The room was filled with flashing light and a few seconds later, the rumble of thunder carried across the grounds of Gampton Hall. Sib and Incheon had been called into Mrs. Black’s office and she had been talking to them about Quinta being transitioned into second year.
“Mr. Hooplander, pay attention,” she said. The bizarre February thunderstorm kept pulling Sib’s focus, but he turned back to hear what she was saying. “I’m going to solve two problems at once,” she continued. “You both will walk with Miss Rodriguez to and from every class. If she goes to eat, you go to eat. If she goes to the bathroom, you wait outside. Is that clear?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Sib. “But she don’t need an escort.”
“I didn’t say she did.”
“Wait,” said Incheon. “If she doesn’t need an escort then why are we escorting her?”
“She ain’t the one bein’ escorted,” Sib explained.
“So we have a bodyguard now? Awesome.”
“I’m sure Miss Rodriguez will feel differently,” Mrs. Black said. “But this is for her benefit too. You may go.”
When they reached the Pathfinder lounge at the end of the day, they noticed that a sixth locker had appeared on the second-year side with Quinta’s name on it. They found her in the back corner of the first year side with her head buried in a book. They told her the news. “So now I have to babysit you two?” she grumbled. “Great. I’m just trading one pair of idiots for another. Is this because I gave Mr. Woodhead a little extra body hair?”
“That was you?” Incheon asked. Mr. Woodhead had been covered in so much body hair in the previous day’s COMC class that he looked like a werewolf. It had apparently taken Mr. Hendershot hours to undo the charm.
“It was freezing and he said he wished he had a coat like a puffskein. So what if I gave him one?”
“Is that why they skipped you a grade?” Sib asked.
“Who cares,” she responded. “You saw what I can do. Nobody here can teach me anything that I can’t learn on my own.”
“So why are you here?”
“Because my grandfather says I need to be around people my age. He says that I’m socially backward.”
“No,” said Incheon, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“You suck,” she responded.
“You’re just excited because now you have an entourage.” She waved them away and they wandered back to the second-year side. Hye-lin was sitting on one of their couches.
“Are you upset that it’s just you and the dimwits in first year now?” Sib asked her.
“No. I don’t mind. Lily is my best friend and now that she’s in Pathfinder, I really don’t care that I’m in a different year. Besides, with Quinta in second-year, I’m now one person smarter in my class and you two are one person dumber.” She turned to Incheon. “Although in your case, I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Yaghonja,” responded Incheon.
“Babo,” Hye-lin shot back.
Sib jumped in to cut them off. “Speaking of babos, where is Lily?”
“Do you even know what that word means?” Hye-lin asked.
“No idea, but…” His sentence was interrupted by Lily bursting through the door to the grove and slamming it like something was chasing her. Sib grabbed at his amulet and got ready to cast a spell at whatever was bearing down on them.
“Is it gone?” Lily said, curled up in a ball on the other side of the door.
“Is what gone?” Sib asked, quickly moving to her side.
“It flew right at me,” she said from the floor, practically in tears. “I couldn’t get away. It was horrible.” Sib looked through the window, but all he saw was Lef walking calmly back toward the lounge. He opened the door and looked outside. As soon as the door opened, Lily bolted for the center of the lounge. It was unseasonably warm and the ground was saturated with melted snow and ice.
Sib called out to Lef as she approached. “Something was chasing Lily,” he said. “Did you see it?”
Lef just shook her head as she reached the door and leaned around Sib looking toward where Lily was cowering. “It was a moth!”
“I know,” Lily responded in a muffled voice. She was hidden behind one of the sofas. “Do moths sense fear?”
“Yes,” responded Incheon, still standing where he had been. “Moths definitely sense fear.”
“You shut up,” Hye-lin said to him, moving to Lily’s side. “She’s not harassing you about your ridiculous fear of cucumbers.”
“But they’re all bumpy,” said Incheon shivering and sticking out his tongue.
Sib turned away from them and addressed Lef. “What were you doin’ out there anyway?”
“We were checking out the pool in the grove. You said it would probably fill back up when the snow melted.”
“Still mud,” she replied. “What do you think it means?”
“Dunno,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “It can’t stay empty forever, can it?” He held the door open for Lef and followed her back inside. Can it?
“Mr. Zolock,” Sib asked near the end of their History of Magic Class the following day. “What do you know about the Wendigo?”
“Nothing,” he responded. Sib sighed in disappointment. “But I do know the story,” the ghost continued. He glanced at the clock on the wall. “We have some time” and turning to Miss Knox, he got her attention. “Anna, would you indulge me?” She nodded and the room was suddenly plunged into darkness. The pale glowing form of Mr. Zolock was the only light. With a reverberating voice that echoed throughout the room, the ghost began.
“Forty years after the founding of the school, and a generation before the United States came to exist, a great mage came to Gampton Hall demonstrating incredible powers - powers unmatched by anyone before or since. This mage went by no name, but all called her 'The Dark One' because she wore a black hooded cloak at all times and never revealed her face.”
Out of the darkness, the image of a mage in a long black robe stepped forward, she carried a blood-colored staff carved with human skulls.
“She came to Gampton Hall seeking to teach black magic: the darkest, most foul magic that could be imagined. Some, like Damien Bones, were drawn to that power like a moth to flame.”
Another figure appeared on the other side of Mr. Zolock. Sib recognized him from the previous year. Damien Bones had been the Murgatroyd house ghost.
“He advocated for its inclusion in the school, but he was overruled by the Chancellor and other teachers at the school who demanded that the dark arts have no place at Gampton Hall. Outraged by their rejection, the Dark One challenged the Chancellor to a duel, no doubt to demonstrate the great power she wielded and, as many believe, to usurp the Chancellor entirely.”
The mage in the black robes flourished her staff and pointed it at Mr. Zolock.
“Knowing the likely outcome should he duel the Dark One on her terms, the Chancellor asked for time to prepare. The Dark One retreated to the surrounding woods preparing the curses and black magic that she would use to defeat him. But, instead of preparing, the Chancellor and several of the other teachers used the time to cast a powerful protective spell around Gampton Hall and the grounds forbidding her entrance.”
Both Damien Bones and the robed figure faded away and Gampton Hall appeared in the center of the room, a half-dome of glowing yellow protective magic draped over it.
“The Dark One, returning at the appointed time but unable to penetrate this protective spell, lurked on the outskirts of the school grounds, cursing the mages who remained out of her reach for their trickery.”
Lines of sparks, flames, and explosions burst on the surface of the protective barrier, but it held through the illusory assault.
“She remained for months outside of the grounds, constantly looking for a weakness in the protection, but the teachers of Gampton Hall were ever vigilant and the protective spells never waivered or failed. Outwitted, and yearning to continue her black magic studies elsewhere, The Dark One gave up on her vigil, but before she left, she cleared a patch of ground just outside of the boundary of Gampton Hall and began to perform a summoning ceremony, calling creatures of evil and cruelty to her.”
The school faded away and the robed mage appeared again, swinging her staff of death in a wide circle on the floor, burning the green grass to black.
“Manticores, harpies, wyverns, giant bats, imps and devils all began to appear in a circle, all willing to do her bidding. Using the blackest of magic and the darkest and deepest evil incantations, she pulled these creatures together, molding and forming them into a beast of no form and all forms; a beast that combined the lethal attacks of every dark creature: razor sharp talons, fang-like teeth, venomous stingers, and breath of fire.”
Images of these creatures faded in and out of sight, until an amorphous mass of stingers, pincers and claws formed, blurred and formed again.
“This creature was then released into the woods surrounding the school. The Dark One then called to those at Gampton Hall and her voice was magnified and carried over all the grounds. ‘Mages of Gampton Hall,’ she wailed. ‘You claim to be true at heart, but your trickery is worthy even of my praise. I shall leave and never return as you wish. However, I shall leave you with a gift. Gampton Hall shall be plagued by a beast and any that wander outside of the grounds of the school will be subject to its whim. This beast will never die: you cannot catch it; you cannot drive it away; and you cannot defeat it. Beware the Wendigo.’
The mage and the shapeless form of the Wendigo faded away until all that was visible was the faint outline of the ghost.
“The Dark One disappeared after that and she was never seen again, but the burnt-black circle of ground remains...as does the Wendigo.” As he finished Miss Knox brought the lights up, and Sib and the rest of the students applauded raucously.
“So there really is a Wendigo?” Willow asked when they had settled down.
“Of course not,” he replied. “It’s just a story. There’s absolutely no evidence of any of it in the written record.”
How about the creature that broke into Miss Chantrix’s store? What was that if not the Wendigo? “Except the Wendigo Circle,” Sib responded. “We seen that.”
“Which you wouldn’t know about if you stayed out of the North woods,” Miss Knox scolded.
“It’s alright Anna,” soothed the ghost. “Yes, the Wendigo circle is there, but I believe it’s a case of misattribution. Most likely the Wendigo was a story made up to explain the circle rather than the other way around. I’m sure they have nothing to do with one another.”
“But last year, the Chancellor told us to stay out of the North woods because the Wendigo was seen there,” a Suncorn student remarked.
“Yes,” the ghost responded. “I wasn’t really happy about him saying that. It was merely a way to scare you from going where you shouldn’t. Several of you know exactly how well that worked.” He glanced at Willow when he said it. He knew that the Pathfinders had disregarded that warning several times the previous year.
After class, Sib and Incheon were walking behind Quinta on their way to nomaj studies. “A creature of all forms and no form,” Sib said. “Ain’t that exactly what we saw?”
“Isn’t,” said Quinta.
“What?” Sib asked.
“All I saw was a fox and a fiery lizard…,” Incheon answered.
“Whatever. And a snake. After that, I was done.”
“Well I seen a wyvern after that.”
“Saw,” said Quinta.
“What?” asked Incheon.
“He said that the wyvern was one of the creatures that evil mage called,” Sib continued.
“He also said it was all made up,” Incheon responded. “How can you be sure it wasn’t just an illusion?”
“Illusions don’t carry wands.”
“Unless the wands were also an illusion.”
Sib thought about that for a moment. “Well then, I guess I aint’ sure.”
“You aren’t sure,” said Quinta.
“No, I mean you’re speaking incorrectly.”
“So?” Sib said defensively. “It don’t mean I’m stupid just because I can’t talk right.”
“Doesn’t; correctly. And if you don’t want people to treat you like a dumbass, stop talking like one.”
“And look at that Quinta,” Incheon remarked, shaking his head. “Two days in and you’re making friends already.” Incheon stopped and grabbed Sib’s arm. “You go ahead,” he said to her. “We’re taking the stairs.” She looked at them for a moment and then walked on alone.
“What about escorting her?” said Sib when she was out of earshot.
“I’d rather be a puddle of goo right now,” he responded. They started walking up the central stairway to the third floor.
“Thanks,” Sib said. Does Willow think I sound like a dumbass? Maybe I should start payin' attention to how I'm talkin' when I'm around her.
The sleet made a tinkling noise as it bounced off of the greenhouse roof as if someone was simultaneously playing a xylophone and a snare drum haphazardly. Normally, Mr. Diatomungi wouldn’t hesitate to take them out into the woods in terrible weather, but today they remained inside, essentially free to do as they liked. The five of them were huddled up around one of the tables of aglauphotis and olieribos. Quinta was in a corner ignoring everyone as usual.
“A perfect day for hunting ice bells,” their teacher muttered as he walked by. “Stuck in here just because Woodhead lost his manticore…” He wandered away, angrily plucking at the plants that lined the rows. Several of them lashed out at him in retaliation.
“So that’s why we’re inside,” said Lef.
“Why’s everyone so bent out of shape that Corey’s been set free?” Willow asked.
“Oh I don’t know,” replied Incheon. “Maybe they aren’t looking forward to being on the lunch menu.”
“You’re being dramatic.”
“Are any of you coming to the game against American?” Lef asked, changing the subject. Sib had to think for a moment to remember the mascot for the American School of Magic which was a smaller school like Gampton Hall, but located on an island off the coast of California.
“Are they the hydras?” he asked.
“No, that’s Petite Ile Marecageuse” Lily responded, referring to the French Canadian school. “American are the krakens.”
“I’ll be here,” said Willow. “If I’m going to be keeper next year, I need to start scouting.”
“Well, I’m protesting,” said Lily. “If they don’t want me on the team then I’m not going to support them.”
“What about you, Sib,” Willow asked. “Are you coming?”
Sib hadn’t thought about it. “Sure, I guess. I ain’t got nothing better to do.” Maybe I can get a minute alone and give her that manticore.
“Have you had any more visions?" she asked. "I haven’t heard you mention anything.”
“I haven’t seen anything since before New Years,” he responded. Since September, he hadn’t gone more than a week without seeing a vision - even if it was the same one. But the last vision he had was the one of Lily going into the pool before Christmas break two months before. Probably because I quit tryin’. But he knew there was something else going on.
“He should have used an Immelmann turn,” complained Lily. “Immelmann turn!” she screamed as the Gampton Hall seeker shot past in search of the snitch. “He’s losing too much momentum.”
“I thought you were protesting,” said Willow. She, Sib, and Lily were sitting in the stands basking in unseasonal seventy-degree heat as the Gampton Hall team was busy getting trounced by the team from American.
“I am,” Lily replied, sitting down again. “I’m just being vocal about it.”
“Was the weather this nice in Gampton?” asked Sib. “It was freezin’ around my place this mornin’.”
“What? Oh, no. It was like in the forties before the game. It warmed up right before you got here.”
“The weather has been really weird this spring,” Willow remarked, “but only here at school.”
That’s an understatement. The weather at Gampton Hall had been completely bizarre since the new year. Hot weather in January, thunderstorms and hail in February and now another balmy day to start off March.
Lily jumped up again to scream at the Gampton seeker as he flew by. “Why didn’t you use the Herbst maneuver!” She sat back down again. “Any idiot would have used the Herbst maneuver there.” Sib and Willow looked at each other and smiled. Neither of them had ever heard of the aerial tricks Lily was rattling off.
They were startled by a loud flash and ‘boom’ of nearby lightning. They spun around and saw bruised blue and purple clouds bearing down on the stadium. The wind picked up suddenly and the flags on the field which had been slack started cracking in the gusts.
“I think I seen enough of this game,” Sib said. “How ‘bout we head inside?”
“Good idea,” said Willow, grabbing her coat. “Are you coming, Lily?”
“In a minute,” she said, her eyes not leaving the game. “Pugachev’s Cobra!” she screamed.
“We’ll meet you in the lounge,” Willow said.
“Uh-huh,” Lily said without looking at them. Sib and Willow hustled across the grounds and made it into the main entrance hall just as the first hailstones started bouncing off of the ground and plinking the windows.
“Think Lily will be okay?” Sib asked.
“Oh, she’ll be fine,” Willow responded. “She has a spell for everything.” They stood in the entrance hall for a few moments watching as the hail piled up on the ground. As more people fled the stands and came in the front doors of the school, they could tell the temperature was dropping rapidly. Soon the hail became snow which pelted down with ferocity that contrasted with its beauty. “Somebody ticked off the weather gods,” she remarked. “Your shoe’s untied by the way.”
“Oh, thanks.” Sib knelt down to tie his shoe and his amulet swung out of his shirt and got in the way. He took it off and set it on the ground in front of him as he tied his laces. He reached out to grab his amulet again and noticed the shapes that made it. What if I was the one who ticked off the weather gods? Is that what the Orenda can do? What was it the Hunter said? “Dishonor the orenda…” Sib muttered.
“What?” asked Willow.
“I need to go to the grove,” Sib told her.
“It’s snowing,” Willow remarked.
“I know. I think it might be my fault.”
“You mean you had a vision?”
“No, I mean I think I know why I haven’t had any visions. I think I know why the pool ain’t full. I think I’m the one who ticked off the weather spirits.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll tell you on the way.” They hustled over to the lifts and shot up to the third floor. Sib relayed his temper tantrum to Willow as they headed down the third floor hallway that led to the Pathfinder lounge. “...so I kinda cursed the Orenda and kicked all the water out of the pool,” he concluded. “Now I gotta make things right.” If I can.
“What’s an Orenda?” she asked.
“The source of our power,” Sib replied, entering the lounge. “The stones stand for each one of the five spirits.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“I’ll explain when we get there.” He zipped up his coat and headed out into the storm. A flash of lightning backlit the pelting snow and he hustled through the path that led to the circle of stones. As he entered the circle, he saw that the pool in the center was still empty; a snow-covered dip in the ground.
“I’m sorry!” he called out into the snowy afternoon sky. The flakes continued to pelt down; the wind continued to chill him to the bone. That ain’t good enough.
He walked over to the spirit stone, marked with the large circle and placed his hand on the cold obelisk, his other hand on his own amulet. He felt the heat bleeding away from his palm into the stone. “She wouldn’t have wanted me to turn away from her gift. I will see what you want me to see. I will learn what you choose to teach.” And I mean it.
“Sib, look!” He turned and Willow was pointing to the pool which was now full of crystal-clear water. The pelting snow and wind hadn’t let up, but Sib knew the Orenda had accepted his apology. “How did you fix it?” she asked.
“By apologizin’,” Sib replied. “There are five orenda.” He pointed to the stones around the circle. “The sky, the water, the wind, the earth, and the spirit.” As he pointed to this last one, he was startled to see the Hunter standing next to the spirit stone where he hadn’t been just a moment before. The heavy snowflakes fell right through his body.
“When the spirit is broken, the circle is incomplete,” the Hunter said to him. “The others are not contained. You have honored the Orenda today.”
“Does that mean the crazy weather will stop?” he asked the ghost. The Hunter nodded at him in return. Sib turned to Willow. “Come on, let’s go tell Lily she can change her wand after all.”
They returned to the lounge and Sib was explaining to Willow the link between the stones and the shapes on their amulets. As he talked to her, he thought this was finally the right time to give her the carving of the manticore and tell her how he felt, but he kept hesitating. I need to quit stallin'. I'm finally alone with her. I should give her that manticore now. He reached in his bag and grabbed it, but they were interrupted as Lily came through the portal.
“He couldn’t even pull a kulbit,” Lily complained. “I could have caught the snitch in my sleep.”
“So I take it we didn’t win?” asked Willow.
She shook her head. “It was the Ice Bowl-over, over.”
Sib let go of the carving and closed his bag. I lost my chance. Next time, I ain't gonna hesitate.
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