Authors: Aron Sethlen
Pard nods in agreement, trying to disassociate himself and trick his mind into believing that he’s not the one that committed the barbarous act, but instead it was an unnatural force that penetrated the ancient school walls, past through his body, and struck Nero.
Professor Videl's expression turns serious, scanning Pard’s face. “Pard, my boy.”
“Did you set Headmaster Yitch’s cat on fire?”
Pard’s head flinches in shock, and his eyes widen with surprise. He points his finger at his own chest. “
? I couldn’t. How could you think—”
Professor Videl cuts Pard off by waving his hand, then he smiles and stands. “Right you are, my boy. I never thought you were capable of such a horrible deed, but I still had to ask.”
“So you thought it was me?”
“Heavens no. But for some reason the headmaster thinks you’re responsible for this despicable act. He requests to see you in his office first thing in the morning after breakfast. So don’t be late and give him any more ammunition to fuel his paranoia.” The professor limps toward the door. “Preposterous that he could think it was you.” He turns back toward Pard. “No worries, my boy. Your innocence will prove out and we will get to the bottom of this murder and find the real culprits to this crime.” The old man steps into the hallway. “Good night, Pard my boy. Study hard, terms are coming up in a couple weeks.”
The door clicks shut, and Pard’s head drops into his hands. “Well, I’ve really done it this time, put myself in the hallway with some light that killed Lord Yitch’s cat—
. And now he thinks
did it.” Pard glances at his reflection in the mirror. “Well, I did do it, maybe, sort of, I think, I don’t know, but how the heck did I do it? Where did that light come from?” He rubs his mop-like hair in frustration and then he grunts. “Dammit, just what I need, as if my life didn’t suck enough already, now I have to deal with Yitch and an investigation.” He wiggles his shoulders and tilts his body to the side, the singed circular mark still itching his skin. Pard staggers to his bed, spins around, and falls onto the mattress face-first, bounces twice, then flips over onto his back and stares at the ceiling. He continues to dwell on the evening’s ‘tragedy.’
No way would Blaine or the others rat to Yitch about the light and me hurting Nero.
Pard arches his brow.
Knowing he is only one major infraction away from getting booted out of Fairstone, he rubs his forehead again as his headache returns with an aching fury. And even if his life at Fairstone is miserable most of the time, it still is one of the best school’s in all of Vetlinue, and he doesn’t want to leave. There’s no way he would ever be able to attend such an expensive and prestigious institution if his parents weren’t former teachers, and if he can get out of Fairstone in one piece he’ll be able to write his ticket to any of the top universities, far away from the bully Blaine, and obnoxious Nox, and slithering Sully, and Lord Yitch. Pard rolls onto his side and faces his parents’ portrait. He smiles gazing at the gold locket around his mother’s neck, embroidered with a leafless tree. An Ida tree his mother used to tell him about in bedtime stories. And how her Rue grandmother used to tell her the same stories of ancient times and kings and queens and magic and wondrous creatures.
If only they were still alive.
It’s been six years since Pard’s parents were killed in a robbery which occurred on the school grounds, and it was quite the scandal in Greysin for some time after. The perpetrators were never caught, and many of Pard’s mother’s ancient Rue books and artifacts were stolen. The only one they didn’t get is the one lying on his desk, and it was darn near stolen tonight. Every time Pard asks Yitch about the investigation into his parents’ murders, the headmaster ignores him and gets defensive, and his cruelty and persecution for Pard’s removal from the school increases many fold. So Pard gave up asking about his parents last year. Pard gives his mother and father a smile good night and then rolls back onto his back and stares at the ceiling.
The radiator hisses and rattles. His nemesis unleashes a thumping, hammer clang, and Pard presses his pillow over his ears.
Only three more years
Pard wakes the next morning to the steam radiator hissing and sputtering water out the loose nozzle. He groans and peeks toward the window, a thin ray of dusty light shines through the frost-covered glass. He rolls out of bed and stretches his arms above his head then gets dressed. In the hallway as he heads to breakfast, he passes by an elderly, hunched over butler.
“Good morning, young sir,” the butler says.
“Good morning, Jasper.” Pard smiles, thinking it’s amusing that the servants treat him like a lord even though he lives on the same floor as them and he has the worst room. He pushes through the bathroom door, strips off his clothes, and steps into the white-tiled shower. This is one of the few benefits of living on the fourth floor with the servants, by the time Pard wakes, all the servants are already at work, and he doesn’t have to compete with any of the other boys for the bathroom or the shower. He can only imagine how miserable it would be to deal with Blaine or the others even before class. He shivers and pulls a metal link string and a sprinkle of lukewarm water spurts out of the crusty shower head. After finishing his morning routine, he slips on his black student robe, which after his growth spurt over the last two years is now noticeably too short. As Pard skips down the marble spiral staircase to the first floor and to the dining hall for breakfast, boys gawk and point at him. Annoyed, Pard lowers his head to avoid their gossip. As he passes through an arched foyer, he glances at the main entrance into Fairstone, two black oak doors with a falcon eye carved into the center of each panel. A circular skylight is in the center of the vast room, and on the right and left, on each wall, an enormous fireplace, over the mantle on the right, a portrait of a falcon, on the left, a portrait of a wide-branched Ida tree with no leaves.
Inside the dining hall, a room as impressive as the rest of the castle, a room with marble walls rising thirty feet, and a ceiling with bright skylights between colorfully painted murals, Pard sits alone, no other student within a table on either side of him as he eats his pancakes and eggs. Pard Wenerly sits by himself because no other student with any sense would dare sit with poor, no title, oddball Wenerly, whose parents used to be teachers here; that is, except for,
A boy with wide glasses, red hair and freckles sits across from Pard.
“Hey, how’s it going today?” Hector says through his two crooked front teeth.
Pard forces a smile, but was hoping to be left alone as he prepares his mind for the upcoming Battle of the Yitch in less than twenty minutes. “Doing well enough—you know.”
Hector leans across the table and whispers, “Hey, did you hear about the headmaster’s cat last night? I heard you could smell the burnt hair all the way to geography class. I’m going to check it out after breakfast.”
“Great, good for you.”
“So it’s crazy, huh?”
Pard glances away and his eyes find Blaine and Nox staring at him. “Yeah, crazy.”
Nox raises his butter knife and sweeps it across his throat.
Pard turns back toward Hector, a thirteen-year-old boy whose father teaches lower mathematics, and while Hector incurs some of the same disdain from the other students as Pard does, it’s only a fraction of what Pard receives. Pard gathers it’s because Hector lives with his father who still teaches at the school. And what student in their right mind would dare bully a teacher’s kid? The teacher could just flunk the aggressor. Pard peeks back at Nox again who again sweeps his knife across his throat. Unfortunately for Pard, he doesn’t wield that sort of leverage against any of the Fairstone boys.
“Who do you think did it?” Hector says in a prepubescent voice.
Pard shrugs. “No idea.”
“The rumors are running rampant, some say it was Professor Greginsky, the chemistry teacher the headmaster fired last year. Others say it’s one of the parents of a boy who was denied admissions last week.”
Pard’s brow rises. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah. And others say it’s one of the art collectors that Headmaster Yitch had a disagreement with a month ago.”
, you don’t say?” Pard sips water.
“Yeah.” Hector leans in and whispers even quieter, “And some say it was you.”
Pard chokes and spits the water into Hector’s face.
Hector snaps away from the spray and wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his black robe.
Pard swallows hard and gathers himself. “
What did you say
“Yeah. That’s what some of the boys are saying.” Again, Hector leans forward into the danger zone, undeterred to get sprayed again by Pard’s water. He opens his eyes wide and doesn’t blink. “So, did yah do it?”
Pard glances over at Nox, who scowls and again sweeps the butter knife across his throat. He turns back toward Hector. “Did you say something?”
, yeah. So did yah do it?”
“Headmaster Yitch’s cat. Did you fry Nero?”
Getting annoyed, Pard’s eyes narrow. “And how the heck would I have fried Nero?”
Hector leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. “I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure it out.” He pulls out a small pad of paper and a pencil from his pack and then taps them together. “I’m gathering accounts for a piece I’m writing for the Fairstone Gazette—care to comment?”
Hector scribbles on the notepad.
Pard Wenerly, suspect, no initial comment, possibly hiding something, hostile
. Hector leans in closer to Pard, and Pard scoots away from the table. “Some said you tossed Nero in the grand fireplace in the Fairstone foyer; and others said you zapped it with blue electricity that shoots out of your fingers.”
Defensive, Pard crosses his arms over his chest and glances away. He puffs out air and laughs in short spurts. “Zapped it with my fingers? Come on, Hector, that’s ridiculous, don’t be stupid. That’s impossible. And besides, the main foyer? That’s nowhere near where they found Nero by the north entrance in the west wing. You think I or someone threw the cat in the fire then took him out all burning and gross and then tossed him in the hallway which is a good five minute walk away from the fireplace? Not to mention carrying the burning cat through the corridors, past classrooms, and past teachers or students? That makes absolutely no sense.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what some of the boys said.”
“Hector, don’t believe what everyone says—most of them are full of shit.” Pard turns toward Nox again who points his butter knife at Pard and sweeps it across his throat again. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what some of the boys are saying. So did yah do it?”
Pard drops his silverware on his plate with a clang, stands, hugs his stack of textbooks, and turns away from the table. “Gotta go, Hector, have a good one.”
Hector springs out of his seat and raises his pad of paper and shakes it in the air. “Hey, so did yah do it?”
Pard waves him off and doesn’t turn around. “Gotta go, Hector.”
Hector collapses down into his chair, folds his arms, and pouts.
Pard hurries out of the dining hall before any of the other boys can accost him about his light show and the headmaster’s cat.
Great, now the Gazette is on my case, just what I need
. Pard lowers his head for a second, and Miles struts toward him.
Miles chuckles, getting Pard’s attention. “I guess you don’t do anything half-ass, huh, professor?” Then Miles gracefully pivots on the spot changing directions and strides next to Pard.
“What are you talking about?” Pard says.
Miles chuckles again, raises both of his hands, jumps in front of Pard, and flutters his fingers toward Pard’s chest. “Oooo—zappy-zappy—”
Pard shoves Miles and backs away. “Stop it, you look like an idiot.”
“I hear you’re
hot to the touch
“Come on, quit playing. I have a meeting with Yitch in a few minutes and I really don’t need you messing with my head right now.”
Miles grins. “You know, I have to hand it to you, most people that get hit with a snowball simply throw a snowball back. But not you though. You zap them with electricity and give them a real hair raising experience. Ooooo-”
Pard snaps to a stop and scowls at Miles.
Miles opens his arms and ungulates his body. “Oh no, you gonna zap me.” Then he laughs and wipes his eyes as tears form.
Pard snorts in spurts and walks away faster.
Miles jumps forward and slaps Pard on the back and follows him stride for stride. “Hey now, I was just kidding with you, don’t take everything so seriously. No one believes those idiots anyway.”
“What idiots are you talking about?”
“You know, your best buddies, Blaine, and the dumb dumb brothers, Nox and Sully.”
“What are they saying?”
Miles shrugs. “Nox has weird claw marks and burns on his face and arms. And he’s saying you attacked Yitch’s cat and him with electricity. And he tried to save the animal by shielding the cat with his own body.”
Pard snorts. “So that’s what he’s saying. Sounds about right coming from Nox, totally plausible and completely ridiculous.”
“Of course it’s not plausible. Since when would one of the lowest lords of the Bivmerin Ricks, a spawn of a whore, ever do anything so humanitarian like protecting any creature except for himself?”
Pard rolls his eyes. “I was referring to the electricity.”
“Right, that too, because who can shoot electricity out of their fingers? That’s totally mental.”
, totally mental.”
Miles tilts his head toward Pard and squints at him, scanning Pard’s face.
Pard, uncomfortable and unsure of what Miles is doing staring at him, he slows and glances at him as if he’s crazy. “
? What are you looking at?”