An Accident of Stars (The Manifold Worlds #1) - Foz Meadows

One

Look & Leap

Sarcasm is armour, Saffron thought, and imagined she was donning a suit of it, plate by gleaming, snark-laden plate. “Nice undies,” leered Jared Blake, lifting her skirt with a ruler. No, not a ruler – it was a metal file, one of the heavy ones they were meant to be using on their metalworking projects. He grinned at her, unrepentant, and poked the file upwards. The cold iron rasped against her thigh. “Are you shaved?”

“Fuck off, Jared,” Saffron shot back. “I’d rather have sex with an octopus.”

He oozed at her, a ridiculous noise meant to ridicule. Giving her hem a final upwards flick, he retracted the file and pulled a face for the benefit of his laughing friends, then loudly yelled to the teacher, “Sir! Mr Yarris! Saffron said fuck, sir!”

Mr Yarris turned with the lumbering, angry slowness of a provoked bear. He was a big man, block-solid and bald – a stereotypical metalwork teacher, except for the fact that he mostly taught art, and was only filling in for Mrs Kirkland. He pointed a fat, calloused finger at Jared, then jerked his thumb at the doorway. “Out.”

Jared mimed comic disbelief as his friends kept laughing. “But sir! I didn’t do anything, sir! It was Saffron!”

Mr Yarris didn’t take the bait. “Out,” he said again, folding his arms.

Jared dramatically flung down the file. “This is bullshit!” he said. “I didn’t–”

“OUT!” roared Mr Yarris, loud enough that even Jared flinched, but the effect was spoiled when, seconds later, the bell rang for lunch. As Jared leapt from his stool, Saffron pointedly kicked her bag into his path. His sneakers tangled in the straps, and down he went with a crash.

“Oops,” said Saffron – loud and flat, so the whole class knew that she’d done it on purpose. “My mistake.” And before Mr Yarris could parse what had happened, she reached down, yanked the bag back from Jared and stormed out of class.

She was furious, shaking all over as she sped away from the metalwork rooms. How dare he. How dare he! And yet he did dare, publicly and often, to whichever girl was nearest. Nobody stopped it; nobody even came close. He’d been suspended last year for groping a Year Seven girl in the canteen lines, but once he returned, he was just as bad as ever, snapping bras, making sick comments and bullying Maddie Shen so badly – he stole her bag, opened her sanitary pads and stuck them over her books and folders, all while calling her names – that Saffron had later found her having a panic attack in the bathroom. He was awful, and got up to even worse at parties, but as appalling as Jared’s behaviour was, Lawson High apparently considered unrelenting sexual harassment to be insufficient grounds for expulsion. “Boys will be boys,” the deputy head had said, the one time Saffron had screwed up the nerve to approach him about it. “Or should I expel them all, just to be on the safe side?” And then he’d laughed, like the fact that the problem was so widespread was funny.Saffron came to a halt. She was outside the music rooms, and the air was filled with the yells and shrieks and laughter and profanity of lunchtime. She leaned her head on the rough red bricks and fought back tears. I can’t keep doing this anymore. I can’t.

But she had to. What other choice was there?

* * *

As Gwen saw it, the first rule of interacting with teenagers was simple: show no fear. Given its general applicability, it was also her personal motto, and one that had served her well in the decades since she’d first stumbled into the multiverse and out of what she’d grown up thinking was normal. Human adolescents, she reminded herself, were not more terrifying than magical politics and walking between worlds. You can do this. You have to.She took a deep breath, and stepped into Lawson High.

In Kena, where magic was ubiquitous, you could open a portal damn near anywhere. On Earth, however, things were somewhat trickier. The way Trishka explained it – which was, in fairness to Gwen’s comprehension, vaguely – some places were simply less accessible than others, resisting the touch of the jahudemet, the portal magic, like a knot that won’t pull loose. But even once you found a receptive location, you could only use it so many times in succession: the more you ripped a particular patch of reality’s fabric in any world, the higher the