December 5, 2012 by Lyn
Welcome to the Second Quarter!
Monday, December 1, 2003
The school was on lock-down.
Kyle hadn’t thought that an underground zoo for the freakish and weird could get any more like a prison short of someone putting a collar on him.
He’d been wrong.
“I just want to go visit my mother.” He’d really thought that would do it. People didn’t like to say no to Lady Maureen.
“Call her.” Doug grunted irritably at him. “Or write like everyone else. Back to your room.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” He turned back towards the dorms, walking just fast enough to not get Doug to growl at him again. Once he was out of sight, he could head down to the Arcade, maybe, or to the Store. Anywhere but in his room, alone, staring at four walls with no windows.
“Come on, Kyle, your room’s the other way.” Professor Valerian frowned repressively at him as he took an intentional wrong turn.
“Shouldn’t you guys be teaching or something?”
“This is an education as well. We are showing you not only that we’re concerned for your safety, but that we’re still smarter than you.” Now she smiled. He wasn’t sure he preferred the expression.
“So I’m learning.” He smiled back at her, his most charming aren’t-I-a-sweet-boy smile. It had worked when he was younger. “Not even to the Library for books?”
“Between seven and eight tonight we will send teachers to escort students to the Library and the Store. Until then, to your room with you.”
“I’ll make sure he gets there, Professor Valerian.” A long-nailed hand settled on Kyle’s forearm, and he shifted his smile to the new assailant.
At least it was Brydan. Of all his stalkers, she was the most cheerful about it. He let his smile get a bit more genuine. “See?” he offered to the professor. “I’m in good hands.” Nice, pretty hands, at least. The Sixth Cohort girl was an angel.
“Straight to his room, Brydan, or yours. No detours.”
“Yes ma’am.” Her smile was for him alone. “My place or yours, big boy?”
Somehow, she managed to make even that sound sweet. After all, he was a head taller than her. Big was probably okay.
“Uh, my room, I guess?” It was easy to pretend to be flustered around her. The hard part was not getting carried away and actually losing his head. They were all waiting for the moment he did that. “I’ve got some studying to do…”
“I would love to help you study, darling. Do you have any food in your room? I might be able to put together a little snack for you; you must be starving.”
“I ate dinner at the meal hall, and they won’t let me go to the weight room…” He should ask about that, actually. Most of the girls here didn’t like spending time in the weight room, and the girls that did weren’t interested in him. “I want to go swimming.”
That was totally the wrong thing to say, but since they all thought he was charmingly slow and just exasperatingly obtuse, that was probably okay. Brydan patted his arm. “Maybe later. First, let me make you some dessert?” A little wiggle in her hip added layers of suggestion to “dessert;” he didn’t even try to hide the blush.
“Aw, you don’t have to do that.” Not that she wasn’t quite pretty and everything, but Kyle knew better. “Thanks for getting me off the hook with the Professor, though. This is crazy.”
“I know, I’ve never seen anything like it.” She rolled her eyes. “They’re getting themselves all worked up just because a couple kids got a little banged up. There’s always someone who gets a little hurt, and they never get all this up in arms about it.”
His mother had said something similar, when he’d called her, but she’d also said there’s more going on than you know, Kyle. Be careful.
“So you don’t think, I dunno, there’s some sort of monster in here?”
“Well, I don’t know.” She grinned flirtatiously at him. “Depends on what you call a monster, doesn’t it? Sometimes I think you could say that about any student here.”
He took the bait. It was dangling too obviously not to. “Even you?”
“Well, honey, there’s people that call mermaids monsters, and unicorns, and nymphs.”
“Then what about me?” It was fun, when he got into it. Playing along, reading the script and sometimes scribbling in his own notes. He just had to remember he was playing on a tightrope over a pit of vipers.
She looked him over, and then took the excuse to stroke Kyle’s tail. He shivered, a not-entirely-feigned reaction. Tails were sensitive, as she probably knew all too well. “Nobody in their right mind would call you a monster. You’re too plush. Tall, sure, big and handsome, but plush.”
“Plush?” He wrinkled his nose down at her, ignoring the “tall and handsome” part. “You make me sound like some sort of stuffed animal.” And there was her straight line, fed to her nice and easy.
And she took it, smiling broadly, her little angel wings flapping in a devilish way. “Wouldn’t you like to find out what it’s like to be cuddled by me? I bet you’d make a lovely teddy bear.”
Cue nervous stammering. Kyle was getting so good at it, he’d been thinking of taking up a career in acting when he left here. They never checked the sh’ in the paperwork, or if they did, they always assumed his mother couldn’t be that Maureen. The Maureen. “I, uh, uh, um, that is, uh.” Little too thick? He peered down at her, trying to look nervous. No, she was lapping it up. “Um, I… I guess I’m kind of plush?” He paused, hand on his doorknob as if looking for an escape. “Thanks again, ah, Brydan. This is my room.”
“Gonna let me make you dessert?” She set her hand over his on his doorknob. She was very warm, and very close to him.
It made it awkward to turn the doorknob, but he did it anyway. He only had so much willpower, when she was pouring on all her charm. “Uh, maybe another time? I really do have to study…”
“I’m sure I could help. You always say ‘another time,’ Kyle, like the nursery rhyme. It’s always jam tomorrow.”
He was pretty sure that wasn’t a nursery rhyme, but now he was picturing Brydan in an Alice dress, and that was just about the end of his willpower. He pushed the door open and stepped over his threshold, forcing Brydan’s hand off of his. “I’m sorry.” It was no effort at all to look sincere. “This whole place is a little much, you know.” That part was pure bullshit, and yet at the same time entirely true. He’d expected the tail. He hadn’t expected… Brydan. “Everybody turning out to be, ah, fairies, and then everyone is so friendly…”
“That’s not friendly Brydan is doing. That’s slutty.”
Oh, good, the cavalry. Kyle could see clearly over Brydan’s head, but he waited for her to turn around anyway. What Eirena wanted with him, he couldn’t tell; he was a foot and a half taller than her. Maybe she wanted to ride around on his back or something.
“Ah, hi. I wouldn’t call it sl… that word. That’s kind of mean.” Please don’t fight. Please. That would just up the ante on this whole thing.
The tiny girl looked up at him – and at Brydan, who was pursing her lips in badly-contained displeasure – and shook her head. “Brydan is a very friendly girl, aren’t you, Brydie? And everyone likes very friendly girls. The problem is, everyone likes very friendly girls.”
“And nobody likes sharp, unpleasant girls. Aren’t you supposed to be in your room like a good underclassman?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be in your room like a good upperclassman?
“I told Professor Valerian I’d walk Kyle to his room. He was trying to get lost.”
“If you were pressing up against him like that, I can see why. Well, he’s in his room.”
Kyle was beginning to get more than a little uncomfortable. Eirena could be nice enough, when she wasn’t around other girls, but she turned into a harpy when anyone else talked to him. It boded ill for her chances, but he couldn’t tell her that without letting on that he knew what they were doing.
He was pretty sure the moment they knew the hunt was rigged, someone would pull out some mind magic, and he’d be screwed. Since he would rather pick which one of his stalkers he gave in to (and because he was enjoying the stalking, when it didn’t turn into catfights), he kept up the act.
“Uh, Eirena, that’s… I mean, Brydan was just being friendly. There’s no call to be mean to her. Really?” His voice hadn’t broken in years, accidentally. But he’d learned to fake it when he figured out that being shy-and-nervous got him a lot further than being big-and-intimidating.
It softened Eirena. It did every time. “I’m sorry, Kyle.”
He smiled at her, half a smile, crooked and cautious. “And?”
“I’m sorry, Brydan. I know you’re just being friendly… I just don’t think that Kyle’s ready for your kind of friendly quite yet. He’s kind of… young.”
Brydan was mollified, thank the departed gods and every spark of luck he had. “We’re all young when we get here, Eirena. Even me. And we all have to grow up sometime.”
And that, in turn, mollified Eirena. Girls were weird. “Maybe not so fast, is all?” the tiny girl offered. “I kind of like him the way he is.”
Shit. Kyle slipped further inside his room, but left the door open.
“Wellll… for now, then. But I can’t say anything about Addy. And I do want to make him dessert sometime…”
“We’ll see. I can’t say anything about Addy, either. Just a couple weeks, maybe?”
“I can wait a couple weeks.”
His stalkers were plotting together. He was going to have to decide more quickly than he’d planned.
And he couldn’t say anything about Addy, either.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Even the other students were getting in on the policing action. Kyle had tried to get away from the crowd, only to get stopped, first by Niassa’s crew, Strange Band, and then by Zita’s, Boom.
Niassa just grabbed his arms, lifted him up, and turned him back in the other direction. “Curfew,” Olifur explained, not that Kyle needed the explanation.
Once he’d gotten free of them, he’d tried again, only to run into Boom. He’d heard of Boom from his mother, and then again from other students. Strange Band was tough; Boom was violent.
“You don’t want to be out in the halls alone.” Cynara stepped between him and the hallway like she was the dangerous one; if he was a plush toy, she was even plusher. If she had been hunting him, Kyle was pretty sure she wouldn’t still be chasing. But she’d, thankfully, gone for Kheper.
“I don’t want to be in my room alone,” he countered.
“Do you want to be eaten by goblins?” Zita’s tone was very, very serious. Kyle couldn’t tell if she was offering or warning: another tiny, terrifying woman. This school was full of them.
“I don’t want anyone to eat me up,” he assured her. “But I really don’t want to go back to my room alone.”
“Then go back to yer room with company.” Crap, he’d gotten Howard annoyed. He did not want to get the bull annoyed.
And he did not want to flirt awkwardly with either Cya or Zita. “I was, um, looking for company?”
“You’re not finding it here. Go on, get on home.”
“Look,” he tried desperately, “would it be that much trouble to let me by? I’m not going to get eaten. I’m just going to go to the Store. Or the Library. I’m dying, cooped up in my room.”
Wrong thing to say.
“Trouble, no, but it wouldn’t be much fun.” Leo’s grin was rather feral, and Kyle knew feral.
“You could always come home with us.” Cya’s sweet smile was no safer than Leo’s grin. Kyle beat a hasty retreat before she decided to turn that suggestion into action.
“I’ll handle being bored and lonely, thanks.”
“Awwww.” Zita’s mocking pout followed him to his room.
He paced impatiently, his door open, willing to invite even stalker company right now, until Professor Solomon showed up, a small string of students following behind. Not many – Ciara, trailed by her lost-looking wolf; Shang, who looked as clueless as Kyle was pretending to be; Pania, with a bag full of books; Kees, who looked as if he wanted to be stalking Kyle too but wasn’t sure if it would be welcome; and, of course, because it was his luck, Adannaya.
“Hey, Kyle. Tired of being stuck in your room?”
“It’s getting pretty boring,” he admitted. Claustrophobic, stultifying, and miserable, too. “What about you? You’re Seventh Cohort. Shouldn’t they let you out without a minder?” It wasn’t the brightest thing to say, he supposed. Now she’d be knocking on his door at all hours like Brydan and Eirena did.
She made a face. “I’m not big enough, and I don’t have a big scary crew. So, no. I’m on house arrest the same as you are. And it’s miserable. It’s as bad as being….” She flapped a hand, barely catching herself in time. The stress, Kyle thought, must be really getting to her. “It’s as bad as my first-year boyfriend, never wanting me to go anywhere.”
“That sounds like it sucks.” He thought about that for a moment. “Then again, this pretty much sucks. So, no big, powerful crew, and you’re locked down like a kid? That’s gotta be unpleasant. And lonely.” What was he doing, feeding her lines like that?
“It’s pretty bad,” she agreed. “I get to feeling like the walls are closing in on me, you know?”
He twitched. He did, indeed know. “Well…” Was he really suggesting this? Of all of his stalkers, Addy was the least predictable, the least manipulable, and the one that looked the most sweet and innocent. One of his foster-father’s best lessons, hammered home by four years in public school: don’t trust the sweet ones. They’re always up to no good.
“Well?” She looked up at him, wide eyes hopeful. Shit. He coughed, looking nervous.
“Maybe you could come over? Then at least, I mean, we’d be stuck, but we’d be stuck together.”
Brydan and Eirena were going to be so pissed off. Even Kees looked a little put-out. Kyle shrugged. He hadn’t pulled the noose shut around his throat yet. He supposed they still had a chance.
Addy looked like she had other thoughts on that matter. Her smile was a tiny thing, but it held so much promise-and-threat all together in one pretty package. And her wings were twitching. From watching Miryam, he was fairly certain that was a bad sign for him.
“You’d like some company?” Her voice almost squeaked. Crap, he didn’t want to scare her, was that what that was? “And you’d be mine?”
Oh, that was way too transparent! He was a little disappointed in her. “I wouldn’t mind keeping you company. You seem like a nice girl.” Please don’t prove him wrong. “We could watch movies or something, unless you’re into video games. Play chess?” They already were doing that last one, weren’t they?
She smirked, like she could tell what he was thinking. Around here, maybe she could. “I like a few games. Jet Grind Radio. Final Fantasy But I like movies, too. We can stop at the store and get some popcorn?”
“Oh, fancy.” He grinned to cover his discomfort. “Am I going to need napkins?”
“I’d be flattered if you found a bowl.”
“Oh, come on, my mother raised me right. If we’re going to do popcorn, we’re going to do it properly. I even have a pan.”
“Very fancy. I didn’t know there was a man down here who could cook. Careful, I might move in.”
“The room’s big enough for two.” What was he doing? He was grinning at her, he could tell. And she was grinning at him.
“Library.” Professor Solomon coughed politely, giving Kyle a reason to step back a couple feet. “Do not leave the Library, and do not stray from your twine balls. Stay in pairs or groups of three or four within the Library, and, of course, keep your voices down. Do not upset the Librarian.”
Pairs, shit. Kyle looked around. Kees would keep an eye on Pania; Ciara and her wolf were obviously together. He quickly nodded at Shang. “Hey, man, looking for something for history, too? I think it’s this way.”
The look Addy gave him told him he was being too transparent; the look of relief Shang gave him told him he didn’t care too much. Poor Shang, still lost and confused and having no idea what was going on. Like Kyle would have been.
“You can find your way around this place?”
“Yeah, I mean, I bumbled around a bit when I got here, but the Librarian was really helpful. I mean, once I figured out how to ask questions.”
“That’s more than I did.”
“Well, keep your voice down, for one. Right, Addy?” He didn’t want to ignore her. He really didn’t. He just wanted a little space.
“Quiet helps.” She was making faces like she was trying not to make faces. He would have laughed at her, if that wouldn’t have just made matters so much worse. “She can be nice to talk to, if you get her alone. With groups like this, though, she’ll probably hover around the troublemakers.”
He glanced back at the group they’d come with. “I don’t think we have any of those.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to do, then.” She winked at him. “So, History, you said. You’ve already found it?”
“With a professor like Valerian, it really helps to read ahead.” He grabbed three twine balls, and tossed one to Shang and one to Addy. “Trust me, man,” he assured the other guy. “This is going to be necessary. This place is bigger than it looks.”
“The entire school is bigger than it looks. It’s like someone turned the TARDIS into a barn.”
“Geek points.” Kyle approved. “But yeah, take that and multiply it by a hundred for the library. Come on, this way.” He shepherded the two of them through an opening in the arch-shaped bookshelves. “The system’s sort of esoteric. I mean, for all I know, all faerie libraries are arranged this way.”
Shang shot him a sour look. “You, too, man?”
“What?” He tried to look innocent. “I mean, what do you want to call it? Us, them, whatever?”
Addy coughed. “Us. If you’re here, it’s because you’re one of us.”
Kyle couldn’t help it. He knew better, but the opening was just too good. “One of us,” he chanted. “One of us.”
“I am not…” Shang’s face was getting red. “I’m not.”
“You will be.” Addy smiled, looking inordinately pleased with herself. “We all start out normal. Normal enough. Look at Kyle. Normal as they come. Big tall oaf of a guy, would fit right in on Main Street America.” She stifled a giggle. Kyle was willing to bet she was picturing Main Street in the Village, where Kyle had fit in just fine for years. “And now he’s a fox-boy. Or me.” She pinched the top of her pointed ears. “Trust me, Shang. You’ll have fins or gills or seven-fingered hands any-”
“Shut up, shut up.” Shang glared at both of them. “Shut up!”
A sign appeared between the three of them. In floral script, it suggested:
“Please do not shout in the Library, nor deny reality.”
“Aw, come on.” Shang looked closed to tears. “Really?” Kyle felt bad for the guy, but if let on he knew too much, all the playing and chasing would be over and the big guns would come out.
Addy’s eyes were on him, too, not on Shang. He coughed. “Look, man, it’s not that bad. It’s a tail and some magic tricks, and you can hide both of them. Masking’s really easy.”
“A tail. And magic tricks. And not being human!” Shang managed to whisper it like he was shouting. “And the magic is all bunk, anyway.”
Kyle shrugged. He’d never heard of anyone coming to Addergoole and not Changing, but anything was possible, he supposed. He didn’t know anything about the science behind the project here. “All right, all right man, sorry. Look, if it turned out you’re really human, I’m sure the Director and them will take care of it.” Probably with a mind wipe and a deep hole to bury him in.
Addy coughed. “So which section of history did we need?”
Grateful for the distraction, both Shang and Kyle answered at once.
“Early American History.”
“Late French Revolution.”
“Bien, mal.” She pronounced it as “maul;” Kyle mostly managed to hide his wince. His mother would not approve. “French is this way, American is that way . We can go to one and then the other.”
“I can walk through the Library on my own.” Shang glared at both of them. “Geez. The place is not that dangerous.”
Kyle had seen some of the aftermath of their enemies. He kept his mouth shut, though. Shang didn’t need any more hassle right now.
Addy looked less certain. “Welll…”
Kyle talked over her. “Just come find us when you’re ready to go, okay, and let us know if you’re going to go anywhere else? I don’t want to lose my Library privileges because you got bored. This place is already enough like a prison.”
“You have no idea.” Addy’s murmur was quiet enough to be ignored. “Okay. We’ll be right over here, Shang.”
“Yeah, yeah. I won’t get you in trouble.” He rolled his eyes and stomped off.
“Now that we’re alone…” Addy’s smile was playful rather than predatory, but it still made Kyle nervous.
He chuckled. Nervous kid, that’s all. “Well, as far as we know. The Librarian could still be around.”
“She could.” Addy shook her head. “I remember… well. She’s a good one, sa’Wysteria. She notices more than you’d think of what happens in her Library.” She paused, a frown growing on her face. Realizing what that could mean now that she was the hunter? “Well, Shang’s probably safe.” She pulled up what looked like a very fake smile. “So let’s find some history books and then we can get out of her hair?”
Kyle wanted to laugh at her. He was getting lot of practice with not laughing, though, and managed to turn it into a cough and a smile. “We can do that, yeah. If you want to.”
“Well, it beats sitting alone in our rooms, staring at the walls and watching the clock tick, doesn’t it? I did enough of that my first year here.”
I bet you did. Kyle had to admit she was right. “All right. We get the books we want, we find Shang, and then we can head back to my room for popcorn and movies. But I have to get the books I need first. History’s hard enough without missing out on the reading.”
“I could help you with your homework, too.” Addy looked almost shy. Kyle had to remind himself she was probably out for his soul. “If you wanted it, I mean.”
Who Kept her, anyway, and can I break his face? Who could he ask? Maybe a teacher? They probably already knew he wasn’t as clueless as he was pretending to be. Most of them knew his mother.
“I could probably use the help.” Damnit, he was giving in to her way too much, way too fast. They were going to have to have a conversation when they got back to his room. And that, that could go really badly for everyone.
“It’s not that bad.” She patted his shoulder. “Look, you said early American? Here, if you give me a boost, I’ll get you the best books.”
It was as transparent as everything else she’d been doing, but Kyle didn’t mind. He picked her up by the hips and lifted her to the highest shelves. He really could use the help in History.
“You really do know how to make popcorn.”
Adannaya had made herself at home on Kyle’s bed, curled up against Kyle, and was happily hogging the popcorn and laughing at the movie. Every so often she’d glance up at him through her eyelashes, and something inside his chest would do a loop-de-loop.
It felt good. It felt far too good to have here there with him, and it was way too easy to imagine her staying the night, curled just like that. He was going to give in, and she wasn’t even trying that hard. Heck, even Kees had put more effort into it. What was wrong with him?
“What’s wrong? I mean it, it really is the best popcorn I’ve ever had.” She held a piece up to his lips. “You should cook for me all year.”
He swallowed the popcorn, and did not, as much as he wanted to, lick the salt off her fingers. “You’d get sick of popcorn eventually.”
“I’m sure you could learn another dish when I got bored.” She was trying to make it sound like she was playing, but she didn’t have the skill for it. “Maybe non-popped corn, just to make it easier?”
“Totally different process.” He offered her a kernel in retaliation. “But for you, I could probably manage.” That was dumb. She was licking his fingers, oh, gods. And smiling up at him… “You could come over for dinner, if you wanted? Maybe make it a weekly thing?”
“We could do that.” It wasn’t what she had in mind, clearly, but he’d managed to deflect her without putting her off completely. “You’d do that for me?”
“Well, I like the company,” he allowed cautiously. He liked her company, despite the heavy-handed and clumsy attempts to Own him. What did that look like to a real newb? Maybe Shang would tell him.
“I like your company, too. Do you think maybe…”
“Kyyyyle.” Brydan’s voice was barely audible through the door, but her knocking was clear enough. “Come out and play with me?”
“Oh, no.” He looked between the door and Addy. “It’s Brydan.” Like she didn’t already know that. “She, ah…”
Addy’s face fell. “I can go, if you want.”
“Kyle, baby. I know you’re in there.”
“What? No. I just…” He shook his head. “You know she’s hunting me, too. Her, and Eirena.”
“I thought they might be.” He saw the moment she noticed his terminology. “Wait. Hunting. Too.” She scrunched her eyebrows together and looked at him. “How do you do that?”
“Theater major?” He wasn’t sure what she thought he was doing. That squint could mean anything; he hadn’t asked what her trick was.
“Kyle, are you really in that with that pint-sized… oh. OH.” The knocking stopped.
Addy was, unfortunately, not distracted. “No, that wouldn’t explain it. You’re not there, mentally. I mean, you are, but I never noticed anything was going on.”
His heart caught in his throat. “You read minds?” Oh, no, get out of here now. This was a bad idea.
“Kyle?” He couldn’t leave, Brydan was out there.
“Well, usually. But I can barely read anything at all from you. Just chatter, like you’re really as clueless as you’re acting. But you’re not, are you?”
“Ah.” Trap, trap, trap. If there had been a window, he could have gone out of it. Maybe a back door? If he was like Porter, he could make his own door.
Knock, knock. Knock-knock-knock. “Kyle? Leo says Arien saw you go in there with Adannaya.” That was Eirena, this time. He really needed that window.
Addy looked between him and the door. “Why aren’t you answering?”
“Because I’ve spent the last thirteen weeks avoiding having anyone in my room at all. If I don’t answer, they don’t know for certain I’m in here with you.”
“Oh.” The knocking was getting louder. “So why are you in here with me?”
Good question. At least he’d figured out the answer. “Because I wanted to ask you a question.” That wasn’t quite right. “Two questions, actually.”
“I’m not sure… mmm… Buli Kwxe Kyle, Adannaya í̱chos chtypoún.” The pounding on the door faded as she Worked the air. “That’s better. I’m not sure if I should be worried.”
“I’m a newb.” He gave her his best disarming smile. “What can I do to you?”
“It’s not like you don’t know any magic. And it’s not like you aren’t big and strong. I noticed the way you lifted me up.”
“None of that has anything at all to do with asking you a question.”
“Two questions. Okay, shoot.”
She looked like she expected him to actually shoot. He felt like he was aiming a gun himself. “Okay, first. If I agree to Belong to you for the year, do you think you can fend them off?” He gestured at the door. “Do you think you’re strong enough? I don’t think Brydan’s the sort to challenge; she just wants to have fun. But Eirena might.”
“If you… do I… are you really a newb?”
“This is my first year here. That doesn’t mean I can’t pay attention to things.”
“Just play dumb.” She bit her lip. “I suppose that means people treat you less cautiously. That makes sense.” She still didn’t like it. “What’s the other question?”
“If I agree to Belong to you, are you willing to negotiate terms?”
“Oh. Oh-ho. Ooooh.” She pursed her lips. “Is this why me? You don’t think Brydan or Eirena will negotiate?”
“No.” He shook his head. “They’d probably be easier. But…” He shrugged, trying to explain something he barely understood himself. “Look, I don’t do well being alone. I’m going to give in eventually, or someone’s going to hit me over the head with a Working and eliminate the element of chance. I keep running from Brydan and Eirena, but I find myself wanting to give in every time you set up one of your little traps.”
Her cheeks flushed and she looked away. “You noticed those?”
“I noticed a lot.” She was doing a very good job of not answering his questions. He should have found out what her Words were before showing his hand. He should have stayed quiet. He should have…
“I don’t think I’ll have a problem with Eirena. She’s tough, but my Keeper was cy’Linden. He taught me a few tricks.”
That was good. He let her see him relax.
She smirked at him. “I only look like I’m fragile. I can take an Eighthie with no problem.”
“I believe you. And, ah, my other question?”
“Negotiation?” She pursed her lips. “Well. Why don’t you tell me what you want, and we’ll see what I’m willing to give?”
It was a good start.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
The school was on lockdown.
This seemed to Xanthia like a perfect time to hunker down and perfect something quiet and individual. Learn violin, maybe. Building a city out of Lincoln Logs. Or learning to speak a dead language from recordings. The way she figured it, the school was locked down for a reason.
Of course, her stalkers were not locked down, and, sadly, neither were her classes. There was another collar waiting for her when she returned from her panida class. This one was a silver-toned metal – she picked it up and weighed it in her hand. Lighter than stainless steel. A neck-shaped circle of round metal, with a tiny screw hole in lieu of an opening. This was one not designed to be taken off without a tool.
She tossed it in the bin with the eleven others, pulled her desk in front of her door, and muttered the trap Working that Professor Fridmar had helped her work out. Sure, sure, they weren’t supposed to be able to get through her threshold, but she’d seen the tiger-guy walk through a wall. She wasn’t taking any chances.
Her first planned hobby was origami. She turned the TV on to the Spanish-language channel, got out her pack of pretty paper, and started muttering along with the TV.
Cranes were easy. She already had a long chain of them strung across the room. Today she was going to do Godzillas. And then, after a while, she might move on to grasshoppers.
She stared at the door as the first of her triggers warned her somebody was walking by. Walking by was okay, people did it all the time. Of course, most of them were either zombies or ghouls.
Professor Fridmar had raised his eyebrow at her when she’d called them that. “Not the first one to say that.” She’d thought he’d leave it there. He wasn’t all that forthcoming.
But he’d gone on. “First one was first year. Aella. Called all of those who were collared ‘zombies,’ like you do.”
It seemed like a question, so she’d answered it. “Like voodoo zombies. Not really running under their own steam, you know?”
He’d laughed. It hadn’t seemed like a mean laugh, so Xanthia had laughed along with him. “And ghouls?”
“Hunting after flesh. My flesh, to be specific.”
She’d liked the praise then; now, it seemed a little hollow. Sure, she could tell some people were acting weird – and she’d gotten a few sideways answers out of people, enough to have a little idea what was going on. She’d watched Ciara challenge Amadeus, after all.
Not enough, though. Keeping herself safe was turning into a full-time pursuit. And talking to other students about it was getting more and more uncomfortable. They either acted like she was being silly – mostly upperclassmen, mostly ghouls – or they acted really unhappy with her about the whole thing.
Then again, if she hadn’t managed to miss the collar, she’d probably be getting really irritated at someone who kept avoiding it.
And… her alarm was triggering again… if she was the guy who kept leaving a collar every week, or either of the other incredibly-patient stalkers she had, she might be tired of waiting, too. She might think that the prey continuing to run was inevitable, when the predators had all the exits guarded.
That was fine with Xanthia. Let them guard the exits. She had her corner, and she was going to stay there for four years, if she had to.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
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