Kallima bolted from the room, ignoring the two girls she left behind. She nearly trampled a short girl with rosy hair. After apologizing shortly, she searched the seemingly endless hallways for someone to take her home. Surely the pale woman who had greeted her would be able to help her.
She ran for ages before something finally grabbed her shoulder and turned her around.
The sylph she had pointed out earlier stared back at her with amused, amber eyes. He frowned and rubbed Kallima’s arm when she sniffled. She hid her face and started sobbing.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” the boy asked.
Kallima sank against the wall, shaking her head.
“I- I want to go home,” she said.
She felt the sylph sit next to her and ask, “And where would home be?”
“Eng-? Is that in the Mortal Realm?”
Kallima nodded, and the boy next to her whistled.
“It’s a lot to take in in one day, isn’t it?” he said. “All the people, the power…”
“My roommate is an ax-wielding werewolf, and no one seems the least bit concerned about it,” said Kallima.
“There are a lot of things that will kill you in the Faerie Realm. Gymnasium is supposed to train you to defend yourself against them. Didn’t you bring a weapon?”
“No. Gymnasium in England is, you know, rugby, football, cricket.”
“I actually don’t know what any of those are.”
“They’re just games. It’s exercise. Not war.”
“This is a really big change for you, huh?”
“I can’t do it. It’s too much for me…”
The sylph slid an arm over Kallima’s shoulders, and her face grew hot again.
“You’ve got a lot of energy, Sweetheart. I think you’re gonna be fine.”
“Yeah. Coach Drummer’s a good guy. He’s never let anyone get seriously hurt.” the boy said, squeezing Kallima’s arm. “And even if something did happen, Nurse Anna could patch you up, no problem. No one’s ever died from gym class.”
Kallima sniffled and nodded.
“What’s your name?”
“Kallima Aislin Satudotter. But, er, Kali is fine.”
“Well, Kali, I’m Gabriel Tucker. Most people call me Gabe, though.”
“I think I like Gabriel more.”
“Oh, really?” Kallima nodded, and Gabriel chuckled, “You know, I saw you point at me earlier. Do I look that strange to you, or that interesting?”
“Er, interesting, to be honest. I like your wings.”
“Why thank you. I like your hair. It’s very bright, you know?”
Kallima giggled and blushed harder. Gabriel smirked, rose, and offered her a hand.
“Anyway, you can’t get back tonight,” the long-haired boy explained. “The sun’s already set. Fairy circles will only send people to the Mortal Realm at sunset. Sunrise will bring you to the Faerie Realm.”
The freshman groaned and allowed Gabriel to help her to her feet.
“So many rules. Element affiliation, fairy circles, bonding, auras…”
“I guess Shay can read auras.”
“Oh, that’s right. I’d heard Lord Orion had a son that could see auras,” Gabriel said. “Didn’t realize he was a freshman this year, though.”
“Lord?” Kallima squeaked. “Lord Orion?
“Yeah, I’ve only met him twice at Council meetings, but he seemed pretty shy to me. Stuck pretty close to his nanny; never said anything. Andrew was a lot more verbal.”
“Andrew Orion. His brother. Looks just like him,” Gabriel said, “but he’s a very different person. Way more outgoing. He graduated last spring. I heard he’s getting married here soon.”
“Ugh. It’s a lot to take in. What’s ‘council?’”
“The lords get together every month to meet with the monarch and discuss laws and such. It’s called ‘council.’”
“Wait, wait, wait. Is your dad a lord, too?”
“Uh-huh. Lord Tucker. He manages a couple towns to the east. Greston is one of his, just a couple of miles out. If you’re not busy this weekend… They let students take a wagon and go shopping. If you like, I’d be happy to escort you.”
Kallima giggled awkwardly and said, “I think… I might like that. If I decide to stay.”
“Please do. I understand you feel out of place here, but you’ll adjust.”
“I don’t think- think I will. Maybe it’s my human side, but…”
“You’re a little freaked out by us, huh?”
“N-no! Mum taught me… told me to be slow to judge people. To wait for them to show their true face before I decided I liked them or not. So I’m trying to be accepting of all the- the giants and dryads and brownies and such. I’m just a bit overloaded and wary.”
“You said, ah, Satudotter?” he asked, and Kallima nodded. Gabriel laughed and said, “Titanus’ favorite little attendant. She would tell you that.”
“Titan- The king?”
“King Titanus. She did say that, didn’t she?”
“Satu was an attendant. In name, anyway. But a lot of fae say he favored her. Listened to her almost more than he listens to Lady Butterfly. Here.”
Gabriel stopped and pointed to a lift where a small imp napped in the corner. Kallima asked what it was.
“If you really are set on going back,” he told her, “you’ll have to talk to Headmaster Locke. This is the lift to his office.”
“If you decide to stay, though…,” Gabriel said and brushed Kallima’s cheek with his fingers, “I promise you won’t regret it.”
Kallima squeaked, her ears turned red, and her knees quaked beneath her. Gabriel sniggered softly at the reaction. Then he waved and walked away from the blushing redhead. With a giggle of her own, Kallima stepped onto the platform and cleared her throat. When the imp continued to snooze, she poked it with her toe. It grunted and jumped to attention with a short salute. Then he began winding a crank, sending the contraption upwards.
“Why an elevator?” she asked.
“Centaur. Makes stairs hard. Lotta feet. Hard climbing. Lift helping,” the creature said.
“That- Okay then.”
The clicking of the lift stopped, and the imp hopped towards a tall door and knocked.
“Come in, please.”
Kallima quickly darted to the door and opened it, poking her head inside. The round suite was decorated in emerald and oak, with a wide desk in the center of the room. Headmaster Locke lounged on a low, lumpy mattress as he wrote something down at the workstation. Glancing quickly up at Kallima, he smiled.
“Ah! Satudotter. I see you got my message. Here.”
He passed an envelope towards her, and Kallima took it cautiously. Then she sighed.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but I actually came here to negotiate my return home,” she whispered.
“Home?” Locke sighed and said, “Satudotter, I told you. You are better off here.”
“But I want to go home, Sir. I need to go home! Dad is probably worried sick-!”
“Mina visited him last week to make certain he knew what was happening. That is your course list, by the way. Satu only filled out your first two years. Said the second two were… ‘unnecessary,’ I believe was the word she used.”
“Tw- two years..? Oh, G- I’m not staying here another two minutes!” Kallima shouted.
“Please, calm yourself, Satudotter.”
“There is a werewolf with an ax in my room!”
“Would you feel more comfortable if she did not keep the ax in the room?” Locke asked.
“I-! I might,” Kallima admitted. “A little.”
“Sharp weapons are to be kept in the gymnasium lockers, not in the dorms. Freshmen start gymnasium tomorrow. You will all receive lockers to keep your gym gear in,” Locke said. “Does that help?”
“Yes. But I-!”
“I believe that you are simply overloaded. You’ve never seen people like this before, have you?”
“Do you feel any better now?”
“Good. Speak with me again after class on Friday if you’re still not comfortable,” Locke said. “You have a strong energy, and it would be remiss to lose such promise.”
Kallima nodded and left, looking at her schedule as she stepped onto the lift again. Freshman year, first semester; she read; her day would start with gymnasium, a two-hour time block most days. On Fridays, though, it took up the entire morning. All the other classes only covered an hour each: Introductory Alchemy, Basic Algebra, a half-hour lunch, study hall, Classic Literary Studies, and Basic Elemental Magic, followed by more free time. Curious, she flipped the page to see her next term’s studies. She groaned at the list, and the lift stopped, allowing Kallima to make her way through the building and to her room again.
It was the same gym schedule with Introductory Alchemy afterwards. Then composition; lunch; Basic Spirit Magic; Introductory Cryptoscience, whatever that was; Trigonometry, and Art Culture and Appreciation. No study halls.
As bad as next term would be, though, it only got worse. For her autumn sophomore classes, she had Advanced Alchemy, Political Debate, Advanced Algebra, Modern Government, Introduction to War Tactic- War Tactic! - Advanced Spirit Magic, then the same strange Gymnasium course. Kallima felt like crying at the schedule. Several times, she had told her mother that she was thinking about being a veterinarian. Yet her schedule seemed to be pruning her for a general or lawyer. The spring term finally allowed her a study hall. But with Alchemy, History, Advanced Elemental Magic, Intermediate War Tactic, Advanced Spirit Magic, and Gymnasium, it still seemed like a full schedule.
Defeated and betrayed, Kallima returned to her room, pausing at the barrier. Sable laid on her stomach across her bed, headphones on her ears and a notepad open in front of her. She scritched on the paper as her head bobbed with the music in her ears. Jasmine occupied herself plastering images of dark landscapes to the wall near her own bed. The werewolf froze when Kallima pointed to her.
“The ax stays in your closet until Gymnasium tomorrow,” she said, “got it?”
“Yeah, sure. Majesh knows I don’t need it before then,” Jasmine shrugged, hanging dark green curtains around her bunk to block out her roommates.
Kallima nodded, satisfied, and tapped Sable’s damp head. The girl crackled and looked up at her bunkmate fearfully, covering what she was writing with her arms.
“Did you have a weapon?” Kallima asked.
“May I ask what it is?”
Kallima tipped her head in confusion and muttered, “That bowling ball is a weapon?”
“It’s a beacon.”
Jasmine nodded, standing, and said, “It can be used as a weapon, a powerful one if you use it right.”
“Really? How so?” Kallima asked
“Well, a beacon draws attention,” Jasmine thought out loud. “It can create a distraction, open opportunities, and buy time. But it can also create light, blinding or dazing opponents.”
“Or I can, like, throw it at someone’s head.”
Kallima chuckled at that.
“So, since it’s not sharp,” she said, recalling her earlier discussion with Headmaster Locke, “you can keep it in the room?”
“I promise not to throw it at your head?” Sable offered, forcing a smile to her lips.
“Sounds fair. Hey, do you have any of these classes?” Kallima asked, waving her first-term schedule.
Sable hummed and looked at the paper.
“Well, we all have gymnasium together. Like, as a class. Fall is group training, and spring is, like, individual,” the gargoyle said.
“Yeah, I have gym with you guys, too. Hey, do you have Basic Alchemy or Beginner’s Composition this term?” Jasmine asked.
“I have alchemy, not composition,” Kallima said.
“So all three of us have alchemy together. I know Shay will, like, have algebra with you. I take Shadow Magic after lunch, so you’re on your own there.”
“It’s a free hour, so I’m not too concerned.”
“I don’t have classic lit…”
“I do,” Jasmine said. “I’ll try to help you out, since you don’t know our culture.”
“And I’m pretty sure Basic Elemental Magic is, like, a mandatory class for freshmen, too,” Sable said. “So you’ll have that with us again. Then I have free time, like you.”
“Brilliant. Er, what is alchemy?” Kallima asked.
“The manipulation of certain materials to create other, more complex objects,” Jasmine said, yawning. “I’m turning in, okay?”
Sable yelped and pulled the headphones off. Jasmine rolled her eyes and ducked under her bed curtains.
“What’s wrong?” Kallima asked.
Sable pouted and said, “The music stopped.”
“The batteries died already?” Kallima asked.
“It’s dead?” Sable whimpered, wide-eyed.
Kallima laughed at the girl’s misunderstanding and climbed up into her bed.
“No, it’s okay. I can fix it,” she said, “but you need to go easy on it. You can’t listen to it all the time.”
Sable groaned but tucked the device beneath her bed.
“Sorry. Late enough anyway.”
Kallima stretched and nodded, running a hand over her amulet.
“I think Jazz is, like, already asleep,” Sable sighed, getting up to pull the curtains shut around the flame-like lights on the wall, her beacon the only source of light in the room as it glowed dimly in the night.Kallima nodded with a grunt, slipping out of her pants to sleep in her t-shirt. The fiery-haired girl tucked her amulet beneath her pillow so she did not have to climb back down. Sable clung to her beacon and returned to her own bed. Bidding the grey creature good-night, Kallima slipped under her blanket and eased into her pillow, eyes falling shut quickly under the weight of the strange day.