Part 1: Chapter 14
I was grateful I took Animal Studies. I was able to ride horses during this time, since I was an expert horse mistress according to Jayelle Nighthaven, who apparently was back at the school. She was the professor of Animal Studies while the old one had recently left. Upon arriving she didn’t ask any questions, but handed me the reins to a chestnut mare named Ginger.
I knew what to do after that. I saddled her, knowing where everything was. Later, as I rode through the countryside, I thought it was odd that I knew where stuff was. I must’ve done it so many times prior to my memory being wiped that it didn’t completely disappear like all the other issues I was having. Other than that, the foremost thought of my mind was Trayen’s attitude towards me before Caiden appeared.
He stated that I had more qualities of a Shaper than that of a Guardian. I thought about some of the things I had done since I woke up two days ago. I didn’t understand the arguments presented to me. I was performing magic, Air magic in particular. Guardians used Air magic. They also knew how to dodge and block oncoming attacks. What was the problem with me being able to do those things well?
None of it made any sense to me.
The only thing that did make sense in my head was the fact that I needed to know more about Aralisa. The fact that Trayen stated she had more qualities of a Guardian than that of a Shaper bothered me equally to the fact that he said I was her opposite. He consistently compared me to her. What if the Headmistress had made a mistake in placing us? What if I was really supposed to be a Shaper?
The only way that I would know if what he stated about her was true was if I knew what her traits were. But I didn’t. And neither did Trayen, as he was speculating from what he’s heard about her talents. It didn’t take me much longer to figure out who I knew that would’ve known her. It would be risky, but I felt like I needed to find out.
Caiden knew her. In fact, he had dated her. He would know her qualities and abilities. If Trayen was right in thinking that she was a Guardian in a Shaper’s disguise, then maybe he was right about me being a Shaper and not really a Guardian. Maybe I was placed wrong.
When I arrived back in the stables, the clock was nearing six in the morning. I had been out for five hours riding. My horse, Ginger, hadn’t complained once. She nuzzled me as I removed the saddle and led her into the stables. One of the Guardians on watch led her to the personalized stall after I brushed her down. I put some special feed into her bucket before I left.
I picked up my bag from where I’d left it in the locker area and started towards the school. I still needed something to eat, but on my way through the Aurora Grove I remembered what it was I needed to do. Caiden always knew how to find me. Now I needed to find him.
From what I remembered, Day students had class at seven, so he must be headed towards the grassland on the western side. At least that’s what I thought. I wandered out of the Aurora Grove and made my way into the Northern Courtyard near the forest. I sat on the bench and thought about summoning Air to find Caiden’s voice. The results came back with nothing. He must’ve actually fallen asleep, though he never followed normal school rules.
I waited there in the courtyard for a while, deciding what I wanted to do next. But before too long, a familiar scent drifted my way. I recognized it instantly. It was the same fragrance that nearly knocked me off my feet the first night I ran the bathwater in my dorm room after waking up from the memory dump. Only this time, it was fresher than before, more powerful and sweeter. What rational thoughts I had were gone. I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with the scent.
It was bliss in my head. I wanted nothing more but to find the source of the scent and bury my face into it for all of time. As I was thinking about it, I turned my head in the direction it was coming from. And then without thinking, I stood up and followed the trail. I plunged into the trees ahead, making my way into the forest, sniffing my way along the trail searching for the source. It was still dark outside, but I didn’t have a problem seeing. Everything looked normal to me, even in the dark.
I jumped over tree roots, dodged branches that hung low, and climbed through the trees to reach my destination quickly. The scent became increasingly more powerful the closer I neared the object. There was a waterfall up ahead. I heard the water crashing down upon the surface of the river and the rocks.
When I reached the edge of the trees near the river bank, I paused, looking for evidence of others hanging around. Seeing none, I cautiously crept out of the forest towards the waterfall. The scent was coming from it or behind it, I couldn’t decipher which.
As I stared at the falling water, I made the connection between the water here and within my room. I must’ve gotten my bathwater straight from the river here, for the two areas smelled the same. I needed to find the source of the scent. If it was an object, I could take it with me back to the dorm. I would take it with me, if I could.
I was walking towards the waterfall with a glossy and greedy look on my face when the water parted and a giant black feline leapt out from behind it. He landed in front of me.
I froze, rooted to the spot of where I stood. The scent still lingered, but I was more worried about the animal in front of me than I was about the object emitting the smell. The cat was almost my height as it stood on all fours. It was sleek and dark as it stared at me. Its paws were as big as my head. Two gorgeous golden eyes stared at me with intense curiosity mirrored in them.
I breathed once more when I knew the danger had passed. I still wasn’t sure of the cat, but even as it stood here in front of me, I deciphered the source of the fragrance. It came from the feline. This giant panther-like creature was coated in a fragrance that was so divine and harmonious with my brain, I could think of nothing else.
The panther stared at me for several minutes as I stood there breathing in the scent and letting it fill my lungs with its sweet smell. I was oblivious to my surroundings. I reached out cautiously at first to see if the panther would run away. He surprised me by moving closer to my hand; the top of his head brushed across my skin as I felt his fur. The black hairs were soft as my fingers rested on the top of his head.
A deep purring rumbled from the chest of the cat. He closed his eyes as though he enjoyed my touch. In that moment, I knew he wouldn’t harm me. I wanted to lead him out of the forest and onto the grounds of the academy. I could care for him and feed him. I could train him to protect me. I realized I didn’t know there were real animals within the forest, especially ones that smelled this good. What was I doing studying horses when I could be near creatures like this one? I wouldn’t ever leave the side of this cat unless I was forced to.
He jerked his head away from my hand suddenly and paced backwards a bit. He stopped purring. I dropped my hand to my side and stared at his movements thinking that he decided to attack me after all. A growl replaced the purr, and he moved his lips back showing a stream of sharp white teeth.
I blinked, bewildered by the sudden attitude change. Why purr, then growl at me? What was going on? Had he heard my thoughts? Was I wrong in thinking that I could take him away to be my private pet? I didn’t have time to discover the reason for this change because I was violently knocked to the side as someone slammed into me.
Instantly, after being rammed with something heavy, I noticed the culprit was a person. They picked me up and carried me back into the forest, away from the river. The wondrous panther disappeared along with waterfall. The scent went away as well. I blinked, clearly dazed by the affect the fragrance had on me. I turned my head and saw a guy I didn’t recognize carrying me.
I panicked then, realizing I hadn’t a clue to know who was responsible for this, not to mention that because I was completely absorbed in my thoughts I hadn’t realized the danger nearby. I shoved against the person in an attempt to get away, but his grip tightened on my body, holding me in place.
Off to my side, I heard a familiar voice speak. “Don’t move, Mallie.”
I relaxed, obeying them for the moment. I was among friends. Trayen was here, running behind us. There was someone else with him, but I couldn’t see who.
When the entourage reached the nearest courtyard, I was deposited on one of the benches, gently. I looked up, noticing Trayen and Isla were standing behind the person I didn’t recognize. I noticed from the look he was giving me, that he was one of the Guardian Instructors.
Trayen clenched his jaw shut, not bothering to say anything more to me, for he was still upset from earlier. He definitely looked it.
Isla remained silent for once. It was unusual for me to not hear her speak up.
The Guardian crossed his arms while he stared down at me. He was just as big as Tressnor Swiftwind. I took a guess that when Guardians were Initiated, they became mountains. The guy had short blond hair and an earring in his left ear. His chest was bare, and he wore brown pants that cut off below the knee.
I glanced at Isla, noticing she was dressed in tight-fitting clothes like Trayen. She wore a black halter with black Capri’s. They were all barefooted. I didn’t know Isla was Guarding today. Something must’ve happened.
“You must be Mallie,” the professor stated. His voice was deep and rough around the edges.
“Yes, I am she.” I wanted to know what was going on, but I didn’t dare ask. I just waited my turn and stared at them. The sun was coming up now; I knew it was past seven. Dinner was over. I was going to have to start keeping track of the time if I was ever going to eat. My stomach hadn’t been rumbling, so I briefly wondered if I even was hungry.
“You’re supposed to be in bed,” the instructor stated again.
Isla shifted suddenly. She was itching to pound me with questions. I glanced at her.
“What were you doing in the forest?”
My eyes went back to the instructor. “Are we not allowed in the forest?” The words were out of my mouth before I could think about what I was saying.
“No. You are to stay within the boundaries of the academy and that does not include the forest. During the day, it’s off-limits. You’re not Guarding today, so you have no business within it. Again, I repeat, what were you doing in the forest?” he spoke swiftly in his deep, commanding voice.
I stood up off the bench to face him. “I smelled something. And I followed my nose.”
The instructor narrowed his eyes at me. “I will not tolerate sass from you. If you do not answer me this time, I will march you up to the Headmistress’ office for insubordination. Now why were you out there?” he demanded again.
He didn’t believe me. Isla gave me a pleading look. Trayen pulled his eyes away from me. I turned my sight back to the professor. “I wasn’t being rude, I was telling the truth. I smelled something. I didn’t think, I just acted and flung myself into the forest trying to find the source of it. That’s how I ended up by the river.”
Isla shook her head and shut her eyes. I knew I had said something that I wasn’t supposed to. But I didn’t know exactly what that was.
The professor took a step towards me, closing the distance between us. The closeness of his presence to my body reminded me of when Trayen was angry at me in the grove. Only this situation was different. This was intimidating, and for the first time in my life I felt frightened. “Mallie, I’ve heard from Trayen some of the extraordinary abilities that you possess. It would be a shame if you were suspended because you failed to answer me a third time.”
“But I’m telling you the truth!” I defended myself. I had to. What else was I going to say?
“Mallie, don’t…” Isla tried to whisper to me but was cut off from the instructor.
“Isla!” he yelled without turning to glance at her. His eyes never left mine. She shut her mouth and looked away.
“Ahem,” someone from behind me announced their intrusion.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a Day class student standing near us, with a note in his hand. He looked familiar to me as I placed him among the people that were with Caiden and Mirabella from the day before.
The boy handed the note to the instructor. “Headmistress Pemberly saw you carrying the girl from the forest. She asked me to give this to you.” He turned around and disappeared, not waiting for a reply.
I figured that Branella was watching from her office. She could see just about everything from up there.
“It seems you have an excuse from her,” the instructor grudgingly stated after he scanned the note. “You lost your memory two days past?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I squeaked out.
“So you don’t remember any of the rules we have on campus?”
“No,” I breathed.
“She has explained this to me.” I expected him to relax, but he didn’t. Instead, the intimidating presence that radiated off of him grew stronger. He bent down and stared into my eyes as he yelled at me anew. “When you come to report on Saturday, I expect you to be fluent with the rules and regulations. If not, I will see it as insubordination. You are excused today, but go immediately to your dorm.
“If you smell anything on the way there and follow the scent to wherever it is, I won’t stop the ones who will harm you and tear you to pieces from earlier on the river. You put yourself into tremendous danger by being there in the forest. From now on, you’re on your own, and believe me when I say that the ones that are within the forest have the speed of Marked Shapers. Good luck dodging their attacks. The last student was in the medical ward for a month!” He turned around and headed back into the forest.
Trayen followed him.
Isla remained staring at me for a second or two. “We’ll talk later,” she mouthed as she disappeared into the trees.
I stood up and marched back to my dorm. I hadn’t accomplished anything constructive. I only managed to escape expulsion thanks to my memory erasure days earlier, and right now I wished it hadn’t happened.