Brojimarie was gone on another mission. Drax sat alone at their table, missing him, missing Saer, and wishing that she could force Railix to keep her company. Drax picked at the steak and potatoes on her plate, letting her eyes wander across the crowded mess hall. She was too young to be taken seriously, since fourteen was centuries younger than the average Acadamian. She was an albino, and a half-dragon. The only reason she was in the Academy at all was because her mother was one of the rulers of Mid-Realm.
Naturally, some of the students held her heritage against her, but Drax felt no real attachment to her mother. She could only remember a few instances where her mother actually treated her like a daughter, and one of those instances had been the result of a kidnapping! If people wanted to accuse her of nepotism, they would be better looking to the Head Chronicler, Chroniclus, who actually raised her.
A blonde elf suddenly plopped down in the chair opposite Drax. Drax stared at her, but the elf only smiled. “I’m Kezia,” she said. “You’re Drax, right? The Seeress’s daughter?”
“What of it?”
Kezia’s smile grew wider. “Excellent.”
As if on cue, other elves and nymphs filled Drax’s table, covering it with their trays of food without permission or greeting. Drax sat there as they chattered to each other, her small hands opening and closing as she gaped at their gall. She waited for them to say something to her, explain why they invaded her space, but they ignored her completely. She wished they had offered some insult, had given her some reason to slaughter them, but they were just annoying. She finally stood and collected her tray.
“Where are you going?” Kezia asked, sounding alarmed.
“What? But we were just getting to know each other.”
Drax stared at her, but she didn’t say a word as she turned and walked away.
Kezia and her posse came back the next day, and the day after that. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, it didn’t matter where Drax sat, or how she tried to hide, the elf found her. She would waltz up to Drax’s table, greeting her like they were old friends, and then the others would come, and Drax ceased to exist. Until she tried to leave. Then Kezia and all of her friends were grabbing at her and pulling her back down, begging her to stay. If she stayed, they went back to ignoring her, and if she left, they filled in whatever gap she left. Brojimarie reappeared after a month, and he provided a brief respite from the nymphs and elves. Then he was called away on another mission, and Drax was overwhelmed again. Finally, she skipped going to the mess hall altogether.
Drax went to the Böchard and wandered the shelves, letting her stomach rumble with hunger as she stroked the spines of the books. If Chroniclus or Aoife caught her here, they would reprimand her gently and send her back to the mess hall to eat. If any of the chroniclers caught her, they would send her to Chroniclus. There was only one place she where she might successfully hide.
The door had no knob, and it wouldn’t open at her touch. She had to knock and pray that the occupant was inclined to answer. He was. The door slid open, and Drax nearly ran into the darkness beyond. It was comfortable, it was familiar; it was Railix’s office.
Railix was sitting in his chair, facing the black monitors that covered the wall. His scrawny frame melted into the shadows, but his amber eyes glowed as he turned to her. “What do you want?”
He turned back around. “Get out.”
“No. You let me in, now you’re stuck with me.” She shut the door and sat on his desk, letting her short legs dangle and kick.
He glared at her. “Why are you here?”
“There’s this elf that has been annoying me…”
“You know her?”
“She started flirting with me six months ago.”
Drax did not bother to hide her laughter. She fell back on the wood and roared, rolling back and forth with exaggerated hilarity.
Railix pushed her off his desk. “She’s after power, that’s all it is. Though she is at the top of her class, Kezia isn’t particularly spectacular. She’s trying desperately to correct that failing by either becoming romantically involved with me, or apparently by becoming friends with the Seeress’s daughter. Bonus points if she succeeds in both ventures.”
Drax grinned from her spot on the floor. “I think you’ll make a cute couple.”
“I hope you enjoy your late nights braiding each other’s hair. But if that’s not something you want, kill her. Now get out, and let me get back to my work.”
She sat up, watching how his finger hovered over the ON switch. “If only she knew that you’ve only ever loved one thing.”
“Trallorps don’t ‘love’.”
Drax smiled at his common rebuttal and let herself out. As soon as the door shut behind her, though, she sank to the floor and took several long and deep breaths. She was a flurry of emotions, anger, jealousy, heartbreak, and all of them made her want to send a tornado through the Academy. She should have known better. Railix was forever preoccupied with his work, and she should have guessed that Kezia was only hanging around because of her non-existent relationship with her mother. That was her only value, after all, and there was no reason to pretend otherwise.
“Drax? What are you doing here?”
Drax jerked in surprise and looked up at the silver-haired elf blinking down at her. It was Chroniclus. Before she could answer, he looked at the door. “Did Railix lock you out again?”
“Not exactly.” She stood and straightened her crumpled clothes. “I wanted his advice, and he gave it. I was just mulling over what he said.”
“I see.” He gave her a shrewd look. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class right now?”
“Not according to most of the people here.”
He raised an eyebrow and folded his arms, waiting for her to continue.
She sighed. “I haven’t earned my place in the Academy. I’m not a great hero or warrior, and there’s no great prophecy about me. The only reason I’m allowed in class at all is because of you and the Seeress.”
“Who told you this?”
“It’s not a secret, Chroniclus.”
“No, I suppose not.” He tapped his elbow and let his gaze wander. Finally, he snapped his fingers and drew a tablet out from his interdimensional pockets. “You may not have earned your way into the Academy through traditional methods, but you have proved that you belong here. You know that you are at the top of your class, but did you realize that you are also at the top of the Academy as a whole?”
Drax leaned forward to examine the Academy rankings. Points were earned for a variety of things, including in-class performance, mission proficiency, kill count, and field experience. Drax’s mission proficiency and field experience scores were zero, since she’d never been off Mid-Realm, but the rest of her scores were through the roof! Even with her two zeroes, she was number seven overall. Drax seized the tablet excitedly, and did a quick glance over of the top six. Three were from upper classes, one was two years behind her, another one was three years behind her, and the top most ranking student was Railix.
“I could probably make number two if I went on a mission,” she said, showing him her two zeroes.
Chroniclus shook his head and gently pried the tablet from her fingers. “No, Drax. You know how your mother feels about that.”
“But I’m good! That proves it! I deserve a chance to prove it on the field! Please, Chroniclus? I’m sure you could find something simple for me to do. Something non-threatening that won’t freak the Seeress out. Data retrieval, maybe?”
“Not without your mother’s permission.”
“Why not? You have just as much power as she does! You don’t need Seeress-approval to send Railix on missions!”
“Railix is a trallorp.”
“And I’m a dragon! Whatever he can handle, I can handle.”
“Now you’re just deluding yourself,” Railix said, leaning against the frame of his suddenly opened door.
Chroniclus smiled. “Ah, Railix! There is an issue with the automated filing system in the Belgariu section.”
“Yes. I saw the alert.” He waved dismissively, and they began walking down the aisle toward the troublesome section.
Drax slid her knife between the door and the frame as it began to close. As soon as the pair were out of sight, she pried the door back open and slipped into Railix’s office. If Chroniclus wasn’t going to clear her for field duty, then she would clear herself, and forever silence her mother’s objections. Railix had the codes to the Portal Room, and if she could find them, she could go off-world and find some way to prove herself.
She turned on his monitors for light, glancing briefly at the preteen human girl playing on the other side. The girl’s name was Cassie, and it was Railix’s job to watch her, though Drax wasn’t sure why.
The codes were hidden in a book on his bookshelf at the opposite end of the room. Drax memorized the numbers, then put everything back as she had found it. She made her way to the Portal Room, first checking to make sure that no one was scheduled for a departure and that the room was indeed empty. The Portal Room was massive, and filled with star-like representations of the multi-worlds. There was a control panel in the center that Drax was able to figure out after some experimentation. As soon as she activated the correct section, she put in the codes she’d memorized and waited.
A single “star” drifted down in front of the control panel, and opened. Drax walked over to it, heart beating excitedly as she stared into another world. The portion of the world she could see through the portal was white light glaring down on black stone and brown dirt. She thought she saw a black dragon moving. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves, then plunged headfirst through the portal.
Drax knew where she was the minute she smelled the bitter calcium in the air: Anrachel. She had spent the first two years of her life on Anrachel before being confined to Mid-Realm, but then she’d been in the cliffside caves of the Versian Realms. The air had still smelled bitter, but the sweet grasses of the plains had softened it. There was nothing to soften the smell here. Where on Anrachel was she?
Drax caught sight of movement out of the corner of her eye and remembered the dragon. She quickly ditched her small, selarthin form, and transformed into a snow-white dragon, spreading her wings and shaking her scales as she adjusted to the larger body. “Hello?” She called. “Is anybody there? My name is Drax.” She quickly decided that using her full title would be more impressive and corrected herself, “Draxia Shyft, of Mid-Realm Academy. I’m a friend.”
A black dragon with two ivory horns and a red belly lifted her head over the rise. “Mid-Realm Academy is no friend of mine, nor of Ut’Zaro!”
Ut’Zaro. Drax swallowed and took a step backwards. Why did Railix have portal codes for Ut’Zaro? The dragons there were evil; they were responsible for the death of her father. Drax’s jaw tightened as that last thought echoed in her mind. They killed her father. “You’re right. We’re not friends.”
The black dragon yelped and ducked back down.
Someone grabbed her tail as she lunged toward the black dragon, and she fell embarrassingly flat. She turned to snap at Railix, the only one strong enough to stop her cold. “Let me go, Railix!”
“I’m taking you back to Mid-Realm.”
“No! I’m doing this! Go back to watching your precious Cassie and leave me alone!”
His already thin face tightened with rage. Drax felt cold. Then she was back in her selarthin form, her arm caught in his grip. How had he made her change back?!
“No!” She raised her hand and threw a wave of air in his face. When that didn’t work, she drew her knife and tried to stab his arm.
Railix twisted her arm, forcing her to drop the knife, then he threw her back through the still open portal. She screamed in frustration and pounded the floor. The trallorp strode through the portal behind her, catching her as she tried to run back through, and tossing her back again.
“You do not go to Ut’Zaro,” Railix snapped. “You do not go around announcing yourself in hostile territories, and you do NOT scream Cassie’s name ever.”
“You have no right!”
“I have every right!” He went to the control panel and began typing furiously. “I am resetting the codes for the entire Portal Room. Whatever codes you’ve memorized are now null and void. The Head Chronicler and the Seeress will be informed of your actions.”
Drax suddenly felt sick. “No.”
“These are the consequences for your actions, and you will face them.”
“No!” She drew another of her knives and threw it at him.
He caught it and threw it back at her. “You did this. You are the only one to blame here. Now get out.”
Drax collected her knives and ran from the room, her mind already reeling with the dread of having to face her mother.
She collided with Kezia outside the door, her mind still in disarray.
“Drax!” Kezia beamed and took her arms. “It’s so good to see you! We missed you at lunch today. Guess what? I’ve been assigned a mission!”
Drax pushed her back. “Get off me!”
“But we’re friends!”
“No we’re not!” Drax exploded, drawing a knife and stabbing the elf with it.
Kezia screamed as she died. She reappeared a minute later, fully regenerated by the Mid-Realmian technology. The elf stared at her, thoroughly shocked.
Drax tightened her grip on her knives. “We are not friends, and we will never be friends. I am not your pawn, and I will not be used to get at the Seeress. If you come to my table ever again, I will stab you in the face, you and all of your little friends. Do you understand me?”
Kezia nodded and scrambled away.
Drax stared after her, chest heaving with emotion. She didn’t care what Railix said, she would get off of Mid-Realm again.