October 24, 2012 by Lyn
Friday, October 24, 2003
“Let me see.” Agravain sounded bored. Akaterina wanted to take offense at that, she really did, but a shred of self-preservation reminded her that an Agravain bored about his Keeper duties was an Agravain unlikely to demand anything of her before classes. When he got interested, that’s when things could get uncomfortable.
Complying without a fight was a good way to keep him bored. She posed, hands clasped behind her back, eyes down, feet just where he wanted them. The morning inspection seemed redundant, considering he’d given her orders about her clothes – his clothes. He’d bought them, he’d chosen them, and he’d been very clear that everything about her was, for the foreseeable future, his. Including her panties.
That had been a quick argument, and she was still feeling the consequences of her attempted rebellion. That one, and the next three. It wasn’t that she learned slowly, it was just that some things about being Kept were too hard, too horrid, to take without a fight, no matter how much it hurt.
Nothing to be done when he did that, though. She couldn’t do anything but turn around. She could, of course, be a wiseass and do it two or three or a hundred times, but she wanted breakfast this morning. She wanted him to stay bored. She made a half-turn, to show him the way the tattoo he’d had put on her showed between the low-rise pants and the cropped shirt, and the way the heeled sandals stretched out her calves.
“Nice.” The warm approval in the single word was like chocolate. She hated that she loved it, but couldn’t help angling for it anyway.
She nodded, not trusting herself to words right now. She hadn’t been able to keep herself from arguing last night. If she could make it through today without a fight or an argument or a tantrum, maybe he’d let up on the most recent set of restrictions.
“Say thank you.”
Damnit. “Thank you, Master.” At least he only insisted on that inside the suite. She didn’t think she’d be able to stand it, out there with everyone looking at her.
“Go wait in the living room. I’ll be out in a moment.” He passed over her book bag – a shoulder bag; he didn’t like the way the backpacks covered her up – and made a shooing gesture. Smiling tightly so she didn’t frown, she went as she was bidden.
Miryam, Damaris, and Ahouva were waiting in the main room, Kendon nowhere to be seen. Not wanting to kneel, Akaterina remained standing She didn’t make eye contact with anyone. She didn’t know what sort of mood they’d be in, so she pretended the wall was very interesting.
“Bad night?” She didn’t know why Miryam asked, why she acted like she cared. She wasn’t wearing a collar, despite being a Ninth Cohort like Kat and Ahouva. She wasn’t the one who had to parade around naked or half-naked, who had to ask permission to eat, to dress, to so much as take a shit. What right did she have to pretend she understood?
Akaterina didn’t answer, just shook her head. No, not a bad night. No, I don’t want to talk about it. No, you’re not going to do anything, why ask?
“It can get worse.” The strange thing was, Damaris sounded like she was trying to be helpful. Kat stared at her anyway. Worse was supposed to help?
They all seemed to take her silences in stride. Of course, they’d heard him shut her up a few times already. “It’s the thing with the collar.” Damaris rubbed the back of her bare neck. The gesture made Kat all the more aware of her own neck, the leather collar there that she wasn’t allowed to take off, except for PE (making it her new favorite subject). “It can always get worse, and it can always get better.” She stared at the wall for a moment. When she turned back – Miryam cleared her throat – she looked more like her normal, bubble-headed self. “The trick is learning how much – how little, really – you can control, and letting go of everything else.”
Ahouva was nodding. Kat didn’t want to agree, but she didn’t want to start the day out on a bad note, either. She glanced up at the other girls, and made the smallest head gesture she could.
“Silenced again?” Damaris sounded sympathetic. How could she sound so sympathetic when she loved to get Kat in trouble for mouthing off? What was wrong with these people?
Kat nodded, and then, because she wasn’t allowed to lie to the crew, cleared her throat. “Outside the suite.” That’s why Damaris asked, wasn’t it? To humiliate her, to rub her nose in it.
“Yeah. Easier to just not talk at all. I’ve been there.” There she went again.
Kendon’s door opened then, and they all fell silent. They all knew what was going to happen, but, like a car wreck, they watched it anyway.
Kendon stepped out of his room, and Ahouva reached out to him. Her eyes were needy, her shoulders hunched as if he was the only thing that could warm her. Kat hated it when she did that. It was like a mirror to everything horrible she found herself doing when Agravain was aloof or angry.
And, worse, she knew Kendon was eating it up. He smiled at Ahouva’s back, and pushed her hands away. “Gods, you’re so clingy. Stop it.”
Ahouva cringed. Akaterina cringed. They all cringed, everyone but Kendon, who smirked. Evil bastard.
And none of them said anything. Miryam, damn her, smiled at Kendon, who gave her a stupid giddy smile back in response. Why did he have Ahouva when he really wanted Miryam?
Ahouva didn’t even notice. She was too busy being miserable, curled up in on herself, as if trying to get warm. Kat knew she should say something, anything, get in the way, tell Ahouva she was being played, tell Kendon he was being an ass.
Her stomach growled, and she said nothing, and hated herself a little bit more. Here she was, standing here with some guy’s tramp stamp tattooed across her back and his collar around her neck. Who was she to tell Ahouva anything?
“Well, what are you all waiting for?” Agravain strode out of his room like a god, grinning in a way that some people might mistake for gentle humor. “Come on, breakfast is getting cold.”
She tried to take the arm he wrapped around her waist as affection and not possession, but she was getting less and less sure there was any difference in his mind.
Friday, October 24, 2003, third-hour class
Kat would normally enjoy History class. She had enjoyed History, her first two weeks here, not knowing what monsters she was sharing the room with. But now, bracketed by Damaris and Kendon, with the tall-neon-and-creepy Hemlock sitting behind her, all she could do was just try to get through the hour.
The gossip was thick this morning, pooling in little groups. In the front, gorgeous Indigo and Dirk leaned over the aisle towards each other, giggling about something. Nessie and Tigg were muttering in one corner, their voices low. Sofia, Lethe, and Jabez were talking in another corner, their voices rising. The rest of the room was listening, like Kat, or lost in their own worlds, like Damaris seemed to be.
Kat couldn’t have joined in any of the conversations if she’d wanted to, but she could listen, and she did, her eyes on her notebook while her ears took her from one conversation to the next.
“So did you really? Oh, I wish I’d been there, that sounds delicious! And what did she say? Mmm? Oh, Dirk, you have all the fun, and you don’t share anymore.”
“All you have to do is ask, Indigo, luv. You just have to show up.”
“Maybe I will, then. See how that goes over.”
There was more in the same vein. They sounded like Agravain and Kendon and Damaris sounded, sometimes, when their Kept weren’t supposed to be listening. Kat felt a bit sorry for whoever they were talking about, and moved on to the next conversation.
“It’s not like that, Ness. It’s never been like that.”
“Bullshit it’s not. You wander around doing his dirty work, and what do you get out of it? He didn’t even get you a Kept to play with, Tigg. Be someone else’s bitch.”
“It has its perks. At least I’d sleep with you. Calvin won’t even give you that.”
“You just need your second.”
“So do you, spikes, so do you.” Nessie had a smile that was more predatory than friendly, and she was turning it full-bore on the hedgehog boy. Was she really offering to Own him? Was he really thinking about accepting? It seemed hard to believe.
“How’s little Agra doing?” Hemlock’s voice cut into her thoughts. He wasn’t talking to her, was he? No, he’d leaned forward to bother Damaris, whose lips were pursed unhappily. Oh, good, just what Kat needed. Damaris found ways to take out all her unhappiness on Kat and Ahouva, and neither Kendon nor Agravain saw fit to stop her.
“Not so little anymore.” Her voice was so neutral as to be nearly robotic. This was going to be bad.
“Not exactly big, though. How’s he doing, Mare? He won’t talk to me anymore.”
“You didn’t exactly end on lovely terms.”
End on? Kat twisted her head to steal a quick look at both of them. Not quite quickly enough; Hemlock caught her looking and smirked. “Are you his, now?”
“She’s not allowed to talk to strange men, Hemlock, and I’d say you count as strange enough.”
“Protective.” He held both hands up, smiling. “Good. He could use it. But he hasn’t told her about last year.”
“Would you, if you were him?”
“I did, when I was him. I don’t think it helped.”
“Well then, there you have it. He hasn’t. And I doubt it would help at all.”
Hasn’t what, didn’t what, what? For the first time in days, her inability to talk was driving Kat nuts. She stared resolutely at her notebook, determined not to give them the satisfaction of seeing her squirm.
“I wouldn’t mind helping, you know.” His voice took on a more gentle tone. “And I don’t think she’d mind, either. It’s hard, your first time.”
“I know that, Hemlock. Agra knows that. We all know it.”
“Yeah. So did I. It didn’t stop me from being an ass.”
“I noticed.” Her voice was tight and cold. “Listen, leave our Kept alone. They’re ours.”
“As you say.” He sat back and, against all belief, Damaris patted Kat’s shoulder.
“It’s all right.”
Kat knew she looked confused: she was confused. What was all right? What was she missing? Clearly, something between Hemlock and Agravain, but what? Well, it had upset Damaris. She didn’t want Damaris upset. She smiled gamely, and hoped the older girl would drop it. It wasn’t like she could tell her it was okay or anything.
(One girl she’d seen around used flash cards. Would Agravain forbid those, too? Probably, since she could be just as mouthy on paper as she could out loud).
Damaris was good at reading expressions, or she was good at guessing emotions she’d caused. Probably the latter; she liked to cause distress enough. “Look… Hemlock and Agra have a history. I’m not going to go into it, but if you get him in a good mood, he might tell you.”
Why would Kat want to know the secrets her captor didn’t want to tell her?
“If you know what’s going on, it’s easier to… well,” she glanced over Kat’s shoulder at Kendon and back to Kat. “It’s easier. And yeah, it does get easier. You learn how to handle it, and where the lines are.”
Why was Damaris being so nice?
That one, she didn’t seem to really read. She just patted Kat’s shoulder again. “You’ll learn how to please him soon enough, don’t worry.”
Kat gulped, smiled, and went back to looking at her notebook. She didn’t want to learn to please him. She wanted him to be so displeased that he let her go. She was losing hope that that would ever happen, however.
“You know Eirena isn’t the sort to make that kind of thing up, Lethe. You of everyone ought to know that. She’s levelheaded… when she’s not making things explode.” Sofia’s voice wasn’t loud, but the room had hit the proper silence between conversations to make her words echo. The svelte blonde didn’t seem to mind.
“Even with. If she says a stranger grabbed her in the halls, that’s what happened.”
“I didn’t think there were strangers in Addergoole?” Lemon offered. No collar. Kat didn’t know whether to complain or cheer her on. Not that she could voice either.
“Exactly.” Lethe sounded more depressed than vindicated.
“Somebody grabbed Eirena?” Leo leaned over, butting into the conversation almost literally, his horns leading the way. That, Kat mused wistfully, that is an awesome Change. Not like some I’ve seen. Not like totally not having a Change, either.
Sofia frowned at him. “She’s not too clear on it.”
“But she says a stranger grabbed her?”
“What’s it to you?” Draconic Jabez – and talk about nice Changes, that was another unfair one – showed teeth in an altogether animal-looking show of aggression. This place was more like a zoo than a school some days.
“It’s information.” He didn’t paw the ground, quite. But it looked like he wanted to. “Someone grabbed Eirena?”
“She says.” Lethe shrugged.
“And she’s not prone to making things up.” Sofia, at least, seemed willing to part with information. “So yes, she believes she was attacked by a stranger in the halls. It could be someone Masked or shape-changed to look differently.”
“Mmf.” The deer-boy didn’t seem like he would part with any in return, though. “Was she hurt?”
“Are you Keeping her now? Is she in your Crew? Why do you care?” Jabez snarled, a ruff of scales slowly lifting up out of his shirt.
“I care.” Leo’s rack of horns was pointed straight at the shorter man. It looked like it was going to be a fight. Kat leaned forward in her seat, wondering who to cheer for. Silently, of course.
“All right, class.” Laurel Valerian swept into the room. “I’m sorry I’m late, there was a… problem in the, ah, grotto. Now pull out your books and turn to page seventeen. Leofric, back in your seat, please. Hemlock, into yours. Who can tell me what effect the Ellehemaei had on the Second Battle of Sabine Pass? Kat?”
“The Confederate troops had two Ellehemaei with them, Professor, while the Union troops had none known to history. The Confederate Ellehemaei seeded the river with terrain-changing sand banks and reefs. Some of the reefs were later lit on fire, after Union boats ran into them. In addition, it’s believed that the Confederate Ellehemaei used Intinn Workings to cloud the aim of the Union sharpshooters. In short, they cheated.” There was more than one reason she still liked class.
Friday, October 24, 2003, end of magic class
“Good.” Doug looked at the electricity arcing between Kat’s hands. “Very good. Practice at home.”
“Thank you, sir.” She let the electricity disperse, and dropped her hands to her sides. Class was over; class had been over for ten minutes, but Doug had held her over to practice this technique. She thought, maybe, he was trying to give her a little more time before she had to go home. She wished it would do any good.
“Stop in Sunday, my office. I have a few extra tricks to show you.”
That was more words than he’d used in one place in any class to date; he must be trying to give her a breather. “Thank you, sir.” She put more feeling into it, this time. Sundays were bad, especially if Agravain and Kendon had been drinking on Saturday.
Doug grunted, apparently out of words. “Go. Careful.”
She gave him a crooked little smile. As long as she was answering teachers, she could talk. “I always try to be careful, sir. It just doesn’t always work.”
“That trick of yours – talk to Luke about that sometime. Or Akatil.”
“Trick… yes, sir.” She nodded, feeling warmer inside than she had in a long time. He was paying attention. Someone was paying attention to her! “Why not you, sir?”
“Kwxe and Unutu, not so much my thing.” He bounced sparks off his fingers demonstratively. “That’s Dad.” He graced Kat with a rare smile. “Dad built a town, once.”
“Dad? Luke?” She’d never heard him refer to him that way before, though the family resemblance was obvious. She’d thought maybe brothers. “Wow. You really don’t get older, do you?”
“We, not me.” He tapped her nose. “You, too.”
She sighed. “I’m a dud. Even Agravain says so. No Change. I can barely use my power unless I’m scared. I’m a fluke.”
“No.” And now he was glowering again, and she just wanted to hide under the table. “Not hardly. Tell him – no, probably best not to. But you’re not a dud, Akaterina. Not at all.” His hands paused over her shoulders, and then he turned away. “Better get going.”
For a second, she’d thought he was going to kiss her. For a moment, it had seemed like a good idea. “Yes, sir.” She suppressed a sigh; he’d held her longer than Agravain would like already. It was time for her to get back home.
The halls were quiet; she imagined everyone was back in their rooms or down in the Arcade, killing time before dinner. She’d better get back, too, before the crew headed out for dinner.
She took the back stairs – they were less likely to be inhabited, less likely to have people there that would want to talk to her – two at a time, hurrying now. She’d been hungry all the time recently, the last couple weeks, even when she was eating enough. If she wasn’t careful, pretty soon she wouldn’t fit into the clothes Agravain had picked out for her.
She didn’t know what he’d do then. Make her go to the gym? That had its merits… better than just making her go naked. She wasn’t sure the teachers would like that, but she also wasn’t sure they’d stop it. They didn’t seem to stop much of anything. She kept telling herself they didn’t know (and she couldn’t tell them), because it was easier than thinking that they were just doing nothing at all.
A hand grabbed her arm, although she didn’t see anyone at all in the hall. She swallowed a scream and tried to pull away.
“The stairs go to the bottom. They go all the way down.” The voice was a ragged croak. “They go down. And nobody goes down. Nobody looks.“
Kat tried to pull away again, jerking her arm. She could fight against this. She had no orders at all against fighting against invisible attackers.
On the other hand, not speaking meant she couldn’t do Workings, damn it. She shoved hard against where there ought to be a person, thinking about shoving through walls.
The hand on her arm let go, only to grab at her hair from behind. “Why doesn’t anyone listen? Why doesn’t anyone look? There’s rot in the walls of this place. There’s poison in the food. There’s water in the basement.”
There was what now? This was giving her a headache. She squirmed against the hold again, pulling away, her hair seeming like it was pulling out by the roots, stretching her whole head.
“Say something! Say something, damn you! The messages on the walls come and go.
Nobody cares! The stories change and nobody notices. The stairs go all the way down, all the way down and nobody sees. The doors go down the halls, down the halls and nobody knows. Say something, do something, care!”
She struggled hard, making horrible little squeaking noises. It was like she was trying to say something, even though she knew she couldn’t, like her throat was trying to force the words out. And nothing came. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone?
“Say. Something.” He shoved her against the wall on both words; on the second one, she remembered to make the wall go intangible. That didn’t help; he dragged her into the space between walls and went back to hitting her. “Do. Something. Say. Something. The stairs. They go down all the way.”
What? She struggled and kicked, but she couldn’t see him, couldn’t seem to reach him, and he was strong and vicious, clawing and biting as well as hitting her. And making no sense. She grabbed at his arm and pulled herself back out of the wall, back onto the floor. She had to get home. She had to stop the attack.
“Say something!” It felt like she was getting hit with a two-by-four, or maybe a mack truck. All over something she couldn’t do anything about . Say something? Even if she could talk, she couldn’t say anything. She lashed out, pushing, kicking, hitting blindly, flailing, sometimes getting contact, sometimes hitting nothing at all, grunting angrily. She couldn’t do anything, she didn’t know what he wanted, and she didn’t want to be here. Why did he keep hitting her? What did he want from her? What did any of them want from her?
She shoved, aiming for the wall, making the wall as dense as she could, grunting angrily, her humiliation making her even madder. She couldn’t even talk, he couldn’t even leave her that. Just grunting, like something sub-human.
“Beast, beast. Stop it, creature, stop it.” He sounded panicked now, freaked out. Well, good. Good. He shouldn’t make messes without thinking of what he was doing. Whoever he was. She shoved again, intending to leave him halfway into the wall.
“Shit, shit, Tempero Tlacatl ýpnos, ýpnos, sleep!!”
She fell over, cursing in her mind until her body wouldn’t let her stay awake any longer.
Later the same day
“…Tlacatl um girl oro’Agravain… come on, wake up.” A hand on her shoulder, another one on her hip. Everything hurt. Everything. Her teeth hurt, her eyes hurt. Her nose hurt.
She woke with a groan, and tried to speak, to say she was awake already, but she’d rather sleep. Not wise, but she hurt too much to care.
Only a croak came out. That was enough to make her blink and open her eyes. Not Agravain’s room, no. The hall? The hall, with one wall melted and smeared with dark, gooey blood. Where… oh. And Hemlock leaning over her, that ridiculous magenta hair trailing over her.
“Still can’t talk to strange men, ey? Come on, sweetie, wake up. We need to get you to Caitrin’s.”
Caitrin’s, that would be nice. She nodded, and tried to stand up.
“No, no, here, let me carry you. I don’t want you to fall over.”
She sighed, and let him pick her up. He was tall enough, and the world seemed to be spinning badly.
“That’s better. What happened to you? Agra might not be that old, but he’s strong enough to protect you….”
She looked at him incredulously. Protect her? Protect her from what? Invisible people in the hallways? Well, that would be nice, but he didn’t seem inclined to protect her from anything except his own temper.
“Oh, shit. He’s not hurting you, is he? This wasn’t…”
She shook her head rapidly. No, no. He’d never actually hurt her, not like that. And Dr. Caitrin had snuck enough Idu Tlacatl’s into their Body classes to check, too.
“Good.” He looked amazingly relieved for someone who was essentially a stranger to her.; his shoulders relaxed and he even smiled a bit. “Let’s get you to the doctor, then, and I can go tell Agra what happened.”
She nodded. What else was she going to do? Well, indulge in a little tantrum, which she did, closing her eyes and pressing her lips together. Everything hurt, everything, and she couldn’t Work it better because that was speaking. Because her stupid Owner thought she talked too much.
“Sorry.” She felt lips press to her forehead a second before her eyes flew open. “That’s probably my fault. It’ll get better, once he gets used to having you around.”
“Put her down. Get away from her.” Agravain sounded angry, really, heartily angry. Kat cringed, pressing up against Hemlock, trying to hide in the bigger man’s arms. She hadn’t done anything, she really hadn’t this time. But he probably wouldn’t believe her. He never did (she was lying a lot of the time, but that was beside the point).
“Agra, I swear, she was like this when I found her. I was taking her to the Doctor’s.”
“I said, put her down and get away from her. Nobody said you could touch her. Nobody gave you that right.”
“Agra, she needs to see a doctor.”
“She has the Words for healing. Put her down, Hemlock, she’s mine.”
It would be nice that he was this angry about her, if she thought it had anything to do with her. but he sounded like someone had walked off with his favorite CD, not like someone was hurting someone he cared about. Not that Hemlock was hurting her.
“Agra, I’ll hand her to you when you promise to take her directly to Caitrin’s. Otherwise, I’m going to take her there myself.”
“She’s mine. You can’t just come in and take my stuff anymore. You can’t do that.”
“Agra, she’s hurt. And I will challenge you for-”
“Rrraaarg!” Agravain’s shout was incoherent rage as he rushed Hemlock, fists flying, and, worse, oh, no, ice flying. Kat made herself as small as possible, but it wasn’t enough. The ice shards started digging into her neck, into her feet, into her back, as Agra grabbed her, pulling her away from Hemlock, one hand around her torso, pinching into her ribs. Something that shouldn’t move moved, and Kat screamed. Hemlock dropped her, and she screamed again as the floor hit her.
“What the fuck did you do to her?” The floor was cold, so cold, and she was barely staying conscious. Hemlock was backing up slowly, hands up, blurry, shaking. Maybe she was shaking.
“I found her here. I swear to you, she was like this when I found her.”
She whimpered despite herself as Agravain stepped over her, too far gone to care that it sounded animal and pitiful. There was a stabbing chill going through her, and there wasn’t a part of her body that didn’t hurt.
He glanced down at her, and, for a moment, his expression softened. “Sleep.”
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
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