A white bird rose up; it stretched its large wings and a fine dust scattered over the viewers below. It circled over the castle, cries of delight piercing the air as it pirouetted under a clouded sky.
“Beautiful, so beautiful,” Faith murmured, a puff of steam coming from her mouth. She wrapped the coat tighter around her. The bird was one of her better creations and one that made her proud to be a controller, not a mage.
“Caleb, you are next,” the Teacher of the Shapes said to tallest boy in the group.
Caleb stepped forward and raised his arms, his hands curled like he was holding a small ball in them. A flame appeared. It floated up, getting bigger and bigger, forming, shaping until a hawk emerged from the flames and soared up.
“Well done, Caleb,” the teacher said. “Now, Tadeo, it's your turn.”
Faith looked up at Caleb's bird. Caleb was good, very good. Even among the licensed mages, rare were the ones that could work with the elements. And with fire at that. Her eyes followed the flames as the bird dove down and -- she sucked in her breath. The jerk's flames had just eaten her snow bird.
“Caleb. That’s not nice,” the teacher reprimanded. “I am deducting points for that.”
“I understand,” Caleb said, while he glanced at Faith.
Faith gritted her teeth and turned away from him. She went to the stone parapet of the tower and leaned on it. Caleb might have amazing skills, but the guy was a jerk most of the time. Withdrawn, rude, and with an ego so inflated Faith wondered that it didn’t explode. He should have been hated and despised, but his good looks made him popular with the girls and his abilities made him admired among the boys. And his influential and rich family had to be an additional attraction. Yeah, Caleb was popular, while most people didn’t even notice his gentle friend, Tadeo. She peeked at the fragile-looking brunet. He was sweet and nice to everybody, so not like Caleb, who refused to even talk to people; well, unless he was making fun of them... not that he made fun of anybody except her. Actually he rarely even talked to anyone besides teachers, Tadeo and her.
“Don't feel bad.” A slender girl with short black curls joined her. “The teacher lowered his mark because of it.”
“I'm not feeling bad. I can't even get angry at him anymore; I’m too used to his antics, I guess,” Faith said to Naila, her room-mate and her best friend. And it was Caleb, a boy who saved her from beatings when she arrived at the Academy, how could she get angry at him?
“It's weird that he's always picking on you, but doesn't even notice the rest. Some girls are jealous, you know.” Naila put her hand on Faith's shoulder, her chocolate brown skin dark against Faith's light grey coat.
Faith frowned at her exposed fingers. “Where are your gloves?” She grabbed her friend’s hands and rubbed them between hers.
“I forgot them.”
“What a surprise.” Faith rolled her eyes.
“Here, take mine,” Tadeo, who stood a distance away and was apparently eavesdropping, stepped closer. He peeled off his gloves and offered them to Naila.
“That's so nice of you. Thank you.” When Naila shyly dillydallied, Faith grabbed the gloves and shoved them into Naila's hands. Then she watched as they awkwardly stood glancing at each other. She shook her head. She had suspected for some time that Tadeo liked Naila, not that her friends would ever have believed her. And she knew that Naila had a crush on the brunet; she had learned that from the evenings they spent tucked in their beds talking. But unfortunately Naila would never do anything about her crush, especially when Silva, one of the loudest girls Faith had ever met, claimed that Tadeo and she were in some sort of secret relationship. A blunt lie, of course, but Naila accepted is as truth.
Faith moved away from them, giving them their privacy, despite her doubt that they would use it. She strolled toward the teacher and asked to excuse herself. The teacher allowed her, but not before she gave her some homework.
Great, like she didn’t have enough to do already. Faith went out the door and darted down the stairs into the main hall of the castle. The sound of steps echoing behind her told her that somebody had followed her.
She looked over her shoulder, not in the least fazed when she saw Caleb a few steps away. He was always around, and he always had a reason for it, a valid excuse that wasn't connected with her. So she didn't even ask what it was when she found him standing a bookcase away while she browsed the castle's library.
She needed a book about potions to brew a concoction for tomorrow’s class. Something harmless, but complicated enough that she would get a good mark for it.
“Potions?” A shadow appeared behind her and a familiar voice asked her, “Why do you need potions?”
She looked over her shoulder at Caleb before her eyes went back to the books. “For homework.”
“You didn’t enrol in an extra class, did you?”
“Yes, I did.” Potions for Everyday Use. No, too simple.
“What are you trying to prove?”
Why couldn’t he be just a bit nicer? “Could you not bother me, please? I have work to do.” She moved away from him, her fingers trailing over the books’ spines. What about Potions for the Heart?
Ignoring the boy behind her, she pulled the book out and looked at its index. Amplifiers, aphrodisiacs... simple concoctions... remedies.... Her eyes darted back to the amplifiers. The one to increase courage to confess love sounded interesting. She could do that one and then use it on Naila or Tadeo. She smiled. Yes, she could.
With the book's help she filled out the form, listed the ingredients and the procedure, before she rushed to the Teacher of Potions’ rooms where she got the teacher's approval, then used the form to get ingredients and access to the castle's workshop.
surveillance of one of the senior Alchemists the potion was quickly
done and packed into a small bottle. She put it in her pocket and
patted it. She had made a highly concentrated version, one that she
could dilute and use on her kind and shy friend.
There. Faith lifted a transparent bottle, admiring the amber liquid sloshing inside. Green tea with jasmine and drops of the potion for which she had gotten the highest mark in the Potions class.
She packed it into a bag and went to the exercise room in the basement, which was a huge empty hall the length of the castle, with galleries for the audience.
The Match of Three started today, an event where the senior Alchemists, Controllers and Mages showed what they had learned in the past eleven years spend in the Academy.
Faith elbowed her way to Naila. She had planned to slip the potion to her roommate, then on second thought decided that it would be better if she gave the potion to Tadeo, because there might be a small chance that Silva was telling the truth, no matter how preposterous that sounded.
Faith leaned on the rail and glanced at the participants. She frowned when she noticed a familiar blond sitting on the bench with the Mages. “Caleb is still a junior. What is he doing there?”
“They invited him, and made it impossible for him to refuse,” a boy's voice from behind them said.
Tadeo. Faith turned and gave him a smile. “Hi, how have you been?”
“Fine.” Tadeo returned her smile while glancing at Naila.
Faith, with the help of her elbows, made a space between her and Naila and invited Tadeo to join them, which he did.
The Elements were first, at which the Controllers excelled, but how could they not when the elements of the earth were at the Controllers' disposal to mould to their liking?
“The Controllers will win this,” Faith said.
“Not if Caleb can help it,” Tadeo said.
And he might have been right, if not for the fact that Caleb was still a Mage and as such couldn't compete with Controllers, not the fully skilled ones.
“Too bad.” Faith grinned when a Controller's water snake destroyed Caleb's earth dragon, and with that eliminated the last of the Mages' creatures, ending the first round of Elements. She searched for Caleb among the Mages' dark blue robes and almost stepped back when she found him glaring at her. She deliberately widened her smile and waited a few seconds before she turned away. Why did he have to stare at her like that? Well, not that it was anything new, except that usually his stares looked indifferent, devoid of any emotions whatsoever.
She wanted to say something to her friends, but she found them discussing something. Way to go, Naila. Another smile appeared on her lips. She waved to Naila and slipped out of the gallery into the main hall. Maybe they didn’t need her help.
She went into the library, delighting in the silence that ruled in the otherwise busy hallways. She borrowed some books and carried them into the common room, where she found a cosy little corner with a large armchair and a wooden table, both old looking and worn out like everything in the castle.
As a Controller she didn't need to study about potions or about spells beyond the simple assignments that they got in their classes, but she doubted that her Control was good enough to get her into the Weather Agency. And beyond that, there wasn't really a need for Controllers, while there was always demand for Alchemists. That's why she had applied to the academy board for additional classes, which would allow her to work as a Herbalist or a Apothecary.
She opened the book on herbs, pulled out a notebook and a pen, and started to make notes, which she thought she would need at the next Nature test. She wrote until the tension in her shoulders forced her to straighten and stretch.
She looked at the clock above the fireplace. The match should be ending right now, so she should probably pack up and go to her small, cluttered room. She sighed and leaned back in the comfy plush armchair. But she didn't want to, not yet, not when her room was cold and here was so pleasantly warm.
But she had to. She sighed and stuffed her things into the bag, her hand banging against the glass bottle. She had forgotten about the tea. She pulled the bottle out and set it on the table before her. She should get rid of it.
A shadow fell over her and she looked up. “What are you doing here?” The words flew out of her mouth.
“Why did you leave? You missed my matches.”
“You could have still watched it and cheered me on.”
Why should she have? “I'm a Controller, I'm not a Mage.” And why was he here? He should still be down there, accepting consolations for their loss.
“You could have still watched me. And you should have,” Caleb said and narrowed his baby blue eyes at her. “Tomorrow. Don't forget.”
“I will forgive you this time, but only this time.” He grabbed the tea bottle. “And I'm taking this as a consolation.”
“Hey, wait a minute.” Faith jumped up and grabbed his robe. “That's mine.”
“Yeah, so?” He shook her off. “I will give you the bottle back later.”
“No, give it back now.” She couldn't let him drink the potion.
“Fine.” He uncorked the bottle and drank its contents before he shoved the bottle into her hand. “Here.”
She wrapped her fingers around the bottle. Well, the potion was a harmless one, not like the love potion, that's why the teacher had approved it, because nothing could happen. She wouldn't have been ready to slip it to her friend otherwise.
Caleb's hand shot to his throat and his eyes widened. “There was something in it.”
She clamped his mouth shut, hopping nobody heard him. As much fun as this could become, especially if Caleb had a crush on somebody, using a potion outside of a classroom was an offence, which she didn't want to have on her spotless record. “You drank it on your own,” she hissed to Caleb while she grabbed her bag from the table.
“I don't feel very well.” Caleb leaned on her and his fingers curled around her arm. “Help me to my room.”
Give me a break, she thought, but she hooked her arm around his and dragged him out of the common room and to the residential part of the castle.
She followed his directions and they arrived at his room. His quite large and warm room, Faith thought as they stepped into it. She had never been here before. “Could you let go of me now?”
Caleb murmured something, but his grip on Faith didn’t loosen.
“Jerk,” Faith mumbled to herself as she half-carried him to the bed that stood by the window. She pushed him back, but because he still held her, they both fell on the bed.
She lay on him for a few seconds, blinking in surprise before she lifted her head.
“You are beautiful, you know.” Caleb's words sounded slightly slurred. He cupped her cheek. “But cold, so cold. You never give me the time of day.”
“What is this? A joke?” She tried to scramble off him, but his hands didn’t release her.
He rolled her underneath him. He buried his nose in the niche between her neck and shoulder. “Could you at least like me a little? Just a little?”
Faith froze. This couldn't be -- No, it couldn't be.
“And I love you so much.” Caleb wrapped his arm tightly around her middle.
But it was. A
confession. To her. From Caleb. The same Caleb who had teased her and
made fun of her since she had arrived at the academy as a
seven-year-old. She hesitantly returned his hug. But it was not all
teasing, he had helped her too.
* * * * *
The complete story is available as part of anthology Love, me on Apple, Amazon Kindle US, Amazon Kindle UK and Amazon Kindle DE; and as part of Short Story Collection.