Everything hurt. Every bone felt broken, every tendon felt snapped. He hurt all over. The ground beneath his hands and face felt like ashes.
A man was there; tall, lean and muscular like an Olympic Athlete. He had a regal face and eyes like a kaleidoscope, changing colour with every heartbeat. Gold to green to blue to purple. His skin was the colour of old gold, and his wings stretched behind him like gold sails.
“Hold on, Thomas…”
“What’s going on? Who is this? Master Dawn? Master Dawn?”
The room was spinning and he was strapped down to a bed. He heard wheels rolling against a hard floor. The leather straps around his wrists hurt, rubbing and irritating his flesh. Voices shouted and yelled around him, but they were white noise he couldn’t hear. His head hurt. His body hurt. His heart hurt.
He felt something sharp against the inside of his wrist and he realised that it was a blade.
He jerked, fighting against the bonds that held him down. He had to break free. The energy rushed through his body and he was free. He struck out, his fist connecting with something hard. Shouting, yelling, orders. Hands grabbed him, wrestled him down. A needle shoved into his arm.
A woman bent over him. Her dark hair smelt like peaches. Yellow eyes watched as a dark hand brushed hair off his forehead. Her lips moved and he could hear her whispering in a strange language.
“You are mine now…”
Alone. Finally alone.
BA-BOOM. BA-BOOM. BA-BOOM. BA-BOOM.
Tommy blinked. The lights buzzed overhead, flickering out every third heartbeat. The walls were stark, the colour of bone, and grey curtains fluttered in a light breeze that chilled him to his very core.
He felt something soft and supple around his legs. He couldn’t feel his toes. His fingers twitched as feeling flowed into his hands, invigorating his tired and worn-out body. He moved his arm slowly, painfully, until his fingers brushed against his legs. He felt sheets move.
Sitting up groggily and rubbing at his crusty eyes, Tommy’s world was a blur as his eyes adjusted to the light and environment.
It looked like his school’s sick bay crossed with his doctor’s waiting room.
Beds sat in two nice lines on either side of the room, spread out over even intervals of space. None of the other beds were occupied, and the room felt bare and sterile. Tommy shivered in the chill, his eyes seeking out the open window and the curtains that billowed gracefully with each burst of wind.
Groaning, he sat up, letting the sheet that covered him fall away. He was in a matching striped pyjama set, with a button up long sleeved shirt and cotton pants.
Swinging his legs out, Tommy placed his bare feet on the cold floor. He heard the jangle of something heavy and glanced down, feeling a weight around his ankle. A medieval iron chain was clasped there, leading to an equally medieval looking spike in the wall.
Frowning, he stood up, testing his legs. He felt surprisingly good. Better than he had in a long time. Strong. He took a tentative step forward. The chain moved with him, uncoiling like a cobra. He took another step, then another, until he was walking across the room. As he moved closer, he realised the window was actually a glass door.
His chain pulled taut just as he reached the edge of the doorway. Tommy was able to reach out and shut the door, but he couldn’t go a single step further.
He had no idea where he was. He was in some kind of hospital room, for a start, in clothes that didn’t belong to him and wearing a chain that fit better with a King Arthur movie then a sick bay. For the first time since he had arrived at his Misselthwaite, Tommy found that he didn’t have a headache.
He panicked, turning around and searching the room for any sign of his brothers. He tried to call out, but he couldn’t speak. Someone had stolen his voice, he remembered: a tall woman, dressed in a long purple dress had taken it. Her sleeve had felt like velvet as it brushed against his skin. Her face hadn’t been clear, but Tommy remembered the smell of peaches vividly. He thought hard, trying to recall anything else about her. All he could remember was dark skin the colour of hazelnuts, and words from a language he had never heard.
He growled in annoyance. Tommy glanced around the room again and caught sight of a window he hadn’t noticed, sitting at the opposite end of the room. Walking toward it, he stopped as he remembered his chain. He glanced down, only to discover that it had lengthened.
Tommy took another step forward and he saw the chain spark once, before it stretched to. He backpedalled, heading for the door again. He reached the edge and the chain tugged, slithering backwards until it was short.
Tommy changed directions and headed for the window. The chain grew again. He blinked. The chain was keeping him inside the room. He was allowed to go anywhere, but not a single inch past the walls. How was that even possible? He shook his head, filing that question away for later, and walked to the window. It was high on the wall, too high for Tommy to see out of.
He crossed his arms and thought, glancing around the room. A chair sat in one corner, another between two beds. He walked over and picked it up, moving it under the window. Using it as a step, Tommy jumped up.
He was looking out over a courtyard. High walls bordered each of its sides. The stone was dark grey and looked brand new, even though the ivy climbing along its surface told him that it was ancient. Gargoyles perched everywhere, gazes watching everything below. As Tommy looked one over, its head moved and it bared its teeth at him in a feral grin. He looked away quickly, shivering.
Children were scattered throughout the courtyard, sitting down on springy grass and at picnic tables. A group brandished sticks in the air, waving them madly back forth in specific patterns. An arch sat in the middle of each wall, leading out of the courtyard and into another part of the castle. A huge gumtree was set in the very centre of the courtyard, its branches stretching up. It was taller than any tree Tommy had ever seen before, and the very topmost branches ended just below his window.
His eyes dropped back down to the ground and sought out the windows. He counted ten looking into the courtyard – which was just smaller than a soccer pitch – on the bottom level alone. He picked out the nearest window and followed it up. He counted four windows high, indicating four levels, before he reached the fifth, which was at the same height as his own. He continued looking up. There were only two more windows before the wall ended.
Tommy was surprised to see five girls walking along the battlements, clasping books to their chests. Tommy looked them over curiously. They wore a school uniform, plain white button-up blouses, ties, thick grey knitted V-neck jumpers, grey pleated skirts, plain black T-bars, black blazers and black tights. One girl had forsaken both the jumper and the tights. Her short skirt swished in the wind. Tommy glanced back and forth between the girls on the battlements and the students in the classrooms. He had to pinch himself.
Some of the older looking students were holding sticks and long branches.
A loud slam startled Tommy and he lost his balance. He spun around in mid-air and toppled to the ground. Sprawled as he was, he saw the heavy doors at the very end of the room bang open. It was the boy from the park and one of the nurses, carrying a wicker basket.
Up close the boy was paler then he had initially thought. The white of his skin made Tommy look positively tanned. His face was aristocratic and sharp and he was wearing the same uniform as those girls, with grey pants instead of a skirt.
The nurse fluttered in the doorway, wringing her hands together as she moved to one of the shelves and started replacing the existing bottles and vials with some from her basket. The two said nothing to each other. The nurse mumbled under her breath and had a lovely conversation about belladonna with herself. Tommy disliked her immediately.
The boy watched, rotating his shoulder around like it was stiff, and turned to look out the door Tommy had closed. He held his breath, not daring to move. Light illuminated the boy as it filtered through the curtains, making it seem like he was made of ivory and silver. The boy rubbed the inside of his right wrist, massaging it thoughtfully. Tommy caught sight of a twisting mess of black lines on the back of the pale boy’s hand.
The nurse cleared her throat. Tommy glanced over at her.
“Now look here,” the nurse said, glaring at the pale boy. “This is the fourth time this month you have ended up in my care because of your foolish, idiotic, ridiculous and dangerous activities.”
“I don’t understand what’s so bad about it,” the boy replied, not looking away from the door. “The Professor encourages us in any and all pursuits of knowledge, and that’s all I’m doing.” He had an accent, caught somewhere between British and Australian. It sounded like something Tommy expected to hear in a movie about Ned Kelly.
“What is so bad..?” the nurse spluttered, her face going bright red. “You could have killed yourself, that’s what! And then the General…”
“Why would you tell the General? It's isn't like you would get a response.”
“I'll get a response if you hurt yourself.” The nurse looked everywhere but at the boy. She wrung her hands obsessively. Tommy had never seen someone so nervous in his life.
“Which I won’t.”
“So what do you call your four visits this month?” she asked, her voice squeaking.
“Xavien being paranoid.”
“Mister Zaruki was not being paranoid.”
They made eye contact and the nurse looked away quickly, her cheeks bright red. Tommy’s mouth fell open.
The nurse was frightened of the pale boy. The boy couldn’t have been any older then he was, and eleven wasn’t a particularly frightening age for anyone. And this boy wasn’t big or terribly tall. He was about Tommy’s height and looked a little skinnier. He looked like he studied a lot. Tommy had no idea what could have been so scary about him.
“Xavien was stupid. I was fine,” the boy said slowly.
“You may have thought you were fine but my tests say otherwise,” the nurse said, her voice wavering. “You strained yourself and used too much of your power too quickly. You nearly blew up the east wing of the library. You could have badly hurt the other students who were in there.” The boy deflated as she explained, his fire was leaving his eyes. Guilt built up across his face. “You need to stay here and rest, stop this so called quest for knowledge, or else I will have no choice but to call the General.”
From what little he had heard Tommy already knew that talking about the General was the wrong way to go about things. All the progress the nurse had made disappeared. The pale boy’s jaw set, his silver eyes turned hard, and Tommy saw a pale grey light erupt around him. Wind started whipping through the room, lifting papers and sheets. The nurse’s cap went flying, her ringlets slapping her round cheeks. Her eyes widened and she took a step back. Something fell out of her apron’s pocket and clattered to the ground. Tommy felt his eyes widen when he saw the large iron key.
“Stop this,” she warned, her voice breaking. “Mister Rhage, stop!”
Tommy was pressed against the wall, his hospital pyjamas flapping around him. He raised a hand to block the roaring wind from his eyes, feeling them water.
“Honestly brother, having a tantrum isn’t going to achieve anything.”
The wind vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. Tommy lowered his hand, feeling a sting in his cheeks - wind burn – and blinked a few times to clear up his eyes. A girl stood in the doorway, her uniform perfect and pristine, her snowy hair pulled back into the neatest French braid he had ever seen. She looked about fifteen and her dark eyes were filled with mischief.
It was the girl from the park.
“Miss Rhage,” the nurse gasped happily, scrambling up to her feet. “Thank the Pillars that you are here.”
The girl cocked an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Your brother has been experimenting with the forbidden arts again.”
“Yes indeed. He was found in the library today by his friend, Mister Zaruki, reading from one of the restricted tomes usually kept under lock and key. He had stolen the tome and was practicing the Ancient Arts unsupervised and wandlessly.”
Wandlessly? Tommy thought
The girl looked upset. “Could you leave us alone, please?”
The nurse snapped her head around, sending a sharp look in the girl’s direction. “I beg your pardon, Miss Rhage.”
“I need to talk to my little brother alone.”
The pale boy was scowling furiously, arms crossed over his chest.
“Come on, Bellatrix, I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Haven’t done anything?” the nurse shouted, discovering her backbone now that the girl – Bellatrix – was in the room. “You are the single most ridiculous child that I have ever crossed paths with in the century I have been working here! You continually go against the rules and the code, breaking into forbidden areas and showing a blatant disrespect for the rules that makes a mockery of this institute! You repeatedly use sorcery beyond your skills, years and education, and expect no repercussions!”
Tommy decided that it was now or never. As the nurse ranted he crept forward, making sure not to jostle his chain, and made his way to his freedom.
“Yes,” he mouthed, grabbing the key to his freedom.
He sat up, keeping one eye on the arguing nurse and student. He moved the key into the lock…
… and was shocked.
Tommy had once touched an electric fence on a dare from Lochie. He had been about to turn ten. Neddy had been standing nearby, eagerly awaiting the result so he could use it in one of his school assignments. Tommy remembered the electricity racing through his body, but it was nothing compared to the shock he got when he tried to open the lock.
Swearing silently, Tommy dropped the key to the ground and got tangled up in the chain as he tried to scoot away. He fell forwards; his chin making a sickening crack as it connected with the ground. Stunned, he couldn’t move for a few moments.
Groaning, he pulled himself up using one of his hands as a lever while the other rubbed his chin. He felt something hot pooling in his mouth and groaned again. He spat the blood out, feeling his bitten tongue throb with pain.
“What in the world?”
Tommy refocused his gaze. The nurse, the girl called Bellatrix, and the pale boy were all staring at him with wide eyes. The nurse looked beyond confused, the girl looked like she was about to throw up, and the boy looked delighted.
“Who are you?” the boy demanded.
“Honestly, do you even know what manners are?” Bellatrix mumbled. She looked sea-sick now, instead of throw-up-my-guts sick.
“What? I’ve never seen him before. And I know everybody who’s anybody.”
“Maybe he isn’t anybody?”
“I’d still know who he was.”
Silver eyes appraised him shrewdly. Tommy sat up a little straighter and tried to recover some of his dignity. He felt a thin line of blood trickle out of his nose and down the side of his face, right by his mouth. His cheeks flushed and his dignity fled. Defeated by the floor.
“Are you okay?” the pale boy asked, coming forward to kneel before Tommy. Tommy watched him warily as he extended a hand. “Here.” It was a handkerchief.
“Thank you,” he tried to say. His voice refused to cooperate and Tommy made a frustrated noise, taking and pressing the handkerchief to his nose.
The pale boy watched him with obvious interest. Tommy moved from his sprawled position and sat up. He extended his sore right knee out in front of him and pulled the left up so he could lean against it. His chain clinked against itself.
The boy was still crouched in front of him. “Why are you chained up?”
“Mister Rhage,” hissed the nurse.
Bellatrix stood behind her brother, watching Tommy suspiciously. The pale boy rolled his eyes at the nurse’s words and pulled a face. Tommy grinned.
Tommy shrugged. “Don’t know," he mouthed carefully.
The boy raised an eyebrow. “Really?” Without waiting for a response, he moved.
The boy knelt down, moving his hand to hover in the air above the lock. He gave Tommy a cocky smile before closing his eyes and speaking words so quickly that Tommy couldn’t hear. He did feel a sharp burn right before the lock snapped open. His head snapped up. The pale boy grinned at him proudly. Tommy caught sight of something disappearing up the boy’s jumper sleeve and he suddenly understood what the nurse had meant by wandlessly.
Magic. Wands. Wandless magic.
“Mister Rhage, what on earth do you think you’re doing?” the nurse screamed. Her hair was wild around her face, her eyes wide and glassy.
“The chain looked like it hurt,” the boy said simply.
Tommy looked at his blistered red ankle in fascination.
“And what did I just say about wandless magic?”
“It wasn’t like it was hard. Even children could do that without their wands.”
“You are a child!”
The boy could do magic. Tommy recalled seeing the children in the yard, playing with sticks of all shapes and sizes. They all had wands here. They could all do magic. This was a school for magic. Excitement, and doubt, bubbled in his stomach. Peri would never believe this.
The thought made Tommy stop short. Where was Peri? And where was he?
He tried desperately to remember the last few hours. The faces were blurry, swimming in and out of too-bright lights and strange sensations. He remembered a man with skin the colour of honey and eyes the colour of gold picking him up and dropping him off.
He remembered falling through a door in the air because shadows had been chasing him.
Tommy felt a cold hand on his shoulder and jerked away from the touch, his back hitting the nearby bed. The pale boy was in front of him, hand still outstretched and hovering in mid-air. His face had no expression; his silver eyes gleamed in the light.
Tommy could move freely now, but this boy – and his sister, most likely – had magical powers. A simple spell could have Tommy chained up again before he had even reached the door. He couldn’t get away. He didn’t know where he was or how far away he was from Misselthwaite House
“Where am I?” he demanded, momentarily surprised by the sound of his own voice, keeping out of the pale boys reach.
The pale boy’s expression didn’t change. His sister answered, “you don’t know where you are?’
“Why would I ask if I knew?”
The girl bit her lip, worrying it between her pearly white teeth. She seemed to be thinking about something hard.
“Why are you here?” she asked eventually, carefully.
“I..." Tommy paused, struggling to remember. Sluggishly, his memories came back. "I don’t know. I fell… I fell, and when I landed I thought I was dying. It hurt so much…”
“This is the infirmary at the School of Sorcery,” she soothed, moving to kneel beside her brother.
“Are you from the Badlands?” the pale boy asked.
“What? It’s a good question. If he was from the Badlands, a Scholar would have sensed his magic and bought him here. He wouldn’t know anything, either.” The boy turned back to Tommy. “Are you?”
“You don’t have to answer that,” snapped Bellatrix, turning to glare at her brother. “What is the matter with you?”
Before the boy could respond, the nurse decided that she didn’t like being ignored by children. “Enough of this nonsense!” She flicked her wrist and Tommy caught sight of a length of polished brown wood.
He gave a shout as the bottom of his pants ripped and the cotton flew up to tie around his mouth. The chain moved by itself, hooking back around his ankle. The nurse flicked her wand again and transformed the sleeves of his shirt into handcuffs.
“What are you doing?” the pale boy demanded, spinning around to face the nurse.
“That boy is dangerous,” the nurse said, her hair a tangled mess around her face. Her half-moon spectacles were askew across her nose.
“He doesn’t even have a wand,” the boy snapped.
Tommy felt the burn in his palm trickle up his arm. His body grew warmer and copper light flashed in his eyes. The bonds exploded into a thousand shards, scattering throughout the room. The nurse fell backwards, her mouth pulled into a wide twist of surprise.
Tommy panted, flexing his wrists and the nurse narrowed her eyes. They were a chilling mix of fear and anger.
“I didn’t understand why Master Dawn wanted me to fix you up only to lock you up, but it makes sense now,” she said. “You’re a Twisted.”
Bellatrix gasped, her hands coming up to cover her mouth. The boy’s mouth opened slightly. The nurse raised her wand and pointed it at Tommy. The trickle up his arm returned but before anything could happen, the wand flew upwards, jumping from her hand.
“Now Cecilia,” a man said from the doorway, “don’t do something you’ll regret.”
“Master Dawn!” she shrieked, spinning around crazily. “This boy is a Twisted! You have to let me do my duty.”
The man called Master Dawn clicked his tongue five times. “You shall do nothing. The child is no Twisted. He is scared and helpless. Of course his power is a little temperamental. A Scholar only found him recently. He is settling down. You cannot expect a child from the Badlands to know any better.”
“I knew he was from the Badlands!” hissed the boy before Bellatrix whacked his arm.
Master Dawn turned around, lifting a dark brow. “You are the General’s boy, aren’t you?”
The pale boy nodded carefully. “So?”
“I hear you are practicing some less than favourable skills.” Master Dawn paused, his now dark eyes moving up and down the boys form. “Either stop or start hiding better.” The pale boy opened his mouth to reply, but Master Dawn cut him off. “You are dismissed. I need to speak to Mister Sullivan alone.”
The boy opened his mouth again. Bellatrix stopped whatever he had been about to say with a sharp pinch. Her eyes were focused on Master Dawn cautiously.
“Excuse us, Master Dawn.” Inclining her head in a small bow Bellatrix left, dragging her brother behind her. He didn’t look impressed. Glancing back at Tommy once, he shut the infirmary door behind him.
“Nurse Cecilia you are dismissed as well.” She opened her mouth to reply. “You have also been relieved of duty. Pack your things and leave. The Professor wants you off the school grounds by sundown.”
Tommy thought the lady would throw a fit. Throw some of the vases with sunflowers and violets around. Over turn some beds. Maybe try and curse the guy who had just fired her. She did none of those things.
With a low bow, she picked up her wand and left without another word. When she was gone, Master Dawn spoke again, “I apologise. Cecilia lost her husband to a Twisted not four years ago. I did not think that she would be working the infirmary this week.”
He stepped forward, helping Tommy up off the ground before dumping him on a bed. Tommy coughed a few times after his gag was removed, clearing his throat and spitting out more blood.
“Just what is a Twisted? And who the heck are you? And where am I?”
Master Dawn chuckled darkly. “A Twisted is a sorcerer who has become consumed by Nether and who uses wandless magic. They are strong and volatile. Most have no mind left, or very little. They are killers with no remorse. As to your second question, I am Master Dawn.” With a flick of his fingers, Tommy’s chains vanished. “Welcome to the School of Sorcery.”