I am so sorry to anyone that originally read this story and enjoyed it just the way it was. My writing style went from past tense to present, and I can't stand past anymore - it's been causing problems for all my ongoing stories. I went through this one since it was the shortest to change the tense, and ended up completely redoing part of the story while I was at it.
I've almost got my entire plotline for this series mapped, and it changed up quite a bit since the initial drafts that I posted here. The basics are the same, but there are now new details. I hope you like what I'm doing with it - I'm really, really enjoying it, and I hope you do, too! This is a revamp, though - same base, new edits. So if I missed anything while going over it, let me know and I'll try to fix it.
To my newcomers, you don't have to worry about all that. This story is ready to be read fresh.
That being said, this story will address some real life issues that are sensitive, as there is a Deaf character, a transgender character, abusive relationships, and talk of racism and different sexualities (despite it being a relative non-issue in the game). Some, but not all, of these will be rather important themes in the story (at least eventually). I'm trying to follow the game's lighthearted tone with those serious moments still rearing up.
It's been three years, and I still dream about it. My nightmares take my trauma, my guilt, and expand upon it in new ways every so often, when I think that, maybe, I'm over it. And standing on the road just down the hill from my new school, about to venture into my new life like I've won some kind of reward, is sickening.
You'd think life would have gotten easier after that old woman had sat me down and explained everything. Thirteen years old, traumatized, and informed that everything I've ever known about the world is wrong. Magic is real, it exists inside me.
And I'd accidentally used it in one petty moment of anger.
I can still see the blood welling against soft, dark skin.
It should have been comforting to know this wasn't unusual. That I'm not alone, that everything would be fine and things like this wouldn't happen again now that I was "in the system," so to speak. And when I turned sixteen, I'd be shipped off to Magic school to learn to control my powers and everything would be okay.
But finding all this out didn't really make anything better. Because until I was sixteen, there wasn't anyone I could talk to about it. And it didn't change what had happened.
I probably would have felt better if I could have practiced with my Magic immediately, formed some sort of illusion of control. But that was out of the question. My Magic is sealed until I arrive at the doors of Iris Academy.
Which is today. After three years of wondering and waiting, living with the knowledge that I hold a dangerous power inside me that I have no control over. I breathe in, knowing the air is no different here than on our farm, but still filled with the certainty that now, here, everything is going to be different. This place is where I belong. A new kind of home.
A place where, hopefully, I can't hurt anyone.
My father's heavy, warm hand settles onto my shoulder, and I turn to face him. He picks it up again to sign while he speaks.
Are you sure you don't want me to drive you all the way?
I shake my head. He shifts, backing up next to the truck like he doesn't know what to do with himself.
It's fine. I motion back, clearing my throat so that my words can catch up to my hands. It's not like I have a lot of stuff, and my letter said no vehicles on campus.
I don't think that's what they meant, honey.
I only smile. He pulls my backpack from the truckbed and holds it out in resignation. It's my only luggage. I'm already wearing my robes, which had come in the mail with the directions on how to get here, requirements, etc. It's a simple outfit, long and gray, with a purple cape and belt. A gold snake is coiled on a medallion that holds my cape in place at the base of my neck, indicative of my dorm.
I have a few casual outfits, my favorite novels, and toiletries in my bag. Iris is a new start for me, and I'm trying to take that as seriously as possible. I do have my diary, though, and inside it is stashed quite a few pictures of my family.
I'm going to miss my Dad, days on the farm trying to outrun the weather while doing chores. I'll miss my mother and casual days in the greenhouse under the light mist of the sprinklers. I'll miss my little sister and her big dreams of being a body builder.
But I'd already made my choice, that day three years ago, and I'm not going back on it. The decision had been hard enough the first time around. I'm not going to reconsider. It's done.
I reach out and take the backpack, slinging it easily onto my shoulder. Then I simply lean forward into my father's already open arms. My dad's embrace is as warm and comforting as ever, a comfort I'm going to miss badly.
We pull away slowly and I try to smile away the tears while my hands speak my mind.
I love you, Dad.
I love you, darling.
The front gates aren't too far up the hill. It's a spacy campus, coated in trees and flowers, surrounded by a thick stone fence. The building itself is tall, three stories with windows and archways everywhere.
There are three dorms for for girls and three for boys. Besides Snake Hall, where I would be, there's the Butterfly Hall, for the more social girls, and Horse Hall, for the sporty types. I figure I'm a Snake because I'm a bit on the strange side—the brochure was a bit sketchy on what qualities the Snake dorm emphasized.
The guys have their own equivalents: Falcons, Wolves, and Toads
The problem is, I didn't know where any of the halls are located, let alone my specific hall. I stop and pull out my letter to check for a map. No luck. Oh well, it can't be that hard. Just follow the flood of girls in purple capes going into the building.
... except there isn't a flood of girls in purple capes going anywhere, let alone the building. Okay then, follow girls in general and ask for directions.
... except there aren't any girls around. The campus is almost bare. It's rather early in the day, after all. Maybe they just aren't arriving yet? So, ask anyone for directions. This is no time to be picky.
I spot a tan kid in a yellow Toad cape, long silver hair cropped around his neck, and step through the gates towards him. There's something odd about him from behind, and I can't quite figure out what it is until I get closer. His hair is sticking up strangely on either side of his head, that's it. ... no, wait ... are those ... ears?
He has fluffy animal ears, just like a dog or a cat. And, giving him a once over, I find a matching tail, fluffy and swaying lightly. I almost missed it because the color was so close to his robes. Wow.
How ... awesome.
Whoever he is turns around, and comes face to face with me. He looks a little startled, and backs up instinctively. I smile, trying not to show just how amazed I am. If there is anything at all girly about me, it's my love of cute, fluffy animals (I blame my country upbringing). "Hey, I'm looking for the Snake Hall. Do you know where it's at?"
He shakes his head slowly, staring at my now paused hands in confusion. "Sorry, no, I don't."
I can barely register his words. Following his lips are hard, since I'm not familiar with his speech patterns. But his words are simple and obvious from his shaking head.
"Well, thanks anyway." I return, still signing despite him obviously not following.
I get ready to leave him in peace when I notice him glancing about. His nervousness didn't stem from me approaching him, then. "Wait, do you know where your hall is?"
I hit the nail on the head, as he looks immediately abashed and sends his gaze strait to the ground.
"Then we should find someone who does." I smile at him, pointing over my shoulder at the building between sentences. "Want to come with me?"
He seems surprised at me asking, but nods. "Sure."
We keep our distance, he trailing a bit behind me, as we make our way inside. There aren't many people about here either, and it takes a few unsuccessful tries before we find someone who we hope knows what's where. He appears to be a teacher. It's an older man, tall and slim, with dark robes and a pointy hat (just like a Halloween witch).
"Excuse me, sir."
He turns as I come up behind him and tap his forearm, my furry friend trailing after me.
"We are just looking for the dorms. Could you point us to Snake and Toad Halls, please?"
His eyes narrow at my moving hands before moving back to my face. He says something short, something ending with "are you?" but I can't make out the rest.
I sign, then step back to let the other boy answer. He's staring at the ground again, however, and I'm still lost.
After a few moments, the teacher begins looking annoyed, and I wonder if my companion is speaking at all. Digging into my bag, I pull out the paper pad I had prepared and offer to the teacher with a smile.
He eyes it blankly before taking it and the pen tucked into the binding.
Freshman? it reads.
I nod, giving my most polite smile. When it comes to teachers, I'm a shameless suck up. "Yes, sir."
He raises his eyebrows, his frown deepening. This is the hall to the teachers quarters, and is off limits without special permission.
I frown as well. This doesn't sound like it's going in a good direction. "We're very sorry, sir. We didn't realize."
"Alexandra Wilson, sir." It takes longer to finger spell than it does to say, but I'm pleasantly surprised when the teacher waits patiently for me to finish. He then hands me back my paper pad and pulls out the large book that had been tucked under his arm and begins flipping through it.
He seems to finally find his page, and pauses. His lips move, and I'm again lost as to what he says.
The teacher scribbles something in his book, then looks past me at my skittish sidekick. The poor kid trembles under his gaze, but the older man just keeps staring at him until he finally sighs and asks a short sentence I understand. "Your name, boy."
The kid looks up and his lips move in answer.
The teacher flips through his pages, obviously trying to find the boy's name. He doesn't say anything when he finally halts, only jots something down again. "Five demerits for each of you."
My body goes stiff.
Having come from a public school, demerits had not been a familiar concept to me before my information packet had come, containing my robes and directions to Iris and all that. Before, detention and bad grades had been my worst concern. Now I'm aware that there are worse things in school than getting on a teacher's bad side. Demerits are bad news. Fifty of them at Iris equals expulsion. Grades don't matter; if your behavior isn't golden, you could be gone in a matter of minutes.
He motions for my paper pad back, and writes, Did you understand that?
I nod sadly.
Next time, you should ask for directions before you end up somewhere you are not wanted. The dorms are back the other way. He passes me back the paper and without giving us another look, strides off.
He's disappeared down the hall before either of us are able to move again. I glance at my companion, still in shock. "Did that actually just happen?"
He nods, looking grief stricken. He leans his head back and whines something, but I get the gist of his mood without the words.
"I'm so sorry, it's totally my fault. You are just following me. I'll try to find that teacher again later and talk to him, okay? I mean, we did ask for directions before ending up here—plenty of times. No one pointed us in the right direction. It's not our fault."
He nods, looking a bit more hopeful. He then taps my paper pad, and I let him take it with a smile. That's sounds good. Thank you. Alexandra, right?
"Lexie." I sign my nickname, but he isn't looking at my hands.
He smiles. I'm Manuel Arias.
"Alright Manuel-" I pause to see if he corrects my pronunciation, but it seems like I got it right or it doesn't bother him if I'm off. "Let's head back that direction and find those dorms!"
We find the guy's dorm first, and Toad Hall easily after that. No one seemed to mind that a girl is helping a boy move in, as nobody says anything to me, but I still get out of there as quick as I can. Maybe I'm okay around just Manuel, but more students are starting to arrive, and I don't want to get in trouble again in case girls aren't allowed.
I sign my farewell as I say bye. I still can't get how extremely cool Manuel's ears and tail are out of my head, though. I wonder how normal that is. Nobody seemed to pay too much attention to Manuel while we were about; my signing got more weird looks than he did.
I end up wandering alone, taking my time exploring the campus and not worrying about where I'm supposed to be. Everything is beautifully green and decorated with strategically placed plantlife, which I find slightly unnerving. Having everything so neat and trim seems unnatural, and besides that, I've had an aversion to plants since my little incident. Despite finding it nice to be alone and away from people, I make my way back to campus quickly.
Eventually, I find Snake Hall. I'm kind of surprised about how small the dorm room was considering it's supposed to house two people, but it's roomie enough compared to some of the rooms I saw trying to hold three occupants. The two beds—across from each other on either side of the room—and a desk at each head with shelves on top for each of us. Perfectly normal.
Except for all the half-melted black candles, obviously hand-made dolls, hanging strings of garlic cloves, and the wild-haired girl bent over a cauldron bubbling acidly with a strange green, putrid smelling gunk. Her large mane bounces as she moves.
I step closer, eying the cauldron with trepidation.
She flicks her fingers over the liquid, but I don't see anything fall. Something must have, though, because her concoction starts to hiss and smoke. After a few moments, it goes oddly flat, and my new roommate straitens up, crossing her arms.
"Interesting." Without looking up, she reaches out with her left hand, scoops up a small pile of bones from the desk, and shakes them lightly before letting them spill back onto the table. Her head tilts, taking in the results, and then she whirls around to grin at me.
"Brilliant." Bright green eyes shine through the mass of curly black hair, which is pulled back with a purple sweatband that matches our robes. She's shorter than me, curvy and dark skinned, with what I think is definitely a beautiful face. "You must be my spirit sister."
I have no idea what a 'spirit sister' is, if I understood that right, or what she was doing with that potion or the bones. Instantly, I feel a wave of panic. I'm used to being smart, knowing what to do, and this encounter with the unknown, however expected, is doing quite a number on my confidence. Just how ignorant am I? She's a Freshman just like me, how come she knows more already? Is there some potion I should be brewing?
" ... I'm your roommate... " I offer, hoping that this is somewhere near the right track.
She nods, and I can't get over how her hair rustles around with the slightest movement. Her next words are a long jumble, several sentences, and I miss all of it. At least, I hope I'm missing her meaning, because the few words I think I read on her lips are a bit scary. I try to wave her down and then offer up my notebook again. She stares at it curiously, then takes it and smiles as she writes.
This is a very auspicious occasion. The fates have brought us together here, we must be bound by the lay lines. We should burn some jasmine over animal entrails to commemorate.
Her handwriting is a very pretty, loopy cursive, thin and elegant. Much too beautiful for what it is saying.
"Animal entrails?" I sign slowly, backing away in recoil at the idea. Is this common practice here?
She nods again, and shuffles over to her bed. Bending down, she pulls a large box out from under the bed frame, and I instantly step back, fearing she already has the entrails prepared for her suggestion. But it only contains bits of fabric and spools of thread, a few of which she picks out and sets on her comforter.
She holds up the notebook in front of her so I can read it. Could you cut me a lock of your hair please?
I glance warily at her doll collection, which takes up the top shelf of her desk. "Why, can I ask?"
Her smile is almost a grin, but it's softness doesn't match the word. She takes a long moment to scribble down her reply.
For a doll, of course! I make familiar dolls of all my favorite people. It helps me keep in contact on the spiritual plane. My reading has foretold our closeness, so I should get a head start. You're hair, please?
"That ... that doesn't give you any sort of ... power over me, does it?"
Of course it does, that's the point. She looks away to fiddle with what must be the doll she's piecing together. She seems to have a hard time deciding what colors to use. She turns back to me, smiling, notebook ready. Don't worry, we're going to be good friends. I'll only use it for luck rituals and such. Trust me, you're going to trust me soon.
Can she really ... see the future? I stare at her, unsure, and swallow nervously. To buy myself a bit of time, I nod and pull off my bag to get my multitool. When I pull it out, I suck in a big breath, cut a lock of my hair off, and hand it gingerly to my strange new roommate.
She takes it and smiles at me kindly, like she understands what a leap of faith this is. Then she turns back to her work, motioning for me to park beside her bed as she begins to sew. She makes sure I'm comfortable beside her and takes frequent breaks between every few stitches to write to me. I see such pretty colors with you. You shine golden, with swirls of a copper-brown in it that is just a stunning combination. It's unusual, but I like it.
She pulls the two colors she mentioned out of her box to add to my doll. These aren't quite the right shades, but they'll do. Your eyes are? She waits, and I turn my eyes up to her for her to stare at me, then she begins digging in her box again. She holds two blue buttons now, and is stitching them on faster than I thought possible onto the light red ocher fabric of the face. Blue's a nice accent to all the gold.
Her fingers are thin, nimble and quick. It's nice to watch, soothing. I recall my mom telling me her mother had used to sew, but she'd never gotten into the practice herself. We fall into an easy rhythm of her sewing and writing while I watch and reply aloud, doing my best to keep my signing hands from bumping her as she works.
I'm Rivera, by the way. Of the Cordina's.
"I'm Alexandra Wilson."
And your nickname?
I blink. "How did you know I have a nickname?"
Girl, I told you—we are gonna be close.
I smile tentatively, finally deciding it best to go with the flow. "It's Lexie."
When Rivera finishes her doll, she leaves the room, hauling out her cauldron to dump the contents. With her gone, I finally set about settling in.
The right bed has yet to be touched, despite the outrageous character and very lived-in feel of Rivera's side of the room. Unpacking takes me all of five minutes: I place my books on the lowest shelf, put my spare clothes into the large bottom drawer, and put my supplies in another drawer.
Before bed, I debate on writing home. But it's only the first day, so it seems like a silly idea. It'd probably be better to write at the end of the week, when I'm more adjusted and actually have something to write about.
With Rivera's help, the loneliness I was waiting for hadn't set in yet. I wonder how long it will be before that happens.