Usually, I’m already hard at work on a birthday present for Azure by this time of year. It often takes a lot of supplies and money to find something that I know she’ll love. But this year, despite the fact that her birthday is in just twenty days, I’m not making anything for her.
When I awoke from another nightmare this morning, the balaur was already high in the sky - indicating past noon, or perhaps just before. The nightmare had been inside the Schoolhouse. Only Azure and I were inside the Schoolhouse when my magic unleashed itself, uncontrollable: an explosion of flame and ice that shot through the air. And in the center of it all, shock-stricken and terrified, stood Azure, crying, confused, and staring at my magic-filled hands with a look of betrayal.
I remember how the nightmares had started. It had been her fifteenth birthday, the day I'd first dared to kiss her. I thought I could get away with just one kiss - but not long after that, I discovered that I’d burnt a few strands of her hair to a crisp. I don’t know if she ever discovered the singed hair, but from that day forward, I haven’t so much as touched her. I wouldn’t risk it; I refused to. She was all I had.
This morning, I’m in the old Miner House with Doctor Sinclair, as I’ve been nearly every day since I turned fifteen. Today, I’m learning the anatomy of a zinglai.
“Are you listening to me, Peter?” Milo snaps, slapping a hand down on the table. I jerk my head up. Dark hair flops into my eyes.
“Yes, Doctor Sinclair.” I hold up a yellowed parchment sheet of notes and sketches.
“I don’t recall saying that ‘the zinglai has a very sapphire-blue eyes that sparkle in the morning light.’”
I can feel my face turning red. Milo smirks.
Milo continues to point out details of the zinglai’s wings, talking nearly too quickly for me to write. He doesn’t usually get worked up during lessons. Today is an exception to that rule. But then, it’s always hard to know what to expect from Milo Sinclair.
The droning of his voice carries on, and gradually becomes white noise against my wandering mind. I have to come up with a decent excuse for missing Azure’s sixteenth birthday. My eyes wander over to one of many open windows, this one beside Milo’s head, where balaurlight floods into the room. Maybe if I tell her that I’m ill, or that I have previous engagements…
“Peter!” Milo’s voice snaps me out of my thoughts. “If you cannot pay attention to your lessons, then you shall be dismissed. I have more important things to do than attempting to educate the mind of a distracted 16-year-old who thinks he’s in love.”
I drop my quill on my desk and enunciate my next words carefully. “I’m not in love.”
When I look at Milo’s face, it’s red with frustration. “Precisely what I thought.” He leans forward, his eyes boring into my skull, his fingers drumming on my worn desktop. “So then get your head out of the clouds and study, Peter.”
“I…” I hesitate. “I think you might be right. I’m just… distracted. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
I stand up from my chair and start to gather up my papers and diagrams, depositing them in a neat, orderly stack on the desk. The dirt on the floor scuffs under my boots.
“Careful, Peter,” Milo mumbles.
I look up. “What?”
“I was never careful.”
I drop the quill that I was about to deposit into the ink jar, and ink splatters across the tabletop. “With what?”
Milo stares for another moment, unresponding. Concerned, I take a step toward him. “Are you alright?”
Milo continues to stare, unhearing, at the air a few spaces to the left of my head. “Go.”
“Doctor Sinclair, excuse me if I’m wrong, but… you seem ill.” My eyes flicker to the door. “Very ill.”
For a long moment, I’m nearly convinced that Milo is about to collapse into a heap on the floor - until, very suddenly, he plows forward and shoves my desk to the ground. I barely escape the sharp, hard edge, as well as the spray of black ink that splatters across the room. My grimy, old ink-jar clatters to the floor.
For a few moments, Milo only continues to stare. Then, very slowly, his head turns and his eyes rest on me. They are wild with rage.
“Get out of my classroom,” he says, his words low and sharply articulated.
I look down at the mess of scattered sketches and notes lying in the settling dust, peppered with black ink dots. Then back up at Milo, whose chest is heaving with fury. “Mr. Sinclair, you aren’t acting normal. Maybe if I just…” I edge toward the door. “Get some help-”
Milo copies my movement, pushing over his own sloppy desk and letting loose another rain of paper, dust and black liquid. “GET OUT!”