Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: Prologue





Flickering sunlight, wavering precariously as the water in the cut-crystal glass perceived the faint tremor of the movement of the headmaster’s hand. The slight click as the second hand on the ancient grandfather clock progressed forward might have been enough to make him grit his teeth while he waited for any indication at all that he had been noticed. Too bad he had learned long ago to school his features, to secret away any thoughts that might cross his mind.


Fifteen minutes and counting.


With a sigh that was more of a subtle shrugging of the shoulders than an actual sound, Headmaster Foight set the antique fountain pen aside and folded his hands together atop the broad expanse of the old teak desk and finally—blessedly—lifted his gaze. Stark gray eyes bright with a certain menace that never quite went away, those eyes stared at him for several seconds before Dominique Foight, headmaster of the esteemed Branch-Haven Equinox Academy, blinked once—slowly, methodically, oblong pupils dilating like a creature stalking its prey—and he opened his mouth to speak.


“Why are you—” Foight began in an affectedly bored tone of voice as his gaze finally passed from him to the only other occupant in the room, “—still alive?”


Zain did not turn his head to glance at the young man beside him. He didn’t have to. He could hear him fidget under such close scrutiny; under such a harsh, blunt question.


“W—Uh—W-We weren’t—”


A long-fingered, elegant hand shot into the air, and the babbler immediately fell silent. Foight actually sighed as he slowly lowered his hand once more. “I distinctly recall hearing you issue challenge over breakfast this morning, Master Farington, and, while I know that I’m not exactly young anymore, I am positive that I heard this correctly.”


Pressing his lips together as he idly flicked a non-existent bit of fuzz from the pristine cuff of the stark white shirt, Zain stifled a snort. The headmaster’s age had little to do with his ability to overhear the issued challenge, after all. Youkai hearing was far superior to that of any other living being. Besides that, Tucker Farington had raised such a fuss that the entire school had heard him, and all because the idiot had carelessly backed into him with his tray, upsetting his oatmeal and coffee. The end result had pretty much looked like someone had puked all over the senior classman . . .


Farington shifted uncomfortably, though whether it was from the dressing-down he was receiving or because he wasn’t allowed time to check in at the infirmary before being summoned to the headmaster’s office was anyone’s guess. “W . . . I-I-It was more of a joke than a challenge,” he muttered under his breath.


“Are you sure it wasn’t more of a case of your temper overriding your common sense this morning?” Foight prodded, back to his bored tone of voice.


“Could’ve been,” Farington grumbled.


Foight stared at Farington for a long minute before flicking his hand toward the door. “Take care not to ‘joke’ about issuing challenges in the future, Master Farington, or I’ll kill you myself.”


Farington squeaked out an apology as he scuttled over to the door, wasting no time in letting himself out of the office, lest the old headmaster decide that he needed a pitiful bit of sport before the evening meal was served.


Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Zain waited for the other shoe to drop.


“You let him off the hook—” Foight stated bluntly after the door had closed behind Farington, “—again.”


“As if someone like him could really defeat me.”


“A challenge is a challenge,” the headmaster went on. “I daresay your father will not be pleased about this.”


No, he probably wouldn’t be. Then again, perhaps he would. After all, Farington’s father was one of Heller Jericho’s generals currently presiding over the western region. Even so, Zain said nothing out loud, content to stare at Foight, the completely unfazed expression still on his face.


The lecture wasn’t finished, but he’d heard it all before at one time or another, even if the person delivering said-lecture changed from time to time. “You are the next tai-youkai, and all this . . . compassion . . . is going to be your downfall if you’re not careful.”


“It’s not compassion,” Zain stated flatly, evenly, his tone barely more than a monotone. “Fight one of Farington’s ilk? That is entirely insulting. It would take me longer to clean my sword after the fact than it would take to lop off his head.”


“Be that as it may,” Foight went on dourly, “the next time someone—anyone—issues you a challenge, you’d do well to follow it through, no matter how . . . demeaning it might be.”


“Thank you for your counsel,” Zain replied. Lips twitching in loose affectation of a smile, he made a show of offering the headmaster a low bow without breaking eye contact before turning on his heel and striding out of the office.



01: Breakfast of Champions >>>


All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.



posted by Sueric at 12:09 am  

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