February 13, 2013 by Lyn
Sunday, February 8, 2004
The bed was warm and comfortable. Zeke, too, was warm and comfortable, and Quintus had no desire to move.
It was his turn to make breakfast, but that could wait. Everything could wait. He nuzzled closer to his Keeper, his nose almost into Zeke’s armpit. The school could be on fire and that could wait, too. Being Kept felt so good. It was like a drug. Like the best drug ever.
“Mmm. Can we stay in bed all day?”
“Is your homework done?”
Zeke was, he was pretty sure, teasing him. But he wasn’t entirely certain.
“Yes, sir,” he teased. “All done.”
“Then I suppose we can spend all day…”
The knock at the door was sharp and very, very unwelcome. Quintus sighed, and wiggled out of bed. “I’ve got it.”
“You know you don’t have to…”
“I like it.” As he slipped into his sweatpants, he shot his Keeper a smile. “I like doing all those Keptie things. Because I don’t have to, probably.”
Another knock cut off Zeke’s answer. Muttering under his breath, Quintus opened the door.
The flare of the PE teacher’s wings would have made him smile, under another circumstance. Luke was not, as far as Quintus could tell, all that comfortable with the idea of gay. He seemed more comfortable with people like Kees, who was petite, effeminate, and fey-seeming, or Speed, ditto, and less with Quintus and Zeke who were, ah, neither small (Okay, Quint was short. But not small) nor fey-looking. “Sir. How can I help you?”
His wings twitched again, sending a breeze into the room. “We’re having an announcement in the auditorium in twenty minutes. You should both be there.”
“Yes, sir.” Quintus couldn’t help a little bow. “We’ll be there, right, Zeke?”
“We’ll be there.” Zeke was already getting out of bed, heedless of his giant nudity. “Is everything all right, sir?” But Luke was already gone.
“He’s funny.” Quintus closed the door.
“Don’t twit him too much. He’s been around for a long time, and he does pretty well, considering.”
“Hrrmf. From a different time? He’s living in this one.”
“And we’re living in his school. Where’s my blue shirt?”
“In your closet, next to your green shirts and purple shirts.”
“I don’t have a purple shirt.”
“You do now.” Quintus pulled on his pants. “I decided you needed one.”
“Don’t spend all your money on me.” Zeke pulled out the purple shirt, which was just the right color to match his coloration.
“Is that an order?” Quintus grinned up over his shoulder.
“Mmmf… yes. I won’t object to a shirt or something now and then.”
“Or a tie?”
“Or a tie or two. But not more than an eighth of your Store account.”
“I’d have to know how much money I had in it for that.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to find that out. After this announcement.” Zeke frowned down at his shirt. “They’ve never done something like this, in all the time I’ve been here. I’ve never even heard of them doing something like this.”
“Well, it’s been awfully weird around here lately. As far as I can tell.” Quintus shrugged. “I mean, for a place where they send you to find out how much of a fairy you can become.”
“It has been weird, even for here.” Zeke finished getting dressed. “Once this is over, we can go back to spending the whole day in bed.”
“Sound good to me.” Quintus stretched, thinking about being naked again. The chances of things turning out that tidily were slim, but he was going to take whatever hope of that he could hold on to.
The Auditorium was getting full by the time Zeke and Quintus stepped in the side door, and everyone was talking, murmuring, whispering, or in some cases just shouting. There was some sort of argument going on right in front of them, far-too-handsome Calvin arguing with tiny-but-rather-terrifying Nessie.
“He’s still my friend, you know.”
“Well, I’d say that’s my call, wouldn’t you? And my call is that he is not your friend right now.”
“He’s not some tiny Ninthie you can push around.”
“No. He’s an Eighthie who decided to be mine.”
“So he could still be my friend.”
“Your logic is a mess, Calvin. He’s mine, and, until he’s not mine anymore, he’s not your friend. Do I need to spell it out for you in small words? Or tattoo it on your forehead? Maybe you could find some nice little Ninthie to explain it to you.”
“You can’t just keep him locked in your room.”
“As a matter of fact, I can. Of everyone, Calvin, I’d think you’d understand that that’s what Keeping someone means.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Quint stopped listening. He was pretty sure they were talking about the hedgehog guy, Tigg, but he’d never gotten really close to the guy, and he had no interest at all in Calvin’s issues.
The rest of the Auditorium was generally just… shouting. Like lunch in the Dining Hall, only turned up to eleven. Not everyone had gotten all the way dressed before coming in, either, or in at least one case, dressed at all. The voluptuous strawberry blonde sitting a couple rows ahead of them was wearing her panties and, as far as Quintus could tell, nothing else.
“Developing an interest?” Zeke teased.
“In her? No.” He kept his voice low, under the general shouting. No need to offend anyone. “It’s a pity Nessie won’t let Tigg out to play, though.” Two could play the teasing game.
“Tigg? He’s all prickles.”
“I’m sure he’s figured out how to get around that. Either that, or he only dates masochists.”
He hadn’t kept his voice as low as he meant to, or someone was using a Working to eavesdrop; Nessie turned around and smiled at them.
“I wouldn’t mind, you know. We could play together, the four of us.”
Zeke glanced at Quintus. Quint wasn’t sure quite what expression he was supposed to have about that one, or even what he was supposed to feel about it. “We’ll get back to you,” Zeke decided. “I want to talk it over.”
“Of course.” Her smile, understanding, was not in keeping with the argument she’d been having with Calvin. “I’ll talk it over with Tigg, too, but I know he thinks you’re cute, Zeke.”
It was fun watching his Keeper blush. Quintus didn’t have much time to enjoy it, though; just then the room fell suddenly silent, and he was overtaken with an urge to stare at the stage and the Director.
That was… not the most comfortable of sensations, to say the least. Not that the Director wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing woman and all, but she gave Quintus the creeps. He took a breath and leaned against Zeke. Everything was better when he was in his Sequoia’s arms.
“Good afternoon, students.” The Director cleared her throat. “I know that this is an uncommon event, for us to hold an assembly in the middle of the school year, but, as some of you might know, this is an uncommon year in many ways.”
Quintus thought back to Nilam, bleeding on Caitrin’s exam table. He thought about the glimpses he’d gotten of the third floor, half of it shut off and inaccessible. Yeah, yeah, this was probably an uncommon year.
Well, for a school where the Literature teacher had horns.
“I am certain that, by now, most if not all of you have heard of the attacks on some students, primarily but not restricted to the third level of the school. I’m certain you’ve noted the lock-down procedures we’ve put in place to minimize those attacks.”
“In a school such as ours, there should be no need for such precautions. Addergoole was built with the safety of its denizens foremost in mind.”
Denizens, hunh? Quintus found, if he looked at the Director’s nose, he didn’t really have to look at her; he could just un-focus his vision and listen to what she was saying.
“Thus, it is my sad but requisite duty to apologize to you for the danger this school has, through our failure, placed you in.”
For a moment, the spell she had on the audience broke. Apologize? The ice queen didn’t apologize. Even the teachers looked shocked. Murmurings broke out around them. Quint heard someone hiss “How dare she?”
Somebody else was muttering “What, now? There’s more danger now?” Even Nessie looked grim.
The muttering and whispering came to a sudden stop. The woman on stage, for a moment, looked like a shining goddess, before returning to a more natural, almost-human glow.
“This is not a situation which is comfortable for me, indeed, for any of us. But actions that took place before any of you came here – before some of you were even conceived – are now having unanticipated consequences.”
Professor VanderLinden walked up beside Dr. Regine. Quintus felt the uncomfortable mixed reaction he always had to the English professor, something so far in his gut he wasn’t certain it had anything to do with reason or sense.
The professor cleared its throat. “When we formed this program and this school, we knew that there were elements of the program that would cause many people distress, or make them uncomfortable. We kept those elements, not because we wanted to make people unhappy – that is the furthest thing from my desire – but because we thought they were necessary.”
Dr. Regine broke in while Quintus was still chewing over uncomfortable and distress. They can’t have been talking about – about some of the stories he’d been told, could they? They can’t be talking about stuff like had happened to Zeke’s last boyfriend, Joff. Nobody could have known those things were going to happen and let the school open anyway. Right?
“We did not anticipate the immense distress of a couple members of staff, nor the problems that came from students who had never known Ellehemaei being confronted with them. We did anticipate that some members of the program would have unacceptable Changes, and that some would simply not change. But, again, we did not anticipate the reactions of some of those. And we did not, ever, anticipate the rebellion of some students.”
Rebellion? Quintus wondered what she meant by that. Fighting? Not going to class? Being angry about their Keepings?
Professor VanderLinden coughed. “The Cohort before the First Cohort was meant to be a small class, to test out the features of the school and allow the staff to get used to their roles. That was where our problems began.” Dr. Regine made a gesture, and Professor VanderLinden coughed. “Well, most of the details aren’t relevant here, but the short of it is, a group of those who were dissatisfied with certain parts of our methodology, they rebelled. They sealed off the fourth floor from the rest of us. We had believed they had their own foxhole from which to escape. We’re no longer certain of this.”
Professor Regine moved to take over, but Professor VanderLinden wasn’t done. “We thought, when the incidents in the halls began, that either earlier attacks on the school had weakened the wards-”
Earlier attacks? Quint glanced at Zeke, who looked as lost as he was.
“-or that they had moved them, themselves, to revenge themselves on us. We no longer believe that to be the case.”
Hunh? Quint had no idea what was going on. “Incidents in the halls,” okay, those he knew. Earlier Cohorts? What, the Zeroth Cohort? Attacks on the school?
Luke stepped forward, although Quintus hadn’t even seen him come on stage. “We’ve been in contact with the people from the lower floors. Thanks to…” he coughed, and Professor VanderLinden stepped back in to finish the sentence.
“…the wise words of a couple brave Ninth Cohort students, and the diligence and quick-thinking of many students over all four years…”
“Thanks, Mike.” Luke coughed again, and stepped back to the microphone. “After the work of many students, we’re on track to have a treaty with the people from the fourth floor. And it looks like they have bigger problems than us, too.”
“It is because of those problems – ”Doctor Regine cut back in before Luke could possibly tell them anything useful “ – that, despite the cessation of hostilities with the Rebel Class, we are asking you all to maintain curfew and to continue to move together in pairs or crews in the halls. Furthermore, any who would be interested in what Doug sa’Brontosaurus has referred to as a ‘crash course’ in hand-to-hand combat or, more usefully, combat Workings, please contact your Mentor as soon as possible.
She coughed. “In this situation, we are going to ask all who are acting as ‘Keepers’ this year – ” The woman could put invisible quote around just about anything “ – not only allow your ‘Kept’ access to combat lessons, should they wish them, but rescind any orders you may have inadvertently put into place forbidding self-defense.”
The Auditorium erupted in noise. Not as much noise as before – this was, Quintus noticed, mostly Keepers. A few who Zeke had told him had been Kept the year before were shouting, too, those some of the loudest. Evie, for one. Her Kept was trying to be invisible. Quintus felt for her.
“ENOUGH!” Luke had a roar like a lion when he wanted to be heard. The noise faltered, and one voice echoed louder in the sudden quiet.
“…ly you care? What was that in years before?”
“I’ll talk to you about that after this meeting, Margherita, and anyone else who has a problem. Right now, school policy is that you let your Kept defend themselves, or we will take your Kept from you.”
And, at that, the room fell quiet.
“They can’t do that.” One voice, just one, cut across the silence. Hemlock. Quintus was not surprised. From the look on the three teachers’ faces, neither were they.
“Actually, we can.” It was surprising that it was Professor VanderLinden who said that, and not Luke. “One of several ways, but the easiest being – we’re your Mentors.”
“But…” and that was Evie again.
Doctor Regine stepped forward. “You are welcome to discuss all of this privately with your Mentors, or with us. Our doors will be open; you may make appointments with my secretary. Combat lessons will be available beginning tomorrow, with sign-ups in Luke’s office. Please continue to take care while traversing the hallways, and please remain calm. We do not wish to have a riot.”
She risked a lot more than a riot, if the looks on everyone’s faces were any indication. “Come on, Q.” His Sequoia was worried about the same thing, it seemed.
“Coming. Where am I coming? Where are we going?”
“You’re going to go back to our room, and then I’m going to go see if I can help.”
“Oh, come on. Really?” He stared up at his Keeper in exasperation. “I get to go sit in my room and hide?”
“You should bring him along.” That was from behind Zeke, but they all knew the voice. Luke. “He’s been training with Sang Ki, hasn’t he?”
“There are other reasons. It’s all right, Sequoia. He won’t be in any danger.” They’d turned to look at the grim PE teacher by now; inexplicably, he was smiling. “Especially with you there. And if you come with him, I can get you in.”
“If I… what?” Zeke blinked. “Luke, what’s going on?”
“It’s complicated. Come on. You want to help, you’re going to help. Both of you.” He turned his back on them and led them out of the auditorium. As he went, he picked a few other people – mostly those Quintus recognized as cy’Luca or cy’Doug, but not all. Lee, but not his Keepers, that was interesting. Belfreja with Porter. Llew and his Keeper, neither Noam nor his. Arundel, of course. And Garfunkle. Mostly underclassmen – not Niassa, not Leofric. But Arien. Not Kellagh, but Fafnir.
“Sir…” Quintus wasn’t really sure what he was going to say, or if he should say anything. Luke stopped him with a hand up.
“We’re almost there, son.”
“Almost where?” Zeke wasn’t as patient as Quintus. That was a change. Zeke was usually as calm as his namesake. Assuming sequoias were calm. He’d never talked to one of the trees.
“We’re going to my office. And from there, we’re going down to the basement.”
“Sir. I don’t want Quintus going down there. I’m supposed to keep him safe.”
“Zeeeek.” Quintus squirmed. With everyone listening, too!
“I’m sorry, Zeke, but we need him.”
“You need him?” Zeke glanced down at Quintus. “I don’t mean it like that, Q. It’s just…”
“…most of the people you picked, Luke, aren’t your powerhouses.”
“Speak for yourself, Heidi.”
“I was actually talking about you, Fafnir.”
“That’s enough, all of you. Come in.” Luke herded them all into his office. “Okay. Arien, shut the door. I picked those of you I did – you’re an exception, Sequoia, because I wanted your power, and I wanted Quintus – because you’re young, not that powerful, but strong for your age.”
“Sir?” Adelheid stepped forward. “Have you gone absolutely nuts?”
“I’m with her.” Llew stood at his Keeper’s side. Something had changed, there. Quintus should ask him about it, some other time. Now didn’t seem like a question asking time. Well, unless you were Llew. “What the hell is going on?”
Luke sat down on his desk and stared at all of them. “You know about the Wards on the school.”
“We do?” Oh, Quintus was going to ask questions. At least, his mouth was.
“The school perimeter is protected by them,” Zeke explained. “They keep out powerful Ellehemaei who don’t know what’s going on.”
“The more powerful the fae, the more powerful the ward.” Some people would pace. Luke twitched his wings. “And the wards into the fourth floor are similar. They’re based off of the same Workings.”
That was easy enough to follow. “You can’t get through them. But some of the monsters from down there-”
“They’re not monsters.” Luke’s wings flared wide and he snapped the words out. “They’re children. Students, like you are.”
“Did you see what they did to Nilam?”
“I’ve seen students here in Addergoole do far worse to each other. They’re children, and they’re scared.”
“I’m sure Ardell was really fucking scared.” Quint was scared, which was making him be rude. Any minute now, Zeke would tell him to shut up. “Or Meshach.”
“Quintus.” That wasn’t really being told to shut up, but it was close enough. Quint shut his mouth. “Students can be monsters, too, Luke.”
“Can be. They can also lash out because they’re scared. They’ll hurt you either way, but your response has to be different than it would be for a full-grown, intentional monster.”
“Okay.” Adelheid stepped forward again. “There’s a ward you can’t get through, that you think we might be able to.”
“The Ninths, almost certainly. Eighths, probably. I’m not sure about Sevenths and Sixths. I know I can’t; none of the teachers can.”
“And you want us to…”
“Recon. The meetings, the negotiations, were going very well, and then they cut off suddenly. Something is going very wrong down there, and it’s bleeding up into our floors, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed. It needs to stop. It’s threatening students here.”
“So…” Zeke spoke slowly. “You think that it’s not the… the ‘students’ down there. You think something else is down there, too, causing trouble. And you want to send the Ninth Cohort down to face that?”
Luke’s wings snapped again. He was getting really pissed. Quintus didn’t blame him; he was getting pretty angry himself. “Do you think this is what I want, Sequoia? This is the only option left to me. I cannot break the ward without risking bringing the whole damn school down on our heads. I don’t think you want that. I don’t think any of us want that.”
“Okay.” Zeke’s voice was still calm. He was almost always calm. “All right, sir. What do you need us to do?”
“I can show you the route. But once we get to the third floor, you’ll have to go on alone. Arm yourselves, but don’t attack unless you’re threatened. Are you all right with this?”
Quintus glanced at the other students. Lee was bouncing. Belfreja was talking very softly to Porter. Arundel and Gar were exchanging a look he couldn’t decipher. Fafnir looked excited.
“So… what exactly is it you want us to do, sir? Go in there, and…?”
He thought the PE teacher might actually look embarrassed. If so, it didn’t last long.
“Ah. Gather intel. Find out as much as you can, as quickly as you can, and then get back out safely, and with all of you.”
“And why so many of us?” Arundel stepped forward. “Sir? Shouldn’t this be a small group? Also, why not Ciara?”
“If I send Ciara in there, I’ll have to send Amadeus. And I don’t want to do that.”
Arundel nodded as if that made sense. Maybe in his world, it did. “Okay. Not the Sixth Cohort – except Zeke. Why Zeke?”
“Because I want Quintus there.”
“Hunh. All right, I guess that makes sense.”
It didn’t make sense to Quint, but he couldn’t help but snark back at the eagle-boy anyway. “Gee, thanks.”
“It’s just that you’re not a fighter.” Arundel seemed incapable of realizing he might have given offense.
“Not everyone on a recon mission needs to be front-line combat capable – or should be. Quintus has his own skills.”
“Now, if you’re through with the questions, let’s get this done before someone else gets hurt.” Luke’s wings flapped hard again, and he stomped out of his office.
Quintus peeked up at Zeke. His Keeper was frowning, but at least he probably wasn’t frowning at something Quint had done. “Stay close,” Zeke murmured, “as long as you can. If I can’t get through this ward…”
“Do you want me to stay with you?”
“I want you to. But I think you ought to go with them. Try to let the front-line fighters take the brunt of anything, and, Quint? Don’t be afraid to run away, if you have to. Please don’t try to be a hero.”
“I’m not the heroing sort. I’ll stay safe, Zeke.”
“Good.” They rattled down the stairs, their whole messed-up little party. Recon. Luke was expecting something more than just information-gathering, wasn’t he? Or the group wouldn’t have included so many fighters and so few of what Noam would have called clerics. Even, damn it, Hera would have been useful here.
What were they getting into?
“Find out everything you can. Try not to get into a combat situation and, if you do, attempt to disengage without harming yourself or the other party. If you encounter a monster – run. Porter?”
“Set on exits, boss.” The tiger boy bowed, causing his girlfriend to giggle.
“Good. Put Arundel and Arien in point, Quintus at the back to watch for rogue plant life with Zeke for protection. Zeke, Adelheid – watch over them.”
“Got it.”Adelheid was swinging a wooden battle-axe. “Don’t worry, Luke. We know what we’re doing.”
Well, some of them did. Luke gestured down what had, at one point, been a hallway. Now, it was a twisting mess of cave-like passages, dripping what Quintus hoped was water. “Through there; the wards will hit about halfway. I’ll lead you until that point.” He started walking, his wings folded against his back. “Zeke…”
“I know. Duck.” The passage was tight for anyone over six foot, although Quintus fit just fine. Behind him, his Keeper was hunching over uncomfortably. He thought about teasing Zeke, but it didn’t seem like the time or the place.
“Where’s Noam when we’re doing a dungeon crawl?”
“You know, off with the harpies,” Llew quipped.
“Llew!” His Keeper sounded a little bit horrified.
Llew sounded unfazed. “What? Have you met Hera?”
“She has her reasons.”
“Yeah, well, those reasons don’t justify what she did to my friend.”
“Dude, besides, Hera had it light.” Fafnir snorted. “She’s just a bitch. She was a bitch before she was Kept, she was a bitch afterwards.”
“Is this really necessary, guys? It’s not like we’re going to fight Hera.” Bel’s voice was soft and placating; Quintus felt himself calming a bit.
“Maybe we oughta? After?” Lee’s voice was almost a whisper. “Maybe somebody oughta?”
“Maybe someone ought to fight Thessaly first.” Quintus was surprised to find that it was him speaking. “And Lucian.”
“Uh, that’s okay. That’s fine, you don’t have to do that, okay?”
“Focus.” Once again, Bel pulled them back on track. “Luke, can you give us any clues?”
“Not much. They have a few creatures – Fafnir encountered one of them. But most of them are students much like you.”
“Oh, good,” Gar grumbled. “Look, why don’t you let me go first?”
“Arien and Arundel are trained fighters.”
“Hey!” Fafnir’s voice rose, and, for a third time, Bel soothed them.
“He’s just being himself, Fafnir, you know he doesn’t mean anything by it. Just favoring his cy’ree.”
“I suppose.” Fafnir subsided. “That makes sense.”
“Thanks, Belf…” Luke trailed off as he stopped. “This is as far as I go. Good luck, and get back as soon as you can.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Quintus glanced at the gym teacher. “We couldn’t even walk here without arguing.”
“No. But it’s the only one we’ve got. Watch out for the hawthorn.”
“Oh, grea…” He was pulled to a stop as Zeke bounced against some invisible barrier. “oh, double great.” He twisted around to look at his Keeper. “Kiss for luck?”
“I don’t want you to go without me.”
The bond pulled against Quintus, and he sighed. “Luke says they need my Poison Ivy trick.”
“All right.” Zeke leaned down and kissed Quintus full on the lips. “Try to be safe.”
Sunday, February 8, 2004
Sybil had her gas mask on. That usually meant that she wanted something; she was going to stay long enough to talk to Amantia.
“We’ve got trouble down below.” She never did stop for niceties; then again, almost nobody did, when talking to Amantia. “And we think we’re having trouble from up above, too.”
“Because the monsters got loose.” Amantia kept her eyes on Sybil’s nose. It was the safest way to talk to their de facto leader, even when that nose was covered with a gas mask. “And because of what Inigo did.”
“One or the other or both. But now, now we have problems.”
“The monsters might not care about my trick.”
“No. Not all of them did. Some of the things really far down do… but those care because of what they were.”
Even Sybil couldn’t say it. Then again, Sybil couldn’t admit that they were monsters, too. Amantia coughed, and was rewarded by their mighty leader flinching backwards, despite the gas mask.
“What about The Teacher?”
“Still locked up.”
“Damn. So what do you want me to do?”
“So you’ll help?”
“I didn’t say that. What do you want me to do?”
“Keep an eye out for the people from upstairs. And if they come down here – slow them down.”
“I thought the wards kept them out.”
“The wards are weakening.” She had her Gandalf Voice on, even through the gas mask – ominous and dreary. Amantia hated that voice more than most of Sybil’s acts.
“Well, weren’t we negotiating with them?”
“The negotiations have stopped. Now we are at war.”
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?