See? I told you most of us are Elena-Arzei shippers, deep down inside. I mean, like I said before, we all wasted too much time being postmen to have nothing come out of it. -shakes head- Also, I heard a rumor that Nel's ending implies that Elena's really a 4-D being. I reread it and just can't see it. Can anybody else? Just curious, ya know... -cough cough- Also, a HUGE thank-you to all my reviewers. Recently I was told by a reviewer in another section that I'm really bad at replying to reviews, and I just wanted to say I'm sorry, but I'm working on it in all my stories. I just feel silly when I sit down to do them and then a few days go by and I start to doubt that the person will remember reading my story. So anyone who reviews this chapter (logged in, that is... not that I don't love anon reviews.) is guaranteed a response. Yes, yes. So... enjoy the story and tell me what you think. Concrit's welcome!
After she'd blown off Mackwell, Elena decided to take a walk around the campus to supress the urge to throttle someone, especially her counsellor, since that kind of behavior (however satisfying) tends to hurt your academic career. After a few hundred feet, she began to remember why she usually avoided doing so. Young couples and various groups of good friends had taken advantage of the short break from school and the early spring sun and swarmed the grounds with the numbers and persistence of an army of ants. Peals of laughter erupted from all sides and made Elena remember some of her experiences of boarding school, where the noble-ladies in training never said anything rude to your face, but giggled shrilly at you in their prissy soprano voices once you passed them. She knew no one was probably laughing at her now, but she couldn't help but feel self-conscious, especially since most of the girls had changed into their cutest spring dresses and she was still donning her runologist robe with its no-nonsense sack-like design, random burn marks, and dusty grey plainness. She had plenty of money left from her inventions' royalties even after paying her tuition, but she wasn't the type of person who cared enough about clothes and fashion to waste money on them. HEr wadrobe consisted of a few simple dresses and several practical robes and that was all she needed. Still... fashion wasn't the only reason she was feeling out of place. During school, she talked to many people, mostly because her classmates often came to her for tutoring. When breaks came, she realized just how few actual friends she had. She wasn't really a permanent part of any of their groups, and she knew she didn't help the situation by spending so much time alone with her studies. Now she'd grown to dislike breaks; without any deadlines or projects to worry about she felt lost and alone, especially around all the other students.
Maybe it's good that I'll be showing Arzei around... I could use something to do.
She shook her head and sighed. She'd be stuck here another semester at least, so she should probably make a better effort to get to know at least one other person. Currently, Mackwell was the closest thing she had to a friend, and that was downright sad.
The clock on the school's belltower struck noon and its low, clear chime sent most of the loiterers running to the dining hall. Food was included in the tuition price, but the later you got there, the more mysterious the food got. The people who didn't come right when the bell rang ended up with something made by Damda Moody, the apprentice chef whose food invariably ended up catching fire or exploding. The trick was to ensure that those chemical processes had expended themelves before you ingested any of his food, if you were brave enough to do so. She felt a fleeting pity for Arzei, who hadn't been told any of the secrets of surviving at Holy Mother Academy. She'd do her best to help him after lunch... that is, if he hadn't already fallen victim to the school food, in which case he'd be spending a while in the healers' domain. Luckily while she'd been lost in thought, her body had put itself on auto-pilot, and she'd ended up with an inoffensive-looking stew on her plate. She cast a quick look around the immense dining hall, then walked swiftly over to her usual small table in the corner. She was about to pull her notes on her senior thesis out of her satchel when a someone standing next to her coughed politely, making her jump in her seat. Someone tall, fashionable, and handsome...
"A-Arzei? I didn't notice you there."
"I'm sorry if I startled you, my lady--" he began before she cut him off with a pointed look, "Errr... I mean, Elena. Being as invisible as you can is a rather valuable survival asset in the Airyglypan court at the moment and some habits are hard to break... And now I'm rambling."
She noticed that he was beginning to sweat at the temples and his cheeks were reddening.
"I, err, hope I didn't interrupt anything..."
Finally, she took pity on him and motioned to the seat next to her. Even though he was apparently an influential noble, he wasn't exactly the most self-assured person in the room.
"No, nothing that can't wait. You know, you're free to sit down if you'd like."
"Thanks." he said, and meant it sincerely.
He settled himself and was about to lower his fork to his plate, the contents of which looked like chicken... if chicken was normally covered in chunky chartreuse sauce that was a misbegotten mockery of gravy. His fork dipped ominously closer to food poison.
"Hold on a second!" Elena screeched, ripping the fork out of his hands.
He stared blankly at his now-empty hand, then cocked his head at Elena.
"What's the matter? Do you think it has been poisoned?"
Elena grimmaced and looked back at the blob-o-chicken.
"That depends on who you got it from..."
"A cook with a strangely red face gave it to me..." Arzei said, his forehead crinkling worriedly, "But surely he harbors no ill feelings toawrd me; I've never even seen him before."
"Damda." Elena shuddered giving the name a frightening intonation.
Arzei's eyes narrowed and his face hardened, and for the first time, Elena saw a glint of authority in his face. "Could you please be so kind as to tell me what's going on? I came here so I didn't have to fear assassination plots."
Before she could stop herself, she started chuckling and nearly choked on a sip of water.
"I-I'm sorry. It's not funny." she managed apologetically before erupting into laughter again.
She hid the lower half of her face behind her hand and took a deep steadying breath. Her earlier prediction of what would have happened if he'd eaten alone had been dead-on. Meanwhile, Arzei looked on, his face a strange mix of suspicion, nervousness, and bafflement.
"I should explain." she said embarassedly, "You see, Damda Moody is probably the least talented chef in the history of Elicoor. All he can do well is make alcoholic drinks, which is why most of the school doesn't want him fired. His other creations... Well, maybe it'd be beter if I just showed you. I'd stand back if I were you."
He scooted his chair back a few feet obediently as Elena grabbed her spoon, chucked it at the dish, and ducked under the table. The explosion that followed shook the tables nearby, blew a few random tapestries off the wall, as well as singeing one of Arzei's eyebrows to ash. A few quiet seconds passed before Arzei blinked and looked down at the blackened remains of his side of the table. A few of the students who'd been looking on chuckled and then went back to their safe food.
"I think a thanks is in order. To think I almost ate that..." Arzei murmured, rubbing his intact eyebrow.
Elena couldn't help but laugh.
"Don't mention it. Although..." she grinned abashedly, "now I need a new spoon. I'll be right back."
She was aware that half the hall (including Arzei) had their eyes trained on her as she crossed the room and swiped two spoons and a bowl from the silverware tray. At the baker's station, she nodded towards where Arzei was sitting and whispered, "New kid." meaningfully. The baker's face broke into a grin and he tossed her a loaf of bread. Satisfied, she headed back to the table, only to find that her seat had been stolen by a red-haired girl in very low-cut dress who was practically pouncing on Arzei. The explosion had apparently brought Arzei to the attention of the girls who liked to prey on rich and/or handsome men. She lingered a few feet away, trying to tell herself that 'accidentally' over-hearing a conversation didn't qualify as eavesdropping.
"So I assume you're new to Holy Mother..." the chair-thief trailed off, fishing for his name.
"Arzei Bohnleid." he replied uncomfortably.
She noticed he'd foregone the "lady" and hand kiss he'd greeted her with and she let her mouth form a small smirk. She now recognized the girl in question as Chastity Lethersen. Like so many other children who are named after virtues, Chastity had rebelled against her namesake and now had a reputation otherwise. She was the sort of girl who was only attending college to increase her marriageability; she'd probably end up learning a few very basic healing spells and working as a wealthy family's healer apprentice until she got married off to some rich nobleman. Elena despised such vapid girls.
"So, Arzei Bohnleid..." Chastity purred, making his name seem lewd and practically shoving her chest in his face, "If you're going to be here for a while, it's probably best that you don't start hanging around Elena. She's always wrapped in her research and hardly has any friends. I'll tell you what: I'll personally introduce you to all the really influential people in town. I'm sure you'd rather network than stay in a dusty old workshop all day."
"I'm sure I can decide for myself what I'd like to do with my time and who I'd like to associate with, though I thank you for the offer." he said sharply, stiffening.
Chastity wasn't put off, and instead of leaving, began dropping every name she could think of. He saw Elena lingering and shot her a pleading look so pathetic she couldn't help but come over to shoo the floozy away. She decided to use Arzei's technique and crept up beside Chastity with ninja stealth and leaned by her ear.
"Ahem. I believe that's my seat."
Chastity jumped up a few feet and let out a frightened squeal.
"E-elena! We... uhh... were just talking about you."
Elena cocked an eyebrow and scoffed.
"I'm sure you were." she said, staring coldly and unblinkingly at the girl.
For a few moments, Chastity tried to match her gaze, but eventually her own weak stare darted away from Elena and she jumped to her feet.
"Nice meeting you, Arzei. I should hope we'll meet again." she trilled, bobbing in a crude mockery of a curtsy before fleeing back to her own table.
Reclaiming her chair, Elena plopped down and set her prizes on the table.
"It seems you've saved me twice already today." Arzei laughed, until he was interrupted by a loud growl that worked his way out of his stomach, "Uh, pardon me."
Trying not to laugh, Elena cut the bread in half and then took her bowl of stew (now rather cold) and poured half into the extra bowl.
"Eat." she said gruffly, "I'm sure you haven't had anything remotely decent since you started traveling. It's not exactly gourmet, but..."
"I couldn't possibly take your food, my la-- Elena." he sighed, only to be contradicted again by his stomach's loud protests. "Although... are those fresh vegetables?"
"Uhh, I suppose that depends on your definition, but I guess so--" before she could finish her sentence, though, he'd started eating and within two minutes, he'd finished, looking slightly ashamed.
"I'm sorry. I'd normally never be so rude, but we haven't had any vegetables but potatoes in Airyglyph in five months."
Elena's mouth opeed and closed wordlessly, and she looked deeply concerned. She was interested in diplomacy and the like and had taken a class or two on international relations, but she'd never heard of Airyglyph being so unfortunate. Of course, she also usually focused on Greeton. Now would be a good time to learn first-hand about Airyglyph.
"Really? That's terrible. Is it a socio-economic problem? Or perhaps the methods of distribution are flawed? Is storage a problem?"
Arzei looked at her strangely but kindly.
"No, none of those in particular. It's more of a supply shortage. We can't grow many crops in the mountains, so we have to rely on other nations for fresh food. It... puts us at a disadvantage." he sighed, "But I'm sure you don't want to hear about such things as much as I don't really want to think of them. Politics isn't proper conversation for lunch."
She shrugged non-committmentally, but filed the comment away for future perusal. Before the moment got any more awkward, the bell signalling one o'clock resonated through the grounds.
"We've already been here for an hour?"
"It appears so. I guess we sould get on with the tour now, right?" Elena said, tilting her head.
Arzei scuffed a calfskin boot on the floor.
"You know, I realize Maledet kind of forced you into doing this. You don't have to show me around if you don't want to."
Smirking, Elena opened the door to the ouside and held it open for him, the sunlight filtering in behind her.
"What? And leave you all alone for 'Chastity' to prey on? I'm not quite that cold..."
Pity wasn't exactly the only reason. For the first time in quite a long while, she was actually having fun, though she wouldn't readily admit it to herself.
"Well, that's quite a relief..." Arzei smiled.
"It is, isn't it?"
A/N- Holy heart failure, Batman! CAT actually put chapter two up... and in less than 6 months, even! For me, that's a victory. Remember, reviews jump-start my lazy behind and I'm already in the mood to write this story, so if you drop me a short comment, the next chapter will be out even sooner. Until then, Elena-Arzei shippers UNITE! Also, I did this chapter without spell-check. I reread it and edited a couple times, but who knows, there might be errors, so if you noticed any blatant ones, I'm sorry!
Also, I may have to shorten my penname because of the silly 30-character rule (Begin rant: Don't the admins have better things to do? I'm really kinda peeved. Mine stands at 33 and slicing three letters off while still making it recognizable is easier said than done. To quote the post, "...short and concise names are much easier to remember. More is not better when it comes to name recognition..." True, but neither is forcing someone to change the name everyone already knows them by. Plus, they said it'd only affect less than one percent of active users, so why even bloody worry about it, especially when they probably should be devoting more time to making sure the June 28 problem is resolved. RAWR! End rant. ), so from now on (or until we find something else), The Crazy Authoresses CAT and AMS are now Crazy Authoresses CAT and AMS. I miss my article; the name seems grammatically unclean now... UNCLEAN:D Anyhow, 10 times the Mackwell next update! Same bat-time, same bat-website, possibly not the same bat-screenname...