In which Rhiddyl attempts to join the Riders. Letters of recommendation at the ready, everyone.
RHIDDYL REACHED THE desk just as the clerk behind it shut her pen box for the night. “We’re closed,” the woman said, without looking up.
“Oh.” Stymied, Rhiddyl paused for a moment, her heart still racing from her fall, sudden change and swift realisation that she was very, very late. But she’d come too far to stop now, Family forgive her manners. “Please.” She gripped the edge of the desk. “I’ve come to sign up.”
The clerk sat back in her chair, tapping her fingertips together, then slowly, deliberately stood up. “We are closed.”
Rhiddyl’s heart sank and her shoulders slumped. She was too late. Tomorrow was Midwinter, an Overworld-wide holiday. This was the last day to sign up for Rift Rider training. She would have to wait until next year. The Cyclone was going to be so disappointed. Rhiddyl felt worse.
“Wait!” The door burst open and the rude boy from the bridge puffed and wheezed his way inside. “Wait,” he gasped, stumbling up to the desk, waving a letter and all but collapsing to the floor in a heap.
Rhiddyl eyed his long legs and skinny frame, and sniffed. He should be fitter than that if he wanted to join the Riders. It wasn’t so very far from the bridge to the tower. Why, she wasn’t even short of breath and she’d started from below the bridge.
The clerk sat down again, eyeing them both severely. “The sun has set. This office is closed.”
Actually, the sun was far from set, it just happened to no longer be visible in the city thanks to the high rim of the crater. Although Rhiddyl didn’t think it prudent to point that out, since the clerk did not seem the sort to appreciate correction. Especially when she was wrong.
“However, as there are two of you, I shall make an exception.”
Rhiddyl blinked, hardly able to believe her ears. Had this severe, incorrect woman just changed her mind? Was she really opening her pen box again and reaching for two sets of forms?
Family be blessed, she was! Rhiddyl caught the eye of the stranger who’d almost killed her and grinned, her irritation towards him turning to giddiness. She’d – no, they’d – done it. They’d reached the offices, they’d convinced the clerk, they were going to sign the forms.
She was going to be a Rift Rider!
“Letters of recommendation, if you please,” the clerk said, accepting the crumpled piece of paper the boy had clutched in his fist.
Rhiddyl’s heart sank to the tips of her silvery claws.
She didn’t have a letter. She didn’t have anyone to recommend her. Not anyone who could write, at least.
“Letter?” the clerk repeated, wriggling impatient fingers in Rhiddyl’s direction.
“Ah…” Rhiddyl shifted from foot to foot, utterly uncertain what she was going to do now. She had no letter. She had no plan. She was a dragon trying to sneak into the Rift Riders without permission from either her elders or any humans.
Bugger. The Cyclone hadn’t warned her about this.
The clerk sighed. “No letter, no admission. We can’t accept just anyone into the Riders, you know.”
Yes, Rhiddyl knew that, and she wasn’t just anyone, thank you very much. She was Rhidystel kin Tempestfury Clan Skystorm. But she somehow doubted that would mean much to this human, except as a reason to scream and have her thrown out, probably.
The front door creaked open and a man in a familiar uniform stepped inside. “Um, are you busy, Arisse?” the Rider asked.
The clerk behind the desk made an annoyed sound. “Does it look like I am busy, Gerand? I shouldn’t even be here. The sun has already set.”
“Technically,” the Rider unwisely began, “the sun hasn’t actually set yet, it’s just -”
“Gone beyond the rim of the crater,” Arisse the clerk growled. “I know that perfectly well, thank you, Rider Gerand of Lieutenant Pulvet’s flurry. Regardless, my day has ended and yet here I am, sat behind my desk filling out forms and you want even more from me. What is it?”
Rhiddyl shrank further and further back with each of the woman’s angry utterances, but the Rider by the door simply grinned. “Poor sweetheart, been a bit of a day has it?”
“Never you mind, darling, it’s Midwinter tomorrow and if you’re really lucky I’ll make you a snow bun.”
“You’ll be making me a mountain of snow buns if you know what’s good for you,” the woman muttered.
“I love you too, darling,” the Rider chuckled, and vanished outside again, his voice drifting through the closing door. “You really should come and see this, though. I think it’s for you.”
“The things I do for that blasted man,” the clerk growled, shoving her chair away from the desk and admonishing the two applicants to “Stay put and don’t touch anything,” before she stalked out of the office.
Rhiddyl shifted nervously from foot to foot, trying not to scratch the flagstones with her claws, while the strange boy calmly filled in his form, unaware of how privileged the presentation of a simple letter made him. If only she’d thought to travel to Nimbys instead of hunkering down in Sanctuary, fearing pursuit. She had friends in Nimbys. Any one of them could have written her a letter. She could even have gone straight to Aquila, but no, she’d wanted to do this in secret, to surprise them all, to prove something to everyone in the Overworld – and the Cleansed Lands, especially them – but most of all to herself.
She’d come so close, and yet she’d failed. Again. Why did she always have to fail?
The door creaked open and the clerk scowled. “Are you called Rhidystel?” she demanded.
Rhiddyl perked up. “Yes.”
“Come here, Rhidystel.”
Aware that the boy was watching, no longer even pretending to fill in his form, Rhiddyl walked cautiously across the flagstones. She peered outside.
“Is this the one?” Rider Gerand asked, as Arisse grabbed Rhiddyl’s arm and tugged her through the door.
A flock of miryhls stood on the black stone before the office doorway, a dappled forest floor in all shades of brown, gold and cream. At the head of them all stood the largest, greatest, most impressive miryhl of them all.
The Cyclone, ten feet tall, black as night, with eyes the colour of the storm. Maegla’s miryhl – the holiest of all eagles – and Rhiddyl’s friend.
“Indeed, it is. I trust my word is sufficient as a recommendation.”
While the Rider almost fell over himself assuring the great miryhl that her word was indeed more than enough to admit a hundred students and more into the Riders, Arisse the clerk merely sniffed.
“Unorthodox,” she remarked, “but it will do.”
“Good.” The Cyclone nodded at Rhiddyl, then she and her flock took off, leaving the Rider spluttering in her wake, even as he stared after her with rapturous eyes.
“Maegla’s own miryhl,” the man whispered, once the dust had settled. “Here. She spoke to me. Me!”
Arisse the clerk rolled her eyes. “Stop gawping, Gerand. We’re the closest land to Sanctuary. You act like she doesn’t stop by for regular meals and to check up on the miryhls several times a year.”
“But she spoke to me. Me!”
“Blessed Lady preserve us.” The clerk rolled her eyes again and nudged Rhiddyl back inside. “He’ll be like this all night. Which gives us plenty of time to fill in your forms, since you’ve just received the highest possible recommendation, short of the Wing Marshall or Maegla Herself.”
Sitting back behind her desk, the clerk fished out another set of forms and handed them to Rhiddyl with a curious look. “I’ve never heard of the Cyclone recommending anyone before.”
Suddenly nervous, Rhiddyl accepted her paperwork and tried to smile. “There is a first time for everything, I believe,” she said brightly.
“Hm.” Arisse handed her a pen and watched closely as Rhiddyl picked it up.
She was a dragon, she reminded herself. She had learnt to write at the age of twenty-three, which was almost a decade early for most of her kind. She was more than adept with a pen, although, she had to admit she probably should have practised writing in her human form before this moment.
Goodness, human pens were narrow; her claws kept getting in the way.
“Hm,” the clerk murmured again, and Rhiddyl realised the woman was staring at her claws. Sharp, silvery and long, they curved out of her fingertips in a way no human’s possibly could.
Bugger. She hadn’t thought of that. She tapped her foot nervously and winced at the scrape of claws on stone.
Double bugger. She hadn’t thought of that either. Humans wore boots. Humans didn’t have claws. If she wasn’t careful she’d lose control and show everyone that humans didn’t have scales either. Or blush purple. Or turn into dragons.
Feeling heat creeping up her neck, she hunched over her form and hurriedly scratched out answers to each of the questions, trying not to feel ashamed of her horrendous handwriting. She really had to practise. Her dragon tutors would be appalled that their many years of calligraphy training had gone so swiftly to waste.
“There, is that sufficient?” she asked, doing her best to impersonate the Cyclone.
To her surprise, Arisse the clerk gathered the ink-splattered forms with a sly smile. “Oh yes, Miss Rhidystel,” she said, “I do believe it is. Welcome to the Riders. Training begins on the tenth. I look forward to seeing you again very soon.”
Rhiddyl gave a nervous smile in return and found the rude boy was waiting for her. When all she did was stare at him, he arched an eyebrow.
“What?” she snapped, her nerves already too fraught to stand the silence any longer.
The boy smiled and held out a hand. “Pleased to meet you, fellow student Rider. I’m Vhen.”
“Rhiddyl,” she replied, gingerly placing her hand in his.
He shook it and turned it over, tilting her silvery claws in the light with a grin. “You most certainly are, fellow student. I look forward to solving you.”
Rhiddyl yanked her hand back and frowned, wondering if her idea was so wonderful after all. “I am not for solving,” she told him, stomping out of the office.
Vhen laughed, his voice following her out. “We’ll see.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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