“I haven’t seen you here before. Who are you?”
Anja followed the pointed finger up the arm to the face of the speaker, seeing a girl about her own age. There was a great deal of contrast between them: Anja was short and slightly built, with the wavy dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin common to humans of southern stock. The girl accosting her was, on the other hand, Anja’s idea of the quintessential Northerner—blond hair, blue eyes, pale skin, and a height well above average which was nonetheless accompanied by a full frame.
Anja had no idea how to respond, and her nonplussed expression seemed to disarm the other girl.
“Elisa!” said a boy’s voice, and the other girl looked away. Anja followed her gaze and saw a boy of roughly the same age, midway between the two girls in appearance in nearly every way. The word ‘nondescript’ floated to the surface of Anja’s mind. “There you—who’s this?”
“That’s what I was trying to find out,” said Elisa, and Anja thought she heard a note of suspicion in her voice.
“I’m Liam,” the boy said, “and this is Elisa. She’s actually friendly, even if you don’t always see it right off. What’s your name?”
“Anja,” said Anja, stopping abruptly as she realized that the other two hadn’t given patronyms.
Liam pulled out a chair for himself. “Are you new here?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Anja replied, vaguely surprised at her frankness. She was well aware that the last few months had made her rather more taciturn than she’d been before, and sharing much at all about her situation was something she had become unused to doing. Even while thinking this, she added, “A friend of mine is talking with the Septumvirate for me.”
Elisa had taken a seat, too, and seemed to be thawing a bit. She and Liam exchanged glances, and the latter asked, “What did you do?”
“Excuse me?” said Anja indignantly.
“To be offered a place here,” Elisa clarified.
“It’s not everyone who has to go before the Septumvirate when they get here,” Liam added. “It must have been something big.”
Anja smiled nervously, and thought for a moment before answering as diplomatically as she could. “It’s… it’s a long story, and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to stay.”
Liam raised his eyebrows but didn’t push the issue, and Anja silently thanked him for it. “Well, we both hope it works out for you.” At that, Elisa’s head whirled around toward Liam. For a moment they stared at each other, and then Liam turned to face Anja again with a smile. “There’s nobody else near our age—it’s all little kids and adults now.” Again, Liam and Elisa shared a look, and Anja was beginning to think that it was more than just nerves that gave her the feeling that they were managing to talk behind her back right in front of her.
She cleared her throat. “How did you come to be here?” she asked.
Liam grinned. “Once you’re here to stay, we’ll trade stories,” he offered. His gaze shifted past Anja, and he scrambled to his feet, adding, “Master.”
Anja turned in her chair and saw Mikel Skräskyddsling and Hans approaching from the stairway. She rose.
“Anja Grevdarsdottir, the Septumvirate would like to meet you,” Mikel said, waving a hand to acknowledge Liam and Elisa at the same time.
Anja smiled uncertainly at Hans, and he nodded. She said, “Then I guess I would like to meet them too.”