“Are any of you guys signing up to go into town tomorrow?” Gabriel asked.
He slipped his arm over Kallima’s shoulders as she, Shay, Acacia, and Sable bolted from the classroom they had been confined to for the last hour. The small group wandered down the hall, Kallima clinging to Gabriel, Shay wrapped around Acacia’s waist, and Sable tailing the couples dejectedly.
Shay adjusted his backpack and said, “Well, I was hoping to get some new weapons. We have no ranged attacks for the Labyrinth.”
“You wanna go, Say?” Acacia called over her shoulder.
The gray girl shook her head silently.
“Why not?” Kallima whined. “You’ll have fun. Promise.”
“Mygonabonumungals,” the girl muttered.
“Sorry, what?” Gabriel laughed.
“I gotta go to Uncle Gavin’s. On the weekends.”
“Ugh,” Shay groaned, “if he has so much trouble taking care of himself, he should hire a maid. He can afford it.”
“He spends too much on me,” Sable said. “It’s not, like, cheap, taking care of a kid. Besides, I owe him.”
Shay’s lip twitched in disgust. He turned away from Sable and towards Kallima.
“She actually believes this bullshit,” he said.
“Come on, Shay. It could be, like, way worse. At least he lets me go to school. I have, like, a chance-!”
Kallima cut Sable off, “He ‘lets’ you go to school?”
Sable dropped her face, and Shay shook his head.
“He doesn’t need to let her attend,” Acacia explained. “Sure, it’s free, but it’s not like it pays any bills. If he wanted, the guy could hire her out as a farmhand, a servant, or even-”
“Case!” Shay said. “Zip it!”
“I’m just being realistic.”
“I’m only fourteen,” Sable said. “It’s not legal...”
“Yet,” Gabriel finished. “In time, though-”
“I know,” the girl said with a shiver.
Kallima’s jaw dropped in realization.
“He would whore you out?”
Sable squeaked, her skin snapping as it marbleized. While Shay insisted that Gavin would do no such thing, Acacia countered that he might.
Gabriel shrugged and said, “It happens.”
“That’s... That’s sick!” Kallima spat. “That’s legal?”
“That’s life,” Sable said hoarsely. “Like Gabe said, ‘it happens.’ Not to me. I hope.”
“If it does,” Kallima said, “you tell me, because I will kill him! That is- that’s so wrong!”
“Keep threatening to kill people,” a voice called. “See how long you can manage to keep yourself alive.”
Ignatius leaned in the doorway of the library, waiting for his pupil. Though he wore his usual, cocky smirk, his eyes had dimmed considerably since lunch, and the smirk vanished when Kallima asked what was wrong.
“I got some mail I wasn’t expecting. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “You can go back to whatever when we’re done. Got your homework?”
Kallima nodded. She had lost two hours of sleep the night before to the early due date, but it was finished. Ignatius nodded and ushered her into the library.
“See you later, Kali!” Gabriel called as the two disappeared inside.
The boy quickly walked his student to the back table they had annexed from the rest of the library, letting Miss Flores get only a small greeting in before she was out of their sight again. Sitting down, Ignatius looked down the paper.
“Looks like you understand the system,” he muttered. “I see you noticed the abuses of lords over their people, good. ‘The king doesn’t monitor the lords enough…’ No, he doesn’t. ‘The system is sound in principle, but lacks the necessary moral code required for proper execution.’ Well put.”
He flung the paper back at Kallima, who scrambled to catch it and return it to her bag.
“A-plus. Rewrite it for Monday.”
“Bugger off! You said A-plus,” Kallima shouted.
“For a student, it is. For a citizen, even. Coming from you, this is unacceptable.”
“You’ve really got the hump today, haven’t you?”
“It’s not good enough, Kali!”
The golden-haired boy slammed a fist on the table, voice shaking. His eyes flickered demonically before returning to normal as the boy attempted to steady his breathing. Kallima sneered at the boy.
“What is wrong with you?” she asked. “Didn’t Gabriel warn you about being rude?”
“I’m… sorry. I got black noted,” the boy told her. “They arrested my dad. For dragon affiliation. I- I can’t…”
Kallima said, “I- I’m sorry...”
“Look, your paper is good,” he said. “But you’re thinking wrong. Think like a diplomat.”
“Because you have to.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Ugh. Then how?”
“You’ve found the problem, that’s the start. Now, find someone to place the blame on. Offer up a solution. It has to be cost-effective and fair, at least fair enough that the council would agree with you,” Ignatius instructed.
“That sounds like a lot of work.”
“Diplomacy is a lot of work.”
“I don’t want to be a diplomat,” Kallima said.
“Well, I don’t wanna be-!”
Again, the boy’s voice caught in his throat. Kallima watched as he retreated into himself and fiddle with both ears.
“Look,” he whispered, “I am very alone right now. I try to laugh it off, but I am. And I know you can change that. It doesn’t make sense, I know. You have no idea who you are or-”
“I know who I am.”
“Who?” The tutor asked, “Some half-fae fluke with a bad temper?”
“I’m Kallima Aislin Satudotter, publicly a shadow fae, and secretly a dream fae. I don’t like lying, and I’m not sure I ever will. I was raised to tell people if I don’t like something, even if it won’t change anything. I didn’t have any friends in the human world, but I have a few good ones here. I’m no genius, but I’ll manage, with or without your help. I’m not you. I don’t need to know my parents to know who I am.”
“That. Right there,” Ignatius said, smiling at her. “That’s why I have faith in you, that fire. Laws aren’t easy to change, but if anyone can do it...”
Kallima flinched and whimpered, “Wha- What laws?”
The senior sighed as he reached into his bag and pulled out a book roughly the size of a dictionary. He ran his fingers over the cover then passed it to Kallima.
“I’ve underlined some of the worst ones,” Ignatius said.
Kallima snarled as she flipped through the book.
“Bloody hell, what is this? ‘In the event of a military draft, any refusal to defend the crown will result in the removal of the offender’s property, including, but not limited to, housing, money, and minors under the offender’s care.’ Kids are property?”
“Yeah,” Ignatius said.
“‘Affiliation with dragons,’” Kallima read, stopping at a heavily starred, circled, and underlined passage, “‘is prohibited. Suspects of violation are subject to imprisonment, torture, and, if found guilty, public execution.’ Good Lord...”
“That’s the big one. I want that repealed.”
Kallima nodded, saying, “Especially now. ‘The closest living family member of a prisoner will be notified by Black Note. Failure to respond within 30 days will be seen as admission of guilt on the prisoner’s behalf.’ Bloody hell, Iggy, you need to do this. Have you done this yet?”
Ignatius shrugged and said, “I just got the letter today. Response means court. Courts are only open Monday through Friday. See the problem?”
Kallima shuddered, but nodded.
“Can’t you skip a day?”
Ignatius shook his head.
“I can’t get a carriage into town. School policy won’t allow it.”
“I- I can take you,” Kallima said. “We’d be in and back before anyone knew we left.”
“You don’t know where you’d be going,” Ignatius said, tugging one ear, “and there’s no way you have that kind of control yet.”
“Yes I do! I made a door from my room to the dining hall once.”
Kallima shrugged, admitting, “It was an accident, but I was really hungry...”
The golden-haired boy rolled his eyes and shook his head, saying, “Focus, Kali. I’d like to leave this place eventually.”
Then that annoying smile reappeared. Kallima sighed and buckled down for her last class of the week, knowing full well that she would have far too much homework to leave the school the next day.
“I’ve never ridden in a carriage!” Kallima said.
Gabriel laughed and helped her up into the wagon-like back, asking “How do you get around if you don’t have a carriage?”
“What’s a car?” Shay asked.
“Never mind. I don’t get how fae have plumbing but not cars or electricity,” Kallima said.
A team of black stallions stamped impatiently and shook the leads that bound them to a long, basic wagon lined with benches. A short, plump man stomped on the ground, a cloud of smoke hovering just above him as he tried to ignored the mass of children crowding him. Gabriel led Kallima to one of the benches and sat her next to him, pulling her close. The redhead blushed and giggled. Shay took a seat next to them, making Acacia huff at the narrow wedge of wood between him and Kallima. Crossing her arms, the dryad sat on Shay’s lap defiantly, making him squirm as he tried to find a good place for his hands.
“Oi, there are children present,” Kallima said.
“Yeah, Shay,” Acacia smiled mischievously as she wiggled her hips, “stop that.”
Shay blushed, “You’re the one grinding into me...”
Gabriel pulled Kallima’s face away from Acacia and Shay’s antics. The carriage started forward with a lurch. Kallima jolted and blushed as her hand brushed the sylph’s thigh. The contact made Gabriel stiffen his shoulders, flit his wings, and blush as well. Kallima sat up again as the cart steadied out.
“Sorry! I’m sorry!” she blurted.
But instead of reprimanding her, Gabriel chuckled and pulled Kallima’s lips to his.
“Oh no, Kali,” Shay laughed behind her, “Sable’s gonna be so pissed!”
Kallima furrowed her brow, pulling away from a slightly miffed Gabriel.
“I’m sorry, what?” she asked.
Shay sighed, “She’ll be mad, maybe even jealous. You’ve got a boyfriend now.”
“We’re not technically together yet...”
“Yeah, it’s just one date,” Gabriel agreed.
“And don’t say she’d be pissed,” Kallima added. “I warned you about calling people drunk around me.”
“Who said she was drunk?” Acacia asked.
“Pissed is drunk where I’m from.”
“Well, here it just means angry.”
The four continued their back and forth the entire ride into town. Kallima laughed at the playful banter, the relaxing scent of honeysuckle and lilac drifting around her. A shadow drew her attention and she turned away from her companions to admire a town in the world she had never seen before.
Quaint buildings of yellow, red, and lavender brick dotted the area. Several large trees interrupted the bustle, large birdhouses dangling from the branches and miniature doors carved into the trunks. As Kallima watched, a sprite glided out from behind one of them, locking it behind him before zooming away. The girl laughed. She even spotted a miniature apartment complex swarming with brownies as the wagon made its way to the center of town.
“The cart will leave town at two-thirty!” Coach Drummer called from the front of the wagon. “That gives you four hours. If you get lost, find a local and ask for directions to the town center. I will be in this area all day if you need me. If you are not back on this train at two-thirty, you will not be joining us next week.”
Kids cheered as the cart jolted to a stop next to a large, round park. A fountain in the middle drew a great deal of attention as the students climbed down from the carriage. Shay nudged Kallima with his toe and pointed to it.
“That’s King Titanus,” he told her.
The fountain supported a massive sphere of marble with thick veins running through it. A very tall man stood atop it. He had an average build, foxed ears that stood straight out, and a thin mouth. His eyebrows seemed to Kallima to be too close together, but what shocked her the most was how tall the sculpture was. The base was a good meter high, but the man on top stood just under three meters into the air. He looked oddly-proportioned and elongated.
“Ugly Yank, ain’t he?” Kallima asked.
“What? You look just like him!” Acacia giggled.
“A little in the brows, and in height…” Shay said.
Kallima growled, “My brow does not look like that!”
Gabriel hummed and stuck his thumb in the gap between Kallima’s brows, covering it. Kallima growled, angry that her face stood out more than she had thought, and smacked his hand away. Gabriel and Acacia laughed as Shay slung an arm around the tormented teen’s shoulders. Kallima groaned as Shay gave a quick squeeze.
“Consider yourself lucky,” he said. “Most dream fae don’t have a gap there at all. It comes with the territory, just like being tall.”
“I am tall compared to all of you...”
Kallima shrugged out of Shay’s grip and edged closer to the fountain. She shivered under the eyes she felt on her back, but she wanted to get a better view of her mother’s old employer. He looked young, maybe in his mid-thirties, but there was no telling how old the image was. She leaned against the well that surrounded the fountain and stared, shaking her head at the replica as it rested one hand on the hilt of a sword and held a lantern with the other.
“Still weird looking, I thin-.”
Kallima felt something hit her back and, before she could stop herself, tipped over the low wall and into the water. She thrashed for a moment before finding her bearings and pulling herself up, gasping for air. Laughter filled her soaked bones as her eyes landed on her assailant. The blonde boy sneered at her, his arms crossed over his chest.
“You’ll show respect to your king, orphan,” Reginald said. “Your future king, too.”
Marian smiled sweetly and walked to the edge of the fountain, kneeling slightly to Kallima’s eye level.
“And if anyone here looks weird, it’s you, unibrow,” she said, smirking and flicking Kallima on the forehead.
Marian pushed Kallima’s head back and under the water before the redhead could finish. Kallima resurfaced a moment later, coughing and sputtering as she clung to the edge of the well. She closed her eyes, only opening them when she heard Gabriel’s voice asking if she was alright.
“I hate them!” Kallima screamed. “I can’t stand them!”
“Come on, Kali. Let’s get you some warm clothes. My house isn’t far, and you, ah…,” Gabriel chuckled, “you look like you’re cold.”
The sylph yelped as Kallima grabbed his shirt and pulled him into the water with her. His wings flapped wildly as he clambered back up and out, shaking fiercely.
“You’re evil,” he growled.
Kallima grinned and snaked her way out of the water. Most of the crowd had dispersed in search of goods, and the Noble twins had vanished completely. Shay and Acacia were the only two who stayed behind, and they left once they were sure Kallima and Gabriel were out of the water. The sylph pulled Kallima close, rubbing her arms in an attempt to warm her.
“Now we definitely need to visit my parents. I’m soaked!” Gabriel said, shaking his head. “I bet we can find a dress to fit you, too.”
Kallima nodded, and the two drenched teens waddled to down one of the winding roads. As they walked, Gabriel pointed out to her all magnificent things he could to make the new world seem more inviting. Eventually, the girl’s shivering gave way to intrigue, and then fascination at the colorful life all around her.