In chemistry the next day, Grimory sat in Anarchaia’s chair to chat with Koltira before class started. The timid girl approached and stood back, not wanting to say anything. The blond boy took the hint anyway and returned to where his books were piled in front of his chair. It took him a second to realize there was someone in the seat beside him. He turned to introduce himself, then scowled.
“Nope!” he shouted, standing up. “Not robot-Hitler. I’m not working with this bitch.”
He pointed down at the girl in the neatly pressed button down with a shining golden cross on a chain under the shirt collar. She wore leather combat boots, black slacks with an ironed seam down the front of the legs, and her glossy black hair was pulled back into a well-contained bun at the nape of her neck. She sat upright, her back straight and her eyes to the front of the class, as though she was unaware of the situation happening right beside her.
“My brother is already cross that you’re missing several days of practice,” Mr. Stormrage said calmly. “I wonder how he would feel about four days.”
“I’m not working with her! She—”
Grimory pursed his lips. “That’s— No!”
“I mean, I could send you to see Vice Principal Whisperwind. I’m sure she’d love to hear all about the way you’ve been treating a fellow student—and First Sergeant Fordring.”
Grimory dropped into his seat at the mention of Mrs. Whisperwind.
“I suppose my wife’s reputation for dealing with intolerance precedes her.” Mr. Stormrage straightened. “Class, this is Alisbeth Redblade. She’s not a new student, but is new to our class. It’s a pleasure to have you in here,” he said to her.
“Thank you, sir,” she replied in a manner just as collected as herself.
“I have a few classes with her. What’s the deal with her?” Anarchaia asked on a whisper.
Koltira leaned closer, catching a whiff of her perfume. It sent a warm flush up his neck, which he struggled to ignore. “She’s a legendary bitch. Completely heartless. I don’t think she even has any friends because nobody can stand her.”
Mr. Stormrage stood in front of the class, shuffling through his notes for the day. “Some people think they’re so sneaky, ducking their heads as though I don’t know that’s the universal body language for two people speaking in whispers,” he said without looking up. “Deathweaver. Starling. It’s been one whole day, can you please pretend you can concentrate through the raging hormones?”
The two turned away from each other, their faces red with embarrassment. After class, Anarchaia rushed to the bathroom to try shaking the embarrassment still fluttering through her limbs. After a minute curled on the seat of the toilet, someone came in, paused to check that the bathroom was empty, then entered the first stall and proceeded to burst into tears.
Anarchaia flinched and chewed on her bottom lip. If she didn’t leave soon, she’d be late to her next class, but if she did, the person would know she’d been there the whole time, hiding. She clenched her jaw at the awkwardness, steeling herself to run from the bathroom before they could call her out for invading their privacy. She jumped and the crying came to a sudden halt as the door opened and a group of girls came giggling in.
Anarchaia hopped from the seat and exited the stall. It was a group of girls she knew, and they didn’t like her.
“Oh, look, it’s the ghost,” one said.
“Heh. Y-yeah. G-ghost.”
“Why do you talk like a st-st-stuttering moron?” another said, laughing.
“Is it really true the sun leaves nasty blisters on your skin?”
“Why ask, when we can test the theory?”
“Come here, freak!”
Two girls grabbed her while a third opened the foggy window to let the sunlight shine in on the screaming Anarchaia. The first stall opened and Alisbeth stepped out, her face clean, her makeup neat, and no signs she’d been the one crying.
“Close the window, Cam.”
“Oh, fuck off, Ali.”
Without giving the girl another chance, Alisbeth strode over, ripped her hand from the window, and closed it.
“Let Starling go.”
The others didn’t move.
“I said, let her go!” Alisbeth’s composed demeanor melted and a fire lit in her eyes. She shoved Cam against the wall and ran at the other two, who released Anarchaia and made for the door. But Alisbeth grabbed them and pulled them back in. “I wonder if I put your hand under the hot water if you’d blister, huh?” She shoved them to the floor and kicked one in the back. “Sucks when someone fights back, doesn’t it?” She dragged the other by the hair into a stall and set their head against the toilet seat, draping their hair into the water.
As Alisbeth pulled the girl’s hair out of the water and draped it over the girl’s face—who screamed like she was being murdered—Vice Principal Windrunner entered. She dragged Alisbeth off the girl and set her standing beside the terrified Anarchaia.
“Alisbeth, what are you doing?”
“They were testing if sunlight would blister Starling. I fought back.” Alisbeth straightened her clothing, re-tucking her shirt and making sure her hair was still in place.
“You’re not supposed to intervene. You’re in anger management, remember?” Mrs. Windrunner asked as she handed paper towels to the whimpering girl doing her best to not vomit over having been covered in toilet water.
“I was managing my anger just fine. They—”
“I already have detention.”
The vice principal sighed in exasperation. “More detention.”
“How much more?”
Alisbeth nodded. “That’s thirty-seven days of detention, now. As usual, I’ll be there.”
“And you,” Mrs. Windrunner turned her cool gaze on Anarchaia, “Are you all right?”
Anarchaia squirmed. “I’m late to class—we… We’re both late to home ec. Cooking. Heh.”
Mrs. Windrunner opened Anarchaia’s notebook to a clean page and wrote an excuse out for both girls. “I’ll be setting up a group session with the counselor for all five of you. You two, get to class. I have to get these girls to the nurse, Alisbeth.”
The girl shrugged casually. “I didn’t make them bleed, at least.”
The vice principal growled. “Yes. There’s that. But you might be looking at suspension. Get to class before you make Miss Starling even later.”
Alisbeth retrieved her books and small makeup case from the bathroom stall and flushed the makeup-smeared tissues, then grabbed Anarchaia by the arm and led her from the bathroom.
“Th-thank you. I think? Ow, you’re hur—”
Alisbeth let go. “Sorry. For all of that.”
“N-no, thank you. Heh. Really, I—”
“You really need to learn to stand up for yourself.”
“You’re an easy target, Starling. You won’t always have someone like me around to protect you.” Alisbeth didn’t look at the girl, who was staring at the side of her face in shock.
“I’m not the physical ty—” She tripped on the top step.
Alisbeth caught her by the back of her sweater and kept her upright. “I can tell.”
“I-I won’t t-tell anyone y-you were c—”
Alisbeth spun on the girl, who shrunk and backed up until she was pressed into the lockers. “Do you think I care if people know what I was doing in the bathroom?”
“You heard what Silversong called me.”
Alisbeth nodded. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep the tears in until I get home. I’ve gotten good at letting it out in short bursts.”
“W-why are you telling me this?”
“Because you’re not going to tell anyone else, are you?”
Anarchaia frowned as she realized the truth that the other girl probably wouldn’t admit—neither of them had friends and Alisbeth was merely looking for someone to confide in.
“W-who would I even tell? Heh.”
Alisbeth smirked. “Deathweaver?”
Anarchaia blushed and straightened her books. “Heh. W-we’re l-late for class. Heh.” She slipped around the other girl to enter the room.
Alisbeth smirked at her back. “It’s okay. I think he’s hot, too.”