It was still morning---if 10:30 AM could be called morning.
The glaring sun beat down on the dusty greyish-brown cobblestone corniche with a searing vengeance, producing shimmering waves of hot air rising from the pavement.
Underneath that hard, hazy cloudless sky, I--Inanna Imara, First Level Thaumaturge and only daughter of Lord and Lady Harrington of the House Imara--was the lone subject toiling up Garamond Road to the Main Courtyard of Topaz's only Academy of Magikal Arts.
What little breeze blowing was barely able to stir the magenta oleander bushes growing in profusion along the right-hand side of the road, but it was enough to intensify the scent of the towering eucalyptus trees which held up the hillside with their huge roots.
I stopped under the shade of one such massive eucalyptus and wiped the sweat from my brow. A slight breeze floated up from the green and gold Topaz valley below, rustling the eucalyptus leaves, but not even that slight breeze held any respite.
The glittering, golden city of Topaz spread out below me in splendid opulence, with its tall spindly spires, waving flags, and gilded domed rooftops.
Beyond the city, the ocean sparkled and shimmered, a gradual gradation from greenish-blue aquamarine, to the azure of lapis lazuli, all the way to the distant sapphire depths.
As colorful and amazing as it was, my eyes could not help being drawn to the dazzling white, reflective limestone surface of the ever permanent and enduring pyramid, set at the epicenter of Topaz.
I was too high up to hear the bustling and humming of Topaz's busy streets and open air market square.
At this altitude, the only sound I could hear were the summer crickets. The chirping was so loud, it drowned out much of the warbling birdsong of the sparrows and the psithurism through the eucalyptus branches.
In the distance, the peals of the steeple bell chimed the half-hour, reminding me that I needed to get moving again or I would forfeit lunch.
I sighed and left the eucalyptus' shade, heading back into the pounding heat of the summer sunshine.
Near the top of the hill, I had to weave my feet about to avoid stepping on the dropped purple petals of the jacaranda tree poking its head out from the courtyard above. I gasped as my right foot slipped on one of the pods, nearly causing me to face plant.
As pretty as the violaceous flowers were while they were on the tree, I hated them with a passion. The viscous fluid from the flowering pods were a big mess and left the bottom side of my sandals sticky all day long.
I stood there on one leg, inspecting the squished dark purple mess on the sandal of my other foot. Then I took in the huge purple mess of jacaranda pods lying all around me and shook my head in disgust.
It was nearly noon and the jacaranda yard waste was still lying everywhere on the roadway, creating a slip-hazard and smearing dark purple ink everywhere.
It was obvious that the Overlord in charge of the primate gardeners for this sector was slacking again because it was summertime. That to him meant it was slacker season.
I added this latest transgression to the ever growing list of complaints that Professor Morton would hear about and continued forward in grim determination, ignoring as best I could, my squeaky, sticky sandal. I did not want to be known as a busybody or a tattletale.
As the eyes and ears of the much maligned Thaumaturgy Department, I needed to maintain my stoic support for Professor Morton---as dingbat and absentminded as he could sometimes be.
I sighed with resignation.
My current role in life had somehow changed into that of a Thaumaturge Tattletale Extraordinaire.
As a bona fide graduate of the Academy for the Magikal Arts, I should be out there alongside my fellow alumni, moving and shaking world events. Instead, I was stuck here, toiling day-in and day-out, in the vapid safety and relative obscurity of the Academy campus.
I say relative obscurity with my tongue firmly stuck in my cheek because it is embarrassing to have to admit that everyone here knows me, but not in a good way.
I am what is called, in that most cruel yet politically correct term, a disabled mage.
Yes, it is exactly as it sounds.
A disabled mage is simply one who cannot do magik at all. Case in point: I was hot. I was tired. Yet, here I was, scrambling about and struggling to haul a cage with two white rats up Garamond Circle the handicapped way.
Anyone else with an ounce of magik would have, at the very least, levitated themselves a few inches above the road surface to keep from melting out the soles of their shoes on the hot cobblestones.
Let me hasten to add that although I may be magikally challenged, I was in no way shape or form, mentally or physically addled. I was fully prepared to combat against the heat in my low-magik fashion.
My long brown hair had been braided and coiled around my head in an effort to keep me cool. Unfortunately, it also made me look like a twelve-year-old girl, even though I had already celebrated my seventeenth birthday not too long ago.
My summer wardrobe also consisted of a pretty blue Grecian-style tunic dress, which would have been quite elegant on any other woman with a classic S-figure.
Sad to say, since my five-foot tall body hadn't filled out much in any interesting direction, the tunic hung in a single sheaf of fabric, like a soft cardboard tube, covering an area somewhere between my shoulders down to around my knees.
My feet bore the only sign of indulgence which would have been befitting my so-called superior caste and station in life, a pair of aromatic sandalwood sandals, custom-fitted by a guild mage artisan of the highest order.
It was one of the few luxuries I clung to without shame or protest, a small blessing which allowed me to take comfort in the fact that my body could stink from toiling in the sun all day, but my feet would always smell well-heeled.
Garamond Road was the only thoroughfare through the coastal city of Topaz which led into the Academy. It wound up the hill and then circled around the widespread campus like a lazy serpent, slow and languid with little thought about how much simpler life would be for the busy working mage if its placement were more angular and as-the-crow-flies.
Since it was technically a circuitous circle, its name changed to Garamond Circle at the point where it reached the Main Courtyard, a kidney-shaped park filled with statues, stone seating, and gnarled ancient oaks interspersed by tall stately fan palms, amidst reddish-green bamboo groves.
The Main Courtyard was normally filled with the stampede of hundreds of uniform-clad students. Today, it was silent save for the chirping of a few small sparrows, flittering and darting about the scrubby heads of the short clumps of sago palms at the top of the hill.
I paused a moment at the top of Garamond Road to catch my breath and to rest my aching legs.
The junction where the Road turned into a Circle normally had a nice cool stone bench under the jacaranda tree. During the school year, it was a great place to stop and rest from the sojourn up the hill.
At the moment, however, the bench was covered with at least two days' worth of the nasty, sticky purple pod droppings.
Since my legs were shaking with the effort of going up the hill in all that heat, I muttered a half-hearted Brush-off Command and waved my hand to-and-fro in the air above the bench to clear the pods off.
To my horror, at the point of magikal contact, the pods burst open, smearing purple goop all over the bench seat like boysenberry jam on a slice of stone bread.
I grimaced and moved away from the bench. The gardening Overlord was going to be upset at all the extra work his gardeners were going to have to do to clean up that mess.
Serves them right for not cleaning the yard waste when they were suppose to.
I turned away and was about to move onto Garamond Circle when a chilly wind slammed into my back from behind.
My shoulders tensed and I froze. In the middle of a hot day, it felt like a blast of arctic air had come gusting out of the hills, hitting me with its frigid fist.
I twirled my head towards the direction of the blast.
Nothing had changed.
The crickets were still chirping, the sun was still scorching, and the trees were still rustling. It had to be my imagination.
And then I noticed the white frost layer covering the purple goop jam on the stone bench, melting in the heat of the noon day sun.
Please let it be a bored teenage mage's prank and not something scary!
I raised my hand and spread my fingers, making the mage sign of protection, and moved on towards the first of many stucco two-story buildings.