frowned. Every fiber of my being knew that there was something else going on.
I walked back along the path towards the Spire. Sure enough, no one was attacking me. I tugged at the Blue Wheel badge, trying to figure it out. What was I missing?
Beyond the obvious. Something Sela had done had insulated her. The Reza were going to look after Lana no matter what. And Merryl seemed to like us. But there was no way she could have pulled the strings and gotten us in to Blue Wheel Academy.
That would take some serious power. And not my kind. No, something more…political.
I stopped. And turned. Right here, right in the center of town. The mayoral manse, almost staring back at me.
No. No, someone was staring at me. There, just sitting on the steps leading into the mansion. Wearing sunglasses and a sleeveless dress. A bandage was on her arm where…we stabbed her. But she was there. Sipping a glass of champagne and lounging in a foldout chair.
“Took you long enough, Emelia,” Mayor Gianna said.
“Would you like a glass?”
I stood on the front steps, and stared at the Mayor. Every urge in me told me I had to hit her. For being so deviously nice. And going behind our backs to save us and all that.
I hated her.
“You seem like you have had a full day,” she said. The Mayor was…beautiful was the only way to say it. Lightly tanned skin, tall, and with strong features while still being super pretty. Wonder Woman, she was the later Wonder Woman figure. Not that I’d ever tell her.
I folded my arms. “So. Are you going to tell me?”
“Tell you what, dear?”
I sighed. “So you enrolled me and Lana at Blue Wheel. That got the gangs off of our backs. And you must have been the one to get the Reza’s curfew lifted.”
“Well, I was the one that put it on in the first place.”
“But how are you enforcing it on the streets?” I asked. “There are plenty of people who hate us.”
“The same sort of people that despise having a dragonlet roaming the not-so-friendly skies.”
“Why do they care?”
The Mayor folded her hands together, and sighed. “You set yourself up as my nemesis. Stab me, in my own home. And now you come to me so I can spoon feed you answers as if you were…” She trailed off, and chuckled. “Ah, yes.”
Gianna looked out onto the city. “Not admitting to anything, I would imagine that several meetings took place the last few evenings. All above board, between several completely legitimate trading corporations. To discuss the new citizens of Gratitude that have severely cut into profit margins just as they saved the lives of their customer base.”
Gianna nodded to me. “Removing the saviors of a city that very week would be too base, even for some of these characters.”
“Didn’t seem base enough to them to storm our new home and try and kill us.”
She spread her hands out in a what-can-you-do gesture. “Appearances must be made. Or so I have been told.”
I nodded, and looked out. “So, a week. And things start getting serious.”
“A week is plenty of time to settle in. Put up curtains, home repair, consider job offers in public service.”
Gianna smiled. “Of course.”
We watched the sun start its descent for a long while. The Mayor seemed content, happy enough. And didn’t mind me standing there.
This was weird.
“Okay…I’m going to go…”
“Oh! That reminds me!” The Mayor reached under her chair, and pulled out a folder as big as my torso. “This is for you girls.”
I stared at it like it had grown gills. “What is that?”
“Tax forms. Residency papers, citizenship proffers. All to be filled out in triplicate, notarized, and delivered in no less than thirty days, else we shall repossess your building.” The smile on her face was wide, and sickly.
“Paperwork?” I took the stack of papers, feeling sick. “You expect us to do paperwork?”
“If you intend to stay as citizens of Gratitude, then yes. If you are going to reside as legal aliens, the forms are being sent to the Spire. You will need to reapply every year.”
I glared at her. “You waited just to give me this in person.”
Gianna kept smiling, and tapped her bandaged arm. “Welcome to Gratitude. We hope you enjoy your stay.”
copyright 2019 Jack Holder