She felt the eyes of her classmates upon her as soon as she entered the classroom. She willed herself to see past them, for she was tardy. Again. And it was due to being kept late by ArmsMaster Torvan. They did not write “late passes” in this world, but if they did, she still would not receive any, for ArmsMaster Torvan would refuse to bestow such a kindness upon her. And so she looked irresponsible, continually, arriving at her kyor classes sometimes as late as a quarter mark.
So she endured the disapproving glare of her kyor Masters and classmates as she settled her materials about her as imperceptibly as possible. She raged under the constraints of the inequity her circumstances had placed her in. Emanuella wondered as she arranged her robes more comfortably upon the bench how many more times her tardiness would be tolerated before she would be dismissed from her kyor classes.
And then an answer came to her, as she opened her dusty tome to the Spells chapter. She had been studying ahead, since learning how simple the Dampening Spell had been. Her Cyclemates were several chapters behind her, thanks to Gabriella’s tutelage. But this gave her an idea. She flipped ahead to the Basic Illusions page and followed the text with her finger, recalling what she’d read the other night.
What made her tardy most times was her need to stop in her dormroom – all fifteen flights up – to change her robes, and then run back downstairs to get from the Academy of Weaponry to the Academy of Kyor. If she could eliminate that step in-between, she would rarely be tardy. She couldn’t wear two sets of robes – just one was hampering enough, but two… not to mention the weight of them. But if she could stash a set somewhere, and put an Invisible Spell on it….
The pointer of Master Skanddersen was suddenly in the center of her book. She shut her eyes, not wanting to face whatever would be happening next. He always wandered around as they completed reading and worked on converting their newfound knowledge to actual skill. Emanuella lifted her hands up and crossed them respectfully before her chin, awaiting the Master’s wrath.
As she did so, her sleeve fell to expose one of her copious bruises from Master Torvan’s ring. Master Skanddersen noted the bruise without a word, though his eyes narrowed and a sardonic expression crossed his face. He directed Emanuella’s attention to the page she should be applying her attention to, which opened before her via kyor. Master Skanddersen tapped the book emphatically with his pointer and moved on.
She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and her shoulders sagged with relief. Leaning her chin on her hands, Emanuella pretended to be absorbed by the text in front of her, though she had already learned this and applied it. The Master, a fastidious older man with white hair that fringed his hair neatly, always had them use either a Hover Charm or a Levitation Spell to work on their newest instruction, so that they were practicing more than one principle of kyor. Both were simple, she had learned. A Hover Charm was temporary and required you to be in constant contact with the object (or life form, though that was unlikely), while a Levitation Spell, which was far more flexible, would require a counter spell or your own release to let the object or life form down.
Today, her classmates were just learning the Elemental Spell, which she learned from Ander and Gabriella. That changed the form of something entirely. The next few chapters had to do with changing appearances, which then led into Invisibility, where she was. At least she would not need to study for a while.
“… For Elemental Spells, one must consider first the Element one has chosen to alter. One also should also have a thorough understanding of the other Element chosen to replace the first object. It is worth noting that this alteration is a permanent and thus serious consideration should be given.
“Begin by extending your kyor toward the object. Sense all of the object, both its simplicity and its complexity, both its core and its outer layers. Once this step is complete, next replace the object with….”
Emanuella looked up and sighed. She had already mastered this skill. But right now, Master Skanddersen was passing out small rocks, which looked like gravel from a Practice Ring. They would be, he explained, changing rock to wood. He released them to begin, and immediately, small gravel rocks raised in the air before her classmates.
She directed her own gravel rock up in the air with a lazy finger and waited for the Master to wander past again. Maybe once she turned it into wood, she would turn it a different color….
Finally, the Master drifted up her row again, his Adept robes flowing behind him. Emanuella decided that he was curious when stopped at her seat, not sure at all if she would pass the day’s objective.
With little effort, she turned the small rock into a hand-sized chunk of wood, but as it turned into wood, Emanuella turned it a violet that he could not miss. Then misgivings arose and she immediately drew the Color Charm back, not wanting to be disrespectful. She glanced at Master Skanddersen, not sure if he had noticed.
The Master’s eyes narrowed briefly, just for a moment. Of course he had seen it, she fumed, he was an Adept. But he looked at her and nodded curtly as he walked away. For the second time that class, she breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t until after he passed that Emanuella saw the difference between her work and her classmates’. Those around her had conjured small limbs and twigs, not even longer than a fingerslength. Hers was a large chunk of wood….
She looked up from her History of the Early Eras tome that she’d been refamiliarizing herself with. She was so grateful she’d learned this from Gabriella. But she had not, she mused as she tapped her quill on her chin thoughtfully, had to write any essays for her.
Listening, she decided the footsteps in the stairwell that were growing louder were definitely destined for her room, as no one inhabited the room across the hall from her, nor, as best as she could discern, did anyone on the two floors below this one. Emanuella held her breath, not wanting to deal with a classmate at this late mark.
She had but a second to wonder if perhaps it was instead an instructor who had bothered themselves to come so far up this way, but the person did not knock before even entering, and Emanuella found herself glad she was fully clothed.
A young girl near her own age stood in the door, her arrival throwing the wall sconces to dancing wildly about the room. An unwieldy sack that looked to be weighty slid off her shoulder, thumping on the wooden planks as she took in the small room with an impassive expression. Emanuella strove to hold in her own response to this intrusion but suspected her endeavors were proving more and more fruitless as the girl’s intense brown stare found Emanuella finally.
“So. This is the Bell Tower room.”
Lifting an eyebrow ever so slightly, Emanuella said nothing but sat up straighter on her bed. The girl turned around and closed the door behind her. Then she hefted her sack onto the other bed and placed her hands on her hips.
Emanuella stared for a moment, hoping what she’d just heard had been incorrect. “Sorry?”
“New roommate. Didn’t get along so well with the others.” The girl took a deep breath and, her hands still on her hips, surveyed the furniture arrangements.
Emanuella thought she could see why, and wondered darkly how that boded for their own coming relationship.
“Well, you’ve got a window, that’s good. It’s cozier in here than I expected, though. They said the Bell Tower rooms were ice cold, no glass on the windows and such.”
Emanuella made a noncommittal noise at this. She wasn’t about to point out that the shutter that covered her window was enchanted to keep the heat in. “Shutter’s locked from the outside, you can’t use it,” she informed this new roommate. This was going to hamper her arrangements for leaving after curfew to see Fiaz, and for Rick climbing up. She would have to notify him somehow but she never ran into him except when he came up to see her. A roommate was definitely going to be a problem.
“Hmm. Well. Name’s Nixy. Fourth Cycle Weaponry.”
“Emanuella. Third Cycle Weaponry.”
Nixy nodded slowly, observing her quietly as she sat down. “So you’re the Kin’keska they all go on about.”
Emanuella bristled at this and swapped her book closed. It was obvious no further studying would be done tonight.
Curiously, her head cocked to one side, her brown eyes narrowed in scrutiny, Nixy remarked candidly, “You don’t look much like a Kin’keska.” She sat down on her bed next to her rucksack and pulled her knees up to her chin casually.
“Is that right.” Emanuella busied herself stacking her books on her desk for the following morning.
“Where I come from, where I was born that is, the Clans journeyed through our villages regularly. I never did see one with skin as fair as yours, or blue eyes. Or curls.” Nixy was silent for a moment. “They all had ruddy complexions, dark eyes, long straight black hair….”
Emanuella cleared her throat as she stacked her last book and said, “Throw back genes from someone’s side of the family somewhere, I’m sure.”
“Well, nothing I’m worried about. We’re both females here in a world full of egotistical, high-strung men. We need to stick together whatever our backgrounds may be, or so I reckon. Don’t you?”
Pausing for a moment, Emanuella glanced at this Nixy. The Fourth Cycle had long, thick, honey-colored hair, and her clothes were fairly well-made, if not excellent. Her face was what had a strange cast to it, there was arrogance there, pride, almost a regal bearing, and yet…. Emanuella shook herself.
Just then, the curfew bell tolled above them. Emanuella prided herself on how much less it could be heard inside her room now than when she had first started. And how the shutters kept out the cold….
“Odd. I would have thought the bell would have tolled louder than that, but it’s hardly a distraction is it,” observed Nixy. “You’ve had quite the secret kept up here, cozy and quiet," and dumped all of her belongings out of her sack onto her bed, “you would have done the same in my place.”
She began stacking her own books on her desk so she could swipe them off and run for class at the tolling of the bell in the morning. Catching a glimpse of Emanuella’s, she said, “Ah. Must have Master Daxton, eh?”
Emanuella nodded dispiritedly.
“He’ll ask you for an essay for every other class, see if he won’t. Best to get a head start. Oh. That means, Third Cycle, you must have Ker Torvan as Armsmaster.”
Emanuella grimaced. Nixy told her as she placed her clothes in the trunk at the foot of her bed, “Get used to it, ’s all I can tell you. He’ll call you every lousy name in the book, whore, bitch, servant girl, you name it. And you –” she fixed Emanuella suddenly with a brown eye as she folded a tunic – “will suffer the worse for it as you’re, I mean you look… and he’ll inspire them all to do the same, you know.”
“I’ve already found out for myself.” Emanuella lowered her shoulder sleeve and brought her shoulder into the light where Nixy could see it.
Nixy said nothing as she eyed the black bruise for a moment, then looked up at Emanuella. She took a breath and then told her, “Your best strength is your own defense. If I were you, I’d save some coppers up and get in friendly with the Healers. That’s what I did. If you complain… you’ll just make it worse for yourself.”
Emanuella let her sleeve fall back into place, nodding. This was nothing she hadn’t already puzzled out for herself. She couldn’t go crying to her comrades, or to Fiaz, or Gabriella, every time someone hurt her. She was going to have to stand on her own two feet and if standing meant cutting down her opposition first, then so be it.