Professor Nigel guided Rose through the castle and they traveled in silence for a couple more minutes until reaching their destination. He led her to a large corridor with black polished stone and a pretty painting of the night sky covering the ceiling. Bubble lights floated at the top, all filled with a warm, silvery light.
Professor Nigel gestured towards a large, dark oak door. "Here we are. This is the entrance to the Warrior Kingdom."
He opened the door and ushered Rose in.
The Warrior's front room was awash in dark red, brown, and cream. The carpet was a dark scarlet with leafless trees swirling around one another, appearing like a maze to the eyes. There were a couple of cream-colored couches with apple red and brown pillows on top, and a fire pit in the center roaring with an enchanting flame that Rose could tell, with absolute certainty, felt welcoming. There were floating bubbles of light, and a giant skylight in place of a concrete ceiling. It was currently displaying mountains with snowy tops which struck Rose as weird, because if that was a skylight, then shouldn't it show the sky? Or were they upside down and the mountains below them?
On each of the walls were oak doors, each with a nameplate on them. One of them had a little crown at the top, another with a large crown, then another with a sword and shield.
Nigel cleared his throat. "Come on out, everyone. I have brought our newest kingmate."
Most of the doors opened and their respective residents appeared. The first one to emerge was a pale, burly teenager with dark gray hair and bright red eyes. He looked like the kind of person who was all brawn and no brains according to Hollywood.
He had a big grin on his face and in only a few strides, reached Rose and grasped her hand. "I'm Galio, king of the Warrior Kingdom."
Rose gave him a somewhat nervous smile, shaking his hand. "Hullo. I'm Rose."
Galio beamed and tugged her forward, putting a hand on her head and sweeping an arm towards the others. "I welcome you to our kingdom, Rose."
Another teenager stepped forward, dark skin and vibrant blue eyes contrasting with her cherry hair. She was a little bit on the chubbier side than the others, but Rose thought she looked cute. She had a toothy smile.
"I'm Lanna, the knight. If you have any questions or need help with homework, come and see me, okay?"
"Okay," Rose responded, still smiling.
A pretty girl with long dark hair, alabaster skin, and sharp ruby eyes came forward next. She smiled, a pair of unnaturally large, sharp fangs appearing as she did. "I'm the princess, Havilah, but please call me Havi."
"Um," Rose responded, "I-I'm sorry, but what does princess, knight, and king mean? I-I mean, I know what they mean, I just—"
Galio grinned and gave Professor Nigel a look of mocking surprise. "Professor Nigel, you didn't explain? No long-winded lecture? No side-tracks on your latest and greatest attempt at perfecting tea?"
"I hadn't the chance to," Nigel responded eloquently, lifting his chin up in the air as if to say 'hmph'.
Lanna rolled her eyes and explained, "At school, we're divided into kingdoms based on our magical affinity. There are certain aspects that cannot be taught in a regular curriculum with other students, so each kingdom has a special class to teach that. It's also nice to see who part of our immediate community after graduation will be."
"Which is the entire point of this school," a lean boy with curly dark hair and dull blue eyes added. "We, as a magical community, do not procreate often and tend towards isolation amongst our family. This has proven to have unsavory consequences in the long-run, so schools were built so that each generation would—hopefully—form positive bonds with others outside our typical groups. That being said, we'll still interact most frequently with those of similar natures."
"Right, thanks for the interruption, Philip," Lanna agreed with a smile. The boy from before snorted. "Anyway, so each kingdom has a king, queen, or monarch: the leader, if you will. The king will represent the kingdom and all subjects during disputes, or something akin to that. The prince, princess, princet is next in line and will assume the throne after the king. The knight follows them. Havi and I oversee assisting the younger kingmates."
Rose gave a nod, trying to take in the information.
"The titles are mostly for fun," Galio added. "I do have a paper crown, though."
That made Rose smile.
"I'm Philip," the boy from earlier introduced.
"Hello," Rose responded.
And finally, the two remaining students stepped forward. Both were Asian with pale, stone-colored hair and golden eyes, and the only difference between the two was that one of them had curly hair.
The curly one stepped forward, her voice clipped, "I'm Wei, and he is Shō."
"Nice to meet you," Rose responded.
Both nodded at her.
"And that is the kingdom," Nigel said.
Rose's eyebrows rose. "What? So few?"
"Like Philip said," Havi murmured, "we do not procreate as often as humans. Each kingdom will only have around ten subjects every half-decade or so."
Galio nodded. "Yeah, I'm the youngest in my family. I doubt that'll change within the next century."
Lanna grinned lopsidedly "Don't worry, Rose. Professor Nigel told us you lived with humans for most of your life, so we understand this may seem a bit overwhelming."
Havi nodded firmly. "Please, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. This must be a cultural shock for you."
"I... thank you," Rose responded, caught off guard by the surprising sincerity in Lanna and Havi's voices. Both girls and Galio were looking at Rose with welcoming eyes and warm smiles.
Is everyone magical so nice? Rose wondered.
Nigel clapped his hands. "I see that you will all take care of our youngest kingmate. Dinner will be brought here shortly, but for now, I must show Miss Rose to her room."
Galio ruffled Rose's hair, which annoyed her a little bit, but it was hard to stay irritated at such a friendly person. The older boy practically radiated cheeriness. Nigel guided Rose to a door on the other side of the room while the others began to take seats on the couches and recliners surrounding the fire and talking quietly.
At the center of the door they arrived at was a black nameplate and written in firetruck red was the name 'Rose'.
"This shall be your room," Nigel said quietly, opening the door and gently pushing Rose inside.
Rose stepped into her room, surprised to find it not as red as the room outside. Instead, it had a soft white carpet and a window that covered the entire wall opposite the front door. Outside was a large open meadow, with a lake and mountains surrounding it. Rose could see trees dotting the horizon in the distance and was entranced by the beauty of it. The view was truly gorgeous, but it showed someplace entirely untouched by man, it certainly couldn't be a part of the castle.
Rose stepped towards it. "Where...?"
"Don't worry," Nigel told her. "It's a one-way view. Many of the students enjoy views of their home, but I thought perhaps you would enjoy this view instead. I can change it to anything you'd like."
"This is fine," Rose quickly reassured him. "Thank you."
Nigel dipped his head. "I hope the room is to your liking. Your closet is over there, and your private bathroom beside it. Ah, do not be alarmed by some of the differences in your room to others. The school adjusts according to your species, as some students prefer to relax in their true form."
"True form?" Rose echoed, still looking around her room.
Her bed was larger than she had ever had and was up against the wall on the left side in the center of the room. It didn't take up a lot of room, as there was still plenty of space to work and stretch. The bed was made of a pale wood and had a pretty comforter with cat designs on it. She also saw a few stuffed cats on the bed, and part of her wanted to say she was too old for such, but the other part of her was very happy to have something to cuddle with at night.
At the foot of the bed was a matching chest, and on the right wall were two bookshelves—of which only two shelves were filled, though—and a matching wooden desk in between with a chair and lamp. On the desk was a stack of leather-bound notebooks and pens.
"Yes," Nigel said, "at Gardenia, we encourage our students to wear their human skin during classes for the sole sake of preparing them for the Surface Realm, should the time ever come."
"What you call Earth."
"It's a literal name," Nigel responded. "It's... it's very complicated, Miss Rose. You will learn about it when your class covers Crossroads, Pockets, and Dungeons. Professor Yūei is far better suited to explaining such than I."
Rose nodded, deciding to wait to ask more questions. She wanted to know all about her new world, but she felt oddly drained. Her day couldn't have gone on for very long, but all Rose wanted to do was curl into a bed and cuddle Mr. Whiskers.
Nigel's voice softened again, "I know you're probably tired. This must be quite a shock for you, but I must encourage that you have dinner with your kingmates for tonight before retiring."
Rose hesitated. "Okay."
He seemed to smile at her. "Good girl. You have clothes in the closet, and the dirty ones can be put in the bin over there. Your class schedule is on top of the notebooks, and..."
Nigel pulled out a small glass sphere. Rose held out her hand and the professor gently placed it in her palm. The inside was filled with white smoke that curled like rolling waves crashing against each other.
"This will guide you to anywhere you need to go in the school."
Rose wasn't sure about that, so she thought about needing to go to the bathroom and the smoke immediately swirled around before forming a firm, definite arrow that pointed towards her bathroom door.
Rose beamed in delight at seeing yet another new form of magic. "That's amazing."
"I'm glad you think so. Ah—but—would you do me a favor and keep this to yourself?" Professor Nigel asked her. "These things are rather hard to make and require special permission."
"Of course," Professor Nigel said. "If such a thing were to end up in the hands of a more mischievous student, could you imagine the chaos they would inflict? But I trust you, Miss Rose, to handle such a thing with responsibility."
Rose thought about the kind of chaos such an orb could be used for. If it really pointed to anyone or anything in the whole castle, then it could be used to track teachers. That would make it easy to avoid getting caught doing something bad. It could also be used to find places students shouldn't be allowed into.
Rose could understand why such a thing required "special permission". She was pleased that Professor Nigel trusted her enough to give her such an important item and promised to do her best and not disappoint.
"I promise I won't tell anyone else," Rose said eagerly. "Thank you for trusting me, Professor Nigel."
The tall professor tilted his head in acknowledgment. "Do enjoy your night, Miss Rose."
"Yes, Professor. Thank you, Professor."
Nigel nodded curtly before taking his leave and, for the first time since arriving, Rose was alone. She sat down on her bed, looking out the window at the relaxing view, feeling uncharacteristically tired.
She curled up on the bed, laying on her side and looking out at the peaceful mountains. The bed smelled like Nig—no, Mr. Whiskers, somehow. Rose grabbed one of the stuffed cats that looked most like him and closed her eyes.
Without meaning to, she fell asleep.