Daris threaded his tie carefully, it was his first day at the Keldran academy and this place was certainly different to his hometown in Vesparia where it was almost year-round good weather. A good first impression, that’s what was needed here. His white shirt was freshly ironed and his blue blazer spotless. Daris ran a hand through his dark hair, making sure it stayed swept to one side with styling mousse. Taking a deep breath he picked up his bag and took a long look at his apartment. The place was tiny, a bedroom and a living area, but as a student it was free so he couldn’t complain, his parents were poor farmers after all. Daris left his apartment, locking the door behind himself. The corridors here were huge, with hundreds upon hundreds of rooms. Rumour was, this place had been a prison in times past, but there had been little use for it... until the elves had lost the war of course. Daris could only hear the echoes of his footsteps on the stone floor until he reached the reception area that was vacant as usual, he’d only seen the manager once and even then it was only to receive his apartment key. Daris pushed open the front door, a buzzer going off at reception to indicate it had opened. He stepped out onto the street, the busy bustle of the city a welcome change to the clingy silence of the apartment block. Looking up he spotted the intercity sky train speeding by, a leftover from the old times. Daris set off walking towards one of the many squares throughout the city, here within the city walls the city was kept beautiful, patrolled by the top police force that only the rich long-lived elves could afford. He moved out of the square and onto a sloping street that would take him directly to the academy, at the top of the sloping hill Daris looked back down... the sight was truly breathtaking as he looked over the pristine white walls, that radiated light and the houses that had remained almost unchanged for thousands of years.
A short time later Daris arrived at the academy gates, walking in as the other students began to arrive... he’d always prided himself on being early and that view had certainly been worth it. He was snapped from his thoughts as someone bumped into him, nearly knocking them both over.
“Ah, I’m so sorry!” a short, dark-haired boy said, bowing his head.
“Don’t worry about it, accidents happen” Daris replied, waiting for the other boy to raise his head.
“Wow, look how brown your skin is. You must be from Vesparia, I’ve only seen your people in visual dramas” the boy said in genuine giddiness.
It was a strange reaction, but Daris supposed few people here would’ve met anyone from his homeland.
“Yeah, my mother wanted me to be a visual actor, but I preferred learning, besides, everyone wants to be a vis actor right?” He replied, offering the other boy a hand. “I’m Daris, Daris Brevar.”
The dark haired boy shook his hand. “Nice to meet you Daris, I’m Kian Fei, my family are all Mages, but I have little aptitude for magic so I threw my self into school... can you believe it though, we’re amongst the top two hundred in the world, I can’t wait to start.”
The two of them walked across the yard together, passing by a large fountain in the centre that had a statue of Sollest perched atop a large plinth, he had been the previous king of Keldran, having died during the human elf war hundreds of years ago.
“Where did you place in your school then?” Kian asked him suddenly as they entered the school through its automated main doors.
“Oh, I placed first... I was the only one in my whole school that made it through to higher education” he replied with a slight smile. “Don’t get me wrong, my classmates weren’t stupid, it’s just that agricultural work takes priority in Vesparia, normally our only way out is as visual actors, but my mother pushed me hard through school. Guess it paid off though.”
“Well, in three years we’ll be able to take our pick of universities Daris,” Kian said happily, confident he’d pass through school like a breeze.
As they talked aimlessly Daris found they’d be in the same class, he could breathe a sigh of relief now that he at least knew someone here. Their form room was a large room with twenty enclosed, black desks arranged in a four by five rectangle, each one had the students name engraved on a bronze plaque. Daris marvelled as Kian found his desk first and sat down, a scanner built into the desk ran over him.
“This is so weird Daris” he announced, a little perturbed at the sudden scan.
The desk finished scanning and began to open up, Daris came to stand behind Kian and watch. A built-in monitor lit up as a touch keyboard appeared by his hands.
“This is so cool!” Kian declared.
“We didn’t have anything like this... not even in the capital” Daris responded in awe.
“It’s just a desk,” a girl said from another desk. “What backwater are you two from?”
Daris wanted to take a dislike to her... but she was so pretty, he felt mesmerised as she flicked her long brown hair over her shoulder. The girl’s pale skin seeming to illuminate against her green eyes.
“I’m from Vesparia, my name’s Daris, Daris Brevar,” He said nervously, though he managed not to stumble over his words.
“How sweet, a country bumpkin made it to Keldran academy” she declared happily, getting up from her desk to examine him.
She skipped over, her thigh length green skirt flowing as she went.
“Are you two okay? Your faces are red” she asked, her face the picture of feigned innocence.
“Yes... we’re fine... what’s your name anyway?” Kian asked, obviously annoyed by her.
“Oh my, how rude of me!” she declared. “I’m Gena Highwater, I finished top of the year for Cerdic, pleased to meet you,” she told them with a perfect smile, Daris felt his heart melt.
Then without another word she went back to her desk as more students funnelled into the form room.
“I’d best find my desk,” he said to Kian before moving off.
His desk, it turned out was behind Gena, behind him was a pretty, blonde, half-elf girl and to his left side a red-haired girl, both had long hair tied back in a ponytail. He looked down at his screen as a message popped up.
‘Hi,’ it read.
As he looked around Daris saw the elf girl waving at him, her cheeks a little flushed. He turned his chair around, glad they were on wheels.
“Hi, I’m Daris, Daris Brevar,” He said as kindly as possible.
“Oh, I’m... I’m Kaitlyn Lassit...” she replied shyly, trying not to make eye contact.
“It’s a pleasure, Kaitlyn... I’ve never met a half-elf before, are you all this pretty?” he asked, his words coming out before realising what he was saying.
Kaitlyn’s face went red as she began to mumble, fidgeting with her desk... he’d made things awkward with ten percent of his classmates now, perhaps he should quit talking to people for a while. Daris turned back to his desk once more, hoping he hadn’t ruined Kaitlyn’s first day. The door slid open and Daris looked up, seeing a tall, handsome elf stride into the room wearing an expensive looking suit, his long dark hair swept back behind his ears.
“Good morning form one A, I will be your tutor for the next three years. My name is Falhion Vendrass, but you will call me Mister Drass or teacher... non-compliance will be punished. Mercilessly... are we all clear?” He told them, his voice dripping with scorn.
The class nodded in response, it seemed like everyone was as terrified as he was.
“I will now take roll call, respond with ‘here.’ Failure to comply will be dealt with... swiftly” Mister Drass told them all, scanning the classroom like a hawk.
He began roll call, with his name being first. “Daris Brevar!”
“Here!” He replied stiffly and not without a little fear.
“From Vesparia I see,” Mister Drass said to himself, but loudly enough for everyone to hear. “It was such a lovely place... until it was infested by humans anyway.”
Daris has never felt so small as he tried to hide pathetically behind his desk. Mister Drass continued through the register, though everyone else got away without comment.
“Kaitlyn Lassit,” he called out finally, though his demeanour changed somewhat.
“Are you a follower of Yindar?” He asked.
“N...no sir, followers of Yindar would’ve seen my mother executed,” she replied nervously.
Daris knew there was tension between elves and their half-elf cousins, but execution seemed harsh.
“Well, you have nothing to fear in Keldran. You’ve been accepted here since Queen Lunathion started her rule, her joined is quite fond of your people as well” Mister Drass told her, sounding quite comforting... in his own way.
Their tutor then proceeded to lay out their timetable for the day, though as it was orientation, there were few actual lessons, with most of the day being taken up with a tour of the school grounds. They started by receiving a tutorial on how to use their desks properly, though most had already figured it out and now proceeded to send messages to each other.
“Please note” Mister Drass said suddenly. “That inappropriate messages will be flagged, then be sent to my screen.”
Several of his classmates looked mortified at the news.
“Yes Lisa, I’m aware that students think of me like that... now then, our first stop will be the gymnasium, how about you run a hundred laps of it for me,” he said in a kindly manner that belied his malevolence.
Lisa, a small girl with blonde hair, streaked with pink, went bright red and hid behind her desk, much as he had. He caught a glimpse of Kian, who seemed to be keeping a low profile... it was a good plan. The class stood when Mister Drass commanded, following the intimidating elf down the hall before descending a staircase at the end. Daris wondered how he was to remember where everything was, the school looked pristine, with few distinguishing features between rooms. All thoughts of the school vanished though as they entered the gymnasium, he couldn’t believe the scale of it.
“Lisa, please remove those pretty shoes of yours,” Mister Drass asked calmly. “I do hope you brought your gym trainers today.”
“Y...yes sir,” she replied nervously, changing her footwear as quickly as her trembling hands would allow.
“Well?” Mister Drass asked after a minute. “Get running girl, clockwise if you will.”
Lisa began running and Daris wondered if they’d survive the years here. Realising he was staring, Daris turned his gaze back, but Mr. Drass had already noticed.
“You thinking that’s what you’d like to be doing?” his teacher asked calmly.
Daris felt his face go red as he panicked. “No sir, not all.”
“That’s a shame then... get running, follow Lisa if you will.”
Daris’ head dropped before he set off after Lisa, unlike her though, Daris still wore his regular shoes. After only a short time he’d caught up to Lisa, his fitness level was pretty high after all, he doubted many did much exercise, Daris’ own fitness a result of hard labour on his parent's farm back home.
“Can’t. Keep. Running” Lisa panted, out of breath after such a short time.
“Talking will only drain your stamina faster” he replied curtly, if only he hadn’t been checking her out.
“Why are you running laps?” she asked after a short time. “Were you sending messages about how hot Mr. Drass is too?”
Daris baulked as his face went red, seriously? he’d thought she’d been bad mouthing him... what was wrong with her, Mr. Drass was scary as all hell.
“Not exactly, I...” He broke off, jogging on ahead of her slightly.
All the girls here were so cute, not like back home... though he missed his friends, especially Gailia...
“Wait up!” Lisa called, coming up beside him. “Don’t leave me behind, Mr. Drass’ll kill me if you pull ahead.”
Daris sighed, keeping pace with her would certainly conserve his energy after all.
“Alright then, but you owe me.”
“O... okay then, I can’t believe this is happening on our first day” she replied, her eyes tearing up in frustration.
Daris nodded in reply, this was certainly more in line with school life in Vesparia. He ground his teeth in frustration, this Mr. Drass definitely had a vendetta against him. They continued to run the perimeter of the gymnasium together, though Daris always kept an eye on his classmates where possible, what were they being told while he and Lisa endured this torment?
Daris heard his and Lisa’s names called, looking up at the gym clock he realised they’d been running for an hour and a half... this place was insane!
“How did you both find the tour?” Mr. Drass asked them, a smirk on his face.
Lisa tried to reply but was completely out of breath, her chest heaving as she sucked in air desperately.
“It’s impressive” Daris replied coolly. “The best engineers in the commonwealth must have built it.”
Mr. Drass didn’t rise to his baiting, instead, he seemed impressed at Daris’ defiance.
“Indeed, humans can certainly build to a functional degree, but you lack the ability to create something truly beautiful like my people” he replied, such a statement should’ve felt insulting, yet there was a respect under the words.
“Come now class, as the top tier in the world, there is someone that wishes to meet you.”
Mr. Drass led them back out of the gymnasium, Daris having to carry Lisa out, her legs like jelly as they left.
“Thanks for carrying me” she whispered in his ear.
Daris went a little red, her warm breath tantalising on his ear.
“D...don’t worry about it, I could hardly leave a friend behind” he replied, trying to hide his embarrassment.
“And I was so worried no one would like me” Lisa sighed, resting her head on his shoulder.
“I felt the same... but everyone is nice here” he replied, feeling Lisa’s hair brush against his cheek.
What was he doing? He’d seen everyone glancing at the two of them, if rumour milling had been bad at his school, it would certainly be worse here. Though, would being linked with Lisa really be that bad?
They walked back down the hallways and turned left before their homeroom, exiting the school building and entering into an open space. Inside stood the Keldran royal guard, each of them dressed in blue combat armour and white suits, with the infinite dragon on their breast. All of them carried tactical assault rifles, a pistol on their hip and an arming sword on the other, they looked regal with their long white capes, nearly as regal as the two figures that sat waiting at the far side of the quad.
“Kneel before the queen!” announced Mr. Drass before dropping to one knee himself.
Daris lowered Lisa down gently, steadying her as she tried to stay balanced. He heard footsteps as the two previously seated elves came to them, surely they should have remained seated.
“Please Falhion, there’s no need for you to kneel. And please, the rest of you stand” the woman said, her voice was gentle, yet resonated with a surprising strength.
Daris stood with the others, helping Lisa to her feet... at least she could stand by herself now.
“I see you’ve been pushing them hard again Falhion, it’s nice to see some things don’t change” the tall, regally dressed elf said with a chuckle.
Daris hadn’t expected to meet the Queen of Keldran... Lunathion, the name was legendary, a warrior queen that had witnessed the emergence of humanities domination. She was beautiful, as all elves were... yet more so, standing at least half a head taller than himself, she wore a flowing white dress, embroidered with lace and the symbol of Keldran, the infinite dragon.
“Prince Kiernon, it seems you too have changed little since our last encounter” Mr. Drass replied, a wide smile on his face.
Daris had found his homeroom teacher intimidating, but Prince Kiernon was on a whole new level, he was taller and more heavily muscled, a strange contrast to the other lithe elves around them. He also had an artificial arm, though it was an old metal style rather than the synthetic ones used nowadays. He wore similarly fancy clothing, knee-high black leather boots, white britches and a blue jacket woven with silver thread over a white ruffled shirt. It I’ll suited him though, his long wild hair more suited to the warriors of legend.
“I can’t deny that, but I'm sure these youngsters are loathe to stand and listen to us all day" Prince Kiernon replied with a smile, a kindly smile that lightened what was a hard face.
Queen Lunathion shook her head, perhaps having expected better from her husband.
"As class one A you are the very best the world over. Keldran academy accepts only a hundred students a year and so getting here alone is something worthy of praise. I know many of you are from prestigious families, though it makes me happy to see those from less... affluent backgrounds here."
Daris knew she was addressing him... but he felt pride, knowing that he'd be the first of many to make it from Vesparia. Queen Lunathion smiled at him before continuing.
"So study hard and keep our school at the top of the academic league. But most of all, enjoy your time here."
Mr. Drass bowed, shooting them all a stare that said there'd be trouble if they didn't follow suit immediately. They all bowed, Lisa swaying a little as she leant over. The royal party left, and as the final few guards exited the area, chattering broke out amongst the other students.
"Can you believe that Daris?" Kian asked, his face still bearing a broad smile.
"Not really, who'd have thought a farm kid from Vesparia would meet royalty" he replied earnestly.
"Not that, I meant how hot is Queen Lunathion?" he whispered so Mr. Drass didn't hear.
"You know she's over a thousand years old right?" Lisa whispered from beside them, she seemed recovered now that gossip was flowing.
"Maybe I like older women" Kian replied defensively.
"And here I was thinking you'd fallen in love with me," Gena said in mock exasperation, passing Kian by with a flick of her hair.
"Ah... well, I... er..." he stammered.
Daris felt bad for his friend, he needed to develop a quick wit, and fast, especially if there were more girls like Gena about.
"So Daris, are you going to take advantage of this broken-hearted damsel?" she teased, grabbing onto his arm and smiling seductively at him.
"We'll see how the day goes shall we?" he stated, not rising to her teasing.
There had been a lot of girls like Gena back home, they tried to break up couples and friends... though none were as pretty as she was.
"And you're confident! Keep this one close Lisa, I might want him" Gena told her, though she squeezed his arm tighter whilst speaking.
"He's not my boyfriend Gena, but he is nice, so don't mess with him," Lisa told her, a stern look on her face.
"Alright, alright..." Gena said as she waved off Lisa with her free hand.
"But you intrigue me, Daris Brevar" she whispered in his ear before squeezing his rear playfully.
Gena walked back towards the rest of the class, Kian shaking his fist at her in anger.
"I really hate her" he declared angrily, Daris was sure he could see steam rising from his friends shaved head.
"Just ignore her act" Lisa chipped in. "She's been like that since high school..."
"Right class, back to homeroom!" Mr. Drass bellowed suddenly, all conversation ceasing immediately.
Daris couldn't help wondering what Lisa was going to add about Gena, Kian seemed content to hate her though as they filed back through the corridors and into their homeroom. Daris sat back at his desk and was greeted by a message from Kaitlyn, her name now coming up as the sender.
'You didn't make me feel uncomfortable, what you said was really nice.'
Daris turned round to see Kaitlyn blushing. He smiled and turned around once more, catching Gena quickly look away from him... what was with that girl.
"Now that you're all seated, I have something pleasant to announce," Mr. Drass told them, which meant it wasn't going to be nice at all. "That's right, aptitude tests. Don't worry about scores, it'll only determine your future in the school, top boy and girl will be your class representatives."
The test appeared and stayed sealed, probably until Mr. Drass unlocked them.
"Is there any benefits to being class rep Mr. Drass sir?" the red-haired girl beside him asked.
"No Jane, there are not" he replied happily.
"Then, can we turn down the position?" she asked, a little concerned.
"No, no you can't," Mr. Drass said with an evil smile.
Perhaps Prince Kiernon had defeated Mr. Drass years ago and forced him to be a teacher, Daris had never seen a man delight this much in others suffering. Mr. Drass sat down at his desk and hovered his finger over his tablet.
"You will have one hour to finish, it's multiple subjects so do your best... oh, and anyone that scores under eighty percent will be running a lap of the gym per percent you fail by. I hope you're all as fit as Daris... and begin!" he declared.
As soon as the lock on his screen turned green Daris opened the file, he was worried, had his tests been easier because he lived in Vesparia? Could he even compete with the other students? The questions posed though seemed simple to him though and after a half hour Daris sat back in his chair, letting out a sigh, the test had been pretty easy after all that worry. Though keeping up with his studies whilst moving had probably helped. He shot a quick glance around, everyone else still had their heads down, focusing on the test... except Gena, she just looked bored now. Daris locked his test paper, and after confirming it was finished the system sent it to Mr. Drass' computer. His tutor looked up, an eyebrow raised at his quick completion. His screen unlocked a few moments later with only Gena available to message. There was little else to do so he tapped out a quick message.
‘How’d you find the test?’
Gena looked up from what he assumed was a daydream and peered at her monitor.
‘You've finished already? you guess all the questions?’ Gena replied a moment later, smirking as she half turned towards him.
Daris smiled, she really was bitchy.
‘Yeah, I was only just clever enough to get in... this stuffs beyond me’ he lied, two could play at this game.
Gena snorted as she stifled a laugh, but she sent no more messages. The time passed slowly as a steady stream of students finished and their messaging systems unlocked. Lisa finished with ten minutes to spare and he quickly shot her a message asking her how it had gone. All he got back was ‘:(‘ in reply. She really was kind of hopeless. As Kaitlyn finished he received a message from her.
‘Can we talk after school? By the fountain at the gates?’
Daris wondered what she wanted, but there didn’t seem any reason not to.
‘Sure, looking forward to it x.’
Before he’d realised he’d put a kiss at the end Daris had sent it, his face turning crimson in embarrassment. He quickly ventured a look back at Kaitlyn to see her smiling happily at him... that was good, he supposed.
“And stop!” Me. Drass shouted suddenly, making everyone jump involuntarily.
“While we wait on the results to be processed, I was surprised to find that some students must be guessing answers... not a good start to your term,” he told them, but staring dead straight at Daris.
Even his tutor thought he was thick, did they all really believe he’d taken easier tests? that he was just some bumpkin from the rural south? He felt angry, angrier than he thought he would have. Kaitlyn sent him another message as they waited.
‘I bet we both did well, minority power!’
He looked round to see her pumping her fist, Daris couldn’t help laughing.
“Something funny Daris?” Mr. Drass asked menacingly.
“No sir, well... not really” he replied awkwardly.
“Then be silent, why do you think I let you message each other?”
Daris shrank back behind his desk, Mr. Drass standing slowly as he held up the test results.
“For a bit of fun, the results are hidden... until I swipe the row. Are you all ready?” He asked.
Many shook their heads, others looked mortified, Gena though looked calm and composed, seeming more bored than anything.
He swiped the bottom result. “Lisa, why you must love exercise. Though, seventy-eight percent is commendable.”
Lisa shuddered at the thought of running even two laps and dropped her head onto her desk. Two more failed by one percent, though in reality, a sixty-nine percent was a pass at exam level. Kian had scored eighty-six and Kaitlyn a ninety... yet as the last boy's name was read out his name hadn’t come up yet... which made him the top boy... and Gena top girl, had he beaten her?
“So second in the class is... Gena?” Mr. Drass said, a little in awe.
“So by process of elimination Daris, you’re first... though it seems you both scored a hundred percent, you go ahead in alphabetical order. I guess congratulations are in order, I sorely underestimated you Brevar, my apologies” Mr. Drass told him, a nod of respect being sent his way.
“Thank you, sir, I tried my hardest” he replied rather stiffly, perhaps he wouldn’t have to battle his tutor for three years after all.
“You too Gena, but we both knew you’d ace this” Mr. Drass said to her, Gena though simply stared at Daris, he couldn’t tell if it was out of shock or utter contempt.
The rest of their school time was spent going through school policies and locations, Mr. Drass explaining that the roof area had been off limits until last year, when, after years of it being a confession and lovers spot, it had been turned into a summer cafeteria. Finally, as four o'clock came and the end of school bell rang Daris stretched out, feeling like he'd been sitting forever.
"Alright class, today was easy. Be prepared to work hard, Keldran academy has a high standard to maintain. Lisa, Mika and Francis, get to the gymnasium... you owe me some laps" Mr. Drass told them as the mentioned pupils baulked, looking like they were about to cry.
"Daris take my place" Lisa begged, kneeling before him and tugging on his blazer.
"Well, I would, but I promised to meet Kaitlyn... like, now" he replied, prying her hands away.
Lisa shot up, pushing him towards the classroom's door.
"Then get going you dumbass, don't keep a lady waiting" Lisa reprimanded him.
"Lisa! get to the gymnasium now!" Mr. Drass bellowed, making Lisa shoot to attention before running from the classroom.
"That girl's going to be the death of me this year" Mr. Drass lamented, walking from the classroom ahead of him.
"Lisa! I said move it!" Daris heard a moment later.
Daris found Kaitlyn waiting by the fountain, the crowds of students having mostly left now. She looked nervous, and now he was feeling the same, what did she want? was she going to chew him out for his message earlier. The last of the students passed them by as he came within a few feet of her, Kaitlyn's face seemed flushed, she looked so cute.
"I'm glad you came. I, I wanted to ask you something... Daris" she said shyly as she clasped her hands nervously.
Was she going to tell him she liked him? they'd just met, but, wow, that someone as pretty as Kaitlyn was interested... he'd accept in a heartbeat.
"Daris I, well, I..."
Before she could finish, Daris felt someone grab him from behind.
"What's going on here? are we making plans for the weekend?" Gena asked from behind, mischief clear in her voice.
"Well, I... was going to..." Kaitlyn stammered, Gena's interference shaking her frail confidence.
"Why don't we all go into central Keldran tomorrow?" Gena butted in, pointing to a nearby wall.
A moment later Lisa and Kian appeared from behind it looking guilty.
"It's not what it looks like" Kian protested, his nervous expression saying otherwise.
"Seems like you were eavesdropping," Gena said in a disappointed tone, Daris noted she still hadn't let go of his arm though.
"No, we wouldn't... well, perhaps a little" Lisa replied with a nervous laugh.
Daris wasn't disappointed, he was glad he had some friends who were interested in him.
"How about it Kaitlyn? Shall we see Keldran together?" he asked the young half-elf, hoping she would read the subtext.
"Yes," she said immediately, then composed herself. "I mean, that would be lovely."
"It's a date then, we'll all meet up here tomorrow morning, say nineish?" Gena said cheerfully, rubbing herself up against him.
Kaitlyn's fists clenched as she nodded, turning and walking away. Kaitlyn's hair seemed to flow in her wake, the ethereal majesty of the elves Daris thought.
"Why are you still clinging to me, Gena? You already ruined Kaitlyn's moment" Daris told the irritating woman, shaking her off his arm.
"Oh, did I?" she replied innocently, her pretty face would almost be enough to convince anyone else.
"Of course you did. This is because I beat you in the test isn't it?" Daris raged, instinctively grabbing her arm.
"Are you getting rough with me? Don't be shy now" she teased, controlling him easily.
Daris let go and composed himself, then Gena grabbed his shirt and pulled him in close, so close the others might get the wrong idea.
"Of course it's about that test! how can a bumpkin like you beat me? I can't decide whether I want to date you or kick your ass."
Gena let go of his shirt, leaving him perplexed at the sudden shift in personality. Gena walked past him, stopping a few feet away before turning back to him.
"Don't disappoint me Daris Brevar, I haven't had a rival, Ever. And here I thought school would be boring again this year."
Gena looked him dead in the eye, a dangerous look that threatened to devour him whole.
"See you tomorrow then. Don't forget now Lisa, or you, you strange short person" she laughed, pointing to Kian who ground his teeth in anger.
Once Gena had left it felt like he'd survived a whirlwind passing by. Lisa and Kian came over to stand by him.
"You couldn't have attracted a normal girl Daris?" Kian asked, letting out a deep sigh.
"It's not like I tried to... I mean Kaitlyn certainly. But Gena? she seems a bit intense for me" Daris reasoned, though Gena had a dangerous attraction to her he couldn’t deny.
"Please date Kaitlyn, I really hate Gena. Besides, if you reject her I can rub it in her face" Kian said with a manic delight.
"Dude, that's pretty dark" Daris chided him, shaking his head.
"Yeah, too far Kian" Lisa agreed, mirroring Daris.
"Give me a break, the girl's pure evil."
Daris wasn't sure about that, but he knew he hadn't seen the real Gena yet, just the mask she wore... that's what Lisa had meant to tell them earlier, he was sure of it.
“Lisa?” He asked suddenly.
“Yeah” she replied with a puzzled look.
“Weren’t you meant to run laps?”
“I ditched Mr. Drass a while ago” she stated without fear.
“You know he’ll probably kill you, right” Kian chipped in.
Lisa walked towards the school gates shakily.
“Then I’ll have to make the most of this weekend won’t I.”
Before anyone had noticed, Mr. Drass was stood behind her, smoke flitting away on the summer breeze.
“No one escapes Archmage Falhion Vendrass” he stated menacingly, grabbing her shoulders before they both vanished.
“Is she dead?” Kian asked, a little terrified.
“I think that might be a more merciful fate” Daris replied.
He could only imagine Lisa's fate as the two of them walked home.
Kaitlyn tossed another dress on to her bed, glancing at the clock again. She still had time, making sure she'd had an early bedtime meant there was more time to prepare... today was important, especially if Gena was out to sabotage her. Kaitlyn stopped procrastinating, picking out a frilly blue dress and looking in the mirror beside her door. Was it too revealing? As if on cue her door opened and her mother popped her head in, brushing her long blonde hair behind her long ears.
"Oh, look at my little girl!" she said excitedly, standing beside her proudly.
"Mother! do you have to wear such revealing attire?" Kaitlyn asked in embarrassment, staring at her mothers low cut blouse and short skirt.
"Flaunt it while you can dear, beauty doesn't last forever" her mother retorted.
"Of course it does mother, we're immortal" Kaitlyn protested as she pushed her mother aside.
"People will mistake us for sisters soon... so?" her mother asked a grave look now on her face. "Who's the young man you're trying to impress?"
Kaitlyn couldn't stop her face reddening, was she that transparent?
"I, I'm not... not trying to, trying to impress anyone" she protested, her hands fidgeting nervously.
Her mother lifted up her skirt, noticing her new underwear immediately.
"Why don't you stop lying to your mother and let her help you?"
Kaitlyn pulled down her skirt and sighed, why wouldn't she just leave her be.
"Fine mother" she replied in defeat, Marion Lassit always got her own way eventually.
Her mother cheered in delight, standing her in front of the mirror like a mannequin and removing her dress.
"Green has always been the colour of our people darling, oh and white stockings, show enough flesh to get their interest" her mother rattled off in quick succession, not allowing a single protest.
After twenty minutes Kaitlyn admired herself in the mirror, wearing a deep green dress with white frills that only just remained decent for a young girl to wear and white stockings that came to just under where her skirt was tied with black ribbons. Her mother was surprisingly fashion savvy.
"Th, thank you mother," she said, accepting her mother would now dress her forever.
"No, no darling, thank me with grandchildren... you've been keeping up with your medication haven't you?"
"Yes, mother" she replied whilst rolling her eyes.
Science had provided what the gods had not, a cure for half-elf infertility. A two-year course of tablets that started at fourteen allowed the production of eggs and at the end of the cycle, a girl's reproductive cycle was stabilised, a similar thing happened with boys she guessed.
"Remember to wear your flats, boys are intimidated by tall women," her mother remarked.
Kaitlyn was just under six feet tall, blessing her luck that Daris was a few inches taller... but heels were out of the question, she was sure Gena would be wearing them though. The thought of her getting in the way made her furious... would Daris care if she were to get hurt? Kaitlyn was easily stronger than Gena, probably stronger than Daris too.
"Darling, if you frown like that you'll get wrinkles" her mother cautioned pointlessly.
"We don't age mother!" Kaitlyn spat back having worked herself up.
"Deep breaths darling, deep breaths."
Kaitlyn took several deep breaths, composing herself once more.
"Now, are you still a virgin?"
Kaitlyn left the house angrily, sorely tempted to slam the door behind her. She left the elven district and passed into the outskirts of the old town. It had been built four hundred years ago and only had the old sky train to quickly enter the central city. The architecture was typical of her people, grand and magnificent, unlike her own home which was clearly of human construction, functional, but bland and uninspired. She made her way down Market Street and over the Metheld aqueduct that led to Finleea station on the sky train route. She scanned her student card and passed through the pristine white turnstile, her footsteps ringing out on the near-empty platform. How the trains worked were a mystery to most, still running off magical energy rather than the human invention of electricity. She wondered how many mages there were in the world these days. Her mother had said they were rare, even when she'd had been a little girl. Kaitlyn took out her hand tablet to check the time, it was coming up to eight thirty, so the train would be here any moment. As if on cue a portal opened and the sleek metal form of the sky train slid into the station, the doors opening a moment later.
"The skyline train will soon be departing Metheld station, stopping at Fioriana, Tevlan and Grixion way before stopping in Kendral central. Please have a safe journey," came a voice over the tannoy, passengers disembarking before she could enter.
Kaitlyn entered the strange carriage, its interior was a cool blue with seats placed on either side of the central aisle. She took a seat by the window, the view always took her breath away after all. There was a short beep as the doors closed with a hiss of pressure, the train began to whir as the outside of the train beginning to warp and twist. A moment later and the train was passing through the void, a magical space that seemingly only this train could traverse. Soon afterwards the train arrived at Fioriana station, Kaitlyn checked her hand tablet again, she should have gotten some peoples numbers, but she'd been so nervous... how she'd built up the courage to confess to Daris, Kaitlyn didn't know, perhaps it was for the best Gena had interrupted, who confessed on the first day of school anyway?
"Stupid, stupid" she mumbled to herself.
The doors closed once more and the train flew into the void. Kaitlyn loved the swirling colours, like peering into a kaleidoscope. The train arrived at Tevlan station a short time later, the doors sliding open as several passengers boarded, one of them sitting beside her.
"I thought it was you, Kaitlyn, where did you get on?" The girl asked, her blonde hair tinged with pink... was her name, Liza? Lisa, yes, Lisa seemed right.
"Oh, hey Lisa... I got on at Metheld, my home's only ten minutes from the station" she replied, happy she'd got her name right.
“My grandparents live near there” Lisa stated happily, smoothing out the skirt on her flowery dress.
“What’s the matter?” Kaitlyn asked, knowing a nervous tick when she saw one.
“Ah, it’s nothing... really. It’s just you look so gorgeous, I feel a bit underdressed next to you” Lisa confessed, looking a little embarrassed.
“Don’t be silly, you look really cute” she replied with a smile.
Lisa seemed a little more reassured at the praise and sat back in her seat. Kaitlyn hadn’t even considered that others would be as nervous as herself. The two of them sat in a quasi-silence, not quite sure what to say to each other. As far as Kaitlyn knew, Lisa could very well be after Daris too, they did spend a lot of time together yesterday after all.
"You look serious all of a sudden" Lisa remarked, her innocent face marked with concern.
"Oh, it's just... I'm worried about Gena getting in the way" she replied, it wasn't a lie... but not exactly the truth either.
"Don't worry about Gena, I have a plan to keep her away from you and Daris," Lisa told her with a devilish smile.
Kaitlyn started to tear up, why would she do something so nice for her?
"Don't cry, it's just that Daris seems to really like you... and you like him right?"
Kaitlyn nodded, blinking away her tears.
"I think Gena's trying to mess with him, all 'cause he got top marks in that test," Lisa said out loud, seeming to be in deep thought.
"Thank you, Lisa... I don't deserve a friend like you" she replied with a sniffle.
"Everyone deserves a friend like me!" Lisa declared suddenly, jumping up on her seat.
Kaitlyn laughed, her nerves and self-doubt melting away under Lisa's optimism. The two of them began to talk freely, about boys and clothes... strangely about Mr. Drass, but Kaitlyn loved every second as the stations flew by, she'd never really had human friends before. Suddenly they were at the last stop for civilians, Kendral central. They exited the train together, walking out of the pristine station and into the rustic and artisan streets of central Keldran.
"We should walk home together" Lisa suggested as they crossed Baer street and into the moon square, market stalls covered its vast space and Lisa seemed torn about having to leave there to meet the others.
She managed the task eventually arriving at the school gates as Kaitlyn checked her hand tablet, they were ten minutes early and there wasn't anyone else in sight.
"I thought at least one person would be here already," Lisa said, irritated that she couldn't run around the market right now.
"They'll be here soon, I think Daris and Kian live in an apartment building nearby," Kaitlyn said happily.
She'd overheard the two boys talking when she'd been... observing Daris during a recess break yesterday.
"Lisa! You're still alive!" Kian shouted, clearly thrilled to see her.
He wore a light blue, short-sleeved shirt and black cargo shorts with a pair of white trainers. She'd have thought him handsome were it not for Daris standing tall beside him. Wearing jeans and an open plaid shirt and white vest he looked every bit from Vesparia, his own white trainers the only thing off about the ensemble... why did that make it more endearing?
"Hey, Kaitlyn, I hope you haven't been waiting long," he asked her, walking up so close she wanted to touch him.
"See, I thought Mr. Drass was going to kill you yesterday" Kian explained to Lisa.
"Oh, well, he made me run my laps... then did something heinous to us" she replied, much to Kaitlyn's dismay, what had he done?
"He's making the three of us... re-sit the test on Monday!" she wailed.
They all let out a sigh, was that it? she'd made it sound like a downright evil act.
"Well, since we're all here, how about we get moving?" Kian ventured as he clapped his hands together.
"What about Gena?" Lisa asked, raising her finger before getting Kian's insinuation. "You're a bit of a jerk aren't you?"
"No! she's the jerk!" Kian counterpointed pathetically.
"How long have you lived in Keldran then?" Daris asked her suddenly, ignoring the argument.
"Oh, I... about ten years. My mother moved here with dad around then" she replied, thinking about her father made her angry.
"Guess you'll be our guide then" Daris joked, nudging her arm gently. Had he noticed her getting angry? The logical follow up would've been to ask about her parents.
Kaitlyn smiled, gently moving closer towards him... should she make a move now?
"Sorry I'm late everyone!" Gena called out rushing past them all to latch onto Daris' arm, her short white dress making her look the picture of innocence. "Oh wow! you look every inch a bumpkin, that's so cute."
Kaitlyn acted without thinking, grabbing hold of his other arm, what was she doing? Gena was making her act like a child.
"Are you giving me competition Kait?" Gena asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Gena quit being an ass! and Kaitlyn... I expect better of you" Lisa scolded them both.
"Yes, mother," Gena said as she backed off, feigning a look of hurt.
Kaitlyn let go as well, feeling like an idiot. As she started to slide into a depression Daris took her hand, lacing his fingers with hers.
"I came here to see you” he whispered to her, raising a finger to his lips.
Kaitlyn blushed, gently squeezing his hand in case it was a dream. She noticed Lisa smiling and Gena’s death glare directed squarely at her, perhaps she really did want Daris after all. Daris led her out of the schoolyard with everyone following closely behind them, Kaitlyn couldn’t have felt any happier as they entered the market once more. Telth's festival was an old custom that felt so much more special since the complete takeover of large shopping centres. Later on, there would be the slicing of the kinwit fruit, hopefully celebrating Telth's blessing on Keldran and its people.
"Where to first?" Daris asked her, excitement plain on his face.
Kaitlyn didn't have to hesitate at that, they had to visit the food court and get beef norfu, a dish from the eastern reaches. Keldran may be ruled by humans now, but the laws concerning eating meat were still in effect, Telth allowing its consumption only once a year, so they had to make the most of it.
"I've something to show you," she told him without explanation.
Kaitlyn led him by the hand to the far side of the market into a crowded pavilion strewn with tables and ringed by food vendors. She scanned the vendor stalls, looking for the usual vendor she had bought from since she was four.
"What are we looking for?" Lisa asked, panting after trying to keep up. Kian and Gena were nearby as well, though none the worse for wear.
"There!" she declared suddenly, dragging Daris with her to an almost nondescript wooden stall with Bright Kirikanga characters adorning the banner.
"Is that you Kaitlyn? you seem to get prettier every year. Oh, is that your boyfriend?" The elderly stall owner asked, adjusting his glasses to have a better look at Daris.
"He's, well..." she stuttered, was he her boyfriend?
"I am, my name's Daris, Daris Brevar" he cut in quickly, making her blush.
"Well then, it's a pleasure to meet you Daris, I'm Ikkari Volas. Kaitlyn's a lovely girl, please treat her well."
"I will sir, I promise it" Daris replied with utter sincerity.
"Are you having the usual then?" Ikkari asked her, already preparing several bowls.
"Yes please, mister Volas" she replied, reaching for her purse.
Daris placed a hand on hers, stopping her from searching her bag.
"I asked you out, remember? It's customary in Vesparia for the asker to pay, in gratitude for their company" he said with a smile, such a beautiful smile.
Daris paid for their meals and the others joined them at a free table shortly after, Kian had followed suit and bought what they had, whereas Gena and Lisa bought other foods, both having lived here all their lives.
"This tastes great Kaitlyn" Kian told her. "Even without the added beef, I bet."
Kaitlyn nodded, swallowing a mouthful before answering. "It is, all the ingredients are pretty cheap to buy, so it's a favourite amongst the outer city people."
Lisa nodded in agreement, she was eating a large hollowed out baked potato filled with prawns and a sweet sauce, a dish from the port cities. Gena looked at their food with interest, she had an ornate looking fish dish, drizzled with lemon juice.
"Could I try a bite of yours?" she asked her nicely, looking a little embarrassed about it.
Kaitlyn passed her bowl over with the chopsticks and spoon, taken off guard by Gena's lack of playful malice. As expected, Gena wasn't sure how to pick up the noodles and broth together so Kaitlyn slid along the bench to sit beside her, demonstrating how to scoop up everything and eat it at once. Gena managed it easily enough once shown, her face lighting up in pleasure as she swallowed.
"It's so good, how can I have never eaten this?"
The others smiled, Kaitlyn expected it was because she was from a rich family and had never had to eat it.
"Well you do live in the centre," Lisa said, still with her mouth full.
"I guess so, but this is really good, as in, the best I've had in ages" Gena agreed, getting a bit flustered.
"Are your parents famous?" Daris asked her, his bowl already empty.
"My mother was a visual actor for a while..." Gena started to reply.
"How can you not know Daris? Gena's dad owns the Highwater banking group, they're pretty much the only banks in Cerdic now" Lisa butted in, sauce running down her chin.
Kian dabbed it off with a handkerchief as she carried on. "You probably have a bank account with them."
Kaitlyn watched Daris check his bank card and smile as he realised.
"Guess I am a bit of a bumpkin" he replied, putting his card away.
"Yes, well, that doesn't matter... I'll make my own name, Gena Highwater won't be accused of riding her father's coattails to anything" she declared, her fist balled up angrily.
Kaitlyn admired her resolve, they all had it after all. Only Gena came from a well-off family and Daris from poverty... it's what made them study so hard and push for the top.
"As we all want to reach the top, how about we ride the carriage?" Kaitlyn suggested, remembering it was back this year.
"The carriage?" Daris and Kian asked together, the girls smiling.
They had to walk a fair distance to get there, the carriage being situated on a high hill near the royal centre of Keldran. Kaitlyn had always been on this with her mother, but now she'd ride it with Daris.
"It's like the great wheel we have at fairs," Daris told them in awe. "But this one's like ten times bigger."
You couldn't see the top without hurting your neck, the carriage being a huge steel structure with small gondolas that revolved around it, stopping for a time as each carriage reached the top. It was an amazing sight to look out over the entirety of Keldran and beyond. Kaitlyn noticed Gena staring as people entered the carriages, an irritated look on her face.
"What's up Gen?" Lisa asked, tapping her shoulder.
"Isn't it obvious?" she replied, pointing to the line of couples and a sign that said it was a couples only ride.
"It's fine, they always let me and my mom ride it together" Kaitlyn interjected.
"That's because you were a little girl when it came last" Gena remonstrated, stamping her feet.
"Why don't you ride the carriage with Kian then? I don't mind, I'll go round with him after" Lisa offered with a smile, though Kian looked horrified at the prospect.
"And have people think that pipsqueak is my boyfriend, not on your life!" Gena barked back, her face going red. Kaitlyn was sure Kian just died inside a little.
"I'll only agree if Daris will go round with me, before or after Kaitlyn is fine," Gena told them with an indignant look.
"As long as Kait is okay with it, I am too... I really want to see that view" Daris said aloud, squeezing her hand gently again.
"It, it's fine with me..." she said meekly, though it didn't sit well with her at all.
The two of them decided Daris would go round with her first, then with Gena afterwards. Lisa seemed fine going with Kian though, perhaps they were getting together? Kaitlyn took Daris' hand and led him into the line, the space in the queue became limited quickly and Daris put his arm around her shoulders protectively as she leant on him.
"Are you having a good time?" he asked her.
Kaitlyn nodded gently. "Yes, more than I could have hoped."
Daris held her tighter as the line moved forward at a slow pace, but that didn't matter. Being here with him now, Kaitlyn didn't want Gena to ride the carriage with Daris, there was still a chance she might take him away. Before she knew it they were at the front, waiting for the next gondola to arrive. As the gondola slowly lowered an attendant opened the door helping out a young girl with red hair... was it Jane? she didn't recognise the boy that got out though. A minute later and Daris was helping her inside before sitting opposite her, the door closing and locking behind them. The gondola began to ascend slowly, what should she say... Kaitlyn realised they knew little about each other, especially considering how clingy she'd been.
"Are you feeling nervous?" Daris asked suddenly, leaning forward a little.
"Yes... it's the first date I've been on, I don't know what I'm supposed to do" she replied, franker than she'd meant to be.
"It's okay, dating was different in my hometown... there's not a lot there you see, not like this place, there's so much... for the first few days here I was culture shocked" Daris explained with a kind smile.
"I guess you're right, I should just relax, right?" she asked, fidgeting with her skirt.
"Only if you feel comfortable, I guess. I'm not really built for the city... I don't even know what I'm saying now" he replied quickly, throwing up his arms in defeat.
Kaitlyn smiled, he looked cute when he got frustrated. She stood up and carefully moved over to him, Daris moved up so she could sit next to him.
"Can you believe I was worried we'd have nothing to talk about?" she asked him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I think we'll have plenty to talk about, no need to rush things though," Daris said kindly as he put his arms around her.
"Not at all..." she replied, closing her eyes as the gondola began to move once more.
"I tipped a cow over once..." Daris said wistfully and she laughed, not a nervous laugh, but one of happiness... she wouldn't rush things, but she was in love, Kaitlyn was sure of it.
The gondola reached the top and Kaitlyn moved to the window to look out over Keldran... had it really been six years since the last time she'd seen it.
"It's so beautiful, even after all this time," she said aloud, her eyes glued to the vista.
"It is..." Daris replied, his tone a little different.
Kaitlyn turned to him, noticing he wasn't looking at the view, but her. Daris held her hand, hesitating on what to do.
"I, I know we agreed to take it slow... but..." he started, his hand shaking in hers... or was it her shaking?
Kaitlyn reached out to him, pulling him close to her and kissing him... her first kiss. Daris fell on top of her, their lips still pressed together as she easily rolled him onto his back. They parted their mouths briefly, she could feel his warm breath on her face as she smiled.
"I never agreed to take it slow" she whispered, kissing him again.
Daris wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly so she could feel his heartbeat.
"I'm glad" he whispered back in her ear.
"Are you my boyfriend now?" she asked, sitting up on his chest.
"I already was, since we spoke to mister Volas."
Kaitlyn felt Daris' hands on her hips and blushed, that was perhaps a step too far for a first date. She leant forward and kissed him one more time before sitting back down on the seat opposite Daris.
"I think that's far enough for today," she said, letting out a deep breath.
"I guess, my first time shouldn't be in a gondola after all," Daris said absent-mindedly before going crimson as he realised he'd spoken out loud.
Kaitlyn giggled at the outburst, it was a part of his appeal after all... so he was a virgin too? That would make their first time all the more special.
Daris sat opposite her still looking embarrassed."I'm sorry... I guess it's a bit pathetic that I've never, you know..."
"There's nothing to be embarrassed about, I bet nearly all of our classmates are the same... me included," she told him, feeling a little embarrassed herself.
Daris let out a deep sigh, one of relief she was sure.
"I'm relieved to hear you say that, several of my old classmates already have children... I thought I was abnormal."
Kaitlyn was a little surprised, children at their age? Though Vesparia did have a totally different culture to Cerdic, Daris was the exception after all, not the rule. Noticing the gondola was on the descent she suddenly panicked.
"I don't want you to be with Gena..." she blurted out before she could stop herself.
"It's okay, I said you were my girlfriend now... please trust me Kait" Daris reassured her, standing up and hugging her. "I won't hurt you, I promise."
Kaitlyn nodded, she just had to trust him... that wasn't too hard, was it? memories of her father resurfaced and she squashed them, Daris wasn't him, would never be him. A short time later and they exited the gondola together holding hands. Gena greeted them, seeming surprisingly upbeat.
"How was it?" she asked, her eyes narrowing at her.
"Interesting..." Kaitlyn replied, returning the stare.
"Well, It's my turn now" Gena declared, grabbing Daris' arm and taking him from her.
"Before you go, Gena... I want to talk to you" Kaitlyn said in a serious tone, catching her arm before she left.
"You go on ahead then, Daris sweetie" Gena cooed, was this all an act to get at her?
Daris walked away after a minutes hesitation, concerned about what they might talk about no doubt.
"He's my boyfriend Gena, so keep your hands off him" Kaitlyn demanded, afraid of Gena's charms.
"Have you got a ring on your finger?" she asked out of the blue.
"Of, of course not" she replied, looking at her left hand.
"Then he's fair game Kait, I'd never steal a woman's husband... but Daris has only just got with you. Maybe I'm more his type?" Gena said shamelessly with a cute smile. "Besides, you've not even kissed yet, right?"
"We have!" Kaitlyn said angrily. "We've done much more..."
She felt foolish lying, Gena would find out easily enough from Daris. Kaitlyn was letting herself be manipulated so easily.
"Really... I'll have to step up my game then, perhaps I'll be with child when we meet again" Gena teased, leaving to catch up with Daris.
Kaitlyn balled up her fists in rage at the thought, no, Daris wouldn't do that to her... she had to believe that.
Kaitlyn only had to wait ten minutes or so until Lisa and Kian arrived from the gondolas, their presence alone calming her frayed nerves.
"Soooo?" Lisa asked suggestively.
"Aren't you being a bit too upfront?" Kian asked her, looking embarrassed at the question.
"Only if naughtiness ensued" Lisa replied confidently, hands on her hips.
"Well, things happened... but now Gena's put me on edge..." Kaitlyn despaired. "Did you two get... intimate then?"
Lisa went nearly as red as Kian at the question, laughing nervously.
"Whatever do you mean? why would we... I mean... that's a secret" Lisa answered.
"Yeah... a secret that must never be told" Kian echoed, looking down at his feet.
"Wait!" Lisa exclaimed suddenly. "You said things happened, what things? spare no details... Kian, go away, girl talk now."
Kian obediently went and sat on a bench twenty feet away in a sulk.
"So?" Lisa asked, staring at her intently.
"Well, we kissed..." Kaitlyn started as Lisa came closer and closer.
"Then he fell on top of me" she continued, Lisa's face mere inches away now.
"How scandalous" she whispered in excitement.
"Then I rolled him over and we kissed some more," Kaitlyn told her, feeling really uncomfortable now.
"Did you... you know, do the baby making dance?" Lisa asked, backing up a little.
"No, but, I thought about it... I'm also concerned I knew what you meant," Kaitlyn told her, had not doing it been a mistake?
"I'm glad you didn't, your first time should be special... well, I think so anyway," Lisa told her, quite earnestly for someone who'd been so interested in the details a minute ago.
"Are you, interested in Daris too, Lisa?" Kaitlyn asked after a moment's hesitation.
"Romantically, you mean?" she replied.
Kaitlyn nodded slowly, ashamed for asking.
"Not really. I mean, he's cute and nice... but, I don't know. I guess he just isn't my type" she explained, though it felt flimsy as far as explanations they went.
"It's okay if you do... I just like to know where we all stand."
"I said not really... besides, he only has eyes for you. Hasn't he made that clear today?" Lisa said, hugging her.
"Yeah, I guess he has..." Kaitlyn replied after a few minutes, thinking back over the last few hours.
Kian was eventually invited back and the three of them waited together, talking about their plans for the rest of the day. They decided to properly look around the market, then view the cutting of the Kinwit fruit in the royal square.
"We definitely have to eat again before we go home though," Kian told them with a determined look.
The two of them nodded vigorously, it would be the last time they'd get meat in Keldran this year after all. An hour passed by as they waited for Daris and Gena to return Kaitlyn spotted Gena first, a look like thunder on her face. She stormed past them in a rage.
"Gena, what's wrong?" Lisa asked, reaching out to stop her.
"Leave me alone!" she screamed back, drawing attention from the people around them.
Gena spotted Daris approaching and stormed off once more.
"What's her problem?" Kian asked confused.
Kaitlyn smiled, had Daris shot her down completely? they could live in peace from now on if that was the case.
"She didn't like the answers I gave her. Kaitlyn's my girlfriend after all" he told them, taking her hand once more.
"I kind of feel bad for her..." Kian told them, watching Gena's leaving form.
"I know what you mean... but I'm glad for Kait, she looks good with you Daris," Lisa said to them before walking towards the market square.
"Should we go after Gena?" Kaitlyn asked after a moment, she didn't want to, but it seemed the right thing to do.
"Nope," Lisa told her with finality. "She'll come to find us once she's cooled off a little... or we won't see her again. Either way, we can't force her to be with us."
There seemed little argument from the boys, Lisa had known her since primary school after all. Moving amongst the stalls turned out to be a lot of fun, there were plenty of games to play... though Kaitlyn found that other than the test of strength, she wasn't very good at any of them. There were trinket stalls and clothes for sale. Kaitlyn had to dissuade Daris heavily from buying awful clothes, deciding she'd have to take him shopping for a decent wardrobe next week. As the sun began it's decent, the ceremony began, though arriving late they were towards the rear of the square and couldn't see a thing over the taller elves that had gathered.
"You can sit on my shoulders" Daris offered, Kaitlyn looked down at her short skirt and decided against it.
Lisa had no such qualms and climbed up on his shoulders to watch, Kaitlyn was happy to just stand in front of Daris, wrapped in his arms.
"It's starting" Lisa called down. "Prince Jaiora is cutting it this year."
"Who?" Daris whispered in her ear.
"He's Princess Fioriana's only son, I'm told he's really handsome though" she recalled.
"He is, more than Mister Drass even" Lisa agreed, maybe Kaitlyn had been wrong to question Lisa, she clearly had a thing for elves after all.
There came a loud thud as the prince sliced through the fruit and everyone collectively held their breath as Queen Lunathion picked up the fruit.
"If it's ripe there'll be prosperity for the coming year... if not" Kaitlyn whispered to Daris. "Well, the last time it wasn't, they lost the war."
The crowd stayed silent for a long time and Kaitlyn felt someone nudge her.
"Gena? I thought you'd gone home" she said smugly, enjoying her victory.
"Yeah, thought we were free of you" Kian chipped in, his arms folded.
"You felt sorry for her," Lisa said from atop Daris' shoulders.
"Well... I really can't stand any of you... but, I haven't got any other friends, so you'll have to do until I get more" Gena pouted, Kaitlyn noticed she stayed near Daris though.
The crowd cheered suddenly, scaring the life out of her.
"It's good, we're in for a good year" Lisa shouted down happily. "Now let's eat!"
With unanimous agreement, they left the royal square together. Lisa still rode on Daris' shoulders though and seemed pretty happy towering above them all. Gena walked beside them silently, what had they talked about in that gondola? she could hardly ask Daris after saying she trusted him. Daris put Lisa down as they approached the food stalls, going red as Kian pointed out Lisa's crotch had been against his head... that boy was so childish. They all ended up buying a selection of food between them, a feast to end their first day as new friends. As they ate she caught Gena shooting glances towards Daris several times, it was making her nervous. Still, she managed a light conversation with her, which was more than they'd managed since meeting each other. As night fell the Keldran enforcers appeared, peacefully dispersing the crowds as the evening curfew came into effect. Gena bid them goodnight and took her leave, with Kian and Daris leaving together a short time after.
"We should head back too" Lisa suggested, watching the enforcers take up their stations.
It was strange, in the bright blue and white colours of Keldran they didn't seem so imposing... though these were the last soldiers of the Keldran army and the best in the world.
"I think you're right" Kaitlyn replied, the two girls holding hands and heading to the sky train station.
They waited at the crowded station together, always feeling like there were eyes on them. Only once the train had arrived with the two of them onboard and sitting together did they feel safe.
"Well, that was a day and a half" Lisa commented as she let out a deep sigh.
Kaitlyn nodded, it was the most fun she'd had in years, even if she had gotten herself worked up a little more than she should have.
"I had fun, you don't think I put Daris off, do you... I was kind of clingy" she confessed, head in her hands.
"I think he goes for that kinda thing, country boys like a damsel I hear," Lisa told her with a perky smile.
"Who'd you hear that from?" Kaitlyn asked her sceptically.
"Well... Kian, but he's pretty smart," Lisa replied after searching for an answer.
"We're all smart, it's why we're at Keldran academy."
"That, that is true... but still, he's spent the most time with Daris after all" she postulated wildly, slumping back in her chair.
Kaitlyn stared out of the window longingly, like Daris and Kian spent time talking about girls in their spare time.
They parted ways at Lisa’s stop and Kaitlyn was left with her own thoughts once more. The short walk home passed by quickly as she ran through the day's events... crap! she hadn’t given Daris her hand tablet number... how was he going to talk to her over the rest of the weekend?
“Hey mom” Kaitlyn announced gloomily as she entered her house, closing the door behind her.
“You seem down darling, did he dump you?” Her mother asked, fawning over her the second she entered. “Did he use you first? is he a player darling?”
“Mother! he was a perfect gentleman... we may have kissed a little though" she admitted, her mother would find out somehow anyway.
Her mother's face lit up with joy at that revelation. "Was it a long one? more than one? tongues involved?"
Kaitlyn felt a headache coming on, the constant barrage of questions too much to deal with right now. She ran to her room and locked the door, her mother knocking on the door a few minutes later.
"I'm sorry darling, I just get carried away when it comes to you... you're all I have..."
Kaitlyn sighed, unlocking the door and looking up at her mother who stood there teary-eyed. Hugging her tightly, Kaitlyn knew couldn't stay mad at her mother for long.
"Does he love you?" Her mother sniffed.
"I think so, yes" Kaitlyn replied quietly, perhaps Daris really did after all.
"That makes me happy..."
Kaitlyn fell asleep with her mother shortly after, they hadn't felt this close for a while now. It felt nice, and tomorrow was a day of rest after all.
Gena stiffled a yawn, class seemed as boring today as it had every other year. She stole a quick look at Daris and cursed him silently, why couldn't she have a crush on a guy that wasn't a bumpkin? The bell rang signaling lunch break and she stretched out her legs lethargicly. She brought her own food, who'd want to join the mad rush at the school cafeteria after all... no, she'd find a nice spot on the roof and read her newest book.
"Are you heading for the cafeteria?" Lisa asked, she looked like someone about to run a sprint.
"No, thank you. I've got my own lunch" she replied, trying to sound friendly... Lisa did seem to like her after all.
"Okay then, don't choke on my dust!" Lisa called back as she burst from the classroom.
"I don't think I've ever seen Lisa move that fast before" Daris commented to her. Did he think she'd just talk to him after what he'd done on Saturday?
"Whatever" she replied, backing out her chair into his leg.
"Hey, there's no need to..." he started, but she'd already walked off. He'd get a damn good dose of the silent treatment. Gena passed by the crowds of the cafeteria, taking a seat in the sparse shade of the school roof, the high translucent mesh fences making it feel like a beautiful prison. She pulled out her newest book, a horror story about teenagers on a final trip together, the author was a hack, but the twists were pretty good.
“You reading again?” Lisa asked, sitting down next to her.
“Aren’t you going to hang around with bumpkin and midget today?” Gena retorted sourly, Lisa was as much to blame as her the others after all.
“Nope, I’m here to cheer up my friend” Lisa told her straight.
“Cheer me up?” Gena asked as she put down her book.
“Yes, you get cranky when you’re down... I think something happened with Daris on the carriage didn’t it?”
Lisa was more observant than Gena gave her credit for, but that something had happened was obvious from her reaction. Gena sighed and put away her book, should she confide in Lisa? She was her friend, but so was Kaitlyn, they rode the train in together this morning as well.
“It’s not my place to gossip, I’m sure if you ask the bumpkin he’ll tell you” she said instead, having every intention of walking away.
Lisa caught her arm though and pulled her back, she was surprisingly strong for her size.
“Is it an act?” Lisa asked, suddenly serious. “Are you actually seeing him too?”
Gena shook off her grip and backed away.
“And what if I were? Kaitlyn doesn’t own him” she replied defensively, Lisa didn’t know the truth of it... that it was potentially worse.
“Oh, oh my... you’ve fallen for him too haven’t you?” Gena said with false mirth, Lisa’s reaction betraying her true feelings.
“What would the midget think? I’m pretty sure he has a crush on you.”
Gena didn’t want to tease her friend, but she’d engaged full on deflection mode and couldn’t stop.
“You’re so full of shit!” Lisa shouted at her. “Just admit Daris hurt you.”
Gena stared at Lisa, watching as her friend cried at her harsh words. She went back to Lisa, cautiously putting a hand on her arm.
“He didn’t hurt me... Daris did something far worse” Gena finally admitted, finding she had started crying as well.
Lisa held on to her tightly, perhaps afraid to hear what Daris could have done, though to her it would seem like nothing.
"Gen, what did he do?"
She decided merely repeating his words would ring hollow... so she told the whole story.
Gena pulled Daris inside the gondola, waiting for him to sit before seductively sitting on his lap and stoking his chest.
"I hope your not planning on taking advantage of me Dar" she teased, though her heart pounded furiously, what if he did... she'd have to go with it.
"Gen, can I ask you something?" he said with a serious tone.
She nodded in reply, feeling his hand on the small of her back.
"Why don't you drop the act now, there's only us here" Daris asked as he looked at her, though it felt as if he saw right through her.
Gena took her hand off his chest and backed off, sitting opposite him.
"What act? you just blew your chance to get laid, bumpkin" she scolded him, instinctively going on the offense.
"I grew up in a country where everyone was either an actor, or a failed actor... your character isn't that deep Gen" he explained, leaning forwards and placing a hand gently on her leg. "Why can't I talk to the real Gena?"
She wanted to protest, to call him an idiot bumpkin... but Daris had her pegged...
"Because the real Gena is weak and afraid of getting hurt" she replied after a few minutes silence.
"I was myself in middle school, all I got was bullied... so I built a mask, a hard exterior that saw sex as nothing special. And, it worked, no one picked on me, boys left me alone as a used object should be..."
Daris held her hand and her heart began to race, how, how could he get through her like this?
"You don't have to be like that with me, I'll accept you as you are Gen. Weak or not."
Gena pulled her hand away, hiding her blushing cheeks as she turned towards the window.
"You won't pick me up as easily as you did Kaitlyn" she told him, though it wouldn't be much harder.
"I'm not trying to pick you up Gen, I want to be your friend. I'm dating Kaitlyn after all" he explained, was Daris really this naieve?
As the gondola continued to rise Daris aske her questions constantly, she shot each one down with quick responses... then he asked about her favourite books, Gena couldn't help herself, Lisa didn't read much and she was the closest Gena had to a friend. She gushed about her favourite titles as though a floodgate had been opened, years of pent up frustration released in a moment. Daris even knew the books she talked about, he'd even played roles in local productions... one had even been internationally broadcast. They talked for what seemed hours until the gondola reached its zenith and the two of them stared out over Keldran, it was a rare city in that it looked more beautiful during the day, foregoing the bright lights of other cities in a truly old world setting.
"Dar, come here... the view's beter through here" she lied, pointing through the window behind her.
She smiled as he unwittingly came over to look. Daris knelt on the seat starting to look out as she planted a kiss on him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pushing him into the corner. Daris struggled, though briefly, before holding her against him. Gena pushed her tongue into his mouth as Daris' hands moved lower and lower down her back. Then suddenly he held her back, though she could tell it was taking all his willpower to do so.
"Why Gen?" he asked in frustration. "Why couldn't you have just been yourself when we met?"
Gena started to cry, if he turned her down now she could start to move past him.
"If you had... I'd be with you and not Kaitlyn!" he shouted, letting go of her hands and slumping on the floor.
"Why?" she asked. "Why couldn't you have just rejected me..."
Gena lifted his head and kissed him again before standing up and sitting in the seat opposite.
"You're a bastard, Daris Brevar. You could have rejected me and given me closure... now I have hope, are you happy?" she asked, wiping away tears.
"I... I don't know what to do" was all he could say pathetically.
"I won't be your side piece Daris. It's me or her... there can't be a middle ground... there won't be a middle ground."
Daris nodded, standing up and sitting opposite her.
"But, we can still be friends, right?" he said finally, had he even thought out his responce.
Gena punched him squarely in the gut, doubling Daris over and leaving him coughing on the floor. In a stroke of luck the doors opened and she stormed off eschewing the attendants help.
"He'll need a hand" she snapped, leaving the idiot bumpkin alone... why did she have to fall for such a dumbass.
Gena had watched Lisa closely as she told her the story, an almost childlike vacancy descending on her face until kissing was brought up.
"He's really kinda dense, isn't he" she said after a while.
Gena couldn't help but smile, wiping tears away with her sleeve.
"Yeah, he really is."
“I’m sorry I pushed so hard for Kaitlyn... I thought you were just trying to spite Daris” Lisa confessed, still a little teary-eyed.
Gena could understand that, she’d gotten close to him on just the first day after all... was it really only Monday?
“I think I might have been... until riding the carriage. Damn it all, why him?”
We can’t help who we fall for Gen, no matter how hard we try” Lisa said, trying her best to console her.
“What about you then... I know you like him, bowing out gracefully won’t change anything” Gena told her friend, it was a conversation that was going to come up at some point. It might as well be now.
“I don’t know, but if Kait slips up... I’m gonna get him before you” Lisa responded with a cheeky smile.
Gena couldn’t help laughing, it seemed typical that her only friend would fall for the same guy. Gena offered her a hand.
“To Kaitlyn’s insecurities ruining their relationship... and may the best woman win.”
Lisa took her hand, the grip firm.
“Yeah, I look forward to it.”
Gena felt like dozing off again, lessons were so dull when she studied so hard at home. Beating Daris was her goal until Kaitlyn slipped up after all. Almost as if he’d read her mind, Daris sent her a message.
‘Are you still mad at me?’
Gena ignored him, guilting the bumpkin felt cathartic in a way. She heard him sigh from behind her and smiled wickedly. Mr. Drass had commented on her and Lisa’s red eyes, but they’d both blown it off as the wind getting in them whilst they were on the roof. He didn’t believe them obviously, but their tutor didn’t press the issue. Lessons ended abruptly for the day and Gena left the classroom quickly, Faris would only try to reconcile things with her and she wanted to make him suffer a little more first. Passing out of the school gates she took a left, walking only a short distance to a waiting car.
“How was school today Miss Highwater?” The driver asked as she got in the back, putting her bag down on the seat.
“Dull as always Garren, I should be allowed to take my third year exams now...”
“Don’t you have to beat that boy first though?” He replied with a smirk she’d come to like.
“Is that any way to talk to your master?” She asked, buckling her seatbelt as Garren set off.
Garren was one of her father’s debt slaves, slavery was, technically banned, but when taking out loans people who may prove useful and had little to no collateral could offer their freedom instead. It was, she felt, a terrible gamble. Many banks sold on the contracts and the debt slave had no choice but to obey, a magical bind compelling them.
“Technically your father owns me” Garren shot back, he knew what her response would be.
“But I have you command words, I could have you turning tricks for me in the outer city until my father found out” she retorted, drawing a laugh from her driver.
She’d never do it of course, but the banter was welcome after giving Daris the cold shoulder and crying with her friend and rival.
“What made you take the loan?” She asked, Gena had wanted to ask for a while now... but had thought it rude, she wanted to know though.
“I didn’t have a choice, my wife was pregnant with our third child and I was up to my eyeballs in debt.”
Gena sighed, it was a situation she’d probably never know.
“How long before you defaulted?” She asked, he’d been in her father’s care for nearly four years now.
“I think it was a week... there was never a chance I could pay it back after all.... thirty years service, it still feels like a good deal to me, even now.”
Gena nodded, her father could measure a persons worth in a few minutes, he was rarely wrong and rarely sold on a contract.
“How’s your family now then?” She asked, looking out the window as they entered the inner city, passing by the myriad checkpoints.
“They live well enough, I even get to see them once a week... though had my wife left me... I”d have understood why” he replied dispassionately, turning into her father’s estate, passing under a great archway and pulling up outside the main doors. Gena thought little about the old building, it had been her home since birth, living with her two older brothers and younger sister.
“I’ll see you in the morning Miss Highwater” Garren told her as he held open the door for her.
“Yes, see you in the morning” she replied, another slave holding open the house door for her.
She thanked him, though it wasn’t necessary. They didn’t have a choice after all. Gena didn’t bother to announce herself, only her mother would be home, blind drunk as always. Passing by the dining room and numerous reception rooms Gena made her way up the ornate spiral staircase at the end of the hall, taking several more turns before entering her room and letting out a deep breath.
“What a day...” she said aloud before tossing her bag down at the foot of her bed.
Gena showered and dried herself, putting on the television to catch this afternoons shuttle ball game. As she put on her pyjamas Gena caught that the Keldran Lighters had been beaten, today hadn’t ended well it seemed. She smiled though, at least the air with Lisa was cleared now... would the same work with Kaitlyn? Perhaps her teasing at the festival had burned that bridge. She sat cross legged at her table and began to take out text books for tomorrow’s lessons. Putting in the work now meant coasting through class tomorrow after all. Gena picked up her maths book and began to pour over the next lessons theorums and equations.