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I still can’t decide if this is a reward or a punishment…
“HERE, I KNOW it isn’t much, but we’ll find you proper beds tomorrow and get someone to air it out. Then we’ll get to the bottom of this, I promise.”
Captain Stirla was earnest and concerned as he showed the girls into a new room, far away from the rest of the students. It was small and irregularly shaped on the Rider side of the barracks, with a large window looking out over the lake instead of back towards the mountain. The main part of the room was a broad square, but a small rectangular section turned a corner past the window, leading into a little washroom. Orla couldn’t be certain, having never entered any of the Riders’ rooms, but she suspected it was a disused officer’s room.
Not that she was complaining, the view from this window was much nicer than the high windows in the dormitory that you couldn’t see out of. The company was better too.
“There you are. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.” Caelo was already inside, sitting on an unfurled bedroll, four haphazardly packed bags piled around her. “I brought your things,” she explained, flicking her hand towards them.
Stirla eyed the redhead for a thoughtful moment. “You’re from Etheria, I believe Dhori said.”
“From the Kaskad selection school, yes,” Caelo agreed, beaming at him.
“Hm.” The captain pressed his lips together and shook his head. “One more in here won’t make much difference. I’ll mention we need another bed.”
“Thank you!” Caelo carolled, jumping to her feet and rolling out a second set of blankets. “Here, Rhiddyl, you sleep here by me. Orla, Taryn, you take those spots over there and -”
“The boys can sleep by the window, half around the corner, just to observe some proprieties.”
Captain Stirla looked as startled as Orla felt when Lieutenant Dhori strode into the room, two figures shuffling in behind him.
“Zeze!” Caelo greeted as if she hadn’t been avoiding Zett and the rest of them for over a day. “You’re here, I was hoping – What happened to your face?” Her happy chatter turned into a horrified gasp and she dashed across the room, almost trampling Orla in her rush.
Stumbling into the wall, Orla blinked as Caelo started fussing around Zett. He looked in need of a little fuss. One eye was swollen shut and his lip was split.
Vhen looked worse. Both eyes were black, his nose seemed to have doubled in size and a gash on his forehead was bleeding into his eye. He also hunched over as if something vital hurt in his ribs and side. They both looked terrible.
“Oh! Oh, Vhen!” Rhiddyl finally recovered from her shakes enough to approach her friend. “Who did this to you? Who would dare?”
The atmosphere went from shocked to charged in an instant, Rhiddyl’s voice dropping from a light and airy whisper to something dark and terrible. Thunder snarled in the distance and rain pattered against the window.
“Simmer down, Skystorm,” Lieutenant Dhori murmured, amused. “It was just a little boyish spat. Nothing to get worked up over.”
“He’s bleeding!” Rhiddyl protested, light snapping in her bright blue eyes. “Did you take him to the healers? Surely Morri didn’t leave him like this?”
“All in good time,” Dhori soothed the agitated dragon. “I wanted to settle everyone in first, but it seems you beat me to it.”
Stirla looked at his lieutenant and raised an eyebrow, seemingly unconcerned by the dragon’s antics. “Keeping secrets, Aure?”
“Always.” The lieutenant grinned. “But in this case, not intentionally. We’ve picked a right bunch of misfits this year, captain, and I suspected trouble would come.”
“Trouble always does,” the captain sighed. “Shall I leave this with you?”
Dhori nodded. “I’ll take care of them,” he promised, and they all saluted as best they could, since Vhen had difficulty raising his arm. The captain left, shaking his head.
“Here, I’ve saved you the best spot, Zeze,” Caelo said, grabbing the bag Orla hadn’t noticed the boy was carrying, and dragging him across the room. “Right next to the window. You can see the lake!”
“Great,” Zett sighed, pausing to pick up Vhen’s bag before trooping after her.
Vhen remained just inside the door, where Rhiddyl kept raising her hand and not quite daring to touch his face.
“You should see a healer,” she fluted worriedly, her voice light once more. “Dhori, you should take him.”
“Why don’t you?” the lieutenant suggested. “You know the way.”
She huffed at him and grabbed her friend’s arm. “Fine. Come on, Vhen.”
Dhori winked at Orla and walked into the room. “It’s a little unusual, boys sharing with girls, but I think you’re all trustworthy.”
“For traitors and freaks,” Taryn muttered.
“And atheists!” Caelo piped up from around the corner, making Taryn blink.
She looked at Orla. Orla shrugged. She didn’t know any atheists, but then she didn’t know any freaks or traitors either.
“As I said, completely trustworthy,” Dhori chuckled, sauntering over to the window. “We can get a room divider if you’d like, but I think this corner should keep things private enough. If you want more, there’s always the washroom.”
“That’ll be fun in the mornings,” Taryn muttered, making Orla chuckle.
“I can’t wait!” Caelo bounded over to them, grabbing first Taryn and then Orla into enthusiastic if utterly one-sided hugs. “We’re going to have so much fun!”
Dhori backed away before she could hug him too and shook his head. “I’ll pray for you,” he promised, and escaped, shutting the door behind him. Laughing, Caelo spread her arms and twirled in the centre of the room. “This is going to be amazing!”
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