“Maybe they have a career-path explanation eventually,” Jefshan offered helpfully — or at least sympathetically. “What’s our next class?”
“Forcefields,” Desmond consulted his schedule. “Oh, good. I liked doing those.”
He looked up to find the rest of his – friends wasn’t the right word? Classmates? Dorm-mates? House. The rest of his house/year-mates staring at him. “What?”
“What do you mean, you liked…” Kayay headshook angrily. “No wonder you were the last one up the stairs. Are you a ringer?”
“Am I a what?” A wringer? That was a new one.
“A wringer, a plant. Are you really a fourth-year student or something? Are you here to spy on us and make sure we don’t find out something we’re not supposed to?”
“I think that’s Hellina and Meshron. No, no.” Desmond was very confused. “No, the forcefield, that’s what we – the collar and I – used in that first test, when they attack you. So when I thought I was going to slip down the stairs, it just made sense.”
“…Wow.” Kayay gave another head-shake. “Do you know how snotty you sound?”
“No?” Desmond blinked down at his dorm-mate. “No, I just… like forcefields.”
::It may be no use trying with that one,:: his collar put in. ::You beat her, and that is what matters to her. Everything else is going to take time.::
“So,” Desmond tried instead, “We get classes in magic right from the beginning?”
“Well, that makes sense,” Cataleb muttered, “they want to use us as soon as possible.”
“But…” Jefshan was frowning. “There’s definitely things they’re not telling us, or not telling us right. If they take all the people who can use magic, there wouldn’t be just 28 – twenty-seven! – every year. It can’t be that regular, not even red hair is that constant in a family line. And then it wouldn’t explain how so many of us are poor.”
“Unless,” Talia offered archly, “the old mages ended up really poor, so their families ended up poor, too? I mean, if they’d fallen out of favor…”
Jefshan shook her head. “Something doesn’t quite add up. We’ll figure it out, though. We have a lot more classes to get though.”
“Starting,” Kayay pointed out, “with forcefields. Which Desmond loves.”
Desmond finally glared at the shorter student – and Kayay was shorter than him, if only by a finger-width. “Yes. Which I love. I’ve never done anything to you, you know.”
“You had to be last,“ Kayay sneered.
“I didn’t even know there was a race! A reverse race! My collar just wanted to go up, and up.” Desmond found himself frustrated. “You know, the collar wanting to go further than I did – that’s what stopped us? We could only work together until our ambition wasn’t balanced.”
“Oh, good. Just what I wanted to know. Your collar kept you from getting even further up. Then what would you have done?”
“You know,” Jefshan interrupted slowly, “I don’t see the problem. Someone had to be first, someone had to be last. Desmond just did what we were all told to do – climb. Every single one of us climbed as far as we could – or wanted to, or our collars would allow. That’s not the point. We’re all in classes together now, right? So what does it matter?”
It was a very nice little speech, but it seemed to have the opposite effect on Kayay as Jefshan presumably desired. Kayay glared at all of them, then turned on a heel and stomped off.
“I wonder where she’s going,” Talia mused. “That’s not the way to class.”
“Let her go,” Desmond advised, although he knew it was a self-serving recommendation. “We’ll find out if we get in trouble for skipping this way, at least.”
::Not until exam time,:: his collar advised him dryly, ::but considering that the exams are generally very practical in nature…::
“Someone she doesn’t hate make sure she practices the homework,” Desmond translated out loud. From the look on a couple other faces around him, he hadn’t been the only one to get that advice.
The rest of their group made it into Forcefields, which was a class they had only with the other blue students. At the front of the room stood a tall and imposing person dressed all in black, black hair up in a tight chignon, black collar seeming to suck in the light, black jacket cut trim to a feminine form.
“Hello.” The person bowed deeply to them; Desmond found himself not the only student bowing back. “There are to be nine of you; did one somehow not survive History of Magic? That is generally a safe class, all things considered.”
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