Straton ran through the door at the end of the hall. Right after she had told him not to—why were men always so stupid? But before Carrie could even answer her own question, she heard him scream.
And then the dream ended.
Carrie Daniels sat up in bed, sweat coating her nightshirt. Looking around frantically, she waited for her heart to stop beating as she saw the door in her mind’s eye over and over again.
She got up and slowly went to the mirror above her dresser. A young girl with short white blond hair streaked with light green looked back at her through forest green eyes heavy with grey bags. Carrie’s sleep T-shirt (WROCK HARD WITH REDVINES) hung from thin shoulders.
A knock at her dormitory door jarred her from her self-inspection. Carrie jumped involuntarily, the aftereffects of the dreams she had been having for over a week now. But ever since the new school year had started, she had known that these weren’t ordinary dreams. They were prophetic dreams, and her friend was caught in the middle of them.
She opened the door to a beaming fifth year. Jesse Straton was a blonde haired, light brown eyed Air mage with a wicked grin on his face.
“What’s that look for?” Carrie asked, putting a hand on her hip.
Jesse grinned. “Guess who just got the key to the kennel?”
“Give it here, Straton!” Carrie, a full five inches shorter than Jesse, jumped for the key as he stood on his toes and held it out of reach. “Seriously, you need to give it back!”
“Why, just because Mylonas gave you the okay to have it?”
“What say we go have ourselves some fun?”
“What’s that?” Carrie pointed over his shoulder. She snatched the key as he turned to look. “You’re so predictable.”
“Yeah, at least I’m not standing around in my T-shirt and underpants.”
“At least I don’t come waking you up before a proper shower!” Carrie stuck out her tongue at him. “Go get me a cup of coffee or something while I get dressed.”
Laughing, Jesse walked back down the hall. Carrie shut her door and turned back to her closet.
There were five groups that a student could be sorted into at the beginning of their first year at the Magus Initiation School: Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Spirit. Within each of these groups, a totem, or guardian, animal was assigned to each student—but only after the first week of Astral Projection classes. Carrie had been sorted into Earth and found her guardian animal to be Sparrow, and this prompted her to take a green top and brown jeans out of her closet.
The top was long sleeved, with green thorned stems wrapping twice around the bicep area of the sleeve. The base of the top was scattered with green grass and had a branch sticking out of it. It was on this branch that an image of Sparrow was made to sit, looking up at Carrie’s left shoulder. The neckline of the top began at one shoulder and ended at the other, giving Carrie a clear view to put on her black lace ribbon around her neck.
She put three earrings in her left ear and two in her right before picking up her book bag. Jesse had his fist raised to knock as she opened the door again.
“You’re coffee, madame,” he held out her travel mug (DON’T MESS WITH MOTHER NATURE).
“Wow, you remembered the mug.” Carrie had left her favorite travel mug in Jesse’s room the last time she had visited. Jesse usually forgot little things like that, and she had thought she would have had to go over and retrieve it herself
They began walking toward the cafeteria. Jesse had his hands in his pockets. As an Air mage, Jesse wore white pants and a light blue T-shirt that had a cloud and a Gull across the chest. He had his backpack slung over one shoulder and his blonde hair hung finger-combed to just above his shoulders.
Carrie didn’t speak as they walked, her mind wandering back to the dream from that night. Jesse picked up on his friend’s mood almost immediately.
“Another dream?” he asked.
Carrie said nothing. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell Jesse about her dreams, but he always had a way of finding out, and then he always tried to help—and that never ended the way either of them expected.
“C’mon, Car,” Jesse pleaded. “I know that you have nightmares. It’s written all over your face. Let me help.”
“Oh yes, because that went so well the last time!” Carrie took a sip of coffee.
“How was I supposed to know Professor Mert was going to find us?”
“Let me remind you, Straton, that it was your idea to use Mert’s off-limits crystal ball to try and help—”
“We were really close!”
“—and then I had to cover up for you, just like I’ve had to do a million times before!”
Jesse stopped them behind a statue of a griffin a few doors short of the main cafeteria doors.
“Please, Carrie, let me help.”
“I’m really sick of covering for you, Jesse Straton!” Carrie gripped the strap of her backpack. “Do you know how hard it is? Being the friend of the best Air mage in a decade?”
“Car, don’t pull that on me again…”
“Well let me tell you: it’s hard! You have a future—no one expects you to mess up, to pull the things you do!”
She took a deep breath. “No…I’m sorry, Jess. I do this too much.”
Jesse pulled her into a hug. “No, Car, I’m glad you tell me. “
They entered the cafeteria in silence. A few students from the Earth table—made out of a long half of a tree—looked around at their entrance, but otherwise nobody noticed. The eating space was abuzz with fresh weekend gossip. Typical who-likes-who, oh-my-gosh-she did-not, etc. Jesse gave Carrie a silent salute before joining his friends at the Air table—a polished chrome top table enchanted with moving cloud images—and Carrie went to sit at the far end of the Earth table. The Fire table—a large table with small enchanted fire centerpieces—the Water table—smoothed rocks with seashell place settings—and the Spirit table—a simple table with a plain white table cloth with a whisp-cloud where each chair should be—were quiet except for the usual table talk over a breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast.
A clinking of silverware on a glass goblet could be heard, clear and pure, above the din. All movement and talk stopped as everyone looked up to see the Magus standing, waiting to address the hall.
“Students!” the Magus, Aur Mylonas, proudly announced. “This year we are very pleased to welcome to our school another distinguished institute. The Academy of Nagickal and Academic Arts!”
Everyone turned as another Magus—this one quite tall, almost dwarfing Mylonas—walked down the middle of the hall followed by a double line of students. Girls stood beside boys, neither looked around at the students of the Magus Initiation School. None of those seated at the tables dared to speak.
“Ah, Daryn!” Mylonas smiled, extending his hand to the other adult.
“Aur, it has been a long time.” Carrie gasped as Daryn Olivier looked around the room. He looked familiar, but she could not remember where she had seen him before.
Something wrong? Jesse’s voice entered her head from across the hall.
Unfazed, Carrie rebuked her friend. Why do you insist on using a mind connection? It’s a Forbidden Art!
You looked worried, so I figured we could let it slide. Jesse reasoned. Anything I can do?
“Please feel free to use our grounds as your own for the duration of your stay with us,” Mylonas was saying. “May I announce, students, that the Academy of Magickkal and Academic Arts will be living with us until the end of the year. The reason for this is the reopening of the Tournament of the Bow of Athena! Our very own Professor Musidora has created a replica of Pandora’s Box, where anyone may enter their name one an object related to their Element.”
The hall erupted into murmurs and applause. Mylonas waited for quiet before continuing.
“Pandora’s Box will be open for submissions beginning this afternoon in the Ancient Runes Tower.”
Carrie sat in the Ancient Runes Tower and watched as students from both schools lined up to put their names into the Box. Cloud paper, Leaf paper, Soul paper, waterproof paper, and many other types of parchment were slipped into the crack that Professor Musidora had left open for the occasion. The space filled up with more and more watchers as the line continued to grow out of the door an down the small stair. Some students could be seen coming through the secret passageway below the statue of Minerva (Athena) while still more could be seen coming up the wing of the staircase supported by a large statue of Zeus preparing to throw a lightning bolt.
Jesse poked his head inside the door. He waved at Carrie, mouthing that he was in line and couldn’t join her. She nodded and continued to silently count the students in line as they walked one by one through the door.
She hadn’t put her name in the Box. Carrie had slipped up to the Tower before the end of breakfast. The line had grown before her eyes, but she had stayed leaning against a side wall, her music player from home plugged into her ears. A look from Jesse didn’t faze her in the slightest.
“Hey, Carr!” Jesse waved; he had made it way halfway through the room.
Carrie waved back, arms folded across her hips, one of her legs bracing against the wall. Jesse pulled out a blank piece of parchment and a quill. He carved his name into it and put it into the Box. His friends from the Air table clapped him on the back and cheered. He smiled at them, turning to look at Carrie. She nodded while the rest of her face remained stoic.
The Tournament of the Bow of Athena was an ancient tradition at the School. It had been started by its first Magus back when the school had first been built. The old arena on the far side of the school grounds, now overgrown with weeds and littered with stones, was originally built for the Tournament. But five years ago, Mylanos’s predecessor had shut it down when one of the younger students in the Tournament had been wounded by a two headed pygmy goat that had escaped from the Farm. That Mylonas had opened it up again, and fairly soon, said that he did not fear another “accident.”
Because someone had let that pygmy out of the Farm. Nothing escaped the Farm without having a staff member or cleared student allowing it. The Farm rested in the field just east of the arena. It had a big storehouse and smaller, enchantment protected pens to house the animals scattered around it.
The perimeter of any building within the grounds of the school had three basic layers of protection: the first layer was protected by Hermes, and beckoned lost travelers to the door and unwanted guests away; the second by Artemis, who protected the building from thieves and murderers; and the third was protected by Hestia, to promote a good hearth and a welcome environment within the walls of the structure. It was thanks to these three layers that the school had never seen a serious fight. The only way the pygmy could have hurt a student would have been if someone equal or greater in power than the layer caster had let it out.
Which didn’t leave very many people.
The person who had let that pygmy out was an adult by now. But the likelihood that they had left the school was pretty low. This meant that they were undoubtedly working some position within the school staff, which also meant that five years ago they were probably a well-respected student with a high level of clearance.
“But it could be anyone…” Carrie mumbled.
“Did you say something?” Jesse had walked over from his friends.
“Nothing,” Carrie said distractedly.
Jesse didn’t say anything, watching his friend eye the Box with that narrowed gaze of hers. It meant that she was thinking about—or around—it. When Carrie got a thought into her head, she dissected it down to its core. It was that dedication to a thought that made them such good friends, because Jesse could carry things out once Carrie had everything figured out.
It was also how they had gotten out of so many scrapes.
“Hey, Carr,” Jesse snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Earth to Carrie, come in Carrie.”
“What? Oh,” Carrie shook her head and looked at her friend. “Sorry, Jes, you were saying something?”
“Just wanted to know what’s so darned interesting about that Box that makes you go incommunicado.”
“I was just thinking about the history of the Tournament,” Carrie confessed.
They walked out of the main Tower and down the back stairway. This stairway stood supported by Hera and her maidens-in-waiting.
“So, what about the Tournament?” Jesse asked.
“Just that whoever stopped it the last time must still be working for the school.” Carrie side stepped another student.
“The pygmy goat incident? You really think so?”
“No one would stop a big event like that and then not stay close to the school. They would have to make sure that no one would try and resurrect the Tournament of the Bow of Athena.”
“Okay,” Jesse pulled them into a niche behind a statue of Hermes. “Let’s say for a second that everything that you just said is true. Who would that person be?”
“I don’t know yet,” Carrie said, her palms getting a little sweaty at the tight space that she and James were in. “But you should stay in the Tournament, if you get chosen, so we can have people on the inside as well as the outside.”
“Sounds like a good idea…” Jesse sucked in his breath at the feeling of Carrie pressed against him behind the statue. He had not really thought this through when he had pulled them into the space. They weren’t children anymore.
“I…uh…should be getting to Herbs and Potion Making,” Carrie said after a moment of awkward silence.
“Yeah…I have class,” Jesse agreed.
They squeezed out of the space behind the statue. Hermes’s gemstone eyes appeared to twinkle mischievously in the sunlight that came through the opposite window. Jesse went down the stairs first, leaving Carrie staring up at the statue of the god. He stood poised, ready for flight, the wings on his sandals sparkling with enchanted dust.
“Haha, very funny,” Carrie muttered to the stone effigy.