Dunk some bullies in the cold lake,
Fa la la la la, la la la la
It will make you feel so great,
Tra la la la, la la la la…
TARYN SLICED THROUGH the water, arm over arm, keeping her head down and coming up for air every few strokes. On and on she pushed, kicking her legs, ploughing forwards, determined to win. Jylana was the most popular girl in their year and leader of the cruelty that had seen Orla and Rhiddyl driven out of their original dorm room.
Taryn despised Jylana and everything she stood for. She would not let her win.
Not usually much of a competitive person, Taryn couldn’t normally bestir herself to excel in such foolish competitions, but beating Jylana was different. Taryn wasn’t doing this for herself, she was doing it for Orla and Rhiddyl and Zett, and anyone else that nasty poisonous gossip and her sneering friends tried to tear down for being just a little bit west of their narrow definition of normal.
What was the point of being normal if you ended up like Jylana and her block-print friends? They all looked, acted and sounded the same, mimicking hairstyles and accents, regardless of where on the Overworld they’d originated. Taryn much preferred her misfit bunch of mates and was fiercely protective of them.
So she pushed on through the water, keeping her head down for three strokes, then four, ignoring the burning in her lungs. Until her fingers struck rock and she jerked upright, barely avoiding smashing her nose into Honra’s promontory.
“Back you go, Taryn. Quick!” the lieutenant told her. “Jylana’s coming in fast behind.”
Shaking the water from her eyes, Taryn turned and kicked off the rock, churning her aching legs doubly hard as she passed Jylana. Enjoying the sound of the girl spluttering in her wake, Taryn pushed to come up every four breaths and lost herself to the stroke of her tired arms and the glide of the cool water. Her lungs burned and her heart pounded in her ears, leaving her deaf to everything else.
Until something slimy and cool drifted across her waist, sliding down the length of her body to snag around her ankle.
Taryn double-kicked to free herself, breaking her rhythm to gasp for air.
The weed tightened and Taryn kicked again.
Behind her, Jylana yelped. Taryn turned sharply but could see no sign of the other girl.
“Jylana?” she called, suspicious and ready at any moment to dunk the fool for messing around at such a time.
Someone cried her name and Taryn spun, ready to fight, but was yanked beneath the surface without any time to scream.
* * *
RHIDDYL DIVED, TWISTING under the water and arrowing to the far shore. Her body shifted as she moved, making tiny changes to make her faster, sleeker, stronger in the water. By the time she reached the edge of the lake, where the deep floor started rising rapidly, she probably looked more like a Flowflight dragon than a Skystorm. Her Clan would be horrified, but Rhiddyl reminded herself that such things weren’t important now. Her Clan wasn’t here; her friends were and they needed her.
She shot to the surface, gulped for breath and dived once more.
Bubbles frothed in the sun-dappled shadows and water churned, stirring up cold currents and making the light sway and dance.
No, not light: weeds.
Rhiddyl blinked, focusing on the shifting shadows and recognised bodies. Thrashing arms, kicking legs, screaming faces, all glimpsed between thick swaying fronds.
Not if she could help it.
Power tingling along her scales, Rhiddyl arrowed downwards, over the shallow edge of the lakeshore and into the dark depths. The weeds continued to wave, taunting her with glimpses of her friends. Zett’s long braids; Vhen’s face; someone else’s arm and leg.
Rhiddyl bared her teeth and clawed at the water, tucking her wings tight to her sides as she pushed with her tail, thrusting herself deeper.
A thick weed frond slapped her face, sliding over her scales and curling around her neck.
Rhiddyl slashed with her claws, power zapping outwards. The weed shrivelled and shredded.
Deep in the lake, something screamed.
* * *
AS TARYN VANISHED beneath the surface, Orla leapt forward, remembering too late that she didn’t know how to swim. Fortunately Lieutenant Thera was there to catch her.
“Stay on the rock!” the woman shouted, calling more orders to the other girls to stay put, while she swam swiftly away. At the other end of their makeshift race lane, Honra had already dived in, powering towards the spot where both girls had disappeared.
Water erupted upwards and two heads – one blonde, one dark – emerged from the depths.
“You bitch!” Jylana’s voice sliced through the pensive silence. “You kicked me in the face!”
Taryn slicked her hair back, her expression incredulous. “I just saved your life,” she protested. “I didn’t kick you. I pulled you up!”
“If you hadn’t kicked me in the face I wouldn’t have needed pulling anywhere!”
“Your feet were tangled in the weeds, you fool. No one kicked you.”
“You did! Look, my nose is bleeding!”
“No, it isn’t, you bloody liar, but I can fix that for you.”
The lieutenants arrived and pulled the girls apart before Taryn could follow through on her threat. Jylana fought Lieutenant Thera’s grasp, kicking and spitting like a cat, while Honra simply held Taryn’s arm.
“She’s lost her mind,” Taryn shouted over Jylana’s racket. “Not that she had much to begin with.”
Jylana howled, redoubling her efforts to get free.
“For Maegla’s sake, Honra,” Thera growled. “Get her out of here, then come back and give me a hand. One moron at a time is enough for anyone to handle.”
“I could give you some tips,” Taryn started saying, but Honra yanked her back, dunking her under the water. She came up spluttering and cursing, but finally obeyed her lieutenant’s instructions and swam towards his rock.
Orla watched anxiously until Taryn climbed safely ashore. Only then did she look back towards Jylana and the lieutenants. All three of them were gone.
~ Next ~
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