Amber’s first glimpse of Heartwood… and her first impressions:
A road wound up the hillside in front of her. Heartwood Academy itself, composed of grey and brown stone and covered with climbing plants, looked to have been half-grown, half-carved out of the summit. The main building was a majestic edifice of five stories, red-roofed towers rising above the main bulk. Additional wings swept to either side and behind it.
“Pretty impressive, isn’t it?” said Lisette proudly.
Amber glanced at Troi. There was a different expression on his usually bored face, a softening of the eyes and mouth.
It’s his home. It means a lot to him.
As it does to Kael. Who’s already charging up the hill.
As they followed at a more stately place, as arched windows and detailed molding came into focus, as they crossed a graveled courtyard to the great front doors, Amber wondered, A year from now, will I feel the same way about this place? Will I even be here?
A horrible scream rang out, followed by an even more horrible cackle of laughter. An upper window turned grey, wavered as a boy fell backwards through it.
Amber opened her mouth to shout. The boy twisted in mid-air, turned his fall into a float, craned to look at them. His face split into a big grin. “Troi! Kael! You’re back.” Then with a snarled, “I’m going to get you for this, Vane!” he rose in the air and flung himself back through the window. Once again it rippled, then turned whole.
Troi and Kael looked at each other. “All right! It’s Fools’ Day!” With much pumping of fists, they threw themselves at the double doors and charged inside.
“Aren’t you two a little old for this?” Lisette called after them. Rude noises answered her.
A cloud of pink glitter steamed out from another window, followed by a truly noxious smell.
Amber said, “Gah?”
“Fools’ Day,” explained Lisette. “Students assemble into teams and wage war on each other, capturing bases while guarding their own, until there’s only one team left standing at the end of the day.”
“It looks dangerous.”
“Nah,” said Lisette dismissively. “We do have rules, you know. No permanent damage to the building, and no one should end up in either the infirmary or the morgue.”
“Oh,” said Amber faintly. “That’s reassuring.”
Lisette led the way into a high-ceilinged lobby. Stairways curled like stone ribbons above their heads. Voices echoed from a distance.
“Too late, Troi and Kael, we’ve already formed our teams.”
“Hey, we don’t need to be on any stinking teams. Troi and I will take you all on together.”
“Is that so? Well, bring it on.”
“Damn right we will.” Loud thumps punctuated with yelps succeeded the challenge.
Lisette went on, “It’s a pain, though, because we’ll need to pick up some null-spells at the front desk. But at least you’ll get to see one of our Heartwood traditions up close. Hey, Ainsley! You’re on desk duty again?”
The girl sitting behind a vast wooden desk looked up. A huge shelving unit with slots and pigeon holes was at her back. The surface in front of her was covered in sheets of colored paper and dozens of folded animals. “Yeah. The masters are all in a meeting. Master Zoya’s briefing them on the operation.” Her slender fingers never ceased folding, pressing, and re-folding the paper. Butterflies spilled out of her hands and spiraled up over the girls’ heads in a colorful flutter. She dimpled at Amber. “You must be the new recruit.”
It was impossible not to respond to the warmth of the petite blond, even if her eyes were purple. Not grayish-purple, nor blue tending towards violet, but big, bright, intense, honest-to-Maker purple.
It must have something to do with the proximity to all this Wild Magic. Amber smiled at Ainsley. “I’m only looking around. I haven’t even been interviewed by the Headmaster. You all have way more talent and skill than I do.”
Lisette twitched her shoulder irritably. “If Master Zoya thinks you belong here, than she’s probably right. You have a bad habit of selling yourself short, don’t you?” And while Amber was still gaping at her, she asked. “Two null-spells, please, Ainsley. I’m taking Amber on a tour.”
She said Amber. Not newb, not problem, not slowpoke. Maybe she isn’t so bad after all.
The physical form of the null-spell was an ornate flower, with a profusion of waxy orange petals and a pin at the back. As Amber worked the stiff pin through the fabric of her tunic, someone said, “Ouch!”
“You all right?” Amber glanced over at Lisette, still fiddling with the spell at her shoulder.
Lisette looked at her blankly. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Faced with Lisette’s frowning blue gaze and Ainsley’s interested purple one, Amber shrugged. “Nothing. Must’ve been background noise.”
A series of crashes rang out from an upper storey. Ainsley winced. Lisette grinned. “Probably. Come on.” She plunged towards a side corridor with a follow-me gesture.
Exchanging a weak smile with Ainsley, ignoring the bloodcurdling yells from above, Amber followed.
Author’s Note: This arc is going to be a interesting one, since I’m weaving new material in with the old. Prior to this serialization, this section was just a fun introduction to Heartwood, but then I added in a stronger plot element that I can wrap up at the end of this arc. Hope it works out! Thoughts or comments? Let me know!