Lexia saw Kason and Harper’s stupified faces and gave them an inquisitive look, “What’s wrong?”
Kason and Harper exchanged a glance and then Harper replied, “Err, nothing. But it might be quite dangerous…”
Lexia looked at him, her gaze unchanging. “I know. That’s why it’s exciting!” She said enthusiastically.
“Ok,” Harper started again, “So it will be me, Kason and Lexia…”
“And me,” Alford added firmly, “If Lexia’s going, then so am I.”
“Okay,” Harper said, “It’ll be me, Kason, Lexia and Alford then.” He turned to Kayla, “Do you want to tag along?”
Kayla looked slightly reluctant, “Do you even know what they’re gonna do this year?” She asked, looking around at the group.
Kason shook his head. “I don’t even know where we need to meet.” He said with a sigh, looking around apologetically.
Kayla nodded absentmindedly, looking thoughtfully out of the window. She then turned, looked up at them with her mouth open to speak, saw Lexia looking at her expectantly and turned around to look out of the window again.
She turned around again after a few moments. “Yeah, I’ll come along.” She said with a slight grimace.
Harper, sensing the reluctance behind her response, shot her a grin and said, “So that’s all of us. We’ll deal with whatever they’re planning somehow.”
Kason grinned around at the group, he had only expected one or two of them to volunteer, if any, so he was glad that they had all ended up doing so.
They talked among themselves while Ms Luxford finished measuring the saturation of the rest of the class, discussing what the Botanists might have planned. They came up with several ideas, which became more dangerous and far-fetched as they went on.
Their discussion was put to an end, however, by Ms Luxford who, having finished with the last person in the class, snapped her fingers to get everyone’s attention.
“Most of you seem to have progressed by the expected amount.” She said, smiling, “It’s a good thing that all of you are taking this seriously, however, there seem to be a few of you who are a bit impatient with your progress.” She looked around at the class with a serious expression on her face, “I won’t say who those people are, but I cannot stress enough how important it is not to rush your training! I’ve said before how you can injure yourself badly if you rush ahead and expose yourself to high levels of ether for too long. I know that me saying this to you all in the safety of a classroom may make these injuries seem negligible or far off, but they are a very real threat that should not be taken lightly!”
The classroom was enveloped in a rather sombre atmosphere after this lecture. Kason happened to glance towards Harper just after Ms Luxford finished speaking and saw that he, instead of looking serious like everyone else, had a rather complex look on his face. He seemed half bashful, half annoyed.
The rest of the day went smoothly and the group didn’t discuss the upcoming trip again. That evening, after Kason finished his hour training session, he was walking out of the junior dorms on his way to meet Harper who was going to the coliseum, when he heard a now familiar voice calling out to him.
He turned around and saw Ledia walking towards him, waving at him to get his attention. He changed direction and walked towards her, wondering whether this meeting had anything to do with the invitation that he had received. ‘Perhaps she came to cancel it?’ He wondered wistfully as he walked.
Once he reached her, she greeted him with a warm smile and motioned for him to walk with her.
“Philera asked me to pass on the time and place to meet for the outing.” She began as they walked and Kason felt his heart sink like a brick through water. She hadn’t come to cancel after all. He knew it had been a rather vain hope, but he hadn’t been able to stop a vague feeling of expectation building in his chest.
“You and anyone who is coming with you, are to gather just on the other side of the forest which grows in front of the main building at three in the afternoon. Just follow the path through like you’re going to the monument or the coliseum and wait once you get to the other side if no one is there already.” Ledia continued, oblivious to Kason’s state of mind.
Kason nodded morosely, wondering at the same time, why they had picked him to go with them in the first place.
They carried on walking in the direction of the meditation gardens, going down the side of the planetarium and under the little bridge that connected it to the building on their left. As they walked, Ledia changed the subject, asking Kason how his time at the college has been so far.
Kason tried, in a round about way, to ask what it was that they would be doing, but he was ignored.
When they arrived at the range, Ledia stopped walking. “I’m going in here,” she said, pointing with her thumb at the range behind her, “So it’s bye for now. I’ll see you soon…”
Kason watched Ledia as she jogged off and sighed to himself. He then remembered that he had been going to see Harper and turned back around to go and find him.
They had arranged to meet in the nexus area of the main building and when Kason arrived, he found a fidgety looking Harper waiting for him.
“Where have you been!” Harper called out to him as he entered the nexus. Kason began to answer but was silenced as Harper marched over to him and began to usher him over to the exit leading towards the path to the coliseum.
“Actually, explain later, I’ve heard that Emelia will be in the arena sometime this evening. She might even be there now.” He said, pulling Kason along almost at a run.
They made it to the coliseum a short while later, quite out of breath, and after Harper frantically asked around about the matches that had taken place that evening, they found out that they had not missed Emelia’s match.
Harper gave a sigh of relief and sat down in one of the chairs placed next to the window looking out into the stadium. Kason sat in a chair nearby and stared out of the azure-tinted windows into the many environs visible in the coliseum.
After a moment, Harper turned his head to Kason and asked, “What were you trying to say earlier?”
Kason told him what Ledia had told him earlier. “Well, at least we know.” He said, his face impassive.
Suddenly, a huge cheer went up around the viewing platform and the two boys turned to see what was happening. In the arena, a familiar looking feminine figure was walking to the centre of the marshland which was the current arena type.
Harper let out a cheer of his own and stood up to get a better look. His previous expressionless expression having been replaced with an enthusiastic grin.
The next two weeks passed much too quickly for Kason’s liking and before he knew it, the Tarisday which the Botanists had appointed as the day of their outing had arrived.
It dawned a magnificent morning with clear skies and dew droplets sparkling on the vegetation of the forest out of the windows. Kason looked out of his window at the scene and couldn’t help feeling a small amount of dread. He couldn’t explain, even to himself, why he was so averse to participating in whatever it was they were going to be doing. ‘Perhaps I just don’t like doing something when I don’t know what it is I’m doing…’ He mused as he made his way to breakfast.
He whiled away his free time in the morning sitting in the library reading a book entitled ‘The Greatest Survival Guide for all Situations’. Although some of the advice it gave seemed to be bizarre and totally irrelevant to the situation that it was supposed to be the solution to, some advice was sensible and Kason was glad he had read it.
After lunch, Kason and Harper both sat up in the common room with Fenston as well as one of the other girls on their floor called Siana. They had explained to Fenston and Siana what their predicament was and were having a last brainstorming session before it was time for them to leave.
Two o’clock came around in what seemed like only a few minutes and Alford walked in. He sat down and watched them as they conversed with a wooden expression.
Half an hour later, Lexia walked in with Kayla, a grin on her face and wearing a rather strange outfit that seemed to be made of dyed leather. It was black and brown with patches of white and was comprised of a long sleeves top and a pair of trousers.
Kason and Harper saw her curious looking getup and gave her a questioning look.
She saw their gazes and stopped to strike a pose. “This is my adventuring outfit.” She said brightly, “Back home I used to go out to forests and other places quite often, so my father had this made for me.”
Kason examined the outfit as Lexia spoke, he thought that it looked very smart although it made her look more like a handsome young man than a girl. She did certainly look like she was ready for adventure though, the outfit had many pockets – on the breast and the waist on the top and then almost all the way down the side of the trousers.
Lexia stopped showing off her clothes and said seriously to the room. “We need to be going now. The last thing we want to do is be late.”
Kason nodded and him, Harper and Alford stood up from the seats they had been sitting in. They said their goodbyes to Fenston and Siana who wished them luck, and exited the common room for the nexus.
As they walked through the college buildings and towards the forest beyond the main building. As they walked out of the main building, Kason was surprised to find a sliver of excitement amidst the sea of anxiety churning in his stomach.
They arrived at the appointed place at ten minutes to three according to the ring on Kason’s finger. There was no one there apart from themselves, unless you counted the little small animals crawling around just under the eaves of the woodland they had just exited.
The group of five stood on the grass just beside the path for about ten minutes. They didn’t speak much, each preferring to keep to themselves for various reasons.
After ten minutes passed, five figures came into view coming down the path from the direction of the senior dorms. As they got closer, Kason recognised three of them, those being the figures of Philera, Perceval and Ledia. There were two others with them, both male and with green hair, but where one was tanned and looked like he could smash a tree with his bare hands, the other was skinny and tired looking.
The five reached the group of children after a few moments and Philera greeted Kason with a wave. “Glad to see you’re here,” She said with a smile that made Kason shiver. “You already know Percy and Ledia so I won’t introduce them, but these two over here should be new to you. The brick over there is James…” The well built young man nodded and raised his hand, “And the bean sprout is Hugo.” The thin young man shot Philera a reproachful look and then waved to the children.
“Will you introduce us to your friends?” Philera asked looking at the faces of the children who were looking curiously at the Botanists.
Kason looked around at them and was about to begin his introductions when Harper stepped forward of his own accord. “My name is Harper, first-year junior division!” He said enthusiastically and gave a sort of salute with his fist across his chest.
Philera looked at him with an amused expression and said, “Well met Harper, and the rest of you?”
The rest introduced themselves one by one, although none with the same flair as Harper. Alford’s was solemn, Kayla sounded nervous, and Lexia seemed to have reverted back to her quiet, timid form with any trace of her previous excitement gone.
Once they had finished with the introductions, Philera began to explain what the purpose of this expedition would be.
“Right,” She said, “I haven’t told you what we’re doing or where we’re going, I thought it would make it a good surprise. But now, I suppose, it’s about time you should know…”
Kason felt himself becoming nervous as the object of their many discussions came close to revelation.
“Today,” Philera continued excitedly, “We will be going into the Forest!”