Chapter 4 (draft 1)

Dizzie raced down the hall, slowing down only to ruffle up Seamus’s already-messy hair. He swatted and hissed like a harassed cat. Dizzie hopped out of the way.

“Is that what you’re going to be after Passage? A custodian?” She walked around the dirty floor, clucking her tongue. “It’s too bad that death maze is going to eat you alive.”

“It’s not a death maze.”

“Tell that to the kids who got lost in there a few years back.”

“Shut up, Dizzie! That’s not true. Why are you always such a liar?”

Dizzie shrugged. “It’s just fun to mess with you. If you didn’t react, I wouldn’t bother.”

“You’re saying it’s my fault?”

She frowned thoughtfully. “Yeah. Pretty much.”

Dizzie grabbed a pear and a heel of bread from the kitchen before leaving. The bread was a bit stale, but she couldn’t have an empty stomach on an exam day.

The University was less than a mile away from the palace district, but Dizzie could see the main tower from the front door. It was the centerpiece of the city of Marca and where the architects and scribes went to study. Dizzie’s classes were in a smaller domed building next to the philosophers’ gardens. It was where the orators, poets, and musicians went. Dizzie was a singer. And a damn good one.

She eyed the sundial in the gardens as she passed. Seven in the morning.

“Right on time.”

As Dizzie swung open the heavy yew door to a circle of several hundred students. The discordant sounds of instruments tuning and singers warming up wafted over her ears. The students taking the exam today were all in the front row. Kira was there, dutifully tuning her mandolin. She frowned and tossed her head to an empty seat next to her.

Rather than joining her, Dizzie winked at Kira and leapt on to the main stage. Her teacher, Madam Hapnes. There were two Madam Hapnes in the University, but this one was much more rigid and imposing than the frail mathematics instructor. So, of course, Dizzie called her “Madam Happiness” instead.

“Contralto Catalano, would you mind taking your seat?”

She cracked her neck. “I’m ready, Madam Happiness. Just give the word.”

“You’ve just arrived. Have you even warmed up your voice?”

“What? Am I going to strain my vocal chords or something?”

Madam Hapnes sighed. “Very well. Silence in the room!”

The screeching and whistling died down.

Dizzie cleared her throat and started out with as high a note as she could muster. Then, she squashed it down, then stretched it out, bellowing a wavering note that sounded something like a swarm of buzzing flies.

Madam Hapnes waved her hand for silence. Dizzie grinned.

“What was that?”

“I call it ‘antimusic.’”

“Not only do you dye your hair and pierce your face like a farm animal, you’ve also decided you want to sound like one.”

The students laughed. Kira put her face in her palm.

“Music doesn’t have to be beautiful, Madam.”

“Why would someone want to listen to ugly music?”

“Because it reflects their lives. And it’s different. It breaks the rules, Madam. It’s important that we break rules and forge ahead.”

“If you think you can break the rules without mastering them first, you’ve got another thing coming, Contralto Catalano. Take a seat.”

“Do I pass?”

“What do you think?”

Dizzie bowed to the students. “Thank you all. I have worked beside you as a peer but now I will stand above you as a master.”

“No, Dizzie. The answer is no. Take a seat. Have an actual song ready next month.” She addressed the room. “I hope you take this as a lesson, especially you new students. Talent is nothing without practiced skill. I will not accept any music outside of the accepted canon. Everything you do in life will be based first on the tenets you learn in this class. If you don’t want to learn them, fine. You’re free to do so. But you’ll never complete your life path that way.

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