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Just a dragon hanging out with her friends, what could possibly go wrong?
“I’M SO BORED!”
It was a beautiful evening in the Storm Peaks. Thaw Month was rapidly blending into Nesting Month and spring was flourishing. The rains had all but stopped, the sun was noticeably warmer and the students of the selection school had grown so familiar with their training sessions that once school was let out for the day, they found themselves with time and energy on their hands.
Walking into the city with Vhen, Keiva and a couple of others, Rhiddyl smiled at the sky, hardly able to believe she was here, doing this. A dragon, living with humans. Impossible to imagine just a couple of short years ago, when her control had been so shaky she’d barely been able to maintain a human form for half a day, let alone a whole one. Her changes then had been entirely at random, leaving her as prone to shifting into a lynx or a chicken as a human or her original dragon shape. She’d also been primarily purple – skin, hair, even her eyes on one startling occasion. Now look at her, walking with humans, blending in.
She hardly stood out at all now, despite her colourful taste in hats and overlarge footwear. The other students had adjusted to her quirks, just as she had learnt to tolerate theirs. Keiva laughed like a hiccupping pig; Vhen’s default mode with abrupt arrogance; Guto couldn’t help stealing his friends’ things – although he always gave them back; while Tenzi couldn’t keep a secret to save her life. They had their good points too. Keiva was one of the smartest humans Rhiddyl had ever met, and was always willing to help anyone else reach an understanding of anything they struggled with. Vhen might be a little standoffish at first, but once he made a friend, he was loyal to the end. Guto had a wide array of entertaining card games and sleight-of-hand tricks that always entertained and enthralled, and Tenzi was pure sweetness – if a little forgetful and dizzy at times.
Rhiddyl hoped she had good qualities too that made her new friends happy to know her. Unfortunately her greatest tricks and talents still remained a secret, since Vhen was the only one who knew for certain that she was a dragon. Part of her wanted to tell the others, to take them flying, to show off her magic and magnificence, but mostly she was scared. She’d spent time amongst humans before and knew how quickly warmth could change to suspicion, especially when fear was involved. It would be awful if her friends were frightened of her. So Rhiddyl kept her secret, knowing Vhen could be trusted to keep it too.
“I can’t wait to leave this place!” Tenzi shouted, spinning in circles in the middle of the bridge that spanned the ravine back to the city. “I can’t wait to see the Overworld!” Her voice bounced off the high volcanic wall leading to the crater’s rim, startling a flock of starlings into flight. “I can’t wait to never be bored again!”
“You think life in the Riders is never boring?” Vhen shook his head. “You’re heading for disappointment, my friend.”
“Oh hush.” Tenzi flapped a hand at him, still spinning as she whirled slowly up the arch of the bridge. “You’re always so gloomy. You should be happy. You escaped Sutherall. You’re free!”
Eee, eee, eee, the echoes came in waves as Tenzi spun faster. Giggling, she stumbled to a halt, then did it again. “Freeeeee!”
Eeeee, eeeee, eeeee.
“He’s free and you’re just silly,” Keiva told her, reaching out to pull the other girl to a stop.
“Come be silly with me,” Tenzi laughed, whirling Keiva around, their shrieks and echoes bouncing off the stones.
“Careful!” Rhiddyl called, as the girls stumbled close to the railings. She hadn’t forgotten what had happened the first time she crossed this bridge. She caught Vhen’s eye and saw him grimace in remembrance. The railings had been fixed since then, of course, but it still made her nervous when the laughing girls got a little too close.
“Don’t be such a worrywart,” Keiva chuckled. “We’re fine. See.”
Tenzi pressed a hand to her head and staggered dramatically. “I can’t see. Everything’s all whirly. Whoo!”
Ooo, ooo, the echoes replied.
“Ha!” she laughed, with expected results. “I could do this all day.”
“And yet you find the selection school boring,” Vhen drawled. “Astonishing.”
Tenzi slapped him lightly on the arm. “Flatterer.”
Guto snorted. “Some people are so easy to please. He didn’t mean -”
“I don’t care. I can’t hear you,” Tenzi shouted, putting her hands over her ears as if she was a child. “I can only hear the nice things said about me.”
The others snickered. She was ridiculous but always amusing. Life would be much duller without her.
“We’re going to be Riders!” In one of her usual lightning changes of mood, Tenzi grabbed Rhiddyl’s hands and spun them both around, making them dizzy with laughter.
“I wonder if a miryhl could catch you if you fell down there,” Guto mused, leaning against the rail to peer into the abyss, already deeply shadowed by the gathering evening light.
“Hm.” Kenzia joined Guto and tilted her head musingly. “A good question. It would depend on how far away the miryhl was when the human fell, and how swiftly the rock narrows down there. Also, how would the miryhl catch the Rider? On their back? In their claws? Can miryhls lift a person that way?”
“Huh? Let me see.” Tenzi released Rhiddyl and the pair of them staggered drunkenly in opposite directions. “Whoa. That’s a long way down. Or up? I can’t make it out.” She lurched into the rail.
“Tenzi!” Rhiddyl and Vhen shouted, startling the girl into jumping back.
“What? What is it?” she yelped, turning in circles. “What happened? Is there a spider in my hair? Where? Where? Get it out! Getitout!” Her arms flailed as she bashed at her hair, knocking her intricate style all askew.
“There’s no spider,” Vhen tried to tell her, but she was shrieking too loudly to hear. “There is no spider!”
Keiva had to grab the girl and hold her still before she calmed down. “There is no spider.”
They all shook their heads.
“Oh. That’s a relief. What was the fuss about then?”
“The rail,” Vhen explained. “It’s a bit fragile in places. We didn’t want you falling through it.”
“Nonsense.” Tenzi snorted, patting the nearest rail. “It’s fine. See. Finest Zvenera craftsmanship that. You could land a bullwing on it.” She put both hands on the rail and jumped up and down to prove her point.
The rail cracked.
Guto and Keiva lunged for her, all three colliding. Vhen leapt forward and seized the back of Tenzi’s jacket.
Rhiddyl watched in utter horror as two of her friends stumbled backwards, falling onto the safe middle boards of the bridge, while the other two teetered on the edge.
“Jump!” Guto shouted, pushing Keiva.
“What?” she shrieked, even as the extra momentum was enough to shove her back towards safety.
While throwing Guto over the edge.
There was screaming and scrambling. Tenzi barely grabbed Keiva in time to stop her jumping after him.
Rhiddyl stood frozen on the boards, the only one still on her feet.
Vhen whirled. “Catch him!” he shouted, and when she didn’t move, he jumped up and grabbed her shoulders. “You have to catch him!”
Rhiddyl stared at her friend uncomprehending, the memory of her own fall rushing over her. The panic, the helplessness, the momentary fear that this time she wouldn’t change. This time she would fail. This time her wings wouldn’t come.
She met Vhen’s eyes, saw the fear in them. And the trust. She nodded. Unbuttoning her jacket, she ran to the edge of the bridge and jumped.
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