“Hey, Dick! You're not listening!”
The offended speaker grabbed his pillow and flung it across the small room. The missile hit Dick square in the face and, combined with his unawareness of being attacked, the sudden torque of the pillow, though soft, sent him reeling backwards on his bed.
“Blast! Axel! What was that for?”
Axelsen Elnefar was prepared for the returning projectile his younger brother sent his way. Reaching out with one long arm, he snagged the pillow before it hit his forehead and yanked it aside to give Dick a glare. “I was talking to you.”
Dicksen rubbed his poor attacked nose. “I was listening.”
Axel gave a rough guffaw. “No, you weren't. Your mind was a million miles away.”
“I wish I was with it.” The grumble was so slight that Axel almost missed it.
Axel gave the shoulder a jerk that stilled Dick into submission. At twenty four years of age, he claimed the right to be the stronger of the two, and although Dick worked hard at upsetting that claim, so far Axel held it tightly intact.
“No, no, no.” Grant shook his head, approaching the dueling pair rapidly, the heels of his boots stomping madly against the stone floor. “You've got it all wrong, Dav. If you don't fully own your sword, then your opponent will own your flesh.”
Davin stepped back and swung his weapon around in a defeated gesture. “That's a lovely mental picture.”
“How in all of Dron did you ever survive any of our skirmishes with Krunnerus? The battle in the pass? I'm sick just thinking about it, Dav.”
“Ye'd better be careful 'bout drinkin' that much,” Fircanel offered quietly. He didn't fancy pulling the heavy man, completely drunk and unconscious, to the door later on that night.
The man ignored him, setting the glass down with a thump and giving his mustache an exaggerated wipe with the back of his hand. He swayed slightly on his stool, the motion, no doubt, induced by the multiple glasses of beer, but he kept his seat and merely peered at the tavern owner over the top of the now empty mug. His eye should have been clouded over by the affects of the drink, yet it still glowed with an uncanny alertness and anger that unnerved Fircanel. The tavern owner congratulated himself on facing many unsavory characters in this very room innumerable times, holding his ground with every encounter and never backing down, winning every face-off, even during that unforgettable event when a drunken youth had pulled out a knife and threatened Fircanel's daughter, Irell, yet there was something about the sandy bearded drinker that the tavern owner couldn't stand against, still considering that he was the tavern's best customer.
The man leaned forward and blew a blast of fetid-smelling breath in Fircanel's face.
The dragon's roar echoed through the cold stones of the stronghold, dancing off the smooth walls of the tunnel leading to the distant library. The sound had barely reached their ears then Davin and Ahmis exchanged a quick glance and dropped their books. Davin nearly ran into his brother and a number of chairs and desks in his haste to exit the chamber. Both knew that the dragons rarely released a roar such as that one, and what alarmed Davin more was that he didn't recognize the roar. The lack of the familiar musical note behind it and the confused sensations he was receiving from Pennar told him immediately that the roar hadn't been of the green dragon's making.
But Ahmis shook his head. “Not Borlo. Quinessa, do you think?”
Davin shrugged as he ran. “Can't tell.”
“I did nothing, Ahmis!” Grant flung his arms wide in his frustration. “Why do you think it's all my fault?”
“You've been showing off with that dragon of yours since the day we arrived at the stronghold! How can that not be encouraging to her? She copies everything else you do! Why wouldn't she try some stupid stunts on a dragon of her own?”
“They're not stupid! And since when did Netsrik become that dragon? She's just as good as Borlo, probably better!”
Ahmis brought an accusing finger to level with his brother's chest. “Any dragon that freely bonds with you as a rider must be...”
“That's enough!” Davin leaped between his two brothers before Ahmis could finish the insult, pushing them apart as best as he could with his hands against their torsos. This was the angriest that Davin had ever seen his brother, and he knew Grant wasn't far from a retaliation. Already, he could see the young fighter had balled his fists in defiance, and Davin feared that he wouldn't limit himself to striking back only verbally. Grant couldn't have lived at the barracks in East Delt for years without knowing how to forcefully attack his opposition.
“The dragons are all equal, just as we are. No one is higher than anyone else, not even me. You both heard Olette. She knew it was foolish to try to mount Azulla like that, but she did it because Lyndee asked her to. I don't know what she was trying to prove by doing that, but it's over. No one was hurt, and I'd like very much to forget about this whole thing.” He looked at both of his brothers in turn. “Can we leave this in the past peaceably?”
It wasn't until she had neatly tripped on an obstacle in her path that Olette realized that she wasn't the only one not sleeping at that hour. With a sudden cry, she thrust out her hands to catch herself and landed sprawled across someone's legs.
“I'm sorry!” The obstacle hastened to apologize, stand, and assist the girl to stand as well. The attempt, however, was a failure as neither could see the other in the dark, resulting in bruised knees and bumped elbows. Olette finally gave up on her feet and sat with her back to the outer wall, when at length she found it, pulling her own legs up to her chin in case the obstacle decided to take a walk of his own and trip over her.
“Grant, what are ya doin' up still?”
He gave a quiet snort. “I could ask the same of you.”
“I asked first, an' I think ya sorta owe me an answer considerin' ya almost killed me.”
Olette fully expected Grant to debate that statement, and she was greatly surprised when he said nothing. She had almost begun to think he wouldn't even answer her question at all when he sighed, sat down opposite her, and gave her one word.
Olette knew her eyebrows went up, but she knew that he would be unable to see the confusion in her face so she pushed it into her tone as she threw another question back at him. “Why?”
“I can't sleep, so it seemed like a good way to pass the time.”
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