Chapter 94 – Tea and Cookies

Sebastien

Month 1, Day 28, Thursday 9:00 a.m.

Sebastien arrived at the University with barely enough time to make it to History of Magic. Although this class was with a different dormitory group than her others, and none of these students really knew her, Sebastien’s entrance was greeted by a sudden hush followed by a resurgence of murmuring.

As Sebastien took her seat, the gazes that followed her made it obvious that her involvement in a rogue magic incident was widely known. She hoped that was all that was known.

To Sebastien’s relief, Professor Ilma made no public display of concern for her, teaching as she would normally. “Your mid-terms have been graded,” the woman announced without preamble, handing a stack of papers to her student aide to pass out. “Results and rankings have been posted on the announcement board in the library. We will not be discussing your test results during class time. There is too much content to get through. If you have questions, you may stay after class or come to my office hours.”

Sebastien looked with slight pleasure at the grade atop her test paper. Ilma was a harsh taskmistress, but Sebastien had still managed to answer most of the questions to her satisfaction and received close to full marks. Some of the students near her peeked blatantly at her test, so she covered it with a glare that had them turning away, red-faced. ‘The rudeness is already getting on my nerves. If the day continues like this, I might very well snap.

Ilma had only been lecturing for a few minutes when the door opened again.

Another student aide stepped in and murmured something to Professor Ilma, and then they both turned to look at her.

“Mr. Siverling, your presence is required elsewhere,” Ilma said. “Feel free to see me later if you feel this undue interruption might negatively impact your studies.”

The aide shuffled uncomfortably, but apparently whoever had called for Sebastien had enough clout to risk Ilma’s dissatisfaction.

Sebastien followed the aide out into the hall. “Do you know what this is about?” she asked, adjusting the strap of her bag over her shoulder as she tried to keep the apprehension out of her voice.

The aide shook her head, walking quickly and not looking at Sebastien. “I do not.”

“Who wants to see me?”

“The History Chair, Grandmaster Kiernan,” the woman said succinctly.

Sebastien had never met the Chair of the History department before. ‘Is Grandmaster Kiernan part of Munchworth and Tanya’s faction? Munchworth is in the History department, too… Could they have suspicions about my presence at the scene?’ Possibilities ran rampant through her head, and she found herself reaching for her Conduit before she noticed and stopped herself. All too soon, before she had any kind of plan in place, they arrived at Kiernan’s door.

The student aide opened it and waved her through with a shallow bow.

Swallowing, Sebastien lifted her chin and stepped into the room.

Grandmaster Kiernan, who was sitting behind an expensive desk, looked up with a smile when she entered. He did not remind her of Munchworth in the least. Kiernan had a polished, bald head and a short grey beard. His office was warm and filled with historical artifacts and relics. They sat on warded stands and display cases, filling the spaces between books on the shelves that lined the walls.

“Mr. Siverling! Thank you for coming. Take a seat, please,” he offered, motioning to the plush couch next to a window instead of the chairs in front of his desk.

Slowly, she complied.

The low table in front of the couch already had a tea service tray atop it, and Kiernan sat on the cushion next to her and prepared a steaming cup for each of them. “I am Grandmaster Kiernan,” he said, “but I prefer students just call me Professor Kiernan. Is it alright if I call you Sebastien?” he asked, his tone making it clear that he expected her to agree eagerly.

She nodded silently.

“One of my former students sent me this tea all the way from the Dragon Well area of Longjing, which is a small province in the East known for its tea.” He motioned to the cream and sugar, but Sebastien shook her head, accepting a plain cup. “Cookie?” he offered. “I know you young people burn through calories as quickly as they hit your stomachs, and I hear the cafeteria food leaves something to be desired.”

“No, thank you.” She was always in need of caffeine, so she drank the tea, but only after he drank first. ‘I doubt he would try to drug Thaddeus Lacer’s apprentice, but one never knows.

“I understand you are in Ilma’s class section. An interesting woman. How are you enjoying it?”

“She’s a good teacher,” Sebastien said cautiously. “She tries to make us think, not just regurgitate information.”

Kiernan nodded. “So I hear. And your other classes? How are you finding the University so far?”

“I enjoy my classes,” Sebastien said. She wasn’t going to start complaining about Pecanty here.

“I’m not surprised. I hear you are a rather impressive student, despite your…unfortunate background. Your current guardian is Lord Dryden? It must be hard, without parents alive to guide you,” Kiernan said searchingly.

Sebastien tried not to stiffen visibly. “Mr. Dryden has been very kind to me,” she said noncommittally, though Oliver wasn’t legally, or even informally, her guardian. ‘What is Kiernan getting at? Why bring up my parents? Is he trying to hint that he knows my background doesn’t stand up to scrutiny?’ The stress of the conversation was getting to her. She downed her tea and decided to cut through the inscrutable small talk. “Professor Kiernan, why am I here?”

He laughed, smacking a hand on her shoulder and did not seem to notice her flinch. “Oh, I like to chat with the students when I get a chance, keep abreast of how things are going in the ‘real world,’ as they say. But I did call you here for a specific reason.”

Kiernan stood and grabbed a card-sized piece of paper from his desk. “We at the University wanted to thank you for what you did.” He handed her the card. “At great risk to yourself, you acted to save those in danger during a rogue magic incident. Without you, several innocent civilians and one of our other University students might no longer be alive. Mr. Siverling, I hear that you successfully stunned the Aberrant, which may have bought time for the Red Guard and greatly affected the outcome of that night.”

Sebastien Siverling had indeed stunned the Aberrant when she, supposedly crawled in the window to search for an unconscious Newton. She looked down at the card filled out with one hundred University contribution points. An exorbitant amount for a first term student. If converted to the equivalent in coin, this was worth about ten gold if she redeemed items for resale.

“You can upgrade your meal plan with that,” Kiernan said jovially, slapping his knee and laughing.

“I don’t understand,” Sebastien said. ‘Is what I supposedly did actually worth contribution points? Is this…a bribe? Carrot before the stick? Is he about to threaten me?

“You’re a hero, Sebastien! A credit to our school. We wanted to make sure you understood you are appreciated, and also ensure that the stress and pressure from your experiences will not adversely affect you going forward. I know Professor Lacer was worried you would be in danger of Will-strain from the trauma.”

“I’m fine.”

Kiernan shook his head sympathetically, once again clapping her on the shoulder. “There’s no need to put on a brave face, Sebastien. What you experienced would leave anyone with some mental or emotional strain. Sometimes it’s best to talk about these things. Recounting your experiences with someone trustworthy can help to lessen any hold they might have on you, and if it turns out that you need any further help, a little leeway, I do have some pull with the other members of the University board…”

She blinked down at her empty cup.

Kiernan hurriedly poured more tea for her with a grandfatherly smile.

“You want me to tell you about what happened that night?”

“I think it would be best. Take your time, feel free to explore the details and how everything made you feel.”

So the contribution points are a bribe. An excuse to question me in person.’ She sipped her tea and shook her head sadly. “I made a vow to the Red Guard. I’m unable to talk about anything that happened.”

Kiernan froze for a second, then nodded. “Of course they would do that…” he murmured, but then perked up. “But surely they left leeway for you to speak with a mental health professional?”

She shrugged. “If that mental health professional works for the Red Guard, then yes.”

Kiernan’s eyebrows and mouth both collapsed downward, his grandfatherly kindness replaced by pointed frustration, as if he suspected she was being purposefully difficult. “How did the three of you, normally all good students, end up in such a situation?”

Sebastien sighed mournfully. “I’m not sure what happened before I got there. And obviously, by the time I arrived, Newton was already…” She trailed off with a small, pained sound like a wounded animal, and brought a hand to her tightening throat with an expression of distress. “I’m sorry. I’m really unable to talk about it. The vow makes my throat close up.”

Kiernan patted her shoulder but continued his questions. “But you did encounter the Raven Queen. She was also there by the time you arrived, I’m told.”

Sebastien grimaced. “I didn’t know it was her at the time.”

“I’ve heard that she gave you a blessing.”

“There aren’t any ongoing dangers, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Sebastien assured him with an expression that was as sincere as she could make it. “The other students are safe to be around me. The Red Guard cleared me for release, and Professor Lacer was there, so you can ask him if you want confirmation.”

“Oh, I believe you, my boy. I’m sure you wouldn’t place your fellow students in danger. But I am curious, did the Raven Queen do anything…special? Anything to indicate why she was there, or what she’s been up to, where she’s been hiding?”

Sebastien shook her head silently, taking another sip of tea while she held Kiernan’s gaze over the rim. He wasn’t even being subtle with pumping her for information. The apprehension she’d felt upon being summoned was quickly turning into irritation.

“But she gave you a boon. You cannot tell me you didn’t interact. How did it happen?”

“Seemingly by…” Sebastien lifted her hand to her throat again, frowning, and squeezed out, “coincidence.” She took another sip of the tea as if to soothe her throat, making a mournful expression at her inability to expound further.

Kiernan scoffed angrily. “Apparently this entire situation, from the beginning, was by seeming ‘coincidence.’ Forgive me if I don’t believe it.”

Sebastien leaned over and patted Kiernan on the shoulder, like he had so presumptuously been doing to her. “I know the Raven Queen stole something from your department, but I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. Grandmaster Thaddeus Lacer has taken me as his apprentice, which you probably know. He heard my report in full. If you’d like more information, you should talk to him, or perhaps the coppers. I’d rather not continue attempting to speak of it. Due to the restrictions the Red Guard placed on me, it’s both difficult and stressful, which is counterproductive to any beneficial effects a counseling session with you might have. So, if there’s nothing else… I’m very thankful for the contribution points, but I’m worried about falling behind in my classes, after having already been out for a week.”

The man gritted his teeth for a moment, but then resumed his jovial pretense. “Oh, yes, yes, I don’t want to disrupt your studies. Make sure to let one of the faculty know if you feel you need medical attention, either physical or mental.” As she stood to leave, he said, “Are you sure you won’t have some cookies? I don’t need them myself. Don’t want to pack on any extra winter padding around the middle!”

Sebastien smiled at him. “Oh, well in that case, perhaps I will share them with my friends. Thank you, that’s very generous of you.” She picked up the entire plate, and, without waiting for him to protest, walked out of the room with it. ‘A little vindictive,’ she admitted to herself, ‘but unlikely to have any consequences.’ She still didn’t want to eat them herself, but perhaps she could give them to the members of Damien’s little cohort—and keep watch for signs of lowered inhibitions or loosened tongues afterward.

1/19/22: This is the fourth of 6 bonus chapters brought to you by my lovely patrons!

Next chapter coming tomorrow, 1/20.

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