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      Lucy Chamo shoved her spell books into her bag as the bell rang for the end of class. She lugged it up four staircases to the Spell Defense room to wait for her friend, Sheila Buerode, to finish combing her chocolate-brown hair and come outside. When she finally emerged from the stuffy classroom, they proceeded to march to the main hall. As they climbed the final staircase, they were met by an unusual sight.

Skylar and her posse weren’t dangling kids upside down by their ankles or beating up another new girl. Skylar’s furious blue eyes searched the grand room. They passed over the girls, and they breathed a sigh of relief. They didn’t want to be a victim of the most vicious girl in the Girls Academy of Magic (GAM). Then, her eyes doubled back to them. They blazed, and Lucy knew that Skylar had found her target. She groaned as she stomped angrily towards them. Her posse trailed behind her, shoving the other girls out of the way to clear a path. Steam was pouring from Skylar’s red ears as she grabbed their arms and hurled them into a nearby classroom. She shooed away Nuisay, the trouble-making school ghost, like he was an annoying fly she had to shake off. She whipped out her phone and turned it on.

“What’s this?!” she yelled, forcing as much anger into her voice as she could.

She seemed to become even angrier when she saw their puzzled and horrified expressions. They were looking at a picture of a girl and a boy from the Boys Academy of Magic (BAM). The girl looked familiar. Then, they realized it was Skylar. They shrugged, internally fighting the giggles struggling to escape. The effort must have shown on their faces. “You think it’s so funny, huh?” she spat.

The looks on the girls’ faces changed from smiles to frowns and widened eyes as Skylar scrolled down. Scrawled neatly at the bottom were their names.

“I don’t know how this got here; we didn’t write this!” Lucy piped up indignantly. “Someone’s framing us!”

“Pfft,” Skylar scoffed and flipped her golden brown hair. “Like I’m supposed to believe that.”

“Honest, she’s telling the truth!” Sheila defended her.

“Prove it or else,” Skylar growled and cracked her knuckles threateningly.

“I could trace it and find out, but it will take a couple of hours,” Sheila warned.

Skylar hesitated. Her hatred of the girls was clearly battling with her need to delete the photo. Eventually, her need won over her hatred, because she grunted okay.

“But it had better come in before 8:00, because after I read Master Hetra’s email, I won’t be there to see it,” she growled.

Lucy sighed thankfully. She admired her best friend’s abilities. Sheila, however, stood straighter. “Master Hetra’s sending an email?” she asked interestedly.

“Yeah, don’t you ever read the school newspapers? Anyway, I assume I will get one, considering how strong I am,” Skylar boasted.

The girls rolled their eyes when her back was turned. When she turned back, she snapped at them. “Are you still here? I thought I told you to go away!”

“Actually, you didn’t—” Lucy started.

She shoved them outside. Sheila groaned. “I guess I had better go and finish it, look, it’s six.”

Lucy felt sympathetic for her best friend. She wished she could help, but she didn’t know all of the computer technology things that her friend did. As they climbed the staircase to the room branch, Lucy let her mind wander to what was waiting on her bed: a strange picture she had found on her first day. It showed four kids posing for a picture in a beautiful place: Rolling green meadows with twinkling lights dotting the ocean of smoothly cut grass. The sky was a bright blue, with the sun high up above the occasional clouds that drifted across the surface. The blond girl with blue eyes on the left looked more familiar than the rest. Next to her was a brown-haired boy. There was a girl next to him, with reddish-brown hair, and she had her arm around another boy with the same hair color, presumably her brother because of the resemblance. Lucy felt that she should know these people, but the memory was just out of reach.

Her schedule allowed her to brood on the mysterious picture in her spare time, but something told her that it would be a long time before she would find out who the kids in the photo were. It was like running for hours and still not reaching the door that’s about half a mile in front of you.

Lucy was so lost in her thoughts that she nearly followed Sheila into the B wing. Lucy uttered a quick ’bye and turned right into the C wing. Her thoughts went back to the picture. She remembered her shock when she came back to her room at the end of her first day to find the occupants disappearing into a tent under the starry, indigo sky. Lucy could have sworn that it was early morning when she had found it; now she had grown accustomed to the time changes in the photograph.

Lucy’s schedule made her neat and organized, but also bored. It was the same routine every day: Get up, brush her teeth, comb her hair, go to the great hall for breakfast, come back up to her room to grab her books, and go to her first lesson of the day. After lessons, go to her room, finish her homework, chart off some points in her Unknown Realms Project (URP), spare time, and go down to dinner, come back to her room, brush her teeth, spare time, and go to bed. Spare time meant that she could do whatever she wanted at this time. Sometimes, something would throw her off track, like homework taking too long, and it would squash her spare time out of the schedule. She always hated that, because it left her with little or no time to brood on the picture.

Lucy counted the doors. Carson, Chamo, Charcey, Chintsy—Lucy doubled back when she found the door Chamo. She pushed open the door and flopped onto her bed. She pulled out her unfinished stealth and tracking essay and set to work. As she finished the conclusion, she hoisted her laptop from the floor. She opened up her URP project and extended the ground to hold the time changes. She placed a couple of ancient-looking buildings in the extra space, and overlapped them with other past or future places. She started the model and set it for Pompeii, the day Mount Vesuvius erupted. She stopped the model to add the volcano. When she started it up again, the testing model passed through the vine curtain. Lucy saw the scenery beyond fade peacefully into the ancient city of Pompeii, with the volcano smoldering in the distance. The model walked in, and the volcano immediately erupted. She would have to fix that. She saved her work and emailed Sheila:

Dear Sheila,

Almost finished with URP; need help on Pompeii. Can u come Sat. if I don’t email again? Need to fix constantly erupting volcano (Mt. Vesuvius). Can’t stop without deleting itself. Help!

Your friend and partner,


When she was satisfied with her plea, she hit the send button. All of a sudden, she heard a chirp, which meant that she had received an email. Could Sheila read and reply an email that quickly? Lucy signed in to her email account to read what she had written. She glanced at the time; it was 8:00. The lucky kids would be receiving their emails right about now. As she clicked on the new email, her eyes widened and she gasped. The email wasn’t from Sheila.




      Sheila, meanwhile, was working on tracing the picture. When she saw the title, she couldn’t help bursting into laughter. The photo was titled “Smoochy Moochy and Kissy Missy.” She randomly right-clicked with the mouse and hit View Page Source. Sheila did a series of complicated processes to track this person, and finally, at 7:12 PM, she hit send. The page was attached to an email to Skylar telling who posted the picture and explaining that Sheila deleted it. She kicked back and relaxed, before remembering that she had homework. She sighed as she whipped out a piece of paper and a pen. Her Spell Usage essay wouldn’t write itself.

      Once she was done, Sheila picked up her homework planner to check what else she had to do. She marked her deadline for her next GAM&BAM INTERNET NEWS article; she didn’t know what it would be yet, but she also marked in her planner that she would search for one on Friday, three days before the deadline on Monday. All of a sudden, Sheila’s email ringtone (the song “Top of the World”) started up; it came from her laptop. As she shut it off, it started up again. As she opened her email page, it sounded again. It must be broken, Sheila thought. She realized that she was wrong when she saw that she had received three emails. The first one was from Skylar, promising that she would mash the kid from BAM into a pulp for posting that picture; the second was from Lucy, asking for help on her project; and the third was from someone she didn’t know. It was titled, “Quest.”

      Sheila became excited as she took in that one word. Only a few people were chosen for a quest, and it was so dangerous that even fewer kids came back. She opened it up and quickly scanned it, drinking in every word:

Dear Ms. Buerode,

You are invited to come to the headmaster’s study tonight at 9:00 PM to see if you are chosen for a quest. Others have been chosen for this as well, both boys and girls. Therefore, you will walk silently down to the garden between the Academy buildings (turn left at the broken sunrise prophecy window on the second floor; there is a staircase). The curfew has been lifted for you and the other chosen students, who will accompany you as you head to the highest tower stairs. As soon as everyone has arrived in the garden, you will set off. At the stairs, a series of riddles will follow to test that you are indeed worthy of this extremely dangerous quest. If you succeed, Master Hetra will discuss important information with you at the end of the course. If you don’t, Riddlers will come to find you at half past nine. Have a good night!

Good luck from:

Secretary Maisely

      Sheila sat there, staring at the letter with her mouth wide open. She gasped when she glanced at the clock; it was almost 8:30. She quietly slipped into her school clothes and snuck out of her room. She braced herself, expecting to hear curfew alarms blaring, but nothing happened. She quietly tiptoed down the windowless corridors, venturing deeper and deeper into a part of the castle she did not know about. Others must have known about it, though, because the stones underfoot were smooth, worn down by the pairs of feet that had trodden upon them earlier. Eventually, Sheila came to a staircase of black marble. As she ascended it, she wished she had brought her jacket. When she climbed to the top, however, all of her thoughts about the cold flew straight out of her mind. She was standing in the most beautiful garden ever seen by humankind.

Rosebushes bearing red, pink, yellow, white, and even purple roses surrounded the circular clearing. Daffodils and buttercups lined the inside, clumping around bluebells and orange carnations. Wild white and yellow daisies grew from cracks in the stone underfoot. Tulips and pansies decorated the rose-pink and sky-blue benches surrounding the humongous water fountain. A statue of a tiger, the school mascot, rose up from the depths of the starry, midnight-blue water, which didn’t ripple in the slightest as pink cherry blossoms dropped on top of it from the tree branches forming an arc overhead. Snow-white lilies floated on the still surface. Now Sheila knew why Skylar had picked the garden for her date; to Sheila, it was the most beautiful place in the whole universe.

She turned to sit on the benches, and saw someone sitting there. She couldn’t see the kid’s face, because a couple of tree branches were blocking the full moon. All of a sudden, the illusion vanished, and Sheila caught a glimpse at the girl’s face from underneath her hoodie. “Beautiful garden, isn’t it, Sheila?” the girl seemed to smile, but Sheila could not tell in the darkness. Something seemed familiar about that voice….

“Lucy!” she cried. “Don’t do that! You nearly scared my socks off!”

“It’s not my fault if you scare easily,” Lucy teased.

They sat down together on a pink bench and waited for the others. As they sat admiring the bursts of color in the area surrounding them, Sheila managed to remember that the Seasonwood was around them. She nudged Lucy. “Remember the Seasonwood?”

For a moment, she looked confused. Then she, too, realized that it was all around them. “Which way is which, though?” she asked wonderingly.

“Well, it is September, and Summerwood is south in September. So, it’s that way,” Sheila pointed in front of them, but she ended up pointing the way they came from: the GAM building. It was blocking their view. They looked to the left. They saw leafless, snow-laden trees and brittle leaves on the ground. They caught a breeze of the crisp, frozen air, stinging their faces.

Lucy frowned. “Something’s not right.”

Just then, the girls heard a rustling in the bushes to their right. Skylar emerged, with a mean and tough-looking girl from her posse. They plopped down, exhausted, on one of the blue benches. “What were you doing, playing hide-and-seek in the woods?” Lucy asked irritably.

“Don’t push your luck, kid. I let you off once, but it probably will not happen again,” Skylar growled.

Soon, five boys arrived, and they proceeded to tiptoe to the high tower, to approach what they thought was challenge #1. It wasn’t though, because the garden was the 1st (not many people could remember anything in that garden; they would stay there, marveling at it until they died and their body rotted into soil, which took a surprisingly short time).

As they walked up to the high tower, Sheila felt something strange in the air around her. It was like someone was warning her not to take another step forward.

“Stop!” Lucy shouted, making everyone jump. “Something is wrong here. I can feel it.”

“Ha, ha. It’s not like you’re a fortune teller, are you?” Skylar scoffed. “You and your feelings. Who’s going to listen to—”

BAM! Skylar smashed headlong into an invisible wall.

“See? What did I tell you?” Lucy scolded her.

“These must be the tests Secretary Maisely told us about,” Sheila said quickly, saving Lucy from being pounded into a pulp by Skylar. The ones we have to ‘encounter and succeed to prove we are worthy of this quest.’”

“It seems zat ve have to use magic to continue,” one of the boys spoke with an accent that Sheila didn’t recognize. “Othervise ve cannot pass through ze vall.”

“You know, Tash, you just might be right,” another boy said thoughtfully.

Lucy countered that. “However, it might not be a test of magic, but of skill and sense.”

“True, true, but how are we supposed to use skill or sense to get past a wall?” Skylar whispered angrily, still rubbing her nose. “Is there another pathway that leads around this or something?”

“Or something,” another boy grumbled.

“No, Skylar might be on to something,” Sheila wondered aloud, and Skylar puffed out her chest. “Girls, tap the wall on the right and check if it sounds hollow. Boys, do it to the left wall.”

Sheila stood next to Lucy, tapping the space closest to the wall. Soon enough, the boy behind her shouted. “I found something!”

“Well done, Larry!” the kid next to him shouted as Sheila walked over and tapped the wall. It made a low echo around the empty space. She inserted her long nails into the cracks in the bricks. She pulled off an entire section of fake wall to reveal a secret opening. At first, it seemed to be empty, but then Sheila spotted a red button on the back wall. She pressed it. At first, nothing happened, and then she heard a tiny “oomph” of surprise. She turned to see Tash helping another boy up from the floor. “You better watch where you lean, Mike,” Larry joked.

“Hey,” he protested. “It’s not my fault that this is invisible! And it doesn’t help that it vanishes, too!”

Sheila laughed with the rest of the group. Then she became serious again. “We have to keep going,” she said.

They continued down the hallway. “Stop! There are holes in the wall; they are probably spike holders,” Lucy informed them.

She pulled a rock from her pocket and tossed it into the middle of the hall. All of a sudden, shing! Pointed tips sprang from the floor, the ceiling, and the walls. When they retreated to their cozy holes, all that was left of the rock was a small pile of gray dust.

“How do we get past this?” Skylar’s friend whimpered in a small voice.

Sheila did some math in her head. If they stuck something over the holes, they would have some time to run across. Then, they could continue. But everyone would have to cross at once, because it would break through, pop out, or lift up whatever was holding it down. It would tear tape, pop out something clogging up the hole, and lift up chewing gum. Then, it would be difficult to replace it or stick it back again.

Just then, Sheila heard a squeal. Lucy fell down, right into the middle of the spiked floor.




Nothing happened and all was still and silent, except for Lucy standing up and brushing herself off. For some reason, the spikes didn’t start up. I’m not in any danger, she realized. It must not affect me. She calmly walked back towards the selected students.

Sheila warily took a step forward, ready to leap back at any moment, but nothing happened. She took another step, and started walking. When she got to the middle of the dangerous space, she ran to the other side. Lucy would have followed her, had she hadn’t had company. She decided to wait until everyone was across.

As her companions sprinted over to Sheila, Lucy wondered who had pushed her. Skylar was huddled with her friend Melana, while the boys cracked jokes to lighten the mood. Sheila was right next to her, but Lucy didn’t think that her best friend would try to kill her like that. Also, she felt a chill along with the force, and no solid was between her and the wall. Sheila jerked Lucy out of her thoughts. “Lucy! Hurry up, or it will be past midnight when we get there!” she called.

Lucy raced to the other side. Tash was reading off of a bronze plaque mounted on the wall. “…take ze path zat eez ze wrong way, to reach you destination.”

Sheila was thinking so hard, Lucy could almost see the gears turning in her mind. She tried to read the plaque, but it wasn’t in English. She asked Tash to read it again.

“Hieroglyphs point ze way to a place of horror.

If you stray off of ze pictures’ path, you will not survive.

Only ze correct direction will be cleared of danger.

Take ze path zat eez ze wrong way,

To reach your destination,” he translated.

Lucy thought hard, but something seemed missing. She looked harder at the plaque. She noticed a couple of tiny scratches engraved on the side. It was in the same language as the rest of the plaque. “Hey, Tash, come here!” Lucy’s excitement made everyone look up. “There is more here.”

Tash glanced at the letters. “P.S. two of these lines are false!” he read with growing excitement, which soon faded. “But ve don’t know vich lines are bad,” he said in a defeated voice.

“Tash, that’s the kind of attitude that could get you killed. What we need is to go through this one more time,” Lucy declared.

Tash groaned and repeated the words. Either the first or fourth line can be false, Lucy thought despairingly. If the fourth line is wrong, we will be heading to a place of horrors. If the first line is wrong, we will still head in the wrong direction. So, both lines have to be wrong, because we have to go the right way to reach good stuff.

“Guys!” she announced excitedly, and everyone glanced up. “I know what’s wrong!”

“Are you going to tell us or do we have to stand here all night?” Skylar snapped.

“It’s the first and fourth lines,” she told everyone.

There was silence as they double-checked her logic. At last, they all nodded in agreement. “You’re right,” a boy grunted. His nametag read: Morro.

Lucy led the line into the red-walled hallway. Soon, they reached a fork, each point working its way deeper into the maze. She glanced quickly at the image painted on the wall. The picture showed a bear battling a human. The bear had its back to the right fork, and so the human must be trying to get there. But the bear must have cubs there…

“It’s obvious that we have to go that way, because the human is trying to get there,” a boy with hair as red as fire interrupted Lucy’s train of thought. “I mean, look at that, they’re only cubs, the mother must have long since passed away.”

“No, look, see? This is crumbling; it’s probably really old. Those cubs will be full grown by now, they’re not immortal,” Sheila pointed out. “And the plaque said that the correct path would be clear of danger, bears aren’t exactly cute and cuddly when they’re older.”

Firehead grumbled loudly. “Well, I’m going that way, and if you want to stop me, tell me a reason I believe.”

“No, Mark, don’t!” a sandy-haired boy cried.

“Go away, Charles, unless you want to come with me,” Mark snarled. Charles backed away, whimpering.

Have it your way, Lucy thought sadly. If we can’t change your mind, no one can.

Mark stalked off in the direction of the bears. The rest of them turned to the left with one last look at Mark. Five minutes after they left the fork, they heard a bloodcurdling yell. “Mark!” they all shouted, and ran back to the split path.

Mark was lying on the floor, unconscious. They debated in a whisper whether they should take Mark with them, in case he came to. Ten minutes later, Skylar was dragging him along the smooth glass floor as they hurriedly walked along the sunset orange corridor.

No other forks came along, although they ran into a couple of dead ends and had to backtrack. At one particular end, however, they couldn’t get out. When they saw the wall, they immediately turned around to go back. But they found one problem—THERE WAS NO WAY OUT. The way that they came in was sealed off by another wall.

“Hey, where’s Charles?” someone cried out. “I can’t see him anywhere!”

He was right; Charles was nowhere to be seen. “He must have been on the other side when the exit closed.” Mike seemed very nervous and jumpy all of a sudden.

Sheila started knocking on the walls again; anyone who didn’t know her before could infer that she like trapdoors and secret passageways a lot.

Suddenly, Sheila exclaimed in surprise as a squeak of hinges and a thud announced that she had found something. She was sitting between a pair of blood red double-doors that had black, stand-out dragon carvings on them; it must have symbolized the Seasonwood Magic Academy. They had found entrance to Master Hetra’s study/office, which also meant no more tricks.

They all exchanged glances with one another before walking in.