The library was quiet, empty, as it usually was during class hours. Sometimes, distant shouts or cheers ghosted in from the halls as the inevitable chaos of having multiple young dragons in close quarters overwhelmed whoever was supposed to be corralling them - or, in the case of the gym class currently outside the cliff-facing windows, as that guardian egged their class into competitive stretching.
Tsunami, Starflight thought fondly, turning his face to the light slanting in through the window; the gentle warmth told him it was early afternoon, and probably casting the dark shelves in a relief of chocolate and gold. I’ll have to come up with a new sport for that Winglet at this rate.
His ears perked up as he heard a solitary dragon padding down the hall; they were a dragonet, too light for one of the adult dragons. Their steps were soft, not punctuated by claws tapping the stone, so they were probably a MudWing or a SeaWing; their tail wasn’t dragging, either, so most likely a SeaWing.
Starflight ran through the class lists absently in his head, narrowing down the choices, as the dragonet in the hallway hesitated in the doorway. He heard them take a deep, sharp breath before they entered with a much more determined stride, accompanied by the faint hiss of breath through their gills.
“Starflight, can we talk?”
Starflight turned to face the dragonet, now that she had been loud enough for him to pinpoint her location. “Of course, Princess. What do you need?” He frowned, an expression that felt like it bared too many teeth with how stiff the fused scales on his face were. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class right now?”
“I told the teacher I was going to the bathroom. And, please, just Anemone. This isn’t a Princess problem. I - I have a personal question for you?” Her voice wavered on the last sentence, and he heard something clicking - a bracelet? - as she fiddled with it.
“The library is pretty quiet during class. As long as this question isn’t something that’ll make your sister reintroduce me to mud wrestling, you can ask it here.”
Anemone laughed, a little weakly, but the fidgeting stopped. “I… I want to help Tamarin with her sight.”
Starflight waited for her to continue, and when she didn’t, he prompted, “and you want my advice so it can be a surprise?”
“I want your advice so she doesn’t feel hurt by me asking her what I’m about to ask you,” Anemone clarified, “because I want to give her her sight back.”
Starflight gave her another pause.
“...But she’s never had sight, and it’s a big thing to surprise her with, and she’s happy the way she is, I think? I’ve never heard her complain about it, and we hang out a lot. But I want her to see how happy being with her makes me.” She paused, drawing a breath, “because being with her makes me really happy. Like, being with her makes me feel like - makes me feel like - never mind, it’s stupid -”
“It’s not stupid,” Starflight urged gently. “I promise.”
Anemone drew in a very deep breath and shouted, “she makes me feel like I’m made of sunshine and I love her and I don’t want to mess that up!”
Starflight heard her voice catch on the last few words and stepped closer, reaching out a talon towards her. He felt her hand on his - how small dragonets were! It was easy to forget - and then she moved closer, pushing her forehead into his shoulder and shaking. Starflight carefully brought up his claw to her back, hugging her gently, until her shaking subsided and she took a few steps back. Starflight heard her sniffling, but she seemed determined to not mention it.
“I… I’m royalty,” Anemone said, hopelessly. “I’m supposed to marry a SeaWing, and probably a guy - I think my mom’s been trying to get me to warm up to Pike, at least, that’s what he thinks, and he’s not very fond of it either, and he’s been trying to help me with Tamarin, but - Starflight, what will my mom say? I’ve grown up on stories of princesses meeting princes my whole life!”
“Does Tsunami know?”
“ I haven’t told her, but Pike knows, and Pike had a really long talk with Clay earlier in the year, and I don’t know if he told him or not because I can’t hurt his feelings by asking!” Anemone’s gills flared with a loud hiss. “I hate being a Princess. I don’t know how to do anything! I’ve overheard so many dragonets talking about their new friends and how much they’re learning from each other, but I’m royalty - and I’m Tsunami’s sister, and everyone knows that, and I think they expect her to throw them in the reservoir if they look at me funny!”
Starflight tilted his head, jerking his chin towards the window where the muffled screaming of a gym class in the middle of what sounded like tackle-based capture the flag was still drifting in. “Well, it wouldn’t really be unlike her.”
Anemone sniffled, but he heard her smile when she answered, “yeah, you’re right, she would. And I’m glad she’s looking out for me, I’m just…”
“Stifled?” Starflight offered.
“Stifled,” she agreed. “But I’m getting distracted, and I’m already pushing it for how long Webs thinks a bathroom trip takes. If… if you had the chance to get your sight back, would you take it?”
“I think that’s a question that would take longer than a bathroom break to answer,” Starflight answered truthfully. “And I can’t answer for Tamarin; I lost my sight, but she’s never had it. I still think of my sight as something missing, because I had it for so long, and maybe I would want it back if I had the chance. But Tamarin isn’t missing anything, because she never lost it. She’s happy, she’s whole. And she ,” Starflight gave Anemone a stern frown, “should be asked before you use any permanent magic on her. A Queen has to do what’s best for her subjects, even if they disagree. An ordinary dragon has to respect that others know themselves better than anyone else will.”
“I understand,” Anemone said, embarrassed. “I’ll… I’ll think about it and find a better way to look at it before I ask her anything. Thank you.”
Starflight smiled. “You’re very welcome. Now, go on back to class. I wouldn’t want Webs sending you down to the infirmary for taking so long.”
“I’m going!” She laughed, and he heard her jogging back to the doorway - where she paused, and from her voice, turned to look back at him. “I promised I’d use my magic for good, Starflight, so if you ever decide you want your sight back, just… you know. The offer’s there.”
“Thank you,” Starflight said, the words catching in his throat with how much he meant them. “And you can come here to talk whenever you need to - but say you’re running an errand for me, next time.”
A soft sound - he guessed she nodded - and then she left, her paws tapping down the hall. The part of Starflight that had wholeheartedly taken to the role of teaching winced as he thought about how she wasn’t supposed to run that fast indoors, but the brother part tamped it down. He would have run, too, if he’d been let loose in a school at that age.
With a contented sigh, he turned back to his desk, one ear up as he heard Tsunami declare a tie and her class excitedly pressing her to include a sudden death round. At least some of his siblings weren’t bothered by the implication that they should act their age.
“There’s a note on the door for you,” Flame called across the library. “Do you want me to bring it over, or is it there on purpose?”
“Oh, bring it over,” Starflight replied, looking back over his shoulder out of habit. “I didn’t notice it when I came in.”
“You wouldn’t,” Flame observed wryly, scrabbling for a moment - Starflight pictured him trying to hook his claws between the note and the door - before continuing in to his usual spot under the window.
“Does it say who it’s from?” Starflight asked, turning back to his work; his claws ran over the system of notches he’d carved into the scroll cases as he tried to remember what shelf he’d been putting the medical scrolls on.
“No, just your name,” Flame answered. Starflight heard it rustle as it was turned over, but it didn’t sound like paper. “It’s an envelope, actually, looks like. I think I saw leaves like this in the greenhouse.”
Starflight put the scroll back in its place and flexed his cramped claws. “It must be from a student; the teachers all know to talk to me personally or leave a note with one of my siblings.”
“What student would be leaving you gifts?” Flame was still turning the package over - or maybe holding it up to the light? Starflight couldn’t be sure. “You’re not a teacher, they can’t bribe you for marks. Do you have a secret reading club, handing out prizes?”
“Fatespeaker runs the reading club for me,” Starflight answered remorsefully. “After all, I can’t read to the younger ones any more.”
The two sat in silence for a moment; Starflight heard the gentle itching sound of scale on scale that probably meant Flame had run a paw over his scar again.
With a tone that was apologetic but slightly impatient, Flame asked, “should I open this and read it to you, or is it private?”
“I don’t know if it’s private,” Starflight reminded him. “Whatever it says, can I expect you to keep it a secret?”
“I’m not going to blackmail a four-year-old,” Flame said crossly. “Give me a second to glance over it before I start reading it out loud.”
“Of course,” Starflight said. As Flame tore the package open, Starflight padded over to lie beside him, resting his chin on the ledge in front of Flame’s talons. He felt the heat irritate the sliver of his eyes that his scarred eyelids couldn’t quite cover, but he’d already decided it was worth the annoyance of putting eye drops in later.
“It’s from Anemone,” Flame said quietly.
Starflight’s ears pinned back. “I talked to her last week, I didn’t expect a note. Read it to me, but quietly.”
“She’s been vague enough that I probably wouldn’t have to,” Flame observed, and then his tone changed as he read from the page. “‘Starflight, I talked to her. We found a solution! She likes hers so much that I thought I would make one for you. Try it on, it should fit!’ and then she signed her name. With a little cartoon fish? Is that a SeaWing thing?”
“I believe it’s an Anemone thing. Does it have stripes?”
“Ah,” Flame said, understanding. “A clownfish. The thing in the envelope was a ring. It’s pretty, all silver with - clownfish on it too, like they’re swimming around it.”
“It looks like something designed by someone with the fashion sense of a dragonet,” Flame said haughtily. “But yes.”
Starflight laughed and held out his talons. “Put it on whichever it’ll fit best.”
Flame hesitated. “I don’t think it’ll fit any of them?” Movement, physical instead of audible, as Flame’s claws bumped Starflight’s. “Ah, it’s… magical. It’ll change sizes. Which claw?”
“Animus magic can’t be used for evil any more,” Starflight reminded him gently. “Let’s go with the pointer claw, that seems common.”
“Choosing your aesthetic by statistical majority seems like an aesthetic of its own,” Flame mused. Starflight felt the metal band slip over his claw and then tighten around the middle joint.
He lifted it up, wiggling the finger. It was a perfect fit, and - when he tested - it loosened to be pulled off, but otherwise stayed snug.
“Does it do anything?” Flame asked.
“It probably does, but I don’t know what, yet. I’ll ask her the next time I see her, anyway.” Starflight dropped his paw back down to the platform.
Solution, said a voice in his head.
Starflight jumped up with a yelp. Flame snorted and - judging by the thump that followed - fell off the other side of the platform.
“Did it stab you?” Flame asked, tense.
“By the three moons, she’s four . It didn’t hurt me, it just surprised me. There was a voice in my head.”
Flame was silent.
“Not like Darkstalker,” Starflight clarified.
“No, no, that’s not what I was thinking,” Flame said absently. “What did it say? The voice.”
Flame picked something up - a rustle of paper, the note - and passed it to Starflight. Quietly, he said, “it’s writing side up. Run the ring over it.”
“No,” Starflight breathed, his heart racing. “She didn’t, did she?”
But he pressed his talon against the page, feeling the gentle, cool pressure of the ring against the paper, and moved it across.
We found a solution! The voice in his head answered.
Starflight dropped the paper. His talon went to his mouth and his shoulders shook, and he knew he would have been sobbing if his eyes could still manage it. He felt Flame’s shoulder press against his, and his wing wrapping around his back and pulling him into a hug. Starflight was grateful for it, though he couldn’t quite speak, because he wasn’t sure his shaking talons were even going to hold him up much longer.
He felt Flame’s laugh more than he heard it, and the SkyWing said fondly, “you didn’t even consider that kind of a solution, did you?”
“I didn’t,” Starflight admitted, “but I’m glad Anemone did. After what we talked about…”
“Tamarin?” Flame guessed, and then snorted as Starflight flinched in surprise. “There aren’t many other dragons in this school that she could be testing a magical reading ring for.”
“Fair enough,” Starflight answered. “But - !”
“You can tell her how much you love it when you see her next,” Flame interrupted, teasing. “But I think, for now, you probably want to read some scrolls?”
“I do, I just,” Starflight laughed, “I don’t even know where to start!”