Chapter 3: The Other Campus
Jamie was tired of everyone acting as if he were broken somehow. He had been physically scarred most of his life and was used to hiding his scars; hiding his emotional scars wasn’t much different and he wished people would give him the freedom to hide those scars without constantly inquiring after him. He couldn’t pretend to himself that he was fine after killing Ashton and losing Kale, but he wanted to be able to pretend to everyone else.
Yet everyone who talked to him seemed hesitant, as if worried that they might say the wrong thing and trigger some unwelcome reaction in him. The only one who didn’t was Margot, and he couldn’t express how much he appreciated it. He didn’t necessarily trust her, and he knew Scott didn’t trust her at all, but he welcomed her presence. And she might know about the disappearing dragons, he thought as he headed out of dragon canyon towards the girl’s college. After all, she had been second to Ashton on the council. He hadn’t approached her before because Derek hadn’t officially asked for his help, but now that Derek had, Jamie was eager to find out what Margot knew.
The mist was thick as he walked the path between the colleges, but it thinned in the direction he needed to go, acting as an escort to him. It seemed to take forever before the mist finally thinned again and he saw the other campus, just as classic and elegant as the boy’s. Margot lived in the apartments but he headed towards the school buildings, since he knew she taught a class at this time of day. It was rare for a council member to teach anything other than one-on-one sessions with upperclassmen, but Margot preferred getting to know the freshmen and taught one of the basic writing classes. Jamie respected her for that.
Her class was just letting out when he arrived and the flux of female students emerging from the room temporarily stunned Jamie, partially because he wasn’t used to being surrounded by women and partially because many of them looked at him with open jealousy. He knew that most of them thought that Queen dragons should be partnered with women, not men, and resented both him and Derek, and he also knew that many of the students were jealous of his relationship with Scott, but he hadn’t expected the students to be borderline hostile towards him. It was quite a change from the boy’s school where everyone practically worshipped him.
As soon as the students passed him by, he entered the classroom to see Margot packing up her books into a small tote bag. She glanced up at him without expression.
“I thought that might be you,” she said. “Little else gets the girl’s attention like that.”
Jamie blushed. “I had some questions to ask you.”
“Of course. Why don’t you come to my office?”
Jamie nodded and followed her out of the classroom towards the rows of doors that held teacher offices. He was a little curious about her office, and as he entered he had to pause to take the entire room in.
The books were the first things he noticed. Every wall save one was covered in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with more books than could possibly fit. They were shoved in haphazardly at all angles to get them to fit, and he couldn’t see any organization pattern at all. The ones that were standing upright seemed to be in alphabetical order, but the ones piled on top of them were in no order at all and far outnumbered the neatly stacked books.
The single blank wall was taken up by an L-shaped desk covered in papers and one of the latest models of computer. Margot sat in the over-stuffed arm chair and gestured for Jamie to take the wooden chair across the desk from her. He obeyed, his eyes darting to the books, wondering what she considered important enough to keep in her office. There were the usual books that she must use for class, and some Shakespeare and Dante, but most of the books had simple bindings and titles that almost seemed to be in a different language. Either that or they all referred to things Jamie had never heard of before.
“Now then,” she began, taking off her glasses and rubbing them on a soft cloth she retrieved from her desk. She looked surprisingly young without her glasses. “What did you want to ask me?”
Jamie hesitated. He didn’t trust her entirely, but she was wise and knew a lot, and could certainly help him. Plus, she was now the head of the council and he would have to involve the council in the dragon disappearances eventually. Better do it now, when he might actually gain something from it.
He began telling her about the disappearances, how it started with one dragon in Spokane and everyone thought it was a fluke, but then how it continued and now, with the most recent disappearance occurring today, how they were certain someone was targeting young dragons. She placed her glasses back on her nose as he spoke and watched him impassively as he explained, but he could almost see her thinking and putting pieces together. She knew something. When he finished, he took a deep breath and waited for her to speak.
She took several moments, then looked at the books to her right.
“There is a legend,” she began, and told him about a great evil that was said to hide inside Mount Tarragon, destined to waken and bring doom to them all. Scott had already spoken to Marisol about Mike’s warning and it sounded very familiar. Coming from two sources, Jamie grimly realized that it was probably true. They had awakened something and it was seeking blood.
“You don’t look surprised, young one,” Margot said as she finished telling the legend.
“I had my suspicions,” Jamie said, purposefully not mentioning Mike or where he had heard a similar story. He didn’t want Mike to get caught up in this.
“Then you believe this myth?”
“You do, don’t you?”
A sly smile stole across her face. “I believe the facts. It could very well be that one of Ashton’s minions has taken up Ashton’s practice of eating dragons. Have you eliminated that possibility?”
“I have,” Jamie said. “I can sense all dragons and I would know if one of them were doing it. Or at the very least, the dragons would know and they would tell me.”
“So the thing killing these dragons is beyond your abilities to sense?”
Jamie paused, unwilling to admit to a weakness in front of her. She didn’t seem to care, however, and just nodded as if he had answered yes.
“I assume Scott has been sent to deal with it. If it is a dragon whose ability places him outside of your reach, you will need to be extremely careful. We cannot lose our Queen or our Queen’s mate.”
“I’m surprised you care so much about Scott,” Jamie said without thinking.
Margot laughed. “His presence keeps that men’s campus in line. If you didn’t have a strong attachment to someone and your mate was determined solely by the mating flight, the mate would change every year and it would be chaos. We need stability, and Scott is a good choice. Surely you know I have no intention of splitting you up.”
“I know,” Jamie said, cheeks flushing again. “What about Derek’s mate?”
“Derek seems to have formed a strong connection with one of the council members in Spokane,” Margot said. “There will be little fighting over that position either.”
Jamie nodded. He hadn’t considered the consequences of Derek’s mate changing with every mating flight, but chaotic would be an understatement. Each one of Derek’s mates would try to win the most control in their year before they were inevitably replaced. Then Jamie would truly feel sorry for Derek. It was good that Derek was making connections, then, even if the man he was seeing still had some loyalties to Ashton. As long as it wasn’t Scott who won Derek’s mating flight, however, Jamie didn’t really care.
There was a quiet knock on the door and a soft smile lit Margot’s face. She must know who it is, Jamie thought as he turned in his chair to see the person opening the door. It was a young woman, most likely a senior or recent graduate, with golden tresses and warm brown eyes. Her skin was tan and had a speckling of freckles across the nose and she had an athletic build as if she spent a lot of time working outside in the sun. Jamie felt a little self-conscious with his pale skin and lack of strong muscles. The woman was quite beautiful, and grew more so when her eyes met Margot and a smile curled her lips. Looking between the women and suddenly understanding the smile, Jamie blushed. They must have been lovers, or at least in love, to have those gentle smiles.
“Do you need something, Clara?” Margot asked in a voice like honey, not at all like her usual commanding tone.
“The women’s council has requested your presence,” Clara said. “Apparently one of the freshmen is having difficulties with her dragon again.”
Margot sighed and turned to Jamie.
“If you’ll excuse me, Jamie. I am needed elsewhere. Should you have any more questions, please let me know, but I’ve told you all I know.”
“Thank you, Margot,” he replied politely, standing and scooting around Clara.
Clara smiled at him as she shut the door and he wondered if a freshman really were having problems or if Clara had just said that to get rid of him. It didn’t really matter either way; he had his information and was ready to return to the boy’s campus. As he turned to leave the building, he heard a squawking sound and turned towards it in surprise.
A large grey and white cat was trotting through the hall of the academic building with a live bird in its mouth. Jamie gasped.
“Put that bird down right now,” he commanded, and to his surprise, the cat seemed to listen, setting the bird down right at his feet.
The bird, a large swallow, seemed dazed for a few moments and then started fluttering its wings. It lifted from the ground and made a beeline straight for the open door down the hallway. The cat made no movement to catch it and was instead watching Jamie with a gleam in its eyes, as if waiting for Jamie to congratulate its hunting skills or something.
Jamie had never really been around cats but he knew a little about them, and this one seemed tame even if it didn’t have a collar. After all, it was inside the building so someone must have let it in. It had to belong to someone. He extended his hand cautiously and the cat leaned forward and sniffed it, then butted its head against his palm. Jamie smiled and scratched behind the cat’s ears. A warm purring sound erupted from the creature and Jamie relaxed a little. This had to be someone’s cat. A wild cat wouldn’t act like this.
He scratched the cat for a few more seconds, then got up to leave. The cat followed him. He left the building and the cat still followed him. He turned around and considered going back inside to ask around and see who the cat belonged to when Margot and Clara emerged from her office and paused. Margot seemed surprised to see the cat so close to Jamie and she studied him with a hint of a smile.
“She likes you,” Margot said, leaning down to rub the cat’s back. “She’s been hanging around our campus for days now but hasn’t adopted anyone yet. Perhaps she’s been waiting for you.”
“I can’t have a cat,” Jamie said. “I have a dragon.”
“Dragons and cats get along better than you might expect,” Margot said. “Why don’t you take her back to your campus and at least keep her while Marisol is at the hatching grounds? It will be good for you to have some companionship.”
Jamie stared at the cat, who stared back with a hint of a challenge in her eyes as if daring him to leave her. He knew she was going to follow no matter what he did, so why not adopt her, just for a little bit? He hadn’t really given any thought to how lonely it would be without Marisol and without Scott, and perhaps a cat would be good company.
“What’s her name?”
Margot laughed. “She’s a cat, not a dragon. You have to name her.”
“I thought she was someone’s pet.”
“No, she’s one of the feral cats from this campus. The men’s campus doesn’t have cats, but here we have a small community. We spay and neuter as many of them as we can to keep their numbers down, but there are always more. She seems to like you a lot,” Margot observed.
Jamie was a little nervous about accepting a feral cat into his rooms, but from the cat’s stance he didn’t think she was going to give him a choice.
“All right. Come on, kitty,” he said, turning towards the path and pleased to see that the fog parted for the cat as well. As they walked, he tried to think of a good name for her. They walked in almost complete silence, broken only by the occasional meow from her when he walked too fast. As they entered the boy’s campus, he was aware of people staring at the cat oddly. He had to walk all the way across campus to the dragon canyon but when he arrived at his rooms, the cat leapt up onto his couch and curled up as if she knew she were home. She let out another meow.
“That’s right, kitty, this is where you live now,” Jamie said, inwardly calculating what all he would need to keep a cat. Food and water, first of all. A litter box. Maybe some toys. Since he didn’t have money and all of his belongings were purchased through the council, he would have to go to them for permission. He just hoped his cat wouldn’t mind the slight delay.
He gazed at her sleeping on the couch, paws twitching slightly, and grinned. It would be nice having another creature in his rooms while Marisol and Scott where away. He could feel Marisol’s indulgent acceptance of the newest member of their family and hoped Scott wasn’t allergic or anything. With a sigh, he headed back out to the council to get supplies for his new cat.