Painting Pictures

Malrick has an overactive imagination. His mind involuntarily turns ordinary walks into treks through a mystical forest and boring classrooms into ancient chambers and caverns. He spends his time hiding from others. But then Malrick meets a girl named Rule who teaches him that what he sees isn't delusions, but a gift that he can learn to harness. But Rule isn't all she claims to be, and with his parents convinced Malrick is nuts, Malrick will need to unravel the truth of wether he has a wild imagination, a rare mental disorder or a magic gift. And doing so just might mean he will need to stop hiding and trust a girl he barely knows.


23. Malrick

Chapter 23




The students are herded like sheep into a gymnasium, Malrick being pushed and shoved by the turbulent crowd. The floor underfoot is less glossy and polished than the floor of the gymnasium in Pikearm, better for gripping. Malrick focuses all his attention on the floor, ignoring Kay by his side and the medieval weapons lining the walls. 

“Come on! Let’s fight!” Kay invites, boisterously jogging over to the wall and grabbing a pair of blunt swords. Malrick notices some blades are polished and wickedly sharp, while others are dull as butterknives. 

All the other students race for the weapons, and Kay saunters back over to him and tosses a sword in his direction. He lets out an embarrassing grunt of fear and scrabbles out of the way, his cheeks heating up as Kay’s laughter punches holes in his fragile self-esteem. 

He retrieves the sword from where it clattered to the floor, gripping it gingerly and testing the weight. It’s unbalanced and heavy, but he doesn’t have the option to pick a different blade. Kay immediately advances on him, swinging her own sword with practiced ease and certainty. She strikes first, and Malrick shakily raises his sword to block her blow. She swings again and again until his arms start to ache from the effort of hefting up the heavy sword. 

“Fight back!” She shouts, trying to get around his sturdy defences. She twirls the sword, the blunt blade suddenly becoming deadly. Her eyes glitter like ice, losing all familiarity and warmth as she fully devotes herself to the battle. 

Grunting, he thrusts his own blade only to be blocked by a smirking Kay. Students around them have started to stare, their battle escalating. The conflict must be entertaining to the other students, and Malrick does his best to block out their snickers and whispers. 

He barely manages to stay alive, dodging and blocking more than actually fighting. Kay grins at him, but her eyes remain cold and unfriendly. 

“Hey! Everybody, back to work!” The gym instructor hollers. Malrick glances in his direction for a split second, and suddenly Kay has him on the ground with her dull blade angled towards his heart. His own blade had dropped and clattered to the ground, and he lands on top of it. 

Fiery pane erupts through his back, and he groans before rolling over and pushing himself to his feet. He tenderly rubs the base of his spine, and his fingers come away sticky with blood. 

Though blunt, the blade on the sword had been sharp enough to leave a shallow gash along the base of his spine. A young woman with a first aid kit comes running over, ushering Malrick out of the gym and whisking him down the corridor. He finds himself in the nurse’s office, being directed to lie down on his stomach on the crinkling paper-lined vinyl bed. 

“How did this happen?” The first-aid woman who brought him there leaves, and he is alone with the nurse who’d treated him after his vision. It is the nurse who speaks now, glaring a him with quizzical intensity.

“A... a mishap in g-gym. I f-fell eh-on a sword.”

“You fell on a sword?” The nurse raises her eyebrows sceptically. “One of the blunt blades you use when you train? And that caused the injury.” 

“Yes m-ma’am.” Malrick nods, hoping the nurse would believe him. Something about her seems dubious, as if there’s little chance of someone ever falling accidentally on a sword. 

“You don’t need to lie to protect whoever you were sparring with. Accidents happen a lot more than you might think.” The nurse declares, helping him to tug off his shirt. He’s thankful the fabric is dark, sticky and wet in the back in a wide radius around the scratch. 

“What—no! K-Kay would-d-d never have an ah-ah-accident. She’s f-far t-t-to skillful.”

“Kay? Do you mean Kyrielle Hilleye?” The nurse’s eyes go wide, surprise chasing away all hints of her scepticism. “Of course, she would never intentionally hurt anyone.” 

“What about Kay?” He asks. The nurse turns away. Something in her tone causes the hair on the back of his neck to prickle, a trace of scorn with a pinch of sarcasm and condescension. 

“If you have any sense, darling, you stay far away from her.” The nurse announces darkly, preparing something over on her desk. Malrick shivers, suddenly aware of how exposed he is lying down on the bed, his shirt tossed somewhere out of sight. He hopes the brownish stains would come out, it had been one of his preferred shirts. 

“Why?” He murmurs, but the nurse doesn’t answer. She turns back to him carrying antiseptic, swans and cotton gauze. 

“Thankfully your cut is shallow. All I have to do is properly clean and disinfect it and you shouldn’t require any stitches.” The nurse wipes at his back with something cold, causing his muscles to tense and the cut to sting. She continues to dab at it for tedious minutes, before urging him to sit up and wrapping a couple layers of gauze around his midsection. 

“Do I get a shirt?” He asks, and much to his dismay the nurse fishes a blue hospital gown from a cabinet and thrusts it into his hand. 

“You get this.” 

He slips into the baggy garment, embarrassment heating up his cheeks. The nurse then pronounced him fine to go, reminding him to take his pills and asking that he come visit her tomorrow so she could change his bandages again. 

With a hasty thanks, given by instinct and not genuine gratitude, Malrick leaves. He hurries down the hallways as quickly as he can. Embarrassment stains his cheeks in a bright red flush. If anyone saw him in the rumpled hospital ground he would quickly become mocked. Even more so than already. 

When he knocks on his door, too lazy to fish the key from his pocket, Deer answers right away. 

“Where were you? Class ended forever ago!” He interrogates, ushering Malrick inside. 

“You’d make a mighty fine girlfriend, Deer.” Malrick scoffs in amusement, glancing at his watch. “Class ended like fifteen minutes ago. And in case you couldn’t tell by the dress, I was at the nurse’s office.”

“Shut up,” Deer mutters, before tearing the gown off of a startled Malrick. The thin fabric is loose and baggy, removing it can hardly be called ‘tearing,’ yet the action still makes Malrick deeply uncomfortable. 

“You’re really not helping the whole girlfriend thing, ya know.” He attempts to keep the atmosphere light. “Maybe try, I d-d-don’t know, not-t take-taking my clothes off?” 

“What happened?” Deer gasps, staring at the red splotched cotton. “Yikes, Mal! What on earth happened to you.”

“I fell on a sword.” Malrick mumbles, not sure when Deer started to refer to him as ‘Mal.’ For some reason, the name ‘Mal’ sounded feminine to him. But he doesn’t mention it. It’s not the time. 

“You fell on a sword!?” Deer is incredulous. “I knew you were clumsy, but never imagined you were this clumsy!” 

“Yeah, whatever.” Malrick mutters, curving in his shoulders in an unconscious attempt to conceal his exposed chest. Fumbling for something to say, he lamely excuses himself and shuts himself in his room. The first thing he does once barricaded inside, the door bolted and nightstand leaned against the doorknob, is haul on a shirt. The next thing he does is flop down on his bed, needing a few minutes to recollect himself before going out to face Deer. 

His thoughts flit back and forth like the ball in a game of ping-pong between Kay and Rule. There’s something different about Rule, and something even more different about Kay. 

The two girls are little alike, Rule at least somewhat stylish in her own rugged, grungy way while Kay displayed little to no interest in fashion. Rule an Illusionist, Kay a Visionary. Despite them being worlds apart, Malrick feels warmth towards both of them. With Rule, deep and familiar. With Kay, foreign and exciting. 

Deciding to nip his pity party in the bud, he determinedly returns the nightstand to its place and swings the door open. Deer is sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels on the TV. 

“Hey,” he greets and glides over to sit down on the sofa next to him. A cheesy action movie plays on TV, and soon both guys are wrapped up in the uninteresting story, avidly soaking up each gunfight, explosion and car crash. 

They don’t talk, but the simple movie helps distract him from his growing inner turmoil. 

For a blissful couple of hours, he can refuse to think of Rule and Kay. He can refuse to think about the mysterious aura Kay presents, and his unrequited affection for the fiercely independent and stubborn Rule. For the length of two hours, it’s just him and Deer, and things are simple. Basic. 

They can ignore the real world, where things are infinitely more complicated. 

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