January 9, 2013 by Lyn
Wednesday, January 7, 2004
“Jovanna and Ahouva want to get together to study tonight.”
With the school on lockdown, Æowyn was finding her time with her friends more important than ever. And with people getting beat down in the halls, Fafnir was making it harder and harder for her to go out.
“I think you should stay home.”
“We have a project due.” She steepled her hands under her chin and regarded him. “If you stand in your doorway, and Basalt stands in his, you can practically see each other. It won’t be that long a walk for me. Or you could walk me there.”
“I could.” Fafnir, she noted, gave in quickly to logic, although not always comfortably. “Or you could stay here and keep me company.”
“Or you could let me walk fifty feet, and I could bite anyone who bothers me.” She showed him her teeth. “After I get you a beer and two of Ghita’s cookies.”
“Or you could go sit in the closet and think about your homework for a while.”
“Or we could try oral. I might not bite.”
“You know what I told you about threats.” He frowned at her, and Æowyn frowned back.
“I wasn’t threatening. I was just playing. You’re being mean.”
“No, I’m being practical. Departed gods, I’m turning into my Keeper.”
“You’re supposed to be being my Keeper.”
“Ha, ha. Your Keeper says that you’re not going out today. It’s not safe out there, and I don’t trust Basalt to protect you.”
She slumped against the bed. “It’s boring in here.”
“It would be a lot more boring in the closet.”
“Now who’s making threats?” She peeked up at him through her bangs, to see if he was serious. Sometimes he was. He could flare hot or cold with no real provocation, dragon to her snake. Their babies were going to be terrifying.
“I get to make threats, I’m the Keeper. Besides, when I make them, they’re not really threats, they’re suggestions of how the future can go.
“You know, I like you better when you’re not channeling Her.” She pursed her lips and frowned at him. “I really need to get this project done.”
“You can work on it during the lunch hour.”
“But that’s when…”
“Æowyn. Stop.” He was definitely still channeling The Mink of Doom. “You’re not going, that’s final, and if you can’t stop arguing about it, you can just shut up for a while.”
Gah. He did really badly at the firm-hand thing. It made her want to bite someone. Preferably Cynara. And then maybe Cabal, for wandering around making that Kept of his stupidly happy. And then Xi, Sofia, everyone who had ever gotten out of that ring of destruction – the one that had started with her Keeper’s Keeper’s Keeper – without getting stuck in a closet.
She showed him all her teeth, instead, especially the poisonous ones, and stood up, planning to go sit and shut up in the suite’s common room, where at least she could watch TV while she did her homework.
“Sit down.” She sat, her teeth-showing turning into an angry hiss. “That’s it. If you’re going to act like a miserable brat of an animal, Æowyn, I’m going to treat you like one. Muzzle time, until you can behave.”
She shut her mouth fast and scooted back on the floor away from him. Bratty animal. Okay, she’d been being a bit bratty. But he’d been being mean, and horrid, and acting like she was a thing or an obligation instead of his girlfriend. She shook her head, not looking at him. She didn’t want that stupid muzzle.
“I could just order you to be a good girl, you know.” He was sitting down next to her. She wasn’t going to look at him. “I could tell you to be silent unless spoken to. I could pull your teeth out.”
She knew he could do that. Zita had told her all about that – Zita, whom she shared a cy’ree and poisonous fangs with. She shook her head, because he’d told her to shut up, and because if she opened her mouth, he’d put the damn muzzle on her.
“I could order you to be a good little slave girl, and when the year was over, where would you be? You don’t have to make a federal case out of it, every time you don’t get your way.”
At least when he talked like that, he wasn’t channeling the evil mink. She nodded. Nodding was usually safe.
“You’re going to have to open your mouth eventually.”
She shook her head. No, not without an order.
“It just delays the inevitable.”
Delaying the inevitable was fine for her. Sometimes it meant he changed his mind.
He sighed, loud and ostentatious. “Fiiine. Are you sorry?”
He didn’t ask what she was sorry for, so she nodded again. She was sure as hell sorry that he’d gotten his panties in a twist over her wanting to visit her friends!
“You can say it,” he coaxed. “It’s better if you get it all out in the open.”
Well, if that wasn’t permission to open her mouth, she didn’t know what was. “I’m sor- hey!” He grabbed her hair with one hand and jammed the damn muzzle in her mouth with the other.
“Eventually,” he started tightening the buckles holding the damn thing in place, “you’ll learn to behave without this.” He slapped away her hands as she tried to stop them. “Don’t try to take it off until I say you can, Æo. You were warned.”
She worked her jaw, trying to get the thing settled. Fafnir had had it in his luggage. She wondered – and had never asked – if Cynara had resorted to using it on him. Technically, it was more of a gag than a muzzle, a hard banana-tip nub of plastic that held her tongue down, a hard plate of plastic tight over her lips, straps all over the place. It locked on, too, although Fafnir never used the lock.
It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t comfortable, either; she couldn’t close her teeth all the way around it, and it made her drool. And she looked – and he would always make her look in the mirror – ridiculous, horrible. Like a creature.
“Mirror.” He always said it like she’d look willingly. “Mirror, Æo.” He steered her by the buckles on the muzzle, pushing her face towards the floor-length mirror. “Remember this, the next time you want to be a brat.”
Even without the order, she’d remember. It wouldn’t stop her, of course. She worked her jaw around the muzzle again and thought about biting someone. It wasn’t that she was trying to be bratty, or wanted to be a brat, a bratty animal. It was that she wanted to do things and he didn’t have a sound reason for stopping her.
Of course, she couldn’t say any of that, so she just glared at him, and kept working against the gag, trying to get it set comfortably in her mouth. It wouldn’t, that was part of the hell of the stupid thing. It wouldn’t ever let her forget she had it in her mouth. It scraped against her fangs. It pressed against her tongue, and seemed to be all the way down her throat.
“Go sit down and work on your homework.” He gave her a push in that direction. “And then my homework. We’ll talk when you’re ready to be reasonable.”
She was always reasonable. It was just that sometimes he wasn’t. She scrubbed at her eyes when he turned away, trying to avoid the stupid straps. Why wouldn’t he act like a normal human faerie thing? Why did he have to overreact so much?
She tried to ignore the tears, because they only made him get angrier. Besides, there was no way he’d think she was willing to be reasonable if she was crying all over the place. She sat down at her desk, opened her Literature text, and started reading. She could just sit here, and read. If she did that, maybe she wouldn’t notice the stupid gag, or the stupid straps, or the stupid tears, and the feeling down deep in her gut that her Owner was angry with her.
She wondered how long he’d leave her like this. Until she felt like being reasonable usually meant until he was bored with the punishment. Today he had turned on the TV and picked up a book, so she might be in for a long wait.
She liked Lit, and she could really get into Dorian Grey. But every time she started writing, or started getting engrossed by the reading, her teeth would scrape against the gag, or she’d swallow and push against it, or she’d reach for her glass of water before remembering she couldn’t drink it right now. It was maddening, more so because she couldn’t just put her head down and wait it out this time. She had to do her homework… and then his homework, before the orders world stop pushing at her.
In my opinion, she typed, stuck the pen towards her mouth to fang at it, and swore in her head, the works of Oscar Wilde are greater than the works of Charles Dickens…
Someone knocked at the door, sending her thoughts scattering and pushing a whole new one in its place. He wasn’t going to make her get the door like this, was he? He’d told her to sit and do her homework, did that trump the order to get the door? How was she supposed to handle it? …greater than the works of Charles Dickens because…
“Well, aren’t you going to get that?”
She pointed at the muzzle, hoping that would change his mind. He’d never made her go out in public with the stupid thing on.
“Well, you should have thought of the before you got snotty with me. Get the door, Æo.”
Well, that was a very direct order. She glared at him, wishing she could hiss properly with this thing on, and opened the door, glaring.
Straight into the Mink of Doom’s face. She grunted, mortified, and then more mortified still, fled to the back corner of the room. She’d gotten the damn door. The rest of the orders could hang for a minute while she died of embarrassment.
“Really, Fafnir?” At least the bitch wasn’t actually laughing. Yet. “Can I come in?”
“Sure. What do you mean, really? It’s not like you don’t know where I got it.”
“Yeah, but Faf, she’s miserable.” Shut up, shut up. Æowyn tried to wedge herself under the bed.
“And I wasn’t?” She couldn’t imagine he hadn’t been, if he’d been wearing this damn thing.
“You were a mouthy, whiny brat for a week straight, and nothing else was getting your attention. Would you have rather I did something violent?” She made it sound so rational. It made Æowyn hate her all the more.
“You didn’t think it was a problem then. Why are you looking at me like that now?”
“Look, I’ll willingly discuss Kept philosophies with the two of you later, but right now, I’ve got bigger problems.” Gee, thanks. “I need you, Faf.”
“You don’t Own me anymore, Cya, remember? You released me.”
“Yes, yes, I remember. But Leo and Zita have something cornered in the basement, and I can’t find Howard. We need more muscle power, and you’re it.”
“Not your precious Cabal?”
“He’s tucked in with Naberius and not answering the door. Come on, Fafnir, you know you like a good fight. Bring the girl. It’ll be good for her.”
Like this? She’d rather die.
“You don’t need me for this. I’m not yours any more, Cya.”
“No.” She was getting impatient. Æowyn wished she’d just go away. “But I need someone, and you’re the best I know. Besides, I’ve seen Æo in combat practice, and she’s pretty nasty with a spear. I wouldn’t piss her off too much, Faf. You can’t Own her forever.”
“Don’t be such a drama queen, Cya. Fine. Do I need weapons?”
“Yes, and I’d bring a knife, too. Come on.”
“Æo. Take that thing off, grab your spear, and come with me. Don’t stab anyone who isn’t the enemy.”
For once, he’d given her an order she didn’t mind obeying. She fumbled for the catches, ripping the buckles open. He hadn’t told her not to break it. If a buckle or two got ruined in the process, he couldn’t blame her. Well, he could, but it wouldn’t be reasonable.
“What about the homework?”
“Don’t worry about the homework.”
“Fafnir, seriously. Think about what you’re saying to your Kept.”
“Cya, I’m going to help you. You don’t need to nose into my life like that.”
“Faf, I’m in Boom. We get into everything.” Æowyn hid behind the closet door to hide her grin. Spear, spear. And Fafnir’s long knife.
“Fine.” He sighed over-dramatically. “Æowyn, you can worry about homework if you want to, but you don’t need to do it until we’re done pulling my former Keeper’s chestnuts out of the fire. Oh, thanks.” He strapped the sheath on his belt. “Ready?”
“Ready.” She nodded, and popped her jaw a few times. “Let’s go.”
“That’s my line.”
“Right now, it’s my line.” Cya smirked at both of them. “Let’s go.”
Æowyn hadn’t been down to the third floor much in the past weeks. Even when she had come down, before, she hadn’t gone much past the three doors where everyone went: Library, Store, Arcade. Past there was a strange world, and one that looked like a battlefield.
The carpet of the halls gave way to industrial tile, and then, soon after that, to buckled and malformed tile, the paneling to cement walls and things that looked like trees. The hall they were in narrowed down to a bottleneck only a few feet on a side, the walls themselves warped and stretched to fill the space. Short, spiky plants discouraged anyone trying to punch through the bottleneck: hawthorn, from the looks of it, poisonous and deadly to fae. Æowyn went through second, after Cynara but before Fafnir.
The hall on the other side was more of a cave than something in a building, rock and dirt and some sort of dim, indirect lighting. Æowyn wondered, for a moment, if all the lighting in the whole building was actually this magical phosphorescence, Masked to look like light fixtures for the comfort of human-like students.
With that not-very-comforting thought in mind, picking over the rock floor, she wondered if this whole thing, rocks and dirt and all, was actually what the whole place looked like. It would make a lot more sense than expensive carpet and paneling in a bunker.
She knew, from Fafnir mentioning it, that Cynara could Find anything (she knew, from the same conversations, that Fafnir had tried and failed to run away from his former Keeper. More than once. She wasn’t sure her Keeper was a fast learner). But they didn’t need any magical ability to hear Zita’s cheerful whoops and hollers.
“I told you they were crazy,” Fafnir muttered.
“I see.” She shook her head. “It sounds to me like they like fighting. Don’t you like fighting… Master?”
Fafnir had spoken very quietly. Æowyn did not. In front of them, Cynara coughed. It could have been a laugh.
“This way. Don’t let him lie to you, Æo.”
“I try not to. What are we fighting?”
“Well, I don’t quite think it’s a yeti, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. Adelheid and Llew brought a couple of people in last week, but they’re being mum on what they found out. All we’ve been told is the problem is bigger than Boom. So, of course, we took that as a challenge. Right through here, watch your heads.” More low-hanging plant matter, this time leafy. Rowan?
Æowyn ducked and slithered through the tight opening, hissing softly. She didn’t like this place. It was like someone was trying to make the landscape kill them as efficiently as possible.
“Easy.” Cynara stopped short of patting her shoulder, but it looked like she wanted to. “Claustrophobic?”
“No. Just don’t like being surrounded by poison.”
“I get that. Almost – ” A yowl interrupted them. It didn’t sound like anything human. It didn’t sound like anything that belonged on this planet (or under it). Æowyn found herself backing towards Fafnir for comfort.
Silly, silly. She shook herself, got a better grip on her spear, and followed the noises. They were in a tight, narrow, winding cavern now, two shoulder-widths wide and barely taller than she was. There were scrape-marks on the walls above eye level – Leo’s antlers?
“Æo.” Fafnir’s voice was soft, but it echoed in the tight spaces. “Look, be careful. If you get hurt…”
“I’ll mind my flank. You mind yours. You leave a big open spot by your kidneys when you swing that thing.”
He laughed, the stutter of it sounding nervous and uncertain. This was Æo’s first actual combat – was it his, too? “Gotcha. Here we go.”
“Faf, you and Æo take the right flank, I’ve got the left. Mind the hind claws and the horns, we think they’re poison. Æo, if you can get a bite in, it seems to react to the poisons. Got it?”
“Got it.” For the first time in their relationship, the two of them spoke and moved as one. It was a nice feeling, knowing exactly where he was, and exactly where he was going. And then they were around Cya and into an open cavern, and Æowyn had no time for romantic thoughts.
Zita and Leofric had, indeed, cornered something. Much like two cats with a very large rat, they were pacing around it, occasionally batting or stabbing at it. Zita was making most of the noise, but the howling – now down to something closer to whimpering – appeared to be the creature.
The creature. It looked like, as far as she could tell, the unholy union of a horse, a lion, a goat, and possibly some sort of lizard. And it didn’t look happy about it to start with. It had six limbs, four of which had something like claws on them, way too many teeth, horns – long horns, nasty ones, and a mane matted with something dark and sticky. The light down here was dim, but it looked like one of its arm-like limbs was swelling up and turning blue.
The question – the first question, at least – was if the thing had a mind under there. Æowyn muttered a Tlacatl Working, focusing on the part of it nearest its probable brain. Nothing happened.
“Did you touch its mind?” she called to Cya.
“No mind there. Not sentient, as far as we can tell.”
“Hunh. Panida it is.”
She flipped through her Workings in her head, finding one that would probably confuse it for a while, and tossed that one off. Fafnir was already moving, so she followed him, keeping him, as much as possible, between the creature and herself. Panida was not his strong suit. But, as long as he remembered not to leave himself open, knives were.
Leo was laughing as he feinted and slashed towards the thing; they had to avoid him as much as the creature as they got into position – off to its right, going in for its vulnerable flank. Only then, as they stood a few feet away from it, did she really get a look at it. The thing was big, bigger than a normal horse at base, at least the size of a Clydesdale. And those parts were beautiful. It was just the rest of the monster that was, it looked like, trying to kill them.
And it had noticed her and Fafnir, little irritations distracting it from the bigger irritation of Leo. She fended off a head-toss of its horns, but it caught her spear between those wicked spines and dragged it up into the air. She ducked under its chin, trying to get away from the horns, only to barely miss getting raked by the claws.
“Watch out!” Zita warned. Æowyn skidded under its front paws, and found herself looking up at its chest. Such a beautiful barrel-chest, more horsey than any other part of the poor thing, and it was heaving, like this fight was really getting it frothed up. If only she had her spear, or a knife!
She started muttering Panida Workings again, trying for something destructive. If it worked with Tlacatl on fae and humans, it ought to work on animals, too. Assuming this thing counted as an animal. She’d never tried Panida on abominations against nature before.
“Got it!” Leo crowed out cheerfully. “Oh…”
“Got it!” That one was Fafnir. “Shit…”
Shit wasn’t good. Shit meant someone – something, probably – was hurting her master. Shit was decidedly bad. She bit at the first thing she found – a hind leg, just above the clawed paw – and wrapped herself around the leg, trying to avoid the sharp-looking talons.
“I got it!” This time it was Zita. The creature convulsed and twitched, kicking out, and then, with a long moan of pain, collapsed on top of Æowyn.
“Shit, shit.” She pushed back, trying to get out from under it, but the thing was falling too fast, and kicking and flailing as it went. A hoof caught her just under the jaw, snapping her head back. She bounced her head against the rock floor of the cavern, and was still blinking the stars away when the creature’s bulk landed on her face. Unconsciousness was almost welcome.
“…Jasfe Tlacatl pí̱chi̱s Æowyn oro’Fafnir. There, that should be the last of it.” Æowyn woke to see Zita’s smiling face inches from here own. “Nice aim, but next time, death from above.”
“Death from… yeah. Ow. Is it dead?”
“Sadly, no.” Cynara sat down on the other side of Æowyn. “Close to it, though. We’re packaging it up so we can get one of the teachers to look at it.” She gestured behind her. “You guys are pretty good in a fight together. You should consider training as a team.”
“As a team…” She shook her head. “We don’t get along that well.”
“The thing is… you’re stuck with him, probably for the rest of the year. And he chose you. So it behooves you to figure out how to work with him. And it’s his responsibility to figure out how to work with you.”
“I never thought about it like that.” It must be the way she’d hit her head, because Cynara was beginning to make sense. Not much sense, though. “Is that how things were, when you Kept him?” She dripped acid into the sentence, and was rewarded with a flinch.
“I’m allowed to have grown up since then. I can only wish he would, too.” The Mink of Doom patted Æowyn’s arm. “Zita patched you up, but we should get out of here before anything else attacks. Thanks for the help in the fight.”
“It was fun.” It really had been. “Up to the getting sat on part.” She looked around; Fafnir was helping Leo truss the creature up. Lowering her voice, she muttered as quietly as she could. “You ‘couldn’t find’ Howard?”
“Yeah, well.” The Mink of Doom shrugged. “You two needed the fight more than he did. And I know Fafnir’s good in combat, and Zita speaks well of you.”
“Yeah?” No, she did not want to be getting chummy with this woman. Still, she was smiling, a little bit. “Thanks, I think.” She rubbed her head, even though it was probably all healed.
“Ready to go. Come on, Æo, are you feeling all right?” Fafnir’s hand on her arm was surprisingly gentle.
“Pretty well, considering I got a monster dropped on me. You?”
“Just some scratches.” The scratches, she noted, had a makeshift bandage strapped across them. The horns, maybe? Right in that spot he never guarded, too. “That was kind of fun.”
“It really was.” She was smiling, she realized, really grinning. “We should fight monsters more often.”
“I’d be cool with that. Maybe we should work together a bit? There was this moment when I think I could have used the cover of your spear to…”
“Fafnir? One more thing before you go.” Cya walked up between them, and dropped her voice to a conversational murmur. “Faf, if I ever find out you’ve used that horrid thing on her again, I’ll tell Howard. And you know he won’t care if I did it first.”
“Buh…” She’d walked away before he really finished processing that. “What a bitch,” he muttered. And, although Æowyn agreed in theory, she couldn’t help smiling anyway.
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