Saturday, 15 October 2011

Chapter 1

"Woah… this is some school," Dove said, looking up at the red bricked buildings.

It was one of those old type of places, beautiful and majestic. She pushed her black hair away from her obsidian like eyes before heaving her backpack once more. Her friend Hazel was smoothing her blazer, "Yeah, and these uniforms aren't cheap either," she said, looking a little nervous about wearing it. 

They went through the huge doorway into the main hall and looked round for the office. "Why are we here?" Dove  asked at last, trying to avoid getting bumped into. The students all around them were the rich, prep types. They certainly didn't fit in the picture at all. 

"The headmaster is some rich guy whose a patron at the orphanage," Hazel reminded, the two standing close side by side. Hazel and her golden head bobbed a little over two inches over Dove's, "He's sponsoring both of us." 

"Think he could adopt us instead?" Dove half joked. 

The two of them were seventeen and long years at the orphanage taught them that only the babies and little ones get adopted. The orphanage they once lived in was run by catholic sisters and they had their lessons inside the orphanage itself. However, months before, there had been an accident. It was an old building, mostly made of wood. The firemen had said it had started because of the faulty wiring. 

Luckily, everyone made it out safely but with no home, most went to a sister orphanage in another city. The others were separated and sent to different foster homes and orphanages. Dove and Hazel had been sent to Adwen's Children's Home. 

"Hey- you two look lost. Are you new?" said a warm voice. It was light and quick; the very happy sort, just like Sister Elizabeth had been. 

Both the girls jumped in surprise. Dove's hand reached out and gripped the pendant round her neck as she often did. They looked round and saw a very tall boy about their age. He was at least six feet in height and looked well taken cared of like all the other students. He had dark auburn hair that he kept swept back to reveal bright green brown eyes. He was good looking with a very easy grace. 

"Y-Yeah," Hazel said, looking very struck, "Um- we're looking for the office." 

"Yeah, sure- this way," he said, "I'm Zephaniah, by the way." 

"That's a mouthful," Dove couldn't help but say. She was the type who said the first thing that popped into their mind. She lost count of the times the nuns had reprimanded her for it. Even Mother Evangeline had to very sternly take her to hand. 

But Zephaniah laughed, "It is, isn't it? Call me Zeph. And you two are…?" 

"I'm Hazel. And this is Dove." 

"Nice to meet you two, and this is the office," Zeph said, knocking the door and opening it. The woman and the register looked up, "Mr Michaelis, how can I help?" 

"These two girls are new," Zeph said. The woman spotted Dove and Hazel, "Ah… you two are the ones from Adwen, am I right- Miss Hameldon and Miss Dove?" she said as they entered the office, "The headmaster is expecting both of you," she pointed to the door on the right. 

The moment they disappeared, Zeph frowned, "Adwen? As in that orphanage?" he asked. 

"Mr. Michaelis, don't you have classes to got to?" 

Zeph gave a low, over-dramatic, bow and left the office. 

Inside the headmaster's study, Mr Ashworth looked up from some files he had on his desk, "Hello, girls. MIss Dove and Miss Hazel Hameldon, am I right?" he asked. The two nodded and stood in front of his large, heavy wooden desk. "Um… Miss Dove… the files never gave a last name…" 

"I don't have one," Dove replied, "They- um…" 

"Yes- it says in your file how you were found. I'm sorry that you had a hard time…" 

"No one's sure if I had a hard time," Dove said quietly. 

Mr Ashworth had pity in his old grey eyes. Something Dove never liked seeing. She changed the subject, "Thank you for being our guarantor."

The man smiled, "It's nothing. I was told of both your stories. And I myself have been in Miss Hameldon's position before," he said, "I hope the both of you will enjoy yourselves in my school. The sisters in your old orphanage also told me that both of you are both excellent students and get along well with others." 

"Thank you." 

They were given a map of the school and their class before being dismissed. "Class 2-A," Dove read at the top of their schedule, "Oh God, look at this. Latin? French?"

"Thou shalt not use His name in vain," Hazel said, repeating the words of the sisters, "Besides, we studied latin and french in our old orphanage." 

"Yeah- we learnt latin bible verses Haze- I don't think it's quite the same thing. Literature… maths… art… history… the rest is the usual. The only thing missing is Bible classes or it would be like our old school all over again. So, where's our class?" 

"It's way over at the east wing. We can take a short cut through this courtyard and the gardens here," she pointed on the map, "And we better hurry. First period already started." 

They half ran through the empty corridors, the hard heels of their shoes tapping loudly against the floor. The sound echoed off the walls. Dove liked the sound of it. She had never worn shoes with hard soles before. They never had clothes as nice as the uniforms before either. Or even go to school. Mr Ashworth was even giving them a very charitable sum for their pocket money. Maybe things were finally starting to look up for them. 

She clutched the pendant round her neck once more before letting go so they could pick up the pace. The silver bird that was the pendant bounced against her skin, catching the morning sunlight as they ran across the courtyard. It's smooth surface glinted and glistened in the sun. 

Dove and Hazel settled in their new class, perhaps Hazel was better off than Dove in terms of mixing around. She had always been the more social one. But Zeph, who was in their class, noticed this straight away and started talking to her. "So- you two are from an orphanage, huh?" he asked over lunch, "I mean- you know- if you don't mind me asking-" 

Why was it people always seem to think she would take offence over the statement or question that she lived in an orphanage. "Yeah- I was there when I was about six. Hazel came along when she was eight. She was quieter then," she added, looking over to Hazel who was already chattering to her new friends, non-stop. Zeph chuckled, "Yeah- she's really a cheerful one, isn't she." 

"She is. She's a great person. Sometimes, I think it's a bit unfair what happened to her," Dove said quietly, poking the cherry tomato in her salad with a fork. 

"And what happened to you?" he asked in return. They already knew how Hazel was orphaned. The girl had explained it to them in good grace but somehow Dove managed to slip out of that conversation. 

Now she smiled but her smile didn't reach her eyes. Her free hand went round her pendant once more but she shook her head. "I don't really want to talk about it now," she said, and speared the tomato. Zeph nodded and returned to his meal, "So- uh- what was your old orphanage like? I mean- it was run by nuns right? Were they like the horror stories you usually hear?" he asked. 

Dove laughed, "Oh man… Yeah- some of them were evil witches. Seriously, you'd think they'd be more understanding and nicer with all those teachings they're trying to hammer into us most of the time about how we should be kind and gentle and insightful. They were complete hypocrites, if you ask me. But there were others like Sister Elizabeth, or Sister Margaret or even Mother Evangeline. They were nice and so kind. A bit like how I imagined a mother would be," she said, "When I first arrived, Sister Elizabeth even used to sit up with me at night until I fell asleep." 

"Oh wow, I wish my mom did that…" 

"She didn't?" 

"Well… mom was more of the corporate type. She wasn't much of a mother. She works till late… my dad too. Both of them would even work through weekends," he said, biting into his burger. 

"So you… don't see them at all?" Dove asked frowning. 

"Well, less nowadays. They separated when I was about eleven," he explained, "Dad moved to another city because of his new company. Mom moved abroad because of her career. I'm living with an uncle now." 

Dove still kept frowning, "Why?" she asked suddenly. 

"Why what?" he asked. 

"Why are they away all the time? I mean- your parents are alive. Why are they…" she trailed off. 

Zeph smiled, "It's okay. I don't mind. You could say I've gotten used to it," he assured her. Dove decided to move the conversation to safer waters, "So- what is this activity thing?" she asked. 

There was two hours of activity period on their schedule. "Oh, it's like for us to explore our interest. You know, like maybe tennis, or horseback riding or animal rights or maybe cooking. Just about anything really. Hang on, I might still have the list of activities… I'm on the student council so I have to keep one," he added when she looked confused. At last he extracted one from his file and handed it to her. 

"Oh wow… a gardening club," she said, spotting it at once. 

"Gardening club?" 

"Yeah. The sisters gave us our own patches in the gardens for us who liked gardening. They thought it was a more ladylike hobby." 

"Wow, I'm assuming it was an old fashioned place, huh?" 

"Yeah… we weren't allowed to run or scream. We learnt to play music and sing and dance and paint. We even had to make sure we could cook and sew. We were young ladies and had to behave like them," Dove said primly before rolling her eyes and slumping her shoulders instead of holding them straight and elegantly like she was trained to. Zeph laughed again, "So what did you grow?" 

"Well- a rose bush, because Sister Elizabeth gave me a sapling so I had to be polite. But then I had a few strawberry plants, a blackberry bush, carrots, tomatoes, and generally things I could eat. The rose bush did come in useful when I figured out how to make tea out of them though," she said, smiling. 

"Wow, you make it sound like you don't have enough food back then." 

"Well, we did have enough. But it was just enough. It's nice to have a bit more." 

"Well then, if you're interested in the gardening society, I can introduce you to the teacher in charge." 

"Thank you. That'll be great." 

"There's such a cute guy in drama," Hazel told Dove as they walked back to the orphanage, "How was your gardening society?" 

"It was pretty fun, I volunteered to help with the school's kitchen garden for the rest of the week, so I'll probably go back late for the rest of this week," Dove said. Hazel shrugged, "I don't mind, I'm helping with a play for the regionals so I have to go home late for a while too," she said. 

"You're playing a part?" 

"Oh, no! Of course not! It's too late for me to join. I'm just helping with the props and things. And anyway- on a more important note- what's with you and that Zeph guy? You couldn't pull the two of you away from each other the whole day," she said, linking arms with Dove. 

"Haze- we just met today!" 

"Fine. Fine… But in case you haven't noticed, we've both been stuck in a convent our entire lives with no male interaction," Hazel reminded. Dove frowned, "There was the music master who came once a week. And the gardener…" 

"Okay- the point is- we're here in this school full of guys. Hurry up, will you?" she said and Dove laughed. 

As they were heading up to their dorm to change, the matron called to them. "Dove, Hazel, you two have letters," she said, handing a few letters to them. 

"Oh look, Sister Elizabeth wrote. Oh… and that old nag Sister Marianne. And Mother Evangeline!" Hazel said, looking through her letters. Dove had the same ones. But right at the bottom, was a strange looking envelope. 

It was heavy and yellowing. The paper was thick in her hand and her name was written in a fussy manner on the front with black ink. It looked as though it was written with an old fashioned pen and there was a flourish at the end. Turning it round, there was no return address on it, nor any address on the front nor a stamp. Whoever sent it must have dropped it off on their own. The letter was sealed with red wax and on it was a strange insignia on it. It was of a bird, like the pendant on her neck, in a circle of thorns. But since the bird was bigger on the seal than on her pendant, she could see, it looked nothing like the dove she was named after. But she knew this insignia. It was so familiar, is she could only remember where she had seen it. 

"Weird…" she said, turning it over and over to look for any other clues. None.

"What's weird?" Hazel asked, dumping her bag on her bed and opening the chest at the foot of the bed to take a change of clothes. Dove set her bag on the floor by her bed next to Hazel's and sat down, still staring at the letter.

"This," she said, showing her the letter. 

Hazel took it and frowned, "No address…" she said, "Are you sure it's for you? I mean- it doesn't even look like it belongs in this era…" 

"I dunno. Lots of buildings in this part of town are really old. Maybe its from a history junkie?" she said, breaking the seal and pulling out the letter. The letter itself was like the envelope and made of heavy parchment. 

"History junkie? I don't think so," Hazel said but Dove wasn't listening. 

She stared at the beautiful writing in the letter, written in the same manner as her name on the envelope. She couldn't believe what she read.

Dearest Dove,
You might not be familiar with me but I have known you and your parents since you were but a child. My heart rejoiced when I discovered that it was truly you. That you are alive despite the tragedy that came upon your parents. It was difficult for me to search for you as your name is no longer the one you were once known by. 
I was told to care for you if nothing were to happen to your parents. I will watch after you from now on, my dear. Fear not any danger for my eyes are upon you, so trust me and hide beneath my wings. 
No matter what, I will protect you. 


That was it. A short letter but Dove's heart felt as though it had jumped right through the roof. Someone knew her. Someone who knew her parents. But who was this Corax? Did she know him? Looking into the envelope, hoping for a page two or something, Dove spied something black. She was about to reach in for it, when- 

"Dove- are you listening?" Hazel asked impatiently. 

"Wha- yeah- I'm listening," Dove said quickly, folding the letter up again and opening another letter quickly. Hazel was reading the letter from Mother Evangeline. "And little Tanya was adopted. Remember her? She was just a baby. Apparently her new parents have been trying to get pregnant for ages and ages but they couldn't," she said. 

"That's wonderful." 

"Which part?" 

"The part where Tanya got adopted… not the- not getting pregnant part," Dove said distractedly. She looked down at Sister Marianne's neat and somewhat severe looking handwriting but she couldn't focus. Her mind kept straying back to Lupus. 

Was it a joke? Was it a trick? 

But for once… she felt like she had something. A person who has promised to watch after her as a parent would. 

She tried to keep herself calm; telling herself that chances of it being nothing but a trick, and probably a very dangerous one at that, outweighed the chances that the person was being completely honest. But still, she kept feeling her heart flutter in her chest. 

"There's the bell, Dove," Hazel said suddenly, "C'mon- we have to start on our homework." 

"Yeah," Dove said, getting up and following Hazel down to the common room. "Who was that letter from anyway?" Hazel asked, looking at her suspiciously. Dove tried to look neutral as she jumped the last two steps on the stairs since they made really loud creaking sounds as though they were going to break. 

"Wrong address," she said. 

"What address? There wasn't any address on the envelope!" 

Luckily, the matron asked them how they had been in school. Dove immediately answered her, "It was wonderful. The school really is excellent," she said. Matron smiled, "Mr Ashworth will be glad to know the two of you are settling in well. How are your classes? The teachers?" 

Dove smiled, the usual smile she put on when she felt she should be smiling. Unlike Hazel, if she didn't force herself to smile, she wouldn't smile very much. "The classes are really interesting. I never thought school would be so interesting. And the teachers are really engaging too. They really try to connect with all of us," she said.

 Hazel nodded, "And the activity period is so much fun. They have so manu types of societies, I almost couldn't choose.

"Well- Hargrave Academy is known to bring out the best in it's students," the matron said before a crying little one commanded her attention. "C'mon, we have tons to do," Dove said hurrying to a good table to deposit her textbooks for their homework. Hazel pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow at Dove who looked back innocently. 

"Fine- but don't think I forgot," she warned. 

Hopefully, you will in a few days, Dove thought but didn't reply as she sat down and looked through her list of assignments on where to begin. Hazel drew up a chair and joined her. "Okay… so let's whip through the easy ones first…" she said. 

"Like maths?" 

Dove's head hit the table. 

Oh, how she hated maths. Hazel laughed, "What? It's easy. And we don't have to keep looking through the text books and notes for answers," she said, raising her voice a little so Dove could hear her even when knocking her head repeatedly on the table surface. 

That night, after dinner, it was Hazel's group's turn to help with the dishes. Dove went up to the dorm where some of the other girls were. The younger ones were preparing for bed and the older ones were just reading or doing their own things. 

Dove's bed was right in the corner. No one liked that bed since it was so hot and stuffy there but when Dove was tired, she slept like a log no matter where she was. She took her letters from her bedside table and looked round. No one was minding her. She sat on the floor in the corner and took the strange letter from Corax. Again she glanced round but Hazel was still downstairs. 

Opening it she pulled out the letter and looked inside again. It was something flat and black in colour. 

Reaching into the envelope slowly as to not rip the paper, her fingers came in contact with something smooth and soft. She managed to grip it with her middle and fore finger before pulling it out slowly. The moment it was free from the envelope, it slipped from her fingers and fell onto the floor in front of her. 

Dove stared at it, confused. 

It was a beautiful black feather. 

Picking it up carefully, she looked at it, confused. "A crow feather?" she wondered, observing it closely. She held it up to the light. It really was glossy but when the light hit it, she could see a strange mixture of purple, blue and green tinge in the darkness. It was long and angled. 

Out of impulse she placed it in her hair experimentally and looked into the mirror. It was very subtle against her jet black hair but it looked nice. Maybe she should wear it from now on. 

She kept the letter and placed it in an empty shoebox under her bed before opening her other letters to read. 

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