Tony saw Soraya’s frantic gaze as she looked every which way for help. But her gaze swept across him and then she was bundled farther back into the shadow of the stairs.
He’d been invisible to her. Just another student who wasn’t going to help, who didn’t want to get involved, or cross Ellen and her gang. It wasn’t just her and her half-dozen girls. There were their boyfriends as well, most of whom were bad-tempered second-string jocks who weren’t good enough to focus all their energy on sports.
Tony stopped for what felt like ages, but could not have been longer than a second. Then he continued on up the steps, crashing through several slower students.
I can’t intervene, he thought. She’s in a medieval dress. He’s got hobbit ears on. They won’t really hurt her….
He stopped before the doors as another thought struck him like a blow to the heart.
What would the Quiet Knight do?
Tony turned about and pulled back his hood before taking a very deep breath. The students coming up the stairs parted like the red sea as he stood there, taking another breath, sucking in the air as if he were taking in strength.
I must do it, he thought. And I will talk to her, even if she does laugh.
He ran down the stairs. Students sprang aside and dragged their friends out of his path and turned to watch as Tony picked Ellen up and lifted her over his head and then gently but very firmly deposited her on the steps.
“Sit,” he ordered. Ellen gulped and sat on the step, and Tony turned to the other girls.
“Let them go.”
His voice was as peculiar and scratchy and variably pitched as ever, but coming immediately after lifting their leader above his head, incredibly effective. The bad girls released Soraya and Horace and backed away.
“They are under my protection,” rasped Tony. “You will never even talk to them again, understand?”
The bad girls nodded.
“Go to class,” added Tony. He stabbed a finger at Ellen. “You, too. And keep your mouths shut.”
Ellen stood, and for a moment Tony thought she might do something. But she turned away and went up the stairs, with her minions hurrying after her.
Tony turned back to Soraya, and the words that had so gloriously issued from his mouth failed him. She smiled and curtsied. He looked up and blushed and averted his gaze to Horace, who shrugged and rubbed his ears.
“Super glue, all right?” said Horace. “So it was a bad idea. It goes with being called Horace in the first place. Stupid parents. They can’t organize laundry either or my sister?—”
“Thank you again, Sir Silent,” interrupted Soraya, with a quelling glance at her brother. She stepped closer to Tony, and looked up at him. He thought that it would be very easy to rest his chin upon her silky head and draw her close.
Tony tried to ask her how she knew who he was. No sound came out, but his puzzled frown was clear enough.
“Your eyes are very distinctive,” said Soraya. “And the bruise on your arm.”
Tony nodded slowly, and gulped again. He was making a fool of himself, he knew, and he felt an incredibly strong compulsion to back away, to pull his hood up and just disappear.
But he wanted to stay, he wanted to talk, and so he fought against the urge to run.
“My name really is Soraya, by the way.”
Tony cleared his throat. Soraya waited patiently, smiling, looking straight into his eyes. The world faded away around them as Tony gulped at the air again and searched for the words that he knew he had to say.
“Tony,” said the Quiet Knight at last. “My name is Tony.”
Garth Nix is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than seventeen novels, several role-playing magazine articles and scenarios, and an unpublished journal of the five-year Dungeons and Dragons campaign he ran between the ages of 11 and 16. A keen role-player in his student years, Garth was involved in running very large “free-form” role-playing events in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Australia, including the creation of a starport for 250 role-players in a school assembly hall. Long ago he also used to fight duels with PVC pipe swords while wearing a motorcycle helmet and several old leather coats that didn’t provide much protection but did slow everything down. Garth is also deeply interested in computers, the weather, military history, strategy and role-playing games, fantasy and science fiction, and many other highly geektastic subjects. Garth is married, with two children, and lives near a beach in Sydney, Australia.
Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Bryan Lee O’Malley.
EVERYONE BUT YOU
I had never seen the ocean, Ohio being a landlocked state, when suddenly I found myself adrift on an island. My mother was terrified of water, but even more scared of being poor. That’s why she agreed to marry Mr. Hunter. He was the answer to her prayers—although he didn’t look like an angel or Jesus, or any of the assorted saints she was constantly making deals with. No, Mr. Hunter looked like an old man on the verge of dying, which was exactly what he was.
“Felicity, you’re nuts not to be thrilled,” Natalie Catrine kept screaming. “To leave Ohio for Hawaii—that’s like living a dream!”
I was thrilled, at first. Yet the closer our move date, the more unsure I became. Leaving my friends would be hard. Everyone in Asher (population 5,728) knew my name and who I was. There, it didn’t matter that I was poor. Lots of kids were poor, so it was no big deal. Like having hazel eyes, or bleached blond hair from a box, or a brother who was mentally ill, it was just part of who you were.
Known for my indomitable school spirit, I was voted Asher High Miss Pep for two years in a row and on track to snag it again. But it was my baton twirling skills that got me in the local newspaper almost as often as Mrs. Harvey’s tree-climbing English setter. As head majorette, I lead our well-rehearsed team of eight twirlers. I even designed our red spangled uniforms.
We debuted our new look on Nigel Franklin Day. He was the star of that cheesy cable TV reality show, Nigel, Nigel, Are You Listening? When the City Council learned he’d be passing through Asher on his way to Columbus, they decided to give him the key to the city. The whole town turned out. If anyone was disappointed when Nigel Franklin failed to materialize, the mood changed the minute I kicked off the parade with the Asher High Band behind me.
Twirling meant the world to me. From my pointed toes, all the way up to my straight arms and proper free hands, my form was flawless. Plus, my vertical and horizontal two-spin was legendary. Every football and basketball half-time finale ended with me tossing the baton in the air as the crowd would yell, “Whoooooooooooa.” This continued until my baton made its downward descent and I reclaimed it, whereupon the crowd would shout “Nelly!” and a cheer would erupt.
On my first day at Kahanamoku Academy I woke up early. I was excited to make new friends. Maui’s tropical weather made my perm frizzier than it already was, so I elected to wear my hair in French braids and adorned them with blue and yellow ribbons (my new school colors). To complement this, I wore matching sky-blue eye shadow. I considered wearing my Miss Pep sweater, but didn’t want to appear boastful, so instead I brought my lucky baton to school. That baton won me more twirling awards than I could count. It was the baton I was holding when I was named Miss Pep, and it was the baton I gripped every time Mom and I got kicked out of our apartments for not paying the rent.
At Asher, the majorettes were never without their batons. Carrying one was the sort of status symbol girls could aspire to. Mrs. Smith, our principal, once likened them to security blankets. Though it was true that my baton did make me feel better, I also had ulterior motives for bringing it to Kahanamoku. Even though it was mid-semester, I hoped to talk to the band director about securing a spot as a majorette. My twirling skills were a surefire way to propel me into the popular group.
“There’s no band?” My mouth hung open. I had specifically made an appointment to see Headmaster Field to discuss band.
He ran his hand though his unruly gray hair and offered me a sad smile. “Not this year, Francis,” he said apologetically.
“Felicity,” I corrected him. Headmaster Field’s office was full of photos of him shaking hands with well-coiffed people wearing nice suits. My father was fond of nice suits, which was probably why he never had enough money for child support. “Was there a band last year?” I sputtered.
Headmaster Field shook his head again. “We’re more of an academic school than a sports one. Our sports program was, er, cancelled last year ago due to the, er, well, the abuse of—” I followed his gaze as he looked out at a blue jay that had alighted on the windowsill. Finally, Headmaster Field turned his attention back to me. “The University of Hawaii gives a full athletic scholarship to one high school baton twirler each year!”
We both brightened at the idea of this, but our smiles soon faded when I pointed out, “I won’t be a high school twirler since Kahanamoku Academy doesn’t have a band. Besides, I don’t need a scholarship. My stepfather can pay for college.”
“True, true.” Headmaster Field nodded and absentmindedly began to twirl his pen. “You’re paying full tuition here. We like that. Well, perhaps you can practice baton on your own? You know, sort of like independent study, except without grades or the credit.” This idea seemed to please him. As he made note of it in my file, the blue jay and I studied each other from opposites sides of the glass.
“What about clubs?” I finally asked. I had been president of the French club (mais oui!) back at home.
“Clubs?” Headmaster Field asked, raising his bushy eyebrows.
“Yes, clubs,” I said again. I wondered if he was hard of hearing. Mr. Hunter wore a hearing aid. “I’d like to know about the clubs here.”
Headmaster Field tapped his pen on the desk, then said, “We don’t have a lot of clubs, but Felicity, why don’t you start one?” His eyes lit up. “Yes, you could start one and I would be your sponsor. What club should we have? Do you play backgammon?”