Despite the fact that she could teleport and possessed an enchanted, flight capable staff, the Conservatory also arranged for Elena to have unlimited fare with the staging companies of the region. She made use of them to keep a low profile and on occasions where she was not in a hurry to reach her destination. Such was the case as she rode sitting hip to hip with Isaac on their way to Dnipro, a larger city Northwest of Grushevka on the Dnieper river. It was where Isaac and Jin’s first day in the Vorona Corps Zaporizhzhia Academy would begin.

The three veterans of James Scott’s war on humanity were frustrated and clingy this morning. The Sapphire League technically had two ages of consent. The first fell on the fifteenth birthday and was much more restricted than the age of majority that was recognized during someone’s sixteenth years. A fifteen year old human could lawfully consent to have sex with another human ages fifteen to eighteen and could tame any pokegirl lawfully within the same age grouping. Being over three centuries old, Elena, Chandrakanta, and Astoreth had another half of a year before Isaac would be considered sixteen and safe to be the recipient of their full affections.

The celestial and infernal had seen Isaac, Jin, and Elena off earlier in the day and then went about their work, whatever that may be, to distract them from the injustice of their situation. Elena, having assumed the role of Isaac’s legal guardian, was required to be present for the sake of paperwork. She was also composing herself better than her two friends after Isaac and Jin’s night of passion, which they all experienced to some degree through their delta bond with Isaac.

Isaac himself was nodding with every bump and jostle of the stage wagon; his energy not sufficiently restored after sleep had been sacrificed for sex. Jin was in her ball to conserve space but hadn’t been faring much better. The wagon came to a stop outside of the stage station and the shotgun messenger jumped down to begin recalling the Ponytaur team so they could be healed by the PHU inside. Isaac and Elena disembarked and they walked to the site of the orientation ceremony for the academy. Elena signed what she needed to sign and followed Isaac halfway to the grounds set up for the orientation ceremony. The Grandelf pulled the boy into a very close hug, running her fingers of both hands through his hair to push his face against her torso. Then she bent down to kiss both of his cheeks in the traditional Eastern European manner, but lingered with her lips touching his skin and breathed in slow and deep. Then she departed to find somewhere secluded to teleport herself back home. There was no sense in spending the time in the stage wagon all the way back to her home. Isaac wouldn’t be there next to her.

Another boy who was dressed in plain farm clothes ran up to Isaac excitedly, “Who was that Grandelf with you? She seemed really attached, are you taming her? Is she your mom? How old is she? Does she have a tamer?”

Isaac looked towards where Elena had broken from line of sight. “She… took temporary guardianship after my foster family got wiped out. It was only for a few months and meant I didn’t need to go back through the whole fostering process.”

The other young male mistook Isaac’s struggles in choosing his words with emotional turmoil and apologized profusely until Isaac’s requirement to take his place in the staging area ejected the stranger from Isaac’s proximity. Rectangles were arranged in a grid in front of a temporary stage and many of the assembling cadets were already standing and waiting with their pokegirls released. Anyone with a League issued starter had received her yesterday. Isaac noticed a good number of cadets that looked to also be suffering from short term sleep deprivation as he moved to his chalked out box and released Jin.

Elena had stressed to him the importance of punctuality for this occasion so he stood with his Witch companion for a number of minutes while more cadets assembled. Jin was pestering him to guess the breeds of pokegirls around him and Isaac resisted being goaded into showing off an ability he didn’t yet understand.

Figures dressed in immaculate uniforms took the stage. They could all be called young adults, but they collectively were obviously older by two or three years than the youths Isaac was among. Their rigid and precise movements were clearly part of the ceremony that was beginning. Many of them had particular additions to their uniforms but what the significance of these may have been neither Isaac nor Jin were presently aware. One with what they’d come to learn signified a connection to the Konservatoriya pulled out a thin wooden rod and magically conjured a wall of mist. The senior cadets then took a stance to either side of the wall as a hologram was projected within the mist.

“Greetings, cadets. I am Lieutenant Sobolvich and I will be in charge of your first trimester within the Vorona Corps Academy program. You are to present yourselves before me by 1600 or will be suspended from the cadet program until completion of a two week program of remedial courses under our Vorona Corps Disciplinarian senior cadets.”

The hologram blinked off and was replaced by another coming from a slightly different direction. It was a map identical in style to the navigation tool on the academy issued pokedex device. “This is the location where you are currently listening to this broadcast.” A mark appeared just off of one of the main roads out in the rural outskirts of Dnipro. “This is the location you must reach by 1700. It is presently 0709. Dismissed.” The map pulled out to show a second mark roughly forty-five kilometers away.

The gathered humans and pokegirls were silent for a few seconds as everyone processed the brief message. Then someone small with a voice that Isaac couldn’t really tell whether it was male or female exclaimed something. Everyone around them quickly started to move, most leaving the grounds at a pace between a bustling walk and full on sprint. They headed west for the most part, then someone shouted that west was the wrong direction and some continued in that direction heedless of the warning while others turned and ran towards all corners of the map.

Isaac brought up the map on his device and compared it to the one still projected on the screen of fog. It wasn’t aligned with North pointing up, in fact North was pointing towards the lower right corner. About half of the cadets had cleared out already and more were filtering out every second as they checked their own maps and determined the direction they needed to travel was Southeast.

Jin said something in one of the languages she knew how to curse in under her breath. “What sort of initiation is this? Isaac? Why aren’t we going, I want to learn magic not run while some Domina gets to whip me.”

Isaac extended the display of his device towards her and traced his finger from point to point. “That’s the straight path everyone is taking but look,” he circled a darker patch of terrain on the map, “this is that forest you can see the edge of,” he swept his arm towards the distant line of trees at the edge of a field to their southeast. “That’s a lot of woods and I have no idea about the feral situation out here. Do you?”

Jin shook her head and her high ponytail danced in the air behind her. Isaac continued sharing his thoughts. “We don’t need to go through those woods though.” He poked the screen and it formed a series of waypoints along the main roads cutting through the farmland. “We had to walk five kilometers in an hour as part of qualification. This is about that pace but through most of the day. And the roads should be the safest.”

Jin studied the map for a second before comprehension lit up her eyes. “Hey, you’re right. I hate walking though.” Isaac and Jin had both been content to maintain minimal fitness levels and pursue intellectual growth over the winter and early weeks of spring. Elena had hinted that they were making a poor use of their time leading up to academy starting but Isaac hadn’t thought to ask her why she suggested such an idea.

“Well, I don’t think we have much of a choice. Let’s see, the road is-”

“Quickest way to get on the road is that way.” It was the boy who had been intensely curious about Elena. He had a grin stretching across his whole face as he watched the cadets scatter like spooked hens. An Oddtits was standing with him, the shade loving plant type pokegirl hiding under the protection of a massive shawl. “I’m Gabi,” he pronounced the first vowel somewhere between ‘ah’ and ‘aw’. Much different than the dead Midwestern North American dialect’s nasally, flat ‘a’ Isaac would have used if he’d been reading the name. “And she’s Mandi.” Gabi put a hand on his Oddtit’s waist. “We live around here and watch the Voronas pull this every year. It’s fun to watch all of the city kids. Come on, you can cut through my family’s property to shorten the walk.” Isaac studied the face of the local boy for the span of a breath. He was shorter than Isaac by a small amount, fair haired and skinned like the majority of peoples living in this part of the world, and was covered in freckles and uneven tanning from spending a great deal of time outdoors. Isaac’s intuition was pointing out something that didn’t add up, but he couldn’t determine what the discrepancy was before Gabi caught his gaze and met it with an inquisitive one.

“Yeah,” Isaac ummed, “okay. I’m Isaac, this is Jin.” Isaac made to copy Gabi’s gesture of pulling his pokegirl towards him but it wasn’t something they’d really done before and the pair aborted the display of affection in short order. The other boy had the decency to hold in his laughter watching them.

Jin held onto her sour feeling of embarrassment and stayed silent with Isaac positioned between her and Gabi. Mandi didn’t seem to be anywhere near as sociable as her tamer and remained silent as well. Her attention seemed fixed on the woods they were walking around, but Isaac couldn’t figure out why. He thought he might ask Gabi but Gabi broke the silence first, picking right back up with his inquiries regarding Elena. At least Isaac quickly understood the reason for his fixation.

“Oh, so she’s from the Conservatory. I was hoping she was from Queen Vershnyk’s court.”

“Queen Vershnyk is… the Elf Queen with a court upriver.” Elena had mentioned working with the court over the winter and Isaac had to rummage through his memories to assemble the fact.

“Yeah! She sends some of her Elves out to help all of the farms outside of Dnipro. Everyone around here owes her court for how good we have it out here.

“I’ve just never been able to meet anyone from Queen Vershnyk’s court. Tamers from the city know about them so they’re always trying to catch wild court Elves, which means none of Queen Vershnyk’s Elves risk being seen by anyone. Growing up the babusya,” Gabi used the Ukranian word for ‘grandmother’, “would take all of us kids around to little clearings at the edge of each field,” Gabi stopped to look around and then pointed out a lone tree surrounded by brightly colored flowers and piled stones worked up from the fields, “like that one. We’d leave them gifts, sweets and meadow flowers and once a year at the start of harvest time we’d all chip in and buy something like jewelry.

“The next morning, all of the gifts would be gone, but they’d always plant the flowers to prove they’d been there. Not that we couldn’t tell from looking at the crops. So they had to come at night we figured. I got caught staying up late and sneaking out the least, but none of us ever even saw one. I want to be able to brag to all of my sisters that I was the first.”

“How many sisters do you have?”

Gabi laughed at the question. “I can’t say off the top of my head. Some left the house before I was born and I expect to hear about a new sister or two every time I walk through the front door. There’s about ten my age, though.”

Isaac couldn’t think of any other questions to ask Gabi because he just didn’t know what to say to anyone he’d only known for less than an hour. Gabi’s cheery demeanor didn’t waver even though Isaac was certain he’d thrown off the pace of the conversation by not knowing what to say. He looked at the bright colors of Mandi’s shawl and noticed she was staring off into the woods again. “Is Mandi keeping watch for something? Are there ferals in those woods?”

Gabi’s Oddtits looked at the man that said her name and then her master. She was Mandi, master was Gabi. Ferals were dangerous. Keep watch always.

“Oh, she’s probably hearing the aunts.” Gabi said without giving much context. Isaac’s thoughts went to the pokegirl breed of Annts though, and his alarm at picturing cadets running into that swarming breed must have shown through because Gabi without prompting clarified, “Oh, no. Like your mom or dad’s sister, aunts. There is a colony of the bug girl Annts on the other side of the river somewhere though.

“Yeah, but those woods are where I got Mandi from. There’s a whole colony of Oddtits and Gloomy that sleep in there during the day. Old Mousewives tale that back when girls first started going through thresholding for the first time around here, one farmer’s daughter ran off to cry in a grove of trees. She spent so long out there crying she went through her entire threshold and went feral. The family didn’t have the heart to let anybody try to remove her and she wouldn’t hurt any of them so they just left her out there. When the oldest son took over the farm and his children asked about the pokegirl in the trees supposedly he told them, ‘She’s just your aunt.’

“No one knows if it’s true or not but they keep anything nastier from moving in and that land’s not worth working up until the city grows a lot more anyway. Here, stop walking for a second and listen, we should be able to hear them.” The four of them stopped and did just that.

A high pitched cry of alarm was carried to them from the wind moving between the trees, and many answering cries immediately joined it. Gabi pointed out the colorful wisps of some sort of pokegirl technique powder wafting above the treetops and getting scattered by the winds above the canopy. “That was someone coming across one of the aunts. They cluster together when sleeping and all scream and release powders when startled. They’re all immune to one another’s poisons so they just leave the passed out intruders on the ground and run deeper into the woods.

“Though there have been some times where a girl or tamer get killed. They will gang up really bad on any girl that doesn’t go down from the dusting and they also remember faces.” Gabi shrugged in a casual acceptance of the deaths he was discussing. “Everyone local knows to be kind to your aunts.”

Gabi pivoted midstep and walked sideways to look at Isaac and his Witch. “So your guardian works for the conservatory and I scanned your Witch. Do you know magic too?”

Isaac wasn’t sure how to answer that. “Well, I’ve been learning theory so I know what Jin’s up to, but I haven’t done much magic on my own yet.” It was true but woefully lacking in detail. Isaac had not performed much magic beyond dispelling the corrupted enchantment when Elena was evaluating him. For a lot of the fundamentals he was learning it didn’t feel rewarding to demonstrate them.

Of course, Jin had lived at Astoreth’s home for half a year and Elena was still unsure what the young Witch may have learned from her stay. This resulted in Astoreth being brought in to teach Elena what she taught Jin so that Elena could then teach Isaac. Chandrakanta insisted on teaching the boy and his Witch magic that could be used for first aid after discovering this and no one could question the reasoning presented even if they all did question the Megami’s motivation.

Isaac happened to mention to Jin that he felt she was the one benefiting most from the situation and her response was to exclaim, ‘Yeah it’s great. They’re trying to use me to get close to you during our time together so I just make it really obvious what I want to learn.’

Isaac still wasn’t sure what to think of it. The sharing of knowledge was good, no one seemed to be resenting it, but it felt a touch dysfunctional to him. He wasn’t at the point in mulling the idea over to bring it to anyone else, however. He’d probably talk to Elena first.

“Show me something! Please!” Gabi blushed and amended the pleasantry.

Isaac wracked his brain for what the most useful spell he knew of was and picked one after glancing back at Mandi. It was simple but the Oddtits would likely appreciate it. “I’ll need to touch Mandi, just her hand or shoulder.”

Gabi nodded. “Mandi, give Isaac your hand.” The Oddtits looked questioningly at Gabi while she did as she was told.

Isaac cast the spell and Mandi blinked and peaked skyward. “Sun. No hot.”

“That will protect her from any sunlight waves she’s sensitive to for… well just a minute so far.”

Mandi was staring up at the clouds all around them in wonder. “Pretty… Why sun no hot?”

“Isaac used magic on you, Mandi! He’s a wizard!”

“I’m not a wiz-”

“Wizard! Sun no- Eep!” Mandi ducked back under her shawl. “Sun hot,” the Oddtits said dejectedly. She perked up when suddenly the protection from sunlight resumed, but this time it was his pokegirl that said the words and she didn’t touch the Oddtits. “Wizard?”

“No Mandi, she’s a Witch. There’s no pokegirl wizards.”

“Ha! Shows what you know. That Grandelf you saw dropping Isaac off is the one teaching Isaac.” Isaac found himself on edge unsure how Gabi would take being corrected by a pokegirl, but let out a sigh he hoped no one noticed when Gabi simply beamed in more amazement. There was also the matter that Isaac was pretty sure Jin had copied and modified the spell he had used on the fly, because he remembered her electing to learn something combat oriented from Elena instead.

Gabi and Mandi were an awestruck audience for the rest of the time they walked together and while Isaac felt ill at ease showing off, the same was not true of the ever modest Jin.

(-[|]-) End 3.1 (-[|]-)