Landing in a heap on the hard marble floor, Jason took a moment to confirm that the majority of his faculties were still about him before looking up at the barrier. Since he was on the floor and his eyes were already pointed that way, they first fell on slender feet wrapped in leather sandals, then moved up to graceful calves, a disappointingly low skirt hem just about the knees, a lavender sash, low-cut, dark green blouse, blue shall, dark brown hair, a kind face, and, of course, red freaking eyes!
“Oh, hi, Denna,” Jason blinked. He rolled out of his awkward position and hopped to his feet, stumbling a little and catching the wall for support.
“Always the picture of poise and awareness, aren’t we, Jason?” Denna clicked derisively.
“Well, you should see me sword-fight,” Jason grinned, then almost fell over again. For some reason getting his legs to work right so recently after a nasty tumble was always a challenge.
He’d met Denna not long after coming to the Citadel, and they quickly became good friends. Their friendship was based on… well, convenience, more than anything else. Denna’s dorm was not far from Jason’s, they were at the same level in their studies, and, as it happened, she was literally the only other werewolf in the entire world.
Now, there were other loupe-garoux on other worlds, like Moon Garm, but here, she was unique. So a friendship of hunting and homework quickly evolved between them, each seeking out the only other who could understand them.
Denna still lived in the girls’ dormitories (where Jason cursed his not being allowed), while Jason had, from day one, been granted a private room. The private rooms were usually reserved for older adult students or full-fledged mages, it was by special privilege that Jason had one. Not that he used it for much, a complete lack of higher technology meant the chamber was basically good for sleeping, changing, and being bored in.
“Anyway, I knew I’d find you up here,” Denna said as she turned on her heel to walk away. “I’m going out for a while, you’ll have to give our presentation in Degna’s class.”
“Ah-ha—wait, what?” Jason blinked, and scrambled to catch up to her. As he fought for traction he glanced down at the faint outline of his shadow and realized he had, at some point, returned to wolf-form. As a human, his human shoes we much better for crossing smooth stone.
He finally rounded Denna and got in front of her to stop her, putting his hands on her shoulders.
“Wait a sec, where are you going?!” he demanded.
Denna very gently put a dainty hand on one of Jason’s arms and pushed it away.
“Out,” she said calmly. “I have to meet someone, its a few days travel so I’ll be gone the better part of the week. It’s all right, you can give the presentation.”
Denna had a kind face, always smiling, and her features were rounded and sweet. Her cute little pointy nose came down gracefully to a tip, and her skin was always smooth and unblemished, holding a slightly darkened hue. The beautiful, smiling face would have looked ideal for nurturing preschoolers, were it not for those eyes.
Red eyes. Who would have thought a person could have red eyes?!
Jason had just been starting to notice girls when he arrived at the school, and he certainly noticed Denna. She had quite the body, not skinny or stalky, just an average build but with dynamite curves.
There had been this brief spark when their eyes first met, that day. She was already an established student, and Jason was being shown around personally by Naomi. A moment, a wisp, a hint of something passed between them.
But Jason had arrived at the school with the intention of becoming a great wizard; and, for at least the first five or ten minutes of his stay he had no time for girls. This was back before he learned what Naomi’s Citadel was really like, so he’d treated Denna with a fair amount of indifference.
And so it seemed that that early period of disinterest had been enough to quell the spark. Denna clearly uninterested in such things, while it was all that got Jason out of bed in the morning. The school was entirely too boring, the girls entirely too pretty, and the other diversions entirely too non-existent.
“Well, who are you going to see?” Jason pressed. “Maybe I should go with you.”
“No one,” Denna frowned, then shut her eyes and forced a grin. “No one in particular, I just have to see to some things.” She pushed past Jason once more and continued walking. “You’ll be fine, just give the presentation and down-play how much of the work I did.”
“I don’t even know what class we were preparing that presentation for!” Jason called urgently.
“You’ll be fine,” Denna repeated, and disappeared around a corner out of sight.
As she walked, she changed into her own wolf-form. There was something about her transformation that always made Jason stop. Back home, it was the sort of thing that happened so often it never warranted notice, he’d seen tens of thousands of transformations and it was about unusual as untying ones shoes.
And yet, Denna’s change was somehow more dramatic, more emphatic. Part of it was her general grace and beauty, in human form she could make something as simple as unbuttoning a sweater seem like art. There was light, and wind, and some other things mixed in to her transformation, but for the life of him, Jason couldn’t say if any that was unusual.
He had just never paid attention before meeting her.
During the Sixth Age, it was believed the loupe-garoux were extinct. Stories persisted through the record clear back to antiquity, but no proof, none had ever been found alive. One was discovered sometime in the late Sixth Age, but many believed that report was a publicity stunt. Then, right at the tail-end of the Age of the Dragon, a group was found in an isolated pocket. But that was supposed to be the entire surviving loupe-garoux population, discovered numbering in the hundreds on a long avoided, backwater world in the far reaches of the verse, then transplanted a handful of eons ago by the illustrious Gudersnipe Foundation, and dropped quite peacefully on the world of Jason’s birth. After that, it was thought there were no others to be found, but then here was Denna still.
Alone, Jason descended to the dormitories and worked his way back to his room. Although it wasn’t technically allowed, they spent a great deal of time along, there. There were common rooms and libraries for studying, but you had to clean up after yourself, and any spare papers and books left behind would be whisked away. In Jason’s room, they had tables and shelves, and could work on projects and study in peace.
So long as none of the headmasters found out.
After sifting through the various volumes for a bit, Jason found what he guessed had to be the project. He had helped Denna put it together, though ‘helped’ meant he had let her sit in his room and work. He wasn’t even sure which class they were doing the presentation for, let alone what it was about.
Denna’s notes were not overly helpful. She had a curious sort of handwriting that was basically a secret language all her own. It was probably common, not even necessarily a short-hand, but her lettering was just so bad that he couldn’t even read it!
All he had to go on was the name of the teacher, Degna. Degna taught one class, and it was the single worst class ever.
On his very first day, while Naomi was still showing him around personally, she confronted him with a riddle: you are trapped in a room, no doors, no windows; only a table, and a mirror, how do you get out?
Jason, having been a great aficionado of both clapping rythmes and schoolyard riddles, immediately knew the answer(and had since he was seven). It was very simple: you looked in the mirror, see what you saw, take the saw, cut the table in half, put the two halves together; two halves make a whole, climb out through the hole. A simple, incredibly rudimentary word-play that was good for no more than a chuckle.
Except apparently everything about magic relied on knowing the answer. It was confusing as all get out, but as Naomi explained(while Jason was still interested in listening) that it was that sort of thinking one needed to reach true mastery. How word-tricks and mild cleverness made one an arch magus was something of a mystery.
Still, it was apparently important. Everything was important, a vast, resivoir of knowledge. So Degna taught a class about everything. Really, not a single specific thing, just everything. One day they would learn about the Mage Wars, another day computer circuit design(which, being from a technologically advanced world and knowing what a ‘computer’ was, everyone expected Jason to be a natural at, he was not), another day they might discuss the migratory habits of coastal water fowl, or the intricacies of grooming large felines for show. Degna was the ideal teacher, as he essentially communicated in one, long, rambling sentence without ever pausing for breath—the man had mastered circular breathing just to lecture!
Which meant the presentation was probably about… something.
After sifting through the many volumes and notebooks, Jason finally located the original assignment sheet, being used as a bookmark in Denna’s diary. The secrets such a book likely held—secrets Jason would love to learn—were unfortunately obscured behind her terrible, terribly handwriting. The assignment sheet, meanwhile, was written so neatly it almost looked like it had to be printed, but that was Degna’s style.
“Jason and Denna,” Jason read. “You will give an oral presentation. Topic: the history of the Known Worlds, the high points, maybe a few minor details, an amusing anecdote or two, and please follow one of the available standard chronologies.”
Jason put the note down and looked around at Denna’s collection of books, the very large stack of incomprehensible scribbles, then sat down in a chair and buried his face in his hands.