One of the school nurses stepped into the room. She looked really weirdly familiar, but I couldn’t place why. The nurse started setting up kits while Caya continued.
“Bloodsabers must be carefully grown with Cani seeds drawn from your own blood,” Caya said. “Once the connection is made, your tool will be suitable to be encased with the clear crisalin, which we will hopefully be getting to over the next few days should your vein growth be adequate. Nurse Lyla Cadence will be handing out your seeds.”
The nurse’s name made it click for me, she must have been related to Lillia Cadence, that’s why she looked familiar. Gasp, if she had a big sister too…that’d be an easy in for a friendship. Similarities like that would probably be great starts to be friends. Then I’d be up to like six friends which was, unfortunately, unfathomable a year before.
Nurse Lyla handed each of us a packet of vein seeds. It wasn’t in a regular seed pack; it was in this weird clear goopy wrapping that felt gross to the touch. The vein seeds looked like little red beads.
“Don’t squeeze them,” Nurse Lyla said sternly to Syval, who immediately started squeezing his like a stress ball as soon as it was on his table.
Caya and Lyla handed out pots filled with dirt next and paint supplies. We each got to paint something on our pots. Caya said vein seeds feel a connection to their owners more when personal care is put into them. I had tried to paint Raina Starlight, but I messed it up immediately and covered it up with a blotchy spot. I hoped the seeds wouldn’t mind.
Just as I was mushing the whole seed packet into the dirt as instructed, someone asked if Caya could demonstrate her own blade lighting up. She smiled.
“Of course,” Caya said.
She held her blade across her chest, and with her free hand touched her pointer finger to the blood collector. A quick snap sound from the collector and the veins ignited inside.
“Bloodsaber veins glowing should sound like a harp string being plucked,” Caya said, holding her wrist blade out to the class. “Only a droplet of blood is needed from you each drawing.”
Caya’s blade looked beautiful. I had seen a few Cani veins glow on TV and stuff, but nothing as pretty as Caya’s, which looked like a rainbow in mist when it shone. We all excitedly chattered as she waved the bloodsaber back and forth, the ignited veins leaving sparkling trails behind them as the blade moved.
“Each bloodsaber has a blood pak,” Caya said. “Spelled P-A-K, which will be on the test. Every time you ignite your veins, you must draw blood. Blood paks have a finite amount of uses and must be disposed of properly once depleted.”
Kalei raised her hand.
“So does the blood have to be from the fingertip?” Kalei asked. “Cuz Zeta gets nosebleeds a lot and pretty regularly bites her face with her fangs so—”
“Hey!” I said. I resisted the urge to kick her, because Kalei had a huge strength advantage on me and I was also afraid Caya would kill me if I stepped even slightly out of line.
“Technically, any blood would work,” Caya said. “But it’s easiest, and most sanitary, to use a fingertip.”
I tried to suppress my childhood flashback of my first Cani blood pak drawing when we had to line up with our pots at the front of class. We were split into two sections to make it go quicker. I wasn’t sure which person I’d rather have, Caya and Nurse Lyla each seemed intimidating in their own way. I at the very least had to try not to scream-cry in front of whoever I ended up with.
While I awkwardly stared at Caya and Lyla collect blood from people in front of me, I suddenly thought of Jeans’ bloodsaber. Hers wasn’t as pretty as Caya’s, but it was hers. And whenever I thought of her bloodsaber, the last time I saw it flashed in my mind. I had to force myself not to instinctively raise my right hand as I did that day.
“Faleur, give me your hand,” Caya said. “You’re holding up the line.”
“O-oh. Right.” I said, crashing back to reality to see the students in front of me had finished already.
I set the pot down on the table and held my hand out for Caya. She held the blood pak to my fingertip and clicked it. It only stung for a second.
“See? Doesn’t hurt so bad.” Caya said.
Caya packed up my blood pak into a kit and placed it with my vein seed pot. I zipped back, not wanting to block the line any more than I already did. I found myself spending the rest of class staring at my palm, impressed at how quickly some wounds heal.
My first day of class at Rising Shards was done. Not as traumatic as I feared (I had mentally rehearsed scenarios ranging from sleeping in to somehow turning out to be a fake Cani and getting publicly shamed in front of the school), but I was still exhausted even though it wasn’t a full day.
“After a long boring day of class, I could use some good ol’ Tyrant Rangers.” Kalei said.
“Tyrant Rangers?” I asked. “That’s what that pin is, right?”
Kalei was incredibly disappointed that I had no idea what a Tyrant Ranger was. So did Syval, who jumped into the conversation.
“How have you not heard of Tyrant Rangers?” Syval said. “It’s like one of the most iconic game series, like. Ever.”
“Like ever!” Kalei said. “Which one’s your favorite?”
“Uhhh,” Syval said. “Putting me on the spot here. Umbra of the Dawnmoon.”
“Oooh yeah, I love that one!” Kalei said. “That’s top five for me. My fav’s Deadlight Chronicler, but I’ve been playing a lot of Adventuring of Zup lately too. Are you excited for Rememberencing of the Guardians?”
“Uh, why wouldn’t I be?!”
Oka and I stared blankly at them.
“Zeta, what’s happening?” Oka whispered.
“I think they’re talking about video games,” I said.
“Oh,” Oka said.
Kalei noticed our awkward looks and awkward stiff as a board posture that Oka and I shared when we were in an uncomfortable social situation.
“Do you two have any idea what we’re talking about?” Kalei asked.
“Video games…I think.” I asked.
“Have you even played a video game before?” Kalei asked.
“The only games I’ve played are math education games at school and Raina Starlight’s Farm Adventure on my computer.” I said.
“Zeta, I say this with love and friendship, but that is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
“Oh, like something called Adventuring of Zup is much better.” I said.
“I’ve never even played any.” Oka said.
“Alright, this shall not be,” Kalei said. “Come along friends, we’re getting a starter lesson. Syval, you in?”
“Uh, sure!” Syval said. “I saw there’s an eGame 2 set up in this building’s lounge actually, it seemed to have a pretty good library.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to play any games, and Oka didn’t look like she wanted to either. Still, Kalei brought us to the lounge where we checked out a bit of time on one of the game stations. Her and Syval had talked the whole way there about all the games they liked and it was like when a show got big that I hadn’t watched yet because Stella wouldn’t shell out the cash for the paid network, but I wanted to fit in so I pretended like I watched and nodded along.
“We’ll start you off light with some Cramshank Eternal.” Kalei said.
Oka was staring intently at the console, that had little LED light bars running around it.
“I’ve never been around something so advanced,” Oka said. “My school was very strict on that kind of thing.”
“It’s not that advanced,” Syval said.
“Oh,” Oka said.
“Yeah,” Kalei said. “This gen’s almost over, just wait for the eGame 3, then you’re gonna see advanced.”
Oka blushed. I joined her in blushing when they tried to make us play the game. We were very not good at it but in our defense, the game was very hard and very mean. I couldn’t figure out how to make the muscle man shoot the gun and kept exploding myself, while Oka couldn’t figure out the looking around and moving at the same time thing. It was way, way worse with Syval watching too, because I didn’t know him well enough and I was embarrassing myself immediately.
“Maybe we need to ease you in with something even lighter.” Kalei said, scanning the collection of games under the TV. “They have Dentist Haircut!”
Kalei loaded up Dentist Haircut: The Prologue to the Movie.
“Dentist Haircut?” Oka asked.
“It’s a huge movie coming out soon, haven’t you heard of it?” Syval asked. “It’s got Toot McNoot in it! The wife’s ex-husband is the current husband’s dentist…and he needs a haircut.”
“I haven’t…” Oka said.
The game was easier to control; it was just a pointer and a 3D replica of the house that Dentist Haircut was gonna take place in. If you clicked the right stuff you got little clips from the movie. I was not entirely sure why Dentist Haircut was the most hyped movie of the year, but I didn’t know enough to question it.
“I read a rumor there will be a full game of Dentist Haircut to coincide with the release of the sequel, House Guests Haircut.”
We all looked to the spot on the couch where Aira suddenly sat.
“Oh, my bad,” Aira said. “Did I say my gift is teleportation?”
“…you did not.” I said.
“It’s really convenient when I need to be somewhere quick, but then it’s less convenient in situations like this where I accidentally intrude.” Aira said.
“…uh huh.” Kalei said.
“If you ever need a teleport, just say the magic words and I’ll be there!” Aira said. “Well, see you later!”
Aira immediately blinked away.
“Did that just happen, or have I been playing too much of this dentist game?” I asked. “Can you guys just play a game and we can watch?”
“Yes, please!” Oka said, holding her controller out like it was a forced meal.
I wanted to dump my face in ice from how much embarrassed blushing I had done, but at least Oka had suffered through that with me. Kalei and Syval started playing their game, Tyrant Rangers, which was some kind of fantasy adventure. I asked if we could see it from the beginning so I could know what was going on but was informed that would take too long to get to the good stuff.
“We’ll have to do this again!” Syval said. “I better go though, see ya later!”
We didn’t stick around much longer after he left, but we didn’t know the building as well. We did a few loops trying to figure out where we were.
“Wow,” I said. “Did we walk into a museum by accident?”
In turning just a single corner, the floor changed from regular plain beige to a fancy marble. The walls were all white and had stone pillars and small fountains all around. Between them were paintings that individually looked like more than I could afford with a lifetime of my allowance. Down the center was a row of weird cube things, each a different color. There were even those fancy red rope things at the front that we walked past without noticing.
“I guess it’s another lounge area,” Oka said. “There’s enough benches at least.”
“Is that what those are?” Kalei asked. “They look like…big blocks or something.”
“Well I’m beat, so I say they’re benches!” I said.
We all sat down on the cube shaped bench, and immediately felt it give way under us.
“Ahh!” I yelped as I fell to the ground. I bashed against Oka and Kalei as our combined weight for some reason completely smashed up the cube.
“What the…” Kalei said as she snapped back up. “What kind of crappy bench is this?! I coulda gotten really hurt there!”
“Ow…” I said.
Oka was up already and helped me to my feet.
“What a piece of junk,” Kalei said, kicking at one of the fragments of former bench.
“How do they expect anyone to sit on these if they can’t support three people?!” I said.
The announcement speaker tones rang out.
“Attention students!” Principal Penteldtam said through the speakers. “I have a thrilling announcement! Later today, when the official unveiling begins, please direct yourselves toward Hall 4C, where you’ll find the debut of a lovely gallery!”
I felt a bit queasy all of a sudden.
“We’ve assembled a collection of some great pieces from famous artists of today and the uh. Yesterdays. All in a cozy aesthetic for maximum art experiencing.”
“Hey…this isn’t…Hall 4C is it?” I asked.
“Oh no way, this isn’t—” Kalei said, looking above us to see a sign that said HALL 4C.
“Ah crap…” Kalei said.
“Of course, there is one piece I’m very excited about,” Penteldtam said. “Down the center of the hallway is a work of art I made myself! I call my exhibit The Effects of Mother’s Upbringing Told Via a Series of Large Cubes. I will give extra credit points to anyone who can figure out the deeper meaning behind my art!”
Stomach fully dropped. All three of us in some state of frantic grasping of hair.
“Oh no…” Oka said.
“Ah crap!” Kalei said.
“No…no….” I said.
This was worse than most of the scenarios I had mentally rehearsed. Even worse than the one where rampaging elephants destroyed the school. Even worse, the one where I got publicly shamed now seemed like the most likely to happen.