Art is power,
Music is magic,
And people are not what they seem.
When powerful and charismatic painter Lord Malrec brings newly-unemployed music teacher Alannys Gale to Ravanmark, it seems to be the answer to her prayers.
But Lord Malrec has plans for her…plans that may not be as noble as they appear. A plot unfolds in darkness against the powerful and secretive royal family, and her newfound power may be the key to its execution. But can she refuse?
And can she survive the consequences if she does?
In a world with magic whose true power is shrouded in the mists of time, and whose people are not always what they seem, Alannys must find the strength and the courage to harness her power and shape her own destiny as the Music Mage.
A Union of Worlds
The room around Alannys was filled with thick, acrid black smoke. Her eyes stung and her lungs burned. She choked on every shallow breath she tried to draw, and she could hardly force her eyes to stay open against the burning pain. Tears streamed unheeded down her face. She could hear the crackling of flames, and the shrieks of pained, panicked voices, but she couldn’t see the fire or the people through the oily black smoke.
She couldn’t even see which way to run.
Alannys had known when she signed on to teach middle school music that the job would not be easy, but this seemed a bit extreme. Especially since the room around her was in a stone castle tower, on a planet that wasn’t even her own.
How had she gotten here? It had all started a few days before…
Seven o’clock on a Monday morning probably would not make most people’s top ten list of their favorite times to be at a school.
But Alannys Gale was not most people, and Daniels Junior High wasn’t most schools, and Alannys hummed to herself that particular Monday morning as she sat taping sheets of music together at her desk. She really did love the quiet of her roomy office that looked out into the band room, the restful peace and calm that it always exuded early in the morning, before the students or the administration or anyone else came in to shatter it.
The rest of the time, though, she would have paid good money to be anywhere else.
Alannys ripped the last strip of tape off the roll with such vehemence that it wrapped around her finger and stuck to itself.
“Knock, knock! How is our fine and talented music director this morning?” The voice was as melodious as one might expect from an eighty-something grizzled old man who had only recently stopped smoking.
Alannys smiled. “Good morning, Mister Trinn. I didn’t hear you come in.”
The old custodian laughed, pulling up a chair next to her desk. He held a steaming foam cup in each hand. “Doesn’t surprise me. You seemed pretty caught up in—what exactly are you doing there?”
“Taping together parts for the new piece the beginning orchestra is starting today. Or rather, I was,” she said, regarding her tape-wrapped finger ruefully. “This was the last of my tape. I wonder if I can pick up more from the office, or if I’ll have to run out at lunch and buy more?”
“Why would you have to buy more tape? Don’t they provide these things for teachers?”
“Have you forgotten what school you’re at?” Alannys shook her head, pulling the wasted tape from her finger. It came off in small, narrow strips, which did little to improve her mood. “I won’t be surprised if you have to bring your own mop soon. Where do you think the paper for these copies came from?”
“What? You had to buy your own paper to copy music for your classes? Seriously?”
Mister Trinn leaned over and put one of the steaming cups down on the desk in front of her. “Maybe this will make you feel better.”
“Coffee? You brought me coffee? Thank you!”
Mister Trinn smiled. It softened his leathery face, rearranging his many wrinkles into something kind and almost pleasing. He scratched at his fuzzy, unkempt gray hair with fingers that were swollen at the knuckles. “Well, a body’s got to have something to lean on when they quit the cancer sticks, and no mistake. But it seems to me that you need it even more than me, and that’s saying something. You can’t keep this up, Alannys. You’ll work yourself into the grave.”
“No mistake,” she echoed, sipping at the hot coffee. One cream, two sugars—Mister Trinn had even remembered how she took it. If she only got one friend at Daniels—and more and more it looked like she did—she could at least be glad he was a good one.
Mister Trinn set his coffee down with such a thump it sloshed over the rim of the cup onto his hand. “No, I’m serious! How many other schools do you know of where the band director, the orchestra director, and the choir director are all the same person?”
“None. But what choice do I have? Bill Dixley’s teaching band at Warren High now, and Shirley Clark got fired for making a fuss when the administration wouldn’t give the choir their usual budget. Bob says the school can’t afford to replace them. So I’m it.”
“Bob.” Mister Trinn said the name like it was a dirty word. “Bob Jameson is not your friend.”
“Don’t I know it.” Alannys pushed the stack of finished music to the side of her desk. “But my question stands. The principal can’t afford another teacher. These kids want to learn music. I want to teach music. What other solution do you suggest?”
Mister Trinn didn’t answer. He stared at her in silence for a moment that seemed to stretch longer and longer, and grow more and more awkward. “You want to teach music,” he said, so quietly she almost wondered if she had imagined it. “I wonder. I’ve only known you nine months, Alannys. But I think I know you better than that. You’re twenty-four years old. Is that what you want to do? Is that all you want to do?”
Alannys stared at him, stricken. “Yes. Well, no. I mean—” She trailed off, at a loss to say what she meant.
Mister Trinn didn’t prompt her or try to finish for her. He sat watching, his face unreadable, while she floundered for words to say what she had never even fully admitted to herself.
“I want to change the world,” she said finally, staring at her reflection in the surface of her desk. “The whole world. Don’t laugh. Music can do that, Mister Trinn, it has the power. But I…I don’t. I can’t change the world—I can’t even change the situation at one junior high school. Music is powerful, but the musician is not.”
Mister Trinn leaned forward. She had never seen him look so focused, so intense. “What if I could change that?”
Alannys couldn’t have been more surprised if he had offered to teach her to tap dance with the ghost of Fred Astaire. “What?”
He didn’t so much as crack a smile. “I can give you what you want, Alannys.” His voice was low; his words came so fast they tumbled over each other. “Honest to goodness I can. But you’ll have to give up everything—you’ll have to leave here and you can’t come back. But you’ll have what you’ve always wanted, I swear to you that you’ll have the power to change the world through music. What do you say?”
Alannys stared at Mister Trinn in shock. She had known the old janitor ever since she’d hired on at Daniels, and she had never known him to be crazy. But this…there was no other word for it.
Her mouth had gone completely dry. She took a sip of her coffee, rolling it around her mouth in a futile attempt to delay the inevitable. She didn’t want to hurt the old man’s feelings, but at this point she didn’t see how she could avoid it. “Mister Trinn…”
“Wait,” he pleaded. “Don’t dismiss this out of hand, Alannys, please—can’t you open your mind, believe in something bigger than what you can see?”
His voice was hypnotic. When he said it like that—for a moment, she almost could.
“I’m sorry, Mister Trinn. Really I am. But I’ve got work here that needs doing, and to be honest I’m not even really sure what you’re offering me. But thank you so much for thinking about me.”
She didn’t dare look at his face till she finished, but as soon as she did she could see that he was going to protest.
“Knock, knock!” The voice sang in from the doorway, like a younger echo of Mister Trinn’s own greeting, only more contrived and less jovial.
“Well, now, if it isn’t our principal himself.” Mister Trinn’s words fell flat, and his face carried no expression. “What brings you here this morning?”
Bob Jameson was a short, stout man in his early forties with a comb-over and a smile that looked as if he very much wanted them to believe it was genuine. “Terrific news, actually,” he said, rubbing his hands together with evident pleasure. But Alannys didn’t see anything pleasant in his eyes as he turned to look at her. “We’re getting a new computer lab.”
Alannys blinked in surprise. What on earth did that have to do with her? “Well, that is terrific, I suppose. But where are you going to put it? I thought the school was full.”
“Ah, yes. Well, that’s the thing, really—where to put it. All that equipment, it’s very valuable, we can’t just put it anywhere. And we’ll need a lot of room, and—we’re putting it here, Alannys.”
“Here? In the band room?”
“Well, sure, it’s the band room now, but once you clear this lot out of here and we get it set up properly, it’ll be a computer lab.”
“But—this is the band room! It’s been the band room ever since the school was built; it was designed for that. The entire music program lives here!” She tried her best to stay calm, to reason with him, but even she could hear the rising notes of panic and anger in her voice.
Bob’s smile hardened into something less pleasant. “This is not up for discussion, Alannys. We’ve already had a faculty meeting on the subject—the decision was made and announced at that time.”
“Faculty meeting? But why wasn’t I notified? I should have been there!” Alannys didn’t remember standing up, but she was out of her chair and on her feet.
“It was felt that your views on the subject would be too biased to permit any possibility of reason.” Bob eyed her distastefully. “And it seems those feelings were correct. I’m not here to debate this with you, and I’m not here to hear your piece. I’m here to tell you the new computer equipment arrives at noon today, and I’m here to notify you to clear these rooms by that time. Is that clear?”
Alannys sat down with a thump. “Crystal.”
“Very well. You may move all of these things over to the cafeteria; it’s the only room big enough except for the gym, and we can’t have you messing up the floor in there. So your classes will be held in the cafeteria. Your office will be open when you get there; it connects to the cafeteria and you can keep your things in there. We’ll need the floor totally clear whenever you don’t have classes in there—it’s a high traffic area and we can’t have chairs and stands and…music stuff lying about. But I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
He paused, as though allowing a response. Several responses went through Alannys’s mind, but none of them were suitable to say to the person responsible for her continued employment. It was probably just as well that she didn’t seem to have her wits together enough to speak just then.
“Terrific!” Bob clapped his hands together once, brightly, as though he had just brought a reluctant team to a whole-hearted, enthusiastic agreement. “Let’s shake a leg, then—we have a computer lab to build!”
He turned to leave, then paused in the doorway to survey the room. Alannys could see his gaze travel from the flat black metal music stands, to the faded choir robes hanging neatly on their racks, to the instruments. The bright shine of polished brass and the low gleam of warm wood reflected briefly in eyes that measured them, and found them wholly lacking.
“You are wasting your time, Alannys.” Bob’s voice was distant; he might have been brushing off a panhandler on the street. “The future is computers, and the things they can do for us. Students today have nothing to learn from your toys from the past.” He waved his arm in a gesture that encompassed everything in the room. “Anachronisms, all of them. Throwbacks. And if you insist on throwing your lot in with them, you’ll end up as obsolete as they are.”
The door closed behind him with a finality that made her shiver.