“This is a bad idea, Kali.”
Ignatius’ eyes shifted back and forth fearfully as she pulled him towards the library.
“You said yourself, you got him arrested,” Kallima said. “You can’t let him die, too.”
Ignatius pulled at his tie. He had traded out his school jacket for a black dress coat, but the rest of his outfit was the standard uniform. He had even slicked his hair down, although the front rebelled into feathers and made him look like a gang member to his companion. Kallima had removed her top two studs from each ear for the occasion herself, but wore simple street clothes. She waved to Miss Flores and ushered Ignatius into one of the study rooms, closing the door behind them.
“If we get caught-,” he started.
“-I’ll say that I needed help with my schoolwork. Come on, Iggy, you have to trust me.”
“You still don’t know where we’re going.”
“Don’t need to. Put your hands here.”
Kallima rubbed her amulet, took Ignatius’ hands, and pressed them against the wood of the door. Then she placed her hands over his, resting her chin on his hot shoulder.
“Focus. I’m going to push through you,” she said.
“Is this safe?”
“Relax. I’ve been practicing this with Sable for a week. It works.”
Ignatius sighed, tossing his head softly and blushing.
Kallima said, “Picture it. Know where you’re going?”
“Take a deep breath. Sable said it made her nauseous.”
The senior scoffed, but obeyed, closing his eyes tightly. Kallima grinned softly and focused all her energy on Ignatius. Then she willed it straight through his hands. The boy hissed painfully at the feeling, and Kallima whispered apologetically as she dropped her arms.
“Give it a go, then,” she told him.
The golden boy shook as he turned the doorknob and peeked inside. He turned back to Kallima fearfully.
“You’re so good, it’s scary.”
Kallima grinned with a shrug as Ignatius let the door fall further open, revealing a long hall lined with desks. All of the surfaces had different signs and secretaries working at them. Kallima followed her tutor inside, closing the door behind her and dismissing her magic. The boy pulled a black envelope from his pocket and started searching, muttering appeals under his breath like a mantra.
“Is that it?” Kallima asked, pointing down the rows to a desk with the label ‘Court Appeals and Deposition.’
“Um…” Ignatius said, squinting, “Yes! Come on!”
Ignatius grabbed Kallima’s wrist and pulled her down the hall at full speed, skidding to a halt just past the desk. His companion crashed into him, but he managed to keep his footing long enough to collapse on the desk. The blue naga secretary raised his brow at the boy.
“I need to file a response,” Ignatius panting, passing the naga his black envelope.
The snake-like man took the letter, opened it, and scanned the contents. He laid the sheet on the surface and started to pound at the typewriter in front of him. Then he flipped a small red book open, typed a few more things, and returned his attention to Ignatius.
“Misss Andersson hasss an opening on Tuessday at 1:15. I can mark you down, yesss?” the man hissed.
“I’d rather not miss more school,” Ignatius said. “Is there any way she can meet with me on a Saturday?
“Andersson only worksss Ssaturdaysss during holidaysss. If Tuessday doesss not work, you will have to find another lawyer. It iss her only opening.”
“I’ll take the Tuesday, then.”
“Exssellent,” the secretary said, returning to his typewriter, “I’ll get you on the sschedule. I am ssertain that you are aware of the chargess?”
“Your interview may lead to a court ssummonsss, where you will be assked to tessstify before the royal court. Do you undersstand and ressspect thiss?”
“And you give usss permissshion to acssesss your filesss if needed?”
“I…,” Ignatius stammered, reaching up to scratch at one ear, “Yes. O-of course.”
“Pleassse be here Tuessday at one sso that I can prepare you for depossition. Thank you, Missster Lindon.”
“Thank you, sir. Come on, Kali.”
Ignatius again clutched Kallima’s wrist and dragged her away from the desk. Once outside, the boy lost his stiff air and slumped down on the tall steps, hiding his face in his hands. Kallima, having never seen her tutor so small and childish, hesitantly brushed her hand on his shoulder. He peeked up.
“I’ve made a real mess, Kali,” he confessed.
The fiery girl sat down next to him and stared at the town center before them. The King’s Fountain cast a shadow over the grass that she found herself staring at.
“You’re trying to fix it.”
“And making it worse.”
“You mean your files?”
“Wh- what did you do?”
“Nothing. It’s more what didn’t get done.”
Kallima crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. Ignatius groaned and dodged her gaze by covering his face again.
“Dad never filed my birth certificate. Don’t tell Shay. I’m already in hot water with that freaking lie detector. And these guys-,” he gestured towards the courthouse behind them, shaking his head. “They’re going to be so mad at me.”
Kallima nibbled her lower lip, afraid to ask.
“You have one, though, right?”
Ignatius nodded, saying, “Duh. It’s in a safe deposit box.”
“Well, let’s go!”
“So you’re a September baby?” Kallima asked, staring at the certificate in her hands.
“September 14, 1977,” Kallima read. “You didn’t tell me.”
“That it was last month?”
“I would have bought you lunch.”
“No big deal,” the spiky-haired boy said. “I got the library all to myself. Everyone was in town. The quiet was nice enough.”
“Well, let me buy you lunch today, then,” Kallima insisted. “Gabriel’s been taking me to this nice place on Wilson Avenue. They have great roast.”
“Roast? Ek. That’s expensive. Have you ever had a burger?” Ignatius asked.
“A hamburger? Gross,” the girl said, laughing.
“There’s this joint on Sixth and Maple that serves a great burger. Let’s go there.”
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
“Hey, you wanted to get me a birthday present,” Ignatius said tauntingly. “I want to see you try one.”
Kallima groaned, but followed Ignatius down the road towards his favorite restaurant. He led her into a dark-looking shack sporting a small wooden sign that declared the shop name, “Peak Burgers.” Inside, though, Kallima felt a breath catch in her throat.
The walls sported a bright skyline decorated with images of clouds, giant birds, griffons, and the occasional golden or silver dragon. Kallima shuddered with the realization that the images moved slowly across the walls as though she watched a true sky. The granite tables erupted from the floor as narrow mountains balancing flat slats on their peaks. A thin, grey man with feathered wings hovered over a table of three before spotting the newcomers.
“Hey, Ig!” he called, darting towards the duo. “Shouldn’t you be in school? And who’s your friend?”
“I got a day off. You know, court reasons. Can you believe this, Dale? Dad’s been arrested, and they can’t squeeze me in until next week.”
“Oh, no! How’s the old man holding up?”
“Like I know. You can’t get word in or out of that hellhole. Did you even hear what they’re accusing him of?”
“Well, I hate to say it, Iggy,” the waiter admitted as he led them to a table, “but I wouldn’t put it past your dad to smuggle one out.”
Ignatius grumbled, sitting on a cloud that manifested from the air, “Great. It’s gonna be impossible to convince a judge, then.”
“Your usual?” The man asked, patting the boy’s shoulder sympathetically.
“Yeah, and get Kali here the same. Make hers, what would you say, Kali? Medium?”
“And a chocolate malt.”
“You really are a freak, Ig,” the waiter laughed.
As the grey man flew away with the order, Ignatius stared at Kallima. The girl poked the cloud next to her.
“You sit in it,” he said.
Kallima scoffed and hesitantly lowered herself onto the strange chair. It was oddly solid and dry.
“It- it’s a cloud,” she breathed.
Her companion rolled his eyes with a chuckle.
“It’s more of a poly-fiber construct with a high-powered anti-gravity enchantment and mild glamour to give the illusion of being a cloud.”
“You taking the piss out of me?”
Kallima rolled her eyes, remembering that the people of this realm may as well have been Americans for the way they talked.
“I said,” she rephrased, “‘are you making fun of me?’”
Ignatius put on his best aura of indignation and said, “I would never!”
“And a chocolate malt, Iggy?” Kallima said. “Trying to tell me something?”
The golden boy blushed violet and shook his head, a shy smile lighting his face.
“What do you drink with it?”
“Fizz tonic,” he breathed, “but you can’t have it. Citric acid. You left your shot at school.”
Kallima sighed. At least while they were off campus, she could have nuts. The past few weeks of avoiding peanut butter had proven far more difficult than keeping away from her true allergen.
As though reading her mind, Ignatius grinned and said, “They make a nice walnut brownie sundae, too. Would you like to split one?”
“Chocolate malt and a brownie? Are you trying to fatten me up? Or are you flirting?”
“So what if I am? It would just be another bad idea in a long, sad history of bad ideas,” the senior said softly, smirking fakely at his own words. “What’s taking them so long?”
“There’s this little part of cooking food where the food gets cooked, Iggy.”
The boy chuckled lightly and stared over Kallima’s shoulder. The redheaded girl shifted nervously in her seat.
“Tell me more about this guardian thing,” Kallima said. “What good is it to Master Dragon?”
“Mostly political,” Ignatius said, his eyes returning to the curious girl. “He’s probably hoping that you’ll be able to help him change the laws back.”
Kallima cocked her head in confusion. Her tutor sighed.
“Dragons used to have fae status because of their culture and intelligence,” he explained. “When the council was formed, dragons weren’t allowed on it.”
“Because people think they started the War of Talons?”
“Exactly. Other fae saw them as villains. They became ostracized and, later, hunted for their role in the war as well as for their body parts. My guess,” Ignatius concluded, “is that your guardian friend is trying to earn your trust, gratitude, and debt in the hopes that you’ll help him restore his kind’s status.”
“Why would he even think that I can?” Kallima asked.
Again, the boy just shrugged and said, “Maybe he knows who you are.”
Kallima opened her mouth to counter, but, at that moment, a plate clinked on the table in front of her. Thick chips decorated the tray like a nest for the burger that perched on grey waiter lowered it for him before placing a bubbly soda top. She glanced over at Ignatius’ identical burger as the down also. Finally, the man set Kallima’s malt down.
“He really is a nice kid. Don’t let his habits gross you out, okay?” the attendant said with a wink.
“Thank you,” the girl said. “I’ll try.”
Ignatius grunted in question, a heavy red stream dripping down his chin and his mouth already full. The sandwich in his hands leaked dark orange liquid on his fries.
“Not so sure about succeeding,” Kallima said under her breath.
“Wipe your mouth,” the girl responded as she narrowed her eyes. “Is that raw or something?”
“’S really rare, yeah,” Ignatius admitted, obeying his student’s command.
Kallima flinched and said, “I- was joking.”
“Try it. Yours is cooked, I promise.”
Kallima picked up her sandwich cautiously and, though pleased with the small amount of grease, hesitated before she forced a nibble into her mouth.
While she did not experience the explosion of flavor that Ignatius clearly did, Kallima found herself quickly devouring the burger. After all, her morning had burned a massive amount of energy out of her system, and she needed the fuel. She also wanted to discover what the dish was missing. It was, by no means, a bad meal, she believed. Her accomplice again asked if she wanted dessert once she had finished. She nodded, the malt long gone, and her gut still protesting that it was empty.
“Hey, Dale,” he called, “two brownie sundaes!”
“Sweet celestial bodies, where is she putting all that?” the waiter yelled back.
Kallima blushed angrily at the attention. A few short minutes later, the famished teenager found herself digging into a mountain of a sundae with her spoon. The walnuts gave just the right amount of salty crunch, and Kallima vocalized her satisfaction with small squeaks that made Ignatius laugh.
“Want the rest of mine?” he asked when she finished, pushing half a dish towards her.
Kallima nodded and rapidly polished the bowl off. Full and half-asleep, she laid her head on the table.
“Ready for your bill?” Ignatius asked, waving a receipt in front of her face.
“Oi. What’s the damage?”
“Two gold, three silver, and eight bronze.”
“Bloody hell,” Kallima said, dropping three gold coins on the tabletop. “I’m starting to think Mum was stingy with my allowance.”
“Eight gold a month? Most fae don’t earn that much working. Consider yourself lucky.”
Kallima laced her fingers together and narrowed her eyes, asking, “And how did you know that?”
Ignatius shrugged and pulled his ear, replying, “I overheard you talking to the teller.”
Kallima hummed in distrust at the tutor. While the boy was, by no means, translucent, he was not the great liar that he tried to be, either. The redhead sighed and stood up.
“Let’s get back to school, then,” she said.
Her companion nodded and followed her, shouting a good-bye to Dale as they left.
“So what classes do you have Tuesday afternoon?” Kallima asked.
“Mm. Advanced Mathematical Theory, Expert Alchemy, and Presentation and Speech Techniques.”
“Can you miss presentation?”
“Yeah, I’ll volunteer to present Monday. It’ll be fine.”
“Thank you,” the senior said.
Kallima turned to watch the boy as they walked. He went back to tugging on his ear and avoiding her eyes.
“Not a lot of people care, you know? I’m a nerd, and a freak, and a wimp.”
“You’re not a wimp.”
“Yeah, I am. I’m failing gymnasium.”
“But… Iggy, you’re a fire fae.”
“A fire fae who won’t fight. Have you been in Labyrinth?” Kallima nodded, and he continued, “Did you see that poor drake? They’re not as smart or strong, but they are related to dragons. And the ghasts that they have bound? Or that sweet, old phoenix... She’s killed thousands of times every year just because she can be!”
“So you won’t fight them?”
“No. I won’t fight them.”
Kallima paused, then said, “Well, that’s not so bad. At least you’re standing up for them. Mum always said, ‘If you don’t say something now, you don’t get to complain about it later.’ I have to agree with her there.”
“My dad u- he says that, too.”
“You aren’t a wimp, Iggy. You’re strong enough to stand up for them, aren’t you?”
“I... guess,” the senior said.
Kallima grinned and pressed her hand to a shed door.
“And fighting for your dad, too. You must be the strongest seventeen-year-old senior fire fae I know.”
Ignatius lapsed into a smirk and said, “What can I say? I’m Ignatius Cole Lindon, keeper of knowledge and...”
“Master of flame,” the boy said, smiling weakly at the dream fae.
Faking a smile of her own, Kallima pushed open the door, revealing a portal from the town directly to the study room they had left behind.