Kallima sat up with a grin as Anna entered the medical ward carrying a tray piled with food. Her ankles were still numb, but the returned mobility that the morning brought made the girl happy. What made her happier, though, was the sight of her friends behind the nurse. Sable and Shay each carried their own plate of food and turned her bed into a makeshift table.
“Oh, man, Kali,” Shay said, shaking his head, “it’s been a long day already. Iggy’s coming, but he looks almost as bad as you do.”
“Does he really?” Kallima asked, taking her plate from Anna.
“He has a black eye and scratches all over his hands,” Shay nodded.
“And a limp,” Sable said.
“You eat, darlin’,” Anna said with the shake of her head at the two guests. “After lunch, we’ll see ’bout letting ya outta here.”
“Okay. Thanks, Anna.”
After the woman left the room, Kallima asked, “Why is he limping?”
All three turned to the doorway to see Ignatius’ frail frame. He did, indeed, have a distinct blue bruise on his left cheek, cuts on his slender hands, and a slight stumble in his gait as he joined the others.
“These are paper cuts,” he dismissed, waving one hand as he sat. “But the Nobles had Jarl beat me up again.”
Shay narrowed his eyes skeptically at the senior, who tugged an ear and glanced at Kallima, then down again.
“What? It’s not like they haven’t done it before.”
“Leave him be,” Kallima said. “I have… strange and interesting news.”
Shay smirked and asked, “What? That you’re in love?”
“How did you-?”
“Spirit reader,” Ignatius reminded her, pulling an ear and turning pink.
“Oh. Right. Anyway,” Kallima started, picking at her vegetables. “So after Case did... whatever that was Case did yesterday...”
“We talked,” Shay said. “She just didn’t like you in our business, but I told her it was my fault. She should behave now.”
“It’s fine. But I got pulled into that cave by a shadow fae, I guess. There I was, surrounded by cat-sill-worms-”
“Tatzelwurms,” Ignatius corrected.
“-and out of nowhere, Blaze shows up and scares them away.”
“Wait, it’s real?” Sable asked.
“Had to be,” Shay told her. “There’s no way anyone has enough control and subconscious energy to trick a dr- someone like Kali.”
“Still, a real drag-”
Ignatius slapped a hand over the gargoyle’s mouth with a glare that dripped venom. The grey girl pulled back, whispering a soft apology.
Kallima cleared her throat and continued, “So he scared them off, and it was so dark, and I couldn’t really move. He turned himself into a human and.. and he kissed me.”
“They have human forms?” Ignatius asked, a fascinated light flickering in his hurt eyes.
Kallima nodded, and Shay stood up.
“Can I speak to you alone, Ig?” he asked.
“Is- is ‘no’ an option?”
The two boys moved to a corner and began whispering so softly that Kallima could hear only hisses and clicks rather than actual words. Ignatius immediately began pulling his ears, turning them dark red between his fingers. Shay’s expression shifted from anger to amazement.
Kallima returned her attention to Sable as the grey girl poked her corn with a spoon.
“You… love it?” she asked, confused.
“I do, Say. I love him,” Kallima blushed. “Last term… I was infatuated last term, but I mistook it for love. This time it’s real, though. I didn’t feel like I was kissing him because I was supposed to or I was looking for comfort. I kissed him because it felt right. He doesn’t ask me to tell him about my personal business, but I do because it makes me feel better. He treats me like a princess, even though I’m not. I feel safe and warm and happy when I’m with him. Even in that cave, once he showed up, I wasn’t scared of the tatzels at all. I knew he would protect me.”
“Twenty!” Shay yipped from the corner. When he saw that the girls had turned their attention to him, he waved them away and resumed talking to the livid senior.
“You don’t think, like, you’re jumping into this again?” Sable asked. “Like, you were with Gabe because he was pretty. You went with Matt once because he was nice. You could be mistaking your own gratitude for, like, affection.”
Kallima paused and chewed on her lip.
“I don’t… think so,” she said. “I am grateful, really, but that’s not what I felt yesterday. I felt… comfortable. And terrified at the same time, but that was all right with me because he was there. I wasn’t alone.”
“But… Kali, it’s not really a fae. That’s like, I dunno, falling for, like-.”
“Ye- No! No,” Sable said, red-faced. “Like a drake. You wouldn’t want to, like, have a relationship with an animal, would you?”
“He’s not an animal.”
“We were told-.”
“We were lied to,” Shay interrupted.
The bronze boy sat on one of the spare cots with a heavy sigh and rubbed his forehead. Ignatius tugged on his earlobes nervously, waiting for Shay to speak again. When he did, the spirit fae had far more to share than anyone expected.
“What I’ve heard… What I understand about Blaze,” he said, “is mind-boggling. It doesn’t fit. Everyone told us that dragons were lesser beings, animals, monsters. And they believed it, so I believed it. Blaze isn’t like that. It’s not- He’s not an animal. Everything he does is done with intelligence, wisdom. More importantly, with affection, care, pain. Fear. Anger, yes, certainly anger, as well, but not the anger of a monster.”
“He’s just a teenager,” Kallima said. “A scared teenager, just like the rest of us.”
“And probably an orphan. Or something close,” Ignatius added.
“It must suck,” Shay said with a nod. “Not knowing where your power comes from. Not having anyone to show you how to use it.”
Kallima pouted, asking, “Are you talking about Blaze still or me?”
“I- Both, I guess. Maybe even Sable, a little. I’m… Dammit,” Shay swore, curling up on the bed. “The more time I spend with you guys, the more out of place I feel. How did I ever get to be friends with you three? I don’t fit in. I don’t have problems. I have nothing to complain about in my life, and it’s not fair.”
Sable whimpered, “Everyone has something to complain about, Shay.”
“Not like you guys! I don’t wake up wondering whether or not I’m going to survive the day. I’m not scared that somebody’s going to call me out on all my lies because I don’t have to lie! I have money. I have a family. I have- I have…”
“A girlfriend?” Sable breathed.
Shay scoffed and said, “Do I? She’s angry at me all the time. I’m not allowed to talk to my friends when she’s around. If I told her any of this, she would smack me for being ungrateful. She’s done it before. I- I think that she’s using me, even more than I’m using her.”
“So you are using her,” Kallima accused.
“Yes, okay! I just-,” Shay said, “I wanted to feel normal. I thought that having a working-class girlfriend would help, but it didn’t. I’m still just a spoiled brat like Reggie.”
Amid Ignatius and Kallima’s ascertations that the tan child was nothing like the crown prince, Sable rose, sat next to the boy, and turned his face to hers.
Then she slapped him. Shay raised a hand to the assaulted cheek and gaped.
“Why did you-?”
“Don’t you ever say that again,” she ordered, uncharacteristically fierce. “You are the kindest, smartest, strongest fae I know. Don’t you ever compare yourself to him.”
Shay squeaked and nodded, and Kallima smiled at the gargoyle’s new assertiveness. Ignatius sighed.
“Lunch is over, guys. We have classes to attend,” he said.
“I want to go. I’m tired of sitting in bed,” Kallima groaned.
The golden senior smirked, hugged the redhead with one arm, and pecked the top of her hair. Sable and Shay waved goodbye and left as Kallima pushed Ignatius away. The blonde ruffled her red locks. Then he set a book on her lap and backed away.
“I checked this out from the library for you. It should help pass the time until you can move your ankles again.”
“Thank yo- Wait, how did you know my feet were still numb?” she asked.
“Anna mentioned it,” Ignatius said, smirking. “Want us to stop back at supper?”
“Yes…” Kallima breathed.
The older boy waved and retreated, leaving the dream fae alone to read the book he had brought her, Ages Lost. A fiction book. With a curious hum, Kallima began reading the work, hoping it would indeed help time pass more quickly.
Kallima cursed her walking staff, not because Anna insisted she use it, but because she found herself leaning into it every five or six steps. By the time she was allowed to leave the medical ward, she had no time for the shower she desperately needed before dinner, a fact that only increased her agitation. As upset as she was, though, the emotion turned to pity when she saw the corner table where she usually ate.
Shay sat alone, stabbing bits of food with a butter knife, and stared dejectedly at his plate. Kallima’s eyes landed briefly on Acacia, who sat with a new group and laughed. Sable was surely already at her uncle’s, as it was Friday evening. Most likely, Ignatius decided against meeting them for dinner and opted instead to eat in his room like he did before they met. Sighing loudly, Kallima made her way to the food tables to select her dinner.
As she limped towards her table, the staff slipped out from beneath her and sent her tumbling to the floor. Fire rose in her face, and pain surfaced in her elbows as laughter surrounded her. Then two pairs of soft hands helped her up.
“You ought to be ashamed, Jarl!” a girl shrieked. “She’s been through enough!”
The short girl smiled sadly at her taller classmate and darted back to the food tables to get Kallima a fresh plate. Mateja, her other savior, walked Kallima to her table to make sure no one mimicked the ogre.
“The Nobles are pissed,” he reported softly. “They worked so hard to set it up. Everyone knows they’re behind it.”
“Then why are they still here?”
Mateja shrugged, “Locke can’t expel them. There’s no proof. It had to have been a shadow fae, but you didn’t see who did it, did you?”
“So they stay. That said, I’m pretty sure everyone is trying to figure out why, and… well. You are very tall.”
“With close brows,” Amelia whispered, setting down Kallima’s plate.
“And a citrus allergy,” Shay added. “But no one knows that but us. And Amy, now.”
Kallima scoffed, “Aren’t you sworn to secrecy on that?”
“Loopholes. She’s at the table. And she kind of figured it out,” the boy said.
“Your cover’s been blown, Kali,” Mateja told her. “You may as well fess up and get the training you need.”
“No way,” Shay said. “She needs more time. She’s not ready.”
“Not ready?” Amelia laughed.
“Not ready for what?” Kallima asked.
“Politics,” a new voice said.
Kallima sighed and leaned into the golden boy who sat down next to her, but he pushed her off. The redhead whined at the action.
“Don’t give me that crap,” he growled. “I don’t want to piss off your secret boyfriend.”
“Oo! Secret boyfriend?” Amelia squealed.
“Sh!” Kallima said. “No talking about him.”
Amelia whimpered, wanting to hear more, and Mateja rubbed his neck.
“So… New boyfriend? That’s… cool. What’s his name?”
“Hm. I don’t know a Blaze.”
“They met in town on one of the Saturday trips,” Ignatius lied. “She uses her power to visit him. She doesn’t want anyone knowing because he’s older.”
“Iggy,” Kallima scolded. “He is not-.”
“How old did you say he was? Thirty? At least?” the blonde reminded her.
“Oh, you got a sugar daddy,” Amelia giggled. “How naughty!”
“It’s not like that,” Kallima said.
Mateja sighed, “He’s a lord, isn’t he? You have a thing for lords. That’s why we didn’t work, isn’t it?”
“Okay, stop it!” Kallima growled. “No, he’s not a lord. And that’s not why we didn’t have a second date, Matt. You know that. We both know that we’re not… compatible.”
“Mm. Fair enough.”
“And what the devil is sugar daddy?” she asked.
“Oh,” Shay said, “it’s somebody older than you who takes care of you financially in exchange for… favors.”
“I am not a prost-!”
“Sh!” all four of her companions chorused.
“It’s not an insult,” Amelia said. “Well, unless you belong to a prominent family. There’s no reason to be ashamed if you’re good at it.”
“Not to say that you are,” Mateja added.
“Although,” Ignatius said, “Satu was very conservative. She probably taught you to guard yourself against male advances.”
“Good,” Shay sighed. “That’s good.”
“Why is that good?” Mateja asked.
“With any luck, you’ll see,” Ignatius promised.
“You know what?” Kallima said. “I don’t care what Blaze says. I’m cold.”
Without another word, the dream fae wedged herself against the golden boy, making him blush angrily, but he did not move away. Shay laughed at the display but refused to admit what was so funny about it.
As he wiped away a gleeful tear, he said, “It’s just- You two look so adorable.”
“Shut up, Shay,” Ignatius growled.
“It’s just for the warmth. Iggy is my tutor, my friend, and my furnace. Nothing else,” the girl insisted.
For some reason the spirit fae only laughed harder, eventually excusing himself before he could finish his dinner.