When I stepped inside the stone building and Calic closed the door behind me, I was assuaged by a menagerie of sensations. It was bright, inside, and warm. A large fireplace was flickering in one corner, and green-stuffed armchairs and couches surrounded it. Sitting on the couches were a large group of people who looked at me with untamed curiosity, but Calic ushered me past them and down a hall. The floors were stone and our footsteps echoed. The walls were stone as well, but hung with bright cloth tapestries. It reminded me of a medieval castle We passed a group of closed doors, each painted a different color. I expected Calic to stop, or say something, but he set a brisk pace, and at the end of the hall he turned left and went up a set of stairs. At the bottom was a single door, labeled in large black letters. The Unchosen.
Calic pushed the door open.
It was practically a mirror image of the bigger room downstairs, a fireplace and stuffed green chairs. Someone had installed a bookshelf in one of the corners. In the corner, I could see the hallway with the multicolored doors. It was all the same, if a bit smaller.
The people were the interesting part.
Lounging across one of the couches was a floppy haired, ginger young man. He had a blissful, carefree look on his face, and was dressed the most normal out of all of them, in ratty basketball shorts and a Manchester United tee. On the chair next to him was another boy, with blond hair and a sly grin. The ginger one said something, and the blond one threw back his head and laughed. On another of the chairs was a short and stocky lady, dark skin to match dark hair. She was wearing a sea green tunic and pants, and polishing a hefty axe. The last one was, I was pleased to recognize, an Orc. I felt a bit sheepish that I couldn’t tell if the Orc was female or not. I decided not to ask.
Calic cleared his throat, and suddenly, four pairs of eyes were upon us. “Meet your new companion, Ivy,” he said. He turned to me. “They’re all in different stages of training, but I’m sure they’ll show you what’s what. Goodbye.” With that, he turned around and shut the door behind him, leaving me alone. I stood, lost for a moment, before the room exploded into movement.
The ginger boy was the first to leap up. He flashed a sunny grin at me, pushing a stray lock of coppery hair from his face “Hello! I’m Rob Banner, pleasure.” He held out a hand, and I shook it. His accent was very British, and there was something familiar about him, though I couldn’t place my finger on it. The blond one shook my hand next, saying brightly: “Glad to have you in the squad! I’m Madge.”
The stocky girl raised an eyebrow, setting down her axe. “You have never explained to me what a “squad” is, Madge Callaway,” she said, in a thickly accented voice.
Madge looked deep in thought. “I suppose it’s something like an arsc’ing,” he said, tongue making a guttural sound and rolling over the word. “That’s the closest translation I could find in from the limited amount of Dwarvish I know.”
The stocky girl looked impressed. “Adequate pronunciation. I’m impressed. Human tongues aren’t shaped the right way to speak our language.”
At this point, I was so overwhelmed with the events of the day that I burst out: “Your tongue is a different shape?” As soon as I said it, I realized what I had said and my face grew uncomfortably warm. There was a stiff silence for one moment, two, three, before the room burst into laughter. To my surprise, I found myself laughing along with them, laughing so loud that my stomach hurt and my eyes began to smart.
Finally, when the merriment had faded, the stocky dwarf girl picked up the axe once more. “I’m Zelene,” she said, turning to me. “That’s Azak’Kam over there, she doesn’t talk much.” She gestured to the Orc in the corner, who, to my surprise, regaled me with a wave. “We’re the Unchosen Greens.”
“Hey,” I said. “I’m Ivy.”
I felt as if something else was necessary, some greeting or other, but I wasn’t sure what, and so my voice fell flat and echoed into the silence. Finally, after an awkward moment, Rob yawned. “Unfortunately, you missed dinner. Luckily, Madge and I have a solution for you. Madge, darling, if you would.”
Madge grinned and pushed a blond fall of hair from his face. He closed his eyes for a long moment, and when he opened them again, they flashed green and he held a large platter of food in his hand. “Where on earth did you get that?” I asked.
“We’re not on earth any more,” he laughed. “And Rob and I are always peckish. We steal food from the dining hall at mealtimes and store it in our rooms. It’s a right bit of work to keep the ice-chest cool as well. I really do miss having a fridge.”
I was still gaping at him, and Rob seemed to notice. “I think she meant to ask how you actually got the food, like, without moving.”
Madge smirked and handed me the platter. “Magic, newbie. You’ll learn too, just as you’ll learn to handle a dragon and sword fight and all sorts of useful things. Speaking of dragons, you met yours yet?”
I blew out a large sigh. “I’m tired and lost and this is all very new, so forgive me if I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve seen the dragons outside, they’re very hard to miss.” I felt rather bad about the harsh tone coming from me, but it seemed everyone was talking in a language I didn’t speak. All I wanted to do was collapse, close my eyes, say goodbye to my brother properly, adjust to the fact that I was stuck somewhere I didn’t understand.
“No one’s told you?” asked Madge, looking me in the eye. “It’s why we’re called the Skydancers. We all have dragons, we fly on dragons, we fight on dragons. It’s why you’re here. You’re here because you found a dragon egg. That dragon’s yours now, for good or for bad.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I looked at the plate of food in my hands instead. It was heaped high with foods, some I recognized and some I didn’t. I picked up what looked like a small loaf of bread and bit into it, chewing slowly. When I looked back up, the four others were looking at me expectantly. “Well?” asked Zelene, in her gravelly voice. “What do you think?”
“I think I want to go to bed,” I said.
Finally, when they realized that I wasn’t going to offer any exciting new opinions, Madge patted me on the shoulder. “Big day, eh, tiger? You’ll be fine, it’s rough for everyone.” Zelene offered me a smile before sitting back down to polish her axe next to Azak the orc. When I tried to give the plate of food back to Rob, he shook his head. “You’ll need it,” he said, not unkindly. “Interdimensional travel makes everyone hungry.” He took me down the hall of colorful doors and stopped in front of a silvery painted one. “Here’s your room,” he said. “Mine’s just that way, the green one. Madge is the yellow one, Azak’s in the brown one, and Zelene’s in the purply one over there. The rest are all empty. If you need anything, come to us.”
The strangeness of it all washed over me, and I blinked, tired. “Thank you all for being so kind,” I said, and really meant it. “Maybe tomorrow you all can explain everything to me.”
He smiled. “It’s rough for everyone, newbie. You’ll make it out alright, we all do.” Then, he turned and walked back down the hall, towards the warm glow of the common room. I balanced the plate in one hand, and with the other, opened the grey door.
There was a blueberry plant in the window.
There was a blueberry plant in the window, and the scent of it nearly made me cry. Instead, I forced myself to look around the rest of the room. Be done with tears, damn you. You’ve cried enough over what’s been lost.
The room was cheerily lit, and warm, with a crackling fireplace against one wall and candles mounted to the others. There was a large window against one wall, nearly at a height with the green-roofed buildings surrounding it. It had grown full dark outside, but the glow from street lamps cut through the gloom. A plump cushion, a window seat, the blueberry plant I refused to become sad over. A large four-poster bed took up much of the space, all light wood and dark green covers. Next to it was a small table, a chair, and a large antique looking dresser. Someone had laid pajamas out on the bed, green again, but I was too tired to care about the color. On the floor they went. I set the food down on the table, took off the strange leather boots and cape I had been given, and crawled into bed fully clothed, with the room fully lit. The last thought I had before I slept was that Rob and Madge were the two on the answers website I had read, way back life had gotten really screwed up.
That night, I dreamed of my brother dying. I saw it over and over again, the room, my wordless scream, the blood on my bedsheets as the red man cleaned off his sword. As soon as the gruesome scene was over, it restarted, an endless loop of pain and suffering that carried me through the night. When someone shook my shoulder, I woke and almost screamed before I saw it was Zelene. “Hey, no need to be worried,” she said, not unkindly. “Get dressed and meet us outside for breakfast.”
And so my first day as a Skydancer began.