Authors: B.T. Narro
He was also at the bottom of the class when it came time to show Penny his skill at manipulating pure sartious energy. In order to cast a fireball, mages needed to know how to grind out dust from the pellets in their wand so that the bastial energy they’d gathered could set the sartious dust aflame. But Basen could do no more than make a fine stream of dust, while Effie could make sartious shells thick enough to absorb fireballs—a defense against other mages. It was at that moment that he became certain he should befriend her.
Even if he didn’t improve from spending more time with her, at least he could ask about meditation. And he certainly didn’t mind the appearance of her.
But Effie stayed back to speak with Penny when it was time for lunch. Not wanting to wait around awkwardly, Basen walked to the dining hall by himself. He was still amazed at the concept of endless food that was free of charge. He wasn’t even hungry after the enormous breakfast he’d had, but he still looked forward to eating.
As he walked toward the line where food was served, he noticed a woman with a bandage on her temple and a black eye on the other side of her face. She looked miserable, but something about her was familiar.
He watched her from the line as she ate quickly. No one came to join her as she stayed at the very end of her long table. Then Basen realized that he wasn’t the only one staring at her. There were many, but she couldn’t look as familiar to them as she could to him, could she?
The longer he looked, the more certain he became that he knew her. Maybe she was from the workhouse in Oakshen and, like him, she’d cleaned herself up and gotten new clothes.
Either that or I met her in Tenred.
There were hardly any young women in the workhouse, so he figured the latter was more likely.
Two men of gargantuan height sat across from her. She didn’t seem bothered by their company, but she didn’t smile at them, either, as they spoke to her.
Basen stopped staring as he waited for the long line to dwindle. He told himself he would sit with her so he could figure out the familiarity.
But by the time he got his plate filled, she was gone.
Basen walked to the end of the table where the familiar woman had just left. The two men who were clearly warriors, probably not first-years judging by their obvious comfort in the dining hall, stopped their conversation to glance at him.
“Excuse me,” Basen said, “do you happen to know the name of the woman who was seated here?”
“Why?” the larger man asked.
“I’m certain I know her, but I can’t recall how.”
The two men exchanged looks. “I don’t see the harm,” the other said.
The larger man regarded Basen, his brown eyes piercing but unthreatening, as if trying to figure him out. “Her name is Sanya Grayhart.”
How did she end up here?
Basen stood there unable to speak as his mind worked through the possibilities.
“So you do know her,” said the one with black hair who wasn’t quite as tall or bulging with muscle as the other, yet still threateningly large. “Sit and tell us what you know.” His voice was friendly as he gestured at the empty bench across from him. “I’m Alex, and this is Cleve.”
Basen sat and gave his first name. “I’ve known Sanya since she was a child. She lived in Tenred castle like I did, though I can’t say we were friends.”
“Tenred?” Alex exclaimed. “Both of you are from Tenred?” It seemed difficult for him to believe.
Cleve leaned forward. “Did you fight in the war?” There was an edge to his tone.
Cleve studied him for a moment, then returned his focus to his food.
“Why does she look like she tried to take on five men?” Basen asked.
Alex chuckled at Cleve, who gave no returning smile. Basen couldn’t tell if Cleve didn’t want Basen at his table or just wasn’t particularly friendly like Alex.
“That’s about what happened,” Alex said. “She’s a warrior here…does this come as a surprise?”
“Somewhat,” Basen admitted. “But only because I thought women weren’t allowed to be warriors at the Academy. There’s still a lot I don’t know, I suppose.”
“No, you’re right about that. She’s the first, though I can’t say if she’s going to remain here.” Alex gave a questioning look to Cleve, who replied with a nod. “She left the dining hall early to get back to Warrior’s Field. She’s mad with the drive to improve.”
“It sounds like she hasn’t changed,” Basen said sadly.
“Why is this a disappointment?” Alex asked, though Cleve seemed just as interested as he waited for Basen to answer.
“I’ve never met another person as cruel as her.” He expected them to nod in agreement, but they only looked at him as if he were insane. “She’s like a rabid dog,” Basen continued. “Aggressive and illogical.” Why weren’t they saying anything?
“I don’t think you have the right woman,” Alex finally said. “Sanya Grayhart?”
“Yes, Sanya Grayhart. She spent a lot of time sword fighting as we were growing up. It has to be her.” They still looked skeptical. “She’s not behaving like a deranged animal?”
Alex laughed. “No.” He turned to Cleve. “She seems friendly, doesn’t she?”
“A bit strange, but yes, I would call her friendly.”
“When did you speak to her last?” Alex asked.
“It’s been years,” Basen realized. “I started avoiding her around the castle as I got older. After she stopped sword training with my group, I would only see her in passing. We’d stopped speaking by then.”
“Oh, you’re a warrior,” Alex figured. “You’re without a sword, so I figured you were another class.”
Effie set her plate down next to Alex. He put his arm around her as they shared a brief kiss, filling Basen with a surge of disappointment that he quickly suppressed. Effie gave him a pointed look.
“What are you doing here?”
“How do you know him?” Alex asked her.
“He was flirting with me in our evaluation class.” She spoke in an even tone and took a bite of food as if she hadn’t just said the worst thing imaginable.
Basen’s heart thumped. “I wasn’t flirting.”
Effie laughed and leaned across the table to bat his arm. “I’m joking!”
Alex leaned forward as she sat back. “She likes to stir trouble. You’ll get used to it.”
Basen relaxed and realized he was beginning to like this dark-haired warrior. It was rare to meet someone tall, clearly handsome, and skilled with a sword who didn’t act like he was better than everyone else. Basen had hated the company of his fellow swordsmen when his father had forced him to train with them, but Sanya was truly the worst.
She must’ve finally learned to be a proper adult. More than that, she must’ve drastically improved her skills to be accepted to the Academy.
Sanya was always fair competition to the other young men, but she’d never beat Basen. She complained that his left-handed style gave him an unfair advantage because she was trained to face right-handers. There was some truth to her argument, but Basen disliked her too much to do anything but tease her whenever she brought it up. Now he felt guilty for doing so.
Another woman came to the edge of their table, this one tall—and with pointed ears. They were sticking out of her lush hair that was on the darker side of blonde. Basen forced himself to lower his eyes as she turned and looked right at him. He’d never seen an Elf before…didn’t think there were any left in Ovira.
“Who’s the first-year?” she asked the three on the other side of the table, refusing to sit next to him.
“Basen,” Effie answered. “I still don’t know why he’s sitting here.” Her tone was cold.
He took his plate and stood to leave, but Effie jumped up. “I was joking again! I’m just curious why you were here speaking with Alex and Cleve. I didn’t think you knew them.”
“He doesn’t, but he knows a woman in our group,” Alex said, motioning for Basen to sit again. “We were speaking about her before you came.”
“Oh, is this the female warrior you were talking about?” Effie asked Cleve.
“That’s the one.”
The tall, Elven woman sat beside Basen and introduced herself as Reela while Alex told Effie about Sanya.
“You’re curious about my ears,” Reela said with a knowing smile.
“Are you a psychic?” Basen joked.
“Yes,” she answered to his surprise. “I’m half Elven, which is why my ears aren’t as long. Feel free to tell anyone you like. The sooner I no longer need to explain them, the sooner I can walk around campus without encountering looks like yours when you first saw them.”
As his curiosity faded about her ears, he came to notice her green eyes. They were like pure sartious energy, a beautiful contrast to her creamy skin. As with her ears, he had trouble keeping from staring as she and Effie asked question after question about the female warrior. Eventually everyone was caught up on the subject of Sanya.
The headmaster of the Academy’s voice rang out as he stood on a table in the center of the enormous dining hall. “Attention over here!”
Basen was amazed at how quickly silence followed.
“The Redfield bell will ring soon,” Terren continued. “It’s the signal to meet at Redfield stadium at the center of campus, straight south from this dining hall. It’s where you’ll go every time you hear the bell in the future. Once everyone is there, I’ll finish the announcement.”
The clamor of the dining hall picked up as Terren jumped down with the agility of a young man.
“He’s going to test our loyalty,” Reela told the group. “All morning, the second- and third-year psychics have been questioning each other in groups to ensure we’re loyal. Now we’re going to be questioning the rest of you and the first-year psychics.”
“Well, that spoils my plan to overthrow Kyrro,” Basen quipped, earning a soft chuckle from all but Cleve.
“Don’t worry,” Effie said. “I hear prison is lovely. Isn’t it, Cleve?”
He folded his arms.
“You’ve truly been to prison?” Basen asked. He was still learning to tell when Effie was joking.
“Twice,” Effie answered excitedly.
“You make him sound like a criminal, Eff.” Reela chuckled as she walked over and wrapped her arms around Cleve’s wide shoulders. She pursed her lips and spoke as if he were a baby. “When everyone knows he’s just a wittle puppy in a brute’s body.” She kissed his cheek but coaxed no smile from his lips. Basen wondered if they were a couple like Alex and Effie, or if she was just teasing him.
A distant bell dinged. It was deep and loud, making Basen question whether he could bear the sound of it while he was inside the stadium. Effie startled, jerking forward on the bench. Then her face crossed with anger.
“I hate that damn thing. I’d forgotten how loud it was.”
As they filed out of the dining hall, Alex came to Basen’s side. “We used to wait for the Redfield bell to tell us when to get ready for battle.”
Basen nodded at what seemed to be an explanation for Effie’s reaction.
Redfield stadium filled Basen with awe and a small sense of pride, for it belonged to him as much as it did to any of the other students. The rose-red walls were as tall as Tenred’s castle and curved to as close to a perfect circle as Basen could imagine. A pillar of the same color jutted out from the top of the back of the stadium, a clock on all four of its faces. Basen had seen the pillar from his campus house nearly a mile away. He assumed he would be using the clocks for the rest of the year whenever he needed to check the time.
On his way in, Basen passed by part of the wall that was inscribed with hundreds of names, maybe even a thousand. He noticed others looking at it and heard someone explain that they were students and instructors who’d been killed during the war.
Once inside the stadium, he saw rows of benches wrapped around the sandy arena in the center where Terren stood and yelled for them not to sit but to come toward him.
“Form lines!” the headmaster boomed, gesturing and directing students into place.
Basen weaved around people as he looked for Sanya, unsure why he was desperate to speak with her after all the grief she’d given him back at the castle. Soon he found her and hurried to stand behind her as her line was being formed.
She didn’t seem to notice as she spoke with a small woman with blonde hair so faint it could almost be called silver. Basen was content to listen to their conversation without making himself known for the time being, still somewhat doubtful Sanya could’ve completely changed.
“I told you I’m fine, Annah,” Sanya insisted. Her voice didn’t carry the same constant note of irritation Basen was used to. It was also a shade more mature, rich and smooth.
“Even if I couldn’t feel your pain and worry, which I can, I could see from your atrocious injuries that you are not fine,” Annah replied. “At least tell me your duels are done for the day.”
“I hope not. I’ve yet to score a point.”
Basen had heard this from Alex and Cleve. He didn’t know Annah, but she seemed to be a first-year psychic. He wished he knew more about psyche. Reela was the first one he’d met, and there hadn’t been any time for questions.