Addergoole
Chapter 35: Kailani
I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

“Nice collar.”

One row of lockers over, Kailani cringed at the snide tone in Xaviera’s voice. The ophidian blonde woman had left her alone so far, but she had the demeanor and self-satisfaction of a bully, and Kai pitied her current target, while being relieved it wasn’t her.

“Thank you.” The cool voice sounded like Shahin, a pale, pretty Victorian girl who she saw often in the company of Aelgifu from her English Literature class. She had been wearing a collar this morning – but maybe fifty percent of the Fifth Cohort had, as well. Hell Night, it seemed, had been successful for a lot of people.

“Who put it on you?”

“Emrys.” Kai stopped listening as she pulled her shirt over her head. PE here was actually fun, and it offered a relief from contemplating the questions troubling her; she skipped a little as she headed out to class.

It wasn’t until she was showering afterwards, happily exhausted from a wild game of dodge ball, that she thought about what Conrad, Mabina & Cassidy had told her at lunch:

“I think you’re really going to like today.” Conrad’s eyes had been bright with excitement, and even Taro hadn’t contradicted him. “Today is when it all starts to be worth it.”

“Worth it?” She could have questioned “It all,” too, but she was learning to pick her battles.

“All of it,” he assured her. “Magic classes, Kaia.”

She stared at him, dumbfounded. Magic? She’d wanted to doubt it, to question the existence of something as incredible as magic, but she could still hear Taro’s words – it had only been two days ago, hadn’t it? – “You’re in a room full of fae godlings and you still ask if magic is possible? How thick are you, anyway?”

She’d never thought of herself as thick at all; if Regine were to be believed (and it didn’t seem to be the wisest time to start disbelieving authority figures), she was bred for intelligence. But Taro wasn’t really smart enough for her to begin arguing logic with him – it would only make him angrier. So she’d kept her mouth shut, and, once again, hadn’t asked why the presence of humans with tails should suggest magic.

Conrad had misinterpreted her look – gratifying to know that she wasn’t the only one who did that – and had said, rather reassuringly, “Don’t worry. You’ll be brilliant at it. I know you will.”

His words had bolstered her. He wouldn’t lie to her and, whatever this “magic” turned out to be, she was sure she’d be able to handle it. Why had she let Taro’s words get her down, anyway? He wouldn’t know “thick” if it bit him!

The image that had brought to mind made her giggle again as she left PE: a big draft horse biting Taro in his perfectly-sculpted seat. Magic, ha. It probably had as many booby-traps as the Law did, but maybe it would be easier to understand. Maybe it would help explain the patterns.

Teachers and staff, a couple of whom Kai had never seen before, were carefully sorting out the Fifth Cohort from the other students, and herding them into the main hall, which had transformed back into an auditorium in the week since the last dance. Kai, looking around, realized that this was the first time since day one that they had all been in a room together, unimpeded; it was the first time at all that they’d been completely without older students.

What was more, many of these people she barely recognized, and some no longer looked human – that boy over there; she had PE, Lit, and Bio with him; he had horns now, wicked-looking arches of bone curling out of his forehead, and a tail slurking between the uprights of his chair back. Was it slimy, or scaly like a snake? She clutched her purse closer so that she didn’t try to reach out and touch it.

Even Kylie, her fellow redheaded Fifth Cohort, who liked to gossip with her (or, more accurately, at her) in the locker room, now sported a pair of fox ears peeking out of her hair. But she was still a familiar and friendly face, so Kailani sat down next to her. She smiled, and waved at Kai, but she was distracted – her boyfriend, the blond Viking-looking sort with the blue tail, was flirting with another girl.

Kailani watched them interact, wondering how she would deal with that sort of thing. Never having had a boyfriend, she’d never had to deal with that sort of jealousy. Would she feel it if Conrad flirted with someone?

Not when you can just tell him to stop. The thought had its appeal, but it seemed likely to guarantee that he would fixate entirely on her, and she wasn’t sure she wanted that. He might be easier to deal with if he found a girlfriend.

Before she could examine the peculiar way that made her feel, her thoughts on the matter were cut short, as Dr. Regine walked through the back door of the Hall, pulling all eyes to her. Mind control, Conrad had said. Could it be true? Were her eyes focusing on the Director because of some nefarious control, or because of her own natural curiosity?

Then Dr. Regine began speaking, and all other thoughts fled her mind.

“Today, you will be tested to discover where your specialties in what is commonly called ‘magic’ will lie. Of the twenty-two Words that focus our power, some will resonate with you, some will not. We are still studying how this resonance works, but, at the moment, we are certain that it does, indeed, work. Please take a seat.”

“This will seem strange to many of you, of course, but we are going to ask you to ‘play along’ for the moment. One of the faculty will say a word, and we ask that you repeat it as well as possible.”

Kai frowned. She hadn’t had a chance to prepare for this. How would she know what the proper way to say the word would be, from just one repetition?

She noticed, then, that Professor Pelletier was standing to one side of her, and Professor Valerian to the other, between her and Renata, a pretty blonde girl of the fashionably popular sort that shared History, Literature, and Calculus classes with Kai. Renata, Kai noticed with a hint of satisfaction, hadn’t grown any funny ears or horns yet.

“Begin,” Dr. Regine said, and, next to Kailani, Professor Pelletier began.

“Eperu,” she said, and, while Kailani struggled to repeat it, it twisted around her tongue unpleasantly.

“Kaana,” Professor Valerian declaimed, on her other side. This time, the word sang out from her, with a sudden rush of endorphins.

Professor Pelletier looked up and said, in a crisp voice and clearly not to Kailani, “Repeat, please.”

Professor Valerian repeated the word, and it rolled off Kailani’s tongue the second time even more clearly than the first.

“Yaku,” said the business-suited Latino woman across the hall. It was an echo of the word before, bright and shining and perfect, better again on repetition.

From there, it went downhill, as teachers and other adults recited the strange non-words and she wrestled to get them off her tongue. It seemed that every word she fought with, some other student performed flawlessly, some other proctor called out “repeat, please.”

She managed to not do shamefully at “intinn,” a word that seemed to press at her temples as she spoke it, but not well enough to get a “repeat, please” from either proctor. By the time “meentik” slipped out of her mouth as if it were her favorite formula, she was close to tears. She repeated it joyfully, and made it through the rest of the list with less frustration.

As she calmed down enough to pay attention, it seemed that most people were good enough to get a “repeat, please” on three or four words, and everyone seemed to struggle as badly as she had with at least a couple words. That did little to mollify her frustration, though – never had she so completely failed to rise above her peers.

As they reached the last word – “tuapeka,” intoned by Professor Valerian, and a stubborn, ugly word that Kai could barely approximate – she sank low into her seat, trying to be invisible, holding her purse close. Maybe Professors Valerian and Pelletier wouldn’t tell anyone how horribly she’d done. After all, she did well in both their classes.

But Professor Pelletier was gesturing the perky little Kylie her way, and both of them towards Professor Valerian. Kailani’s heart sunk, remembering the other girl’s dismissive “Oh, I’m always challenged” when they’d talked about schoolwork. Was this remedial magic, then?

Kylie was talking to her, though, so she tried to focus. “Crazy, hunh?” she asked softly.

Kailani nodded in response. “I’m curious where this goes,” she admitted, trying to swallow her nerves. The strange words were still echoing in the back of her mind, “Kaana,” most of all.

Professor Valerian had bustled over to them while they spoke, though. “Good!” she smiled at them, brushing her hands off on her skirt. “Let’s go outside and get to work!”

Outside? Kai’s sour mood vanished. She could handle remedial magic if it meant she got to be outside for class. And, besides, she wouldn’t be remedial for long. With a bounce in her step, she followed the teacher out of the Hall.

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