Kason found an opportunity to escape after around another half hour. Philera stood up, announced that she was going to get a drink and left for the shop entrance, leaving Kason with a perfect opportunity to make his getaway. He got up, thanked Perceval for getting him lunch and said goodbye to the others before leaving back in the direction of the monument.
After transferring back to the college’s plane of reality, he made his way back along the paths that led to the junior dorm building. As he walked, he thought about the invitation that had been forced upon him by Philera and shivered subconsciously.
The words ‘should be able to get away with it’ kept dancing around his mind and he was loath to think of what that phrase meant. ‘Of course,’ he thought as he walked through the main building to get to the courtyard, ‘They could just have been struggling with money or something like that, it isn’t necessarily something that will get people into trouble…’
As he entered the junior dorms though, he remembered the look that had been on Philera’s face when she said that and such naive thoughts evaporated into thin air. “That was the face of someone planning trouble…” He muttered to himself as he entered his room.
Kason spent the rest of the day in his room trying to think of how to somehow worm his way out of having to attend whatever it was the Botanists were planning in two weeks time without appearing rude or ungrateful. In fact, he was afraid that if he failed to show up, then they might find some way to get back at him and he didn’t want that, having already seen some of what they were capable of.
It wasn’t until he had had dinner and was changing to get into bed that he remembered the things he had bought during the day. He fumbled around in the top he had been wearing and pulled out two crystals, both light blue in colour. One contained the lumber he had bought and the other, the little black box in which was the necklace.
He put them on one of the shelves that ran around the room in a position where he wouldn’t miss them and made a mental note to ask someone if they could get the stuff out of them for him. Then he flopped onto his bed, pulled the covers over himself and drifted off into a troubled sleep full of obscure yet terrifying images of various plants committing acts of wanton destruction.
Kason woke up early the next morning, feeling quite cheerful; having forgotten about the invitation he had received the day before. He climbed out of bed, got dressed and then exited his bedroom with the two blue gems safely stuffed into one of his pockets. He walked down the corridor and through the door to the nexus where he stopped for a few minutes and looked around, standing in the centre of the blue-carpeted room. He looked at the labels above the doors, trying to find one that might lead to wherever Supervisor Rayleth stayed or some other staff member who he could ask to take out the items he had bought the day before from the blue gems.
He looked around for a couple of minutes, a slight frown slowly creeping over his face as he gazed at the long line of doors. Suddenly, he felt a thump on his back and he turned quickly to see Harper standing behind him.
“Mornin’,” He yawned at him, “What you frowning at?”
“Good morning. I just realised that it looks like there are more doors here than there were when we arrived.”
Harper looked quickly around at the doors on the walls, “Really? Well, Brent said that this place adds more floors when it needs them, so they’ll need more doors to get to them, won’t they? We arrived quite early, after all, so it’s no surprise that more people arrived after us, anyway, let’s go get breakfast. I’m starving.”
The two of them walked into the dining hall, sat down and ordered food from the menus. It popped out of the table a few moments later as usual and they began to eat. As they ate, Kason asked Harper if he knew where he could find Supervisor Rayleth, hoping that he would know so that he could get his purchases out of their little blue gems and store them back in his room before the first lesson of the day started.
Unfortunately for Kason however, Harper didn’t know, so he fell back upon the idea of asking Ms Luxford before either lunch or at the end of the day so that he wouldn’t have to carry them around during any lessons. After breakfast, there was still some time before lessons began so Kason bade Harper goodbye and went back to trying to find Supervisor Rayleth.
After spending around twenty minutes wandering around with no success what so ever though, he gave up and began making his way to the classroom for lessons. When he entered the classroom a few minutes later, he saw that Harper was already sat in his place, talking to the person who as sitting behind him.
Kason walked over and sat down in his place next to Harper who turned from his conversation to greet him, “Did you have any luck finding the Supervisor?”
Kason shook his head and, as Harper went back to his conversation, lay his head on the table as a sudden feeling of tiredness swept over him. He closed his eyes, meaning to rest for the few minutes which were left before class began, but they sprung suddenly open as he remembered the invitation from the Botanists.
He turned his head on his desk so that he could look at Harper, ‘Would Harper come along with me?’ He thought morosely as he contemplated how best to handle the situation. He decided to ask him after he finished talking, but his conversation ended up going on until the sharp tapping of shoes on the floor told Kason that Ms Luxford had arrived.
The lesson started almost as soon as Ms Luxford entered the classroom. Ms Luxford moved gracefully up to her podium and began to speak, “This is the beginning of your second week in the college, so hopefully you have all gotten used to it. Today is the day where I check your ether saturation again, I hope you all have been training diligently and haven’t missed out on any sessions. I must also point out that, on the flip side, you mustn’t become too obsessed with training and go over the hour limit, otherwise you will end up hurt and we wouldn’t want that happening.”
She beamed around at the class with her normal warm smile and Kason thought back on his training over the past week. He felt a twinge of guilt as he remembered that he had forgotten to train on the second day that they had had classes, but apart from that, he had been training each day since. He hoped that this one day of dalliance wouldn’t be too obvious when Ms Luxford checked his progress.
Ms Luxford then proceeded to call out the names of students and went through the same procedure as she had the previous week when she had tested their initial saturation levels. Harper was called out first from their group of friends, then Kayla, Lexia, Alford and lastly, Kason. When Kason heard his name, he walked to the front of the class and stood before Ms Luxford. She reached out her hands and the same feeling of absentmindedness swept slowly over him, his eyes drooped slightly and the faint whispers again sounded in his mind.
Then the moment passed and Ms Luxford caught his arm as he stumbled, still not used to the sudden transition. “Your saturation is now about 33.4C which is about what is expected given that you were only at 32C last week.” Ms Luxford said in a kindly voice as she steadied him. As Kason looked at her smiling face, he felt again the tug of guilt in his stomach and smiled awkwardly back at her before making his way back to his seat.
When he arrived there he was greeted by the figure of Harper slumped over his desk exuding an air of gloom.
“Umm, what happened?” Kason asked as he sat down.
Harper let out a heavy sigh and peeled himself off his desk, “My saturation only went up by 2.1C.” He said and let out a sigh full of despair before lying back down on his desk. Kason felt a sudden stab of anxiety, ‘Mine only went up by 1.4C…’ he thought, starting to feel a bit despondent, ‘Perhaps Ms Luxford was only trying to comfort me when she said that my progress was as expected?’
Kayla, who had obviously overheard what Harper had said, turned suddenly in her seat and spoke exasperatedly to Harper, “What do you mean by only 2.1C? Mine only went up by 1.4C and you’re complaining about yours not being enough.”
“Yeah,” Harper said, his voice slightly muffled by his head being buried in his arms, “But at this rate, it’ll be ages before I get to one hundred Cs. It’s gonna take forever to start learning magic!”
Kayla gave a derisive snort, “Of course it’ll take ages, Ms Luxford said it takes just under a year to get to one hundred from thirty.” She then rolled her eyes at Harper’s unresponsive form on the desk and turned back around to face the front, a scowl on her face.
Kason grinned slightly at this exchange, having gotten to know Kayla a little bit during the past week, he was quite sure that her snappiness was probably coming from her own impatience at how little her saturation had risen.
He looked over at Harper, “What’s your saturation now then?” He asked curiously.
“According to Ms Luxford, it’s 41.1C…” He then went on to mutter something quietly that Kason couldn’t hear.
“How about yours?” Kason asked Lexia who had turned around in her seat to watch their exchange.
“I’m on 60.8C now.” She said with a happy smile, obviously content with her progress so far. Kason wondered whether he should bring up the issue of the Botanists’ invitation with her and ask if she would accompany him on this dangerous endeavour. After a few moments of thought, however, he decided against it. Lexia gave him the feeling of someone who was more reserved and wouldn’t like to be embroiled in whatever treacherous misadventures the Botanists had planned.
“But Harper,” Lexia said, bringing Kason out of his reverie, “You shouldn’t be so upset about the rate your saturation is increasing. I remember my dad once telling me that the average increase per day should be something like 0.2C so the amount you’ve progressed this past week might even end up being dangerous! Are you sure that you haven’t been going over the hour limit?”
Harper looked up and rolled his eyes at her, “I’m fine, I know how to take care of myself.” Lexia looked like she wanted to say more but in the end, she just sighed and turned back to Kason, “I saw you walking back from the direction of the monument yesterday afternoon, did you go to Constantin?”
A look of surprise came over Kason’s face, “Yeah, I went to buy some stuff.” As he said this, it suddenly struck him that this would be a good time to ask their group of friends if anyone would be willing to risk going with him to whatever it was the Botanists were planning. He got everyone’s attention and told the group about the invitation he had received and looked around at them expectantly, hoping that at least one of them would volunteer to come.
Harper looked at him with a worried expression on his face. “That sounds quite sketchy…” He said.
“I know,” Kason replied, “But I can’t refuse anymore, can I? I already said I would go, well no I didn’t say I would go, but you know what I mean!”
“Can’t you just not go?” interjected Alford from the other side of Lexia.
“NO!” yelled Kason and Harper at the same time.
The entire classroom went silent at the sudden loud noise and everyone looked over at them with curious eyes. Ms Luxford looked over at them as well and said, “Is anything wrong boys?”
Both Kason and Harper flushed with embarrassment and both hurried to assured Ms Luxford that things were fine. They turned back to find Kayla giggling at them and Lexia suppressing a grin. Kason flushed a deeper red and looked down at his desk while Harper tried to steer their attention back to the invitation by carrying on with the conversation from before.
“He can’t just not go,” Harper said insistently, “They’d probably do something terrible to him!”
“And it would be a bit rude,” Kason mumbled, but no-one heard him.
Alford, who hadn’t reacted to their sudden outburst, frowned and asked, “What makes you say that?”
“Ah well…” Harper suddenly looked slightly sheepish, “Don’t tell anyone else I said this, my brother would kill me if he heard that I’d been telling people.” The group nodded in agreement, “Well, apparently, the Botanists do something every year around the time when the new students arrive. When my brother first came here, he was invited to join them and during this ‘event’, but he chose to ignore the invitation. According to him, once they realised that he hadn’t turned up, they sent out some people and ambushed him while he was walking around the college!”
“Did they hurt him?” Kayla asked nervously.
“They didn’t hurt him exactly,” Harper replied with a wry smile, “They knocked him out with something, then stripped him to his underwear and hung him from a tree which they grew in the middle of the courtyard with a sign around his neck saying ‘Breaker of Promises’!” Harper sighed, “Apparently, the supervisor at the time used to be one of the Botanists whilst she was at the college so she left him there for an entire day before getting him down.”
The group fell into silence once Harper finished his story. Kason sat with cold sweat breaking out on his brow, ‘I don’t want to end up like that,’ He thought to himself as he sat there digesting the contents of the story. He was still thinking about it a couple of minutes later when he suddenly felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder.
“Don’t worry so much Kason, I’ll come along with you,” He looked up and saw that Harper was standing next to his desk, looking at him with a determined gleam in his eye. “Is it not the duty of friends to stick together through thick and thin?” He continued grandly, staring out of the window with a faraway look in his eyes. Kason looked up at Harper, a feeling relief washing over him, he was glad that Harper had volunteered.
“I’ll go too then,” said a voice from beside them.
They both looked around and were stunned to find that it was Lexia who had spoken.