BW – Chapter 68   Leave a comment


Chapter 68

“Professor, don’t come over here,” Jak called, eyeing the drac, waiting for her to leap up and attack. She stared back at him and didn’t move. “It was all a lie. Zaiden Orae set you up.”

“Set me up?” the gryph repeated, hid voice louder, closer. Jak tore his gaze from the drac and looked over his shoulder, where the disfigured gryph was limping out of the mist. “Mr. LeMae, what are you talking–” He stopped, cocking his head to one side as he finally saw the dracorian. Jak felt every hair on his body prickle as he found himself standing between talons and claws, teeth and beak, drac and gryph, the oldest of enemies. “Oh,” Professor Sashenti said, his one wing opening and closing as he maintained his balance on three legs. He looked from the drac to Jak and back again, and then took a hobbling step forward.

“Professor, please,” Jak begged. “She’ll kill you and then I’ll go to jail, and I really, really don’t want to go to prison.”

“She’s not going to kill me, Mr. LeMae,” Professor Sashenti said, the feathers on his crown standing up–a sign of amusement. Jak didn’t see anything funny about it. He glanced past Jak. “Nice to see you again, Fhekir.”

“And you, Denafa,” the drac said with a polite nod before turning to Jak. “Thank you for your concern, Mr. LeMae, but the professor and I settled our differences long ago. There is no honor in suicide, nor in slaughtering the weak, and we are, above all else, creatures of honor.”

“So…you’re not going to kill each other?” Jak said, glancing back and forth between them as they both shook their heads. “But- but I thought…dracs and gryphs attacked on sight. I’ve heard stories, I’ve seen reports in the newspapers–”

“Some gryphlians find honor in killing the enemy, instead of killing the enemy in honor,” Professor Sashenti said. “Were I still whole, we would be evenly matched and we would fight and one, if not both of us, would die, but I have been stupid once already.” He glanced back along his scarred side. “I will not start a fight I have no hope of winning.”

“And Zaiden didn’t know that,” Jak said with a sigh, closing his eyes in relief.

“Very few people know that,” the drac, Fhekir, said, fixing Jak with her intense, two-toned stared. “We would appreciate it if it stayed that way.”

“Of course,” Jak said, nodding. “Believe me, I can keep a secret.” Compared to all the other shit he wasn’t allowed to talk about, this was nothing. “So, are you going to do something about Zaiden? I mean, is this enough to expel him?”

“Not without overwhelming, incontrovertible proof,” Fhekir said. “Didn’t you say that he set you up to take the blame?” Jak nodded, feeling his heart sink. Zaiden was going to get away with this. Nothing happened, but that was beside the point. “Then the only one facing expulsion is you, should this come to light, because it would be your word against his, and he would have both the evidence and his ancestry on his side.”

“You mean his however many times great-grandfather? Who the hell is that guy, anyway?”

“You don’t know of Councilman Lord Orae, the Fire Mage?” Professor Sashenti asked, and Jak suddenly realized why Zaiden’s last name sounded so familiar. Lord Orae was one of the seven mages serving on the Mage’s Council, the governing body ruling all mages born on any of the fifty-seven worlds within their jurisdiction. Jak vaguely remembered sleeping through that chapter of history in high school.

“No wonder Zaiden thinks he can get away with anything,” Jak muttered. “He can.”

“I haven’t given up yet,” Fhekir said. “All it takes is one little slip and then his ass will be mine.”

“Don’t make it sound like a vendetta, San h’nia,” Professor Sashenti said, sitting down in the middle of the road and preening the few feathers remaining in his only wing. “This is about justice, not revenge.”

“It amazes me that you can say that after it was you he tried to have killed, rhal kadir,” the drac said, stretching out one wide, leathery wing back along her body before showing her pearly teeth in a wide yawn. Jak glanced back and forth between them, suddenly feeling like he wasn’t understanding half of what was going on.

“So, um…what should I do?” he asked. Professor Sashenti cocked his head to one side, the tip of his feline tail flicking from side to side.

“Should Mr. Orae ask, I would suggest telling him that you got lost in the fog and didn’t see or hear anything.”

“Agreed,” Fhekir said, nodding. “Let him think his plan succeeded, at least for today. I will use the time to speak with Mr. Quonus about increasing security on the university servers, and I will do what I can to erase all traces of your involvement in this mess, Mr. LeMae.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Jak said, nodding his head respectfully. “I appreciate it.”

“We appreciate your concern,” Professor Sashenti asked, rising to his feet again and shaking the moisture from his short coat and shaggy feathers. “I doubt few of your peers would skip class for the sake of two creatures like us.” Jak thought that was a pretty cynical view of college students, but before he could say so, the gryph continued. “Whose class are you missing? I will have a word with them later and make sure you are not penalized for your tardiness.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Jak said. “I’m supposed to be in Professor Zikata’s Herbalism class right now.” He glanced at his watch. “There’s still more than half of class left; I suppose I should head back.” He looked over his shoulder, eyeing the wall of fog surrounding them.

“I need to prepare for my next class, if you would care to walk with me, Mr. LeMae,” Professor Sashenti said. “This mist can be horribly disorienting.”

“Thanks, Professor,” Jak said, shifting the weight of his bag to his other shoulder. The gryph looked past him, at Fhekir.

“Perhaps we should speak further about this situation with Mr. Orae,” he said. “Tonight?”

“Very well,” she replied, walking away from the dead oak and spreading her wings, the fog swirling around her. “Watch you back, Mr. LeMae; Mr. Orae is much more dangerous than he appears. Rha azkadir lir, Denafa,” she said, and then leaped up into the gray sky, the bare branches of the oak rattling in the downdraft from her powerful wings. Jak stared up until she was swallowed by the fog, and then glanced over at the professor.

“What did she say?” he asked.

“She wasn’t speaking to you,” professor Sashenti replied, his head still raised, his huge golden eyes sweeping the low, pearly clouds. After a moment he sighed and turned down the road, his stump of a leg twitching as he hobbled along.

“It must be awful,” Jak said as he hurried to catch up. “Not being able to fly, I mean.”

“Actually, I hardly notice until someone brings it up,” the gryph said and Jak cringed.

“Sorry, professor,” he said. Professor Sashenti sighed again.

“How is it you humans can speak with such sarcasm to each other, and yet the dry wit of a gryph completely escapes you? Yes, I long for the skies every day, and I will for the rest of my life, but were I still able to fly, I would be honor bound to fight Fhekir to the death, and where would that put us now?” He took a couple of hobbling steps in silence and then shrugged his remaining wing, his long feathers making a dry, scraping sound as they brushed across each other. “Sometimes, misfortune is really a blessing in disguise.”

“I’ll admit that I’m glad you’re not dead, and that I’m not going to prison,” Jak said, “but you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t jump at the chance to have your wing back.” Professor Sashenti said nothing for several very long seconds–so long that Jak was starting to fear that he had insulted the gryph. He was trying to decide how to phrase his apology when the professor spoke.

“Yes, I can,” Professor Sashenti said, his voice quiet but resolute. “Perhaps when I was younger, my answer would have been different, but at this point, the cost would be too great, even for the sky.” He stopped and pointed his stumpy leg out into the mist. “About twenty-seven of your paces should bring you to the back side of the faculty apartment building. I trust you can find your way from there?”

“Yes, professor,” Jak said, nodding. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. LeMae.” He turned away, continuing down the road. Jak hitched his bag higher onto his shoulder and stepped out into the grass. “Oh, and one other thing,” Professor Sashenti said, glancing back over his shoulder. “You might want to study chapters twelve through sixteen tonight–there may be a pop quiz tomorrow.” Jak stifled a groan and forced a smile.

“Thanks for the warning, professor,” he said. As if he didn’t have enough to deal with without having to study for a surprise exam. Of course, it was better than not studying.

His legs must have been longer than Professor Sashenti thought because it only took twenty-five paces to reach the cold brick facade of the building. As he hurried along, he rehearsed what he’d say to Zaiden, if he got the chance, but it didn’t make him any less nervous as he approached the first greenhouse.

Slipping inside, he shed his jacket and glanced around. Everyone was busy doing something–he had missed the day’s lecture–and no one seemed to notice his late arrival. No one but Zaiden and Professor Zikata. Hoping to postpone the inevitable confrontation, Jak strode across the greenhouse to meet the professor.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Jak said. “There was something I had to do.”

“‘Something you had to do’ is not an acceptable excuse, Mr. LeMae,” Professor Zikata said, handing him a sheet of paper with the day’s assignment on it. “The best you can get on that is half credit.”

“I understand, professor,” Jak said. “That’s more than fair.” Professor Zikata gave him a funny look, as if he had expected an argument, before walking away. Jak shrugged off his book bag and dug out his pen. Professor Sashenti said he was going to smooth over the lateness, but Jak had a feeling that the work was still his responsibility. He shouldered the bag and turned, taking a startled step back as he nearly walked into Zaiden. “What do you want?” Jak asked, his fist clenching around his pen as the fire mage smirked at him.

“Where’ve you been, Jak?” he asked, his voice dripping with false concern. “I’ve been worried about you.”

“Just leave me alone,” Jak said, stepping around him. Zaiden’s hand shot and he grabbed Jak by the arm.

“Did you find them?” he asked, speaking low, his lips barely moving. “Were you able to stop them?” Jak jerked away from him.

“You’re a sick, twisted asshole,” Jak hissed through his teeth. “And no, I couldn’t find them. I got lost in the fog…just like you hoped I would, didn’t you?” Jak said, suddenly realizing why Zaiden had told him in the first place. “Too bad I found my way back, huh?”

“Oh, Jak,” Zaiden said, that insincerity thick in his voice again, “if I wanted you dead, there are more reliable ways to do it than sending you out into the fog. Just be glad that I still need you.” He started to walk away, but then turned back. “Although, you don’t need these anymore.” Zaiden grabbed his jacket and jerked, and Jak winced as he heard the staccato sound of the stitching ripping out. “I can’t believe you actually fell for this,” he said, holding up the brown, green, and gold butterfly patch. “You’re pathetic.” He dropped the wings in the dirt and walked away.

His heart pounding, Jak stared after him, and then lowered his gaze to the dirt floor of the greenhouse. After a moment, he bent over and picked the wings back up. It didn’t matter who gave them to him, or for what reason. They were his.

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Posted September 27, 2013 by katicalocke

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