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Just some friends, spending time together.
LIFE AT AQUILA settled into a routine. Captain Stirla’s students would spend one morning in lessons, followed by an afternoon of miryhl care and flight, then the next morning flying, followed by combat training and an afternoon of yet more lessons. Evenings were spent either in the eyries, caring for the miryhls, or studying in the libraries, trying to catch up with all their extra work.
Amongst it all, Lieutenant Cayn delighted in making them run. Anytime, any place, if he caught any student wandering around the citadel, he would make them run. Upstairs, over bridges, up to the Heights, around the barracks, down to the watery ruins of the old town. It was exhausting. He got so good at catching them unawares and making them suffer for their inattention that several students developed a nervous twitch and all were jumpy when walking around.
At some point over their first half-moon, Tenzi and Keiva apologised to Rhiddyl for not standing up for her against the bullies, while Guto seemed to forgive Vhen his blasphemy. The three Storm Peakians joined the others as friends again, but it wasn’t the same. Rhiddyl spent more time with Taryn, Orla and Caelo, while Vhen and Zett had become fast friends.
The rest of the students called them the Misfits, but it didn’t feel like much of an insult. They were a bunch of misfits, not quite fitting in with the rest, and they had no intention of trying to do so. The first dragon and Ihran, the only Havian, the Sutheralli who didn’t act like a Sutheralli, and the grumpy princess. Plus Caelo, who was, well, Caelo. They trained together, sat together at meals and in lessons, and stuck together in flying lessons. Lieutenant Honra hardly needed to raise the issue of battle squads with the students – the Misfits already were one.
“We need to train,” Caelo announced, one rainy Starday, when the friends had chosen to stick to their room. All the better to avoid Cayn who had been spotted prowling the lower corridors after breakfast, looking for unsuspecting prey to send out in the weather.
“We do train,” Taryn replied absently, flicking through a book of famous Etherian poetry, searching for the exact quote Lieutenant Honra had shared three days ago. She needed it to finish her essay. “We train every gods-blessed day.”
The others grumbled their distracted agreement. They’d grown good at such conversations, since Caelo was forever coming out with something abstract or outrageous and would pester them until they answered. All of them had learnt to listen to her, even if they weren’t paying full attention.
“I know that,” Caelo grumbled, lying on her back with her legs against the wall, somehow completing her mathematics problems at the same time. “But we don’t train together.”
Taryn snorted, while Vhen looked up from annotating a map of Imercian, sweeping a hank of hair out of his eyes. It needed cutting again. “I might regret asking this,” the Sutheralli lad murmured, “but if we haven’t been training together, what have we been doing? I spend so much time with you lot I’m beginning to forget what other people look like.”
“There are other people?” Orla joked in one of her rare flashes of dry humour.
Caelo threw her pen one way, her work the other and rolled onto her knees with a growl. “You know what I mean.”
“We really don’t,” Zett told her gently. Since he’d known her the longest, he tended to be the one to have to break such disappointing truths to her.
“You don’t?” Caelo looked perplexed.
“We don’t,” Taryn confirmed, sensing this could go on all day. “Why don’t you explain?” Since they wouldn’t get any peace until Caelo had.
The girl gave a put-upon sigh that fooled no one. Caelo loved nothing more than being the centre of attention. She was one of the great mysteries of Aquila to Taryn. If Caelo had wanted, she could have been the most popular student in the citadel, and she would clearly have revelled in such a position. And yet she’d chosen to throw her lot in with a bunch of misfits and outcasts. Unlike the others, who had been rejected and forced out for one reason or another, Caelo had chosen to exile herself. It made no sense, except when it came to Zett. Caelo was deeply loyal to Zett and wouldn’t countenance any slight or hint of meanness towards her best friend.
Taryn had no idea why, but she was glad of it. Both Zett and Caelo were excellent friends to have around, even if the latter did demand a lot of attention for the shows she constantly put on.
“It’s like Lieutenant Honra said,” Caelo began, starting in the middle as always and expecting everyone else to catch up.
“A good book is a joy forever?” Vhen drawled, deliberately misunderstanding the redhead.
At least, Taryn thought he was deliberately misunderstanding her. It was difficult to tell. Caelo was as equally capable of diverting the conversation in that direction as Vhen was to be seriously expecting her to. The pair were equally unfathomable.
Caelo sighed. “You are too tiresome for words.”
“You are referring to battle squads,” Orla said, gruff and serious as always, cutting through the teasing to get them all back on track. “That is what you mean by training together.”
“Yes!” Caelo snapped her fingers and pointed at Orla. “Exactly. We are a squad. We should train like one.”
The others groaned and returned to their work.
“Haven’t we got enough to do?” Taryn grumbled, finally locating the appropriate quote. “You’re as bad as Cayn.”
“No Cayn, no gain,” Zett barked in a perfect imitation of the terrifying lieutenant, making the others laugh. For such a quiet lad, Zett had a wicked sense of humour and an excellent talent for mimicry.
“Ha, yes, ha,” Caelo said flatly, not the least bit amused to have lost their attention. “But getting back to what I was saying -”
“You weren’t saying anything,” Taryn said. “You were attempting to get us into trouble.”
Caelo gasped, eyes wide, hand pressed against her heart, the portrait of perfect shock. “I would never!”
The others chuckled.
“You would always,” Zett corrected, grinning.
“Life’s not worth living without a little trouble in it,” Taryn and Vhen chorused, one of Caelo’s favourite sayings.
“Well, it isn’t,” the girl grumbled, clearly feeling hard done by. “You’re just a bunch of boring babies.”
“But you love us anyway.” Taryn patted Caelo’s knee.
She flicked her away and folded her arms. “I still think we should train together.”
“We will,” Rhiddyl agreed. “But not today.”
“Is it still raining?” Caelo crawled to the window and sighed at the grey world beyond the glass.
“It’s always raining,” Vhen sounded equally grumpy.
“If I’d known Aquila was always this wet, I wouldn’t have come,” Caelo complained.
“The lakes and legendary falls weren’t enough of a hint?” Taryn drawled.
“Details.” Caelo waved a dismissive hand. “I wonder what it’s like up there, beyond the spurs, in the higher valley. They say that lake’s even bigger than this one.”
“That wouldn’t be hard,” Vhen said. “This isn’t a very big lake.”
“But deep,” Rhiddyl joined them at the window. “The old river went down quite far.”
“Far enough for monsters?” Caelo asked, sounding like a child eager for a bedtime story.
Zett made a sound of disgust. “Don’t tell me you’ve been listening to Fenret again. He’ll do anything to get some gullible fool to believe his cracked tale.”
“What tale?” Orla asked, looking up from her work.
Caelo turned from the window and scooted back across the floor to them on her bum. “Haven’t you heard? There’s a monster in Aquila’s lake.” She made a ghoulish noise.
“Huh.” Orla returned to her essay, far too practical for such nonsense. “I had not heard that.”
Taryn cackled at Caelo’s disappointed expression. “Haven’t you learnt by now? Orla’s not one for flights of fancy.”
“She only flies on fancy Milk,” Rhiddyl agreed, giggling.
“Besides, there’s only one monster in Aquila,” Vhen said, grinning at Rhiddyl and ruffling her feather-soft hair. “And she’s ours.”
Rhiddyl blushed mauve and shoved him away. No one had called her an outright monster since that first night when they’d moved dormitories, but the other students made it obvious they didn’t trust what she was. Vhen had turned the insult into a tease to take the sting out of it and Rhiddyl no longer seemed to mind.
“You are no fun,” Caelo said mournfully, looking from one of her friends to the other, having once again lost their attention. “No fun at all.”
“But you love us anyway,” Zett echoed Taryn’s early words and kissed Caelo’s cheek, shocking the redhead speechless and making her blush, allowing the rest of them to finish their work in peace.
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