‘It’s only for a while. You’ll catch up to your peers before you know it, and then you can brag about being a dragon rider to them. I promise.’ Iapetus did her best to soothe Kija’s frustration each day before school, but thinking back on those words did nothing to ease her current predicament. The first few hours of the day, she was stuck in the same room as toddlers half her age. Apparently mathematics and writing were required, even though she already had a dragon, could perform plenty of jobs without those skills, and didn’t plan to stick around long enough for those skills to matter. In the evening, she finally joined a group of her peers, and it at least felt practical learning about dragons. They split up at sunset, when Atlas or Menoetius would pick her up and Iapetus continued her theological training. Nothing bored her more than memorizing book passages by heart. Any time she made a mistake, she had to restart the recital. There was no time in the day to herself.
Her morning class buzzed with the hum and screaming of children. She was focused on drawing while the others worked on tracing their favorite dragon pictures and making poor attempts to color in the lines. They argued fervently about what kind of dragon they would manage to attract, but such conversations only made her roll her eyes. It wasn’t like they had any choice in the matter.
She drew a long snake-like creature with a hundred eyes and mouths–a ghost she was familiar with and missed dearly. One of the children came closer and stole a glance at her drawing. “It looks like a poop.” From beneath them, Shadow made the ground chill. The boy looked down and saw a dozen eyes staring at him. He yelped and skittered to the other side of the room.
“Alright, everyone!” The teacher clapped loudly until the class settled in. She shot a reproachful look at Kija, who met her eyes defiantly. She would not be intimidated by mortals. The lady sighed, shook it off, and started her speech. “We’re going to pick everyone’s favorite play and put on a show for the whole school.” When the room of children blinked at her with confusion, the teacher realized she forgot something important. “A play is where you pretend to be a character and make a story come alive. Everyone gets costumes and can say something cool to the people watching. We call those people our audience.” The students blinked again. They understood, but there was no enthusiasm behind it. Ah, yes. The teacher forgot one more thing. “Once we’re done, there will be a huge feast with lots of desserts!” Now they chittered with excitement.
They used a show of hands to choose their favorite play. The options involved a ‘horror’ mystery about a stolen doll, a play about a living hamburger, a musical about the water cycle, and a few other things Kija didn’t care about. She was sure not to raise her hand for any of them. In the end, the water cycle won, and the children set about making stage designs. Kija focused on drawing flowers until the teacher pulled her aside.
“Kija, you’re not supposed to bring your dragon into the classroom. It scares the rest of the kids, and now none of them want to be dark Riders.” The teacher leaned on an arm and rubbed her temples with frustration.
Shadow made an intentionally creepy giggle from beneath them. “Good,” she whispered.
“I know you’re not excited about being here, so you don’t need to sing on the stage. Just focus on the props. As an older student, you’ll make much sturdier and reliable props, and you won’t need to go up in front of a crowd. How does that sound?”
The Tsotska girl looked disappointed, to say the least. “It sounds boring. A play isn’t going to get me out of this class, so I’m not doing it.”
However, the teacher was prepared for this exact answer, and had prepared something better than candy and ice cream to persuade Kija. She leaned up and ruffled some sheets of paper on her desk. “I have some paperwork here that would excuse you from the rest of the course. You only need to take a little math and reading test, and then…”
“And then?” she leaned forward with excitement.
“And then I need to say that you have the dedication required to be a Rider. You can’t go to the next course before I recommend you, and the play is a perfect way to show your dedication.” The teacher held up a card that showed several of her grades. True to her word, one row had a blank score–something labeled ‘Character.’
Kija narrowed her eyes. Exiting the class was better than nothing, but it would simply be replaced with another hassle. From beneath her, Shadow sent a reassuring, “Do it! And then we’ll test out of the next group and be done with it.” At long last, the girl nodded.