A Curse of Tooth and Claw: Chapter Five
In which, Kiki prepares for the graduation party.
Kiki wriggled her nose as Yarixa brushed lightly over her cheeks with a paintbrush. Tonight was the graduation carnival and Yarixa had dragged Kiki into the girl’s washroom so they could get ready.
Kiki currently sat on a hard wooden stool and Yarixa stood over her with a paintbrush in hand. Behind her, an assortment of paint pots lay open and scattered over the edge of the sink. Kiki could barely see herself in the frosted mirrors. From behind a screen, Kiki could hear gasps of shock as other girls started up the showers only to be greeted by ice-cold water.
“Stop fidgeting,” Yarixa scolded, her face a mask of concentration as she continued to draw.
“It feels funny,” Kiki complained, trying to stop herself from laughing as the soft brush strokes tickled her skin.
“I’m almost done,” Yarixa said as she stepped back to examine her work.
Yarixa was a visionary with a paintbrush. She could remold a person into any creature, both real and imagined. For the carnival tonight, she decided to paint Kiki into the visage of a katrina sugar skull.
Even though it wasn’t technically the day of the dead, it was Demncorps tradition to honor those who hadn’t made it to their final year by throwing a graduation carnival that rivaled the autumnal day of reverence. There would be a live band, games, and drinks for all to share tonight. Kiki wished there would be food too but that was hard to come by on a normal day.
“You look amazing,” Yarixa said as she stepped out of the way for Kiki to get a better look in the mirror. “I wish we could have found you a dress, it would look so much better with the right clothes.”
Kiki inspected her face in the mirror. Yarixa had done it again and somehow managed to transform the macabre into that which is beautiful. Even though Kiki looked like a deathly version of herself, she had never felt prettier.
Kiki smoothed out the front of her green uniform, her eyes catching on the old dirt stains on her knees. It was either this or her Slayer gear and her leathers were still getting washed from the previous night.
“Oh, wait, I want to add one more thing,” Yarixa said as she corralled Kiki back onto the stool.
Kiki sat back down and watched as Yarixa pulled a cloth from her pocket. She unfolded it to reveal a handful of glittering shards. “They’re cast-offs from the welders,” Yari explained as she handled the pieces of jade with care. “I sanded down the edges as best I could to shape them.”
“Yari,” Kiki breathed, as she watched her friend dab the back of a gem with some leftover paint. “They’re beautiful. Don’t waste them on me, wear them yourself.”
Yarixa shook her head, “They won’t match with what I plan to do for my makeup. Besides, you never let me do this, so I’m taking advantage.”
Yarixa leaned over Kiki as she carefully placed each gem one at a time.
Kiki tried to stay still so as not to ruin Yarixa’s plans and instead focused her attention on the ugly necklace around her friend’s throat. “Why do you still wear that thing?” Kiki asked.
Yarixa paused to touch the tooth hanging from the leather strap around her neck. “It’s my good luck charm.”
“I don’t see how wearing the tooth that nearly killed you is a symbol of good luck. Seems more like a bad omen to me.”
“It reminds me that I’m never alone.” Yarixa’s eyes grew distant and a smile lifted the corner of her lips. “It’s lucky to me because I’m lucky to be alive. If it weren’t for you and Luna, I would have died that day.”
The memory of that night on the watch came back to Kiki as if it were happening all over again.
Kiki, Luna, and Yarixa had been third-year Attendants. They were on watch that night under the supervision of a senior student when a horde of demons burst from the tree line. The seniors on duty had been competent enough and been able to eliminate a majority of the threat, but that hadn’t stopped demons from breaching the wall.
Yarixa had always had a strong freeze response when it came to danger. When the first demon climbed over the parapet, she’d remained glued in place as the bear-shaped demon lumbered towards her. Kiki had been in the middle of eliminating her own threat when she heard Yarixa’s blood-curdling scream.
Yari had been rammed into the ground by the demon bear, its massive paw on her chest. It sank its teeth into her throat and Kkiki felt like her whole world split in two. Before she knew what she was doing, Kiki was atop the back of the demon bear with a jade-tipped arrow in one hand and a tlazon in the other. She stabbed the bear multiple times until it disappeared in a cloud of smoke leaving black ichor in its wake.
Luna scrambled over and started to heal Yari immediately. Her skin turned ashen as she pulled from her own life force to heal their friend. Luna collapsed from the effort and a second later Yarixa’s eyes flew open, a silent scream on her lips. There was nothing left of the wound save for a dislodged bear tooth laying next to Yarixa’s head.
Yari grabbed the tooth and had worn it ever since.
Kiki shook her head to rid herself of the memory. “You’ll never be alone again.” She reached out and grabbed Yarixa’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
Yarixa smiled, returning Kiki’s gesture, then went back to adding the jade pieces to her masterpiece.
Just then, a yearling rushed into the washroom. Upon seeing Yarixa and Kiki, the yearling bent over her knees and inhaled deeply. “From Commander Ramirez,” she said between panting breaths. She held a folded parchment out to Yarixa.
Yarixa set down her brush before taking the paper from the yearling. Kiki watched her friend’s eyes travel the page and felt a pit open in her stomach when Yarixa’s face fell.
“What is it?” Kiki stood and angled her head to read for herself.
Yarixa released a heavy sigh before handing the paper over.
Kiki read Solana’s message and promptly crumbled it in her hand. “She can’t make you miss the party. She’s just punishing you because she can’t punish me!”
Yarixa shrugged, her mouth turned down in a sad line. “It’s okay. With all the seniors off from watch tonight, I understand.”
“You’re a senior too!” Kiki kicked the wooden stool into the corner.
Yari started to put the lids back on her paint pots. “I don’t mind. Truly. You know I like getting ready for parties more than I actually enjoy attending them. Besides, there’ll be so many people in one place. So loud. All that pushing. The music.” Yarixa made a show of shuddering. “I’m not bothered by it.”
“Well, I am!” Kiki said as she slammed a palm against the sink. She faced the mirror and this time what looked back at her wasn’t just beautiful. It was also terrifying. “This is all we’ve been looking forward to for the past three months. It’s a symbol of our freedom from this hell hole. Solana can’t do this to us!”
Yarixa approached Kiki with slowness as if she were a feral animal that would dart the moment anyone got too close. “She can and she just did. Please, don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t do anything rash and definitely don’t use this as an excuse to pull a prank just to get revenge.”
Kiki silently cursed Yarixa for knowing her far too well. After all, all it would take was for Kiki to get a yearling on latrine duty to look the other way while Kiki stuffed Solana’s boots with a nasty little surprise.
Yari continue. “Just imagine that I’m back here in the barracks reading a book. Pretend like I chose to stay behind. Honestly, I might have anyway. Everyone is going to be at the carnival tonight and I can’t think of anything more suffocating than yearlings pushing and prodding each other on the edge of the dancing because they’re too afraid to join everyone and all the seniors fumbling around from too much alcohol.”
Kiki crossed her arms over her chest, distinctly aware that the gesture made her look like a child throwing a tantrum. “I’d be fine with that if only it were true. But you’re on watch. The wall is too dangerous right now. Have you not noticed the attacks on the wall have been increasing? It’s not safe for you out there.”
Yari closes her paints. “It’s sector seven, Kiki. It’s the safest place on the Wall. Besides, you can’t always be there to watch my back. At some point, I have to learn how to take care of myself.”
“No. I made a promise that I’d always watch over you. I keep my promises.”
“That was fifteen years ago, Kiki. I’m not a baby crying for her mother every night. Neither is Luna for that matter.”
Kiki mumbled beneath.
Yari gave her a stern look. “Just go to the party. Enjoy yourself and tell me everything when I get back from watch.”
Kiki took a sip of her bitter drink as she stood on the outskirts of the party. Just as Yari had predicted, the yearlings were circled on the edge of the dancing but refused to join the throng. Seniors were howling like wolves as they moved to the rhythm of the music, their hips swaying and their arms thrown carelessly to the wind.
Kiki loved to dance but without both her best friends, the carnival seemed utterly pointless.
Not only had Yarixa been ordered to the wall tonight, but Luna had been called away to a Demoncorps base over twenty miles to the south. Apparently, there had been a large breach and several Slayers had been killed. The ones that were left were seriously injured and only a magicked healer could help bring them back from the brink of death.
Kiki allowed herself to sway to the music as the band was now playing her favorite song. As she took another sip of her drink, she saw a familiar pair of blue eyes looking at her from across the party.
Turi’s face was painted like an angel of death. His black hair and blue eyes stood out in contrast to the white paint covering most of his face. Seeing her, Turi started to weave his way through the crowd. Even in his basic uniform of green trousers and shirt, Kiki thought he looked impeccable. To be fair, she was not the only one who thought so as the yearlings he passed giggled behind their hands to one another.
“Care to dance,” Turi asked when he reached Kiki.
“Not particularly,” Kiki said, forcing an air of aloofness into her voice even though she really did want to dance. Especially with him. But it wasn’t fair to keep playing these games with him.
“It’s your favorite song,” Turi said in a sing-song voice. His eyes glinting with the invitation.
“I thought you were mad at me,” Kiki said, finishing the rest of her drink.
Turi shrugged. “I was but then I got over it.”
Kiki gave him a doubtful look.
“You’ve been nothing but honest with me. You don’t want a commitment. I can accept that.”
Kiki sighed in frustration. Why did he have to make this harder than it already was? “It’s not just that.”
“I know,” Turi said. “You have Yari and Luna. They’re your family and your main priority is to look out for them. I’m not saying I want to break that up or anything. I actually envy you for it. I wish I had friends like that.”
Kiki supposed she couldn’t blame him for being so honest. Though, the fact that he was so honest only made it harder for her to keep the obsidian wall around her heart in place.
Turi moved closer. “I care about you and just because we broke up doesn’t mean that I suddenly stopped caring. I know you better than you think. You push people away because you feel like you have to take care of everyone. But you don’t have to take care of me. I’ve taken care of myself for this long, haven’t I?”
Kiki considered his words for a moment. She didn’t like the fact that Turi had seen right through her ruse so easily. He had an unnerving way of seeing the walls she had built around herself and scaling up them anyway. He’d been a good boyfriend and a better friend than she’d deserved since their break up.
She sighed, feeling the ice around her heart begin to thaw. Plus, she couldn’t deny that she still cared about him too, no matter how much she said otherwise.
Kiki motioned toward the dance floor. “If the offer still stands, I’ll take that dance now.”
Turi beamed and held out his arm to lead her to the dance floor when, suddenly, the warning signals flared to life around the camp.
Kiki spun to see sector three’s flares ablaze. Then sector two. Then sector one. Kiki held her breath as she watched each sector’s warning beacons roar to life.
Not sector seven. Kiki prayed to any god or spirit that would listen. Sector five and six bloomed with flame at once and Kiki held her breath.
Around her, the carnival descended into chaos as senior Slayers sprang to action and raced for the Wall. Most of the seniors ran for the sectors that were already alight with flame. But Kiki ran headlong toward sector seven.
Please don’t light. Please.
The first of sector seven’s beacons burst with fire and it wasn’t long before the remaining beacons also exploded with light.
Kiki forced speed into her legs as she raced toward Yarixa’s sector. The sound of fighting grew louder as Kiki rushed toward the Wall. Slayers were fending off demons of all sorts. Three-headed beasts with tongues for arms. Demon possessed wildlife. Rabbits with red eyes and jagged teeth leaped from the wall and down into the camp leaving destruction in their wake. Deer with mangled horns and serrated hooves bucked Slayers off the wall and into the attacking horde.
Kiki rushed past it all, only one thought on her mind. Keep Yari safe. She could only hope that she wasn’t too late.
Next, we will read Chapter Six.