December 26, 2012 by Lyn
Sunday, December 21, 2003
“It’s just getting stupid. If I wanted to be locked in my room twenty-four-seven, I would have just been Kept again.” Fafnir glared around, not at the Crew, really, but at the world. Nilam, who hadn’t wanted to be Kept in the first place, didn’t have a lot of sympathy.
“The offer is still open.” Jaelie smirked over at the dragon-boy. Nilam wasn’t sure if she was joking or serious, but Fafnir shrugged her off like she hadn’t even said anything.
“They’re treating us like we’re all a bunch of newbs, and it’s ridiculous.” Again, not a lot of sympathy to be had for poor Fafnir. Nilam poked at his food, and tried to ignore them.
“It’s not like there’s not a real threat.” Margherita was in her placating mode, which Nilam hated almost as much as he hated her angry mode. She set her hand on his arm possessively, and cooed with a voice like syrup. “Look what happened to poor Nilam.”
Poor Nilam. He was Poor Nilam when someone else hurt him. He didn’t feel like poor Nilam; he felt like he’d gotten the living shit kicked out of him, for no good reason, which, to be fair, didn’t feel that different from a normal day.
“Of course he’s not saying anything about it.” She patted his arm, the tone of voice shifting to the warning voice. “Good Kept don’t complain.”
Good Kept. He looked down at the table. He wasn’t a very good Kept, but at least she told him what she expected. Good Kept didn’t complain. He knew that one by heart. She’d had to say it quite a bit, to get it through his thick skull.
Fafnir snorted. “I don’t know about him, but I complained all the time last year.”
“Then you weren’t a very good Kept, were you?” She stated it, like she said most things, as The Way Things Were. She could have said that the sky was blue or that the moon was made of green cheese in the same tone of voice, and Nilam would not have known which to believe.
“Ha. I didn’t get any complaints.”
“Bullshit.” Jaelie poked him in the arm. “And by the end of the year you were a good little boy, same as any of us.”
“If you were a good little boy… well, this is Addergoole.”
“This is Addergoole.” Jaelie smirked at him. “But really, Ghita, if Nilam is getting beat up in the halls, that’s your fault. You shouldn’t let him out if you can’t defend him – or if you’re not willing to ask us to fight your battles for you. That’s what being a good Keeper and a crew is about.”
It shouldn’t be her fault. They shouldn’t be saying that to her. If he was getting hurt, it was probably his fault. That’s what she’d say, at least. He wasn’t a very good Kept, even if he had learned not to complain.
He didn’t want to think about being bad. Being bad, being beaten up, none of that was any fun to think about. It made him twitchy, and that made his mistress even twitchier. He thought hard about waterfalls and sunshine. Zen. Find a zen place. Find a calm place where nothing could sway him. Let everything Margherita and her crew were talking about just wash over him without riling him up. Good Kept did not get angry.
“You understand?” The voice floated in over the voices of the crew. Not one of them, a more melodic, sweeter voice. He knew that voice.
“Be myself.” That one was a whispered rumble.
“Exactly.” Nilam looked up in time to see Ciara and Amadeus share a small, predatory smile as they closed on the crew’s table.
He knew Ciara. She was, inasmuch as Margherita had friends, a friend of both his mistress and Jaelie. She’d won points with both of them – grudging, uncertain points with the whole crew – when she’d challenged Amadeus, and more when she actually won. They never let it show in front of her, but Nilam thought maybe they were a little scared of her. All of the Gloria, all the survivors, had been Kept. None of them had ever, as far as he could tell, even thought of challenging instead.
He wondered if he would have thought of it, if he’d had longer to plan, if he’d known anything of what was going on before he got trapped. Margherita hadn’t seemed like a threat, though, not like Amadeus did.
He knew Amadeus mostly from things Margherita said and, more importantly, didn’t say. Good Kept Didn’t… Sometimes she’d slip and say “I was told Good Kept Didn’t…” whatever he wasn’t supposed to do today. It was worse if today was a Good Pets Don’t day. Then she’d get rough, if she was remembering Amadeus instead of talking to Nilam.
And now they were pulling a chair over, Ciara sitting down so she could look across the table at Nilam and Margherita, Amadeus looming over her. “Hi, Ghita. Jaelie, Sylvanus, Fafnir. Where’s Æo?”
“Sitting with her friends today.” Fafnir said it like it was normal. It drove Margherita nuts, this time no less than any other.
And she clearly wanted nothing to do with small talk. She smiled in that way that meant doom and trouble; Nilam looked down at the table and tried to be invisible. “Ciara, good to see you.”
“Good to see you, too. We wanted to see how Nilam was doing, after the attack.”
“Oh, he’s fine. Thanks for stopping by.”
Ciara didn’t appear to be dismissible, no matter how brusque Margherita got. “I was wondering if I could talk to him for a few minutes? And ‘Deus wanted to talk to you.”
Nilam risked a look up at her face. The line had been delivered so blandly; she couldn’t be making a threat, could she? Would she? She was just smiling; over her head, Amadeus was leering.
Margherita was sitting up very straight. Under the table, her hand was tight on Nilam’s leg. “Oh?” Was that a squeak? What was Ciara doing? Was she trying to make his life miserable?
“Well, you know how it is. I do try to let him do what he wants, as much as is reasonable, and sometimes it’s pretty hard to say no to him.” She turned in her seat to smile up at Amadeus, but it looked more nervous than indulgent. What was going on?
“Just a couple minutes, pretty Margie. And Ciara can talk to Nilam, and everything will be fine. We’ll have fun.”
“I-” Yeah, her voice was definitely squeaking. “I don’t think we have anything to say to each other, Amadeus.”
“Oh…” Ciara made a sad face at them. “But I really wanted to talk to Nilam. I had some questions about his attackers. We’re trying to figure out their strategies.”
“Attackers?” Sylvanus leaned forward. “Ghita, you said…”
“Strategies?” Fafnir leaned in on the other side, until Amadeus rumbled warningly at both of them. “Back off, doggie.”
“Back the fuck off yourself, lizard.”
Nilam tried to become invisible. Amadeus didn’t seem to have learned the other side of what Good Kept Didn’t Do. Nilam might have sounded like that, a couple months ago. Now, he knew better. He wondered how long it would take ‘Deus to learn the same lessons.
“Assuming the wolf is tame because he’s on a leash is foolish.” Ciara’s warning was so bland, Nilam couldn’t tell, again, if it was a threat or not. “You don’t know how long the leash is, after all… or how strong.”
Was she warning them, threatening them, or asking for help? What the hell was going on? Ghita’s hand was leaving little bruises in Nilam’s leg again, but he didn’t have any guidelines for what Good Pets Did when faced with their Owner’s former Owner.
Hiding seemed like a very good idea. If only he could manage to implement it.
Sylvanus seemed to have decided she was being territorial. “We didn’t mean any offense. What attackers? What plan?”
“You know people have been being attacked for weeks now.” Nilam nodded; so did most of the rest of the table. “You know it’s not all pranks from upperclassmen, although there’s a couple situations I wouldn’t put past Amadeus’ friends-”
“-or a couple of the other crews.” She barely seemed to notice her Kept’s complaint. But she did lean back against him a little more. Apology? Seeking out comfort? What was going on with those two?
“I can see Kendon playing monster.” Jaelie nodded, and ticked off on her fingers. “Your friends, Deus, she’s right. Reese and his people, maybe. But if it’s not all pranks… then the school isn’t sealed?”
Not sealed. Nilam sat up straighter. “There’s…” Good Kept didn’t talk without an invitation. He shut his mouth.
Only after he shut up did he realize Ghita had done much the same thing. And Amadeus was laughing.
Fuck him. Nilam glared at the big wolf and waited for someone to say something.
“If there was a way out of here, I would have figured it out by now.” Sylvanus shook his head. “I mean, Kendra… I used to hear about the way the Dragon got in here, Fifth Year, or the way the Council visited sometimes. But there’s no way out except the ways Regine wants you to get out. And they’re on their guard against Nedetakaei now.”
“And obviously, if they let something through once, they’ll never let through anything else.” Fafnir rolled his eyes. “I still think it could be students.”
Ciara was watching them talk, and smiling. Waiting. Above her, Amadeus was smirking, his eyes tracking over Margherita and Jaelie. It made Nilam want to bristle and snarl at him: mine. That wasn’t a reaction he’d been expecting.
Amadeus caught his eye as he was struggling with the feeling and, with clear amusement, winked. That didn’t help matters. Nilam tried sinking under the table, but Margherita’s hand was holding him firmly.
“Then who is it?” Bad Kept. Bad Kept talked out of turn. But nobody else was saying anything useful.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Ciara smiled broadly at him. Nilam wasn’t sure that was better than Amadeus winking. “And the answer is… there’s no escape, and it’s not our upperclassmen.”
“So what, it’s the teachers?” Fafnir was getting impatient. “Or the Ninth Cohort is really, really badass?”
“Aren’t we?” She was having way too much fun with this. The crew was going to be hell on their Kept when she left. Why was she rocking his boat?
“Key…” Amadeus seemed to be warning her of the same thing. What was going on?
“Okay, this is what I know. There’s a floor, maybe two levels, below the third floor, and there are other fae there. At least one teacher, and at least twenty students. Luke’s being remarkably closed-lipped-”
“Imagine that.” Fafnir’s comment was pretty dry. Nilam tended to agree with him, though. Luke wasn’t exactly helpful.
“-even for Luke. But there are people down there, and they either want us to pay attention to something we’re missing, or they just want to hurt the staff, and think that hurting us will do it.” She shrugged. “That’s what I’ve got. But I want to talk to Nilam and other people who’ve gotten grabbed, and see if our experiences line up.”
Margherita was looking between Amadeus, Jaelie, Ciara, and Nilam. Nilam kept his mouth shut; he didn’t have anything helpful to say and it was taking all of his self-control to not do somethingabout the way Margherita was still grabbing his leg.
“Go on, Ghita, let them talk. We can sit here and talk to ‘Deus, keep an eye on him for her.” Jaelie’s smile was a little sharp. Turning Ciara’s threat back on her? Did she think holding the big wolf hostage was actually going to worry her?
It didn’t look like Margherita was convinced, either. “I don’t know…”
“Oh, come on, Ghita. I’ve been looking forward to talking to you for a while now. I miss our little chats.”
That did it. She turned a greenish shade of white, and pushed Nilam away from her. “Go. Talk to Ciara. Do whatever she wants.”
“Thank you, Ghita. Amadeus. Be polite and respectful to Margherita and her crew. Don’t speak of things you believe would be uncomfortable for her, and do not touch her or Jaelie unless they offer you violence.”
Nilam was having trouble standing naturally, and a rush of mixed emotions and very urgent orders was making his head spin. Still, he noted that ‘Deus didn’t look surprised by those orders.
The big wolf did make a token complaint. “You take all the fun out of everything.”
“That, my dear, is my job. Behave.”
Interesting, the way behave startled him and the careful line of orders hadn’t. If Nilam hadn’t been in such a weird place himself right now, he might have time to wonder at that.
“This way, Nilam.” Ciara sighted a direction through the tables and went straight through, not bothering to talk to anyone, not seeming to pay any attention to anything but her destination. Nilam did his best to follow, glad that, short as she was, she didn’t walk very fast.
“Stairwell.” She matched action to word and opened a door he hadn’t seen, revealing a stairwell much more industrial than the rest of the school. “Have a seat, if it’s more comfortable for you.” She plopped down on a stair and looked up at him.
Sitting down would probably be more comfortable. He tried it, a couple stairs below her, and found it worked out okay. If he twisted, he could look at her, not even that far up.
“Good, good.” She was frowning, though. “Look, Nilam, I want you to talk freely while you’re here with me.”
“Margherita’s your friend. What were you doing back there?” He spurted it out before he could stop himself, and then decided he might as well keep going. Talk freely, she’d said. Do whatever she wants, Margherita had said. And it wasn’t like she was an upperclassman, just because she’d managed to avoid the collar around her neck. “You know she’s terrified of ‘Deus. You know how he treated her. And you were bullying her. What kind of friend are you?”
“Idu Tlacatl Nilam cy’Fridmar oro’Margherita.” She ran her hand up and down his body, about three inches away from his clothes. “I wanted her scared and not thinking straight, and it doesn’t take much, with Amadeus.”
“What are you Iduing?” He scooted away from her hands. “You were trying to get her scared. What, so you could talk to me? She’s just going to…” Good Kept didn’t complain, and they didn’t tell tales out of school.
“She leaves bruises on you no matter what you do, doesn’t she? Not all the marks you had in the infirmary the other day were fresh. The bruises, the scratches, one broken rib – those were all old injuries.”
Good Kept don’t tell tales about their Keeper. Do whatever she wants. Nilam nodded. Nodding ought to be safe enough.
“And these bruises are new. Nilam, I want to know about the attack you suffered. But I want to know about all the attacks you suffered.”
He didn’t mean to rub his legs, but his hands dropped there without asking him first. The bruises on his other leg were older, but they still hurt when he rubbed them. “I only got attacked the one time, by the creature in the basement. What do you want to know?”
“Don’t lie to me Nilam, please. I can’t help if you lie to me.”
“You can’t help if I don’t lie, either. She trapped me, remember?” Good Kept don’t complain. Good Kept don’t gossip. He yanked at the collar. “What are you going to do, scare her into not being so freaked out she…” He closed his mouth with a snap. Shit. Shit.
“Well, that was one plan. Amadeus… He can’t lie to me. I’m sure you know how that works.”
“Good Kept don’t lie.” That was one of the first ones she’d taught him.
“No, they don’t. I’d make a horrible Kept.” She coughed, like she’d been making a joke and he hadn’t filled in his end. “Like I was saying, Ghita told me a lot about being Kept by Amadeus, back when he was stalking me. And then he filled in the rest.”
“He hurt her.” He rubbed his legs. Jaelie had said something, when Margherita was out of the room, something about a cycle of abuse. Nilam had been able to fill in the blanks. “Keepers do that.”
“Good Keepers don’t.” She touched his shoulder, gently, barely a feather-touch. “The question I have for you, Nilam – if I can do something, do you want me to?”
He swallowed. “I don’t want her hurt. I don’t want her scared. Good Kept don’t…”
“Not the stuff you’ve been told, Nilam. What you want.”
“Good Kept don’t want.” That wasn’t quite right. “Good pets don’t want.” He couldn’t look at her. “Why are you making me do this?”
“Because I need to know, Nilam, if you’re happy the way things are.”
“I…” He rubbed his arms, although there were no bruises there right now. “God, I’m already a wreck, getting beat up by my girlfriend. Sure, pride isn’t supposed to be a thing Kept have and stuff, but if I get rescued by a girl…”
“So you’re not happy, but you don’t want to lose more face.” She nodded. “Thank you. Now, what can you tell me about your attacker?”
And just like that, she was done with the topic of rescue. Nilam felt it like a jerk on a leash, yanking him around to her new topic. Girls. “The attacks? What’s it with you, anyway?” She’d told him to talk freely, hadn’t she? “Are you just fucking with Margherita and me for fun?”
“Of course not.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “I’m not a bully.”
“You just have one on a leash.”
“Well, better that way than the other way around.” She pulled a notebook out of her purse. “Nilam, please. I wasn’t trying to upset you; I really do care. I don’t want to see people getting hurt if I can do anything about it.”
“Well, you can’t.” Good Kept weren’t rude, but he had a feeling she wasn’t going to tell on him. “Okay? So stop bullying her.”
She held up both hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. Please tell me about the attack in the halls, though. I really do need to know.”
He nodded, his throat suddenly dry. “Why?” He wasn’t not doing what she wanted, was he? A little, he supposed. “I mean, I was down on the third floor –”
“Alone. Margh… my… She wanted ice cream. And peanut butter. And nobody else really wanted to go out, so I went to the Store. And then I was heading back…” He shrugged. The memories got a little strange here. “I’m not sure. Everything got really blurry, like before my Change. And then this… thing… jumped on me and started hitting me. Clawing me.”
“What did you do?”
“I fought back. I’m not a pussy, I know how to punch someone hitting me, and I’m pretty good with some of those Workings. Professor Fridmar teaches combat, you know.”
“So does Luke.” She was scribbling in her notebook. “So you punched your attacker, and you used combat Workings on it. Kwxe?”
“And Hiko. Mostly Hiko. And I was doing good, really getting my punches in.” It had felt good, to finally be able to hit someone back. He’d pictured Amadeus’ face, and Margherita’s face, and sometimes Jaelie’s. And he’d kept hitting, and zapping the thing, until his vision went red. “Then someone else showed up and started yelling at me.”
“Screaming. None of it made any sense. It was really loud, that’s all.” For a second, he’d thought it was Margherita. That had been enough to stop him in his tracks and drop him to the floor. Good Kept were never violent. “It distracted me. And then someone hit me on the head with a stick. I think that’s when Luke showed up.”
She nodded, and wrote down a few more things. “Thank you.”
“Uh. You’re welcome.” He hadn’t been expecting that. It made him feel weird. “I don’t remember any Working at all.”
“Do you remember what your attacker looked like? You said ‘thing.’”
“Sort of… you know, I really don’t know.” He hadn’t thought about it before, but he had no clear memories. “It bled red, I can tell you that.”
“Very good. Thank you.” She glanced up at him. “You’re not the first person to not have a clear visual memory. There’s a couple different Workings that can do that, or possibly an innate power.”
“…Thanks?” He wasn’t sure what she wanted him to do with that. “So, um, are a lot of people being attacked?”
“Many.” She nodded. “And a couple of failed abductions. We’re not entirely sure why, yet, as nobody seems to be explaining very well why they’re attacking – but we have a hostage now, which will either help or make things horribly worse.”
“Oh, good.” Maybe Margherita wouldn’t need more ice cream any time soon. He rolled his eyes at Ciara, because he could. “So you’re escalating a mystery war with mystery monsters.”
To his surprise, she grinned. “Yep. I’d stay close to home, if I were you. And protect Ghita.”
“Isn’t she supposed to protect me?”
She rolled her eyes. “She’s doing a great job so far, isn’t she?”
“She was upset.”
“Don’t.” It was like her mood turned on a dime, and the stormclouds came in all of a sudden. Nilam snapped his mouth shut. “Don’t ever pretend this is anyone’s fault but hers.”
Nilam counted to ten, and then to ten again. “If I don’t.” He kept his voice level. Good Kept did not shout. “Then she will get angry.”
That seemed to surprise Ciara. She nodded, slowly. “You’re right. That wasn’t meant as an order, and I imagine she’ll rescind her order to do what I want once you get back to her.” Nilam doubted it. His mistress almost never took back orders. “Either way, I take it back. I just don’t want to hear it.”
“Yeah. I don’t like it either.” He shrugged. “Keepers do what they want to, right? You do what you want to with ‘Deus.”
“I do.” She smirked a little at him, like she was sharing another joke he didn’t get the punchline to. “You’re a little like him, you know.”
“No.” Nilam shook his head. “No, not anymore, I’m not.”
Friday, December 19, 2002
She liked macaroni and cheese with the breadcrumbs on top, so he made that, and then a lasagna, too, because Fafnir hated mac and cheese. He was getting pretty good in the kitchen. Once he got free, he expected to never spend another day there. He’d find his own Kept to do the cooking.
That was probably why Margherita wouldn’t step foot in there. Well, fine for her. He made dessert, too, and even a side of veggies.
He even put on the horrible apron she liked on him so much, smoothed back his hair. Good house-boys, he’d been told, never looked like they’d they’d been slaving over a hot stove, even if they had.
Today, he wanted to be the best house-boy he could. He brought everything to the table, served it out, and knelt beside Margherita’s chair. Hands clasped, head down. He couldn’t do anything about the growl of his stomach, but he could pretend it didn’t exist.
“Very nice, Nilam. Thank you.” Her voice actually sounded happy, too. Maybe he had a shot. “This is delicious.”
Even Fafnir grunted. “Good lasagna, squirt.” The draconic jerk’s praise didn’t have the nice good-Kept warm feelings that Margherita’s praise did, but, on the other hand, it was probably genuine. Nilam nodded his head and stayed quiet, ignoring the gnawing in his stomach, ignoring Æowyn across the table, kneeling like he was, ignoring the worry poking at him much like his hunger was.
It was harder to ignore the humiliation when Margherita passed down a plate full of food, after the forks had finished scraping across china and the drinks had been finished. She gave him a fork. That was probably a good sign.
He waited. He’d learned. He wondered, when he had time alone to wonder, how long it had taken her to learn it, Jaelie to learn. If Ciara made Amadeus kneel, waiting, for his dinner, and how long it had taken him to learn the rules he’d given to his Kept.
“You may eat.” She sounded magnanimous. She liked to feel like she was giving him great gifts.
Then again, since everything he had was in her control, eating was a pretty big gift. “Thank you, Mistress.”
“Thank you, Master.” Æowyn echoed his thanks on the other side of the table. Then, before he’d figured out how to ask, she kept going. “Master, about Christmas vacation…”
“Good Kept don’t want to leave their Keepers.” Margherita answered before Fafnir could say anything. Which answered Nilam’s question, too.
Æowyn didn’t seem satisfied. “Master?”
“In our room, Æo. Bring your dinner.” It might have been Nilam’s imagination, but he thought that the dragon-boy might have shot him a sympathetic glance.
He didn’t need sympathy. He needed someone to talk Margherita into letting him go home for a few days.
He wondered if that was the sort of help Ciara had meant.
Saturday, December 20, 2012
“I’m not going home for Christmas. Dad moved again.”
Kheper wasn’t sure if Cya expected him to say something. It wasn’t like he’d asked. He’d been packing his shirts, and the gifts he’d bought or Worked for his mom and dad, and then… that.
It seemed like a good bet. And then, because she never talked about her father, ever, he felt the need to keep going. “Does he do that a lot?”
“Last year, I had to Find him just to see him for summer break. I don’t know if I’m going to bother after school this year.”
“Find? Like with your power?” One didn’t run away from Cya, even if there was somewhere to run to. Hiding didn’t work, either. “He didn’t call you or anything?”
“He’s not really good with the details, my father. That’s what he had me for.” She turned over a compass in her hands. “I don’t know, I feel like someone ought to tell me I should go home, keep an eye on him. But…”
Kheper sat down carefully. He was fairly certain, although it had never happened before, that his Keeper was confiding in him. “But?” She wasn’t looking at him, but he thought he could see some dampness on her cheeks.
“He might need me, but so does Yoshi, and so does Boom.”
“Well…” Kheper had met Yoshi. Cya’s just-over-a-year-old son was tiny, mischievous, and looked uncomfortably like his father. He also, more uncomfortably still, reminded Kheper that Cynara was in her fourth year at Addergoole and only had one child.
Kheper had also met Boom. “You could take Yoshi and spend time with him and your dad, couldn’t you? I mean…”
She peered up at him through a fringe of red hair. “I know you don’t like Boom. So far, none of my Kept have.”
“Maybe that ought to tell you something?” He didn’t mean for the words to come out, but he wasn’t very good at not saying what was on his mind.
Cya did not, as far as he could tell, have any sort of temper. She smiled at him. “I already knew they’re insane, Kheper. They’re my crew.”
“Other people’s crews aren’t insane.”
“Have you met Agravain? Or Lolly? Everyone here is insane. Nearly everyone, at least.”
“I’m not.” He went back to packing, shoving his clothes violently into his suitcase. “I’m not going to let this place do that to me.”
Cya sat up on her bed and studied him. She wasn’t laughing, at least. “I don’t know if you can help it. I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing that asks your permission first.”
That, that he could laugh at. “In case you haven’t noticed, mistress, nothing here asks your permission first. Slavery. Getting jumped in the hallways. … Everything else.” He looked down at his back, a sudden horror washing over him. “I’m the only one that has to ask permission. Me and the other Kept.” He hadn’t asked about the holidays, and nobody else he talked to was going home for Christmas. “Shit.”
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?