“They are missing today as well,” Teena said. Harnes nodded and looked at Kelin, who was reading. Together the entire group, minus Va’il and Ruby, were sitting underneath the big tree at school.
“C’mon Kelin, Pete, I thought you guys were gonna check out his place. What’s going on? It’s been several days already,” Zeick said.
“I haven’t had a chance to go. Sorry,” Pete said. Kelin had remained silent and turned another page.
“You’re the last left,” Teena said.
“I haven’t spoken because there is nothing to say,” Kelin said without looking up.
“Nothing? But there’s plenty. Anything, any hint of what’s really going on?” Zeick asked.
“That’s the problem,” Kelin said.
“Another day of this, it’s wrong,” Harnes said.
“But what of Ruby as well?” Teena asked.
“Think something happened to both of them at the same time? They did hang out a lot,” Zeick said.
“They were?” Harnes asked.
“Yeah. A lot, stuff I heard about afterwards in passing,” Zeick said.
“Like?” Harnes asked.
“I don’t know. Secret stuff, I guess. She’s a high-noble, plenty of things she’d have secret. They’ve done a lot without us. Maybe she ran away again,” Zeick said.
“I never heard about that,” Harnes said.
“You just didn’t realize it at the time,” Kelin said, closing his book. “Fine, just be patient and listen.”
The rest quieted and rested their eyes on Kelin, expecting more than he knew he could give.
“Guess I’m the only one who knows enough to check everywhere. And I hate to tell you, but I don’t know where they are. Mai’ou is gone too. I couldn’t face her, blame me all you want for that. Slipped a note saying what I knew, and the next day she wasn’t anywhere to be found. Even checked inside, it was open. Va’il’s been gone before, but this is different. I’m sorry. But we’re just kids at this point. If you want to know more, then I’m sorry, we don’t have access to that. You know Ruby is important. And I’m pretty sure she’s gone too. With Va’il. And I don’t know what I mean by that. I don’t know where they went. And if they went voluntarily. That’s the problem. That’s all the current me can find out,” Kelin said. He was serious, unable to drudge up more emotion than what he had already expended over the past few days.
“Kidnapped?” Zeick asked with astute observation.
“That’d be my guess. I was hoping nobody would think that,” Kelin said.
“But why? Va’il, kidnapped?” Harnes asked, the worry running through her observable in her features and feathers.
“Not him, but Ruby. Thus Va’il by proxy, if he was with her. And he was, I’m sure,” Kelin said.
“But why would she be?” Teena asked.
“I want to know that too! But I don’t know. I don’t have any further ability to find out. And I’m stuck here, cursing the day and reading to escape. No, not escape, to grow. Learn more, grow, and rise. Can you all listen in all seriousness for a second?” Kelin asked.
“We already were,” Zeick said, and then smiled.
“Course. I just want to say, that this has confirmed something for me. We live in a world of adults. We’re in the midst of privilege as well, being in a unique school. One that’s a second home to people of all classes, mostly, and all learning the same tenants. Some of us are already powerful and need knowledge to wield that power later. Others have little, but still have the knowledge. That’s a blessing. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I cannot get what I want just by asking. I have to be someone or have something. And I may be that someday. If I try. And I live in a place where others can get there by simply trying as well.
“Not sure if this is all making sense yet. But what I’m trying to say is that I want power. And I need it, so that things like this don’t happen again. And if they did, I could do something about it. Maybe there is something going on that won’t affect our friends for a while. Maybe there is a chance to find out something more. Maybe it’s all futile now. But I’ll never find out if I don’t ascend to a spot where I can ask questions from a place where others need to answer. Just a lowly kid now. And you’re all just kids too. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, all ages that are worthless to us today. Don’t you see that soon this opportunity will be over? Will you go back to the lives that you’re inclined towards already, or will you take a step onto my path? I’m trying to ask two things of everyone here. And none of you have to help with either. I’m just frustrated and ranting and unsure of what else I can do, say, or ask. And still unsure of whether these words make any sense.
“First, can you all help me? I need to prove to my father that I’m better than my older brothers. I need to be a greater person. More powerful, intelligent, stronger, cunning, that kind of stuff. That help means assistance with studies and the like. And if there is a connection with an important person you discover, help me out with connecting to them. But at the least, to improve my studies is a first step.
“Second, consider the same path. The path to power. The governmental path, actually, based on the annual tests. Pete, you’d make a great merchant, just like your father. But you don’t have to settle at merchant. You’re really, really smart, more than you realize. Use your family’s knowledge and your own and aim to be an advisor to the king. Not instantly, just on the path that would lead there. Like the rest, I don’t expect anyone to make it to the top, but just to get somewhere in the midst of it, somewhere with power. Harnes, you’re good at science and engineering. You’re always drawing diagrams. You’re studious. But you’re only in Makeen due to being in Rising. You’re a fourth district commoner, and were going to end up in the fields, just like your parents. Aim for Minister of Engineering. Just aim. Prove your worth and rise above nobles. I know it hasn’t ever happened, though that’s because the school system’s history is still too short. Aim, rise, get power.
“Zeick, wish I knew what you should do. But aim higher. And you know what, you have that father. Take his place, oust him out, prove your worth. He recognizes you, even if it has shamed him. His power isn’t anything to scoff at. But I know that you hate the suggestion. I think you’ll find something, I know it. And you’d excel.
“Teena, I don’t know if I should include you in this. You’ve been wonderful to us. But I don’t want to throw something on you after all you’ve gone through, and all the adjustments you have made. But if you wish to help, thank you. If you wish to rise as well, then rise. I’ll support you. Eason will, as well. I’m sure he’d support you in anything. You don’t have to follow them in medicine or teaching, you can do something you desire. I’m hesitant to push my selfishness onto you. I don’t know where I’d stop. I realize, everyone, that I’ve been distant and secretive the past few days. I guess now you understand why. I know I’m probably stepping over a lot of bounds by being so extreme. And I get the feeling I’ll wake up tomorrow and think this was all dumb and I should have waited until I had a clearer picture of everything. That’s all.”
The group remained silent and unmoving for a couple minutes. Amidst the sounds of laughter and crying in the background each child was running through the decisions placed in their heads. Each wondered what the other thought, and all stared with wonder at Kelin. The silence fed the growing trepidation and embarrassment in him. He had done something so different from what everyone knew of him, and exposed thoughts he usually kept to himself. He laughed internally, as he had been modifying his image for some while now, and aging usually did that to a person. But he couldn’t be normal, his version of normal, when the person he considered his best friend was missing.
He tried telling himself that Pete was just as much a friend, but there was a connection with a fellow lupus that couldn’t be replicated with other species. Va’il was his friend, rival, and counterpart. Someone he could both joke and fight with. Someone who he could knock on the head for their lack of seriousness, and then lose a race to. Someone who fit in just as much as Kelin. In his view, Va’il was glue. Kelin didn’t like that he had formed such an attachment, but he did believe that Va’il was the reason he was bonded to the people next to him now. He worried that without Va’il, they may break apart. He couldn’t bear to lose a single friend at that point.
Though they weren’t glue, they were all just as important. Pete’s strength and stability, Zeick’s passion and energy, Harnes’ rationality tempered with concern, and Teena’s grounded determination were what he valued. And here he was, already missing Ruby’s personality, including all its selfish hints that were tempered with hidden desires. Without Va’il, Kelin feared something may fall apart. Without Va’il, Ruby had already disappeared, fulfilling the first part of Kelin’s fears. The others also felt, to various degrees and in their own words, their own personal fears over their current circumstances.
“I think, I get it,” Pete said, being the first to speak up. The others nodded slightly before offering their own opinions. “It sounds tough. But necessary. Maybe even fun. Hadn’t thought of it. I may just focus on something I’ve liked for a long while now.”
“I won’t end up in the fields. That’s all,” Harnes said, her face flush, her every emotion easy to see when set against the background of her raven feathers performing their own small movements on her head. She had previously resigned herself to a predetermined life, which is why she had been so serious in her studies at school. It was her only chance, considering her family and situation. She had known that the knowledge would all be wasted, but that thought had only spurned her onward, as knowledge would be a place in the world she could occupy with her own power. It wasn’t until Kelin pointed out the testing system that she thought she could accomplish more. Like others, she was expecting defeat without trying.
“That’s right, didn’t think you’d know what I’ll be doing. Don’t you worry, I’ll be up and powerful before you know it! Well, probably. Using my own strength,” Zeick said, a smile again occupying his face. He decided that day to immediately enroll in something he’d thought about previously.
“Thank you, for all of this,” Teena said. She looked down for a moment, and then shook her head. She looked up, smiled, and continued her speech. “I’ll help you any way I can. I don’t know if I can be much use, I’m more inclined towards something a little different. But if there is any chance of finding out more, I see why this is the best way. No, even if there isn’t a way to find out more, I still like it. Band together and rise together. In the nation of Rising, there is a group of kids who want to be rising stars of the nation. Isn’t it a great story?”
“All of you, you guys are pretty awesome, you know?” Kelin asked, laughing under his smile. “You should see what I was reading. Wonderful story, indeed.”