Dragon Master University Chapter 38. Spring Quarter Begins

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Chapter 38. Spring Quarter Begins

Kolo walked slowly with Jona and talked about why she left.

“My family had to move, the Csu are in the area.”

“The chew?” Jona asked.

“Csu, C-S-U, no one knows where they came from, but they are a human-like kind of creature, but aggressive, hateful. They have drawn upon something that no one wishes to believe.” She shuddered. “Gorgons.”

“You are speaking in riddles.” He looked sideways at his friend.

“Paying attention in next years classes on dragon and human relationships will help. But for now, I’ll explain it is a kind of religion. The Csu follow a book, interpreted by the High-Priestess and their queen.”

“And what are gorgons?” They mounted the curving steps to the emerald level, to the dorms of their level.

“Gorgons are dragons that have fallen under the spell of the Csu, they have an anger that is corrupts their bodies, humans are favorite target, but an attack by a gorgon the humans view as an attack by a dragon. Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, like humans.” She held his hand. “We have hearts and skin, each of us are as different as two humans. Gorgons cannot be spotted from dragons, humans then hunt every single dragon to pay the price of the few malevolent creatures.”

“Do we have those here in school?”

“Oh no!” She shook her head. “Professors and even the Green Wizard have a sense about that, dragons and humans that are too dangerous to live with each other are not brought here. They go to a different school.”

“What kind of school?” Jona asked, still learning about the nuances about the university. “Like a school for dunces?”

“More like how to teach peace. Humans and Dragons do not associate at that school.”

“Where is it?”

“Other side of the world. It would take the fastest flier almost a day to get there.” Her slid around his waist and pulled him close to her as they topped the stairs and walked down the hallway. “I have missed you.”

Jona smiled, color rising to his cheeks.

“Oh, I forgot, you are sensitive to that.” She laughed softly. “Humans don’t touch like dragons.”

“I think you just like to touch me.” He grinned at her.

“Well, you smell good, especially after you have showered. You use that cedar oil soap. There is only one other I like more, but I don’t want you to try it.”

“What scent is that?”

“Fish.” She winked. “Specifically, salmon.”

“Um, yeah. No.” He laughed.

“Well, I’m thirsty. I am going to get some tea and study. I will tell you more about the Csu when I sit down.”

Jona shook his head.

“I just finished flying with Eva, I need to shower, if she gets in before me, she uses all the hot water.”

Kolo laughed and nodded.

“I’ll be on a cushion when you come out. I have studying to do, come sit with me.” She looked at him sideways. “You do still like to sit with me?”

“Oh, of course!”

“Summer enjoyed herself. You should invite her here sometime and come cuddle.” She smiled. “She would like that. Her clan are known cuddlers and raise families with humans.”

“Maybe later, right now? A shower.” Jona shook his head.

“Use that cedar soap.” She laughed and called after the human that tickled her heart.

She sat there with a large cup of steaming tea when Kola came and sat next to her.

“Did you tell the professors what happened at home?”

His sister shook her head.

“I have had enough trouble telling Jona. If the Csu have moved into the swimmer clan’s area, they are moving everywhere, the school would know before I told them.”

“Tell us what?”

It was Professor Vale, he walked on soft, cat-like feet when he wanted to. He walked to the golden tea-pot and turned the handle at the bottom, filling a cup with the fragrant steaming brew.

“Sir, the Csu forced my clan to move. They imposed their kind of law and it is a horrid version of law, worse than anything archaic humans have ever thought up.” Kolo looked down and went quiet.

Kola spoke up.

“Professor, they are using Gorgons.”

The tea-cup stopped in mid-air between the saucer and the Professor’s lips for a count of five before he took a sip.

“Gorgon.” He muttered as he took a sip while looking straight at Kola. “Are you sure?”

“They have the markings, carved into their scales.” Kola said.

“Professor.” Jona walked in wearing a thick, brushed cotton robe, his hair wet. “What is a gorgon?”

“They are a group of dragons that the Csu twisted and corrupted within and without by the magic of Csu.” Professor Vale started slowly. “They submit with free will, or captured and forced to convert, either way, they change.” He shook his head, sipped his tea, took a breath and continued. “The heart of the dragon is resilient and the scales of a dragon reflect what is in the heart. This is why you see dragons here as you do. Even those that are…”

Professor Vale trailed off and sipped his tea.

“Sorry, I lost the word.” He paused. “Bully. That’s it. Their heart reflects the violent fear that is in the core of their heart. They feel that it is the only way for them to achieve salvation and all that stand in their way they destroy. Human, dragon, young, old, statue, memories. And they will destroy all history to make way for only one leader and religion.”

“The Csu.” Jona said.

“Very good, I do not know where you have been doing your social studies, but you have been paying attention.” The Professor said.

“The serious threat that the Csu have for the world, where they raid, they use a scorched earth policy in society and physically. Humans are wiped out, dragons join or die.”

“Dragons do not submit.” Kola said.

“No, that means for a severe battle when swimmers, runners and flyers band together and fight against a creeping evil that is the insanity named Csu.” Vale shook his head. “Csu must be nearly two-thousand winter’s old by now.”

“Who is Csu?” Jona asked, his blue eyes locked on Vales gold.

“Csu was a student here, but dropped out when a judge caught her cheating during a race. The school transferred her to the segregated school for humans to learn peace and acceptance of dragons.” Vale took another swallow of tea. “She nearly killed a human boy. I do not know all the circumstances, but she used an object that she keeps with her. An antler of an animal.”

“She wrote a book about that time, claiming that it was the word of the Dragon Lord, Gamon.” Vale’s voice was soft as he thought. “Gamon has not been spoken of before, no one knows where it came from. But she gathered followers of like-minded dragons. She might be half-dragon herself, no one knows for sure, but her appearance has changed. Perhaps reflecting her heart and soul, buy in any way you wish to look at it, the group she has started has taken on her name. She is Csu, they are the Csu.”

“Corruption of the inside, corrupts the outside?” Jona asked.

“Not entirely accurate, but essentially, yes.” Vale nodded. “Dragons when angered over a long time, their bodies prepare for battles, claws get longer, scales get coarser and thicker. In mixed races with humans, elves and others, the effect is still observable.”

“So she builds a following. How can the world stop this?” Kola asked.

“Dragons, by and large, are peaceful with given exceptions.” Vale was still pondering. “My suggestion to you students, do not seek anything out on this. Stay within the range of the school.”

Jona looked around wide-eyed.

“I don’t think I want to leave the house.”

“Do not stress young human, we have protocols in place.” Vale tried to smile.

“Nothing can happen.”

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2 Seconds… T-Minus 14,400 Seconds

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T-Minus 14,400 seconds

 

One summers day, on his beloved Harley-Davidson, Mister and Missus Fletcher enjoyed the weather of the midsummer’s offering. The neighbors watched the children as they spent their anniversary on the back of an iron horse and freedom in their hearts.

At the dwarf-yellow star that human now call Sol, photon packets that spent the last thousand-centuries in the random walk from the core of the sun had now lost much of their energies.

Frequencies, randomized now into what had become known as visible light began to move faster as the compressed and glowing hot gasses reduced to a density to allow the photons to reach speeds commonly associated with light. Ten percent, then twenty, fifty-percent of the speed of light moves in a vacuum, the EM radiation began to move.

T-minus 10,800 seconds.

On earth, the eighty-cubic inch V-twin engine rumbled in good tune. A header pipe that Russell had routed into a high-efficiency muffler improved the fuel consumption while giving more power— and less noise— was the song of freedom for the couple that rode on the full-dressed motorcycle.

The sounds of the wind, the intercom they used to talk with while wearing their helmets. All the details that represented their closeness.

It also gave Lulu, the beautiful wife, teacher and mother, a titan in a tiny body, reason to hold on to the man that she called “Husband”.

Not that she ever needed a reason to hold him close, it was just a perk of riding on the back of their favorite steed.

The midnight-blue of the paint glittered with faint scratches that were long earned with thousands of laps around the blue of the mountain lake.

Russell once estimated they had driven around the earth’s circumference, just on the mountain roads that circumnavigated the twenty-two mile long lake. It was a trip the happy-camper couple made often. Camping along the shores of the lake in the many campgrounds maintained by the Federal and State Agencies.

The sky was blue with broken clouds, the chill of the mountain air tickled the souls of the couple that escaped the daily grind and pain of the wife-come-teacher and the business-creator and owner husband that was their work week.

Winding their way through the forest, following the black strip of asphalt and the dashed lines, Russell told a joke about a mason and his union, but the mason got stonewalled.

Lulu laughed into the intercom like a dutiful wife, but rolled her eyes and shook her head at the stupid joke.

Lunch at their favorite stop, “Ian’s”, seafood grilled over an open fire, the perfect break for the mid-day meal, sitting on a balcony, overlooking lake waters so clear, that it could give cause for acrophobia- a fear of heights, looking down through the water to the bottom of the jewel of the Sierra Nevada.

An hour and a quarter of fresh bread, fish, grilled red baby potatoes and wine by Ian Mehretu, the owner and cook in the tiny, lakeside eatery.

Russell paid the bill and the two walked out of the restaurant holding hands as they headed to where Harrison the Hog waited for them with a machine’s patience.

Helmets on, the intercom plugged in, the big engine rumbled to life and the day held fewer clouds in the sky as they merged into traffic of the high-mountain community main road.

They had a long trip ahead of them to their favorite mountain lookout and then back home.

Time was T-Minus 6,300 seconds.

Dragon Master University Chapter 22. Morningtime

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Chapter 22. Morning Time

Jona walked between classes as he was in deep thought, Eva landed next to him in the courtyard.

“We did very well,” She said softly while folding her wings tightly against her body and walking upright. ‟We bumped two trees and you held on. I have a small bruise where I knocked off four of my scales, but they will grow back soon enough.”

Walking upright, she was beautiful even outside of Dragon standards. Eva would have made a graceful, beautiful human woman.

Who just happened to tower over most other humans.

Jona chuckled, his own joints hurt, the inverted banking as they did a hairpin turn around a mountain to catch up with Qo’noS had nearly dumped him off the back of Eva, it was a turn they were going to have to practice, he only was able to hang on by luck as much as strength or skill. Even his fingernails ached.

“Jona, I have talked with others about the future races,” Eva said conversationally as they walked along. ‟I have someone I am seeing. He is a dragon at Drakensberg University.”

Eva smiled, touching her lips as if a memory of a kiss. Dragon kisses, it is rumored, to leave a soul burning for more.

‟I know that there is some cheating planned. There have been observers on the race course, we may have to train in other areas of the mountains. Where is Teva? We need to talk to him.”

Sol landed nearby and walked up to them, looking happier without reins on his shoulders, rubbing up against Eva with a wink.

“Flirt.” Eva laughed softly.

“Drakenberg racers are notorious for cheating but there is something more. Jona, your safety is in danger.” Sol said.

‟My rider seeks to have you removed one way or another, she is not above cheating. So long as she rides me, we will never win, I will never cross the finish line first.” Sol said grimly, “Even if I have to crash at the last stretch. She will never stand in the winners circle.”

“I hate that we keep trying to knock you out of the race, Eva,” Sol nodded slowly, guiltily looking down. “You too, Jona, my most sincere of apologies. But it is late in the season, I cannot train with a rider and I cannot win with her riding. She has no winning heart.”

“Thanks,” Jona smiled and put his hand on the golden dragons shoulder. ‟And we will avoid you, you are a great flier, you have done fantastic corners.”

“Drakes’ will have faster rides,” Eva continued. ‟They are larger than we are as a group. Most are Kanus’ size, a few are bigger.”

Sol and Jona nodded.

Jona pointed out that they had the advantage then of the corners in the valleys, then paused.

“Could they go high and go over a corner? Avoid banking?”

Sol shook his head while Eva answered.

“They would be penalized with time added on. So even if they crossed the line first, they may actually lose the race if they skipped too many corners.”

“Even if they flew faster than anyone at the beginning,”Sol added. ‟If they didn’t get down into the canyons, a record pace would be for naught.”

Eva nodded as Jona pulled at his chin and took this in.

“There has been something else, a smell, I have picked it up, you have been busy racing and I have been sight-seeing.” Sol added, “Something smells, I don’t know.” He paused “The smell on the most strong in the northern canyon, where we go lowest and the turns are sharpest and we fly slowest, the smell makes my scales tingle.”

Eva paused, pulling at her ear.

“I thought that was just the group of us racing, the challenge of the corners and how close we were getting to each other.” She said thoughtfully.

“You have been racing, I have not.” Sol nodded.

“Spies?” Jona asked.

“Maybe.” Sol said.

“Spies would be undetectable.” Eva shook her head. ”Volcanic action, Sol? Can you smell volcano’s?”

Sol gave a nearly imperceptible shrug.

“There are those in my family who can, I have not smelled them before. Could be that this time I am smelling the start of a volcano’s eruption. This would affect the race, if we had to fly through a cloud.”

“If the race is going to go through an ash cloud, we would have to avoid it.” Eva nodded.

“Not so much for you,” Jona shook his head. ‟But for the humans and others that don’t have the kind of lungs that a dragon possesses.”

Both dragons looked at Jona and nodded.

“Not counting the lightning that happens, that is also kind of hard on the teams, as well.” Eva added.

Jona choked.

“Lightning? As in thunder and lightning?” Jona was afraid of thunderstorms since he was a child.

“I will tell Professor Ghoti, she is in charge of the racer’s safety, it is important that she and the other judges and professors look in the area.” Sol said mildly. “I’m the one that smelled it, I’ll be the one to show her where it is.”

Eva nodded as Sol set off for Professor Ghoti at her office in the Obsidian Spire.

“I knew that Sol was a good wyvern,” Jona noted. “Those reins on him are the only ones in the entire group of racers.”

“And a total insult. They won’t race together after this season, he will reject his rider and any other dragons will follow suit if she re-applies next year. The only way she would fly is if she grew wings and rode herself.” Eva growled irritably. “She has some dragon in her, you can see it in her eyes, but it is all the worst part of dragons.”

Eva and Jona took off and few northwards out over the sapphire blue lake, it was so large, the water was so pure as Jona could see the bottom of the shallows down to two or three dragon lengths deep. It was like looking through crystal.

Eva looked back as they soared and enjoyed the cool mountain air.

“The water tastes as good as it looks, but it is so cold as to give me a headache. There is a bay that is nearly emerald-green, lately we have called it emerald bay. I kind of hope the name sticks.”

‟That is an awesome lake, so high in the mountains, what feeds it?” Jona asked.

‟Snow. If you ever go swimming in it? You will know that right away.” Eva laughed. ‟There is a story of, years ago, a swimmer dragon jumped in after a long, hard winter with an exceptional snowfall. The snow was at the peak of melting and the swimmer jumped in with ruby-red scales and came out with sapphire-blue coloring. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I can believe it.”

Laughing, the rider and ride sailed along the crest of the mountain range until they banked and headed out to the sea, spending time soaring over the rugged coastline. Eva told him of dragon homes and lore.

‟You have dragon-lore this year. I would suggest coming here and do independent studies. I am also a tutor, and I wish help teach you and keep you on the race team.”

‟Thank you. There is so much going on.” Jona said softly.

‟This is just warming up for the year. You have passion to learn, from what I have heard. Four-years of basic schooling then another four years of advanced school. Your scholarship’s earned by your father and mother with the teaching of dragons over the years.”

‟How long has my father been teaching?”

‟Don’t you know?” Eva said. ‟I always knew when my parents were teaching.”

She pondered a moment.

‟But then, the two societies are different with intolerance of a few creating grief for all. Humans tend to less tolerance than Drakes. If any of your kind thinks or looks different, the first thing the others want to do is declare a war on it.” Eva’s body trembled in revulsion. ‟Humans have more followers of death than they do of life.”

Jona sighed and looked down. Thinking of the times that he and his friends would throw rocks at statues or works of art depicting kindly acts just on the word of someone who said it was wrong.

‟Worry not, Jona. Those things that make you feel guilty are those actions of someone who does not know better. You will learn here.” Eva gave him a friendly bump. ‟You will learn that all things exist and create beauty. Even dragons.”

‟It’s your first year.” She glided over the waters of the big lake again, slowly. Jona could see the fish that swam under the surface, glistening like jewels. ‟You will find beauty in the most unexpected of places.”

Jona held on tight as Eva stroked hard into the air and gained altitude.

Beauty in the most unexpected of places. Jona found beauty in the wisdom.

Dragon Master University Chapter 20. Dinner

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Chapter 20. Dinner and a show.

In his room’s study area, Kolo helped Jona understand some of the traits of Dragons, the times when they were once wild and uncivilized, then how they evolved to a council based culture.

They sat in a dragonbag, a large resin-coated bag filled with smooth-roasted seeds of a fire-fern, smooth and round, the dense seeds filled a bag and made a comfortable nest for a dragon to settle down in.

Jona curled up with Kolo as they studied as is the habit of dragons. Her scales, small and glistened in the light like tiny jewels while she relaxed in her soft-fleece sleep shirt that covered half-way to her tummy and knee-length pants with a draw string.

A standard study position for dragons that Jona found strange, but comfortable. Kolo, wrapped around Jona the way that dragons only could. Smaller dragons liked warmth, Jona was a mammal and warm.

Kolo also thought he smelled good.

A gong sounded, announcing dinner in the main hall of the Garnet House.

Jona, Sam, Spirat and Kola walked up the spiral stairs with Kolo and sat at the long tables with the younger classmates.

Several older classmates passed by when a couple slapped Kola on the back, he gained honors for Garnet House by passing a test with high marks. His name forever placed on a list of notable students with the Garnet House.

“You didn’t tell me!” Kolo stared at her brother.

“You were out riding,” Kola smiled. ‟I didn’t even know I had passed it that high until Professor Vale came down and took me to his office. There will be some kind of an awards dinner, for all the high scoring students,  near the end of term. Just before your races with the other schools.”

“I know you will do well, in the races.” Kolo looked at Jona. ‟Sprite has been racing around the room telling stories in his way. You are a good racer, according to your baby.”

Jona laughed.

“Sprite is not MY baby, I’m just the adopted father.”

“No, he is yours as if you had a real son,” Kolo shook her head. ‟When he gets to talk, you will find out just how much a dragon’s heart can love.”

“But, I did not choose that. It was just chance I happened upon Sprite when the little guy was looking for someone.” Jona protested weakly. “But I like having him around. It was better than having to ride behind my papa’s ox while the old stinker snorts from both ends.”

“Snorted from both ends?” Spirat looked at Jona and raised an eyebrow.

They all got the image at the same time and laughed as they sat and ate, trying to snort out their backsides like the old ox.

Kolo just shook her head and held her nose.

“Boys!” She said in exasperation.

Looking around Jona noted that Kelly was staring at him and she made an ugly face at him, then turned to Stixx and said something in his ear. Stixx looked at Jona and smiled, leaning over to another upperclassman and soon the end of the table the clique of older students were whispering and looking in Jona’s direction.

“This is not good,” Jona muttered. ‟They are planning something.” Indicating the far end of the table of how the blue-eyed Kelly whispered in conspiratorial tones, trying to instigate something. She took a dislike to anyone that was not under her thumb, including the newer students that did not give her the respect she felt she deserved.

As they tried not to look at the whispering group, when a large scaled hand gently pressed on Sam’s shoulder.

“You kids look worried, what is the problem?” Asked a tall, heavily built dragon that was easily taller than Jona by half and built like a big “V” from his shoulders to his waist.

Sam looked up and choked on his food, nearly making his drink come out his nose.

“Koord! You came back!”

“Coming back was difficult,” Koord got down on his knee and nodded. ‟But, the healer’s all said I was good to go.”

“Jona, this is Koord, he was a great rider for a few years here.”

Koord nodded and spoke quietly, with a voice like a rumble of distant thunder.

“Pleased to meet you.” Koord gave a toothy grin. “Yes, I just got too large, curses of my father and mother for being tall themselves, then I outgrew them. My brothers and sisters are all smaller, and sadly, none like to ride like I do.”

“Koord was hurt in a terrible hit two years ago, his ride was never the same, either.” Sam said, “But good to see you back, brother!”

“So what’s giving you trouble?” Koord smiled.

Jona and the others quietly explained what was seemingly going on and Koord nodded.

“I have a few friends to talk to over there,” Indicating another of the tables. “I think we can do interference if need.”

Slipping back to the table where he previously sat, Koord talked with the other humans and dragons at the far end with his back to Jona and his friends.

“Koord is a member of my clan, we are cousins,” Sam said, “That group he is talking with was the best winning team before they withdrew from racing and retired  for different reasons. Koord was hurt and outgrew his ride. Cookie had to withdraw because his grades were too low, which sucks because he was an awesome rider. All the rides wanted him, he had the feel and good eyes, he could read a map better than anyone night or day. Crocus, she is sweet, but a ferocious competitor, her rides gave her more than she asked for, always.”

“They are their own group then?” Jona asked. “Like the others?”

“In schools there are always certain circles that hold together.” Kolo nodded. ”The professors and schools try to keep it minimal, using only the houses to keep the feeling of unity, every year you have to go to a different house. This way they feel it keeps from having too much of a separation in ‘favorites’. It doesn’t always work. Those over there with Stixx have been together too long, and no one seems to have success in breaking them up.”

“They have called themselves as the Royals of the Sky.” Kola said, “They have pushed a few of the younger students around telling them to bow to the Royals.”

“We shall be Pirates of the Sky then!” Jona laughed, taking a thought of the blood-haired human pirate that had been at the school earlier the year.”

Spirat shook his head. “You might get in trouble with the word Pirate in the name. How about Rebels?”

“No, I like what Jona said, Sky Pirates, we will steal the cup away from other schools and victory away from the stupid Stixx.” Sam grinned. “They won’t know what to do… uh-oh… Speaking of Stixx, here he comes.”

Stixx had made his way around the far side of the room, carrying two full plates of half eaten food, looking like he was lost while on his way to the trash and was heading their way, slowly. Two others of the clique had gone in another direction, talking with students while circulating around the room towards Kolo, Kola, Sam, Jona and Spirat.

Jona looked around, Koord and several of his friends were gone. There was no help coming and Stixx was talking with several other older students but his eyes were on Jona as Stixx was carrying the plates of food that had several drinks poured over the food making it a drippy sticky soup of half eaten meal.

Walking up to the group, Stixx looked down at the plate, Jona looked to the left and saw that Gorm, the half dragon, a small and quick friend of Stixx was coming from the other direction, the trap was set, and there was no way out.

Stixx smiled as if he had just won a contest when he bumped into first Koord, and then another smaller dragon of Koord’s group. Gorm was suddenly cornered by an unfriendly face of a large rider that had him by the shoulder.

“Where are you going with all that food you have there? You must be extra hungry?” Koord asked Stixx, in a dangerous sounding voice. “You would not be looking to share that meal with some of the younger students now, would you?”

“Just being friendly, Koord.” Stixx nodded. ‟This is not any of your concern, just a friendly chat we are going to have. This food? This is nothing, I was taking it back to the table.”

Stixx looked around, Gorm,  cornered by three other retired racer team members and unable to carry out his mission.

Seeing that he needed more muscle, Stixx  motioned with his head and several of his clique stood up— then suddenly and forcibly sat back down by the surrounding retired racer team. Outnumbered and out flanked, the little clique of the house became suddenly meek and sat quietly.

“You might want to take that back to your seat and eat quietly, I was chatting with my friends and family there first.”

Stixx paled at the thought. Looking at the slop of his plate and back at the table where his friends sat, corralled. Stixx walked directly back to the table and sat with his friends.

A small obsidianite colored dragon, leaned in and with a voice far deeper than would be expected, sounding much like a foghorn smiled and suggested in a dangerous tone.

“I think the rest of your crew is also hungry, you might want to serve them as well, you got thirds,” The glistening green dragon said,”You might want to serve them as well, don’t be stingy! Share!”

The clique of Stixx, Kelly and the others dug into the slop and took slow bites. Others of the table first gagged at the sight of the others eating the mess and then began to clap as the bullies themselves, became the bullied.

Professor Vale walked into the dining room, Koord and his friends stood up and began to socialize, innocently, making their way back to the corner of the tables. The little clique sighed relief of the entry of the Professor who smiled and waved at the students, stopping and speaking with different students.

Stopping at the table and looking at the pile of muck that Stixx and company were in mid bite. “You can take all you can eat,” Professor Vale said, shaking his head, ‟But eat all you take. We must not waste food, please be sure you eat all that.”

Vale made a face adding, “It does look like a balanced meal, but I would question the mix of flavors. Eat up.”

Entertained, all the students in the room watched in quiet amusement as the bullies choked down the slop that Stixx had made before Koord intercepted him.

Jona thought it was one of the best dinners he ever had as they all watched the bullies choke down their own mix of beets, milk, banana, coffee, cheese, meat, fish and other unidentifiable food. Jona suspected that Vale had known what went on and timed his entry to do the most effect.

College, Jona decided, was a great place to learn.