"Oh, hey, roc." Theron Greenhaven adjusted his cloak as Belthor entered their dorm. "Was beginning to wonder what happened to you. Almost went out looking."
"I was with Tori and Sam," Belthor explained.
"Do you have plans?" the initiate asked, glancing at Theron's dark clothes and taking an experimental sniff of cologne-scented air.
"One of the things, roc, is that you always have plans," his roommate replied. "It makes you seem like a busy man with much to do. The ladies love that."
"I'll take your word for it," Belthor replied, though that sounded about the opposite of what he thought logical. "Are you saying you have plans for real, or are they illusory plans?"
"I have a study group," Theron replied, which reminded Belthor that the senior did, in fact, take classes when he had free time from romancing the local female population.
"Oh." He shifted his weight. "Well-"
"What?" Theron turned, eyes darkening from their usual cheer. "Roc? You look like something's bothering you."
Belthor hesitated. "You heard that Yvette disappeared?"
Theron nodded. "Terrible. I like Yvette."
"Well..." Belthor took a breath. "Someone saw where she went."
"Really?" Theron frowned. "You planning on doing something with that knowledge?"
"Theron, I was wondering..." Belthor sighed. "It's me, Agnete, Sam and Tori. We could use your help."
"You're breaking a bunch of rules," Theron observed. "Students are allowed to wander, but chasing things like this is a matter for the Masters and the Greenhaven family."
"That's just it," Belthor said. "You're a Greenhaven."
"Wow," Theron deadpanned. "My whole life has been a lie."
"If you come with us, that makes it legitimate," Belthor said.
"You know, I really should report what you're planning to Master Protec, in all honesty," Theron said. He adjusted his cuffs. "I'm not the Baron, roc: that would be my father. If I go with you, I just create a legal debate."
"Theron, I have to do this," Belthor said. "I can't just leave Yvette."
The senior eyed him for a long moment, until he finally sighed and adopted a resigned expression. "You're a troublemaker."
"No." Theron shook his head. "I have a study group, I have a date, I have homework, and at some point I have to sleep. I've got a lot on my plate, and honestly I think I'd be more of a hindrance to you than anything if you did catch up with Yvette's kidnappers." He picked up his staff. "I'm not but so good with this thing."
"I need all the help I can get," Belthor protested. "And you're a senior."
"I'm sorry." Theron shrugged. "I can't. But I won't tell anyone where you've gone or why - I'm no rat. And if you're not back by the time it gets late, I'll know where you went. And I can do something about it." He mustered a smile. "Believe me, roc. I know you did some pretty cursed stuff in Rosa. And if what I heard about that thing the other night is true, you kicked some major Owned rear. I'm more likely to hurt you than the other team in a fight." He shrugged. "Potions aren't exactly a combat magic."
Belthor sighed. "I guess you're right. I just thought that since you're a senior-"
"We train in many things here, roc," Theron said. "Not every wizard is a butt-kicking name-taking magic-powered war machine like Master Kulkas. Like I said, I like potions, and I like history, and I like Gifted studies."
"Do you have a Gift?" Belthor asked. Theron shrugged.
"Haven't found it, if I do," he said, voice light. "I keep trying, though." He laughed. "Imagine if I could shoot lightning like Sam. I'd have to stop saying I'm a noncombatant, huh?"
"Yeah." Belthor mused about Sam and lightning for a moment. "Well, I wish you'd change your mind. We could use you."
"No. You couldn't." Theron shook his head. "I'd slow you down, more than you know." He patted Belthor's shoulder. "I'm rooting for you, though."
"Thanks." The initiate took a breath. He turned and reached for his coat, then paused. Frowning, he stuck his hand out.
The coat twitched, like the wind had picked it up for a moment. It slipped off its perch on the arm of their couch, falling in a pile on the floor.
"Getting there," Theron encouraged. "You'll have it down soon."
"I hope." Belthor summoned his staff with much less difficulty, and made a flicking motion with the tool. That flung his coat into the air, where it opened its sleeves and slid onto his arms easily. "Let's hope we both have successful nights."
"Oh, I know I will," Theron said cheerfully. He adjusted his collar. "And I have nothing but faith in you either."
Agnete clutched her bookbag as she walked through the campus, trying to seem for all the world like the infernal warmth wasn't choking her and boiling her inside her own skin. How humans found this pleasant was beyond her, even if she understood things like body temperature and physiological differences.
A Summer drow would be at home here, she thought. They live in volcanoes. Even a Spring or Autumn might not find this heat stifling. She wiped her brow. I am none of those.
And then there was the door ahead, and Agnete gasped in relief as chill washed over her exposed skin. She rather wished she could strip her coat, but she knew no human would accept without question one of their own running about practically unprotected against temperatures that veered into the negative on their scales.
"I like snow," she muttered, as her boots sunk into it. She glanced up at the rapidly setting sun in the sky overhead. "Snow is home."
She hurried into the brush, ignoring the footpaths that were practically invisible under the snow. She couldn't even see any footprints on them, and supposed no one truly cared for the things. Typical of humans to build such convoluted and purposeless pathways.
"No, Agnete," she told herself. "Keep an open mind. Be like Belthor. He has an open mind." She ran his name through her head, frowning as she pictured the letters and the boy alike as accurately as she could. "B-E-L-T-H-O-R." Two syllables. Bel and thor. The O in thor was hard, like or, which made sense. But why were there not two Ls in his name? Bel and bell should not sound exactly the same. What would be the point of the second L if they did?
"Open mind," she reminded herself. "I imagine there's a story to that."
She approached the little brick...it wasn't a wall. It was a drop, about as high as her waist, shrouded in the shade of the trees and bushes on all sides. Agnete idly noted the absolute swarm of footprints going through the area toward Dorm Six and off toward the Hall of Honors.
"Terrible pathways," she muttered to herself. She paused a moment later, as her eyes fixed on something else in the snow.
It must be the new year already. She knelt, setting her bag down, to reach out and fondle the first bulbs of snowdrops growing in the shade. A smile touched her lips.
"I like snowdrops," she murmured. "Snowdrops. S-N-O-W-D-"
"Oh, hey. It's the spelling bee champion."
Agnete jumped. She looked up the rise, pulling her hands back as she saw Hastel Greenhaven and a collection of four or five additional students, all with staffs and bags of books.
"Hello," she said, trying very hard not to be flustered. She claimed her bag quickly. "I was just...hello. I like flowers. Hello, Hastel - I said that already!" She fidgeted, trying to bite her tongue, but she couldn't stop herself. "H-A-S-"
"You weren't kidding," one of Hastel's friends observed. "She really does spell everything."
"What?" Agnete blinked. "I...this is not my first language." She looked around, hoping to see Tori, Sam, Belthor or Master Kulkas. "I was on my way back to my dorm. Excuse me."
"Why hasn't she got a staff?" another of Hastel's friends asked. Terribly rude, Agnete thought, since she was standing right there.
"She almost froze half the diner without one," Hastel said. "Maybe they're afraid she'll freeze the school."
"Please. May I pass?" Agnete glanced at the rise, gauging whether she could slip by.
"How'd you make the ice?" Hastel asked. "What kind of Gift have you got?"
"It...it is a Gift," Agnete said, trying very hard to keep her cool without cooling Hastel. Again. "A Gift is a Gift. I...I do not know that I can explain much further."
"Bet you'd be right at home with drow," Hastel said, which made Agnete tense. He snickered. "Ice-spitter like you."
"May I pass?" Agnete asked. Almost pleaded, really: she felt her veins chilling. "Please, I would like to get inside where it is warm." She almost meant it.
"Sure, sure." Hastel extended his hand. "Here. Let me help you up."
"...really?" Agnete asked. Hastel nodded.
"Since I was poking fun at you. Only nice and all." There was a glimmer of mirth in his eyes.
Do not trust him, the voice of Agnete's uncle rasped in her mind. He will use this against you. He is only human.
Keep an open mind, she imagined Belthor or Master Kulkas telling her. Be reasonable. The people here are kinder than Uncle implied.
"Thank you." She extended her hand and took his. He twitched at her touch.
"You have cold fingers." He pulled, and she braced a foot on top of the drop.
"Yes, I was in the snow-"
"Oops!" Hastel's grip vanished, and Agnete tumbled backward with a cry. She hit the snow and sunk in, almost completely, landing on her bookbag. She clutched her shoulder.
"What was that for?" she demanded, pushing herself up while Hastel and his friends roared with laughter. Several of them clapped his hand.
"Just a joke. A prank, lighten up." Hastel offered his hand again. "For real, this time. Come on."
"No." Agnete swept up her bag and boosted herself up the rise herself.
"Not very polite, are you?" Hastel asked. Agnete blinked.
"You just dropped me in the snow, and you are asking this question?" She wasn't certain she'd heard him right. Maybe this was a colloquialism? Something lost in translation?
It must have been, because Hastel and his friends started snickering. "Odd duck," one whispered, which mainly upset Agnete because she had never seen a "duck" and only vaguely knew what one was. A bird, she thought. A predatory bird? Or was it the flightless one with the long legs? There were so many creatures outside of the North that she couldn't keep them all straight.
"I am not flightless," she replied, cool with irritation as she picked the one she was fairly sure was the duck. "Nor do I bury my head in the sand!"
Hastel and his group erupted into laughter. Agnete twitched. "What is funny?"
"She..." Hastel seemed unable to continue past that. He nearly doubled over, howling with mirth.
"I do not like being laughed at," Agnete said, but she resigned herself to no reasonable answer being provided.
Humans, her uncle's voice told her again. What do you expect? You're a joke to them.
Keep an open mind, she told herself, very sternly. Open mind, Snowdrop. Let them laugh. At least you have spread cheer. Trying very hard to focus on that thought, she turned and made her way off toward Tori and Sam's dorm.
Her open mind didn't stop Hastel's laughter from cutting like a knife.