After the lesson was over, we filed out of the Etiquette and Oratory classroom and headed to the Herbology and Potioneering classroom, that was easily recognizable by the blackened students coming out of the building, which was still spewing pungent smoke out into the community.
Greeting the unfortunate victims who turned to us with blank expressions, we marched to our own fates with gritted teeth.
The gritted teeth lasted until we caught sight of the last one to come out of the classroom.
For lo-and-behold, it was our Chief Maiden who right now looked wild-eyed with fierce eyes staring out from a soot filled face as our jaws fell and laughter abounded.
Spitting out the words, she said, “I remember each one of you Balakashes who laughed, and tonight… Tonight, there shall be combat training.” And then she marched away as powder fell to the floor behind her.
Silenced, we looked at each other in consternation before we stepped over the threshold and into the classroom, where we promptly gagged as the smells mixed together to form an almost toxic miasma.
Waving at us cheerfully, the Herbology and Potioneering teacher greeted us as he said, “Excellent first class. We usually don’t get to the explosions until much later.”
Looking at us carefully, he appeared a little disappointed as he said, “Though it would be alright if you can make the tubes shake at least.”
Mentally, we thought that wasn’t this supposed to be Herbology and Potioneering? Why did this seem more like disaster creation 101?
Then suddenly the words that the teacher had said before floated into our heads. “Do pay attention because you’ll have to test the potions you create on yourself.”
Trembling, we looked at each other as our resolve to pay attention to the class grew stronger by leaps and bounds.
Seating ourselves, we watched as the teacher bustled around and piles of materials appeared in front of us, along with mixing bowls and tubes.
Looking questioningly at the teacher, I opened my mouth before I closed it; the question hanging on my lips.
However, it seemed as though the teacher had understood us as he nodded at us and said, “This is one subject where the Academy is very generous. Very generous indeed. It gives you unlimited herbs and apparatuses for you to experiment with.”
Pausing, he added quickly as he turned to fiddle around with a beaker on the test, “Of course, it also keeps a tab on how many resources you consume.”
Turning back to us, he smiled brightly as he finished by saying, “The repayment terms are also quite decent. 5 years, 10 years, 15 years… and so on.”
Gulping, I raised a hand and asked, “Those years… what do they mean?”
Peering at me, the teacher said, “Why, those are the years that you will have to serve the academy for!”
Wide eyed, we stared at the man as he absent-mindedly said, “Oh, of course you can always pay gold to them. They love gold, they do.” He added as he bustled around the classroom again.
Heading back to the front of the classroom, he said, “Those papers I’ve given you are the instructions. They also have illustrations of what the herbs are supposed to be.”
As we picked up the papers and read the instructions; we paled further because they were as good as gibberish to us.
Raising a paper, one of the students asked, “Sir... We… I can’t read.”
Nodding, the teacher said, “That’s perfectly alright. Just sit with the ones who can.”
Soon, we were reshuffled as desks were joined together.
Looking at my teammate, who was looking apprehensively at the pile of ingredients, I said comfortingly, “It won’t be that bad. I have experience in making potions.”
Looking at me hopefully, he asked, “You do?”
Nodding confidently, I said, “I do.”
Two hours later, we walked out of the classroom with faces blackened and heads low.
Mine was the lowest as my teammate looked at me accusingly with a wronged expression.
Mine brightened though as I saw Apollo who was clutching his sides and laughing as he looked at my face and my uniform, which smelled foul.
Grinning at him, I gestured to the classroom behind me as I said, “Don’t laugh too much. It’s your turn now.”
Stiffening up as he realized the same fact, his face cramped as he asked weakly, “I don’t suppose we can call in sick?”
Smiling widely, I said, “The chief maiden went through that, and we are supposed to join her for combat training in the night. Miss that class and I’ll recommend your name to be the first in line for her to practice with.”
Paling, Apollo cried out, “You wouldn’t dare!”
As flakes fell from my hair, I flung my sleeves as I said, “I would, and I would do it a hundred times over if you miss that class.”
Dignifiedly, I made my exit only to freeze as feverish red eyes met mine.
“Welcome… to our class on the language of war!” the owner of those red eyes said before he coughed and said, “I mean… the language of whatsitsname.”
Looking back and meeting Apollo’s eyes, eyes which were right now looking at me with schadenfreude… I thought that perhaps… just perhaps… Joining this Academy wasn’t the best decision.
But a moment later, the choice was taken out of my hands as burly hands reached out and dragged us inside the classroom.