2.4: Pulling Rank

Tameri stares obsessively at the boarded-up window in Neth’s office. Officer Roark has offered to fix it every day since the accident, but she’s refused him each time. Tameri’s done with the days of resetting her mood. It’s done the school a disservice in her mind. Allowing Neth and Stark to operate independently of her input has ended a life very precious to her. Despite it being Neth’s office, she sees Aurum thrown through the glass in a hellish loop. Each time she envisions his skull cracking open upon collision with the ground, the chill to her soul swells.

     Tameri’s back is to an open violet binder. The notes on the page stop a third of a way down. Aurum’s name is written at the top beside the date from six days ago. The professor whirls when she hears the pages turn. The chalk-colored guard on her spadroon appears dark in the low light. She relaxes minutely to see her colleagues gathered before her.

     “Your last notes on your classes’ progress are…lacking,” Professor Zathony says coldly.

     “Excuse you?” Tameri replies heatedly.

     “Zathony, you’re skipping a few steps,” Cwen says.

     “Yes, and us beating around the bush works so much better. I’m speeding this along.”

     “Speeding what along?” Tameri leers warily at the blunt professor.

     “Ending this brood of yours before it becomes even more self-destructive,” Zathony declares. “Your time is better spent instructing your students than trying to steal the old man’s position.”

     Her soul’s chill magnifies. “I’m not stealing Neth’s job. As the senior professor, taking on his duties falls to me first. If he awakens–”

     “‘If’?” Zathony parrots.

     “Yes, if. Neth is old. Merely surviving that attack was a miracle. There is no guarantee the end of his coma will have a welcomed conclusion. Should he pass away, as unfortunate as that would be, I will be the one to become the next headmaster.”

     “You know as well as I do that every headmaster has been chosen by a panel. Neth was the last one chosen by the previous board of educators. Our next headmaster should be chosen the same way, us professors acting in place of the board of educators,” Zathony explains.

     “And when any new professor is brought in for consideration, it is after each of the current professors meets them first. Reddic was a special case, but perhaps you can inform us why Neth skipped that step with you?” Tameri presses. She knows the reason and their earlier interactions lead to most of the damages in the teacher’s lounge.

     Zathony surprises her by admitting the truth. “I blackmailed the old man for this position. You, Marmagar, and Stark all know this. I will explain this to Cwen and Lynald later on,” Zathony says calmly, looking to Tameri as anything but and she matches his expression. “This intervention is for you. To show you that your current choices are not the right ones for you or this academy.”

     “Because I missed one week of classes? I’m sure my students were delighted.”

     “Four Hearts Academy is more than classes,” Cwen says. “You’ve also missed every Star Derby game since, a thing you’ve never done as long as I’ve worked here. When your class won the game today, they came and asked why you weren’t there. Combine that with your mandate to have more noticeable patrols on campus and it puts the student body on edge.”

     “They’d complain more if we let the next attack come with our pants down,” Tameri counters.

     “The point is that they don’t know why such measures are necessary,” Professor Lynald mentions.

     “And they won’t,” Tameri barks.

     “But what about us?” Zathony queries. “What aren’t you telling us?”

     “Marmagar said you pursued Liamria off-campus. What happened? Did she escape?” Cwen asks.

     “Did you kill her?” Zathony adds.

     After a lengthy pause, Tameri replies, “She is still at large, unfortunately.”

     “And how exactly did she escape you?” Zathony says, relentless in his pursuit of the truth.

     She expels some of the chill to her soul with an icy outburst. “Is this an intervention or an investigation?” She locks eyes with Marmagar. “And why are you so gestureless right now? Don’t you have anything to say?”

     Marmagar holds up one finger.

     “Just one thing. Fine. Spit it out.”

     Marmagar shakes his head and holds out an open palm. Once Tameri calms down, he holds up the same finger and rotates it, then points to Neth’s desk.

     “Absolutely not,” Tameri counters.

     “And why the hell not?” Zathony shouts. “It’s clear you aren’t capable of doing this job on your own! Not in your current condition!”

     “And what condition is that? Strong? Self-assured? Vigilant?”

     “More like weak, afraid, and paranoid!”

     Tameri glares frigidly at the Vanusi professor, fed up with his backtalk and insults. “I. Am. Not. Weak! I. Am. Not. Afraid! I. Am. Paranoid. But which one of you hasn’t felt that way since Neth’s attack? You- Follow me.”

     Tameri sheathes her spadroon and storms out of Neth’s office, knowing her contemporaries will follow either out of respect or concern. She leads to the underground level past the normal campus infirmary to a large, one-room suite.

     Neth lies in the bed in the center of the suite, his skin nearly matching those of the sterile white walls and floor. His pulse tracks weakly across the EKG screen, and his breathing courses through a respirator. The nurse at his side bows respectfully to the professors.

     “His condition still hasn’t improved, Professor Tameri,” the nurse says solemnly, vacating the seat beside his bed.

     Tameri takes the chair and strokes the top of Neth’s hair with the first- yet brief- warm expression she’s shown since his admittance. She turns cold again the second she looks away. “Ms. Allyn, would you mind giving us the room?”

     The nurse bows her head again and leaves promptly.

     “The reason I haven’t told you how Liamria escaped is that I have no way of verifying the truth.”

     “What truth?” Cwen asks.

     Tameri reimagines Aurum’s demise to force her mouth open. Instead of expelling a gasp, she launches into the explanation before her jaw locks up. “When it became clear that she couldn’t escape me, she tried to use mental distractions. One worked.”

     “And that was?” Zathony asks when Tameri returns to being silent.

     Tameri torments herself once more, then says, “Do you remember what we were discussing that night before Roark contacted us about the cameras?” she directs to Marmagar.

     He nods.

     “She told me that my trust wasn’t enough.”

     Marmagar lifts a hand to his mouth.

     Zathony looks back and forth between them. “Okay, he gets it, now spell it out for the rest of us.”

     “I told Marmagar that I’d instructed Aurum to keep Shuri and Nuria safe since I didn’t trust Stark and had no reason to trust Reddic. He asked if I trusted Aurum to which I said “I hope it’s enough”.”

     Zathony leers. “Why are you using past tense?”

     “Because Stark’s mother told me she killed them all. That she had just finished telling Neth before throwing him out the window. I went to Pan after we got Neth down here and asked if she’d heard anything from Aurum. The message she showed me said “Got lots to tell you when I get back” and was dated the morning before the attack here. She hasn’t received one from him since.”

     “You don’t think…” Cwen trails off, rattled by the news.

     “If they were attacked and survived, wouldn’t they have just returned?” Lynald says.

     “You didn’t spend enough time with Nuria. Nothing short of death would stop her,” Zathony says. “Have you contacted Crata? Perhaps he knows something.”

     “I will not,” Tameri says as she stands. “It’s the weakness of those three- Neth, Stark, and Crata- that’s kept Liamria alive. I shared that weakness for one second and she got away again. I will not allow that weakness to cause more harm to our students. If you have a problem with that, you’re welcome to leave. Only those who can handle my steel can stay from this point forward.”

     One by one, each of the professors looks Tameri in the eyes without further protest. The only sounds following her declaration are Neth’s weak heartbeats.

     “That’s more like it!”

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