“Tiandra, what did I tell you about entering my office without knocking?”
“I’m sorry Mistress Ricon, but this is an emergency! It’s about the first year student those two boys brought into the infirmary a while back…"
“Why, is he not breathing?”
“No… he’s awake.”
“And not only is he awake, he’s currently… You better see for yourself, Mistress Ricon.”
How could this be? Mistress Ricon wonders while she gets up immediately and heads straight to the infirmary. She has examined the student earlier and found nothing wrong with him, save for a bloodied shirt that smelt of vomit. The earnest boy who brought him swore the student had cracked his head (his shorter companion nodding vigorously to agree). Mistress Ricon discovered no such injuries and secretly concluded that the boy must have been bullied.
Children can be cruel sometimes, and rich children of nobles could be crueller than most. Mistress Ricon has seen enough cases in the infirmary over the years. But the victims always seem unwilling to testify, claiming they accidentally fell of a horse or mishandle cleaning their sharp swords, even though most of them aren't allowed to be on horses or train with a real weapon until they are in their second year.
Which is why Mistress Ricon had changed the boy’s smelly and dirty clothing with a hospital gown and administered a sedative to the already unconscious boy, hoping it will help him sleep better. And maybe when the boy wakes up in the morning and finds himself in a safe and warm environment, he will be willing to tell Mistress Ricon what had happened.
Just as Mistress Ricon is approaching the infirmary, she hears the unmistakable sound of… a bed squeaking from having someone jump up and down on it repeatedly? She opens the door to the dimly-lit infirmary and finds a bizarre sight. A boy is jumping vigorously on a bed that he was supposed to be unconscious in. Did I mistakenly give him an adrenaline shot? Mistress Ricon wonders as she observes the sole occupant of the infirmary. There are no other sick or injured students tonight, but come next week, the room would be filled to the brim with occupants, mostly casualties of Master Wes’ harsh training.
The dark haired boy notices her staring at him from the doorway. “Sorry if I woke you.” he smiles while his long hair that could cover half his face is flying everywhere. “I'm just exercising my body. It’s been so long since I've moved them.” says the boy as he continues jumping up and down. “When you've been on a long journey just like I have, you’ll take any chance you get to stretch your legs.”
Before Mistress Ricon could tell him to stop jumping, the boy continues talking. “And everything has gotten bigger. Did the world grow a few inches since I've been away? Which should have been impossible because I was supposed to go back into time, not forward. Either my spine has compressed so much from travelling through the portal it resulted in my height being greatly reduced, or…”
The boy stops jumping and begins examining himself. “White dress, slender arms and hands, long hair, girly voice… Dear Gods! I’ve turned into a woman!” the boy cries out in the dark, his lamentation a mixture of surprise and horror. “Did my gender get reversed when I went through the portal? Or did my mind hijack some poor woman’s body? I hope she doesn't have a fiancé. Or it’s going to get real awkward during our wedding night. Do you have some tea?” the boy suddenly asks Mistress Ricon which made her stop in her tracks.
“What?” replies the flustered teacher. She is secretly trying to make her way to the medicine cabinet to get another sedative… or several. The boy clearly needs them. It looks like he hasn't notice her attempts yet because he continues talking. “It’s just that I'm terribly parched. I should have taken the tea and biscuits when she offered them to me. And I think I also swallowed some sea water on the way here. You left your keys in the office.”
“What?” the surprised teacher says that word again the second time tonight. She is about halfway to the medicine cabinet now.
“The ring of keys. You left them in your coat which is currently resting on the couch in your office.”
“How did you…”
“You can try petting yourself up and down for several minutes before remembering you didn't bring the keys with you. As much as I would enjoy the sight, I thought I’ll save you the trouble and tell you straight away.”
The 22 year old teacher shot the boy a sharp look, her face is red with embarrassment. The boy doesn't seem to mind… or care because he starts jumping on the bed again. Mistress Ricon looks at Tiandra who is standing underneath the doorway of the infirmary. She has been listening to the conservation between the boy and her teacher for a while now, unsure of what to do. Mistress Ricon openly signals to the third year student to get the medicine cabinet key. The teacher tries to suppress a smile as she watches her student leave. Let’s see how cocky this boy is when I hold him down and pumped him full of tranquillizers, the teacher thinks.
“She won’t make it in time.”
“Wha-“ but Mistress Ricon manages to catch herself from saying that word for the third time tonight.
“It’s because the keys are actually in your desk drawers. You would have remembered it too if you thought about it calmly, but you let me get to you. That girl will check your coat pockets six times before she’ll finally realize they’re not there. Your coat sure has a lot of pockets by the way. Why do you even need that many? Anyway, she will then remove the cushions from your couch, thinking they must have slipped down there. It will be a while before she thinks to search the top of your desk and finally your desk drawers. Please forgive the girl for spilling ink on the papers on your desk. No big losses really since you've filled the request forms wrongly. You forgot to include-”
“Why are you doing this?” shouts the young teacher, her voice mixed with shame and fury. She has never been this humiliated or this angry in her life before. She would have burst into tears too but her pride as a teacher would never allow her to do that in front of a student, particularly like the one standing in front of her now. The boy has stop jumping since she shouted, there is a look of guilt on his face and he seems genuinely sorry.
“I…” a long amount of time has passed before the boy begins to speak. “I woke up alone and confused in the dark. Not knowing where I am or if I'm safe. The girl ran off before I could ask her. Then you arrive and I needed to buy myself some time to think. It’s been so long since I've been on solid ground and I needed to get my bearings.”
Mistress Ricon doesn't say anything so the boy continues.
“I think the girl changed me. I don’t know what she did to me. She said they were gifts but I get the feeling they’re more like curses actually. You getting hurt tonight is proof that I have no clue on how to wield them at all. I received something that makes me afraid of what it’s turning me into, and I don’t know how to properly put it back in the box.” the boy meets the teachers gaze. She could have sworn there are tears welling up in the boy’s eyes but it is too dark to tell.
“Please accept my deepest apologies.” the boy humbly bows his head.
“Apology accepted.” whispers the teacher. They both continue standing still in the darkness of the infirmary.
“The truth is…” the boy breaks the silence between them. He scratches his cheek a bit before continuing. “I am extremely happy when I was talking to you. It’s been so long since I had someone to talk to. The girl doesn't count by the way.”
The teacher wonders who is this girl that he keeps talking about? It doesn't seem like he meant Tiandra. But before she could ask him, he continues
“And when you answered back, even though your responses were rather limited and crude, they really did fill my heart with joy.”
Mistress Ricon lifts one of her eyebrows at his “compliments”. Is he purposely trying to make her angry again? The boy sees her gaze and quickly continues trying to make his point
“What I'm trying to say is… It’s been ages since I've met a human… and I don’t know how to get along with them. It’s either because I've forgotten how to actually talk to another human being, or it’s because I'm no longer...“
“Eh? What? You’re no longer what? Wait, why are you staring at me?”
“Okay, now you’re beginning to creep me out. Hey! Snap out of it. Remember when you said you wanted to get along with your fellow human beings? Now would be a good time to start talking.”
”Is that you, Mistress Ricon?”
“Eh, didn’t I tell you my name? Anyway, I'm sure you would have learnt it using your…”
“I didn’t notice it when you came into the room. The light in the corridor kind of obscured your face when you were standing underneath the doorway.”
“Yes, it’s kind of dark in here. Would you like me to turn up the light? So
“Is this the Whiteford Academy? Am I back in the Kingdom of Nurani?”
“Yes. Where else would we be?”
“Of course! I had my hair long back then. How could I forget? Holy shit, was I really this skinny? No wait, more importantly, this means they’re still alive!”
“Hello? You’re drifting? Please return back to earth. Wait, why are you inching towards that window?”
“Do you remember when you were 5, and your parents brought you to visit your grandfather’s fruit orchard in Khultan. And you saw the majestic Burtuk black eagles for the first time….”
“Didn’t I recall someone saying something about putting their gift back into the box? And would you please not sit on the…. Ahhh and now you’re sitting on the window ledge.”
“And you turn to your mother and ask why you couldn't fly like them? And your mother said it’s because you didn't have wings…”
“Yes, yes I remember. Now come sit with me on this bed, this comfy warm bed, where there’s less chance of someone falling to their death. “
“And you spent the rest of the days flapping your huge flabby arms and running up and down the hills with your chubby little legs. You were so cute and adorable back then.”
“Screw it. Stay there. I’m going to push you out the window myself.”
“Would you like to know the secret of flying?”
“Does it involve you falling to your death to prove a stupid point? Because I've got to tell you, the administration will dock my pay every time a student dies on my watch. It’s barbaric. I'm barely scratching a living as it is.”
“The secret of flying is...”
"Wait! Wait! I know this. The secret of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. I'm right, aren't I? Now come ba-“
“Close, but no. The secret of flying is throwing yourself to the ground and believing in your heart that the earth will move out of your way.”
“That’s really stu- AHHHHHHHHHHNOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Mistress Ricon could only scream and watch helplessly as the boy falls backwards out the window of the infirmary. Even though they are on the second floor, the architects who designed and built the Whiteford Academy had made each floor to be higher than normal. Which means a fall from this height could be fatal.
The teacher waits for the inevitable sickening thud, but when she heard none, she immediately rushes to the window. From there she could see a certain hospital gown-wearing boy running barefooted across a muddied courtyard heading towards the north hall. The students and faculty members should be in the middle of having their dinner there now.
Mistress Ricon turns around to follow the boy (by using the stairs, like any sane person would) when she comes face to face with a panting Tiandra who is trying hard to catch her breath. With beads of sweat falling down her forehead and ink marks on her cheeks and fingers, the hard-working third year student smiles sheepishly and hands over the keys to the medicine cabinet.
Mistress Ricon could only managed a groan.