"It just seems like people with magic always have it super easy," one of the Freshmen complained. "Like, they wave their wand or say some wordy-words and it all just works." While he wasn't completely wrong, it didn't sit well with some of those self-same magic using students.
Including Xuno. "It took years for me to learn how to lift a pebble," he said, defensive, "and I bet that it took at least as long for Jem to learn those incantations she uses." That student nodded, a little more sheepish than Xuno and his bold stance. "And I mean - even engineers," he almost said non-Benders but he was getting more used to phrases that made sense here on Twoarth, "without any magic have to learn this stuff from the basics on up, right?"
There were two such engineering specialists in this underground chamber, one of them there to make sure that no accidents occurred, and the other wearing a Vault 333 jumpsuit and helmet. It was that Vault Earther that spoke up. "I didn't even start learning any of this until my second year of college at the Vault," he said. "You're lucky, I didn't know what this kind of rock was called until my first Geology class and I was like, five years older than you then."
Slightly cowed, the Freshman glanced away but still muttered something about 'cheating'. A green light began to flash on one of the tunnel supports, easily attracting attention and making it clear that the two-hour block for classwork was ending soon.
"Well, let's get back up to the surface," Bognar Stonefist grunted, stamping his hoof and tossing his bearded head toward the exit platform. "Up with ye." It did seem a bit odd to almost all of the students and certainly to the visiting safety experts, that a centaur led an excavation class like this, but then again Stonefist was half-dwarf, and ... apparently, half pony? He barely came up to Xuno's eyebrows, and Xuno wasn't all that tall. Through his hooved feet, apparently the instructor could sense vibrations, textures, maybe they were more sensitive than any normal horse's. They weren't shod, of course, no earth-mage in their right mind would leave their feet with too much distance between the ground and their skin. Xuno's shoes were thin soled, actually allowing the balls of his toes and his heels to touch the ground.
Those shoes had caused a bit of ire with the OSHA people, but Stonefist reminded the inspectors on the first day of class that their work sites had people that could take care of injuries, and though hard-hats were standard fare, hard-toed shoes were not always required. Sharp objects? Well, yes, there were certainly stones that could cut skin. Xuno had actually overheard the professor talking about how weak and wimpy some humanoids bodies were, and the Bender prided himself on being excluded from that group outright. The dwarf-taur had slapped him on the shoulder and laughed about how well Xuno walked over the hardest terrain with 'nary a scratch'.
The class exited their underground caverns and went up into the Magical Campus location - it was the only safe spot to exit, really, since the cavern itself wasn't part of the Carramba realm to begin with. It was all created using more magic - godlike magic. If that Freshman realized that, they hadn't said anything. Xuno prepared his backpack and made sure that all his homework would be in order, tomorrow was Friday, there would be a lot of homework to turn in for all his classes.
As he left, he spotted another of his own professors, Valena, catching up to Stonefist in the courtyard. They did appear to be looking at him, but didn't beckon him closer, so Xuno went his own way. He finished up a few bits of homework in the Library study hall, before heading back to the apartment complex a couple blocks away and meeting up with the roomies he shared it with. One of them was Conradi Signet, who he leeched some hints about the test they would have in that Glyphs class Valena taught.
At the very least, Conradi was happy to help him learn more about those weird sweeping scripts they were decoding. He seemed so excited to learn such... mundane things. Xuno would be passing that class, but... probably just barely. It was hardly his chosen field, or even one he thought he needed to worry about in the future. He was a go-to guy for heavy lifting, not a brainiac or nerd. Conradi didn't chastise him for not remembering that the little flourish of dots went above the slashy dashy hash mark and not after it, it was a 'common error' with that script.
Friday did bring a lot of handing-in of homework, quizzes and tests, all crammed into the one-hour sessions for all eight of their classes. He did enjoy most of those classes, though! Some were tougher than others, but he always relished the moments he got to show off, like Berat's Earth Magic course, he aced that test, turning the quicksand back to pebbles. He accurately sorted 'real' gems from 'fake' synthetic ones in Ainea's class. He wished that their Excavation test was down in the shaft, but it was just a written exam.
Xuno noticed the whole day, though, that there were eyes on him - and Conradi, they shared two classes together after all. And while he was a little perturbed about that, it just seemed like the skinny Marked boy was fine with it. When school was out for the week, Xuno decided to go up to the game room on the Cafetorium's third balcony. He was tired out from all the tests, he wanted to just shoot some billiards and maybe play a game of chess if that one kid was there - always a good challenge.
While there was someone at the chess boards, it wasn't Moike, it was ... a professor? No, two of them - Xuno made note of the spookier one lurking in the shadows near the coffee bar. Valena sat at the chess table, pointedly looking with those brightly golden eyes of his, glancing down toward the pieces on the board.
That there were already pieces up, and three of them missing from his White side... was this a game in progress? Xuno wondered whether the other professor was playing against him and Valena wanted to cheat? Or what...? The open seat was for the Black side.
"It's not my favorite game," Valena said, shrugging, as Xuno sat looking at Valena's White Queen clearly at a disadvantage. "I don't normally bring in others to help me out, but I am playing against him," he nodded toward that suited man who was actually just waiting for a coffee order to be filled, but apparently couldn't help but look spooky if given half a chance. "And he's got a little more of an advantage on me. I've been told you're pretty good with tactics."
Xuno glanced at the pieces, noting that two Pawns and one Bishop had been taken, and that it would be less than five moves before the White Queen was taken. "If you... huh, if you move this Knight and he needs to block with that Rook then..." Xuno muttered to himself and became more absorbed in a mental game that had yet to play out on the board physically. "Yes, you can absolutely win, but you have to keep this Rook alive, it's essential." He pointed to one of them.
Xuno hadn't noticed when Lane arrived and stood sipping at his coffee and watching this play out with interest. Lane was half tempted to shove Valena aside and just play against Xuno, outright, but they had agreed before hand what would happen now.
"And if I were to not move this Pawn, what could he do about that?" Lane spoke, Xuno wasn't startled particularly, because he was too intent on enjoying this tactical challenge.
"Then he'd need to sacrifice the other Bishop, even though it looks like it would leave the Rook open. But see, see," Xuno rapidly moved the pieces - a Black Pawn falling, a White Knight challenged by two others. "Even if that happens, that leaves..."
"The King, who takes the White Bishop - a much more tempting conquest than the pawns threatening the Knight - and leaves the Black Queen open to check." Lane nodded deeply, with a grin turning into a smile easily on his lined face. Valena just leaned back with his own grin.
"I'll just let you two hash that out then," he jibed. "I wish you could put that same gusto into my Glyphs class..." He muttered, but he was still smiling and Xuno didn't take it very seriously.
But he did finally realize that both the professors were eyeing him the same way one might look at a precious stone - how to best chip at it to reveal its inner shine.
The advantage of having a secret group to back him up, Xuno thought, was that their enemies would never see it coming. All of them blended in so well with everyone else at the rally, although they stood out individually for their own appearances or chants. While Xuno knew that they weren't going to be fighting, he'd been forewarned that it was his job to make sure that information got where it needed to be, without anyone outside the team - including the speaker and their entire retinue - knowing about it. Someone was lurking in this rally, someone that wanted to do something bad.
The speech was mundane but seemed like it was relevant to the Senior class at least: temporary voters rights for campus-living offworlders? Heck yes? It would be terrible if something were to happen here - not just to the speaker since he was a local favorite, but because there were so many people that might also get hurt even just by panicking.
Xuno stood nearer the center of the field, than any side, surrounded by a thousand students and scores of staff members and school officials. He closed his eyes and listened with his feet: the dirt told him everything he needed to know. Who was where, how one person leaned into another and caused more weight to rest on that foot, how some were impatient or bored with their leg bouncing. How three people stood together immobile by the speakers' platform; one weighty enough to dent the ground, ready to spring into action should anything look amiss - the bodyguards, one of whom was a professor (the Superpowers fur-sider Rocky Ramrod, in all his stone-covered glory). He could sense the high heels of his four team mates wearing those, scattered among the students, as well as the big boots of skinny-boy Conradi who was in the back, and Qondez who was among the Press team up front.
Now, if he could locate Neive... Ah there they were: near enough to the podium for their weird long-fall boots to make their own dents in the field's packed dirt. Very distinctive. Also, very sensitive. It was a good thing that Xuno could sense this much with his own Bending power, because he was shorter than a good number of the gathered students out here, and all but Conradi were buried among the masses. (Well, aside from those two Zeddians and a Giraffe-kin...) He wouldn't be able to use hand signals or verbal cues to communicate - but he never needed to.
It turned out to be pretty amusing that Conradi's help with that Glyphs class led to them developing a 'secret code' with which to tap out messages from under the ground itself. To Aletta and Gams he alerted them: movement by the stands to the south, of a distinct form. He sensed both those girls postures shift by their shoes turning. He tingled Conradi though it was a little harder - why did he insist on wearing those incredibly thick-soled Overseer boots still after he was no longer a member of his Abbey? Deely would be able to herd people near her if things went poorly, Beata was to handle the exits. Qondez would be filming everything, running commentary after his question about election availability was answered quietly into his recording unit. Neive, then, was key to keeping the people on stage calm and safe... If they even looked up.
Xuno actually wished that Ramrod could have been tapped for this too, but he was part of the staff that would absolutely not have wanted a bunch of students taking out an assassin if they attempted to kill Assistant Governor Gutierrez. The student did feel that the politician would be in good hands at least, his bodyguards knew what they were doing.
But the long, slinky Snake-kin that was moving around through the stands? That guy was quite good at his own job. Xuno felt his body leaving the ground and pressuring the stands scaffolding, briefly unable to detect him at all - which meant that now was a good time for Aletta and Gams to move around. Aletta headed west, Gams east, they would corner this assassin if he tried to escape the same way he was getting in.
Of course - the question was why hadn't they stopped him from getting in, but that wasn't his place to really ask. He, like the rest of the Troubleshooters, was still a teenager, and still absolutely wanted to prove himself in practical ways. Conradi had apparently brought along a 'snack' - bought from the live-food vendor and not his own breeding cages of rats, he wasn't sure that his own would survive a trampling that was quite possible here. Xuno detected Conradi's bulk vanish, and four very small feet, along with a long bare tail, replace him - immediately scuttling around making a bee line... a rat line, toward the south stands. There were people on those stands too, though not as many as on the field itself.
Xuno had been the one to suggest: Conradi in rat form... (conRATi, Neive laughed) would make a 'much more tempting' target to a snake. Temporary, and of course assuming they could be distracted from their actual target. But a target none the less, that now was on his way toward an assassin setting up a sniper rifle under the loud stands. No one would hear the distinctive click-clack of parts being slid together. Too much color and distraction in the form of legs and waving arms, feathery wings, and soda being spilled to spot visually.
But under the stands, it was quite simple a task to very gently soften the packed dirt into a little bit of quicksand...