“Okay, let me get this straight,” the headmaster states in a huff. He paces back and forth behind his desk, humming coarsely and leering at Reddic with intense repulsion. “Despite the fact that Nuria is not S’nue, nor demonstrates powers associated with S’nue classifications, you wish to insert her into those lesson plans. Why is that? Also, you have yet to properly explain what caused that noise in the Ibri House basement, the burns on the walls, nor why you and Nuria could not be found for over an hour afterward.”
Reddic dances around the true answer, keeping Manifestation out of his mouth, and explains that Nuria’s next stage involves an all-around understanding of other races. He notes that S’nue is a critical one to get to first, given their specific history and nature of their powers in general. “That was the primary goal of the first-ever headmaster of Four Hearts Academy. Talas spent a lifetime shedding light on those two points, and his work is legendary. I want Nuria to experience that firsthand.”
Reddic briefly looks over his shoulder, glancing past his neighbor, his sights locking onto Talas’ portrait. His gaze softens measurably at that moment, only to reverse when returns his attention to Neth. The headmaster’s wroth remains unchanged.
“Both Nuria and I- separately, I might add- have explained that sound and damage extensively. I’m already aware that our stories corroborated each other’s. And I’d rather not continue that line of questioning for the young lady’s sake so that she won’t burden herself with self-consciousness over the use of her powers. As for where we went, it was a spot off campus that Nuria herself chose. She informed me that she spent time out there last year with her brother and a couple of others. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose what we did outside as Nuria has sworn me to secrecy. If I must apologize for that, I shall, but I take such promises seriously.”
Reddic smiles in the face of Neth’s perfected guilt-inducing glare, and while he doesn’t sweat on the outside, his spirit frowns. It’s a good thing he’s no governor. Can’t locate a tell or sign of weakness anywhere.
Neth finally sits and clasps his hands together, his daunting gaze unchanging. “While I can appreciate your idealism in that regard, first and foremost, it should be applied to this school.”
“With all due respect, I disagree,” Reddic says with a grin. He watches as Neth’s decorum starts to shake apart, no longer set on just anger, but expressing shock and chagrin, represented by his visibly trembling hands. Yes, tell me who you truly are. I need to know how to handle you if I’m to stay here.
“My, my,” says the third member of their party. She peers through grey-rimmed glasses with aqua eyes aimed curiously at Reddic while addressing the headmaster. “Before you pin this man against the wall, will you allow me one question?”
“I doubt it’ll do any good, but make your inquiry.”
“If not to the school, then where do you apply your loyalty first and foremost?” Professor Cwen asks.
Reddic peers through the lenses and finds in her expression nothing but genuine curiosity. Interesting. She either doesn’t know how I got this position or she doesn’t care. Can’t hurt to find out.
“Has Headmaster Neth informed the rest of you how I came into this position?”
“I have,” Neth says venomously.
“Which is why I wanted this meeting here,” Cwen says. “You see, our dear headmaster doesn’t have the fondest feelings for the Avinian government. So, I wish to set the record straight.” She turns toward the headmaster and Reddic is caught unaware by the fluid change of her bubbly expression to a hardened one. “Sir?”
The headmaster slowly peels his glare away from Reddic and looks the professor in her eyes.
“You know that none of us professors appreciate meddling from the Avinian governors, but that ship has sailed. We must recognize when and where to exercise that prejudice. And until Reddic’s last response to you, I was prepared to refuse his request alongside you.”
Reddic laughs. “Is that a fact?”
“Oh, absolutely.” Cwen rests her hands on crossed legs. “On paper, you may very well be the scoundrel Neth believes you to be, but what I get from your words, attitude, and actions tells a different story, and I’ve always appreciated experience over account.”
“So, does this mean the next leg of Nuria’s tutelage can happen on the former? I have a feeling she’s less account-oriented.”
Reddic’s tickled when part of her response is a perfect mimicry of the smile he gives everyone.
“I am grateful for the vote of confidence back there,” Reddic says to Cwen, though both of them have their attention on the energetic phoenix before them bouncing from foot to foot.
“Oh, of course. Even now, I’m still witnessing what I heard in your voice,” Cwen replies. She nods to Nuria. “Frankly, I’m not surprised she’s garnered your favor. Even the hardiest of our colleagues sung her praises on occasion.” She sighs softly. “We professors try our best to remain impartial, but every once and a while, there’s that one student we invest in just that much more than the others.” Cwen loses touch on reality for a brief moment when she recalls a holding cell and the inconsolable young woman handcuffed to the bars behind her, the metal cutting into her wrists as she thrashes about.
“Although, I suppose for you it’s not much of a choice,” she says after seeing Nuria impatiently waving her over to the cafeteria doors.
“No. But I can’t say I’d prefer it any other way.”
“Thank you, dear,” Cwen says after crossing through the held door. She takes the lead in their march through the cafeteria, over half the tables unoccupied, making it easy to find one where her class resides, and she’s profoundly surprised by the presence of all four. “Good afternoon, dears.”
“Afternoon, professor,” two of the girls say in unison. One of them looks down after noticing Nuria, tucking her ruby hair behind her ear. The other places her pencil between the pages of her sketchbook to hold her place, ready to give her full attention to the conversation. The only boy at the table, a white-haired gentleman with a longsword leaning against the back of his chair, silently greets them with a slight bow of his head.
Amid the three of them is one caramel-skinned teen sitting cross-legged on the center of the table, the remnants of her dinner a graveyard of gravy, florets, and bones tripped clean. She digs between her teeth with a fingernail while holding onto her broadsword by the sheath in her other hand. She flicks a scrap of gristle from her jaw and catches it. “Aha! That’s been bugging me for five minutes!” She flicks the gristle away behind her. “What’s the word, professor? Is she in?”
“And here I was hoping to have it be a surprise,” Reddic says.
“Sorry, but they had to be the first to know. After your initial request, I asked if any of them would uncomfortable. If that had been the case, my refusal would’ve been instantaneous,” Cwen explains. “But I wasn’t surprised by their answers. Both Valine and Lauron,” she points to the ruby-haired and caramel-skinned ladies, “were more than happy to let Nuria in.”
“Valine?” Nuria faces the shy girl as she raises her head slowly. “Oh, yeah! We played against each other in the Freshman Derby. Man, that was a lot of fun! Are you playing again this year?”
Valine shakes her head fervently, shaking loose the hair back in front of her ear. “I will never play that again. My wrist still hurts.”
“Forget Valine. I’ll play you,” Lauron declares. She rises and her long blonde hair spills down to her waist. “It should’ve been me last year, but class reps weren’t allowed, or some crap like that. I guarantee that if it had been me, S’nue would’ve won for sure. You probably can’t even imagine how bad you’d have lost to–”
Nuria slams a closed fist onto her open palm. “You were the girl who gave herself a concussion!”
Professor Cwen is thankful that her one slip of a laugh is covered up by those from Valine and the owner of the sketchbook. Lauron glares at both before turning her nose up. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up! That’s the last time I stick up for either of you.”
“It’s just some light ribbing, Lauron. You’ll live,” Cwen tells her as she slides behind the sketchbook owner. “Nuria, this young woman is Stacy, but we all call her Sticker.”
“Hi,” Sticker says with a cheery voice.
“Sticker?” Nuria repeats.
“Yeah, it relates to my powers. Lauron wouldn’t let up, so it just kind of stuck after a while.”
“What? You hate my nickname now.”
“I love it. I promise.”
“Uh-huh. Sure,” Lauron barks at her.
Professor Cwen sighs as she steps around Sticker and lays a hand on the shoulder of the young man at the table. “Last but not least, this is Evic. Say hi to your new classmate,” Cwen urges him. Curious as to why Evic chose now to come to a group meeting outside class, Cwen watches him carefully as he raises his head. His emerald eyes shine beautifully in the sunlight. Cwen frowns as the glaze of sunlight passes over his irises as they darken when he glares. She opens her mouth to scold him when Nuria yelps.
The phoenix nearly stumbles back as her wings spring from her back, but Reddic steadies her with a hand. “Easy goes it,” he says.
“Yeah, my mistake,” the now flushed phoenix says softly. She tries to force her wings back in with her hands.
“Yeah, she’ll be a wonderful addition,” Evic states coldly. He rises, grabs his longsword, and leaves without another word.
Cwen watches him vacate the premises with a sorrowful countenance. “You’ll have to excuse Evic, Nuria. He’s never been very social, even with these ladies.” Cwen gestures to the still bickering trio. They pause when the professor clears her throat. “However, I’d like it if the three of you spent the rest of the day getting to know Nuria and vice versa. How’s that sound?”
“Are we done for today?” Nuria asks Reddic instantly, and Cwen can see the adoration goes both ways in their relationship. The respect in her request and enthusiasm in her posture sings that song clearly in Cwen’s ears.
“We’re on Professor Cwen’s timetable now. If she’s fine with it, then so am I.”
Lauron turns and looks down at Cwen from the table. “I’m supposed to attend a class rep meeting right now, though. They’re waiting on me now.” Lauron points over her shoulder toward one of the outdoor alcoves around the cafeteria. Cwen indeed sees the other three representatives standing and staring at their group.
“I’ll tell them you’ve been excused today. Now, why not give Nuria a tour of the S’nue dorm? Professor Reddic and I will catch up with you all a little later.”
“Aw, yeah! Let’s go! Nuria, you’re gonna love this! Ladies, move out!” Lauron commands as if their general, her boots clacking against the floor when she jumps down and marches out front.
Cwen watches the young ladies exit in the exact opposite mood of Evic. The excited herd breaks into a run the moment they exit the cafeteria. Without turning away, she says, “While they go and have their tour, I’d like one of my own. None of us professors- excluding yourself- have seen the inside of Ibri House. I’d like to be the first.”
“Then, please, follow me.”