The book rested on her lap while she flipped the pages revealing the pictures drawn by the talented hands of her people. Caldor had come by her room in the morning with a trolley full of books. The old sage had heard about the strongly worded discussion she had had with the Steward the day prior. Caldor hadn’t asked her about it and she was happy he didn’t try to fix it with one of his anecdotal sayings or matter-of-fact statements.

Caldor had done what Caldor usually did in situations that made him uncomfortable. He found books related to the subject and gave them to her to study. He believed the comparisons she had made to her people might mean she was missing Morza, and as a result he had collected every Morzi text he could find. His method of trying to mend her melancholy appeared to be working.

Having the chance to read the Morzi texts, Liora couldn’t help but feel the connection she had been missing. These books reminded her of her time in the mountains. She missed the mountain city and the people there. She missed her language and traditions. If Morza had survived the massacre they would have been preparing the gardens and shrine. The hunters would be setting their traps. Naygu would have made a list of the herbs she needed restocked, and Rebin – the Mor – would have been preparing for the assigning of the new dragons. Liora missed those parts of her life and the simplicity of her people’s lifestyle. She missed the music, the food, and closeness.

The Dermite were different. They were one people but lived separate lives. Families were small units like Foe, Marcia, and Druce. Family wasn’t the whole community. Everyone had separate jobs or roles here. In Morza everyone shared the tasks to make things run smoothly no matter who they were.

Flipping another page of the book, Liora’s eyes danced along the words with ease. Chiji and Morzi were easier to read and now that she had spent most of her days with her nose in books Dermite was simple to understand.

Since she had completed translating her nana’s almanac before the winter, Caldor had taught her many new things. She had learnt about Dermite traditions, rules, and ideals. She had learnt about their government and laws. Even though she had read all those, the apparent divide in gender were never mentioned. That’s why she had been so upset.

Learning about that from Foe wouldn’t stop her from pursuing her interests though. Gryphon husbandry, the history of the Gryphon Guard, military strategy, and participating in Dermite political debates were all fascinating to her. Even though she wasn’t allowed to ride gryphons without an escort or join in military discussions, these were things she knew would be helpful.

The Gryphon Guard was the most unique group in Derm’s army. They were the Sky Harpies’ – Southern dragon riders – counterparts. She found them fascinating for more reasons than their skills as warriors. If she had to explain what drew her to studying the Gryphon Guard it was their importance to Derm’s morale.

To be honoured with a place in the Gryphon Guard was to be called the best of Derm’s army. It took years of training and skill for someone to be given a place in the prestigious Guard’s ranks. Many tried to reach the title of Gryphon Guardian but few were able to achieve it.

Flipping the page, Liora found she was at the end of the book. It had taken her a few hours to finish and as she glanced to the pile that rested on the floor beside her slate windowsill she sighed. Caldor would have wanted her to continue her studies, but she wanted to wallow instead.

Cáel had tried to cheer her up after her outburst in the stables the day before. He had offered to teach her how to defend herself, but that didn’t fix the problem. She wanted a gryphon. There was a deep connection a person had with their own beast and she wanted that.

The large bird-lions understood their rider at an emotional level, sensing changes in their personality that made them great protectors. If the rider was panicked or hurt the gryphon would sense that, coming to their rider’s aid. They were loyal. They were caring. They were what she needed.

Kicking the pile of books over, Liora turned her attention to a symbol on one of the covers. The image of the Southern war-priest darted through her mind. Those empty yellow eyes, his wolf-like grin… his greasy hair.

The man had been a representative of his people when visiting Morza for the New Year festival. He had led the massacre. The symbol on the cover of that book was the same melted into the breastplate of his blood stained armour. That strange symbol that resembled an underlined V or sideways K was the symbol of Syder’s Temple.

Leaning over, Liora picked up the book by the cover. Why would the Dermite have a book on Sydrin and why had Caldor included this in her required readings? There were better things to preoccupy her mind than remembering the monsters that ruined her life.

Her hand slid over the cover. The black leather was peeled along the edges as the silver corners were tarnished. A thin layer of dust stuck to the binding; a telling sign that this book wasn’t used much. She opened the cover to see the title. The words were scribed with neat gold and red decorations around the capital letters. She hadn’t read a book written in Sydi for almost a year, yet she knew what it said: Military Training & Battle Tactics.

Flipping to the index, Liora glimpsed over the chapters. This was a book on their military. How they trained their recruits, battle tactics that were successful, and maps of old fortresses.

She turned to the first chapter; the most logical place to start. Why wasn’t she surprised that the first chapter would cover torture? The South were masters of breaking down a person into nothing but an empty soulless husk. Those that fought on foot, following orders like dogs were taken from the street as children and put through hell before being given the choice to fight or die.

The children of the rich weren’t put through that torment. They were the ones holding the whips and tightening the chains. Though, they were prisoners in a different sense.

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