Storm’s dragon was a large white-blue creature called Icefire. It seemed Fern, in her four days of living, had already met him, and was happy to get us acquainted. He trained his cold eyes, the same color as Storm’s but infinitely wiser, onto me, and he approved of me. My Rider seems to think you a wonderful human, but I wouldn’t know. I don’t know a lot of humans, but I will take his word for it. I am pleased to meet you, Ivy Whitehall, he told me. Ice was the one that took Storm and I down to the center of the city, after we had taken our leave of tiny Fern, forbidden to leave. She had explained to me, in a flurry of mental conversation, that dragons not large enough to be ridden were supposed to stay in the cavern, to be trained by the other dragons in the arts of flight, fire-breathing, clawing. When she was big enough and I was trained enough, she told me, we would fly together. I felt rather put-out, this four day old hatchling already knowing more about the way this society worked than I.
Storm helped me mount onto Icefire, and we spiraled down towards the city. I was sitting behind Storm, my arms wrapped tightly around his waist and my eyes wide. Flying had gotten a bit easier, it seemed, though my stomach still twisted with barely controlled nausea.
We landed in the center of a wide street in the red section, Icefire nuzzling Storm and then taking off into the sky. “Where’s he going?” I asked Storm.
“Back to the mountain caves,” Storm replied. “That’s where all the dragons stay. We’re going to the armory. I’m going to teach you how to fight.”
The armory was a squat and long building made of grey stone, with a low door and long, wide windows. Storm shot me a wicked smile as he opened the doors. “Ivy Whitehall, it is time for your true initiation.” He swept his hand grandly inside. “Pick your weapon.”
Racks of swords filled the walls, serrated blades with angry points, graceful sweeping swords, greatswords and longswords and rapiers. Maces and spears lined the walls, carved quarterstaffs hung on racks next to expertly crafted bows. Mauls and axes lay next to intricately jeweled daggers, dirks lined up beside crossbows. My hands itched, I wanted to touch it all, run my hands over the metal and see if it was real.
I turned around to find Storm smiling. “Go ahead,” he told me. “Whatever your little human heart desires. The swords are usually the most popular, but we should really get you familiar with everything.” When I didn’t do anything, he gestured impatiently to the weapons. “Go, Ivy! Find something you like. I’m going to find the armorer and speak to him about getting you fitted.”
Storm vanished in between a shelf of maces and spears, and as I saw him leave, I slowly began to look. In truth, I’d never seen most of the weapons that lay before me, didn’t know how I knew their names. A rack of swords caught my eye, elegant and made for slicing. I experimentally picked one up, feeling the weight of it in my hand. What was it Harry Potter had said? The wand picks the wizard. I set the sword back down and moved on.
A few racks over, one strangely shaped object wrapped in cloth caught my eye. It was sitting on a long, low table, surrounded by maces and morningstars. When I gently moved the cloth off of it, I smiled in delight. Memories of broomstick fights with Sam came rushing back, the bruises and glory of it all, spinning the broom handle in one hand. It had taken me years to master, just long enough for Sam to lose interest in our duels. I had always beaten him, until we stopped fighting. Fighting was a children’s game, and I hadn’t thought of it in years. Yes, this was the weapon.
In front of me was a double-bladed staff.
It was beautiful, taller than I, with a sleek wooden handle wrapped in dark leather. On either end were two nasty looking blades, graceful and deadly, shaped like pointed leaves, three pronged. Ivy leaves, I realized with a secret smile. When I picked it up, the weight of it felt right in my hands, and as I swung it around, I nearly knocked over a rack of bows but I didn’t.
It felt like a victory, something that didn’t come easily to me in this strange world.
When Storm came back with a bearded dwarf I didn’t know, I had amassed a small collection of weapons: my staff, a slender grey bow and green-fletched arrows, and no less than six knives of varying shapes and sizes. Storm glanced at my choice with strange approval before gesturing to the dwarf. “This is Orn, Mirael’s best armorer. He’ll get you suited up.”
We left the armory some time later with my weapons, a mismatched set of leather training armor, and the promise from Orn that I’d get a uniform set of Skydancer plate armor within a few weeks. Storm took me back to the Green section. “Get your things sorted, get some food, and I’ll be back within the hour. I’ve got to find some things and I’ll meet you back here soon. I’ll explain everything to you at the Field.” He looked as if he was about to say something more, quizzical, but decided against it and awkwardly touched my arm. I shied away from him, opening the door to the Green Quarters and slipping inside before I could do something regrettable.
“You’re pulling your swings,” Storm told me as he came at me again, staff whirling. I jumped to the side and swung my practice staff up to meet his with a resounding crack of wood. He dashed at me again and I whirled my staff up, but not fast enough to avoid a sharp sting of pain as Storm’s staff crashed into my side, into my ribs. I crumpled to the ground, grunting. Storm leaned on his staff and looked down at me smugly. “Not so good as you assumed, it appears.” I made a face at him and stood up slowly, ignoring the stab of pain in my ribs which nearly made me keel over again.
“Aren’t you supposed to be my teacher?” I asked him. “You’re not supposed to judge me for how bad I am.”
He grinned. “Yes, I am your teacher, but I will still judge you, darling, no matter what. You’ll never be as good as me. You lack surprise- all your attacks are wholly predictable.”
At that point, I’d had it. When Storm had come back to fetch me, we had headed across the city to spend the rest of the afternoon on the Green, a huge lush field where Mirael’s finest drilled in combat. He had thrown me a practice staff so much less elegant than my own and told me to defend myself. In the few hours that had passed since, I had been solidly walloped by him, gathering what would probably be a nice collection of purple bruises all across my body. Storm had laughed at my inability, and when I told him that I hadn’t fought with a staff since my childhood, he laughed at me all the more.
When I looked at his smug face, grinning, before me, I couldn’t help myself. I brought the staff up in one deadly arc and smashed him on the head. The look of shock on his face as he staggered and crashed to the ground, unconscious, was all the satisfaction I needed. “Predict that, asshole,” I told his prone form as I threw the practice staff down and walked away.
A few other Skydancers around had ceased their training to watch me as I stalked away. “He deserved it,” said a young angel boy in yellow, grinning at me. “We’ve all heard of him and how much of a horrible person he is. I’m so glad the mighty Fallingstar has finally met his match, and in an Unchosen, no less! What a lovely surprise!”
I wasn’t sure how to take that, so I just nodded. “You might want to get medical,” I told the boy in yellow bluntly. “I wouldn’t want him to die.”
The city seemed much more familiar to me, and for the first time, I didn’t get lost on the way back to the Green section. It was a long walk, and my mind spun and reeled as I walked. Thoughts rushed through my brain, of my life in California, of my brother’s dead face and my mother’s scream, of the stone I had found and the man in red who lurked in the woods, of my dreams. I wondered if I would ever see California again. I wondered if I wanted to see California again.
Through the afternoon, the sky had been growing more and more dark and as I threaded through the red section, raindrops began to splash out of the sky to land on me. I pulled the hood of my cloak up and walked quickly until I got back to the Green Quarters. To my ultimate surprise, Calic was waiting for me, sitting under the eaves of the building to avoid the rain now steadily falling from the sky. He smiled widely when he saw me and stood up, pulling his red-orange cloak tightly around himself. “How wonderful to see you, Ivy. I was looking for you.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s nice to see you too, Cal. Why were you looking for me?”
He shrugged expansively. “I just wanted to see how your first day went. I remember mine own first day, a little over three years ago. It was certainly a tumultuous experience.”
I stepped up beside him under the eaves, shaking the dripping water from my cloak and self-consciously tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear. I gave him a timorous smile. “It was long, and busy. I’m still rather lost on it all. Storm’s my assigned teacher, apparently, and he hasn’t done the best job explaining, well, anything, really. The most I’ve learned since I’ve gotten here was from you and Fern.”
“Who’s Fern?” Calic asked, yellow eyes intently on mine.
“My dragon,” I replied. I felt a strange thrill at the words. My dragon.
The elf smiled. “So you got to meet your dragon. Do you like her? I’m assuming it’s a her.”
“Yes, yes she is. She’s lovely, actually, rather flighty.” I laughed at my own joke only after realizing what it was I said.
Calic smiled at me, taking both of my hands in his and squeezing them, “I’m so glad you’re doing well. Storm can be, well, a bit of a challenge, but you’ll get used to him in time, I’m sure. I was a Chosen, but my mentor- actually mentor to all the Chosen Reds that sunturn- was horrible- he was an angel and he was just this royal prick, thought he was something so far beyond himself, but we got along eventually.”
I giggled. “I don’t think Storm and I will ever get on.” Suddenly, I remembered how I had left him. “Oh my god, I hope he’s alright.”
Calic cocked his head at me. “Whatever do you mean?”
I glanced around, to make sure no one was listening. “We were training with quarterstaffs and he kept laughing at me, telling me what a terrible fighter I was instead of giving me actual help. Finally, when he wasn’t looking, I clocked him on the head with it and left him unconscious on the Green.”
Calic’s hands tightened on mine and for a moment I feared he would be angry, but then he just started laughing. He laughed so loudly and so musically that I couldn’t help but smile. “Ivy Whitehall, you are a beautiful creature. To take out Storm with a quarterstaff, wonderful! I’m sure he deserved it, he always does. What a complete and utter ass, that one.” He finally let my hands go. “I’m proud of you, Ivy. I’ll tell you what- anything Storm doesn’t explain to you, I will. I’ll meet you here every day after lessons and catch you up. You’ll be a graduated Skydancer with your own position in no time, I promise!” I had no idea what he was talking about near the end, but he did agree to teach me, and he sounded so enthusiastic about it that I couldn’t help but smile and agree.
“I almost forgot!” he burst out suddenly. “The whole reason I came here!” He grandly swept into a bow. “Would you care to accompany me to the Grand Ball five days hence?”
“I am completely lost on what you’re talking about, but you’re so nice that I’ll agree,” I told him. It was rather an echoing of my earlier thought, and one I seemed to have much these days.
He looked rather put-out for a moment and stood up, but then he broke into a wide grin again. “I forgot, you’re new here. The Grand Ball, coming up in five days, is to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the ending of the Great War. The whole city’s in an uproar about it, preparations have been going on for months.” His eyes grew soft. “That’s where you come in. Every Skydancer’s clamoring to ask someone, or to be asked by someone else. I wanted to make sure that I asked you before someone else did. So, would you like to go with me?
I wanted to grin, but I kept calm. “Yes, I would like to go with you, Calic. I would like that very much.”
He grinned. “Well, then I’ll see you at the ball. Wear something green, it goes with your eyes.”
“I’ll try, Cal,” I smiled. He gave me a wave before vanishing. I sat down on the steps. Get it together, idiot. Don’t be a pre-teen girl. Suddenly, I heard a loud shout from down the street and I saw Storm stumbling towards me. “Ivy- wait!”
I glared at him and went inside.