Some time afterwards, on a certain rainy spring day, Va’il finished eating lunch in the classroom, and then stood up. Zeick was busy scribbling away at a paper, Harnes was eating delicately, Pete was talking with Teena, and Kelin was reading a biography. The weather was boring Va’il, and nothing special had recently happened that he wanted to pursue.
“I think I’ll walk around some,” he said aloud while standing.
“Then you’re going alone then,” Zeick said, “because there is no way I’m letting Pete and Harnes out of my sight!” The two mentioned stopped their respective actions and looked at Zeick, both wondering why. “I still need to finish that report, so you two have to help.”
There was a collective sigh as the dreary afternoon’s prospects diminished even further. Va’il chuckled lightly, and then walked over to Harnes.
“He’ll take more feathers than you expect,” Va’il whispered in passing. He was out the door before Harnes could give him a ferocious scowl.
Down the hall Va’il walked, admiring the various children around him. His thoughts turned to the short time before the school year ended, the years of schooling that remained, and everything involved. And then everything would change. How though, he wasn’t sure of, so he didn’t give it too much thought.
As he turned another corner, he saw Ruby in the distance, conversing with a couple younger boys in the hall. The thirteen year old girl in the patterned blue dress, soon to be fourteen, was as strange as ever in her actions. A human boy with charcoal-dark hair was bowing in front of her. She reached up and plucked a hair, looked at it closely, and then walked away. The boy and his two friends looked at each other with utter bewilderment. They then shrugged and walked away.
Va’il followed Ruby, and was about to call out to her, but he stopped himself when she arrived at a corner and removed something from the bag she was carrying. He saw her mark a few things down with a pen, and then she put it away and walked off. Va’il followed.
As Ruby walked the halls, stopping here and there to say something to the various boys that passed her, Va’il couldn’t help but follow in wonder. Although Ruby had spent some months associating with him regularly, Va’il didn’t know much about her. Much less what odd task she could be doing.
He heard her ask a couple people about their parents. Another few she asked for a hair. A couple she didn’t ask, she simply took without them noticing. Every time, it was a human boy, of any age. The younger kids she passed she stooped down to speak with, and patted their heads a few times. She would then smile sweetly and walk off, leaving the young human boys with an enormous impression.
A while passed like this, further expanding Va’il’s growing curiosity. Finally, Ruby stopped seeking people out. She went to a quiet corner, took something out of her bag, and started writing. Va’il thought for a moment, and then decided to approach her, as there was no one else around anyways.
“Hi,” Va’il said. He had quietly approached, though not on purpose. Ruby swiveled on the spot, saw Va’il, dropped the paper in her hand, and gasped, holding a hand to her heart.
“Ah!” Ruby breathed after a second, and then spoke, though not calmly. “Va’il! You really startled me!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
“Hmm, can I really believe that? Why did you come up behind me like that?” Ruby asked in a teasing tone, already somewhat recovered from her previous fright. She bent down to pick up her things.
“I was following you. So, what were you doing?”
“You were? That’s weird. Why? You could have just come up, you know.”
“It was interesting. What were you doing? And don’t avoid the question like usual!”
“Ha! Fine, Va’il, do you want me to be direct? I was going around asking various people some questions,” Ruby said, though she felt the urge to say more. She had a secret she wasn’t supposed to talk about with anyone, but she still wanted to lament over it with someone.
“And those questions were? About their hair, right?”
“Yes. You really did follow me around! Didn’t you have anything better to do?”
“Nope. It’s a rainy day, and following you was interesting. So, why? Something interesting about all their hair?”
“Just a task assigned to me by mother. I told you once before, find a certain person at school,” Ruby said. Up to this point she spoke freely, but she wasn’t sure about whether to say more. The fright Va’il had given her had disrupted her ability to create anything deceptive, and she didn’t want to lie to Va’il anyways. She did hope he wouldn’t ask anything further, but only for a moment. The restrained side of her was losing. Her thoughts changed, and she asked herself why she shouldn’t speak more. After all, in her mind Va’il was a common boy. Yet there was the incident a while ago where she had seen Va’il at a place where no commoner should have been. It made her wonder what would happen if she revealed more.
“Oh, find someone for your mom? Sounds strange, but mothers can be weird! Mine is always doing things I don’t understand,” Va’il said with enthusiasm.
“It is, but isn’t strange, when you know the reasons why. Say, Va’il, can you keep a secret? It’s not like you have anyone really important you could tell, but it still has to be kept silent. Well, Kelin shouldn’t hear, so you cannot ever even hint it to him. Want to hear why I’m talking to all those boys?” Ruby asked. Va’il’s mischievous grin had appeared on her own face, minus the pointy teeth. “Why not?” Ruby thought to herself.
“Of course! Not a word to even mice under baskets!” Va’il replied.
“Okay. Well, I’m actually on a secret mission. No one’s around? Good. Closer, I don’t want to be too loud. You know how, after King Fidel’s death, it was announced that he had a young son that wasn’t yet old enough to ascend the throne, and so Jin took the place of regent?” Va’il nodded twice in reply. But that was only because he couldn’t speak. He felt a knot in his throat, fearful of what Ruby could possibly say next.
“Well, most people, even some of the high-nobles, think that the child is that of Aoi’s. She was an assistant to King Fidel. Anyways, nobody knows who the child is. And of course, they all think he’s only one or two years old. But during Fidel’s last few breaths, my mother was with him. He revealed, probably by accident even, that his son was going to this school! Makeen! And only mother heard, no one else. Even those who think that Aoi isn’t the mother don’t know this! Only mother, and she thinks maybe one or two other people might know this as well, or even whom the child really is. So mother decided to look for the boy discreetly, and that’s where I came in.
“In exchange for much freedom, I’m supposed to look for Fidel’s mysterious son in this school. Unfortunately, the only way to identify who he is would be by hair. Fidel’s hair was white, just as his father’s was, and just like every king’s hair has been. It is unique to the sons of Rising’s royal line. This means the son of Fidel has to have white hair. If he’s going to this school, he has to be coloring it to hide his identity. That’s why I’m systematically checking every human boy in this school. Some allow me to without question, others refuse for a while until I show them my high-noble signet ring, and others are obviously the natural children of their parents. So what do you think?”