Brave New World

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Not All Dwarves...

August 5, 2005

“Ouch!” Reyna hissed as Dunstan pressed a cotton pad dripping with antiseptic against a scratch on her cheek. She had finally managed to find her way back home just after the clocks marked midnight and immediately woke Dunstan up. Her body ached from the fight with the Fairy and she just knew her shoulder needed tending to.

“Oh, hush,” Dunstan said with a slight cluck of his tongue. “You’re lucky all these injuries are just superficial. What in God’s name made you think getting in a fight with a Fairy was a good idea?” He asked while placing a Band-Aid on her cheek, then moving his attention to her scuffed up hands. “He could have easily killed you. In fact, I’m surprised you’re still alive. What would you have done if that gate had been made of something besides iron, huh? Died, that’s what you would have done. You survived by the scrape of your teeth, Reyna,” He paused to grab her chin tightly, “Don’t forget that.”

“I won’t,” Reyna muttered, looking away from Dunstan and pulling her chin out of his grasp. She hissed again when Dunstan poured more of the clear liquid onto her hands and stared at them as the white bubbles appeared around the scratches. “What happened to that Fairy anyway? He just disappeared with his arm on fire.”

“He opened a Fairy Door, obviously. At least, that’s what it sounds like from what you described. As long as the surface doesn’t have iron in it, Fairies can open one on anything. He probably went back to the Fairy Realm to get his wound treated.”

“You don’t . . . You don’t think he’ll come back for that Goblin, do you?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Iron wounds aren’t easily healed so he’ll have to stay in his Realm for at least a few days, and by then the Goblin will have probably moved his nest. It’s you who should be worried, though. He might come for revenge.” Dunstan told her ominously, placing his hands on her shoulders.

Reyna gasped, her face going pale. Dunstan held her gaze for a half a second before playfully shaking his ward. Laughing, he consoled her, “Just kidding. He’s most likely dead anyway. Iron wounds are terribly hard to cure so I wouldn’t worry about ever seeing him again. Still, you should count your lucky stars you’re alive. I would have been very put out if I had to find a new apprentice,” he joked with a small grin.

Reyna huffed out a laugh and pushed her pseudo-parent away softly. “Now go on, get some sleep,” he shooed, “When you wake up I’ll be giving you a beginner’s course in healing spells. If you keep hanging out with Weres and getting into fights with Goblins, you’ll need it.” Reyna smiled brightly at Dunstan and with a quick hug good night bound up the stairs towards her room for a few hours of sleep.

Besides learning a whole new set of healing spells, ranging from relocating dislocated shoulders to magically suturing up deeper wounds, nothing much happened for Reyna. The day passed quickly enough while she was learning and practicing the healing spells, but once Dunstan wrapped up their lessons for the day it halted to a slow crawl.

Sighing, Reyna flipped to another channel on the T.V., trying to find something interesting. She considered practicing more of her new spells, but decided against it after rubbing the still pink line on her forearm from where Dunstan had cut her so she could heal herself. Learning new things was always fun to Reyna, but inflicting self-harm for medical practice was definitely not.

A shrill ringing sound made her look away from her arm to her cell phone that laid on the couch cushion next to her. Flipping it open, she saw that Marcus was calling her. She pressed the little green button, “Hello?”

Reyna? Hey!” Marcus’s voice greeted through the phone, though it was slightly muffled by the sound of his siblings yelling in the background. “Wanna come over for dinner? My parents are making your favorite.” He told her enticingly.

“Kavarma?” She asked excitedly? “With hot peppers?”

Marcus laughed, “Yes, with hot peppers. So you wanna come over? I don’t have any training with Lokesh tomorrow, so you can sleep over if you want.

“One sec,” she told him then pulled the phone away from her mouth and yelled, “Dunstan?”

“What?” His muffled voice replied from somewhere deeper in the house.

“Can I sleep over at Marcus’ tonight?”

The brownstone was silent for a few seconds and Reyna was sure Dunstan was sighing in thought. “Sure,” he finally replied, “How will you get there?”

“I’ll take the subway!” She told him then brought her phone closer, “I can come! Just let me pack some stuff and I’ll be at your place in a half hour!”

Cool! See you then!” Marcus replied and then they hung up. Running up to her room, Reyna quickly packed up her small duffle with a pair of pajamas, clothes for tomorrow, and her toothbrush. Walking back down the stairs, Reyna stopped when she saw Dunstan standing in the doorway of his study.

“You got everything? P.J’s? Toothbrush? Hairbrush?” Reyna opened her mouth to respond yes, but stopped herself last second. With a blush, she ran back upstairs to grab her hair brush. As she came back down the steps she noticed the smirk on Dunstan’s face and huffed.

“Now I do.”

He hummed, amused. Reaching into his wallet, he pulled out some money and a subway ticket for her. “Here,” he said, handing it to her, “This should cover you for tonight.”

“Thank ya!” She said with a large grin on her face before practically skipping out of the brownstone towards the subway station.

As predicted, Reyna arrived at Markus’ house at 5:45, exactly a half hour from when he’d called her over. Knocking on the white apartment door, she could smell her favorite Bulgarian dish wafting through the walls. After just a few seconds, sounds of several locks being undone could be heard and the door opened to reveal an older woman who stood at the same height as Reyna. Her skin was a beautiful light brown, reminding her of certain tree barks. She had dark, wavy black hair that was pulled out of her face, and had wide hips—evidence of how many children she’d birthed. Her dark eyes lit up with recognition and a smile overcame her face. “Reyna!” She greeted in a thick accent, “Are you good?”

Reyna smiled back and nodded her head, “I’m very good, thank you, Mrs. Vankov. How’re you?” She replied slowly, knowing that Marcus’ mother, though she immigrated with Mr. Vankov to the U.S. almost ten years ago, still couldn’t understand English all too well. She wrapped an arm around Reyna’s shoulders and guided her inside the small apartment.

“Good, good! Glad you here.”

“Do you need any help with dinner?”

“Oh no!” She exclaimed with a kind laugh, “You find Marco now.” She said and shooed the young girl away before heading back to the kitchen. Breathing in deeply, Reyna reveled in the smell of the cooked pork coming from the kitchen. Readjusting the strap of her duffle, she walked down the short hallway before opening the door to one of the apartment’s two bedrooms.

“Kheĭ kheĭ!” She greeted the Vankov children. They all sat huddled around Marcus who was reading them a chapter from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The three girls, Elena, Diana, and Irina, sat prim and proper across from their older brother, their attention completely on him and the story he was telling. Nicky, the second oldest boy, was off to the side with a deck of cards playing solitary, seemingly bored with the story, and sitting in Marcus’ lap, staring intently up at his brother’s working mouth, was baby Stefan.

At the sound of Reyna’s voice, six sets of eyes snapped to the door of the room. “Reyna!” The five siblings cheered with different levels of glee. Squealing, Elena jumped to her feet and ran over to the sorceress for a bear hug. Feeling a pressure on her leg, Reyna glanced around Elena’s arms to see Stefan’s small body wrapped around her leg. Laughing, she hugged Elena back and rubbed Stefan’s dark curls with affection.

“All right, all right,” Marcus said, trying to pry his sister’s arms off Reyna, “She’s my friend so get off.”

Elena pouted but kept her arms fast around the sorceress, “Yeah, and you get to see her all the time. I don’t. So,” she finished by sticking her tongue out at him. Reyna laughed at their behavior. After one last squeeze from the Elena, Reyna leaned down to lift Stefan up.

Resting him on her hip, she asked, “Hey there, Stefaroo. I hear you had a birthday recently. How old are you again? Thirty?”

“No!” He laughed, “I’m five now!” He held up one hand with all his fingers stretched out.

“Ah! You’re so cute!” Reyna squealed, playfully spinning him around in her arms before putting him down. “Where should I put my stuff?” She asked, looking at Marcus.

“Depends. Do you wanna sleep in here with the girls tonight or sleep with me, Nicky, and Stef in the living room like last time?”

“Ooh, choose us! Choose us!” Elena gushed, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “We can have a girl’s night! It’ll be great. Diana just got some new nail polish for her birthday and we can do each other’s nails, and Irina has been dying to practice hair braiding, and you can show us a few spells, too!”

“Hey! I never said you could use my new nail polish!” Diana protested.

Sighing, Elena looked at her younger sister and asked, “Can I use your nail polish?”

“No, you cannot.”

“Ugh, Diana you little turd!” Elena screeched, swiveling so she could look at Diana head on. Diana smirked triumphantly at her, seemingly pleased with the reaction. Marcus sighed and rubbed his face with his hands, Stefan hid behind his legs, and Nicky returned his attention to his cards. Reyna glanced at the youngest girl, Irina, and noticed she was watching the fight between her older sisters with glazed eyes, reminding her of the traumatized war victims she’s seen in movies.

As they continued to bicker in high pitched voices, the Marcus and Reyna had a silent conversation of their own. Reyna nodded and Marcus bent down to pick up Stefan before the two of them slipped out of the room. “Makes you glad you’re an only child, huh?” Marcus asked jokingly. Reyna grimaced, but played it off with a jilted laugh.

Sighing, Reyna followed him back up the short hallway towards the smell of delicious food. “Mamo, imate nuzhda ot pomosht?” Marcus asked his mother, popping his head just inside the doorway of the small kitchen.

“Bŭdi mila i opredelya masata.” She responded, her back to him as she worked her own form of magic. Marcus hummed, put Stefan down again, and grabbed plates and silverware from the cabinets. Reyna snatched the silverware from him and placed the forks and knives down beside each bowl he set.

“Do we need napkins?” Reyna asked once they finished. Marcus shrugged then nodded, entered the kitchen, and came out with a handful of reusable napkins that were made from cheap cloth.

The front door snapped open, causing Reyna to jump in surprise. She willed her heartbeat to slow down when she saw that it was only Marcus’ father returning home from work. The tall man stripped down to his undershirt, tossing his coat and button down shirt onto the couch, before immediately heading to the kitchen for a bottle of beer. “Ah, Reyna,” he greeted in just as thick an accent as his wife’s. “Staying over tonight?” Reyna merely smiled and nodded. Mr. Vankov grunted and took his place at the head of the dinner table.

“Vecherya e gotov!” Mrs. Vankov shouted from the kitchen. A drumline of running feet could be heard from the hallway as four dark haired children rounded the corner. Everyone took their seats around the table. The three girls sat on one side, Marcus, Nicky and Reyna on the other, the parents at the ends and baby Stefan’s chair pulled close to his mother’s.

The table waited silently and hungrily as their mother went around doling out servings. As soon as she sat down, the family joined hands for a prayer. The first time Reyna had dinner at Marcus’ house, she’d had no clue what anyone was doing and felt as out of place as an armadillo in a herd of elephants. She’d gotten the hang of it over the years, though, and so now she knew to grab Marcus’ hand and lower her head until Mr. Vankov finished speaking.

The stew was delicious. She hardly ever ate homemade meals like this. Dunstan preferred to eat out rather than dining in, and she only spent a few days out of the month with Sybil, during which Reyna seldom appreciated the food that was given to her due to the circumstances of her stay. So she was always sure to eat every small scrap of mushroom, leek, and pork on her plate. Reyna never asked for a second helping, though. For two reasons: the first being that if she opened that door, she knew she’d eat the entire pot full, and the second was because the young girl knew how hard it was for Mr. Vankov to put proper food on the table for his children.

Reyna enjoyed staying over at Marcus’, but didn’t want to be a burden on his family. Looking over at Marcus, who’d also just finished his first serving, she wondered if he ever went back for seconds, since he never seemed to do so when she was over. Or maybe she’s already eaten his second helping.

Waiting for Marcus’ lead, they cleared their dishes and made their way to the kitchen sink. “Wanna go into the city for an ice cream or something?” Reyna asked with a coy smile, “Dunstan’s buying,” she finished with a lilt in her tone.

Marcus looked at his friend before giving her a soft smile, “Sure.” After quickly telling his parents he’d be back soon, they made their way out of the apartment down to the busy streets below.

“Learn anything new lately?” Reyna asked as they walked down the street towards the small ice cream parlor they frequently visited.

Marcus shrugged, “Nothing too interesting, we’ve just been going over spells I’ve already learned, making sure I actually know what I’m doing. Lokesh did mention we’d start on binding spells next though, and that should be pretty cool.”

“Yeah, Dunstan’s mentioned binding spells a few times, too. I learned some healing spells today though!”

“Oh yeah?” Marcus asked, curiosity piqued. “Is that why you look like a mummy today? What, did you practice on yourself or something?” He laughed dryly.

“Oh these you mean?” Reyna asked, holding up her bandaged hands and then pointing to her cheek. “Nah, actually I got in a fight with a Fairy last night. Cool, huh?” She bragged.

Marcus scoffed and rolled his eyes before bumping Reyna with his elbow. “Liar,” he accused.

“Am not!” Reyna replied immediately, sticking her tongue out at him.

“Reyna,” he began with a small quirk in his lips, “if you survived a fight with a Fairy then I’m the Queen of England.”

“Well I always said you were a royal pain,” Reyna said with a victorious smile, proud of her come back.

“Whatever,” Marcus muttered, still not believing her words about the Fairy, but not getting any more invested in the argument.

They turned the corner where their beloved ice cream shop usually stood. However, after a double take and finding that they were not mistaken, Marcus and Reyna were dismayed to see that the building which once doled out scoops of ice cream had been taken over by a bar. Reyna groaned and all but stomped her foot at the sight, “What even?” she whined. “Like this street needed another bar!”

Sighing and shaking his head in defeat, Marcus began to turn back the way they came, “Come on, Rey. We’ll find another place to get ice cream.”

“No!” She pulled away from him. “I say we find the person responsible for this tragedy and—and,”

“And what?” Marcus asked with a raised brow, “Fight them like you fought that Fairy?” He goaded. Screeching with indignation, Reyna cut herself off with a huff and stomped her way towards the bar. “Reyna, wait!” Marcus yelled when he realized she was actually going into the bar.

The inside was surprisingly well lit, considering all depictions on Reyna’s T.V. showed showed bars to be dingy, dark places. Besides the layout of the interior, Reyna would never have been able to guess that this place was once her favorite ice cream shop. It had been completely gutted. The white and black tile floor had been replaced with hard wood floors, white painted walls replaced with green wall paper, and all light fixtures had been replaced with something new and foreign. Reyna did not like it. At all.

There were only a handful of people on the inside. The bartender, who gave her and Marcus and odd look, but didn’t say anything to them, three single drinkers, one bus boy, and a table full of four small, portly men who were drinking their fill and singing at the top of their lungs. Reyna felt Marcus come up behind her and ask, “Are those—?”

“Dwarves,” She breathed out in a wispy voice. If Reyna was a cat, curiosity would have killed her many times over. Flitting away from her Marcus’ side again, she took a seat in the booth adjacent to the Dwarves. Waving Marcus over, Reyna kept her attention solely focused on the pack of short men across from her. Perhaps a year ago she would have walked right up to them and assaulted them with questions, but after her encounter with the Goblin and Fairy, she was no longer sure if her normal, blunt method of attack was such a good idea. So instead she simply watched and listen.

The four men all had beards, though some longer than others. Three of them had beautiful, long beards, with the hair braided intricately. One even had gem stones and some precious metals tied into the braids. The fourth’s beard was much shorter, a few shades thicker than scruff, but not nearly reaching half way to his collar bone. Two of them had dark brown skin, one’s was so dark Reyna muse it looked almost navy blue in the dim, bar lighting. His hair was pulled against his scalp in braids that formed an image of something Reyna couldn’t recognize. It was vaguely Celtic, or at least, it reminded her of Celtic knots she had seen in the past. The other dark skinned dwarf had a shaved head, but decorated his scalp with tattoos that Reyna could barely make out. Oh, how she wished she could turn invisible and just loom over him, if only to properly see his inked marks.

Leaning across the table, Reyna looked around Marcus’ form and took in the other two Dwarves. One reminded her of Lilith, with his almost white blonde hair and pale white skin. His was the beard that held precious rocks from the earth, and his head was shaved on the sides, leaving one thick cord of hair braided intrinsically down the back of his skull. He also had tattoos on the side of his scalp, but these were much smaller than the other Dwarf.

The final Dwarf looked Asian to Reyna, with his narrowed eyes and flat nose. At least, that’s what all the Asians on T.V. looked like, and from what she’d learned from her Geography lessons, saying that someone was Asian did not narrow down their ethnicity in the least. Nevertheless, his beard was braided into two sections that framed his mouth. His hair was the longest out of the four and was left to hang loosely around his shoulders with only a few strands braided here and there.

“What are you doing, Reyna?” Marcus finally asked, his voice barely audible. His hands were folded on top of the table, fingers interlaced. Nervously, he glanced over his shoulder a few times, trying to determine if they’d been caught spying. “This is a bar,” he stressed. “We should leave. Now.”

“Oh, calm down, would you?” She implored, angling her head to get a better view of one of the Dwarves. “We’re not hurting anyone, and it’s not like we’ll be drinking! I just want to . . . I dunno, watch them, I guess?” She ended uncertainly. The words didn’t sound right to her, but she didn’t know how else to explain the need inside of her to observe these creatures, to see what they were like, how they acted, get to know them personally and as a race. She wanted to know everything about them.

Accidentally making eye contact with the Asian looking one, Reyna let out an embarrassed, “Eep!” and ducked her head down towards the table. “Uh-oh,” she said, looking up to Marcus.

“What do you mean, uh-oh?” Marcus asked ominously, glowering down at Reyna.

“We, uh, we may have been spotted,” Reyna mumbled with a small grimace.

“We?” He said dryly. Reyna stuck her tongue out at him before popping her head back up to look over again at the Dwarves. This time, not only was the Asian one still looking straight at her, but so were his three companions.

“Oh yeah,” Reyna said, “Definitely spotted.”

“Aren’t you two a little young to be sittin’ in a bar?” The pale one said menacingly. His eyes narrowed onto them, waiting for an explanation. Marcus twisted sharply in his seat, unaware until then that he had four pairs of eyes on him.

Looking the Scandinavian-esque Dwarf in the eyes, Reyna felt her cheeks heat up and she blurted out the first thing that came to mind, “Looks can be deceiving, ya know! We could be Vampires, thank you very much—hundreds of years old and forever stuck in the body of a thirteen year old!” She ended with a small huff. Sticking out her chest, Reyna waited for their reaction. Why, oh why did she say that? She mentally berated herself, internally wincing. Of all the responses, she went with, hey, I could be a Vampire. You never know!

Instead of yelling, as she’d expected, the four small men began to laugh. Really, really laugh. The blonde one’s head snapped back, fist slamming on the table, and the other soon followed his lead and joined in with their boisterous laughter. “Such a smart mouth you’ve got on ya, girl!” The jeweled filled bearded Dwarf told her before returning to his laughing merriment.

Marcus shared a confused glance with Reyna, unsure of what was going on. “Maybe they’re just really drunk,” Marcus whispered to her. Reyna could only shrug in response, her mouth still hanging open slightly. Making a small “Oof!” when the blonde Dwaf gave Marcus a friendly smack on the back, he looked back over at the pack of Dwarves.

“Trust me lad,” the blonde Dwarf told him with an almost serious face, “If you think we’re drunk now, you ain’t seen nuffin’ yet!”

Reyna stared suspiciously at their pints of beer as they began a new round of almost hysterical laughter. The Asian Dwarf who first noticed Reyna’s spying slipped out of his booth and grabbed two empty chairs and brought them over to their table. “Come, sit!” he ordered. Glancing at each other once more, they joined the group of Dwarves.

Noticing something flash behind the Asian Dwarf when he shifted back into his seat, Reyna couldn’t help but ask, “What’s that?” while pointing to the object. Marcus elbowed her in the side, but besides a small noise of discomfort, she ignored him.

“This?” He asked while reaching behind him and pulling out a large, iridescent looking pickaxe. “It’s a mining tool we use.” He told Reyna.

“Which you were supposed to leave back in the mine, Song,” The heavily tattooed Dwarf reprimanded, though the smile on his face implied he wasn’t serious.

“And let this beauty out of my sight?” Song responded with a similar smile, “Not a chance in hell.”

“Language!” The other dark skinned Dwarf hissed, looking almost frantic between the two teenagers. “We’ve got little ones listening!”

“Trust me,” Marcus said with a completely blank face, “we’ve heard worse.”

“Is that so, lad?” The blond one asked. “Give us an example.” Blushing heavily, Marcus leaned back into his chair and looked away from the Dwarf’s eyes, causing more laughter. “Look at the blush on this one! Precious, ain’t he?” He said before patting him on the shoulder. The rest of his friends murmured in agreement, making Marcus blush even harder.

“Oh! Where are our manners?” The Dwarf exclaimed. “I’m Magnus, this here is Song,” he said while pointing to the Asian Dwarf. “Here we’ve got Chigozi,” with a thumb pointing to the Dwarf sitting beside him on the booth. “And this here is Elijah.” He waved a hand at the last Dwarf in their party.

“Marcus,” he introduced, pointing to himself. “This is Reyna,” he said, bumping her shoulder with his, “Who will eventually say hi after she stops oogling your pickaxe.”

At his words, Reyna’s head snapped up to look at the Dwarves. This time it was her turn to blush as she nervously chuckled out an apology. “It’s just so beautiful,” she told them. “What’s it made of?”

“Ah, can’t tell you that, little lady,” Chigozi said with a thoughtful stroke of short beard. “Trade secrets and the like.” He explained. Reyna sighed sadly, but understood relatively well enough.

“What about the markings?” She followed up, “Can you tell me about those?”

“Oh, those are just Dwarven runes. We carve them into everything. This one here,” Song pointed to an elaborate knot along the curve of the axe, “represents protection—from cave-ins, work related injuries, thieves, whichever. And this one,” he points to another one along the staff, “Means ‘prosperity’. You can guess what that one’s for.” Song smiled cheekily at the young girl.

“What are you mining now?” Marcus asked.

“Limestone, mostly,” Magnus responded, making sure to look him in the eye as he spoke. “There’s a good amount of it here in New York, and we’ve been commissioned to dig it up for some construction company here in the city. We’re almost finished so we decided to take a break.”

“Which is practically unheard of in Dwarven culture!” Elijah expressed with a solemn shake of his head. “If we were digging up something like diamonds or gold, we’d be living in those mines until it was dry.”

“Why aren’t you digging up those things, then? If that’s what you’re interested in?” Marcus asked with a tilt to his head, his eyes flicking between Magnus and Elijah.

“Can’t start digging in a mountain that doesn’t belong to us, and to buy land with mountains we need money. So our brethren take on odd jobs like these so that our pack can buy one. There aren’t too many untapped mountains left, you know.” Elijah said wistfully, “Not like in the old days.”

“What about the mountains underneath the oceans?” Reyna asked, “I wonder if anything’s in those.”

Chigozi’s eyes widened some and his mouth curled into an impressed smile, “Yes, if only we could breathe under water, then we could find out!” He said with another roaring laugh. The other three soon joined in again and even Reyna and Marcus had to let out a few chuckles.

The questions and laughter continued on for two more hours and four more rounds of beers. Reyna and Marcus even got to taste some for themselves, though neither could tell what all the fuss was about. Reyna had curled her lip and Marcus had to hold himself back from spitting the drink out on the table—encouraging another round of laughter—and both decided it tasted horribly like wet wheat. The Dwarves assured them, however, that they’d acquire the taste once they were older.

They had completely lost track of time and were quite slap happy and were laughing just as much, and as loudly, as the drunk Dwarves.

“Hey, Marcus, c’me here.” Magnus slurred a bit. His eyes were a bit unfocused, and he had a satisfied smile on his lips. “I wanna tell you sumfin’.” Marcus, who’d just come down from a laughing high, smiled widely at him and leaned in close to hear what his new friend had to say. When Marcus was close enough, Magnus grabbed him by the back of his head and slammed their mouths together. Startled, Marcus’ arms flew out to the side, panicked.

As the other Dwarves cheered their friend on, Reyna noticed how tightly Magnus was holding onto her friend’s head and how hard Marcus was trying to get free. “Hey! Get off him!” She yelled, trying to force the Dwarf’s hand away, but with no luck. “I said, get off!” She began to stand, intending on using some magic to force them apart since Marcus seemed too shocked to do it himself, when an arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her back down to her seat.

“Calm down, calm down! They’re just having some fun!” Song told her with a drunken smile.

Grimacing, Reyna squirmed away from the Dwarf with wide eyes. Then she heard a deep voice rumble from behind her. “Are you Dwarves deaf?” Turning her head, Reyna saw a tall and very well built man glowering at the pack of Dwarves. He was the tallest human Reyna had ever seen before, with light brown skin, dark wavy hair framing his face and falling around his shoulders. A scar ran over his left eyebrow, and his glare made the sorceress shiver with fear, though she wasn’t sure if the fear was for herself or for the Dwarves. Magnus had released Marcus’ mouth, but kept his body close to his own in a terribly tight grip. “Or do you just like holding children against their will?”

“Who’re you?” Magnus asked aggressively, looking over Marcus’ trembling shoulder.

“No one, that’s who,” Song supplied, reaching for his pickaxe. Before he could wrap his finger around it, however, the item flashed over to the man who caught it easily. Simultaneously, the arm that was wrapped around Reyna snapped back at an unnatural angle making Song cry out in pain.

Hearing their brother’s cry, the other three stood to defend him against the threat, but barely stood up straight when they felt themselves freeze. Besides their lungs, none of the four Dwarves could move a muscle. “Since you asked oh so nicely,” the stranger stepped closer to their booth, but swayed a bit to the side. Reyna realized he wasn’t entirely sober himself.

“I’m Sorcerer Adonis, at your service.” He said with a wicked smile. Turning his attention Marcus and Reyna, he nodded his head to the door, “Come one now, move your butts.”

Grabbing Marcus by the shirt, Reyna barely gave the Dwarves or the bar a second glance as she trailed after Adonis. Adonis rubbed a tired hand down his face before turning heel to look at the pair of teens, “Talk about close calls, huh?” He said merrily, eyes half closed and a sloppy smile on his face.

Reyna surveyed this man and how different he seemed from just a few minutes ago. He swayed again and she wondered if he was that powerful drunk, what damage could he do while sober? “Now kids,” he said while pointing a finger at them, “Didn’t Loki or Dun-Dun ever tell you not to talk to strangers?”

“Loki and Dun-Dun?” Reyna asked slowly, moving her hand down to grab onto Marcus’ shaking one. “You mean Lokesh and Dunstan?”

“Yup!” He said, popping the ‘p’. “Now, lessgo!” The sorcerer spun around suddenly and turned his pointed finger down the street. “Time to get you babies into bed.” Quickly snatching Reyna’s free hand, he began to walk them towards Marcus’ apartment. How he knew where to go, especially while drunk, Reyna had no idea.

Gripping Marcus’ hand tighter, Reyna bit her lip and looked up at Adonis. “Adonis,” she began.

“Call me Donny. Adonis is so,” he paused, “pressureful?” he questioned, then shrugged his shoulders. He began to fumble around for something in his pocket and eventually pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a gold lighter.

“Are, are all Dwarves like that?” She asked, biting harder onto her lip when Marcus’ grip tightened even more, almost painfully. Reyna wouldn’t dream of letting go though. She wanted to hit herself. It had been her fault they went into the bar in the first place. She was the one that wanted to spy on the Dwarves. She was the one who couldn’t stop Magnus from practically attacking her friend. She’d never forgive herself for dragging Marcus into that terrible situation.

“Nah,” Donny drawled, taking a drag of his cigarette. “Those guys were just little shits. Drunk lil shits, too. That’s not an excuse, though!” He said adamantly, “But it didn’t help things, I’ll tell you that! Seriously though, didn’t anyone teach you two not to talk to strangers? Jeez-Louise!” He whined.

The rest of the walk to Marcus’ home was pretty quiet, with the exception of Donny’s humming and occasional wheezing cough. Finally they reached the building and Donny patted Marcus on the head. With clearer eyes, he smiled softly to Marcus and told him, “I’m sorry what happened to you tonight. No one should ever have to feel the way you’re feeling now. If you’d like I can wipe it from your memory. It might help.”

“No,” Marcus said with an adamant shake to his head, “but thank you.” Glancing at him with sad eyes, Reyna gave his hand a little squeeze before bidding Donny a good night and making their way up the stairs and into his home. The apartment was silent with everyone asleep somewhere within it. After sluggishly brushing their teeth and pulling her pajamas on—barely separating long enough from Marcus to do so—the exhausted teens plopped themselves onto the pull out couch in the living room where Nicky was already asleep.

Rolled onto their sides so they could look at each other in the dark, Reyna whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry, Marcus.”

Giving her a watery smile, he shook his head. “It’s not your fault Magnus turned out to be a creep.”

“Yeah, but if it weren’t for me—”

“Hush,” Marcus whispered sharply, his eyes flashing in the dark. Hiccupping, Reyna squirmed closer to him and silently vowed she’d never let anything like that happen to him again. Feeling Marcus detach his fingers from hers, Reyna let a few tears fall from her eyes onto the mattress. His fingers trailed up her forearm and pause when they felt her patched up wound. “What’s this?” He asked.

Reyna almost laughed. Of course he was asking about her after the night he just had. The boy was a martyr in the making. Shaking her head, she tilted her head to look at the pink line even though she could hardly see it in the dark. “I told you,” she whispered after dropping her head back down onto the pillow, “I was practicing healing spells.”

Marcus traced the line again and hummed in response. Reyna didn’t know what to make of it so she decided to ignore it for the time being. Focusing on a particular shelf in her room back in the brownstone, Reyna conjured Thumper with her still free hand. Smushing him in between their bodies, Reyna intertwined their fingers once more and brought their hands to lay on top of her plush toy. They both knew sleep wouldn’t come easy to them that night. Looking at one another, reassuring themselves that both were safe, they eventually fell asleep to the sound of the other’s breathing.
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