I had this theory, I read about it online and in a magazine once, that not being able to bloom was due to a nutritional deficiency. I’d believe it, because all five of us were dirt poor except Magdalene. And Magdalene was, well, really special. She had a hard time talking. Her eyes were lined with black, her clothes were black, and spikes jutted from her at every possible corner. But she just couldn’t really talk. Or do math. Or really, sit still for that long. She liked shouting too.
But she was an unbloomed, so she was my friend. We, the useless ones, we stuck together.
Also, we waited our turn. As the teacher, Mister Macmillan, passed by to unlock the door the five of us drew back to get out of everyone else’s way. We knew our place in society. I gritted my teeth at it, but that was what it was. It just wasn’t safe to get in anyone else’s way. People who had bloomed just had so much power!
“Studying still? It’s a bit late for that?” Professor joked as he held the door open. I realized he was talking to me. Sheepishly, I grinned and shrugged. Someone walked past me and slammed their backpack into my shoulder.
“Sorry!” they said, obviously not at all. I returned to the page. The ink had bled a little from the rain. I tried to focus, to memorize all the formulas-
“Come on,” Aaliyah patted me on the shoulder, steering me into the classroom. I protested but let her, enjoying the attention. In a last minute ditch attempt I flipped the page – and saw more formulas! CRAP!
Sniggers rose from the back of the class as Aaliyah steered me to my seat. We sat, all five of us, smack in the front. It was the safest spot to be and even the teachers encouraged it. They didn’t want us to get picked on.
“Notebooks away,” Macmillan said, mainly to me. I pressed my lips together and handed Aaliyah back her notebook. More sniggers, about what I couldn’t guess but I wanted to punch someone for it. Rich kids.
Then, the test began. Mister Macmillan handed out the leaflets to each row and they were passed down. The instant I got mine I flipped it open and began skimming the questions. Yes, yes, yes, I knew most of these! Okay!
Thanking Aaliyah with all my might, I flipped to the back section – the ‘superior’ section. It was really only for the ‘superior’ students who showed promise and who had exceptional marks – a category Aaliyah and me had exceptionally managed to nose our way into. It was quite remarkable for us unbloomed ones to have managed to enter the category, a feat that amazed our principal and even earned us both an embarrassing article in the school’s newspaper once.
And YES! I knew how to do those too!
Furiously, I began scribbling away. Time seemed to slow as I focused upon one question then another, scribbling and calculating and jotting numbers here and there.
Halfway through, I lifted my head up. Professor Macmillan was pacing the rows, scolding students and reminding everyone to keep their eyes on their papers.
I, however, was suddenly unsure of what I was doing. Something was wrong. Something tingled at the back of my neck. Something that had happened when – I looked out the window and caught my breath. Beyond the preened soccer fields, the sacred trees were on fire. Strange figures ran about, shadowy and furtive.
I lifted my hand. “Professor.”
“Don’t speak out of turn,” Macmillan said as he walked over.
“But,” I protested.
“What?” he asked as he walked to my side. I pointed to the window.
“We’re being attacked,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Oh,” he said.
There was the universal rustle of everyone looking. Of necks craning as everyone tried to see what I was pointing at. Which, for your information, was a sprite attack. It had happened once in my mother’s time at this school. It had already happened once in my time, and now I was unlucky enough to witness it again.
The alarm, a little late in my opinion, wailed out over the microphone. “Attention, students and staff,” our principal said primly. “We are enduring a sprite attack! Senior students are encouraged to use this as an opportunity to hone their fighting skills and gain hunting points – which I remind you are required for graduation!”
There was a cheer. Because, yeah, sprite attacks weren’t a catastrophe. In suburbs, where people were caught unawares watching their TV’s and where the populace wasn’t crawling with students yearning to ‘get out and FIIIIGHT!’, as some teachers were now shouting in the hallways, it could be dangerous. It was just especially dangerous if you were magically crippled, like, you know, us unbloomed were.
I was hunkering down in my chair, heart already hammering in my throat. Professor Macmillan was already at the front of the class, huge grin plastered on his face. “Alright students!” he called out like this was the best ball game of the world. “Get out there! Get some points!”
I slunk farther down in my chair, exchanging a horrified look with Aaliyah – who somehow didn’t look as terrified as I felt.
There was a roaring cheer of students jumping up, throwing pencils down and rushing for the windows. “Go, go, go!” Macmillan cheered, clapping his hands.
Students, the fastest first, began blooming right as they threw themselves at the windows. It was normally a sight I both loved to watch and hated. I was jealous, I hated them for being able to do something so magnificent. To shed their human skin and bloom into fully spiritual form.
There was Zalf, the gryffon who passed through the glass just in the nick of time. Gertrude, the graceful swan. But I was waiting with bated breath for the one. The one.
She was filthy rich. She was long-legged, blonde, pale of skin and always impeccably dressed. Her hair was short and choppily pulled back, with two long tendrils hanging down beside her face. Confident as could be, she and her small cluster of elite friends waited until everyone else was on their way to being moving. Because they never needed to rush. They were dragons.
Ever seen a dragon? Me neither until last year when our classes merged. Since then, I waited with bated breath for the crystal ice white dragon to materialize – but most of all for the jade green one. Her.
She, leaping for the window, was graceful and lithe. Stunning and magnificent as her green scales shimmered to reality around her and her shocking blonde mane rippled out.
Then, justlike that, she was gone. With an exhale I relaxed and looked back to the front of the class where Macmillan was. He was looking at me expectantly.
I pointed to the test. “Can I finish?”
Proffessor cringed. “You do know that you need hunting points to get into any high-ranked school, right?”
My jaw fell. But we were un-bloomed! We couldn’t hunt! It was too dangerous for us to even join organized hunting parties! Nevermind throwing ourselves into a melee!
“I mean,” Macmillan continued. “For the other schools, you can get in without it. But I know you two were hoping to get into McVaster so-“
Aaliyah scraped back her chair and jumped to her feet. Determination was scrawled all over her face. Holy shit- she really was going to do this!
I clutched at my chair. “Aaliyah! There’s sprites! We’re unbloomed-“
“Get up!” she ordered. “We’re going!”
“You can hit them over the head with sticks!” professor was cheering. Aaliyah grabbed me by the arm and yanked me to my feet.
I protested, but my wife-to-be was having none of it. With a yank and more determination than she needed, she rushed us out the door.
And that, really, was how it all began.