“Blaze, Master Dragon and Shield of Kallima!”
The orange lizard poked its head out of the cave almost fifty feet directly above Kallima. He tipped his head quizzically then shrank back at Kallima’s scornful face.
“Don’t you ‘Precious’ me! You get down here, right now,” the teenaged girl commanded.
Keeping low enough that his stomach ground against rocks on the mountainside, Blaze slithered down the stone wall. Once at the bottom, he wrapped his body around Kallima’s and nuzzled her with his snout. Kallima yanked his ear, pulling his head to the side.
“Ouch! Why would you do that?” The dragon asked.
“Iggy said you were going to break up with me,” she said. “Why?”
“I did not say such a thing. I told him that it was brought to my attention that I should stop courting you. I never said that I would.”
“I believe you owe me an apology,” Blaze said, shifting to his false human form.
Kallima pouted and said, “You still won’t let me see you, eh?”
He brushed his lips against hers gently, stroking her shoulders with his thumbs. Kallima followed his lead and tucked her hands around his neck to pull him closer. Blaze practically melted at her touch.
“Now,” Blaze said as he pulled back, “what should we work on tonight?”
“I’ve been learning how to read fear.”
“Really? That is fascinating. Show me.”
Kallima ran her hands down Blaze’s biceps. Breathing deeply, she opened her mind to the dragon’s. Hatred, guilt, and blood assaulted her senses.
“You’re afraid… of being seen,” she said. “Afraid of being betrayed… and of betraying others. Afraid that… that you have sentenced Matthias to death.”
Blaze’s illusion paled and flickered, revealing a shorter silhouette before rematerializing. The man gripped his head with a hand.
“That is… greatly distressing, Kali.”
“And you’re afraid of me,” Kallima said.
“Yes,” the dragon admitted.
“Because you were able to read me so easily.”
“No, it’s… bigger. The power I have, yes, and the power you think I’ll gain… Blaze, you’re afraid of a god.”
“No. I fear one who believes herself a god.”
“I don’t think I’m a god,” Kallima assured him. “I am just Kallima. I’m going to make mistakes, Blaze, but I mean well. You don’t need to be afraid of me.”
“Promise me, then,” Blaze said and gripped her shoulders tightly. “No matter what happens, how far you fall or how high you rise, promise that you will remember that you make mistakes. That you are mortal. That you are not above others just because of your privilege.”
“I promise,” Kallima said. Then dropped to her knees and vowed, “I swear on my life to admit my shortcomings and mistakes and not to think myself better than everyone else.”
Blaze’s illusion rippled again, and he said, “That was very foolish.”
He assumed his dragon’s body again and curled around Kallima. The fiery girl leaned into his fore-haunch with a sigh.
“I mean it. Let me fall dead if I think myself a god.”
“You will be the death of me, Daughter of Satu.”
Kallima glanced at his sad eyes and knew he meant it.
Sable sighed and played with the sash of her new lilac dress. Kallima glossed the girl’s lips as Amelia twisted the black hair into a short but intricate braid that rested on her shoulder.
“Gavin’s gonna be pissed, like, that you got me a new dress,” the gargoyle said.
Kallima smirked and said, “Well, I’ll just have to keep it safe for you. Our little secret.”
“You look great, Say,” Amelia said with a grin of her own. “Janie loves this braid pattern, and you pull it off really well for having such short hair.”
“All right, have a look.”
The tiny teenager turned to examine herself in the bathroom mirror and gawked. Her eyes seemed stronger with the thin lines of black around them and a touch of lavender on the lids. She touched the short, braided tail on her shoulder, the light specks of pink on her cheeks deepening to fuchsia, and her icy blue eyes watered.
“Well, don’t cry!” Kallima said. “You’ll make the mascara run!”
“You... made me pretty...”
Amelia hugged Sable from behind and said, “You are pretty, Say. You just hide it from everyone.”
“Nuh-uh. Gavin said I would, like, never be as pretty as Mom. No matter how much makeup I used.”
“You can’t compare yourself to other girls, Say,” Kallima said. “You’re not the same pretty as your mum or Acacia or even me. You’re your own kind of pretty.”
“So... I’m Sable-pretty?”
“Yes. Kind of like... black ice. Pastels look great on you, and your hair really makes the color stand out.”
“Hm! Thank you. Both of you.”
Sable through her arms around both girls, though Amelia’s neck was far easier for her to reach than Kallima’s. The taller fae smiled and asked Amelia to take the gargoyle to their room.
“I’ll go see if her date is here yet.”
With a signature crackling of nervousness, Sable allowed herself to be taken away. Kallima, though, headed to the lobby to fetch Shay.
The bronze boy sat in one of the large white chairs, clutching a single, carefully thorned yellow rose as a small crowd of girls crooned over him. He actually looked, to Kallima, quite dapper in his brown suit with its long red tie. He had also greased his hair back into a short tail of his own, though a few strands fell in front of his eyes as one of the girls shook him.
“Who’s the lucky girl, then, Shay?”
“Please tell us!”
“Yeah! We wanna make sure she’s good for you!”
“She’s plenty good,” Kallima assured the cluster as she approached Shay. “Shall we?”
The red-haired girl held up her arm, and Shay quickly rose and slipped his hand in. The group that had surrounded Shay “aw’ed” and wandered away, thinking Kallima to be their competition. Shay tugged on the tie, scrunching his nose.
“Why are you making such a big deal out of this?” He asked. “I was… I was gonna wear a suit. Why make me bring flowers?”
“You brought one flower. A yellow one. Not exactly what I had in mind.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Pink. For appreciation. Gratitude. First love.”
“Ha! We’re friends, Kali. Yellow is perfectly-.”
Kallima shushed Shay and knocked on the room 407 door. It did not open. She was about to knock again when she heard the hinges click to attention and the door swung slowly ajar. The small, stoney girl paled at the sight of her date.
“Sable, you loo-l-look… uh, wow,” Shay said.
“You… You said it was a boy from art.”
Kallima smirked and pushed Shay closer, saying, “I may have fibbed.”
“Fah- flower,” the boy said, blushing. “For you.”
“Thanks, Shay. Th-thank you.”
Kallima elbowed Shay. The boy held his arm out to the much smaller Sable.
“Wah- Um, would you care to- to accompany me to the con- concert?”
Sable opened her mouth to speak but made no sound. Instead, she nodded and took Shay’s arm, forcing herself close to his side. Kallima grinned as she led them to the closet door, pressed Shay’s hand to the wood, and redirected the portal to the concert hall where the Triponi Orchestra would be playing. Never once did Shay’s eyes stray from the girl holding a rose to her mouth as though debating whether or not to eat it.
“Have fun,” Kallima said.
Shay nodded and ushered Sable out. Kallima waved them off, promising to pick them up at nine.
“Make it nine-thirty,” Shay said. “We’re going to meet wa- one of the cellists backstage. He owes my dad a f-f-favor.”
Sable squeaked, wide-eyed, and tightened her grip on Shay’s arm. The tan boy chuckled.
“How about ten?” Kallima offered, and Shay quickly, and silently, agreed.
Kallima shut the door behind them and ended her magic. Then her entire demeanor changed. Her eyes hardened, and she pursed her lips. Invading Sable’s closet, she retrieved the tonic hidden there. She stashed it in her bag and hurried to the library.
“Iggy?” She asked, sitting across from the young senior in the back of the room. “What’s sleep tonic?”
The golden-haired boy blinked roughly, rubbed one eye, and squinted at Kallima.
“Sleep Tonic. Is it alcohol?”
“Tiny, tiny bit. Just medicinally.”
“So it’s not very strong?”
Kallima pulled the bottle from her bag and set it in front of her tutor. He brushed his fingers over it.
“Where did you get this?”
“It’s Say’s. She was hiding it in her closet. It smells really strong to me.”
“You’re sensitive. Sable has nightmares, Kali. Some people prefer a drink to putting up with them. And it doesn’t look like there’s much missing. Even if it’s tampered with-.”
“Please, Iggy? I want to believe you, but I don’t want her getting hurt, either.”
Ignatius uncorked the bottle and sniffed the stopper. He sealed the bottle up immediately and stared at Kallima fearfully.
“This is not sleep tonic.”
“Not anymore,” Ignatius said. “It’s watered down and spiked with malt whiskey. Heavily spiked, Kali. Maybe a quarter of the bottle.”
“So… Sable’s drinking?” Kallima asked softly, and Ignatius sighed.
“You’d have to talk to her. She could be hiding it for someone else. She might think it’s just tonic. If she does, even the amount they recommend would knock her out, what with the herbs in the mix.”
“But you still think it’s a sleep aide?”
“Not a healthy one, but yes. Dreams are good, Kali. They allow escape and help us cope at the same time. Sable’s not dreaming if she’s using this.”
“I haven’t seen her dream in a while. Or you,” Kallima said. “So what are you using?”
The redhead narrowed her eyes at Ignatius. The older boy shrank down in his chair.
“I’ve never seen you dream, Iggy. I have everyone’s dreams but yours. Why?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
He gestured to the stack of books on the table. He was in the midst of grading algebra papers, marking the exact spots where students made mistakes so they could learn from it. Kallima sighed.
“Here. Let me help,” she said, taking the folder.
“I already did yours. Good job. And this is my answer sheet. Just circle anything that doesn’t line up.”
Kallima smiled, taking Ignatius’ red pen, and followed his instructions. She argued with the boy when she found her paper a few points short of perfect, but Ignatius stood by his ruling. The typically bull-headed girl surrendered the fight to let him work on a speech. When she found Shay’s paper, she let out a whistle.
“Yeah, his are always like that,” Ignatius said without looking up.
Shay got the right answers on each question. Eventually. Wading through the tiny writing and grey smears of erased lines gaver her a massive headache, though.
“So what do I do?”
“I don’t know. Talk to him?”
“What even is this?”
“He overthinks it,” Ignatius said and gestured to the paper Kallima was correcting for him. “He needs to calm down, you know?”
Kallima hummed and said, “Yea- yes. Everyone’s on edge right now, aren’t they?”