Kheper nodded at Luke. Luke nodded back at Kheper. Nobody needed to be a succubus to sense the tension in the air.
The students weren’t, Luke assumed, all in the room yet – there were three there, one in just-grey-white-and-black, one with the same red accessories and accents that Nehara was wearing, and one wearing light green and pink. All three of them, almost in unison, looked at their professor, looked at each other, and turned to look at Luke.
He flared his wings and, feeling immensely self-conscious under the gaze of three teenagers and one boy he still thought of as a teenager, bowed again. He cleared his throat. “Ah, hello. Professor – Agislaw. Jae’Law-Shield.”
The boy in pink and green gasped. Luke schooled his face and waited for Kheper’s response.
The boy – man, he probably deserved that much – bowed back in response. “Sa’Hunting Hawk. Luke. Principal Doomsday told me you were visiting, but I didn’t know you’d be taking in my humble class.”
There had never, ever, been anything remotely humble about Kheper. Still. Luke smiled, and tilted his head in Nehara’s direction. “My tour guide thought it would be a good idea.”
“Aah. Nehara. How kind of you.” Kheper’s attention slid seamlessly to his students. “Since the three of you were so kind as to be on time, allow me to introduce you to the head of Security at Addergoole and my former PE teacher, Luca Hunting-Hawk. Sir, this is Nur, Ihab, and Antigone.”
He remembered when Antigone’s father had named her. He’d come back to Addergoole to ask Luke about the naming visions, pale and sick-looking.
“…and the best combat instructor, best warrior I’ve ever met.” Kheper’s eyes met Luke’s again. He was smiling, not a common expression for Law-Shield.
He would have to trust that Doomsday had Antigone well in hand. He nodded back to Kheper. He wasn’t sure what the game was here, but it felt like mark-the-territory. He could respect that.
“Better than Professor Inazuma?” They probably weren’t supposed to hear that whisper, but Ihab, the boy in green and pink, was not all that quiet.
Kheper fielded the question smoothly. “Far better than Professor Inazuma. As a matter of fact, Sa’Hawk taught Inazuma, back when I was in school.”
Oh! Yes, that would suit Leo’s sense of – whatever it was. Luke smiled at the students. Another two were trickling in, and he could see one more behind them. He was going to have to make this good.
“He was one of my best students,” he allowed. “Certainly one of my most eager.”
The students giggled. Good to know that that still struck a note. Luke was finding Boom-et-al being so very… non-explosive was leaving him on uncertain footing.
“Luke is also,” Kheper took back the conversation smoothly. Luke glanced at him; the boy – professor – nodded again, almost apologetically. “He’s also one of the only full-blooded Mara I have ever met, and the only one I know to still be alive.”
Ah. Well, he was invading a classroom. Luke spread his wings wide, so that the students could study them. “I remember.” He had never had a good “teaching voice;” Mike always referred to his grunt-or-shout tactic. The room was small, though, so he resorted to the tone he used with scared first-year mentorees. “When I was a child, it was rare to see a ha – an Ellehemaei that was not full-blooded. And now, we’re all but extinct.”
He flapped his wings once, just enough to prove they were real. “The Mara are – were, I guess – the protectors. We were stronger, tougher, faster. Warriors.”
“Hunters.” The girl’s voice was very quiet, but it still took all of Luke’s self-control not to flap at her. Instead, he turned to look at her, very mindfully folding his wings until they were at rest.
“The Shenera Oseraei had very similar fae. They called them Hunters – and many people think the two bloodlines are related. Yeah. But the Mara are not Hunters.”
She was not a big girl; she looked younger than her peers, and, still dressed in grey-white-and-black, Luke guessed she probably didn’t have a Mentor yet. “That’s just -” She turned to Kheper.
He shot Luke a quick warning glance over her head. When he answered, Luke noticed his voice was careful and very gentle. “It’s all right. Sa’Hawk knows you didn’t mean any offense, Mara.”
Luke struggled to control a wing-flap. Mara?
Kheper’s cleared throat brought his attention back. “Her name is Mara, Luke, מָרָא. Not māra.”
Luke settled down. He could tell the unfortunately-named girl was getting very upset. “My mistake. Pleased to meet you, Mara. Maybe after class, we could talk more about Those Who Protect?”
“I…” She shrugged her shoulders up to her ears. “If Miss Ascha says it’s okay?”
“I’m sure she will.” Kheper took control of the conversation with a smoothness Luke found himself envying. “And perhaps sa’Hawk could tell the rest of the class a little bit about the Laws of Belonging? We’re studying the first Law of Belonging today.”
Luke cleared his throat. “Aah. Well,” he chuckled nervously. “That would be the one I’ve had the least experience with. It’s been a few years since I’ve been a Child.”
“You have children, don’t you?” Nur tilted her head at him. “I thought all of the Addergoole teachers did.”
“Well. You know quite a bit about the Addergoole staff.” He shifted, trying to find a comfortable position. “Yes. I have a few children, and some grandkids. But I’m their father.”
“Professor Inazuma has maternal rights – well, I mean, she’s grown…” Ihab seemed to be infatuated with Leo. Well, he certainly wasn’t the first. Luke wondered if Leofric knew. Or Cynara, for that matter.
“Yeah, but Sigruko was a special case.” Luke looked around the gathering class. “Well. I’ve had enough kids that I know what the First Law of Belonging looks like from a father’s end. I can talk about that. If that’s all right, Professor Aegislaw?”
“Of course.” Kheper bowed to him.
Enough time had passed that Luke could talk about Aleron without pain and anger; by this time, Aleron’s grandchildren, his disreputable grandson Makatza among them, had come and gone from Addergoole. Doug was harder, not because there was pain, but because there was guilt. And Chavva and Icarus – well, those were stories he could tell while feeling his wings show every emotion, and he let them.
When he was done, he bowed to the students, bowed to Kheper, and took his leave, feeling wrung out and, at the same time, happy. He caught Nehara watching him and tucked his wings against his back.
He cleared his throat. “Ah. So, what’s next our our tour?”
“I was thinking about visiting Professor Lily’s class. Aah… Dáirine?”
Luke’s wings twitched. “Dáirine.” He remembered the too-pretty girl: daughter of two troublemakers, raised by a completely different sort of trouble. Ciara’s adopted child. “Ah. Cya would know her through Yoshi.”
“Principal Doomsday knows everyone.” Nehara smiled placidly, but Luke still couldn’t shake the feeling that she was laughing at him. “Would you rather skip her class?”
“No. No, I’d like to see her take on history.”
Nehara paused for a heartbeat. Studying him? Reading him? Luke was an open book and knew it. “This hour is my class – Eighth-Year – and she’s covering the history of the collapse and subsequent rebuilding.”
It sounded like a warning. Luke couldn’t blame the girl for thinking some heads-up was necessary. Dáirine had been a child when the world had ended. What historical perspective…
Humans did it all the time, he reminded himself. “I’d love to see it.”
“Same building, so we don’t have to go far.” She led him out of the classroom and into a narrow-looking hall that was crowded with students. Narrow-seeming, and yet Luke noticed he could probably spread his wings almost to their full width. The floor was wood with throw rugs; the walls were covered in artwork. “It’s…” He searched for a word, and picked one after a while, more Mike’s word than his own. “Cozy.”
“These kids – me, too, when I was that age – this is the first time they’ve ever been away from home. Some of them grew up in enclaves, but some of them were barely holding on to survive. They want to be sure that everyone feels as comfortable as possible, this far away from home.”
“Maybe we should think about that more at Addergoole.” Cozy was never a word he’d heard used to describe that place, at least not without tongue firmly in cheek. “Do you like it? Did it help you be comfortable?”
“I was homesick, of course.” She shrugged elegantly. Mike would love this girl. Luke swallowed the thought and the irrational jealous that it brought forward. “But the kidlings, first, second, third years, most of the fourth and fifths, they’re all in one big house, so you’re never really alone unless you want to be. Cy’Ascha, unofficially.”
That was the second time the name Ascha had come up. “Aceline? sh’Magnolia?”
Nehara raised her eyebrows at him. “I wouldn’t presume to call a teacher by their mother’s name.”
Luke glowered at her, uncowed by her implicit scolding. “I was there when her mother was born.”
“You were there when she was Named, too, weren’t you? Aceline, sa’Water Under the Bridge, is that who you mean?”
There was tartness in her voice that hadn’t been there before. Luke liked it. But his wings still flapped irritably. “Yes,” he grumbled. “Ascha.”
Her voice gentled minutely. “Doomsday is a kid away from home, sa’Hunting Hawk. And you’re the uncle set to check up on the kid. But please remember that while they are wayward children to you, they’re honored mentors and instructors to us.”
Luke’s wings stilled. “How are you so wise, so young?” Are you another Manira, another cuckoo’s egg in the nest? Are you a danger?
Nehara smiled sadly. “I’m cy’Red. It’s quite an education.”
And, he could tell, not the whole answer. That was fine. He nodded his head to her. “So, Aceline is a teacher here?”
“She teaches the younger students, up through their third year. And she lives in the dorm with them. She’s very good at being soothing.”
“She’s always been a good girl.”
Nehara smiled. “Not like her sister, right? I’ve heard the stories. Professor Sweetflower – Magnolia – tells some of the stories.”
Luke bit back a comment. Magnolia shouldn’t have surprised him, not after Aceline. She’d been in love with Howard since she’d Kept him, and Howard was inseparable from Cynara. Dáirine, Ascha, Kheper, Magnolia – how far did Cya’s reach extend?
“And after Professor Lily’s class, maybe I can show you some of the other areas.” Nehara kept talking as if they’d never segued into the conversation on Aceline. “The dojo-and-dance-studio, of course. Then there’s the kid’s hall, some of the cy’ree dormitories -”
“You dorm by cy’ree?” That was so traditional it had dust and leather bindings. Luke was surprised Cynara had come up with it – or had she?
“In the middle years, yes. And then the last year or two, we dorm with our crew. I could show you my apartment, too.”
He had to be imagining the suggestion there. She sounded so innocent, so calm. There was no way she was… Luke coughed.
“I’d like that. Seeing around the place. It all seems so… tidy.”
“Well.” Now she just sounded amused. Luke found he could live with her being amused at him. “sa’Red Doomsday did plan it. And if there’s one thing everyone knows about Red Doomsday…”
Luke cleared his throat. He found that he didn’t know the end of that sentence, and that made him uncomfortable. Nehara clearly expected him to fill in the end, like an in-joke he had never been part of.
“Lozenge?” She opened a small wooden box filled with what he hoped were cough drops of some sort. “The air here does that to some people.”
“Thanks.” Luke took a cough drop and the excuse. “You were saying…?”
“Oh. If there’s one thing everyone knows about Red Doomsday, it’s that she’s prepared for everything.” Nehara shrugged dismissively. “I guess the joke works better if you know her.”
“Doomsday prepper.” Luke coughed it out around the cough drop, which turned out to have hot pepper flakes in it. “Prepper.“
“Well, yes.” Nehara’s innocent look was so studied, it had to be fake. “Everyone knows that… don’t they?”
Written to @Inventrix’s commissioned continuation.
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