“Novice 3rdClass.” he said with another smile when he saw me looking. I nodded, smiled back and quickly looked away, feeling embarrassed as I felt a burning in my cheeks.
“You know, last time I saw you, I think it was Sydney’s 3rdbirthday and the twins had just turned two. Mckayla, you look so much like your mother did at your age.” Mom said, directing attention thankfully away from my blush.
She was taller than me, and lean with a little curve, with wavy dark brown hair down to her shoulders and light blue eyes. Morgan was just as slender, if not more, than his twin sister. He looked a lot like their dad in the face but had his mother’s dark brown hair cut short, and her light blue eyes behind glasses. Mckayla smiled and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Damien, but just call me Mickey. Everyone does.”
“That’s right.” said Graham, “You know, Graham Jr. and Tony just graduated a couple years ago? Tony’ in the CIA now and Graham is actually working with me on the same project.”
“Really? Wow, that’s great Graham! Where’s Joan?” she asked.
“Oh, well she’s had an assignment and won’t be back for some time now. Haven’t heard from her in a couple days, but she was upset that she wasn’t able to be here for the twins’ first day.” he said and both wore sympathetic expressions.
“Oh, I miss the old days, Graham.” she said.
“Me too. It hasn’t been the same without out you around, Sarah.” Then he turned to us, both of them finally remembering us, their offspring. “Kids, you don’t have to listen to this. Go on and get ready, it should be starting soon.” Mom gave me one last hug before turning back to Graham just as he flipped open his wallet and a trail of pictures unraveled all the way down to the ground.
So, leaving the adults to reminisce, I followed the Coopers heading towards the front doors of the academy building, which had been opened wide where kids of every rank were coming in and out. “So, you’re a Novice 1stClass like us? You nervous?” asked Morgan.
“A little, I guess.” I said, and he looked at me like he was comforted he wasn’t the only one.
“I’m not.” said Mickey, “I can’t wait to get started. And besides, you’re nervous about everything.”
“Am not!” he shot back, giving her a look.
Mickey was just about to say something back when we stepped through the front doors and into the biggest and most beautiful room I’d ever seen. Just the inside of this room was bigger than my entire house and all four of us stopped dead in our tracks to stare. We were standing the large walkway between two huge circular spaces.
Its walls were a forest green with brown molding running on top and bottom and its ceiling was vaulted thirty feet above us. Large blood red tapestries with gold fringe, baring all three Novice insignias, were fastened to the base of a colossal chandelier and the walls’ crown molding causing them to droop in slightly around the chandelier to create a brilliant effect.
The floors were white granite, and in the middle of the open walkway at our feet between us and a huge hall across the room was a big letter ‘A’ in black granite. The hall across from us was as wide as the walkway, looked about ten feet tall, and was bordered on each side by skinny Grecian pillars that were built into platforms holding another pillar above it.
“Wow.” I breathed. It was almost too much to take in.
Sydney glanced over at me and smiled. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing here.”
“Yeah.” Ty agreed in an awed breath and then continued in an excited voice just as Sydney was about to say something else. “This is the entrance hall, where the Novice tunnels are, and this is where the stairs are.” He walked a little into the space on our right, the bay window that looked out on the front lawn reaching all the way up to the ceiling and shedding light into the room, but there were no stairs ortunnels. Whatever those were.
“What are tunnels?” I asked, voicing my thoughts.
“It’s what we call halls here.” Sydney explained as Morgan walked around in circles and held his hands in front of him like he was going to run into something.
“Uh, what are you doing?” Mickey asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.
“I’m looking for the stairs. They’re invisible.” he said, not looking at her. She looked at me and shook her head like she was embarrassed to have shared the same womb with him. “There are supposed to be three ways to get to the school tunnels. The elevators are over there,” he pointed to the wall opposite the window, “a set of stairs that go in a spiral against the wall starting over there”, he pointed to the pair of pillars to Mickey’s right. “right, Sydney?”
Sydney nodded. “Right, and then there’s another set –”
But Morgan wasn’t listening and said, “Then there’s another set that’s in the middle here somewh– Ow!” He stopped abruptly and put a hand to his forehead, wincing in pain. “Found it.” he said, glancing at us as Sydney smiled and tried not to laugh, while Mickey just laughed outright.
“You alright, bud?” Sydney asked and Morgan nodded, giving Mickey an evil glare. Then Sydney lifted his foot in front of me and my eyes widened when I heard it land on something. Sydney smiled at me, and then stepped on the invisible stair step, now floating in mid-air in front of me a foot off the ground.
After I got over my shock I said, “Where’s the hall-er-tunnel?” He pointed towards the ceiling and I sucked in a breath when I saw a hall built into the wall a foot below the vaulted ceiling and feet from another chandelier. I looked into the other space and saw the same thing, and when I looked back at the twins to see if they were really seeing this too, they both smiled.
“Going here is gonna to be fun.” said Mickey, and then she spun around and jumped onto the first step of the stairs against the wall. She began walking along the wall, growing steadily higher as she passed in front of the window, and as Morgan went over to the wall and started searching for the elevators, Sydney held his hand out to me.
“Here, these are kind of tough the first few times.” he said. I took his hand and gingerly stepped onto the first step. It was a very odd sight to see my feet off the ground but at the same time feeling something solid under me. “Just don’t look down too much, okay?” he added, and I nodded. We all started making our way slowly up to the top.
“How do you know where to step?” I asked Sydney as we ascended.
“Well, I’m used to it already, since I went here last year. But in the beginning I was mostly just guessing.” he said with a shrug.
“But if you miss a step, they have something that’ll stop you from falling, right?” I asked as we came within a few more steps from the tunnel entrance.
“Nope.” he said, stepping down beside me. “If I miss, I hit the floor. But luckily, they have very advanced medical facilities here.” At that, my stomach clenched even tighter, which I thought was impossible, and my grip on his hand increased.
“Yeah, that’s comforting.” Mickey said as she took her last step and then finally into the mouth of the tunnel.
“At least you won’t die.” Morgan added on a positive note.
“Yeah, but I’d rather not go through the pain this kind of fall would bring either.” she said, looking down to the ground as Sydney and I stepped into the tunnel, finally releasing my iron grip on his hand.