(Read the previous scene here.)
The dark-haired girl leaning against the window sill straightened in a rush. “Yeah, this is 509. You must be Liesel.”
“And you’re Kimberly.”
“Kim.” She stuck her hand out toward Liesel, with easy confidence. Liesel guessed she spent a lot of time around adults. Her grip was firm, but not a challenge. “This is my mother, Dr. Argant.”
Her hair was lighter than her daughter’s, but the cornflower-blue eyes were the same, and so was the handshake. “Hello, Liesel. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Wow,” Liesel said, spotting the boxes in the corner. “You’ve been hard at work.”
Kim shrugged. “As much as we can; I don’t think all my crates are here yet. I saw some of yours down there, though, so we can give you a hand.”
“Let me take a look around first.” Not that there was much to look at, but Liesel surveyed the rooms and closet, the furniture provided by the college, arranging things in her mind. It wasn’t quite like the floor plan had made her envision, but close enough. “If you don’t snore, I don’t mind sharing a bedroom.”
It put a smile on her roommate’s face, with a hint of relief. “That’s what I was thinking, too. I know the college tried to match up people who keep similar hours, but gods only know what our class schedules will turn out to be. This way neither of us will wake up the other tramping through on our way to the bathroom.”
“Or studying late at night.” Liesel had left her carry-on bag by the door; she fetched out a rubber band and tied her hair back. “Dr. Argant, why don’t you take a rest, and we’ll see what’s in the pile outside.”
It was more than just courtesy. As they went down the stairs, Liesel said, “Sorry for barging in like that, but I got the sense you might not mind the interruption.”
Kim slowed, groaning. “Oh, gods. I was probably leaking all over the hall, wasn’t I.”
“Not that anybody would notice,” Liesel assured her. “Really. I only did because . . . well, because I was nervous, and sniffing ahead. And it’s what I do.”
They’d had one brief exchange of messages before coming here, enough to establish their respective majors—or rather, the majors they would choose, once the university let them make it official. “Right,” Kim said, nodding. “Empath. I promise, I’ll do my best not to overload you.”
“I appreciate that,” Liesel said. Students with strong empathic gifts usually went for private rooms as soon as they could, to reduce the strain. She’d even heard a rumour that the college gave them some preference on that front. But Welton’s administration insisted on making freshmen socialize with one another, so she’d have to endure at least one year in close living quarters. The big question, then, was what kind of roommate Kim would be.
She clearly had some kind of frustration with her mother, but she’d been holding it pretty well under control when Liesel arrived. Dr. Argant likely hadn’t felt anything past Kim’s shields — though the argument sounded old enough that she probably didn’t have to. Would it erupt later, though?
They went out through the front doors, into the growing chaos of the box piles, and soon found one of her crates. Then there wasn’t much breath to spare for conversation, as they began lugging things up the stairs. Kim had a bit more telekinesis than Liesel herself did, but not much, and it was tiring work.
She was a strong telepath, though. On the fourth trip, while they were levering a huge box into the elevator, she brushed politely against Liesel’s senses. If you don’t mind . . . .
Not at all, Liesel said. It’s easier than trying to spare breath for talking. I’m not very used to mindspeaking in English, though.
Sorry, I don’t speak German, Kim said apologetically. My ritual language is French.
She had a ritual language already? She must be more into CM than Liesel had guessed. I speak a bit of French, but it’s not as good as my English. Liesel allowed laughter to creep into her thoughts. I could give a Parisian einen Herzanfall.
The German words slipped out before she could catch them. Kim’s shields were good enough that nothing leaked out psychically, but her expression was less controlled; Liesel caught the tightening at the corners of her mouth. She rolled her eyes. Go ahead and laugh. I deserve it.
I’ve never tried telepathy in a foreign language, Kim admitted, amusement coloring the thought. I can barely manage conversation. Thinking in another language . . . ça semble très difficile.
The French words carried no accent, mind-to-mind, but the English hovered behind them like an echo. By then they were at the room, and dropped the box on the floor; Kim shook her hands and her head both. “Wow. That’s even harder than doing a close link.”
Dr. Argant was on the phone in the inner room, in a low-voiced conversation she clearly didn’t want to be overheard. Kim caught Liesel’s eye and murmured, “Work. Theoretically she’s on vacation, but . . . .”
“What does she do?” Liesel asked, once they’d shoved the box into a corner and gone back out into the hall.
“Ring Anchor. For the southern U.S.—eight states. There’s always something blowing up.”
Liesel’s lips shaped a soundless whistle. “Wow. I had no idea your mother was such a sorceress.”
Kim shrugged. “Yeah, well. It’s as much bureaucracy as it is CM, most of the time.”
Assuming Rings here were anything like they were in Germany, Kim was underselling her mother’s work. Bureaucracy, yes—but Ring Anchors did high-end ceremonial magic, rituals big and abstract enough that even most CM specialists couldn’t wrap their brains around it.
Under other circumstances, Liesel might have wondered whether Kim and Dr. Argant didn’t get along. Given what she’d caught from the tail end of their conversation, though, the pieces weren’t hard to put together. Kim had chosen a ritual language already, but didn’t seem very enthusiastic about CM. She might like her mother just fine . . . but she didn’t want to follow in the woman’s footsteps.
Liesel knew what she, personally, would say to that. It was way too early to offer advice, though; they were practically strangers to each other, and being too pushy wouldn’t be a good way to start the year. It was something she might be able to work on later, though, if Kim’s issues became a problem for her. “What about your father?”
“Healer,” Kim said, pressing herself against the wall to let a trio of students with boxes past. “Body, not mind. You’d probably like him.”
A Ring Anchor and a physical healer. Kim clearly came from a high-blood family, and probably a rich one to boot. Liesel’s own parents were reasonably well-off—they couldn’t afford to send her to Welton if they weren’t—but she would have bet her first month’s spending money that Kim’s family moved in higher circles than she was used to. Especially with that handshake.
If Kim was a snob, though, she hid it well. Liesel’s divination skills were middling at best, but trusted her empathy, and it gave her a good feeling about this pairing. One college hurdle down, she thought wryly, eight hundred to go.
(“Welcome to Welton” is a series of teaser scenes. Teasers for what? The answer to that, my friends, is coming on September 18th. Check back each weekday for a new scene!)