April 3, 2013 by Lyn
Monday, March 1, 2004
Noam had never been so grateful and relieved to go back to classes.
Having three weeks off had been fun at first; fighting monsters had even been fun. Watching his Keeper be a fierce warrior woman had been pretty cool, although he’d stocked up on mouthwash when the Store had opened. She kept coming home with bits of monsters stuck between her teeth.
But Noam was bored a lot in between the fighting, and there was a lot of sitting around talking with Hera and Jabez, which was just sort of weird. There was seriously something wrong with that boy.
And, of course, every time he got uncomfortable, Brenna thought it was her. Last night, he’d actually yelled at her. And instead of yelling back, she’d gone into the bathroom and cried.
Noam was very grateful to be going to class. On the other hand, he was really uncomfortable to have his Keeper not talking to him. “Brenn…”
“Later it is. Righty-o.” He packed the last of his books into his bag and headed off for class, fighting the sinking feeling in his stomach.
Class. He could focus on class. History took a lot of focus, after all. Lots and lots of focus.
He stepped in the door and almost ran into Quintus. “What is it?”
“Dunno, Lolly’s in my way and I’m not going to move her.”
“Lolly?” Noam risked tapping the tiny blonde girl’s shoulder. She made him think of anime, not D&D, which took her out of familiar myths and into something strange and weird. He preferred elves. Like Akaterina. Worry about that another day.
She twisted to look at him. “This is bad.”
“What’s bad, Lolly?” Careful, be patient. Lolly could be hair-trigger.
“This. This is bad.” She stepped out of the way, letting Quintus and Noam in. She was pointing into the middle of the classroom; Noam let his gaze follow her finger.
Addergoole was not the sort of school where you got transfer students in the middle of the year. Ever, as far as he could tell.
Then again, from what little Brenna and Hera had said, they didn’t normally find whole new levels to the dungeon. So maybe the two went together.
The girl in the middle of the room was definitely new, at least to Noam. And, since the school had like a hundred students and the History class had fifteen, it was safe to say she was new to the school and the class.
She was silver all over. Her skin was pale white, and her eyes glimmered grey. Her gloves, her loose shirt, her head-scarf, her shoes — every piece of clothing was silver, moving stiffly, like it was actually metal and not fabric.
“Ladies and gentlefolk.” Professor Valerian gently shoved Noam and Quintus aside. “I’d like to introduce you to Argent. Argent is — was — a Downstairs student, and will be joining our class. Please be patient, courteous, and, above all, hands-off.”
The girl — who was rather pretty, if a little wan — waved. “Please, yes, no touching.” She touched one silver glove with the other one. “It leads to… problems.”
“Problems.” Quintus’ voice was flat; when Noam peeked at him, his expression was just as not-there. “Any relation to King Midas?”
The girl’s cheeks colored — gold, Noam noted. “It could be said that he was a spiritual cousin, yes.”
“What about touching your glove?” Lolly was sidling closer. “Are your gloves dangerous?”
“Liliandra.” Professor Valerian did not sound amused. “What has your Keeper told you about touching people?”
“That he will frown at me if I do it.” Lolly tucked her hands behind her back. “But this is fascinating. If she bleeds on herself, does her blood turn to silver?”
The silver girl hunched in on herself. “I do not like bleeding.”
Noam stepped forward, and bowed, hands behind his back, giving her plenty of space. “I can imagine you don’t. Here, take a seat;” he pulled out a chair for her. “Don’t mind Lolly, she won’t hurt you.” He wasn’t entirely certain of that, but it sounded good. “I’m Noam.”
“Nice to meet you. Thanks.” She sat down and scooted her chair up to the desk. “This is — new.”
“Addergoole. I had classes, before, but that seems like it was a long time ago.”
Around them, people took their seats. Noam noted that people were giving Argent — and thus him — wide berth, but he didn’t mind. Helping someone felt good, which did a bit to help the sinking feeling still in his stomach about Brenna.
“So — when did you come to… to the basement, I guess?” He still wasn’t very clear on what was going on.
“It was just after the whole Y2K fuss? I woke up one morning and my bed was silver. Then they brought me here, and…” She shrugged. “Then Sibyl and Inigo did their thing, and now I’m in classes. Which is better, I suppose.”
“You suppose?” Noam couldn’t help but sound surprised. “Why not…?”
“Well, everyone’s looking at me oddly. And I do have friends, from downstairs. And I don’t get to see them anymore.”
“They’ll get over looking at you funny soon. We don’t have that many new students, around here.”
“Or deadly ones.”
“Well, you met Lolly.” He tried to joke about that, and not think about Brenna’s teeth. “And a lot of the other students can be deadly, if they try.”
“But not by accident.”
“Not as much by accident, no.” He frowned. “That’s got to suck.”
“It’s not a lot of fun.”
“And you can’t… stop it?”
“Not in any way I’ve found yet. Kairos was trying to find a way, but we hadn’t come up with anything at all. And then she got busy with the monsters.”
“All right, class.” Professor Valerian clapped her hands. “Time to focus on History. Notebooks out!”
The Valerian whirlwind was a little slower than normal, today; Noam caught her glancing at Argent several times, to be sure she was keeping up. He was doing the same. He took extra careful notes, too, so that he could loan them to her if she needed.
“What’s your next class?” He made sure to give her plenty of space, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t walk near her as they left.
“Math…. ah, Trigonometry, with Professor Solomon?”
“Awesome.” He found he was actually grinning. “Me, too. Here, it’s this w- Hi, Brenna.”
“Hi, Noam.” Brenna wasn’t smiling. Of course, neither was he. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“You’re the boss.” He pointed across the hall. “That way, Argent.”
He was not all that surprised to be shoved into an alcove. Brenna wasn’t often rough with him, but when she got angry… well, things happened.
“Who was that?”
“That’s Argent. She’s a basement student.”
“You’re mine.” The tears — those surprised her. “Even if I gross you out, you’re mine.”
“I’m yours.” He held up both hands and tried to look as confused as he felt. “And you don’t gross me out. Why would you think that?”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“Bren… I already can’t lie to you.” He swallowed. “You don’t gross me out. You don’t horrify me. I think you’re beautiful.”
“You’re just saying that because you Belong to me.”
“Bren, have you ever given me an order to lie to you? To flatter you untruthfully? To tell you things because I think you want to hear them?”
“…No? Have I?”
“No. You haven’t. Which means that I’m saying these things because they’re true, because you have ordered me, again and again, to be honest with you.”
She took a moment, her hands against his chest and her Masked teeth barred in something far more benign-looking than what he knew she hid. Then she ducked her head and rubbed her face against his shirt. “Why?”
Okay, he could handle this. Noam put his hands very carefully on Brenna’s shoulders. “Why do I think you’re beautiful? Because you are. Why aren’t I disgusted? There’s nothing to be disgusted of…”
“He isn’t here.”
“Hera said it too.”
“Hera is biased. She hates herself, and sees herself in you. That doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with you.”
“But you made that face!”
“That wasn’t you.” He patted her shoulder carefully.
“No, that was Jabez.” He grimaced — the face he was pretty sure she was complaining about.
She stared at him for a moment, and then chuckled nervously. “Okay, Jabez does make me want to make faces, too. Do you think it was a bad idea, getting him for Hera? She’s not that good about Kept.”
“I’m not sure, but I’m not sure it was her, either. He was kind of weird before that, too.”
“Hunh. Maybe I’ll talk to her. She’s getting so that she listens once in a while.”
“She’s getting used to the idea of you as your own person. It’s hard for her, but she’s sort of figuring it out.”
She giggled again. “Yeah. You’re the first person to really treat me like one, and I had to have you collared for that.”
“You didn’t actually have to have me collared for that…” He shut up, before he could get her upset with that one yet again.
For once, she just looked thoughtful. Maybe he’d repeated I can’t lie to you enough times. “Would you still be my friend? If I took the collar off?”
Noam tried to ignore the lump of panic that filled his throat. He didn’t want her to take the collar off. He didn’t want to not be hers. He didn’t want any of that.
She had asked him a direct question. He swallowed hard and touched her cheek. “If you’d have me.” And, of course, that was a question.
“Hunh.” He noticed she didn’t answer. He wondered if she did. “Who was your friend?”
He ignored the fact that he’d already answered that. “Argent. She’s one of the basement students.”
“They’re letting them into classes now?”
“I guess? She’s the first I’ve seen. She’s… very silver. A lot of people didn’t want to talk to her.”
Brenna’s expression shifted to something like sympathy. “They think she’s a monster.”
“They do. Because she didn’t luck out in the Change lottery.”
“But she’s nice?”
“So far. She seems shy, but she’s been stuck in a basement for four years.”
“Maybe she should come visit. Talk with Hera and I, that sort of thing.”
“She’d probably like that.”
“Class time, kids.” Luke tapped Noam’s shoulder gently. “Go on. Before your teachers think the unicorn ate you.”
“Yessir.” He took the time to give Brenna a kiss, a full one, on the lips. The day was clearly improving: she let him do it, and even kissed back.
He wasn’t surprised to find the Trig classroom door clogged. He didn’t want to move Tigg aside — the hedgehog boy was sharp, and, besides, Brenna was a little frightened of Tigg’s Keeper — so he cleared his throat instead. “There’s a new girl in the classroom, right? She’s pretty and silver and could I please go in to talk to her?”
“Be my guest.” Tigg stepped out of the way, which made three other people step out of the way to avoid him. Feeling smug, Noam stepped in… and stopped. “Oh.”
Tigg was sharp. This guy was… sharper.
He was sitting next to Argent, looking around at the room, and he had managed to clear a two-desk radius all around him, simply from the pointy, poison-looking nastiness of his spines.
And they were all over him: hands, face, back — how was he even sitting? Noam took a breath, reminded himself that he wasn’t freaked out by strange things, and sat down on the other side of Argent.
“Sorry about the delay.” He gave her his best roguish smile. “Sometimes my Keeper gets a bit… concerned.”
“Noam!” Nilam hissed that from somewhere over Noam’s shoulder. “Are you supposed to say that?”
“One second,” he apologized to Argent. Nilam was practically leaning over his shoulder, so he half-turned to look at the other guy. “I don’t have any orders about talking about it. Or about my orders.” He put on a slightly nastier smile. The one that said he was up to no good. He had a feeling Nilam could fill in the blanks on his own.
The other guy’s eyes widened. “The upperclassmen will crush you.”
“They’re scared of my Keeper.” He grinned. “And besides. I think these guys are probably safe. ‘Scuse me.” He turned back to Argent.
“Keeper?” The pretty girl was frowning. “Oh, I’m sorry, this is Aegeus. He was down in the basement with me.”
“Him, Aegeus.” Noam didn’t offer to shake. Neither did the spiny guy. “Welcome to… well, I guess you’ve been in Addergoole. Welcome to the upper levels of the dungeon.”
“Thanks.” Aegeus’ voice was high-pitched enough that Noam wondered if “guy” was the right term. “Everyone always this friendly?”
“They’re frightened.” Argent’s smile was sad. “Tell me, what is a Keeper? Is this due to the Laws of Belonging? But aren’t you still Students here?”
Noam was momentarily speechless.
Nilam filled in the blanks. “You know about Belonging?”
“Our Mentor taught us about all the Laws.”
“We’re not new.” It was hard to tell through all the spines, but it looked like Aegeus was grinning. “Just new up here.”
“So you know all about Keeping?” Nilam janked on his own collar.
“I have not heard that term.” Argent frowned. “You cannot Belong to someone else; you Belong to your Mentors.”
“Tell my Keeper that, why don’t you? Or his.” Nilam was getting angry. “How come you guys got to learn this stuff the easy way?”
“What is the easy way? Or, rather, what is the hard way?” Argent was getting clearly upset. Noam didn’t really want her getting upset.
“Simmer down, Nilam, okay? It’s not her fault.” He cleared his throat. “The hard way is getting Kept — uh. Getting in a Belonging on the bottom end?”
“But you’re students!” Argent nearly wailed it.
Noam didn’t know what to tell her. He really didn’t. “It’s not supposed to work this way?”
“All right, students, we’ve delayed long enough.” Professor Solomon coughed at the front of the classroom. “Let’s focus on math, now, shall we?”
If Noam didn’t know better, he might have thought the Professor’s timing was purposeful.
Wednesday, March 3, 2004
“I don’t like it.”
“Hera, you don’t like anything.” Noam and Hera had finally gotten to the point where they could tease each other and joke about stuff — if you ignored the fact that every time he did it, Jabez twitched. He was starting to wonder if the guy was just cracked.
“I like fishsticks. And Jabez. And Brenna, and you’re okay, I suppose. I like Professor Akatil and working with unutu, and I like math.”
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,” Noam muttered.
“You have to make everything a joke, don’t you?”
“It helps pass the time.”
“When the dog bites-” They both turned to look at Brenna as she started singing. “When the bee stings, When I’m feeling sad…”
“Aw, hell. I simply remember my favorite things, And then I don’t feel so bad.” Hera had a decent voice. Brenna, on the other hand, had a beautiful voice.
“You have a beautiful voice.”
That. Was not him speaking. Noam twisted to look up, wondering who had interrupted their cozy gathering.
He was no more informed having seen the intruder. She was a tall woman with straight black hair and an impressive beak of a nose. Her skin was ashy-grey, as if she’d been out of the sun for way too long — go fig — but she looked like she was probably handsome under that.
“I… thanks?” Brenna looked nervous. Noam had been doing so well at getting her to relax, lately, too.
He squeezed her hand and scooted his chair so he was closer to her, and more between her and this new person. “Hi.” He offered a hand to the new person, hoping they weren’t poisonous or spiky or gold under the Mask. “I’m Noam. sh’Pam cy’Pelletier oro’Brenna.”
The woman shook his hand solemnly. “Ah, the Addergoole nomenclature. I am Kairos Demetriou. I did, at some point, teach music here at Addergoole, and I may again.”
“You’re the rebel cohort teacher!” Hera stood up. She sounded even more off-put than usual. “What do you want with Brenna?”
Kairos looked between them, looking both amused and a little off-put herself. “Well, as I said, she has a lovely voice.” She turned to look directly at Brenna. “Is it Brenna?”
“Ye…” She squeaked, cleared her throat, and tried again. “Yes, ma’am. Brenna cy’Valentina.”
“Aah, a water-loving sort? Wonderful. Do you sing better in the water?”
“Why do you care?” Hera had shifted to standing on her chair. “Why do you get to ask questions?”
“Hey, Hera.” Noam stood up, so he could be a little closer to eye level. He tried not to notice how Jabez was trying to be invisible. “Hey, it’s okay.”
“It’s not okay! She bailed on everything! They all did! They don’t…”
Noam risked losing his hand and clapped it over Hera’s mouth. “Bren? If you want to, you could go talk to Ms. Demetriou,” he tried not to mangle the name, “in the hall. I’ll sit on Hera. Jabez will help. Right, Ja?” He ignored the way the dragon-boy was shaking his head no, no, no. “See? All good.” Hera was starting to bite. This was going to hurt. “Go on, if you want.”
Brenna looked uncertain, hesitant, until she saw the white of Hera’s teeth on Noam’s fingers. “Come on please ma’am let’s go talk in the hall, please.” Her voice was breathy and rushed; she grabbed the woman’s hand and pulled her towards the hallway.
Noam endured Hera’s gnawing — far lighter than he knew she could manage — until the door shut on Brenna and Kairos Demetriou. Then, and only then, did he release his hand and glare at his Keeper’s crewmate.
“What the hell?” She glared right back at him. “I know you’re stupid, but seriously, what the fuck was that?”
“You don’t talk to your Kept like that, do you?” He figured if he kicked her in the gut right away, she might be too distracted to fight back properly.
“Calling him stupid? Calling me stupid is one thing — because I know I’m not, and because I’m not your Kept. Calling the present Brenna and I got for you flawed says you don’t think much of your gift.”
“What the fuck does that have to do with the rebel class of traitors?”
“Nothing. What does where the teacher was have to do with what Brenna wants?” His fingers were bleeding, but they weren’t gushing. He studiously avoided looking at Jabez. Sorry, man.
“Brenna shouldn’t be talking to those creeps.”
“Says who?” Come on, come on, say it…
Yes! He smirked in triumph. “And you get to tell her what to do, why…?”
“Like her Keeper told her what to do? Like yours told you what to do? I don’t see a collar around Bren’s neck anymore.”
“She’s my friend! And she doesn’t know any better, she gets herself in trouble!” Hera was glaring at him. Good.
“So, she needs you to show her what’s right and wrong?” He smiled at her, encouraging her.
“Yes! She’s so naive. She gets herself into all sorts of messes.”
“And you keep her from getting into trouble.” Like a good cage.
“That’s what friends are for.”
“From finding out that her decisions could be bad ones.”
“From getting hurt.” She looked a little less certain, a little more defiant.
“From being hurt!” She almost stomped her foot.
“That sounds a lot like what Phelen did for her. Kept her from making any mistakes. Kept her from hurting herself. Kept her in a little bubble where she didn’t have to make any decisions.” Noam had lowered his voice until it was barely louder than a whisper.
“You want to be like him, don’t you? Controlling her?”
“She owns me, Hera.” He looped a finger in the collar and tugged lightly on it. “You made sure of that. And no. I don’t want to control her, even if the tables were turned.”
“Which they won’t be!” She clearly had lost the train of the conversation. Probably a good thing. He had to wrap this up before Brenna got back.
“Which they won’t be.” He nodded. “Look, Hera, I just want Brenna to be happy.”
“It sounds like you want her to get hurt!”
“No.” He shook his head. “I want her to stand on her own two feet.”
“And what if she falls?”
“Then I’ll help her up. As many times as it takes.”
“So that she learns to lean on you instead of me?”
“No.” Noam wanted to shout, to slam his fist into his hand, something. But Hera and Brenna both responded really, really badly to any signs of anger in him. So he took a few long breaths instead. In, out. In, out. In with the calm, out with the Bad Kept. “No. I want her to learn that falling is okay, and that getting up is something she can do. That’s all, Hera.” He was pleading, and he knew it. “I want her to learn she can be strong on her own.”
“Here she comes.” Hera sounded unconvinced, but wavering. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good.” He glanced over at Jabez, who was slouched as far in his chair as he could get. “And what about him?”
“You’re just interfering all over the place, aren’t you?”
Noam grinned, because Hera was actually smiling a little bit. “Yep. It’s a lot of fun, and my Keeper hasn’t told me not to, yet.”
“Should I tell you not to do something?” Brenn’s voice was stronger than he’d ever heard it in public. He glanced up, seeing Kairos walking over to another table. “What are you doing this time?”
“Asking Hera about Jabez.”
“Ooh.” Brenna looked back and forth between the three of them.
“I’m fine.” Jabez tried glaring, but his position really killed that.
“Dude, you’re hiding under the table.” Noam tried for reason, even though he was pretty sure it wouldn’t work.
Noam turned back to Hera. “I assume you know how to Keep someone. I mean. You had your turn. You know all the things not to do. Like calling him stupid or not touching him.” Brenna and he had found out the second one the hard way; Brenna had learned the first one from her Keeper.
Hera turned the funny off-pink color that he assumed was her Mask trying to allow for her greenish complexion. “Of course I do.”
“I’m sure you do.” He made it soothing, not sarcastic. “And you know that if you criticise him the way you do with — I dunno, me or Bren — it’s going to send him into quiet misery.”
“I know that.” She wasn’t a very good liar.
“I’m fine. It’s not like I haven’t been Kept before.”
“I know.” Noam looked at Jabez — who has managed to sit back up. “Why don’t you want me talking to Hera about you?”
“Because I’m fine. Seriously. I can handle what she dishes out. You got me into this. Okay? I can handle it.”
Noam took a long look at the half-dragon boy. “Hera. You wouldn’t ever be the sort of person that would want to be ‘handled,’ would you?”
“Well, if someone can’t deal with me, why would I…”
She closed her mouth with a snap.
Noam decided it was time to twist the knife. “Maybe you should go talk to Dr. Mendosa.”
“Maybe we should go talk to Dr. Mendosa. Come on, Jabez.”
“I’m fine. Really.”
“What was that all about?” Brenna looked confused, but not too upset.
“Jabez not being creepy anymore.”
“Oh. Well then.”
Friday, March , 2004
It hadn’t been as fun as Gar had thought it would be, having Arundel out of the suite for two-plus weeks.
For one, that meant that Timora was barely around at all. For another, it meant that everyone else was sad-and-worried all the time. For another, Gar found he was actually a little worried about the Bird Brain.
“He will be fine.” Sylvia said it as if saying it could make it true, and then went about her day as if she hadn’t put her pants on inside out and she wasn’t forgetting to sleep. It could have been funny. It should have been funny. But it wasn’t.
So Gar found that he was happy, actually happy, to have the stupid bird-brain brain in the suite, walking around — a little stiffly, sure, but otherwise none the worse for wear — and joking the same as usual. And he found it was kind of cool to be able talk with the guy about things they’d seen down in the basement, before the stupid Medusa had gone all rocky. And it was even cooler to be able to fill in the details Arundel had missed by being rock.
“And then Leo shows up and is like ‘I have a map,’ like it was totally normal.” Gar laughed shortly. “And Arien was getting snappish and stupid and someone yelled at Bel, which of course, you can’t do.”
“I’m listening, you know.”
“What? You can’t yell at you. It’s not done.”
“Well. I suppose.”
“And everyone was freaking out. But Heidi… she’s cool.” He meant it in all the ways: Calm, collected, awesome. Beautiful.
“She’s Keeping someone, you know.” Bel again, who seemed to be unhappy with Gar. He gave her a look.
“What did I do?”
“No, actually. I don’t. I’m stupid when it comes to girls.”
“What did I do?” He found himself getting prickly. Calm. Calm down, Gar.
“Bel.” Porter stepped in. Shit, was that good or bad? Gar focused on being not-prickly. “Bel, love.”
“What?” That was the sharpest Gar had ever heard her.
“He doesn’t know.”
“How can he not…?” She was really, really upset. Gar stared at the floor and tried really, really hard not to be angry.
“Because he’s a guy.”
“But she’s his girlfriend!”
Gar’s head snapped up. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“How can you say something like that?”
“Easily!” He was getting short. No. No, he didn’t want to yell at Bel. He didn’t want to blow up at Bel. “I don’t have a girlfriend. I have someone that walked up to me in the middle of the hall and enslaved me. Now. Please. What did I do?”
“You made her cry!”
“Sylvia doesn’t cry.” Gravity pulled down. The sun rose in the East. Sylvia didn’t cry.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, that is not true.” Sylvia was standing in the doorway to her room. Her eyes were unmistakably red and swollen. “Belfreja, it’s not his fault.”
“…shit.” It not being his fault didn’t make Gar feel any better at all.
Art by the Inventrix
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?