Tommy didn’t know what to think anymore. First he fell through a door in the air, and continued falling millions of kilometres down. He had felt like he had died when he finally landed and a man with wings had saved him. Next a nurse had tried to hog-tie him with the intent to kill him because she was loose a few screws. A boy had done magic. More than once.
“The School of Sorcery?”
“Yes,” said Master Dawn.
His gold, orange, fuchsia and red wings ruffled as they folded up behind his back. When they had finished, it looked like he wore a feathery backpack. Tommy shook his head, resting his face in his hands, and tried to think logically.
Then he remembered that logic only applied to reality and this was not reality.
When the boy and Bellatrix had been talking to the nurse, Tommy had understood nothing they said. Badlands. Twisted. Wandless. Tomes. Restricted. Mage. Enclave. Corvus. Inside.
He had figured out that wandless referred to the ability to do magic without a wand. He knew that a Twisted was a sorcerer who used wandless magic and went bad. Even with that knowledge, Tommy still felt lost and insignificant.
He heard a church bell chime in the distance. “As in a school that teaches magic?”
“So actual people can use magic? It isn’t just a fairytale?”
Master Dawn snorted. “Only a few breed of fairies actually have tails. I don’t think they would appreciate that phrase.” The winged man chuckled. “This school teaches sorcery to all who are capable of learning, no matter their upbringing. Like you.”
Master Dawn watched Tommy, his sunset-eyes burning intensely. “You don’t know.”
“Don’t know what? That magic is real?”
“That you are someone capable of magic.”
“You’re joking right?” Tommy really hoped he was joking.
“Why would I joke about a matter like this?”
“It was not me who shattered your bonds and disarmed Cecilia. It was not either of the General’s children, nor anyone else.”
“I did that?”
He couldn’t believe it. None of it made any sense. He was just Tommy Sullivan. He had five older brothers, a twin, and a younger sister. He was good at every sport he tried, and smart enough to pass by. His best friend was Orson Cooper. His Grandi hated him and sometimes he saw things that didn’t exist. Magic had never even been a fleeting thought.
But maybe it did make sense.
For years he had seen goblins and creatures he could only describe as fairies. Sometimes things happened, like shadows coming alive before his eyes, and sometimes he did things that weren’t explainable.
He thought about the invisible shield that flashed blue, protecting Misselthwaite House from the wolf monster. He thought about his headaches and how they always happened when he thought he saw something not quite right. He thought about the missing sixty hours of his life. He thought about all the other hours he couldn’t remember; how everything had started after he had returned from wherever he had been.
What if he did have magic? It proved that he wasn’t crazy. That the things he had seen had actually existed.
Or was this whole thing some elaborate hallucination? Had he made up his fall, pretended to be injured, created Bellatrix and Nurse Cecilia and the pale boy? Was he even speaking to Master Dawn right now?
Did it all prove that he was crazy?
Tommy’s head was starting to ache and he felt a migraine coming on. He gripped his temples, shut his eyes, and counted slowly in his head. He willed the pain to stop. It didn’t. It transformed into stampeding elephants and rhinoceroses charging across his brain. His palm burned again, itched like mad.
He couldn’t open his eyes. The pain was too strong.
He felt a burning hand against his head. He heard Master Dawn murmuring more soft words in the same strange tongue that the woman in purple, the pale boy and the nurse had all used. For a moment he thought that it was the language of magic. In the next moment, the words were translating themselves in his head and he understood them.
The pain vanished.
Carefully he opened one eye. Master Dawn was kneeling in front of him, his face inches away. Tommy could see the sweat pooling on his golden forehead in little beads. His breathing was slightly faster than normal.
“There is a block in your mind, Thomas,” said Master Dawn, removing his hands.
“How do you know my name?”
Master Dawn watched him with interest. “We have met before, Thomas Sullivan.”
“You were younger, still very much an innocent and naïve child,” Dawn explained, rubbing his jaw. “You came to us then as well, appearing out of thin air and falling through the sky like a star coming to rest. I caught you.”
“I don’t remember.” It was a black hole in his memory; a space that should have been filled, but was only thick darkness that he couldn’t see through.
Master Dawn nodded stiffly. “There is a block in your mind.”
Cocking his head to the side, Master Dawn stood up, moving with all the grace of a lion. He listened to something Tommy couldn’t hear, his face turning as dark as a thunder cloud. His eyes seemed to lose some of their spark and light. “The dusk approaches,” he murmured.
Tommy had no idea what that meant, but he didn’t want to ask. It wasn’t one of the Important Questions he needed answered. He needed to know where he was, besides the School of Sorcery. He needed to know why he had a blank space in his head and why he couldn’t remember meeting Master Dawn before.
He wanted to know who he was.
He couldn’t be Tommy Sullivan. Tommy Sullivan didn’t have magic. Tommy Sullivan didn’t fall through the air for hours and hours. He most didn’t know any men with wings.
If he did have magic where had it come from? Or had he always had it? As Tommy thought about it, a phantom hand brushed against his mind. It stirred up voices - four distinct voices arguing – a faint memory that Tommy didn’t recall experiencing. A single word stuck out, resonating with something deep within his soul.
Master Dawn was quiet, sitting in one of the big and comfortable looking arm chairs that had been placed across from Tommy’s bed. His mouth was turned down into a frown. Tommy hoped it was nothing important, because he really wanted answers.
Master Dawn blinked once, his eyes refocusing as they moved around the room slowly.
“How do you mean?”
Tommy shifted, refolding his legs beneath him. “I can’t remember exactly, but some people were talking about inside… like it was a place.”
Master Dawn licked his lips. “Inside is indeed a place. It is the name given to my world.”
Master Dawn inclined his head minutely. “Yes. The world you are in now; the one with the monsters and creatures. What you call fairy tales. Think of Inside as a world within a world; a world inside another. Your world – the one of normality and human beings, technology and guns – is called Outside. That is Inside. She is my mother, my home.” He paused. His wings rustled in a non-existent breeze. “This is Inside.”
It made sense as a name. It wasn’t something random. It wasn’t named after an explorer or another existing place. Tommy could appreciate that at least, so he nodded, telling the winged man to go on.
“Inside is the name of our realm. An easy way to explain its existence is to say it is in another dimension to your own, but even that is incorrect. Inside crosses over to Outside in specific places. The big cities of your world and the places that have a large population are these places. The shadow of Melbourne, for example, is known here as the Eastern City. These shadow places also act like portals between Inside and Outside.”
That explained why Tommy always saw strange things in Melbourne; shapeless creatures, animals made of vapour, the occasional half-human and demonic looking stray. They were from Inside and had crossed over to his world.
A thought popped into his mind. “How come more people don’t see you Insiders or whatever you call yourselves? Why don’t they know about this place?”
“Young children and a unique few adults are able to see parts of Inside. Most will not see. The Veil separates the two from each other, and is parted in only seven specific places.”
Even though he didn’t completely understand, Tommy nodded like he did. Master Dawn looked pleased.
Tommy heard a clock strike the hour in the distance. He turned around so he could look out the window. The sky had darkened to the navy of twilight and a few stars poked their faces out from behind dark clouds.
“The hour is late Thomas. You should get some rest. You are still recovering from your fall and the injuries I healed.”
“You healed me?”
He had thought that it was the nurses he had seen in in his conscious periods. Master Dawn gave him a look that said, who else but me?
“And no one calls me Thomas. I’m Tommy.”
“Good,” the golden man said sharply, rising to his feet. “Inside has rules and they must be followed if you want to survive. Never reveal Inside to Outsiders. Never go past the Nothing Edge. And never tell another your True name.”
“True name?” he asked, feeling his confusion creep back. “What does that mean? What other name do I have?”
“Names have power. To know another’s True name is to hold ultimate control and power over them. It is like binding their soul in service to your own. Here we are born knowing our True name and our parents give us another. You do not have that. If you must introduce yourself, use Tommy. Unless they know your surname, don’t give it to them. Do you have a second name?” When he saw Tommy’s baffled look, he growled under his breath. “A middle name?”
Tommy’s mouth fell open in a small o of understanding. “Yes. It’s –”
“Do not tell me,” snarled Master Dawn, his eyes flashing dangerously. “Never tell anyone that name, you fool. Not even I. You can trust no one. You are Tommy Sullivan. You are never to even hint that Tommy is the shortened form of Thomas. Do not speak of your family. Do not speak to anyone of me and our previous introduction. Understood?” Tommy could only nod. “If any ask after you, you are to tell them you are from the Badlands to the south-east. That should also keep them from asking after your surname, as most from the Badlands do not have one.”
For the first time since Dawn had arrived, Tommy noticed his appearance. His face was grave and ashen. It had lost some of its pure golden shine. Even his eyes seemed dimmer then before. And he looked dangerous.
“Wait,” Tommy interrupted, his brain whirring with all the new information it was receiving. “What are the Badlands? Why can’t I tell them I know you? Why can’t I trust anybody? Master Dawn, what’s going on?”
His shoulders were tight, his mouth pulled taut. Dawn looked like he wanted to be anywhere but with him in the infirmary.
“The Badlands are not a part of one of the seven states. They have no ruler. They are barren lands, slums. There is no culture or law, or at least very little of both. Sometimes children are born there that have magic. Once a year, during Midsummer, an elite group of Mage’s are sent out to seek and bring these children to the School. If any ask, you were one of those children.”
“Do you understand?”
Tommy licked his lips. A small cut stung. Dawn’s eyes were like steel, strong and powerful. He watched him with something desperate, and Tommy realised that he was going against everything he stood for in order to help him.
Dawn stood straight, his face returning to its impassive, bored expression. “Good. I have to go. My mistress is calling for me.” He turned around and started for the door, his heavy boots clicking against the floor.
“A teacher will pick you up tomorrow,” Dawn said over his shoulder as he reached the door. “You have been enrolled as a student here.”
“What? But my home… my family…”
The door slammed shut and Tommy was left speaking to air.
Fists clenched by his sides, he stood up and marched towards the door. Dawn couldn’t do this to him. It wasn’t fair, he hadn’t done anything. As he reached the doorknob his leg caught and the chain pulled him back. He looked down and felt anger bubble in his stomach.
He was a prisoner.
Tommy shouted and punched the door. The sound boomed in the quiet space. He wondered if the infirmary was near any classrooms. Maybe one of the students would hear him, open the door and use magic like the pale boy had to open the iron around his ankle. It was rubbing painfully against his raw skin.
After ten minutes, no one had come. He gave up and slumped against the wall, feeling his body burning with dulled pain. Dawn had said that Tommy hadn’t completely healed. Thinking about Dawn made Tommy angry all over again. What was he playing at? He had brought Tommy to the School of Sorcery knowing full-well that he was from Outside. He had probably known that he would be locked away as well. So why had he done it? What was he trying to do?
Tommy’s head still felt fuzzy and he moved back to his bed and lay down.
He had met and talked to Dawn before. He had introduced himself and Dawn had saved him. And he couldn’t remember. He didn’t even remember when he had first fallen. How long ago had it been? It could have been last year for all he knew. More questions added to the already massive pile. What else he had forgotten was the most important, and he still had no answer.
The holes in his mind, now that he knew what to look for, added up to a number big enough that it made him panic. Huge chunks of his life, gone. Vanished. Poof. As he prodded and poked at the holes, small parts trickled out.
Excited, Tommy focused on the more recent memories. He was horrified to see black in his memories from the last week. How much of his life was hidden from him? How much had been taken away?
He picked one spot at random and started working at it.
After working on it for half an hour with no results, Tommy let his frustration take control. Ruthlessly, he attacked, stabbing at it with imaginary knives and spears. It was like poking jelly. He stabbed and stabbed and stabbed and finally a drop slipped out.
A winged cat.
He tried again and managed to get something else. This time it was a demonic sea gull. Harder and harder he tried, until finally it burst apart.
The memory overcame him. For a few moment, he felt like it was happening right then. Baanti the griffin was scolding Blue and Red in their top hat and cap. The woman called Silvertongue stepped out of the shadows. They discussed Elwyn the man from the Eastern City, and then Silvertongue’s fog was floating into his mind.
He shook it away with grim pleasure. He had been right.
Using only her words, the woman had made him forget everything.
Rage coiled into a knot at the bottom of his stomach.
Where were they now? Had they forgotten all about him? And what about Baanti, that annoyingly stuck-up griffin? He had also mentioned knowing Tommy before. And Tommy couldn’t remember meeting him, just like he couldn’t remember meeting Dawn.
He was still missing something. He knew that for certain; the only thing out of his completely messed up life that was so. Something was going on and someone was hiding something from him, something big. He suspected that it had to do with the lady in purple and Dawn’s mysterious mistress.