Zoe Saldana as Elora, but with green eyes.
David Gandy as Enki
Lunch was uneventful. There was a simple but hearty serving of chicken stew, over which Elora, Enki and I were quickly finding ourselves in a comfortable camaraderie. Afterwards, Advisor Tethys gave a brief introductory speech detailing the basic rules – one of them was advice against frivolous use of energy in front of non-Congregants. She explained that this was a sign of respect to those who did not have our knowledge, to which Advisor Lokni gave Tomokai a pointed stare, and also to protect us during our early days when our control our energy was unstable.
Another was a curfew – the exception being “studying” at another congee’s rooms especially during examination season. There was a faint grin on her face as she said that she left it to our discretion what studying happened and what genders were involved. We would do well, however, to remember that we were congees-in-training and not here for fun and merrymaking.
As I listened to her description of the structure of the classes, I took interest in her reminder that the program could be accelerated, though it was rarely done. The first year was foundations and thus compulsory, but the second and third years could be compressed and the subjects could be completed by taking advantage of the winter breaks. Fourth years could then choose between apprenticing to one of the Advisors, getting experience according to their Guarantor’s discretion, or some other part-time position at an institution of their choice whilst continuing their studies in a specialisation.
It was interesting to know, but I doubted I wanted to rush my experience at the Congregate. Besides, the fees were exorbitant due to the extra work for the Advisors and their assistants.
“Did you guys know, she was once the head of the bodyguards of the Communion?” Elora said in a hushed voice as we commenced the tour of the Faculty. “My Guarantor said that she was the only female in over a hundred years.”
My eyes widened and slid over to the woman who was in deep conversation with Advisor Lokni and Tomokai. Her hair was streaked with grey. Huh. That explained the quiet forcefulness she possessed, then. I was impressed – I wondered if the other Advisors were equally accomplished.
Enki nodded, a faraway look coming to his eyes. “You guys were probably too young back then, but back when I was a scruffy little kid, Madam Tethys was quite the figure. A lot of men were intimidated – or in love.” Enki laughed, scratching the back of head. I had my suspicions as to which group he belonged.
Enki was a mature congee – having taken quite a number of non-Congregant jobs before deciding to apply for Supplicancy and entering the Congregate – this put him at about forty, twice Elora and my age.
The age difference did not stop our easy exchange as the Advisors took us on an abbreviated tour covering the main areas of the Faculty. The rest of the compound was too large to cover and they expected that we would get acquainted with the facilities on our own over the coming weeks.
The circuit ended at the private rooms, which were a short distance from the Grand Hall where we began. We took the stairs to the fifth floor, where all our rooms were. The hallway was already filled with our trunks.
The fourth, third and second floor were for the other years, and the first floor was reserved for Advisors, Assistants and visitors or congees who had trouble with stairs. The Advisors’ and Assistants rooms had nameplates, so that congees could find them easily if any trouble arose.
“Alright, please take a look at your access discs and see who you’ll be sharing a unit with. Unless you kill each other, you’ll be stuck with them for the next four years, so play nice. Just insert the disc into the handle of your rooms and you should be able to enter. We’ll leave you to sort out your affairs. If you need any help, we’ll be in Advisor Lokni’s rooms catching up.” Tomokai’s eyebrows waggled. Neewa, the man was impossible.
I’d nearly forgotten about a roommate. There was a rush of fumbling as the congees retrieved their discs per Tomokai’s instruction. Apparently, we were a lucky batch that had twenty-four males and fourteen females (energy users were already fewer among females, and was especially so in the Healing and Combat Faculty), so all the units were doubles, instead of having some singles when the numbers were uneven. I guess it could be a good or bad thing, depending on who you asked.
“Zero five zero eight. What about you Theia?” Elora asked, looking up from the access disc she’d been scrutinising.
Twin feelings of disappointment and joy warred within me. On one hand, I’d developed quite an attachment to the easy-going girl, but a small part of me felt disappointed that I wouldn’t be making acquaintances with someone from another city. I quashed that disappointment. At least I knew Elora and I would get along well, I was sure of it.
“Well, too bad we’re stuck together,” I said in mock disappointment as I punched her lightly on the shoulder. Elora grinned widely, her eyebrows dancing mischievously.
Enki smirked. “Aw, look at the two of you. Well, I’m zero-five-zero-three.”
A man with his hair bundled into a top bun and a slight overbite approached Enki, pointing at his disc. He introduced himself as Juno. Enki left to his room with a wave. The other congees were already moving their trunks into their rooms. Our room was the second furthest to the right of the stairwell and Elora and I squeezed past the other congees. I drew my disc out from my breast pocket and looked hesitantly at Elora.
“You go ahead. I’ve tried that before,” Elora said, nodding at the door.
I swiped the disc in a small slit in the handle, and there was a whir and soft ‘click’. The door swung open slightly as I returned my disc to my breast-pocket. Alicanto’s flaming feathers, that was cool.
My lips turned up as I marvelled at the ingenuity of it. Back in Minato, our doors were secured by regular steel padlocks. I’d heard of similar types of Yin locks but they were almost always exclusively used for the affluent, or the very important. Normal locks could be picked – these were far more secure and the secrets to their creation were highly guarded.
Elora and I set ourselves to lugging our trunks into our rooms – the twin rooms were identical and opened into the living and dining area, which had a sofa and coffee table. We came to the immediate agreement that I would take the left room, and Elora would take the one on the right.
I set my bag down on the study desk, taking in my new surroundings. The furnishings were sparse; the room was fitted with a study desk, a chair, a single bed with a bedside table, a bookshelf and a wardrobe. But I liked it. It was a fresh start.
Elora knocked at the half open door, and stuck her head in. “Fancy some music?” She asked, waving a new Yang powered radio at me.
Over the next two days before training officially commenced, Elora and I talked about almost everything and went exploring the Faculty together. We were virtually inseparable. I came to know more about Elora than I probably knew about Suren, and held her in far higher regard. We were alarmingly similar in our music taste and opinions too.
One time, we were walking along a lake we had found while traipsing through the school, when she told me about her family. Her father had been an ex-general in the Battalion till Winter last year, and her mother worked in the Healer Ward. Despite both her parents having been trained in the energies, she did not have much knowledge nor training – they had both been too busy with work and seldom home in Minato. Add to the fact that they were too busy arguing with each other, they had mostly left her to her own devices. They hadn’t hired a private tutor either, as they had not expected Elora to meet the grade requirements for entry, nor to have interest in the Congregate. It seemed that they didn’t know Elora very well, really.
But Elora had silently worked hard at her previous college, and scraped together the results. Combined with her leadership experience from college council and outstanding physical capabilities (she had been the top sprinter in her school team), the Communion had immediately accepted her application for Supplicancy. Her parents were surprised – proud, but nonetheless surprised.
Despite her parents almost negligent upbringing, Elora was immensely free-spirited, unbelievably optimistic and determined. She still loved her father deeply, though her mother’s finicky ways set her on edge.
Another time, we were dangling our legs off the roof of the building of our rooms, listening to the newest album by Sandies Mun on her radio when she asked the question that I’d heard so many times over the past few months.
“So, what do you intend to specialise in? And where do you want to work?”
I pressed my lips into a thin line and hummed thoughtfully. “Well, I’m not sure of my true Affinity yet... but I would like to work on the Field Healing division. Or as a private Healer. I know there’s at least some market for that. What about you, does the Communion decide what specialisation you have to undertake?”
“Yep. Though it’s the same as what I would have chosen, really. Bodyguards have to know a bit of everything, so I have to major in Yang, learn a bit of Yin, Combat and Healing. Probably not so much in the Mind Specialisations, though.”
I nodded. “I would like a similar combination. Except I’d swap the Yang for Yin and Mind Specialisations.” I knew it was safe to discuss my Yin preferences with Elora, she did not partake in the Yang superiority beliefs.
Elora stretched her arms over her head. “Oh boy, well, I just can’t wait for training to begin tomorrow. My body is just itching to do something.”
I smiled and reached over to ruffle her hair. Elora was the definition of Yang energy, really – energetic and sunny. Despite our many similarities, our very natures were the opposite. I was more deliberate – more risk-averse, though no less rash at times, and I was far less energetic and more prone to introspection.
She was also far more religious than I ever thought I would be comfortable with, attributing much of her success to Senno’s generosity and His grand plan. I wasn’t sure I could get on board with that, but something in me had recognised home in Elora. And I was almost sure I’d come to do anything for her though I had only known her for three short days.
I didn’t know in that moment, how right I was going to be.
A/N: The Elora and Aletheia friendship has now sailed! Roommates huh, what are the odds?
School starts in the next chapter.