Night came and went in the dorm room that belonged to Maria, and was swiftly followed by morning. She and Carroll both slept well, the latter curled at the foot of the bed. It had taken a while for Maria to concede and accept such an arrangement, but she was rapidly learning that Carroll was more stubborn than her. In the morning she rose from bed to discover that her things had somehow already been brought in…and for that matter, unpacked. She froze and recalled that horrid moment of dread from the previous day. Had someone entered the room while she and Carroll slept…?
"Morrrrrning," Carroll yawned, opening her maw far wider than it looked like she should be capable of. She lazily slinked down out of the bed and streeeetched out her spine. "I took the liberty of putting all your stuff away for you, Princess…" she yawned again, clearly tired. Maria liked that title. Princess. Plus, if Carroll took her stuff out of the empty boxes by the door, that meant nobody broke in! She exhaled and felt relief hit her.
"Okay…thank you! Such a good girl!" Maria chirped happily. She kneeled to scratch at Carroll just behind the ears. Carroll let out a happy surprised yelp, which made Maria very happy. Then Maria walked to the desk and grabbed a piece of paper with her schedule written on it. She checked the time and found that she was…going to be late.
"Crap! I gotta go!" She sprinted out the door and left Carroll behind. Carroll, not being a first year, had no classes that day and curled back up on the bed. She was tired and very much wanted to take a nap. The fluffy girl yawned again and sprawled her body out with a delighted wiggle. The sheets smelled to her newly strengthened nose like Maria. This made her extremely happy.
Maria tumbled into the room late. Some of the other first years tittered and giggled to themselves, but some seemed more…swoony. She took a seat and laughed awkwardly. The professor, an aged white woman with a face that seemed unable to make any expression save for a scowl, intensely grumbled at the sight of her. Maria felt less remorse than she expected. The older teachers at her high school had never liked her, so seeing an elderly woman point scornful faces in her direction was nothing new.
"Let me guess, young woman," the professor grumbled. "You were lost?"
"No," Maria laughed uncomfortably. "I just overslept. I was tired from staying up all night unpacking my things." She wasn't exactly telling the truth, to be sure, but between trying to get Carroll to go on the bed at all and the subsequent guilt over the girl sleeping at the foot of the bed…she had actually lost sleep. "It won't happen again."
"Hmph. A troublemaker, already? You must be the airhead that got into a duel on her first day despite not even having a Crown." The woman sneered, which was technically not a scowl! "Am I correct?"
"Y-yeah," Maria admitted. She felt eyes on her from all directions. The students around her came from families with names. There were rich scions, generals-to-be, and accomplished wizards around her. Their gazes seemed more varied than their class backgrounds, though. Some seemed to admire her, others to be annoyed, others watched with the look of a vulture eyeing a dying beast. "That's me!"
"Stupid impulsive youths!" The woman spat. She whacked the blackboard with a pointing stick in indignation. "In my day, you'd be eaten alive!"
"I can't be that stupid," Maria countered with a smarmy grin. She shot to her feet, gripped the collar of her shirt, and pulled it down to reveal a bare neck with no magical writing adorning it. "Given that I won. Hard to argue with results, innit?" She flopped back into her desk. The other students snickered with laughter and watched to see what the professor would do. She steamed with rage, almost to the point it looked like a vein in her head would pop.
"Blasted little shit," she grumbled. The room wiggled and pulsed with a slight wave of whispers and laughter. Some was at the teacher's expense and some at Maria's. A more aware person in her position may have felt self-conscious. Maria very much did not. The professor grumbled quietly at first but quickly escalated into shouts of "quiet! Quiet, all of you!" When that didn't work she struck the blackboard with her head. The terrible thud silenced the room, though it was hard to say whether out of fear or pity. "Now as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," she practically growled at the twenty or so eighteen-to-nineteen year olds seated in the room with her, "Magic is an ancient and respected art…"
Suddenly Maria recalled that she had always struggled with class and felt a pit form in her stomach. Did study at even magic universities consist of an old woman ranting dates and figures at you assuming it would stick? She readied a notebook and a pen but was quickly lost regardless. The professor never seemed to pause even for a second. In spite of this, she also kept going on angry tangents completely unrelated to the subject at hand, which proved so impassioned that they consumed more of the "lesson" than the actual important information did. Maria's notes started out with a semblance of structure but quickly broke down into panicked scrawls trying to capture the brief spurts of useful information.
Then not much longer after that, they dissolved into cute absent minded doodles. Maria wasn't great at art but drawing little fairy tale knights and horses and kitties was soothing and helped put a smile on her face. She found she could focus better while drawing them, too, but she still had to hide what she was doing with her pen for fear of being chastised or humiliated over it. The professor's rambling never hit the brake pedal, not even when the period ended. Maria didn't notice until she saw that she had mere minutes before her next class started over on the other side of campus.
"Uh, ma'am," Maria spoke up. "I have uh…class to get to in a few minutes…on the other side of campus." Two was a mild exaggeration, it was closer to ten, but the exact number shouldn't matter. Damn right it shouldn't, Prince added inside her head.
"Ah, NOW you care about being punctual!" The professor just about screeched like a harpy. "Of course, of course, just like the youths of today, only following the rules when it's convenient huh!? Hmph I say! Begone! Begone with you, ALL of you!"
Suffice to say, Maria had never seen a room evacuated on command so quickly or so efficiently in her life. She made a mad dash for the other end, trying to recall in her mind's eye what the campus map looked like. All she had on her was a pen and the two or three notebooks she'd managed to stuff under her arm on her way out of her dorm, so her schedule and map were unavailable. Fortunately she remembered the building's name and what room number she was looking for.
Maria darted across a cute little bridge. It was wooden and well constructed. A stream trickled gently just below it. She clutched her supplies under her arm as she ran, and hoped that she wasn't about to be late twice in a row to both of her first two classes at the magical university. She wasn't paying much attention to her surroundings, which was probably why she tripped. Momentum turned her over a fulcrum at her feet and sent her tumbling to the ground. She grunted and quickly scrambled to grab her stuff off the ground-
"Look what we have here," sneered a masculine voice from somewhere directly above her. She didn't need to look up to confirm who it was. A shoe came down on her foot and ground it painfully into the dirt. She yelped in pain. The boy she'd rescued Carroll from kneeled over her with a miserably punchable look of cruel, angry condescension plastered over his smug, vaguely conventionally attractive face. "I challenge you to another duel."
"Go away," Maria growled defiantly and tried to wriggle her hand free. He put his weight down on it, hurting her. She hissed at him in anger. "I have class to get to,"
"Too bad, bitch," he chuckled, "you can't reject challenges anymore, sorry!" The boy laughed. His voice revelled in the simple delight of tormenting someone weaker than he was. Maria grit her teeth. "That would be against the rules, little-"
"Hey, hey!" Another masculine voice. "Get off of her!" Maria turned towards the voice just fast enough to see a relatively young man flying off his feet practically from a standstill and, seemingly propelled by sheer enthusiasm alone, launching his entire body towards the boy pinning her down. This newcomer then landed an honest to God dropkick and sent the other body skidding across the dirt. Immediately Maria was on her feet collecting her stuff. The stranger was already back on his feet and handing her one of her notebooks. He had tanned skin, wonderful eyes which were a soft and comforting shade of brown, and short rounded bodies of curly black hair on both his scalp and his chin. "Name's Matthew. You okay?"
"Y-yeah, I'm Maria. Thank you so much!" Maria graciously accepted her notebook from his outstretched hand. "Sorry but I gotta go!" She must have looked terrified as she hurried off because he cried out after her, seeking to be a comforting presence,
"Don't worry! If you have class so soon when a challenge is issued, that challenge is rendered null and void!"
Well that was one less problem she had to worry about, at least. Though…he was clearly willing to harass her and therefore bound to show up again sooner or later. She darted up to the building's entrance but paused as she opened the door so she could turn and see if Matthew was still there. He was, so she propped the door open with her back and waved feverishly at him using her entire free arm.
"Thanks for the hand Matthew! I owe you one!" Then she turned back around and darted inside.
Maria sat down in a classroom just in time not to be late twice in a row. The professor this time was a younger woman, who seemed to be about twenty two or twenty three. She was hardly much older than even most of the first years. Maria rattled this mildly disgruntling information around in her head as she waited for the class to start. Had this woman been some kind of prodigy in her youth…or farther back in her youth…perhaps? Was she simply a professor whose field had a very low barrier of entry for instruction? Or was it simply that this lady was older than she looked, or a teacher's aid of some kind?
The last of Maria's peers took their seat. Almost immediately, the woman in charge of the class shot to her feet. She introduced herself and rattled on about relationships, about power, about how the framework of all interactions was reducible to power. Maria had to scramble to get her writing equipment ready, but even once she had, the professor spoke such that she could not keep up. Her pen danced just like it had before, and yet again it failed to record adequately what she was hearing.
"You, ma'am!" Called the professor suddenly. She'd cut herself off midway through a different thought. "You're Maria, correct? You won a duel yesterday?"
In a fit of what might almost be called defiant enthusiasm, Maria exploded like a bullet to her feet. She grinned ear to ear and met the young teacher's eyes. Eye contact had never come to her especially easily, but once she mastered it she'd taken to using it rebelliously. The young pink haired woman did an exaggerated gentlemanly bow and giggled. The professor seemed bemused, herself.
"Why yes, I did! What of it, madam?"
"Please," the teacher laughed. "Call me Miss. And I ask because I simply must know, what prior experience do you have?"
"With…magic?" Maria asked, suddenly aware again just how far out of her element she was.
"Yes, Maria," the professor answered. Her voice was soft and patient.
"None," admitted Maria with an awkward smile. The entire room turned to stare in disbelief at her. She felt their wide eyed stares burrowing into her. It was rather far-fetched, she had no choice but to admit, but it was also the truth. "Never cast a spell before I came here. In truth, I…still haven't." There was that moment with Carroll after the duel's conclusion, sure, but…she didn't cast that. It was the aftermath of someone else's magic, which she had been only part of. And that was a ritual, too, which might technically be distinct from a "spell."
"Hmmmm…" the professor mused. She snapped her fingers and the end of her plastic pointing stick curled in twain like an arrow split down the middle. A wooden wand popped out of the center and into the air, which she snatched it out of. She walked towards Maria and pressed the tool into the girl's hand. "You're being modest. Go on, let's show off a little! Anyone volunt-"
"I do!" Squealed an almost upsettingly eager student. She jumped out of her desk and somehow simultaneously tripped over it, tumbling across the room. Still, she hopped up to a standing salute in front of Maria. "Hit me with all you've got!"
"Okay…" muttered Maria. She pointed the wand and grimaced. Focus, was all she'd retained from her last class.
She pointed her mind, as singularly as she could, at the girl before her. The wand pulled her, like water guided towards the beak of a measuring cup. Her will trickled inexpertly down her arm, along her fingers, up to the tip of her wand. PRINCESS extended her reach to the girl.
The girl gasped.
A barrier formed between them but was immediately…not pushed, pulled aside. PRINCESS was being invited in. She pressed, entered the girl's mind. The teacher was speaking, explaining things. PRINCESS did not hear her. PRINCESS was probing into the girl. She felt memories, she felt feelings. She eliminated the physical distance between them as a factor.
The girl melted. She thought Maria was cool, she looked up to her. PRINCESS grew warm at these thoughts. At this…intimacy. The girl poured trust inwards, towards the part of her PRINCESS currently occupied. PRINCESS basked in it, lovingly, gently.
She could…change things, if she wanted…PRINCESS realized. She could make this girl see her differently. She could make the girl do all her homework, or give over all her closet space, or carry all of her stuff. She could do all sorts of things to this stranger, not that she would, but…why had they trusted her like this? Letting a stranger in like this was…why? PRINCESS pulsed pleasure directly into the girl's brain. The girl fell limp to the ground, drooling as she convulsed in gentle waves of bliss.
"Up, up!" The professor cried and snapped her fingers. The sound wrenched both girls out of their respective reveries. The professor took her wand back and, as she slotted it back into the pointing stick, gave Maria a coy smile. "Damn girl. You weren't lying, but you're still a natural."