Eglistanes Secondary School, Leidenstad
Tap, tap, tap.
The playing tiles clicked against the table, playing along to the sound of Saga’s fist impatiently rapping on the thin metallic surface.
“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine… one hundred!” Kera proclaimed, with complete obliviousness to her friend’s mounting boredom.
They were friends, weren’t they? Saga wasn’t sure if she hated that idea more than she might hate the possibility that they weren’t. Or perhaps that wasn’t quite right? No, it wasn’t. She just hated that after six months at Eglistanes, Kera was probably her only friend, and in her worst moments Saga imagined it was mostly because nobody else wanted to spend much time around the Vhydaszi girl either.
Kera looked up and beamed, her odd, furry ears twitching excitedly as her finger hovered over the last tile.
“Well?” she asked eagerly, “Shall I?”
”Tüüniig unakhyg zövshöör,” Saga said. “Let her ride,” she mumbled, when she saw Kera’s puzzled look. The heavy, accented Cryrian made her cringe on the inside. Everyone could hear it, she knew. And they’d never laugh about it, not to her face - but Saga could practically taste the condescension in the air at times, even from the teachers when she had to stumble through some stupid textbook reading in front of the whole class.
It was the same sort of polite disdain they showed Kera, though the Vhydaszi never seemed to care. Why didn’t she care? Didn’t she know?
Was she stupid?
In older and perhaps wiser times, Saga would come to understand the answers to these questions - Of why a nonhuman from some half-drowned village on Aisis who had come to a place like Eglistanes by dint of luck and lottery would happily ignore any slight and bury any anger.
But today she only felt a sullen, stubborn sort of bitterness at it all. Home was in Gazny Khot, with Zamira and Timour and all her friends, Grandfather’s endless stories and all the things she’d grown up with.
To stop being angry would be to forget all of that. To forget that home was there, and she was here, sitting in some quiet corner of Eglistanes and waiting for lunchtime to wind down. All because the people everyone called her parents had decided to shuffle her to Leidenstad, trading her back and forth in their stupid fights that she didn’t care about, like one of Kera’s playing tiles.
She hated it. She hated how Turlan seemed to be doing just fine, because of course her brother was perfect at everything here. She hated how she couldn’t be the same. She almost felt like she should hate Kera too, just for being there, but… no. The thought of doing that made her stomach twist.
The Vhydaszi poked the tile, and one after another they collided, clattering to the table as neighbor struck neighbor. It was a magnificent little structure they had built, really - Though they had mostly consisted of Kera, with Saga’s occasional contribution. The lines of black-and-white tiles stretched across the table, rising up to a winding tower before falling back down again.
All would come crashing down now.
“And after us, the silence.” Saga quoted the day’s History reading with such an air of drama that Kera nearly collapsed into snickers.
Amid the rubble, one last tile stood defiant, inadvertently positioned just far enough from its nearest neighbor that it remained untouched. It began to sway as a wind whistled between Eglistanes’ buildings, only for Kera to snatch it up, and then offer it out to Saga.
“For your service,” the Vhydaszi said, her voice a perfect mockery of some high roller in a restaurant from one of those weird foreign shows she liked to watch.
Despite herself, Saga’s face broke out into a grin as she accepted the piece with a mock bow. A moment later the lunch bell rang, and two girls hastened to clear the ruins away.