I stood on front of one of the silver mirrors, close to the end of hallway 209-A. There was a window behind me. It was square. The window in the reflection was oval. Eh, close enough for government work.
A squat, red-headed fellow stood next to me. In the mirror he had brown hair. "What I don't understand," he said, "is that you must be able to do wizard magic, because you were blowing past everyone during the mile run. So why'd you goof up working with basic third-layer manipulation? I've never seen someone create so many bangs in such a short time."
"Well, maybe you don't remember your own beginnings with Wizardy," said a voice next to the redhead. A tall lass with long black hair appeared out of thin air. She wore a deep blue cloak, and her skin was a little lighter than the walnut paneling of the hall. Darker, in the mirror. "But we started out together, Sean, and I can still hear those explosions ringing in my ears. Everyone gets better. It just takes practice, that's all. Lots of practice. Years of practice. Which I don't think our intriguing colleague has had. Pray tell, how were you accepted into this school?"
"Not everyone is as talented as you, Aurore D'Aubigny." Jo materialized beside her. "The school board must have seen something in her that you don't. Wizardry is about strength of will as much as talent, much as any other field, and I know her well enough to tell you she's quite capable, so you can just back off, thank you very much."
"Josephine Gerber!" said Sean. "I've heard of you. You were the one flying around above new York City when those black ribbons were coming down. Word around here is you saved the city from destruction. How did you do it?"
"I..." Jo glanced at me. "I had help. You heard about how people turned out for that event, right?"
"I did...but I've never heard of any spell that can do such a thing."
"Bit of a touchy subject there," I said. "Confidential. Hello, Sean, Aurore, nice to meet you both. I'm Pat King. Sean, you were paying attention during the lecture. Aurore, I noticed you were focused on your sandwich."
"Instructor Hurley was going on about strength of will and mental fortitude and honing our souls and blah, blah, blah. And it was morning, and I was hungry."
"You're always hungry," said Sean.
"I've got six feet of me to feed! And that's an urgent matter at six in the morning when you've just woken up. Especially when you have morning exercises right afterward."
Sean gave me a quizzical look. "Which gets back to my first question. What kind of spell did you cast to give yourself that kind of endurance? You were going full-tilt when everyone else was completely bushed."
Aurore put her Wizard Glasses on and peered at me. "That's interesting," she said. "You glow with a slightly different color than most people. And the music coming out of your second layer is a cacophony of drums and pipes. What kind of wizard are you?"
"Hey!" said Jo. "Don't go peering at people's layers, that's rude." She moved beside me and took my arm. "And you're rude. I said to back off."
"Easy, Gerber. I'm not trying to move in on your girl or anything. I'm just intrigued. I've seen people like you before, Ms. King, here and there, who had a music like yours, and sometimes I could see their ghosts straining to leave their bodies. Could it be that you are one of those? Could it be that you're used to a different kind of magic, and that this field is new to you? I must say, choosing to attend this place was bold. I like that. But you'd better catch up quick."
"There are certain things I would love to tell you -- "
"Pat!" whispered Jo in my ear. "Shush!"
" -- but I hardly know or trust you," I continued. "Why, we haven't been on any adventures yet. There is so much of Chicago to see, after all...perhaps more than most residents know how to see. If you are as powerful and talented as you say, perhaps we can have a jaunt to...I don't know. Green Chicago?"
Sean went pale.
So did Aurore.
"What? What did I say?"
"You said you were willing to visit Color Chicago," said a voice from the mirror. A blond, bearded young man appeared in it, then stepped out. He was actually black-haired and beardless. "Aurore, Sean. Greetings from the Other Side." Sean and Aurore kissed him each in turn.
"Other side of what?" I said.
"Oh, just the mirror. Nice to meet you, I'm Sam. As I said, Color Chicago. You really ought to read Guido's Guide to Chicago, woman. There's plenty of copies in the library if you can catch one. It contains information about the Colors of Chicago. It says 'Stay away from everything. Just don't go there. If you do go there, don't press any buttons. Remember the New Madrid earthquake? Don't wake daddy.' And then it moves on to the usual stuff. So, you can imagine why throwing that name out there would frighten both of my companions."
"Especially since you don't sound like you've heard of Guido's Guide," said Sean. "So unless you heard about the Colors from someone...please tell me you didn't have a dream about finding a tree."
"Well, as a matter of fact..."
"What's so bad about that?" said Jo. "Is Green Chicago full of poison gas or something?"
"Who knows?" said Aurore. "My father, perhaps, but the last I saw him he was heading through a green door, so if he isn't dead, his report is long overdue. That's not the problem. If it were just dangerous areas, it wouldn't be a problem. Pat. What position did you wake up in?"
I recounted the dream.
"This is worse than I thought," said Sam. "The city IS trying to wake up. And it's chosen you to get the ball rolling. If you go to any of the colors...or to all of them...and there's no way to prevent these dreams?"
"Indeed not," I said, "but I can try to talk to the city, the next time it tries to grab my soul. Ask it what's going on. That kind of thing. I am the captain of my soul, and I'm not going to suffer any more usurpations. On the other hand...actually going to the Colors is so tempting, isn't it? To see parts of the city most people don't find. Maybe it's possible to go there without or getting nommed or pushing any big red buttons that say 'wake daddy. I remember, a little dog told me about the Colors -- "
" -- and he said, don't look for the colors until you're ready. So I'll hold off for now and keep myself shut up at night. Why don't you give me a month to get up to speed with Wizardry, and then we can go look for Aurore's father? And before then, maybe you all can take me on a tour of Chicago using Guido's Guide. How does that sound?"
"Tempting," said Aurore, "tempting. Sam? Sean? What about it?"
"Sounds like fun," said Sean, "as long as we stay away from Meyer's place. That bar is full of weirdos. Sam, you're probably going to be more of a know-it-all than Aurore, once we get you talking."
"That is highly likely. Very likely indeed. Still...it has been too long since I had the chance to travel the pathways of Chicago and hear the news of the world. I've been too busy chasing down books in the library, too busy arranging our room."
"When you say chasing down books..."
"You'll see," said Sean. "It's kind of cute, really. Jo, are you up for it?"
"To explore Chicago? Sure. Maybe I'll find a nice shiny ring." She winked at me. "Maybe one of the Colors is full of rings. And maybe one of them is full of buttons that say 'wake up.' You'd have to stop me from pressing one of those. Unlike the rest of you, I want to find out what this whole Chicago Sleeping thing is about."
"We ought to look for whatever information we can find here in Grey Chicago," said Sam. "Preferably the library where I don't have to walk in the wind and get my cloak stuck in doorways."
"Jo and I like to learn by going where to go," I said. "But maybe we can visit the library like you want, Sam, and grab a copy of Guido's Guide, and meet here on Thursday for our jaunt."
"Thursday we have Opinion Class and Debate Class," said Sean. "Wednesday we have Ontoscope class. Friday doesn't have class, but Sam and I have Jumu'ah at noon, so that would limit the time we could spend with you. Jo, I imagine you don't want to do any work on Saturday -- "
"Hold on," I said, "Jumu'ah? Sam and you? I would have thought you would be Catholic."
"No, that's me," said Aurore. "Sameer and Sean here are, alas, less than diligent when it comes to praying at dawn, but they never miss the Friday congregation. And I never miss Sunday morning. And you?"
"Saturday evening. So if we want a full day available for all of us to be able to explore Chicago and deal with anything that tries to drag us into hell, we'd have...Monday and Tuesday."
"Works for me," said Sam. "A scheduled day for exploration."
"Right then. Let's see about that guide."
"Meet you there," said Sam. "I need to warn the librarian about newcomers." He turned and stepped back into the mirror, and disappeared.
"I've been there already," said Aurore. "See you tomorrow." She twirled and vanished.
The rest of us set off down the hall.