Chroniclus XXXII turned at his father’s voice, automatically shelving the leather-bound book as he did. “I’m here.”
His father, Chroniclus XXXI (or Ron, as his mother called him), rounded the shelves and smiled. “Hard at work as always, I see.”
Chroniclus straightened proudly. “Of course, sir. There was a fault in the computer’s codex, and I wanted to make sure that none of our recent resources had been misfiled.”
“And had they?”
“Some of them. The Fildor Legacy had been placed in the Zalanaen division, and the Weavershire Almanac had been put in the Westhaven section.”
His father examined the shelves and nodded. “You’re doing a good job. I’ll assign a few of the chroniclers to finish sorting out the mess. In the meantime, I would like to talk to you about a message I received from Anrachel.”
Chroniclus’s ears perked up. “Not another dragon war!?”
“Thankfully not, but it is related to the subject in a way.” Ron led his son away from the shelves and toward their little home in the center of the Böchard. “A centaur by the name of Atleus wants to establish a school on the Vermifiut[i] continent as a way to foster peace between the peoples of Anrachel. He is sending invitations to leading factions across the planet, hoping to lure a healthy number of each peoples to this school, training them together in each other’s cultures and histories. He is convinced that this close proximity to each other will breed understanding and tolerance, and I agree with him.”
Chroniclus nodded as his father opened the door, moving to sit around their dining room table. His mother, Daennyn, joined them there, sitting silently on the floor cushions as her husband and son talked.
“Vermifiut is an excellent location for such a school,” Chroniclus commented. “It has a strong reputation as a neutral continent. I think if the leading kings were to show their support, it could succeed.”
“I agree,” Ron said. “That is why when Atleus asked for wisdom on this experiment, I offered to support him by sending my own son to his school as a show of good faith.”
Chroniclus stiffened. “You’re sending me away?”
“It’s not like that,” Daennyn said gently. “You know that.”
“Your status as Second Chronicler of Mid-Realm carries a lot of power,” Ron added. “And since you were raised on Mid-Realm, you know how to work with people of many different backgrounds and races. Those two traits make you essential to the creation and establishment of Atleus’s school.”
“And,” Daennyn continued, “it would also give you the opportunity to get to know your future wife.”
Chroniclus rolled his eyes.
Ron shot his wife a reproving look then carefully backed her up. “Aoife will wait a few years while you get established in the school. I don’t want to burden you with too many responsibilities at once. Focus on the school and the peace making. Once Atleus has the place under control, we’ll allow Aoife to join you.”
“With all due respect, I have no intention of marrying anyone I haven’t chosen for myself.”
“Then get to know Aoife,” Daennyn said. “Choose her, or at least give her a chance.”
“But most importantly,” Ron said, “give Atleus’s school a chance.”
Chroniclus leaned back and nodded. “All right. When do I leave?”
He left the next day with a small team of builders, and a large donation of books from the Böchard. Atleus welcomed all three, giving them a home on his plantation while the school and its dormitories were built. It only took a month for the entire school to be finished and more fortified than a military compound. The building team went back to Mid-Realm, and Chroniclus stayed, walking the brand-new halls of Vermifiut Academy.
Atleus stroked the walls and sighed happily. “I feel hope,” he said. “Hope for a naschit[ii]-free future, and of peace across the continents.”
Chroniclus smiled, but shook his head as he reminded the centaur, “This is only a building. The true challenge will be finding teachers that believe in your dream, and building a curriculum that fosters peace alongside knowledge. Lady Daennyn has been going through files and resumes of potentials, and she should have a list of worthy candidates by tomorrow.”
“Wonderful! You will pass on my deepest gratitude to your mother and father, won’t you? The Böchard has been supportive beyond my expectations, and I greatly appreciate it.”
“Our business is peace.” Chroniclus turned the corner and opened the door to a vast room filled with empty shelves. The sight made him both homesick and sad. He looked back at the centaur. “With your permission, I’d like to begin working on your library. I have a new shelving system that I’ve been aching to use, and I see no better time than now.”
“Are you sure that you want to? You’ve already spent so much time working on this academy; I wanted you to have a chance to rest before school starts.”
“Trust me, Head Master, organizing books is quite relaxing for someone like me.”
Atleus eyed the empty shelves skeptically. “If that is your wish, I won’t discourage you. I shall have my servants bring the books from the Böchard, and I shall leave both at your disposal.”
“Thank you, Atleus. I’ll begin immediately.”
Atleus sighed, nodded, and trotted out of the empty room. Chroniclus roamed around the space, counting shelves, and calculating the available space. He thought of the shelving and organization of the Böchard, eager to experiment with new methods here on this blank slate. He rubbed his hands and began labeling the shelves.
Atleus relied heavily on the background checks and intense vetting of the Böchard, and had the new Vermifiut Academy fully staffed within the month. Soon, Chroniclus was pestered with another librarian that wanted to organize the books his way, and they were constantly going behind each other and enforcing their own systems on the academy’s library. After two months of constant bickering and battle, Atleus was forced to step in and enforce Chroniclus’s filing system. In a passive-aggressive protest, the Academy librarian, a cherry dryad by the name of Chelan, avoided Chroniclus as best he could, working on the opposite side of the library of the Böchard elf. Chroniclus didn’t mind being avoided; he the preferred peace and quiet that came with solitude.
“Excuse me,” a voice said one morning, “I’m looking for a book.”
The voice startled Chroniclus, and he nearly dropped the book he had been skimming. He braced himself against the ladder and looked down, blinking at the sight of a pretty red-head standing on the floor beneath him. It took him a moment to identify her species since Anrachelan dragons were a unique breed. The dragons of Anrachel had two forms, one dragon, and one human, but since the Second Dragon War, the four elements of dragon had rarely used their secondary forms. Yet here stood what seemed to be a Fias, a fire dragon, fully human, and staring up at him expectantly. It was a good sign she was in human form; it meant that she was willing to work with what the dragons considered “lesser beings.” He just didn’t know why she was in the library.
“Did you have a particular book in mind?” He asked.
She thought for a moment, her vibrant blue eyes scanning the nearby spines, and then she shook her head. “Something not boring.”
“Well, boring depends wholly on your tastes.” He slid down the ladder, joining her on the floor. “There are people who prefer non-fiction, people who prefer historical fiction, and people who prefer mystery, and all may find books in another genre boring.”
She frowned. “I know that, but right now, anything would be more interesting than walking these stupid halls all day. So, hit me up, book elf.”
Chroniclus frowned back at her and leaned against the ladder, folding his arms. “Who are you?”
“Why? Are you planning on reporting me to the Head Master already?”
“Depends on how much longer you’re going to give me this attitude.”
“Forever. This is the only attitude I have.”
They stared at each other tensely, then Chroniclus took a deep breath. “Are you student or faculty?”
“I’m bored. And you are?”
“Chroniclus XXXII of Mid-Realm.”
Her eyes widened as her mouth formed a small “o.” She grinned and mimicked his closed posture. “That explains it.”
“You. You’re young for an elf, but you act like you’re an important member of the High Fil-Gambor Council. I was expecting a young, cute library boy like yourself to be more patient and helpful, and less prig.”
He scowled. “I’m not a prig. And you’re one to talk! Your attitude stinks!”
She snorted and covered her mouth. “It stinks? Really? That’s the best you’ve got? What were you reading?” She snatched the book from his hand and looked at the cover, then opened it to the first page. “Gahag’s Journey: The Chronicles of the Elfin Hero.” She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
He snatched the book back. “It’s a classic.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s interesting. If you like elves thinking highly of themselves, I would read Rharyn’s Plague. He loved talking about how clever he was in the First Dragon War.”
Chroniclus actually smiled. “You know, Rharyn made up that entire account.”
“Oh yes, I know. It was actually the Miaki dragon Lown that found the cure for sagne.”
“You’ve read Secrets of Miakadia?”
“And Shadows of Fil-Gambor and Plagues of War, both of which provide Lown’s version of the story, which is later backed up by that period’s Chroniclus.”
“I’m impressed. Those books are hard to come by. How did you manage to get your claws on them?”
She grinned and held out her hand. “I’m Agrona, Last Princess of Charfias. Access to forbidden libraries comes with that title.”
“Last Princess?” Chroniclus raised an eyebrow as he processed the title. “Your mother had three nests, correct? Five draclings each?”
Agrona nodded and shrugged. “And I was the last one to hatch, therefore I am the Last Princess, and I am the most expendable. But you’re not. You’re the only heir to the triple vast library of Mid-Realm, right? How did you end up in this abandoned place?”
“I’m a gesture of goodwill.”
“Goodwill and extreme trust. You realize that this academy could prove to be ground zero for Dragon War Three, right?”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Can you really? So if I were to suddenly blow a fireball at you, you’d be able to dodge, repel, or reflect it?”
Chroniclus felt his throat go dry and his heart lurch. Agrona started laughing, and he scowled. “It’s not funny! Fire and books don’t mix, and this collection is priceless!”
She coughed and nodded, but there were tears forming in the corner of her eyes. “You’re right; burning books is the exact opposite of funny. Your expression, however, was hilarious. But don’t worry, your library is safe from me.”
Chroniclus stared at Agrona. The sincerity in her voice had been oddly passionate. She raised an eyebrow at him, and he looked down at the book in his hand. “You said I was cute.”
“I did. And I will stand by that judgment even under torture.”
He glanced at her, and she was smiling. He smiled back. “You wanted a book?”
“Tired of talking with me already?”
He blushed. “No! But I thought of a book you might like.” He climbed up on his ladder and pulled it across three shelves, scanning the labeled spines before selecting a book with a red cover. He dropped down and handed it to her. “It’s a work of fiction, but very well written.”
Agrona looked at the cover and laughed. “It’s a romance.”
“You don’t like romance?”
“Honestly? I prefer a little adventure. But if you recommend it, then I’ll give it a chance.” She tucked the book under her arm and looked at the half-empty shelves. “How long is this going to take you?”
Chroniclus looked at his work and sighed. “Probably the rest of the month. I’m hoping it will be fully operational by the time the students start arriving.”
“It looks like two months of work. That maraschino is delusional if he thinks he can finish it before the rest of the students show up.”
“Chelan isn’t a maraschino, and he’s not in charge. I am. And I’ve worked in the Böchard for my entire life. I’ll have every book categorized, filed, and shelved by the time the first student walks through those doors.”
“You’ve already failed, book boy.” She raised a hand and waved. “The first student is already at your doorstep.”
He stared at her then rested his head on the ladder in defeat. “I was hoping you were the gym teacher.”
“I’m not sure what to make of that, other than you have terrible deduction skills. But if it makes you feel any better, I’m super early.” She set her book on the shelf and cracked her knuckles. “And I’m quite familiar with the library filing system.”
He blinked in surprise. “Are you offering to help?”
Chroniclus scanned the near-empty library, a little overwhelmed by all the work he had left to complete, and he looked back down at the dragon. “I’m not using the traditional filing system. I’m experimenting a bit, so it might be a bit confusing.”
“In other words, we’ll have to work close together so you can make sure I’m doing it right? I think I’d like that, but in exchange, you’ll have to keep me company whenever I go out flying.”
He smiled. “It’s a deal.”
Agrona caught on to his organization methods quickly. Despite her innate knack with filing, neither of them suggested that they work on their own. Instead, they continued to work side by side, discussing everything from books to their homelife. Over the course of the month, the dragon and the elf were rarely apart. If they weren’t in the library, they were flying, and if they weren’t flying, they were in the student lounge hall, reading to each other.
“Want me to share all my woes about being the youngest of fifteen?” Aoife joked, watching as Chroniclus filled the final shelf.
“Only if I get to tell you about all the pressures of being the only heir to an ancient tradition,” Chroniclus replied, grinning down at her. He tucked the last book from his stack into its proper place then slid down, staring up at their work.
Agrona propped her elbow on his shoulder, admiring the filled shelves. “I think you can handle it. I mean, just look at what you can do in two weeks—and without that useless marichino’s help!”
“I’m not a marichino!” Chelan shrieked from the next shelf over.
“He’s got some good hearing for a tree,” Agrona commented.
Chroniclus put a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. “Try to be considerate of his feelings. You wouldn’t want to be consistently called a Miaki, would you?”
“No, but dragons are more distinct than dryads.”
She sighed and twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Chelan!”
The dryad appeared in their aisle and scowled at the pair. “Dragons are non-descript. You’re all just lizards with wings.”
“Chelan,” Chroniclus warned, tightening his grip on Agrona. “She apologized. She’s trying. Remember, we’re here to foster peace.”
“Peace is impractical in this age,” Chelan huffed. “The most you can hope for is a general tolerance.” He stalked further into the library, his limbs creaking with impatience.
Agrona made a face at his back. “Is ‘stick in the mud’ too obvious an insult?”
“Please stop.” Chroniclus massaged his temple and turned back to his shelves.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to start things with him.”
“No, you just don’t stop to think.” He ran a hand through his hair and faced her.
She met his gaze contritely, hands clasped behind her back. She was beautiful, and she didn’t flinch at his harsh words. “No, I don’t. It’s a serious character flaw, and it’s one I need to get over. I’m sure dryads are particularly sensitive around fire dragons, and I don’t blame them. I’ll do better. I’ll be better.”
He let his shoulders slump. “I know, and I know it’s hard not to fall back into old habits. I just wish everyone could be like you: actually trying.”
Agrona leaned against the shelves and let her eyes drift upwards. “Do you need some time alone?”
“Why would you ask that?”
She shrugged. “You sounded stressed, and I know that I am annoying. The obvious answer is for your to be alone so you can recover.”
He stared at her. “You’re not annoying.”
“Really?” She sounded skeptical.
He took her hand. “Really. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re beautiful. You make me happy.”
Agrona blinked, then she surged forward and kissed him. Chroniclus stepped back, shocked, and she covered her mouth, eyes wide. She moved her hand and started to apologize, but Chroniclus leaned over and kissed her.
Agrona pulled away. “I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have started this.”
“I don’t care.” Chroniclus moved to kiss her again, but she jumped back.
“There hasn’t been a mixed couple since the Drakynspulung[iii],” she said, combing her fingers through her hair. “I shouldn’t have kissed you. I messed everything up!” She moaned and covered her face, leaning against the books.
Chroniclus hesitated, then he tried a nickname he’d been wanting to use. “Aggie.” She turned her head to give him a look, and he held his hand out to her. “I don’t care,” he repeated. “That’s what this school is about, isn’t it? Peace between races? This is one way to bring peace.”
“It’s not an acceptable way,” Atleus said from the end of the aisle. He walked up to the pair, frowning down at them. “Chroniclus, I’m all for peace, but I don’t think Anrachel is ready for such a leap. And what of your fiancé?”
Chroniclus winced and glanced at Agrona. She was staring at him, eyes wide, lips pressed into a thin line. He took a deep breath to buy a few seconds, then said firmly, “Aoife wasn’t my choice, and I’ve expressed my intentions to my parents on multiple occasions. I have no intention of marrying her, and I never have.” He peaked at Agrona, and her arms were folded, one eyebrow raised. He cleared his throat and continued, “Furthermore, I don’t need your permission, or my parents, to choose who I want to spend my life with. It’s my life, my choice.”
Atleus pawed at the ground, his black tail flicking at invisible flies. Chroniclus crossed his arms and met the centaur’s gaze bravely. Chelan’s head emerged around the bookshelf, green eyes watching the situation with morbid interest.
Atleus snorted and shook his mane. “If you pursue this relationship, you will be inviting hatred and persecution into your lives. Can you survive that?”
They both looked at Agrona. She didn’t give any indication of an answer. Chroniclus swallowed nervously and looked back at Atleus.
The centaur huffed and shook his mane again. “It is your choice, but I shall be informing your parents. Then it will be their choice whether or not to recall you to Mid-Realm.” Atleus turned carefully in the aisle and went to make his report.
Chroniclus felt his gut clench, but whether that was from the prospect of going home, or from explaining himself to Agrona, he didn’t know. He turned slowly and waited.
Agrona let him wait for several minutes before finally saying, “You have a fiancé?”
Chroniclus ran a hand through his hair awkwardly. “The Chroniclus line is traditionally ‘pure.’ My parents selected an elf from the Fil-Gambor courts, and I’ve told them repeatedly that I want nothing to do with her. I’ve never even met her. And it’s not fair that I’m held accountable for my parents’ choice!”
She examined her nails. “You’re right. It’s not fair. But Atleus is right, too.”
He put his hand over hers, obstructing her view. When she looked up at him, he asked, “Are you scared?”
“A little,” she admitted. “But it may be worth it.”
He straightened indignantly. “Thanks.”
She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Kiss me again, and I’ll give you a definite answer.”
Chroniclus felt his stomach settle, and he smiled. “As you wish.”
[i] Vermifiut – Pronounced Ver-me-fe-oot
[ii] Naschitt – Pronounced nah-shit; Someone who is prejudiced against members of other races
[iii] Drakynspulung – A dragon-led purge of all mixed races
 Vermifiut – Pronounced Ver-me-fe-oot
 Naschitt – Pronounced nah-shit; Someone who is prejudiced against members of other races
 Drakynspulung – A dragon-led purge of all mixed races