"If I had known a few years ago that roses are this expensive, I would've learned how to conjure them," Dante muttered, giving the flowers in his hand a look. "Ah well. I said I'd try roses, and she seemed to like the idea." Standing in front of Yasma's room, he gave his outfit a last inspection. His robe had been quite dirty after his encounter with the elk, and he had spent a few hours washing his clothes and himself to make a good impression during his first date. "Well, here goes nothing..." He cleared his throat and knocked.
"Jeez, are you too drunk to just touch the fricken doorknob now?" an angry voice came from the other side of the door. "I should just break your kneecaps so you spend a few days without sex and alcohol. You know, it's really no wonder that you're that close to failing your exams in-" Yasma complained as she yanked open the door. "-...oh, it's you," she said softly and blinked.
"Uh... don't hurt me, please?" Dante asked and held up the roses like a shield.
The elk blinked and then started snickering. "Oh, sheesh, I'm sorry! I thought you were my roommate. Didn't expect you here so soon!" She quickly waved him into her room, which looked almost like a perfect copy of his own room, only messier. "You okay, by the way? I hadn't expected you to fly that far when I poked you..."
"Poked? You punched me!" Dante gave her the roses and smirked. "If that was poking to you, I don't want to be around when you start fighting for real."
Yasma gave him a grin. "I've been told it's quite a sight." She put the flowers into a vase and took a quick look around, apparently looking for a nice spot. Dante did the same, noticing that the table was buried under more than a dozen books. A quick glance at the drawers made him blink.
"Your roommate collects plushies?" the mouse Incubus asked and raised an eyebrow as he pointed at the heaps of plush toys on each drawer.
"Those are mine, actually," Yasma replied and gave him a silly grin. "Same goes for the books, which is pretty much the only reasons why I'm not going to throw them onto the floor."
"Your roommate's a pest, huh?" Dante noticed that even the chairs in the room were covered with books, so he sat down on the bed.
Yasma rolled her eyes. "Totally." She carefully placed the vase on a pile of books. "Real party girl. Doesn't know when to stop, though."
"Is she in our class?"
The Succubus blinked. "Our class? We got a class together?"
Dante's jaw dropped. "Advanced Elemental Studies? You're sitting... in the third row, right side!"
"You're in that course? Since when?" Her face showed genuine surprise.
"Since it started? I'm, like, one row behind you, over at the left side?" Dante gave her a look. "Are you that focused on the lessons that you don't even notice who's in class with you?"
"I'm not!" Yasma protested. "I just... never noticed you. Heck, I think I don't even know your name!" She cocked her head. "You're a quiet one aren't you?"
"My name's Dante," he informed her, "and I don't exactly have many friends to chat with." When the elk gave him a blank look, the Incubus rolled up the left sleeve of his robe, exposing a dark blue, vaguely triangular symbol on his upper arm. Yasma didn't react visibly to the Clan mark, but Dante could feel her raising a full set of mind shields and countermeasures. "Don't bother," he said and sighed.
"And why shouldn't I?" she asked, giving him a glare.
"Two reasons. First of all, I'm not like most of my Clan. I don't wipe people for shits and giggles. I beg you to trust me."
"And the second reason?" Yasma asked, obviously not being impressed by the first one.
"The second reason is that even those shields can't keep me out. If I really wanted to, I could still erase your memories of the last century before you even realize that I'm inside your head."
The elk hesitated, trying to decide what to do now. "You're lying," she finally hissed, still keeping up her shields.
Dante sighed. "Would you like a demonstration? No memory erasing, of course. Just a test to see if I can get in."
"You can try, rodent. You can try." Yasma gritted her teeth and clenched her fists.
"Very well," Dante whispered. He let his mind reach out, carefully probing her shields. "Oh, nice," he commented, "you're able to set up interlocked shields. I assume you got the willpower to resist a pretty hard frontal assault."
The elk smirked. "Giving up already?"
"Hardly." Especially since that's not my style, he added silently. While most Cubi try to overwhelm shields with brute force, I simply get in because few Cubi manage to shield every angle of their mind against an attack. The trick is to find a blind spot. He smiled when his mind felt an unshielded part of her consciousness. Like that one... Before Yasma even noticed what was going on, he was inside her head, browsing through her memories. Now... how to prove my point without violating her trust... oh, my... The smile widened. "Zerthoz."
"Wha-?" Yasma asked, her eyes widening slightly.
Dante quickly withdrew from her mind before she managed to detect his subtle probe. "The guy you had a crush on. Snake Incubus, and... quite the sex god, from what you had been told. Pity that he didn't like girlfriends with fur..."
"You... you... stop..." she whispered, but Dante noticed a hint of a grin on her face.
"And you actually shaved off your fur for him... just to make him happy..."
Yasma started snickering. "And, boy, did I look stupid. I didn't even have my headwings back then. Not even to mention shapeshifting." She shook her head and gave him a grin before turning more serious again. "How did you get past my shields?"
"It's a natural talent," Dante told her and shrugged. "I might be able to teach you, but it would take some time since it's not the regular approach to breaking into another mind. Your established knowledge might even get in the way, who knows? If you compare it to breaking into a house, you learn in class how to kick down the door. I, on the other hand, go through a window, the chimney, or something like that. It's kinda subtle."
"So... are you telling me that my shields are effectively useless?" The elk frowned heavily. "They sure didn't tell us that in the Mental Shielding class."
"Trust me, your shields are useful and strong. They will protect you against most Cubi, excluding maybe the professors and Cubi of equally high rank. Like I said, you've got some pretty tough shielding against conventional attacks." He smiled encouragingly. "It's just that I'm able to attack in a more... refined way that few, to my knowledge, even know of."
Yasma sighed deeply. "So I can either trust you or avoid you."
"Guess what way most students choose." Dante looked at the floor, his bat-like headwings folded closely against his head.
The Succubus started to pace. "And why does the new kid trust you? Or didn't you tell him of your Clan's history?"
Dante looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Told him about it when we met, don't worry. But how do you know you that he is new or that trusts me?"
"Well, I didn't detect any negative emotions, and he didn't beg me to finish you off, so I figure he doesn't consider you his enemy." She shrugged. "And I assumed that he's new because of his clothes. I mean, not even a blind guy would dress like that!"
Dante smacked his forehead and snickered. "Actually, he is blind."
Yasma hesitated and gave Dante a shocked look. "You're kidding."
"I'm not. He's completely blind."
"Damn..." The elk frowned. "Okay, I guess that kinda answers my other theory."
"What other theory?" Dante asked and cocked his head.
"I assumed that he's gay," Yasma replied with a sheepish grin. "You know... since he didn't even give me a second glance, not even to mention checking me out."
The Incubus grinned. "He didn't even know that you're an elk - I had to tell him that afterwards. But since he's my roommate, I'll most likely be the first to notice if he's actually gay."
For a few minutes, both Cubi just snickered as they reflected on that first encounter. But in the end, Yasma crossed her arms and gave Dante a serious look again. "So, why does he trust you?"
Dante looked down again. "To be honest, I have no idea. I told him about my Clan's history and promised that I wouldn't abuse my powers. He just... trusted me then." He sighed deeply. "On the other hand, I don't know how long he'll be willing to hang out with me."
"Why should he leave you?" Yasma asked and sat down next to Dante.
"Because I'm an idiot who gets horribly sidetracked all the time?" Dante asked back. "I dragged him from the placement test to the changing room, but when we were almost there, I dragged him back to our room just to make a point about the staircase. And in our room, I told him about how the staircase became so crazy."
"Staircase and Ink's test in one day? How long has he been here? A week?"
"His first day in SAIA, his second day of knowing that he's a Cubi." Noticing her curious look, he continued, "He grew up in a village full of Beings."
"So you dropped dimensional theory and the placement test onto the pile of weird stuff he already goes through?"
The mouse nodded grimly. "Told you I'm an idiot."
She frowned lightly. "And where is he now? Please tell me you didn't just abandon him somewhere in SAIA."
"No!" Dante quickly exclaimed. "He's asleep now. Had been close to the breaking point, so I let him rest a bit." He let his head hang again. "So he can think things over, and once he's rested, he'll tell me to go to Hell because I'm not good for anything aside from-" Dante's pity-party was interrupted when the elk pushed him off the bed and straight onto the floor in one fluid motion. Before he could even think of getting back up, he felt her vise-like grip on his neck.
"Okay, here's the deal," Yasma stated. "Where I come from, we don't support self-pity. So if you just needed someone to go all 'Poor Dante! Your roommate will hate you because you suck! Oh, woe is you!', you've come to the wrong Cubi."
Dante squirmed, but her hand easily kept him pinned on the floor. "You solve all your problems with violence?" he asked when he realized that he'd have to talk his way out of this one.
"Only the ones where I think that talking alone won't solve things," the elk replied. "Now, are you going to stop pitying yourself?"
"Look, it's a fact that I messed up," the mouse muttered. "And Kitzi is going to request another room, hopefully finding somebody who is better suited to guide him. Or maybe I should just drop dead so he can find his own way. Might be better than-"
"Oh, you're IMPOSSIBLE!" the elk snapped and let go of him. After getting back to her feet, she took a few steps away from. "FINE! Here, I'll grant you your wish!" Her hands moved quickly, leaving sparks of magic hanging in the air. "Releasing the Seal of the Sixth Order," Yasma whispered and held her hands above her head. "Burial, First Degree." The sparks quickly moved upwards, circling around her hands. Moments later, a massive boulder appeared above her, dropping into her outstretched hands.
Damn damn damn damn she's serious! Rock Elemental magic! Dante frantically looked around, searching for cover or an exit. Crap, who am I kidding, nothing in this room will protect me against this pebble on steroids! And the door is too far away. No chance. "FINE!" he screamed, raising his arms. "Stop! I'll be reasonable! No more silly pity parties!"
The elk was panting slightly under the weight of her summoned boulder. "Isn't it interesting how I always have to summon boulders just to make you listen?" she asked and let the boulder disappear again.
"Yeah, that's because you're a crazy elk!" Dante told her, forcing himself to grin. Two near-death situations in one day. Kitzi is bad influence.
"Admit it, you're just jealous," she replied and smirked.
The mouse carefully got up again. "Of what? Summoning boulders?"
"Of course! Heck, you should see the Second Degree of that spell! There's no way you're not jealous. Unless of course you got one of the more exotic elements." She put a hand on her hip and rubbed her chin with the other one. "Wouldn't put it past you, actually... many self-appointed outcasts choose elements like Fluffy Animals or Cut Toenails in order to stand out..."
Dante smirked. "I'm about as mainstream as you can get, don't worry. Water magic is my primary element."
"Water? Odd choice." Yasma cocked her head. "I heard that you have to do daily meditation to achieve unity or something..."
"Not exactly," Dante told her and shrugged. "Being calm and focused does help since Water magic can be kinda hard to control at first, but it's not a requirement. On the other hand, I'll be the first to admit that it really is an odd choice, and if it had been up to me, I would've picked Wind maybe."
"You make that sound as if you didn't have a choice. I thought everybody was supposed to pick the element he or she feels the closest to at the beginning of the intro-level course..."
Dante opened and closed his mouth. "So anyway," he finally went on, "what made you pick Rock?"
"Oh no, you're not getting away that easily!" Yasma held up her hand and grinned. "I sense a silly story..."
Oh boy. Dante rolled his eyes and silently cursed his big mouth. "It's... well... I..." He sighed. "I had a vision."
"Vision," the elk repeated, and blinked.
"Yes. A vision... by the Great God of Water. And he told me to pick his element. Aaaaaaand so I did. The end!"
"Riiight." A wave of her hand caused a plush deer to hover across the room. "Evil Bambi demands that you tell the real story now," she teased him, making the toy fly slowly around his head.
Dante tried to ignore the levitating plushie and sighed. "Oh, fine... bluntly put, I got stoned on Antifreeze Tea and signed up for Water magic."
The plushie fell to the ground. "Y-You... what?" Yasma stammered and gave him a look of disbelief. "That stuff is on Doctor Ink's list of Interesting but Lethal Poisons! What part of LETHAL don't you understand? It's not something to drink for kicks!"
"I didn't drink it voluntarily!" Dante snapped, gesturing wildly. "Do you think I would drink something like that because I felt like it?"
"Then tell me what sick crackpot gave you Antifreeze Tea. And while you're at it, tell me how you actually managed to survive it."
The mouse sighed. "Let me put it this way: If you ever sign up for Ink's Emergency Treatment class, don't drink anything he offers you at the beginning of a lecture."
Yasma's jaw dropped. "Ink poisoned you?"
"He offered everybody a nice cup of tea at the beginning of the lecture. Once all cups were empty, he told us that one cup had been spiked and that we'd practice curing poison and, if push came to shove, reanimation on the 'volunteer'. When I finally came to my senses again, I had somehow managed to fill out the form for the Elemental Studies course with the request for Water magic 'because the Great Water God told me so'."
There was a long pause. Finally, the elk shook her head. "Tell me again why we let an evil psychopath handle the medicine courses and the infirmary."
Dante shrugged. "Well, he's the best when it comes to healing magic and medicine." He gave her a silly grin. "Besides, being responsible for the well-being of a bunch of crazy magic-users is bound to drive any Cubi insane. And you could argue that he's got a head start there..."
"Good point, come to think of it." Yasma chuckled and let the plush deer hover onto the bed. "I don't know, though... 'Dante, the Water Mage' sounds a bit odd, somehow."
"You really enjoy teasing me, don't you?" the mouse asked wearily.
"As a matter of fact, I do," Yasma admitted. "But your name really does sound more... I dunno... aggressive. Like... it makes me think of 'Dante, Lord of Eternal Hellfire' or something."
Dante grimaced. "I blame my parents. They always had high hopes for me and my siblings. And by 'high hopes', I mean that they hoped for me to get into things like 'terrorizing entire continents' and stuff like that." When he noticed her cocked eyebrow, he shrugged. "At least I'm one of their oldest children and got a fairly normal name. I think my youngest brother is actually called 'Destructo the Terrible'."
"How subtle," the Succubus commented and started to snicker. "Even though my parents also have a somewhat questionable taste when it comes to names."
"How so? 'Yasma' sounds like a very nice name..."
She rolled her eyes. "I did some research. Turns out that I'm named after a plant."
"So? There are many plant-related names. Like... Lily, Rose, Tul-"
"A carnivorous plant," the Succubus interrupted him.
Dante froze. "You're going to kill me if I say 'How fitting!', right?"
Yasma crossed her arms and smirked. "That depends. Did you come up with a very romantic way of spending the rest of the day with me?"
"Uh..." The mouse Incubus frowned and finally chuckled nervously. "Not really, come to think of it... you see, I'm not really experienced in the dating area, and... uh..."
"Then yes, I'd kill you if you say that." The elk gave him an amused smile. "First date, huh?"
"Yeah... never found the right one in my Clan, and since few people here like to hang out with me, dating was pretty much out of the question..." His headwings twitched lightly, giving away how nervous he actually was.
Yasma smiled warmly and was just about to reply when somebody burst through the door. "Yas, ya totally gotta hear this!" a snow-white vixen with shoulder-long black hair yelled, stumbling into the room. When she tackled Yasma, Dante noticed a thin, black stripe running from her neck straight down to the tip of her tail, making her look a bit like an inverted skunk. "It's, like, totally awesome!"
"Hello, Iris," Yasma said with little enthusiasm. She gave Dante a look. "My roommate."
"Irisienne!" the vixen corrected her sharply, her white, feathery wings twitching in a way that nicely showed off the black flight feathers. Dante guessed that the movement had been well-practiced.
"She thinks that Iris, her real name, is too common," Yasma explained after noticing Dante's confused look. "Anyway, what's so awesome?"
The vixen let go of Yasma and grinned. "Guess who finally snapped and went on a killing spree?"
"...killing spree?" the elk asked and raised an eyebrow. "What happened to the rule about not injuring and killing students within SAIA?"
"Oh, I bet Ink's above that rule, anyway..." Iris flashed her a wicked smile.
"...Ink snapped? Doctor Ink?" Dante froze. Ink was an expert when it came to shapeshifting. And while most Cubi would discard it as an offensive power, Dante knew that Ink could be... creative. Not even to mention that he can morph his wings into extremely sharp blades, he reminded himself and shuddered. "Please tell me you're making this up..."
"Well... sorta..." the vixen admitted and scratched her head. "The profs just told people on the second floor to stay in their rooms, and then they told the others to stay away from that floor for now. But hey, the infirmary is on that floor, and the orders strongly hint at some serious psycho going wild there, so that sorta limits th-HEY, WHERE'S THE FIRE?"
Dante didn't pay her cries any attention as he ran out of the room and down the corridor. Kitzi's still on the second floor! Panting slightly, he reached the main staircase. Once inside, it took a few glances at the ever-shifting exits to figure out the fastest way to the second floor. Of course, he may still be asleep... and the door's locked. So he should be safe. Dante shook his head. And what if he decided to leave the room for some reason? What if Ink simply uses his shapeshifting powers to walk through the closed door? I've seen him do that... He ran upwards, having spotted his exit nearby.
"Where are you going?" Yasma shouted, obviously having followed Dante.
"My room's on the same floor as the infirmary! I gotta check if Kitzi's okay! Who knows what a rabid Ink might do with a guy who can't put up any sort of defense?" Dante turned around and gave the elk a pleading look. He opened and closed his mouth, trying to decide if he should tell Yasma to get to safety or to cover his back.
As if having read his mind - a quick check told him that this was not the case or that she was a lot better at getting past barriers than him - Yasma crossed her arms and cocked her head. "I'm not going to let you go in there alone, Mr. Ink-managed-to-get-me-stoned-with-spiked-tea," she told him. "Ink is way out of your league, and a rabid Ink would kill you without a second thought."
"Oh, so you're that much better than I am?" Dante regretted his words as soon as he said them and clenched his fist. Stupid thing to say! Way to make her mad!
"No," the Succubus replied, her expression softening, "but if we work together, we should be able to slow him down enough to escape."
He smiled and nodded. "Sounds like a plan. My room's not too far away from here. Maybe we can get there without running into anybo-WHOA!"
Yasma had dragged Dante out of the way just in time to prevent him from being trampled by a small group of injured students rushing into the staircase. "Get outta my way!" one of the students shouted. "He's crazy!"
They watched the students flee through the nearest exit and exchanged worried glances. "Well," Dante whispered after a few seconds of silence, "those were fairly young students, and they survived..."
"Who knows how many had initially been in their group?" Yasma whispered back. "Let's just rush in and out. Waiting here won't help Kitzi."
"Right, right..." The mouse Incubus started to dash into the corridor, determined to set a new record for the distance between the staircase and his room. However, his attempt was cut short after just a few steps. Somebody was standing in the middle of the corridor. Much to Dante's relief, it was not a rabid Doctor Ink. However, Dante was far from happy with what he saw. "...Kitzi?"