So, this one time I was eating a salad. This story isn’t about the salad though. That would be a dull story compared to the one that I have to tell. It was a Saturday, a Saturday just like any other in the school cafeteria, quiet, with most of the students and most of the staff gone for the weekend or having fled the caf where the food could be described at best as mediocre on a Saturday when there were no prospies and no trustees. (Salads are usually pretty safe when there’s not much else to eat, and they’re always available—except at breakfast.) My friends and I were gathered at one of the round tables at the back corner of the dining room. People tended to give us a pretty wide berth on a school day. On the weekends, they practically stayed on the other side of the cafeteria, gathering mostly by the kitchen doors and the booths along the far edge by the main entrance. I couldn’t blame them. We were a rowdy bunch—but not in the way you’d expect.
“So do you think he could kill him?” Mary asks.
“He’s how old?” Reina queries.
“And is he tall?” Bailey presses.
“Average height, then.”
“Four feet?” I ask.
“Give or take,” Rim allows.
“How long is the dagger?”
“Is it a dirk or stiletto or butcher’s knife?” Reina wonders.
Such conversations were punctuated by ones revolving around the physics of hypothetical magic and the politics of the worlds of our favorite fantasy series. Mary and Rim sometimes lost us in the semantics of Ancient Greek and Latin.
Maybe we were just the right brand of outcast to be chosen. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when we were singled out.
Ours is a single-sex school. What boys we see are almost exclusively brothers or boyfriends—and they’re rare. There’s something intimidating to guys about having eight hundred girls turn to them with a mix of hunger and accusation. Most boys will try to meet her at neutral sites off-campus or have her come to him just to avoid feeling like a carnival freak dragged onto the stage.
He came in. He was alone, which was, technically speaking, not allowed. Heads turned towards him, but he didn’t look back.
He kept his head down, his hands in the pockets of his black jeans, hidden under the sweep of an open, leather trench that made his pale hair seem all the whiter.
He angled around the spread of tables and walked down the main aisle.
I think I noticed him first. I might have stared. I’m pretty sure I stopped midsentence.
He grabbed one of the chairs from a neighboring table, dragging its rear legs across the wooden floor, and swung it around to join our table. That’s when everyone else looked at him and quieted. We moved over for him without thinking.
“I need help,” he said. He didn’t introduce himself. He didn’t look up.
“What’s up?” Rim asked.
“So you waltzed into a cafeteria at an all-women’s university?”
“On a weekend,” he protested, sounding a little hurt.
“Still a boy,” Mary pointed out.
A ghost of a smile touched his face. From a bag he’d kept hidden beneath his coat, he removed a Manila file and slid it into the center of the table. We glanced at one another before Rim reached for it.
“What’s in it?” Reina asked, putting a hand on top of the file.
“Trouble. But I think you’ll like it.”
“What kind of trouble?” Mary asked.
Reina and Jun leant over to read the file as Rim did. Inside was a photocopy of a handwritten sheet in a language that not even Rim or Mary could interpret.
“I give up,” Jun announced after some discussion amongst us. “What’m I looking at?”
“A death warrant,” the boy said. “For me. From my world.”
There was a heavy pause as we absorbed the idea that a boy had sat down at our table (an oddity in itself), announced himself a criminal meant to be shot on sight, and proclaimed himself from another world.
“Where,” I asked finally, “are you from exactly?”
“If this is some elaborate prank pulled by those turkeys—”
“No prank,” the boy said hastily, throwing up hands. His hands were very pale and his fingers long and delicate, musician’s hands as the saying goes. “I need help. They’ll come for me.”
“And I repeat,” Reina snapped, “so you came here? What sort of sick joke is this?”
“They think I killed the king of Rygmarl. And I want you to prove that I didn’t.” He finally looks up and flashes us a crooked, white smile that makes his eyes sparkle with just a hint of mischief. “I hear you’re good at that.”
This was a double challenge. My sister uses this first line to dodge giving the details of a story that might identify the persons involved who would be better left unnamed. I saw her line as a challenge and told her so. I at first misunderstood her usage, however, so I have used the line for a different effect: to set the scene rather than screen it. To Bek at BuildingADoor I apologize for thrusting such an ambiguous first line upon her, but she made it work fantastically.
All legal theft pieces will be collected by the thief lord and posted here.