Spirit Splinters, part 8

For a moment, I could hardly move. My limbs felt like jelly, and my throat was so dry I had a hard time getting my words out.

"B-but it was an accident! She startled me!"

"We know," she interrupted. "But, Hannele... Did you know who that girl was?"

I flashed back to the frightened, blonde-pigtailed girl, rapier clutched in her trembling hands. "No..." I said, forboding building up within me.

The Headmistress steepled her hands. "Her name was Ariera Tabith, daughter of Phelicia Tabith."

"Phelicia Tabith?" I gasped. "The weaponry merchant?"

She nodded sadly. "The same one."

I sat back, my mind blank in disbelief. Phelicia Tabith was one of the most powerful figures in the seven regions, amassing a vast fortune through smuggling weapons and mercenaries to the war-torn western regions. Since then, she had settled down as the head of a profitable noble house, although she still sold weaponry on the side.

What were the odds. Out of a thousand nobodies in the school, I had to kill the daughter of one of the most dangerous women alive.

What were the odds, I ask you.

Tears beaded in my eyes, and I blinked them away, humiliated at my sudden weakness. "B-but couldn't you just tell her that the vampire killed her daughter?" I croaked.

The Headmistress sighed. "Mrs. Tabith will go looking for a scapegoat," she informed me. "And Ulnow Academy, although prominent, is still not as powerful as she is. If we don't blame someone, she will use her influence to shut down the academy."

"So I'm the scapegoat," I whispered. In a way, I understood. Phelicia Tabith wouldn't be satisfied with the knowledge that the vampire was dead; she needed revenge for her daughter's death.

The Headmistress leaned forward. "Mrs. Tabith doesn't know that Ariera is dead yet. But she will soon, and we'll have no choice but to tell her what exactly happened."

Tears were falling onto my dress. I shook with silent, terrified sobs.

"She'll go after you," she continued. "And your family."

"No!" I burst out. I could imagine mercenaries bursting into my village, burning and ransacking everything in their path. I could imagine the limp bodies of my family, the screams of the villagers...

I stood up suddenly, knocking the chair to the floor. "You can't do that!" I shrilled. "I won't let you! I'll--"

"Calm down," said the Headmistress quietly, and I felt as if a hand had wrapped around my throat, silencing me.

"I'll explain everything," she continued. "Just stop screaming. I hate screaming."

Wordless, I nodded, and the grip on my throat relaxed. I sucked in air, gasping.

"I know what you did was an accident, and I'm sure anyone else would have done the same. I know I would. Which is why--" She slid off her chair, coming around the desk to face me. "I'm deleting any and all references to your village that I know of, and moving your family to Yeshaqua." Yeshaqua was the capitol of Vetayora. My family would undetectable in the millions of people that lived there.

"We'll keep a watch on them, of course, and keep them safe from Tabith's people. But as for you..."

She patted my shoulder. "It's going to be tough, Hannele. It's likely that you'll never see your family again. What we'll do for you is issue you a new identity" I'm sure Tabith would be asking around, getting information on what I look and act like "and drop you off overseas, in a country like Draell."

So far away, and so young, in an alien country. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to deal with it.

The headmistress seemed to know what I was thinking, because she said, "Believe me, Hannele, adjusting to an environment alone is positively heaven compared to what Tabith will do to you if she gets her hands on you."

This snapped me back to reality, and I nodded.

"Afterwards," she said, "You're on your own. I'm pretty sure if you move far inland enough, no one will recognize you, but still, I suggest you get a haircut, maybe buy a pair of glasses, and change your appearance completely. If we're found assisting you, then Ulnow Academy will be shut down. Your family is one thing, but now you're a wanted fugitive. We can only protect you up to a point."

She then looked at me sharply. "It would be easier just to hand you over to Tabith, but I am an honorable person. Remember what we did for you, and don't tell anyone what happened in this office."

I nodded dumbly. "Can I keep my Splace weapons?" I asked.

She nodded. "I could remove them, but it is a long and painful process, and I only do that as a last resort. It would be better if you kept them, as a means to protect yourself."

Owrie put a hand on my shoulder. "We've packed up all your belongings," he said softly. "A car will pick you up in four hours. From there, just follow our people's orders. You're a fugitive now, a runaway from Ulnow Academy who fled the crime scene."

The tears were drying on my cheeks, encrusting my eyelashes. The Headmistress gave me a last pat on the shoulder and returned to behind her desk.

"Wait!" I cried as Owrie began to propell me out of the room. "What about Minoka? What will happen to her?"

She hestitated, her pencil on the papers. "Well, we'll have a talk with her. She's set to graduate soon anyway, and we're looking into giving her to Erica as a pupil of sorts. Something nice, to keep her out of trouble. Erica's trustworthy, and Viamui's strong enough to keep up with her. She'll be fine."

For some reason, this made me panicky. "Please!" I begged. "Let me see her again. Just one more time!"

She looked like she was going to argue, but let out a sigh and nodded to Owrie, who hesitated then left the room.

A few minutes later he came back, tailed by a nervous Minoka. When she saw me, she let out a squeal and dived, wrapping her arms around my neck. "So what happened?" she gasped. "Do you get to stay?"

"Minoka..." I knew I was going to miss her. What had happened last night was something that would bind us together for the rest of our days, the synchronized hunting we had employed feeling so natural, so right. It was as if she herself were one of my Splace weapons.

I buried my face in the crook of her neck, tears leaking out of my eyes. Gods, with all the crying I was doing lately, I was surprised I wasn't a shrivelled husk by now.

She gently disengaged herself from me, her dark eyes large and confused behind her glasses. "You're... crying? Hanna, don't tell me..."

She whipped around, her voice rising into a shriek. "No! You can't do this! She did nothing wrong, it was my fault, it--"

She choked, her glasses askew. There was a handprint on her throat, as if someone was pushing down.

"How many times," said the Headmistress, her voice dangerously low, "Do I have to tell you not to scream?"

Minoka's face was turning blue, and she nodded with difficulty. The handprint disappeared, and she sank to her knees, wheezing. "I'm s-sorry," she coughed. "It's just--"

"You will not tell anyone about what happened last night," she interrupted. "If you do, there will be... consequences."

I wondered why she was being so harsh with Minoka. Although, Minoka did mention that they'd met before, or at least that she'd seen her. I wondered what was going on between the two.

"You will graduate," she continued. "Erica Ulnow will take you in as her apprentice. It would be best if you forgot about Hannele entirely. She will be safe, and you two will never meet again."

"No," she said quietly. I looked at her in surprise. "Come on," I said. "We've only known each other for a few days. Erica seems nice, you'll get along with--"

"I'm coming with her," she said firmly. "She and I are in this together. She's my friend."

Contrary to what I was expecting, the Headmistress looked amused by her. "Well, I supposed it would be two birds with one stone.." she mused. "After all, Tabith will be digging around, and you might be in danger as well... shipping you two off together would be very convienient. And I know you don't have any family who will ask questions..."

The way the Headmistress was flipping from kind and understanding to childishly bullying in the space of a moment was really creeping me out. I just wanted to leave. "Minoka, it's all right," I said, my throat tight. "Just let it go."

They ignored me, even Owrie, who was standing to the side like a tall, dark statue.

The Headmistress looked up at the ceiling, her childish face lightening into a smile. "Okay, then, it's settled. You two will go with each other."

"But--" I started. I didn't want Minoka to be torn away from her home and thrown into an unfamiliar country. If less people had to deal with that, the better.

"Minoka is older and more experienced than you," the Headmistress told me. "After all, you're just a fifteen-year-old, and I admit it would be difficult for you to adjust in such a strange place. With Viamui, you can rely on each other."

"But she'll be a fugitive too, if she's accompanying me!" I protested, even though I felt a tug of doubt at the back of my mind. It would be so comforting to have a fellow human by side, someone just as lost and confused as I was. I wondered if I was being selfish.

The Headmistress shrugged. "Minoka clearly wants to come along with you. Why don't you let her?"

"Because it's not fair to her!" I burst out.

I felt slender fingers curve around mine. "Hanna," Minoka said softly, "You make me happy. I've never felt the way I do with anyone else. It is fair, to both of us. Please, please... I don't want to let go of this. Of you."

Her speech was low and pleading. I felt pity and warmth gather in the pit of my stomach, and I squeezed her hand back.

"If it's really what you want..." I said slowly. "I mean, we've known each other for so little time..." I gave up and hugged her, feeling a little bit of happiness start to radiate through my body.


I would never see my parents again. I would never be hugged or scolded by my mother, or taste her marvelous cooking. I would never look out the window and see my father chopping wood or carrying my sister Keasa on her shoulders.

Keasa. My darling little sister, to whom I would never teach the wonders of life, advise her on boys, or shield her from Reuwo's teasing.

Reuwo. My older brother who messed my hair and bothered me, but protected me all the same. I would never accompany him to the food stands or stand on my tiptoes and kiss his cheek. He would never see the sister to whom he both teased and ignored, but loved all the same.

I would never see my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, or my cousins again. I would never attend huge family get-togethers with food and dancing and chatting. I would be alone in an unfamiliar land with only one person for company, forever keeping my identity secret.

I wondered if I would ever see Elly again. True, he had been annoying, but I had reserved affection for him in the short time we had known each other. With his outgoing temperament, I was sure he would find friends while he stayed here.

Would he miss us, the irritable redhead and the shy dark-haired girl? I believed he would, at least for a little while. He would probably wonder where we had gone, ask around for a bit, then forget about us. And perhaps he would hate us, when he heard the news about us being murders.

Maybe I would forget about him. I knew I would remember my family for the rest of my life, but I had only known Elly for a few days.

But Minoka was with me, and I was happy for that. We had no one but each other now, and we had to learn to rely upon one another.

For some reason, I didn't think that would be too hard.

A New Start....

I guess it could have been a lot worse.

OK, so she'll be starting over without a family in another country, but with Minoka, what little the school can give her that can't be traced back to them, and a sickle that Hanna can't control very well -- very likely with no way to be taught how to improve that problem except for whatever Minoka learned that she can pass on.

Is the splace weapon concept unique to the school? If so, regardless of their appearance, her enemies will be able to identify them as school alumni the minute she or Minoka uses one with a witness present. And then, unless Hanna can conceal the fact that she's too young to have graduated, it shouldn't take them long to identify her, assuming they have some kind of all-points bulletin out to their weapons merchants and mercenaries.

I suspect it'll be Erica who drops them off, if not at their destination then at least with someone who'll take them there. We don't know whether border controls will be a problem in Draell, but being there without ID papers may be troublesome. (Hard to tell from the story so far how good identification is here if you don't have massive resources like the school or Tabith -- and in the school's case, the people it investigated would have initiated the process by applying for admission.)

It occurs to me that one way this story can go is for Tabith to use one of those family reunions that Hanna was talking about to wipe out the whole clan except for her and possibly her immediate family, if they're in hiding too. In the classic tale of this type, that'd force Hanna out of whatever obscurity she had enjoyed into some desperate assassination plan.


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