I sat with Instructor Hurley in his Wizard Office. He had a picture on the wall of a cat that I could swear moved a little bit every time I glanced away. He also had a window on the wall showing an outdoors where the wind itself was visible like in old cartoons. And he had a China cabinet full of things in jars, one of which winked at me.
"First things first," said Hurley, "We're not going to tell the director about your situation."
I raised my head upon hearing this. The constellation patterns on the dark carpet had been easier to look at than the Instructor's eyes.
"Secondly", said Hurley, "You will need a master. Immediately. My goodness, you're going to have a hard enough time catching up even with one. But who should it be..."
The seconds ticked by loudly on the owl-shaped wall clock as Hurley, lost in thought, drummed his fingers on the table
"Do I really need one?" I said. "Jo aleady taught me how to use the Wizar -- the ontoscopes, and I don't know if having a cloak is all THAT important, and, well, you can imagine I don't know what it's like to have a master, but then I don't like to feel mastered anyway, and -- "
Hurley snapped his fingers. "Ah ha! Of course! Masie of Masie's Merino Emporium! You need a cloak, you need a dedicated teacher, I don't have the time, I don't like this whole business getting out, as I said, and you know, I rather like that woman anyhow, she's a dear when she isn't busy. And yes, I feel you must submit yourself. While I have no intention to refer this to a higher authority so as to begin the process of expulsion, neither can I permit you to take classes where you level of experience would be a danger to others and yourself. As I have said, we're playing with fire here."
"But -- say, what's that door behind you?"
Directly behind Hurley's high-backed chair stood a great oak door.
"Do you wish to know what lies beyond?"
"Well, you could just tell me."
"I would rather show you. Please, bring your friends who are waiting outside, and we will go and see that which all students are permitted to see once, when they ask."
Jo kept her hand upon my shoulder as we followed Hurley down the dark, twisting corridor. Sean, Sam, and Aurore followed behind. The walls were wood for a certain length, but then it got cold, and the glowing knob at the end of Hurley's staff lit up bare stone beside us and below us. After a while, the walls became bare earth, and then fabric. At which point, I could see light ahead. I picked up the pace, but before I could overtake Hurley, he put an arm out and stopped me. "Hold!" He said. "The sunlight here will bear your down quickly."
"I've handled summers in New York City without air conditioning," I said. "What could this place do to me?"
"Just let me go first," said Hurley.
Before he stepped into the light he donned his Wizard Glasses and raised his staff. The light at the end of the tunnel dimmed as a lengthy shadow streched out far beyond its opening.
We exited the tunnel under a long, long awning.
"Please keep hands and feet in the shade," said Hurley, "until we reach our destination."
The ground beneath our feet, I had expected to be grass, or dirt, or perhaps pavement. Instead it was thousands upon thousands of gemstones in all hues, flawless gemstones, brilliantly cut, and they were bound together by a vast network of gold. This field extended for hundreds of yards to either side, where rose fenceposts, also covered in gems and gold, and the street beyond was also covered in gems and gold, and the mighty towers that rose around us were covered in what appeared to be topaz and amber, with gold trim. The odd blue or red tower stood here and there, but it was mostly golden.
Save for one spot, down at the far end of the awning, where lay a softer green, wild grass and honeysuckle waving in the wind.
Between the stones.
"Come, children," said Hurley. "I do hope there are no names here you recognize, but sometimes the students surprise me."
As we reached the end, Instructor Hurley stepped into the light. "It's all right now," he said. "We were able to set aside this much space to be free from the harsh sun of Gold Chicago. The light will not turn you into a golden statue here, nor encrust your cloaks with gemstones."
Though the wild grass grew unmowed, the grave markers stood straight in their orderly rows. It wasn't exactly a large field, not as large as the field of gems that stretched around us. But it was big enough -- and there was still space available for new graves.
"Why this spot?" said Sam. "Why not a place within Chicago Proper? Or one of the other colors of Chicago?"
"This was the most secure," said Hurley. "We needed a place that no one could desecrate, after so much grave-robbing. We're not buried with mystical items, but that doesn't stop people from looking. And sometimes grave-robbing is political, I suppose. Putting out the eyes of recently-deceased wizards is supposed to prevent them from reaching the spirit world so they forever walk between the winds, or some such nonsense. Huh! Well, we spent a while trying to think of good places to bury the dead. Red Chicago would have kept intruders out for sure, but then, those same guardians would have dug up the bodies and ate them. Blue Chicago would quickly erode all the headstones under relentless rain. Green Chicago would overgrow the cemetery pretty quick, Bronze Chicago would mistake the gravestones for building material, and burying someone anywhere in Yellow Chicago would be a massive insult."
"Is there a White Chicago?" Said Jo.
"That would be the Gold Coast, and they don't want any cemeteries. And Black Chicago, we figured they wouldn't want to be reminded of death any more than they already are. So we chose Shadow Chicago to bury our elder dead, where you will never go until it is your time. And we bury our heroic dead beneath monuments in the courtyard. Those are secure locations. Here, though, are the dead who died neither old nor heroic. The latest three all in one incedent. Kaboom. THAT finally convinced the Director to place the Great Ban upon all students: only those who had trained properly under a certified Master were permitted to study at this school." He fixed his gaze upon me. "And now here you are, requesting to learn Wizardry despite your lack of foreknowledge. Brave girl. Foolish, too. I might have dismissed you, told you to go home and study something less lucrative and less dangerous. And yet...you know a little Wizardry already." He glanced at Jo. "You seek to know things. You sound curious, and therefore someone who would not be stopped if I were to place the Ban upon you now. And I daresay it would be your undoing. Not merely because of the danger of the work itself -- there's also the police. They don't take kindly to us throwing our abilities all over the place in Chicago. As I have mentioned. Thank goodness you haven't run into them yet."
He turned back to the headstones, missing the rather guilty expressions on everyone's faces. "I would not wish to lose yet another student just because I decided to take a hard line. I would rather keep you within the walls of the Wizard Academy, safe to explore and to play, with adequate supervision."
"I'm not a child, Instructor Hurley."
"How old are you?"
"Not even a Major yet. See this?" He pointed to his long beard. "I've been growing this thing longer than you've been alive. To the young ones you are old, but to me you're a young thing, barely old enough to begin to have a proper sense of the world. As I said, you will stay within the walls of the Academy where we can keep an eye on you."
I glanced at Sameer. He raised his hands as if to say "not me."
"And I will call upon the wool lady, my good friend Masie Sani, to be your Mistress."
"Not that kind of mistress! I mean you're going to learn Wizardry as you help her create her special wool and you're going to help her make Wizard Cloaks. Assuming she's not too busy supplying literally all of our Wizard Cloaks. You will be a very important apprentice! She will appreciate the help in her work, I am certain."
"But -- "
"And I will not require you to attend Ontoscope classes until next year. Now, I must get back to my work, but you children can stay here for a while. I warn you, though, the enchantment on the awning will eventually wear off and the cloth will become overburdened with a crust of gemstones, so don't stay here too long.
With that, he departed.
We sat in a circle amidst the headstones.
"Great," I said, laying down in the grass, "I've been relegated to spinning and weaving. I am confined within the walls of a great mansion and someone will be making sure I don't leave. How very Greek."
"I'm sure we can find ways out of the building easily," said Jo, leaning back and twirling her hair. "There's got to be a door or something. Heck, Sameer can bring us through mirrors, and Aurore -- "
"But Jo!" said Aurore. "You expect us to DISOBEY the RULES?" She put her hands to her mouth in mock horror.
"Disobeying elders is fun when you don't get caught," said Jo.
"True. Well, we'll see if that works. In the meantime...the name Masie Sani sounds familiar."
"She's the foremost Wizard Wool weaver in the lower 48 states," said Sam, sitting up straight. "Her wool comes from the finest Merino sheep of the Navajo -- "
"I thought they had Churro sheep. What's she doing with Merino?"
"No idea. Anyway, Pat, you'll learn a lot about weaving from her. A fine skill to have, yes sir."
"But will she have time to teach Pat the rest of Wizarding?" Said Aurore. "I think not. I think we should teach Pat as well. I think we should be her other master."
"So I am to have four masters," I said, "Is that it?"
"We are ONE master!" said Aurore, Sam, and Sean in unison.
I sat up. "let's move away from the talk of mastery, alright? I'm alrady feeling like an Ancient Greek housewife. I don't need you piling on. Besides, if I pledge myself to anyone it will be this girl here." I chucked Jo lightly on the shoulder.
She grabbed me by the front of the shirt and pulled me to meet her eyes. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but then she planted her lips on mine. They called this "Romance" back home. I'd seen it on TV, even. It felt...pretty okay.
"Woo!" said Sean. "A Greek housewife would never have been able to get away with THAT."
"More pressing news," said Aurore, standing up. "The awning looks like it's sagging already. Let's get back to the Academy, and leave this glittering place for another day."
We scrambled to our feet and dashed beneath the awning to the dark tunnel.