Drakon woke, his throat raw. He might have been shouting in his sleep. In his dark room. He flicked a glance where the lamp waited on its side table. The wick sparked blue. The flame unrolled orange, grew, dancing itself awake. Candle glow danced over him, still dressed, atop the bedsheets. And Steiffa, rising on her elbows by his feet. A smirk tugged one corner of her mouth, but she stared, her eyes round.
“Must you dream so loudly?” she said.
Drakon gathered his thoughts. Saw the scroll, coiled like a withered leaf beside him. Saw the jar of knotberry preserves Steiffa now took in hand. He and Steiffa had been quietly exploring the sleeping school, he remembered. Both of these were their night’s spoils. The scroll, yellowed and the writing faded, he had taken from Madame’s vast bookcase, from the secret shelf behind the shelf sagging under two hundred years of student registers.
“I was reading. Why’d you snuff the lamp?” he managed.
“You fell asleep. I thought I should too. Why I didn’t go back to my own bed, I can’t say. Then you started dreaming. Loudly.”
“Oh, but howling about a witch. And whole armies. And Madame. Must be your guilty conscience tormenting you for stealing that scroll –“
“I will read it and return it. Madame won’t know it missing. As I said.”
“Borysko, too. Bory…Bory…I need you, you said. You are so cruel sometimes, Draka. To that silly, serious man.” – Prising the lid off the jar of preserves, Steiffa reached finger and thumb inside.
“This…Urska, now. Who is she, I’d like to know.” – Popping a berry in her mouth, Steiffa continued – “No Urska at school, I do know. Some pretty town girl then – and you never told me, your best and only patient friend.“
Shuddering, Drakon murmured, “I don’t know such a spell. Or…not yet.”
Chewing her berry, Steiffa stared at him. Drakon only briefly spent another thought upon the old scroll beside him on the bed: a history about Vagari seers. He did not know the why of it. He knew only he must mark down all he remembered about his extraordinary dream. It was fading already.
From his bed, he reached his need for it across the dark room, staring hard. His small desk stood grey before a tall window already pale with coming morning. Upon his desk waited parchment, quill, and ink.
Steiffa turned her attention there. She popped another berry in her mouth. Essentially but staring now, Drakon’s left eye began watering.
Swallowing her berry, Steiffa offered, ”Shall I? I’ll just shapechange. Again. Be little rattie me. Again. Sneak over to your stubborn desk. And bring back whatever it is you can’t lift yourself for.”
She sprang from the bed and crossed the darkness toward his desk.
Drakon said, “I must write.”
“Must sleep soon, too. For Madame’s lessons.” Steiffa replied, gathering parchment, quill, and ink.
She was his best friend, Drakon admitted. This girl from the town.
Satisfied with the shapes she had seen in the tea, Madame Nyssa de Silva set down the small plain cup on her windowsill. She regarded morning, paling through the glass. From her apartment high in the school, from this old window of ancient rippling glass, cut and set as one like a jewel, she could especially at high summer see far, beyond the smoky town below the school on its hill. Wilderness lay beyond, dark, and a mystery to most. Far, far away, there, burned a perfect light, like a star had settled on this world of mortal worries. The mountain of the Mother. Morning already blazed upon her peak.
Madame sighed. Steiffa was undeniably adept. Also reckless, this girl forever in boy’s breeches. Most importantly, Drakon had found the scroll. Madame wanted her bed now. A little rest. The locket beneath her shift tapped upon her heart. She touched a hand to it, touched the secret of it through her shift, and the memory of her child.
A movement caught her eye below the high window. In the yard, where students soon would do morning exercise, and complain about it. A man, seen twisted through the rippling glass. Borysko, naturally. The man always rose early to run upon the hill. The man was unstoppable.