Some people don’t deserve sweet dragons in their lives.
THE REST OF the day was a bit of a blur, separating out into new groups, meeting future flurry-mates, taking official tours as guided by real Riders. Lesson schedules were handed out, dinner was eaten and finally everyone moved into their permanent dormitories.
Taryn looked around the room and sighed. Of the thirty-one students freshly assigned to Stirla’s flight, fifteen were girls, and unfortunately for Taryn and Orla, Jylana and best pair of snobs were amongst them.
It was an interesting mix. Five girls from Nimbys, three from Storm Peaks, two each from Sutherall and North Point, and the remaining three from Etheria. Taryn had no idea what had made Stirla and his lieutenants choose them, but they’d done a good job of mixing things up. The selection on the boys’ side was equally mixed and Taryn could see interesting times ahead.
Unfortunately, she could also see trouble brewing now as Jylana and her friends took one side of the room, alongside the Etherians and North Pointers. Even though they’d been mixing together all day, most of the girls still clung to at least one person they’d trained with so far. Except for Caelo. She seemed to go where she liked, when she liked and never mind the protocol. For now she wasn’t even in the room, leaving her choice of bed up to fate and whichever space no one else wanted.
Taryn had been the first into their new dormitory and had immediately picked the beds beneath the windows. Yet another black mark against her, as if she cared. She sat cross-legged on her bed now, watching the whispering huddle of girls opposite. Jylana kept glancing at Taryn with narrowed eyes, obviously plotting some sort of coup to regain control of the nicer side of the room. Taryn stared back, daring the girl to try.
Orla pottered around the bed beside her, tucked up close against the wall. She seemed happy enough with her placement, no doubt enjoying the freedom from at least one neighbour. Taryn had been tempted to take it herself, but had left it for Orla. The Ihran needed the security of a wall more than Taryn did, besides she had Rhiddyl on her other side so she was hardly vulnerable to nasty neighbours.
Speaking of which, the girls opposite were moving apart. Jylana smirked at Taryn and she braced for the attack to come.
“When my uncle told me the Riders were desperate enough to take anyone these days, I didn’t believe him. But it seems he was right.”
The speaker was one of the Etherian girls, short-haired, broad-shouldered and belligerent looking. Taryn bristled, preparing to leap to Orla’s defence.
“What are you, anyway? Some sort of kaz-naghkt half-breed?”
The room fell silent.
Taryn met Orla’s startled eyes and turned slowly around. The Sutheralli girls had been making friends with the Storm Peakians, but as the silence stretched, they drew slowly back.
Everyone stared at Rhiddyl.
The pale dragon had been organising her uniforms in the trunk at the end of her bed. Now she stood up, turning to face the crowd who had gathered unnoticed at her back.
“Excuse me?” she asked, her voice light and polite. “Are you talking to me?”
“Of course she is, freak,” Ierani, Jylana’s little stooge, barked. “You only have to look at you to see you don’t belong here.”
Rhiddyl blinked, clearly startled by the attack. “I -”
“My father and sister were killed by kaz-naghkt,” the other Etherian said, her voice soft and haunted. “My mother’s disfigured for life. I saw them attack. I saw their claws. Their unnatural feet. Their teeth. Vicious monsters.”
“Like you,” Jylana said, soft but mean. “Look at those hands. Look at those feet. Tell me they’re not monstrous.”
Rhiddyl flushed, her pale skin turning mauve.
“Look at that face. Nothing human ever turned such a shade!” Ierani was pointing, making the other girls gasp and snicker.
Rhiddyl tried to hide her face, but that only made her silver claws more obvious.
“Look at that freak! We don’t want you here, monster. We don’t need your kind.”
“I’m not a monster,” Rhiddyl tried to protest. “I’m not a – a freak.”
“Drive her out! Get rid of her!” Ierani was really getting into her role, picking up a boot and hurling it across the room.
Rhiddyl saw it coming, but only in time to turn so that it hit her shoulder instead of her face.
“Drive out the freak! Get her gone!”
That was more than enough of that.
Taryn leapt off her bed, catching the next boot and knocking a book aside. “Stop it!” she shouted, spreading her arms in front of the cowering Rhiddyl. “All of you. Stop it now!”
The chanting died, but was replaced by sneers. “Why should we listen to you?” the belligerent Etherian wanted to know. “What makes you so important?”
“She’s a princess,” Beyane, Jylana’s other friend, said softly. “The youngest daughter of the Stratys.”
“The Outcast Princess,” one of the North Point girls joined in, her smile broad on her freckled face. She’d been friendly enough to Taryn and Orla at dinner, but it seems Jylana had been working hard in the meantime. “They say your father threw you out, why shouldn’t we do the same?”
“We don’t need traitors in our flurry,” Jylana agreed, and starting chanting in time to a steady clap. “Out! Out! Get them out!”
The others joined in. “Out! Out! Get them out!”
Taryn considered starting a fight, shouting them down, telling them just how wrong they were in every possible way. But the glee on the chanting girls’ faces and the way they were clapping and sneering told her it wasn’t worth it. They weren’t worth it.
She looked for Orla and found her Ihran friend crouched beside Rhiddyl, trying to comfort the shaking dragon. She looked for Rhiddyl’s friends and saw the two Storm Peaks girls standing awkwardly across the room, clearly uncertain whose side to take. Everyone else, the Sutherallis included, was chanting and looking ready to start throwing missiles again at any moment.
“Come on, Rhiddyl, let’s go see our real friends.”
“Out! Out! Get them out! Out! Out! Get them out!” They were picking up speed and Taryn didn’t want to stick around to see what would come next. She pulled Rhiddyl to her feet.
“I don’t understand,” the dragon whispered, flinching as another boot was thrown at her head. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Out! Out! Get them out!”
“It’s them that’s wrong, not you,” Orla told her gently, tugging her towards the door. Taryn covered the dragon’s head with her arm and glared at the girls who were supposed to be their friends, their fellow students, flurry-mates and comrades.
All of them were clapping now, Keiva and Tenzi included. Taryn scowled particularly hard at them. Neither met her eye, but they didn’t stop clapping either. She shoved Orla and Rhiddyl towards the door.
It flew open, slamming against the wall with a bang. “What’s all this?” Caelo arrived, jumping inside, red hair bouncing. “Throwing a party already? And I wasn’t invited? For shame!”
“You’re always invited, Caelo.” The belligerent Etherian was laughing now, all nasty chants forgotten as the clapping turned to triumphant cheers. “Come in and shut the door. Just sweep that dirty rubbish out first.”
Caelo grinned, looking down at her feet at the spotlessly clean floor. “What rubbish?”
The students laughed as if she’d told the greatest joke. Still frowning, Caelo looked at Rhiddyl and Orla, saw the way they were cowering, and the rage that still filled Taryn’s face.
Her merry expression darkened. “Is there a problem here?” Caelo asked, her husky voice dropping close to a growl.
“Nothing that won’t soon be sorted,” Jylana chuckled, waving a dismissive hand at Taryn’s back. “Stand aside and let the freaks leave, will you? Then come in and join the fun. It’s our first night as proper Riders, we need to celebrate!”
“Taryn?” Caelo asked. Although she’d been distant from them ever since she’d scared everyone half to death and fallen out with Zett, she was clearly concerned. “What’s going on?”
“They’re leaving!” Ierani shouted, making the others cheer.
Taryn tipped her head in agreement. “We’re leaving.”
“Where are you going? Why?”
“Somewhere we will be more welcome,” Orla said, gruff and stiff as she steered Rhiddyl forward.
Caelo skittered out of their way, stepping back into the corridor. “Why?”
“Because we are clearly not remotely welcome here,” Taryn pointed out, placing a steadying hand on Rhiddyl’s trembling back. The poor dragon was taking this very hard. “Don’t let us keep you.”
“Caelo!” someone was calling from inside the dorm room. “Where are you going? Come back. You’re not a freak or a traitor, you’re one of us!”
“A what?” Caelo whipped her head around, and it was probably just as well those inside the room couldn’t see the expression on her face. Sheer fury, enough to burn the citadel down a second time.
“I’m a f-f-freak,” Rhiddyl whispered, hiccupping in the middle.
“And we’re the traitors,” Taryn added, not wanting to go into the full details just then.
“Is that so?” Caelo muttered. “We’ll see.” Turning on her heel, she marched into the dorm room, slamming the door behind her.
Taryn and Orla exchanged a look, but Rhiddyl’s shivering gasps drew them back to what really mattered. Taryn wrapped her arm around the dragon, hugging her close. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s go see Stirla. He’ll find us somewhere nicer to belong, I promise.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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