A/N: *sweat* I suppose I should be hanged from my thumbs for writing a chaptered fic that seems so...light. No hard-hitting plot or majestic revelation here (for a change), lol; after all, I'm simply writing about life. ^^
The Assembly Party
The Academy of High Arts.
The young man with the green hair squinted as the sun bounced off the brass lettering displayed on the battlement wall. He wondered how it was possible that in all his years of studying in the Urara School of Magic he had never noticed this particular wing of the institute. The towering pagoda was located at the southeast corner of the sprawling campus, a formidable edifice, composed of numerous golden platforms and red shingled roofs that reached the clouds and into oblivion. It was most impressive.
He rustled the haversack on his back into a more comfortable position as he stared pensively at the new school building he would be attending after graduating from Urara's Basic school. Odd. He and Dorothy had accidentally destroyed the entire campus at least six times during their quarrels, but he never remembered blowing up this particular structure, nor even coming across it.
"The Academy's not entirely safe for children, so the faculty had it under an invisibility spell, if that's what you're wondering." A smug, female voice reached his ears, one he knew all too well. "Funny. I thought of all people that you should be the first one to recognize the residual aura."
The male student turned slowly, the sun winking in his eye boyishly as he faced the tall woman behind him. "And good morning to you, freak," he said pleasantly. Then seeing the pink pointed hat she sported atop her equally-pink tresses, he raised an eyebrow mockingly and said, "Well, I've never seen that headgear before, but I have to say you look quite fetching with a dunce cap on."
The other reddened noticeably and said with a huff, "That's very droll of you, I'm sure, Seravi, but in case you haven't noticed, we are required to follow the dress code as certified magicians."
"Speak for yourself," countered Seravi, gesturing at the students milling around the entrance of the buliding. "I don't see anyone else with that horror on."
Dorothy bit her lip, trying not to let her grinning upstart companion get the best of her. Instead, she smirked and challenged matter-of-factly, "Well, what about that tablecloth you're wearing? I think it should go back to the tabletop where it belongs, don't you think?"
"It's a robe," said Seravi, deliberately sounding sanctimonious to irritate her. "It's simple, it's comfortable, but it spells 'magician' all the way. A good bargain, I think."
"For a cheap nightgown," taunted Dorothy. "Tell me if you're starting to feel a draft, dear; I'd try to see if I have an extra pair of pants to fit you, but my body is too toned that I'm sure you'd rip the garters apart in seconds!" With a peal of snide, high-pitched giggles, she levitated the four leather suitcases bursting in their seams behind her and made her way to the entrance of the bulding.
Seravi looked at her back with an utmost indifference in his face, but it did not stay there for long. There was a sudden sharp sound behind him, and before he could turn around, someone was holding his arm tightly, a sensation that sent a pang of panic into his very core because he knew whose hands those were. He shut his eyes, desperately wishing that it was not possible.
"Oh, Seravi, fancy meeting you here!" The striking blond girl tittered uncontrollably as she pulled him closer to her with a strong grip, her ringlets bouncing up and down from her excitement. "What a kooky coincidence!"
Seravi forced a tight smile on his face and said with no great comfort as he tried to pry himself away, "Hello, Doris. Small world, eh?"
Dorothy's sibling laughed in assent, voice cracking and accidentally lapsing into smatterings of a baritone voice, disquieting the unnerved Seravi even more.
"If you don't mind," suggested Seravi gingerly, "could you please let go of me? I'd like to feel my arm again now."
His captor released him obligingly and Seravi unconsciously took a step away farther, feeling ill.
"Well, I'll see you around, my dear, hopefully somewhere around our dorm rooms," Doris gushed, batting eyebrows and giving a dazzling smile that to Seravi was positively saucy and downright explicit. "Ta-ta!"
Seravi gave a half-hearted wave at the retreating figure and immediately turned around, his face green. Encounters with Doris always made him feel nauseated, especially if they were encounters that were not restricted to verbal communication only. He looked distastefully at the arm that Doris had held and felt disgusted.
"Oi, looks like we have quite a lady-charmer here with us!"
Seravi looked towards the source of brusque voice. The speaker was a lanky lad with a messy and unkempt mop of raven hair covering his eye and trailing down his back. He was seated on a nearby ledge and wore a purple, short-sleeved shirt and black pants that held two whips on each leg, one for each side.
"You new here?" he asked cheerfully, giving a jaunty wave as he stood and picked up his stuffed-up suitcase, making his way towards Seravi.
"So am I." He shoved a hand in greeting. "Name's Rascal."
"Seravi," Seravi returned, taking the hand and shaking it, wondering what new oddity he was meeting on the first day of school.
"Seravi?" echoed the other, his brow wrinkling. "You're the one the masters are buzzing about, right? World's Greatest Magician caliber?"
"Oh, is that what they called me?" Seravi laughed faintly, although not without mirth, as he let go of the hand. Although he didn't like being reminded how he had won the title by accidentally knocking Dorothy out cold with an oversized bouquet of roses, he sensed that this new friend of his wasn't the type who would immediately challenge him to a duel upon learning the title Seravi held.
He was right. Obviously unaffected, Rascal shrugged pleasantly, "Nice meeting you," then an impish grin spread across his face. "Guess your prowess isn't with magic only, eh?" He winked. "Saw how you scored with those two ladies over there, the pinkhead and the blonde. Not bad."
Seravi laughed whole-heartedly. "I wouldn't exactly call it 'scoring.'"
"Yeah? Those girls were pretty attractive and they were pretty friendly to you."
"The pinkhead thinks I'm her worst enemy," chuckled Seravi appreciatively. "She'd be the first one to have me dead."
"Ah, blew you off, huh? Sorry, man." Rascal gave him a mocking pat of consolation. "Harsh."
"Nah, it's okay; I blew her off first anyway," answered Seravi, remembering, with a little regret, the first time he saw Dorothy with pink hair. "And as for the blonde...well, she's got a pretty big defect that turns me off."
"Really? I'd give her a perfect ten from where I was sitting."
Seravi guffawed. "Would it make any difference if I told you that she's not even supposed to be wearing a dress?"
Rascal paled a little. "You're joking. With a body like that?"
Seravi shook his head, bringing his hands up with aped solemnity. "I kid you not, Rascal, when I say that she's one of us."
It took a minute for Rascal to realize the connotation, then he finally rolled his eyes and snorted, "Aw. Sad."
"Revolting, isn't it?"
"But hey, there's a lot more fish in the sea, as they say." Rascal snapped his fingers as if to disperse any omen Doris' presence might have left. "Anyway, we'd better register while it's still early. There's still the Assembly party to worry about for this evening."
"Didn't you read your admission letter?" They began walking towards the growing line of new students waiting to be checklisted into the Academy for their registration and enrollment as Rascal began to elaborate on the social event waiting for them. "It's an acquaintance cocktail of sorts after supper, with a welcoming speech from Headmistress Urara."
Rascal gave him a quizzical look. "Quite the hermit, aren't you? Wouldn't surprise me if the first thing you do after finishing the Academy would be to build a hut and live on the foothills of some mountain."
"Fat chance of that happening," corrected Seravi humorously. "Hopefully I'll be sleeping in my quarters in the Palace wearing pajamas with the seal of the Kingdom embroidered on them."
Rascal's jaw dropped at the implication as they fell into line. "The Palace? As in the Royal Palace? With the Seal? Are you telling me your main practice is..."
"Mageship?" Seravi held up the first page of his official admission letter with his name and his chosen practice written in flowing calligraphy as they neared the solitary gatekeeper of the pagoda. "Yes."
"Unbelievable." Rascal shook his head in wonder as he jammed his hand into his pocket. "Do you know what sort of terror practice you're getting into? Do you know that the most number of students who drop out yearly from the same practice are all would-be Royal mages? Do you know the stress involved?"
"I'll have to hit the books a lot harder than you will," agreed Seravi, amused at his high-strung friend, "but I think I can take it."
"By the time you graduate from the Academy, I'd be long gone, seeing the world." Rascal fished out his own letter for Seravi to see. "Speaking of main practices, mine's Combat. I'll probably end up as a competitor during the annual Royal Tournaments. It's a pretty lucrative future, you know?"
Seravi eyed the coiled implements hanging from Rascal's belt. "Whips?"
"My mother said the first thing I held in my fist after I was born was the whip we used for the horse," Rascal said proudly. "And I never let go of it after that." He patted them affectionately. "My babies and I can do a lot of mean tricks."
"Wouldn't want to cross with you, buddy," Seravi assured Rascal as he handed the sentinel waiting at the gate his letter.
The stout gatekeeper mulled over Seravi's name and his picture, scrutinizing the young wizard's face, then his eyes widened with recognition. "Hey, you're that kid genius, aren't you?" he exclaimed in a voice not meant for indoors.
Seravi looked taken aback. "I..."
"That's him, all right," said Rascal, nodding vigorously, before either his friend or his wits could stop him. "Beat the girl who knocked out old Baldy."
"Sheer genius, I tell you!" praised the gatekeeper, his eyes bright, well-informed of what had happened in that strange mountain years ago. "I could never have thought that a bouquet of roses could do the trick! It's ingenious!"
"It was not a trick; it was an accident," said Seravi a little heatedly, discomfited by the many pairs of eyes and ears that were intently observing them from behind. An audience was not exactly his habitat. "I didn't mean it."
"Mean it or not, son, it was the perfect tactic." The sentinel handed back Seravi's letter respectfully with a little bow of his head. "Everything's in order, Mr. Seravi, sir. You may pass, under my watch."
"Thanks," returned Seravi curtly, snatching it back. After Rascal passed across the gate and into the grassy courtyard with him after his own papers were checked, Seravi turned around and asked, clippedly, "What was that about?"
Rascal looked surprised. "You look a little hot under the collar. You don't like being recognized as the World's Greatest Magician?"
"I didn't exactly ask for the title," said Seravi cautiously, trying to keep his voice mild. "I don't have fond memories about it either."
"Had to do with a girl, didn't it?" Rascal winked but miraculously did not pursue the matter for more details. "You look surprised, Seravi. You really shouldn't. Don't you know the old saying? That behind every great man is a woman?" He shrugged. "But I guess you still have a few wrinkles to work out with that girl, don't you?"
Seravi looked speechless. Perhaps his impulsive, whip-wielding friend was more perceptive than he looked.
Rascal laughed uproariously at Seravi's face. "Never mind. You'll learn eventually. Come on, Admission Office's over there."
Coincidentally, both Seravi and Rascal had been assigned to the same dorm room, along with another roommate by the name of Barabara, who had already checked in, as they were informed. Although they expected a roommate with his own quirky enough personality or skill to match theirs, they had, however, not been ready to see this quirkiness so externally.
Nor so painfully.
"You are growing thorns, man! You are growing thorns!"
Rascal's eyes were as round as saucers and his voice an octave higher. He held his right hand, sucking the blood that had spurted out from his palm as he and Seravi stared incredulously at the man, fresh-faced as a choirboy, seated on the bed across the room they shared. His main practice being Education, he possessed a wavy crop of blonde hair and wore a red tie, a white long-sleeved shirt, and a pair of light blue trousers.
And perhaps what was most eye-catching about him were the three, long-stemmed roses that had sprouted from his head when he had offered his hand to shake theirs. Both Rascal and Seravi thought they were hallucinating, but nevertheless, Rascal stretched his own hand to return the greeting. Unfortunately, he discovered, with a sudden yelp of pain, that the roses, along with the thorns that grew from Barabara's hand, were actually quite real.
"I'm sorry," said Barabara, his eyes brimming with tears. "It just happens. I can't help it."
"You could at least have told us about it," suggested Seravi, trying to hide a smile at Rascal's look of fright.
"If I did, would you have shaken my hand?" asked Barabara dolefully.
Seravi had to conclude that the Thorn-man, as Rascal nicknamed him later on, had a point.
"I still can't believe he grows thorns."
"Oh, give it a rest; the poor fellow's already miserable as he is."
They were seated in the Assembly Hall, waiting for the freshman welcome to begin. Seravi was dressed in a white, long-sleeved shirt and black slacks and Rascal had merely thrown a light jacket over his own purple short-sleeves. Barabara wore a suit and a tie, with a rose he picked from himself pinned on his left chest pocket. They were seated in the same table with a few other young men.
"He's a mite too overdressed too, I think," Rascal could not help hissing at Seravi.
"Cut the guy some slack, Whipster; it's not his fault he was born that way." Seravi was arching his neck, trying to find Dorothy at the girls' tables. A few young ladies saw him looking over them and they tittered among themselves. But Seravi was oblivious, feeling both disappointed and thankful at the same time; disappointed that Dorothy was nowhere to be seen, and thankful that Doris was nowhere to be seen as well.
The feeling wore away soon enough, however. Doris, much to Seravi's apparent horror, came waltzing into the hall wearing an eye-catching paisely dress with an embroidered rim that matched the color of his shawl. His long hair was piled on his head in a sophisticated French twist, turning the necks of many poor, ignorant victims. He spied an empty seat and immediately fell into a lively conversation with the females clustered around him, admiring "her" entrance and "her" wardrobe.
Seravi happily assumed that Doris must have overlooked him when he nonchalantly covered his face with the table napkin when the blond bombshell arrived, but his heart sank when Doris suddenly looked straight at him a second later and threw him an amorous glance. He could feel bile rising from his stomach and he quickly stretched his lips horizontally to stop the gagging reflex.
"Are you all right?" asked Rascal, not even bothering to cover his laugh at Seravi's grotesque smile. A pause then a merry, "That is some girl, isn't she?"
"I think you've forgetten that Doris isn't a girl," said Seravi a little feebly, staring at the ceiling.
"Whose talking about the blonde? I'm talking about the pinkhead over there."
Seravi's neck almost snapped.
Dorothy had entered, drawing her own share of long stares from the male students, much to her brother's discontentment. Her hair cascaded down her long neck and her pale shoulders and she wore a simple yet elegant evening gown of black that accentuated her curves eloquently. She was undeniably stunning as she took a seat beside a table not far from Seravi's.
Seravi's mouth had turned dry and he suddenly found it very difficult to breathe.
"She's beautiful," said Barabara dreamily, a bouquet of roses suddenly appearing on their table.
"Oi, Seravi, you said you blew her off, right?" Rascal was merciless. "Does that mean she's open territory now?"
Seravi gave his friend a death glare, then he suddenly stopped himself when he realized what he had just done. He had taken the bait so easily. He leveled his eyes at Rascal's with a trace of grim annoyance but with a conciliatory sign of defeat.
"I'm just messing with you, Seravi," Rascal chortled placatingly, although a little too loudly for comfort. "Besides, she's really not my type."
She's just grown up, that's all, thought Seravi desparately to himself, cracking his knuckles nervously. I just didn't notice it, by some freakish twist of nature. Maybe I was too busy keeping my sphere shield up when she was hurling fireballs at me. Besides, she still has that frightful hair.
"Just can it, Rascal," he finally muttered. "And keep it down. Speech's about to start and I want to hear it."
The short, rotund Urara with her bun of gray hair had undulated her way to the podium where the professors were seated, climbing up a box to make herself seen above the pulpit. After some difficulty with the microphone (that had sent the typical screech across the room), she shuffled the notes in her hands and cast two brimming eyes over her expectant audience.
"Whatever the Academy does not teach you," she began slowly, "life eventually will."
Seravi blinked. She still spoke in that soft, sing-song voice of hers with its peculiar, tremulous quality, but he suddenly heard a sternness underlying it that he had never quite noticed.
"The Academy cannot teach you everything," she was saying evenly, "because nothing can. The Basic school taught you how to produce your powers; the Academy is here to teach you how to control them. But remember, students, that we are merely here to show you the material; the ultimate step of magical attainment still rests in your own hands...the discovery as to what purpose, what motive, will be the driving force behind the usage of your powers."
"We believe there is no such thing as pure mastery; there is only the path to it. You will find that the more your learn, the more you will realize that there is so much you have yet to learn. People whom we call "Master" are those who have learned and applied this principle in their lives. On the other hand, one who claims himself to have achieved perfect mastery has no more reason to live in this world, for it is impossible for him to live when he has nothing more to learn. To live is to learn; to learn is to love life; to love life is to live."
"The Academy offers you two things: one, the methods and techniques of channeling magic, and two, the freedom for you to exercise them that you may be able to find yourself, something that no one else can do for you. However, as much as we do not believe in perfect mastery, we also do not believe in unrestricted freedom. Freedom in this institution also has its limits. You may only exercise your powers as fully as possible until it comes across someone's else nose. You are free to do what you want, provided that it does not affect someone else's life without that person's consent. Live your life and let others live theirs without your intereference, and no one will interfere with yours."
The audience was hushed. They did know, yes, but they were not aware that their curious, otherwise scatter-brained principal could speak so much insight. They had much to learn.
"The path to magical attainment is long and unending," continued Urara, looking up from her notes and adjusting her thick lenses, "and you will find that there is more guesswork than certainty involved. But that is no reason to shirk from it. Each of you was admitted into this institution to be taught of higher magic because we saw in you one common power that you all share: the ability to control it. Power is nothing without control. Never forget that while you walk in these halls, students. Welcome to the Academy of High Arts."c1.end