“Rogue, where is your Master? She has not attend any of her classes and it’s her first day,” Madam Taia said, finding Xiang under the willow by the lake.
Xiang scowled, annoyed to be waken from her nap. She had been up late the night before trying to arrange for her gang to go on their own way without her, citing complications.
“Well- seeing how its not noon yet- she’s probably still asleep,” she said irritably, “And so am I. Do you mind?”
“She needs to complete her studies, Rogue. And you should know better. You need to make sure she’s aware of the rules.”
“I told her the rules. Whether she follows them or not, isn’t my problem,” Xiang said.
“She’s your master.”
“And she’s your student,” she retorted, “A servant does not give orders to their Master, as I’m constantly reminded. ’
Madam Taia scowled, “Very well, if she will not be responsible, then it looks like I need to have another Master keep tabs on her.”
“Yeah, you go do that.”
The teacher left and Xiang heaved a sigh of relief, trying to settle down again on the grass for her nap.
But just as she settled down again, she heard approaching footsteps.
Did absolutely no one remember that if she was under that damn willow tree, it meant she wanted to be alone?
Spirit curse it.
No point pretending to be asleep.
“Merlin,” she replied, opening her eyes, “What is it?”
“I just wanted to talk,” Merlin said.
Don’ trust them.
Shut up, she replied feeling the burning over her chest again. It felt like it was spreading again.
“What is it?” Xiang asked again.
“May I join you?”
“As you like.”
Merlin smiled and sat down on the grass next to her.
Xiang opened her eyes properly, looking at him.
It was so familiar to be near Merlin. She remembered they used to spend long afternoons together.
He would be reading a book with that little crease between his brows whilst she would sit next to him, either carving a piece of wood with one of her knives or simply lying down and resting.
Remember how he wronged you.
The voice kept speaking, and with each syllable it spoke, the pain increased, causing her to grimace.
“Are you okay?” Merlin asked, looking at her worriedly.
“I’m fine,” she said, picking a bit of grass out off her hair, “Just some issues with my memories. Did you need me for something?”
“Nothing really- I was just hoping we could talk,” Merlin said, “I can’t seem to remember anything about you. Or about us. I mean, we were good friends once, weren’t we?” he asked.
Xiang sat up, rubbing the back of her neck.
“I thought we were,” she said quietly.
“What do you mean?”
Before she could reply, her call crystal started shining again, “I’m sorry, I have to take this,” she said, picking it up.
“Of course, I should return to the other Mages. Maybe we can talk later during dinner,” he offered.
“Sure,” Xiang said before leaving to answer the call, “Hello?”
“Hey- just checking in,” Tooru said, “Glad to see you aren’t arrested. I’ve been keeping an eye on the guards’ database to make sure.”
“Aw, you do care.”
“Again- you kinda know too much about my operation for me to let you get captured like that,” Tooru told her, “Anyway- how’s Lis? She okay?”
“Yeah, she’s fine.”
“I heard from some of your ducklings that you’re stepping back from your post. You elected someone else or something.”
Xiang sighed, “Yeah. Duilio is more than capable to keep things together in my absence. My ducklings are going to be just fine. Things are complicated right now and for now I’m going to be here with Lis.”
Tooru sighed, “Well, I don’t know what’s going on but at least the two of you have each other,” he said.
“Yeah- well it looks like you’re going to have to find someone else to keep you company at night,” she told him.
He laughed a little.
“Right, I’ll see you when I see you then,” he said calmly.
Xiang decided to give up on her nap and go get Lis up before Madam Taia pisses herself.
She headed to their private wing where the Masters had their own bedchambers.
On her way there, Godfrey suddenly appeared.
He had gone to his room to retrieve another pair of gloves for his training.
“Oh Rogue, hi- do you want to-“
Rogue strode right past him, barely sparing him a glance of acknowledging his presence.
Godfrey watched her leave, feeling confused and a little hurt.
It seemed that she didn’t quite like him.
Just as he turned to head back to the training yard, he felt something warm and wet drip down his fingers.
He looked down to find that he was bleeding again.
“Damn it,” he muttered and went back into his room to deal with it.
Lis scowled and muttered, turning to her side to get away from the incessant prodding.
Finally, she groaned and awoke.
“Xiang? What? What do you want? I’m trying to sleep,” she said, pulling the sheets up again.
“You’re late for your classes and the teacher in charge of your year is chewing my ass off because of it,” Xiang said, stripping off the duvets, “Now get up. I want to take a nap.”
Lis scowled, “Urgh- that’s no fair. This is the best bed I’ve ever had and I don’t even get to sleep in,” she said, annoyed.
“You can sleep in during the weekends. And now that you’re up, I can go back to sleep,” Xiang said, settling down in the warm spot on the bed that she had left behind.
“Wait- what? How come you don’t have to go to class?”
“Because I have memories stretching through the millennium. What makes you think I need to sit in the classroom and recite verbs?” she asked.
“Show off,” Lis muttered, brushing her hair out with a scowl.
There was a sharp knock on the door, interrupting Xiang’s retort.
“What?” Lis called back.
The door opened to reveal Madam Taia who was frowning at Lis’ impoliteness, “Ah good, I see you’re finally awake.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Lis said, looking at the robes she had been provided with distaste.
“It appears to me that you will have trouble adjusting to life here, therefore I have arranged for Kimalu here to keep an eye on you and help you learn your way around,” she said.
Tara, Godfrey’s shy and quiet Master peered round the door.
“Hello,” she said softly with a nervous smile, “I’m Tara Kimalu. Godfrey’s Master.”
Lis looked round and the robe she was clutching slipped between her fingers and fell onto the ground.
Xiang was comfortably curled up in bed and watched this reaction with a raised eyebrow.
In terms of women, Tara was just Lis’ type. She was small, slender and doe-eyed with soft fluffy hair.
Almost like a rabbit.
“U-Uh… I- um- hi,” she said at last, her face red, “I’m Lis- I mean Elisabeth- I mean- Lis is easier to say. So… yeah.”
“Smooth,” Xiang commented.
List turned red and Xiang didn’t have a doubt in her mind that she was going to strangle her when they were alone.
Tara smiled, “Elisabeth is a pretty name.”
At the moment, Xiang could probably cook eggs on Tara’s crimson face.
“Very well, seeing how the two of you are now acquainted, I’ll leave,” Madam Taia said, “Ms Rain, I expect to see you for your afternoon lessons. Do not be late.”
“Yeah,” Lis said, still looking at Tara and feeling embarrassed, tongue tied and awkward in front of Tara.
“You know what,” Xiang said suddenly, “I’m going to go too. I think I may go check on my little Rogues.”
“Wait- Xiang, hang on-“ Lis said, panicking.
“See you later, Lis. Oh, Tara- could you help Lis with those robes. We don’t wear these sort of clothes on the Surface Tier.”
“Sure. I don’t mind,” Tara said, “The robes can be a little complicated if you’re not used to them.”
Xiang grinned at Lis and loped out of the room.
Lis finally managed to get the robes right and Tara smiled up at her. “There, they’re pretty old fashioned but students usually wear them.”
“You say old fashion, I say ancient,” Lis said, looking at her self, “It looks like something the priests wear.”
“Well, Hua said the design came about the same time as the priests’ robes,” Tara explained, “Anyway, it’s about time for lunch. Come on, we’re the Masters of the Firstborns so we have our own dining room with them.”
“Y-Yeah,” Lis said before clearing her throat. Tara had the sweetest dimples when she smiled, “So- what kind of food do you guys eat here?”
“Oh, you know- lunch is usually chicken, duck, pork, fish… anything really. But if you have any dietary restrictions we can let the kitchens know. Like Pierce is vegan and Beast has celiac in this lifetime,” she explained.
“No, it’s fine- I’m strictly carnivorous,” Lis said before mentally kicking herself for that lame attempt at a joke.
But she felt a lot better when Tara started giggling.
“That’s good then. You’re going to have to fight with Tulio and Beast for the best cut though. Good luck.”
Lis rubbed her hot cheek, wishing she’d stop blushing so easily.
They entered the dining hall and Tara trotted over to join Indah and Hua.
Lis meanwhile went to join Xiang but suddenly noticed something a little bit odd.
The other Firstborns were seated together, eating. And whilst Xiang was seated at the table as well, she seemed to have placed some distance between herself and the others.
“Here,” Xiang said, handing her a bowl of rice.
“Thanks,” Lis said, sitting down next to her.
“Head over heels in love already?” Xiang asked her quietly, picking up a slice of the roast duck.
Lis turned red, “Shut up,” she said at once, “Besides- what chance do I have anyway? She’s way out of my league.”
“Yeah, she is,” she agreed through a mouthful of rice and duck.
“So, Elisabeth,” Siren said with her usual gentle smile, “Tell us a bit about yourself.”
Lis jumped in surprise as she was helping herself liberally to the food spread out on the table. They didn’t have anything close to this sort of fare down on the Surface.
“What? Well… there’s not much to tell,” Lis said.
“Do you have any siblings?” Tara asked.
Xiang tried not to grin as she watched Lis turned crimson again, “No- I’m an only child.”
“And what do your parents do?”
Lis shrugged, “My dad is a compulsive gambler who doesn’t do anything but spend all our money. My mum meanwhile works four jobs to keep us from getting evicted.”
“Oh…” Hua said, “I’m sorry. Well- at least with the money they’re sending your family now, your mother should be fine, right?”
“You’ve never met my father,” Lis said, “The asshole gambles everything he has. Xiang had to make a few people disappear once when he tried selling me because of his debts.”
“You’re welcome,” Xiang said, picking a piece of lotus root.
“The two of you were friends before this right?”
It was Godfrey that had asked this question and Lis noticed Xiang’s shoulders tense as though she was about to throw something.
She was rarely like that.
“Yeah,” Lis said when Xiang didn’t show any signs of answering, “We bumped into each other when Xiang first got into the city and we’ve been hanging out ever since. Is that weird?”
“No not really. Reincarnates and Masters tend to share a bond that draw them to one another,” Tulio explained, “It’s all instinct.”
Lis frowned and looked at Xiang.
She guessed that was why both her and Xiang hit it off so quickly.
“Did you know that I was a Master?” she asked.
“Not at first. But after awhile, it kind of hit me,” she said.
“So how do things work around here?” Lis asked, trying the roast pork slices instead, “Xiang said something about classes?”
“Didn’t you get the schedule?”
“Well- I think so. But I had to start the hearth in my room last night.”
Tara giggled again.
“There are meditations that start at six in the morning-“ Hua started.
“Six!?” Lis repeated, horrified, “Woah- no chance, no how. I don’t do six. That’s ridiculous! Who gets up at six to meditate? Why do we have to meditate? Do you have to?” she asked Xiang.
“Don’t need to,” Xiang said, “My class don’t meditate unless we need to recover our memories.”
“Then why do I have to meditate?” Lis wanted to know.
“We need a lot of spiritual energy to supplement our Reincarnates,” Hua explained, “When we activate them, they start sapping strength from us instead. And seeing how these guys are the Firstborns, they need more of that energy than the others. It’s not as bad with non magical classes though.”
“Unless you’re dealing with the Beast Class. Because of how primal their strengths are, I nearly passed out the first time Beast shapeshifted,” Tulio explained, pointing at her with his elbow as he ate.
“So- it’s not that bad for me, right?” Lis said, still looking horrified at the thought of waking up before dawn.
“Wrong,” Xiang said, putting more vegetables in Lis’ bowl, “I have five subclasses in me. Most Masters only have to deal with one. The most effective way I can fight is if I have a Master who’s competent enough to see the uses of all of them and allow me to switch constantly during a fight according to what’s needed.”
“Why do you have so many, woman!? Just stick to one!”
“Deal with it,” Xiang replied, drinking her tea.
“Anyway, after that, it’s breakfast. Then we have our classes. We have the same classes as normal schools- Maths, Science, History, Magical Theory, Geography, Physical Education, Cooking- but then we have more focus on Reincarnate history, and then Speciality class.”
“Specialty class?” Lis asked, confused.
“Specialty classes are meant to help you understand the nature of the Reincarnate,” Hua explained.
“For me, I study music,” Pierce said, “For Masters of the Hunter Class, they learn tracking and horseback riding. Knight Masters learn about chivalry classes and sword fighting. Things like that.”
“And what do I have to do?” Lis asked.
“It depends on the subclasses,” Xiang answered, “But since I have all the subclasses, you have to do a bit of everything. Trust me, you’re ahead of your class already with the kind of stuff we get up to on the Surface.”
“We have classes in the morning. Lunch. Then afternoon classes and teatime. Then the Specialty Class in the evening.”
Lis frowned, “So when do we get to relax?” she wanted to know.
“We have the weekends and some breaks during the day. It really depends on your schedule. I think you and Tara have the same ones,” Indah said.
When the next bell rang, the Masters had to return for their afternoon lessons with Lis looking a little bit irritated.
“I’ll see you in the evening,” Xiang told her.
“Yeah, I guess. What are you going to do?”
“I have some things to see to on the Surface. Just make sure my little ducklings are behaving and not doing anything stupid with themselves. Also- I have to drop by Tooru’s. I left my favourite coat there when I left in such a hurry. You want me to give Emma anything?”
“Nah, but if you could get some of my stuff before that guy sells it- that’ll be good. And maybe just let ma know a few things about this whole arrangement.”
“Good afternoon, Lady Emma,” Xiang said with a bow, “Back from work?”
“Yeah- I have some time before night shift,” Emma said, “How’s Lis?”
Emma was a small woman who always looked so worn from working multiple jobs and shifts in a single day. But she looked as formidable as ever.
She had to be living on the Surface and protecting Lis from her abusive husband.
“You can come up to the institute to visit her during the weekends,” Xiang told her, “She’s fine but she’s a little annoyed with the busy school schedule. She needs to be up at six in the morning every day.”
Emma looked surprised but started laughing, “I want to see that. Even tipping the mattress doesn’t work with her.”
Xiang grinned, “Yeah- anyway, Lis is a little worried that the guy’s going to end up selling her stuff, so she sent me to get it for her,” she said.
“Good. He’s probably drunk on the streets again so I packed her things in boxes. You better take them quick before he gets back.”
Xiang followed Emma to Lis’ old room.
Many times she had heard Emma’s prayers through the countless voices that cried out in pain.
She heard so many things.
And she knew so many cases like it, having seen it so many times before throughout her lives.
The reasons were always different.
But Emma was a strong, determined woman.
So she always wondered…
“Why didn’t you ever leave him? Just take Lis and go?”
Emma snorted, shaking her head, “In the beginning, it was because I was stupid. I kept telling myself he’d change. He’d go back to how he used to be before he became so addicted to gambling. And after that, Lis came along. And I couldn’t leave her. His name is the one on the house. And the Judges don’t pay us any mind here,
“They see him as the owner of the house. We get a divorce and I get thrown out and lose Lis. Who knows what would happen to her if I were gone,” she said quietly.
Xiang looked down at the rickety stairs.
And Lis never left because she didn’t want to leave her mother behind.
She looked at the woman as she collected a couple of boxes.
Lis didn’t have that many belongings.
“Things are different now,” she said, “Lis is a Master. The Firstborn of the Rogue class has been born into different lives, including many that were worse off than Lis. That’s why they knew to implement a support for families of Masters and Reincarnates. The allowance will be divided between you and the guy and you can go on to live your life. You’ll have proper legal and guard protection as well in case he decides to stop you,” she explained, “And if he tries to get Lis instead- she’s a Master. I’m meant to protect her with my life, so I’m allowed to stab him to death if he does anything.”
Emma nodded, digesting this news, “I’ll think about it, girl. I need some time though. Maybe go up to the temples to pray about it. They say the Rogue looks after us. Even if know one else will.”
She showed Xiang out and stopped for a moment.
“Do you know the Rogue himself, Xiang?”
Xiang paused for a moment and smiled, “Yeah, I do. He’s a real asshole,” she answered.