It was a hot, dry day, the end of Roalis drawing unpleasantly close. The campus was still quiet, most students gone for the break between terms.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to be a doctor or anything,” Francoise sat cross-legged on the bed. “I mean - it is rather gross, don’t you think?”
“No,” Niccolette examined her face in the mirror, pressing her lips together then loosening them. She picked up the little pot of black liquid, dipping a slight brush into it and carefully rubbing it along the edges of her eyelids. She had not known the other galdor long; for all that they were the same year, she had never met the Anaxi before they had started this two week long intensive, offered every summer for sixth years specializing in living conversation.
Francoise giggled. “But it is! Bones? Blood? Eugh!”
“Then why living conversation?” Niccolette did not turn away from the mirror, carefully busy with her other eye. For her, the last eight days had been a delight; the actual healing was not so pleasant, but there was an incredible amount to learn, all of it deeply fascinating. Just that day, they had learned all about nerve spells.
“Oh, well...” Francoise fidgeted with a strand of long red hair wound into tight curls. She bit her lip, working it slowly between her teeth, and exhaled. “I mean, there’s parts where there’s fun, you know?”
Niccolette finished the smooth stroke, and set the brush down. Now she turned, her slight body shifting on the stool, and raised an eyebrow at Francoise. A faint grin crept onto her face.
Francoise grinned back. “Plus, nobody lets you take anatomy otherwise.”
Niccolette began to giggle now, and then Francoise was laughing too.
“Come,” Niccolette waved a hand at the other student. “Sit here,” she patted the cushion next to her. “I shall do your eyes also.”
Francoise practically hopped off of Niccolette’s bed, green skirt fluttering around her legs, and nestled onto the stool next to her.
“Now,” Niccolette said, commanding. “Shut your eyes,” she picked up the little bottle of black color, turning to the other galdor. “And you shall tell me all about these anatomy lessons.”
It was a little while before either girl stopped laughing long enough for the make up and gossip to actually begin.
Morning, 1st Yaris, 2707
Living Conversation Classroom; Corridor; and Cafeteria
The bell rang, ending the first anatomy class of the second term.
“Nicco! Nicco,” Francoise reached for the other girl, leaning half across the desks, a faint, frantic note in her voice.
Niccolette ignored her, shifting away from Francoise’s hand. She gathered up her notebook and slid out of the desks, pressing past two other students to get out into the hallway.
“Nicco!” Francoise was hurrying too, but she was half-trapped behind the crush of students, and by the time she made it out into the hallway, the dark-haired Bastian was halfway down it.
Niccolette held herself straight, her whole small body drawn sharp as a scalpel, and never once looked back. A friend, she told herself, would never have left her alone with Marcellos - that disgusting pervert! – in the middle of their night out celebrating the end of their class. A friend would never have left with Sy’rien Palevi and all the rest and abandoned Niccolette – and so Francoise was no friend.
The next day it was a note during living conversation, folded over three times and passed along six students to reach Niccolette. Niccolette slid it beneath her textbook, out of sight of the teacher, and left it behind when the bell rang.
The next, Francoise sat across from Niccolette in the cafeteria.
“Nicco,” She began, the moment the voices around them paused, “please. Just let me explain?”
Niccolette had been mid-conversation with another student, her food barely touched. She looked across the table at Francoise, her small face cold. Abruptly, she rose, smoothed the skirt of her uniform down over her legs, and left the table behind, tray sitting abandoned behind her.
“You two have a fight?” Another student, Harold Overton, leaned down from next to Francoise. Out of the corner of her eye, Niccolette could see him reach for her abandoned tray, his already empty.
Niccolette didn’t look back again, but she heard Francoise’s voice, small, strained and trembling. “No. It’s all my fault.”
Niccolette didn’t see Francoise at all the fourth day of classes - not even out of the corner of her eye. On the fifth, the other galdor was there again, but she didn’t try to say a word to Niccolette. Good, Niccolette told herself. She had learned
On the sixth day of classes they came face to face in the hallway. Niccolette saw Francoise shift as if she meant to speak, saw her lips half-part. She turned, cutting the other girl dead, and cutting statistics class as well.
Late Afternoon, 7th Yaris, 2707
It was really only a coincidence that she saw Francoise on the seventh day; Niccolette had gone to the library for a grimoire, and as she made her way through the shelves, she heard the sound of voices coming from the next aisle over. Familiar voices.
Niccolette held, still and silent, behind the books.
“Come on,” Sy’rien was saying. Niccolette thought she could hear him smiling.
There was a soft hitch of breath - a sob, Niccolette thought, frowning slightly.
“I’ll come to your window tonight,” Sy’rien said. “You’ll leave it open for me. Let me in or I’ll tell everyone.”
“Please don’t,” the second person said, quietly.
Niccolette held, still and silent, her heart pounding in her chest. She shifted, slowly, ducking her head to peer between the books, seeing a familiar head of tight red curls.
“Let’s say 23 o’clock,” Sy’rien said, cheerfully.
Niccolette watched through the books as he brushed past Francoise and walked away. She gritted her jaw, and thought, hard, then turned and walked away herself, leaving the other girl sobbing softly in the next aisle. She stopped at the end of the row, pulled a book off the shelf, and carried it off with her.
Night, 7th Yaris, 2707
Second Floor Common Room, The Dormitories
Francoise had not moved rooms since the summer. Niccolette was glad, for that made it much easier. The Anaxi had a room next to a sixth form common room, with a window that opened out next to her own. It was easy enough for Niccolette to bring her new grimoire there; she turned the pages, slowly and carefully, listening to the clock count down as she read through the spells inside.
Once, when there was no one else inside, the Bastian rose, the tight skirt of her uniform swishing at her hips, and stalked to the window. She pressed it open wider, and leaned out, looking sideways. Yes, she thought, pleased; this, the drain pipe that ran between Francoise’s room and the common room, descending two stories to the ground below - this would be his approach.
Niccolette dragged one of the heavy chairs across the room, steadily, until the back rested just inside the window. She brought her grimoire there, she sat, and she waited.
Close to 23 o’clock, Niccolette heard the quiet scrape of the window next door opening. She grimaced to herself, shut the grimoire, and rose, carefully. She stepped across the room, turning off the lanterns still lit - the passives who came by for such tasks had left them on, seeing her studying. She leaned against the back of the chair, and watched from the darkness.
Before long, she saw a dark head of sleek hair below. He looked up, once, and Niccolette recognized his faint smirk in a swath of light. She began to cast, quiet and steady.
Sy’rien was nearly at the second floor by the time Niccolette’s homing began. Energy swirled around her, shuddered forth, and sank into the Hessean. Niccolette stuck her head out of her window, curled the spell, and spat down on him.
Sy’rien yelled in pain as the spell sank into him, raising raised red welts all over his body. From the description in the grimoire, Niccolette thought, pleased, those welts should be scraping and stinging in a terribly painful way. Niccolette watched the other galdor lose his grip - watched him fall down to the ground below, landing with a sharp crack. She grinned.
A head of curly red hair appeared from the window, and Francoise stared at her, wide-eyed. They were, Niccolette noted, badly rimmed with red. “Nicco?” Francoise sniffled. “What - what are you -“
“Hush and go to bed,” Niccolette hissed back. “And close your window before anyone comes!”
Niccolette closed the common room window, scooped up her grimoire - a very handy spell, she thought, pleased - dragged the chair back into its old place, and slept quite well.
Afternoon, 8th Yaris, 2707
The Cafeteria; The Field
Sy’rien was on crutches during lunch the next day, and there was still an unpleasant looking swath of raised red marks swooping over his face. He clicked steadily over to Niccolette’s table, and slammed one hand down next to her tray. “The Lawn,” he said, loud enough that students two tables over went silent.
Niccolette raised an eyebrow at him. “You will take some time to reach,” she said, casually, looking him over from head to toe. “I shall be glad to wait.”
“You bitch,” Sy’rien hissed, tawny skin sharp and tight over his face. “You’ll pay.” He turned and crutched off, clicking against the floor with each step.
Niccolette set her napkin on her finished tray, and patted Rhys calmly on the arm. “This is mine,” she told him. She was aware of Francoise watching her from the next table over. She looked up at the red-headed Anaxi, and inclined her head in the faintest of nods, then turned and swept away without looking back.
Niccolette was, in fact, waiting by the time Sy’rien reached the Lawn. He settled himself, facing her. A crowd was already gathering, as it always did, students laughing and chatting.
Niccolette could see Francoise standing several rows deep; from here, she could see the way the other girl’s arms were crossed over her front, the way she tried very hard not to look at Sy’rien.
Niccolette took a deep breath, and looked at the Hessean. Disgusting, she thought, and anger lit a fire in her chest. Her field red-shifted faintly, heat fluttering in the air around her. Sy’rien’s field red-shifted as well.
They began to cast nearly at the same time. Sy’rien’s pain spell hit Niccolette at nearly the same moment hers hit him; she couldn’t tell whether it worked, because for a few moments she could not think of anything except the wave of hurt rushing through her, leaving her dizzy and breathless.
When her vision cleared, Niccolette was doubled over. She straightened up, and heard Sy’rien already casting again. She knew the spell, Niccolette realized, and she began her own counterspell, etheric field pulsing around her. Her spell swept into his and pushed it away, and they were left staring at each other over the dry grass.
Niccolette gritted her teeth, a wave of pure anger sweeping through her. She began to cast again, a nausea spell; Sy’rien was casting too, but she could barely hear him. Her head was spinning, but she thought she had the words right, she thought she –
Something crackled in the air around her. There was a feeling like a sudden, sharp pop, and Niccolette felt as if she had snapped, like a rubber band. The nausea spell she had been casting seemed to evaporate, and then Niccolette knew exactly where it had gone. She dropped to the ground, doubled forward, and lost every bit of her lunch onto the dry grass. Onlookers were laughing; Niccolette could just barely hear them over the sound of her own retching. Tears were streaming from her eyes, her eyeliner streaming down her face.
Niccolette heard the faint crunching of grass beneath two crutches, and she saw Sy’rien standing before her, the pant legs of his uniforms all she could manage to look at.
“Say you yield, Villamarzana,” Sy’rien said, loudly.
Niccolette shuddered. She squeezed her eyes shut, fingers digging into the skirt of her uniform, almost panting for breath. For a moment, she couldn’t feel anything of the mona in the hot, dry air; for a moment, all she could feel was a throbbing ache through her entire body.
“Say you yield!” Sy’rien was all but yelling.
Niccolette jerked her chin up, looking up at him. She rubbed the back of her hand over her mouth. “Make me,” she spat. “If you dare!”
Evening, 8th Yaris, 2707
Niccolette woke up in the infirmary. She was lying on her side, one cheek sticky with drool; her head ached, fiercely, and nausea seemed to thrum through her whole body. She groaned, twisting, and pressed her face into the pillow.
“Nicco?” A soft, Anaxi voice came from next to her.
Niccolette turned her cheek again, slowly, blinking blearily at Francoise. “I shall be sick,” She announced. The Bastian turned, bent over the opposite edge of the bed, and vomited in the pail there, her whole body shaking.
She felt a hand gather up her hair, pulling the sweaty strands off of her neck, keeping it from tumbling into the puke. After a few moments, a second one stroked her back, slowly and gently.
Niccolette sniffled, taking a deep breath, and sat up, slowly. Francoise let go the moment she began to move. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she looked nearly as bad as Niccolette felt.
“Nicco, you didn’t have to do that,” Francoise blurted out. “Any of it. I – I thought you – that is – aren’t you mad at me?”
“Of course!” Niccolette said, hotly. She glanced around, found a glass of water, and took a drink. She swished it in her mouth, leaned forward, and spat it unabashedly into the pail. “I am quite mad,” Niccolette tried another sip of water, and, finding this one more palatable, swallowed. She set the cup of water down, wiped her hand on the bedsheets, and reached out to take Francoise’s, quite firmly. “But that does not mean I shall let some disgusting, ersehole clockstopper – ”
“How did you know?” Francoise whispered, dropping her voice. She was shaking now. “I wanted to tell you – I wanted to tell you, Nicco, but I – I wanted to apologize too, and I – you wouldn’t – ”
Niccolette shrugged. “I heard you in the library,” she patted Francoise’s hand. “I shall accept your apology now.”
Francoise stared at her, and began to sob.
Niccolette watched her for a few moments, then sighed. “Very well. That is enough,” she leaned forward, and wrapped her arms around the other girl, tucking Francoise’s head against her shoulder and patting her back.
“You smell like vomit,” Francoise mumbled after a few moments, sniffling.
“Shhhh,” Niccolette said.
Francoise began to laugh first, and then Niccolette was giggling too.
“Has he said anything?” Niccolette asked, once all was quiet again.
Francoise shook her head. “He hasn’t even come near me today.”
Niccolette nodded, firmly. “Good. If he does – you shall tell me, and I shall challenge him next time,” Niccolette’s jaw set, and she met Francoise’s eyes. “Next time,” she promised, “I shall not lose.”
Francoise was smiling, weakly, a few more tears sliding down her cheeks. She sniffled, wiping them away, and hugged Niccolette again, tightly. “I think,” her voice cracked, held for a moment, and then she began again, “you won where it mattered. Thank you, Nicco,” she began to cry again.
Niccolette hugged Francoise back. It was, she thought, enough – for now. It would have to be. She rubbed her friend’s back, and held her close.