Her dream was so odd…. Cedric was holding her walls for her so she could rest. He told her, “Rest, Fiona, rest.” And she remembered her old name, it was like a comfort, a teddy bear long forgotten. The colors were bright again and she slept, relinquishing a dreadful weight, a shadow that followed her everywhere, blocking out the colors. And there, next to a small pond, framed by lush growth and dancing butterflies, where swans swam toward her at her beckon, he called to her.
Fiorra. You must.
Tiredly, she accepted this insistence, this demand. From whom did the assertion come, she mused.
What! Who would call me, who disturbs me, the beauty of her dream fell away from her even as she clutched for it.
When she saw his face, she sucked in her breath and screwed shut her eyes, refusing to acknowledge him. NO!
Barcik insisted, reaching out two fingertips to lift her chin. Let the walls go, he said.
NO! her adamance deafened her.
You will only hurt yourself – this cannot be. Dreamscapers cannot keep walls up, not such as these. You are a Dreamscaper. I beg you, however you choose to respond to me, do no lasting damage to yourself. Learn of this ability before… Barcik’s Dreamimage looked weary, grave…. I merely ask that you not harm yourself, is that so bad?
Fiorra looked at his Dreamimage, his blond hair tousled, his white linen shirt untucked over his trousers. She gazed into his eyes for a moment. His image grew more substantial, staring down at her, questioning. He started to lift gentle fingers to her face…. Then she wondered how many times he had done this with other women, girls, students. And she slapped his fingers away. There could be no trust there.
A breeze rustled her hair from her shoulders, his bangs from his temple. And as she watched, Barcik disappeared from her accusatory stare.
OH! Fiorra sat up in her bed, inhaling breath. A dream within a dream…. She had dreamed of Cedric – for the first time since he had died…. Near the pond where she’d walked with Barcik when she’d met him… somehow there was horrible injustice in that. But what was it he’d said then? If you throw a stone in the pond, it ripples, but returns to normal again. Did that mean that her feelings for Cedric, her grief, was healing?
But to spoil the whole thing, was Barcik, having the utter lack of courtesy to slip past her walls while she was dreaming. She recalled what he had said to her the other day, when she’d fallen asleep in the gardens, that it would be draining on her to keep up both walls while she was awake and while she slept as well. But that didn’t mean he should take advantage of it. So she was a Dreamscaper? She wondered how common a Gift that was. Maybe she’d ask Ander, he seemed to know more on the subject of Gifts than anyone she knew, though probably a trip to the Academy Library would suffice. She glanced about her, seeing the sleeping form of Sessla across the small dormroom. Fiorra quieted her breathing, taking in deep breaths, and lay back down.
“Hurry, hurry, we’ll be late!” Karess grabbed Sessla’s elbow.
“Jush let me fimish my – ” Sessla protested as she tried to cram in the rest of her honey tart. She turned pleading blue eyes to Fiorra as she groped for a napkin.
But Fiorra was in no rush to attend their morning class with Master Barcik. She handed Sessla a napkin with nonchalance and remained seated. After last night’s encounter, she was of a mind to not even attend class, much less rush to it. Karess rolled impatient eyes at Fiorra and hauled both Sessla and Fiorra out of their seats. Fiorra was caught between hilarity and derision at this ardent craving for Barcik that Karess, and Sessla, and any number of other girls harbored. After all, it wasn’t as if he was going to take them off on his white stallion to a castle far away and make them his queen. She sighed, allowing herself to be steered from the Dining Hall across the Commons to Bacchia Hall, glad she’d stashed a pear in her robes for later.
Naturally, they arrival was far from tardy; Fiorra noted that of the students awaiting class to begin, the majority of them were female. Flanked by Sessla and Karess, she felt herself secure from any complications, for Barcik, whatever his reputation outside the classroom, tended to skirt his more obsequious pupils altogether. And when Reandra sat down in front of her, Fiorra’s confidence grew.
Bored, she flipped through today’s lecture. She hadn’t really studied; she’d listened to Karess and Sessla quiz each other, claiming she’d studied earlier. Their reluctance to believe her was clear until she insisted they all close their books and she quizzed them on the material. Fiorra knew she’d gotten to a part of the lecture Barcik hadn’t covered in class when puzzled glances were exchanged between her two friends.
Whispers suddenly hushed the classroom; Fiorra didn’t need to look up from Chapter Four of Properties of Eastern Mountain Plants and Herbs to know that the Master had entered the classroom. She sensed her friends next to her barely suppressing their pleasure as they sat up straight, their hands folded neatly in their laps. Fiorra wondered in a private corner of her mind when she had grown so cynical and, letting a long sigh puff her cheeks out, adjusted her posture respectfully while pushing back the enveloping green sleeves of her robes.
Master Barcik was making his way up and down the aisle, slipping their test parchments back to them. A distinct silence fell over the room as students studied their results, their brows furrowing. Hm. She’d thought the test rather easy, personally; perhaps she ought to have paid it closer attention. Reandra received hers eagerly, rather like a willing puppy, Fiorra thought crossly. Then she watched as Reandra’s shoulders hunched. Karess received hers – Fiorra caught sight of a “C” and a long string of written remarks to the side. Only two questions had been phrased on the test. Barcik returned to her row, but his face was impassive, he handed a parchment to Sessla and swept away again in his deep green Master’s robes. Fiorra bestowed upon her friend a sympathetic glance as she turned her attention to her test.
Drumming her fingers on her book impatiently, Fiorra suddenly felt sure he was holding her paper back. She hadn’t turned her test in first but it had been within the first half mark of the class period. Sessla sighed dejectedly next to her. Fiorra leaned over to see what she’d written.
And of course just as she craned her neck to read her roommate’s first few sentences, Barcik made use of the opportunity that then presented itself by clearing his throat disapprovingly. Fiorra leaned back into her place slowly, where he was holding out her test parchment. Part of her was beginning to get nervous; had she done poorly? She gripped the paper but he wouldn’t let go. Taking a deep breath, she met his glance with reluctance. As soon as she flicked her eyes to his stare, he let the test go, but held her gaze pointedly one last second, almost imperceptible to those around her. His eyebrows rose just the tiniest bit and then he swept away again. Fuming, she looked down at her test. An “A.” And a comment to the side, in a very distinct scribble: “I expect better.”