"You're just in time," Tori commented, as Belthor swept into the classroom. He nodded.
"I know. I know!" He glanced around the circular ring of taken seats facing the central podium where a gray-haired woman with glasses was shuffling notes. "I, um...I'll just-"
"I saved you a seat." Sam patted a chair next to him. "Right here."
"Oh. Thank you." Belthor sat, putting his staff in another of the little circular cubbies. He pulled out his notebook and pen, pulled the stopper out of his ink vial, and generally made sure he was prepared. "It's just an introductory lecture, right?"
"Yes." Tori grinned. "They're going to go over the basics. Gods and stuff."
"Oh. I know about gods." Belthor glanced around. "Where's Agnete?"
"She's over there." Sam nodded to the other side of the room, and Belthor let out a little noise of confirmation when he spotted the redhead sitting at a small desk by herself, with no staff and her own notebook open. She wiped at her forehead, and Belthor wondered why - but he had to quickly look down when she glanced up, to avoid eye contact.
"Oh. Good." Belthor nodded. "She seems lonely."
"She was there when we got here," Tori said. "I don't know how. I didn't see her taking the cut-through behind Dorm Six."
"What?" Belthor blinked. "That's real?"
"Well, of course." Sam looked nonplussed. "The paths are crap. Whoever designed them was drunk or smoked-up. Are you telling me you took the hike here?"
"Um." Belthor glanced down. "Yes."
"Well, it's a good leg workout," Tori pointed out, voice chipper. "I do that sometimes too. But only if I have a lot of time to kill."
"I thought it was a prank when Theron told me," Belthor admitted.
"What, he actually told you about the cut-through?" Sam looked impressed. "He must like you, Belthor. I thought he told you to take the path just for the laughs. Theron's a notorious prankster."
"Good morning, everyone. I am Master Vignette." That was the woman Belthor assumed was their teacher, and he turned his attention to the center of the room. She adjusted her glasses. "Are you all settling in well?"
A chorus of varied responses came back at her in response to that, including Belthor's own affirmative. She nodded genially.
"For those of you who know how this School works, I hope you're up to the challenge," she said. "For those who are new, allow me to take a few moments to explain the way things work here." Master Vignette raised her hand and a tall, smooth, white-wood staff floated to her side, where she took it from the air. "This is your constant companion while you are here. Your staff is your identification. It is proof you are a wizard and a student. Carry it with you at all times."
She glanced around at each student in turn, and Belthor thought her gaze lingered for a moment on the staffless Agnete. For her part, the redhead seemed unperturbed, just watching quietly through her dark brown eyes. The master moved her gaze on after only a moment.
"Each of you is here to learn mastery of magic," she said. "To this end, you will study with each of the Masters, in the arts of the lesser and greater gods alike. We will teach you the theory of spellcraft, and for those with Runes, we will allow you to use the powers you are gifted." She paused. "The staff is your identification, but it only entitles you to this theoretical knowledge. It only entitles you to classes and projects. It makes you an Initiate in the ways of the arcane.
"For those of you who wish to advance to the next level, there is this to strive for." Master Vignette reached into her cloak with her free hand, and she produced a thin wand that appeared to be made of driftwood, engraved with several runes Belthor couldn't quite make out, and that he was sure he wouldn't be able to even if he held the thing in his hands. He felt a warm flush when he saw Nerien's intricate box, though, amidst the carvings.
"To students who rise above and beyond the call, we provide these," she said. "A wand is your key to the masters' full instruction, to personal apprenticeship with one. A wand marks you a true Magician, and any who hold a wand are to be treated with nothing but respect by any without one." She eyed the assembled class. "Any with a wand are welcome wherever in this school they seek to learn, regardless of how you acquired it. This should be your goal: to acquire a wand through feats of skill and bravery."
Feats of skill and bravery, Belthor noted. He eyed the master's wand as she put it back in its sheath inside her cloak. He was far from the only one.
Any who hold a wand, he finally scribbled, as the master moved on. He debated what to follow that up with. Finally, he nodded as the words came to him.
Any who hold a wand belong.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Belthor scrambled, and he managed to catch one of his unfortunate victim's spellbooks before it hit the ground. The other one clocked him on the head, though, and he winced. "I'm so sorry."
"You're sorry?" The man knelt with Belthor, and he started collecting the young man's books. "You're like, half my size, kid. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Belthor paused. "You're..."
"Hastel. Hastel Greenhaven." He offered his hand. "Belthor, right? I heard you get introduced."
"Yeah, you as well." Belthor hesitantly got his hand crushed. "I'm in Dorm Six with your brother."
"That's what I thought." Hastel effortlessly lifted Belthor's spellbook collection under one arm, and took his own under the other. "Where's your seat?"
"Uh." Belthor glanced around. "I hadn't found one yet-"
"Well, sit with me, then." Hastel set both piles of books on the nearest desk. Belthor glanced back across the classroom at Tori and Sam, but both looked more amused than anything else.
I'll sit with them again next time, he told himself. Or maybe all four of us can later.
"Okay." Belthor slid down to a seat on Hastel's right. He shifted his books to the side. "Sorry again."
"Don't mention it." Hastel seemed amused. "Anyone Theron likes, I like. And he must like you or I'd have heard about it by now."
"You're close with your brother, then?" Belthor asked. Hastel nodded.
"Like a Master and his wand," he agreed. "You have brothers?"
"Uh, yes." Belthor blinked. "I don't know that I'd say we're that close, though."
"Missing out, kid." Hastel leaned back in his chair. Belthor examined his hawthorn staff for a moment. Unfortunately, the younger Greenhaven brother noticed. "You like it?"
"It's...yes," Belthor said. "Mine's not as natural-looking."
"Hey, yours is cursed." Hastel grinned.
"Cursed." His smile faltered. "Come on. Everyone says cursed. It's like...nice, but better."
"Oh. Slang." Belthor let out a breath. "I get it. Cursed. We didn't say that where I come from. South Shara's a bit of...well..."
"You're a farm kid?" Hastel guessed. "I mean, I'm more educated than most on most things, but I hear South Shara and endless cornfields is what I think of."
"Well, as a South Sharan, I'd like to take exception to that," Belthor said. "I'd like to, I just...can't."
Hastel laughed. He had a booming laugh, and Belthor chuckled along with him, glancing out of the corner of his eye at Tori and Sam and their amused eyes as he whispered something to her that made her giggle. Despite being sure it was at his and Hastel's expense, Belthor didn't take offense.
"My father's a basket-weaver," he admitted after a moment. "But my brothers work fields. My sisters too."
"Got a lot of siblings?"
"Seven of them. Older than me, that is." That made Hastel cough on his next laugh. Belthor carried on. "Two younger. Both girls."
"...ten kids?" Hastel asked. "Holy..."
"So it's just you and Theron, then?" Belthor asked him.
"Well...yeah," Hastel admitted. He paused. "Oh, here comes the weird girl."
"The weird-" Belthor paused as he saw Agnete hurry into the classroom, coat slung over her arm, face glistening in the light. She toweled at it with her coat, and Belthor frowned. "She must have gone for a run or something."
"Only way she could be sweating like that in here," Hastel agreed. "It's cold." He made a show of shivering.
"Colder outside, though," Belthor said, and Hastel could only nod. Agnete paused, glancing around the room with a nervous air.
Belthor Spellweaver mustered all the courage that had led him to face Jason Slattery armed with nothing but his fists.
I mean, I got wrecked for it, he admitted to himself, but it was still courage, wasn't it?
Here's hoping I get a different result this time.
"Hey!" He waved, and Agnete twitched. "You can sit here, if you want." He patted the seat to his right, insides tense and twisted. He almost held his breath.
"...thank you for offering." Agnete approached, despite that sounding to Belthor like a refusal. She sat beside him, putting her books on the table. "Belthor. B-E-L-T-H-O-R."
"That's my name," he agreed, blinking. "And this is Hastel Greenhaven."
"How do you do?" Hastel asked. He waved across Belthor. "H-A-S-T-E-L."
Agnete's cheeks went bright red. "Oh. Thank you." She opened her notebook and started scribbling, practically burying her face in the thing.
"Very strange duck," Hastel whispered, very low, in Belthor's ear. He could only nod - and then pause when Agnete's scribbling picked up for a moment.
He was pretty sure she'd heard.