It was raining outside; not simply rain, but waves cascading down in a ceaseless deluge. Wall-like sheets of the stuff were the only thing visible out the window, casting a watery grey light into the Burnwood common room – which, as only a few daring souls had ventured out of doors, was rather more densely populated than usual. And as a direct result, substantially louder.
Off in a (relatively) quiet corner of the room in a kidnapped armchair sat – sprawled, rather – Theodore Gainsfeld, a tall dark-haired older boy, maybe sixteen, thoroughly absorbed in a book. Also in the corner were Mallory Waters-Kingston, a tousle-haired boy with an insouciant smile, and Justice Babbet (full name Justice Abides, which his schoolmates treated predictably), a younger freckled boy with curly brown hair and a permanent air of resignation.
Mallory, being the older of the two, had claimed the also-kidnapped ottoman belonging with the armchair, relegating Justice to the floor as the two did their best to talk over the general chaos.
“How d’you like Smythe so far?”
“He’s… interesting?” Justice shrugged a shoulder. “I think he’s gone a bit off.”
“Oh definitely, he’s completely bats. I thought he was pretty hit or miss, myself. One time it’s the funniest lecture you ever heard, next you’re wondering if he even speaks the same language. I didn’t learn a thing in his class,” Mallory added in fond reminiscence.
“I’ve learned the cotangent is terrible because he hated the neighbor’s dog.”
“Ha! The Daleford who wouldn’t stop howling? I remember that one.”
“Does he tell the same stories every year, you think…?”
“I dunno. Hey, Ted.” Twisting around on the ottoman, Mallory reached out and swatted the taller boy’s knee. “Did you get the Daleford story from Smythe, too?”
“Hmm?” Theodore looked up from his book at Mallory. “The what?”
“You know, the story about the neighbor’s dog who howled all the time.”
“It’s why he hates cotangents,” Justice added helpfully.
“Oh, the cotangent dog! Yes, I remember that one.” Theodore lowered the book, looking thoughtful. “Edward paid much more attention in that class than I did; have you asked him?”
“I’d love to, but…” Mallory gestured vaguely at the rest of the room.
Theodore took a quick look around the room and came to the same conclusion: Edward was nowhere in sight. “Ah. Well, we’ll just have to wait until he shows up.” He returned to his book.
“Didn’t he say yesterday he wanted to go to the library?” Justice looked at the window in mild concern. “I hope he didn’t.”
“I should say so,” Theodore added absently, still reading. “The books would get soaked.”
“What are you reading, anyway?” Mallory leaned over and peered at the cover of the book. “…The Epic of Fearthil? What class is that for?”
“Class?” Theodore waved a hand dismissively. “This is my research. Fearthil is one of the earliest epics we have, about a legendary hero named, shockingly, Fearthil, and his heroic deeds.” He sat up abruptly, switching his focus from the book to the explanation with enthusiasm. “Most of the story seems to still exist in record, but not all of it from the same sources so there are inconsistencies. The part I happen to be interested in, and which seems to have some of those differences, is this right here.”
Theodore tapped a finger against the pages, his audience of two leaning forward to see.
“What does it say?” Justice eyed the words dubiously. They were in a long-dead language and completely unintelligeable to the younger boy.
“It describes a particular battle between the hero Fearthil and a monster, Caemalund. Fearthil hunts down the monster, who has been ravaging the local countryside, and kills it. There are a few versions of this battle,” Theodore continued, “but two things they all seem to share are that this monster is scaled and has large, powerful wings.”
At this last statement, the blank and amused expressions of Justice and Mallory, respectively, shifted almost instantaneously into comprehension as they shared a look.
“Dragons, of course.” Mallory rolled his eyes. “Don’t you think about anything else?”
“Well I spend time with you sorry lot,” Theodore retorted, grinning, and sent Mallory scrambling backwards with a well-aimed kick. “Which I see you fail to appreciate. Should I teach him a lesson, Jude?”
“Oh no, will I be eaten by dragons?” Mallory deadpanned.
“Rest assured, Mal, I have a far worse fate in mind.” Theodore snapped his book shut and brandished it. “Beware, for I wield large and obscure texts!”
“Boring me to death, is– ow!” Mallory ducked as Theodore smacked the book down on his head.