The air froze Nosderag’s eyebags. Between shivers, she managed to lumber towards the enclosure. She could barely see the guards in the dark. Her hand shook as it held a small pet store-bought cage. Inside the cage? Daliki.
At first, the fairy kicked around in an attempt to escape the cage but she eventually got used to her temporary home. Nosderag made sure to pet her every so often to keep her calm.
In shadows she stayed, sneaking past the armoury’s guards. She saw her target, a spot underneath the door to the enclosure. There she was to leave the cage for a staff member to pick up and return to Daliki home.
Well, at least that was the plan.
A guard stood in front of the door, flanked by two more guards a few metres away each. They were chatting to each other but kept their eyes forward.
As Nosderag hid behind a large trash can, she heard the cage in her hand shake. Her heart rose up her throat like bile. She eventually saw that Daliki was shivering too. She placed her hand underneath the cage to lessen the shaking.
She lowered it to the ground. Someone else could find it in the morning and bring it to the enclosure, right?
She snuck away from the scene. As she headed to the dormitory, she envisioned the staircase that awaited her. For some reason, this vision included a human-sized Daliki in a large cage rolling down the stairs, her pained squawks loud enough to shake the building. As if matching the shaking of the building, this imagined Daliki trembled. The freezing wind made sure that Nosderag trembled too.
With one huff of breath that created a little cloud in the air, she turned around and walked back to the trash can and picked up the cage. She went back to the dormitory.
The doors were open but the light was off. At least, at first. Just as she was beginning to trek the stairs, feeling around for the handrail, someone flicked the light switch.
Both Nosderag and her cage were bathed in almost blinding light, made worse by the contrast it made with the darkness outside. Dr Lomaschramm tapped her foot. She wasn't wearing her glasses but she was wearing a floral nightgown that made her look older than she was.
‘Care to explain?’ Nosderag laughed but couldn’t muster the courage to reply. The teacher clicked her tongue and shook her head. ‘Plan on making a career in the black market or something? What’s with the fairy?’ She gave a little laugh that sounded like a cross between a closed-mouth chortle and a cackle.
‘Oh, um, this isn't a real fairy. It’s illusion magic.’ When Dr Lomaschramm reached to touch Daliki, Nosderag pulled the cage back. ‘The magic’s a little weak at the moment and it took a long time for the girl who made it to cast the spell, so I don’t want anyone to touch it and make it disappear.’
‘Why do you have it, if I may ask, Ms Zotmin?’
‘I’m giving it to the student so she can recharge the magic and make it stronger.’
‘And why were you out so late?’
Nosderag’s already fast heartbeat sped up. ‘Well, the student left this in a classroom and asked me to get it for her while she worked on the recharging spell. I cleared it up with one of the teachers. Would you like me to go get him?’
Dr Lomachramm covered her face with one hand and waved the other hand about. ‘No, no, that’s quite alright. Go back to your room and get some sleep.’
When Nosderag stepped onto the staircase, the teacher headed to the elevator and powered it for her. Inside the elevator Nosderag’s hair rose and goosebumps dotted her body as an electric current ran through her body. Fortunately, the stinging didn’t last too long as soon she was back in her dorm room.
She turned on the light, waking up Dalzonf. ‘Did you put her near…’ Dalzonf rubbed her eyes and saw the cage still in Nosderag’s hand. ‘What happened?’ she asked her like a parent interrogating a child next to a broken vase.
A nervous laugh from Nosderag. ‘Yeah, about that…’ she explained what happened.
‘You should have just left her there!’ Someone next door banged the wall. Dalzonf repeated her statement quietly.
‘And let her get cold?’ Nosderag whispered.
Dalzonf slapped her palm onto her face and sighed, bringing in her fingers to rub the bridge of her nose. After a deep breath, she raised her hands in defeat, refusing to say a word. She lied back down and waited for Nosderag to turn off the light.
Nosderag fumbled around the room for her pyjamas, finally finding then underneath her bed. After brushing her teeth, she settled into her bed.
‘We’re going to properly discuss this tomorrow, right?’ Dalzonf asked in a way that sounded more like an order.
Nosderag hummed in the affirmative before falling asleep.
Meanwhile, Dalzonf lied awake. Her eyes were on the ceiling but her ears were on the cute little snores coming from Nosderag.
Upon thinking the word ‘cute’, she gulped as she scrambled over her bed towards the bathroom. No amount of cold water could cool her face, no matter how many times she washed it.
She couldn’t see herself in the mirror, given the darkness of the room, but she had a feeling she was looking at herself like how she usually looked at Nosderag whenever that girl made a rash decision.
How long did it take for Dalzonf, on the journey back to her bed, to stub her toe against something in the dark and scream bloody murder at 4 o’clock in the morning?
As loud as she was, it was only a matter of time before a few of her nosier dorm neighbours rushed to the door to find out what happened. Some of them asked her if she was okay, though a few people whispered their own theories. For example:
‘Maybe she tried to pull something on Nosderag and she fought back.’
Dalzonf swung the door open and turned on the light, revealing a still-sleeping, still-snoring Nosderag. The hypothesis club bowed their heads.
However, the truth didn’t stop them from spreading rumours. Nosderag wanted to pull her own hair out every time she had to defend Dalzonf over a supposed incident she knew nothing about.
The whispers eventually swam away from Dalzonf and towards Nosderag.
‘Poor thing. She’s already weak as it is. I bet Dalzonf made her defend her.’
Oh, Sosoka. Never change.
She continued because of course she did. ‘If she treats her like that, imagine how she must treat the animals she stole!’
She gave Nosderag a knowing smirk, which Nosderag returned with a glare.
By the end of the day, Nosderag’s brain was fried. She managed to get a music tolxer to power the elevator for her. A music tolxer with enough of a sense of humour to play generic elevator music. At this point, Nosderag was not amused.
After entering her room, she slammed her door. She handed Dalzonf some pieces of paper with the assigned homework tasks written on them.
‘Um… have you got…’ Dalzonf began before averting her gaze. ‘Never mind.’ Her grumbling stomach continued her question.
‘Shit, sorry, I forgot,’ Nosderag answered, sitting on her bed next to Dalzonf. ‘Do you want me to go down and get some?’
Dalzonf shook her head. ‘I’ll wait for dinner. It’s only a few hours away-’
‘Who do you think stole the other animals?’
It took a few blinks for Dalzonf to process the question. ‘I… don’t know. Why?’
Nosderag repeated Sosoka’s words, creating a pitch-perfect, easily recognisable impression. Dalzonf couldn’t contain her laughter, patting Nosderag on the back. She tried to do her own impression but was way worse, eliciting even louder laughter from Nosderag.
‘Looks like someone’s going to be the next Mel Blanc,’ Nosderag said sarcastically.
Nosderag released a high-pitched squeak-gasp in feigned horror and disgust. She hit Dalzonf with a pillow. Dalzonf didn’t return a hit but she did rest her head against the pillow and gazed blissfully at the other girl.
After a few moments of silent staring, Nosderag dropped her pillow and turned away. ‘So, um, good luck with the homework.’
Dalzonf nodded and scratched her bottom lip. Doing so didn’t stop it from continuing to itch. Itch for what, she didn’t know.
She took out her phone and began searching the internet for information on Mel Blanc. She swore at the slow internet on campus. Not that it was much better in the outside world. Most people in the crilerous world had no need for fast wifi or any other fancy omler technology, not when anyone could ask a neighbour to heat up their food with fire tolxing or entertain them with an in-home musical fountain.
Nosderag took a nap while waiting for dinner time, but not before getting one last glance of amusement at the frustrated Dalzonf.