Cassius had barely started eating in the empty kitchen when the warning bells went off.
In the thirteen years he had lived in the Citadel, he had only heard the warning bells ring thrice. The Chronicler’s Guild was a peaceful place, they had no reason to go off more often.
He dropped the pastry he was holding, a meagre but lazy breakfast because Cassius didn’t have the patience to make food if he woke up after his parents had left for their respective duties. There was no use going back to change into proper clothes, and it wasn’t like everyone hadn’t seen him in pyjamas before.
As he ran out, he slid on only a pair of boots and his warm, woollen jacket. Then he rushed out the door and made straight for the gathering hall.
The hallways were bustling with light and, on rounding one corner, he was nearly taken out by a line of the Citadel’s fighters. He skid to a halt, scrambling back against the cold stone wall as they rushed past. The Chronicler’s Guild didn’t have many warriors, they were historians, not knights, after all. But that didn’t mean they were defenceless.
Not that anyone could convince him to grab a blade with a ten-foot pole. The whole fighting thing seemed like too much work, and what was the point of it anyway? Who was going to attack them?
He’d even seen Mishal pass out from overexertion in a training session once. Why would anyone do that to themselves?
The grand, mahogany wood doors lined with black iron to the gathering hall were open, and he heard a great cacophony from inside. He slipped inside, and paused, surveying the mess before him.
There were multiple groups clumped up, of scholars and the professors and, well, those who weren’t fighters. The giant tapestries depicting great battles, great loves, and great stories on the wall, that spoke of history inlaid in fabric, seemed to quiver as if reacting to the buzzing atmosphere around the hall. Near the fireplace, big enough that two people stacked on top of one another would be able to fit in its gaping mouth, Margaretta spoke with a grim expression to people with their backs turned to Cassius. Her hair was pulled back tight, and the thick collar of her coat rose around her neck and shoulders.
On the right, he spotted the rest of the Six. They were all dressed, unlike him, but had any of them been sneaking around at midnight? No. They’d gotten sleep, had been responsible. Gross.
He trotted over to them. Isadora would know what was going on, and if she didn’t, one of them had to. Ember had probably gotten up early, because she was weird like that, so maybe she knew.
Now would be the perfect time to tell them about what he heard too.
Unfortunately, neither Isadora nor Ember was the first to notice him, Mishal was. He eyed him with that suspicious, judge-y, annoying look he had always skulking around the corner, waiting to bestow upon whoever crossed his path.
“Are you in your pyjamas?” Mishal asked.
“Shut up,” he replied with sharp infliction. He stuck his tongue out for extra measure, scowling.
Mishal rolled his eyes, like he was some Pretentious Adult who could do that and pretend to be Mature and Experienced. At least it meant the situation wasn’t dire, if Mishal wasn’t on edge.
“What’s going on anyway?” he asked, turning from the big bother to Isadora, who had an arm around Alanna.
Alanna didn’t look frightened or upset, but she leaned into the gesture nonetheless. Further highlighting the point that nothing seemed to be too bad.
“Someone spotted a grown dragon near the village,” Isa said. “They’re making sure it doesn’t come any closer.”
Honestly, Cassius barely registered anything Isadora said after “dragon”. His eyes widened, and he glanced away. There was a clear path towards the door, and he was fast. There was absolutely no force in all of Stellarsyl that would stop him from seeing a dragon with his own eyes.
Except there was, because as soon as he began to run, an arm wrapped around his waist. “Oh no you don’t, scoundrel,” Mishal said, pulling him back to the group and securing a hold around him.
“Let me go!” he cried, kicking where he thought Mishal’s knees were. “You ruffian, let me go!”
“Not so you can catch death with your own stupidity!” Mishal snapped. He didn’t relent in the slightest.
Stupid Mishal and his stupid training and how stupidly strong he was!
Ember had her arms crossed and she frowned at the sight before her, though he honestly couldn’t tell if she was directing the look at him or Mishal. Rowan was sitting in a chair that probably hadn’t been there before, leaning against one arm of the chair with their legs thrown across the other. They were wearing their tall, pointy hat with their hair twisted into what looked like a rope.
“Cassius,” Isadora said. She let go of Alanna to approach him and crouch in front of him.
That seemed demeaning, he wasn’t that short. He just hadn’t hit his growth spurt yet. It wasn’t his fault Isa was so tall.
“I know you love dragons and seeing one up close would be like a dream come true, but it’s a wild creature.” She grabbed his wrists so he couldn’t pummel Mishal with them, even though he probably could hit Mishal with a feather for the same effect. “They’re feral. It’s dangerous. You have to stay here for your own safety. Leave this to the experts, who know what they’re doing.”
“But I do know what I’m doing!” he protested. “I probably know more about the dragon than anyone swinging a pointy sword does!”
Rowan glanced up. “But they have ground experience, Raz. You can read all the books in the world about dragons, but experience outweighs that by tons.”
Heat spiked in his chest and his face grew hot. He yanked his wrists away from Isadora. “Like you wouldn’t love to be out there right now!” he shouted. “I bet none of them have ever seen a dragon in their life!” He kicked at Mishal’s knees again, and at least this time, heard a pained intake of breath. “Dragons used to have bonds with people! They used to work together, used to carry people through the air and they were given care and a home in return! There used to be a whole society for dragons and their keepers!”
“Those are just stories, Cassius,” Mishal said. His arm tightened enough that it almost hurt.
Isadora smiled sadly. “Real or not, that hasn’t happened for a very, very long time. If dragons and humans got along once, it has long since been forgotten.”
Mishal snorted. “Society is too enamoured by the idea of exploitative profits and killing beautiful things for something like that to ever rise again,” he said. “The magical properties alone—”
“Shut up!” Cassius began to wrestle against Mishal’s arm furiously. “Shut up! Shut up!” He began to hit Mishal’s arm with his fists. He hated, hated, when Mishal was so convinced he was so smart.
See how many fancy words I know! He tried to wriggle out from Mishal’s grip. See how many big words I can use so you don’t understand what I’m saying!
“Let him go,” Ember finally said, expression set like stone. “Raz, if Stormy wasn’t stopping you, one of the defenders would. You’d get in trouble.”
“Let him go.”
He almost fell over when Mishal released him. Ember reached out to grab his arm, a little harshly but her hands were beginning to toughen from blacksmith and weapons training. She slung an arm around his shoulders and jabbed him in the ribs.
Cassius kicked her in the foot. She tugged on one of his curls and he yelped. “All right, you win!”
Ember rolled her eyes. “Pansy.”
“Pushover. Shut up, you said I won.”
He was fairly certain that Ember had her arms around his shoulders to trap him, but at least she wasn’t grabbing him like Mishal. She was right anyway, he was fast, but he knew he wasn’t that fast. Dumb logic. He wanted to see the dragon.
“What’s so interesting about dragons anyway?” Alanna asked, as if sensing the danger of him running off had been doused. “They’re big lizards with wings and sharp teeth that can eat whole villages and burn crops!”
“Not all dragons breathe fire,” Ember said. Which was definitely not something she had read about. She’d probably picked it up from one of his rambles.
He waved his hand frantically. “Yeah! And not all dragons are like lizards, lots of mountain and cold-weather dragons have feathers to keep them warm!” He wriggled out from Ember’s grasp so he could use both hands to gesture. “The ones in the hotter, dry regions, like the Ruby Desert, they can breathe fire! Cold-weather dragons are built for cold, why would they need fire?”
Isadora was smiling behind her hand, but before he could continue, the sound of a glass clinking echoed through the hall.
Margaretta was still standing at the fireplace, but now some of the defenders Cassius had seen running down the hall had joined her.
The chatter, the general cacophony, in the hall died down.
“I apologise for the rude awakening and interruption of your duties, it seems the dragon isn’t nearly as close as suspected. It was spotted over the forest, but it likely resides closer to the eastern mountains beyond that,” Margaretta said. She didn’t seem like she was shouting, but her voice carried throughout the hall. Magic, probably, but he didn’t know what words you would use to amplify your voice yet. “That said, we’ll be keeping a watch out in case the beast returns. There will also be a curfew. No one is allowed out before eight in the morning or after eight at night. As the light lasts longer, or the threat is resolved, the curfew will be adjusted. Dismissed.”
“Ugh,” Rowan said. “Walking under the stars privilege is revoked? What a hoax. It’s not a giant owl.”
“No,” Cassius agreed woefully, the weight of disappointment that he wouldn’t get to see the dragon himself beginning to smother him. This day sucked and it wasn’t even noon. “Dragons aren’t even nocturnal.”