I: Prelude to Ruin
I-I: Getting Schooled
By: Talyn Gray
"Araius, behind yo—!"
She whipped around a moment too late and found an elbow in her face. She fell backwards onto the hardwood floors and felt her lips line with blood. Araius looked up, dazed, her nose throbbing in pain, and saw the point of a very sharp sword at her throat. The face of the sword lightly brushed her chin, making her look up into the eyes of her opponent. Aryden stared down at her, his gaze a cool, shimmering ice blue.
"I yield," she said, almost afraid he'd cut her if she spoke too loud.
"Awww, damn," Lium muttered as he trotted over to where she was on the floor. Aryden let his sword down and took a few steps forward to kneel. "Did he break your nose again?"
Araius turned red and nodded. "I think so." She looked up at Aryden. "Something always gets broken when I'm sparring with you."
He sighed and brought his hands out to cover her nose. "You have to be more alert," he informed her. "What's going to happen once you start to serve? Are you going to do the ten years of dormancy?"
His smooth palm glowed cerulean and Araius felt her nose pop back into place. She winced slightly; getting healed had never been a soothing experience. Aryden removed his hand and stood back up gracefully, like a swan in water.
"She doesn't need you to tell her what to do," Lium muttered, his eyes burning gold with annoyance as he stared up at the Healer. "She's trying her hardest."
Aryden just shook his golden head and turned around to walk away. "She's the one who asked me to help her train. It's none of your business, Lium." He glanced back at Araius. "Practice your awareness around you and don't get too excited." He paused and looked at Lium, then her pitiful form on the floor. "Don't forget to wipe away the blood; it doesn't suit you."
He left, the massive doors closing sluggishly against their own weight. "Bastard," Lium murmured under his breath, "doesn't even say goodbye." He leaned over Araius and held out a handkerchief that he'd taken from his pocket. She took it and smeared the blood off her nose and lip. "I don't get why you asked him for help."
"He's the best in class," she replied.
"Sheri's the next best, you could have asked her," he answered, helping her up to her feet. Araius frowned.
"Sheri hasn't liked me since third grade when I stole her toys."
"Aryden doesn't like you, either."
"That doesn't really matter," she responded, reaching down to pick up her own fallen sword. "As long as he teaches me to not die during battle, I'll be fine."
Lium frowned by squaring his jaw and glanced at the clock at the far end of the training room. "We have class in ten minutes. Do you want to change your clothes?"
She looked down at the blood that stained her once white clothing. "Oh…" She made a light sucking noise with her lips. "No, it'll make us late." He rolled his honey colored eyes and took off his outer jacket and draped it around her shoulders.
"At least it doesn't look like you came straight out of war now," he told her with a light wink.
The Academy of Deities was about as grand as Lium's hair was black. The classrooms were in stadium seating; many of the doors had edges plated in platinum or silver, and the classrooms (especially the science classrooms) had large windows in which Heaven's untouchable gardens could be seen. The professors varied from being gods to angels, and one of the employment requirements was to be of one-hundred and fifty or older. However, age hardly ever impeded upon a professor's appearance.
Professor Kae was a goddess who was well over a thousand, and didn't look a day over twenty-six. Her voice was as girlish as they came, and her skin was dark as stained wood, with not a white hair to ever grace her smooth head of hair. But as young as she looked; as young as she sounded, her dark mahogany eyes told the story of her age.
"Now," she said in the soft, feminine voice of hers. It was a wonder that it carried through the classroom. "Twelve out of the thirty of you failed the last test. I really am very disappointed."
"But Professor," a goddess named Lorry from the back spoke up, "you only gave us a week to study."
"A week is long enough."
"But," a god raised his hand, "we had to study the entire structure of Heaven's government. There was too much history there to digest in such a short amount of time."
Professor Kae shook her head softly. "These are the worst test scores in the past fifty years," she told them, her soft feminine voice slightly hard. "I would have expected better from Nobles such as yourselves," she paused, her dark, lovely gaze fell on Araius, who was sitting in the middle row of desks. "I would have expected better from the daughter of Neros," she paused again, gaze slipping to the goddess named Caeley that was seated next to Araius, "from the daughter of Enarythe."
There was a low hum of disgruntled energy. Araius turned red from embarrassment, but Caeley had inherited her mother's fire. "Professor, don't you think it's a little unfair to point us out? We must only be two out of the twelve that failed," her tone was civil, but her orange eyes were blazing.
Professor Kae closed her eyes and tipped her head forward in an apology. "Nevertheless, I am assigning three pages more homework and demand you read sections three to seven in your textbook. You will be having a quiz on it tomorrow and that quiz will be your sole chance in redeeming your test scores," her voice became softer. "I will call the names of those who received ninety percent or higher. Those who I call now will not have to do the homework or take the quiz," she informed them in an all-business like tone. She picked up a sheet of paper from her podium. "Aryden Kinlin, Gertrine Anglen, and Auxilium Rotrain."
At his name, Araius peered over at Lium and found him nearly dead asleep with his tanned cheek rested on tanned arms. His onyx black hair partly covered his closed eyes, and it was satiny shiny in the sunlight filtering in from the windows. He twitched lightly and one eye peered open, golden gaze falling on her.
"I can see you drooooooling," Caeley's voice said with a hint of teasing. Araius turned scarlet in a matter of milliseconds and quickly jerked her own gaze away from Lium and to Caeley just in time to see her giggle.
"Girls!" Professor Kae said suddenly, harshly. Along with her voice, she brought the entire classroom's attention to the two goddesses; both of whom were red for different reasons. Araius could feel Lium's confused gaze on her, and Aryden's disapproving cold stare from the behind her. She buried her face in her palms, embarrassed.
"Sorry, sorry," Caeley spoke up with a smile, "won't happen again." She gave Araius a light pat on the back and a cat-like smile.
The Professor gave them one last glance before returning her attention to the rest of the class. "As I was saying," she said, "most of you are here for the same reason—you all chose to be Nobles. As the future leaders of the dimensions below, you have to be held responsible for you actions. Be thankful I'm even giving you this chance to make up your grade—"
"Someone's got a crush," Caeley sang softly, just enough for Araius to hear and turn another brilliant shade of red. She elbowed the other goddess in the ribs.
"I'm trying to pay attention."
"You all must know the different counsels and the purposes they serve!" Professor Kae continued, "for all we know, many of you could be serving in the counsels! So study, work hard, and remember you are the future of our Universe! Miry!" An angel in the front row jumped at his name, nearly falling off his chair. "Miry, what is the counsel where the leaders of all the counsels gather?"
"Um, the Gathering…?"
"Correct! Marcel!" she turned to a god towards the edge of the seating arrangement, "what happens if the Counsel of Chastity finds you condemnable?"
"You get sent to the Counsel of Punishment…" he answered.
"Araius!" her once-soft voice snapped. "Who heads all of the Counsels?"
"My father," she answered blankly, "Neros."
"Caeley! Who is present at meetings Neros cannot make?"
A dark look passed Caeley's face before she answered, "My mother, Enarythe."
"See? You all know the answers to questions. Now put them on a piece of paper tomorrow and redeem yourselves!"
Caeley kicked a stone on the floor and it flew into the pond in front of them. "Jeez," she muttered, "She asks us the obvious questions, like we didn't know the answers to any of the other questions. As if we didn't know your father is the King of the Universe and my mother is his assistant."
Araius frowned lightly, but sat down on the stone bench and placed her books down. They were in the North Gardens; it was a little ways away from Araius' room in the palace that was Heaven. The weeping willow nearest them rustled, seeming to calm Caeley's spirit. The taller girl heaved a sigh and stretched out her arms as she stared into the sun. Her long auburn hair floated slightly as she let her own aura swim around her.
"Are you calm now?" Araius questioned hesitantly.
Araius was the daughter of Neros, King of the Universe, and Caeley was the daughter of Enarythe, Neros' second in command. The two goddesses had grown together and had, since birth, become good friends. Though to say that they were best friends would be stretching it. They had been pushed together by the circumstances of their parents, and Araius had the vague feeling that Caeley thought she was incompetent. Being the daughter of the King of the Universe had certain perks, and she knew that Caeley had come to resent her for some of the fringe-benefits she received.
Araius herself had never particularly found herself partial to Caeley; she could come across sometimes as cruel, and Araius was careful not to share too many personal secrets with her.
Caeley walked over and sat next to Araius. She flung open her textbook and stared at the sections the Professor had ordered them to read. "This has got to be illegal on some level," she stated. "I read somewhere that places in the Human Plane, Kin Plane, and other Planes have laws making working this hard illegal. At least for beings our age." She paused and trailed a delicate finger across the picture of the Lord of the Kin Plane. Araius had always envied Caeley's fingers and hands. Despite the fact that Caeley was a good fighter; her hands were still slender and soft. Araius' hands were large-knuckled and callused. "Don't you think Aryden looks like his father?"
Araius glanced at the picture and shrugged.
"I mean, Aryden's the Kin Plane's Noble, right? The heir? Plus he's doing really well in the Academy; he's a Healer, and he's blessed by Water and Wind. Do you think all that was just luck of the draw?" she questioned, flipping through the pages of the textbook. "He's like six foot-something and good-looking, too."
Araius raised an eyebrow. "You like him?" she asked more than commented.
"I just admire him," Caeley answered. Araius inwardly shook her head. Caeley liked Aryden. She found it odd, but on some level, thought that they deserved each other. It took her a moment to realize that Caeley was still talking. "…he's so statuesque, don't you think? He hardly ever loses his composure—"
"—like ice," Araius finished for her. The frown was back, marring her face. "He's too still for me," Araius added.
"Oh, that's right. You like Lium, don't you?"
"No. No, I don't."
Caeley laughed like sharp little bells. "It's too easy to read you."
"If you like Aryden, why don't you ask him to help you train or something? Since we did fail the test, he could help you study."
A dark look passed Caeley's beautiful face. Even for the young age of fifteen, she held the same kind of transcendent beauty that Aryden had, but her expression was bitter. "I did ask him to train me," she informed the other goddess. "He declined. Why is it that he'll train you and not me?"
Araius was silent; she didn't know what to say. She had been about to say, 'Maybe it's because I'm Neros' daughter,' but she knew that saying anything akin to that would make Caeley even more bitter. After a moment, she finally settled for a, "I don't know."
Caeley flicked her orange gaze back to Araius for a moment, and Araius could have sworn it was a glare.
A/N: I'm not entirely sure if this will be a rough draft or just a final draft right out. I've been contemplating this story and all of the details for a very long time, so we'll see what happens.
For those reading 'Take Two,' the next chapter will be out shortly. It has been sent to my editor!