Lykos woke up. It was too early to be up. His head and his body were in complete agreement with this. But the ray of sunlight shining in his face said otherwise. He moaned a little and turned over.
The light reflected off something, probably a mirror or other polished surface in the room, and landed in his face again. Another moan, another turn. He was on his belly now with his face lifted toward the top of the bed.
Damn it all, the light somehow found him again. Muttering gibberish, he flipped onto his back and pulled the covers over his head. They barely had time to settle before the full glory of the sun hit him full in the face.
“…shouldn’t even work!” He slurred, throwing the covers off and looking for the source of the light.
To his dismay, he was not in his room at home. Oh, how he wished he was; that his family had a tradition of smithy, or thatching, or dung shoveling. At least then, he’d be apprenticed somewhere where a person woke up to roosters crowing or even being doused with a bucket. But both sides of his family were of sorcerous blood and sorcerers were not apprenticed, they were educated.
Education, as it was defined in the third year at the Royal Academy of the Arcane, the only such school in the Principality of Siece, began late in the fifth hour of morning and often involved creative abuse of the Art. From what Lykos could see, today’s menu was starting with a mass lensing spell that refracted and intensified the first rays of the morning sun so as to bedevil not only himself, atop his loft bed, but the other two occupants of the room as well.
Just as the fog of waking was clearing enough for him to realize what was coming, a helpful reminder appeared in the form of his mattress tipping until he and his covers tumbled off into empty space.
“Up and awake, you demonic turds!” A boisterous voice like two millstones in a state of perpetual collision filled the room. Lykos hit the floor, prompting the voice to bellow, “Levitation class, Mjeare! You need to be able to brig up lev without even thinking. Otherwise, one of these days, I’m gonna push you off a cliff and feel real bad for about a minute.”
Lykos managed to untangle his sheets in time to see Dormmaster Stoneshoulders tromp past. Stoneshoulders was an ogre in every sense of the word; starting with being an actual ogre. He was tall enough to see over the bunks without trying and wide enough to fill the space between them. Any of the three in the room would have been able to stand comfortably in his outstretched palm, provided they kept their feet together when standing as he’d been drilling them to.
He wore the green and white tunic of a Dormmaster, a wide brimmed, straw hat, and nothing else, not even shoes, as if any rocks in Stoneshoulders’s path would do anything but quietly turn to powder to avoid annoying him anyway. One hand carried his baton; a polished length of wood a long as Lykos’s leg, while the other stroked his slate colored beard as he looked around for a likely target.
Unaya Seifas wasn’t rising as quickly as he liked. The baton snapped out and demolished the two supports at the end of her loft in a cloud of splinters. The whole thing collapsed, but unlike Lykos, or their roommate, Soard of Alistan Keep, Unaya was gifted by her mother’s blood with feathered wings. While her father’s blood made her too heavy to actually fly, she was, nonetheless able to land lightly on her feet.
Stoneshoulders fixed her with a squint for finding a third option to the morning’s test. “Repair this before morning chow and don’t make me do it again.” He boomed after a moment of thought. “And for the rest of you turtle hork: morning mess is cracked wheat cooked in milk with dee-licious yak butter on top (at yer pleasure). You with green chits can get honey on that too.”
By this, he invariably meant Soard, because he was the only one to ever earn a green chit. Funny that, the son of a profitable count earning special privilege. Also being the son of a wildling fey might have contributed, especially when it came to how often he talked his way out of blatant rule breaking.
“And as a special treat,” Continued Stoneshoulders. “the one of you slovenly half-breeds who get to the mess fastest and properly dressed—this means to regulation, people—will get a ration of bacon off the boar the fourth year class took down in woodcraft class.”
Hearing this, Lykos mustered an ounce of haste in going to his footlocker and pulling out a clean uniform; crisp black shirt, deep purple dresscoat worked with gold piping and black metal buttons, black cotton trousers, and soft soled, black ankle-boots. Older students got cloaks or capes to add, sometimes instead of the coat, and various decorations of achievement.
Lykos had none, Unaya had a silver circlet in recognition of achievements in elemental crafting, and Soard had a number of rings and a gold-twisted belt for outstanding excellence in the field of being Soard.
It was precisely this that drove Lykos to be the first properly dressed one in the room. It wasn’t because he had any particular affinity for bacon, or because dawdling would invite Stoneshoulders to visit another random punishment upon him. Instead, it was because here was a chance to actually best Soard of Alistan Keep, his greatest rival for all things in this life for the past two years…
…and his best friend. Some days, he was more of one than the other, even by his admission, but the need to remind Soard that unlike his mother, he was still at least half of a fallible mortal was constant.
All three of them were half-breeds (which, somehow, was enough to justify bunking them all together), but all halves were not created equal. Unaya’s mother was hailene, the winged race, which granted her said wings, plus an inherent sense of balance and grace on top of sheer physical height. Soard’s mother was a wildling fey, a mystical being of no small amount of power and an affinity toward mental magics and conjuring Anima. This in turn imbued her progeny with the otherworldly beauty and natural charisma of her people, plus innate ability to sense and analyze some types of magic.
Lykos however, was the son of a human mother and one of the nir-lumos; the nomadic caravan halflings. Which made him a half-halfling and after fifteen years, inoculated him to the sea of banal wordplay that invited. The ‘advantages’ came in forms no teenaged boy cared about, usually explained in the form of ‘incredible spacial awareness’, ‘increased lifespan’, and the ever encouraging ‘well you turned out pretty tall, considering’.
That last one was a favorite of his father, which, given the fact that halfing culture viewed height as a handicap, might have been an insult.
“Everything looks in order, there, lickspittle.” Stoneshoulder’s rumbling voice caught Lykos’s attention and he turned to find Soard standing proudly before the Domrmaster, fully (and he was sure, correctly) dressed.
He looked down at himself. As far as he could tell, he too was correctly dressed… except he’d stopped to think on how unfair his life was. Morning Light, he was stupid! Lykos palmed his face to keep from slamming it into the wall a few times.
Vaguely, he heard Stoneshoulders bark another order before leaving. Off to torment another room awake, no doubt. Briefly, he considered just skipping chow entirely. His brain was clearly not doing enough work to require much nutrition.
Then there was a hand on his shoulder. “Hey.”
Lykos turned and looked up. And up. Gods and a half, but she was tall. And he was short. There could be a whole other person there in the difference, at least that’s how it felt. But he couldn’t not smile at her.
“Hey, Unaya.” Yes, idiot. That is her name. Clearly, she needed to be reminded. Say something else to keep her from thinking about it. “Um… got your bed fixed already?”
“Third time this week.” She laughed. For some reason, she took Stoneshoulders’s pure, unrefined psychosis as if it were just good natured ribbing. “Are you alright? You looked kind of off after Soard won inspection… you know he’s going to share with us, right?”
Lykos sighed heavily. “That’s not the thing. It’s just this… I actually tried today. And then I was…”
Unaya cut him off with a shrug. “I get it. Really I do. Soard never has to try for anything. But you? You have to try for everything; from spells to inspections.”
See, self? This is how you should be thinking. Viscous jealousy toward your best friend. Wait, is that what I’m supposed to be thinking? Eh, it’s better than self-loathing.
“But you’re always trying, even if you know Soard’s going to come out on top.” Before he could respond to her, Unaya leaned over and kissed the top of his head. “That’s why I like you better.”