Taking a deep breath, Tommy joined the stream of pupils walking out of the courtyard, assuming they knew where they were going. There were a few curious glances from the older looking students, but he guessed that, to them, a first year was a first year. He pulled the papers Paedia had given him and riffled through them until he found his timetable.
He took the opportunity to look at his classes. Anatomy. Biology. Potions. Charms. History. Runes... some of the classes he wouldn’t have started doing until high school. He was supposed to be in something called Theory right now, room 280. He tapped a girl walking by him on the shoulder. Tommy pulled his hand back when he felt her coat beneath his fingers. Fur – real fur – but like no fur he had seen before. The girl spun around and thick blonde hair bounced over her shoulders. Her face was exquisite – wide spaced eyes with pale blue irises and no whites, pale skin like marble and a cool, haughty expression that matched her icy appearance perfectly. Tommy opened his mouth to speak but no words came out; the girl stopped and gave him a curious look, as if she wasn’t entirely sure what she was seeing. Then she smoothed down her coat and turned away like he was a bug.
“The Trinity help he who touches the Pooka coat.”
Tommy spun around to see shocking bright green hair.
He gave Tommy a mischievous grin. “You look lost.”
“I am.” Tommy blushed, feeling awkward and embarrassed. He watched the girl with the black coat disappear through the huge double doors that sat beneath the breezeway and released a breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding. “Was that coat really Pooka?”
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” said Cygnus. “Delilah is the only girl in school who could possibly get away with that and its only because her father is one of the richest men in Monday. And her family is one of the Nineteen.” He shrugged dismissively. “Normal rules don’t apply to her.”
“What’s a Pooka?”
Cygnus gave him a scandalous look. “You don’t know what a Pooka is?”
“A Pooka is a shapeshifter.”
“And it’s Wednesday.”
Cygnus gave him another baffled look. “What?”
“Today is Wednesday, not Monday.”
Cygnus’ mouth dropped open. “That isn’t what I meant. This place is called Monday. It’s the state’s name.”
Tommy frowned. “You mean like Victoria and New South Wales?”
Tommy groaned. Master Dawn had told him not to mention Outside because no one would know what he was talking about. He was supposed to say that he was from the Badlands.
“There kinda like states in the Badlands.” Tommy hoped that information about the Badlands was scare. Cygnus looked even more confused than Tommy felt, so he took it as a good sign. “Never mind. So this place is called Monday?”
“That’s what I said. Seriously, New.”
“My name isn’t New. It’s Tommy.”
Cygnus shivered like he was trying to shake away spiders. Tommy moved out of the way of a tall, brown skinned teenager that looked about Neddy’s age. His school uniform was neatly pressed and looked like it could cut someone if they got to close.
“What are you in for?”
Tommy turned back to Cygnus. “In for?”
“It’s a joke,” Cygnus explained. “You know, like what did you get locked up in here for? It’s a running joke with most of the students. This place is treated like a jail. No one gets in or out unless they have the Professor’s permission or are escorted by a teacher.”
Cygnus shrugged; standing up from the bench he was lazing on and coming to walk beside Tommy. “Don’t worry about it, New. Where are you off to?”
“Theory in room 280,” said Tommy immediately, snorting at his timetable helplessly.
Cygnus nodded with a knowing grin. “I get it. This place is massive and there are so many rooms and corridors it’s impossible to know up from down. Luckily for you, I have Theory next as well.”
“So it’s your first year too?”
“Nearly the end of my first year,” he corrected. “It’s October. We only have another few weeks before summer holidays. It’s why you coming into classes now is such a big deal. Come on. We can take a short cut through the library. Follow me.”
October? Tommy felt his stomach constrict and curl up like a very cold snake. It should have been September. How many days, weeks had he been missing for?
Obediently following Cygnus across the courtyard to another set of double doors, he could hear a distant noise getting louder and louder. Cygnus pushed open the heavy doors, revealing a massive cathedral-like space. It was impressively high and very wide, but when crowded with students laughing, yelling and calling out to each other the acoustics were deafening, sound bouncing off the grey stone walls. Tommy reckoned he could nearly fit a footy field in. Gaggles of interesting looking people sat around. Tommy saw wings and antennae, lion’s manes and paws, blue skin and green skin. He would have gotten dragged away in the crowds if Cygnus hadn’t grabbed his arm and hoisted him through huge doors.
“The librarian is a sphinx so keep your voice down,” Cygnus offered helpfully as he led Tommy through the library. It reminded Tommy of the library from Vivvy’s favourite Disney film, Beauty and the Beast. Huge shelves decked out with books, ladders leaning against the sides on wheels. There were at least three storeys.
“Yep. The Professor hired it a century ago or something.”
“A century? No one is that old.”
“The Professor is,” said Cygnus seriously. “The Professor founded this school herself and we just celebrated its two thousandth birthday.”
Tommy’s mouth dropped open. “Are you saying she –”
“The Professor,” Cygnus corrected.
“Are you saying the Professor is two thousand years old?”
“No. I’m saying she’s older.”
A few students were glaring at them, so Cygnus closed his mouth and continued to lead the way through the monolithic library in silence, leaving Tommy to stew in his thoughts.
Magic he could understand, but someone who was two thousand years old and still alive? It was crazy on a whole new level.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Tommy blinked rapidly, pulling himself together. Cygnus pushed open another set of doors.
“Just thinking how crazy this all is,” answered Tommy truthfully.
“If you think that’s crazy, wait till you hear my theory.”
“This place,” said Cygnus, just a hint of a smile on his face, “I think it’s a giant conspiracy to take over Inside. They use it to gather gifted students and farm their magic.”
Tommy lost his footing on the next step, almost falling on his face. He caught himself at the last moment, bracing two hands on the highest step and looked at Cygnus with wide eyes.
The other boy burst into laughter. “You should see your face!”
Cygnus was bent over, hugging his stomach as his whole body shook with the force of his laughter. Tommy narrowed his eyes and scowled, pushing himself up and dusting down his clothes.
“You tripped… stairs… your face… funniest… HAHA!”
Tommy scowled even harder and pushed the other boy in the shoulder. He stumbled down a few steps, but continued laughing.
“Lilac!” shouted Cygnus, his amusement vanishing.
“Are you okay?” Lilac stuttered, turning to face Tommy with a disapproving glance in Cygnus’ direction.
“Fine,” Tommy huffed, turning away and stalking up the corridor.
He followed two students he recognised from his Charms class and hoped they were in Theory. He heard Lilac trying to scold Cygnus, but her furious stuttering was ruining the effect.
Finding a seat at the back of the classroom, Tommy slouched down, crossing his arms over his chest and frowning angrily at the desk. It was as clean as a whistle, not a hint of any graffiti or old pens marks.
Cygnus and Lilac came in soon after, the former looking sheepish and embarrassed, and sat down in the seats to his left. As more and more pupils entered, Tommy began to recognise faces from previous classes.
The girl Corvus had called Kharina walked in with the ebony-skinned boy called Xavien. They went straight to a group of seats at the front of the class. Slowly other students did the same. Tommy realised that they all had their specific seats and wondered if he had taken someone’s. If he had, Tommy really didn’t care.
Corvus walked in next. He nodded at a few of the students, including Lilac, before sliding into a seat between Kharina and the dark-skinned boy.
The teacher walked in. He was a tall and handsome man, probably somewhere in his mid-thirties, although his short cropped grey hair belonged on a grandfather. In fact, along with his grey three piece suit and heavy silver framed glasses, he looked exactly like the younger university professors his father worked with. He didn’t seem like someone who taught eleven year-olds, but Tommy was quickly learning that the School of Sorcery was some way from the usual definition of normal.
“Hello class,” said the teacher in a honeyed voice.
“Good morning Teacher Gothika.”
Tommy felt like he was in prep again, but no one else seemed to mind. Every single student – from the winged dragon-fly girl to the nixie to a boy who looked like he was made of stone – was sitting up in their seats, eyes riveted to the teacher.
Gothika leant against the hard wood of his desk and folded his arms over his chest. “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Gothika lifted one hand and pointed to the back of the class. Tommy’s heart jumped as he thought he was going to be picked to speak, but the teacher pointed to a plump and rosy cheeked girl sitting a row in front of him.
“Merriweather. Which came first, the chicken of the egg?”
“The chicken,” Merriweather answered confidently.
Teacher Gothika nodded. “Very well. Why?”
“Well, at the Dawning, the First Magic woke up and created the Trinity. The Magic also flowed across Inside and Outside, creating both in turn as well as the Other Realms. When Lady-of-the-Stars, along with Lord-of-the-Sun and the Moon Master became lonely, they thought up the first male and female creatures. After, a male and female chicken came together after they had grown and the female birthed an egg.”
Gothika smirked, giving her a slow clap. “Splendid. But this is a first year Theory class, not a fifth year History class, so what’s the problem with that answer?”
He paused and let his eyes slide over the classroom. “How about you, Mister Sullivan?”
Tommy lurched in his seat, his eyes widening in surprise. He hadn’t even introduced himself or given the teacher any papers, and Gothika had to know that he was ‘from the Badlands’. So why did he have to call on him?
“Tommy, can you tell us what is wrong with Merriweather’s rather straightforward answer?”
He glanced to the side and saw that all the rosiness and cheeriness had drained from Merriweather’s cheeks, and she was now glaring at Tommy threateningly.
Next his eyes found Corvus, watching him with bored fascination.
“Yes, wrong. It does seem to address everything, doesn’t it?” Gothika stroked his chin. “The Dawning, where the Trinity first stepped out of the Nether and into Being…” Gothika shook his head in feigned disappointment and turned back to the other, eager students and gave a slow smile. “I should have known better then to ask a boy from the Badlands –”
“Magic,” blurted Tommy.
Gothika turned to him with a raised eyebrow.
“Merriweather’s explanation assumes that the, uh, Dawning actually happened.”
“Do go on.”
“If we look at evolution it’s a different story. In nature DNA can only be modified in the, uh, womb,” Tommy spluttered, trying to remember all of his mother’s rantings and ravings whenever she hit a particular bump in one of her new break-through medicines. He hoped that Inside also had a Charles Darwin. “Or in this case the, uh, egg. Evolutions is a series of… of…” – think! – “genetic mutations so it must have happened before the chicken. Which means the egg came first.”
Teacher Gothika raised his hand and silenced the chattering that had appeared after Tommy had finished his explanation.
“No, no. Mister Sullivan is quite correct. Although so is Miss Cuthrobotham. Merriweather’s explanation is far too narrow, while Mister Sullivan’s focuses far too much on unconventional lines. Who even said that the first chicken or egg came from another chicken or egg? Can you assume that every egg will birth a chicken, or that every chicken will birth an egg? Not at all. A cockatrice is born from a chicken’s egg, as is a basilisk.
“When you see a chair with four legs, do you assume that all chairs have four legs? Absolutely not. The reality is that we know nothing. We were not there to witness creation. In my class – Magical Theory – we can assume nothing. We cannot see magic. We can know nothing about it for certain. Magic is really only the utilization of the entire spectrum of the senses.
“To perform a spell, a person has to meet a set of requirements. They must know the First Language – the language used to perform spells – and they have to have a clear picture of what they want to happen in their mind. They must be able to access their magical core and pull from the natural magic in the air and ground. They must be able to focus. Any child can do magic, but that does not mean they can do the same magic as the next child. And they can do it without a wand or a staff. But does that make them Twisted?”
Tommy wriggled in his seat, trying to get more comfortable, not looking away from the teacher.
“Consider this: what do you know, really know, about the people sitting next to and around you? Do they have a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a pet, a chimaera, a house, a mansion, a castle?”
Tommy refused to take his eyes off of Gothika, but he could practically feel every one of his classmates turning to stare at him.
“But that is exactly what I want you to consider in this class. This is the School of Sorcery. Here it is expected of you to look at things and see those things differently to everyone else in Inside. You need to be able to consider possibilities if you are to understand magic. Inside, Outside – they are much more interesting places then you think. Much more closely related then you know.
“If we look at the idea of Wild Magic and the Twisted, we learn about the consequences of not understanding. Wild Magic is a raw, rare type of magic, different from the standard Gift, which connects its user to the natural world around them. The more studied you become, you more easily you will be able to see your magical core inside you. Usually, the magical core is confined within a metaphorical dam inside your body. The core of those who have Wild Magic will appear more like a raging ocean. It has no limits.
“The Twisted are sorcerers who have deliberately broken the dam that confines their magic. It grants them exceptional power, but it also makes the magic more like boiling magma then water, slowly burning their soul and body. Great power will always have a price, no matter who you are.”
The bell rang and nearly every student jumped in surprise. Slowly, they broke out of their stupefaction and started to pack away their things. Teacher Gothika said goodbye to a few before turning his attention on Tommy.
“Sorry to do that to you, Mister Sullivan, but I know that the Badlands have different beliefs to some of the higher caste students here. You did very well. I look forward to having you in my class next year.”
As Tommy filed past the teacher, he was assaulted by Kharina the nixie.
“Hey! Watch out!” snapped Kharina. “Don’t you look where you’re going, Freak?”
“Sorry,” muttered Tommy, trying to skirt around her and get to the staircase. The girl called Merriweather was behind Kharina, scowling furiously at him with daggers in her eyes. Tommy had almost made it past the group of students who stood with Kharina when someone stepped in front of him. With a sinking feeling he realised it was the Pooka coated girl.
“So you’re the new boy,” she said, her pale blue eyes running over Tommy like a scanner. He couldn’t help but feel a little weirded out. Her eyes only had a black spot in the middle and nothing else. Not even whites.
“I suppose so.”
“I’m Delilah Lochart,” she said simply, her voice like a trickling river. “This is Kharina Kelli, Xavien Zaruki, Merriweather Curthobotham and Ernst Klampe.”
“I know,” Delilah said easily, smiling brightly. She stared at Tommy for a moment then beckoned too him. “Come with me. I bet no one’s shown you around yet, right?”
He was walking before he had consciously decided to. Just before he reached Delilah, a shook ran over his body.
“Lochart using your fay abilities is against school rules.” Bellatrix Rhage stood in the middle of the corridor, wand held loosely in one hand, book bag swung over her shoulder.
Delilah’s friends visibly shrunk back, while Delilah smiled pleasantly. “I know that, Bellatrix”
Bellatrix lifted an eyebrow. “So why were you using them?”
“If I was, I didn’t mean to,” she simpered.
Bellatrix narrowed her eyes. “Leave. Now.”
Delilah flipped shiny hair over her shoulder and spun around, sashaying down the corridor. Tommy felt pincers detach from his skin and shivered.
“You should be more careful,” Corvus observed as he moved to stand beside Tommy. “Delilah is an Unseelie faery.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means that she isn’t a nice faery.”
“Really,” snapped Tommy, “I would never have guessed.”
“Of course. That’s why I had to tell you.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
Corvus shrugged in response. “I know.”
Kharina was watching with disbelief. Corvus noticed, turning away from Tommy to frown at his friend in a decidedly unpleasant manner.
“What?” he demanded.
“You’re being nice to him,” Kharina said slowly, her eyes bugging out of her head.
“The world must be ending tomorrow,” mumbled Tommy, wondering why it was such a bad thing. Was he really that bad?
Kharina ignored him completely. Corvus did not. “Unless it’s postponed by rain,” he pointed out, another small grin tugging at his lips.
“Are you alright, Corvus?” asked Kharina, her mouth opening and closing like a fishes. “You aren’t hearing voices, or seeing things that aren’t really there?”
“You’re just jealous because the voices only talk to me.”
“Corvus,” said Bellatrix, her voice sharp. Her eyes bore into Tommy like little silver lasers. “You should get to your next class. I’ll check Tommy for any lingering faery allure.”
Corvus shrugged. “If you want.” He turned around and started to walk away. Just before turning the corner, he looked back. “See you around.”
Bellatrix and Tommy stood in silence even after Corvus had vanished. The air between them felt heavy, and Tommy felt his discomfort acutely. “Ah… Thank you, for what you did for me, Bell –”
“You don’t belong here, Sullivan,” she snapped. “Stay away from Corvus and his friends.” Her face softened. “Knowing them won’t do you any good. Trust me. It will only end in grief.” She spun around, her white braid flinging behind her like a bullwhip, and marched away.
People moved out of her way and watched as she passed by.