“Hey, Josef. Have you heard the rumors? Are they true?” Matfey leaned in close to William’s face.
“What rumors? I don’t think I’ve heard the rumors. Where would I hear them, except perhaps from you?”
“Hmm, good point. The rumors…” He leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially, “they say that you’re lovers with the Headmistress, and that’s why your grades are so good.” He leaned back and scratched his head, “Ah, I don’t mean to imply that I think your academic success isn’t legitimate, that’s just what they say.” He leaned forward again, his orange-brown face in William’s, “About that other part though, is that true?”
William blinked a few times. “What? No. Why would people think that?”
Matfey raised an eyebrow, “Besides the fact that she comes to drag you off to places, and actually gets along with you?” He shrugged, “You sure you’re not?”
“I’m sure. Besides, she gets along with some other people just fine. Even you.”
“Half the time she looks at me like I’m an idiot.”
“That’s better than most, isn’t it?”
“Huh. Do you think I have a chance?”
“What?” William looked over Matfey, “Eh, probably not. You’re too young. Why…” William almost asked why he cared, but then he gave it a moment of consideration. Headmistress Lorenz was attractive, smart, and had power. That was what a lot of people wanted. Her age might be a problem- not physically, but because of maturity. On the other hand, once there was a certain level people didn’t really get much more mature. Actually, William knew that many people never really even got to the level he would consider mature, though many of them at least learned how to pretend in certain circumstances. William shrugged, “Why ask me though?”
“Why not? You seem like the one most likely to know, and least likely to laugh in my face.”
“A fair point.”
The rumors bothered William. Not that he was particularly bothered by the idea of being Headmistress Lorenz’ lover, but because they were false. Not that he necessarily desired for them to be true, but that part wouldn’t bother him. As all rumors, someone had to spread them. This one seemed like it had been spread on purpose- maliciously. William could guess who was behind it, but it was possible that it was just some gossipy people with an idea. It was probably Edgard though, even if he didn’t spread the rumor himself.
The biggest problem was that it might cause trouble for the Headmistress and William. There weren’t technically any rules forbidding such a relationship, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t cause trouble. Things weren’t so simple. William’s first idea was to go ask her for advice on what to do… but immediately running to her would help contribute to the rumors. He supposed the best thing was to do nothing for now.
William suddenly found himself yanked by the collar. He couldn’t react in time to stop it, but he wasn’t going to just let things stand as they were. He swung his staff around behind him. It was an awkward position, but it should still do something. However, he found that his staff stopped, and he couldn’t move it.
“There’s no need for that,” a familiar voice said. “Have you been avoiding me?”
“Uh…” William turned to see Headmistress Lorenz, “Only a little bit.”
“Why is that?”
“I thought it might be better, with the rumors. It could cause trouble for you.”
“Rumors?” She thought for a moment, “Ah, those? Don’t care.”
“Are you sure? Won’t it cause trouble for someone in your position?”
“How so? I’m the Headmistress. Nobody can tell me what to do. If I wanted to have a lover, nobody could fault me. If I wanted to falsify grades, nobody could stop me. I don’t, though.”
“Couldn’t people use it as an excuse to remove you from that position?”
“I have all of the official power, and if they tried to force me out… They wouldn’t find themselves in a good position. Anyway, come look at the cells on this fruit I found. They’re very interesting.” She started walking, “And before you ask, I have had a lover. A husband, even. He’s dead now though.”
“Ah… was that… your friend? Who died in the war? I don’t mean to pry but…”
“Nope. He died before that.” She shrugged, “Marriage was fine while it lasted, but I also like having no familial ties. That way, I can do whatever I want.” Her swift steps brought them to her lab shortly. “Look at the slide on the microscope.”
William did. “It looks like… a fairly normal plant, actually. What should I be seeing?”
“Okay, now look at this.” She took the slide out and replaced it with another.
“Umm… blood? This looks like blood. Nothing particularly special. What’s it from?”
“A fruit.” She pointed to a reddish fruit on another table, sitting in a tray.
“Hmm, I see where the plant part came from but where did… wait you said the blood came from the fruit?”
“That’s right. This is a bloodfruit… called that because it’s juice smells and tastes like blood. Except, it is blood, not juice. It just has more sugar than expected. The fruit even moves slightly when attached to the tree, like a heart pumping. There’s been a lot of debate about whether it was actually blood or juice… but looking at it up close, it’s obviously blood.”
“That doesn’t make sense though. Animals have blood, plants don’t. A tree couldn’t even produce blood.”
“Couldn’t it? Here’s a branch.”
“Looks… normalish.” The branch was brown, and had bark, as one would expect. However, upon looking at the end of the branch, William got a distinctly different impression. Inside the brownish bark, there was wood and then a small circle of white… and then a red and white center. He carefully touched it with his hand. “This is bone. That explains where the blood comes from, I guess.”
“That’s right. It’s a very strange sort of tree.”
“This is weird. It doesn’t really make sense. Though, I suppose it could be two things. Maybe the tree… and this bone structure. They might be separate organisms.”
“Oooh, interesting thought. How would we know? They certainly don’t survive apart from each other.”
“Dunno.” William shrugged. Well, they could look at the DNA, but they didn’t have a microscope powerful enough, nor any way to manipulate anything on a small enough level to make that feasible.
Headmistress Lorenz looked at William. “Well… perhaps we’ll figure something out. Let me know if you think of anything.”