|The Angel and the Reaper
Author: Miyako Nakamura PM
Intertwined with the clear rain were streams of red...Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Fantasy - Chapters: 5 - Words: 8,950 - Reviews: 7 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 03-03-13 - Published: 11-10-12 - id: 3073154
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Azriel couldn't shake the feeling he was supposed to be somewhere, doing something else. He seemed to be sinking into a hole, but when he tried to think back to before yesterday, all he could remember was an empty blur. Oxana was pleased now that he'd revealed his name ("I knew it was something like that!") and staying with her was working out well overall so far. Azriel kind of felt sorry for a woman in the prime of her life living alone with no companions but her books and gardens. He could tell she thought less of him every time he failed to answer her questions. But there were many things he didn't know himself.
In the evenings she'd read under a gas lamp in the parlor and he was perfectly content just observing her. This was the only time she let her golden blonde hair out of its stern bun and the difference it made in her appearance was astonishing. She was younger, happier it seemed, no longer concerned with keeping up any pretense. Azriel watched the shadows flicker from the lamp's flame across her face, growing ever darker in the corners of the room.
He was just about dozing off when something caught his eye and jolted him awake. The sudden movement caused a sharp, biting pain to shoot down his back. He could've sworn he saw something move in the corner behind Oxana. Not in the usual flickering kind of way, but as if something were crouched there, reaching out for her.
"Is something wrong?"
Azriel stared into the darkness but could not discern anything there. Oxana turned, and seeing nothing behind her, turned back again to Azriel.
"I think you're growing bored here," she said.
"Not really, no."
"I've been thinking it might do you good to spend time with some people your own age."
"You don't know what my age is."
Oxana shrugged. "I can guess. You look about seventeen to me."
Azriel couldn't disprove her so he said nothing.
"Have you graduated from school?"
"School. Learning. Education. You could use it as you know a whole lot of nothing."
"I don't need school," Azriel countered.
"Nonsense. Education is a virtue." Oxana closed her book and stood to extinguish the lamp. "Good night," she said and departed. Azriel watched her shadow as she walked up the stairs- and there it was again. A deeper darkness, slithering up the walls. Azriel leapt off the couch but as soon as he'd reached the stairs it was gone.
Oxana would have none of Azriel's protests and immediately set to work arranging a series of placement exams for him. The Schule was clear across town, an enormous castle perched atop the hill on the opposite side of the valley. To walk there was exhausting. Even though it was much too hot, Oxana insisted they dress nicely; she in a deep emerald bustle gown and he in a blood red shirt, a black vest, black pants and a black tie. At least inside the stone walls of the Schule it was cool. The Schule was an old castle of some sort; Azriel had no idea of when it might have been built. It was precariously perched in the mountainside and the tall turrets could look over the entire valley. The red walls of the towers rose high into the sky and it was impossible to see the tops without nearly bending over backwards.
"I should get you a hat," Oxana remarked, noticing the bright red across his cheeks. He didn't reply; he was too focused on the suits of armor and tapestries that lined the walls.
They entered a long hall in the center of which was round table. On one side were sitting five gentlemen, all officials of the school. They stood when Oxana and Azriel entered and stepped forward to welcome them. They introduced themselves as Herr Heigler, the headmaster, and professors Schritz, Pankratz, Meiritz and von Offhausen. They all wore plain suits of black and white shirts. Herr Heigler was a short, portly creature with a thick, greying beard. He ushered Oxana and Azriel to their seats on the side of the table opposite the professors.
"Shall we begin?" he said.
"Yes, please," replied Oxana.
Then men all took their seats, their attention turning to a stack of papers in front of them.
"Just some administrative matters first," said Professor Meiritz, as he picked up a glass pen with his long, slender fingers and dipped it into an inkwell. "Name?"
"Azriel," Oxana responded promptly.
"Um…" Oxana glanced at Azriel for help, but he only shrugged and shook his head.
"He's in my care, so it's Zelinske," she finally responded.
"You're his guardian?"
"For the time being."
Professor Meiritz scribbled some notes as the other professors looked quizzically at Oxana. Professor Schritz raised his eyebrows.
"Where are his parents?" Professor Meiritz inquired.
"Deceased," Oxana sighed, grateful to have a solid response.
"Oh I see…"
Professor Pankratz coughed. "Perhaps then, the Fraulein and Herr Heigler ought to confer on this together," he said, "while we administer the examinations, and then we can all be done in a timely manner."
"Yes, I agree," Oxana's relief was clear and Azriel was also grateful for this suggestion. It would be much easier for them is if she simply made up the information. She and Herr Heigler departed, leaving Azriel with the four remaining gentlemen. Any notion of pleasantries quickly vanished and the examinations began. Azriel was handing a glass pen, a bottle of jet-black ink and a stack of bound pages. The first were covered in symbols and numbers he knew practically nothing about. The next all dealt with plants, animals and human anatomy, and the following with astronomy. Azriel found he knew more than he originally anticipated about the latter two topics, but virtually nothing about any of the former. He slid the papers across the table back to the professors, and Professor von Offhausen on the far left picked them up for evaluating. Azriel was handed another bound stack, this time featuring a long list of names.
Please describe the significance of the following, he read at the top of the first page. He didn't know anything about significance, but he did recognize every name on the list. He went back to the beginning and wrote down for each a single fact.
This time when he was finished the professors didn't give him anything new, but continued in their evaluations, sometimes whispering to their neighbor or making a note. Azriel was glad when Oxana came back with Herr Heigler, as the whole situation had become rather uncomfortable. She didn't look too comfortable herself. She stared straight ahead at the professors, not saying a word. The tension increased until finally one of the men spoke.
"His education appears to be at best…spotty," said Professor Meiritz, handing the examination papers to Herr Heigler.
"I am rather curious about the history portion," Professor von Offhausen said. "For example, here next to Julius Caesar, you've written only '15 March 44 BC'."
"The Ides of March," Oxana interjected, her voice shaking. "Everyone knows that story."
Von Offhausen nodded and continued reading. Alexander the Great, 17 June 323 BC. Lorenzo de Medici, 9 April 1492. Martin Luther, 18 February 1546. And so on."
Azriel looked up at Oxana who was frowning, clearly confused.
"Those are all death dates," Professor von Offhausen clarified.
"Yes," said Azriel. Oxana shifted in her seat.
Herr Heigler sighed. "You don't seemed to remotely skilled in anything."
"That's not true!" Oxana shouted, making Azriel jump. "Test him in languages!"
The professors exchanged looks until one said "Very well." They pulled more stacks of papers from a leather briefcase that was on the floor. "Any language in particular?"
Azriel wasn't sure how to respond so he shook his head 'no'. He was given the entire stack of papers and a new bottle of ink.
There were passages in English, French and Latin. He could read and write them easily.
"Impressive," said Professor Schritz. "Let's try something more challenging."
The second pile had Russian, Greek and Arabic. He handed these back to nods and raised eyebrows.
"I have a feeling we could probably continue on with this," Herr Heigler said, "but I hardly think it's necessary."
Oxana was beaming.
With wide smiles and handshakes the gentlemen bid them good day. The sun was low in the sky by the time they left the Schule. Oxana wrapped her arm around Azriel's.
"That wasn't so bad was it?"
"It was pointless," Azriel replied.
"Phooey. You're smarter than you let me believe. Just how many languages do you know?"
Azriel turned his face so he couldn't see her reaction.
"I know them all."