September 19, 2012 by Lyn
Sunday, September 14, 2003
“I hate you. I want you to know that. I hate you!” Ceinwen shouted the last words as she headed for Thorburn’s dorm room door. She needed to go somewhere, anywhere, to get away, to think for a while, to escape from his smug smiling face for a while.
“Sit down,” he said, without so much as a frown, without raising his voice. Without any choice in the matter, without even time to think about what he’d said, she sat, her ass thumping on the squishy carpet.
“I hate you,” she muttered, scooting towards her escape on her ass. One way or the other, she needed to get out of here. Unhurried, smirking, he walked past her. He leaned casually against the door, blocking her escape.
“And Friday you thought I was such a nice guy,” he teased.
“That was before yesterday.” She stopped her humiliating scooting. She wasn’t getting out that way, and the underground room had no other exit. “I hate you.”
“You’ll get over it in time. At least enough to see that you made the right choice.”
He was so damn self-assured. He had seemed like the best choice, when his friends had been bullying her in the hallway Saturday night. “Just pick one of us and it will stop,” they’d kept saying. When the creepy one with the thorns grabbed her throat, she’d made her choice. Now, now she didn’t want anything to do with this one, or any of them, and she was stuck. At least she could still hate him. She hoped.
“You can’t change the way I feel!” Could he?
“Actually, I could.” He sank down to the floor, so he was only towering over her by a foot or so. “I could order you to love me. But I won’t.”
He sounded as if he thought he was being so very generous. “Thank you,” she muttered. “I still hate you.”
“That’s okay,” he replied, the smile finally gone. “I understand.”
She was stuck. She swallowed a sob, and looked up at him, her hands on her neck, on the collar he’d put there. “So I can’t leave?”
“Not without my permission, and I’m not giving permission right now.”
“I’m just stuck here, then. Stuck here, stuck with you?” She tugged uselessly at the amber squares that made up the necklace sealed against her throat. “Stuck with this?”
“Yes, and yes, and yes.” He took her chin in his big hand and looked into her eyes, holding her so she couldn’t turn away from his gaze. “It will get easier in time, but that’s the way things happen here.”
She swallowed a sob. He’d given her a quick but thorough demonstration, last night, of the power he somehow had over her now. Like now, he’d said “sit,” and she’d sat, “stay,” and she’d stayed, “fetch,” and she’d fetched. She’d hoped it had been something temporary, something to go with the madness of the night before. That much power over her… a man that much bigger and stronger than her didn’t need magic to make her do what he wanted, but with it, there was nothing at all to stop him.
Last night, she’d counted herself grateful that he’d settled for using her as a teddy bear. This morning, she could only wonder how long it would last, and how long she was stuck with him.
Maybe he’d answer the second part. She was scared to ask the first, and he was still frowning, anyway. “How long?” she dared. “For… whatever this is?”
“It’s called Keeping, or Ownership. It lasts until I release you, or until I graduate, or you do.” She thought she saw a flicker of compassion in his eyes, but she couldn’t be sure. “Probably a school year. That’s the tradition.”
“This is traditional here?” She didn’t shout it, but she came close. His hand tightened on her jaw in warning, and she lowered her voice before his grip could get painful. “Ownership. Like slavery?”
“Very much like slavery,” he agreed. His free hand came up to brush the side of her collar. “And like protection. I meant it, you know. I’ll keep you safe.”
“From your friends?”
“From everyone. And I wouldn’t scoff at keeping you safe from Basalt and Curry. They’re not the nicest guys.”
“Neither are you.”
“Enough.” He glowered at her. “If you want clothes to wear to class tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, that aren’t the crap you were wearing yesterday, you should learn to watch your words.”
“If I want…” She stopped herself, gulping. “You wouldn’t.” A tiny thread of thought escaped her mouth, let loose in all the panic. “Wait, the crap I was wearing, what?” She plucked at the shirt. “I picked this out specially.”
“Pink doesn’t suit you, certainly not that bright of a pink. And those pants-things.” He frowned, and she fought not to flinch away. It wasn’t like she could go anywhere anyway.
“Capris?” Her mother had bought those.
“I don’t like them.”
“I do,” she shot back. “It’s my body.”
“Press your forehead to the floor.” He shot off the order casually and released her chin so his hand wasn’t in the way. She fought her body, but it was a losing struggle, her forehead pressing itself to the soft carpet. When she was bent double on the floor, he rested his hand on the back of her neck. “Good. Cross your wrists at the small of your back.”
Her arms moved and, despite fighting it, despite her humiliation, she found herself trying to make her pose perfect. Was this what he wanted? Was this how he wanted to see her? Submissive, humbled. Like some sort of pet. Or slave.
“Very good.” She’d done it right, then. She bit her lip at the tiny surge of pleasure that rushed through her. This wasn’t supposed to feel good. Her cheeks were burning with it, her stomach roiling with utter humiliation. But he liked her like this, and something in her liked that. “Now. If you insist on saying stupid things like ‘it’s my body,’ I will remind you it’s not. You might think twice before saying something like that, say, at lunch.”
“Oh, God.” He could do it, couldn’t he? He could, and he was telling her he would.
“Not a god.” He was laughing at her now, and she would spit at him, hit him, but she could barely move. “Just your master. Do you think you can remember this lesson?”
The carpet was going to be pressed into her forehead, like a permanent brand. “I can.”
“When I have you like this, when you’re kneeling for me, you will call me Master.” His voice sounded thick now, the laughter gone.
“Fuck you… Master.” She snarled the word out, wishing she could fight him more, wishing she were stronger.
“Good. Now stand, and we’ll go see what you have for clothes.” His hand left her neck and, like a puppet on strings, she got to her feet. His eyes raked over her, in the “crap” clothes he hated so much. She really liked this outfit. “I hope you have something nicer than that in your closet.”
“That’s my favorite dress!” Thorburn had dumped all of her clothing onto her bed – which he had informed her wasn’t her bed anymore – and with no ceremony at all, started sorting the clothing into three piles: “crap,” “nice,” and “will suffice.” There was very little in the “nice” pile, and a lot more than was comfortable in the “crap” pile, including Ceinwen’s favorite dress. She’d saved for that for a month.
“You’ll wear what I want you to wear.” He didn’t say it like a threat, that was the thing. He said it like it was a fact of nature, like gravity. “And I don’t want you to wear that.”
“They’re my clothes! You can’t do that!” She knew the words were going to make him angry the moment they were out of her mouth, but by then it was too late.
“Kneel.” The worst of it was his voice. He didn’t sound angry; if anything, he sounded bored. “Forehead to the floor, wrists behind your back. If you cannot accept simple things, I will have to make them easier for you. I could destroy all of this crap. That would make it easier, wouldn’t it?”
“Please don’t.” She hurried to say it again, to add on the hated stupid title before the orders pulled it out of her. “Please don’t, Master.” She gulped. “You said this wasn’t forever. When they’re my clothes again, I’d like them back.”
He thought about that for a moment, or ignored her while he kept tossing her clothes around. “Fine.” He didn’t sound happy about it. She wondered if throwing clothes out was tradition around here, too. How did the teachers feel about that? What about parents, whose kids came home for summer break without the things their mothers and fathers had paid for? Or things that, like Ceinwen, the kids had paid for themselves.
Summer break seemed a long, long time away.
“Look here.” She looked, moving as little as possible. He was pointing to one of her two chests. “You can wear what’s in here. Not in the other one. Don’t open the other chest.”
“That’s not a lot of clothes.” She hadn’t had a lot to start with, enough to get through two weeks without repeating herself, three if she was clever and the weather held. “…master.”
“Keep complaining, and you’ll be washing the same outfit every night and re-using it.” He moved an arbitrary-seeming second pile from the “allowed” chest to the “forbidden” chest, and tossed her a skirt and shirt. “Change into this. You can get up,” he added, almost like he’d forgotten that was part of getting dressed. “I didn’t touch your underthings. Those can go in the trunk with the clothes you can wear, except what you pick out for today. You’ll need new shoes.”
Ceinwen stood, taking the dress, and moved slowly to her dresser to pick out underwear. If her shoes didn’t meet muster, she was pretty sure her underwear wouldn’t either. He seemed to have gotten his idea of appropriate women’s wear from TV shows and catalogs, mostly Victoria’s Secret and Fredericks’ of Hollywood.
“Are you going to turn your back?” If he didn’t see her panties, he wouldn’t have a chance to complain about them.
“I want to see what you look like.”
If he didn’t like it, would he return her? She gulped, and turned her back on him to begin stripping off her “crap” clothes. She wanted to be returned, didn’t she?
“I said I wanted to see what you looked like. Turn around.”
She wanted to tell him to fuck off, but she didn’t want to get stuck kneeling on the floor again. She bit her tongue, holding the words inside, and turned to face him. Her shirt was half over her head, blocking her expression, and she was glad for that.
“Mmp. You didn’t ever plan on anyone seeing that bra but your mirror, did you?”
She finished pulling the shirt off hurriedly, and grabbed her nicest bra out of the top of her drawer. “No. I wasn’t really planning on dating, or being kidnapped and Owned, or any of that.”
“Really?” For the first time, he looked really, honestly startled. “You weren’t planning on dating? Well. That changes things, I guess.” He was too tall; it only took him three steps to cross the room to her and put both his hands on her shoulders.
“Are you…” He shook his head before she could even get her hopes up.
“I’m not going to free you. Somebody else would grab you, I’m sure… and, besides, I wanted you, not just any Kept.” Ceinwen wondered why that should feel good. Being wanted as a kidnap victim wasn’t exactly fun, or flattering, or anything. It was like being drafted, only with a frillier uniform. “But it means we will take things slowly, and carefully. I won’t force dating on you.”
She wasn’t sure what that meant. She wasn’t sure if that was even a good thing. But she swallowed, swallowed again to dislodge her pride from her throat, and met his eyes. “Thank you.”
Monday, September 15, 2003
When Professor Pelletier saw Ceinwen’s collar, she pursed her lips and asked one question: “Who?”
If the professor was asking, like that, then it meant that Thorburn had been telling the truth. This was normal, here. There wasn’t going to be any quick response. Ceinwen, who liked the Sciences Professor, even if she was a little scary, didn’t have any reason not to answer, even if it stuck in her throat. “Thorburn.”
That made the Professor frown in a strange way, and discarded answers flitted across her expression before she settled on a thoughtful hmm’ing noise. “Well, it could be worse.”
Thinking of his friends, and the nasty things the one of them, Curry, had whispered, thinking of the things she’d seen in the halls Saturday night, and the creeps who’d tried to grab her before Thorburn, Ceinwen couldn’t help but agree. Still, she was glad to have the professor confirm it. “I don’t like it,” she said anyway, because she didn’t, and because she could still say that. He hadn’t taken that one away from her yet.
“Neither do I, but you’ll do all right with him. Just shine your light on his dark moments, and you should be okay.”
“My light?” It wasn’t the strangest thing the Professor had said, but it ranked up there. And her knowing, pensive smile didn’t make it any less strange.
“You have a light that shines on the things that lurk in dark corners, Ceinwen. Aelgifu has something similar, but she was rather busy in her time here. Use it well, and it should see you, and all of us, through the rough times.”
She had no idea what the Professor was talking about. It sounded like something from church, but nobody here seemed the least bit faithful. The closest she’d come was Thorburn’s joke about being a god. Not knowing what to think of it, she chose to forget about it. It was hard enough just trying to get through the day, trying not to think about Thorburn, foiled at every step by the collar he’d sealed around her neck.
The things that lurk in corners. That sounded like him, like his friends, like nasty Curry with the creepy look in his eyes. It sounded like most of the upperclassmen around here. Creepy little monsters, waiting to jump out and bite when you least expected it.
The Professor’s words were still in the back of Ceinwen’s mind when she went to sleep that night, naked against the soft jersey of Thorburn’s pyjamas. Shine your light on his dark moments. What was that supposed to mean? What darkness? Keeping her as slave seemed pretty dire to her, but nobody above the Ninth Cohort had looked askance at her collar, not even the teachers, except to ask who? That couldn’t be what the Professor had meant.
She drifted off to sleep, pondering what Pelletier had said. Darkness. The things lurking in the corners. The pictured herself wandering around with a flashlight, shining it into shadowed corners. Not that Thorburn would let her do that. Not that, considering what she’d seen Saturday, it would be safe to do.
Dark places. The room around her came to vivid life in her dreamscape – taller, narrower, full of deep shadows. Everything locked away in chests and boxes, like the box Thornburn had put half of her stuff into. Everything covered with spiderwebs and dust. And in the corner…
No, no, no. She didn’t want to go there. She was his, awake; she didn’t want to be his in her dreams, too. She shouldn’t have to be his in her sleep. She fled, finding that the door didn’t hold her, here. In her dreams, at least, she could go where she wanted to.
Corners, everywhere. Bits of color and shining light, yes, but dark gritty corners, everywhere, tiny creatures skittering about. When there were no corners in the halls in the waking world, just endless curves. It was like a nightmare basement, like a horror-movie cellar. She flailed, heart pounding, reaching for the light switch. There weren’t any switches in the hallways in real life, but, like there were corners here that didn’t really exist, she grabbed a switch that shouldn’t be there and flipped it.
White, shining trails of light poured out of her, twisting in spirals like a ribbon, drilling into the corners, illuminating every impossible corner, wrapping it all in streamers of golden brilliance. In one corner, a black waif of a shadow reached for the light, grabbed it, and stood, stretching, becoming a specter of sunlight herself. In another, the shadow and the person split, the shadow slipping further into the corner, the person (un-recognizable, just a silhouette of a thin boy) standing tall.
Shine your light on the things that lurk in corners.
She twisted, turning her light back homewards, pulled by the bond he’d imposed on her, pulled by the dark corners in her captor’s dreams. She could light up his night a little bit. She could pull that smile to his lips that she saw so rarely. Maybe she could bring him enough light that he’d see sense.
A flickering shadow near his doorway nearly pulled her away, a long-limbed thing, six, eight limbs skitting, crawling along the floor. An old shadow, its lines thin like a sketch, it should have been terrifying in its giant-arachnid feel. Instead, she found that she wanted to hug it. Just as she moved to touch it with her light, it skittered away, as if sensing her attention. With a sigh, she headed back “home,” back to Thorburn’s shadows.
Where was he? When she’d left, he’d been lurking in the corner, a big, hulking presence, a nightmare. He wasn’t there, now, so where was he? Waiting for her? Hiding? She sent out her light, cautiously at first and then defiantly.
There. Behind the boxes, behind the spiderwebs and the dust. Behind the locks and chains. The figure was small, compact… no. As she grew closer, she realized that it was a large figure, as big as Thorburn, if not bigger, struggling, quietly, against chain after chain after chain. If the shadow was dark, the chains were pure midnight, the absence of any light at all, and they were holding the shadow into a crouch, knees to nose, feet to butt, hands behind his back… wrists crossed at the small of his back.
There were a lot of chains, and they were even more locks, carved out of shadow, holding the chains in place. She sat down, crossing dream-self legs and scooting as close as she dared. She could pull these chains apart, she thought. She could use her light to untangle them, to pick the locks. But it was going to take a long time.
“Big oaf.” She was surprised to find the shadow flinching, and more surprised to find herself sorry about it. Well… this might be the strangest dream ever. It might be nothing more than her mind trying to make sense of a series of beyond-unreal events. But in a place where people could end up having wings, maybe it could also do some good to pick some locks with her dream-flashlight. Cautiously, not wanting to hurt the shadow-creature in the locks, Ceinwen went to work.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
When they had been tested after class on Monday, Ceinwen had still been in a haze, staring blankly at the world and not very sure what was going on. She’d had enough self-possession to notice she wasn’t the only one like that, either; there were more than a few lost-looking students staring blankly at the teachers and playing uncertainly with neck jewelry.
She had known, however, when Intinn and Hugr and Tempero sounded like little explosions on her tongue, and Eperu had fallen so flat she’d barely been able to say that, that or Buli, which was an ugly word anyway. The teachers must have noticed, too, because she was shuffled off with a couple other people to learn all about Intinn with the school Director.
The Director had then spent an hour not showing them anything magical at all, and instead talking about comparative psychology and, with an eye to the collars on two of the three necks, Ceinwen thought, the stratification of society and the role of the mind in social roles. It had seemed like so much gibberish, and Ceinwen was not looking forward to two weeks of brain-theory after long days and, it seemed, nights full of restless dreams and too-tightly-cuddling Keepers.
She dutifully headed to the Director’s office anyway; she’d figured out early on that skipping even a boring class got you dragged back by Luke, and that didn’t seem like a good idea when the class was being taught by the Director of the school. Shang headed in ahead of her; the handsome Chinese-looking boy was the only one of the three in their class who didn’t have a collar on yet, and he looked like he was missing out on a joke and not happy about it.
You’re not missing anything good, Ceinwen wanted to tell him, but last night Thorburn had ordered her not to mention anything about the collars to anyone not wearing them. If she was asked, she was supposed to say it was a piece of jewelry her boyfriend had given her. Since it was, technically, both of those things, it wasn’t technically a lie… but it felt like lying, not being able to explain to Shang what was going on.
Speed, skinny, pretty Speed, whose collar was big and leather and didn’t even pretend to be a piece of jewelry, seemed to be in much the same position as Ceinwen; he only spoke when spoken to, and didn’t answer many questions at all.
“Today, Regine announced, as they filed in, “we are going to work on the Idu Manifestation with the Intinn Domain. Ceinwen, I understand that this is one of your weaker verbs, but we will do what we can to bring you along in the studies. We need to have a basic understanding of how the mind works before we can attempt to shape or control it. Otherwise, we risk permanently damaging a mind – our own, or others.”
With another teacher, Ceinwen might have wondered if the warning was from personal experience. With the Director, however, she couldn’t imagine such a thing. The perfectly-put-together, always-articulate woman couldn’t have taken an accidental screwdriver to somebody’s psyche, could she?
“Shang, I am going to ask you to start with a simple Idu Intinn of Ceinwen’s surface thoughts. You will use an alpha-level spell, thus: Idu Intinn alpha Ceinwen sh’Gina oro… Ceinwen, to whom does the collar belong?”
She coughed. “My boyfriend, Thorburn, gave it to me, ma’am.” Close enough. He hadn’t told her not to answer that question, yet.
“…Ceinwen sh’Gina oro’Thorburn. And Speed?”
“Gregori, ma’am.” His voice was barely a whisper. Gregori. Ceinwen had her history class with the guy – he was quiet, unassuming, handsome but not particularly tall or muscular or anything. And he was slick, slicker than any teenager had any right to be, in a way that she couldn’t put her finger on.
Then again, the way he looked at her and the other girls, she hadn’t expected him to end up with a guy. Maybe he’d noticed Speed’s luxurious long hair from the back…?
She stopped that line of thought as the Director kept talking. “Ceinwen, I’ll ask you to sit over here and read these flash cards silently, one at a time. This is a standard test, generally used for gauging extra-sensory perception in those who believe themselves to be completely human.”
And if that wasn’t a creepy sentence, Ceinwen didn’t know what was. “Yes, ma’am.” She was still human, as far as she could tell. Most of her classmates were, too, although a couple – like Timora, with those hooves – seem to have flipped out over the weekend.
She sat down where the Director indicated and started looking at the cards as Shang recited his Idu Intinn. “Ceinwen sh’Gina oro… what does ‘oro’ mean, Director? What’s the ‘sh’ part mean, too?”
Gina was her mother, so that part was probably something to do with “daughter of,” right?
“There are several such suffixes that are often attached to an Ellehemaei’s name. The Ellehemaei are, of course, us: faeries, as we are sometimes called, the children of a departed race who once called themselves gods. Your Mentors or Professor Valerian will better be able to explain this than I.
“The suffixes, however, become part of one’s name and are used in directing the Working to the proper target. There may be several Ceinwens, for instance, but it is unlikely there are that many Ceinwens who are daughters of Gina. If her name was, for instance, Jennifer daughter of Linda, you might need to be more specific again, so we learn to be as direct and as specific as we can with each Working.”
“Oh…” Shang sounded more than a little dazed. “All right. So Idu Intinn…alpha… Ceinwen sh’Gina oro’Thorburn.”
“Very good. Ceinwen? First card.”
She tried to focus on the card in front of her. INJUSTICE, it read, in big bold letters. Injustice, she thought, as clearly as she could. The collar around Speed’s neck. The box of clothes she couldn’t touch. Injustice.
“Perhaps the next card, Ceinwen?”
That one was easy. She pictured the lake by her house, the waves at sunset lapping up against the dock, the swans in the pond on the way to school. Water. Her mother loved the water, and took her swimming every chance they god, from the moment the weather was warm enough until it was too cold for anyone but them. Water was a calming, pleasing word, like the light in her dreams.
“Water.” Shang sounded inordinately pleased with himself. All he’d done was read a card. From her mind.
He’d read a card from her mind. That was probably worth a little pride.
“Thanks. Err, sorry. Next card.”
She flipped the card over, to find it scribbled on in black marker. Children had been crossed out, replaced with secrets.
“Ah.” Regine coughed. “Perhaps we’ll move on to another exercise now. Ceinwen, if you would set the cards down? Shang, to break the Working, you simply need to picture it ending, cutting off.”
Ceinwen set the cards down slowly, looking at the last one. This school certainly had enough secrets.
And a hand had smudged the ink before it dried, leaving the second s smeared and a fingerprint bigger than her big toe pressed firmly into the glossy cardstock.
Friday, September 19, 2003
“You’re going to need this.”
Gar had no idea where the girl had come from; he’d been walking down a back hallway when she’d stepped out of nowhere in front of him.
He knew her from a couple of his classes, a slender, quiet girl with whiskers and paws that reminded him of an otter. Sylvia. She was pretty, but in a room full of aggressive beauties, she’d always faded into the background.
Garfunkel knew the feeling. He was, to quote his ex-girlfriend, “just a guy.” Just a guy, now, who seemed to shoot off crags of red stone when he got upset, like a particularly rocky porcupine version of the Hulk. Just a guy who, he was told, was very good at some odd magical words that made his tongue tingle.
And who, at the moment, was being faced with an otter-girl with some sort of necklace, no, collar, some sort of collar in her paw.
He shook his head, backing up slowly, holding up his own why-did-he-have-paws. “No, no thank you,” he said hurriedly. “I’ve seen all the collars around since, whatdy’acallit, Hell Night. I’ve seen everyone all hangdog and upset. I don’t need to join their ranks.”
“This is different,” she insisted. “It’s still a collar, but it’s different.”
“And why should I believe you?”
“Because I don’t lie, and I promise you I’m not lying to you. You are going to need what this collar gives you. I have a very strong feeling about that.”
“I have a very strong feeling about not becoming a brain-washed zombie,” he answered dryly.
“You won’t.” Sounding hurried and a bit irate, she added, “just put it on. It doesn’t mean anything without the words.”
“The words?” Her stare was rather unnerving; despite himself, Gar found himself taking the collar-thing from her and putting it around his neck.
“‘With this ring…’ that sort of thing, the words your hang-dog friends said,” she hedged, and then, in his mind…
I Belong to You. The Fourth Law of Keeps states that one Ellehemaei –
Ellehemaei, the people of Ellehem, of the land that is not Earth. The fae, the Fair Folk, the Departed Gods. You.
The answers flooded into his mind as the questions appeared, images and explanations, a tone in the mental voice that sounded like the otter-girl. When he opened his eyes, finally, there was one phrase on his lips. His mind full of what it meant, he still couldn’t help but say it.
“I Belong to you, Sylvia.”
“Yes,” she smiled, looking pleased. “You do.”
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