Jyximus Faire trudged along the street, cursing the weather as the snow seeped through the holes in his ancient boots. He couldn't remember the winter ever lasting so long before. The Underground City escaped relatively unscathed, its crumbling tenements kept warm by the smog of industry, but the City Above lay smothered by a thick blanket of white. The City mages were working flat out to clear it, but for every snowfall they repelled, two more broke through their defences. It reinforced Jyx's desire to specialise in Elemental sorcery - after all, nature was clearly stronger than the alchemy of the mages.
The huge iron gates to the Academy loomed ahead of him. A coach careered past, sending a spray of slush in its wake. The wet snow caught Jyx across the back, the soaked fabric sticking his threadbare cloak to his shirt. A head poked out of the coach's window, and Jyx recognised one of the prefects. The older boy smirked, and disappeared out of sight into the gloom.
Jyx slipped between the gates after the coach and left the driveway to cut across the lawn. The snow was deeper than it was on the road, but at least he wouldn't get sprayed by passing coaches, and his feet were already frozen. A few more minutes wouldn't kill him.
The lamps of the Academy glowed in the distance, and Jyx forced himself onward. He stumbled through snow drifts on the lawn, watchful for the low iron fence that marked the edge of the Ornamental Garden. Within a few minutes that felt like hours, Jyx saw the fence, and hurried towards it. Doctor Ermes kept the snow at bay in her garden, and only a thin crust of frost coated the twisting paths. Jyx hopped over the fence and stamped the snow from his boots.
The garden hummed with the low vibration of the Doctor's magic, entwined with the natural energy of the plants and trees. Jyx loved the garden, and couldn't wait until next year when they'd begin to study specific Botanical magick. He'd already read all of the books the library had but there was nothing like actually practising it - especially with an expert like Doctor Ermes.
A stream wound its way through the garden as it flowed from a spring beneath the Academy in the west and into the canals in the east. Jyx normally arrived at the Academy by canal but with the water frozen solid, he'd had to travel on foot. A narrow bridge carried the path over the stream.
Halfway across the bridge, a strange noise caught Jyx's attention. It sounded as though someone were pounding on glass and shouting to be heard. He looked around, but the nearest building was the Academy, and it was too far away for him to hear any of its occupants.
The pounding got louder and on a whim, Jyx looked over the side of the bridge. He saw movement below the ice, and he leaned over the rail to peer closer. The shapes below the ice moved like people, sliding to and fro like a crowd in Monument Square, but the water wasn't deep enough to hold people. Jyx had heard of lakes beyond the City where the water stole the reflections of any who dared to look into it - had Doctor Ermes enchanted the stream to do the same to ensnare unwary students?
He frowned. Capturing reflections was only one step up from the nefarious Shadow magick, and while he longed to try both of them, it wasn't right that innocent people were walking around without their reflections, especially not if they were students. He looked at the Academy, and back at the frozen stream. He was already an hour late - pausing for another five minutes wouldn't make any difference.
Jyx looked around on the bridge, and spotted a small pebble tucked in a hollow near one of the posts holding up the rail. He picked it up, wincing at the cold stone against his frozen fingers, and leaned back over the rail. He remembered a spell he'd seen in a book about Water magick, and now seemed the best time to try it. Jyx stretched out a trembling forefinger and drew a sigil over the ice. The light trail left by his finger pulsed a deep blue that grew lighter by shades the longer he stared at it. Once the light trail turned white, Jyx hurled the stone at the ice.
The ice cracked and the light trail faded. Jyx scowled, annoyed that the sigil had failed. He looked about on the bridge for another projectile, but it seemed the pebble was the only available missile.
The ice groaned. Jyx watched as the shapes congregated around the tiny fracture. The crack widened as they pounded on the underside of the ice. The air filled with a hideous cackle, and Jyx realised the laughter came from the trapped reflections. The crack heaved open and a jagged talon poked upwards out of the ice.
Panic seized at Jyx and he fled from the bridge. He didn't feel the pain in his feet as he plunged through the garden and broke out into the kitchen garden near the east wing of the Academy. The voices of students heading for the main building drifted through the air, and he ran in their direction.
Jyx reached the Academy and raced up the steps to the main doors. The other latecomers slipped inside, glad of the warmth in the entrance hall, but Jyx paused on the threshold, listening hard. A shiver unconnected to the weather ran down his back as the faint echo of a cackle drifted on the breeze.
Jyx hurried inside, hoping that Doctor Ermes would never know.
* * *
Jyximus Faire is the protagonist of my work in progress, The Necromancer's Apprentice, and I thought you might appreciate an introduction to the world above my Underground City. The other City flashes can be found here.