December 12, 2012 by Lyn
Tuesday, December 9, 2003
Magic classes got progressively less entertaining as they got into words Miryam was less and less proficient with.
Dr. Caitrin had them – Miryam, Ciara, and Quintus – surrounding a disturbingly realistic-looking mannequin, and was drilling them on anatomy for the second day in a row. “At your level of power, it will be years before you’re able to do more than a basic field patch, I’m afraid. However, a basic field patch might save your life or your companions’ lives until you can get to a more skilled healer.”
Miryam shared a look with her classmates, wondering if either of them would speak up. It was nice not being the only one not wearing a collar in a class. It was nice spending time with people who didn’t have that blank, terrified look, or, worse, the numb one. Ciara had gotten amazingly lucky, and Quintus… he might be collared, but he had gotten lucky, too.
She rubbed her arms and tried not to think about luckiness, or the lack thereof. “Doctor?” It didn’t seem like anyone else was going to ask the question. “You’re talking like we’re going to be going to war.” And she wasn’t the first, by any means. “I don’t know about Ciara and Quintus, but I’m not exactly the warlike sort.” To demonstrate, she fluttered her wings, floating up in the air a few inches. With effort, she could bring her head level with Quintus’.
“Me, neither.” Quintus winked at her. She smiled back – just a smile, not the wham-pow smiles that had been her Change’s gift to her. She wouldn’t go around drugging people who already had no say in their lives. “I’m more of a lover, not a fighter. I mean, we all know Ciara’s tough…”
“I did what I had to, that’s all.” The dark elf shrugged. “I’m with you. I wasn’t planning on enlisting in the army when I got out of here, Doctor.”
“Nevertheless, there may come a time when someone attacks you. Perhaps it will happen here, in some sort of Crew altercation. They are known to happen – young bucks practicing for adulthood, I suppose – and they often catch others in the crossfire. Or a challenge. You’ve seen what those can be like. You firsthand, Ciara.”
“Yes.” She put a hand to her ribs. “I suppose that’s correct.”
“And if you’d challenged him out in the world, who would have patched you together then?”
“I see your point.” So, unfortunately, did Miryam. Not just challenges – and she’d seen Kendon’s guts spilled out, and Jeremiah’s, when they’d fought over Ahouva – but “accidents” and genuine mishaps.
She fluttered her wings, bringing the attention back onto herself. “So ‘field patch’ is just terminology, then?”
The doctor didn’t flinch. “Yes. Simply a choice of terminology.” Miryam wished she’d gotten an Idu Hugr up before class. She was good at Hugr, really, really good with emotions. Professor Valerian had posited that it had something to do with her innate power, her whammy smile, working on feelings. “Of course,” Dr. Caitrin continued, “you are all Ellehemaei. You are likely to, barring foul play, live a very long time. It is possible that you will fight in a war at some point; it is possible a war will wash over your home whether you wish to fight or not. We are not ephemeral beings. It would do you well to remember that.”
You will fight in a war at some point. Now, Miryam really wished she had an Idu Hugr up. Lacking that, she nodded, and looked apologetic and obedient.
She was getting a lot of practice looking apologetic and obedient.
Dr. Caitrin believed it; everyone believed it. “Now, as I was saying, a quick field patch. The easiest way to do this is to throw Jasfe and Tlacatl at the wound until you run out of energy. The more effective way to do this, however, is to do targeted micro-repairs. To this end, it helps to know exactly what you are working on, and what words best describe it. Are you following me so far?”
Miryam nodded. Next to her, Ciara looked thoughtful, Quintus a little bit pale.
“Very good. Now, the most likely injury is a puncture injury, shown here on our mannequin. And I am going to show you what this would look like on a person.” She reached into the deep pocket of her lab coat and produced a long, thin piece of metal, something between a needle and a knife. Before any of them could stop her , she drove it into the tip of her finger. “Unh. Now, as you can see, something like this bleeds quite a bit for a few minutes.” She wrapped her hand in a handkerchief, leaving the bleeding finger showing, leaking blood down her hand.
“Shouldn’t you cover that?” The marble-like lines in Ciara’s skin were turning pale, and her lips were almost white. Quintus wasn’t doing much better.
“If I covered it, we wouldn’t be able to study the wound. Over to the sink, children. I’m going to run this under water for a moment. Now, tell me, what are the considerations when a patient’s skin has been punctured?
They were all staring at the blood. Caitrin clucked in admonishment and turned the water on. “Ciara, you’ve seen more blood than that on yourself when you set up that awful challenge.”
“I passed out when I did that, too.” She was hanging back, looking as if she was trying not to breathe. Miryam didn’t blame her. Washed, the wound didn’t look much better. It was small, compared to some of the things that she’d seen. But it was still gruesome.
“You’re going to see much worse in this place.” The doctor looked between the three of them. “People are by nature sometimes violent, and sometimes immensely gentle. Ellehemaei are no different – except that our capacity for both is greater. At least one of you has already been the victim of some of that violence – even if it was on her own volition.” She turned the water off, and held up her finger to them again. “This is a little puncture. It’s not fatal, unless it gets infected. What if I had, instead, jabbed myself in the kidney, or in the intestines?”
Miyram took a step back, fluttering into the air to move more quickly. The blood was welling again, and all she could see was Kendon’s intestines, spread over the lounge floor. She choked back on vomit.
“Easy, there. This is just a little wound. Do you know the Working to settle your stomach?”
Miryam shook her head carefully. To either side of her, she could hear her classmates making negative noises. “I can…” She swallowed hard and tried again. “I can settle my emotions, but I don’t know if that will help.”
“Buli Tlacatl is generally the best option.”
Miryam repeated the Words dutifully. Slowly, her stomach stopped doing backflips, or, at least, she stopped paying attention to the backflips. Next to her, she heard Quintus and Ciara do the same.
“Very good. Now, if you can now focus on the wound… Very good. As I said, the most common kind of injury is some sort of puncture or slash, and while these are different in approach…”
“Doctor.” The door to the infirmary slammed open. Luke strode in, carrying a bundle of sheets in his arm. “We need you.”
“Exam room two, right now. Students, come and learn. Stay out of Luke’s way.”
Miryam stared at the bundle, not moving. Not until Quintus grabbed her and tugged her aside did she realize she was blocking the PE teacher’s path. That wasn’t just a pile of sheets. She swallowed, hard. What if it was Kay, again? What if Agra had finally blown his lid? What if…?
She was more relieved than she’d known it possible to be when a hand – a white hand, a pale, big, male hand – flopped out of the sheets. It was really, really pale, though, the brown smear of dried blood standing out starkly. Too pale. She swallowed a lump of guilt. It wasn’t Kay. It wasn’t her fault.
“All right. Lay him out here on the bed, Luke. Where did you find him?” The doctor’s voice was crisp, cutting through everything. Luke’s rumble was a low counterpoint.
“I had to go into the basement. He didn’t show up for his class. He can’t have been gone long, but…”
Miryam looked away as Luke removed the sheet. She’d seen what had happened to Kay, and she’d heard enough about the others. Kheper. Jovanna.
“Oh, god. Nilam.” Ciara sounded sick. “I should go get Ghita.”
“Not yet.” Caitrin’s voice was sharp now. “Luke, can you go get Michelle? I’m going to need her.”
“Going.” He pulled his wings tight against his back and stomped off.
“Miryam, you, too. It’s not as bad as it looks. Come here, all of you.”
She didn’t want to. She really didn’t want to. But the teachers already had enough of a problem with her. She nodded, swallowed, and tried not to look.
Nilam was, on a normal day, a lanky red-head, freckled and pale-skinned. The arms she let herself look at was even paler than normal, even the freckles looking washed out. Dried blood spattered this hand, too, and the wrist was canted at an unpleasant-looking angle.
“Ciara, you first. You see how there is a puncture, here? We have to fix that first. So, before anything, we Idu to see the extent of the damage.”
“Idu Tlacatl Nilam cy’Fridmar oro’Margherita, ah, oh, stigma beta.”
Miryam mouthed the words along with her, pushing the smallest bit of power she could into it. She didn’t really want to know. But she was going to need to, to get through this.
“That’s not a knife wound, is it?”
Miryam finally made herself glance at Nilam’s chest. There was a large bandage taped over his chest, already turning red with blood. Her Working told her what was under there, though. “It isn’t a knife. The edges are ragged.”
“Very good, Miryam. Have you seen wounds like this before?”
That was a trap, wasn’t it? Has someone been clawing up the Kept in your crew? “After the challenge between Basalt, Kendon, and Jeremiah, Dr. Caitrin. One of them was using some sort of Working that caused this.”
“A Working can do it. So can claws. We’ve had a number of students here with claws of one sort or another; this could be that. All right, Quintus, get your Idu Working up as well. I’m going to show you how I would do this if I didn’t have much power in Tlacatl, and then I will show you how I do it with more power.”
Quintus moved closer to Miryam and Ciara, looming just behind them, but managing to avoid brushing Miryam’s wings. He spoke the Working very carefully, enunciating every letter. And then, on the heels of his “beta,” he hissed. “Oh, shit.”
“Indeed. Now, this is how we seal off the blood vessels. That’s trichoeidí̱ , fléves , arti̱ríes in Greek.” She spoke the Working as carefully as Quintus had; through her own Idu Working, Miryam could see the blood stop flowing into the wound – first from the larger blood vessels, and then from the tiny capillaries. “See? This way, although you’re not healing the wound, you’re keeping your patient from bleeding out. Now, with more power, and more understanding, one can simply… Jasfe Tlacatl stigma Nilam cy’Fridmar oro’Margherita epsilon.”
Under their watchful Working, the wound knit itself together, sealing as if it had never been there. “And, because it was neither poisoned, nor cut with hawthorn nor rowan, he won’t even have a scar. Now on to the less threatening wounds.”
Claw mark by bite mark by bruise, Dr. Caitrin walked them through the mess of Nilam’s body. When he stirred or moaned, she murmured a quiet Working to put him back to sleep. When he gasped in pain, she taught them a Working that would numb or soothe any ache.
When she began to sway on her feet, Luke returned, with a frowning, dripping, half-dressed Professor VanderLinden in tow – nearly literally; Luke was pulling on the still-arguing professor’s arm. “Luke, I don’t see why it couldn’t wait until after the Hugr class. I’ve been having a lot of lu… oh. Why didn’t you say so?”
Miryam never wanted to be on the end of a glare that withering from the PE teacher. And, it seemed, neither did VanderLinden. “I’m sorry.” It was the most genuine thing she’d seen yet from him. “Cait, I’m ready when you are.”
Ready for…? Dr. Caitrin held out her hand, never taking her eyes off of Nilam. Professor VanderLinden took her hand in both of his own, and closed his eyes.
“Idu Hugr might help.” Luke, like Professor VanderLinden, was one of the pleasantly short professors, although neither were nearly as short as Miryam’s Change had helpfully made her. His murmurs was just above her head.
“Idu Hugr Professor VanderLinden.” She murmured the Working dutifully. Luke wasn’t a teacher you wanted to ignore.
It wasn’t an emotion, not really. She could feel it in her antennae, more than she could see it with the Idu, like something scraping at the back of her teeth. Not addiction, not the particular leaning she could sense when she’d whammied someone with her smile too many times. But there was some sort of something moving between Professor VanderLinden and Dr. Caitrin.
“What…?” She whispered it. She didn’t want to interrupt… whatever it was.
“Energy. Your Mentor has told you about Daeva?”
“Incubi? Not a lot.” She’d had more to say on the subject of Mara, but since Luke was the Mara in the room, that didn’t seem like a wonderful idea to bring up.
“They can eat energy. Or give it back. Or transfer it.”
“Oooh.” She studied her Working. There was a long thread of that something… energy, it had to be… flowing from VanderLinden to Caitrin. “That’s a very nice trick.” She wiggled her antennae, feeling the vibrations of the energy. “Only Daeva can do that…?”
Too late, she realized that Luke was frowning at her. “Daeva and other succubi and incubi. We’ve had half-blood students who could do it as well. But it’s a power that’s very easily abused.”
“I can see how it could be. But couldn’t you say that of almost any power?”
His glower got thoughtful, instead of simply angry. “You could. I’ve seen first-hand how someone can use the Daeva powers. The Nedetakaei…”
“Luca…” Professor VanderLinden interrupted before Miryam could ask what a Nedetakaei was. “I could use a hand.”
Miryam looked over at the professor again. The energy transfer had stopped, leaving Dr. Caitrin flush and bright-cheeked, and Professor VanderLinden looking wan and a bit shaky.
“Damnit, Mike, you shouldn’t give so much. What kind of martyr bullshit is this?”
They eat energy. Miryam glanced at Ciara. She needed every bit of strength she had to deal with the wolf she’d collared. She wouldn’t have anything to spare for the Professor. Quintus was Kept. He probably wasn’t allowed to do something like that, and, even if he was, being Kept was enough to ask of him, however nice the Keeping.
And Luke, who looked like he was considering something, needed every bit of strength he had, if there were still things in the hallways attacking students.
She stopped looking at all of them, and looked at herself. She felt her breath, in and out, and the mostly-hidden bruise on her ankle. She felt at the edges of her pride. She could take this one for the team without losing anything more. “Excuse me, sir? Luke? I can help Professor VanderLinden back to his office.”
All three adults stared at her. “You don’t know what you’re asking, kid.”
“Much as I hate to say this, Luke is right.” Professor VanderLinden tried to hide that he was using the exam bed for support, but Miryam was watching for it.
“But somebody needs to ask it, don’t they?” She aimed her whammy smile at both of them. If nothing else would work, that ought to do it.
Luke grunted. “Damnit, Miryam, the next time you do that to me, I’m going to take it as a challenge.”
Oh, shit. “I’m sorry, sir.” She looked down at her toes, carefully not smiling. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I bet you didn’t. Save that for people who ask for it, wouldja?” He barked out a short laugh. “And don’t tell me I asked for it, either.”
“Leave the girl alone, Luke, she’s trying to help, and you did ask for it. At the very least,” Dr. Caitrin leveled a glare at both teachers and Miryam, “take it out of my exam room. I still need to finish with Nilam, and you still need to tell me what happened.”
Luke grunted. “Mike…”
“I’ll be careful with her, Luca. I’m not a monster.” The professor offered Miryam a hand. “Since you sound so determined, and since Dr. Caitrin insists.”
What was she getting herself into?” She smiled at the Lit professor brightly, without putting a whammy into it. It got messy if she did that too many times right on top of each other. His hand was chill, as if he’d been ill, and a little bit clammy. “Lead on, sir, and I’ll follow.”
“Oh.” He leaned on her very subtly until they were out of Luke’s sight. “You might as well call me Mike, please. My office is right over here, Miryam.”
“Of course, Prof… Mike.” Mike. Kendon had liked to sneer about that, when Agra and Damaris weren’t around: You know why they call VanderLinden Mike, right? It means they’re his bitches.
Miryam spent a lot of time and effort noticing things about the people in her crew, and she didn’t believe that Agra would bend over for anyone, not even a professor. Nor was he the only one who called VanderLinden Mike – Luke, for one.
On the other hand, she knew the look he was giving her. It was strong enough that it almost made her antennae tingle. The professor was hungry, and she was the meal he had in mind.
Well, she’d put herself on the menu, and it wasn’t the first time she’d done so, either. She tilted her head back, just enough so he could see her pulse jumping. “This is your office, right?”
Professor VanderLinden – Mike, she could see why Agra called the Daeva Mike now – stroked Miryam’s cheek. It was the lightest touch she’d ever felt, a whisper across her skin. “You are an amazing young woman.”
She fluttered her wings uncertainly. What did you say to that? “I just…”
“You did what you felt was necessary. I could tell that much when you walked in here.” Sadness looked foreign and uncomfortable on Mike’s beautiful face. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have allowed you, but…”
“You needed what I could give you.” Now she was on firmer ground. “And I could give it without losing anything of myself.” Or at leastanything she hadn’t already lost.
“That’s an interesting way of looking at life.” Mike ran his fingers through her curls, careful not to touch her antennae. “I hope you enjoyed yourself at least a little?”
She smiled cautiously up at him. “Prof… Mike, I’m certain that you’ve noticed that you’re an angel masquerading as an incubus. Of course I had fun.”
“I did, as well. You’re quite skilled…” He was fishing. She was going to have to give him something.
“I don’t want to carry Agravain’s baby, or Kendon’s.” Oh, that was more than she’d meant to give. Was he doing a Working on her? She looked down at his knee and hoped he wouldn’t pry too far.
“Or mine, I see.” He patted her shoulder. “Miryam, are you sure everything is okay?”
That question again. Why wasn’t he asking Akaterina?
She couldn’t ask that. The crew had pushed too many promises out of her. But possibly… “Things could be a lot worse.” She chose her words carefully. “I’m not collared.”
And, like almost everyone seemed to, he chose to misunderstand. “I know Basalt challenged for Ahouva. Is she doing all right, do you know? He’s not hurting her, is he?”
Sighing in exasperation at a professor seemed unwise. “She seems happy,” she said instead. “Even when I used Idu Hugr on her, it was, well, not all roses, but happy, content. Comfortable.” She couldn’t get away with emphasizing the words too much, but perhaps Professor VanderLinden might buy a clue.
He was frowning, which might be good or bad. “That is usually… usually a good indicator. Clever of you to think of it, Miryam. And what about the rest of your crew? Akaterina?”
Finally! “I couldn’t say.” She met his eyes. Please, please, let him catch her meaning.
His eyes narrowed. “Well. Perhaps I’ll have a talk with her Mentor, then, or perhaps I might do a little Working of my own. You’re very brave, aren’t you, Miryam?”
“Brave?” She shook her head. “I’m just trying to survive, Professor, the same as anyone else.”
“Mmm.” He frowned thoughtfully at her. “I am going to have to have a conversation with Luca.”
“I’m sorry?” It seemed like a thing to be sorry for.
“Please don’t. As a matter of fact, it might help if you forgot all about this conversation.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice.” She meant it to be subvocalized. Perhaps the horns gave Mike extra-good hearing. He turned to look at her, frowning.
“Do you think you’ll need that?”
“What? Oh… no, thank you. I can put it out of my mind on my own.” Please no mind-tampering. I don’t think I could handle that.
“Very good. Will someone from your crew walk you back to your room, or would you like me to?”
“Oh. Ah…” She thought back to Nilam laying bloody in the exam room bed. Would that be preferable to explaining to her crew where she had been and what she’d been doing?
“We can’t allow you to wander the halls alone right now, Miryam, brave as you are.” It was as if Mike was reading her mind. Maybe he was.
“Professor?” She thought it worth trying.
“Please, Miryam. I think I’ve earned being called Mike.”
Earned being called… Well, that was interesting. “Mike, what’s going on here? First Kheper, then Kat, now it seems like everyone is getting hurt. I know this school is dangerous, but this seems… this seems worse than the upperclassmen know how to handle.”
He looked away from her, staring, it seemed, at the gym. “It’s worse than they know how to handle,” he agreed. “It’s worse than anything that’s happened here in several years. Still, it shouldn’t be taken out on the students, and it seems that, increasingly, that they’re determined to do just that. Maybe they want to hurt us most effectively.”
Miryam wasn’t certain what the professor was talking about anymore. They, us? “Who?”
Mike patted her shoulder. “I really hope you never find out.”
“And once you have healed all of the damage, you must coax the body into believing that it is revived. The best way to do this is to create a state of deep, restful sleep. Ciara, you remember this from your recovery.”
She’d woken up to an angry Amadeus, but she remembered the sleep being deep and restful. “Yes, Doctor.” They had cleaned up the blood and sponged down Nilam’s body. It felt invasive, washing him, unconscious and helpless like that. It felt worse when she realized that someone had done that for her, too; she’d been clean when she’d gone home that night.
“Can I got get Ghita now?” She pulled the blanket up to Nilam’s chin. “She’d want to know.”
The doctor leveled a sour look at her. “Don’t you think he deserves a break?”
“A break?” She looked over the sleeping boy. His collar – steel – had survived the attack, and, from the looks of the wounds, protected his throat from a pretty nasty clawing. None of the rest of his clothing had been salvageable. “He’s been beaten half to death. I’d think he’d want to be cuddled.”
The doctor’s frown grew. “I do not yet know.” She sounded as if she was muttering to herself, although she was still looking at Ciara. “I don’t know if it’s worse to have new students Keep first, or be Kept.”
“I’m happy where I am.” Quintus volunteered the information shyly, as if uncertain it would be welcome. “Zeke and I get along very well.”
“Well, you have a good boy for a Keeper, and he had a good Keeper before him.”
“I’m a lot happier Keeping Amadeus than I would be if he’d Kept me.” There’d been enough conversations with him by now that she was certain of that.
“Mm, but having Kept him, do you understand what it’s like, being on the other end of the collar?”
“Well, by that logic, Ghita ought to know.” She glared at the doctor. “I know she’s going to be worried.”
“Does that mean he wouldn’t like a break, though?” Dr. Caitrin smoothed the blankets over Nilam. “A little time in his own head? I’m glad that Amadeus did not succeed in Keeping you, Ciara, but it means you don’t really understand what it can be like for these children under the collar.”
Quintus coughed and squirmed. “We’re not kids, Doctor. I don’t think any of us are children.”
“I know from where you stand, you don’t feel like children. I know that you’re not the youths you were when you first came here. For better or worse, Addergoole makes children older very quickly.” The doctor walked out of the exam room. Not knowing what else to do, Ciara followed her, and Quintus followed her.
She kept talking. “Will you trust me, at least, to have had more life experience than you?”
Will you trust me?
Ciara stared at the doctor. She’d been asked a lot of things since she came here. She’d been asked to believe the impossible, to accept the horrible. But nobody had asked her that.
Quintus coughed again. “Doctor… Yes. Yeah. I know you’re, ah. You’ve lived longer than we have. But this is Addergoole…”
“It is.” Now the doctor’s voice was getting sharp. “And who do you think has treated wounds, set bones, and mended skin, when things got bad?”
Ciara knew. She knew that sometimes, when things got really bad, there were students good enough at Jasfe Tlacatl to cover their tracks. She swallowed and didn’t say anything at all.
Quintus did instead. “But Nilam’s Keeper…?”
“Ciara, of all people, ought to know this. You’ve been talking to Amadeus, haven’t you?”
“I know what he was like to her and Jaelie. But that doesn’t mean…”
“All too often, it does. Enough that I’ve learned to see the signs.” The doctor looked nearly furious. It just made Ciara want to glare back up at her. “If you truly want to help Nilam, Ciara, talk to Margherita about her treatment of him. Get them both to visit Dr. Mendosa before it’s too late for Nilam’s Kept.” She looked right into Ciara’s eyes. “It might not be a bad idea for you and Amadeus, too. This can’t be a comfortable situation for him, as much as he deserves it.”
Ciara couldn’t argue with that one. The situation was, at best, really awkward. But she still wasn’t sold on Ghita being World’s Worst Keeper. “I’ve hung out with Ghita and Nilam. He doesn’t seem brow-beaten or miserable. He doesn’t seem like Ghita and Jaelie talk about having been.”
That got her a sharp look. “You asked them?”
“I asked anyone who could give me information, when Amadeus started stalking me. It told me enough to tell me I didn’t want to give in to his… advances.”
“And yet you nearly put yourself in his hands.”
“On my terms. In a controlled environment. Tell me, Doctor, which do you really think is worse? A year of being slowly controlled and molded, or a night of broken ribs? I made the decision that I thought was healthiest for me.”
For once, Dr. Caitrin had nothing to say. Quintus, too, was quiet. Ciara took that as her cue to leave.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
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