"This is your classroom," Ava said, gesturing into the room.
Xilanada looked around the spacious open space. Tall wooden beams in the corners built up a whitewashed room that seemed to glow in the sunlight that poured through the expansive windows. Amidst the light, the varnished dark wood of the chairs and desks seemed to glow. With one of the panes open, a refreshing breeze trickled through, bringing the myriad fragrances of shops, bakeries, and horses that characterized Nexus.
"It's perfect," she breathed. A classroom. Not that she had ever taught before, but she had been well educated in the Realm, in another life. Certainly, the Library of Denandsor had taught her everything she would ever need to know, beyond specialized studies.
Unknown to any here, or any in the rest of Creation, she had studied in the legendary Library of Denandsor, cited by many ancient books as the greatest library in Creation back in the First Age. The city of Denandsor itself was under an unknown enchantment that no one in a thousand years had been able to break. All who went in the city gradually went mad with fear until no force could compel them to ever return. All, except for her.
The life she had left behind was a tie to the Library. Who she had been had been the inheritor of the Librarian of Denandsor, one of the great Twilight Caste Solar's of the First Age. She didn't know much about her, for the Librarian had perished in the
Usurpation like all the other Solar, and no one had been able to enter the Library since.
50 years Xilanada had spent in the great Library. 50 wonderful years of reading texts rendered unique by the passage of time, wondrous books of taxonomy and spells. In the years since she had finally left the Library, she still looked back on that golden time as the best part of her life. She would still be there, even now, if not for the
ambition of the Solar.
"I'm glad you like it," Ava said in a kind way, interrupting the momentary reverie a place like this had elicted. "I hope you'll be happy here. It'll be nice to have another instructor for First Age lore. It's been a little tricky, having to balance the workload out among all of the rest of us, since the previous teacher died."
Ava was warm and friendly, surprisingly so given Xilanada had been her cleaning servant just the day before. Standing next to her, Xilanada felt a little like her younger sister. They were both blonde, both with long curly hair. Ava's eyes were also blue, though a paler shade like a thin sky during mid-afternoon. It didn't help that Ava, who was not very tall, was still taller than her. Xilanada could almost pretend that Ava was her sister, for they were remarkably alike in temperament as well. Both had a friendly smile, an easy humor, and yet a quiet retiring nature.
Yet, if one was to look at them side by side, there would be no mistaking one for the other.
Ava was an Air-Aspected Dragon-Blooded. And even more so than most Dragon-Blooded, it showed. That blonde hair seemed to flow in an imperceptible current of air, as if a storm wind was always near her. Her eyes clearly invoked the sky, but in their depths electricity skipped and spat. It would have been unnerving if she didn't seem so calm.
Xilanada could pass for a very beautiful mortal. Ava could only be superhuman, maybe more God than person. She wasn't blue like some well-bred Airs were, but the lightning and wind told of the might in her blood.
"Thank you, Professor...Ava," Xilanada corrected. "For making this a little easier."
"The transition, you understand. From servant to instructor."
"Oh, think nothing of it. I'm not from the Realm, you know," she grinned. "I don't hold any notions that social classes can't be crossed. If the Headmistress thinks you can teach, then you can teach. Easy as that."
Ava's smile was warming and Xilanada found it easy to smile back.
"You're an Outcaste, then?" she asked.
"Yes, I suppose that's the correct term," Ava said with a shrug. "Though it's hardly accurate. I wasn't cast out. I'm Outcaste in the literal sense, being outside of the caste. None of my family come from the Realm. My parents were Funerists in Sijan."
"Oh! That means...?"
"That I'm a Funerist? Yes. I was." Ava looked a little self-conscious about it. Xilanada could hardly blame her. A sudden breeze ripped through the room, seemingly in response to the uncomfortableness of the moment.
Sijan was renowned throughout the East as the City of the Dead. People of all nations, from beggars to kings, sought to be buried there. The Sijan Funerists were practiced with the burial customs of every country and people, and it was enough of an honor for any man or woman to be buried there that taking care of the dead was the city's sole product.
Despite the prestige of being buried in Sijan, no one living was really all that comfortable with anyone who came from the City of the Dead, much less someone who had once been one of the Funerists themselves.
"I suppose that means you teach the summoning rituals of the dead?" Xilanada asked.
"Oh, you know. Summoning rituals. Wards. Lore. Arcanoi, the powers of the ghost. I'm a little unusual among the professors here, I don't teach any one subject, but all subjects as they touch on the world of the dead."
"With your background, I'm not surprised. I'm certain the Headmistress is glad to have you."
Ava rewarded her with another smile and walked the length of the classroom, as if looking around it.
"Yes, well, it's not easy having been a Funerist. For some years, I traveled the North after I left and the Sijanese are killed on sight up there. Down in Nexus, I worry less about it. But I probably wouldn't have landed this job even with that background if I wasn't a Sorcerer as well."
"Really? How did you find Terrestrial Circle instruction if you didn't come from the Realm?" Xilanada's experience in trying to learn Sorcery had been difficult enough, and she had had the legendary Library of Denandsor to help her.
"Sijan actually boasts a very impressive library. There are a few God-Blooded or Ghost-Blooded among the city who practice Sorcery and I learned from one of them."
"How nice for you. Well, I'm glad you found your way here. Hopefully you aren't too homesick."
"Homesick?" Ava repeated, testing the word. "No, I don't miss Sijan at all. It's not healthy for the living to spend so much time focused on death. That's why I left. I may still teach students all about the dead, but at least I'm talking to the living now. And I have the good company of friends here."
"I hope I can be one more, then," Xilanada said, enjoying the Air-Aspected's good nature. "Assuming I can pass evaluation!"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry," Ava replied. "Seya wouldn't have offered you the job if she didn't think you would pass evaluation, you know. Are you an Outcaste too?"
"...in a sense," Xilanada said.
"I won't pry, don't worry. Though I can't promise you anything about the other professors."
"It's okay, really," Xilanada said, putting her hand on Ava's arm. Little strands of lightning twined around her fingers as she touched the Air-Aspect, causing her skin to tingle. "I don't mean to be secretive. There's just not that much to tell. But I'm not Dragon-Blooded. You could probably see that."
"I could," Ava said agreeably, with a brightness in her eyes and tone to lighten the admission. "But when you're a girl from Sijan, a girl who used to be a Funerist, you get used to not pushing people about personal information, because you don't want to be pushed for personal information."
"It's really not like that, Ava," Xilanada frowned. "It's not a matter of trust. There's just...not much to tell. I don't really remember any of it."
Ava gave her a comforting smile and surprised her with a hug. Xilanada stiffened reflexively and shivered...as, unsought and unbidden, Essence rose within her. Charms readied themselves without thought, in case she was in danger, at risk of being hurt.
Xilanada had left her old life behind to get away from the temptation of power. And that trade should have left behind all that she had been. All of it.
Was there no escaping the Sun? No avoiding the power He had thrust upon her?
Ava released the hug, seeming not to notice Xilanada's tenseness. Or perhaps she was just too polite to say anything.
"Well, I need to get ready for my next class."
"And I need to get ready for my first class! Talk to you later?" Xilanada asked, making the question real and not merely politeness. She hoped that she had not alienated this woman who had already been more kind than she could have hoped for.
"Of course, at dinner tonight. All the Professors sit together. I'll save you a spot right next to me. Sound good?"
"That sounds wonderful. Thank you, Ava."
"And I'll introduce you to everyone else. Glee is great fun." Ava grinned and Xilanada felt a soft warm breeze blowing across her skin.
Ava waved and walked out the door, wind whipping about her and billowing her robes out. Xilanada looked about, taking in the room once more as the first students began walking in, moving to their desks.
Was she still a Solar? Beneath the pale blonde features she saw every morning, was the power of a mad God still hers?
A dozen students were in the room now, picking their desks and talking to each other. A few were looking at her with evident curiosity. They were all young. In truth, most looked older than she did, but they were still young, for their appearance of youth was real.
A dozen and a half students milled about now. And Xilanada wondered if the fate of these children, and those of everyone else at the school was to end horribly, with baleful green light ripping them apart.
Taking a deep breath, Xilanada smiled at each one and got ready to begin class.