Etherno

Chapter 2: The… “Witch”

Onin rolled out of bed the moment the alarm rang. Wait.. that wasn’t the alarm. He grabbed his phone, pressed the answer button, and held it to his ear.

Cerina

“Hello?”

“Hello, Onin? This is Dean Nimishi’s office.”

The Dean’s office? What’d I do now?

“Yes, this is Onin.” He sat up. “What can I do for you?”

“The dean would like to speak with you before your first class this morning.”

The voice on the other end didn’t sound upset, just the usual bored business tone. Onin rubbed his eyes and glanced at the clock. It was a quarter to eight. He’d better get moving if he didn’t want to be late for his early class.

“I’ll be right there.”

“Thank you, Goodbye.”

Onin’s phone beeped, and the line went dead. He shook his head and tossed his phone to the foot of the bed while he dressed.

When he arrived, the Dean’s assistant smiled at him.

“Go on in, you’re expected,” she said with a wave.

Onin opened the door, stepped inside—and came to an abrupt stop. Kasai sat in a chair across from the dean’s desk. This morning she wore a green tank top with her shorts. It really brought out her eyes.

“Oh, good morning, Kasai.”

He wanted to ask how she was doing after that attack last night, but if he was in trouble with the dean, it was best to not volunteer any information.

“Ah, you two know each other, good. That will make things easier,” the dean said.

Dean Nimishi was an older man whose hair was just starting to grey. Onin had only met him briefly before—you usually didn’t see the dean unless you were in trouble. He was smiling, leaning back in his chair, and his voice had a warm, friendly tone.

“Yes, sir. She started at the loading docks last night,” Onin said.

“Oh, yes, that’s right. Well, she’s new here at ABG. She used to stay at a monastery—”

Onin looked over at Kasai in shock. That wasn’t normal. He’d only ever heard of old men in monasteries. She blushed and looked down at the floor tiles.

“—and she tested out of her first year of classes,” the dean continued. “Since you’ve also skipped a few years, I thought you could show her around and mentor her a bit to help her adjust. She’s also from a rural area like you, so you know some of the differences.”

“Oh, sure,” Onin glanced over at Kasai, “As long as it’s okay with you, Kasai?”

She nodded but didn’t meet his eyes. Was she just super-shy, or was she still spooked by the attack last night? From the dean’s tone, Kasai hadn’t mentioned the incident.

“Great.” The dean stood and shook Onin’s hand. “Well, that’s all I have for you. I’ll let you get to your classes.”

Onin stood and held the door for Kasai. She studied the floor tiles as she walked out. She didn’t speak until they’d left the building.

“Thanks for not mentioning last night,” she said.

“Oh!” Onin stopped and slapped his forehead. “I forgot. I was going to after I found out I wasn’t in trouble. We can’t have random people assaulting students.”

“It’s okay. It won’t happen again.” She stopped and looked over at Onin. “I mean, this is supposed to be a safe campus, right?”

“Yeah.” Onin stared at her. She had her arms wrapped around her chest and she avoided his eyes. There was something she wasn’t telling him. “It is. A higher percentage of the population in the cities is composed of giftlings, so they’re monitored a little more closely. Look, it’s not where we’re from. Assaulting giftlings is actually a crime here. I promise you we won’t be beaten for reporting those guys.”

Kasai shrugged and started out again. Her expression was blank. Onin sighed and took a few large steps to catch up with her.

“I won’t report it if you don’t want me to.”

“Really?” Kasai looked at him with wide eyes.

“Yeah. I think between the two of us we can hold them off.”

Kasai stopped, grabbed his arm, and glared at him. “You don’t have to defend me. It’s best for you if you just stay away.”

“Why? They seemed to be after that fire giftling, Onryo, anyway. And she not only said you needed a friend, she said she’d burn me to ash if I hurt you.”

Suddenly, Kasai burst into tears and ran back in the direction of the dorms. Onin stared at her back. He wanted to go after her, but something told him to leave her alone for a bit.

“What’d I say?” he said to empty air.

dragon

Onin didn’t see Kasai for the rest of the morning. His first two classes were back to back and then he had an electrical lab. After that was a free hour. Onin went outside and sat against a pine tree in the center courtyard of the campus, his favorite place to study. Almost reminded him of home. He cracked open his History of the Seven Kingdoms textbook and started to review his notes.

A shadow fell across the page.

“Can I sit here?” a familiar voice asked.

He looked up to see Kasai crouched in front of him.

“Sure!” he smiled and scooted over to make room for her. “Sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It’s okay.” Kasai pulled her braid over her shoulder and played with it for a moment. “Actually, I wanted to apologize to you.”

“It’s okay. It’s been a stressful few days, and I shouldn’t pry.”

“Yeah, I, ah—”

Onin shut his book and waited for Kasai to continue.

Kasai blinked a few times and fidgeted with her braid. She must be nervous about whatever was on her mind. He wanted to say something to put her at ease, but nothing came to mind.

“I’m not used to having people around that care.” She clasped her hands together and stared at the ground. “I was on my own for a long time before the monks found me.” Kasai poked at the grass. “People mocked me, beat me, and… whatnot. They even accused me of being some kind of half-breed freak. I thought that was how all giftlings were treated until the monks took me in. Even after that though…”

She sniffed and wiped her nose. “I was happy with the monks, but people hunted me even then. The monks wanted me to come here, where I’d be safe and accepted. But then those thugs attacked us last night. They were after me. They’ve hunted me wherever I’ve gone. And Onryo, that fire giftling, always shows up. I don’t know if she’s protecting me, or hunting the hunters, or what. I’ve never even seen her!” She shuddered. “But next thing you know, a village is reduced to slag, and there’s even more rumors about me. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt. You were hurt though, so you deserve to know what I can tell you.” She jerked to her feet. “Bye.”

“Wait!” Onin jumped to his feet and grabbed her hand. “This is a safe place for you. There’s a lot of powerful giftlings here. We’re not defenseless, and it’s not right that people are hunting you. Let’s talk to campus security. This is exactly the kind of thing they do.”

Kasai looked torn. Onryo was right, she did need a friend. Her hand was also really warm. Unseasonably warm. Sure spring was here, but there was still a little snow on the ground.

“Maybe we should get you to the nurse, though. Do you have a fever?”

Kasai jerked her hand away and wrapped her arms around herself. “It’s my latent fire talent. I don’t want to talk about it.”

The bell rang, and she headed toward the closest building. Onin frowned. Would he ever manage to say the right thing to her?

dragon

Onin closed his calculus book and slumped his head down onto his arms. This class always gave him a headache.

“Well, look who’s here?” someone snarled.

Onin looked up. A tall girl with blonde hair had Kasai cornered near the entrance to the classroom. What was the blonde’s name? Cerina? He was pretty sure it was. Whatever her name, he had at least one other class with her, and she always seemed stand-offish at best. He stood and made his way over to them.

“I hear you’re the one responsible for that crater out in front of our dorm,” Cerina said.

“Um, no,” Kasai said.

“Sheesh, look up at me when I talk to you, country girl!”

Cerina used her index finger to force Kasai’s face up. Onin took a step forward. Was it his imagination, or did the temperature in the room suddenly go up several degrees?

“Get your hands off me.”

Kasai’s voice was low and dangerous. Onin jumped between them.

“Alright, that’s enough. Cerina, Kasai didn’t make that crater.”

Cerina’s hands were clenched into fists. “How do you know?”

“I was there.” Onin glared at Cerina. “Leave her alone.”

“Oh, so now Mister McScholarship is butting in? Whatever.” She leaned around Onin to scowl at Kasai. “This isn’t over. Freak.” Cerina flipped Kasai off, stomped out, and slammed the door behind her.

“What was that about?” Kasai asked.

“I have no idea.” Onin shrugged, and the clock chimed. “Uh-oh, I’m late for my next class! Uh, try and stay away from her. I’ll talk to you later!”

dragon

Onin grabbed a sandwich out of the machine at the cafeteria and headed to the outside tables. He sat and shucked the wrapper from his sandwich. Mmm. Ham, cheese, and bacon. He picked it up and was about to take a bite when someone clapped him on the shoulder.

“Hey there! Sounds like I missed all the fun last night,” Tannin said.

“And this morning.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” Onin took a bite of his sandwich and chewed before answering. “Cerina tried to pick a fight with Kasai.”

“Really?” Tannin’s eyebrows shot up. “The hot blonde? I miss all the fun!”

“It wasn’t fun.” Onin glared at his friend. “Cerina was picking on Kasai for that crater, wasn’t even her fault at all. Then Cerina grabbed Kasai’s chin. I had to break them up.”

Tannin whistled. “I would’ve loved to see that fight.”

“You’re an idiot, Tannin. Besides, it wouldn’t have been much of a fight.”

“Really? You know Cerina’s an A-class giftling, right?” Tannin pursed his lips. “I don’t remember what her gift is, but still, A-class… that’s right up there!”

Onin shook his head. “You know Kasai’s level?”

“Nope.” Tannin shook his head. “Can’t be much, can it? She’s a kinetic.”

“S-class.”

“Really?” Tannin jumped up. “Wow, I would’ve let them go at it. There’s only what, four or five of those in the whole school! I wonder what an S-class giftling can do…”

His friend never learned. Onin sighed and took another bite of his sandwich.

“Uh-oh.” Tannin nodded at the door. “Look who just came in.”

Onin looked up. Kasai stood in the doorway of the veranda, a brown bag in her hand. She looked around the room and took a tentative step toward Onin. He waved her over.

“No, you idiot, look!” Tannin pointed.

A few tables away sat Cerina. She saw Kasai a few seconds later and jerked to her feet.

“Oh no you don’t!” Cerina marched over to stand in front of Kasai and crossed her arms. “You can’t just walk in here and bother me when I’m eating, too.”

Kasai looked around the room. She shrugged, turned her back on Cerina, and kept walking.

“I said, no you don’t!” Cerina reached out and spun Kasai around by the shoulder.

Scales! This doesn’t look good! Onin and Tannin were both on their feet now and headed toward the two girls. The rest of the students had retreated off the veranda.

Cerina leaned in close to Kasai. “I don’t care what you say about last night. I know you’re involved. I’m a Northlander, too. I know all about you, you village destroying freak.”

Kasai’s eyes went wide. Her arm swung around in a half-circle, and her open palm connected with Cerina’s cheek with a smack that sounded awfully loud for just a slap. The blonde girl recoiled backward. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. It came away bloody.

“You’ll pay for that.”

She opened her mouth and sounded a high note. The sound rose in pitch and volume until it hurt Onin’s ears. A visible distortion formed in front of Cerina and rushed at Kasai. Kasai flinched and raised her hand. In response, a table rose into the air and intercepted the sonic wave. It shattered into a thousand pieces upon impact.

Cerina pulled two short, two-pronged metal cylinders out of her pocket and spun them through the air in front of her in a complex pattern. The prongs hummed as she swung them, and Cerina amplified and flung the sound waves.

Kasai jumped up into the air and swung herself around in an arc, kinetically flinging tables between herself and Cerina. The tables shattered on impact with the sonic distortions, sending shards of wood everywhere. Onin dove through the door back into the cafeteria, Tannin right behind him. The other students had all run off. Onin cracked the door to check on Kasai.

“Is that all you got?” Cerina smirked. “Weak little kinetic. Don’t pick a fight with someone with real power.”

Kasai landed on her feet and slammed her palm down on the ground. Every table on the veranda slammed into the concrete and shattered into shards. Kasai smiled. In the blink of an eye, every sliver was flung across the veranda and was a hairsbreadth away from Cerina, pointed straight at her.

“Move even a little, and I bury them inside you.” Kasai crossed over to loom in close to Cerina. “Leave. Me. Alone.”

Kasai turned around so fast her ponytail slapped Cerina in the face. She marched over to the second door that lead back into the cafeteria and flung it open. Dean Nimishi and Professor Jekao stood on the other side.

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