Moments later, Sands and Scout were leading our little group of Bystander-kin out of the lighthouse and back along the trail toward the dorm buildings Professor Dare had pointed out to me. The others were chatting about the things they’d seen, but my mind was stuck on that little revelation.
Right, so the headmistress of this super secret magic school happened to be the woman who had sworn to kill my ancestor however many centuries ago. That in itself raised about a bazillion questions, starting with: how old was she? Was I wrong about how long ago it had been? Their clothing, mannerisms, and everything else said that they were from the medieval era, but she was still alive.
Magic. As soon as I thought the question, the answer came to me. Of course it was magic. Why was I questioning it? I’d just stepped through an empty doorway to be instantly transported literally thousands of miles to a paradise island where I looked into a bright light and experienced a flashback memory from one of my ancestors. Why the hell should freaking longevity trip me up so much?
Hell, humanity’s average life expectancy was getting longer all the time, with just normal technology and medicine. Add magic into the mix, and it really shouldn’t have been surprising at all.
At least I now understood why Professor Dare had just smiled at me when I’d made that comment about how the headmistress must be getting older if she took over the school sixty-seven years ago. With a lifespan like she had, less than seventy years was practically a summer job.
I wondered, briefly, if the woman knew who I was and where I had descended from. It would make sense, considering everything else they knew. Was that, my ancestor’s cowardice, the reason they had taken so long to approve me? But if it was, why would the headmistress have been the one to break that tie in my favor? It was possible that she didn’t hold the coward’s actions against me and wanted to give me a chance. But it was also possible that she wanted me here for another reason.
Stop, Flick. Just stop. You’re being paranoid. Even if Baroness Gaia Sinclaire did know who my ancestor was, she had absolutely no reason to associate me with him. Only a truly pathetic nutjob would treat someone like shit just because of who they were related to. The woman’s been around for centuries. Obviously she was more mature and level-headed than that. I had no reason other than utter batshit paranoia to think she was out to get me. So leave it alone unless something else happens.
“Hey, uhh, what’s your name?” The voice, addressing me apparently, came from the black guy who had spoken up to ask if we were going to find out why we were in that lighthouse. Mr. Porter, the professor had called him. He was fairly tall, just a hair under six feet. His build was athletic, but in a narrow sort of way, more like a runner or a swimmer than a bodybuilder. He was looking back at me curiously.
“Flick,” I tore my attention away from my introspection to speak up. “Flick Chambers.” I extended a hand to the boy. “Sorry for holding everything up and making you guys wait so long.”
“Eh,” he waved one hand dismissively while taking mine with his other to shake once. His grip was firm, his hands strong and calloused. “Don’t worry about it. Sounds like you just found out about all this today, right?” There was a look of sympathy in his gaze. “Trust me, we know where you’re at right now. Me, I met Professor Dare… what… a week ago? What about everyone else?”
There was a general murmur of agreement. Most people had met the professor days ago. I was the only one that had been first contacted mere minutes before orientation. Obviously Professor Dare hadn’t been kidding about how things had come right down to the wire on whether to approve me or not.
“I’m Columbus,” the boy informed me. “Columbus Porter.” He lifted his hand to point to the Asian girl. “That right there is Shiori, my foster sister. Yeah, we both ended up here, go figure, huh?”
I waved to Shiori, listening as some of the other students discussed the things they’d seen. I heard the other black guy, whose name was Travis, apparently, talk about how his ancestor had been one of the Tuskegee Airmen, and that his vision had been of the man shooting down flying zombie whale monsters in his biplane. This, of course, was met with a boast from one of the Caucasian boys that his ancestor had apparently fought immortal vampire redcoats during the American Revolution. Travis referred to the other boy as Malcolm while scoffing at the idea that something like that was more impressive than his own vision. The two were obviously friends, and they continued talking over one another trying to brag the loudest about their ancestor’s achievements and how amazing they had been.
That little discussion was curtailed as Columbus called up toward the front. “Hey, uhh, Sands was it?”
The girl pivoted, walking backwards beside her silent twin while nodding toward him. “Sup?”
“You guys already had your orientation, right?” Columbus asked. “Did you have to go into the lighthouse and see visions or whatever to unlock your ability to see these monsters and all that?”
Sands shook her head. “Yes and no. See, we do have to look into it and see those visions. But not like you guys just did. When you grow up with this stuff, the ones born in the Knowledge, you go into the lighthouse over the summer before this first school year starts. And you don’t go in with a big group or with Professor Dare. You go with your family, and your parents or guardian or whatever starts it up. Then you talk together about everything you saw. It’s like a… a big family outing.” She swallowed at the end of that, her gaze shooting briefly toward Scout and I saw a hint of a flinch before it went away.
Before anyone could say anything else, we reached the base of one of the two dorm buildings. They were four stories high, and shaped long rather than tall, with the end opposite us pointed toward the beach in the distance. They were placed parallel to one another, with a wide courtyard between them that had several benches and a fountain in the middle, and there was a glass-enclosed bridge connecting the top floor of each. I also saw a couple more of those gargoyles perched at the top of the buildings. In front of the doors we were standing at, there was a gold statue of a knight holding a sword at the ready.
“This is the boy’s dorm,” Sands informed us. “You can tell because of the statue. See, look over there.” We looked the way she was indicating, and found a gold statue of a woman holding a bow and arrow standing beside the door of the opposite building.
“Here, Vanessa was it?” Sands looked to a blonde girl clutching a thick leather-bound book to her chest. When the girl nodded, Sands gestured. “Why don’t you open the door for us?” There was a mischievous glint to the girl’s expression, and she stepped aside.
“I’ll do it,” I said quickly, taking a step that way. I put my hand out toward the door, only to yelp out loud as my wrist was caught in an iron grip. Or possibly golden grip, considering it was the statue that had caught me. The thing had moved suddenly, and I had the feeling that there wasn’t a goofy security guard inside the armor this time. This was something else. I stood still while the thing held my arm, and after a moment, it released me, but continued to stand warily with its head pointed my direction.
“First year boys aren’t allowed in the girl’s dorms or vice versa,” Sands explained. “Sorry, but it’s kinda funny to see the first time it happens. The door statues here will stop you from going in if you’re under age and don’t belong in that particular dorm. Don’t ask me how they know how old we are. Once you’re over eighteen, you can go into the other dorm as much as you want. And trust me, people do. Plus, boyfriends and girlfriends can room together if they make a special request.”
The blonde girl with the book, Vanessa apparently, shot me a grateful look. I shrugged and smiled back at her before turning my attention toward the twins. “Let me guess, four floors, four years of school.”
“Hey, nice catch,” Sands replied with a grin, giving me a thumbs up. “Yeah, first years like us are on the first floor. Next year we move up to the second, and so on. Top floor dorms are completely co-ed. They’ve got a lot of couples living together up there, so the top floor of the dorms are connected by those bridges. They’re also bigger. The rooms up there are more like apartments than dorms.”
“I’ve got a question,” Columbus raised his hand. “Aren’t those uniforms hot?” He nodded toward the clothes that the twins were wearing. “We’re on a tropical island. Actually…” As if it had just occurred to him, he looked around. “Why am I not hot? Hell, why aren’t we all sweating our asses off?”
He was right. The temperature felt just about perfect. Not too hot, and not too cold. It was just right. I hadn’t really noticed it too much before, which made me feel pretty damn stupid, but I’d forgive myself given everything else I was trying to cope with and understand. The weather not being hot enough for a tropical island like this, and the twins not roasting in those uniforms, was just one more thing.
Sands grinned back at the boy. “First, you not being hot is kind of a matter of opinion.” She winked then before continuing. “And as for the rest of it, uhhh, you see those birds over there?” Pointing off in the distance, she indicated a flock of brightly colored parrots flying just above the trees beyond the school grounds. “If you listen really close, you can kind of hear them. But they should be a lot louder. Hell, this whole place should be drowning in noise. That’s a jungle out there, literally. There’s tons of animals in that place, yet, we can’t really hear them. Why? Same reason it’s not as hot as it should be.”
“Magic?” One of the other new students, the Native American girl, asked tentatively.
“Yup!” Sands nodded toward the girl, then hesitated. “Exactly, err, what’s your name, again?”
“Aylen,” the girl answered. “Aylen Tamaya.”
“Aylen,” Sands repeated. “Right, Aylen, it’s magic. See, there’s a big forcefield shield thing all around the grounds. It maintains the temperature in here, and muffles the sound from outside. It also does a few other things, like keep track of when anyone leaves so the faculty always know when someone’s off the grounds. Which sounds like a pain in the ass, but I guess it’s necessary to keep everyone safe and whatever else. Point is, as long as you stay on the school grounds, the temperature will adjust itself to whatever you’re wearing to make you perfectly comfortable. So I could wear a tee-shirt and shorts while Scout wore a snowsuit, and we’d both be comfortable even standing next to each other.”
That… sounded pretty damn useful, actually. I whistled low. “So I guess beyond the shield it’s hot?”
“Hell yeah,” Sands bobbed her head rapidly. “It’s like a ninety degrees out there by the beach today. Step outside the shield and you’ll see how hot it can get here during the day. I think that’s part of why they make us wear these uniforms, to make us not want to go down there while we’re in class.”
There was a little more back-and-forth discussion about the shield and how well it maintained the temperature and sound before Sands pointed toward the boy’s dorm entrance. “Guys, if you go in here and past the stairs, you’ll find the first year dorms. The doors all have the names of who belongs there written beside them. Oh, and you’ll have a roommate. I think they try to pair Silverstones like you guys with a roommate that grew up in the Knowledge like Scout and me so that we can answer any questions you have. Your clothes and everything else you brought should be on your bed in there. And… what else… “
She trailed off, frowning as if trying to remember what she had forgotten. After a second or two of that, her twin leaned up and whispered in her ear. Sands snapped her fingers then. “Oh, right. Thanks, Scout. Yeah, there should be a key next to where your name is written in there.” She dug into her pocket and came out with what looked like one of those old, big cast iron keys, except that it was ruby-colored. “The dorm rooms will be locked unless you’re carrying that key with you. You don’t have to actually stick it in anything, you just have to have it and the door it matches will unlock when the key gets close enough to it. It’s cool, plus it saves you from having to take the time to use them.”
It did sound cool, and it reminded me a bit of those electronic security badges that people wore, the ones that didn’t have to be inserted anywhere, but just worked by getting near the door scanner.
“All right!” Sands stepped back from the dorm. “You guys go in, find your rooms and get sorted. We’ll head over to the girl dorms and then everyone meets back out here by the fountain in… ten minutes?”
There was a general agreement, and the boys headed in to find their rooms while Sands and Scout led the rest of us across to the other building. This time, the golden statue outside remained motionless as we approached and went through the door into the dorm itself.
The floor and walls here were dark hardwood. There was a set of stairs to the right, while an open doorway to the left led into the hallway itself. Doors lined both sides of the hall, with wall-mounted lamps between each pair of them. There were also several paintings of various mythological creatures and warriors adorning the hallway, along with the plaques besides each door with the names listed on them that Sands had already mentioned. Small manila envelopes were attached to the plaques that obviously held those keys.
Everyone spread out to find their rooms, and I did the same. Walking down the hall, I passed the others until I reached the very end, just before a window that overlooked the grounds that led down to the beach. Finally, I found the plaque that had my name written on it. Felicity Chambers. Below that, there was another plaque with the name Avalon Sinclaire.
Wait. Sinclaire? As in Headmistress Gaia Sinclaire? That… couldn’t be a coincidence. Why was I being bunked alongside someone that was obviously related to the headmistress?
Shaking off my confusion, I took the envelope down and slipped the large red key out. Turning it over in my hand, I examined the key but couldn’t see anything overtly magical about it. Not that I knew what to look for. Finally, I held the key in one hand while reaching out to try the doorknob.
It opened easily, and I stepped into the room that I would be living in for the rest of the school year.
The room was pretty damn nice, actually. I’d seen college dorms that were a hell of a lot worse than this one. It was fairly large, about twice the size of my bedroom back home. The floor was a pretty white carpet that felt soft under my feet. There were two queen-sized beds on the opposite side of the room, their headboards each resting on either side of a large window. To the other side of each bed there was a small dresser with a pair of drawers with a lamp and one of those old-fashioned wind-up alarm clocks sitting on top. On the left and right sides of the room there were closets, and on this side of the room on opposite sides of the doorway I was standing in there were a pair of desks with comfortable swivel chairs and actual computers that almost looked out of place compared to everything else I had seen so far.
One of the beds had my bag and a bunch of my clothes laid out on it. The other was occupied by a figure who sat with her back to me, fingers flying over the phone that she was holding. When I cleared my throat, she jumped and turned to face me.
Okay, wow. The girl standing in front of me, my roommate apparently, was drop-dead gorgeous. Seriously, she looked like she belonged in some kind of super model magazine or something, not attending some magic school. She stood several inches taller than me, her hair was long and pitch black, her skin flawless. Plus there was the fact that, well, to put it bluntly, she was stacked. Unless she was smuggling some actual cantaloupes under the school uniform she was wearing, I had to wonder how she was going to avoid having back problems while we did any of this fight training stuff.
“Who’re–” The girl started to say. “Wait, right. My roommate.” She managed to say the word in the same tone of voice that most people would use to describe something they scraped off their shoe.
“Yup,” I nodded, extending a hand to her while looking the girl up and down. She wore the same sort of uniform as the others I’d seen. Hers was the skirt version, similar to Scout’s, though her tie and the lapel was colored light blue rather than purple. “Flick. You must be Avalon.”
The girl regarded my hand briefly, then ignored it and stepped around me. On her way out of the room, she called airily, “Try to keep your stuff on your side of the room, Chambers. Anything I find on my side, you won’t get back.”
Then she was gone, and I let out a long, low breath. Well, clearly I had the best roommate ever. I couldn’t wait to stay up late at night and tell stories while we giggled and shared s’mores.
“Right,” I said to the empty room. “Good talk.”
Shaking that off, I moved to check my bag and all my clothes. Who cared if my roommate wasn’t exactly the friendliest person on the planet? There was an entire island to explore, magic to learn about, and plenty of much more interesting and open people to chat with.
Besides, I had a feeling that a hostile roommate wouldn’t be the most dangerous thing I ran into this year.