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The Legacy of Androva Series

New Book, New Series, Fifth Chapter 📝

Chapter Five is now ready to post! We learn a little more about Luca's background, and he realizes the history he shares with Cass (that she knows nothing about!) is going to make it very difficult to behave normally around her. You can catch up on any of the previous chapters via the New Series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading .

5 A Difficult Part to Play

I thought I must have misheard. How could they be brother and sister? They didn’t even share the same address. The computer had told me that much. Although… their coloring wasn’t completely dissimilar.
“She’s your sister?”
“Ugh. I don’t discuss family with strangers,” said Cass, giving me a withering look.
Devin stared at the floor. “You don’t discuss family with anyone,” he muttered.
The bell rang again. Devin lifted his head. “We’re late, Avi. Come on. Mr. Fennick isn’t as bad as Mrs. Stanton, but he’ll still give us detention if we don’t get there soon.”
Cass walked off without another word. I watched her leave, not knowing how to stop her without making myself look ridiculous, or desperate, or both.
“Are you any good at Math?” asked Devin, taking my elbow to steer me in the other direction.
“Um… fair, I suppose. Why?”
“Because Mr. Fennick is going to test you in front of everyone. That’s how he gets the measure of any new student.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“If you’re OK at Math, you won’t have a problem. I mean… it’s not like you’re shy, is it?”
I was, once. But my training removed all that.
It occurred to me that I didn’t have to attend lessons. I could follow Cass instead. Or, better yet, I could use the time to formulate a strategy that wasn’t based on, “Please don’t hate me.” I mean, really? What was wrong with me?
“No,” I said to Devin. “I’m not shy.”
He laughed a little. “I thought… when I first talked to you, I thought you were. Then I saw you with Mr. Mason…”
He trailed off as we arrived at the classroom. The only two seats left were right at the front. I saw a few familiar faces from homeroom, but there was no sign of Gabe or Mina.
The teacher, Mr. Fennick, was impeccably groomed, from his neatly-trimmed beard to the shine on his shoes. He gestured impatiently at the empty seats. “You’re three minutes late,” he said, frowning. We sat down and he waited for everyone else to stop talking.
“We have a new student today,” he began, giving me a pleased smile. I remembered what Devin had said about the public test. It seemed like Mr. Fennick was looking forward to it. He glanced at his laptop screen for a second. “Avitus,” he said, pronouncing it Av-ee-tus.
“Uh… the emphasis is on the first syllable, not the second,” I replied. “But… Avi is fine too.”
He subdued the inevitable giggling with a scowl. “Avitus,” he repeated, stressing the sound of the A. “There can be no way to know how Latin words were originally pronounced, of course.”
Yes there can, when you have a former Roman slave sitting in front of you, telling you how his name used to be spoken.
“I apologize,” I said evenly. “It was not my intention to embarrass you.”
His cheekbones flushed red above his beard. But he could hardly reprimand me for apologizing.
“I can’t see where you transferred from,” he went on, glancing back at his screen. “Was it from outside of the state?”
The state… the country… the earthbound dimension…
“Yeah.” I didn’t offer any details.
“Without knowing your academic history, I can’t be sure you’re in the right class, Avitus. Everyone here is planning to take a science or technology major in college. Advanced calculus is not for the average student.”
His smile was back. “I think a little test will help to reassure both of us, hmmm? Come up here and stand next to me.”
Twenty faces stared back at me. Some had expressions of boredom, some sympathy. Most were just relieved it wasn’t them.
“First, can you tell me what calculus is?” Mr. Fennick asked.
“Well, it’s a Latin word. Emphasis on the first syllable,’” I replied, keeping my face straight. Devin grinned and hastily lifted his hand to cover his mouth.
Mr. Fennick bristled, but before he could say anything, I continued. “It is also the mathematical study of continuous change.”
“There are two main branches of calculus, as I’m sure you’re aware?” he asked, folding his arms.
“Differential and integral,” I responded.
He began to question me in more detail about the specifics. It was more difficult than I’d expected—keeping my answers to high school standard and not showing him up. He stopped after about five minutes and allowed me to sit down.
My situation was the same as for any Light Mage. We acquired vast reserves of knowledge and skills over the course of our time as guardians. Our ability to learn was limitless, but in all other respects we were frozen at the age we’d been when we first qualified. It was something to do with preserving who we had been when we’d made the sacrifice.
At my age, it could cause problems. In one sense, I was old. Thousands of years old. However, I was also seventeen, and I’d be seventeen as long as I was a guardian. On a good day, I could empathize with my assignments so well that my average success rate was off-the-charts impressive.
On a bad day… well. On bad days, I was emotionally immature and I didn’t give a shit who knew it. Sometimes I thought I might be growing up a bit. I was always proved wrong.
Mr. Fennick continued his introduction to the topics we’d be covering this semester, ignoring me completely. I ignored him too, focusing on the challenge of how to instigate a conversation with Cass that would last longer than half a minute and didn’t involve using a spell to make her like me. I drew a blank.
It was a double lesson. Mr. Fennick seemed to be the only person in the room who was happy about that. Gradually I became aware of Devin’s emotions, filling the space between us. He wasn’t paying attention to Mr. Fennick any more than I was.
Normally I had to make a conscious choice to tune in to the emotions of the earthbound; otherwise, I’d be inundated. That Devin could get to me without even trying was not a good sign. The connection wasn’t complete yet, but it flickered between us, like a newly lit candle. It only needed a little encouragement to turn into a steadily burning flame.
When the bell rang, a few other students came up to say hello. I did my best to talk to them without holding eye contact. Devin waited next to me at first. Then, after a muttered comment, he walked away. I doubted anyone but me heard what he said. It was self-critical in the extreme.
I let him go, promising myself I’d find him again later. The next class was Drama, and I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see Cass again. When I arrived at the classroom door I scanned the tables inside, seeing that Mina was there too. Cass sat at the front, on her own. Would it be too obvious if I sat next to her? Dumb question, Luca.
Mina beckoned me over. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said. “I heard this class was totally full. How did you get in?”
With Mr. Mason’s login details. I took a seat. “I’ve had some experience of performing. I guess it was enough for me to qualify.”
I wasn’t lying. Gladiators weren’t actors, not exactly, but learning how to play to the mob had been an important part of my training. Of course, it was unlikely Drama class would involve quite as much death and dismemberment as the Colosseum. Mina’s barbed comments could not draw blood in the literal sense.
The teacher arrived. Miss Randall. She’d only been at the school two years, but I immediately saw why her class was so popular. Her enthusiasm and positivity were almost tangible. She welcomed me with a bright smile and a firm handshake.
Within five minutes, she’d had us push the tables to one side and arrange our chairs in a circle. I found myself sitting opposite Cass. I attempted a smile of recognition, which she did not return.
“OK. Senior year production.” Miss Randall clasped her hands in her lap and leaned forward slightly. “I’ve been researching, and I want us to try something different.”
“Different, how?” asked Mina.
“A comedy.”
There were a few muttered comments and Miss Randall held up a hand. “I know we’d talked about choosing one of the tragedies,” she said. “But comedic timing is one of the most difficult things to master as an actor. And it’s still Shakespeare. There will be no shortage of dramatic moments.”
“It’s not the same,” said the boy sitting next to Cass. “No one ever won an Oscar playing the fool.”
Cass turned to him and calmly reeled off a list of Oscar-winning comedy performances. Miss Randall hid a smile. “Thank you, Cass. Look, everyone, I want this year to be a challenge, but I want you to have fun as well. I think we’re in danger of taking ourselves too seriously.
“If we can make a modern audience laugh at a comedy that’s four hundred years old, we’ll have really achieved something. Besides, you might find the subject matter of Much Ado About Nothing interesting. It should spark a healthy debate, if nothing else.”
Much Ado… what?” asked the girl on Mina’s other side. “I’ve never heard of it.”
Much Ado About Nothing,” repeated Miss Randall. She reached under her chair and picked up some printed pages. “We’ll be using an abridged version, which I’ll email you later. However, I took the liberty of printing off a few scenes for today’s lesson.”
She split the pages in two and handed them to the students sitting on her left and right. “Take one and pass them on. Pair off with whoever has the same numbered scene as you. Don’t worry about character gender right now. We might mix that up a little, anyway.”
We were given half an hour to learn our lines and practice the scene, which we would then perform in front of the rest of the class. Mina grabbed my page to check its number. “Five,” she said. “Shame. I’m number seven. I can probably get someone to swap with me…”
She scanned the room. Cass and the boy next to her were the only two who hadn’t paired up yet. “Number five?” she asked. Cass raised her page in answer. My heart thumped as if I’d just received a direct kick to the chest. Though the thought of being her partner was terrifying, the thought of not being her partner was far worse. “Want to swap?” said Mina.
Before I could try to intervene, the boy shook his head. “No way, Mina,” he said.
“It’s not your decision,” she retorted.
I looked at Cass and she stared back. “No,” she said. “I don’t want to swap.”
She wants to be my partner! I started grinning before my head could finish reminding me to play it cool.
“I’m mentoring him, and if we do this scene together it will get Mrs. Stanton off my back for a couple of days at least.”
Huh. Not quite what I’d hoped for, but better than nothing.
“Whatever,” said Mina. She concealed her irritation behind a sudden smile, and the boy’s frown evaporated. “Come on, Leon. Let’s go and kick our scene’s ass.”
We had access to the next door classrooms to practice, and Cass led the way to an empty corner before turning to face me. “Can you act?” she said.
“Can I…? Oh. Yeah. Well, kind of. I think so. I mean…” Gods, Luca, shut up. “Yes. I can act.”
“Good. Benedick or Beatrice?”
I glanced down at the scene. I knew it well. I’d seen this play performed when it was first written, and it had been a smash hit.
“You can choose,” I said.
She gave me a brief smile. “OK. Miss Randall will probably expect me to play Benedick, so I think I’ll be Beatrice.”
I hesitated. “Do you know the play?”
“Yes, a little. Why?”
I cleared my throat. “Er… the character of Beatrice… and you…”
She laughed. It sounded incredible. The darkness surrounding her lifted for a second. “It’s just pretend, Avi. That’s why I love acting so much. I can escape who I am. If the audience want to assume I have something in common with Beatrice, let them. I don’t care.”
She said my name. Together with the overpowering familiarity of her energy signature at close quarters, it was almost my undoing. I only had to take us back there, to Rome, and she would remember it all. She’d remember me.
I understood now why guardians were never assigned to those they’d known. The temptation to intervene pulled at me, irresistible and dangerous. If I could just explain this to her…
No. If I take her back, she will fail. She has to do this on her own.
I looked down at the sheet of paper clutched in my hand. One of my fingers had torn a hole in its center. “OK,” I managed, keeping my gaze lowered. I can do this. Stay focused. “Do you still hate me?”
I winced. Apparently I still lacked the ability to prevent myself from saying stupid things. “Don’t answer that,” I added quickly. “Let’s try the scene.”
There was a short pause, then she began. Benedick and Beatrice were about to have their first argument, each keen to demonstrate their scorn for the other, and for romance in general.
“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.” Cass’s voice was perfect. Light, sharp, and slightly amused.
“What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?” I responded. I raised my head, giving her a full-on glare. We made eye contact for the first time, though it only lasted a second. There was a smile on her face, which widened briefly before she delivered her response.
“Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?”
We continued our lines and the characters sparred with each other. Although we were using words and not swords, there was a rhythm to it that was so familiar it made my head spin. At the end, I didn’t know if I were Luca, or Avi, or Benedick.
“I would my horse had the speed of your tongue.” I said my last line and turned away.
“You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old,” she responded, her voice softer.
You do know me. You do know me. This is unbearable.
“Well,” she said. “That was pretty good. You’re better than I expected. Shall we go again?”
Gods help me.

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