Blaze roared and blasted a vicious fireball into the sky. Kallima shielded her face from the explosion of light as the dragon brought his snout back to her eye-level.
“You purposely anger me!” he roared.
“Iggy needs me. He’s bound to fall off the trolley if I’m not around,” Kallima said.
Blaze stamped an angry paw, roaring in pain at the action. He limped backwards on three legs as he licked his foot. Kallima rushed to his side.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. You’ve brought my reality into the dreamscape. That is all,” the dragon said.
“Yes, but...” Kallima said, eyeing lizard.
The injured paw was swollen, but Kallima could not see any wounds. She reached up towards the limb and directed the massive creature to allow her a better view. Blaze turned his head with a growl and dropped the foot towards her.
“This is... This is a sprain,” she said.
“What of it? I will survive, will I not?”
“Left paw. How did you sprain it?”
“I do not recall.”
“Codswallop,” the girl said. “Lie down.”
“I am no dog,” the dragon barked.
Kallima stomped her own foot and ordered, “I don’t care! You bring your face down here this instant, young man!”
The dragon dropped instantly, tipping his spines down and resting his chin on the floor. He watched Kallima’s inspection of him with wide, fearful green eyes. Or, rather, one wide, fearful green eye.
“What happened to your face?” she asked.
The dragon snorted, glanced aside, and repeated, “What happened to your face?”
The teenager smacked the creature’s snout, making it roar in pain and clutch the left side of its face.
“Don’t you lie to me! It’s you, isn’t it?” she said. “Under all that talk, under all those scales, you’re Iggy, aren’t you?”
The gold dragon roared, his face so close to Kallima’s that a gob of spit coated her arm.
“Do not mock me, Daughter of Satu!” he roared, rising on all on his three good legs again. “You meddle in affairs with which you ought not concern yourself and assume you understand! Ignatius Lindon is a weak, selfish, greedy worm of a fire fae, and I regret allowing myself to become attached to him!”
“Blaze, Master Dragon and Shield of Kallima,” the tall girl said, “you explain this right now, or I will tell everyone that there is a dragon on school grounds!”
Again the dragon shrank down, pulling himself into a tight ball as he watched Kallima’s movements. Kallima bit her lip at the sweet smell. He was truly afraid of her.
“You would do no such thing,” Blaze said, eyes betraying his fear despite his stern tone.
“Of course not,” the redhead said, scratching the scales along his jawline. “But I need to know. Why do you have the same injuries as Iggy?”
The usually powerful dragon closed his eyes sadly, his breathing heavy and pained.
“This,” he said, “is why I do not like the boy. He abuses my power.”
“How?” Kallima asked.
“I empathized with him. Neither of us had a mother. We both struggled to control the fire inside us. We sought out truth and knowledge. But he was weak, and I was strong. He asked for my protection, and I obliged. But I did not know the extent of his problems. He did not tell me who he needed protection from. Can you guess?”
Kallima said, “I, er- I have no idea.”
“It is the greatest threat to anyone in this realm.”
“The self. Ignatius is his own worst enemy. His wit and conceit will continue to put him in situations that he cannot handle on his own.”
“I don’t understand,” Kallima said.
“I agreed to be his guardian, and he took advantage of it to serve his own agenda.”
“What agenda, Blaze?”
“He wanted me to keep bullies away from him.”
“Is that all?” Kallima asked, surprised at the admission.
“Is that not enough? He saw me as a symbol that his peers would fear. I did not know he would betray me the way he did.”
“He was a kid.”
“He was a traitor!” the dragon screeched.
He fell to his side with a boom, shaking the ground with the impact. Kallima struggled to remain upright and teetered to the dragon’s side. Blaze clawed at the gap in his armor, drawing the teen’s eyes to the missing scale.
“When Satu led me to that cave… She said Lindon would keep me safe. But when Ignatius found me... He treated me like a brother. His father treated me as a son. Then the boy came here. He wanted to flaunt me, to show me off. He wanted that boy to see me. To fear me.”
Kallima said, “You mean Mason? The boy who doesn’t go here anymore?”
“Ah, you’ve heard the rumors after all,” Blaze said. “A brute of a boy, Mason was. I followed Ignatius here to defend him. I had no idea he would actually need me. But I felt the first strike and knew he did. I raced to him in my human form and saw Mason beating him. So I attacked the bully. The look on Ignatius’ face... Kallima, his eyes were burning. He wanted me to kill that boy, and that scared me. By the time I stopped myself, Mason was half-dead. And Ignatius told me to go, that he would cover for me. Not that it mattered. The damage was done.”
“It- It was a-all you?” Kallima asked.
“I vowed to stay out of the boy’s affairs after that day,” the dragon told her. “If he wants to get himself killed, I shall pass to the next life without remorse.”
“But Shay said dragons age differently. How long would you live without him?”
“Lindon told me that my brothers and sisters could age upwards of six-hundred years.”
“That- that’s terrible!” Kallima cried. “How old are you?”
“I- Forgive me, Majesty. The truth is that I have secretly lived for only thirty years.”
Kallima’s jaw dropped wide, and she said, “Y-you’re still a child yourself!”
“Do I seem so defenseless to you?”
“Well... But still! You won’t make it to a hundred! Not bound to me and Iggy!”
“Fire dragons often live fast. It is their nature, and fire fae are the same. Dream fae like you? You could yet live to a hundred and fifty, provided you care for yourself.”
“Hundred... and... ooh...” Kallima stumbled.
“Do not fret, Majesty,” Blaze assured her, nuzzling her hip with his snout. “I will protect you as long as I am able. Even if it is only a short time.”
Kallima wrapped her arms around the creature’s snout and presses her cheek to his.
“How long do the two of you have?”
“If he keeps his nose clean, fifty or sixty years more.”
Kallima squeezed her eyes shut and pulled the dragon closer, making him purr softly and rub against her hair.
“Please protect him, Blaze,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do without you. Please?”
Blaze sighed and said, “If my vow upsets you, I will break it. But please think on my words. He cannot be trusted.”
Kallima opened her eyes to the white ceiling of her room with a heavy chest. She wiped an eye with one hand, groaning when she found the corners damp. The bell outside clanged to life, pulling the residents of the school back into the waking world. Kallima sighed, listening to Sable scold the bell under her breath and Jasmine crawl across the floor with a canine whimper. As the werewolf hid away in her closet, Kallima peeked over the edge of the bunk. Sable sat up with a yawn.
“How old can gargoyles get?”
Sable looked up at the dream fae in confusion.
“I’m just interested in how fae age.”
“Oh. Well, um, gargoyles don’t actually, like, age. Mom would have been, like, in her twenties forever, but... They just go on until they crumble.”
“Oh. How long do you think you’ll live?” Kallima asked.
“I dunno, Kali. My uncle thinks I’ll, like, taper off and stop aging around twenty. Shay thinks I’ll just have an extended lifespan from a shadow fae, so, like, ninety or a hundred, tops.”
“But you’re not sure?” Kallima said. “Aren’t there other half-gargoyles?”
Kallima blinked at the stony girl slumping to the closet.
“No, there aren’t any half-gargoyles. Like, how many people look at a rock and call it attractive, Kali?” Sable said. “Besides, gargoyles are, like, made, not birthed. They don’t need to reproduce, so they don’t.”
“My dad found a sorcerer that, like, knew how to give her a more... functional body. They spent everything to have me. It’s, like, really ironic.”
Sable slipped into the closet to dress. Kallima climbed to the floor and made the fragile girl’s bed. As she did, Jasmine returned to the room, stretching.
“What are you doing?” she asked Kallima.
“Just a little thing.”
During her free hour before lunch, Kallima began to design a special gift for Ignatius. Granted, she planned to present it to Maimu first as her final project, but it was really for the golden-haired boy. A lotus, she decided, playing to the professor’s heritage, that would open up, play a short light show, and close again. What the performance would contain teased her. It had to have a dragon, but that would not be enough. The harder she thought, though, the less she liked what she came up with until, as the bell rang for lunch, she threw the papers into her bag, furious. Right as she stood up to get some food, Shay burst into the room, and the riotous sounds from the courtyard spilled inside like water.
“Kali, hurry!” the boy panted.
The redhead ran outside and fought through a dense crowd of cheering and jeering students to find none other than Marian, Reginald, Jarl, and Ignatius at the core. The short, golden boy stared up at a tiny, violet box tied up with familiar gold ribbon as Jarl dangled it teasingly over him. Ignatius leapt for it only to be pushed onto his back by the taunting troll.
“If you aren’t going to help,” the Crown Prince said, hands on his hips, “I don’t see why you should get this. It’s not like you deserve it.”
Ignatius whimpered, unable to speak with his oath.
“At least say ‘please,’ you jerk,” Marian added.
Kallima turned to Shay and asked, “Didn’t Locke say you could manipulate the emotions of other fae?”
“I’m capable but not well versed!”
“Well, practice,” Kallima said, dropping her bag. “Get Jarl off of him. No Tairochi.”
“Oh, come on! It’s faster!”
Kallima threw her jacket off, leaving her bare arms exposed to the November winds as she rushed to Ignatius’ side. Shay pounced Jarl and grabbed him around the neck. The troll stumbled around in a circle as he searched for the fae, not hearing Marian scream that the assailant was on his back. Shay climbed onto the huge boy’s shoulders, put a hand on either side of his head, and began whispering into one large ear. The troll’s arms dropped to his sides as Jarl began promptly drooling down his front. Kallima ripped the package from his hand and handed it to Ignatius. He clutched it to his chest with a sniffle.
“Tell them they can’t buy you anymore,” the girl said.
Ignatius repeated, “You can’t buy me anymore.”
“You’re not their dog. You’re not broken.”
“I’m not your dog, and you won’t break me.”
“And if they try, I will make them suffer.”
Ignatius turned to the girl, stunned, and shook his head.
“I’m not saying that,” he said.
Kallima squinted at him, stomped a foot, and pointed to the twins. The fire fae squeaked.
“An-And if you... if you try, K-Kallima will make you stop it!” he shouted, his voice growing louder with each word.
“Leave you alone.”
“Leave me alone!”
“You’re safe now.”
“I’m SAFE HERE!”
Tears streamed down the senior’s face as Kallima grabbed his shoulders and began pushing him away. The Noble twins stared, shock on Marian’s face while Reginald’s showed nothing but rage.
“Let’s get out of here. Shay! That’s enough!” the redhead called.
A massive root rose from the ground and plucked Shay from the troll’s shoulder, leaving Jarl to shake his head in bleary confusion as the spirit fae escaped. Acacia dropped him next to her and pressed him to follow Kallima, which he did. The crowd parted like sheep around a rock as the misfit group approached. Gabriel managed to join them after wading through the sea of teenagers and began scolding Kallima for her recklessness, pulling him to her side possessively. She only rolled her eyes at him. No one even saw Sable join them, but, by the time they shut themselves into the library, she was right at their heels.
“That isn’t-?” the gargoyle asked.
Ignatius nodded, falling into a chair and placing the box on his lap before hiding his face in his hands. Kallima bit her lip. Blaze had been wrong. The boy revealed his the cracks in his resolve to the entire school, and now everyone could see him. Gabriel let out a long low whistle.
“Not the kind of gift,” he said, “that makes one want to help.”
“What is it?” Kallima asked, placing a kind hand on Ignatius’ arm.
“No, Kali...” Shay said.
Sable blubbered at the question, and Acacia shook her head fearfully.
Gabriel said, “You really don’t want to know, Sweetie.”
“It’s bad,” Shay added.
Ignatius, though, pulled in a deep breath and untied the ribbons. He set his hand hesitantly on the lid. With one last, painful, terrified look at Kallima, he slowly pulled the lid up.
On a velvet cushion, a severed ear and a thumb with yellow and green pus where a nail should have been rested menacingly, necrosis turning the light flesh of each piece black at the cut ends. Kallima covered her mouth until Ignatius shut the lid again. Then she broke her one rule and pulled the boy into the tightest hug she had ever given.
Behind her, she could feel Gabriel seething at the terrified boy in her arms.