Kallima passed her sketch to Sable. The grey girl scanned it and nodded, sliding it across the table and back to her roommate.
“Looks good. Who’s your inspiration?” she asked.
“Micharti and Herring,” Kallima said.
“Mm. I can, like, see Herring. Where’s Micharti?”
“I’m going to use dull colors for the bulk and a bright gold along here.”
“Oh, I see. Yeah, that works. It’s gonna be great, huh?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m, like, merging a classical piece with elements of music you bring from the Mortal Realm. I don’t know, like, how it’ll go over, but...”
“Sounds brill,” Kallima said. “I’m excited. Is there anything I can help with?”
“Um, yeah, what’s the, ah, instrument in the music you like? It’s, like, not a mandolin...”
Kallima thought a moment and said, “Guitar?”
“Okay. And there was another one that sounded a little like a bass...?”
“That’s a bass.”
“Really? It sounds weird.”
Kallima did her best to explain how the bass guitar worked while praising her for being able to hear the usually overpowered instrument. The more difficult task, though, turned out to be differentiating between an acoustic and an electric guitar.
“Let me get this straight,” the gargoyle laughed. “Humans have figured out how to bottle lightning, and they use it to make music?”
“And pictures that move.”
“Okay... How do they trap lightning?”
“Well, they don’t, you see. They make it.”
At this point, Sable pushed aside her work to listen intently to Kallima talk about the Mortal Realm. When the Briton reached “moving pictures,” though, a familiar voice cut her off.
“Satudotter, d’Parsia. There you are.”
The pale elf, Mina, strode diligently towards their table.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything?” she said.
“Not at all. I was just telling Say about film.”
“Hm. I do enjoy catching the movies when I can sneak a visit,” Mina said, smirking. Then she frowned, “I need you both, actually. Headmaster Locke has asked that you report to his office for... Well. I’m just here to bring you to him.”
“Are we in, like, trouble?”
“Brilliant...,” Kallima hissed. “Come along, Sable. Let’s get this over with.”
Whimpering, the grey teen gathered her sheet music and, with Kallima at her side, followed silently to the Headmaster’s office. Once they were on the lift to the tower, Kallima chuckled, trying to lighten the mood.
“Last time we were both in this office,” she said, “I got remedial government classes.”
“I got laundry duty,” Sable whispered.
“You got off easy, though. Shay had to clean lockers!”
“So many stains...”
“And the Nobles had to eat with us peasants! Oh, poor things...”
Finally, Kallima’s words earned the giggle she sought. Sable put her hands on her cheeks.
“Oh, goodness! However did they survive?” she said.
“This won’t be so bad, Say. We’ll be all right.”
The elevator shuddered to a halt, and Mina opened the door to reveal Headmaster Locke and another teacher.
“On second thought,” Kallima said, paling rapidly, “maybe we should have stayed in the library after all…”
Miss Orchid, her hair now a vibrant fuchsia, crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at her two students. Locke drummed his fingers on his desk.
“Perhaps,” he said, “you should have taken a different course, if you dislike the arts so much. Sit.”
Kallima and Sable both knelt in front of Locke’s low desk, their heads dipped in shame and embarrassment. Sable’s skin began hardening and cracking.
“I hope you two have a good reason for avoiding my class,” Miss Orchid said, clear hurt in her soft voice. “Especially you, Sable. I thought you liked music.”
“I l-like to play it, yes.”
“If you enjoy it, why have you stopped seeing me? You have such an amazing talent, Sable, but I haven’t even seen you in weeks.”
Sable kept her head down and trembled. Locke sighed.
“This is very serious, d’Parsia. I know you struggle, but you cannot simply abandon your studies entirely. What would your uncle say, hm? If I told him?”
“‘You’d better be fucking someone rich, you stupid little whore,’” Sable whimpered.
Orchid and Locke flinched at the remark, astonished at what had come out of Sable’s mouth. But the clay child was not finished.
“He was so proud when he saw my gym grade last term. He said I was finally figuring out my place in life. That I was ‘learning’ to screw people to get what I wanted.”
“He hits her!” Kallima blurted. “Isn’t there anything-?”
“Do you want out, Miss d’Parsia?” Locke asked.
“I can’t go to orphanage. I won’t.”
“You have no one to take you in?”
“Mm-mm. Gavin is my only family.”
“He hasn’t broken any laws. No one can, like, force him to give me up,” Sable said, “I don’t know, like, how much he would want for me, but I know it’d be a lot, more than anyone would be willing to pay for me.”
Miss Orchid lowered herself to her knees in front of the timid girl and forced her to meet her eye.
“Sable. You are a beautiful young girl with a wonderful ear for music,” she said. “I was expecting something amazing from you for your final, but now I’m worried that you don’t care.”
“We’ve been working on finals,” Kallima said softly. “I’m doing a sculpture, and Say’s writing a symphony.”
Miss Orchid held out a hand to Kallima, asking to see her design. She looked at it intently before speaking again.
“Herring? For your inspiration?” asked the teacher.
Kallima nodded, and Orchid handed the paper back with a smile.
“I look forward to the completed project. Sable, may I see your symphony?”
Sable whined and sorted through her papers.
“This- this one’s a piano. Flute, drum, cello, trumpet, violin... and these are the vocals.”
Again, Miss Orchid examined the pages she was given, though it took her much longer to respond than when she had seen Kallima’s project. She seemed, possibly, overwhelmed by the amount of work Sable had already put into it.
“These chords are... strange. What’s your inspiration?”
“Mioni, Trivosky, and... Cash.”
“Cash... I’m sorry,” Miss Orchid said, shaking her head. “I’m not familiar-.”
Kallima explained, “He’s from the Mortal Realm. He does some rather morbid work, but he is a musician.”
“I see... This is quite interesting. Extraordinary, even.”
“But you still need to attend your classes,” Locke said.
“Oh, I think I could give them a chance at some extra credit, don’t you think? If they do presentations of their art for the class rather than just hand them in?” suggested Orchid.
“Very well. But this is your only warning, ladies! If I hear about you two skipping classes again,” Locke said, wagging a finger at Kallima and Sable in warning, “I will not be so lenient. You may go now.”
“Stay a bit after class on Friday, and I’ll give you a written assignment sheet for your presentations,” Orchid added.
Sable nodded and started away, but Kallima cleared her throat.
“Er, would it be all right if- if I visit Havard?” she asked.
“Of course. Please return for dinner,” Locke said, sighing.
“Right-o. Thank you.”
Kallima pouted at her step-father as he cut vegetables at the island counter of his kitchen. She sat in one of the stools, her head laying on the table, looking very much like a sober version of her mother, except with the same desperate pleading in her eyes.
“I said, ‘no.’ Your mother said no! ‘Do not, under any circumstances, let her stay at Orphanage.’ That’s what she said.”
“What good would it do, Kali?”
“Maybe none. Maybe a lot. Please, Dad?”
“It won’t help anyone. Wait until you’re older, influential. Wait until there are thing you can do. Then fix it,” Havard said.
“How can I change it? I don’t even understand it.”
“What part don’t you understand, Kali? They treat children like slaves! They starve them, beat them, work them to the bone! They whip people!”
Kallima sat up straight.
“How do you know that, Dad? Hm?” Kallima asked. “What are you not telling me?”
Havard sighed and set down his knife. Crossing his arms, he leaned close to Kallima.
“Your grandfather left your grandmother when Satu was young, four or five. And Amory, your grandmother, she couldn’t take care of Satu, and no one would take her in. So she took her to the only place they had for unwanted children.”
“Right. She told me that was the day she swore she’d never trust anyone ever again. Five, Kali! She was five years old! Can you imagine? The people who you trust the most in the world deciding they can’t, or just won’t, take care of you? And the keepers are awful, horrible people. They didn’t even tell Satu that Amory died until she was twelve.”
“That’s what they told your mum. And she never came back for her. Honestly,” Havard said, “I hope she did. Because if she just left Satu there, to fend for herself? I can’t even imagine. At least my mother found a home for me. And our orphanages aren’t even that bad!”
“Dad,” Kallima said, taking her foster-parent’s hands, “I need to do this. Sable’s uncle is gonna kill her one of these days. I have to know why she won’t get help. And- And Iggy and Amy are only in there because of me.”
“So this is some sort of quest for redemption?”
“Maybe a bit. But… you said my mum stayed there. Because Grandma couldn’t take care of her. Dad… I love you, but you can’t take care of me anymore. You said it yourself: I need to be in the Faerie Realm.”
Havard jerked his hands away and resumed his chopping with pursed lips.
“What do you mean, I can’t take care of you? Evelyn and I are getting better every time you visit,” he said.
“You can’t afford it! Cream isn’t peanuts, Dad, and I drink so much of it. You have a baby on the way. You don’t need me complicating it. Especially with Evelyn being part elf. What if Satina wants to follow me to the Faerie Realm, too? You know how sick Evan was after his little visit.”
“He’s fine. It was probably just a cold.”
“A cold that put him in bed for a week?” Kallima said, rolling her eyes. “A cold that made him depressed? A cold that he got right after visiting the Faerie Realm with me?”
“He’s fine now,” Havard repeated.
“Blaze says half-fae tend to seek each other out.”
Again Havard stopped chopping and stared at Kallima.
“Are you suggesting that I’m part fae?”
“No. But Blaze did.”
“Hmp. I blame your mum’s friend. That white bird,” Havard said, returning to the food.
“No, but I wouldn’t doubt that she told Mina. It was this other girl, never caught her name. Quite a lovely young thing. Practically pushed us together,” Havard said.
“How did you meet Mum?”
“Well, er… I had gone out for a drive to clear my head. Honestly, it wasn’t really a drive; I was planning to run off to the coast. Take a vacation. Sort out what I was going to do next. Try to understand, Princess, I had just met my real mum, and I was having a rough time. But, as I was passing the woods, I saw this woman.”
“No. This tall, frail woman, looked like a ghost. She waved me down. I wasn’t planning to stop, because those woods were haunted. Well, protected. By the fae. We didn’t go in there, is the point. But she stepped right in front of my car. I nearly hit her. She banged on the hood and screamed at me to get out, that someone was hurt. I couldn’t just ignore her. I followed her into the woods to this tidy young lady.”
“Was it Mum this time?”
“Yes, it was. She was so weak and gaunt, dirty… Absolutely gorgeous, Kali, but very worn down. Scratched up on her arms and legs, and a pretty big gash in her shoulder. Very scared at first, but she warmed up when she saw the woman with me. We helped her back to my car, and I drove her to the hospital. The entire time, she kept asking that pale woman if the baby was okay. I panicked, thinking I’d left an infant behind. But the woman said no, that Satu was pregnant. If anything, that made me drive faster.
“At the hospital, the pale woman said she was Satu’s sister and called me her husband. I didn’t argue because I wanted to make sure she was okay. They patched your mum up, made sure she was eating and drinking, checked up on you. You almost died, Princess. They kept her for a week to make sure you would make it. They didn’t think you would, but the turnaround you made… It was miraculous. By the time they let Satu out, I was determined not to let the two of you go. So I brought your mum here, made her comfortable, and… we just stayed together. I called her my wife, and she called me her husband.”
Kallima hummed thoughtfully and said, “But you two… you never had kids together?”
“No. Your mum didn’t want more kids. She wanted to devote everything she had to you. By the time I was all right with my genes, she was drinking too much for me to feel good about having a child with her. When we did… bonk… we were very careful about it.”
“Did you ever-?”
“Kali, please, don’t ask me anymore about this.”
“I’ll stop if you sign the papers,” Kallima said.
“No, Kali. You’ll get hurt. It’s not a could: you would be hurt.”
“I know what I’m doing, Dad. Iggy needs me,” said the fiery-haired girl. “Sable says he looks sick when I’m not around. And… It’s only for this summer. I’ve already got it set up at the bank for them to transfer my allowance from Mum’s account to my own. The flat rates on a fifteen year old girl is around thirty gold, and I get eight a month. If I save all summer and the first month of school, I can buy myself back for you. And if I can’t buy myself, I can just use my magic to visit!”
“What if someone buys you first?”
“Dad, I’m a fighter! I’ll be so unruly, they have to return me.”
“What if you get sick?”
“I’ll sneak out with my magic, go to the bank, and buy medicine.”
“What if your sick enough that your magic fails you, hm?”
Kallima sighed, saying, “Dad. You have to let me do this. To make amends with Amy, to look after Iggy, to understand Say…”
“You’re looking for him, aren’t you?”
“Your father. You’re hoping he hears about you and finds you.”
Kallima bit her lip. She had considered the prospect but only momentarily. With Havard dragging it back to her mind, though, she could not help thinking it more likely than before. She nodded firmly.
“I know it’s possible, and I would love that. But I’m not looking for him. I want to meet him, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t. Iggy never met his mum, and he’s a good kid. Listen,” Kallima said, “you’re still my dad. Maybe not biologically, but in spirit you are.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” Havard warned, not looking at the teenager.
Kallima pat the papers on the counter.
“I have to get back to school. I’ll leave these here. For you to consider.”
“I’m considering shredding them. Does that count?”
“Love you, Dad.”
“I love you, too, Princess. Please stay safe out there.”
“I will, Dad.”