1.0 | The Worst Hours
Tuesdays were always the worse days of the week.
Tuesdays, not Mondays, Serena Chalsting growled at the calendar pinned to her wall, running a long red line through the past dates. On Tuesdays, she had only three classes, all of which finished before the academy’s normal teaching hours. Serena didn’t mind that aspect of Tuesdays at all, in fact, when she had first heard of the schedule she’d jumped for joy. Classes at the North City Academy were boring, trying and failed to capture her in any shape or form. Of course, her reaction had turned into the exact opposite when she’d learned why Tuesdays had so little classes.
Ending her growl at the shameful scrap of a calendar, Serena dragged her feet over to the wardrobe and change out of her robe into the uniform she was required to wear while in the grounds of the academy. Like everything else about the city, her uniform was grey and drab. She would have liked to meet whoever chose the school colours and ask them what on Earth they’d been thinking. As if school wasn’t boring enough without such an ugly uniform.
The lack of colour extended throughout the school. White walls, white floors, and grey metal furnishings. Some classrooms were lucky enough to have a black chalkboard or a teacher who turned up wearing something out of the ordinary - which was rarer than Serena answering a question correctly. She wondered if academies in all the cities were as boring as the North Academy, or if perhaps people in the south, east, and west had discovered the Earth could still be a colourful and fun place despite the virus which had almost wiped out the human race years ago.
As much as Serena hated spending her days trapped under the roof of this place, she was able to maintain her sanity through the letters sent to her from people living without the city walls. Her parents, who wrote to her every weekend, kept her up to date with what was happening with their farm, what the world was like outside the city and what had become of her favourite farm animals. More often than not, Serena found herself rereading those letters just to remind herself there were creatures other than humans left on the planet.
Aside from the sweet letters from her family, Serena received news from one other person - someone she had never thought possible to see again. How these letters reached her from so far away she didn’t know, but it was something she was willing to accept as being magical, for the man who sent her them truly was. Master Baira Lyason, a master of enchantments and one of Serena’s few friends, was somehow able to send messages from his world to hers. It was a miracle to hear from him, and although Serena had no way to write back, she was sure he would know the value of his letters.
She reached into her drawer and pulled out her tie, smiling to herself as her fingers grazed the ancient envelope of Baira’s letter. He wrote on the strangest paper, always stained in the corners with some sort of herb or glowing substance, and his letters often brought with them the scent of pollen or earth. Regardless of the paper’s appearance, Baira had neat, cursive handwriting that seemed to glitter across the page. Often he used coloured ink, something which seemed almost out of place for his character.
Returning to the Overworld after her adventures in the world of Arisa had been Serena’s plan from the start. She hadn’t intended to stay - her adventure there had been an accident - but that didn’t stop her from missing what she had stumbled across. If Serena had gotten any choice in the matter she would be living her life hopping between worlds, visiting Arisa on the weekends and staying at school during the week. Then she could accomplish everything she wanted; to have a fun and fulfilling life, always on her toes, and to make her parents proud by passing her exams.
All that was a dream, of course, Serena sighed, pulled her tie tight then straightened it up. She could never return to Arisa, not after what she had done. Not just for her own safety, but the sake of the world which lurked below her own. The gold medallion around her neck was a strong reminder of both.
A quick, cheery rasp at the door had Serena pulled from her thoughts and longing stare at her reflection in the mirror. As she walked over to the door she hid her right hand in her blazer pocket, carefully making sure her glowing fingertip was out of sight. She pulled down the handle and forced a smile on her face, looking down at the girl outside.
Tena was a bundle of all things happy, cheery and carefree rolled into one and Serena still wasn’t completely sure she liked the girl. Carmel hair, painted violet nails and a toothy grin, Tena took to the part of schoolgirl exceedingly well in her uniform and, unlike Serena, the clothing fitted her very well.
“Coming?” Tena pulled Serena out of the doorway before she had the chance to answer. They joined the seemingly endless stream of girls in the corridor, each of them excited for the big Tuesday event. Tena was rambling on about her brother, telling Serena how much she missed him and the holiday they were planning for the summer break, while Serena trudged after her. Each time she tried to forget about the evening’s event Tena reminded her about the academy’s visiting hours.
Every Tuesday, after their short three classes, students were released into the care of their visiting family to explore the city and do whatever they pleased. It was a chance to escape the strict timetable of their academy life and relax - to enjoy a lunch which wasn’t slapped on their plates by an angry dinner lady.
The only thing wrong with visiting hours was the aspect of a visitor. Someone had to come to see the student for them to be allowed to leave the grounds of the academy. For most, this wasn’t an issue. Girls’ whose family were working, or lived too far away simply tagged along with their friends, joking to one and others about how easy it was to sneak out.
Visiting hours. The term slipped from the lips of everyone around her as they headed for breakfast. Serena flinched at the words as if they would eat her. Her least favourite time of the week had unfortunately turned out to be the one area highlighted on the other pupil’s timetables with love hearts scribbled all over it.
“Oh, Serena, look there’s Rington!” Tena took hold of Serena’s arm again, pointing towards the thin-lipped teacher coming down the steps ahead of them. Mrs. Rington was the only teacher who Serena hated, which was quite something considering how rude most of her professors were. “Look at her! I wish I could be that confident.”
“Why? So you could prance about with your nose in the air?” Serena laughed, once again pulling herself free of Tena’s grip.
They had reached the dining hall and Serena was going to need as much control over her left arm as possible so she could carry her tray while keeping her other hand hidden. Thankfully no one had noticed her right hand was always tucked away, but it did make things difficult for Serena. After the golden glow had become a permanent mark on her fingertip, she’d had to teach herself how to do everything the left-handed way to avoid letting anyone questioning the strange mark. Her handwriting was still a tangled ordeal, almost unreadable.
Tena’s eyebrows knotted. She followed Serena to the back of the breakfast queue with her arms crossed. “Not everyone wants to be a recluse like you, Serena. You need Rington’s confidence just as much as I do. Confidence would get you some friends around here. Maybe even get you out of the academy.”
Serena pretended not to hear the girl’s comment, picking up a tray and sliding it along the metal railing. She didn’t bother to tell Tena the reason she didn’t try to make friends had nothing to do with her lack of confidence - in fact, Serena was pretty sure she had much more confidence than Tena. She had, after all, stood up Mother Alchemist with nothing but her words to protect her. But she kept that to herself, knowing the other girl would neither understand or believe Serena if she told her of Arisa, or if she told her the real reason she didn’t speak to anyone was because she found them boring.
The cook called them onward and one by one the girls grabbed their breakfast, sat down at one of the long tables and tried their best to act as if the food was good. After breakfast was done, a bell rang and Serena was amongst the first to leave the hall. Her first class of the day was History and with the normal Tuesday blues, she blocked out the sound of her peers chattering through the lesson and buried herself in the textbook.