“Of course I’m insecure! We sit at a table with two other girls, and you pay more attention to either of them than to me!”
“I do not! You’re making a scene!”
“I’m making a scene? You got us thrown out of the library!”
Kallima flinched at the ferocity in Acacia’s voice. Miss Flores had forced the dryad and her boyfriend out of the library fifteen minutes prior, but their voices reached a level that echoed through the door and into the open room. Ignatius, who had been hosting an impromptu class for his four friends, pulled one of his ears nervously. Sable trembled in her seat, though Kallima could not determine whether the gargoyle was scared or excited over the fight.
“What are they having a row about, again?” Kallima asked.
Sable blushed and said, “He touched my hand…”
“So, um,” Ignatius stammered, “did either of you have any problems with the construct parts?”
“What’s the difference between a collar and a guard? Don’t they do the same thing?” Kallima asked.
“A collar protects the device. A guard protects the user.”
“Huh. So, with this design,” she said, “this piece is a collar?”
Ignatius pulled the drawing closer and began examining it. Then he asked its function.
“It- It’s supposed to project recordings onto a wall,” Kallima said. “It’s something that they do in the Mortal Realm all the time.”
“You’re using crystal energy to create a light source that amplifies the images, transferring them onto a surface to allow for multiple people to view it at once?” the senior asked. Kallima nodded, and he chuckled, “That’s… pretty ingenious, Kali. You’ll lose the three dimensional quality, though, so it’s going to look like a moving image more than an actual event. You know that, right?”
“Remind me to take you to the cinema someday,” Kallima grinned.
“But yes, that’s a collar. Now, this one on Sable’s design, that’s a guard… I think. What is that?”
Sable blushed deeper, and her skin crackled at the attention.
“Oh,” Ignatius breathed, tugging his ear again. “Um, Sable, wash- those already exist.”
“And this looks nothing like one.”
“I’m not an artist,” Sable groaned. “And I’ve, like, only used one a few times. Maybe this will work better?”
“I doubt it. It’s hard to tell, but I don’t think you have anything lined up. And your power source is going to get waterlogged. And-”
“Forget it. Like, I’ll figure something else out,” Sable said, eyes turning black and skin popping to stone as she retreated into herself. “Gavin says hand-washing, like, builds character, anyway.”
“I can help you- We can help you make a wash bin,” Ignatius smiled, waving towards Kallima, “if you really want one that much.”
“No. It’s stupid. Gavin will- Just forget it.”
“What, is it too heavy for that nancy?” Kallima scoffed.
“Really, Sable, making your own solution-.”
“He’ll break it, okay?” Sable shouted.
“Ignatius Lindon! Take them out!” Miss Flores ordered from her desk.
“Y-yes, Ma’am. Come on, ladies.”
The golden tutor forced the two girls out of the library. Kallima grabbed Sable’s arm and invited Ignatius to the room they shared. Acacia and Shay had already abandoned the hallway, and an unfamiliar silence permeated the halls of the school, broken only by the sniffling gargoyle as she fought back desperate sobs.
“All right, Say,” Kallima said, dropping her bag onto her desk moments later, “what are you on about?”
“He broke it,” the crackling girl whimpered. “I didn’t, like… I thought I hid it. But he found it, and he broke it. Said I shouldn’t, like, have it. I shouldn’t have nothing. I should have, like, made you take it back. It was foreign and wrong. Bu-but I liked it. A-and it’s rude, like, to just not accept a gift. I- Kali, I’m sorry! I should have hid it better!”
Kallima watched, wide-eyed, as her tiny peer flung herself on the bed and started to bawl. Ignatius, however, timidly edged towards Sable’s desk.
“The diskman?” Kallima asked, whimpering when Sable nodded.
“Oh, Say… did you save the pieces?” Ignatius asked.
Sable shook her head, saying, “He s-said if I ever bring home an-an-ny-thing like it agai-in, he- he’ll b-b-break that, t-too.”
“Damn,” the tutor said, pressing his fingers to the beacon on Sable’s desk.
Kallima clicked at him and mouthed not to touch the orb. He cocked his head to the gargoyle, saying mutely that she was not looking, then something-need-something. He sighed contently, his eyes shutting and flicking upwards as he inhaled. Then he stretched as Kallima rolled her eyes and sat next to her friend.
“Say, it’s fine. It was che- well, it wasn’t cheap,” Kallima admitted, “but I can pay back Havard for it with a single silver piece, metal is so bomb there. It’s not- Iggy!”
The senior held his hands up, abandoning the painting of Satu that he had been about to touch. Then he pulled his ears, blushing.
“Stop touching things.”
“I’m serious. Hands in pockets,” the redhead demanded.
The golden senior obeyed, thrusting his hands in his pockets as his eyes darted around the room. Kallima sighed.
“Really,” she joked to Sable, “you’d think I was trying to keep a kid in line at the store.”
“Yeah, like you’ve never- Oh, forget it.”
“Kali?” Sable asked. “Can I ask a weird question?”
“Er, yes. Of course.”
“Did you mean it? When you said you would kill him?”
“Ah. N-no, not for this, at least.”
“Okay,” Sable breathed, turning her face into her pillow.
“Oi,” Kallima said as she attempted to pry the downy ball away unsuccessfully. “Okay, then, be that way. Iggy, you can go now.”
“I can fix this painting,” he offered awkwardly.
“For the love of- Fine, but have it back to me in the morning. Now get out.”
Nodding and professing his eternal gratitude, Ignatius snatched the portrait and retreated.
“Do you know what today is, Sable?” Kallima asked when the door shut.
“February fourteenth. Valisblot.”
Kallima nodded and began a vain attempt of braiding a bit of Sable’s black hair.
“That’s right. In the Mortal Realm, it’s St. Valentine’s Day. Big day for coup- Oh, Hell, I cannot braid hair. Look, we’re both single, right?”
“And I can take us to the Mortal Realm.”
“Y- yeah, you could, I guess, but-.”
“And we can get another disk player.”
Sable groaned into her pillow again, clutching it to her face. Kallima bit her lip. Recalling Gavin’s threats, she tried a different temptation.
“Or we could, um, get some nice dinner. What’s your dumb uncle going to do about that, huh? He can’t stop me from feeding you!”
“Oh! I’ve got it!” Kallima gasped. “I am a bloody genius, Say! You’re going to love this. Dress warmly.”
“Why? Where are we going?” Sable asked, lifting her head from the pillow.
Sable pressed her face to the glass, watching in awe as a long, furry creature shot through the water behind it after a fish.
“It’s like a tiny seal,” she said.
Kallima smiled and read, “‘Oriental Small-clawed Otter.’ This says it’s the smallest otter in the world. Most otters are solitary, but the Oriental live in families. Neat, huh?”
“I’ve seen pictures of giant otters. And, like, sometimes seals and selkies sit up on the beach. But this…”
“Havard used to bring me here all the time. It’s why I wanted to be an animal keeper. Even caged up, they all look so happy and healthy.”
“Come on, I want to show you the aviary,” Kallima said.
“What’s an aviary?”
Sable pulled her thick hat tighter over her ears and followed the dream fae. Inside the Snowdon Aviary, a few children and their parents leaned over the walkway rails to look at the various cranes and ibises strutting along the greens. Sable, tugged the arm of Kallima’s coat and pointed out a flock of bright, African birds.
“They’re not, like, dangerous, are they?” she asked. “They wouldn’t let us in here if they were, right?”
“Right. Those are… I don’t actually remember the name. Something with a ‘T,’ I think,” Kallima told her. “They won’t hurt you.”
“I wish I could fly,” Sable confessed. “Mom could fly. It was beautiful.”
“Mm-hm. You’ve seen her wings.”
“Right. But… but you don’t have any.”
“Mm-mm. I’m more like Dad. I got Mama’s eyes and nose. If I had her wings, though, I could… I could fly away. Leave Gavin, leave Evendial. Find someone to take better care of me until I’m old enough to live on my own.”
“That sounds… really dangerous, Say.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Kallima paused then directed Sable’s gaze to a tall bird with a head of yellow feathers.
“That’s a crowned crane. It’s tall compared to the other birds, but it’s short for a crane. Isn’t that odd?”
“It’s like you, isn’t it? Too tall for fae, too short for giants,” Sable said, and Kallima noticed the corners of her mouth twitch upwards. “More special than people think you are.”
“Oi! You’re special, too, Say.”
“Not like you. You know how Ig gets when he’s around things he calls ‘precious.’ You don’t see it, but, when you’re not around, he’s really pale.”
“Uh-huh. Shay’s scared of him. Says he’s not a fire fae.”
Kallima chuckled, “Yes, I’ve heard that.”
“He says he knows why the Noble twins want you dead.”
“Oh really? And why is that?”
“He won’t say. He thinks you’re safer not knowing, and I would tell you.”
“Of course you would.”
Sable shrugged and wandered along the path away from the tall redhead. Kallima trotted after her and, catching up, grabbed Sable’s arm.
“Oh, there’s one other place you have to see! It is absolutely impossible not to smile at it!” the dream fae beamed, dragging Sable across the zoo.
“We’ll look at the tigers afterwards. Come along!”
The taller teen pulled her tiny companion into a structure made to look like a giant caterpillar. The foreign girl gawked at the plants and insects in the building they entered. Hundreds of various butterflies flitted about the air. Kallima released her companion and began searching among the species for one in particular.
“There it is,” she whispered, waving Sable to her side. “That one. Kallima inachus.”
Sable tilted her head at the brown leaf and pouted. Her guide chuckled, reached out, and shook the branch the papery creature rested on. The frightened insect took quickly to the sky, opening its wings to reveal sapphire panels and a pair of orange stripes.
“Dead Oak Butterfly,” Kallima said. “Isn’t it lovely?”
“You only remember that one because it’s your name.”
“True. But that’s not why I wanted you to see it. Say, you may not think you’re pretty or smart or strong, but you are. Your stone skin is only letting people glance over you, to ignore you as just a brick or an object.” Kallima pulled the short girl to her chest and said, “You need to open up your wings, all right?”
“Um… o-okay. Kali, are- aryaflirdiwimee?”
“No!” Kallima said, pushing Sable back again. “I am not interested in- in girls. I just… care about you. As a friend. I am not flirting with you.”
Sable nodded and glanced around again. A soft grin graced her pink cheeks.
“They are pretty, huh?”
“That’s the spirit! See the big one? That’s an atlas moth.”
“It’s bigger than my face!”They toured the butterfly gardens a bit longer. Then Kallima bought them each a pretzel, and, as promised, they made their way to the tiger cage.