It had been a long day. Ruarc had been up early to tend the grounds as he had every morning for the past ten years, but later on in the day a student accidentally put a hole in a wall in the main building. Given that the hole was made by magic, there was a bit more damage than just a hole in the drywall, Ruarc had spent the better part of the day doing the repairs. So he was understandably getting irritated when a knock came to his door when he had finally sat down for a quick dinner.
“Think another student broke something?” Laoise asked from her side of the table after taking a sip of tea, her long white hair was held back in a ponytail.
“If they did I have a few ideas for how to start punishing them,” Ruarc said as he stood up with a slight growl.
He opened the door with a creak, expecting to see a student or professor coming to report some new chore for him to handle. To the tired druid’s surprise, the knock came from a person he had not seen in a couple years.
“Evening Mealla. Need something?” Ruarc asked as he looked out at his Druid counterpart standing in the fading light.
“What? I can’t just stop to see my favorite subordinate?” the woman responded. “I could even make you a really good dinner, followed by a really good dessert.”
Just about eleven years had past since Mealla seemed to have taken a special interest in Ruarc by giving him a special mission. She had been striking then, in her late twenties, and a decade later she was still quite able to turn heads; a fact that she was using to try and fluster the younger man. Her jet black hair had grown longer and was neatly trimmed, and her skin was still smooth with just a hint of sun; aside from her almost punkish clothing, she definitely gave off the airs of a noblewoman.
Ruarc hadn’t taken the last few year quite as well, looking somewhat older than most men of twenty-eight. His eyes looked tired beneath his glasses with a couple of wrinkles around their edges, a rough short trimmed beard sat on his chin, and his once long brown hair was cut to just a few inches and it seemed to have lost some of its luster. Seemingly unimpressed by the pose and wink that Mealla gave him, he looked down at the shorter woman while giving her a wary look.
“Boo, you’re no fun,” Mealla said, giving in first before getting serious. “I do, actually, have some business with you. May I come in?”
“Aye, you may,” Ruarc said as he turned to head back to the table, leaving Mealla to shut the door and take her own seat.
Upon entering, the female Druid greeted Laoise kindly. “Good evening, dear. Mind if I impose and steal Ruarc for a bit?”
“Good evening, Mealla. I suppose I can head to the main house for a while and visit, but you should stick around after you are done. It has been awhile since we got to visit,” Laoise said as she got up, giving Mealla a quick hug as she passed to the door.
“Of course, love,” the other responded.
With Laoise gone and the door closed Mealla took a seat opposite Ruarc. “Now, are you sure I can’t interest you in that offer? We could even skip to dessert.” She rest her elbows on the table and put her chin in her hand while batting her eyelashes.
“I thought you had business?” Ruarc responded, unimpressed.
“Oh come on, Ruarc, a lady likes to feel loved,” she pouted.
“Not my fault you turn down all your suitors,” he replied.
“It kind of is, actually. The others are all stuffy traditionalists. They are boring. You; you are interesting.”
At that, Ruarc snorted.
“I mean it, if we married and joined forces we could run the Druid Order. Between my management skills and connections, and your determination to utilize new knowledge to get the job done without being bogged down by tradition and taboo. I know you have been in a bit of a rut, but I remember the young Flynn some years back that accomplished some truly great things.”
“Tempting, but still not too keen on political marriages. Let’s start with a movie sometime, work our way up,” Ruarc said back before taking a drink from his tea. He probably would have been more in the mood for his usual back and forth with Mealla had it not been for the long day he had.
“Aww, but I am almost forty, I don’t have time for dating,” Mealla pouted, her reaction seeming a bit more genuine. “It’s husband or bust.”
“Alright then,” Ruarc sighed, at which Mealla perked up a bit. “Let’s upgrade the movie to a candlelit dinner. Now, was there any actual business you had here?”
“I suppose that will have to do, but yes, there is actual business I have here,” she started in. “So, do you primarily stick with groundskeeping? Rather, how much teaching do you do?”
“Basics in runecrafting, some in magic channeling, and I once taught a magical history class. Though, I suppose I should say once in regards to all of them. Didn’t teach this past year so I could focus on constructing some renovations.”
“So you are planning on teaching again, yes? Very good. There is one more class I would like you to teach.”
“Oh, that so?”
“Aye. Introduction to the Druid Arts 101.”
“I’m not much of a painter, in all honesty.”
“Funny, love. I mean I want you to take on a protege’. I found promising young girl, and I think both she, and you, would really benefit from this. Besides, you’ve been a card carrying Keeper for almost fifteen years, and have easily experienced more than even some of our Order’s eldest members who never leave the Keep’s Grand Library; Hell, I am sure some of our older Keepers could take pointers from you.”
“This one of your usual not taking no scenarios?”
“Her plane lands tomorrow morning. Do be on time picking her up.”
“She gets to use a plane? No fair.”
“Hey, i just told you to get to Japan, not once did I tell you to walk here.”
At that, Ruarc chuckled and gave a defeated shrug and a sigh. Mealla slid a piece of paper across the table to him.
“This is her flight time and where to pick her up.”
“Gonna tell me what she looks like?”
“Goodness, and rob everyone of seeing you stand around with a sign? Not a chance.”
With everything said that she needed to say, Mealla finished off her tea and stood up. With a wave and a wink the female Druid left the cottage, leaving Ruarc to sit in a bit of silence. After some time of just sitting he drank down the rest of his own tea before polishing off the remained of his light meal; and after setting his dishes in the sink made his way to his bedroom.
After he was already in bed and half asleep, he heard Laoise come back inside and go to her own room.
The next morning, Ruarc had the luxury of sleeping in a couple hours more since he has finished with the groundskeeping for the week. By the time he had woken, the sun had been up for almost a half hour, and he wasn’t the first one up. Wafting through the door came the smell of eggs and coffee; Laoise had gotten up first. Swinging his legs out of bed, he made his way out to greet his familiar.
“Thanks for making breakfast,” Ruarc said to her. Thanks to their mental link she knew he was awake before he got out of bed, and thus already had a cup of coffee sitting for him.
“Just wanted you to start the day off well, after the mood you were in yesterday,” Laosie replied as she finished up cooking. “And since Mealla mentioned that you had Order business to take care of today.”
“Appreciated,” he grumbled into his mug. “She tell you want it was?”
“No, just bits here and there from what she told me and what I gleaned from your surface thoughts. You’re meeting someone, right?”
“Aye, gonna be taking the car for a bit to go meet them and bring them back here. Want to come along?”
“No thanks. I have some things to take care of today that I should get done.”
Ruarc noted that she was twirling her hair a bit absentmindedly as he finished off his coffee and dug into his breakfast. The two remained silent for the rest of the meal. Ruarc finished first and excused himself from the table.
Stepping out of his cottage, it was after seven-thirty now and a couple of the more active students were up for a morning exercise session. They greeted the Druid respectfully as he passed by on his way to the garage, and he gave a nod in return.
It was about a half hour drive from the mansion grounds to Osaka International Airport, and this morning wasn’t too bad as far as traffic was concerned. All things considered the day seemed to be starting off well; he did end up having trouble finding a parking spot at the airport though. Once at the airport, he still had some time before the plane got in, so he grabbed some coffee as he settled into wait; enjoying the down time.
Once the time came for the plane to arrive, Ruarc made his way to the designated area; he even had a sign that read Willow. Awkwardly he stood around in a group of others waiting for their arrivals, a full head above the next tallest. By the time the Willow in question retrieved her things and got out the the waiting group, Ruarc must have appeared very disinterested.
“Are you the man Ms. Brennan mentioned?” she asked confidently in English as she strode up to Ruarc and stood in front of him.
“Depends on if you are Willow or not,” Ruarc replied, his tone snarky. “Anyway, got everythin’?”
The girl scowled lightly, but the looked dropped before too long and seemed to perk up. “Yup yup! Ready when you are!”
Turning on his heel, Ruarc gestured for Willow to follow, who in turn happily skipped along happily behind him. The Irishman placed the girl’s bags in the car before getting in himself and pulling out of the parking lot. For a while it was a quiet and somewhat awkward ride, Ruarc was focused on the road while Willow wasn’t quite comfortable trying to ask too many questions. Once they were about halfway back, Willow finally spoke up.
“So what kind of a school is it?” she asked lightly, her words breaking the silence.
Ruarc thought about the question for a minute before answering. “It’s not so much a school, more along the lines of an artisan’s guild of sorts. There are many older members, of varying ages, who conduct missions in various places, and the younger children gathered there learn how to better control their abilities. In the same manner of a master and apprentice system.”
“So,” Willow started, her words ponderous. “A group of people with supernatural abilities, gathered together in a mansion, the older ones conducting missions around the world while the younger ones learn how to control their powers.”
“Aye,” Ruarc agreed, wondering why Willow was repeating him.
“So you guys are the X-Men?” she concluded.
To this, Ruarc’s knee jerk reaction was to strongly disagree, but as his mind began to formulate why she was wrong he was shocked by the strong similarities. As such, his mouth sort of just hung open as he tried to speak. Under his breath Willow could make out “Son of a…”
“Anyway!” Ruarc spoke up, trying to continue with his point. “Our students will generally have one to two mentors that fit with the magic of their focus, and some of the members will conduct seminars and lessons that coincide with their expertise.”
“So do you teach? Or have apprentices?”
“I’ve taught a few times. Some history of magical and magical cultures, some languages, but mostly runecrafting and basic magical channeling.”
“Helped a few in their studies, but you will be my first official apprentice.”
Ruarc was silent for a moment. “Lack of interest mostly.”
Ruarc shot her a sideways glance.
“I’m gonna guess that you got were committed to a student, who then disappointed you.” She was running off of her gut feeling. “Did you have feelings for her?”
“She wasn’t a student,” Ruarc started, and he could feel Willow perk up; too which he immediately shot her a full, imposing stare that radiated “Don’t.”
After that, Willow’s gut told her she shouldn’t press the matter. The remainder of the drive was once again in silence. Willow spent the time looking at the scenery out the window as the novelty of being in a foreign country really started to set in. The city of Osaka was a real site to see, one that she looked forward to exploring more, but the approach to the mansion began to almost feel familiar. It was tucked away in the woods, and the mansion plus grounds were very Western; it was comforting in a way. Once the car pulled into the separate garage, Ruarc got out and unloaded the luggage.
“So these are the grounds, and there’s the mansion. The mansion is around fifteen thousand square feet, and it sits on a dandy parcel of land twenty-five acres total; of which the main grounds occupy roughly six acres. The mansion is where the apprentices are housed, sharing rooms on the second floor; the elder members occupying rooms on the third; and lessons taking place outside, and in some select rooms on the first floor and in the basement,” Ruarc began into his tour as he walked along one of the paths.
“So you mean I get to stay in a mansion?!” Willow exclaimed right before almost bounding off towards the mansion doors. Almost, since Ruarc used his free hand to grab her by her collar, lift her a couple inches off the ground, and redirect her.
“Nay, lass, you are a Druid’s apprentice, and a Druid above all must be in touch with nature, as well as modest,” Ruarc told her. “So you will be staying there.” At which ruarc gestured towards the ivy covered groundskeeper cottage near one of the side walls.
“Aw! I have to stay there?!” she whined.
“There is my home,” his voice was stern. “Show some respect, lass.”
Willow was chagrined, and remained silent as they walked to the cottage and opened the door. Ruarc sat Willow’s luggage down to the side of the room before looking back to the girl to gauge her response to seeing the cottage he had sunk much time into. Seeming to relent, Willow looked appreciative of the state of the cottage. While the mansion would have been luxurious to be sure, the cottage felt like an actual home; it was cozy, felt warm, and smelled earthy.
“Laoise! You in?” Ruarc called suddenly, surprising Willow.
“You don’t have to shout, ya coodle,” a voice called back from a side room. From that room emerged a lovely white haired girl, a cleaning rag in hand.
“Your wife?” Willow asked Ruarc, causing Ruarc to balk and Laoise to fluster.
“My familiar,” Ruarc responded, and sensing an obvious quest on Willow’s tongue continued without much pause, “I’ll explain later. Laoise, this is Willow Fairburn. Willow, this is Laoise. Willow is going to be staying here with us; she is to be my apprentice, I’m going to teach her to become a Druid.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Laoise said with a big smile, immediately going to Willow and taking her hand. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
”Where is she going to stay? We have no extra rooms,” Laoise asked Ruarc mentally.
”In the guest room,” Ruarc replied in kind.
”Oh, right. Wait! You’re giving her my room?!”
”No. I am giving her the guest room. Not my fault you want to continue playing human.”
While all this was going on Willow simply saw the kind looking Laoise’s face go from a smile to a very sharp glare directed at Ruarc. After Laoise dispensed with her pleasantries she parted and stuck up her nose at Ruarc before walking into the main bedroom and shutting the door firmly; until a few moments later opening it up just a crack. Ruarc just rolled his eyes.
“Anyway, you will be staying in the guest room for the duration of your time here,” Ruarc said turning back to Willow. “Tomorrow we will begin training, you will be getting up same time I do, helping me in my work, after which will be your lessons. I’ll be starting you off with channeling, just like what you did with Mealla. As for the rest of today, spend it getting better acquainted with the grounds. Explore.”
Willow perked up at the last word.
“But, since it is almost noon already, have a seat, and I’ll make us up some lunch.”