Friday, March 8, 2019

19 ~ Walks Like a Duck, Talks Like a Duck

“No way! He’s the God of Knowledge?!”

Robert immediately rushed to hush Catrina. “Not so loud! I don't want the whole school to know just yet!”

He was risking his hide being up past curfew, but he needed to tell someone and Catrina’s room was on the way to his room. Her roommate was out of town for a Nymphen holiday, so it’s not like she’d be around to tell on them.

Though at this point, Robert should probably figure in that the teachers are likely aware when students break a curfew or two - I mean, surely if a god is running the Academy...
Well, he always was, but everyone just assumed the Lord Aadish merely put his name on the Academy, not that he actually ran it himself.
“You know what this means, right?” Catrina's normally-skeptical eyes were bright as she grinned.

“Stefan will certainly be safe. I mean, all this time the Dean of our school is a god! That’s insane-”
And there came back the cutting gaze as she rolled her eyes. “Robert! Don’t be such a dummy!”
“He wants you to work for him! He wants you to be a Priest of Knowledge!” She spoke it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Robert pursed his lips. A Priest. “That’s… no.” That would be completely ridiculous. The God of Knowledge has hundreds of followers and people far more qualified than he ever could be. “No way! Maybe to work underneath him, but priesthood is for the best of the best.”

Now Catrina was really staring at him without amusement and she gently bopped the side of his head. “You’re such an idiot sometimes. He’s been training you, himself, tell me how many followers of gods get trained by the god themselves?”
“I’m one of his students. He teaches classes on magic here!” Robert tried to argue, but he knew she was right.

“Yeah, and all of those students get one-on-one time with him daily and visit him at his office and can spy on him during his meetings-”
“Ok, ok, ok! Point taken.” Robert sighed and shifted his weight so he could lean on the wall. “I just don’t understand why.”

Catrina shifted closer and shook her head, “um, because you’re super smart? Or how about that you’re incredibly talented? Maybe because you cracked a code on a huge unknown world by the time you were eight? Perhaps it has something to do with your insane ability to learn things at a rapid rate?”

This made him purse his lips, his head lolling to the side to look at her. “You think so?”
“Yes! I do think so! I just said so, didn’t I?”

“Are you implying that I’m dense?” He smirked.
Catrina groaned and slumped with amused frustration. “At least you’re cute.”
Robert snorted, “At least? Is that my only redeeming quality?”

She batted him with the back of her hand seemingly jokingly, but her face had shifted - changed from their usual banter. “Right now? Yes.” After a moment her eyes changed and she sighed, “or as your French-ass would say, ‘oui.’” She rarely ever cursed, which was usually a sign that she was angry.

Robert grinned at her, letting his weight sag over towards her. “Mais qu’est-ce? Am I finally rubbing off on you? Tu m’adores, moi?”

Yet Catrina’s face only hardened and she shoved back on his weight. “Don’t you know that’s rude?”
The seriousness in her voice made him sit up, feeling confused. He’d offended her? Was it by laying on her? Was it the French? “I was just joking-”

“I don’t understand it! I’ve told you several times that I don’t understand when you speak in French and that I don’t like it! Just because you know another language doesn’t mean you should rub it in everyone’s faces!” She crossed her arms to cover her frantic outburst, her eyes blinking rapidly as she held back tears.

She had told him it annoyed her, but it was usually when they were just joking around. He didn’t think she meant it seriously. Oh gods, he really had been dense. “Cat… Cat, I’m sorry…” He reached for her but she had turned away from him. “Sometimes it just slips out when I’m not thinking about it… Cat…”
Catrina wiped at her face and Robert felt a real pang of guilt run through him. “No, please don’t-I was being stupid and I didn’t take you seriously when I should have. I’m sorry, Catrina!”

She didn’t respond.
Perhaps he should’ve taken that as his cue to leave, but he couldn’t let it go. He just felt too terrible for making her cry - all because he just assumed she was joking those times she mentioned not liking it.

He finally let his arms come to settle on her back and shoulders, hopelessly leaning on her shoulder with his chin. “I really, really am sorry.”
Younger Catrina who used to play with Robert as kids would’ve hit him. She would’ve called him an idiot or a dummy or told him that he had stupid for brains. She would’ve gotten angry, not sad. She certainly wouldn’t have cried.
“It’s... fine,” she breathed out after the silence.
Things were different now, though.

Now he could feel her crying beneath his hands; feel the way her shoulders hiccuped up and down. This felt deeper than just speaking in French, but that almost made him feel worse that he’d somehow tapped into something more painful for her.
“Cat…” He bit his lip in contemplation before trying something risky. He sat up a bit straighter, “you know, it sure doesn’t seem like it’s fine… maybe I should be executed?”

Catrina peeked over from behind her hands. Maybe this was a dumb idea, but she had said it herself - he was a dummy. “I have upset the Lady Catrina! I cannot be allowed to live!” He threw his head back dramatically as he spoke. “This is a crime most heinous!”

Robert drew out an imaginary sword that he held upward, “for this, I pay the price!” He plunged the imaginary sword into his chest and let himself topple backwards onto the bed with some exaggerated death noises.

He carefully looked out of one of his eyes from his “death” position to see Catrina drying her face as she looked at him, and, despite herself, she smiled. “You’re such a dork, Egan,” she sniffled.

Victory. “Yes, indeed! And an idiot… and a dummy… and I’ve got stupid for brains…” He slowly shifted himself around the bed so he could see her face.
“Yeah, a bit.” Catrina looked at him with puffy eyes.
“A lot.” He nudged her, feeling hopeful that he might’ve smoothed over his previous mistake.

She laughed a little, giving him a light shove back that nearly rocked him back into her leg. They both laughed after that.
Robert sat up straight, putting on his serious face to match. “I am sorry, Cat. I don’t want to be the person who ignores someone’s discomfort. I’ll be mindful of that in the future.”

Catrina nodded slowly, a ghost of a smile still on her lips. “Thank you.” She still hadn’t really looked at him, but he could tell by her tone that his apology had been accepted. “You know how it is with Gregor and Matthew-” her much older brothers. “They always go out of their way to leave me behind. I just don’t like feeling left out.”

It made sense in hindsight, him speaking French was just a way of excluding her accidentally even if that wasn’t his intention. Granted, no one else here spoke French that he could share it with that he knew of, but he wasn’t about to argue with her and make her cry again. “I could always teach you…?”
“Teach me?” She gave him a sharp look as she tried to figure out what he was implying.
“Teach you French!” He grinned. “If you’d like? So you won’t feel left out with me?”
She pondered it for a moment before finally looking at him with glassy eyes and a slight smile. “Maybe… I could give it a shot.”

“I can teach you something right now!” Robert was already working through an easy sentence. “Repeat after me, ‘tu es…’”
Catrina half-rolled her eyes before taking in a deep breath. “Tooeh…?”
He resisted laughing before repeating with more emphasis on the individual words, “Tu… es…”
He began nodding fervently, pleased by the turn in the conversation. “Fantastique!”
Her eyes narrowed slightly, “fantastic?”

“Fantast-ique! Tu es fantastique!”
“Fantastique…” She repeated softly.
Robert nodded excitedly, gesturing for her to try the whole thing.
“Tu eh fantastique?” Catrina attempted with an uncertain smile.

He couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped his lips before he burst. “Merci beaucoup! Very good!”
She rolled her eyes before lightly punching his arm. “You made me say something about you didn’t you?”

“You said ‘you are fantastic!’” He slowed his laughter as he nodded, “for talking about yourself, you’d say ‘je suis fantastique!’”
“Je… soo-ey?” She was not used to making the sounds common in French, and it was hard to not find it hilarious.

Yet Robert’s head only bobbed up and down with his grin, “yes, exactly! Just a little faster. ‘Je suis!’ It’s ‘I am.’”
“Je suis fantastique!” Catrina said with more confidence.
“Oui, oui! Parfait! That’s absolutely perfect, Cat!” He released her to clap and she bent forward slightly to bow from where she sat. “You’ll have this in no time at all!”
“Maybe I’ll be talking circles around you, huh?”

“I look forward to it!” Robert twisted his head to check the time and his eyes nearly doubled in size. “Oof, so late! I better sneak back to bed before the sun comes up.”
He pulled himself off of Catrina’s bed and stretched before shuffling for his shoes by the door, only to be stopped by her voice. “Hey Robert?”

His first thought was to say ‘yes,’ but he wasn’t certain which language would come out when answering on the fly, so he settled for a hum instead as he turned to look at her.
Catrina fiddled with her hands before she hesitantly met his gaze. “Are you going to the formal tomorrow night?”

Robert frowned, thinking of all the layers of mess going on between the trial and now Professor Luken’s identity. He shook his head, “nah, probably not. Why?”
Her eyes widened briefly and then looked away, seeming disinterested. “No reason.”

What a curious question for her to ask, but he figured she was probably nervous. She’d likely have to attend most formals this year to meet the yearly requirement. “If you’re nervous, don’t worry about it. Time goes really fast, and usually one of the professors helps bail out newer students by dragging them around doing introductions so they don’t have to. You’ll do fine!”

“I wasn’t worried,” she fidgeted with her hands with a sigh. “Now get out of my room, Egan.”
It was his turn to roll his eyes now and he gave a half wave. “Night, Cat.”
“Yeah-yeah, goodnight.”


Robert’s mind was churning through all the information he got the day before. He couldn’t fall asleep at all, so he decided to read through another several chapters of that brick of a book on the Gods.

It had Professor Luken’s name written in it on the section of the God of Knowledge. No wonder he had asked Robert how far he had gotten - or rather known Robert hadn’t read it all.
If he had, he would’ve put together the names immediately.
Luken Aadish, God of Knowledge.
It was mind boggling.
No, it almost didn’t make any sense. The gods always felt so… intangible. Untouchable… so far away and distant. Having one so close and knowing them to the degree Robert did felt impossible and impractical.

“Rob…? How long have you been awake?” Jacob’s voice was thick with sleep as he rubbed his eyes in the morning sunlight.
Robert jolted from his reading trance as his reading light spell faded. He wiped his tired eyes. It was… morning? A glance at the clock said it was 7 am.

He hadn’t slept at all.
“I guess since yesterday morning?” He scratched his head, feeling a sudden wave of exhaustion. “You will not believe what happened yesterday.”
“What time did you get in? I was worried about you when you disappeared. Catrina said you went to spy or something like that.”

Robert’s face twisted into a tired smirk. Catrina would figure out what he was up to and tell everyone. How very Cat-like that was. “She ratted me out! I just said I was going to talk to Professor Clemence.”
“So you didn’t spy?” Jacob rolled over onto his side.
Robert laughed, “no, I did. It’s pretty bad, Jake, even the gods are getting involved.”

This made Jacob sit up suddenly, eyes wide as he made a fast, superstitious hand gesture. “You’re stayin’ out of it, right? Mama says when gods get involved people die.”
Abigail probably wasn’t wrong about that. “It’s… a bit complicated. Besides, I’m not going to leave Stefan on his own! That would be… crazy...” He broke off into a yawn.
“Ya, maybe, but we can’t fight gods on our own!” Jacob shook his head.

Robert slumped back onto his pillow, “well, we have a god on our side… so maybe… maybe it’ll work out?”
“What-chya talkin’ bout, Rob?”



Robert woke to the sunlight pouring into the room, the clock read 11:30.

He shifted and adjusted his glasses back onto his face, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“It’s about time you woke up! You hadn’t slept by the time I woke the first time, did ya?” Jacob snorted as he spun his chair around, seeming a lot cheerier than what Robert had grown used to being normal.

“Mhm.” He stretched his neck and it cracked a few times before relaxing. Nothing worse than sleeping wrong on your neck. “You seem happy. Talk to Artis this morning?”
Jacob nodded, smiling a bit somberly as he looked towards his hands. “Yeah, I did in fact.”
Robert sucked in a breathy hum and drowsily let his eyes close.
“I broke up with her.”

That made his eyes come open wide, waking him up faster than cold water to the face. He blinked as it registered before shaking his head. “I’m sorry I think… I think I heard you wrong can you run that by me again?”
“Well actually, she broke up with me first, but I was going to break up with her. For real this time.” Jacob shrugged loosely. “I mean… I might be dense but I’m not blind. I could tell I liked her way more than she liked me. I don’t… I just don’t think I’m cut out for this… dating thing anyways.”

Robert frowned, “I’m sorry, Jake. She didn’t deserve you anyways.”
“Yea?” Jacob shrugged again, forcing a smile on. “Thank you.”
“Definitely yea. Honestly, she didn’t even like the joke we had about rolling into town!” Robert grinned.

“The one… oh! The one that made Sam spit his drink all over the table!” Jacob started laughing.
“All because Stefan thought he could fit into the round garbage bin-”
“-and you got the idea to push it down the hill-”

“He smelled like last weeks’ dinner for days!” Robert held his stomach, beaming as he remembered it. Slowly he calmed down and grew more serious. “You’ll find someone who fits you one day, Jacob, and she’ll be great.”
“Like how you and Cat are?”

Robert’s eyes widened and he coughed, “what? No! We’re not… we’re not a thing. She’s just been my friend since we were kids, that’s all.”

It was Jacob’s turn to roll his eyes. “Sure thing, Rob… but ya know Mama always says, ‘if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck… it’s a duck.’”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” It was a ridiculous notion. He didn’t feel anything for Catrina like that. They were friends.

“Oh come on! Everyone calls me the dense one… which I get, but if Catrina liked you any more then she’d have it stamped on her forehead in flashing colors,” Jacob responded with a nod and a gesture to his own forehead. “And the way you look at her just confirms it’s mutual.”
“Nooooo!” Robert laughed and shook his head, “no way! Cat and I just have a weird relationship because we’ve known each other for so long.”

“Whatever you say, Rob.” Jacob smirked. “Whatever you say.”
The door began to rattle as someone knocked repeatedly against it, and with a sudden movement it swung open. “Cover your shame, we’re coming in!”

Sam plowed through the open doorway with Stefan shambling in close behind him.
“Hey Stefan, hanging in there?” Jacob made a slight face as he took in Stefan’s ragged appearance.
Stefan shrugged, “yeah, something like that.”

“Are you still in bed?! And here I thought I was the only lazy one!” Sam chided Robert.
Robert sat up and rubbed his face again before settling into sitting on the bed. “It was a long night.”
Stefan nodded, “tell me about it.”

“Where did you vanish off to yesterday, Rob?” Sam’s voice was partially teasing, but there was an edge to it.
“I was spying on your conversation, Stefan. I cornered Luken after it and got some answers.”
Stefan’s eyes looked tired and he frowned. “Oh?”
“Care to share with the class?” Sam crossed his arms.

Robert cleared his throat, realizing now his disappearance may have appeared differently to his friends than he intended. “You’ll be meeting with a man named Renigard today. He seems intelligent and capable of ensuring the contract won’t be unfair.”
“Contract?” Stefan’s eyes flooded with confusion. “No… I’m going for a trial…”

Robert ran his hand through his hair. “It’s a farce trial. You live in Midnight Hollow which is a tentative war zone as the God of Magic is attempting to make a claim on it. Malice wants your family to be indebted to him so you’ll sign a contract of loyalty.”
Stefan nodded, his face growing darker. “Fucking figures.” His fists clenched and Sam sat down next to him, draping an arm around him.

“We’ve got your back. I take it you can’t just say ‘fuck off’ to the contract, right?”
Stefan put his head into his hands, “there’s no way out is there? We’re going to die either in that dispute over territory or Malice will hand us our own heads on a platter for refusing him.”
“No, you’re going to take option C.” Robert slid off the bed and onto the floor so he could be closer to Sam and Stefan. “You’re going to sign a contract with the God of Knowledge first, so you’re already spoken for. Then you’ll agree to a temporary contract to work beneath Malice while we negotiate the safety of your residence with the God of Magic.”

“And what makes you think they’ll listen to a professor at some school in France?” Stefan sighed. “It sounds good in theory, but there’s no way Lord Aadish will intervene on my behalf.”
“He already has.” Robert interjected.
That got everyone’s attention.
“That’s what I was finding out yesterday… why I was gone so long. I was in the Library - Aadish’s Library.” He concluded.

“Holy shit… so Aadish really is going to help?” Stefan sat up straighter, looking more hopeful for the first time that morning.
Robert nodded, finally lifting, “it’s even more than that, Stefan…”
“Professor Luken…” Robert stopped, contemplating if he should share this, but he had given him permission, plus these were his friends. They needed to know. He couldn’t keep this from them. “He is Lord Aadish.”

Stefan’s mouth fell open, and Sam’s face shifted to something of mortal confusion.
“What’re you saying?” Jacob had shoved himself back in his chair to be part of the conversation.
“He finally told me yesterday - his last name isn’t Luken, that’s his first name. He’s Luken Aadish… God of Knowledge.”

“You’re shitting us, Rob, come on…” Sam was shaking his head, but Stefan wasn’t.
Stefan wiped his face once more before his slack-jawed expression slowly morphed into a smile. “He’s not, Sam… He’s serious. I… we actually have a chance…” 


Robert hadn’t even had much time to get cleaned up for the day, but at least he had managed a different change of clothes. He thumbed through more of the brick that is the book on the gods and waited by the professor’s office for Stefan to finish up the planning with Renigard.
They’d made it this far, but there was still part of the deal they hadn’t worked out yet, as Professor Luken had told him. They still had to deal with the other half of the equation: Majnun Keeper.

Jacob thumbed through a book next to him on the puff seats they pulled over.
Robert leaned against his best friend and slumped, struggling to stay awake. “I’m not gonna make it Jake. What time is it even?”
Jacob looked around for a bit, glancing out the window and shifting to take in the room, which made Robert readjust against him. “Based off the light and time of year, I’d say it’s after 6.”

Robert shoved the book away that had been closer to him on the ground. “I can’t read that brick anymore, it’s-”
Jacob nudged him, not paying attention to him but instead to something else.
Robert lazily swung his head around to follow where Jacob was looking.

“Cat…” The word felt different on his lips. Wow.
He’d never seen her so done up before - at least he couldn’t remember if he had. His mind scrambled to pull through his memories with her as he took in the different woman that stood in the hallway with him.
“Any luck for Stefan and his family?”

Robert watched the way her dress moved as she approached them. Jacob elbowing him brought him back to the present. “Huh?” She asked a question. Right. “Oh, uh, yeah… it’s been ongoing for several hours now.” He tried to regain his sanity by rubbing his face again to no avail, before realizing he was being rude by not commenting on her dress. “You look… wow, yeah, you look really gorgeous, Cat.”

Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed a deeper red. “Th-Thank you.”

Robert grinned, satisfied at seeing the reaction he got out of her. He felt Jacob lean over by his ear to whisper, “quack, quack.”
Robert elbowed him and he laughed.

“I should get going, I’m already fashionably late anyways. I think it’s probably going to be quieter tonight, so people will actually notice if I’m too much later.” Catrina fidgeted with her hands. “Keep me in the loop, ok?”
“Yeah, of course!” Robert agreed. “Have a good time tonight!”

“I’ll try to!” She paused and nervously shrugged. “Merci…?”
“Parfait.” Robert made the ‘ok’ symbol with his hands and winked. “Bien sûr! That’s… ‘of course.’”
She laughed and his grin got bigger. “You’re such a dork, Egan.”
“The biggest one ever.” He accepted the title with grace. “But that just means you’re stuck with the biggest dork.”

She rolled her eyes, “there are worse things, I suppose. I’m off!”
Robert and Jacob waved to her as she disappeared, and as soon as Robert turned to look towards him Jacob had begun smirking.
“Don’t even say it.”

“I’m not saying anything, nope!”
No one else understood the relationship he and Catrina had - it wasn’t romantic. She was important to him and he was important to her.
That’s all he needed to know.

French Translation:
"Oui" - Yes
"Mais qu’est-ce?" - What's this now?
"Tu m’adores, moi?" - You adore me?
"Tu es fantastique" - You are fantastic
"Je suis fantastique" - I am fantastic
"Merci beaucoup" - Thank you very much
"Oui, oui! Parfait!" - Yes, yes! Perfect!
"Merci...?" - Thanks...?
"Parfait...Bien sûr!" - Perfect. Of course!" 

1 comment:

  1. Robert only has fraternal feelings towards Cat, yeah right. I call it denial XD. To paraphrase Jacob “quack, quack.”

    I love him so much, he's so endearing. (And now I sound like my grandma.)