“A black-haired elf?”
Trissiny studied the necklace lying in her palm as she walked; it was not hard to identify, and not merely because Avei’s eagle symbol had been an omnipresent part of her life since birth. She distinctly remembered the pushy elf who had tried to give her this item right as she stepped off the caravan into Last Rock.
“Yeah,” said Teal, walking along beside her. She had stuck her hands in the pockets of her coat immediately after giving Trissiny the necklace, as though glad to be rid of it and worried it would be handed back. “She’s a waitress at the saloon in town, said she moonlights as an enchanter. Um, I’m blanking on the name…it was one of those polysyllabic elvish monikers.”
“Principia,” Shaeine supplied from Teal’s other side. “And I believe it is actually Old Tanglish. It comes from no branch of elvish with which I am familiar.”
“Sorry,” Teal said with a wince. Shaeine touched her lightly on the shoulder, earning a smile in return.
“I remember her.” Trissiny carefully tucked the necklace into one of her belt pouches. She’d put it away somewhere when they were back at the tower; she did not wear jewelry. “She tried to give me this the other day when I first got to town. The hair is distinctive.”
Shaeine and Teal exchanged a glance. “Really?” said the bard. “Because she seemed to have trouble remembering your name.”
“She knew my name well enough when we met in person,” Trissiny said slowly.
“A small deception,” said Shaeine, “merely an attempt to underplay the degree of her interest in you to avoid raising our concern. A person of upright motives has no need for such tricks. It might be prudent to have that item examined by someone schooled in enchantment.”
“I think you’re right.” The necklace suddenly seemed to weigh more heavily at her belt. “Thanks, Teal, Shaeine.”
“I’d have brought it up last night, but we got back lateish. Your door was closed.”
“No worries, this clearly wasn’t urgent.” Trissiny smiled at her before returning her attention to watching the path, mulling the matter of Principia and the necklace over in her mind.
The freshmen straggled toward their Tuesday morning class in a broken line. Tobias brought up the rear, close enough to have heard their conversation, but he offered no comment; Trissiny resisted the urge to turn back and see if she could read anything from his expression. Ahead of them, Gabriel strolled along between Ruda and Juniper, flirting unabashedly with both. Trissiny was not well-schooled in such interactions, but even she could tell that Ruda was egging him on for her own amusement. The girl was increasingly difficult to like. Juniper…was hard to read. She clearly enjoyed the attention, but at different times she had displayed startling insights into what people were thinking and complete obliviousness to things others found obvious. It wasn’t clear whether Gabe was getting anywhere with her. Fross flittered about excitedly, shooting ahead and then coming back to rejoin them, bobbing impatiently at their slow bipedal pace. She appeared never to stop talking, though the thread of her speech was often inaudible as she wandered out of range.
Ronald Hall was on the second-lowest terrace, just above the library. For whatever reason, it was a battlemented structure clearly modeled after a medieval barracks, flying the University’s banner from each of the four squat towers which stood at each corner. Trissiny felt a wave of mingled comfort and homesickness as they approached; the obviously militaristic style was a reminder of where she came from, though why the alchemic sciences building had such styling was beyond her. Knowing what she did of Professor Tellwyrn, she was willing to believe that a lot of things on this campus had no purpose whatsoever.
She was looking forward to this class. The professor’s name wasn’t on her schedule, but if Rafe had some sort of vendetta against him, he must have at least some redeeming value.
Gabe darted ahead to open the door and hold it for the girls, bowing grandly to each as they passed and receiving a mixture of flirtatious and polite responses; Teal ruffled his hair, while Trissiny glared at him. He winked in response to that, and Toby had to ward off a likely confrontation by gently pushing her into the building.
The Ronald foyer looked appropriate to the exterior of the building and totally unlike the other interiors they’d seen on campus, with well-trodden wood floors and stone walls decorated by weapons and shields, all of which had clearly seen active duty. Directly across from the entrance was the main auditorium; a note beside the doors informed them that this was where the freshmen Introduction to Alchemy class would be held. They proceeded in the same order in which they’d entered, except with Gabriel in the rear this time, but quickly became bottlenecked in the door.
Juniper and Fross wandered right in, seeing nothing amiss, but Ruda stopped in the doorway, gaping; Trissiny did the same beside her.
“Is there a problem?” Teal finally asked. Wordlessly, they parted, allowing the others to enter.
This room looked more academic in design and out of place in the roughness of Ronald Hall. Much like Tellwyrn’s history classroom, rows of desks descended toward a dais at the bottom level opposite their entrance, accessed by doors on either end. Various alchemy paraphernalia was scattered about this and along the edges of the auditorium, though nobody gave it more than a cursory glance. Everyone was staring at the mural. It covered the entire huge wall behind the dais.
After nearly a full minute of silent contemplation, Teal finally spoke. “Is everyone else seeing what I’m seeing?”
Shaeine descended the steps gracefully to study the vast painting up close. “It appears to depict Professor Rafe.” She tilted her head slowly. “…shirtless, playing a lute and kicking a rearing dragon between the legs. Framed by lightning bolts. This is very good work; the brush strokes are exquisitely precise.”
“I think dragons are bigger than that,” Teal said weakly.
“Also,” added Shaeine with the same unflappable calm, “they don’t keep their genitalia in the same place as bipeds. I suspect this depicts an entirely fictional scene.”
Gabriel snorted. “You think?”
“I thought Professor Rafe hated the guy who teaches this class,” said Ruda, idly sipping from a bottle of vodka.
“Maybe he snuck in here to prank the classroom,” said Toby.
“The effort involved would have been extraordinary,” Shaeine replied, returning to the group. “As I said, though the subject matter is trite and the composition uninspired, the mural is a masterpiece in terms of technique. It would have taken considerable time and effort—”
She was interrupted by one of the lower doors flying open with such force that it rebounded off the opposite wall, its inset glass panel shattering. Professor Rafe himself burst onto the dais, flinging an arm outward melodramatically.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” said Gabriel.
Fross almost fell out of the air in shock. “I have to what?”
Fortunately, Rafe missed this exchange, having turned to regard the damage caused by his entrance. “Oh…bugger. That’s the third door this year. Arachne’s gonna throw me off the astronomy tower again… Ah, well.” With a shrug, he tossed his head, sending his golden hair sailing about, and strode toward the center of the dais. “It’s only to be expected. No mere edifice is up to the task of CONTAINING MY GLORY!” So declaring, he slammed his armful of books down on the lectern and grinned maniacally up at him.
“Dude,” said Gabe, “are you on the shrooms?”
“Doubtless,” Rafe intoned, “you ducklings are curious about yesterday’s encounter in the greenhouse. I have it on good authority that that dastardly oaf Professor Rafe has been filling your head with calumnies and lies about my fitness to hold this post. I think you will find, my children, that it is he and not I whose incompetence and moral turpitude will result in his expulsion from this fine seat of higher learning. It is only a matter of time.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Ruda demanded.
“Tell it like it is, Punaji!” he crowed, pumping a fist in the air. “Ten points extra credit! Anyway, it’s quite simple. Academic rivalries are all part of the faculty experience at any fine university. You can’t be taken seriously down in the faculty lounge unless someone else there hates your guts and spends their free time plotting against you. But woe is unto me, for there are none who DARE stand against the magnificence that is Professor Rafe!” He shrugged nonchalantly, beginning to leaf through one of the textbooks he’d deposited on the lectern. “But be not dismayed on my behalf, children! For such is my versatility and vigor that I, in addition to teaching multiple disciplines, am able to serve as my own greatest rival! Thus, you shall soon behold the inevitable triumph of the glorious Professor Rafe over the nefarious and cowardly Professor Rafe!”
“I will say it again,” Ruda repeated, “what the fuck is wrong with you?!”
“All right, that’s enough folderol, kids. Butts in seats; we’re here to learn. Anybody who wants to hear me wax poetical about how awesome I am, my office hours are clearly posted. Now then!” he went on as they trickled into chairs, still staring at him askance, “In this class we will explore the exacting art of alchemy, the wonderful wizardry whereby the simplest of substances become the most magical of mixtures! Alchemy has practical potential that rivals that of conventional magic, but is far more logically organized and has a somewhat lesser chance of accidentally ending the world or teleporting yourself to the moon.
“We shall pursue an aggressive curriculum here! By the end of the quarter I fully expect you to be able to poison each of your classmates, and also to prevent your classmates from doing the same to you. By the way and while we’re on the subject…no spoilers, but…” He leaned forward over the lectern, grinning insanely. “Guess what your semifinal is!”
Trissiny repressed a groan; the rest of her classmates sat in stupefied silence. She really was starting to hate this place.
They were still dazed and quiet an hour and a half later. In front of Ronald Hall was a pleasant little garden-like area, a round patch of tallgrass and wildflowers that looked as if it had been lifted directly from the Golden Sea below, ringed by a circular path from which other paths branched of to other parts of the campus. A few benches were placed around the perimeter.
The eight freshmen came to a stop out of sheer lack of momentum, straggling to a halt once they were safely clear of the Hall. Even Fross appeared subdued, fluttering around Juniper’s head. Teal flopped on her back on one of the benches and covered her eyes with an arm.
“How is your stomach?” Shaeine asked solicitously, perching beside her head at the very edge of the bench.
“Better,” the young bard grunted. “Should be fine in a bit. Hopefully.”
Ruda gave up on adjusting her hat and tossed it into the grass, growling. Her hair was still bright blue, but true to Rafe’s word, the color was starting to recede, the roots already returned to her normal lustrous black. “Okay, yesterday I was at least half kiddin’ around. But seriously, now. Are they actually trying to kill us?”
“My theory is this all some kind of test,” said Toby, scratching his enormous beard. According to Rafe, it would fall out overnight. “It would fit with what we’ve seen so far, and what I know of Professor Tellwyrn from…other sources. I don’t think the Unseen University is the kind of place where they ease you in. Hopefully things will calm down once we’ve proved we can handle the pressure.”
“You’re assuming we’ll prove we can handle the pressure,” grumbled Gabriel, flopping down on another bench and cradling his burned hand.
“Is that the same one Ezzaniel made you hit the tree with?” asked Juniper, sitting next to him.
He grunted. “Yeah, about that. Next time a professor orders me to do something retarded, somebody please remind me to pretend I’m left-handed.”
Trissiny seated herself slowly on his other side, frowning in thought. Class had been a whirlwind of “demonstrations,” most of which were interesting and some actually entertaining, but Rafe had certainly not taken it easy on them. Only she and the two fae were free of lingering side effects; they appeared to be naturally resistant to alchemy, and she had flatly refused to participate, going so far as to reach for her blade after Gabriel had tested the “Burn in a Bottle” to demonstrate the properties of faked wounds. Rafe had given her an F for participation and then awarded her sufficient extra credit for defiance that she was now (as he had not hesitated to tell everyone) setting the curve for the class.
“This is too…chaotic,” she said. “Abuse for a purpose is pattered. Rafe is a lunatic and Tellwyrn herself doesn’t seem too stable. This may all be some kind of sick test, but even if so, I think it’s just because the inmates are running the asylum.”
“I’m—and I can’t believe I’m saying it—with Stabby on this one,” said Ruda.
“Thanks,” Trissiny said sourly.
“Got your back, babe.”
“Hang onto your britches, kids, our day’s about to get even better,” said Gabriel. Everyone looked up at him, then followed his gaze.
The drow with the dyed mohawk was striding up the path toward them. Behind her trailed Chase, the blond human boy they’d met the previous day, carrying a stack of books—probably including hers. He appeared to be trying to engage his companion in conversation, but Natchua was visibly fixated on the freshman class, wearing a gleefully intent expression.
Shaeine rose smoothly, gliding forward to place herself at the center of their group; the other drow would have to step between Toby and Fross to reach her. Indeed, Natchua seemed intent on her specifically, but she stopped short of surrounding herself. Chase had trailed off talking as they came within earshot, and was now watching everyone with the eager expression of someone who had bought a ticket for a boxing match.
“Can we not, please?” said Toby. “We’ve just had a rather—”
“Yeah, I bet you’ve had a rather,” Natchua smirked. “First class with Rafe, eh?”
“Second,” he said.
“Ah, then you’ve found out about his multiple academic personality.” She grinned, and he relaxed slightly. Her bearing was still aggressive, but it was a positive sign that she didn’t launch right into threats and insults.
“Is he actually as crazy as he acts?”
“Kid, nobody is as crazy as Admestus Rafe acts. Nobody who can put on their own pants and doesn’t drool when they’re awake. He’s definitely not all there, though. My theory is he tried to play the part of the madman for whatever reason and lost himself in the role somewhere.”
“My theory is Tellwyrn tortures him regularly,” Chase piped up. “Whips, chains, dripping water… Actually, she’s probably got a better setup than that. I wonder if she takes bookings…?”
“You goslings have barely seen the tip of the iceberg,” Natchua said with visible relish, grinning at them all in a way that was startlingly reminiscent of Tellwyrn herself. “Still feeling good about coming to the grand and glorious Unseen University?”
“Is there some reason you need to be a bitch about it?” asked Gabriel. “Do you have a condition or something?”
She actually laughed at him, loudly. “Boy, if anything I’ve said gets under your skin, you won’t last a week here. The professors alone will eat you alive. You, especially.” She turned her wolfish grin directly on Shaeine. “Are you feeling homesick for your fancy manor and army of servants, yet?”
“I would ordinarily not presume to correct any person’s manners in public,” Shaeine replied calmly, “but your lack of decorum reflects poorly on us all.”
“Oh, that’s just priceless. Decorum, she says.” She stepped forward; Toby eased closer himself, but Natchua didn’t move within arm’s reach of Shaeine, though she lowered her voice to a sneering hiss. “Maybe a rich Narisian kid can afford to care about decorum, but you’re not there anymore. The surface is like the Deep Dark, little one. Eat or be eaten.” She snorted, and turned her back. “We can discuss it further if you ever decide to ‘correct’ my manners yourself. As if you’d have the spine.”
“That has already been seen to,” Shaeine said evenly. “I told your mother.”
There came a sharp indrawing of breath, followed by utter silence. Natchua froze; Chase looked like his birthday presents had all arrived early.
Few on the surface world understood Narisian culture in any detail, but it was common knowledge that drow in general were matriarchal. It wasn’t a reach, from there, to conclude that using the M-word was the first step to a fight.
“What,” Natchua said softly, “did you say about my mother?”
“I contacted her,” Shaeine replied, then tilted her head. “Do you truly not recognize me?” Natchua just glared at her, nostrils flaring, and she let out a soft sigh of regret. “I see. That being the case, I am truly sorry for my actions. I would have preferred to stay out of your business, but as your logical next move in protecting your charade would be to contact Tar’naris and cast aspersions on my character to undercut my credibility, I deemed it necessary to report your actions to your House immediately, as a simple matter of self-preservation. If I have done you harm for no reason, I deeply apologize.” She bowed from the waist, which was a mistake; it meant she wasn’t looking when Natchua let out a feral scream and lunged for her.
Somehow, instantly, Trissiny was between them, catching the charging drow’s weight on her shield and throwing her back, hard enough to send her tumbling to the ground, knocking Chase aside in the process. Natchua yelped, having landed hard on her tailbone, and glared pure hatred up at the paladin.
“Don’t,” Trissiny said firmly.
The fallen drow scrabbled awkwardly to her feet, bunching her fists and falling into a combative stance.
“Do not!” Trissiny’s voice cracked like a whip; she gripped the hilt of her sword.
Natchua drew in a long, hissing breath through her teeth, then abruptly spun and dashed away back down the path. Evidently dark elves could move as quickly as their surface-dwelling cousins; she was out of sight in two heartbeats.
“Ohhh, boy,” said Chase, running a hand through his hair. “That isn’t good. You’ve made her back off twice now. In public, no less! Next time she’s gonna go right for somebody’s jugular.” Despite his ominous words, his face beamed with the glee of a child in a toy store.
“How did you get over there so fast?” Gabriel demanded. Seconds before, Trissiny had been sitting beside him on the bench.
“It’s what I do,” she replied, still watching the path down which Natchua had vanished as she slung her shield on her back.
“Let me see if I got this straight,” Chase went on, still grinning madly. “You’re telling me that Natchua the deep dark drow from below is from the same effete, civilized culture that produced you?”
“She is my cousin,” Shaeine said evenly. “Our Houses have been allied for generations. We were never close, and in fact have met only a handful of times, but I am frankly surprised that she failed to recognize me.”
“Ohh, but this is just too…I can’t even…” Chase dragged a hand across his face, as if trying to scrub away that grin. It didn’t work. “This whole act she’s been putting on for the last year… Gods on bicycles, I have no words.”
“I do not presume to understand Natchua’s motivations,” Shaeine said, a hint of sharpness in her voice now, “but the kind and respectful thing a friend would do is leave the matter alone until you know her intentions.”
“Oh, of course, surely.” He bent and gathered up his dropped books; his grin was, if anything, broader now. “If you guys’ll excuse me, I have to go and not tell every single person I know about this.”
Chase strode off, whistling, down the path in a different direction from that which Natchua had taken. The eight freshmen watched in silence till he vanished down a staircase onto the lower level.
“I’m…um…I wanna say ‘confused’ but the word isn’t quite confused-sounding enough,” said Fross.
“So, that guy fits in pretty well around here,” said Gabriel. “By which I mean, he’s a dick.”
“I truly did not intend to cause her grief.” The merest hint of distress was audible in Shaeine’s voice, all the more startling because she was ordinarily so composed.
“You were protecting yourself,” Teal reassured her. “And it sounds like your reasoning was solid. I don’t really know enough about your culture to guess how much trouble this’ll mean for her, but…”
“Potentially a great deal,” said Shaeine. “Her mother will in all likelihood recall her to Tar’naris. What awaits her there will depend upon her House’s traditions, but I cannot imagine it being gentle.”
“Really?” asked Gabriel. “I mean…sure, she’s a mean-spirited little piece, but it doesn’t seem so bad. People go off to college and reinvent themselves. It’s almost expected.”
“The expectations of my people are very different. We have lived for millennia scrounging the barest survival from the rocks of the Underland. Those who will not contribute to the best of their ability are not accorded a share of the resources needed for survival, and those who turn against own are dealt with harshly, of necessity. Such behavior cannot be allowed to spread. To come here, in Imperial territory, and deny association with her House and city…”
“Yeah…I get that it’s rude, at minimum. It’s just, it seems like a pretty harmless sort of rebellion.”
“The concept of adolescent rebellion is fairly unique to human societies, and not all of those,” Shaeine said, a hint of sorrow hanging in her voice. “I gather that a human who disgraces her family is not placed in a spider box.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Okay,” said Gabriel finally, “I’ll bite. What is a sp—”
“Exactly what it sounds like.”
Trissiny slowly returned and retook her seat next to him, her head swirling with commentary that she was determined not to make. She had put her foot in her mouth plenty of times already. The ways of Shaeine’s people sounded harsh, but if their existence was as grim as all that, perhaps they had their reasons. On the other hand, Tar’naris had become positive verdant since the Imperial treaty. On a third hand, she could manage little sympathy for Natchua. Trissiny had been raised in what amounted to a barracks. She’d never lacked for love and care, but had also never lacked for discipline, and associated the shirking of one’s duties with the worst kind of fundamental weakness of character.
Gabriel was still absently rubbing the reddened burn on his hand. “Here,” she said, reaching over to take it.
“Hm?” He looked up at her in puzzlement, then his eyes widened. “Oh. Wait, don’t—”
She had already clasped his hand between both of hers and concentrated. The warm, familiar glow of the divine grew around her—
A burst of acrid smoke rose from Gabriel’s hand. He shrieked in agony, jerking away from her and tumbling over backward off the bench and incidentally clocking Juniper in the face with his knee on the way down, which didn’t cause the dryad to so much as blink. She, like everyone else, was staring down at Gabriel where he lay, panting and clutching his hand.
“Wh—I don’t…I’m sorry,” Trissiny spluttered. “I was trying to help, that’s never happened before….”
“Move.” Toby brushed past her, and her heart plummeted still further at his curt command. She’d never heard him speak with anything but kindness. He knelt beside Gabriel, gently forcing him to relinquish his grip.
“The hell did you do?” Ruda demanded.
“It was just holy light!” Trissiny exclaimed, near tears. “It’s a simple healing spell!”
“Juniper, do you know any healing?” Toby asked sharply. “Anything non-divine.”
“I, uh… I mean, I’ve never tried. Basic life magic is supposed to heal wounds, though…”
“Could it hurt him?”
“I don’t see how.” She knelt beside them; Toby had coaxed Gabe to a seated position.
Trissiny stared down at them, shocked and confused. Teal had approached and placed a hand on her shoulder; Zaruda was saying something snippy again. She was barely aware of either of them.
The light of the gods healed. There was no reason it should cause pain to anyone. Had she done it wrong? Could she do it wrong? The power wasn’t hers, but channeled directly from Avei. What would have to be wrong with her to make it come out so horribly backward?
All at once, the hints clicked into place in her mind. Tellwyrn had all but spelled it out in class yesterday, but she’d been too obtuse to follow the reasoning through. There was one obvious and simple explanation. There was one type of being always struck down by the power of the divine.
Trissiny grabbed her sword, shaking herself free of Teal, and a glow sprang up along the scabbard before she even pulled it free.
The infirmary was built at the very edge of the plateau; its east wall was the east wall of the University itself, and the tall windows in it opened directly over a nauseating drop. The view was stunning, though.
It was a long room, wide enough to hold a row of beds along each wall with an ample aisle between them. The beds and nightstands were clearly handmade, elaborately carved of a strangely glossy, whitish-yellow wood that Trissiny only realized after careful examination was actually bone. Dreamcatchers hung over the head of each bed, every one unique, and on a long counter on the far wall were a number of elven ritual tools that she could recognize from illustrations, but did not know the purpose of.
The infirmary matron back at the Abbey had bustled about briskly, often humming to herself; she was a comforting memory. The University’s healer was somewhat eerie by comparison. She was a plains elf, with hair a shade of blonde that was nearly white, and ears which protruded more from the sides of her head than Professor Tellwyrn’s. Miss Sunrunner, as she had introduced herself, wore a simple dress of leather bleached nearly as light as her hair, dyed at the cuffs, hem and neckline with organic patterns in green and pale yellow. She moved gracefully and in near total silence, which was disconcerting and left the students mostly to stew in their own awkwardness.
Gabriel and Ruda were both unhappy at being confined to beds; Trissiny privately agreed that his burned hand and her black eye did not require lying down, but Miss Sunrunner had been adamant as to how patients were treated. Trissiny herself sat on another bed alongside Toby, who hadn’t spoken to her since the drama outside of Ronald Hall. She had mostly avoided looking at him; the sheer weariness on his face when she did made her feel horribly guilty. Fross buzzed around in obvious agitation, but at least she had finally stopped chattering. Long before that point her speech had grown so fast and high-pitched that no one could pick out any actual words.
It was almost a relief when Professor Tellwyrn herself breezed into the room, though her presence almost certainly heralded some administrative retaliation for them all. Brawling on University property was not an activity approved by the student handbook.
“Congratulations, Punaji,” she said lightly, moving down the aisle with a casual, strolling gait that somehow propelled her as fast as most humans could run, “first punishment of the academic year.”
“What?” Ruda squawked, jerking upright and ignoring Miss Sunrunner’s pointed throat-clearing. “Me? I just—that’s a load of—she started it!” She pointed an accusing finger at Trissiny.
“Ah, yes, the battlecry of mature adults everywhere,” Tellwyrn said drily. “Here’s a bit of useful knowledge for you kids: the ley lines on this campus are carefully adjusted to suit my needs, which include scrying. This morning’s events having been recent enough, I was able to get Professor Yornhaldt to show me a full replay on his crystal ball. He was so disappointed at having to do such a thing this early in the semester, the poor dear. I wish you could have seen those big puppy eyes he does so well. I’d show you, but I can’t really pull it off. I’m told it makes me look homicidally insane.”
“Which differs in what way from the norm?” Gabriel asked the ceiling without raising his head.
“Glad you’re feeling better,” Tellwyrn replied. “In any case, here’s what I saw go down out there: Miss Avelea—”
“Shut. Up. Avelea here found out about Mr. Arquin’s little family secret and reacted exactly the way I’d expect a paladin to do: by flaring up and going for her blade.”
“See?” Ruda screeched.
“The next person who interrupts me is going to find themselves with a good reason to be in the infirmary.”
“There will be no threats of violence here,” Miss Sunrunner said firmly.
Tellwyrn heaved a sigh and shoved her spectacles up the bridge of her nose. “As I was saying, Trissiny then allowed herself to be persuaded to stand down by the intervention of Caine and Falconer. Since she is notably not attempting to murder Arquin in his bed, she has clearly come round to the understanding that a person with a human soul who has clearly done no harm, as he’s allowed to run around freely and attend college, is not someone she needs to put down. Which is also how paladins usually react to nonviolent demonbloods, once they get over the initial shock. Despite her general stuck up narrow-mindedness and trigger-happy ignorance—”
“Excuse me?” Trissiny all but shouted.
“You are, in this instance, excused. Despite these failings, our resident Hand of Avei is not a complete imbecile. Avei tends not to employ those, unlike some deities I could name. And that would have been that, except that you,” she turned to glare at Ruda over her glasses, “decided to ‘protect’ Mr. Arquin by pulling your sword on your roommate.”
“I—” Ruda broke off as Tellwyrn held up a hand.
“I am giving you credit for not having lethal intent,” she said. “You were pretty clearly beating on her shield rather than going for flesh. Maybe next time you’ll think twice about pulling a sneak attack on someone who’s been drilling in combat forms since she could walk. For future reference, Miss Punaji, if you must pick a fight with a Sister of Avei, go for one of the older ones. They’ve been training long enough to neutralize you harmlessly. A neophyte Sister your own age is likely to kill you before she can figure out what else to do with you.”
“So she got in a lucky shot,” Ruda said sullenly.
“No,” Tellwyrn replied, her voice suddenly silken, “she did not get in a lucky shot. Be assured I get reports from all your teachers, including Professor Ezzaniel. In any kind of fair combat, Trissiny would obliterate you. Aww,” she cooed at Ruda’s furious expression. “What’s the matter, Punaji, does reality ruffle your pirate sensibilities?”
“Arachne,” Sunrunner warned, “this is a place of healing. Behave yourself.”
“So, yes, Punaji,” the Professor went on in a more businesslike tone, “punishment. Immediately following your last class of the day, you will report to Stew the groundskeeper and see to whatever tasks he assigns until he is satisfied with your work. He put a lot of effort into the campus over the summer, so there shouldn’t be much to be done. With any luck, you’ll be able to sleep tonight.”
Tellwyrn lifted her gaze. “Yes, Fross?”
“Should I be punished, too? I mean, I did attack Trissiny. Sorry, Triss,” she added for the fourth time since the incident.
“For purposes of this discussion, Fross, freezing someone’s boots to the ground does not constitute assault. You may have saved Miss Punaji’s life, in fact; I wouldn’t be inclined to blame Miss Avelea too much if she had reflexively lopped off an arm.”
“Am I in trouble, then?” Trissiny asked.
Professor Tellwyrn tilted her head. “For what?”
“Well, I…” She glanced guiltily over at Gabriel, who was still staring at the ceiling, and then at Toby, who was watching Gabe. “I did sort of start it.”
“Avelea, if being naïve and hotheaded were an offense that warranted punishment, this University and all others would essentially be forced labor camps. You badly need to find a better default problem-solving tool than your sword, but the fact is you didn’t actually draw the thing until somebody was coming at you with another one. So no, you are not in trouble. At least not as far as the school is concerned. I can’t say how long that condition will persist if you don’t straighten up.”
Trissiny ducked her head. “Sorry.”
“To whom, exactly, are you apologizing, and for what?”
“I don’t…” she shot another glance at Gabriel. Knowing what he was, it was a lot harder to feel bad for him. “I’m just sorry.”
“Oh,” Tellwyrn said acidly, “still harboring a bit of animosity there, are we? Splendid, for a moment I was worried we’d have to put all this idiocy behind us.”
Miss Sunrunner had been busy with Gabriel while they talked, cleaning his burned hand and wrapping it in a poultice. She finished this just as Tellwyrn wrapped up her little speech, and cleared her throat loudly. “Tobias, since you’re here, would you kindly come and heal Zaruda’s bruise?”
“Gladly,” Toby said, and indeed, he sounded very glad to have something productive asked of him.
“Hang on, now,” Ruda protested. “Not interested. I’ve seen what that stuff does…”
“You saw what it does to a half-demon,” Miss Sunrunner said wryly. “Unless there’s something you really should have told me when you first came into my infirmary, a touch of divine magic will do you nothing but good.”
“But…what if I don’t wanna…”
“Zaruda Punaji, you lose the right to be irrationally stubborn the moment you fall into a healer’s care. Now hold still.”
“This really should take just a second,” Toby said encouragingly, holding a hand over Ruda’s black eye. She didn’t stop grumbling all through the gentle glow of Omnu’s healing light, though Trissiny knew for a fact that a cleric’s healing was one of the most pleasant sensations a person could experience.
“Is there going to be any problem treating Arquin in the future?” Tellwyrn asked. “Avelea here seems to have gotten her head out of her ass, albeit somewhat belatedly…”
“…but there’s always next time, and there’ll probably be more holy types enrolling every year.”
“Gabriel is quite resistant to most forms of damage, as a result of his heritage,” Miss Sunrunner replied, “and apart from that, heals much the way an ordinary human does. My default methods do not rely on divine magic, though I won’t hesitate to make use of a paladin when I have two at hand. We won’t have a problem.”
“Still in the room, by the way,” Gabe said.
“Well, that was less mystical than I was expecting,” Tellwyrn mused. “Which I suppose is to the good.”
“Really? You want mystical?” Miss Sunrunner turned and lifted a couple of heavy items from her cabinet along the wall, draping one over herself. When she turned back around, she wore a large cow skull over her head, outfitted with branching antlers and rattling strands of bone beads, with a richly-dyed leather cape bordered in feathers attached to the back. She carried a gnarled wooden staff with three differently-sized gourds on the tip, also bristling with colorful feathers, which rattled when she shook it. She did this now, in Tellwyrn’s direction. “Shaman speaks! The boy’s aura seethes with shadow and flame, a living touch of the dark beyond! Woe to those who gaze upon his spirit! But for any physical injuries, modern medical science is very good medicine.”
“You don’t need to be a brat, Taowi,” Tellwyrn snapped.
Sunrunner rattled the staff at her again. “Whatever gets you out of my infirmary.”
“Let this be a lesson to you, students: never hire a friend’s kid. All right, you’re all patched up and properly abashed, and you all have class. Move it along.”