The pen scratched at the page as Linos wrote, glancing over at his notes and open textbooks splayed neatly to his left on his desk. He finished the page and set the pen back into the ink well, blowing softly on the still wet letters to help them dry. The sharp, flowery aroma of thistle ink mixed with the earthy tones of the tea still steeping at the top of his desk, filling the room with a curious but natural scent.
He lifted the mug to his nose and drew a deep breath, letting his stress melt away, then took a quick sip. As he moved to set it back down, his elbow bumped something off the edge of his desk. Books fell and crashed, thumping on the wood floor with dull thuds, along with another distinct sound. A small wooden box bounced across the room, stopping just by the foot of Linos’ bed. Groaning, he picked up the books and set them back on the desk where they were.
Turning to face the little box, he sighed. It had been months since he’d even thought about it. His eyes wandered around the room as images of his sister flickered in his mind. The bookshelf in the far corner, his cluttered work desk, the bed under the window, the room that was nearly too small to be a bedroom. Four years ago, all of this had belonged to her, and now it belonged to him.
When she died, everything she owned had been left to him in her will. Their parents had passed away a little more than a year before, leaving him as her only immediate family member. They hadn’t been all that close, even when they were young, which only made living here even more strange to him. The whole house had been hers, and while his name was now on the deed, in his mind it still belonged to her. So, Linos let his housemate and childhood friend, Grey, have her bedroom. Instead, he took Noelle’s old office as his own.
Despite owning the house for nearly four years, they had only moved in a year ago. Originally he had no intention of using the house, or even coming to the Sygna sector. Linos had ambitions of becoming a medical pneumologist, or more commonly known as a soul doctor. Oriceph had the best educational guilds in all of Miria, a few specialized medical guilds had caught his eye when he started looking, and Sygna’s was not one of them.
Along with everything else, the money Noelle had been saving gave Linos the option of going just about anywhere in Miria he wanted to. In-guild housing wasn’t expensive, and even after the typical four-year course for a medical degree, he would be able to get by. Selling Noelle’s house would ensure that stability, too. Grey had another idea for the house, however.
Grey was one of the few friends Linos had while growing up, and inarguable his closest. It had turned out that Grey had his eye on Sygna’s guild as an option to study law enforcement, and had come to Linos asking to use the house, so he wouldn’t have to work in order to afford in-guild housing. At first Linos said no, but after being pestered and guilted for weeks on end, decided to let his friend use the house. After that, Grey started trying to convince Linos to come with him to Sygna, as they had medical courses, too. Eventually Linos gave in.
When they arrived a year ago to get prepared to start their courses, the house was a mess. Three years without maintenance would do that, though. It took some time, but soon the house was back in order. Going through all of Noelle’s things brought back all kinds of memories of his sister. The brown jacket she’d wear on cooler days. A bottle of perfume their father had bought for her when she turned sixteen, barely used, but kept in her bedside table all this time. A leaf that had been pressed and framed from the tree that grew over their old house.
Many of her things were thrown out or donated to the guild, but Linos kept a few items. He found himself to be strangely curious about her life, now. This was another reason he had for coming to Sygna sector. She had been his last immediate relative, and he knew surprisingly very little about her life. All the answers to the questions he had were here.
Among the few items Linos kept was the small wooden box that was still sitting at foot of his bed. It had intrigued him when he first found it, sitting on the middle of her empty bed, covered in dust. It had apparently been left there by her coworker and close friend, Bria. For the first few weeks he tried tinkering with it, but it wouldn’t open, and whatever was held inside of it remained that way. The hounding curiosity that came with finding the strange box soon faded as his classes picked up, and before long it became forgotten.
Sipping his tea, he walked over to the box, staring down at it with abhorrence. Curiosity nipped at his mind with the question of what could be inside of it. What would you put inside a box that can’t be opened? He wondered. Shaking his head, he picked up the box, and set it on his book shelf. Remembering how futile his efforts had been before stopped his curiosity from growing, turning it into annoyance.
He turned his back to the bookshelf, and made his way over to his desk. Though he tried to get back into his studies, thoughts of his sister and the box danced in his mind, distracting him. Groaning, he took his tea and left the room, shutting the door behind him. The sound of the front door closing echoed through the empty house, as Linos left to take a walk, leaving the enigmatic box on the bookshelf to slip from his mind and become forgotten, once again.
A tapping foot clicked off the hardwood flooring by the front door. From where Linos was standing, he could see the clock hanging over the wood stove in the kitchen. He tapped his foot quicker, crossing his arm. A door slammed shut, and seconds later, Grey rounded the corner and took the steps down two at a time. Quickly, he slid on his shoes, the laces having not been untied since he last took them off.
“How do I look?” Grey asked with a smile as he stood up.
Linos looked him up an down. Honestly, he looked as if he’d just rolled out of bed. His short, dark hair stuck out in different directions, and the plain shirt that clung to his muscular frame had obvious wrinkles. It was white, too, and Linos knew he’d find a way to ruin the shirt before the end of the day.
“You look fine, let’s go.” Linos said, turning towards the door.
“Oh!” Grey bolted back up the stairs, “Hold on, I forgot something.”
He sighed, letting his hand slip from the doorknob to his side. Turning towards the mirror on the wall, to his left, he gave himself one last look over. A simple light dress shirt and black vest accentuated his slender physique, pristine, and free of creases or stains. As he smoothed the vest across his chest, enjoying how professional he seemed to look in the mirror, a smile found its way across his lips.
“Done checking yourself out?” Grey mocked as he climbed down the stairs.
Linos scowled as Grey laughed, swinging his bag over his shoulder. Leaving the house, they made their way across the island. Houses lined the cobblestone street that ran down the centre. A few trees grew along the edges, their canopies arching overhead. Looking up, Linos noticed tinges of red on the soft green leaves. It would be autumn, soon. As they reached the edge of the island which faced towards the guild, they spread their wings, diving off the edge into the open sky.
Wind ripped past Linos’ ears as he fell, but quickly levelled out into a smooth glide. Together, he and Grey made their way towards the guild. Morning sun illuminated the cloudscape from the east, causing the towering clouds that reached high into the sky to cast long shadows across the rolling wall of misty clouds bellow, their soft edges illuminated with golden light. They curved around the massive clouds, winding their way through the sky. Small islands dotted with houses appeared from and disappeared behind their white, shifting forms, all around them.
Soon the guild hall came into view as they rounded another towering cloud. The island it was built upon was bigger than any of the other islands in the reef. Each of its different, interconnected complexes had distinct cube-like forms. The reddish, earthy stone that made up its walls had turned a deep maroon in the sunlight. As they circled around towards the upper courtyard, the light glinted off the many windows, flickering across them like a wave.
The courtyard atop the central wing was marked by a tall clock in its centre, and the stark-white stones, placed in swirling patterns, the decorated the floor of it. Even from up where they were, Linos could see that the large courtyard was already full of people. Circling the upper courtyard, they slowed down to an appropriate speed, and landed. The clock indicated they still had some time left before classes began, thankfully.
“We made it!” Grey smiled.
“I was ready long before you,” Linos crossed his arms, “so you’re just lucky I even wait for you.”
Grey waved his hand dismissively, turning the gesture into a wave goodbye as he headed off to his class. The guild had a few different wings, dividing the areas of focus up among them. Because of this, their classes were in two different ends of the guild. Grey studied in the social economics wing on the north end, while Linos studied in the medical wing on the south-west end. He turned to head off to his own classes, but found a familiar face standing right behind him.
“Good morning, Linos.” Bria said cheerfully.
“Ah, Bria.” He nodded, “Hello.”
A touch of anxiety gripped Linos, but he tried to swallow it down. Bria was one of Noelle’s friends, and a former coworker. They had been on the same dive team together. She had been there for her funeral ceremony, along with a few of her other friends, and even the dean of the guild. Bria was a fair bit shorter than he was, with shoulder length blond hair, and brown eyes. She reminded him of Noelle, which always caused his heart to sink when he saw her.
“How are you?” She asked, smiling warmly.
“I’m alright.” He looked away, “Did you just return from a dive?”
“Yes, last night.” She said, “We found a new vein of pneumarium to the north, near the verge. It looks promising.”
“Good to hear.” Linos forced a smile, “I should head to class now, Bria. It was nice seeing you.”
She smiled, giving a short wave as he headed off to class. He had no doubt in his mind that she knew how seeing her made him feel. Still, he liked talking to her a little bit, and she probably knew that, too. Noelle had worked at the Sygna guild as a diver for almost five years, and in only a year she made captain of her team. This didn’t surprise him, she’d always been strong willed and responsible from a young age.
Many people here had known her, and all had the same thing to say about her. She was an excellent captain, and a true role model. This only left him wanting more, though. He wished he could have seen her in her prime, here. At home she was quite, solemn, and impossible to read. She’d found her niche here, and bloomed into who she was meant to be, only to have it taken away from her in that fatal accident, four years ago.
He opened the door to classroom, leaving his curiosity in the hallway, in exchange for different ones, and settled into his seat in one of the middle rows. He opened his notebook, set his inkwell and pen in the corner of the desk, and eased into the chair, hoping today’s lesson would be an interesting one.
“… Like the contact points of the soul circuit,” the professor said, “energy can be drawn out from almost any point. Now, depending on where you draw from can dramatically increase the natural healing process of the-”
The sound of the hour-mark bell sounded, signalling the end of the class for the afternoon.
“Ah, well, there’s more in the textbooks. Chapter six!” Professor Ezin wrapped up his lecture, “Don’t forget there’s a test tomorrow, I expect you all to do well.”
The room quickly burst with chatter and the rustling of paper as everyone packed up their notes. Linos finished his writing down what he needed and closed his note book, packing it away in his bag. Before getting up, though, Linos waited. He watched, smirking, as the class’s attempt to leave the room all at once got bottlenecked at the door. Once it was clear, Linos took his leave.
“Mr. Stari,” Professor Ezin called out before he could reach the door, “do you have a moment?”
“Of course.” Linos walked over to the professor’s desk, “Is something wrong?”
“Not at all,” He smiled, “I actually have a favour to ask of you.”
“We’re in need of some tutors right now, and this is a pretty rough time of year, what with year-end exams coming soon.” He explained, “You’re doing excellently in my classes, and you’ve got a good grasp on the curriculum. Would you consider helping one of the students in need of a tutor?”
“Professor…” he shook his head, “You know how I feel about this, I told you last time. I’d like to focus on my studies, I don’t have time hold the other student’s hands.”
“I’m aware of your stance on this, Linos, but keep in mind you get extra marks for tutoring students in need.”
Not that I really need the extra marks… He sighed, rubbing his forehead.
“Look,” The professor said, resting a hand on Linos’ shoulder, “there’s one student in particular who could use your help. Her grades have been slipping a bit since we started the most recent segment. I’ve tried what to do what I can, but I feel like she needs a different view on it, one different from mine. I think you’re the guy for the job. What do you say?”
He hesitated for a moment, “… Fine.”
“Thank you,” He smiled, letting out a sigh of relief, “come back here at the end of the day, and I’ll introduce you two.”
The windows in the hallway across from professor Ezin’s class looked out into the western skies, letting light pour in as the sun crawled towards the horizon. Drops of water clung to the glass, a sign that the clouds that had moved in brought some shower with them over lunch. The late afternoon light pierced the gaps between them, creating golden pillars that reached down to the clouds bellow. Linos leaned against the glass, watching the clouds roll by, waiting for the professor’s class to finish up.
Shifting his weight, he turned to look at the classroom door. Earlier in the year, professor Ezin had asking him to sign up to be a tutor in his student assistance program. If you were in need of academic support, you could sign up for a tutor. Other students could also sign up to be tutors, and receive extra credit for their time. Having maintained one of the highest grades in his class, he felt no need to participate in it.
For whatever reason, he’d chosen not to tell Grey at lunch that he’d finally given in to the professor’s request. He knew exactly what he would have said to him; Grey would laugh, and ask if it was because of a girl. Linos felt heat flash across his face, and his heart skip a beat. He shot back around, hiding his no doubt blushing face from the empty hallway.
Taking a deep breath, he relaxed. A shadow overtook the hallway as the clouds shifted, blocking the light. Rain began spattering against the glass, and the sound of the soft clicks of the droplets on the window became like white noise in Linos’ ears. The class would be over, soon.
The classroom door opened behind him, the sound of various, overlapping conversations flooded the previously silent hallway. His heart began racing a little bit as the students parted ways, right before him, heading off in each direction down the hall. Then, only the professor, and one last student remained.
She stood, eying him cautiously, but not shyly. Her sharp, green eyes pierced his, contrasting against her modest frame. He could almost feel her gaze digging into him, she was studying him. Linos knew the look well, as he’d seen it before. It was reluctance, naivety, and embarrassment. But it was also eagerness, curiosity, and the desire to push forward. It was the look that Noelle had mastered so well, and the reason she’d been so strong. Linos smirked, ever so slightly.
“Linos,” professor Ezin smiled, “thank you again.”
“This is the student?” He asked.
“Her name is Reva Capella.” He explained, “I’m sure she’ll bring you up to speed with what she needs help with.”
Reva stepped forward, reaching out with one hand, and brushing some of the hair that framed her face behind her ear. Linos shook her hand, and then, as if it had been unexpected, she smiled. It took him a moment to smile back, and he didn’t doubt it seemed forced.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Linos Stari.” Reva said.