Coach Drummer blew his whistle and scribbled on his clipboard. Marian rolled her eyes and groaned audibly, but lowered her fists, allowing the dual battle picks she wielded to fall to her sides. At her feet, the quivering pile of stone known as Sable whimpered and cried. A long, deep crack ran from her shoulder to her elbow.
“De’Parsia, go to the nurse. Try not to turn back,” the coach instructed. “I don’t need you bleeding on my floor.”
“It’s no fair!” Kallima shouted as Sable ran out. “She picked those on purpose!”
“Miss Noble?” Drummer asked.
“Bring it, orphan,” the princess hissed.
Kallima climbed up onto the sparring platform and cracked her knuckles.
“Choose your weapons,” Drummer instructed.
Marian swapped her picks out for her usual ornate rapier. Kallima smirked and pointed out a longsword, which Drummer retrieved. Then he handed it to Marian.
“If you would hand over your rapier to Kallima,” he said, “then assume your stances.”
“What!” Marian screeched.
Drummer said, “Satudotter’s complaint was that you chose your weapon. So, to level the field, you will trade. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all,” Kallima said with a grin.
“But- I- Fine!” Marian sputtered, tossing the foil to her enemy.
Kallima caught the thin sword with ease and swished it quickly to get a feel for it. Marian, meanwhile, struggled with the weight of the longsword, more accustomed to the thin blade she had been forced to surrender.
“You know that sword is intended for two hands, right?” Kallima taunted, assuming a guarded stance.
Marian blushed and added her other hand to the hilt, lowering the blade to her left in a position both awkward and laughable to the weapons jack she was about to fight. Coach Drummer rested his whistle between his teeth, wrote something, and glanced at each girl. Marian growled “ready,” and Kallima nodded agreement. The shrill whistle sounded, and Marian charged.
Kallima lept over the low-swung blade with ease and flicked the rapier against Marian’s shoulder. The noble yelped, growled, and swung again. Kallima caught the large sword on the hilt of her own weapon. Then she used her foot to pull Marian’s to the side.
“Your stance is horrid, Princess,” she declared. “You have to bend your knees with the heavier ones.”
Kallima pushed her opponent away and swatted her with the foil again. The enraged princes stumbled back, grinding her teeth. Kallima again shifted into a defensive position and grinned tauntingly. Marian yelled, charging again and, with a newfound strength, raising the sword high over her head. Kallima held then, right before Marian struck, stepped aside. The sword buried itself deep in wood of the stage. Kallima swept the tip of the rapier across the back of Marian’s leg as the princess attempted to pull her sword free. The blonde gasped and fell to her knee, clutching the shallow wound. Drummer blew his whistle again.
“Match goes to Satudotter.”
“I need a nurse…,” Marian whimpered.
“You need a bandage,” Kallima said. “I barely scratched you.”
“Kidd, wrap up Miss Noble’s leg.”
“Anyone else care to take a whack at me?” Kallima grinned. “I’ll match anyone with their own weapon.”
“Of course you will, you dumb jack,” Reginald snarled from below. “Jarl, volunteer.”
“Uh-uh. No way,” the ogre said, shaking his large head. “I’m not fighting her.”
A thin, brown hand shot up in the air, accompanied by Acacia’s voice.
“I’ll give it a shot.”
“Long staff?” Kallima asked as the dryad clambered up.
“No. Glaive,” she said.
The glaive that Drummer handed Kallima was simple enough: a long wooden pole with a knife-like blade. The weapon Acacia produced, however, forked at the end, and one of the sides resembled an axe head. Kallima gulped and spun her glaive around in her hands like a flag. Then both girls stood battle-ready facing each other.
“Ready?” Drummer asked, lifting his whistle.
The two girls affirmed with a nod, and Drummer blew the whistle. Acacia rushed her friend with a ferocity that Kallima had not expected. As Acacia swung, the redhead thrust her pole to catch the fork of Acacia’s blade and force it aside. The dryad allowed her hands to slide up closer to the metal, spun free, and hit Kallima across the face with the shaft. The taller fae stumbled back, clutching her cheek. She adjusted her grip on the polearm and swung up to graze Acacia’s arm with the dull side of the blade. The dark girl jumped back and twirled her blade, readying another attack. Kallima crouched low and waited for the strike. The freshmen below watched breathlessly, save for Shay, who shrieked with every blow either girl landed, and Reginald, who scolded Acacia for every hit taken and every missed swing.
“Get her! Get her!” he screamed.
“Case, take it easy,” Shay pleaded. “She’s our friend!”
A swipe of Acacia’s blade carved a deep line in Kallima’s strong arm, making her drop her glaive. She fell to her knees clutching the bloody limb as Acacia raised her staff again. Drummer blasted his whistle repeatedly as the dryad slammed the wood to the floor.
Kallima thought the world around her exploded as the wood floor shattered upwards and the ground beneath her vanished. Her stomach lurched as darkness surrounded her. Then she felt as though something grabbed her around the torso and pulled her. She screamed at the contact with her injury. The sounds of clamoring students above her vanished.
Only to be replaced by a snarling growl.
Kallima whimpered and pushed herself away from the noise with her heels, hoping her eyes would adjust to the pitch blackness quickly. She pressed her back against something solid. She sighed in relief, sure she could defend herself, until something like sandpaper touched her wounded arm. Excited mewls and hisses reached Kallima’s ears as she batted something furry and rather large back. The sounds turned to consistent growls as Kallima backed deeper into corner. The animals around her were unafraid of her, but they definitely were not friendly either. One of the creatures wrapped around her ankle. She tried to kick it off, but it growled and sank sharp claws into her calf. The redhead screamed as she reached down to pry the animal off, but the rest of the clowder viewed the shriek as a signal to attack. Fangs and claws sank into her legs, fur coasted across her skin, and Kallima abandoned the idea of removing them in favor of protecting her face and neck from the onslaught.
A roar drew the attention of the elongated cats chewing on the girl. Kallima peeked out from behind her arms to see the sleek, shimmering body of a bronze lizard with a mouth full of fire. The furry creatures, which Kallima was finally able to see in the light of Blaze’s flames, scurried off on two legs, their long furry tails slithering behind them. A few stragglers yowled from the pain of singed fur or lit tails. Kallima pulled herself to the dragon with one hand, keeping her right arm to her chest as blood ran down the limb. Her toes started tingling as Blaze wrapped himself around the tall fae.
“Are you alright, Kallima?”
“I… Y-yeah. I thi-think I’m okay…”
“Are you certain? What happened?”
“I- I was sparring… in gymnasium. Then the floor… opened up… And I fell in. I think… Something pulled me here.”
“Shadow fae, no doubt. Oh, dear. You’ve been bitten.”
Blaze directed Kallima to one of her legs. Kallima whimpered. The dragon had pressed a claw against her shin hard enough to draw a small amount of blood, but Kallima felt nothing.
“Tatzelwurm venom. It has paralytic and anesthetic properties,” Blaze said. “Can you move your arms?”
Kallima flexed her hands and nodded. She bent her back and wiggled her hips, earning a sigh of relief from Blaze.
“It’s only up to your knees. With any luck, it will fade, and you can walk back to school. We must get you help, though, if it progresses.”
“I…” Kallima sobbed as she flung her arms around Blaze’s neck. “Blaze, I’m scared!”
“I am here for you, Kallima.”
The dragon pressed a paw over the last fire in the cave, plummeting the pair into darkness again. Blaze pulled away from his charge. The girl whined, and a hot hand touched her cheek.
The foreign fae hummed, confused. The dragon’s voice was different, slightly higher than before, like a teenager’s.
“A-are you in your h-human form?”
“I can’t see you.”
The humanoid dragon hummed and placed a hand on her other cheek. Kallima grabbed her guardian’s wrists, heart beating fast, and shut her eyes. Shay was right, she realized. She did have feelings for Blaze, strange as it was to think about. The unseen boy leaned close to her ear and revealed that the taboo feelings Kallima had were not far from his own.
“May I kiss you?” he asked softly, sweetly.
Blaze pressed his forehead to Kallima’s, allowing their noses to touch gently before he tipped his head and pulled Kallima’s mouth to his. The girl’s eyes shot open again at the subtle heat of her guardian’s lips. She parted her lips slightly, and Blaze followed her action, pressing his tongue to her lower lip. Kallima shuddered and sighed. She grabbed Blaze’s shoulders and pulled him deeper into the kiss. Moaning, Blaze wrapped a hand around her waist and dropped his head to the crook of her neck.
“I can’t move my hips.”
The humanoid backed quickly away.
“Your voice sounds fam-.”
Blaze cleared his throat and, with a once-again deep voice, said, “Hush now, Kallima. Let’s get you back to school.”
A massive limb scooped the tall fae up, and Kallima clutched the scaley arm tightly, legs dangling limp beneath her. She closed her eyes to the world around her as Blaze lurched forward, running out of the cave and through a dense forest on three legs.
“How come… you’re not par… paralyzed?”
“I feel the sensation. Your paralysis, to me, is a mere tingling.”
“But… Iggy’s injuries-.”
“I have your injuries. The feelings are different. Your concussion was a minor headache to me. Ignatius’ hunger, an upset stomach,” he said, stopping and lowering the teen to the grass at the edge of the forest. “When I kissed you, I felt an electricity in my bones, and I knew you were pleased. You never felt that with the other boys, not so strong.”
Kallima blushed and said, “You’re a good kisser, Blaze.”
“As are you, Kallima. I shall convene with you in our safe place.”
The dragon backed away from the girl, looking around, then blasted a fireball into the twilight sky. Kallima watched the flame fizzle out as she laid on her back.
“Tomorrow. Tonight, rest,” Blaze said. Then he twitched, perking his ears and said, “They’re close. I must leave. Farewell, Daughter of Satu.”
Kallima waved to the dragon as he vanished into the forest. Within moments, a pair of voices came over a hill, followed by the forms of Mina and Jun. The elf swore softly at the sight of the redhead and stumbled down the hill to her side.
“Miss Satudotter! Are you alright?”
“I can’t move.”
Jun helped her sit up and asked, “Did you fall?”
“No, I was bitten by ta- cat… snake… things.”
Jun pulled the teen onto his back, supporting her dead legs as she clung to his shirt. Mina bit her nails and tossed a jar into the air. It exploded into a flash of purple above them.
“They should come meet us, now.”
“Good,” Kallima breathed, resting her cheek on Jun’s head. “It’s progressing. I can’t feel my stomach now.”
“Shi- Um, how many were there?” Jun asked.
“I dunno. Lots?”
“They’d better- Oh, thank the stars!” Jun said.
A silver centaur reached the top of the hill just as Jun and Mina did. Headmaster Locke demanded a report from the pair.
“We found her just there, at the treeline,” Mina said. “She said she had a run-in with Tatzels.”
“She’s paralyzed, waist down. She needs Anna right away,” Jun added, setting Kallima on Locke’s back.
“Hold tight, Satudotter,” the centaur said.
Kallima obeyed, twisting her arms around the man’s waist, and Locke shot off towards the school, faster than any car she had ever ridden in.