As it turned out, Kallima was right about the door. After she showed Evan the horrors within, which he somehow found more fascinating than terrifying, she stroked the wood with two fingers in an attempt to dismiss the magic again. She opened it one more time to reveal a small, ordinary closet.
“Do it again! Do it again!” the young boy squealed.
“Oi, it wore me out just turning it back to normal,” Kallima said. “If I make another one, I’ll have to give you nightmares.”
“I kin take it! Oo, I wanna see your school!”
Kallima bit her lip and left the room.
“Evelyn?” she called.
“Evan wants to see my school.”
The dark woman growled and waddled out of her own room and down the hall to Kallima’s, muttering all the while.
“Loik ’ell. Evan, no!”
“You stay in dis world!”
Kallima raised a hand and said, “Er, Ma’am? I could show him the animals at ISF. They won’t hurt him. They trust me. And I’ll ask Mr. Vermicelli to help me. He’s an animal keeper and a professor, so he knows what he’s doing.”
“What sort o’ animals?”
“Well, like I said, they’re harmless.”
“What. Are dey?” Evelyn growled.
“A sphinx with kits, a two-headed dog, some phoenixes, chimeras, tatzels, a manticore, a few thunderbirds, and...,” Kallima hesitated before saying, “and a drake.”
“A drake?” Evelyn asked, eyes wide.
“Loik a dragon?”
“No, they’re a lot smaller than dragons. Believe me. An- And he’s scared of most people,” Kallima said. “I’ll keep Evan away from him if it makes you feel better.”
Evelyn ground her teeth and said, “He kin go. Tomorrow. I don’ want ’im around anyfin poisonous, fire-breaving, or vicious, hear? If ’e comes ’ome wif a single mark on ‘im, yer grounded, Kali. We’ll move our shoppin’ trip to Monday, okay?”
“Yes!” Evan cheered.
“Sounds good to me,” Kallima said. “But you got to promise to take better care of Speedy. And you need to brush your teeth. Off with you.”
Evan squealed again and bounded off to clean up. Kallima sighed and leaned in the door frame, exhausted. Evelyn shook her head.
“You’ll be the deaf o’ me, Kali.”
“Don’t worry so much, Ma’am. Most of our creatures are scared of humans. And Mr. Vermicelli is very cautious. No one’s gotten hurt when he’s around.”
“I don’ loik it.”
“It’s just like going to the zoo, Evelyn.”
“Er, Ma’am,” said Kallima, back-peddling nervously at Evelyn’s glare.
“Don’t ya eveh call me dat again.”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am.”
“You called me mum earlier.”
“A slip of the tongue, Ma’am.”
“Hm. I’m goin’ ta bed.”
Evelyn stormed out of the room again, a pained look etched into her features. As she brushed past, Kallima felt a spark on her arm. The teen bit her lip at the feeling.
Fear of rejection. Fear of pushing her kids away. Fear of Havard becoming violent like her last husband. Fear of loneliness, of stagnation, of a hollow existence.
Every fear popped on her tongue a different flavor. She reached out and wrapped her arms around the slightly shorter woman.
“Kali? Whotcha doin’?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” the girl lied.
In truth, she had pulled the woman to her in an attempt to feed off her insecurities. She had promised Havard she would not hurt his family again.
She had never said anything about not eating their fear.
But Evelyn bought the fib, patting the teen’s arm with a “dere, dere. I’m all right.”
Just before Kallima let go, though, a bitter taste filled her mouth. She bid a good night to her adopted step-mother and rushed to the bathroom. Gagging, she cupped her hand, filled it with water, and attempted to clean the disgusting sensation out. What was that taste? It was not quite fear, more of a sorrow. Pity, perhaps?
Kallima shivered and grimaced at the thought: Evelyn pitied her.
“Now, Evan, keep in mind that you’re probably the first human to set foot in the Fairie Realm,” Kallima said with a yawn.
She stood in Evan’s room, next to the closet, bundled up in her winter coat. At her side, a tan child in just as many layers, if not more, stared up at her with wide, concerned eyes.
“You all roit, Kali?” the small boy asked.
“Eh? Yes, I’m fine. I ate something that didn’t agree with me.”
Damn Evelyn and her infectious pity. Thanks to a small girl across the street and another pint of cream, she felt magically capable, but, physically, she was drained. Regardless, she pressed her hands to Evan’s closet door, focused on the school’s courtyard, and willed her energy into the wood. Then her knees buckled, and she fell to the floor.
“I’m okay, Evan. I’m okay…,” she insisted. “Give it a go. See if I moved it.”
Evan opened the door and clapped his gloved hands with a peel of laughter. Without another word, he dashed into the portal, leaving Kallima to drag herself after him. A thin film of snow covered the grass, and she pressed a cheek into it, purring at the damp cold. Evan quickly joined her and made a snow angel in the yard. When he returned to his feet, he pulled Kallima up to look, and she sneezed.
“Looks good,” she said with a sniffle. “Ready to see the animals?”
“Yes yes yes!”
She led the child to the dining hall. When they entered, all the unclaimed students lifted their heads and watched Kallima closely. The redhead waved across the room to Amelia with a soft grin, happy when the girl waved back. A moment later, Micah appeared and gathered up dirty dishes from one table. Kallima waved him down.
“Well, hey, Miss Satudotter,” the elf grinned. “Who you got here?”
“This is- well, it’s a long story. This is Evan. He’s my step-father’s new wife’s youngest son,” Kallima said. “He wants to know if he can see the animals.”
“Oh, I don’t thi-.”
“Kin I touch yer ears?” Evan peeped.
“I- I’m sorry?” Micah asked, confused.
“Me gramma’s dad had ears loik dat,” Evan said. “But he doid when I was li’le. I never got ter touch ’em.”
“Aaaahh… I think,” Micah said, eyes darting between the two foreigners, “I need to have a talk with my husband. You two wa- wait here, okay?”
Kallima, sensing something amiss, watched the small boy as Micah left. Then she knelt in front of him.
“Evan, how old was your great-grandfather?”
“Oh, ’e was close to a hunerd.”
“Does your whole family live that long?”
“No. Grammy was only fitty when she passed on. I never met ’er.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. What happened?”
“Mum says it was ’er ’eart, but Jack told me dat Pappi said de city kilt ’er.”
Micah appeared in the entryway and gestured the two towards him. He took the small boy’s hand and led into the depths of the school.
“You said your great-grandfather had my ears?” Micah asked again.
“Yes, ’e did.”
“He says he was almost a hundred when he died,” Kallima relayed to the elf.
“Anyone else in your family live that long?” Micah asked.
“Nope. Loik I told Kali, Grammy’s heart gave out at fitty.”
“Did she live in the city or the country?”
“City,” Kallima said. “Evan said that her dad thought ‘the city got her.’ What does that mean?”
“It means,” Micah said, “that little Evan here is one-sixteenth elf. His mom is one-eighth, his ‘grammy’ a quarter, and her father was half-elf, like me.”
“I’m a elf?” Evan shrieked excitedly.
“Not much, but it’s there. You have a little energy. Do you feel it, Kali?”
“You’re right. It’s really subtle,” Kallima said, nodding. “Just a little spark.”
“You like animals, Evan?”
“I loik nature. I caud a fish in a levee, and I got a turdle at ’ome.”
“I bet you like being outside a lot more than in school, hm?”
“Yeh, but me friends don’ loik goin’ outside so much as me. They like video games.”
“Micah,” asked Kallima, “does he need to be here? Instead of the Mortal Realm?”
“No, no, it’s too diluted. But keep an eye on him when you take him home, alright? Just in case. Jun, Love?”
The kitzun spun around, wide-eyed. He rushed towards them and pushed the children back, barking at Micah.
“Are you crazy? He’s down here! You can’t bring kids around!”
“Who?” Evan asked.
“Nobody! And don’t you dare tell anyone otherwise,” Jun said.
“Oh! I’m sorry. Kali, we’ll have to wait a while to- hey!”
Kallima ducked under Micah’s arm, slipped past Jun and darted into the animal cages.
A rush of energy passed through Kallima at the deep voice that greeted her in question. She raced along the cells towards the voice. Resting behind the dark blue drake, a mass of orange and gold raised it’s head, green eyes watching her lovingly as she approached the bars.
“Blaze, what are you-? What happened?”
“You know about him?” Jun shouted after her.
“Yes, I know him! He’s my guardian,” Kallima said. “Why is he in here?”
The redhead reached inside towards Blaze, who pressed his muzzle into her palm.
“Do not fret, Precious,” the dragon rumbled lowly. “My presence is of my own volition.”
A low growl emanated from the drake beneath the more massive, golden creature. Blaze snapped at the lizard.
“This is where you hide?” Kallima asked.
“On occasion. Micah and Jun look after me when I’m unwell.”
Kallima whipped back towards the kitzun in worry and asked, “Blaze is sick?”
“He’s underweight,” Jun said, “and these animals are precious to me. Besides, it’s good for him to spend time with his little cousin here.”
“Kallima is more precious,” Blaze said, sidling closer to them.
“Blaze,” the redhead said with a blush.
“Cor, is dat a real drag-!?”
Micah sealed Evan’s mouth with a hand, effectively shushing him.
“Dragons,” the blue-haired elf said quietly, “are extinct. There are no dragons down here. Understand, Evan?”
“But ’e’s roit-!”
Micha covered Evan’s mouth again with a sigh.
Jun rubbed his neck and said, “You called him ‘Blaze?’”
“Yes, Blaze, Master Dragon and Shield of Kallima.”
“Long name,” Blaze said. “I have said that, too, but I am accustomed to it now.”
“Are you feeling any better? Blaze?”
“Some. Who is this?”
The dragon gestured towards Evan with a large claw. Kallima rubbed the paw tenderly.
“My step-brother, Evan. He figured out I was fae and asked if he could see the Faerie Realm. Turns out, he has some elven heritage of his own.”
“Interesting. Fae tend to congregate together,” Blaze said. “It may benefit you to look into Havard’s lineage.”
“No, it is what it is,” Kallima said. “How did you get down here?”
Blaze smiled kindly and said, “Satu supported dragon rights. Why would she tolerate friends who thought otherwise?”
“We’ve been helping take care of- of Blaze for years,” Jun told her.
“I apologize, Precious. I should have informed you of my caretakers.”
“I forgive you, Love,” Kallima said. “Just be honest with me in the future, okay?”
A ripple ran along Blaze’s orange and gold body like a shiver, and he pressed his head against the bars with a purr. Kallima smiled and leaned against his warm muzzle, scratching the scales along his jaw gently.
“K’elkast Precious,” he said.
“Ik! Blaze!” Jun sputtered.
“Whaddid ’e say?”
Blaze licked Kallima’s cheek and repeated, “I love you, Kallima.”
“I love you, too, Bla-.”
“No,” Jun said, grabbing Kallima’s collar and pulling her away, “no, no. You two are not in love! Bad! No.”
“Mr. Vermicelli…” Kallima whined.
“No! If no one else is going to forbid it, I will! Are you crazy?” Jun shrieked. “You two will get yourselves killed! And you! You know better!”
The dragon shrank back, pouting like a child.
“Satu would allow it,” he whispered.
“No, she wouldn’t, and you damn well know why!”
“Jun, Sweetie, calm down,” Micah said, touching the teacher’s arm. “They’re just kids. Let them be-.”
“What? Foolish? Ignorant?” Jun laughed and said, “They’re too young, Micah! And even if they weren’t, what she is? And what he is? It’s a disaster!”
Micah only shook his head and pushed Evan away from the mess.
“Do you like dogs, Evan? I believe Jun has a dicanine around here… That’s a dog with two heads…”
“Blimey! Two heads?”
In the silence that followed, Kallima crossed her arms and glared at her teacher, who swept his tail across the floor anxiously as Blaze watched them.
“What am I, then?” she demanded to know. “Is it so wrong that I’m a dream fae? Or is there something else?”
“What else would there be?” Jun muttered. “Blaze is a dragon. You aren’t. It’s simple as that.”
Kallima narrowed her eyes at her teacher. It was far from “that simple” to her.
And, based on the pain she could see in Blaze’s eyes, it was not a simple concept for the young dragon, either.