I can’t believe our luck with Cliff coming down here to spar. I should have expected an interruption of some sort considering the size of this place. What bugs me about it the most is I’d finally managed to get Kat to tell me to the truth, and then of course we’d gotten a little sidetracked from there. But man. Sometimes natural law just has to intervene.
I dust my hands by the racks as Cliff rips off his shirt and chooses a wooden practice sword. Kaitlyn stands by the rack, leaning against the wall with a smirk.
“I’d like to see how you managed to best Kaitlyn.” Cliff calls, walking to the center of the room. “What are the stakes?” He asks.
“First one to 10 hits.”
“Alright, let me warn you though, my specialty is in ranged weapons.”
“And mine’s in swords.” I smirk. This should be easy. I decide it might be best to use the same strategy as I did with Kaitlyn and start left handed, besides it’s always good practice. I set my feet, Cliff looms over his stick and nods.
We dash towards each other and I feign left causing him to defend but I spin off and hit his exposed side. “One!” I call. I hear him grunt and reposition to face me. This is going to be too easy. His size is no favour for him. We parry a few blows, him pushing forward. The wall gets closer and so I adjust.
I somersault left and spin around from behind, his back is completely exposed and I bring my stick down on his shoulder. “Two!”
“I’m still warming up.” He casually retorts.
“Well don’t take too long. I’ve already beaten Kaitlyn.” I jest.
I see his eyes light up and I know he’s ready. He jumps forward, knocking my stick out and leaving me open. I duck the blow, spinning right but he somehow meets me there and clips my knee. “One!”
The pace picks up and we exchange a few blocks. He clips my elbow but I get his calf. It’s four to two and I haven’t even broken a sweat. Cliff shoves me back as I block his stick but his weight knocks me off my feet and I back somersault into the wall. I scramble to the left, barely missing the end of his stick, switching to the right hand.
As we exchange blows, the strikes getting more and more intense, I feel the sweat begin to run down my face. I realize, once he’s warmed up, Cliff is faster than his looks. He’s got two more hits on me and managed to block all but one attempt to strike at him a seventh time.
The movements become a rhythm and I feel the steady pulse of time within me. I can’t use that one on him, but my body is craving the extra speed. I slide under his swing, missing the stick by a hair’s breadth and come up behind him. Yes, here’s the chance. I take the swing and he knocks my stick out of my hand. Wait… What? Where?
Cliff comes down on my empty arm with full force and I try to evade but it’s makes contact. I feel a jarring sting in my elbow as he withdraws. It’s just a stick but that hurt! I glance quickly to see where my own stick went. It lays five feet from me. Cliff steps into my path to the blade and I growl.
“Nice move,” I pant, eyeing the rack for a new stick.
“Ah ah, you can only use the same one.” He jeers.
“Alright.” I shrug. I circle him, blocking my path to the stick. It’s now or never. I dash forward, feigning, ducking, I hook his arm and yanking hard and jumping off the ground. I swing over his shoulder and use my other hand to push off, back flipping onto the ground behind him, and next to my sword.
“You’re like a lemur.” Cliff jests. A what? It takes me a few moments to connect the name to a face as I picture zaboomafoo with the Kratt brothers.
“Sure, that’s me.” I grab the sword and take stance. The rhythm returns and we’ve reached a tie, just like with Kat, nine to nine. Pulse racing and sweat dripping, we’re just two bare chested men in a padded room with sticks. Feels like that time in the forests of Africa during the dry season. No time to reflect. It’s time to take this bear down.
We parry, block, duck, swing, block, feign, and suddenly the world spins and my feet lift off the ground. I collide with the mat and Cliff looms over me, stick to my chest, dripping. Is this how Kat felt when I flipped her? I hold my arms out, spread eagle on the floor, gasping for air.
“Oh my god, how’d you… how?” I pant. I can’t believe I lost.
“Take no offense, new friend. I am often underestimated because of my size.” He stands up straight, looking taller than ever. “It’s time to face Kaitlyn in a match!” He calls. I lift my head to see her smirk. I let it fall back and close my eyes. Oh the shame. I roll over and crawl to the racks, leaning back against the wall to watch.
She picks up a bo staff and stands opposite Cliff, not looking worried at all. She’s in way over her head. How is she not trembling?
“Do you want to play to 10 hits as well?” Cliff asks.
“You can’t do it Kat! You couldn’t even beat me!” I kid, trying to shake her resolve.
“No? Let’s make a bet.” Her eyes sparkle. She can’t honestly think she can take him down.
“Fine, you’re on. What are we betting for?” I ask. I’ll leave it up to her since she’s going to lose anyway.
“When I win, you have to do anything I ask for the rest of the day.” She says smugly with a wink. My heart jumps and I try to unsee the wink she just gave me. Pulling my own moves on me now, eh?
“Fine. but when you lose, same goes for me.” I chuckle.
“I won’t lose.” She grins, turning to Cliff. “First one to be knocked over.” This is gonna end quick. She’s a stick with flaming hair. Cliff could flick her with a finger and she’d fall.
“Are you sure?” Cliff asks, eyebrow raising questioningly.
She stands sideways, holding the staff out at the ready. In her black tank and red hair, she looks majestic and strong, but I doubt she’ll last long against Cliff.
“Annnnd…. Go!” I shout.
She advances fast, swinging the staff relentlessly. Cliff barely manages to block every blow. She slams one end of the staff into the top of his foot, causing Cliff to flinch and grunt. I cringe from the wall. Then she whacks him with the other end in the forehead. That has got to hurt.
Before he can recover, she slams the staff vertical, using it like a pole vault. She grabs Cliff’s head between her calves, twisting around and using the momentum to knock him on his back. He hits the mat hard as she rolls away and crouches on all fours, breathing heavily.
I stare at her from across the room, my jaw is most certainly somewhere on the floor. It happened so fast I’m not sure if I believe what I saw or not. I look to Cliff and see him on the ground, staring up at the ceiling as if in a daze. I look back to Kat.
“What in the world just happened?!”
She stands up and picks up her staff, “I won. Weren’t you watching?”
“I saw, but… You were a flying monkey with that pole! Jesus, Kat.” I can’t believe I lost the bet. I really should’ve learned that size isn’t everything. I pull myself up and retrieve my shirt. It’s still laying on the floor by the door where I tossed it. I shake it before putting it on.
She crosses her arms, grinning. “I’ll give you a rematch, if you’re brave enough.” She glances down at Cliff, “Hell, you can partner up. But this time, no cheating.”
“That’s… your request?” I ask, stunned. “Now?”
Cliff rolls over and gets to his knees. “I’m beat. I think I’ll just watch.” He grumbles, brushing off his pants.
She raises an eyebrow, “It’s an offer, if you’re a sore loser. If you would rather be my slave today, well, I won’t mind.”
I sarcastically copycat her, “I won’t mind.” Does she think I’m crazy? I’m exhausted. There’d be no way I could beat her after Cliff, not without the time magic. “You won that bet fair and square. We’ll spar another day.” I grumble, replacing the wooden sword on the rack.
She laughs as she puts the staff away, “Alright. Bring my sweater for me.”
I give her my flattest stare. “Seriously?”
She giggles, “I did say anything, for the rest of today.”
I roll my eyes and walk over to her sweater, hanging on the rack. I pick it up and hand it to her. “Here you are M’lady.” I say with a little bob and British accent.
“Thank you.” She beams, then slides it on. She seems to be enjoying her newfound power. I vow to find a way to beat her in combat, without magic. I must earn my pride back.
We leave the room and head back to the library to see how Kae and Rhoan are doing. When we arrive at the library Kat gestures to the door. I raise my eyebrows at her, still surprised at the menial things she’s asking me to do. I pull it open and wave her through. We walk to the back of the library to find Kaede and Rhoan… staring at a computer screen.
“N-n-n-n-no, thiiiis is when the other dude comes back and then you gotta fight off these guys! Isn’t it sick? But watch out for— Nooo! You stepped on the dark patches! Those are trick bombs! We totally lost some health there. We’re gonna need a health pack.” Kaede shouts.
We stop dead at the table and stare.
“Oh, Hey! What’s up guys!?”
“Nothing, just sparing and you know…” I say. “Aaaannd what’s going on here?” I ask, pointing to the stack of books sitting where we left them before lunch.
“Oh, those?” He scuffs. “Yea, Rhoan and I got tired of waiting and reading, didn’t we?” Kaede turns to Rhoan on his right, perched on the arm of the chair as a spider monkey. Both of them seem to be using controls on a split screen two-player role playing shooter game.
“Where’d you get the computer?” I ask.
“Oh this? I brought it. Hid it in my bag. I mean, they got wifi here and all so I just logged in and thought I’d show Rhoan some of my favourite game till you guys got back.” He explains.
“You were supposed to be reading.” I huff.
“Nahhh… That’s your homework.
Kat crosses her arms, “Weren’t you the one who said it would be easier to find the information with a computer?”
“Me?” Kaede asks, pointing to himself? “Uhh… yeah, I did. But none of these guys have any digital copies of their books. Unless you wanna hire me to scan each page and catalogue your library, the computers useless. Trust me, I looked.” He says.
I turn to Cliff and Kaitlyn narrows her eyes.
“I mean, I could mention the idea of a digital library to the Headmistress and see what she thinks. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to update.” He shrugs his massive shoulders.
“I brought you to a place beyond your wildest dreams. Isn’t that payment enough?” Kat asks pointedly.
“The place is awesome and I can’t wait to see more. But girl, I guy with skills is gonna need money to use those skills.” He tries to act all gangster but his Japanese accent is too strong for that.
She huffs, “Or I could take you back to your apartment.” She picks up a book and plops down on the couch, “I mean, if free room and board, internet, cable and access to magical knowledge isn’t enough for you.” She looks at him over the book, demanding his attention.
Kaede gulps. “I mean…., yeah… the place is great! Thanks for the free room and board! I’ll get right on that digital library.” He says, closing the laptop and shuffling and pulling out his phone, no doubt looking for a coding program to design that digital library.
I chuckle. “Good one, Kat.” I nod. She looks up at me, obviously trying not to laugh out loud.
I take the empty space next to Kat, and Cliff pulls over a chair for himself. He seems interested in joining us for some research, I won’t deny the help, we’ve got a lot of reference material to sift through. I take a book from the stack on the table and begin skimming the pages. This ones called Passages of Time, the author, unknown.
We’re all quiet as the sun sinks lower in the sky through the window. Kat leans on my shoulder, reading a book titled Time Basics. The only noise for some time is that of flipping pages and Kaede tapping away at his phone. The library lights eventually self light as the glow from the window disappears, and Kat suddenly jumps up. I flinch and fumble with the book in my hands, losing the page I was on.
“Cliff, what was the Founder’s name?” She asks, breaking the silence. I try to relocate the page I was on.
Cliff taps his chin, looking up at the ceiling, trying to recall the name. “You know, I don’t think I even know. We learn very little about him except that he was a Guardian of the element of Light and founded the school in order to preserve the knowledge of magic.”
“That’s all you learn about him? He seems like such an important person.” I interject.
“Yes, but it was many hundreds of years ago. The name is not as important as the deeds.” He says.
Rhoan looks up from Kae’s shoulder, “Markus Halsey.”. We all turn to look at him. Kat nods and walks over to the shelves by the gate, browsing the titles row by row and pulling random books from their place to briefly flip through. I return to my own book.
I near the end of the book and notice that the last page is blank, but for a messy scrawl at the bottom. I squint at it, trying to decipher what it says. It looks like a name. Sep- no Ceph… Stam- Stanford. Ceph Stanford. I lower the book and check the pile for any others with authors by this name. I don’t see any. I decide to check the time shelves again, just in case I missed any.
I pass Kat, still perusing the books for the Founder, on my way there. I scan the shelves for a Stanford and see nothing. Who the heck is this guy? A nobody who just decided to scribble his name in a book about time… time… a passage of time. Why would anyone write a random name in a book called the passage of time.
I try to think of a reason, but nothing comes to me, so I return to the couch and pick up another book. Maybe there’ll be more clues in this one.
Eventually my inner clock tells me it’s way past dinner time and nearly time for bed. I put the books back on the shelf and see Kat leaning on the back wall, book in hand, focused like an eagle. She’s chewing on her thumb absentmindedly, Rhoan perched on her shoulder. “I think it’s time we took a break. Is anyone hungry? I could make us something…” I trail off. Kae looks up sleepily.
“I think I’ll go wait for Caroline back in the room. I’m not that hungry.” He yawns and pockets his cell phone. Cliff stands, putting his book on the table.
“I too will just grab a snack and head to my own room. I have a training match with my professor tomorrow and need the rest.” He walks past us, leaving the library.
I look at Kat, still reading the book. “Hey, Kaitlyn, are you hungry? I think we’re going to head to our rooms unless anyone wants food.” I call to her. She doesn’t look up.
Rhoan pokes her cheek with a furry finger and she lifts her head, big innocent eyes looking up at me. “Hmm?”
“I said, if you’re hungry, I can make food. Otherwise we’re heading to bed, it’s getting late.”
She blinks, “Oh… sure. Which would you prefer?”
I look at Kae and shrug. “Maybe just a snack, nothing too heavy. Wanna go now then?” I ask.
She smiles and puts the book back. We all walk out of the library together. I glance over my shoulder and see the candles flicker out. It’s creepy how they knew we were there, and that now we weren’t. Creepy, but cool. We soon arrive at the dining hall, empty but for a pair of dark haired students in a window seat. I lead us into the kitchen and spin on my heel.
“So, what does everyone want? Snack, dinner or dessert?” I smile, clapping my hands together.
Kat hums, “What’s your favourite meal?” I have to think about that for a moment, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before. I sift through my memories of good food and settle on one from our own time.
“I think my favourite would have to be Turkey pie.” I smile, remembering the times my mother had baked a turkey pie whenever I returned from a jump. I’m fond of the memory and what it stands for, and I feel it would make a great dinner tonight.
I jump into action, gathering the ingredients and utensils from around the kitchen. In no time at all I have the pie in the oven and I set a milkshake before Kaede and Kat each while we wait for it to bake.
“So, any good information in that book you were reading?” I ask her, tapping a fork on the counter absently.
She sighs, “I couldn’t find him. They mention some things about the Guardians from before the Guild was created… but they don’t mention him.”
I frown. That’s really strange, I find. But then… why did Rhoan know his name when no one else did? “What about Rhoan?” I ask. “How’d you know his name?”
Rhoan sits there, quietly for a moment, “I knew him.”
“What?” Kae and I ask in surprise.
Kat looks at him, pouting. “How come you never told me?”
“You didn’t need to know.” he states.
“We just spent hours researching and you didn’t think it was important to tell us you knew him?” I ask incredulously.
“No.” He says with reluctance.
I roll my eyes as the pie timer dings. I put on the oven mitts and pull out a steaming turkey pie. I smile with satisfaction. “Alright. I’ll cut this up and serve you guys in a moment, if you wanna take a seat.” I suggest, pulling out the knife and holding it up like I’m a hungry beast about to dive into the pie. Kae chuckles and leaves the kitchen.
A few moments later I set the steaming pie in front of them, each with a fork. “Bon Appetite.” We’re all pretty quiet, enjoying the pie. It’s just like my mom used to make. I hope Kaitlyn likes it. I glance at her from across the table, smiling as she puts a forkful in her mouth. I watch her lips close around it and gulp in surprise… When did I start looking at her like that? I shake my head to refocus my thoughts.
Too late, she looks up at me and smiles, like she knows I’m watching. I narrow my eyes at her. I bet she’s planning her next request any moment now. I forcefully dig my fork into the pie and take another huge bite.
We polish the pie off completely and I clear the dishes from the table. Then we head up to the dorms. Standing at our doors, no one seems ready to sleep, not after that pie.
“So…” Kae sighs.
“Oh, the baths! I forgot to tell you guys.” Kat gasps. She then smacks her forehead.
“Baths?” I ask. Kae perks up a bit.
“You know, for hygiene?”
“Like… onsen baths?” Kaede asks. “Hot springs?”
“Yea.” She nods, “Of course, there are private showers too…”
“Wicked!” Kaede grins. “I’m gonna grab a change of clothes and hit the baths! Andrei! You should join me! You’re looking a bit scruffy.”
I scratch my beard and pout. “I guess it is a bit rough.” I muse, glancing over at Kat to see if she has an opinion. She conspicuously looks the other way, and I can tell she’s biting her lip. Cute. “Ok, I’ll join you Kae. Hold up.”
I grab the handle to get a change of clothes myself and I hear Kae scream. I guess Caroline must have finished lessons and come up to the room before we had finished. I slip into my room and grab a pair of jeans and a clean T-shirt, and come back to the hall.
“Caroline’s up for the baths too! Isn’t that great!? You won’t have to go alone Kaitlyn.” Kae smiles. Caroline stifles a yawn and nods.
“Yea, a hot bath sounds nice after spending all day under water.” She mutters.
My eyes bulge and I forget to breath. “What? Under water?”
She nods sleepily. “Professor Naum likes to teach under water… it was terrifying… at first.”
Kat nods knowingly. “I think that’s sort of standard for elementals.”
Kae and I must look like exact copies of each other, mouths hanging open in surprise. “Wait, what?”
She tips her head like she doesn’t understand the question, “What?”
“As an elemental whatever, you have to either drown yourself or burn yourself in your first lesson? That’s nuts!!” I’m glad that there isn’t even a teacher here to teach me what to do, I hate to imagine the dumb bullshit they’d have me do.
She laughs and starts walking down the hall, “I told you the fire doesn’t burn me. Don’t be silly.”
Kae looks at Caroline, “So, can you breathe underwater?” he asks, “Like the little mermaid?”
She rolls her eyes at him. “Apparently so. Took me a few minutes to figure that out. Scariest five minutes of my life.” She groans. “Come on, let’s go. I want a soothing soak before bed.”
“That was… awesome.” Kae sighs happily as we return to our rooms steaming and red.
“It was,” Caroline agrees. “Oh, Kae, I noticed they brought in another bed already for you. You won’t have to sleep on the floor tonight.”
“Thanks. That bath would have been a waste if I had to sleep on the cold floor again. You’re the best Car.” He leans in to give her a light peck on the cheek and she goes even redder than before.
Kat snickers and shakes her head.
“Well goodnight guys, see you tomorrow.” Caroline waves as her and Kae slip into their room.
I stand awkwardly alone with Kat in the hallway. I’m pretty sleepy myself, but I’m certain that Kat has probably been saving her best request of the day for now. I put my hand on the handle, giving her hints that I want to get some sleep.
“Thanks for the sparring match today. It was… fun.” I smile, remembering how our first round ended. “Shall we call it a night?” I ask, maybe she’s forgotten about the bet all together, I think hopefully.
She raises an eyebrow and smirks. “I don’t think so. I still have about an hour left.”
I cringe. She’s absolutely right. My internal clock ticks nervously as she mentions it. I turn from the handle and lean against the door, smiling. “What would you like me to do for you M’lady?” I ask in my most endearing voice. With only an hour left, there’s not much time for me to do anything so I’m pretty confident I’ve scored the better end of this bet.
She opens her door and walks backwards into the room, “Come. Stay with me.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Just stay with you?” I shrug. I guess staying with her till the hour’s up is safe. I step forward into her room, grabbing the handle behind me.
“To start.” She replies as the door clicks shut.
I freeze and breathe in slowly, “To… start?” I ask nervously. “There’s only an hour left. What could there possibly be time for?”
She bites her lip again with a coy smile, “Kiss me.”
I blush. I can’t believe this is what she’s using her bet for. I smile wryly and drop my bundle of clothes by the door. I walk up to her and brush a hand across her cheek. “As you wish.” I whisper. I lean down and close my eyes, pressing my lips gently against hers. They’re warm from the bath and I feel her pulse. I slip my hand through her damp hair, entangling my fingers in it. Despite the bath, she still smells like campfire.
The kiss brings back memories of the training room today and I have a hard time holding myself back. I feel her fingers grip the sides of my shirt and suddenly I’m being pulled forward until she knocks her legs into the bed and falls on top of it, bring me with her. I shoot out an arm to prevent myself from falling full weight on top of her and momentarily break contact. What is she thinking?
“Tell me…” She looks up at me, eyes sparkling. “What else did the French aristocrat teach you?”
I lift the corner of my mouth at her question. This wasn’t in my journals; she doesn’t know a thing about it and I can tell she’s curious to know. I fear she will be disappointed. “I was fifteen when I visited France. It was one of my longest jumps, I was there for five months.” I tease, leaving out a direct answer. I lean down to reinstate the kiss.
After a moment, she breaks the kiss again and whispers, “Would you like to learn more?”
My heart does a triple flip and I feel a shiver run from my toes to my ears. Is she serious??? I look into her bright orange eyes and I can tell immediately, she is dead serious. I grin mischievously, “As you wish.”