Just When I Thought This School Was Getting Boring...
I don’t know how much longer I could stand this school. Almost everyone here is such a snob, thoroughly convinced that they come from the best bloodlines. And, of course, they all know who they are and their place in the world.
I somehow managed to collect a small circle of friends, though. They each possessed their own odd gifts. They are all lovely, but utterly terrified of the Elite in the school.
It was after a run-in with a group of these precious Elites that I had fled to the bathing rooms to try to calm down.
The fight had been broken up by the teachers, but not before we were all bruised and bloody. I hated my parents for sending me here.
Not that they were home to care or even near enough to receive my letters…
I sighed and stretched out I the enormous marble tub. Sat upon a pedestal, the monstrosity was large enough to practically swim in. I had run an ice cold bath first, to help with the bruises and soreness. Just because I healed fast doesn’t mean it doesn’t initially hurt like hell. After that, I ran a steaming hot bubble bath, well, because I could.
I leaned my head back against the rim of the tub where the plush headrest was built in. My fingers drifted through the bubbles, absently creating little shapes from them as I relaxed. My eyes had just drifted closed when the alarm went off outside of the room.
I sat up in the water. I had never heard the alarm before. Sure, the bells over the intercom system to signal the end and beginning of classes, but never an alarm. What on earth could constitute the use of it?
Before I could pull myself out of the tub to investigate it, the doors to the bathing room burst open. I sat frozen in place at the far end of the tub and stared at the man who had just stumbled through them.
He had something tucked under one arm, but I couldn’t see what it was. I didn’t even get a chance to open my mouth to ask him what he was doing in the room when he dove for the tub and into the water.
He didn’t seem to care one bit about his expensive clothes. The white dress shirt, pressed black pants and patent leather shoes were surely ruined. Instead, he stared at me from the other end of the tub, ducked down just below the rim, his square jaw just above the water.
I stared at him, unable to move.
His hair was shorn close to his head, I guessed it was black, though it was difficult to tell. Pale green eyes studied me from beneath charcoal brows. Something about him tugged at my memory. It wasn’t that he was an unjustly beautiful man or that the length of him stretched almost to my end of the tub. No, I had seen him before. But where?
My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open. I knew where I had seen him.
He held up a finger to his lips to silence me before I screamed.
I shut my mouth and glared at him, anger quickly replacing the shock. “What are you doing?” I hissed at him.
A smirk tilted those bowed lips. “Taking back what is mine,” he said quietly.
Outside the bathing room, the alarm still sounded and I could hear people running through the halls, yelling at students to get to and hide in their rooms.
“What’s yours,” I repeated flatly, crossing my arms over my bare chest. Sweet gods, I was naked. I hoped he took the flush of my cheeks as an effect of the steaming water.
The object in his arms looked round and orange, with a green…
“A pumpkin?” I said incredulously.
He looked down at it and sighed. “No, not a damned pumpkin. It took that shape to hide itself.”
“Then what is it,” I demanded.
His eyes narrowed. “That is none of your business.”
“You are stealing from my school,” I argued back. “That makes it my business.”
“You can’t steal what is already yours,” he snapped back, sinking further into the water.
It changed again, becoming a small ball that he tucked into his shirt pocket. Then I heard it…the voices outside of the bathing room. I had a split second to decide. Hide him, or alert whomever was out there to his presence.
Ugh, I was going to regret this.
I motioned with my hand for him to duck under the water, instantly conjuring more bubbles over the surface, just before the doors were shoved open again.
I made a show of gasping and covering my naked chest, while trying to shake free his grip on my ankle under the water. It sent shivers up my leg that had nothing to do with the fear of being caught.
“What are you doing?” I screeched at the two men who charged into the room and instantly averted their eyes.
“Have you seen a man, my lady?” one of them asked, his eyes turned towards the ceiling.
“A man?” I asked, shaking my leg under the water to try to break his grip that tightened as I spoke. “You can’t be serious. These are the women’s bathing rooms.”
“It doesn’t matter to him, my lady,” the second man said. “He is a vile criminal.”
I gasped. “Why is he in the school?”
“He took,” the second man started to say before the first man hit him in the arm to stop him.
“It’s nothing, my lady,” the first man said. “Obviously, he’s not in here. We are sorry to have bothered you.”
The second man smiled as he shifted his eyes to the floor. “Best just stay in here til we sound the all clear, lady.”
They ran out of the room, shutting the doors carefully behind them. I kicked the man in the chest hard enough to knock some air out of him. He splashed to the surface and glared at me.
“Want me to bite him?” came a wicked voice at my left shoulder.
“What the hell is that,” the man whispered, shrinking back against the side of the tub.
“He,” I stressed. “Is Gil. He’s a goblin.”
I rolled my eyes. “He’s not my familiar.”
“But aren’t you a witch?” he asked, more curious about me than the goblin perched on the edge of the tub.
“Not exactly,” I said hesitantly.
“What do you mean,” he said, his sculpted brows drawing in. “You’re either a witch or you aren’t. There is no in between.”
“It’s not your concern,” Gil mocked, showing him a wide smile full of pointed teeth.
“Then what are you,” he asked, undeterred.
“Right now, I’m the woman hiding you from everyone else.”
“Fair enough,” he shrugged. He sat up just enough so he could see around the room. He nodded towards the open door behind me. “What’s back there?”
I didn’t turn towards the door. “It’s like a locker room. There is no way out. Unless you want to jump out of a third story window.”
He frowned, a hand resting over the pocket that the ball was tucked into. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again, his eyes going wide. More people were on their way down the hall, checking every room.
I moved towards him, motioning for him to get behind me. I knew those voices. It was a head mistress who would have no issues with a naked woman.
He obeyed and shifted his body around behind mine. I made a split second decision and used my power to not only hide him, but provide air for him under the water. “Don’t break contact with me,” I hissed at him before he went under.
I sucked in a startled breath when I felt a strong arm wrap around my naked waist, his face pressed against my back. Just when I thought this school had gotten too dull for words…
The head mistress opened the doors politely, announcing herself to anyone in the room before she saw me. I had my arms crossed on the edge of the tub, my chest pressed into the side. Behind me, the surface of the water was covered in bubbles that no one could see through. Not even her.
“Ah, Sabina,” the head mistress sighed. “I don’t suppose you have seen anyone run through here?”
“You mean a man that all of you are looking for?”
She covered her shock quickly. “How do you,” she started.
“Bron and Jory already were in here,” I told her.
Her shock became anger rather quickly. “They…,”
“Didn’t see anything,” I finished for her. “They told me who they were looking for then left when they realized that it’s just me.”
“Ah,” she sighed. Crisis averted. My parents would have crucified them. “All the same, child, we need to search the room.”
I frowned at her, but it would be suspicious if I argued. And, for some reason, I didn’t want them to find the man who was currently hiding behind me, his muscled arm like a steel band around my waist. Fingers dug into my hip when I shifted, hard enough to bruise.
“Of course, Madam Hydelan,” I said as nonchalant as I could manage. I fought the urge to pry his hand off of my hip. It was doing terrible things to me that I wasn’t so sure I could keep the head mistress from seeing.
I held still and watched the other women move through the room. They opened up every cabinet, even the smaller ones. In the locker room behind me, they turned on every light and opened up every locker. They even checked the vents. Gods above, what was this man capable of?
“The lockers? Really?” I asked, unable to stop myself from voicing my disbelief.
Madam Hydelan frowned. “He is capable of anything,” she sneered, the disgust obvious in her voice.
“He?” I asked.
“You’ve seen the posters around the school,” she said, waving her hand dismissively as she watched the women searching the locker room.
I felt their power searching out every corner, looking for hint of something that didn’t belong. They weren’t stronger than me, though, and I had his power thoroughly cloaked. They couldn’t even sense how much of my own I was using.
“He’s locked up, Mistress,” I said, pretending to be confused.
“He broke out several months ago,” she confessed.
I stared at her. “Why not alert the school?”
She leveled her steel grey eyes on me. “Because no one thought him foolish enough to come here. Not with the amount of power her. He never should have been able to get in here.”
“Are you sure it’s him?”
“Quite,” she snapped, then seemed to remember that she was talking to a student. “A good many of us got a good long look at him when he appeared in my office, then ran through the halls.”
“What is he doing here?” I asked, desperately wanting her to tell me the truth.
“We don’t know,” she quipped, turning back to the other women who had emerged from the locker room. Lie. She was lying to me.
Even if he hadn’t told me that he had taken something important, I would have known she was lying to me. Gods, what had my parents told the faculty when they enrolled me in this school?
“He has to be here somewhere,” she huffed. “He can’t of just vanished.”
Under the water, his arm tightened around my waist. It sent an unwelcome shiver through my body. He must have sensed it because I felt a shift in his body. The hand on my hip became gentle, even as I felt a shudder move through his own body. Unable to stop myself, I settled a hand over his on my hip.
“If you see anything,” the head mistress was saying to me.
“Of course, mistress,” I said, knowing what was expected of me. I felt a little guilty for lying to her. I actually liked Madam Hydelan and the rest of they faculty. They had been nothing but nice to me and accommodating, considering that my parents had dumped me here in the middle of the semester three years ago.
Private tutors had worked well enough for the first twelve years of school. Between the tutors and the staff, my parents didn’t really need to be involved in my childhood. Indeed, they were rarely home. But they had learned with my older sister, Nimueh. If they wanted their daughters to get anywhere in the world, they needed to attend university. They just hadn’t returned home in time to ship me off for the beginning of the semester.
The university they had dumped me in, the same that my sister had attended before me, was for…talented…children of the upper class in our country. It was a boarding school that they could have dumped me in when I was no more than six, if they had wanted to. I honestly don’t know what would have been worse. Boarding school or the army of tutors and staff that had raised me.
A gracious donation to the university had allowed for my abrupt arrival and everything I would need over the course of my stay. Just to see if they would notice, I had changed my major several times, each time incurring an astronomical bill for the changes. Not even a letter admonishing me for the inconvenience I was causing the school.
When that didn’t work, I picked a major that I enjoyed, (that would no doubt thrill my parents) and moved on with my life. I was too old to be doing things like that to try to get their attention. I had an unbreakable bond with my sister, that’s all I needed.
Well, that and the friends I had managed to make.
All misfits, my friends were diamonds in the rough. None of them had parents who were particularly proud of them for various reasons. They were either not powerful enough, not assertive enough, not adept in the areas that mattered for their families, but they were all brilliant.
I had learned quickly that when it came to one’s power, it had nearly everything to do with self esteem. If you didn’t believe in yourself, your power or gifts would reflect that. My friends were still struggling with that, though. The Elites in this school were vicious.
Though I came from the upper echelons of our society, they had no idea who I was. Had they taken the time to learn my real name, things might have been different. But, since my parents only stayed around long enough to write a cheque, I enrolled under my grandmother’s maiden name and convinced the faculty to use it instead of my father’s name. Not even my friends knew.
“You should probably let him up now,” Gil said from where he had perched himself on the bench in front of me.
“Oh, right,” I said, shaking myself.
The head mistress and her cronies were long gone. I peeled his arm from around my waist and pushed him away from me. He surfaced on the other side of the tub, staring at me like he was trying to figure out some sort of puzzle.
“Who are you,” he said, barely above a whisper, as if he hadn’t meant to say it out loud.
“Better question is who are you,” Gil said, having moved from the bench to the edge of the tub again.
The man moved his eyes slowly to the goblin next to me. Large, pointed ears, shaggy mud brown hair and black eyes, my goblin friend was one in a million. Goblins didn’t usually attach themselves to other beings. But he had shown up in my house when I was five and hadn’t left my side since. It was like having an imaginary friend, but my friend could wreak all sorts of havoc if he really wanted to.
I turned to look at him, too, to see that he had donned a suit similar to the soaked one that the man wore. I rolled my eyes at him. It was unnecessary and certainly wouldn’t unnerve the man who was still in the tub with me. At best, it would probably annoy him.
Indeed, the man’s eyes narrowed at the goblin before turning back to me. “You have seen the posters,” he grumbled. “You know exactly who I am.” He didn’t seem inclined to fight what they said about him.
“I know what they say,” I said, crossing my arms, still very aware of my nakedness. “I didn’t say I believed them.”
He looked at me then. Really looked at me. “How…,”
“If I am going to hide you, we need some ground rules,” I said, cutting him off. “One, stop crashing into my personal space. Two, you are going to need to lay low. They will have strengthened the wards around the grounds so it will trigger an alarm if you leave now without help. Three, I can’t help you if you are going to do something stupid, like getting caught. And I don’t want to get caught. So you are just going to have to wait until I get a chance to leave the campus.”
He flicked his eyes to the goblin. “Is he going to tell someone?”
I looked over at Gil, who had a wicked gleam in his eyes. He was unaccustomed to sharing me. “Gil won’t do anything.” My friend frowned at me, but didn’t contradict me.
“I’ve never met a goblin,” the man started.
“Much a pity,” Gil cut him off.
“That had such a human name,” the man finished, a smirk forming on his lips.
I rolled my eyes. “His name is Gilgamesh. My tutor was reading the epic when he showed up at my house and I named him. I couldn’t pronounce the name he gave me then.”
The man lifted an eyebrow at me.
I glared at him, incensed once again. “I was five,” I snarled at him.
The smirk was wiped from his face. “Your tutor was reading the Epic of Gilgamesh to you when you were five?”
“Back on topic, square jaw,” Gil snapped at him.
“Fine,” the man shrugged. “But I have some amendments to the rules. I will not be caught, but that means you have to guard this.” He pulled the object from his pocket that had made itself look like a croquette ball, albeit a small one. “And you can’t ask what it is. Just know that it is mine and it was stolen from me.”
I accepted the ball from him, turning it over in my hands. “Okay, but how are you going to keep from…”
My mouth dropped open as the man became a cloud of sparkling darkness that swirled in the air. It drifted over towards Gil and shrank until is slid into the goblin’s shirt pocket. To his credit, my friend didn’t so much as flinch. He simply peeled open his pocket to peer at the darkness now nestled inside of it.
“Neat trick,” the goblin said to the darkness in his pocket.
The dark cloud drifted out again, swirling and expanding until it was as large as the man and became corporeal again. The man stood outside of the tub now, dry and pressed. He smirked at me again, a look that was becoming familiar.
I held the ball close to my chest, held tightly in both hands.
“You can cloak it with your power,” he said needlessly. “As long as you protect it and me from being found, I accept your terms.”
I nodded. “I’m not going home until the end of the spring semester,” I told him.
The smirk turned angry, even as his hands slid into his pockets. “That is nine months from now,” he ground out.
“Well, maybe you should have asked that before you agreed to the terms,” I shrugged, distracted by a burning sensation on the inside of my left wrist. Mystified, I watched as an intricate knot appeared on the tender skin. Just like a tattoo, it was as black as onyx. And, just like a tattoo, it was permanent. I didn’t need to rub at it with a wet finger to figure that out.
“What is that,” I asked out loud, though I hadn’t intended to.
“I don’t know,” Gil said, taking my hand and pulling it closer to him so he could examine the mark. “I’ve never seen that before.”