The roar of the raging fire echoed loudly behind the group as they stood in the clearing. Sadie glanced down the row at the non magical members of the group and saw that they were all staring, mouths agape and wide-eyed at the woman who now stood before them. Mayella’s appearance was yet another thing that blurred the lines of both the non-magical and magical realms. A loud boom broke the silence as another fireball fell from the sky and into the woods behind them. Big John let out a terrifying shriek, spurring the group into action.
“Everyone inside. Let’s go!” shouted Mayella, waving forcefully. She turned on her heels and began sprinting toward the school. Her dramatic deep emerald cape flowed behind her as she led the way, moving with the speed of a much younger woman.
Sadie and Ezekiel fell in line behind the rushing group, finding their stride in a brisk jog. A chill ran up Sadie’s spine as the story of Lot’s wife came to her memory — she wouldn’t dare take a peek in the direction they had just come from. The shadow of the large columned brick building stood out in the distance and beckoned to them like a lighthouse in the darkness.
“I thought you said this was a new school!” John yelled accusingly over his shoulder at Sadie and Ezekiel.
“Will you hush boy!” Ms. Catherine fussed. She shuffled at his side, holding on for dear life.
Upon reaching the gate of the school a cooling sensation poured over them from head to toe, bringing with it a sense of relief. The front of the building now stood tall and grand, no longer in the shabby, cobwebbed, dusty, and broken-windowed state they had seen just moments before. The group paused to catch their breath in the cobblestoned gardens, the lush greenery wrapping them in a blanket of comfort. The smoke from the wood had begun to clear from their lungs and the sound of the fire had softened to a low hum.
“I—I don’t believe it,” said John, looking around the grounds of the school. He did two complete turns, and began scratching his beard in astonishment.
“After everything that’s happened tonight, this is what you ‘don’t believe’?” said the hunched over Leola. Taking a deep breath, she stood up straight and stared incredulously at him.
The three older women side-eyed one another as the children giggled in amazement. They spoke in semi-hushed tones of wonder as enchantment sidetracked the current events.
Another large crack caused the group to leap in alarm and look back in the direction that they had retreated from. As they looked on, two tree branches splintered and tumbled loudly to the ground.
“Let me show you inside,” said Mayella pointing towards the door and quickly climbing the small set of stairs at the front of the building.
The opulent wooden doors of Greenwood Academy swung open as they approached. Mayella gracefully gestured with her right hand. The school entrance was welcoming, with high ceilings and an iron chandelier that gave off a soft warm glow. The group walked slowly behind Mayella, leaving muddy footprints on the intricate terracotta tiles of the hall. Sadie was struck by the enormous paintings on the wall, a woman in a beautiful lace gown with a crown of small white flowers perched on her pinned up coils and a man in military regalia with a large moustache and round gold-rimmed glasses. Two gold placards identified them as Phyllis Brown Ratcliff and First Sergeant Gideon Ratcliff.
“So, we just not gon’ talk about the fact that she was a weasel?!!” yelled John, breaking the silence.
“A Jarvey,” corrected Mayella with an eye roll.
“Whatever!” he quipped.
The children’s laughs echoed throughout the halls as they looked from John to Mayella, amused by the outburst.
“You brought non-conj here?” she asked, looking over the group and making direct eye contact with the now-uncertain Sadie. “What exactly is going on out there?”
“Uh…about that—” Ezekiel began, moving forward quickly. “See, uh, it was my idea.”
“Oh?” Mayella questioned with raised eyebrows. She had quickly turned her attention to him, scrutinizing his appearance and taken on a stern tone.
A middle aged conjurer came stumbling into the hall at a brisk jog, breaking the tension. The goofy slapping of his dress shoes echoed loudly as he approached the group. He was bedraggled, only one suspender in place and glasses sitting sideways on the bridge of his nose. Ezekiel shut his mouth and moved to the right as the man fell at his side.
“Oh. Mayella, I’m so sorry. I had just taken my sleeping draught and didn’t hear your alarm. I was slapped awake by the ancestors only moments ago,” he said a little too loudly.
“It’s fine Bernard.” Mayella said with a raised hand. “We aren’t in danger…”
“I wouldn’t say all that,” Ezekiel interrupted, shuffling from one foot to the next.
Mayella nodded in understanding and squinted her eyes. “Bernard. Will you take our guests to the lunchroom? The children look hungry.”
Nodding, Bernard turned quickly. “Right this way, right this way everyone,” he called out, clapping his hands and taking long strides down the hall.
“You three, come with me,” Mayella said, pointing to Ezekiel, Sadie, and Mrs. Johanna.
John hesitated, looking back at them. He opened his mouth to say something but relinquished the thought as Leola and Ms. Catherine pulled him along the corridors with the children, who were happily following the wild-looking Bernard.
Ezekiel casually gestured for Sadie to take one of the two blue velvet high backed chairs in Mayella’s office as Mrs. Johanna took the other. The enchanted office ceiling showed a slow moving starry night’s sky that made the room feel much larger than it was. Across the desk the trio was met by a pair of bright green eyes, which popped up from under the desk as a large black cat hopped into Mayella’s seat and stared intensely in their direction.
“Off, Ludwig!” snapped Mayella as she casually flung her cape onto the coat rack beside the door.
Ludwig hopped off the chair with a great hiss of frustration and the group watched as he slowly made his way to the open door on the opposite side of the room. Through the door, a mirrored vanity showed a cozy and tidy bedroom inside before the door slammed with vigor.
“He’s so touchy,” she said, airily.
Unaware of what to say next, Sadie began to open her mouth.
“It’s good to see you Jo,” Mayella continued.
Mrs. Johanna nodded politely and gave a sideways glance toward Ezekiel and Sadie.
“What is going on out there?” asked Mayella, turning her gaze back to Sadie and Ezekiel. Her face had suddenly gone serious.
“Well…” Ezekiel started. “A war.”
Mayella slowly leaned back in her chair, taking in all the information as the trio finished telling her about all that had taken place. Ezekiel started his portion of the story at his departure from Sadie and what had taken place at the jail. He had made it through a fury of gunfire, hidden in shadows, and taken to protecting the three unassisted young children as they made their way back to The Cypress.
Mayella sat, listening intently as the story unfolded, only interrupting to say things like, “Divinely protected,” under her breath.
Mrs. Johanna picked up the story, telling of the fire that seemed to spark from nowhere, her panic as she rushed to get her patrons to safety and being pinned so quickly between the wall and ice box.
“This girl…she saved my life,” Johanna beamed in Sadie’s direction, “more than once tonight.”
Sadie suddenly felt humbled by all of the eyes on her. She stared at her clasped hands in her lap.
“Hmm…” said Mayella, “I see that Aloysius still has an impeccable ability to choose just the type of people we need for faculty members.” A soft smile graced her face. “This story leads me to believe that these are the reasons he hasn’t returned to the school tonight.” She stood up from her chair and walked over to the window, glancing out.
“Ma’am,” Sadie started softly, “I’m sorry that we brought Pégik to the school. We didn’t know where else to go. If there were—”
Mayella raised her hand, “Pégik are the last thing that I’m worried about tonight.”
Another loud boom shook the school and a glow shone through the window, causing Mayella’s form to look like a shadow next to it. She turned to face them with eyes bright white and tipped her head back, mumbling something that Sadie couldn’t quite catch. A hard rain poured over the school and large drops splattered against the window pane. It lasted for only a few moments before stopping as if it had never happened.
Mayella leaned forward slightly and blinked a few times before her normal eye color returned. “That should keep the fire at bay for a bit. The school has a small protection charm around it but we may need to increase the radius,” she said quickly.
Sadie seemed to be the only one in shock. “We…need to—”
“Increase the protection radius,” Mayella finished.
“I’m sorry. I’m listening,“ Sadie said sheepishly. “I’ve just never seen anyone…”
“Ah…yes, well, I studied Atmokinesis at Uagadou,” Mayella said with a knowing smirk. She paused for a moment before walking back to her desk and plopping softly back into her chair. “Most of the teachers haven’t returned from summer vacation, I’m going to need all of the help that I can get. Will you three help cover the perimeter?”
Mrs. Johanna cleared her throat slightly before Sadie and Ezekiel had time to agree. “May, you know that my powers are limited,” she said softly. “I never finished…”
Sadie let out a low gasp. The idea that Johanna was not Pégik made so much sense that she was embarrassed for not seeing it before. She had lifted her magical, yet heavy trunks with little to no resistance, and had taken Apparition, the jobberknolls, and arriving at Greenwood in stride. After regaining her composure, Sadie quickly glanced at the others in the room. Her revelation had gone unnoticed. Magic in subtleties. A skill required by most conjurers and in many cases meant the difference between life or death.
“You and I both know that we are much stronger as a unit than we are separately,” Mayella interrupted. “A lot has changed since you went to school here, Jo. Right now the only other person available to help is Bernard. Gladys doesn’t possess the gift. She can help our guests while the rest of us charm the school.”
Johanna let out a small sigh and nodded her head in agreement.
“Great. Well, let’s get you all cleaned up and we’ll meet in the hall shortly.” Mayella said, hopping to her feet.
The small room that Mayella had shown Sadie to contained everything she needed to freshen up. Trousers that automatically sized to fit her as she slipped into them, a crisp white blouse and flats. She dressed quickly and upon catching a glimpse of herself, moved over to the framed mirror above the sink. A small basket with washcloths appeared and Sadie noticed splatters of mud on her face from the forest floor. The sink water promptly jumped from cold to hot and she took a few moments to wipe the grime from her face and pin her fallen bun back into place.
In what felt like no time, Sadie was walking the long echoing halls to the grand entrance of the school. There were very few portraits on the walls and even fewer of them were magical. Of those that moved, Sadie counted two Aunties and only one portrait of children at play. As she approached they abandoned their game and ran to the foreground to watch as she passed. Their laughter reminded her of the very dream she was having before she woke to the fire. This night had been one of the most frightening things that had happened to her and now who was to know if it was ending anytime soon?
Mayella stood at the door, speaking in a low voice with Bernard and an older woman with small silver streaks throughout her coils. The woman turned and grinned in Sadie’s direction. She looked familiar, but Sadie couldn’t place her. Ms. Johanna and Ezkiel arrived silently at her side, the three of them joining Mayella and the others at the doors.
“I was explaining a bit of what is going on to Bernard and Gladys here,” Mayella said with a slight nod. “In order to make sure the grounds are covered, we’ll split up and take a direction. I’ll cover the north side of the campus. Ezekiel, you take the southern portion. Bernard, you handle the east, and Sadie and Johanna can take the west. We’ll move in a clockwise direction. Gladys here will keep an eye on our guests. They have already been led to empty student dormitories and should be resting from your journey here.”
Mayella looked over them, pausing for any sign of confusion, and after a few nods of agreement, took the lead and began walking towards the opening school doors. Sadie followed along, full of fear and determination. She grasped at her handbag and mentally went over the list of things inside. Salve. Bandages. Cure-All Potion. Mother Dear’s Herbal Notebooks. Salve. Bandages. Cure-All Potion. Mother Dear’s Herbal Notebooks. The kindly old woman had given her granddaughter volumes of notes and treatments for every ailment that she had come in contact with for over sixty years. Sadie smiled, remembering her words. “I don’t need these,” she’d said, shrinking and shoving books into Sadie’s suitcase. “All of these things are locked up tight in my memories.”
Before reaching the doors, she realized something else. She was alone. She turned back to find Johanna standing frozen in the hall, a faraway look on her face.
“Mrs. Johanna? Are you coming?” she asked.
Johanna jumped at the sound of her name and quickly regained composure. “Umm…yes,” she said, walking swiftly to Sadie’s side.
“Be careful.” called Gladys with a small wave. The friendly-faced woman turned down the hall and out of sight.