Butterfly Enigma I

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Fire

Kallima stared at the empty bed under hers, her mind wandering to the tiny girl who usually slept in it. With a heavy sigh, she clambered up into her bunk and attempted to push the meek girl out of her thoughts. Jasmine threw herself into the room and limped to her own bed, where she pulled her curtains shut. Kallima let out a soft chuckle. The drake which everyone had been forced to face had apparently taken off a chunk of the werewolf’s ankle.

Kallima fiddled with her amulet before removing it and stuffing it beneath her pillow like a child’s tooth. Then she laid down, crossing her hands over her stomach, and closed her eyes. This night, she decided, she was going to make her first attempt at lucid dreaming.

Shay was confident enough to let her try it and had given her specific instructions. Deep, steady breaths filled her lungs as she slowly relaxed, first her toes, then her legs, then her stomach as she let the day go. Instead of dwelling on the dark halls and the horrified eyes she had seen, Kallima forced herself to simply be.

Jasmine’s sighs. Cool air on her arms. The smell of old paper from the books on her desk. All existed. Until it didn’t.

She sat up, not in her bed, but in the library. Miss Flores examined an unlabeled book for defects at her desk. Ignatius poured over tomes at the table where he tutored Kallima, scribbling frantically in his notebook. Kallima stepped around the room softly, surprised that her footsteps made the only sounds she could hear. Not the scratching of pen on paper. Not the wheezing of the old woman. Only steps.

“They’re not real. I’m dreaming,” Kallima said. “They don’t really exist.”

She erased Miss Flores and Ignatius with the flick of her wrist, repeating the motion with the full shelves of books. The emptied library echoed with the sound of her even breathing. She hummed in disappointment at the dreary surroundings. The room needed light.

Kallima laughed and wiped her hand in front of her eyes, replacing the dark oaken shelves with brilliant marble ones. Then she dotted the air with floating lights, imagining them to be miniature stars in the sanctuary. Cupping her hands in front of her chest, she focused on the first dream she had ever invaded, collecting all the darkness of the nightmare into a ball in her hands, forcing it to take a form. With a heavy heart, she placed the sphere on a shelf, wiping a plaque engraved with Sable d’Parsia’s name into the stone.

“Where should we go tonight?” she asked herself, opening her mind up to the dreams around her.

All around her, the invisible ruckus of hundreds of dreams attacked her senses. All the sights, smells, and sounds of each individual world hit Kallima at once, making her drop to her knees. She threw out her arms to push them away, and the world fell silent. Alone again, she let her hands fall to the marble floor.

The rough grit of sand met her palms, and she realized that she had lost control and fallen into another’s dream. She pushed herself warily to her feet and looked around. She landed on the beach of a mountainous island or peninsula. The rocky landscape jutted straight up into the night sky. An enormous cavern in the mountainside illuminated with gold and red hues from within drew her eye. The fiery-haired girl let out a weak chuckle and sprinted towards the source. Reaching the maw of the cave, her eyes widened as they fell on the creature slumbering within.

Kallima would have thought it was a massive, orange and gold snake. Except for the four broad, muscular legs. Except for the massive wings of papery skin. Except for the unmistakable snout pouring forth a thin, smoky fog. Except for the way it raised its head as she entered and narrowed its emerald eyes in distaste.

And spoke.

“It has been an age since a dream fae has paid visit to a mere dragon.”

The voice that echoed in the cave reminded Kallima of Headmaster Locke’s in the way that it commanded respect while revealing an air of exhaustion. Kallima swallowed hard and leaned against the opening of the cave, the gargantuan reptile watching her the entire time. In an attempt to regain control, the dream fae summoned her resolve.

“You’re not real,” she stammered breathlessly. “I’m dreaming. Dragons are extinct. This is just a dream.”

“You are a dream fae,” the dragon said. “Whether you sleep or not, that makes this very much real, and I do not take kindly to having my dreams interrupted by one who tells me that I do not exist.”

Kallima bowed her head, apologizing.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t- I didn’t think I’d be meeting a- a dragon.”

The great lizard rose to its feet, the gold scales on its stomach glinting impossibly in the darkness. Its spikes also sported a shimmering gold hue as they cascaded down its spine towards its tail, contrasting the dark orange color of the rest of its body. Kallima sucked in a breath as the dragon approached her, its body low to the ground as it slinked to the cave mouth. As it passed the girl, she reached out a hand to touch its scaly side.

The second she lighted on the skin, though, a furious roar erupted from the creature. Kallima fell back onto her bottom as the monster loomed over her, easily as tall as the apartment she grew up in. She shook, not from fear of the animal, but from the memory of her mother standing where the dragon’s eyes glared down now.

“Do I look like a pet? I am the last of the dragons! You would try to cage me?” the creature roared.

“No!” Kallima said. “I just-”

The dragon brought its face down Kallima’s, snorting hot breath at her and making sweat bead on her brow.

“Who do you think you are?” it growled.

Kallima coughed at the dragon’s hot, gamey breath and said, “I’m Kal- Kallima Aislin Sa- Satudotter.”

“Satu? The sorcerer?”

“Yes.”

The dragon again narrowed its eyes.

“Her child, I presume?”

“She’s- She was my mum.”

“Is that so, ‘Daughter’ of Satu?” it rumbled. “How dare you use Satu’s name to garner respect you have not earned?”

“I’m not using it!”

“I knew Satu. Just because you share her face does not mean you share her heart.”

“Don’t you dare insult my mother, you monster!” Kallima said, still seated on the rock floor of the cave, brandishing a finger at the massive creature.

The dragon withdrew, making a sound like it was gathering phlegm in its throat.

“Oh, no,” Kallima breathed.

With a ferocity that could only be expected from a dragon, the creature that Kallima had stumbled upon blasted a fireball past her and back into the cave. The girl yelped as the heat of the flame brushed her cheek. She opened her eyes a smidgen to see the attack had started a good-sized fire in the cave’s belly. The dragon nudged her towards the flame, walking them both back into the mountain’s core.

“Your clothes are damp. Warm yourself,” the dragon ordered.

“It’s just-.”

“A dream. You have said. But a dream fae can still become ill from exposure, even one as powerful as you. I can feel your energy, Daughter of Satu. I may yet benefit from your company, and you from mine.”

“Oh, yeah? What benefit is that?”

The dragon curled its body around the fire, pushing Kallima closer to the flame.

“Must you be so defiant?”

“Call it a character flaw.”

“I will call it what I please.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I did not.”

“Are you always so rude?” Kallima said, sweltering in the heat of the dragon and his fire.

“I am ‘hot-blooded,’ they they tell me. I see much of my kind in you. Not like Satu. She was a lady.”

Kallima bit her lip, and the dragon continued.

“Satu was kind; she supported my people. She wanted us to hold the rights of any other fae. After all, whatever is not human must be a fae, she argued. She tried to stop the hunts but did not have the fire to do so.”

“Hunts? You mean the War of Tal-.”

“No. The war alone did not destroy my people.” the dragon snarled. “The others were hunted for sport, killed for meat, harvested for supplies. I never even met my mother.”

The creature allowed its eyes to fall shut. Kallima hesitated before placing a hand on the lizard’s haunch. The lizard loosed a heavy sigh.

“Satu was kind to me. She asked when she needed help and traded for what she wanted.”

“What do you mean?” Kallima asked, afraid of the answer.

The lizard rolled over and pointed to a spot on its torso where a chunk of armor had vanished, revealing soft, pink flesh.

“An amulet of binding,” he growled sadly, “for her unborn child. For you.”

Kallima, unsure of how to respond, inched her way towards the gap in the dragon’s scales. Her eyes flickered up to the creature’s face as it watched her move. When she reached the spot, she placed a hand on either side of the wound. Following a practice she remembered from childhood, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to the scar.

“All better,” she whispered as she pulled back.

The dragon rolled back onto its stomach and locked its eyes ahead, away from Kallima and sighed.

“Have care, child, how many men you place your lips upon. Especially without knowing his name.”

“What is your name?”

The dragon lifted his head and swiveled it to face the inquirer.

“Come again?”

“You have my name. What’s yours?”

The creature pondered this and lowered his head at Kallima’s feet, resting the tip of his snout just beyond her toes. His emerald eyes grew distant, lost, empty.

“I have no name. My kind was dead before I hatched, and I had no use for one among men. Those who came close called me ‘Dragon.’”

Kallima slowly lifted a hand to the nose of the beast, flinching once when his eyes darted up to her. With a soft breath, she placed her hand gently on his snout between the nostrils. The creature closed his eyes and hissed a soft breath out.

“What name would you like?”

“It is not my place,” the dragon spoke into her palm, “I am your guardian now. You may choose a name for me.”

“Pipsqueak,” Kallima said, laughing when the dragon glared at her. “I’m kidding.”

Kallima paused in thought.

“You shall be Blaze, Master Dragon and Shield of Kallima.”

“That is a long name.”

“I’ll call you Master Dragon.”

“Blaze will suffice, Daughter of Satu.”

“It doesn’t do you service. And Kali is fine.”

The dragon chuckled weakly but heavily at this, causing the ground to quake slightly. Kallima stretched, then sat and snuggled into the dragon’s neck.

“Am I still a fiction to you,” he rumbled, “or have I convinced you of my reality?”

“In real life, too? This is how you look?”

“Most of the time. My human form is difficult to hold.”

“Wow. Are you a teacher?”

“You are full of questions.”

“My dad used to tell stories about dragons. But he’s human.”

“Then he likely knows very little.”

“Is it true that your kind likes gold and eats virgins?” she asked.

“A poor translation. We feed on what is precious, which is not always gold or even material. We are drawn to ignorance, not inexperience, as we are natural teachers. How that became ‘virgins,’ I could not even guess.”

“Ah. Good,” Kallima sighed, curling up behind Blaze’s ear and closing her eyes.

When Kallima opened them again, she woke in her own bed, a quiet Saturday morning , and blissful memory of her dream. Blaze’s heat radiated from her skin and soothed her muscles. The sound of Jasmine’s grumbling as she tossed in her sleep made her chuckle. Kallima may have well slept in a spa, given how amazing she felt. She was, though, coated in sweat and in desperate need of a long shower.

The scalding water, though able to remove the smell of sea salt from her red hair, eased her mind little as it ran down her peach skin. Kallima ran her fingers along the chain of her amulet as steam enveloped and absorbed her. The tap water may as well have been a sprinkler for the amount of warmth it provided compared to her new guardian’s flames. Kallima sighed and began massaging her scalp with floral shampoo. Even then, she could feel Blaze with her, not like a ghost or a stalker, but like a net. Blaze, a dragon, had willingly conversed with her in a civil manner. How lucky was she, after only two weeks, to have such good friends as the dragon, the gargoyle, the spirit fae, and the dryad, not to mention Gabriel. And, as her thoughts turned to Gabriel, she chuckled lightly and blushed. It seemed strange, yet right, to her that she was dating an upperclassman. Shower over, Kallima retreated into her towel and braved the tepidity of the school air to return to her room. She quickly dressed, picked out a trio of earrings, and, making certain that Jasmine had gone, attempted to make a shortcut from her room to the dining hall.

She opened the door to the hall, shut it in confusion, opened it again, and shut it once more with a growl. She rubbed her brow, wondering what in the world had happened to her power and why she could not reroute the door to the dining hall. Sighing, she ran a finger over her amulet, yelping at a spark.

It will keep your power in check.

Kallima gasped softly and gripped the necklace between both hands, and a surge of electricity shot through her body. She opened the door one last time, smiling when the dining hall greeted her and tucking her amulet away again.

Ignatius was already seated at their table, dodging crumpled napkins that a pair of large boys threw at him. Kallima filled up a plate and darted to her seat, flicking one ogre on the ear as she passed.

“Hey!” the boy snarled.

Kallima stuck out her tongue at the boy, then took her seat and leaned close to Ignatius.

“I met a dragon,” she whispered.

The golden-haired boy snapped his head towards her.

“Did not,” he said, shocked.

“Did so,” she said before attacking her eggs. “He’s really very nice.”

“Wow! What kind? Water, air, fire-?”

“Definilly fire,” Kallima said, holding one hand over her mouth. “Shaysh he knew Mum.”

“That’s amazing, Kali,” Ignatius said, green eyes wide in awe. “I knew Satu was a dragon advocate, but I didn’t know she knew any.”

Kallima nodded, saying, “He must have been young then, though.”

“How do- how do you figure?”

“The scale. On my amulet. It’s much smaller than his are now, but he said it was his.”

“What are you two talking about now?” Shay asked as he sat down with Acacia.

“You just pop up without warning, don’t you?” the senior growled.

“I want my coin back,” he said.

“I’ll give it back Monday, okay?” Ignatius said. “I’m using it right now.”

“For what?”

“None of your business, Shay.”

“Hey, Sweetie!”

Kallima grinned at the new voice.

“Good morning, Gabriel,” she beamed.

The sylph smiled down on her and pecked her lips gently before sitting next to her. Ignatius’ face turned a shade of red that Kallima could not name. She giggled at him.

“What? We’re dating,” she said, but Ignatius only shook his head at her. “So I tried that lucid dreaming last night, Shay.”

The boy looked up with curious eyes.

“Well? How did it go?”

“I turned the library into my personal filing cabinet,” she told him. “Then… Then I heard something weird. What’s a guardian?”

Shay furrowed his brow and said, “Didn’t we explain that?”

“Not really.”

“Ah. We were talking about dryads and bonding to trees, Shay,” Acacia said. “Not guardians.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“It’s the same concept, really,” Gabriel said. “The guardian defends a charge. It feels all the same pains and pleasures of the charge, and must defend him. In return, the charge can will power to the guardian in times of need.”

“Oh,” Kallima breathed.

“It’s dangerous, though,” Ignatius added. “If you’re not trained to be a guardian.”

“Is it?”

Shay nodded and said, “The differences in power can be problematic. A charge can easily overwhelm his guardian’s ability, which can paralyze it. The emotional sensations can make a guardian erratic and unstable, especially if the charge is quick-tempered. You know, like you.”

“Like me?” Kallima asked, scoffing. “What are you talking about?”

“You slugged Shay, decked a princess, and spat on a prince,” Shay said. “If you had a guardian, it would actually alter his personality to be more like yours.”

“That’s awful! Why would someone do that?” Kallima said.

“Well, it’s a sign of loyalty, for one,” Gabriel said. “When royals turn sixteen, they’re assigned a guardian. When Lords take power, they get one, too. Sometimes, guardians are shown favoritism. Good pay, nice houses… It’s not a bad living.”

“Favoritism. Okay, that makes sense,” Kallima said.

She recalled her dragon’s words with a soft shudder. I may yet benefit from your company, he said. Across from her, Ignatius put down his fork and clutched his stomach.

“You okay, Ig?” Acacia asked.

“Yeah. I’ll be fine. It’s just a bug.”
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