The teachers had been on edge all year. Dáin figured it had something to do with the stuff that had been happening when he came to school – portals opening to other worlds, people disappearing and reappearing, miracles and horrid things all over the world, if the news was to be believed at all. But the news didn’t come through – no TV came through at all, down in Addergoole. The older kids said it used to work, but something about the shifting wards or the weather patterns had turned out to mess with any incoming signal. Phones to the outside didn’t work well either, if they worked at all.
The teachers being on edge had bothered Dáin more than the lack of contact. Addergoole had this way of sucking you in, making you forget about the outside world. He’d barely thought about his parents, just enough to send them a couple slightly-guilty letters. He’d thought about his old boyfriend even less, and the letter he’d sent him had been a lot more guilty.
Mostly, though, Dáin had been pretty engrossed in his first year of school. There had been magic to learn, an awkward Change to handle, his Keeper to, uh, be Kept by, and the rest of his classmates to mostly-try-not-to-bother, as per orders.
And now he was standing in the Auditorium. His bags were packed. His Keeper had graduated. He was ready to go home and play video games all summer and not think about magic or collars or babies or anything else about Addergoole until September rolled around.
The gym teacher strode to the front of the room and cleared his throat. Then Director Regine and Professor VanderLinden joined him. But it was Luke who spoke.
“In June of last year, strange things began happening all over the world. The human media didn’t know what to make of it, so I’m imagining the reports you got were pretty sparse.”
Dáin swallowed. Strange things. That was an understatement if he’d ever heard one.
“We weren’t sure what to make of it, either, when it first started. We thought maybe it was a world-wide Nedetakaei attack – even though the Nedetakaei have been very bad at any sort of coordinated fighting. It turns out…” His wing folded tight to his chest, and when he continued, Luke sounded not only sad, but miserable. “It turns out that the Departed Gods are back.”
Shouting erupted. Dáin sat down slowly. This was – it was impossible. The Departed Gods were a myth, the sort of creation story nobody really believes.
The projection screen behind Regine lit up. Dáin swallowed against a hard lump in his throat. That was… no. The rubble, the fire…
“This was Pittsburgh, four weeks ago. As far as we’ve been able to tell, the fires have been burning for months and are still burning.” Luke cleared his throat. “There were survivors. In every city, there were some survivors that we know of. But there weren’t many – there weren’t nearly enough.” He hung his head, and for a moment, he was silent. Dáin didn’t blame him. He didn’t feel like saying anything either.
The rest of the auditorium seemed to feel the same, at least for a minute. Then, shouting erupted.
Dáin didn’t have anything to say. Over the din, Regine’s voice carried. “I am afraid this is not a hoax.” She sounded genuinely sad. “If you wish to go home for the summer, we will do our best to help you make arrangements. But there is no guarantee that any sort of mass transportation — airplanes, busses, trains — will be running, nor that gas stations will have fuel for cars. We do recommend that you stay here, at least while we work to ascertain the situation fully.
“That being said,” she continued, “if you do wish to leave Addergoole for the summer, gather to the left of the auditorium. If you wish to stay, you may wander as you wish.”
Dáin looked around, watching as people moved slowly, shuffling as if they were ill, one way or the other. He couldn’t seem to make himself move.
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