“Are they gonna like feed us, or do we have to go somewhere to get food?” Kalei asked.
“I don’t think dinner’s being served for a while,” Oka said. “The teachers are coming in next, then we get the tour with our advisor, and then I think it’s the principal introduction.”
“Ugh, I’m starving already.” Kalei said. “There better be a food break in there somewhere.”
The row of seats next to us had been filled by two girls, who shared headphones as they watched something on a tablet.
“I hate this part, Aira!” The smaller girl said. “Skip it skip it skip it!”
“Nooo this is the best part! Arlit’s revenge!” The girl named Aira said. She had a hard candy in her mouth.
The small girl noticed us staring and looked like we’d just shot her. They took their headphones out.
“Oh, sorry.” Aira said.
“It’s fine,” I said. “Everyone’s talking in this room so I’m surprised you can even hear it. Are you two watching Tower of Hate and Love?”
“You watch that crap?” Kalei asked.
I withered under Kalei’s powerful gaze.
“I uh. You know. Sometimes when…I mean…yeah.” I said.
“Me too,” Kalei said, smiling again. “It’s so terrible, but it’s so good.”
I sighed in relief, and then the short girl sighed in even deeper relief and whispered, “Conflict avoidance.”
“Like it’s a dump of a show, but it’s my dump of a show.” I said.
We introduced ourselves to the girls.
“I’m Aira,” The taller girl said. “and this is Laenie! She’s shy.”
“You’re joking,” Kalei said.
Laenie kept her head low as she fidgeted with her hands. She muttered something.
“Huh?” Aira said, practically shouting compared to Laenie.
Laenie cleared her throat.
“Sorry,” Laenie said. “It’s nice to meet you three.”
Laenie made a peep noise again, and her face turned red.
“What’s this show about?” Oka asked, poking at their tablet as if she’d never seen one before.
“Oof,” Aira said. “Where do you even start?”
“It’s about…uhhh,” I said. “Well, it starts with this guy and he hates his wife, but he can’t leave her because a contract binds his family to be married to people from the other wealthy districts. So he cheats on her with this other girl, but then she turns out to be a serial killer.”
“So, he’s not a good person…” Oka said. "And I guess a serial killer isn't a good person either."
“Yes, but that’s kind of the point I guess?” I said. “There are a few good people in the show though. There’s like eighty main characters. That guy is just for the first few seasons, then they move to a different time period with his kids, then the grandkids, but ratings tanked with him so they moved on to the next—”
“This is really confusing.” Oka said.
“It makes more sense if you watch.” Kalei said. “Or if it doesn’t, you at least get good eye candy.”
“Maybe I can catch up between classes?” Oka said.
“I have the first few seasons!” I said. I had every season, but I didn't want to reveal my full Tower of Hate and love fandom all at once. “I guess we could stream it too whenever, but I like holding the actual thing better sometimes.”
“We could have show nights!” Aira said. “Movie nights…that would be good to redeem the images of movie nights after what my cousin did at the last movie night I went to with the mustard and industrial glue…”
“Excuse me,” A girl said as she tapped me on the shoulder.
I kinda wanted to hear Aira’s wild story, but I still turned around. There was just a girl with her head turned down towards her notebook. She kept biting the tip of her pen as she worked.
“Yes…?” I said.
“Have you been briefed on the concept of decorum?” She asked.
The girl brushed aside her wavy bangs away from her glasses. There wasn’t a single fray off her uniform; she looked like she stepped out of an ad for Rising Shards. If I wasn’t so embarrassed, I would have asked her for some tips because even with all my morning pre-event “make Zeta look pretty” efforts, I didn’t get anywhere close to her level. Even her fangs were pristine.
“Huh?” I said.
“I’m speaking to you because I assume you can exert some kind of control over your companions.” The girl said. “I have a very important assignment I’d like to get done.”
“An assignment?” I asked. “Already?”
The girl glared at me like I’d said something offensive.
“I’ll…try to keep them quiet.” I said.
“I appreciate it.” She said coldly before turning back to her work.
I didn’t really need to tell the others to keep it down as we all kind of hit an awkward wall at once, maybe all of us were just tired from the ride. All of the students had filled seats now.
While I was expecting to see her, I wasn’t expecting to see two famous Cani streamers in class. At least, I was pretty sure it was them. A girl with way too much hair gel looked like he was trying really hard to impress the duo of Chellsi Mikeila-Keila. I wasn’t entirely sure it was them, but nobody else seemed to notice the possible makeup streamers.
A few teachers stepped into the room, led by a stern looking woman in military gear. She had a gaudy name tag over her gear that all the faculty had to wear. It said: Caya Kilander. So she was one of the Kilanders Diast had told me about that had something big going on at Rising Shards. Dr. Diast walked in closely behind her and waved when she saw me. There were three other teachers behind them.
I did a bit of research on the Kilanders while I waited for school outside of the more fluff stuff I knew about them from their show. I read that principal was one of them, and that the family owned the huge Kilander umbrella of companies that included Redgre Cola, Taramin Industries, and had a big stake in Rising Shards’ funding.
Caya Kilander suddenly stomped a foot and stood up straight like we were her soldiers, and everyone immediately went silent.
“Hello students,” she said. “Welcome to Rising Shards. We are the advisory staff for your classroom.”
“We also teach too,” Diast said. Caya scowled at her. “What? That’s pretty important info, too.”
“I was getting to that,” Caya said. “First year Cani students will report to their advisor with their progress with their classwork and abilities, and any concerns they may have. Your advisor is your gateway to this new world. We have each been assigned a group of students from this class. Please join us when your name is called.”
Caya called her students forward. I really hoped I had Dr. Diast. Ovie was with Caya, which somehow didn’t surprise me. I let out a small gasp when the duo’s name was called, I was totally right that they were Chellsi and Mikeila-Keila. Again, nobody else seemed to care but they were probably the most famous people I’d met in my entire life. I wondered if it’d be weird to get their autograph as the two teachers for the guys in our class called their students up. Mr. Krangel was a short but intense looking teacher, and he had hair gel girl in his group, whose name was Kyre Krista. Mr. Soleri called his students softly, as if he couldn’t be pressed to care about them.
Diast called her students next.
“Alright let’s see, I got Kalei Koridia, Oka Ohri, Aira Orbis, Laenie Aadris, Lillia Cadence, and Zeta Faleur. You all here? Perfect. Come on up.”
Intense relief washed over me. I know Diast said she’d be my advisor, but I still thought something could have gotten mixed up since she told me that. As soon as we grouped up in front of her, all of our power blockers started talking at the same time.
“Next, you will be joining your advisor for a tour of the school. Please stand near your advisor.” They all said at once.
“Thanks, creepy robot voice,” Diast said, pressing a button on her wristband. “And mute.”
Diast looked us over.
“Oooof. This is a lot more than I’m used to,” Diast said. “Can I do this tour without any of you wandering off? Do we need a buddy system?”
“It’ll be OK, Dr. Diast,” I said.
“Perfect!” Diast said. “Alright, everybody get in a single file line. Or don’t. Whatever, let’s just go. It’s pretty breezy until the void test.”
While I literally had just said “It’ll be OK, Dr. Diast.”, hearing her say “void test” made me immediately freak out. I unfortunately already had a taste of experience with the void.
“But then summer ended. And I was alone.”
“Hey, Zeta?” Oka asked.
I snapped back to the present. Back to Rising Shards, far away from Wildfire Hearts. But not as far as I would have liked.
“Huh?” I asked.
“You were just kinda standing there spacing out.” Oka said. “You OK?”
“Yeah, I was just…” I trailed off. “Thinking.”
It was hard to bite my cheek in a way to hold the crying in but also not too hard to cut myself open with my fangs. I looked at the spot on my wrist where Jeans’ wristband used to be. I suddenly didn’t mind the power blocker as much, it covered up the small mark left by the piece of denim.