I very, very nearly lost control over my Water mana coating from the shock. I needed a lot more time, but I decided to carefully unwind the manifestation and dispel the mana, just to be on the safe side.
“In class?” I asked, when I noticed the bizarreness of the news.
He grew a thin smile. “During the class period, Tiana, not in the classroom. She left to attend to her needs.”
I wondered for a moment why she would be handling personal business during class time, then realized Ged was politely refusing to say ‘she went to the toilet’.
“An attack right here on campus…” I mused, shaking my head.
“We’ll be doing a campus-wide search. We need those capable of sensing mana and especially, we need those capable of detecting miasma. That means the members of the demon patrol. I hope you’re not offended that I’m using them to look for a vampire.”
It made perfect sense, since the same skills would apply, so I didn’t mind at all. But I wanted to know, “Why would Lady Chiara be part of it?”
“Her mother is a mermaid.”
I blinked. Okay, I knew very little about merrow, but that was confirmation that they had special senses. It wasn’t a surprise; other nonhuman mortal race do as well. Elves can read mana and indirectly sense miasma with Light magic. Dwarves have Earth and Darkness magics that can read rock and earth and materials. Beast kindred have night vision, and sensitive ears and noses. I wasn’t sure if halflings had a cheat, but now that I knew merrow did, it seemed likely.
But for Chiara to actually be half merrow. With the exception of Beast kindred blood, half-race children almost always have characteristics of both races. I wondered what other merrow characteristics Chiara would have.
We reached a building on the far side of the parade grounds. As we entered, Ged finally spoke again. “This is the student guardhouse. My office is here.”
“So this is where Cord brought my stuff,” I commented. My knight-attendant was carrying gear that I might need in an emergency to school and back everyday.
Ged nodded as we proceeded down the hall. “Although you may not wish to armor up.”
I tried to think back, but couldn’t think of an instance where any royal other than Uncle Owen had actually seen me in my fairy armor. Had Uncle warned Ged about how risqué it was, or did Ged just think armor wasn’t necessary for this job?
I decided it was probably the latter. In modern combat, only heavy fighters wear more than a jack for armor. He probably just meant it wasn’t the situation for it.
The door said “Student Commander” on a very antique sign, and on a much newer plate in a plate holder, “H.H. Gerard of Orestania.”
He paused before going in. As he looked at me, his expression grew very hard, like his facial muscles were all under tension.
His voice sounded angry as he said, “Those idiots in the administration actually took time to confirm your whereabouts first, before they contacted me. Fortunately, you were definitely in class at the time. I just hope your mother doesn’t hear that they did that.”
It wasn’t unreasonable, in my opinion. Confirming the location of known vampires was just common sense in this situation.
“It isn’t a problem, Big Brother.”
“It is a problem!” he retorted. Not loudly, but firmly. “I know you wouldn’t do such a thing. You always take care of things properly. But make sure you’re always with people that you can trust to confirm your whereabouts. If the school starts distrusting you, it will become difficult for you to attend classes.”
I met his eyes and nodded, not because I agreed, but to show that I would comply. He was too much in earnest for me to argue with him.
The room itself was a medium-sized office with a desk facing a number of chairs and a couch along the walls. A single cabinet sat behind and to one side of the desk. To the other side was a second door.
A small group of individuals waited there, variously sitting or standing, equipped with either weapons or magic foci. I didn’t have a particular expectation what sort of group Ged might have put together, but any expectation I formed wouldn’t have looked like what I saw.
I felt no surprise seeeing the swordsman in the advanced school uniform, a navy blue tailored waist jacket with a vaguely military feel, including a closed collar and brass buttons, and matching trousers. He was perfectly the chiseled worthy that I expected.
But, next to him sat a petite, willowy silver-haired girl who looked like she might not weigh a hundred pounds. She wore the advanced school women’s uniform.
In other words, she was in a white full-length chemise with cuffed sleeves and ties to close the bosom under a laced full-length open bodice held together in front with a ribbon pushed through eyelets at the top, tied in a bow, and lacings from there down to the waistline. From the waist down to the ankles the bodice continued unlaced. It was very similar to the dresses worn by the palace ladies who raised Tiana and the royal kids. Perhaps because the female advance schoolers were more likely to head to such jobs than to the military?
The girls in the upper and lower schools wear waist-length bodices like women serving in the military. They bear a vague resemblance the coats of the guys’ military jackets and they wear the medium-length skirts and boots that female clerks in the military wear. The only truly civilan touch is the same ribbon as the upper-school women, pulled through similar eyelets fastening the top of the bodice in a bow.
A toned, solid-looking swordswoman stood with her back against a book case was in such a uniform. Next to her, a boy who only came up to her shoulders barely filled the upper school men’s uniform– essentially the same as the advanced school uni but with shoulder boards instead of epaulets– and round glasses that had me thinking Hogwarts instantly. It didn’t help that he held a massive magician’s staff.
At least those four seemed vaguely in line with expectations, although neither of the magicians projected anything like Ceria’s adventurer grit.
But the male & female pair of halflings were a huge surprise. Halflings are rare in general society. They don’t hide away quite to the extent of gnomes, but they are still insular folk. They put their villages in out-of-the way places, like hidden in the foothills of the Dragonsbacks or in some private corner of a county, far from the main roads. These were the first I had encountered; the last ones Tiana had seen were the halflings in the village she defended before I came to Huade.
Both of these wore upper school uniforms, with him equipping a short sword and leather gauntlets and her carrying a long-necked lute resembling a shamisen. A bard, perhaps? But bards normally also carried self-defense weapons and I saw none.
Then there was the dwarven warrior who seemed tremendously out of place in a school. I’ve seen them in smithies, in villages, in taverns, in mines, working as mercenaries, as guards or as adventurers… I had never seen one in anything like a scholarly setting. And this ax-wielding heavy fighter did look like he could be a guard or a mercenary. He was in the advanced school uniform.
Next to him stood a girl wearing a hooded cloak over her student uniform. She looked like she was ready to dive for cover behind the dwarf at any moment. She carried a crystal orb cradled in slender fingers which was probably her magic focus. I’ve seen that kind of crystal before; it’s made by melting together adamant and quartz in a Dwarven magic forge.
Ged said, “Tiana, these are the members of the demon patrol. Officially, it’s the First Squad of the Student Guard. Everyone calls it the demon patrol because most of our anti-demon specialists are gathered into it.”
“And not because they suspect us of demonhood,” the human swordsman quipped with a smirk.
Ged ignored him and turned to the rest. “Everyone, this is Lady Tiana Pendor. I’ll have everyone introduce themselves in a minute, but first…”
He looked at the human swordsman and said, “Gabe, go find out Lady Chiara’s elective and summon her, please. You’ll be teamed with her.”
“What? Why?” retorted the silver-haired girl. Ged ignored her, and she pressed her lips together, as if regretting she had spoken up. Perhaps she felt she shouldn’t be questioning the prince.
“Your Highness,” the young man called Gabe replied while bowing, and quickly left.
Ged went around his desk and pulled a drawer. He extracted a small box, from which he took a ring.
Coming back to me, he said, “Take off your glove.”
My ‘gloves’ are gauntlets of fairy steel mail that I wear to limit the damage to any iron I encounter, but the fine mesh is like cloth, so it’s all the same.
As I was pulling it off, he said, “Our normal rings are silver. I’m told you’re okay with elven silver, so I had this custom-made. It’s a communication tool for the squad.”
“I can wear elven silver,” I confirmed as he took my hand. He was about to put it on me when he froze.
Clearing his throat, he said, “The other hand.”
My brain finally detected the problem. I had handed him my left hand. He’d been about to put it on my ring finger…
While suppressing a giggle, I removed the other gauntlet.