Sunday, September 27th [Last day of the Festival of Nations], afternoon
Queen Sara Memorial Academy
“What happened here?” asked Kai.
He and Amy showed up just as Joel and I finished packing up the booth. I gave him a quick run-down on what had happened. When we finished, he was shaking his head and almost looked ready to laugh. “I don’t know Neil very well, but that sounds just like Jack’s complaints about him. I guess you wouldn’t have known about there being a version of the film here, but I can see why it drew a crowd.”
“The remake is that popular?”
Kai nodded. “Yeah, I mean, it’s old but it was this big shared cultural thing for the newcomers. Anyone with exposure to them through their family will have seen it.”
“Hull says he’s going to get a real showing of the trilogy together, sounds like it’s going to be a big deal?” It was weird to think about seeing them here, but I was looking forward to it.
“Yeah, I think so.” Kai said, cracking a big smile. “Actually, I hope I can bring my grandfather to that!”
“Check with Hull,” I said, pointing him out – he was still over at his corner of the booth talking to Elise. “He’ll be the one to make arrangements with the school.”
“I’ll do that,” he said. “What are you and Joel going to do from here?”
“I need to get some lunch, and I haven’t seen that much of the rest of the festival,” I said. “Anything you recommend checking out?”
“What have you seen already?” asked Kai.
“Just this end of the green, and some of the first- and second-year classrooms.”
“You should check out the arts center, then,” he said. “A lot of the clubs have their exhibits there.”
“Ah, nice. Joel, you want to come get something to eat?” I asked.
“I was hoping to wait for Elise,” he said, glancing over at her. She and Hull remained deep in conversation. “It looks like she’s going to be a while, so sure, I guess.”
We went to get some food with Amy, who suggested we check out a cluster of booths serving by the sports center. One of them was serving some kind of stir-fry, which Amy got a plate from and another to bring back for Kai. Another had fish and chips - Joel got an order of those, and when it turned out they had fried chicken as well, I decided to get their “chicken and chips.”
We brought the plates back to our now-closed booth to eat; by the time we were back, to Joel’s disappointment, Elise was gone. Once we were done eating, Kai and Amy headed out, and Joel ended up coming with me to check out the Arts Center booths.
The lobby of the arts center has a couple of tables for the Library Club, as well as a table taking orders for the yearbook. I figured it would be easiest to just start at the top and work our way down. On the fourth floor, there were bunch of exhibitions by arts clubs – and at one end of the floor there was the student council room which we’d seen on our prior tour. There was no booth there, just people there doing administrative work. At the other end of the floor was a bank of offices used as club rooms. Two were for the newspaper and yearbook, both closed; a third appeared to be unassigned. The last had a sign for the “Mages Club” and the door was open.
From the doorway, I looked inside – a couple of boys were huddled around a table reading a large book. “Hello?” I asked from the door, and they looked up.
“Can I help you?” one of them asked.
“Sorry, I just saw that the door was open and was wondering whether your club had something for the festival.”
“We’ve got an exhibition later this afternoon out on the stage, if you’re interested,” said one of them.
“Thanks,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask what this club is about?”
The same boy looked at me like I should have already known, but replied anyway, “This is the Mages club, it’s for students who are initiates of at least the second circle. If you don’t mind, can you shut the door? We really need to finish preparing for the exhibition.”
“Sure, no problem.” I had a guess what was meant by the “second circle” but I’d have to wait to ask Yali to see if I was right.
We worked our way down two floors checking out the exhibits, and when we got back to the lobby, Joel noticed that there was a basement level, so we headed down. Unlike the fairly bright and elegant construction of the upper levels, the club rooms down here had only small windows mounted high on the concrete walls and seemed to have been converted from maintenance space.
Most of the rooms were closed, but one seemed quite busy – a small line of students, mostly girls, was waiting outside one room. The club’s title was covered by a sign which read, “Fortune teller! Genuine divination magic.”
“We should check that out,” said Joel.
When we got near the head of the line, there was a price list: “Luck reading – 1 ticket, Love reading – 3 tickets, Detailed questions answered – 5 tickets.” Joel, unsurprisingly, wanted to try the love reading, and nagged me into trying the same.
When we got all the way to the front of the line, a girl took our tickets and walked us into the club room. The edges of the room were crowded with shelves absolutely packed with books and with junk. In the center of the room, a table was covered with a thick black cloth, and just above the center of the table was a floating iridescent ball of light. It cast flickering patterns of light all through the room.
The girl who walked us in said, “I’m Livia, from the magical research club,” and then pointing out the floating ball, “This is Vanth, a spirit in the service of the goddess Nezca. He volunteers every year to help with our booth.”
After doing so, she took a long look at Joel and held her hand up to near Vanth. After a moment, she looked frustrated and then said, “He’s not usually this vague, but Vanth says your future is very cloudy, and that you should focus on other things than romance.”
Joel sighed. “Nothing about the girl I like?”
Livia looked down at Vanth again. “He says, ‘Good luck, you’ll need it.’”
Joel shook his head. “Is he always like this?”
Livia sighed loudly. “I'm so sorry about this. He's normally much more specific.” She leaned down toward the glowing orb, frowning, and then said to the ball, “What's going on?“ The ball spun lazily and changed colors, but gave no other reply. Livia shook her head angrily, but after a moment she seemed to regain her composure.
Then she looked at me, and down at the ball again. Then her eyes widened in surprise, and said to the ball, “There’s no way I’m repeating that. You want to tell him directly?”
The ball showed an abstract face on its surface – almost like one of those “have a nice day” logos – which turned into a grimace and looked at Livia saying, “Oh, fine.” Then the face turned directly to me with a weird grin, and said “I don’t know what you did to get the attention of a major goddess, but Jaklamina ordered me directly to tell you ‘no spoilers,’” and then after a moment, it went on to say, “She also told me to tell you not to forget to feed the cat.”
The face disappeared. Livia was shaking her head again. “Sorry, guys. From super-vague, to completely implausible.” She bit her lip, seeming torn between embarrassment and annoyance at her spirit companion’s antics.
Joel nudged me, and I said, “Maybe not that implausible. We’re from the other side of the gate, and the local deities seem to have decided we were interesting.”
Livia gave me a very incredulous look. I shrugged, and then asked her, “Can you tell me a little about this club?”
“Sure,” she said. “Basically the club is for anyone with an interest in magic who isn’t ranked or who doesn’t want to deal with how stuffy the Mages’ club can be. There’s usually somebody here after school, so just drop by if you’re interested.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll probably do that.”
Joel and I left, and on the way out of the basement, I noticed a room marked for the Computer Club. Unfortunately, it was closed. We checked out a few more booths on the green, and then ended up splitting up. I picked up the pictures from Galen’s classroom, checked out a few of the classrooms on the third-year floor, and then ended up lounging out on the green watching the various groups performing on the main stage. Mid-afternoon, that included the Mages club – including the two boys we’d met briefly – who put on an impressive display of illusion magic, including some that could have passed for fireworks overhead.
At five, Anson, the student council president, came up on stage – echoed by the PA system – to announce that the public part of the festival was ending, and that “visitors, parents and friends of the school” should depart. As a security measure, students were asked to go back to their homerooms to take attendance and be dismissed, while the campus was checked over.
In our homeroom, I asked Jack and Kai whether this was how it had been in prior years.
“This is new,” said Jack. “Usually we can just go straight to the closing ceremony.”
After a little while, Mr. Kirill dismissed us, and all four of us – Jack, Kai, Joel and I – headed to the green for the closing ceremony. On the way, I stopped by the booth – Hull was gone as expected, and both the grill and the extension cord had already been taken by custodial staff. There was also a note for me from Hull:
Mark, I’ve taken the liberty of dropping the booth’s tickets off with the student council; the earnings were deposited to the club’s account. Feel free to donate them to another student organization, if you’d like, as the state department will be happy to sponsor the booth next year. Thanks for connecting me with some of your classmates, and I look forward to reading your write-up when you get the chance.
With both the lower and upper school student bodies present, the green was quite full – both schools together would not fit in the great hall of the arts center. Once the green had filled in, Anson came back on stage and gave a short speech thanking students at both schools for their hard work in making the festival a success. The festival had raised a large amount of money for both the two schools’ student councils, and for individual classes and student organizations, as well as representing the school to the broader community. He also thanked the faculty for their help, and the two deans and head of school for their help with security arrangements.
“And now,” he concluded, “for what you have all been waiting for – the awards for best booths.”
Neil, and a young woman who I guessed might be his counterpart at the lower school, both came up to the microphone. They introduced themselves, and then she said, “For our first category, we have the best food stalls. As usual, we will have the top-earning booth and the judges’ award. For the top earner, we have class 3-K, barbeque meat in the style of Teupla.”
Neil continued, “And for the judges award, we have the Boys and Girls Track Club with their stir fry station.”
They went on – best exhibition, best other booth which went to booths selling souvenirs or services, and then Neil concluded with something that rankled, “…and last, I’d like to add a special dishonorable mention to the so-called ‘American Cultural Club’ for almost starting a riot.” I could see Anson on stage giving Neil an unhappy look, and there were a lot of puzzled grumbles from the audience.
“The heck?” said Joel, sounding and looking steamed.
I started off equally unhappy, but then I smiled. “What an ass,” I said, and then after a moment, “I think Neil has never heard that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
There were similar awards for the best classroom exhibit for each class-year, presented by the class officers – in our case, that was Elise, which captured Joel’s rapt attention, but my mind was wandering at that point. After that, Anson gave the stage to Doctor Mittari for a closing speech. I was tired and paid his remarks little attention.
As the closing ceremony wrapped up, I found myself torn between exhaustion and amusement. The long weekend had left me ready to collapse, but the reality of living in a fantasy world brought a smile to my face. What sort of deity says “No spoilers”...? And how weird is it to mention the cat in our yard? The gods’ visit and their discussion of unclear destinies and pivotal decisions lingered in my mind, but there was nothing I could do about that right now.
As other students began leaving the green, I stretched and stifled a yawn, my mind drifting ahead to the coming week. Forget destiny! I had much more immediate worries - midterm exams were only a few weeks away, and my history paper also loomed large in my mind; Ms. Callliot was still after me for changes to the outline, and the final paper was due right before midterms.
Life would only get more hectic, and I wondered if it would also keep getting stranger. I hoped that a good night's sleep would make tackling all of these things seem less daunting. Whatever challenges it held though, at least I wouldn't have to face them alone.
And yes, on getting home, I made sure to put out food for the cat.