Zero (2/7)

Olivier Chance, Ariesian Prince

What is the color of a person’s soul?

“Well, that’s an easy question to answer.”

Olive couldn’t help but eye Professor Morgan with annoyance. Morgan was one of the younger professors flexing his theories and methods at the university. Rumor had it that he was, in fact, only two years out from obtaining his conducting license. Rumor had it that he’d even obtained the highest score on the State Conducting Exam out of his entire year. But Olive didn’t really care about those rumors. He didn’t even care about the fact that Morgan was so young. What Olive cared about was the fact the Morgan himself cared about these rumors and that this fact was reflected in his teaching style. Morgan was so desperate to please, so desperate to be liked that he’d even ask a simple question like this.

“The answer can be found in looking at a person’s vitae.” Morgan said with a charming smile that almost seemed to say, please tell me you’re enjoying this lecture. “And while we have known how to harness and channel vitae in different forms and ways for several centuries now, we have still yet to fully understand it.”

Well, Olive supposed, as boring as it was to hear a rehash of basics it was much better than having to slog through new topics.

“And how can we visualize a person’s vitae?”

A dozen hopeful hands flew high at the question. Olive dodged one that nearly shot up into his face. The glare he sent the girl sitting beside him went unnoticed. So much enthusiasm to answer a question that the questioner would answer himself. The offense wasn’t worth the effort of confrontation, however, so Olive settled on glaring at the window across the classroom. From his desk he could just barely make out the cityscape beyond the rising brick walls of the school.

“Well, Chance, what do you think?”

Professor Morgan’s shadow passed over him.

“How do you think we can visualize a person’s vitae?”

Olive turned. The professor was standing in front of him now with kind eyes and with a smile that was even more desperate to please than before. The pause of silence that followed was long, painful.

Olive thought for a moment. The answer to the question was obvious. A child could have answered it without a second thought. But that was why Morgan was asking it. An easy question, an easy answer, a feeling of fulfillment as teacher and student. All Olive had to do was say, you can see a person’s vitae color by having them use a conductor, and then he’d fulfill whatever childhood dream his professor was holding onto.

But instead, he shrugged and turned his attention to the window again.

“Oh, come on, Chance,” Morgan chuckled. “Just give it a try. Surely, the royal tutors have taught you much more than what we have here. What do you think?”

Olive thought again. Not about the question, but about the fact that it was probably around noon which meant that the guards were probably switching rotation right at the moment. That, in turn, would mean that the annoyingly dutiful Alexander would be going to lunch and the blase Derek would be taking his place outside the classroom doors.

Olive stood abruptly as he reached his conclusion and paid no attention when Morgan stepped back in surprise. He approached the wide window and swung his legs over the ledge.

“Wha—wait—”

And he leapt.

A blur of green and brown rushed up to meet him as rustling and snapping echoed in his ears. After a couple beats he landed on all fours in a bed of red flowers. He fisted the petals in his palm as he shook off his disorientation.

Glancing upwards, he found the colorful faces of Morgan and several of his classmates staring back down at him two stories up. No time nor care to read their expressions.

He dusted himself off and made his way out of the floral display and onto the stone path just beyond. The floral display he had fallen onto was one of the many that lined the walkway, and the window he had fallen out of was one of the many that dotted the building that the walkway lined. Sun sprinkled through the leaves of the trees over his head and through the archways that connected the building to his right to the one to his left. The golden droplets of light dappled the flags swaying on the walls. In the brightness, they glowed red.

Olive gave the flags a pointed glare before he took off down the path in a dash. Behind him he could hear shouts of alarm and stampeding footsteps filter out from the classroom window. Eventually the sounds faded away behind him and were replaced by the serene chirping of birds.

He slowed to a stop as the open pathway ended and led into a roofed hallway. Sunlight spilled into the corridor from open windows and painted the black doors tucked between them a blinding white. Olive supposed that the architect of the place wanted to create an educational establishment that didn’t make the students feel trapped by the endless words and numbers that came with every lecture.

The architect failed his purpose.

Just as he was about to duck into the hall, one of the doors closest to the mouth swung open. Without thinking, Olive flung himself into the nearest floral display and scrambled up the tree. Wrapping his arms around the highest tree branch, Olive held his breath.

Below him came a pair of guards wrapped in red.

“Ollie, you can’t keep doing this. Professor Morgan is going to have a stress-induced heart-attack one day. He really cares about you, y’know.” Came a whisper above him.

There she was again. Her wisps of dark hair curled around her round face as she spied at him from a branch above. The sunlight streaming in through the trees caught her hair in such a way that it looked ablaze.

“You’re too naïve.” He said. He wanted to sigh but even that was too much effort.

“You’re too negative.” She returned with a pout. “Pessimistic.”

“Pessimistic implies that I care.” He returned. “Which I don’t.”

He stared past her over the roof of the hall to the city that lay beyond. The sun beat down on the city traffic like a whip.  They looked like dots from here — the people. Tiny dots weaving around each other and sputtering v-ehicles in single-file. Almost like ants. But if anyone was an ant, Olive reasoned, it was him.

“Ollie…”

He looked back up at her and returned with a roll off his eyes: “It’s just a figure of speech.”

He turned back to the view just in time to see a glinting spec on the horizon. A glinting spec that was hurtling right towards him. Closer, closer, closer.

An arrow. It was an arrow. An arrow shrouded in orange-red, flame-like vitae. An Ariesian must have been the archer.

Closer, closer.

He couldn’t dodge it in time.

But what he could do was activate his vitae and pull up his defenses. That arrow would be incinerated in an instant. But—

He blinked.

The arrow pierced his flesh and knocked him right out of the tree.

A shout from one of the guards below.

But he felt no pain.

The air was no longer thin and dry but heavy and cold. The sun was dimming. The guards still shouting. The flowerbed on the ground coming closer and closer to him.  Rather, he was coming closer to it. It met him warmly as did she as she knelt down beside him to touch his shoulder.

Her dark hair fell like a canopy over his face as true darkness began to creep in at the corners of his vision.

Was this—

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