March 6, 2013 by Lyn
By K Orion Fray.
February 14, 2004
This whole year was not going the way she’d expected.
Most of what was happening seemed to be avoiding her, and she wasn’t sure whether or not that was a good thing. Any of the people she’d made friends with, she’d slowly drifted away from under the hyper-vigilant watch of her Keeper. When she’d voiced concern about her classmates being attacked (or that incident with Jovanna in magic class; that had been a trip), Silas had given her a wave of his hand and the sideline order of “don’t worry about them.”
‘Don’t worry about them’ had made being friends with people difficult.
Of course, with the school on a lockdown, it hardly mattered that she couldn’t see people. She stayed in the suite with Silas and his crewmate – such that she was, in a crew of only two people. If Judith had crew beyond Silas, Mallory had never met them.
…Maybe Judith counted her as part of the crew. That would at least make three people.
On second though, Judith was the one that still didn’t remember Mallory’s name. Probably not a good sign for crew-hood. She sighed. I love being around Silas, but I just wish I had a few more friends. Someone to go talk to, that wouldn’t cause a fight.
…That, however, sparked an idea. There was one person in the school who she could ask to go talk to, and Silas basically wasn’t allowed to tell her no. Now just to find a way to let him let her out.
“Silas?” She padded over to his door, peeking in. For once, he was in his room – alone – and distracted. This boded well for her. He glanced up from the book he was reading, and gave her a tired smile.
“What can I do for you?”
Awesome. He’s in a good mood. “Um…do you mind if I go out for a little?”
That got a frown. “Out where?”
“To talk to DJ?”
He leaned back in his chair, eyes more fully open. “Talk about what?”
Shit. Woke the sleeping cobra… Silas was a snake Change – and he’d never made that a secret. And when he wanted something, it was like watching Aladdin with Jafar all over again. He had that kind of stare that you just didn’t say no to. With any luck, she’d be able to avoid that. “I…I told it that I’d come talk a while ago, and then I forgot, with all the stuff that came up…? It wanted to talk about my Change and classes and whatever.”
Silas’ eyes flickered at the mention of her Change, but he didn’t say anything. She could feel the negative emotion waving off of him though, and it made her stomach twist. “Right. I guess it would want to talk about that. Fine.” He turned back to his book, and waved a hand. “Be back before curfew.”
“Yes, master.” He pointed to himself, and Mallory ducked forward and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Silas smirked, and she darted out of the room.
Phew. Without much interference, she found her way to DJ’s office, tapping lightly on the door as she pulled lightly at the metal of her collar. Did it have to be metal? Really? Ugh.
The door opened, revealing her Mentor DJ, just a bit taller than Mallory but their hair similar shades of blonde. DJ gave Mal a smile. “Come on in, Mallory.
She slipped through the door, silent on her feet. Over the months with Silas, she’d gotten more stealthy, though it’s hard to say why. Possibly out of necessity, possibly out of compliance. I wonder if it’s normal for people to pick up traits of their Keepers. “Hi, DJ.”
“Hey. Close the door behind you.”
Mal nudged the door closed with her foot. “Sorry to just come by without notice or anything. You’re not busy, are you?”
DJ shook its head. “Not at all. Anything to eat? Drink?”
“Um…” Mal faltered, frowning a little as she thought. I don’t think I have any standing orders about food – at least not today. The last of those he rescinded last night. “I…yeah, maybe something to eat?”
DJ pulled a batch of muffins from the back of its office. “My grandchildren have recently discovered muffins.”
Mal smiled. “Muffins are good. I made brownies the other day. Didn’t quite turn out the way I expected, but Silas and Judith liked them.”
“Always a good thing.” DJ’s voice was bland enough that it’s hard to tell if it’s joking or not, and Mal frowned for a moment. They did really like them, though…I was proud, for once.
She took a seat in a nearby chair, curling up in it. “Mm-hmm.” She frowned a little, then sighed. “I like being around them, but between them and the red alert lockdown, it gets a little claustrophobic.”
“I can imagine. Not going anywhere ever?”
“Pretty much. I know he wants me safe, but still.” She stuck out her tongue. “I’m impressed I managed to get out here.”
That caught DJ’s attention. “How did you manage that?”
“Um…” She grinned a bit bashfully. “I said that you’d asked me to stop by a while ago and I’d forgotten and didn’t want you to worry so I needed to go right now?”
That got a smile from her Mentor. “Very clever. Feel free to use me as an excuse whenever you need to.”
Thank the gods. I may need to remember that one. …No, I definitely need to remember that one. “Thanks.” She hugged her knees, then pulled a face a bit and sits down properly. Reason number one why I don’t like pregnant… She hadn’t been showing that much recently, but between the pregnancy and the Change, she was grateful for her Mask. …Very grateful. “Harder to do that now. But – I mean, I do kinda have a question.”
“All right. That’s what I’m here for.”
“What…” Mal frowned, shifted in her seat, and tried again. “What are we supposed to do, after we get out of here?”
The answer was simple enough. “Well, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.” Her frown deepened as she thought. “I…I hadn’t really thought about anything after high school, I guess. I mean, I assumed I’d go to college, and then find a job somewhere, but…” She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’d be good at.”
DJ’s head tilted back and forth, nondescript. “Well, you have four years here to find out, with some of the best experts in the world on any number of topics.”
The frown wavered, a smile peeking through. “But it’s not like…there’s not some set plan? I mean, my life’s gonna be different then. A lot more different than I’d thought.” Her arms went around her stomach, subconsciously indicating her unborn child. Does that mean Silas is going to be around forever, too? …Is he going to want to stay around after he graduates…or even once he lets me go? Her mind was still conflicted about that. Silas had already told her that at the end of the year, he’d let her go – and when they returned in the fall, she’d have a place in the crew if she wanted it.
Right now, thinking about the end of the year and being let go at all just made her nauseous, and not because of morning sickness.
DJ nodded. “There are a few different ways you can go about things. You can, of course, choose to leave your children with the créche or with a relative – that’s what my child, Ty, has done – or with the children’s other parents.”
“I don’t think Silas wants to raise kids.” It’s not that I don’t like him…or that I don’t think he’d raise them well. I just…I don’t want my kids to be like him. Not without a balance. …Does that make ma a bad Kept? I hope not. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t mind it, I guess… I just feel like college isn’t exactly the logical course after that. I’ll have toddlers.” She reached out a hand, tapping a few imaginary toddler’s heads.
“My … my child’s former Kept, Jamian, is going to college with four small children. It is certainly possible, and Addergoole will pay for child care.”
“Four.” Mal’s eyes widen. Four kids?! “Wow.” That sat on her mind for a moment. “Huh.” She tucked her feet under her, opting for that method of curling up instead. “I wonder what I’d study.” Oh right, I have a muffin. She bit into it, savoring the taste. Better than mine. …I guess that’s not hard, though.
“Well, what are your best subjects? And your best Words?”
“I’m good with water…uh, energy…create and shape. And um…” Mal tried to think of which classes she was doing best in. “Llllliterature? Spanish? Like, I do okay in all my classes, but I dunno. I want…” She gestured, her arms wide then closer together. “I want to make things work out. Plan things.”
“What sort of things, Mallory?” DJ nudged.
“Everything! People, events, quests, revolutions.” She giggled a little. I have no idea what kind of revolution I’d plan out, but it sounds like a blast. “I just like mapping everything out.”
This time, DJ’s answer sounded amused to Mal’s ear. “Well. There’s a reason you’re my Student. So. Civil engineering?”
Civil engineering? I’ve never even heard of that. “That sounds impressive.” She smiled. “But yeah, I guess.” I am being utterly unhelpful. She gave DJ a sheepish look. “Sorry, I seem to keep giving all these really vague answers. I guess I’m trying to figure out stuff too far in advance.”
DJ shook its head. “That’s fine. You’re answering for yourself as much as for me.”
“Yeah.” Mallory sighed and leaned back in the chair again. “Do you ever wish that you weren’t here? Like, you didn’t have to be at Addergoole?” Like if I’d only been allowed to go to a normal school, my life wouldn’t feel so..weird?
DJ shook its head. “No. For children like my Ty, Addergoole is the best possible environment.”
That got Mallory thinking again. I wonder… She paused before asking something else. “Was your Change like…hard to get used to, or anything?”
“My change was the tail. The rest of it, I was born with.”
Mal’s smile was envious. “That’s lucky.”
“Well. It wasn’t comfortable, being out like this in the world.”
…Oh shit, no that’s not what I – dammit, Mallory, think before you talk! “No, no no no, I didn’t mean…” She bit her lip. “I didn’t mean that.”
DJ didn’t seem fazed much. “You mean, a Change that didn’t really hurt, and didn’t give me too much to adapt to.”
“I…yeah, I guess.” Dammit, I’m dumb. She struggled to find a way to phrase what she wanted to say. “You still look normal. Like a person.”
“Let me see you behind your Mask.” It wasn’t quite an order, but it still feels like the edge of one.
Mal gave her a Mentor a nervous look, but then stood up, rolled her shoulders, and let her Mask fall. Whatever her Change was, it looked like a mess to Mallory – she’d turned snakey at the top, with snake eyes and a forked tongue, scales along the sides of her face and down over her neck and throat and onto her shoulders. From there, her skin shaded pitch black, with long wicked claws on her fingers like some kind of huge cat. Her legs didn’t match though; they were a different kind of bulky, more like a lion than the smaller big cat her arms reminded her of – but her feet had shifted to hooves. Not horse hooves – she’d looked it up in the library. She didn’t know what kind.
All in all, she felt like a mess. Some kin to the gods. More like the devil’s reject.
DJ walked around her, taking it all in. “You look like a person to me.” Its voice is gentle.
Mallory grumbled as she sat back down. “I look like a freak.” There was a hiss to her voice from the tongue, but she’d learned to manage okay with it. That had been one of the places that Silas was incredibly useful – and hadn’t sneered at her Change overall.
“No. You don’t look human, but, Mallory, we aren’t human. Your father wasn’t – isn’t – human. We are Ellehemaei.”
She rolled her shoulders again, bringing the Mask back up. “Yeah, I know. But I mean I’ve seen some of the other students. Silas looks like a snake – Judith’s all wolfy. Porter has the kitty ears, Miryam’s a luna moth. Like, that’s all one thing. I’m…” She made a generic gesture. “I look like a circus, all put in one person.”
DJ thought about that. “… Have you asked your father why he named you what he did?”
Mallory shook her head. “I’ve never asked about my father. Didn’t know him, growing up.”
“Hrrm. That may be a good place to start.”
How exactly am I…wait. “You know him?” Mallory furrowed her eyebrows, shifting in her seat again.
“We were all here at the same time, more or less.”
“Oh, that’s cool.” She smiled a little, thinking about this mystery father, walking the same halls she was now. “Maybe someday I’ll get a chance to meet him. What’s his name?”
DJ coughed. “I would like to swear you to secrecy.”
Well, that bodes ominous. Mal nodded, worried. “Okay – I promise not to tell anyone…um, what exactly am I promising? About my dad’s name?”
Mal blinked a few times, then nodded. “Okay.” Huh. Wonder why that warrants a promise. It’s not like I…know…hmmm. She blinked a few more times, and then tilted her head with a frown. “One of the upperclassmen has a really similar name.”
DJ was straight with that. “Yes.”
Seriously? She gave DJ a serious look. “That’s why I have to keep it a secret, isn’t it. Because that’s not just random.”
“Yes.” DJ nodded, and took a breath. “You’re the least directly named of your half-siblings.”
That got a frown. “I was always told that my name meant something about being unlucky.”
“…Who told you that malarky?”
Mal made a generic hand gesture. “My mom – the baby name book – I dunno, that’s just always what I’ve found.”
DJ reached behind itself to a bookshelf, and pulled off a book with the title scribed in silver – The Complete Arthurian and Morte D’Arthur.
I know this one. She tapped the cover. “Complete Arthurian. Mom had a copy of that.”
“Note the author on the other one.”
Mal peered down at the writing. “Le Morte d’Arthur, by…” She stopped, staring at the name. “Thomas Malory.” Mal raised an eyebrow, looking back up at DJ. “I’m named for an author?”
“Well.” It flipped to the Characters page. “Tristan was a first cohort student.” Its finger slid down the page. “Agravain, Accalon, you know.”
“Oh my god.” Her eyes widen. “Arthurian legend. All named for Arthurian–” And then widen a second time. “That’s…that’s it. The…” She snaps her fingers a few times, trying to remember something. What the hell was it called…? “The thing from the book – that Mom always told me came for…bad kids that didn’t eat their broccoli or something stupid like that.”
“Bad kids… ah. The questing beast.” DJ smirked. “I’ve had quite the opportunity to read up on Arthurian legends over the years, although you’re the first I’ve had as a Student.”
Finally, I get it. Mal took a breath and then opened her mouth just far enough to breathe out, and she sounded just like the legends said: barking like a thirty couple hounds questing. “It makes sense now!”
DJ grinned cheerfully. “Good. Very good.”
Mal was so happy, she couldn’t think straight. “Oh my god, that makes everything so much better.” She let out a relieved laugh. “I was trying to think of anything that looked like this and utterly drawing a blank. I forgot about the questing beast. I never really listened to the stories too much.”
“Well, you can read that here as much as you want. Or any of my library on the subject. Or I can call your father in here to answer questions.”
“Thanks…I think I may have to read up.” She peered back at the book, trailing a finger over it. “As for my dad…I…I don’t even know where I’d start.”
“Well. You have all year.”
“Yeah.” Mal smiled, her dreams shifting just a little as she thought about actually talking to Ambrose-Ambrus about her name…about her parents in general…about anything she could think of, that she’d never had an answer for. “I’ll think of something. …I’d like to talk to him, before he leaves school.”
“I’ll make sure it happens.”
“Thanks, DJ.” Mal smiled warmly. “You’re the best.”
DJ nodded to her. “I do try.”
“And you do a good job.” Her grin widened – and then suddenly faltered. “Ugh, I wonder how much longer I can delay before Silas thinks I’ve fallen into a toilet or something.” She blew a raspberry.
That made her Mentor laugh – making the smile twitch back to Mal’s lips. “Well, let’s work on your Workings for a bit then, hm?.”
Sounds better than going back ‘home’, by a long shot. “Awesome.”