Actions

Work Header

i didn't care (you were the most exciting thing i'd ever known)

Chapter Text

The nurse’s office has stout white walls around stout white counters and chairs. The blue plastic bed Fig is laying on isn’t long enough to hold her spindly legs. There’s a poster on the wall above her head: Always remember to wash your hands! She moves one sticky palm away from the ice pack she’s pressing to her head and looks at the way the blood pools in the crevices there. It’s starting to harden around her nails and cling to her roots. She’s not crying. She stopped crying thirty minutes ago.

The nurse slips into the room. Fig doesn’t know her name, despite how often she’s stopped by this semester alone. She’s a friendly-looking human woman with brown skin and graying hair. She smiles sympathetically, which makes Fig feel worse, and says, “Hi, sweetie, is the ice helping?”

She shrugs. It has helped, actually, but it’s done nothing for her mood. “I guess. Did Sandralynn call you back?”

“Yes, she has. She’s on her way here from work right now. She should be here in about ten minutes.” The nurse pauses. “You know, Figueroth, this isn’t as uncommon as you may think. There’s a youth tiefling group at the Elmville community center, and I’m sure they’d be happy to meet you.”

“Thanks. I’ll check ‘em out.” No, she wouldn’t. She can’t stand the thought of people who know what she’s going through looking at her with those bleary concerned eyes, telling her to “be proud of who she is” and “we can make it through this together,”. She’d really rather not be going through it at all.

“Alright. I brought you another water bottle, so drink up, okay? If the skin opens up more, get someone to cast Cure Wounds as soon as possible.” The nurse pats her on the arm and steps out of the little curtained corner, closing the plastic sheet behind her.

Fig draws her knees up under her chin. One hand is still holding the ice down against the two pointed bones rising out of her skull. The other one is wrapped around her calves. Her fingers leave little red splotches against her pink-brown skin where she adjusts her grip. In this moment, head throbbing and eyes wrung out, she can’t help but feel that the timing was wrong. In the stories, tieflings emerge during climactic moments that reveal their devilish heritage. She should be in the woods, wearing a cloak or holding a staff. Instead, she’s following the lines of the wrinkles on her plastic bed with her eyes and wearing a pink tank top.

She flexes her hand against her knee. The red follows her nails in angry little lines. She pauses for a moment, and then smears her palm across her shirt. She looks at the fabric, where the hot shades slide against each other and make something new. She’s starting to feel a little sick when the curtains are parted.

“Figueroth,” Sandralynn says. She has her hair tied away from her face and a heavy backpack is slumping her shoulders down. She must’ve been in the middle of a mission. Fig feels a little smug.

“Baby, are you okay? You’re— good God, you’re so bloody. Let’s get you home so you can take a bath, alright?”

She’s scooped up to lean against her mother’s side. She tugs herself away quickly, her arm burning hot where Sandralynn had touched it. “I can walk,” she says. She’s not even sure if that’s true, but she’s willing to try.

The two of them walk out into the front office, where two girls are placing an attendance slip on the oak desk. They see Fig, blood dried across her forehead and a hand print on her shirt, and they push past each other to get back into the hallway. Fig knows those girls. One of them is on the cheer team with her, the other is in her Algebra 2 class. She eats lunch with those girls sometimes.

She supposes she should’ve seen that coming.

Sandralynn writes something on a sign-out sheet and holds Fig’s arm to lead her to the car. Fig climbs into the passenger seat and pulls the seat belt across herself. A tiny vermilion fingerprint lands just above the buckle. Fig folds her hands together and looks out the windshield. Sandralynn hops in and starts to pull out of the parking lot. It’s quiet for a minute, and then:

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Sandralynn doesn’t respond right away. Fig tries not to look at her, but from the corner of her eye she sees her gnawing on her lip. Fig’s jaw hurts. She realizes she’s been clenching it.

“I thought… I mean, there was a chance you’d just be an elf. I didn’t want you to feel different from everyone else if you didn’t have to.”

Whole lotta good that did, Fig thinks, remembering gym classes with no partners and lunches spent alone. “Does Dad know?”

There’s another empty moment. Sandralynn says, “No.”

Fig buries her head in her knees.

Once they’re home, Fig hurls herself up the stairs. She can hear Gilear starting to say something, but she tugs open the bathroom door and locks herself inside before she can process anything. She takes a wet breath, and then moves to look in the mirror.
She isn’t as shocked as she thinks she should be by her reflection. She’s still in her pink tank top and jean skirt. Her hair is still dark brown and curling around her ears. She turns her neck and looks at the remaining patches where her skin is a warm brown, surrounded by the rose that’s been creeping across the rest of her body. This has been a long time coming, she realizes.

It takes her a while to look up. She’s worried that something will change if she does. It’s a silly worry, of course. The horns are already there. She’d felt them, a dull pressure under her ice pack. She thinks that, maybe, if she ignores them, they’ll just go away.

They don’t, though.

They’re just barely visible above her hair. They're tiny little things, leaning outwards with a slight curve. The left one is a bit longer than the right. They’re a frightening red color, but Fig figures out quickly that they’re still bloody. She dips her head into the sink and watches through squinted eyes as the water runs pink down the drain. She’s starting to kind of hate the color.

She’s rubbing her head carefully on a white bath towel when she hears Gilear start yelling. She’s pulling her shoes and socks off when Sandralynn joins in. She’s cranking the bath faucet as hot as it can go when a hand slams onto granite down in the kitchen. She’s holding her pointy ears under the water, and it’s silent.

It’s a week later. Gilear has been steadily packing his things. He’s in the basement right now, going through old photos and various plaques and awards. Sandralynn is in the kitchen, flicking at paperwork and drinking a coffee. Gilear’s coat is hanging by the door. His wallet is poking out of his pocket. Fig stares at it, and then says, “Gonna go for a walk.”

“Stay safe, baby,” Sandralynn calls. Fig wrinkles a little at the nickname, but she snatches the wallet and heads out the door.

The music store is called “Riff Town”, which Fig thinks is stupid. It’s kind of small, but so is everything in Elmville. There’s a central table where a wiry satyr with his hooves on the table is flipping through a romance novel. He closes it when she walks in and grins.

 

“Hey, kid,” he says, “welcome to Riff Town! What’re you lookin’ for?”

Fig falters, but only for a moment. She snaps her eyes around the display room until they land on a wall stacked with electric basses. That’ll do, she thinks.

“A bass,” she says, and it takes a conscious effort not to say please. The satyr’s eyebrows shoot up, but he swings away from his desk and motions for her to follow him to the wall.

“You’re sure you didn’t just, like, mispronounce ukulele, right? People get it wrong all the time. Don’t be embarrassed.” She glares at him, and he laughs. “Damn, little devil. Alright, take a look.”

The wall is covered in shiny four-stringed instruments of different colors and shapes. She reaches out and plucks the thickest string on one and listens to the dull thrum it makes.

“Not gonna get too much sound without an amp, kid. D’ya have one?”

“No,” she says. She’s starting to feel out of her depth, but she’s not gonna let this guy know. He smiles at her.

“I’ll go grab one for you. You looking for brand new, or is used okay?”

Fig thinks for a moment. It would be so easy to swipe Gilear’s card and forget about it, but— well. He’s not her dad, but he’s still… something. She sighs.

“Used is fine,” she says. The satyr nods and swings into the back room.

With a moment to herself, Fig begins to examine the wall. There’s one right in the middle, shiny and pink and curvy. She scrunches her nose at it and looks at the ones around it. There’re spiky blue ones, thin black ones, one sturdy-looking lime green one on the end. The one that catches her eye the most, though, is a bright red one with a shimmering silver pickguard. She lifts it off the wall with a cautious reverence. The satyr comes back out with a boxy amp with some logo on the speakers. He grins at her.

“Good choice. She matches your horns, don’tcha think?”

She preens at that. This guy is the first person she’s talked to since her horns started coming in. It’s nice to stand out in this way, she decides.

“Now, since this is your first rodeo, I’m gonna give you a little discount. That bass would normally be about 600 gold pieces, but I’m gonna bundle it with the amp and give ‘em both to you for 470. S’that work for you?”

“Yeah, sounds good!” She tries to keep her voice level. She fishes Gilear’s card out of her wallet. The picture on it is some forest in Fallinell. She hands it to the satyr and is immensely grateful when he doesn’t look at it too closely. He slides it across a reader and hands it back to her with a receipt.

“So, you startin’ a band?”

She shakes her head. He raises an eyebrow.

“Might wanna get on that. Nobody’s really into the bass playing solo.” He ruffles her on the head, not avoiding her horns. “Have a good one, okay?”

She nods. She pulls the strap across her shoulder and grabs the amp by its handle.

“Thanks,” she says after a moment’s hesitation.

“No big,” he says. “Stop by anytime.”

A detailed drawing of Fig standing in a music shop, rows of basses behind her and other music paraphernalia around her. She wears a childish pink outfit and holds a shiny red bass with an awed expression.

She hurries into her room when she gets home so that nobody sees her (though she takes a second to put Gilear’s wallet back) and plugs in her amp. She doesn’t really know anything about bass, but she starts working her first two fingers on the strings and pushing on random frets, and it almost feels like breathing. She cranks the volume.

Inevitably, Sandralynn hears her. She knocks first, but when Fig doesn’t respond, she walks in anyway.

“What is— Figueroth Faeth, where did you get that?”

Fig stops plucking. “Who’s my real dad?” Sandralynn makes an aborted sound in her throat.

“Figueroth, you know I can’t tell you that.”

“If you’re not gonna tell me who my dad is, I’m not telling you where I got this sick bass.”

Sandralynn rubs her temples. “Baby, I really can’t tell you. He’s a... dangerous man. The last thing I want is for you to get wrapped up with devil problems.”

Fig puts her bass down on the floor. “I think I’m pretty wrapped up as it is, Sandralynn.”

Sandralynn’s mouth opens. It closes. “Did you just use my first name?”

Fig holds her gaze. She sits on her hands so they won’t shake. Sandralynn exhales, short and weighted. She leaves the room and closes the door behind her.

The summer is tense. Fig doesn’t have any close friends from middle school, so she spends most of her time practicing her bass and researching Hellish politics. Her left hand is heavily calloused by the time freshman year comes around.

She’s going to Aguefort, of course. Nobody as cool as she is goes to Mumple. Both Gilear and Sandralynn offer to take her back-to-school shopping, but she opts for taking 50 gold from each of them and raiding the trash punk store at the Elm Valley Mall. She’s all denim and pleather and spikes by the time she’s out. Sandralynn doesn’t say anything.

She misses the bus on the first day, so Gilear picks her up. His car is tiny, with a dent in the bumper and a lot of empty fast food containers decomposing on the non-driver seats. Actually, there’s a fry container digging into Gilear’s back, too. Fig doesn’t know how he lives like this.

“Figueroth,” Gilear says as they’re turning the corner into the parking lot, “where is your backpack?”

“I don’t have one,” she says. “I have a notebook in my bass case.”

“No pencils?”

“If I need them, I’ll get them from someone. Why do you even care? You’re not my dad.”

Gilear sighs. “I may not be your biological father, but I still raised you as my daughter. I love you very much, Figueroth, and I know you’re going to do well.”

“Okay. I’m gonna go inside.”

She doesn’t look behind her as she enters the school.

She finds her locker right where she left it after orientation, and she pulls it open to paste a few band posters she snagged from outside the Black Pit on the inside of the door. She pulls her pack of cloves out of her bass case, lights one up with the lighter she stole from Sandralynn’s ranger kit, and leans back to take a drag. There’s a brunette walking around with flyers.

“Sign-ups for the Battle of the Bands open next Monday! Winner plays homecoming! Don’t miss your shot!” She hears her say to some elven kid across the hall from her. She props a leg against her locker as the girl comes up to her.

She pushes a flyer in her direction. “Sign-ups for—”

“Battle of the Bands, I heard you.” Fig puts her clove behind her ear. “I’m Fig, who are you?”

The girl flashes a white-toothed smile. “I’m Penelope Everpetal. I run the Yearbook club and, like, a ton of other stuff. Are you interested?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Fig says. “Do you think it’s gonna be cool?”

Penelope laughs. She’s pretty in a sort of airbrushed way. “I’m organizing it, so... duh!” Fig nods.

“Cool. I’ll probably sign up. Just gotta find some other musicians that aren’t super lame.” Penelope smiles and opens her mouth to speak, but she’s interrupted by a rumbling voice from the end of the hallway.

“Yeah, he fuckin’ plays bloodrush, dude, he’s the ball. He’s the fuckin’ ball, dude!” There’s a beefy half-orc with a crew cut gesturing at something Fig can’t see over the sea of students.

“I’m actually not the ball—”

“You’re The Ball, that’s your fuckin’ name now.”

There’s a clattering of metal and a ripple of laughter as Fig watches a small green form fly through the air and into the garbage can. A tiny goblin kid hoists himself out of it and rubs his head. His newsboy cap is a little crooked.

“I suppose I’m technically the ball this time, but not always!” He says, grin toothy and eyes frantically moving through the crowds. Nobody’s really paying attention to him anymore, though. His face falls, but only slightly, and he pulls himself out of the trash. Fig looks back at Penelope.

“Like I said, super lame,” she says. Penelope laughs.

“You’re a bitch, girl. I, like, love it. Do you sing?”

“Uh, yeah, but mostly I play bass.” Penelope gives her a weird look.

“That’s cool, I guess. Well, I’m a senior, so if you need anything, just, like, let me know, okay?” Fig pops a thumbs-up and Penelope steps lightly away.

Fig looks at the flyer in her hands. It’s just some clipart and Fantasy Times New Roman, but she pins it to her locker just the same.

Her first period is Solesian History. She’s never liked history as a class too much. Memorizing arbitrary dates and names has never been her strong suit. The classroom is a little stuffy, but that is due in part to the frankly unreasonable amount of freshman clambering over desks and tossing papers. Fig grabs a seat in the back and drops her feet onto the desk in front of her. Her platforms graze the seatback.

More kids shuffle into the room and find seats. A tiny satyr girl in a huge hoodie blinks at Fig’s shoes.

“Hey, uh, I’m, like, so sorry, but could you, like, move a tiny bit?”

Fig, nearly fully zoned out at that point, startles and looks up. “Huh?”

The satyr shakes her head and clutches her backpack. “Oh, it was nothing, it was so dumb, honestly—”

“Oh! Yeah, I can move. No biggie. I’m Fig, who’re you?” The girl opens her mouth and then closes it. She opens it once more, but this time she speaks.

“I’m Zelda.” Fig crosses her ankles so they take up less space on her desk and Zelda sits down. She places her backpack on the floor next to her hooves. “I, um, like your horns.”

“Oh, these?” Fig turns her eyes upwards. She can’t see them without a mirror, but she can feel their weight, the constant tilt on the left side of her head that she really hopes looks nonchalant. They’ve gotten rapidly longer, twisting into bone-white spears with pink tips. Zelda has horns too, thick ones that curl back in a way that frames her face nicely. “Yeah, they’re pretty rad. Yours are nice, too.”

Zelda smiles. She scrabbles her hand through her bangs and tugs them into her face. Just as she does, a large green form barrels into her side. A half-orc guy in a letter jacket slumps into the desk next to Fig’s.

“Ha, watch it, goat girl!” He says as he throws his arms behind his head. Zelda is hunched in on herself, eyes burning into the wood of her desk. Fig frowns.

“Are you the guy from earlier? With The Ball?” The half-orc groans.

“God. If I get stuck as ‘the guy who threw The Ball’ this year, I’m dropping out for real.”

Fig backpedals. “No, I mean, it ruled. That kid’s a total geek.”

“You don’t even know, man! He was giving out business cards. Like, printed and laminated with his number.” Fig winces on the goblin’s behalf. She kinda feels for him, as far as trouble making friends goes. Not that she’d ever say that to this guy.

“That’s so embarrassing,” she says, because she’s still learning how to do the whole ‘being mean’ thing. The guy seems to agree, though, because he reaches out a calloused hand.

“Ragh Barkrock,” he says. “I play bloodrush. You into bloodrush?”

Fig has vague memories of watching a bloodrush game on a crystal with some of Sandralynn’s friends when she was younger. She grabs Ragh’s hand. “Fig Faeth,” she says. “Bloodrush rules. I love when they, uh, rush. And when there’s blood.”

Ragh narrows his eyes, but Fig’s deception must be higher than his insight because he nods approvingly. “Hell yeah, dude. You get it.”

A bell rings. The class doesn’t quiet down, but Fig takes it as an excuse to stop talking to Ragh. She watches the last of the students file in: a goth elf, a cute butch girl with a unibrow, and a tall dark-skinned girl with fiery hair and wings. That girl sits right in the front row, neatly organizing her notebooks and pens in front of her. Her eyes are huge. They flutter around the room at a hummingbird’s pace. Fig tears her gaze away before any eye contact can occur.

The teacher starts talking. Fig stops listening.

Fig goes through the rest of her morning classes in an herbal haze (not that the cloves get her high. She just likes the flavor). The Intro to Bard Studies class was one she was, mortifyingly enough, excited for. It proves disappointing, though, when the other students are plucking their lutes and tooting their panpipes and the two seniors who effectively run the class are flirting the whole time. Like, nasty theater kid flirting. If she wasn’t so grossed out, she would’ve fallen asleep.

Lunch comes like a parting of clouds. Fig drags herself through the line, really starting to kick herself for not eating breakfast. The unseasoned mashed potatoes make her stomach rumble as the lunch lady scoops it onto her tray.

“Thanks, uh…” Fig scrambles for a nametag. “Doreen! Thank you, Doreen.” She beams and the lunch lady cocks an eyebrow.

“It’s my job, kid.” Her voice is raspy in a cool smoker way.

“Exactly! You’re a shining pillar of the working class among a bunch of stuffy academics.”

Doreen huffs a laugh and then coughs into her shoulder. “Keep the line movin’.”

Fig scans the cafeteria for an open table. She sees a few upperclassmen in their pre-established friend groups, along with several scattered freshman eating alone or together in silence. Near the room’s entrance, she spots Ragh sitting down across from Penelope and a few other blond people. She steps over to their table.

“Hey, Ragh, Penelope.” She nods to both of them. The blond guy next to Penelope looks at her blankly.

“Oh, um… Twig! Hey, girl.” Penelope says. She smiles, but her jaw is set. Fig sits next to Ragh.

“It’s Fig, actually. No big deal, though.” Fig takes a bite of her potatoes. Penelope glances at the blonde elven girl sitting on her other side.

“Okay,” she says. “Well, anyway, this is Aelwyn, and this is my boyfriend, Dayne.” She motions to the girl and the boy as she says their names. Fig nods. She’s been nodding a lot. Her neck kind of hurts. The blond guy— Dayne— speaks up.

“So are you, like, evil?” Fig frowns.

“Depends who you ask, I guess,” she says. “Why?”

“Like—” Dayne motions to the top of his head. “—you know, the horns. Are you, like, a demon?” Penelope takes a slurp of her applesauce. Aelwyn is staring at Fig.

“Actually, I’m part devil—” she starts to say, but Aelwyn cuts her off.

“Why are you sitting here? You’re a freshman.” She turns to Dayne and Penelope, fully ignoring Ragh. “Aren’t you going to make her leave? We were supposed to be putting together a setlist.”

“I don’t mind,” Fig says. She steals a glance at Ragh, who is horking down some chicken and clearly not listening. “Are you guys in a band together?” Aelwyn rolls her eyes.

“Yeah,” Penelope says. “We’re called Local Royalty. We played at the Black Pit once.”

“I play cajon,” Dayne says. “It’s a type of drum. In case you didn’t know.”

“Aelwyn plays ukulele, and we both sing.” Penelope adjusts her hair so it’s out of her face. “We’re, like, really good.”

“What does Ragh play?” Fig asks. She gets a blank look. She turns to Ragh, who has frozen with some bone in his mouth.

“Obviously he’s not in the band,” Dayne says. He reaches across the table and hits Ragh on the arm. “Does he look like he could work an instrument?” Penelope laughs and leans into his side.

“I mean—” Fig starts to say, but Ragh shakes his head.

“He’s right, man. I tried guitar once. It went real bad.”

“Maybe you’re more of a percussionist?” She smiles. Aelwyn shakes her head.

“We already have one. Are you done here?” Penelope shrugs at Fig a little, but doesn’t say anything. Dayne is horking down a chicken finger. Ragh is tapping his fingers on the table.

“Yeah, uh, okay. I have—I mean, I’m meeting someone anyway. Later.” Fig salutes and scrambles to dump her lunch in the trash. She doesn’t feel like asking if she can bring her tray out of the cafeteria, so she doesn’t. She heads for the bathroom and shuts herself in a stall.

She isn’t mad. She most certainly isn’t sad. She closes the toilet seat and sits down on the lid. On the inside of the stall door, a hastily posted sheet of paper advertises the Battle of the Bands. Fig looks at it, hard.

She’s gonna win that fucking battle. She has to.

Chapter Text

“Alright, who can tell me what Bardic Inspiration is?”

Fig rests her chin in her hand and scratches at the dead skin below her lip. The teacher, Ms. Dwimmerwaithe, is tapping her character shoes against the foot of her podium. Several hands pop up from young students with blue pixie cuts and tattoo chokers. Fig slumps further down her seat.

“Ms. Faeth, please. What is Bardic Inspiration?”

Naturally, Fig thinks. She cracks her knuckles on her jaw.

“It’s, like, uh, when you’re a bard and you inspire somebody.”

A stifled laugh ripples across the class. Fig shrugs. If she acts dumb, she doesn’t have to deal with expectations. Ms. Dwimmerwaithe looks towards Fig with a tilted smile.

“Very clever, Figueroth. Would anyone like to expand on that?”

The Goliath senior who sits in the front corner wiggles his thick fingers. “Bardic Inspiration is the use of one’s natural charisma to give allies an advantage in battle,” he says. His tone is impressively flat for a theater kid.

Ms. Dwimmerwaithe closes her eyes and nods. “Thank you, Hargis. I’m glad you remember my lectures from your freshman year. Next time, let’s leave the answering to the students and not the TAs, okay?”

Hargis nods. His face doesn’t shift, but his gaze meets the middle distance and gets comfortable there.

“Now, as Hargis said, Bardic Inspiration is a very useful tool we, as performers, can use to gain a strategic edge. It can make or break a battle if applied wisely.” A hand shoots up from a row in front of Fig. “Yes, Shelford?”

“Yeah. Uhh… Why can’t we use Inspiration on ourselves?” Shelford’s mouth moves like an ocean eroding stone cliffs. It takes him a good twenty seconds to get that sentence out, but nobody cuts him off.

“Excellent question, Mr. Turtleperson! There has been many years of arcane research into why a bard can’t find inspiration in their own song. Does anyone want to take a guess?” Fig raises her hand.

“Yes, Ms. Faeth?”

“Yeah. Can I go to the bathroom?”

Ms. Dwimmerwaithe purses her lips. “Go ahead.” Fig salutes and stretches out of her chair.

The hallway is as empty as it can be. There’s an earth genasi girl at the water fountain and a gnomish guy leaning on a locker and flicking at his crystal. Fig walks past the bathroom and turns the corner. Her head’s on a swivel and her nails are digging into her arms where they’re wrapped around her torso. She pauses in the middle of the Physical Theory hallway, heaving a breath as she listens to the dull clanking of iron and droning lectures.

“Yeah, okay,” she says to no one in particular, and slides through the open door to the Intro to Barbarics class.

The teacher is immersed in his speech, something about embracing your natural rage. Fig feels her ears twitch. She slinks into the nearest available seat, a two-seater desk next to a slouching half-orc. He lifts his head and tilts it at her.

“I’m not even here,” she says with a wink. The hue of his face deepens to an earthy emerald. He fumbles for a moment, but he reaches into his backpack and retrieves a small, lightly dented tin flower.

“I’m Gorgug,” he says. His voice is lighter than you’d guess. His tusks are short, shorter than Ragh’s, and he has a thin strip of white hair near his widow’s peak.

“Fig,” she says. She takes the flower as it’s offered to her. “Did this thing get run over or something?” Gorgug curls in on himself.

“Oh, no reason. I mean, there was this guy, and he was like—I mean, it doesn’t matter. Just a little tussle, I guess,” He says. Fig frowns.

“Why would anyone try to fight you? You seem chill as hell.” Gorgug smiles.

“Beats me. He was talking about his dad. Maybe he was looking for him? I totally get that. It’s important to know who your dad is.”

“That’s really wise, Gorgug—“

“—Thistlespring? Are you in there, bud? Can you answer my question?”

There’s a rousing snicker from the class as the teacher raises his voice and angles his head towards the back corner. Gorgug gulps. His face is a saturated leaf green.

“Gorgug? Were you listening back there?”

“Of course I was! We were talking about, uh, um…” he opens and closes his mouth like he’s pretending to eat in a beginners’ improv course. He looks at Fig with big eyes.

“We were talking about the nature of rage,” she pipes in, leaning an elbow on his shoulder. “An emotion commonly misconstrued as bad, when it’s as natural as any other. Considering these prejudices, choosing to be a barbarian can be very isolating.” She nods at Gorgug. The class is quiet for a moment.

“What’s your name, ma’am?” asks the teacher.

“Fig,” she says.

“Well, Fig, you have an incredible way with words. You clearly have an intimate understanding of the purpose of barbarians in society. If you were on time, or, hell, enrolled in my class, I’d give you an A right now!” Fig beams.

“However, since you aren’t, I’m gonna have to send you to the guidance counselor. Attendance is important, little lady.”

Fig makes an offended sound.

“And, Gorgug, try to focus for the rest of class. Ms. Fig isn’t going to be here to save you from your inattention next time.”

Fig makes another offended sound, but this time she’s looking at Gorgug.

“Don’t listen to him,” she says, “You’re smart. Keep trying!” The teacher walks to their desk and places a yellow slip in front of her.

“Run along, kid,” he says. She glowers and snatches the paper off the table. She gives Gorgug one more heavy look before turning on her squeaky heels and finding herself in the hallway.

Once she’s made herself an island once again, she flattens the slip against her palm and bores her eyes into it. It’s been written on in a sharp, hurried pen. It reads, “Jawbone—disrupting class, skipping”. There’s an indecipherable signature at the bottom starting with a large P. She crumples the paper and shoves it into her shallow pocket.

She wanders for a while. The halls are clammy even when empty. She can feel her hair sticking to the back of her neck. She finds herself next to the cafeteria. There’s an exit door that leads down the sidewalk to the bloodrush field. She pushes on the handle and, when it proves unlocked, steps out into the late summer air.

There are a few kids out on the field tossing a ball back and forth. The grass alongside the path is tall and yellow. In the other direction from the field, there’s a small parking lot with a few dumpsters. She wades through the weeds, letting them tickle her knees and squish under her boots, until she arrives in the lot.

She pulls her lighter out from her bass case and places a clove between her first two fingers. She holds the fire on the end of the cigarette and inhales. It really doesn’t have any mood-altering capabilities, but the motions are starting to become habitual. She tugs her crystal out of her pocket, dislodging the yellow slip. It flutters onto the pavement. She checks her notifications. They’re empty.

“Hey, can I take a hit?”

Fig jumps and makes an uncool noise. She places a hand over her chest and snaps her gaze towards the source of the noise. He’s a stout firbolg in a drug rug and sandals. He’s leaning nonchalantly against one of the dumpsters with his hands in his pockets. She glares at him. He cracks a smile.

“Find your own shit, dude,” she says. She chews at the paper in her mouth. The guy puts two hands up in a surrender.

“Hey, chillax! It’s called small talk.” He shuffles his feet. “I haven’t seen you around. You a freshman?”

She nods.

“Nice, dude! It’s good that somebody’s gonna carry on my legacy.”

“What ‘legacy’?”

“Ah, you know!” He does a shaka. “Sticking it to the school board. Shaking up the status quo. Providing the people with weed.”

Fig nods. “Right. Obviously. And your name is…?”

The firbolg wipes his hand on his cargo shorts and holds out a big hand. “Ficus. You’ve probably heard of me.” He frowns as Fig takes his (dry, mossy) hand. “Actually, you probably haven’t. It’d be bad for business if I got caught.”

“Naturally,” she says. She has never been around weed before. The smell is familiar and strong, but not altogether unpleasant. She inhales some clove.

“Anyway, I’m sure we’ll get along great. We’re pretty similar.” He grins at her. She swallows.

“Yeah, man,” she says. “Uh, I gotta get to the bathroom, so.” She hefts her case onto her shoulder and nods before scampering back inside. She drops her clove on the ground outside the door. Lunch is in session as it swings shut behind her.

She shakes her hands in front of her torso until she stops feeling awful and steps into the cafeteria. It’s already super busy. She does her best to slide through the crowds with unnoticeable fluidity towards Doreen’s lunch line. It’s pizza today.

“There’s my favorite lunch lady,” she says as she snags a tray.

“I’m the only lunch lady,” Doreen says. She slaps two slices of four-cheese onto her tray.

“And shouldn’t we be so lucky!” Fig insists. She scoots out of the line as quickly as possible and scans the room. Penelope and her friends are just where they were yesterday. Other small groups seem to be forming. In the far corner, there’s a mostly empty table—save for, of course, the hunched-over half-orc in a hoodie eating a sandwich.

“Hey, Gorgug, can I sit here?” She wiggles her fingers against her tray. Gorgug doesn’t respond. He’s wearing a pair of heavy-duty headphones. She taps his arm. He whips around.

“Huh?” He says, pulling one speaker off of his ear. “Oh, Fig! What’s up?”

“Can I sit here?” She repeats. He nods and scoots over. She hunkers down.

“Hey, thanks for helping me out in class today,” he says. “I would’ve beefed that for sure.”

“Don’t mention it,” she says. She takes a bite of her pizza. “So you’re a barbarian?”

He nods. “Yeah. It comes pretty easily to me.” He pauses. “I think that means I have unresolved anger issues or something. It’s something I need to work on.” Fig scoffs.

“Isn’t the whole point of being a barbarian having a productive outlet? Besides, being angry’s totally fine. I’m angry, like, all the time!” Gorgug laughs.

“I guess so. I think it’s cool how you’re so open to other classes. Some people are kind of mean about it.”

“That’s so dumb, man. Everybody’s good at different stuff. It would be so boring if we were all, like, wizards.” She bumps their shoulders together. “And, for the record, I think you’ll be a great barbarian. I know you’re gonna do a good job.”

He bites his lip. Lunch is pleasant. Fig’s forgotten all about Penelope by the time the bell chimes.

Her next period is open. She considers going back outside, but she doesn’t feel like she’s earned the right to get high on school property yet. Instead, she buys some shrimp puffs from the vending machine and kicks around until she finds a comfortable corner to crouch in. She stretches her legs at the end of a row of lockers next to a thick door.

The floor is cool and smooth. She pops open the bag of puffs and pops a few in her mouth. They taste about as good as you’d expect, but she needs something to fiddle with so she eats the whole bag. Her fingers and thighs are covered in orange-pink powder by the time she’s shaking the crumbs down her throat. As she does so, she feels an impact against her calves.

“Jesus! Uh, sorry.” She looks up to see a blonde elven girl with an overstuffed messenger bad grimacing down at her.

“Oh, it’s fine,” Fig says. The girl nods and steps over her legs to hustle down the hallway. As she does, another figure emerges from the door she’s hunkered next to. It’s a tall wolf-looking guy in a cable-knit sweater and a steaming mug in his hand. He watches the elf girl go down the hallway, and then smiles down at Fig.

“Hey there!” He says. “Are you here for a meeting?”

“Uh, I was just sitting,” she says. She shrugs. He tilts his head.

“I have gummy worms in there,” he indicates to the room behind him. Fig bites her lip.

“Yeah, okay,” she says, and follows him through the door.

The room’s decorations immediately give away this guy’s position as guidance counselor. There’s a breathing exercise charm on the desk, expanding and deflating in time with an ideal lung pattern. There’s a little basket with fidget toys in it on the table, and plenty of motivational posters litter the walls. She sits in the green cushioned seat.

“So, my name’s Jawbone. I’m the guidance counselor here.” The note from the barbarian class burns in her pocket, but she just nods. “I think it’s important to form a relationship with every student here. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”

Fig kicks her legs over the arm of the chair. “I’m Fig,” she says. “I’m a freshman. Gonna be a bard.”

“That’s great! Are you more of an actor or a musician?”

“I’d say musician.”

“What do you play?”

“Bass.”

“I bet you’re really good. Are you thinking about that Battle of the Bands?”

“I guess, yeah.” She’s unnerved by how pleasant this guy is. She pulls a clove from her case and lights it. Jawbone raises an eyebrow, but he doesn’t move to stop her. “Why are you a wolf?”

“Well, I have lycanthropy,” he says. It’s clear this isn’t the first time he’s answered this question. “Which is a condition that transforms your physical form into that of a werewolf. It can be pretty painful. I stay in wolf-mode 24/7 to raise awareness and build acceptance.”

“That’s actually kinda metal,” she says. He laughs.

“I agree! You know, the first step towards health is acknowledging what your problems are.”

“Huh.” She takes a hit. “Alright, well, it was nice meeting you.” As she stands up, Jawbone leans across his desk and takes her hand. His paws are soft.

“It was my pleasure, Fig,” he says, “please come back anytime.”

She leaves, and then realizes she didn’t even get a gummy worm.

She takes the bus home, but gets off before her stop. She shuffles through town with her hands in her pockets until she reaches Riff Town. It looks mostly the same as she remembers, just with a minutely different selection. The satyr guy is talking to a tortle about maracas, so she browses blindly until she finds what she’s looking for. She trots up to the counter. The satyr sees her and clambers behind the register.

“Hey, horns!” He says. “It’s been a while. How’s the bass treating you?”

“We get along just fine,” she says. She places the wooden drumsticks on the counter. “These are for a friend.”

The satyr grins. “Getting a band together?”

“We’ll see.”

“Dope. That’ll be twenty even.”

She pulls some rusty gold pieces from her pockets. She has just enough to cover it. The satyr puts the sticks in a little pouch and places them in her hands. “Give ‘em hell, little lady.”

She walks home and ignores Sandralynn until she has to leave the next morning, and then, in the car, ignores her some more. She races into the building and keeps her head on a swivel until she sees Gorgug.

“Hey, man!” She says, racing up to him. His headphones are already around his neck, so he hears her just fine.

“Fig!” He says, “what’s up?”

“I got these for you,” she says, handing him the sticks in their pouch. He opens the drawstring and looks at them.

“Cool. What are they?”

“They’re for drumming,” she explains, and he nods. “We were talking about, uh, rage, and I feel like if you think barbarian-ing isn’t your favorite outlet, you could get some energy out with these.”

He pulls them out and taps at his locker. “That’s really thoughtful,” he says. “Thank you!”

“We could play together, if you want,” she says quickly. “I’m trying to get a band together for the Battle. Totally no pressure, but it’d be fun to jam with you.” Gorgug looks at her with big eyes. He pulls her into a tight hug.

“I would love that, Fig,” he says. She places a hand on the small of his back.

And so it begins.

A drawing of Fig and Gorgug standing together in the empty Aguefort hallway. Fig holds out two drumsticks with a big smile as Gorgug sheepishly accepts them.

Chapter Text

Fig spent all of her lunch money on Gorgug’s drumsticks. No way in hell is she telling him that, so she spends a few lunches pretending to have eaten a big breakfast. Gorgug, thank god, doesn’t ask questions. He’s a phenomenal listener.

It’s during one such lunch period that Fig and Gorgug are walking together to the drinking fountain. Gorgug walks with his head down, but his eyes are crinkled in a smile. Fig leans against the fountain as Gorgug leans to take a drink. From around the corner, she hears a twangy strum. She pats Gorgug on his shoulder and peeks around the wall.

There’s a few kids sitting in a circle. They’re all human, and they’re all kinda crunchy. One of them, a buff redhead in a tie-dye shirt, is strumming a guitar with long excess strings hanging off of the tuning pegs. She hums something, and then sings:

“The corn is my shepherd, I shall not want!”

Her group echoes her. Fig deflates a little. Helio freaks. She listens a moment longer to the progression, noting the sweet major seventh chords the girl plucks down the neck. She’s pretty good. This is doubly proved by the small crowd that approaches.

“We’ll walk in kernels, we’ll walk with pride!” She finishes. There’s a tiny ripple of applause. She laughs.

“You guys are so sweet!” She says. “If anybody wants to come to my youth group tonight, I’ll make sure to get you the address.” Fig watches as the crowd disperses. The redhead shrugs and plays a little finger-style riff.

“What’s going on?” Gorgug says from behind her. She turns around and smiles.

“I’m in recruiting mode. I have to keep my ears open.” She tugs on some of her piercings. Gorgug nods.

“That girl’s in my Greater Solesian Lit class. Her name’s Kristen.”

“I don’t think I’ll actually ask her. I mean, look at her.” Gorgug looks at her. She’s talking to the kid next to her in the circle, smiling and tugging at her hair. “Doesn’t she look a little… I don’t know, homophobic?”

“You can tell that just by looking at people?” Gorgug’s eyes are wide. Another thing Fig likes about Gorgug: he always says what he means. It’s usually nice to not have to wonder. This time, it just makes her feel a little guilty.

“Well, no. I just know a lot of Helioics who think I’m going to hell. Not because I’m a devil, or anything, but because I’m bisexual.” She makes a sour face. Gorgug blinks, and then sets a hand on her soldier.

“I’m honored that you trusted me with information about your identity. I support you one hundred percent.” He stares at her as he speaks, but his eyes look a little glazed.

“Oh, I didn’t realize I hadn’t told you. Yeah, man, no biggie.” He nods.

“I learned from my parents the best thing to say to someone when they come out. I’m trans,” he explains, and Fig grins.

“Well, whaddaya know! I really know how to pick ‘em.” She slings an arm around his waist and the two of them walk back to the cafeteria.

Later, Fig’s in Fantasy Algebra. The teacher is talking animatedly about ancient Baronies philosophy, fully ignoring the class, so Fig leans over to where the cute butch from her history class is sitting.

“Hey, what are we supposed to do for that timeline assignment?” She asks. The girl looks at her and tilts her head. “I’m in your history class. Sorry,” Fig adds. The girl nods.

“Oh, right! You sit in the back, yeah?” Fig nods. “Cool. Yeah, the teacher didn’t explain it very well. Basically, it’s just a diagram of the major battles in the Solace/Red Wastes War. I’m Tracker, by the way.”

“Cool! I’m Fig. Do we have to use colored pencils?”

“I think he said so, but it probably doesn’t actually matter.”

“Dope.” Fig takes out her folded sheet of craft paper from her bass case and bites her lip. “Got a pen I can borrow?” Tracker gives a thumbs up and hands her a blue grippy pen. She draws a line across the center of the paper. She gets bored immediately and leans back over.

“Did you see that girl with the guitar at lunch?” She asks, because she’s really out-of-the-loop gossip-wise.

“Oh, yeah. She’s pretty cute, right?”

Fig scoffs. “Sure, if you’re into the condemnation of same-gender relationships.”

Tracker laughs. “Oh, that girl’s just confused. She’ll be a dyke by the end of the semester, I promise.”

“What?” Fig hisses. The dwarven girl in the seat ahead of her turns around and shushes her, but the teacher doesn’t pay them any mind. Tracker laughs.

“Dude, did you look at her? She was wearing cargo shorts and off-brand Fantasy Birkenstocks. She was playing folk music! She was practically announcing that she’s a lesbian.”

“I really hadn’t thought of it that way,” Fig says, “but I guess you could be right. Sometimes granola lesbians look the same as transphobic camp counselors.”

“Tell me about it,” Tracker sighs. She rests her head on the table. “Women are so confusing.”

Fig laughs. The teacher moves his hands in an exuberant arc, still talking about word roots. She’s half-relieved. She really hates doing math. She stares at the paper on her desk, a thick line separating its two halves. She puts her arms over it, and her head on her arms. She lays, unsleeping, with her eyes closed until the bell rings.

She scurries out of the room before the teacher can ask any questions and starts down the hall. She has Bardic Studies next. Well, she’s supposed to. She lingers by her locker and checks her crystal. No messages. She puts it back in her pocket. There’s a tap on her shoulder. She turns to see Zelda.

“Hey, girl,” Fig says, grinning. “What’s shakin’?”

Zelda laughs, swallows, takes a breath. “Hey, um, this is literally so stupid. Actually, you probably have class, I should just go, I’m so stupid—“

“Whoa, hold up!” Fig places a hand on Zelda’s shoulder and grips it when she doesn’t shrug away. “I don’t have a class right now. Also, you’re, like, not stupid. I watch you take notes in History. You should frame them. They’re gorgeous.”

Zelda tugs her hair out of her eyes, and then back into them. “Oh, thank you.”

“So what did you wanna ask me?”

“Oh. Well… Oh my God, okay, this is so embarrassing. You’re friends with Gorgug, right?”

Fig nods.

“He’s pretty cool, isn’t he?”

“The coolest,” Fig confirms.

“Oh. Ha, uh, awesome. Could you, like, give this to him? But please don’t read it.” Zelda’s eyes are huge and brown. She has long eyelashes. Fig takes a tiny slip of crumpled college-ruled paper from Zelda’s trembling hand and grins.

“No prob, man!”

Zelda blinks rapidly. “Oh, uh, yeah. Thanks.” She tugs at the front of her hoodie a little and nods before scampering off. Fig watches her go. The hallway is almost empty at this point. She flips the paper between her fingers and makes a decision. She walks to the Phys Theory hallway and slides into the room just as the bell rings.

“Gorgug!” She whispers, knocking into his side. He looks up at her and frowns.

“You’re gonna get in trouble!” He says, and she waves her hand dismissively.

“Me? Never.” She presents the paper to him. “Zelda Donovan wanted me to give this to you.”

He takes it hesitantly. “I think she’s in my Practical Applications of Barbarics,” he says slowly. “Is she mad at me?”

“Didn’t seem like it,” Fig grins. She hears the teacher start talking and ducks her head down, pretending to take notes.

“A large part of Barbarics, as I’m sure you’ve all come to learn, is protecting others. We, as barbarians, make it our duty to take the hits others can’t. Let’s see… Hm, Gorgug. Can you give me an example of a time you’ve stood up for someone? Doesn’t have to be big.”

Gorgug thinks. “I guess in middle school I kept some of the scrawnier kids from getting harassed by being a bigger target.”

There’s a chuckle around the room, but not a mocking one. It seems like that’s a common experience for kids like this. The teacher nods.

“That’s a good point, Gorgug. When you’re big, like most of us are, especially from a young age, people around us can get nasty. Do you think you were looking out for those kids on purpose, or was it because you felt like it was all you were good for?”

“I haven’t thought about it. I don’t really know.”

“That’s alright, kid. It’s a toughie. Anyone else?”

A half-elf at the front of the room raises her hand. “I went to a high elf school, and a lot of the other girls were mean to me because I work out. They thought it was weird that I was masculine. I ended up keeping an eye on pretty much everyone who didn’t fit their freaky standards.”

The teacher claps his hands together once. “Very good, Samira. Thanks for sharing. Can I get a show of hands for students in here who decided to be a barbarian under similar circumstances? Only if you’re comfortable.”

A little over half of the room raises their hands, Gorgug included. Fig looks over this small sea of kids her age, having done more to help the people around them than Fig’s done in her whole life. She thinks of the times at Oakshield when she would whisper about kids who ate alone at lunch. She stares at her notebook. She’s very aware of her horns.

“And yet, we do it anyway,” the teacher says, drawing out the syllables. “As barbarians, we look out for those around us, no matter what they’ve done to deserve it. For example, covering for students trying to skip classes.” Fig looks up sharply. The teacher’s eyes are on her. She looks at Gorgug, who is blissfully unaware.

“Please don’t throw Gorgug under the bus because of me,” she says quickly, “he didn’t do anything.”

The teacher makes a ‘hmm’ sound. “Looking out for your friend,” he says contemplatively. “It really can go both ways. That makes for great party composition.” Fig can see in her periphery that Gorgug is facing her. “I’m afraid I’m still gonna ask you to get back to class, Ms. Faeth.” He scribbles up another paper and walks to the back of the room to hand it to her. She takes it, glances at a slack-jawed Gorgug once more, and leaves.

She doesn’t go back to Bard class. She thinks about it, but the idea of everyone watching her walk through the door makes her skin crawl. If she’s gonna be a delinquent, she’s not gonna half-ass it. She heads to the gender-neutral bathroom and leans against the sink. She glances around the room for smoke detectors before lighting up a clove. She stays there until the bell rings, when she carefully tucks the butt of her cigarette into a paper towel and puts it in the garbage. She races to the cafeteria.

“My lady!” Fig beams at Doreen, who smiles and silently puts an extra scoop of fruit salad on her tray. She dashes to the table where Gorgug is slurping something from a thermos.

“Sorry for making your class weird today,” she says as she sits next to him. He swallows his mouthful and shrugs.

“I think Porter should lay off of you a little,” Gorgug says. “I mean, if you wanna multiclass, that’s cool.”

“So that’s his name,” Fig says, “Porter…” Gorgug smiles. They eat silently for a moment. “Hey, what was Zelda’s note about?”

Gorgug’s face goes dark leaf-green. Fig gasps. “Oh my God, tell me!”

“I don’t know,” he says with a sigh. “I’m worried she only likes me because I’m beefy. What if we actually talk and she thinks I’m a freak?”

“Zelda isn’t like that,” Fig says. She feels defensive, suddenly. “Zelda’s super cool. Obviously she is, because she likes you!” She elbows Gorgug, who laughs. Another laugh sounds from in front of them, and Kristen from the guitar circle sits across from them.

“Totally, guys, what’s up?” She opens a tupperware with a small pot pie in it and digs into it with her plastic fork. Fig and Gorgug look at her.

“Oh, sorry! Super rude of me. I’m Kristen Applebees. What are your names?”

“Gorgug Thistlespring.” Kristen offers her hand, which he shakes.

“Fig,” says Fig, hands at her sides.

“Awesome names, gang.” She takes a bite of her pie. “So, what are we talking about?”

After a glance between the two of them, Gorgug speaks: “I guess we were talking about the Battle of the Bands,” he says. Fig clenches her jaw minutely.

“Dope, dope.” Kristen says. “You know, I was kinda thinking about it, but the only band that wanted me was my youth group, and I wanna branch out this year. You know, public school! Seeing the world! Making friends outside the faith!” She adjusts her ponytail.

“That’s cool,” Gorgug says.

“I assumed Helio doesn’t let you talk to folks who aren’t believers,” Fig says. She shifts in her seat. She tries to remember what Tracker said during Algebra, but she can’t help but be wary of this girl.

“Helio calls us to love everyone,” Kristen says, making firm eye contact. “As one of His chosen, I like to lead by example.” Fig looks at Gorgug, who looks back at her. Kristen tilts her head.

“Do you guys have some kind of Morse code mental link, or—“

“You should join our band!” Fig bursts out. Kristen looks delighted.

“Oh, that sounds great! What kinda music do you make?”

“Punk,” Fig says, at the same time that Gorgug says “Heavy metal.”

“That rules,” Kristen says. “Mostly I do folk, but I really wanna expand my musical horizons.”

“Folk punk is good,” Fig offers, and then glances at Gorgug. “We can mix all of them. Like, heavy bass, lots of screaming, nice chords.”

Gorgug pats the table with a smile, and Kristen giggles.

“My youth group is gonna flip,” she says. “Maybe you guys can come to our next meeting! Every Wednesday at six—“

“Can’t wait to play with you, Kristen, gotta go to the bathroom, bye!” Fig dumps her leftover scraps of food into the garbage and hustles down the hallway. There’s really only so much she can take.

A

She heads back to the vending machine and punches in an order for some cheese pretzels. They clatter into the receptacle and she picks them up. She leaves her extra copper in the coin slot. She probably doesn’t need it. As she turns, she jumps. Jawbone, the guidance counselor, is standing behind her.

“That’s very generous,” he says. “You’re a good kid, Fig.”

She shifts her eyes to his feet. He’s not wearing shoes. His feet are big and furry. She wonders if he has those little jelly beans like cats do. “Thanks.”

“Porter shot me a Message,” he says. “You know you wouldn’t have been in trouble if you’d shown me your note the first time, right?”

She stiffens. She feels something hot in the back of her throat. It makes perfect sense, obviously. Adults are dishonest and cruel. Of course Porter would sell her out.

“Can you come with me to my office?”

Inside, she helps herself to some gummy worms while Jawbone is shutting the door. She shoves a few into her pocket as he sits down, then takes out a clove and her lighter. If she’s gonna have her time wasted, she may as well have fun. Jawbone sighs and cracks the window open.

“So, what’s going on?”

Fig doesn’t look at him.

“Fig, I’m here to support you. I can’t do that if I don’t know what you’re struggling with.”

“I’m not struggling,” she snaps. He nods.

“Alright,” he says. “So what do you like about Barbarian classes? If you’re interested in a curriculum change, you should get in contact with the front office. Goldenhoard manages the schedules.”

Fig is silent. He scratches the back of his neck.

“Well, either way, I’m afraid the standard disciplinary measures for this kind of repeated offense will be a detention. You’ll be held after school today, but just today. I know you’re sharp, Figueroth.”

“Is that all?” She asks. Jawbone nods and hands her a slip. She stands quickly and walks out the door.

The detention room is a big classroom, she thinks it’s for Advanced Wizardry if the bookshelves are anything to go by. She picks a seat close to the door and leans back. The ceiling has a little water stain. There are a few other kids in the room with her: a stiff looking Lizardfolk guy, a tiny centaur girl with a braided tail, and Ragh Barkrock. He’s sitting in the back with his heels on the seat in front of him. The detention advisor is a Bugbear in a clip-on tie. He seems half-asleep.

“Think about what you’ve done,” he mumbles without looking up from his thick novel. Fig takes out her crystal and flicks through her apps until she’s exhausted all of her options. She turns around.

“Hey, Ragh,” she whispers. Ragh looks up.

“Hey,” he says.

“Why do you have detention?”

“Why do you care?”

“I’m just making conversation.”

“Maybe you should mind your fucking business, freshman.”

“Okay, fuck off. You’re the one who’s in my history class.”

“Shut the hell up!” Ragh takes his feet off of the desk and leans forward, smacking his fist against the table. The advisor shushes him half-heartedly. He leans back again. “Say one more word about my grades and you’re fucking dead.”

Fig glares. She feels a thick heat from her throat up to her sinuses and watches from the corner of her eyes as gray smoke spills from her nostrils. She clamps a hand over her lower face.

“What was that?” Ragh’s eyes are big. Fig blinks, then steels herself.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, man. I’m not gonna go around telling people that you have trouble in school. Everybody learns differently. Don’t talk shit about yourself, and don’t even think about talking shit about me.” She lets the smoke spill out of her mouth as she speaks, and then turns around.

“What the fuck,” she mouths, and pulls out her crystal again to Fantasy Google tiefling abilities. Her facial cavities are cool once again.

It’s uncomfortably quiet for the next two hours. A tiny ding comes from the advisor’s crystal, and he shoos them out of the room. She waits until Ragh is out the door and she can’t hear his footsteps before she gets up and runs to the parking lot. Gilear’s old clunker is waiting for her. She hops in the passenger seat.

“Figueroth,” he says. She exhales.

“What, am I grounded for a week? You’re not even my dad. You can’t do that.” Gilear tightens his grip on the wheel, but relaxes as he turns into the road.

“You’re not grounded.” He turns on the radio (Solesian Public Radio as always) and turns it down to the lowest volume. “Why have you been skipping?”

She doesn’t respond.

“Figueroth?”

She looks out the window.

“Alright,” Gilear says, resigned. “But I want you to know something. I am proud of you, whether or not you want me as your father. I know you can do better than this. That’s the reason I’m disappointed in you.”

Fig exhales. “Better than what?”

“Better than playing hooky and smoking in the counsellor’s office.”

“So Jawbone snitched on me?”

“Jawbone likes you, Fig. He can see you’re a kind young woman.”

“If he likes me so much, he should keep my business to himself.”

“Fig, all anyone wants is for you to stay healthy.”

“That’s not what Mom wants,” she says. “Mom wants me to be a regular wood elf girl who wears regular clothes and listens to regular music.”

“I don’t think that’s true. She just wants you to talk to her.”

“Not until she talks to me.”

They drive the rest of the distance to Sandralynn’s place. Gilear parks outside and stares out the windshield for a moment.

“Your mother made a mistake. She’s ashamed, yes, but not of you.” He looks at Fig and places his hand on the center console. She takes it. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

She squeezes his hand, and then leans over to kiss his shoulder. “Thanks, Gilear. Sorry for my attitude.” She unbuckles and heads inside.

“Fig—“ Sandralynn says, standing in the kitchen, but she’s already halfway up the stairs.

Chapter Text

“Let me into your band.”

Fig, Gorgug, and Kristen stare at the blonde elf who’s currently leaning over their lunch table, round face flushed and bony arms trembling. Kristen looks at her two compatriots, then reaches out a hand.

“I’m Kristen,” she says. The girl snaps her head to look at her.

“I know.” She huffs a breath. “I really need to join your band.”

“Sorry, who are you?” Fig asks.

“Adaine Abernant,” Adaine says. Fig snaps her fingers.

“Oh, you’re Aelwyn’s sister, right? I see you with Jawbone—“

“Yeah, whatever,” she says quickly. “Seriously. Can I join your band?”

“Do you sing?” Gorgug asks. Fig waves her hand at him.

“We already have a vocalist. What can you offer us?”

“I can sing, I guess, but I was thinking I’d play trombone.”

Fig looks to Kristen, and then to Gorgug. Kristen’s grinning. Fig looks back at Adaine.

“Very interesting. The council will consider your application. Can I have your number?”

“Very forward,” Gorgug says with an approving nod. Fig smacks him.

“I’ll text you when we have more information.”

“Formal,” Adaine says. Fig hands her the crystal and she types her number into it. “Uh, well, bye.” She’s power-walking away before Kristen can even evangelize.

“I don’t know,” Fig says.

“Me neither,” Gorgug says. “We should probably hear her play first, right? Should we break into the band room?”

“I don’t have time for schemes this week,” Fig says.

“Breaking and entering is a crime,” Kristen says, and then glances around nervously. “Which is totally cool! I’m accepting of all lifestyles.”

“We could do an audition,” Gorgug suggests. “Nobody ever uses the choir room after class. I’ve napped there a few times.”

“That sounds great!” Kristen says. She clasps her hands together and wiggles them back and forth. “I’m so excited. We could totally use her to sound more jazzy.” Gorgug nods. Fig chews on her chicken strips.

She doesn’t see Adaine for the rest of the day. Her classes are slow and sticky. She moves through the building in a stiff half-focused haze. She probably should’ve had breakfast.

She takes the city bus home. She types song title ideas into her crystal and cranks her earbuds. She hums along to her music. Every time she misses a note she digs her fingernails into her knee. There are deep red crescents by the time she gets home. Sandralynn is sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through mail. She turns sharply as Fig closes the door.

“Fig, come here,” she says. Fig turns towards the stairs to her room. Sandralynn stands up, her chair scratching against the floor. “Figueroth, this is getting ridiculous.”

She stands with her foot on the bottom step and clutches the railing with one hand. “What?”

“I just got your quarterly report. Why are you failing Intro to Bardics?”

Fig swallows. “I don’t know.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Sandralynn takes a few heavy steps, stops, and breathes. “Fig, I want to help you, but you’re making it so difficult.”

“I don’t need help,” Fig says. “It’s a stupid class.”

“But you aren’t a stupid girl!” Sandralynn says. “I’m only upset with you because I know you can be better.

“Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe I’m just as much of a fuck-up as you secretly think I am!”

“Jesus, Fig,” Sandralynn rubs the bridge of her nose between two fingers. “You aren’t a fuck-up. You’re just confused right now.”

“All I’m confused about is who my fucking dad is.”

“Enough!” Sandralynn moves her hands rapidly to her sides, fists clenched. Fig shrinks back. “Your father is Gilear. More importantly, your mother is me. I brought you into this world, and I raised you, and I am not going to let you have a tantrum and throw your life away!”

Fig presses her lips into a thin line. Sandralynn stands firm, but her eyes are scanning around frantically. Fig turns around and opens the front door.

“Fig.” Sandralynn warns.

She steps outside, and then bolts. The highway is starting to get busy at this hour, so she keeps off the shoulder and lets the weeds scratch her calves as she goes. She rubs her eyes, hard, and when they water she shifts the blame to her hands. She arrives in the middle of town. Her lungs burn. She leans against the side of a building.

The sun is starting to go down. She looks down the road as streetlight after streetlight clicks on. An orange wash covers the earth. Shop windows cast reflections of merchandise onto the nearly trimmed grass. Fig does her best to steady her breathing, willing away the charred smell in her throat, and pushes herself away from the brick wall. She turns the corner and walks into the building: it’s a little ice cream place called Basrar’s. She sits at the counter. A frosty-skinned man appears in front of her.

“Welcome to Basrar’s, young lady! I am Basrar. What is it you wish?”

“I would love a chocolate shake,” She says. Basrar nods and wiggles his fingers. In an instant, a sweaty glass filled with thick chocolate liquid appears next to her hand. She leans over it and pulls the straw into her mouth with her tongue. She takes a sip. It’s perfect.

She glances around the dining area. There are a few families sharing sundaes, couples on hesitant first dates, groups of friends throwing balled-up napkins at each other. There’s one group near a window, slurping freezies and clacking on their crystals. She recognizes some of them, but can’t place where she knows them from. One of them turns around as she looks in their direction. He’s a tiny pixie with straight brown hair. A grin spreads over his face. He has yellow braces, which really seems like a poor color choice for teeth.

“You like what you see?” He calls. His voice is nasally. She gives him an incredulous look and turns back to her shake. She hears a mumble emerge from the group.

“Hey, don’t be like that! I’m talking to you.”

“Can I help you?” She asks, turning once again. He wiggles his fingers and hops out of his seat. Most of his friends remain transfixed, but a goblin kid squashed into the window looks up and frowns.

“My lady, ask not what you can do for me, but what I can do for you!” He’s really short. He heaves himself into the stool next to her. “Biz Glitterdew, at your service.” He offers a hand. She takes it out of politeness. He tugs it towards his face and plants a kiss on her knuckles. She jerks backwards.

“Listen, man, I’m flattered, but I’m not really interested.”

“At least get to know me a little first.” He rests his elbows on the counter and leans towards her. He smells like a parking lot. She pushes her shake away from him. “I love science and math! You’d never have to do homework again.”

“Christ, Biz,” comes a voice, and it’s the goblin kid. He’s wearing a little newsboy cap and his tie is hanging loose around his collar. “Are you trying to barter your way into a girlfriend?”

Biz’s expression sours and he turns. “Jealous much, Gukgak?”

The goblin groans. “You’re being a creep, dude. Lay off.”

“Why don’t I ask the madamoiselle what she’d prefer?” Biz turns back to her and reaches out for her hand again.

“Your friend is right,” she says. Biz’s eyes widen and then narrow. “Sorry, dude.”

“No, this is expected. Classic femoid behavior. I wouldn’t want a slut like you anyway.”

“Biz, honestly, fuck you,” the goblin says. He looks miserable. Fig feels as such. Biz walks back to his table and tugs on a jacket. It has little holes for his wings. The whole group looks pretty weirded out. They start to follow Biz out the door. The goblin trails behind. Fig jumps out of her chair and grabs his shoulder. He stiffens.

“Hey, man, thanks for helping me out there,” she says.

“Yeah,” he says. He turns so that she isn’t touching him anymore. She drops her hand to her side.

“What’s your name?” She asks. He blinks heavily.

“Riz Gukgak,” he says. He fumbles in his vest pocket for a little sheet of paper. It’s a business card. He coughs. “Licensed private investigator. Gotta go.” He hurries out the door. Fig watches him go.

“Oh,” she says to the empty air, “he’s The Ball!”

The next day, she’s in Solesian History. She’s scribbling on a piece of paper, but she’s not listening. The sheet in front of her is dark with doodles of birds, squiggles, and little candy people. She’s immersed in a detailed cotton candy man when she feels a light kick on her ankle. Her head shoots towards the intrusion. Zelda is looking at her with wide eyes.

“Ms. Faeth?” She hears the teacher say. She bites her lip.

“Sorry, could you repeat the question?”

“So you weren’t paying attention. Interesting. Ms. Donovan?”

Zelda mouths a quick “sorry” to Fig and says, “Frostheim wasn’t officially recognized as an independent territory until after the Baronies invasion.”

“Thank you for focusing, Zelda.” The teacher nods, looking pleased, but Zelda sinks in her seat. She turns to Fig again.

“Sorry, oh my God. I really didn’t want that to happen.”

“It’s my fault for zoning out. Thanks, dude.”

Zelda nods, then swallows, then opens her mouth. “Could you maybe not call me ‘dude’? Or ‘man’?” She’s looking past Fig’s shoulder.

“Oh, totally! Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s super fine. I’m being so dramatic. Honestly, like, I know you aren’t trying to misgender me on purpose, so it’s so dumb that it makes me upset.” Fig’s mouth opens slightly.

“Oh my God, no! Thank you for telling me. It’s not dumb.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Zelda says, but she’s smiling.

Class lets out a little early. Fig shoves her papers into her bass case and slings it over her shoulder. She fully intends to spend her extra five minutes lighting up in the bathroom, but as she approaches the front of the room, she’s blocked by someone swinging out of their desk to stand in her way.

“Excuse me,” she says. The person who stood up is the tall Black girl with the fiery hair and wings. Up close, her eyes are smoldering with white-hot flames where the scleras would be. Fig feels her throat closing up.

“You’re Figueroth Faeth,” the girl says. She makes direct eye contact.

“Just Fig,” Fig manages.

“My deepest apologies. I had no idea you went by a nickname.” The girl’s whole face flexes like she’s eaten something sour and relaxes immediately. “I would like to speak to you before you go to your next class.”

“Okay,” Fig says.

“I believe you’ve met my best friend, Adaine Abernant. Is this true?”

“Yeah, at lunch yesterday.”

“Excellent. I believe it is in your best interest to let her into your band.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Adaine is not only a talented trombonist, but a hard worker, an excellent organizer, and a loyal friend. It is important to her that she joins your band, and for that reason I know that she will bring you success.”

“Cool,” Fig says. The girl’s voice is low and clear. Her eyes haven’t left Fig’s face once. “I think she’s doing a kind of audition after school today. Probably it’ll go well. I mean, if she’s as good as you say.”

“It’s good to hold an audition. Obtaining first-hand knowledge of one’s abilities is an easy and fair way to determine whether they will fit with your specifications.” The girl nods. “Thank you for your time, Fig. You are a kind person.” She starts to leave.

“Hang on,” Fig says, and then realizes she has no idea what she wants to say. The girl looks at her. Fig wishes she could read her expression.

“Um, you didn’t mention your name,” she settles on.

“That’s true,” the girl says.

“What’s your name?” Fig asks.

“Ayda Aguefort, assistant at the Aguefort Adventuring Academy Library, freshman wizardry student.” Ayda holds out a hand, which Fig shakes. It’s warm, but not uncomfortably so. Ayda’s eyes spark minutely.

“Are you, like, the principal’s daughter?” Fig asks.

“Arthur Aguefort is my father, yes.”

“Oh. Dope. Well, uh, I’m sure Adaine will make it into the band.”

“You are making the right choice. I owe you a great deal for taking the time to listen.” Ayda nods with a somber expression and walks out of the room, tapping her fingers together. Fig watches her go.

Fig is familiar with the music hallway. Of course she is! She’s a bard. She’s spent many afternoons hunkered in a practice room, trying desperately to figure out some riff or another. She doesn’t have an actual class there, though, because she’s worried that learning theory would lessen her natural abilities and passion. It’s possible. She’s read articles.

The choir room has a tall ceiling and big windows. The chairs are lined up in neat rows and the piano in the center of the room gleams in the afternoon sun. When Fig arrives, Gorgug is already there. He’s accompanied by Adaine, who’s setting out a music stand and shuffling some papers.

“Hi, Fig,” Gorgug says. She waves. Adaine turns around and nods curtly without making eye contact. She’s holding her trombone under one armpit.

“Where’s Kristen?” Fig asks.

“I saw her talking to Coach Daybreak in the hallway,” Gorgug shrugs. Fig frowns.

“The bloodrush coach?” She asks. Gorgug nods. “I didn’t think she was on the team.”

“She’s not. She told me after Alchemical Applications today that they go to church together.”

“That actually makes sense.”

As though summoned by her name, Kristen careens through the door and slides into a plastic chair. She pants for a moment and then grins.

“Sorry I’m late! Our student ministries autumn bash is this weekend. Daybreak just had a few questions.”

“What’s an autumn bash?” Gorgug asks. Fig makes some warning noises from the roof of her mouth.

“Don’t get her going,” she says, “we have to do this audition today.” Kristen laughs.

“I’ll text you the details later. We’d love to have some new folks join, I’m sure.”

Adaine clears her throat. “Can we get started? I have to catch the bus.”

“Yes, please!” Fig places herself in a chair and taps her hands against her knees. Gorgug joins her. Adaine dusts off the front of her pleated skirt. She looks very put-together. Her hands shake as she lifts the trombone to her mouth.

“Uh, should I say the name of the piece?” Adaine asks.

“I don’t think we’d know it anyway,” Gorgug says. Adaine nods and shuffles her feet so that they’re firm on the ground. She puts her mouth against the trombone and starts playing.

Her cheeks are huge as she toots out her tune. Her eyes flicker from squinched to wide from note to note. The sound is clear, and beautiful, and a little sad, and a little angry. She stops watching the sheet music after the first page or so and falls into a smooth and staccato pattern. She ends on a long note, right in the middle of the register, and the trombone shoots to her side matching-band-style. Kristen and Gorgug rise into applause.

“I thought that was really good!” Gorgug says, and then, in a conspiratorial stage whisper: “but, then again, that’s just the impression that I get.”

Adaine laughs, loud and toothy, and quickly bites her lip. She’s still smiling, though.

“Am I missing a reference here?” Fig asks, because that sentence didn’t seem funny at a surface level. Gorgug turns and grins.

“Ska,” he says, and Fig decides to refrain from further questions.

“Was that okay?” Adaine asks. Her tone is just left of nervous, veering onto the median of defensiveness. Fig taps her chin.

“Can you sing a couple bars of something? You know, just in case I need backup.” Adaine looks briefly ill.

“Yeah, sure. Just… anything?”

“Something that makes you happy,” Kristen says, hand over her heart. Fig closes her eyes so that she doesn’t roll them. Adaine clears her throat. It makes a weird noise. She laughs.

“Oh, god. I didn’t warm up. This could be, um, oh god.” She grips the lip of her music stand with her free hand and takes in a large breath. Fig can tell she’s rolling for something, but it doesn’t seem like a performance check. It’s over quickly, though, and Adaine straightens herself. “I’m just gonna do some Fantasy Joni Mitchell.”

“Oh, nice,” Kristen says emphatically. Adaine shakes out her hands, opens her mouth, and sings. She closes her mouth when she’s finished. Fig stands up.

“That was really good. Welcome to, uh, the band.” She steps forward and offers a hand. Adaine shakes it.

A drawing of Adaine, Kristen, Fig, and Gorgug. The latter three are sitting in chairs, holding respective expressions of delight, anxiety, and support. Adaine stands nervously, musical notes coming from her mouth to indicate singing. She's awash in a subtle spotlight.

“No name yet?”

“We’re thinking Fig and the Sig Figs,” Gorgug chimes in. Fig nods.

“Working title. Listen, I gotta go, but I’ll see you guys at practice.” She scoops up her backpack and leaves to get on the bus. The bus takes her to her house. She walks into her house, up the stairs, into her room, into her bed. She pulls a pillow over her face and yells until it hurts to yell more. There’s a knock on her door, accompanied shortly thereafter by a creaking of hinges.

“Figueroth?” Sandralynn says. Fig doesn’t say anything. Her throat feels hot again. She wonders, momentarily, if the smoke’s gonna come back and suffocate her in her blankets. She lifts her head. “Jesus, baby,” Sandralynn whispers. The bed dips next to Fig and then there are hands in her hair at the back of her head, only slightly managing subtlety in avoiding her horns. She rolls away.

“Don’t touch me,” she says. Sandralynn inhales sharply, but doesn’t get loud. Instead, she speaks softly.

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Oh, so this you’ll talk about.”

“Fig, please! I want to help you. I miss—“

“Having a normal daughter, I got that.”

“Baby, no! I miss being your mom. I miss you.”

Fig sits up. Her face is sticky. Sandralynn has big, pleading eyes. Fig can almost see herself in the shine, in the way Sandralynn presses her lips together, in the curve of her eyebrows.

“I haven’t gone anywhere,” she says. “I’m right here.” Sandralynn reaches out a hand. Fig turns away again. “Get out of my room.”

It’s still for a moment, and Fig braces herself. No shouting comes, though. There are footsteps and the sound of a door clicking shut. Fig crumples in on herself. She cries until she doesn’t. She sleeps until she wakes up.

Chapter Text

“Basically, Falinell uses its magic to protect its own borders from any kinds of meteorological events, but it doesn’t pass those defenses to any other nations.”

“Good work, Zayne,” the history teacher says. Zayne Darkshadow wipes his hands on his zipper-ridden pants and removes his crystal from the projection port. “I hope you all are taking notes on these presentations. This is gonna be on the test.”

Fig is not taking notes. Fig isn’t even doodling. Her cheek is pressing into the dry hardwood of her desk and she’s curling the corner of some paper between her fingers.

“Hey, Fig,” comes Ragh’s voice. She lifts her head.

“Mm?”

“Can I get a pencil?” He’s gnawing on his lip.

“You’re actually taking notes?” Fig asks. It comes out meaner than she wanted it to. He frowns.

“So what?”

“So, give it back after class.” She doesn’t mention that all of her pencils are on permanent loan from Zelda. He takes it and spins it in his hands.

“Okay,” he says. He shoots her a final perturbed look before scratching something into his notebook. She lies face-down again, squashing her nose. She gets called on to present after a while, and she mumbles something about forgetting. She hadn’t forgotten. She just couldn’t make herself do it.

In Fantasy Algebra, Fig writes the number four over and over again whenever the teacher passes her desk. Tracker leans over and taps Fig’s arm.

“What did you get for number three?” She asks. Fig snorts.

“No fucking clue. Math and I don’t get along.” Tracker smiles knowingly.

“That’s fair. Hey, are you coming to the game tonight?”

“What game?”

“The bloodrush game. First home game of the season!”

“I didn’t know you were a sports fan.”

“Oh, I love sports! Not bloodrush, though. I’m more of a fantasy softball girl, myself. I’m just going to see Kristen.” Fig exhales a laugh through her nose.

“Get some,” she says. She gives Tracker a high five. Tracker smiles.

“Yeah, maybe. She’s actually really sweet. I think I might ask her out soon.” Fig furrows her brow.

“Hey, you know she’s not… or, I mean, she doesn’t know if she’s into girls yet. She’s still super deep in the corn.” Tracker shrugs.

“Eh. I’m sure I can help speed things along.”

The teacher claps their hands on the blackboard to emphasize whatever equation they’re explaining. Fig lowers her voice. “What time is the game again?”

“It’s at, like, six.”

“I might go, I guess.” Tracker does a Shaka and grins. Fig turns back to her page and holds an empty stare in its direction until the bell rings.

She finds herself walking on autopilot in the direction of the Bardic Studies classroom, but stops sharply in her path halfway there. She’s forgotten about a spell project that was due that day. She was going to learn Fear and do a big presentation, but she never got it done. A sharp pain begins slithering through her gut. She starts to smell smoke. She pushes herself into the nearest unpopulated hallway and clutches her elbows. She winds up in the Phys Theory hallway again, so she pushes herself into the Barbarics room and puts her head down on the desk next to Gorgug. He frowns at her.

“You haven’t been here in a while,” he whispers. Porter is talking to that half-elf girl at the front of the classroom. “Are you okay?”

“Just didn’t wanna listen to Hargis and Carey say weird sex things in theater kid code for a whole class. Also, I missed you.” She makes grabby hands for his arm and tugs his fingers into her hair. He scratches her scalp and she presses herself further into the table.

“I missed you, too!” Gorgug says. “I know I just saw you last night at practice, but I like hanging out with you.”

Fig smiles. Her teeth clack against the wood under her face. Gorgug presses his fingertips into the base of her horns, and damn, have they always been so sore? She kind of avoids touching them. She had a nightmare right after they came in about them growing to be twice as tall as she was, and she really didn’t want to do anything to promote that happening. Maybe it would be worth it, though, because this is nice. Porter starts talking from the front of the room.

“Alright, everybody, today’s just gonna be a work day for your battleaxe dioramas. I’m here if you have any questions.” A nod rolls around the room from one head to another and kids get up to grab glue or modeling clay or craft paper. Gorgug pats Fig’s head once and then walks over to a bin of markers. Fig tried to relax her eyes and get a nap in, but she’s quickly interrupted by a small tapping on her desk. She looks up. Porter stands before her.

“You haven’t been here in a while. I was hoping I’d seen the last of you.” Fig bites her tongue and says nothing. “You’ve really gotta figure this out, kid,” he says.

“Can you just give me my detention slip?” She asks. Porter’s mouth quirks downwards, slightly, but he holds the paper out to her. She grabs it lightly and crumples it into her pocket. She casts Gorgug a glance over her shoulder and exits the room.

As she walks through the empty hallway, she hesitates near the courtyard door. She thinks about Ficus, alone by the dumpsters. The idea of an excuse for her brain fog is tantalizing, and she’s always wanted to find out how a bong works, but she tenses up at the mental image of her, four years from now, rolling her blunts on dismal report cards and watching a bloodrush game from a distance. She heads for Jawbone’s office.

It takes her five minutes to work up the nerve to knock on the door. She’s crumpled and flattened her slip numerous times before the door swings open. Jawbone is holding a steaming mug and wearing a huge grin as he invites her in. She puts the paper on his table and shovels a handful of gummy worms into her mouth.

“I’m happy to see you, Fig,” he says. She gives him an incredulous look.

“You’re happy to see I’m in detention again?” Jawbone shakes his head.

“I’m happy you want to talk about it.”

“I don’t. I just came in to drop it off and get my worms.”

“Why’d you sit down, then?”

She stiffens. She’s got two legs over one of the chair’s arms and has her head tilted off the other end. She scowls. Jawbone nods.

“I’m not gonna make you say anything, but please know that I’m here to help.”

“I don’t know why you keep bothering. I’m a fuck-up, man.” She means this light-heartedly, but Jawbone’s easy smile melts.

“Do you believe that?” He asks. It’s not accusatory, or pitying. He’s just asking. Fig gulps.

“I mean, yeah. I’m here, talking to you, so that I don’t have to go to Bardics.”

“What made you wanna skip?”

“The kids in that class are lame as hell. I’m worried they’ll rub off in me.”

“Really?” Jawbone asks. He doesn’t look away from her face. She flounders.

“Well— I mean, I guess—“

“Fig, you’re a very cool kid.” She closes her mouth. “Anyone can tell just by looking at you. But the main reason you’re cool is because you’re nice to people. Nobody can take that away from you, not even yourself.”

Fig wants to throw up.

“Why didn’t you go to class?”

Fig’s eyes burn, and her arms shake, and her throat tightens. She clings to the cliff of apathy with clawing hands, desperate not to give in, but the rocks start to split and she falls and falls and falls. She starts crying.

“I don’t know,” she says, because she doesn’t. Jawbone doesn’t say anything. She inhales jaggedly. “I’m so bad at school. I haven’t done homework since the first week. I just can’t.”

Jawbone pushes the dish of gummy worms closer to her on the desk, but leaves the box of tissues where they are. She takes a gummy worm and chews it as she wipes her eyes.

“Sorry. Um. Jesus.” She’s still hiccuping a little bit. Jawbone nods.

“No need to apologize. Do you want a hug?” Fig surprises herself by nodding and standing up. Jawbone moves carefully around the desk and pulls Fig into his chest. His arms are big and the fur on his chin tickles her forehead. She angles her face so she doesn’t get snot on his nice sweater. She wiggles her arms to be in front of her torso, squashed into the embrace. Jawbone rubs her back a little, and she moves away.

“Thanks,” she says. Her voice is relatively steady. She doesn’t want to know the state of her eyeliner. Jawbone nods.

“I want you to know that you aren’t alone in feeling the way you do. I have plenty of other students that struggle with executive dysfunction.”

“What?” Fig asks. She sits down again.

“Executive dysfunction comes with a lot of different disorders. It kind of puts an invisible wall between you and doing regular tasks.”

“Isn’t that just being lazy?”

“That’s the stereotype, yeah, but it’s a real thing. It goes hand in hand with ADHD, a lot of the times. Have you ever spoken to a psychologist before?”

“No,” Fig says. Jawbone holds up a finger and digs around in his filing cabinet. He procures a sheet of paper with a whole lot of words Fig doesn’t know on it.

“This is a referral slip. The Chiamaka Center is in Bastion City, so it’s a bit of a drive, but the people who work there are incredibly professional and give great diagnoses. It’s covered by most healthcare.”

Fig takes the paper. “Is this, like, a psych ward?”

“They have an inpatient program, yeah, but I really don’t think that’s where you’re at right now. I think if you know more about your brain, it’ll be easier to work with it instead of cursing it.”

“Huh,” Fig says. She folds it in half, hotdog-style, and puts it in her case. “I’ll, uh, I don’t know, look into it?”

The bell rings. She takes another fistful of worms and offers a wave as she walks out the door, down the hall, to the cafeteria.

“Her Royal Highness, Doreen,” she says as she bumps down the lunch line. Doreen grins.

“How’s that band of yours coming?”

“Oh, super good. We have a trombone now.”

“Ah, the trombone. I dated a brass player when I was your age.” Doreen puts some fruit salad onto the tray Fig’s holding. “A fine instrument. Not a very fine young man.”

“Let’s hope mine is as fine as her playing. We just snatched her up.”

“Good luck, kid. See ya tomorrow.”

Fig hops over to her table. Gorgug, Kristen, and Adaine are already seated and burrowing into their food. Fig sits on the same bench as Adaine, who tenses up briefly before Fig adjusts herself to put some space between them.

“Hey, gang,” she says. Everyone gives a little greeting. Kristen passes her a pack of fruit gummies.

“How’s your day?” She asks. Fig shrugs.

“I got a detention.” Gorgug shakes his head.

“Porter is way too hard on you. I like when you hang out in class with me.”

“He gave you a detention for hanging out with Gorgug?” Adaine asks.

“Nah, I was skipping Bardic Studies. That class kinda blows anyway. It was worth it.” She pauses and eats some of her gummies. “I won’t be able to make practice today. I think I’ll be out in time for the game, though.”

“Are we going to the game?” Adaine looks incredulous.

“Yes!” Kristen says. She’s bouncing in her seat. “The pep band is gonna be playing. Anyway, I love team sports!”

“Really?” Gorgug asks.

“Yeah, I used to play baseball.” Fig muffles a snort. “What?” Kristen narrows her eyes.

“Nothing, sorry. Hey, Tracker said you two were gonna hang at the game.”

“She did?” Kristen’s eyes widen minutely. She looks down at her food, suddenly entranced by her corn dogs. “I mean, sure. We have Theology Foundations together. She’s cool.”

“She sure thinks you’re cool, anyway,” Fig says. Adaine laughs.

“Oh, thank God, you picked that up, too?” Fig turns to her and grins. Adaine’s smile is subtle and delicately beautiful. Her teeth are perfect. Fig looks down.

“Didn’t really need to. She talks to me about her all the time.”

“What are you talking about?” Kristen asks. Gorgug, who’s been looking between the three girls like he’s watching a triangular game of tennis, nods heavily to emphasize her question.

“Tracker’s pretty into you, buddy,” Adaine says. Kristen’s jaw slackens. Fig flicks her in the arm and she flinches.

“Way to spill someone else’s beans, man!” Fig says with a grin. Adaine’s eyes are big.

“Don’t call me ‘man’,” she says. “And it’s not a big deal. Tracker was super obvious about it anyway.”

“I guess,” Fig says. Gorgug claps his hands.

“You guys should throw gummies into my mouth to see how many I can catch.”

“I agree,” says Kristen, cheeks flushed. Fig shrinks. It’s not hard for her to figure out that they’re swerving to change the subject. Embarrassed, she offers her gummies to Adaine for her to throw.

“Kristen gave us all some,” she says curtly. She opens her little baggy. Fig slouches.

Classes pass syrupy slowly. There’s a palpable buzz throughout the molecular build of the student body as the majority of the school prepares for the first home game of the season. An Owlbears game always draws a huge crowd. Buff guys in red and white apparel hoot-growl through the hallways without regard for shaky freshman girls on their way to afternoon classes.

At the end of the day, Fig finds herself as the first person into the detention room. She hops into the chair closest to the door and pops her feet onto the desk. A little dust of dirt falls from her boots as they ka-thunk onto the orange wood. She flips through web pages on her crystal as other kids walk in. The group is a little big today. Notably, three Owlbears team players pinball through the door, Ragh bringing up their caboose. He sits in the back and slides down in his chair.

“Hey,” Fig says. He exhales loudly in her direction without looking at her. She huffs. The advisor walks in, same miserable Bugbear as before. Following him, smoldering and clackety-footed, is Ayda Aguefort.

Fig tries to make her staring subtle as the advisor says some spiel about respecting authority. Ayda stretches her long legs to reach a thick book on a high shelf near the back of the room. She runs her long fingers across the dust jacket and smiles to herself, just for a moment. She sits in the front and center of the rows of desks, just four little orange-brown chairs away from Fig. She’s thinking about saying something when a pair of white-hot eyes snap over to meet Fig’s brown ones and all of the air leaves her lungs.

“Why are you staring at me?” She asks. She has a tiny line between her eyebrows. Fig digs her nails into her knee.

“I, uh,” she says, intelligently, “I was just wondering what you got detention for.”

“Oh, I’m not in here for any disciplinary reasons. This is the wizardry classroom, and we aren’t supposed to take the books home with us. I like to study before I get home.”

“I would’ve assumed you’re above those rules. I mean, considering your dad.”

Ayda shakes her head. “Even if I was, a bookkeeper’s regulations should be respected.”

“That makes sense, actually. What are you reading?”

Ayda pauses, holding her book close to her chest. Then, she stands, scooting over to the desk next to Fig’s. Her wings flicker and spark when she walks, and she feels like a space heater at Fig’s side.

“This is technically only required reading for juniors, but I find it so fascinating. It’s about transmutation stones. Honestly, the fact that more wizards don’t practice transmutation is a true shame. The panacea ability you gain at the fourteenth level alone seems like a fantastic selling point to me.”

“What does panacea mean?” Fig asks, because she truly doesn’t know. Also, she wants Ayda to keep talking.

“It’s kind of an ideological concept. A cure for all disease.”

“Oh, that’s some cleric shit. What do stones have to do with that?”

“Well, a transmutation wizard gains the knowledge necessary to create a transmutation stone at the sixth level. These stones can carry numerous effects, such as dark vision or speed bonuses. As long as the stone is kept on your person, the effect will remain.”

“Damn! So is the panacea ability a permanent spell slot, or something?”

“Actually, to perform the panacea effect, the wizard needs to use up all of the power in their stone and would then need to create a new one. I would say it’s a fair price, though.” Ayda tilts her head. “Why are you asking questions?”

Fig frowns. “Because it’s interesting,” she says. Because I love your voice, she thinks, and then swallows the smoky bile that rises in her throat.

“Most of the time when people talk to me it’s so that they can make fun of me,” Ayda says.

“That’s dumb as hell. Wizardry is cool! I mean, it’s kinda geeky. But, like, in a fun way.”

Ayda nods. “Once you get the practical applications down, you can really go hog wild. I can show you a spell, if you like.”

Fig turns in her seat and kicks her legs in Ayda’s direction. “Yes, please!”

Ayda nods. “Sure thing. Here, I’ll do divination.” She takes a small book out of her back pocket and flips through a few pages before tearing one out. She mumbles something, and then looks at Fig. Roiling eye contact. “Ask a question.”

“Uh…” Fig chews on her lip. Ayda twirls her hair between her fingers and pulls away with a tiny flame that she swipes across the torn paper, lighting it in her palm. Fig wonders, if she asked nicely, whether she could light a clove on her head. “Who’s gonna win the bloodrush game tonight?”

“Who indeed is going to win the bloodrush game tonight.” Ayda repeats. She holds the paper in both hands and squeezes her eyes shut. After a moment, her posture relaxes and she blinks.

“Visiting team,” Ayda says. From the back of the room, a loud thump.

“Fucking come on!” Ragh shouts. Ayda whips her head around. Fig lolls her neck in his general direction. He’s pressing his palms into his eye sockets.

“It’s your own fault for eavesdropping,” she says. Ayda hums in consideration. Ragh slaps a hand on the table.

“Actually, it’s you and the bird’s fault for ruining my day.”

“One, you’re in detention already. Two, wouldn’t losing ruin your day as it is?”

Ragh doesn’t respond. He leans back in his chair and tilts it until his head rests on the wall. His eyes focus on something on the far side of the room. Fig follows his gaze and lands on an analog clock.

“Got a hot date?”

He snorts. “Yeah, with your mom.”

“God. Keep her,” Fig says. Ayda tilts her head, and the fire of her hair stays flaring upwards, and her mouth purses slightly. Fig throws both legs around her seatback and doesn’t look to her side. “For real, what’s up?”

“Making sure I’m out in time for the game,” he says. The other two Owlbears hoot-growl in agreement. Fig wonders if they say anything else.

“Detention doesn’t bar you from that?”

“Nah, dog, Dayne would kick my ass if I couldn’t play.” He laughs. Fig frowns. From beside her, Ayda speaks.

“Isn’t Dayne your best friend?” Ragh looks at her, steely.

“Yeah, Tweety, he is. What’s your deal, huh?” He indicates her with a wave of his wrist. Fig sneaks a glance to watch her shrug.

“Freshman wizardry student, head library assistant. How can he be your best friend if he would kick your ass? My best friend would never do that to me.”

“Mind your own goddamn business, Aguefort. It doesn’t matter.”

“Have you ever talked to Jawbone?” Fig cuts in, surprising herself. Ragh huffs.

“No. I’m not crazy or anything.”

“Not saying you are,” she says, “but he’s a pretty smart guy. You could just go say hi. He has gummy worms.” Ayda nods emphatically. Ragh leans back again.

“Yeah, well. Whatever.”

The hour passes agonizingly quickly. Ragh stays silent until the advisor mumbles for them to leave, finally ending Fig’s cycle of pretending not to stare at Ayda and asking Ayda a dumb question and pretending not to listen to Ayda chewing on her pen and, really, that should be gross, but it’s not. Gahhhh. Fig scoots out of the room and towards the bloodrush field before she does something stupid like ask Ayda to walk with her.

The field is already bustling by the time Fig approaches the bleachers. She stands on her tiptoes and shields her eyes from the sun until she spots the cool green of Gorgug’s head towering in the top row. She walks up the metal steps on the balls of her feet and slides into the end of the row next to him.

“Hey, stranger,” she says. She pokes his bicep. He nudges her in the ribs.

“How was detention?” He asks. She shrugs.

“It was whatever, I guess. Ragh was acting super weird, though. Do you know Ragh?”

“I’ve met him. He crashes Porter’s class sometimes.”

“Oh, so Ragh can cause trouble but I can’t nap in the back of the room.” Fig huffs. Gorgug smiles.

“Well, he actually has an open that period, so.” Fig raps against his arm, then leans around him to say hi to Adaine and Kristen.

“Hey, ladies,” she says. Kristen, who is sitting next to an especially smiley Tracker, gives Fig a thumbs up. Her smile is wide. Adaine nods, and then groans.

“When does the game start? I feel like I’ve been waiting here for a year.”

“It’s been, like, fifteen minutes,” Gorgug says. Adaine crosses and then uncrosses her legs.

“It’s hot out here. I hate this stupid blazer.” She pulls the blue jacket off of her shoulders and crumples it under the seat of her skirt. Her white shirt is wrinkled. She visibly bites her cheeks.

“Why do you wear that kinda stuff, anyway? I mean, you look really cute, but sometimes it seems impractical.”

“Fucking tell me about it,” Adaine groans. She leans forward on her elbows, so the two of them are using Gorgug as a bit of a table. “My parents never let me wear what I want to. They think it’s ‘unbecoming of a lady’, and ‘are you even trying to pass?’ or whatever.”

“That’s fucked up,” Fig says, “There’s no right way to be a lady.” Tracker pumps a fist in the air.

“Amen, bud.”

Adaine tugs her skirt further over her knees and bites at a smile. “Yeah, well. Yeah.”

As the conversation lulls, a horn blows from somewhere in the field and an immense heat overtakes the top row of benches as Ayda Aguefort moves up the steps and squeezes in between Adaine and Gorgug. Fig stares at her own shoes.

“I’m sorry that I’m late,” she says. “I had to use the restroom.” Ayda sounds as clipped as usual, but there’s a steadiness to her low voice that Fig hasn’t heard before. She doesn’t look towards her as Adaine and Gorgug say hello. She focuses on the field, hard, as the play begins.

Fig has never been a huge sports girl. Like, she was a cheerleader, but she was really there because she enjoyed dance and rhythm. She’s seen professional bloodrush on her mom’s crystal television every now and again, but the rules never really made sense to her. There’s a ball, and two ends of the field, and sometimes people die? She decides very quickly to keep her eyes trained on Ragh.

Ragh is in a jersey that’s just minutely too small for him. His face is really shiny, sweat reflecting lime green in the hot afternoon sun. He stands behind Dayne in the starting formation. Dayne leans over his shoulder just before the horn is blown again, and Fig watches Ragh’s hands tense up where they’re holding his knees. The play starts. The ball is tossed.

“Which side is ours?” Kristen asks.

“The left, baby,” Tracker says. Fig leans forward to bug her eyes at Adaine, who’s doing the same right back. Kristen laughs just a little too loud and pats Tracker on the shoulder.

“I wish I had that kinda power with women,” Fig whispers. Adaine laughs.

“I’ll bet Kristen wishes she does, too.” Fig snorts and reflexively moves to thwap Adaine on the knee, but catches herself. Adaine watches her hand movements with big eyes and a little smile on her lips.

When Fig moves her attention back to the game, she has no idea what’s going on. The referee is doing some kind of dance, and the players are doing some kind of don’t-touch-the-ground game with the ball. Ragh goes to hit it, but swings too hard and knocks it into the fake grass. A bunch of Owlbears and fans groan. Dayne walks up to Ragh and shoves him in the chest, clearly shouting at him. Ragh barely reacts other than to flinch. Fig feels her mouth hanging open and turns to Gorgug.

“What the hell is going on down there?” She asks. She’s quite appalled. Gorgug, evidently, is not watching the field. His eyes flicker up and down at an irregular pace, his lips pressed into a thin line around his tusks. Fig follows his gaze to find a slouchy Zelda, intermittently turning over her shoulder to look at Gorgug and then turning back again. Fig holds in a giggle.

“You should just go talk to her,” she says. Gorgug flips his head to face her, face a deep forest green.

“I mean, I don’t know, what would we even talk about, she’s really cool, I’d probably annoy her, probably I should just leave her alone, I don’t know.” Fig squints at him.

“She’s really into music. You two can talk drum fills, or something.” Gorgug shrugs. From the field, a horn sounds. The pep band starts playing a fast-paced tune. Kristen and Adaine both lean forward in their seats to hear better. Tracker bites her cheeks as she watches Kristen bob up and down in time with the music. Fig cranes her neck to see the Owlbears leaving the field, Ragh ahead of the pack by an odd distance.

“Halftime,” Gorgug says. He pulls his hoodie up. “Gonna go buy a hot dog or three,”

“Dope,” Fig says, “I’m gonna go see if I can catch Ragh.” She scampers down the bleachers and weaves between the crowd and below the seats. By the time she resurfaces, she’s on the far end of the field closest to the gym building. The last of the Owlbears are pushing through the door. She clicks her tongue and looks around.

She sees the Firbolg she met a few weeks ago, Ficus, sitting facing away from the stands with a bag of donut holes in the shade. Two upperclassmen hunch over a crystal and laugh at a private joke. Leaning against a metal support beam between two sets of bleachers is a half-elf kid with brown skin and white hair. There’s a letterman’s jacket slung loosely over his shoulders. He doesn’t quite fill it out. Fig approaches him.

“Isn’t it halftime?” She asks. His eyes tear away from the students that are playing fumble out on the astroturf.

“Um, yeah?” He says. His voice is a clear baritone.

“So, shouldn’t you be, like, napping in the locker room? I really don’t know anything about bloodrush.”

“That’s obvious,” the kid says. He looks down his nose at her. “I’m not on the team.”

“What’s with the jacket, then?” She asks. She tugs at the baggy red fabric hanging over his arm. “Are you, like, secretly dating a linebacker?”

He tugs away from her. “I’m not gay,” he says. Fig holds her hands in front of her in surrender.

“Hey, man, I’m just goofing.” The kid presses his lips together. “What’s it for, anyway?”

“It was my father’s,” he says, “you may have heard of him. Captain Bill Seacaster? Terror of the Celestine Sea?” His eyes sparkle with pride.

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” Fig shrugs. She watches his eyes narrow and then smooth out. She offers a hand. “I’m Fig.”

He grips her hand firmly and gives a concise shake. “Fabian Aramais Seacaster,” he says.

“Why aren’t you in the stands?” Fig asks.

“I didn’t want to make the team nervous. I out-played every meathead on that field during tryouts.”

“But, like, you didn’t get in.” Fig keeps her eyes fixed on Fabian. He bristles.

“Listen, man, mind your own business.” He says. Fig shakes her head.

“I’m bored. I’m making it my business.” She glances around the crowd above her. “Are you afraid of geeking out in front of all those cheerleaders, or something?”

Fabian says nothing and glowers. Fig nods.

“Not on the team but still wearing a letter jacket. You really don’t wanna let it show how much you love the Owlbears, huh?”

“Fuck off,” Fabian says.

“Dude, you shouldn’t be embarrassed. Nobody’s gonna point and laugh at you.”

Fabian sets his jaw. His eyes flicker up behind Fig, and she follows his gaze. Sitting at the end of a row with her hand combing through her hair is Aelwyn, brown skin gleaming coolly in the light of the setting sun. Fig turns around and grins.

“Okay, she might. Have you ever talked to her?” She asks.

“Of course. Aelwyn thinks I’m super cool.” He huffs.

“Cool for a freshman, sure. You wanna impress her?”

“I don’t need to impress her. I’m impressive enough just the way I am.”

“I love the confidence, but I think I can help you.”

Fabian shoves his hands into the pockets of his shorts and groans. “Okay, freak. You come up to me and make fun of me forever and then try to tell me girls won’t like me?”

Fig blinks rapidly and frowns. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just thought— well, have you heard about the Battle of the Bands?”

Fabian’s head tilts at the tone shift. “Um, yeah, I guess.”

“Aelwyn’s competing,” Fig continues. She’s tripping over her tongue a little. “If you want her to notice you, maybe you should sign up. My band could use some extra thunder.” She wiggles her eyebrows. Fabian puts a hand on his chin.

“I’m not very musical,” he admits after a moment. “I mean, my papa had me take traditional fiddle lessons until last year, but that’s pretty goofy.”

“You play the fiddle?” Fig says. She grabs his bicep and shakes it. “Oh my god, dude, that bangs. I’m all about strings.” Fabian stares at her hand on his arm, but doesn’t pull away. He glances up at the stands again.

“You really think she’ll like it?”

“If she doesn’t, she’s nuts.” She pats his arm and then releases it, looking up to where Aelwyn is counting the bracelets on her friend’s arm. She hopes her persuasion roll was good, because she’s not so sure Aelwyn is gonna be swayed by their ska-punk-metal-indie-folk. There’s something about this kid though, the way he stands on the balls of his feet and splays his fingers out next to his sides. She wants to figure out his deal.

“Well, who else is in the band?”

“I can introduce you! Come sit with us for the, um, second inning?” She guesses.

A drawing of an outdoor scene with bleachers. The night sky is colorful and ethereal. In the foreground, in a seat, is Aelwyn. She has brown skin, blond hair, and a pink cropped button-up. In the mid-ground, Fig and Fabian talk to each other under the bleachers.

“Third quarter,” he corrects, but he has a little smile on. He motions for her to lead the way and she struts up the metal steps, glancing behind her to make sure he hasn’t snuck off. She hears a thud when she’s near her row and turns toward it.

Fabian’s tripped over a goblin kid in a waistcoat who Fig quickly recognizes as The Ball. He’s sitting with the AV kids and facing the rail, feet tucked under the small gap between the stairs and the seat. His sharp knee seems to have caught Fabian in the calf, if the way he’s clutching it is any indication.

“Oh my god, um, sorry. Jesus. Sorry, man.” The Ball folds in on himself, pulling his legs up to his chest. Fig feels a wave of affection as the nickname matches the man, small and round and aerodynamic. Fabian rubs his shin and uses The Ball’s shoulder to regain his balance. His hand lingers for a moment.

“It’s fine, dude. I gotta watch where I’m stepping.” After a moment, he squints. “Hold on, you’re The Ball, right?”

The Ball deflates. Fig can’t for the life of her remember his name, or where she stashed his business card. She watches him turn bodily towards the field and she tugs on Fabian’s sleeve to herd him up the rest of the way.

Fabian takes in the little group, chews on his lip, and then hunches down on the end next to Gorgug.

“Spot stealer,” Fig mumbles. Gorgug gives her a “what-can-you-do” look and bumps his leg against Ayda’s.

“Yes?” Ayda says, turning her attention towards the motion.

“Can we make a little room for Fig?” Gorgug says. “We’re making friends.”

“Of course. Nothing should ever get in the way of friendship.” Ayda turns towards Adaine, who pushes herself closer to Kristen without touching her. Ayda moves with her. Fig exhales heavily and sits down.

As she sits down, she feels an onset urge to crowd Gorgug’s side, maybe even deposit herself in his lap. Next to Ayda, her shoulder burns and her fingers feel slow and heavy. She fights the instinct to bump her foot against Ayda’s, and clears her throat showily.

“Ladies, Gorgug,” She announces, “this is Fabian. He plays the fiddle.”

“Oh, heck yeah,” Kristen says, face buttery and pink. Tracker bites her lip from her other side. Adaine nods in approval. Fabian adjusts his posture.

“Yes, well, I hope you’re all skilled performers. I don’t want you dragging behind me.”

Gorgug looks at Fig. “Is he gonna audition?”

“Oh. Man, I didn’t even think of that. Maybe he should.” Fig taps her chin, but Adaine shakes her head.

“I can, um, vouch for him. We were in jazz band in middle school, and unless he’s gotten worse since then, he’s good.” Her lips make a thin line. Fabian cranes his neck to see her.

“Oh, uh, Adaine, right? Aelwyn’s sister?” His leg wiggles with nervous energy. Adaine groans. A horn sounds.

“Third quarter,” Fig says to no one in particular. Ayda turns to the scoreboard, and then to Fig.

“The Owlbears are up two points. I’m worried something was off with my spell earlier.”

Fig risks looking right at her. The fire of her hair casts a flickering glow onto an otherwise night-dark face. She isn’t smiling, but she looks relaxed. Fig turns inward conspiratorially. Their knees bump. She hopes she doesn’t react.

“Don’t worry,” she says, “our boys still have plenty of time to fuck up.”

In the end, the Owlbears lose 15-19. The student section bemoans the defeat, Fabian included, but Fig can’t find it in her to be upset. Ayda’s self-satisfied expression is more captivating than any touchdown Fig can imagine.

Chapter Text

The Battle is getting closer everyday, now. Not that it hadn’t been before, but Fig can feel it coming like steam in the air. The nerves settle on her skin and collect in the crease of her eyelids. She’s been sweating a lot.

She’s in the family room, which is a phrase that feels dry these days. Her bass is resting by the sofa. She’s lacing up her boots when Sandralynn knocks gently on the wall. Her lips are pressed into a thin line.

“You’re doing the white people face,” Fig can’t help but saying. Sandralynn smiles, big and straight-toothed and so similar to Fig’s own. She has to look down at her feet again before she does something like smile back.

“Did you like the omelette I made for you this morning? I hope it wasn’t too cold by the time you woke up,” Sandralynn asks.

“It was good,” Fig says. “Were there green onions in there?”

“Very perceptive. Peppers, too.”

It’s quiet for a moment. Sandralynn moves to the couch, leaning on the arm farthest from Fig.

“I was hoping we could go to the mall today, or something. I miss our little dates.”

Fig digs her nails into her knees. “I have practice.”

“Oh. Has that been going well? When do I get to meet your band mates?”

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s just too personal for me.”

Sandralynn furrows her brow. “What?”

“If you know who they are, you might try to reach out to them, or, god forbid, form a relationship with them. That would be just awful.”

“Figueroth—“ her mother starts.

“I just want to know who my fucking dad is,” Fig says. She’s still staring at her shoes. “I’m gonna find out at some point anyway. It’s not fair.”

Sandralynn is silent. The floorboards creak as she leaves the room. Fig scrapes the backs of her hands over her eyes, listening for the house to be quiet. Sandralynn is back in a moment, though. She drops a small Tupperware container on the coffee table in front of Fig.

“His name is Gorthalax,” she says, voice almost a whisper.

Fig moves slowly, but she picks up the container and peels it open. There are Polaroids and other little pictures inside it, dusty and a little grainy. She picks up the first one. It’s a group of young adults, all wearing studs and eyeliner and tall shoes. In the center is a huge guy with shoulders like a rooftop and glowering green eyes. On his arm is a wood elf with shaved sides and summer-bronzed brown skin. Fig stares.

“Is that—?” She doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. Her pointer finger trails over the small figure.

“I was pretty excited when you came out of your room in your leather, that first time. We have a lot in common.” Fig glances up. Sandralynn doesn’t look angry, or even nervous. She just looks tired. Fig places the first photo on the table and starts going through the rest of them.

Gorthalax is scary looking, Fig can tell, but there’s something about his posture and his eyes that make her swallow hard. He holds her mother’s shoulder with such surprising delicacy (especially considering that each palm is about the size of her head). Her hands shake as she holds a picture of him on a stage, smacking a drum kit within an inch of its life with a grin of determination. Fig shoves the picture in her pocket and stands up hurriedly.

A drawing of Fig and Sandralynn in their living room. There's a bookshelf along the back wall, as well as several blurry family photos. A few Poloroids are spread across the coffee table. Fig holds one of them with a pained expression from her perch in the corner of the green couch. Sandralynn leans on the other end of it, looking tense and also hot as hell. Diane outdid herself.

“I’m gonna be late,” she says. She walks out the door and then runs, as fast and as far as her legs will get her. She gets to Augefort on autopilot and breathes hard next to the service entrance before shaking herself off and heading inside to the choir room. Everybody’s already there.

“Fig! I was starting to get nervous,” Gorgug says. He leaps up from his kit and runs to squeeze her shoulder. His hands are huge. She shrinks in on herself a little before nodding.

“Sorry,” she says.

“No worries,” Adaine says. She’s wiping slide oil across her trombone. “We were just catching Fabian up a little bit.” Fabian waves sheepishly. His fiddle is gorgeous where it rests at his side. The wood is shiny and intricately carved. Fig nods.

“Okay, well, let’s get to work.” She cracks her case open and slings her bass over her shoulder. “I feel like we should have more alto on the, uh, the chorus of—“

“I know what you’re talking about,” Kristen says. “I think Adaine should take that part, honestly. She has a really nice tone, way better than me.”

“Don’t say that,” Adaine chides, pinching Kristen’s arm. Kristen laughs loudly. Fig heaves a breath.

“Adaine’s got that little riff right after, though. I don't wanna change it quite that much. The Battle’s, like, right on top of us.”

Adaine frowns. “It won’t be difficult. I have good breath control, plus I can harmonize pretty easily.”

“I know,” Fig snaps, “your voice is gorgeous and you play a real instrument with real technique. Let’s just make you the lead singer while we’re at it.”

Fabian looks around with wide eyes. Adaine looks like her skin just shrank two sizes. Gorgug moves his hand back to Fig’s shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

“Maybe we can skip rehearsal today,” Kristen says. She’s leaning towards Adaine, still tight-faced.

“Oh, yeah, let’s all just call the whole thing off! Who was at fucking kidding,” and she speed walks into the hallway just in time for a thick cloud of smoke to expel itself from her mouth. She coughs, though mostly at the smell. She keeps moving until she’s rounded two corners and lets her throat cool down. Her eyes burn.

She’s near the library, a painfully small room that Fig gets too sad to enter, as well as the computer lab. Various noises ping around through the open door. She shudders momentarily at the cacophony before glancing around at the rows of lockers and poking her head into the room.

The room is kind of a disaster. There are sticky notes in an array of colors on the walls and the chunky monitors. On the central table, a pepperoni pizza sits mostly eaten. Wires hang precariously in between clusters of mugs and Rubik’s cubes. She recognizes a few of the guys from around school, and, with an onset wave of nausea, from the other day at Basrar’s. The pixie kid, Biz, snaps his head towards the door as she leans in.

“This room is signed out,” he says. His voice is dripping with self-righteousness. When he fixes his gaze properly, his eyes narrow in his thick glasses. “Oh, it’s the dyke from Basrar’s. What do you want?”

“What the fuck, Biz?” Says Shelford from Bard class. It takes him a good ten seconds, during which other guys in the room squawk obscenities in the little guy’s direction.

“Oh, don’t get so P.C.!” Biz says. He sniffs, and then turns to Shelford. “Figures you’re triggered. You’re all like, ‘I sexually identify as a battering ram’, or whatever.”

Shelford stands up. The lack of speed makes it menacing, and from the glint in his eyes, Fig figures he’s aware.

“Dude, you’re outta the club.” The rest of the room looks on.

“No, I’m not.” Biz flutters out of his chair. “I fucking made you guys. All of you dumb libs were too ‘socially anxious’ to get a faculty advisor. Without me, you’d still be playing Fantasy Clash of Clans outside the language hall bathroom.”

“I miss Fantasy Clash,” a bird-looking guy offers from his wheely chair. There’s a mumble of agreement. Biz scoffs.

“Whatever. Have your snowflake convention. Come find me when you start using your brains again.” He hoists his messenger bag and flies past Fig through the door. She looks at the grimaces spread throughout the room before her.

“I hate that guy,” the bird kid says. Most of the guys turn back to their chunky computers. Fig steps into the room and leans over the nearest shoulder to get a feel for what’s going on. She recognizes the kid at the desk as The Ball, and the game on his screen as Magic Missile League. The Ball lifts his head when she bumps his chair. His lips are a thin line.

“Is this the one with the dances?” She asks. He sighs.

“That would be Fantasy Fortnite. Hey, are you alright?” He looks past her shoulder instead of at her face. She shrugs.

“Eh, it’s par for the course. It fits thematically with my life lately, anyway.”

“That sucks,” The Ball says. “You wanna talk about it?”

“Hard pass,” Fig says. The Ball smiles, a little pinched, but with understanding humor in the crinkles around his mouth. Fig feels an idea squirm into the back of her mind, and then bulldoze to the front with very little forewarning. She snaps her fingers.

“Hey, you’re, like, a geek hacker gamer dude, right?” She asks. The Ball’s crinkles turn confused.

“Okay, left field, but sure. I guess so.”

“Awesome. Seriously, man, that rules. How are you at getting evil info from the Dark Web?”

He blinks. “I’ll be real, I don’t actually know if the Dark Web is a real thing. Mostly I just like programming mods.”

Fig nods. She continues to nod as she feels her sinuses grow hot with smoke (or maybe normal tears. They aren’t dissimilar in feeling). She pops her first three fingers into her mouth to chew on the nails. The Ball fumbles around the desk, briefly.

“Oh god. Um, here, take this.” He hands her a shiny silver fidget spinner, which she accepts and spins so hard she can hear the gears inside creak. “Um, okay, it’s fine, dude. What did you need me to find for you?”

She inhales shakily, watching how the spinner is minutely off-kilter where it sits between her fingers. Once she feels like she can breathe without setting off a smoke alarm, she gives a consonant-heavy exhale.

“I need, uh, there’s a devil I need some info on. His name is Gorthalax.”

Inexplicably, The Ball looks relieved. He pulls his hat off, swipes his hand through his thick hair, and then replaces his hat on his head. “Oh, dude, that is super in my wheelhouse. There’s actually, like, a whole Hell wiki page. I’m sure your guy’s on there!”

Fig could cry. In retrospect, she feels a little foolish, not thinking to use her crystal and just check, but, in her defense, she’s been rather preoccupied. “Dope,” she says, because if she tries to say more, she’s gonna wind up giving this poor kid her whole life’s story. He swivels his chair to face his monitor.

“Who am I looking for again? Galatax?”

“Gorthalax,” Fig says. She clutches the back of The Ball’s chair as he starts typing. His little fingers fly across the keyboard at an alarming pace, and before Fig can wink, she’s looking at the hulking form of her father on a webpage.

“Super-duper. Okay, um, let’s see.” He clears his throat and begins to read. “‘Gorthalax the Insatiable, previously Gorthiel, the Seraph of Eating the Right Amount of Food, is a prince of Hell who rules over the Bottomless Pit. He is a relatively common warlock patron.’” The Ball skims the article. “He’s a pit fiend, and it says here he’s a bard.”

“Does it say what he’s up to these days?” Fig asks. She picks at the chair where the synthetic stuffing pokes through the seams. The Ball clacks his nails on the desk while he scrolls.

“Okay, it says here he’s been mostly inactive for the past decade or so,” He paraphrases. “Like, he’s still got followers, but most magic-ologists say that his energy is mostly residual. Or, not residual. More like, it’s in hibernation? There’s a lot of speculation.”

Fig flicks her eyes across the article, confirming what The Ball has said. “So, he’s, like, on a vacation?” The Ball shrugs.

“Could be. From what I’ve read, pit fiends like this are common targets for vengeful adventurers. He coulda been taken out by now. Why, did he steal your fridge or something?”

Fig really, truly wants to laugh. She opens her mouth to do so, and a wildly unattractive sob worms out instead. She slaps the side of her palm across her lips. “Sorry. Nah, he’s my dad, apparently.”

It’s quiet in their corner of the room as she catches her breath. She keeps her eyes squeezed shut. A few tears slip out anyway. The Ball, heroically, says nothing as she processes.

“Yowza,” comes his response after what feels like a decade. “I, uh, that’s rough, buddy. I’m happy I could help?”

Fig laughs properly this time, though the noise is minutely damp. “Coulda been worse. My girlfriend coulda turned into the moon, or something.”

The Ball’s laugh is scratchy and incredibly endearing. He tosses his head back and lets his jaw drop wide, like a snake preparing to eat a mouse. His tiny fangs have little rubber bands on them. She’s never really thought about non-elven dental care before. She suddenly wonders if this is something she’ll have to worry about. She doesn’t dwell on it. Instead, she sings: “Leeeaves from the vine. Falling so slow.”

With a quick snap of his sharp-nailed fingers, The Ball spins his chair towards the midi keyboard on his desk and plunks out some notes. Fig almost forgets to keep singing, she’s so delighted. She giggles through the next few lines.

 

“Like fragile, tiny shells. Drifting in the foam.”

A drawing of Fig and Riz in the computer lab at school. The desk Riz sits at is cluttered with wires, paper, and fidget toys. He's playing a midi keyboard. Fig is shown with her hands in her pockets, singing.

She’d never imagined what this song might sound like on a synthesizer before. It kind of goes. She wants to add drums, and maybe some kind of marimba. An idea strikes her.

“The--um, Riz? Riz! Are you signed up for the Battle of the Bands?”

He stops playing. “Huh? Uh, no. I don’t really perform. This is just a hobby.”

“Who has hobbies anymore? We live under capitalism. You gotta commodify that shit! You’re really good. I have so much trouble with improv like that.” She jostles the chair in her enthusiasm. He curls his shoulders inward.

“I can’t read sheet music, so I gotta make up for it somehow. For real, I just do it for fun.”

“Why don’t you do it for fun… in a band?” Fig shakes her palms next to her sides, feeling the phantom tickle of pom-poms. She watches Riz crack a smile and shake his head.

“I’ll have to check my schedule.” He pulls a pocket watch from his vest, chain and all, and then lets it drop after a brief glance at its face. “Whaddaya know, I’m wide open. It’s your lucky day.”

Fig laughs loudly. She’s always appreciated a bit of a visual gag. “We’re rehearsing today, actually, if you wanna come join us.”

Riz glances at his monitor, and then at the guys in the room with him. He shrugs. “Yeah, okay.”

Pianist acquired, Fig bounces down the hallway. She stops every few bounds to turn around and make sure her new friend is still in tow. By the time they reach the choir room, he’s wheezing a little, but he looks excited. His expression drops as he looks in the door, and Fig follows his gaze with a frown. The rest of the band are huddled around Gorgug’s drum kit, having a hushed conversation. The door creaks. The four of them whip to face the intrusion. Adaine is glowering attractively. She really does look like her sister. Fabian and Kristen step forward.

“We need to have a conversation,” Kristen says.

“Why is The Ball here?” Fabian asks simultaneously.

“He plays synth,” Fig says, feeling suddenly clammy. Riz glances around.

“Okay, clearly I’m intruding on something. I’ll just, uh--” He jerks his thumb towards the door. Fabian shakes his head.

“Nah, short stack, you’re in this now.” He crosses the room and leans over Riz to shut the door. Riz hunches, but Fabian still noogies him before grabbing Fig by the arm and sitting her down on the piano bench. She looks at the floor.

“So we had a little outburst,” Kristen starts. Adaine groans.

“Listen, I think I should just leave. She obviously doesn’t want me here. It was dumb for me to join anyway.”

“Please don’t say that,” Fig says, looking up. Adaine is biting her lip. “The brass brings everything together. And our vocals sound like ass with no second alto. I mean, no they don’t.” She backtracks quickly and gives Kristen an apologetic look. Ever patient, her redheaded friend nods.

“It’s not just about the tunes,” Gorgug pipes up, speaking slowly. “You two are always, like, weird around each other. I think it throws us all off.”

There’s a small wave of nodded agreement. Riz is standing behind Fig seemingly processing these intrapersonal issues that he has no role in. Fig sits quietly.

“If you have some kind of problem with me, please just say it,” Adaine mumbles. Fig huffs.

“I thought you had a problem with me!” She says, louder than she meant to, causing an almost unanimous flinch around the room. She swallows. “Sorry. Fuck, I’m sorry. I just… Adaine, you’re so good. You know so much about theory, and you have all kinds of great ideas, and you’re hot as hell. That was weird. Um. But, like, I guess I’ve just been…” she heaves a breath. “... jealous.”

It’s silent for a moment. Adaine stands up. Fig assumes she’s gonna leave, but instead she nudges Fig’s knee with her own. Fig slides over on the bench and Adaine sits on the other side, a good few inches between them.

“You’re, like, insane on your bass. You have more stage presence in your left foot than I do in my whole body. You have nothing to be jealous of.” She says. Her gaze is downcast.

“We all have different strengths,” Gorgug supplies. Kristen hums in agreement.

“Yeah,” Fig says. She pauses, and then goes on: “I, um, it’s not just that.”

The group waits for her to continue. She feels a hand on her shoulder, and looks up at Fabian, who is giving her a soft expression she’s never seen from him before.

“Um, my parents got divorced earlier this year. Because of me. I mean, because I’m a tiefling. I, like, found out my dad is a demon and also that he’s--” she exhales. “He’s maybe dead. We don’t, uh, know. And so it’s like, what the fuck, mom? Why didn’t you say something sooner? And also, my elf dad is like, scared of me now, or something. And I’m probably never gonna get to meet him, my real dad, and my mom never talks about him, and when I was younger we talked about everything, she was the first person I ever came out to, and I’ve just been so scared and so fucking tired.” She’s practically heaving as she finishes. Her throat and nostrils feel raw, like she’d just thrown up. She’s crying openly.

“Christ,” she says, wiping the wetness from the apples of her cheeks and her upper lip. “I, like, never do that. Sorry.”

In lieu of a vocalized response, she feels a hand on her knee and is startled to realize that it’s Adaine’s bitten fingernails tapping against the ripped black denim of her pants. She looks up at her round, perfect face, to see a watery, kind expression. Fig sobs again.

As she cries, she feels Fabian wrap his arm more securely around her shoulders. Riz pats between her shoulder blades and rests the side of his head on her back. Kristen piles into her lap for a hug, and Gorgug envelopes all of them in his big arms. More than a few of them are sniffling. She can’t think of the last time she let everything out like that.

After a minute, she clears her throat. Adaine and Fabian withdraw quickly, while the others take a moment to get untangled.

“So, uh, welcome to the band, Riz.”

If a few more tears are shed, they’re out of laughter.

They take some time to wind down and acquaint themselves with the new sounds the synth brings to the group. Almost immediately, something about the air changes. Fig knows they can all feel it, too, because of how hard everyone plays. They sound fucking incredbile. It feels huge, somehow, like a balloon inflating around her heart. They all riff off of each other like they’ve been playing together for years.

Well, not exactly. They miss notes, and Fabian and Riz get into an argument about whether they’re in A-sharp or B-flat. Riz secedes, nose scrunched in a way that Fig wouldn’t describe as annoyed. She puts a pin in that thought, and claps her hands.

“Guys--” She starts. Kristen cuts her off.

“That was so freaking cool! Wow, we just--guys! We’re a freaking band!” She shakes her fists close to her torso in her excitement. “Come here. Guys, come here. We’re doing a band huddle.”

They all humor her, and stand in a circle connected by their arms on each other’s shoulders. Kristen begins to speak.

“You know, my parents have been pretty upset with me for hanging out with so many non-believers. They think you all are bad influences. And I’ve had less and less time to go to church, since all I wanna do is make music with you guys. And, like, the local council are reconsidering if my position as Helio’s chosen was misjudged, and if I should stop representing our ministry. Also, like, Tracker’s been showing me all kinds of books that talk about the Harvestmen--they’re like a Helioc cult--and all kinds of atrocities people have been committing in the name of my god. It’s like, do I even wanna believe? Haha, that’s crazy.”

She takes a moment to inhale. Gorgug leans over to Fig and whispers, “It’s gonna get inspiring.” Kristen continues.

“And that’s not even mentioning the--I mean, everybody thinks girls are pretty. That doesn’t say anything about me. About anyone, I mean! And even if it did, who cares? Being, uh, gay, is totally fine. Fig, you rule.” She’s sweating. “But, hey, uh, cut to the feeling!” She splays out her arms and grins. The rest of the band stares at her for a moment, and then Fabian starts to clap. They all join in, and by the time they’re all hooting and hollering, Fabian steps onto the piano bench.

“Basrar’s on me, anybody?”

They hoot all the way out of the building and all the way to the ice cream shop. As they step inside and find a booth, Gorgug becomes much more subdued. Fig sees the jerky glances he gives to his left before she sees Zelda and a bunch of other girls crowding another table.

They place their orders and receive them immediately, because Basrar is an ice cream djinn and can make that happen. She nudges Gorgug as soon as they’re all alone again.

“Go talk to her,” She whispers. Gorgug’s eyes widen.

“That would be so weird! She’s with her friends.”

“You’re her friend. I’m her friend, too. Just go say hi! You already know she likes you.”

Gorgug flushes bright green. Fabian leans over. “What’s going on, big guy?”

“You know Zelda Donovan?” Fig asks. Adaine groans good-naturedly and buries her face in her arms where they sit crossed on the table. Kristen smiles down at the blonde lump.

“Satyr chick, right?” Fabian asks. Fig nods.

“Gorgug here is super into her,” She explains. Gorgug whines. Fabian brightens.

“Dude, get some!” He says. He claps Gorgug across the back, bloodrush style. “She keeps looking at you. You’re so in.”

“Don’t do anything you don’t wanna do, Gorgug,” Adaine says, still muffled by her elbows. Gorgug, however, shakes out his hands and adjusts his hoodie strings.

“No. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna talk to her.”

Fig and Fabian cheer, and Kristen laughs and pats Adaine’s back. Riz is smiling nervously. Gorgug stands up and walks over to her table. They all watch as Zelda sits up straighter and gives him a delighted smile. One of the girls pats Zelda on the shoulder and the two of them slide into a booth on their own.

“Up top,” Fabian says. Fig gives him five.

“Down low,” she says, but before she can ‘too slow’ him, he slaps her hand into the table. “Fuck, ow!” She clutches her knuckles and laughs as he fumbles to apologize.

They all settle down as they eat their ice cream, but none of them can help from glancing as their friend laughs too loudly and looks too intently at the girl he likes.

“It’d be so fun to go on a date here,” Kristen sighs.

Fig nods. “Yeah. Oh my god, if we all get partners, can we go on a big group date? Gorgug’ll bring Zelda and I could bring Ayda, and--uh, I mean--”

She tries to backtrack, but Adaine is already looking at her bug-eyed.

“The principal’s daughter?” Riz asks.

“My best friend?” Adaine asks.

“Who is that?” Fabian asks.

“Ugh, forget I said that.” Fig takes a big bite of her sundae. Adaine cackles.

“You’re into Ayda? My best friend, Ayda? My sweet, intelligent Ayda?”

Fig flounders for deflections, and lands on this: “If she’s your best friend, and I may be so bold as to say that the two of us are best friends, does that make her my best friend by the transitive property?”

Adaine stares, and then gives a disbelieving laugh. “You know what? Sure. You have my blessing.”

Fig lays herself face down across the table and spreads her arms forward. She feels a pinkie intertwine with hers, and she bites her lip to prevent an excited squeak. She can hear Adaine exhaling out a laugh.

“This is the most virgin thing I have ever seen in my life,” Fabian says. Riz groans. “Fucking ice cream parlor dates? Just wait until I get Aelwyn alone at homecoming.” He sounds very pleased with himself. A chorus of “ews” erupts from around the table.

“That’s so nasty, man,” Adaine says. “You could’ve picked anybody but my sister.”

“You have to realize that she’s smoking hot, dude.”

“Don’t call me ‘dude’. We’ve been over this.” Fabian gives an apologetic look, which is all you can hope for from Fabian most of the time.

“Aelwyn and Adaine look pretty similar, don’t you think?” Kristen posits. Fig knows she isn’t trying to stir the pot, but it makes her snort anyway. Fabian frowns.

“What? I mean, I guess. But, you know. Aelwyn’s got that, that sort of--”

“Unattainability?” Riz pipes in. Fabian thinks for a moment, then nods.

“Yeah. I have, like, everything, so I long for the things I don’t.” He puts a hand over his heart. Riz is giggling into his ice cream. Fig mimes gagging.

Adaine cuts in. “Wait, hold on, guys, look!” She points behind Fig. The five of them turn incredibly obviously in their chairs to see Zelda and Gorgug, holding hands across their booth. Zelda has one sweater-covered palm pressed into her face, but her huge grin is visible in the way her eyes are squeezed nearly shut. Gorgug is looking at her with reverence.

“Dibs on best man at their wedding,” Fig says.

“You’re not even a man!” Fabian protests. Adaine bends herself in half laughing. It’s a sound Fig could really get used to.

They hang out for another half an hour or so before Adaine checks the time and informs them all she’s gotta get home before dark.

“Need a ride?” Fabian asks. He motions out the window, where an incredibly metal motorcycle is parked poorly outside. Fig salivates looking at the polished chrome. Adaine, though, shakes her head.

“I have a bus pass,” She says. Fabian looks a little let down, but glances around at the rest of them.

 

“Does anyone else--”

“Me, please!” Riz says, patting his hands on the table. “I’ve never been on a motorbike before.” Fabian looks momentarily sour, but then tugs Riz by the collar of his coat out the door.

“Is it just me, or does Riz have it real bad for that airhead?” Fig asks. Kristen looks confused, but Adaine nods in agreement.

“No accounting for taste on either of their parts,” Adaine grumbles. She heads out, followed by Kristen, who’s riding in Gorgug’s van. Fig, left alone, pulls out her crystal. Her hands shake minutely as she taps on her mom’s contact.

Fig (6:49): r u off work yet
sandralynn (6:50): Yes baby. Are you okay????
Fig (6:50): ya i’m at basrars
Fig (6:50): please may i have a ride home
sandralynn (6:52): Of course. Be there in five with Baxter.
Fig (6:53): thx

Fig spends her five minutes of waiting chatting with Basrar, who becomes mountingly frantic as she asks more and more questions about the implications of his servitude. He is given some reprieve when Fig hears a familiar screech outside.

“Gotta bounce. Love you.” She grabs her bass case and swings out the door, where Sandralynn is dismounting. She approaches Fig, arms out, and Fig gives her a small wave. Sandralynn lowers her arms and nods.

“Was practice fun?” She asks, reticent.

“Yeah. We have a synth player now. Kids at school call him The Ball.”

Sandralynn frowns, and the two of them hoist themselves onto Baxter’s back. “Why’s that?”

“He got thrown into a garbage can once.”

“God, kids can be so mean.” Sandralynn shakes her head in distaste, and pats Baxter’s side with her foot. He shoots into the air. Fig thinks very hard about anything but Biz, or Dayne, or Aelwyn.

They fly quietly for a while. When they hit a brief bout of turbulence, Sandralynn instinctively reaches a mom arm back for Fig, who can’t help from leaning forward to hold onto her mother’s coat. The denim is rough on her fingers. She thinks about the picture still tucked in her pocket, about how familiar her mother’s grin had looked.

“Hey, uh, mom?” She says. Sandralynn stills, and then:

“Yeah, baby?”

“Do you still have any of the clothes from when you were with my dad?”

Sandralynn laughs, and it must be the wind rushing into her face, but she sounds a little choked up. “Pretty much all of ‘em, uh-huh.”

“I think I wanna go through them. Try some on. They looked pretty cool.”

“Whatever you want, sweetie.”

Fig tucks her face into her mom’s back and wraps her arms fully around her torso. She can’t be sure, because she’s focusing on Sandralynn’s heartbeat and the feeling of feathers on her legs, but she thinks they take the scenic route home.