Chapter 14 – First Days (1)

First Days – Part 1

      I wake up to Mimi moving around on my lap. My mind is fresh memories of Rachel, and that horrible day. That day that changed my life. Yet in my mind, something about it is stuck. Something crucial is trapped just beyond the fog of my mind.

      I feel eyes on me and look down, only to meet Mimi’s purple, amethyst eyes. She’s laying on her back, looking straight up at me; her hair is sprawled out on my lap and dangling off my legs. We hold eye contact for a very long, very brief moment. Mimi’s eyes have a teary sheen to them, yet they look as if they’re seeing right through me. I don’t look away, and she doesn’t talk.

      Her eyes are puffy and red, no doubt from her earlier release. Our eyes only break from one another when we’re jarred slightly as the train comes to a stop. Mimi uses this as her queue to sit up. She turns sideways and uses the opposite window of the carriage to seemingly give herself a once over as she brushes her fingers through her hair here and there.

      Rose gets out of her seat first and pulls Mimi to her feet. With a nod towards me, Rose directs Mimi out of the carriage while Kay approaches my side.

      “Thanks Kay,” I tell her when she gives me a hand to stand up with.

      I link her arm through mine and a smile tugs at the corner of her lips as we make our way out of the train. I step off the train, helped by Kay, and into the bustling city from that day, months ago.

      This time we have the luxury of walking at leisure through the city- not having a dying person on your back tends to do that for you. Mimi seems to have gotten some pep back into her step; she’s actually looking forward now and nodding during her conversations with Rose. Kay walks beside me watching everything and everyone like a hawk.

      “You can relax you know. Only a fool would attack us.”

      Kay looks at me with a face that can only be interpreted as her telling me I’m out of my mind. It’s honestly sort of cute and and I give her a poke to her side, which surprisingly, makes her jump.

      “Oh my god!”

      I say through a laugh. “You’re ticklish?!” She fervently shakes her head back and forth causing her hair to bob wildly.

      “Oh my god Kay. That’s amazing!”

      I tell her with a mischievous twinkle in my eye. However, I decide this is a secret I wanna keep all to my own for now, so I back off of her before the others notice- much to Kay’s apparent relief. Still, she’s always on guard. It would be nice to see her relax.

      Before too long we’re within eyesight of the Academy. I’ve missed this place more than I’d have thought. I haven’t seen Nina but a few times these last months. I hear a commotion to our side as we pass.

      The guards are taking a man away in chains- the man is bloodied and beaten. I stop the guards for a moment to ask what was going on. They stare on at me hesitantly before realizing the Valkyries were with me and who that must make me. With the normal salute I’ve become accustomed to receiving at this point, they explain to me that the man is a wanted murderer- the first one of his kind since Jack T. Skellin plagued the lands over a hundred years ago.

      “I didn’t do it! I swear!” The man screams through shattered teeth.

      The second guard who hasn’t spoken yet, bashes the man in the back of the head with the hilt of his sword and says, “The hell you didn’t! We caught you in the act!”

      “Y-y-yes, b-b-b-but I didn’t mean to! I swear it! I don’t know why I ever did it! I don’t know what came over me!” he cries out before receiving another bone-shattering hit to the skull. I can’t help but wince as he goes limp and hangs in the guards arms.

      The guard gives an audible tsk at this with a pissed look on his face- “That’s kind of what you get for being so rough on someone who can’t fight back,” I think to myself.

      “How do you not mean to kill fourteen women and boys?” The first guard asks with disdain and spits at the floor. He apologises and says they must get going now.

      “My my. Things have gotten a bit hectic over the past year,” Rose says before dropping the subject and turning back towards the road to the Academy.

      “That’s unfortunate. Good thing he was caught though,” I say to Kay who simply shrugs her shoulders. With that distraction out of the way we make our way to the Academy.

      Once we enter the gates we fade into the crowd of students. Basically no one pays us attention as we slip past the those around us. Though I use the word, “students” the ages vary widely. Almost everyone wears the same robe as my girls but I see children no older than Vol and adults easily old enough to be able to be my father. I suppose there’s hardly much in the way of dictation with age in such older times. The girls tighten their parameter around me as we bob and weave through the crowds. Eventually we make it inside and start making our way up to Master Domnis’ office. I haven’t seen him since that day. I wonder how he’s been, and if he’s remembered me at all.

      Eventually, we make it to his office and give his door a knock. At his insistence, we come in. Kay leads to the way with Rose beside me. Mimi brings up the rear and closes the door as we enter. As soon as I approach the center of the room Dom practically leaps out of his chair and approaches me. At first, Kay intercepts him, much to Dom’s agitation.

      “Come Smith, I’m not going to hurt the Zeroth. That would be suicide,” he tells her. It’s only after I offer her a nod that she steps off to the side and lets him approach me. Dom stands in front of me, easily a few inches taller than even Charlie. His craggy face seems sleep deprived and I think his hair is even more gray than before.

      He looks down at me, meeting my eyes with his deep brown ones. “Yes, yes,” he says, giving himself a nod. Then he looks me from head to toe while walking circles around me.

      “Yes, you fit the bill quite well my Zero,” he says while coming to a stop in front of me and dragging his hand through his beard. He reaches out and runs his ashen hands through my hair. The touch is unprompted and makes me a little uncomfortable. It’s one thing for the girls to touch me, it’s another for essentially a stranger. Nonetheless, I preempt what I know is coming by giving a look towards the others. To my surprise, even Mimi is looking defensive- despite saying how much she hates me. As the final strands of my hair fall between his fingers he clears his throat and says, “Yes. I see now Zero,” while nodding once more. There’s a knock at the door and he directs the person in.

      Charlie waltzes into the room with grace before stopping abruptly when she sees me. In that moment, I can’t describe just how happy I am. I haven’t seen Charlie in months either, and seeing her now has my heart swelling. Without even blinking I make my way across the room and up to Charlie.

      She gives me a wide grin and holds her arms open. I slide myself into them and we wrap each other tightly. I nuzzle into her chest and breath deep of her earthly scent. Oh how I’ve missed her. Being without her has made me feel incomplete- unwhole. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I guarantee it’s because of the Zeroth and that day we shared months ago.

      I reluctantly pull away from her but she reaches out and pulls me back in only to place a kiss on my forehead. When she lets go I look up and meet her beautiful, blue eyes. In that action, we’re sharing a moment. All Charlie has to do is lean in a few inches more and we’d  kiss for real; and I guarantee that’s what’s going to happen. Only, something else happens to surprise us all.

      “Ok get a room you two. Enough with the lovie dovie stuff,” Mimi calls out as she interjects herself in between us.

      “What?” is all I can say before she wraps herself around my arm and looks away. Charlotte looks on with, seemingly, amazement, before clearing her throat and realizing just what was going on, and where.

      “Right, Master Domnis, you called for me?”

      Domnis looks over at us with a perturbed look before simply shaking his head and telling Charlie that he has things he needs to talk to me about, and orders her to take the Valkyries out of the office and escort them to their classes.

      “Absolutely not. I want to be with Zero,” Mimi says.

      I have no idea what’s caused this change of heart but this is a damn near one eighty compared to how she’s been all day.

      “Come now Mimi, it’s only for a little bit alright? And you promised me you’d take your studies seriously if I did the same. Just let Dom talk to me for a little bit then I’ll join you guys later, alright?”

      I give her the best smile I can, but she looks away in a huff.

      “Whatever. But you better not waste time screwing off Zero.”

      I swear in that moment, I heard Rose nearly break her jaw by unhinging it so fast. I have to agree though, what the hell?

      Kay walks up with a confused look on her face, then pokes and prods Mimi. Mimi giggles and swats Kay’s hand away. “Fiiine,” she says, and swings her arms around me in a hug before letting going and dashing out of the room.

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      “What was that about?” Rose finally asks after having come to terms with this being reality.

      “I’m not sure?” I ask questioningly.

      With a nod, Rose and Kay walk out. Before following them Charlie peeks at me. No doubt I have a goofy grin on my face; and I give her another hug.

      “Let’s eat lunch together?” I ask, if only to see how her face lights up, and she gives me an energetic nod before leaving and closing the door. I turn to Dom who immediately forces me into a chair that he waved over.

      Dom takes the one opposite of me and, in a chipper tone, says, “Zero. I have done some digging on the history of the Zeroth. Did you know that in all of the records we currently have, the Zeroth hasn’t actually really done anything?”

      I look at Dom and ask, “What does that mean?” He runs his hand through the length of his beard- what has been a habit apparently.

      “What I mean is, I can’t find, in the histories, the exact point of the Zeroth.”

      “What? Wouldn’t you assume the Zeroth is supposed to lead in the wars? Or mediate between bickering nobles? From the story you talked to  me about from before, that’s what I gathered.”

      I state; only to be met with, “Yes yes. But the kingdom has been whole and hearty for two thousand years. The nobles bicker but not to a significant degree. And who are we to war with outside of ourselves? The Outerlands? They’re nothing but harmless savages. Our people and there’s have never been on bad terms.” I stare hard at Dom and wait for him to continue.

      “I don’t know how this was unknown to me. You are the Zeroth, and I am The Master of Academia. If anyone should know all there is to know about you, it would be I. Yet I knew nothing about this. So I ask you Zero, why are you so important if you serve no purpose?”

      He asks me and then lets out a sigh while leaning back into his chair, much to its protest. “I mean you no offense of course,” he quickly adds.

      I shake my head. “None taken. Though I have thought of that myself. I don’t really seem to have much to actually, you know, do.”

      “Yes! Exactly! I’ll have to keep researching old records. They are surprisingly hard to come by or read.” When I ask him why such important records would be kept scattered all over like that, he simply tells me, “That is the question isn’t it?”

      “I don’t know what is going on fully, but I do know something does not sit right my Zero. There is something… off about you. I can tell there is something different about your soul than the ones from before,” he states in a solemn voice.

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      “Of course,” is the extent of my reply to him.

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