Rayla was going home in two days. I needed to have something up my sleeve.
“I’m just saying, if push comes to shove, I’ve got a plan.” I shoved the sky book into my satchel, pulled it onto my shoulder, and made my way to the door.
“Callum, you can’t be serious,” Lailah called after me. “Do the ends really justify the means, there?” I ignored her and kept walking. I needed to find Rayla, we needed to talk.
Okay, sure, that sounds a bit intense. But we were soulmates, after all. And Rayla was right, we’re not in love yet.
But maybe I’d like to be.
Rayla was smart, charming. She planned ahead. She was an amazing instrumentalist. I bet she could sing, too. I only sang to her once. When I first joined NYHTS, Corvus told me not to contact her anymore. Me being me, I did anyways. I sang a goodbye for her. It wasn’t good, not in the slightest. I wondered if she remembered what I sounded like. To be fair, I was a Sky Arcanum holder and user at this point. Perhaps something changed?
Once outside, I pulled my earbuds from my satchel and- I had no phone. It was still broken on the floor in my office. Shrugging, I put the mess of wire back in my bag, continuing down the sidewalk. I took a deep breath, letting the cool air fill my lungs. The sky was cloudy and dreary, but I found it to be beautiful. The gloomy day had driven most people to the indoor branches of the campus, making my walk lonelier and quieter than usual. But as I stepped on the sidewalk, gearing towards home, I froze. I felt this… pull. Something was pulling me towards the music building behind me. Like a string had tied itself to my ribs, yanking me back with every step. I tried to step away, but it was almost as if I was tied to the place. What the hell? I remember thinking to myself. I tried to step away, but to no avail. My feet were glued in place whenever I tried to move anywhere else. The string kept pulling me, no matter what I did. So I spun around and marched in, almost against my will.
Inside, the normally bustling building was eerily quiet. No guitarist practiced in the stairwell. No one was reading the descriptions to the painting on the walls. The normal clashing of instruments playing from various practice rooms was gone. I remember thinking- Why is this place so empty? It was usually busy, full of music. Despite the strange feeling, I stepped towards mine and Rayla’s usual practice room. Except I shouldn’t have. That pulling sensation, the tugging string, the one that lured me into the music building was pulling me up the stairs opposite from me. With a grimace I blindly I followed this weird instinct. Up the stairs, to a whole portion of the building I’d never been to. I was pulled left, down a windowless hallway with shabby murals hanging neglected. Pulled left again, into what looked to be a lecture hall. But it was old and dingy and dusty, the walls an old gray that clashed with the burgundy seats. I kept moving to the back of the room where a door sat ajar. I had to go inside. Something was waiting for me there, something I needed. I didn’t know why, but I needed it like I needed air.
I pulled back the door, revealing darkness. As if on cue, the motion detector clicked and bright fluorescents flickered on, revealing what was in the room. Turns out, it wasn’t a room. It was a closet- a storage closet, full of instruments. It smelled like dust and grime, and looked like hell. Old basses sat on a rack collecting dust, most of them missing strings. A french horn had been left on a stool, as if it’s owner was coming back to continue practicing. However, it was clear that horn had spent a while there, untouched. Boxes were stacked in every corner, instrument cases crammed into every remaining space. That pull came back- only now it was more like a push. Something was pushing me to a case in the back. Small, rectangular.On top of the case, there was sheet music. I glanced at the title- Libertango.
With a clack I undid the latches on the case, zipping it open, and pulling back the cover, sending the sheet music that was on top sliding to the floor.
The push was gone. I was alone now.
The violin gleamed up at me, wood stained an orange tint, its pattern on beautiful display. The strings were loose, but they were all there and intact. The bridge had been knocked off and lay pitifully against the instrument. The bow was over loosened in its spot.
I pulled the bow from the slip in the lid of the case, tightening the tension screw until the hairs were taught. Carefully setting it aside, I picked up the bridge. It was tiny in my hands, barely covering a third of my palm. Looking at the face of the violin, I noticed to patches where the sheen had been dulled- two spots where the legs of the bridge had gone. The top of the bridge had four notches where the strings belonged. I carefully placed each one in its notch, then proceeded to try and wedge the bridge back onto the instrument. It was so thin- I felt like it would snap at any second. And within a moment, the tension on the strings returned, holding the bridge in place. I gingerly plucked the thickest string, then promptly grimaced; It was out of tune. For a second, I was shocked. I had never played violin. I was never a musical person, I was never good at music theory, let alone had I ever played violin. How had I known the string was out of tune? Delicately I pinched the neck of the violin, lifting it out of the case. I brought it to my chin, holding it as if I knew how to play. My left hand held up the neck and the scroll, my neck and shoulders scrunching to hold the body of the violin. Something was missing. I glanced around and spotted it lying on the ground- a shoulder rest. I grabbed it, pulling the feet onto the body of the instrument. Holding up to my collarbone, I felt a buzz through my arm and my hands knew how to play.
Being sick and trapped in Ezran’s dorm room sucked. I was so bored, tired, and completely deprived of anything to do. Even doing magic hurt my sinuses. Stupid new moon. Stupid Earth’s shadow. I wanted nothing more than to be in a practice room somewhere, playing, learning a new piece. Maybe piano- or better yet, violin. Oh, how I would’ve loved to play violin again. I hadn’t played since meeting Soren and Claudia- I hadn’t had time to practice much of anything.
I felt an unfamiliar pull in that moment. Like a string tied itself around my ribs and was trying to yank me from my comfy spot in bed. I tried to ignore it, I did, but no matter how hard I clenched my eyes shut and gritted my teeth, the pull never left. It hurt, a little.
Finally, I threw the covers off and sprung to my feet, taking Ezran, who had been studying, by surprise.
“Where are you going?” he asked, watching me walk away.
“I don’t know, “ I answered honestly. But I’d go wherever this string wanted to take me.
I plucked the thickest string. It was wobbly and lower than it should be. I knew it needed to be tuned up, but how far up, I wasn’t sure. I wish I hadn’t broken my phone- then I could look up the tuning. Perhaps there was a book somewhere that had a diagram. Or a chart, maybe, that told me how far I had to turn the pegs.
Gently I placed the violin back on its case and began rummaging through boxes on the ground. Cello books? Close, maybe later though. French horn? Nah- Fiddle? Almost- wait, wait, fiddle! A violin and a fiddle were the same instrument! I pulled the book from its stack and flipped to the first page. Table of contents. Next page. More table of contents. Next page. Sheet music. This one was a bust. I tossed it aside and kept looking through. Mostly I found unrelated books for different instruments. Some were purely about music theory. I set those aside- maybe I might need them later. But no matter where I looked, there was nothing for violin that told me how to tune it.
Just then, the door behind me opened and my heart skipped a beat. Someone had found me, someone had-
“What are you doing?” Rayla said, striding towards my pile of practice books. I looked up at her, sheepish.
“Learning how to play violin?” I replied, trying to straighten up the mess in front of me. “Look, I don’t know what brought me here, I just-”
“Woah,” Rayla murmured, glancing at the violin in the case behind me. “Is that yours?”
“Yeah, well sort of. Actually, no. I didn’t know it was here. But something pulled me here and now-”
“A pull?” Rayla kneeled next to me, her eyes piercing mine. I’d never really appreciated how beautiful her eyes were. They were grey. But purple, too. Lilac, almost. They danced between mine, curiosity filling them.
“A pull,” I nodded, picking up the violin. “Do you know how to tune it?” She took it from me, running a finger across the strings. I winced- they were all way too low.
“Somewhat,” she said, plucking the lowest string and twisting the peg. “This one’s supposed to be G.” She stopped and plucked again. “I think that’s right-”
“No, not really,” I said, taking it back. “ It’s flat.”
“Flat.” I twisted the peg a bit more, listening as the pitch grew sharper until it was perfect. My ukulele skills were finally paying off. “There we go,” I said, handing the violin back. Rayla gazed at me, mouth agape.
“You… you have perfect pitch,” she whispered, pushing the violin back into my lap. I blushed.
“It's nothing- I don’t know-”
“Yes, you do! Callum, that’s fantastic! Most musicians strive for years just to get close!”She was ecstatic, a grin spreading across her beautiful face. She was so beautiful. “How could you have perfect pitch and not tell me?” She reached out an arm and put her hand on my shoulder, my skin growing warm under her touch. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks.
“I think it’s a sky arcanum thing,” I smiled back. Rayla shook her head, still in disbelief.
“That's amazing! You’re amazing!” she exclaimed. I froze.
“You think I’m amazing?”
“Well yeah, you-” she stopped mid sentence and exhaled. “The next string is D,” she said. I plucked it, letting the sound run through my hands. I twisted a different peg, listening as the pitch went higher and higher.
We repeated this process with the other two strings, A and E. I tried to hand the violin to Rayla, for her to play. But she shook her head.
“You try first,” she told me, a mischievous smile grew on her lips. I shrugged and pulled the instrument to my shoulder. “Sit up straight,” she told me. So I did. “Relax your shoulders,” she gently pushed with her hands. “Keep your wrist loose,” she showed me how to hold the neck of the violin, in the crook of my thumb, my hand open, like there was an egg in between the wood and my palm. “There you go,” she whispered, reaching for the bow. “Give me your right hand.” I did. She took it, and that hum of electricity billowed in my hand once more, but Rayla grimaced.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, noticing her face grow pale.
“Nothing,” she whispered, brushing it aside, placing the bow in my fingertips. She moved my fingers over the wood until she was satisfied. “Now put the bow to a string.” I did as told. “Now play.” I pushed the hair onto the string, a low screech emitting from it. Rayla giggled, plugging her ears. “Lighten up the pressure!” she shouted over the noise, so I did. And suddenly I was playing violin. A single tone rang through the air, sending chills down my spine. Rayla laughed, giddy with excitement. “You’re playing!” she said.. “Try a scale.”
“Any one!” I pulled the bow down on open A. Pushed the bow up, first finger B. Pulled down, second finger C#. Push, third D. Pull, open E, push, F#, pull G#, push, A. I lowered the violin, smiling wide.
“I can play violin!”
“You can play violin!” Rayla came forward and pulled me into a hug. I wrapped my arms around her, violin in hand.
There it was again. That doubt from before. But I had to push it aside, right?
We broke from our embrace, both of us full of a strange happiness that wasn’t there before. We were finally connected by something other than what the universe gave us.
“Try again, I’ll help you,” Rayla said, sitting up straight. I bowed the string again, but as I played, Rayla pulled my elbow out from my side. She fixed my collapsed wrist, and when my C# was a little too sharp, she pulled my finger back, helping the rest of my hand fall into shape. Continuing the scale, up until the very highest note, she fixed little things about my posture and hold until all was perfect.
“I can’t believe I’m learning violin!” I said once I’d finished. Rayla smiled.
“I had a feeling you’d love it,” she replied, taking the violin from my hands. She sat up straight and began playing the same tune as the one in the practice room. “ Libertango ,” I believe she’d called it. Except it wasn't the background part. The violin solo echoed in my head, live sound and trace bouncing between my ears. I closed my eyes, picturing a dance.
Rayla played flawlessly and I couldn't help but open my eyes again as she pulled off a masterful progression. Her hand remained steady though she shifted up and down the fingerboard. She played double stops that gave me chills, and I watched how seamlessly the bow seemed to float over the strings. She was so focused and content all at the same time.
As the solo continued, my attention was drawn again to her eyes. As she played, they sparkled. They focused on her fingers, dancing on the strings, sometimes glancing at the bow. Halfway through, though, she faltered. Her hand slipped, the bow went skidding up the fingerboard before clattering to the ground, Rayla scowled.
“You okay?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. Rayla nodded, biting her lip. “That was… amazing.” I breathed. “You’re amazing-”
“I need to tell you something,” she interrupted. Her downcast expression never left the floor. “Lailah called earlier. She sounded panicked, and I’d never heard her like that before, so I knew it must have been serious, but-” Rayla sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, setting the violin on her lap. “We decided that I need to go home.” She didn’t look at me, instead she picked up the bow and loosened it, leaving me speechless.
“You’re- you’re kidding, right?” I asked, trying to laugh behind the despair. “It’s a joke, a prank.”
“I wish it was, but I have to go home. Lailah sounded so worried, and I may not have handled it in the best way, but-”
“No, no, no, you can’t leave now!” I stood, stepping back. “We’re just starting to trust one another, we’re learning from one another. You can’t just leave it all behind-”
“I don’t think you get it!” Rayla stood, meeting my eye. I had never really noticed, but Rayla was taller than me. “I wish I didn’t have to, but I promised Lailah I would.” She picked up the violin and handed it to me. “I don’t leave until Saturday, though. So… we can learn from each other until then.” She pulled her hands into her sleeves, but her upright stance didn’t change. She looked up at me, as if examining me.
Callum’s eyes were so… alluring.
I clutched the violin, still watching her movements. She took a step back, sending my haphazardly stacked books toppling to the ground.
“Shit, sorry,” she mumbled, bending to pick them up. I set the violin in the case behind me and knelt to help. However, as she was stacking the various practice books, she pulled one aside, flipping through the pages.
“What’s that for?” I asked, watching the way she read the music intently, listening to the soft hum of the melody as she studied the notes. Why couldn’t I hear a trace…?
The answer, I later found out, was because of the key. Rayla, though she has a fantastic ear, unfortunately doesn’t have perfect pitch, essentially meaning that when she hummed, it was in the wrong key. My brain decided that since it was in the wrong key, it wasn’t really a peice. So I didn’t hear it. The thought had plagued me for a while, so I did some research. It was really interesting to learn, and to this day I still contemplate how I’d turn the concept into a lesson.
She handed me the book, and pointed to the beginning of the piece.
“See these hashtags?” she pointed. “Those are sharps. There's two. F sharp and C sharp. This means we’re in the key of D major. Can you sing a D major scale?” She looked up at me, and I peered back at her.
“I guess I can-” I said, taking a breath. “D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D.”
“Great,” Rayla reached behind me, grabbing the violin and handed it back to me. “Now play it.” So I did. D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D. It was a little wobbly, but it was getting there. “You got it,” she whispered to me, redirecting back to the music. “The violin reads in treble clef. This means that the bottom line is E, the space F, the second line G, the space A, and so on. With this knowledge,” she jabbed a finger at the page from the book, “You should be able to play this beginner’s piece.” I looked at her, somewhat baffled.
“You want me to learn this?”
“If you want to learn piano, you need to learn how to learn sheet music. What better place to start than this?” Rayla closed the book and pulled a different booklet from the back. “I’ll play the piano part while I’m gone, and you could play the violin part.”
“Our traces would connect,” I said with a distant smile. “I still wish you didn’t have to go.”
“I know, but at least now, we’re learning to trust each other.” She glanced at me, our eyes meeting briefly. “And we’ll stay in touch. And you can still listen to Soren and Claudia’s music as it’s written,” she smiled.
“I can’t wait,” I said. We sat for a moment, in silence, but not awkward silence at all. We were simply enjoying one another’s company. I liked that about Rayla. It was hard for silence around her to be awkward. Out of the blue, she stood, holding out her hand for me to take.
“Let’s go,” she said, pulling me and the violin out of the closet.
“To learn magic.”
We found ourselves in a clearing behind the music building- plenty of space, plenty of tree cover, and no one around. I still had my satchel, with the sky and moon book inside. I flipped to the index, searching and scanning the list of spells and runes for me to try.
We had made a game of it, and the rules were simple; Each of us would chose two hard spells, two that even the book recommended beginners steer clear of. Then, we would pick two easier spells that were similar to the harder ones we wished to perform. By the end of the hour, we would each be one step closer to performing the harder spell. But the catch was this- One had to be an offensive spell, one that would not seriously maim or hurt the other person, but do enough to knock them off their feet. The other spell had to be a defensive spell, one to either confuse our opponent or deflect the attack completely. The last to be on their feet won.
My attack spell was fulminis. Remembering my conversation with Lailah, I wanted to have the Fulminis Magnis spell under my belt in case… In case I had to face Runaan. The regular fulminis spell seemed to be right along the right track. My defense spell was called Cyclon Minimus , it was the seemingly the smaller version of Dielish , an over the top shield spell that would encase the caster in an impenetrable dome of wind and strom. Cyclon Minimus was smaller, more of a shield shape.
We spent maybe five or so minutes or so, practicing with our backs to one another, avoiding listening to closely to the result of the other’s spell. This was a competition, and neither of us liked cheaters. I practiced the fulminis spell, enjoying the quick electricity to run down my arm and into the air in front of me. My current product of this spell was… for lack of a better word, lame. But each time I tried, the lighting I built only became wilder, more frazzled and electric.
My defense spell could be better. It formed a shield of, well, air. But it looked and felt like a mini hurricane, attached to the side of my wrist that might deflect an attack. It was really, really windy, though, and I could feel the tips of my hair getting twisted around on my forehead. Soon, we counted our steps away from one another, and turned to find ourselves farther from the other.
“Are you ready?” Rayla called, forty or so feet back.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I replied, my hand already up, ready to trace the fulminis spell at a moment’s notice.
“One,” Rayla called.
“Two,” I shouted.
“THREE!” we yelled in unison, our hands immediately tracing glowing runes in the air. She was fast, but I was faster.
“ Fulminis! ” electricity shot through my arm, soaring majestically through the air. I didn’t get to see where it landed, though, because my vision was abruptly cut off by a huge light.
“ Speculo Sciath! ” Rayla had shouted, summoning a shield of what appeared to be a pane of glass. Sunlight that fell through the trees shone right back into my eyes, and the fulminis spell I had sent her way was reflected right back towards me. Without a second to spare, Rayla’s mind was at work again.
“ Replica Invienta! ” she shouted, sending arrows flying my way. I tried to dodge them, but one landed squarely in my chest. I was sent stumbling back, stunned that Rayla would shoot real arrows at me.
“What was that!” I yelled across the clearing. Rayla smirked and pulled a smooth stone from her pocket- a glowing image right on top.
“Nothing!” she replied. And sure enough, when I picked an arrow up, its tip was dull and rubbery, bouncing right off its target. Rayla had conjured fake arrows! It didn’t leave without impact, though. It’s speed and force was enough to knock me down if I wasn’t careful. I saw Rayla, tracing the rune again, ready to fire more. But I wouldn’t tolerate this slander! I traced my own rune, feeling the air pressure change around me, and soon enough, a mini hurricane was resting on top of my forearm, spinning so quickly, that when Rayla’s arrows came my way again, the moment they hit my shield, their velocity changed, their direction altered. The winds sent them flying away, into the woods, never to be seen again. I could feel the hurricane dying down, but I needed to land an attack before the duel ended. I drew the fulminis rune once more, and with a shout, sent an even stronger bolt of lightning her way. Unfazed, almost as if she had predicted it, her Speculo Sciath was already up, launching my own bolt right back at me, knocking my shoulders back. I stumbled, and the hurricane on my arm dissipated. Within seconds, I heard Rayla shout, sending more arrows. I had to think of something, and fast.
All at once, I got an idea. With one hand, I drew the fulminis rune, but didn’t say the word, causing a ball of pure electricity to fester in the palm of my hand.
“ Cyclon Minimus, ” I called out, creating a hurricane on my forearm once more. I drove the lightning into the hurricane, sending bolts and flashes careening in every direction. I held my arm, high above my head-
“ FULMINIS! ” The sheer force of wind and velocity of lightning was enough to knock me to the ground- but not without victory! Rayla tried to summon her shield spell-
“ Speculo Scaith! ”
But unfortunately the mass of energy was too large to reflect, sending Rayla to the ground. For a moment, the air around us seemed dangerous- stormy leftovers from my hurricane blistered into clouds, lightning bolting between them. Within seconds, though, the mess above had dissipated, leaving Rayla and I on the ground, fifty feet apart, stunned at what had just happened. My hands trembled as I brought them in front of me. They didn’t look like mine, they were red from the heat, and they shook with energy. Across the way, Rayla stood warily, making her way towards me.
“I guess we both lost,” she said, offering her hand. I took it, feeling more energy surge through my arm. I moved to stand, yet at the same time, Rayla pulled me up. My knees still shook from the spells I cast, my feet slightly numb, and I lost my balance, stumbling forward- right into her arms. We stood, awkwardly staring into each other’s eyes, my nose inches from hers. I could feel my heart beating so quickly there was almost no beat at all. My fingers curled around hers, this feeling of wanting to be close flooded my mind. Maybe I was embarrassed. Possibly just shocked. But I didn’t want to let go. Immediately I felt heat rushing to my cheeks, and I took a step back. But Rayla didn’t let go of my hand.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” I blushed, scratching the back of my head.
“I- it’s all good,” Rayla stammared, a similar pink rising in her face. I glanced up, noticing the sun setting. The moon appeared- well, at least a tiny sliver of the moon- emerging ever so faintly in the darkening sky.
“Two more seconds and I’d have been screwed,” I mused. Rayla smiled.
The energy in our hands grew warmer, and I could feel my eyelids growing heavy. A hazy vision of the past began to appear- and I guess Rayla saw it too, because she promptly pulled away.
“I’ve got to pack,” she said, shifting her weight. She headed to where we had dropped our stuff, hesitating to pick up her book. Which reminded me-
“Why didn’t you want to tell me about the whole… New Moon thing?” I lifted my satchel onto my shoulder, holding the violin case in my other hand. It’s weight was new and unfamiliar, but I couldn’t wait to get used to it. When I asked, Rayla stopped for a moment.
“I don’t know,” she finally answered. “I guess I didn’t want to bother you. Yeah, that’s all.” She sounded unsure.
“You know you can trust me,” I said, offering a smile. Rayla nodded.
“I know.” We turned to walk back around the music building. Rayla broke the silence first. “So, Ezran says you have an office?” She asked.
“Can I see it?”
“I don’t see why not.”
As soon as we reached my floor, I spotted the list of times I keep by my door. Office hours- I had completely forgotten about office hours! I dashed up to the door, reading the names of students who’d wanted to come in.
“Shit,” I mumbled, tearing the paper down. “I completely forgot- no one reminded me-”
“I’m sure it’s okay,” Rayla said, coming up behind me. “If it was urgent, they’d talk to you after class?”
“I guess so,” I said, still studying the paper as I pushed the door open. Inside was exactly the way I had left it a week ago, when Soren called me, telling me Rayla was on her way. My phone was still shattered in the corner, a thin layer of dust dulling the screen. I set the violin case on the ground inside the door, making my way to my desk. As I set my satchel on the ground, I noticed a sticky-note stuck on my picture of Ezran, Harrow and I. I pulled it off, reading;
Please curve my grade! -Monroe
I rolled my eyes, smiling despite myself. Monroe Alexander Higgins was possibly the worst student- academically, anyways- that I’d ever taught. He never really participated in class, unless he wanted to share a joke with me before he left. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but granted, I hadn’t seen much of any of my students. But it’s students like Monroe that made me want to become a teacher. I always wanted to make a difference in kids' lives, in their minds, and I could see changes in Monroe’s grades as the semester continued. He still failed, most of the time, but I could see him trying, in his work, in his equations, in the way he crossed off answers he thought were wrong in a test booklet. I think I was finally getting through to him.
“Lot’s of books,” Rayla remarked, from across the room. She was kneeling on the ground, pulling titles from the bottom row. “How old are these?” She flipped through the pages, the smell of musty moth-eaten pages wafted through the room.
“Years and years old. Probably belonged to the guy who had my office before me.” I sat at my desk, pulling out my laptop. I felt… really bad about missing office hours. Like, really, really bad. I felt worse about missing Monroe’s session. He seemed like a genuinely cool kid, and I wanted him to succeed.
I opened my email and started a new draft.
To: Monroe Higgins.
Hello! I would like to apologize for missing office hours with you. Life has been really hectic, and everything seems to be going haywire, and- well, you know. I know I can’t make up for missing your time, but if you would like, I’ll be in my office for the next twenty minutes or so, if you’d like to stop by. If not, please write back so that we can schedule another time!
Prof. Callum Walker
With a click and a woosh, the email was sent. I had doubts Monroe would be able to make it, but it was worth a shot. And he’d get to meet Rayla. Maybe our connection could help peak his interest.
“Who you writing to?” Rayla asked, standing behind me.
“One of my students,” I closed the tab, opening instead the gradebook. Glancing at the list, most of my students were passing with flying colors- with the exception of Lailah and Monroe. Lailah, I originally presumed, was just too shy to ask questions. Now that I've gotten to know her, I realized her reason for her grade wasn’t that she didn’t understand the material. She just had other things to focus on. NYHTS was taking a larger toll on her than I’d formerly comprehended. As for Monroe- my assumption was that he was too shy. Around campus, I’d see him laughing and joking with friends, but in my class he seemed more of a loner. I hoped to reach out to him, somehow. He was a good kid when I did get the chance to talk to him, but his grade was a 58%. Two points from failing this quarter.
“What are they like?” Rala asked, pointing at the name Higgens, Monroe Alexander, leaning against the edge of the desk.
“Good heart, bad grades,” I replied, hearing a ding! I clicked back into my email tab, noticing a new message.
Hey, prof! I’m on my way. See you shortly!
-Monroe A. Higgins
Within seconds of me reading the email, I heard a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I called. The door opened, and in stepped Monroe. He was lanky and pale, with freckles dusting his nose, and circle glasses framing his brown eyes. When he saw Rayla, he faltered.
“Should I come back?” He asked, pulling his hands into his sweater.
“No, no, you’re okay,” I said, standing. “I’d actually like you two to meet.” I guided Rayla around my desk, so that she and Monroe were facing one another. “Rayla, this is Monroe, one of my students. And Monroe, this is Rayla. My soulmate.”
“Nice to meet you, Monroe,” Rayla smiled, sticking out a hand. He took it, sharing a smirk.
“So,” I gestured for him to sit, and Rayla moved back into the corner where she’s left her book, open, face down. “What can I help you with?”
“I was wondering if there was anything I could do to bring my grade up before the end of the quarter,” He said, shifting in his seat.
“Right.” I closed my laptop. “Unfortunately, the deadline for test retakes was yesterday. And I have no new assignments until next quarter.”
“But, for you, I’m willing to offer an extra credit project.” As soon as I said the words, Monroe sat up, intrigued.
“What kind of extra credit?” He asked.
“Well…” I glanced over at Rayla, bathed in muted sunlight through the window, engrossed in her book. I loved how her hair reflected the sun, much like, well, the moon. And the way the light engulfed her like a flame, a halo surrounding her, making her even more angelic. And she was so engrossed in her book, that she made facial expressions to match what she was reading. The way her brow furrowed when she read something she didn’t like. Even the little wrinkles between her eyebrows were adorable. And the way her head rested on her hand, scrunching up her cheek, making her look so soft. But I knew behind the peaceful face was a stern personality, a determined yet sarcastic demeanor that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.
I was falling in love with Rayla.
“Hey, uh, professor?” Monroe, asked, snapping me back to reality.
“Yes, yes, extra credit. I was thinking something very easy- a two question quiz, each question a guarantee to bring your grade up a point each.”
“Yes, that sounds perfect!”
“On one condition,” I added. Monroe’s face fell, but I knew it wouldn’t stay that way. “If you get both questions right, I’ll give you a second project to help boost your second quarter grade right from the get-go.” As predicted, Monroe lit up.
“Yes, yes of course! I’d love to! When can I take the quiz.?”
“Right now, actually,” I said, standing. “Rayla, could you come with me into the hall for a moment?” She looked up at me, blushing slightly.
“Sure thing,” she rose and followed me into the hall, where I closed the door behind us.
“Can you do me a favor, real quick?”
“Depends,” Rayla peered suspiciously, “What is it?”
“This two question quiz- I’m going to have each of us perform a spell, and he’s going to tell me which source it’s derived from. He should be able to get it, since I’ve been talking about it in class a lot.”
“What kind of spell?”
“The illusion one.”
“They’re all illusions.”
“The one where you make holograms or whatever of the past. Like you showed me with you and Runaan.”
“ Historia Viventem ?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Callum, I think you need to slow down. We can’t have some stranger knowing that we- that you and I- What if he works for- you know?” Rayla gawked at me like I was crazy.
“Oh come on, he doesn’t, I can almost guarantee-”
“How? Where is this certainty coming from? I saw the gradebook, Callum, he’s got a lower grade than Lailah. If he was preoccupied with something, I would venture to say it’s NYHTS he’s busy with.” Rayla grabbed me by the shoulders, as if steadying me. “I just think it wouldn’t be smart to-”
“Rayla, relax,” I pushed her arms away. “He’s not with NYHTS.”
“How do you know?”
“I just- I have a gut feeling. He’s a good kid, I promise. I’ve seen him with friends, he’s happy, he just needs to come out of his shell, ask more questions in class. Besides, his grades may be low in my class, but he’s an art major. It’s very possible he just struggles with facts, dates, memorization.” Rayla still seemed unsure, so I continued. “I just want to see him succeed. Trust me on this, please?” As I spoke, Rayla’s face never changed. Just the same, stern, serious, thoughtful, beautiful look she’d given me before. After a moment, though, her features softened.
“Fine,” she rolled her eyes. “I’ll help.”
“Yay! Thank you!” I pulled her into a tight embrace, not even giving her time to hug back before I opened the door.
“Alright, Monroe, this quiz should be easy if you’ve been paying attention.” I strode to the back of my office, standing in front of the bookshelves, Rayla next to me. “Now you can’t tell anyone about this quiz’s content, alright?”
“And you can’t freak out,” Rayla added. Monroe twisted to watch us, nodding.
“So basically, as a preface, do you remember the lesson I taught about how traces were connected to the primal sources?”
“And how in turn, humans were connected to the primal sources?” Monroe asked, to which I beamed.
“Yes, that’s the one, very good. Now, I taught that lesson as an homage to, well, to Rayla and I.” I tried to sound nonchalant. Monroe raised his eyebrows.
“To save you the trouble,” Rayla added, “We’re connected to those sources.” Monroe didn’t react.
“Tadaaa…” I did some jazz hands to ty and lighten the mood. Monroe seemed unamused. “Um, anyways, so for this quiz, Rayla and I are each going to perform a spell, and you have to tell us which source it pertains to. You get it right, you get the points.”
“Let me get this straight,” Monroe began. “You and Rayla, your soulmate, are each connected to a primal source now that you’ve found each other. And now you can do magic. And you’re going to use that magic to help me, the kid with the lowest GPA in my class, bring my 58% to 60%.”
“Yes, that’s right,” I said.
“Cool beans. I’m ready, hit me.” He sat up, brushing stray strands of hair from his face. I looked at Rayla, who nodded. Her hand hovered in the air, before tracing a rune that was becoming familiar now.
“ Historia viventem,” she whispered. As soon as the words escaped her lips, I saw it. A version of me, tinted blue-ish-purple, walked into the office, Rayla right behind. Flashback me took a seat at my desk, while Flashback Rayla made her way to the bookcase behind us. Her figure was translucent, and passed right through me to get to the books behind us. I glanced at Monroe, eyes wide, grinning from ear to ear. He watched the figures carry out the routine we just went through; me sending an email, Rayla leaning up against the desk. Rayla waved the vision away before Flashback Monroe had a chance to enter the picture.
“So? Which source?” I asked playfully.
“Well, you’ve said ‘the moon is the goddess of illusion,’ right?”
“So that would mean, Rayla is connected to the moon primal!” He said, excitedly.
“That is correct! Onto the next one!” I began drawing my own rune in the air. “ Aspiro,” I breathed, blowing ever so gently into the rune, sending a breeze throughout the room. Monroe laughed as the wind hit his face, making his clothes and hair dance.
“The sky, you’re connected to the sky!” he said, jumping from his seat.. “That is so cool!”
“Indeed!” I said, amused. “And, you guessed both questions right, meaning you pass this quarter!”
“Professor, thank you so much!” He bounced, giddy at the prospect of just barely passing.
“No problem,” I replied. “Anything to help my students succeed.” Monroe grabbed my hand, shaking it vigorously with a huge smile before dashing from the room. I glanced over at Rayla, who had been staring; surveying.
“What?” I asked, meeting her eye.
“You’re… really good, you know that?” she said after a pause.
“Uh, thanks?” I stepped towards my desk, packing up my things.
“No, I mean like-” she sighed, “You’re an exceptional human being.”
“Why, thank you!”
“I don’t know anyone who would’ve done that for someone. Giving up a secret like that.” She stepped closer to me, and I don’t know why, but her movement mixed with the way she spoke raised butterflies fluttering in my stomach.
That night, back in Ezran’s dorm, Rayla had to finally face the daunting task of packing up. It wasn’t hard, since she had been living out of her suitcase for the past few days. She didn’t have much of, well, anything. But the prospect of Rayla leaving was just… unreal. I tried to picture the rest of the semester without her. Days in my apartment, grading papers with Lailah, the mood constantly grim because Runaan was hot on our tail and we were powerless to stop him. Hours at night, listening to Soren and Claudia’s songs being shaped and sculpted. I’d practice violin, hoping Rayla would join in with the piano part, but she never did. And without her, the perfect pitch I had before would dwindle. My lessons would be dismal. No inspiration behind them, nothing like the ones this week’s had been like. How could I teach on the very subject that brought our seperation? Conceivably, I was overreacting. My days would go back to normal, subtracting the missions I’d have to go on every once in a while. I’d manage to step right back in to normal life without missing a beat. But there was still the fact that our Arcanums were proof that we could be something greater, proof that we still had the chance to grow closer to one another. And yet we were leaving it all behind. For her safety. For my safety. For our safety. I was content with the idea that I knew Rayla would be okay, with or without me. But it still stung that it’d be the latter.
“Are you sure you got it all?” I asked as I watched her put on her jacket.
“Yeah, I think so. Besides, if I leave anything, you can just keep it here until I come back.”
“Yeah.” And we left it at that. Truthfully, we had no real way of knowing if she would ever come back. Lailah, Corvus and I needed to figure out how to take down NYHTS from the inside, without anyone getting hurt. But no matter which way I looked at it, there wasn’t an ending in which everyone got out unscathed.
“So, are we ready to go?” Rayla asked, pulling the handle out of her carry on. I nodded, turning to walk out of Ezran’s room.
“Callum?” Rayla whispered, and I stopped in my tracks. I turned to face her, finding apprehension in her expression. She bit her lip, studying my eyes. “I’m… I’m really gonna miss you.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Me too.”
Watching Rayla board that plane was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I was just beginning to know her, to learn from her. And yet she was leaving. Out of my life, just like that. Maybe not out of my life completely, but we had no clue when it would be safe for me to see her again.
I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of fear. It wasn’t mine, but it was there. And it was growing. And snowballing. And suddenly my stomach was upset, my head buzzing and my hands growing hot and numb. I was panicking- when I looked outside, I noticed that clouds were covering the little bit of the moon that had shown itself in the past few days. I wasn’t doing that- Rayla was. Rayla was panicking, Rayla wasn’t okay.
I glanced at the desk, flight attendant lifting the mic to call the last group. I had to do something- the plane was leaving soon. The plane was leaving now.
Standing, bouncing on the balls of my feet, I waited for an opportunity. A man got into the line, his boarding pass sticking from his back pocket while he checked his phone. I glanced around; making sure no one was looking. I’m not proud of this, not in the slightest. But I really needed to find Rayla; something was wrong, more wrong than ever before. So when I was sure the coast was clear, when I was sure no one was looking, and once I had prayed to let God know I was doing this for Rayla, I took the boarding pass from his pocket, silently, wordlessly. I picked up my satchel, violin in hand, clutching my new treasure, and stepped in line.
I passed through the gate, trying not to appear guilty, trying not to pay attention to the sound of the guy fervently searching his bag, asking the flight attendant if he’d dropped his pass somewhere nearby.
On the plane, passengers were bustling everywhere, calmly reading the safety card, shoving bags under the seats in front of them, stuffing carry-ons in the compartments above. I weaseled my way through the aisle, scanning the seats on either side for a sign of Rayla.
That’s when I saw her, sitting by a window, alone in her row. Her leg was bouncing and her lips ajar, chest rising and falling quickly. The panic that led me here was amplified as the flight attendants called for passengers to be seated. So I sat, right next to Rayla, hoping whoever had been in this seat wouldn't show. Rayla heard me sit, whipping around to face me.
“You okay?” I whispered, leaning closer.
“How did you get here!” she exclaimed, somewhere between a whisper and a yell. “You know how dangerous it is for you to be anywhere near me-”
“Okay? I needed to see if you were alright.”
“Of course I’m alright, why wouldn’t I be?” She asked, eyes wide as she studied me.
“Rayla, I’m not dumb, I could feel something was off.” I stuffed my satchel under the seat in front of me as flight attendants made their rounds, securing the cabin. Rayla sighed.
“Well, I’m glad you're here.” She crossed her legs and stared out the window once more.
“Are you sure you're okay?” I asked, watching the bounce in her leg come back. She didn’t look at me.
“You're obviously not,” I protested. “I trusted you with Runaan. I’m trusting you to take care of Soren and Claudia while you're gone. I’m trusting you to be careful with Runaan- and most importantly, I’m trusting you to not let slip about everything that happened while you were in New York. But right now, I need you to trust me with whatever you're going through. Is that too much to ask?” I tried not to sound harsh, but I knew there was a bit of bitterness in my words.
“Fine!” She whipped around to face me, face pale as the engine started. “I hate planes! I hate them! They're so… high! And they could fall at any minute. I hate turbulence, I hate the confining seatbelts, I hate how they make me sick, I hate all of it!” She said, stern and defiant. I stared at her, a bit shocked. I had never seen Rayla afraid. She was always so strong, so brave and bold. I didn’t know what to do.
So I did the only thing I could. I took her hand, holding it tightly, letting the power of the moon and sky collide between us.
“I’m here,” I whispered. “And I control the skies.”