PART 2 : EARTH – THE ACADEMY YEARS
Eight years later
I hit the wooden floor of the children's home with a resounding thud. My cheek stung from the hit Stone had delivered. I glared up at him through the curtain of black hair that fell over my face. My face burned under my fingers as I touched the reddening skin. Eight years, I had put up with this. Eight whole years to the day since Arellan died. Eight years since my world was turned upside down by the dimension transfer. I ran my fingers over the pendant in the shape of an angel that I had never taken off since the day the police had found me.
Stone stood over me, fists clenched, daring me to get up. Normally, I would have stayed down and accepted the bullying, but not today. Today I fought. I scrambled to my feet, launching a punch of my own. I hit his nose, blood spurting onto my hand. His eyes narrowed. The fight was on. His cronies backed off as we circled each other. Demoness against Human. They didn't know that, but I did. That's all that mattered. I would not back down from this fight. Memories of sparring with Armen surged through my mind. The moves, the grace, the fluidity as each punch and kick flowed into another. The other children gathered in a wide circle, egging us on. More specifically, eggingStoneon. They knew that whoever won, if they didn't support Stone, their lives were going to be miserable for a long time. My nails scraped his cheek, leaving three bloody scratches. His foot collided with my stomach, winding me. I launched myself at him with a renewed anger, screaming in Synari. The housemothers broke through the circle of children, grabbing at Stone and I, dragging us off each other. I still screamed, fighting against their hold. They hauled me away, throwing me through a door. The time-out closet. Didn't I know it well. There were two such closets in the home, for children who got a little out of hand and needed to cool down. I had managed to go a whole year without having to be shut in one, and with good reason. No one wanted to be stuck in there. The room was about a metre squared. The door only opened from the outside. The floor and walls were hard. I leant my back against the wall, letting myself slide down until I was sitting on the floor. Wiping my bloody nose on my sleeve, I hugged my knees to my chest and I rested my head against my arms, toying with a lock of black hair. I kinda missed having purple hair. It defined who I was, but I daren't take the necklace off in case my magic went haywire or someone walked in.
Time passes strangely in the closet. If I didn't know better, I would have thought it to be another dimension. When a housemother finally let me out, I was sure I must have spent a day in there. It had only been two hours. She led me up to the top floor of the home, to the director's office. I caught sight of myself in a mirror as we walked up the stairs. What a sight. Although I was supposedly thirteen, I had the appearance of a girl in her late teens. A very early developer. Thankfully, my growth was slowing down now. My hair was a mess of locks escaping from its plait, the sleeve of my shirt ripped. Half of my face was red from Stone's slaps, my nose having streaked blood down my jaw. I clenched my teeth as my eyes caught sight of the pale, prominent, half circle scar around my right eye. It sickened me as I remembered my father and all he had done.
I sat opposite the director. He watched me over his clasped hands. He wasn't saying anything yet. I knew this tactic. If he waited long enough, the child would blurt out apologies and guilt. I knew the game so well. I refused to back down, catching his eye and keeping it. He gave in with a deep sigh, pulling off his reading glasses.
"What are we going to do with you, Alexiai?" He asked in grave concern. I narrowed my eyes at his continued usage of a name I never wanted to hear again unless it was from Arellan's lips. "You put every family interested in you off by your glaring and your attitude. I have had numerous reports from the school about you fighting. You even tried to attack the psychologist! This is not normal, Alexiai. We've put up with a lot of behavioural difficulties from you since you came to this home: your attacking everyone who didn't call you 'Shadow'; your insults to the police force when they came to tell you that your horse was missing; your tantrums every time someone tries to talk to you about your mother, even your flippant attitude about your life. Now your fight with Stone. What is wrong with you?" His last sentence came with such force that I flinched. I was trying to come up with a decent answer when someone knocked on the door. Another housemother poked her head round.
"Dr Smith? There's someone here to see Alexiai."
"If they're looking for adoption..."
"No, sir, they asked for her specifically. He says he's a teacher at the Academy and he wants to talk to her."
I felt my mouth flop open. Every parent dreamed of the Academy. It was one of the most prestigious and select schools in Europe. They monitored every single child in the schooling system and only accepted the best. Why would they want to talk to me though? There was no way my school results or the comments from my teachers would warrant their attention.
I warily pushed open the door into the meeting room set aside for prospective parents to talk to their prospective adoptee in private. A young man sat at the table, the picture of a representative from a snobby school. Brown hair carefully combed, glasses perched on his nose, suit pressed until the deliberate creases down the side of the leg had been ironed into submission. I was glad I had taken a couple of minutes to change my shirt and wash my face. My hair, on the other hand, had refused to be tamed. I knocked on the door a little timidly before walking in. Uh oh. I recognised the thick yellowish file he was going through. My file. Everything that had happened since my admission to the home.
"Good afternoon, Shadow, as I believe you prefer to be called."
"Yes, sir," I replied quietly.
"Sit down." I took a seat opposite him, trying not to look at the papers he had taken out of my file. They didn't look good. In fact, my psyche reports read like a nightmare. The man set the file aside, looking at me over the tops of his glasses. "My name is Alexander Heath, professor of magical manipulation and recruiter for the Academy."
"Pardon?" I asked, unable to believe my ears. A professor of magical manipulation?
Professor Heath chuckled to himself. "You heard me right, Shadow. We know what you are. That's why I have come to offer you a place at the Academy. We select our students very carefully, not for academic results, but because they are not quite human. We teach them to blend in with normal society while also giving them the academic tuition they need to go out into the human world and get a decent job." My hand automatically went to my pendant, making sure it was still there.
"The illusions work on humans. I have a gift called True Sight. I can see who you really are. That's why I'm a recruiter. Think about it, Shadow. Would you rather stay here and be shuttled around the children's home system until you turn 18, or would you rather have a formal education at the Academy, with other people like you?"
I didn't have to think about my answer. It was staring me in the face.