Rose's eyes roamed around the room, taking in the beautiful glasswork and entrancing lights that floated around. She wondered if the lights would be warm, or if they would pop like real bubbles if she touched them. They were too high up for her to try, though, which she thought was a shame.
A glance down and she noticed the shiny marbling on the floor. There was a spiraling design that circled the entire room, and the longer Rose stared at it, the more fascinated she was. If she blinked, she would have sworn it moved a little bit.
She felt a gaze on her, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and her stomach drop. Instinctively, Rose searched to find the person who was watching her, and her eyes locked onto a single purple glow.
It was like a jolt of electricity shot through Rose, with confusion and fear following soon afterwards. The tips of her fingers tingled, and her heart pounded so hard in her chest that she thought for sure it would burst out.
The student in question was shrouded in a dark black cloak with the hood pulled up so only blackness could be seen for his face. The only thing that permeated through the darkness was a single glowing purple eye on his left. The cloak fell to his knees and Rose could see he wore a standard uniform with black and purple pants.
She certainly hoped that meant he wasn't a Warrior like her.
The voice sounded so close to her that Rose was startled out of her reverie. It was another student, this one with dark cinnamon skin and green eyes so bright, she had no doubt they glowed. His hair was yellow like sunflowers, and messy like a mad scientist's. Rose noticed that his ears were pointed, too.
The student was grinning at her. "I'm Chester. You okay? You look like a nyan caught in the cookie jar. If you need to see the doctor, I can take you to him."
Rose tried out a small smile, tearing her gaze away from the dark-cloaked student. "I-I'm fine, I think. I feel like I just got shocked."
Chester frowned. Rose smiled weakly, resisting the urge to fiddle with her fingers.
"I'm sorry... I'm Rose."
"Chester," Chester introduced himself again, offering his hand. He looked relieved. "You're the first Warrior here I've seen! I'm in Logicke."
"Logicke..." Rose repeated, trying to remember if Nigel said anything about the kingdom.
Chester's grin stretched wider, his green eyes sparkling. "Is this your first time at the school?"
"First—uh, yeah. To be honest, this whole magic thing is a first for me," Rose admitted quietly, giving in and fiddling with her fingers.
Chester blinked. "Huh? Well, all first year kingmates will be starting their magical studies, too—"
"That's—I mean, I honestly thought I was human before all of this," Rose whispered. "Ni—I mean—Professor Nigel said that my magic was suppressed for the past ten years, so this whole thing is, um..."
"Wow." Chester's eyes were wide. "My brother said you were the one to watch out for, but I didn't realize it was because... wow. This must be a huge cultural shock for you."
"Your brother?" Rose inquired, gripping her skirt to try and stop from fidgeting. Chester grimaced.
"He's the headmaster. He means well, he only told me to help out the new Warrior if I could. I can certainly see why now, though. If you need help with anything, don't hesitate to let me know. I'll do the best I can, I promise."
"Thank you," Rose responded politely, a small frown on her face.
Chester's eyes shone with an obvious kind of sympathy. "If you don't mind me asking, what species are you?"
"I was told I was a dragon," answered Rose.
One of the light bubbles shone a bit brighter than the others and Rose tilted her head back to look at it.
Those things are pretty, Rose decided. Then remembering she was still in a conversation with someone and it was impolite to ignore, she redirected her attention to Chester.
The boy was giving her a queer look before clarity dawned on his face and he chuckled. "Oh, you're joking. Really, if you didn't want to tell me, you could have said so."
"I'm not joking," Rose insisted, then fell silent.
A very sick suspicion clawed at her, and she had brief images of running through the forest with the mob chasing her flashing in the back of her mind. She swallowed thickly and mustered the courage to ask, "What if I told you I really was a dragon?"
Chester frowned briefly at that, his brow furrowing. "Well, I would apologize for laughing earlier, but I would be very surprised."
Surprised? We're in a floating magical castle and me being a dragon is what's surprising here?
Getting back at hand, though, Rose cleared her throat, and continued with her questions. "Would you run away from me? Be angry with me?"
Start a mob?
"I wouldn't, certainly," Chester said firmly. "I am a firm believer in not to judge a being by their birth rights. It would, however, greatly surprise me."
"Well," Rose began, hesitating a moment, "Professor Nigel told me I was dragon, and I have wings, horns, and a tail, and a mall, so I think that means he's right?"
Chester's eyebrows rose in surprise. "That is... certainly a shock. I—ah—do apologize for my assumption earlier."
"You're fine," Rose reassured him, relieved that it seemed like she wouldn't be getting a repeat of the mob so soon. Then, her eyes widened. "Thrall! That was the word. I have a thrall that I used when my magic was released."
"Is that what Professor Nigel said you did?"
Chester paused, clearly uncomfortable. "That must have been—uh—incredibly unsettling. You were raised as a human, you said, so I cannot begin to imagine what had happened when you... a thrall is one of the highest forms of Black Magic. Pureblood dragons are infamous for it, so I suppose that answers the question if you're a pureblood and not some new hybrid."
"Are hybrids common?" Rose inquired, thankful she had read a book that featured a hybrid, and thus, understood the concept.
"Not especially," Chester answered. "But every couple of centuries or so, there are a few."
There was the sound of a cat's purr, and then a sudden chill ran through the air. All eyes immediately turned towards the hallway where five teachers stood. Rose zeroed in on Nigel, as he was the only one she was familiar with.
One of the teachers, an incredibly beautiful Asian woman with long, flowing black hair, stepped forward. Her smile warmed Rose's heart.
"Afternoon, precious students. I am Professor Yūei, advisor to the Aisling Kingdom. My darling newest kingmate, please follow me."
A boy smaller than Rose approached Yūei. Yūei's eyes softened with obvious warmth and she turned away, the boy following behind her.
"Miss Rose," Nigel said, and Rose perked up. "If you would please follow me."
Rose gave Chester a small wave goodbye before she hurried after Nigel. Nigel brought her down the white stone and glass hallway and they took a turn to the right. The stone slowly transitioned into something darker, and the glass no longer filtered in sunlight.
The castle had a crisp smell, like running water in the forest on a cold morning. It was a pleasant smell that reminded Rose of times when she would play by the creek. It made Rose's nose tickle as she inhaled it. Usually things that smelled like water were water, yet the smooth gray stones looked nothing like it. Rose's brow furrowed as she tried to solve the little mystery.
Does magic smell like water? Rose wondered. The whole castle must be magical. Maybe the stones smell like it?
Conspicuously, Rose leaned over towards the nearest wall and gave it a sniff. True to her assumption, it smelled like running water. Rose looked up at Nigel and asked, "Does all magic smell like water?"
Nigel paused for a brief second in his stride, turning his head back to look at Rose. "Why do you ask, Miss Rose?"
Rose frowned briefly. "The whole castle smells like... like running water. Is that what magic smells like? I thought for sure the castle was magical, so if it smelled like water, then maybe magic smelled like water."
"Magic does not typically smell like water," Nigel answered. "The castle is magical, though, and it smells different to everyone."
Nigel seemed to be smiling at Rose behind his mask. "A lot of our students have lived in relative isolation with their family for most of their lives. The transition to coming to stay at the school can be a scary experience for many of them, and the school realizes this. To help put their minds at ease, the school will change itself to each student to comfort them. The smell you describe as running water likely reminds you of a happy memory, yes?"
Rose realized he was right. Every whiff she got made her think of her time in the forest playing with Mr. Whiskers. She loved playing by the creek.
Rose felt her eyes prick as she remembered. Without realizing it, she had stopped walking entirely. Mr. Whiskers was a black cat she had been taking care of for as long as she could remember. Mother Mara was kind enough to give Rose allowance to buy him food, toys, and flea medicine. She even bought a tiny little white collar that he dirtied within a day.
Nigel stopped walking as well and turned around to kneel in front of Rose. "Miss Rose?"
"I—I remembered Mr. Whiskers," Rose mumbled quietly, her eyes burning. "He—he won't have anyone else to take care of him. I need to go back."
"Now, now," Nigel soothed, "there's no need to fret. I'm sure Mr. Whiskers will be fine."
"I'm the only who takes care of him," Rose protested, feeling a horrendous guilt and loneliness all at once. Panic bubbled up inside of her. "He's my—he's family. I need to go back."
Nigel's voice softened, "I'm afraid I will have to insist you stay in school, Miss Rose. If you are so concerned for Mr. Whiskers, though, I will personally see to it that he is taken care of."
"Promise?" Rose asked.
"I swear upon the sun," Nigel promised.
The oath sounded foreign to Rose, but she couldn't bring herself to question the sincerity it carried. She gave a slow nod, although her eyes still burned, and her stomach churned with feelings of guilt and longing. She wished she could see Mr. Whiskers again and hold him tightly. While the castle seemed wonderful and nice, Rose still found herself missing the comforts of the orphanage.
Then she remembered the mob and a shot of fear added to her emotions.
Nigel gently patted the top of her head. "I'm sorry you miss your home, Miss Rose, but I promise you won't feel like this forever. Many have come to view the school as their second home, and I hope you will as well."
Rose gave him a wobbly smile, and he patted her head once more before continuing his journey.