"Alune!" Miss Reids' voice was shrill as it cut through the quiet murmur of the classroom, "What do you think you're doing?!" Despite her age, her eyes were still cuttingly clear and she could still hold forth like a drill sergeant.
My head came up several desks away from my partner and I's workstation and I peered up through rogue strands of my straight, positively orange hair. "I'm sorry ma'am, I dropped my foci, I've got it now though," I held the small red chip of stone up sheepishly. Under her glare and the giggles of my fellow classmates I slunk back to my desk and my partner who looked like he'd rather eat a worm than look at me. Mactab. Or rather Lord Mactab, the dashing dark-haired rosario of the upper classmen, and his disdain for commoners was legendary, second only to his distaste for the untalented; both of which described me to a tee. I shot a desperate look at Stasia and Catena but they weren't looking my way, rather concentrating on cooperating to levitate their feather in unison.
It was supposed to be an exercise in trust and cooperation with your fellow mages, but I wasn't sure how it was supposed to work when your partner wouldn't even look at you, much less acknowledge your existance. I looked over to where the revered Lord Mactab had wandered over to his friends working at another table and sighed. It's not like I could even levitate the feather on my own.
I began to wonder for the thousandth time if they hadn't made a mistake in inviting me to such a prestigious magic school as St. Auberdine's. I'd barely been able to light a candle since the orphanage I'd grown up in, and more recently, been working at had burnt to the ground. Maybe it was a fluke, maybe it really wasn't magic, just a regular old fire, and everything I thought I'd seen and felt was just my imagination. But they'd been so sure
With a second sigh, I gripped my foci tightly, closed my eyes and told the feather to rise, rise up. But as always, the moment I closed my eyes I saw fire rising up instead, raging, devouring, and in the flames the faces of all the people I'd grown up with, melting and charring. The screams and flames roared through my head, while my small voice fought against the tide, fought to be heard. Levitate, just rise, just a bit. I tried to whisper louder than the flames, to be heard by the magic, but to no avail. I lowered my foci and opened my eyes, banishing the flames from my sight, and stared at the feather, still motionless on the desk.
"Still nothing?" Miss Reid was doing a walk-around to see how far everyone had gotten.
"No ma'am," I returned tonelessly without raising my eyes to her face.
She snorted and moved on, saying nothing to Mactab about his lack of progress during class. None of the teachers ever reprimanded him; he was supposed to be a cousin to the king once or twice removed or something so he always got special treatment.
After she had examined everyone's efforts and made some notes in her grade book she dismissed us, with a boatload of homework as usual.
"I can't believe she gives us homework before sunday!" Stasia wrinkled her pert nose in irritation, and flipped her unruly dark blonde hair to the side impatiently. "I mean, does she not understand how holy the seventh day is? You just can't be expected to do menial labour on Sunday!"
Catena snorted, "If you didn't have homework to do you wouldn't even get out of bed on Sundays."
"You observe your sundays your way and I'll observe my sundays my way," Stasia sniffed back. "But I mean really, even you could spend a day better than with your nose stuffed into Simon's Ghastly Maunderings!"
Catena shook her head with a smile, her dazzlingly light blonde hair seemed to scatter the sunlight with its movement. "Simon Grastly's Musings is the single best guide for student mages in the world," she admonished, "sure, he's a bit dry, but his principles are fundamentally sound."
"A BIT dry?!" Stasia all but shrieked, "If he was any drier the great Syoaran Desert would be jealous!"
I giggled and Catena shot me a small frown. "Honestly you two, if you can't be bothered to keep up with the readings, it's no wonder you're falling behind in your classes."
Stasia stuck her tongue out defiantly, but I looked away, pretending not to really take mind. I'd studied the blasted book from cover to cover and still couldn't manage even the most elementary of magics.
"Anyway, you two wanna come to my Aunt's next Sunday for a week?" Stasia bounced a few steps ahead. "I'm heading up to celebrate Dun's Day, and Auntie thinks I shouldn't travel alone." She pouted, clearly annoyed that her Aunt thought she couldn't handle herself.
Catena wrinkled her brow, "Well it would be fine for me, and it could be interesting to meet the famed hero Mistress Mina, especially since I'm writing a paper on her for end of term, but are you sure you should be taking off school when you're already behind?"
Stasia shrugged, "I don't really care if I keep up in the schoolwork or not, I just have to pass the test at the end anyway, and I'm sure I won't have any problems with that," she grinned, "And Auntie agrees! She says she never went to no silly magic school, and look at her now! Everyone knows her name and she doesn't have to do what anyone tells her to do, they have to ASK her and then she might or might not do it."
Catena sighed, "She only gained her distinction because of her actions during the war, if there had been no war, she'd have had to go to a school to get anywhere, like you have to." she patiently explained.
"Then we just need another war!" Stasia was in her stride now, "then we could all ditch this dumb school and go have adventures!"
Catena rolled her eyes but refrained from further disputing her flawed logic as Stasia jumped up onto a low wall "Onward men! Into the trenches! Avast! Yarr! Show no fear!" She hollered, leading her pretend charge on the hapless bed of posies in her path.
After the posies and the glaring gardener had broken up her last stand, she hopped back down to us, "You too, Alune?" she asked, breathless from her fun.
"If it's not too much trouble?" I asked quietly with a small smile.
"No trouble at all!" Stasia grabbed me in a headlock and then released me as Catena caught her eye. Catena, however, had the presence of mind to dodge.
"Ladies!" A scandalized Miss Merind started after us from across the courtyard, "A little decorum if you please!" For such a small woman, she was incredibly quick, and came upon us before we had time to do anything but look chagrined.
"Sorry Miss Merind, we're just excited about visiting my Aunt next week," Stasia explained humbly. She had the rather bewitching ability to look convincingly innocent in the worst of trouble. Only the austere Miss Reid had yet managed to not succumb to it.
"Oh alright, but do keep your physical displays to a minimum, if you please," Miss Merind huffed, then continued on to the central gardens.
Stasia grinned unrepentantly, and continued her bouncing as soon as she was out of sight, "You guys are gonna love Auntie Mina and the Bumblebee Inn and Lacuna Swamp, it's the craziest place, and there's supposed to be fairies and wraiths and wisps and all that in the swamp! I followed a wisp when I was three you know! But my Auntie found me before it led me into a sinkhole and oh was she EVER mad, and she hollered at the wisp and it shot off so quick, you never saw," she laughed, "so did I, but she caught me and tanned my backside but good."
"Fairies don't exist Staz," Catena muttered dryly, "you probably just followed some reflected light or swamp gas or something."
"Auntie sez they do," Stasia admonished. "See? That's where burying yourself in books will trip you up, you don't get any real world experience, and you believe everything you read about, even if it's not true!"
"Of course Staz, we'll go visit the fairies while we're there, since you insist," Catena sighed and we followed our fearless leader back to the dormitories.
The next week just dragged on and on and on. I kept running into his great and mighty high mucky-muck Lord Mactab, and with the worst results. He and his friends seemed to have targeted me especially this week, though I had no idea why they'd pick me out in particular for their cruel games.
"I swear, if that stuck up prick trips me down the stairs, or shoves me in the fountain one more time, I'm going to beat that grin off his face with Simon's Ghastly Grousings," I snarled late on saturday afternoon. Stasia, Catena and I were sitting around a table trying to convince a small pebble to roll around it, and I was feeling particularly out of sorts, as I'd had to drip dry all class long from his latest efforts at ruining my day.
Stasia snickered at my uncharacteristic outburst, "I could hold him down for you, and Catena can distract the professors with overlong convoluted questions."
Catena sniffed but didn't look up from the text she was studying, "Don't get me involved."
"Pff, you're no fun," Stasia slumped onto the table "Move pebble, moooooooove," she muttered. The pebble had thus far resisted all our efforts combined, so Catena had gone in search of Grastly's advice on the subject, Stasia had tried whacking it around with a ruler before Miss Reid had taken that away and I'd taken to staring at the ceiling, waiting for the day to end so I could change into some drier clothes.
"Ladies." Miss Reid's voice could probably freeze molten magma, "Since you've the time to goof off, I assume you've obviously already mastered the lesson, so why don't we show the class how well you're progressing?" Her black and white peppered hair was done up in a severe bun at the back of her neck as usual, and her piercing blue eyes pinned us with an accusing glare.
"Ah, well, we're doing research
" Stasia tried demurely, indicating Catena whose nose was still buried in the textbook.
Naturally Miss Reid was still completely immune to Stasia's charm, and assigned Stasia and I two hours of detention after class.
"Uugh. Two more hours of damp ick." I muttered mutinously, facedown on the table as the last of the students left.
"Moooooooooooooooove." Stasia growled at our pebble, still to no effect.
Miss Reid came over to us, "Now I hope you two can focus, I'll let you out early if you can master this before the two hours are up."
As she returned to her desk at the front of the classroom Stasia and I looked up and rolled our eyes at each other.
I sighed, closed my eyes and tried yet again. Every time I tried to tap into my magic the flames of that day came back to me in full force, the memories every bit as real as it had been in person, and I just froze up.
It had been hot, unbearably so, but Ariana, Luci and I had been in the kitchen, trying to scrape a lunch together without using the oven. I was absolutely certain the oven hadn't been lit, it was just the heat of the day getting trapped in the small kitchen. I'd seen heat waves radiating from the floor, but maybe I was just seeing things since I was so dizzy from the oppressive heat. At least I think it was just the heat getting to me, my blood felt funny, like there were bees trapped under my skin. Then everything had gone weird, like glass over a jeweler's flame, everything warped, the earth beneath my feet lurched, and the world burst into flames. The flames, Luci, Ariana, the kitchen it all warped and melted, colours bleeding into one another. I still can't remember how I got out, all I could recall were the faces, and the horrible, burning melting sensation that seemed to seep through into my very veins. Every time I have closed my eyes since then, and attempted to pull up the magic I'm supposed to have, I see faces in the flames, most I know, some I don't, but they all blacken and melt like candle wax. I remember that I woke as the sun set that day, somehow outside in the yard, my clothes and hair lightly singed, but otherwise unhurt. Some strange people found me there, and told me I was a magus. They took me to St. Auberdine's and enrolled me, and I've not been able to accomplish a single magic work since. I think they must have made a mistake, but if they're right, and I made the fire happen, then it's all my fault everyone I grew up with is dead, and I don't want to have that power. Better that it's a mistake for me to be here.
"Explode." Stasia's voice broke into my reverie. I barely had time to throw up my arm to shield my face before a small pop sent stone chips flying in every direction. Stasia blinked, I peeked out from behind my sleeve at the small pile of sand which was all that remained of our practice pebble. Stasia had a 'gift' for making things blow up that surpassed any of her other abilities.
"Huh." I couldn't really think of anything else to add.
"Cool," Stasia didn't seem at all fazed as she swiped a pebble off the desk next to ours to replace the poor little pile of rock dust. Miss Reid didn't even look up, since Stasia had made a habit of blowing up anything that defied her efforts of coercion in the past.
I glared at the little stone, feeling some of Stasia's frustration rubbing off on me, and in a moment of caprice I mimicked Stasia's tactics. "Explode," I growled at it venomously, expecting nothing of it. When it suddenly started to glow red both Stasia and I jumped back, knocking our chairs back. It blew up with a sound like a rifle retort, little bits of molten rock flying in all directions and leaving a black scorch mark on the tabletop.
As we stared dumbfounded at the blackened patch on the table Miss Reid swooped down on us. She just stared, saying nothing. I fidgeted.
"Go." Her voice was sharp, clipped, "You're dismissed." She returned to her desk and started packing her things up.
Stasia and I exchanged wary glances, then grabbed our stuff and booked it before she changed her mind.
"I think I forgot something," I muttered, following Stasia and Catena out of the collegium's grand double doors and down the tree lined approach. It was some dim, ungodly early hour of Sunday morning, and I hadn't quite come to terms with the fact that I was awake yet.
"Ah that's normal," Stasia assured me, "I'm sure I forgot my underthings but I've checked three times already and they're still there."
Catena paused and pulled her pack off, "Just a sec, need to check something," she mumbled, fumbling through the contents of her bag. "Oh, ok never mind, I didn't forget," Catena grinned in relief and hoisted her pack back onto her shoulders. Stasia and I laughed and we headed on off into the big wide world.
The city of Kaylis was far larger than I'd ever realized before. It'd been night when I'd arrived, and we'd hurried on horseback through the city and straight to St. Auberdine's so I hadn't had a chance to really grasp the city's true scale. Clustered around the prestigious St. Auberdine collegium were the large townhouses of the wealthy and elite, each sumptuous yard artfully separated by hedges or greenery cleverly structured to stand as a property line marker, and partially hidden from street view by gated stone walls; climbing ivy crept over the older of these. As we went further out into the city, the houses got smaller and less adorned, more utilitarian and middle class lodgings. We passed a few inns, restaurants and shops, all still closed in the dim predawn light. Few people were about at this hour on a Sunday, and those that were ignored us, already intent on their day's work. As we neared the outer areas of Kaylis we saw fewer residential buildings and a greater profusion of shops and sidewalk carts.
"We should visit the market during the week sometime," Stasia said looking around with interest, "I never realized Kaylis' market section was so big! There's gotta be lots of cool stuff here."
"Maybe," Catena sounded unsure, glancing around at the winding side streets, and dark alleys, "if we bring some of the boys for protection
these places can be so dangerous."
" 'These places'," Stasia scoffed, "you only have to worry if you head towards the riverside edge of town, these end of Kaylis is painfully tourist-friendly." She made a face, "you've been reading your books again, haven't you, Cat?"
Catena shrugged and looked down.
"Besides, we're going outside the city on our own, all alone," I cut in enthusiastically, "after we survive this adventure we'll be able to do anything on our own!" I'd meant it to sound reassuring but the look of panic Catena shot me gave me made me realize I'd rather missed the mark.
Stasia meanwhile warmed right up to her favorite topic, "That's right! We're our own bosses on this trip, maybe we'll even meet Sekosian spies and have an epic battle, but we'll blow them away because we're all super elite mages and they'll beg us for mercy and we'll make them tell us all their secrets and then we'll tell the king and he'll give us all the title of Royal Magus like Auntie Mina!" Stasia skipped a few steps ahead of us and turned back to us, still skipping backwards, "And then I'll conquer Sekosa with all their secrets, and you can all call me General Stasia the Greatest, and I'll be gracious and generous and build a giant library for you Cat with all the books in the world, and you can have a school Al and make that Mactab monkey go to school forever and ever under you, and I'll build a grand castle and invite everyone for high tea every afternoon!" She giggled and hop-skipped till she was facing frontward again.
Catena sniffed, "I'd be scared if I had to live in your imagination Staz, but I'm a good friend and I'll have you committed when you finally lose it completely, I promise." Stasia's method of imagining everything way over the top seemed to have calmed Catena down though, you could always tell when Catena was back on even kilter, because she started sounding like someone's disapproving mother.
Our first view of the 'big wide world' was rather unimpressive. The sun should have been rising above the tree line in the distance, at some point between two of the larger mountains bordering Sekosa, but instead we had to content ourselves with the subtle increase in light as the sun rose behind thick grey clouds that blanketed the whole sky.
The sun rose as the day went on, or so we assumed, it got a bit lighter anyway and Kaylis shrunk to a small point behind us as we walked, then was lost behind trees as we entered the forest.
"Bleh," I grunted, "I'm sick of walking, I'll just lie down and roll the rest of the way, 'kay?"
Stasia snickered, "Well good luck with that when we reach the swamp, but I advocate this plan of action, mostly for my own personal entertainment. Onward Rollerdaemon!"
Catena mumbled something incoherent, meandered a few steps over to the edge of the road where more grass grew and promptly flopped down spread-eagle. Stasia and I walked over and I poked her with my foot.
"Yup, this one's done for, nothing left to do but eat it," I spoke solemnly. Catena snarled unintelligibly and flailed at my intruding foot, then rolled over onto her back, away from me. "Break time?" I asked, looking up to Stasia.
She shrugged, "Guess so." I flopped to the ground and rolled around for a bit while Stasia unpacked some bread and fruit from her pack.
"How much more of this is there?" Catena asked rather hopelessly.
"Oh well, if we don't take too many breaks we should get there by nightfall," Stasia offered cheerfully, handing her some bread with an apple. Catena groaned.
"What if we don't make it before nightfall?" I asked around a mouthful of bread, "Is there somewhere along the road we can stop before your Aunt's place?"
Stasia bit her lip, "Well, no. Not really. Nowhere three girls should stay alone
but the path to my Aunt's inn is pretty hard to miss, so even if we're a bit late we can get there by moonlight, I'm sure!" she stuffed the rest of her apple in her mouth and stood up. "But it shouldn't take that long, I don't think, anyway," she finished brightly.
I sincerely hoped so, but I didn't say anything aloud since Catena was faring poorly enough without an imminent trek through an unfamiliar swamp at night to haunt her thoughts. Besides, the cloud cover had, if anything, grown thicker and darker, and I had my doubts about whether we'd be seeing any moonlight that night.
With a good deal of grumbling, mostly Catena's, we got back onto the road.
Just a little drabbling I've been doing.
I finally read this. Catena comes off a bit like Hermoine at first, but improves later in the story. I kinda like it. How does it go after this?