Ilami met Felaris at the first floor hall during lunch hour. Students filled the lines of long tables at the place, savoring food given by academy staff. Today’s menu were fried chicken, pegasus soup, and wyvern’s stew. For each wall, a window with patterns and colours stretched from the floor to the ceiling, sunlight piercing through it. The air buzzed with conversations and laughter.
‘Why are you here?’ Felaris asked, glaring at Ilami as Ilami assumed the seat in front of her.
Truthfully, Felaris herself didn’t intimidate Ilami. When she was with Seya and Veris, though, Ilami could see how formidable their group was. They looked like they knew what they were doing, and they gave out the air of superiority in their every movement.
‘I - I want to talk to you in private. Seya and Veris too,’ Ilami said, hating how she stuttered in the beginning. She didn’t like to appear weak or not confident in front of the people she didn’t get along with.
‘We’re eating,’ Felaris said, folding her arms. ‘If you really want to talk with us, you have to wait.’
‘I’m eating too, so it’s fine,’ Ilami said. She felt more comfortable when Felaris was annoying - easier for her to retaliate.
Felaris didn’t say anything – she just continued to give Ilami the death stare while eating. Veris politely smiled at her before paying attention to his food, while Sensa – she was – she was smiling too, but she was staring at Ilami with this dreamy look. At least, that was how Ilami looked at it, the way Sensa’s eyes became unfocused.
‘I’ve never paid enough attention to it,’ Sensa said, sighing, ‘but you really have a nice hair. It looks so much like the precious silver.’
Yeah, that’s why they said my hair is silver, Ilami thought, uncomfortable with the compliment given. ‘Um, thanks.’
After they ate, Felaris gestured Ilami to follow them. They went into the Wermin dormitory where Ilami could feel the breeziness and coolness from the surroundings. Entering a room, Ilami thought of asking whose place was it before she stopped herself. Felaris wasn’t obligated to answer her – didn’t want to, Ilami guessed – so instead of making herself a fool, she decided to keep silence.
‘Sit there,’ Felaris said, pointing at a bed. She sat on the other. Sensa and Veris took the chairs placed at the study tables dividing the beds.
‘Now tell me the thing you desperately want me to know.’
After Ilami told Felaris about what had happened in the Restricted Area, Felaris raised her eyebrow. ‘You have the guts, I’ll give you that,’ she said, then pushed back the strand of hair that covered her ear. ‘What is it that you asked from me again?’
Ilami grind her teeth. She was sure Felaris didn’t have any hearing problem. She took a deep breath. ‘I’m asking you if you can help me uncover the secret about this academy.’
Felaris nodded, and while she didn’t smile, Ilami could see the amusement reflected in her eyes. ‘I see. I can do that, and in fact, have been doing it even before you have arrived. That being said, I have one condition.’
Ilami groaned inwardly. Why was it so hard to find people who would help you without a motive in here? She folded her arms. ‘Fine. What is it?’
‘You’re not the one in charge here,’ Felaris said. ‘You can give your opinion, you can tell us what’s the best thing to do, but don’t be surprised if I don’t give a damn about it. At the end, I’m making the decisions. If you don’t like it, then you can leave.’
So her words wouldn’t matter as much as they were when she was with Gael, Haka and Aleveri. It was to be expected, though, since she was the one asking them for help. She didn’t have the luxury to be demanding. It still frustrated her, so she just nodded.
Felaris smiled and leaned back to the wall before her eyes turned distant. Seya and Veris sat at her sides. ‘From what you’ve told us, I think I can make a good guess of what the academy is up to. They’re experimenting people.’
Ilami frowned. She’d thought that might be the case, but there wasn’t enough evidence to support it. ‘Excluding the books, there’s nothing that shows they’re carrying out an experiment. Maybe the wall-door leads to a lab or something, but we can’t be sure.’
Felaris narrowed her eyes. ‘It seems like you’re focusing only on the event that involved your friends. My brother died a while after he entered the Restricted Area, remember?’ She took a deep breath.
‘People said they found him in the third floor’s male toilet - the same as Dayel - which was a long way from the Restricted Area. With the wall-door you said, it was possible to make a secret passage from the Restricted Area to the third floor, but it couldn’t be the male toilet - students will notice it immediately. Which leaves us with the laboratories, the nearest places to the toilet.’
Ilami gasped. ‘They can make the passage goes through one of the laboratories.’
Felaris nodded. ‘Exactly.’
‘Urgh, this academy,’ Seya said, waving her hand in dismissal. ‘It just gets worse and worse.’
‘I think all big ones have some equally big skeletons of their own,’ Veris said fiddling with a pencil, ‘though Magica Quasar Academy prefers the literal ones.’
‘We’re talking about dead people, guys,’ Felaris said. ‘Respect, please.’
‘Sorry.’ Veris flashed an apologetic smile. ‘Sometimes I couldn’t help making puns.’
Seya rolled her eyes.
Ilami cleared her throat. They shouldn’t be playful about the matter at hand now. ‘So, what are we going to do now?’
Felaris shrugged. ‘We have to check the laboratories one by one. I don’t really know how many of them.’ She glanced at Veris. ‘What do you think?’
Veris frowned, thinking. ‘There should be two laboratories for each year - one for the smarter students and another for the less. The students haven’t been sorted out yet - the result of the exam’s going to determine that. Since we need to study here for six years, that means the laboratories are roughly twelve in total.’
Curious., Ilami thought. I’m pretty sure he’s a Fighter student. Why does he know so much about anything related to Scholar students? Is it because he sucks at fighting?
‘All of us can’t enter laboratories though,’ Veris continued, shaking his head. ‘It’s double standard, really; Scholar students can enter the sparring fields and armories, but Fighter students can’t enter laboratories. We do share a library, though, so I guess it balances out. Not to mention -’
‘Focus, Veris. Focus,’ Seya said.
Veris blinked. ‘That’s about it. We need to ask Scholar students to check the rooms for us. That should be easy.’ He smiled. ‘We can ask Gael to do it.’
Ilami shook her head immediately. ‘Gael’s not in his right mind now. Haka - his friend - is severely wounded and it affects him so much.’
‘Oh?’ Veris leaned forward, arms on the table. ‘That bad?’
Ilami felt the need to adjust her seat. Veris unnerved her; he displayed his curiosity in plain view regardless of the person he was speaking to. ‘Won’t you feel the same if it happens to your friend?’
‘Yeah, I will,’ he said, smiling weakly, then tilted his head. ‘The other Scholar student - Aleveri, is it? - is out of question, isn’t she?’
‘Don’t speak of her like that,’ Ilami hissed. ‘She’s recovering. And - I’ll be honest - I don’t want to involve them anymore.’ They were too precious to her.
‘We’re expendable, is that what you’re trying to imply?’ Seya said, raising her eyebrow.
Ilami didn’t say anything.
Felaris chuckled. ‘I really like the way you think. To us, you are expendable too.’ She shared a glance with Seya and Veris before nodding. ‘Okay, we can get a way around this. I’m pretty sure we’ll find someone soon.’
Ilami looked at the three of them and felt doubt at the back of her mind. They acted casual, like nothing was happening. It was a stark contrast to when Felaris was fighting her. Perhaps Felaris managed to control her emotions at last? Their plan didn’t seem much different with what Ilami thought Gael, Aleveri and Haka would come up with. She didn’t know if Felaris and her friends were any better.
Seya seemed to be able to read her mind. ‘We’re much more forceful when we get into the action part,’ she said, flashing a smile that Ilami was sure wasn’t innocent. Suddenly, she grabbed Ilami’s hand and squeezed. ‘I understand if you feel like this is something you should do. I know someone who feels the same.’ She glanced at Felaris. ‘Just don’t stress too much about it.’