October 2, 2013 by Lyn
Sunday, September 5, 2004
The new students were trickling in, in threes and fours and sixes, much the way Kay remembered doing the year before, much the way the upperclassmen had come back (those that had left) over the last week.
Kay had found herself a comfortable corner, a place out of the way to watch everything. That it was normally one of the classroom-hall’s make-out niches didn’t bother her at all; that it was one where she could remember Agravain pressing her up against the painting bothered her a little bit.
But nobody noticed her here, and she could watch all of them. She could see the way the new students took in the posh carpets and paneling and the entirely non-visible lighting, the way they adjusted to the obvious lack of windows, and to Luke and Doug’s gruff shepherding presences.
And she could watch Kheper, moving among the clutches and clumps of newbies like a one-man welcoming committee, very suave, very friendly, very polite, his hands lingering near the shoulders of the girls but never touching, his handshakes firm and manly, especially with the guys.
He was looking for something. He wasn’t the only one; there was Reese, at the squirrel’s androgynous best, getting confused frowns and friendly smiles. There was Dyfri, looking like he was trying to be helpful. Eirena, looking cute as she never liked to do.
There was Naberius, who Kay had only met in passing, and thank whatever served them as gods for that. He was looking very sleek, and very pointed, the evil reflection of Kheper. There was Arien, shaking hands, and Arundel, doing the same. Lemon, with cookies.
And of course, there was Kay, hiding in a niche and watching everyone. It was comfortable, even if she had to admit it was a little creepy. Comfortable, and informative. That one had his nose in the so-helpful Guide to Addergoole – the one that didn’t come with a map. That one was staring at Luke as if he’d just sprouted wings – which wings, of course, he was currently Masking.
And that one was looking straight at Kay. She smiled back, cautiously. Nothing saying the new blood couldn’t be just as dangerous as the old.
It wasn’t so much of a crowd of people; even at class-change time, the halls were only so full. But there were enough people that it took the guy – dark-eyed and honey-brown-skinned, with a determined smile – several minutes to get to Akaterina.
She could have slipped away. She could have slipped through the wall, and left him wondering how she’d escaped. She probably should have. It hadn’t been that long – it hadn’t been nearly long enough. She could still feel Agra’s hands on her arms. She could still feel the collar around her throat.
She didn’t leave. She watched the boy cross the hall, watched him ignore Naberius, Arien, and Eirena, which was no small series of feats. He was intent on her. On her, on Kay. That was not normal. And he was smiling.
That almost made her flee. The tilt of his head, the length of his stride, the smile as if he was going to get her come hell or high water… but she didn’t leave. She found her lips curling upwards in response, in something that wasn’t a smirk or a snarl.
“Well, hello. Shy?” He offered a hand. “I’m Tepene. Are you new here, too?”
Kay shook his hand. “Oh, no, this is my second year. I just like to watch. Akaterina.” She’d almost forgotten that part, that most important part. “My friends call me Kay.”
“And may I?”
Charmer Half of her wanted to run away screaming. Charm was not a good thing.
The other half of her smiled up at the new fish. “We’ll see.””A challenge.” Tepene’s smile was brilliant. That was kind of terrifying. “Well, how would one go about finding out if one was your friend?”
“One would…” She couldn’t help but smirk, it was so ridiculous. Not even really smirk so much as maybe grin. “One would probably find out what I liked, and what I liked to do. It might be a process that would take several days, maybe even weeks or months.”
“Might it include outings, this process?” Behind Tepene, the crowd was beginning to thin out. Akaterina wasn’t totally sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.
“Well, there’s not that much out here-”
“I did notice we were in an underground – facility, I suppose? – in the middle of a cornfield in the middle of a boring state in the middle of a boring part of the country.”
“We are, yeah. But for what ‘out’ we have, yeah, I think getting to know what I like might end up with one, ah, going on outings.”
“Or perhaps innings?”
“Depends on what you mean by an inning, now, doesn’t it?” Was this her saying this? Was this her at all?
“I suppose it does. Well, would you like to start with a tour of the building? It seems to be much bigger on the inside…”
Kay smiled. “I’d love that.”
Sunday, September 5, 2004
“What are you going to do with your year?”
Gar knew what Porter meant. He meant “are you going to stay with Sylvia, are you going to stay with the crew, are you going to go hunting and pick up another girl?”
And because it was Porter, who was staying with Bel forever and ever amen, and there was next to him Arundel, who was staying with Timora as long as she’d put up with him, they weren’t only asking “are you staying with Sylvia,” they had a right answer already picked out.
She’d taken the collar off at the beginning of the summer and handed it to him. He’d stuck it in a box on his dresser – his dresser, in his room – and tried not to think about it. Maybe he’d put it on someone else’s neck. Maybe he’d burn it.
But in the meantime, he had a question looming in front of him.
“I don’t know.”
“You could have stayed with her yourself, you know.” He found himself bristling. He thought about calm waters, and tried not to think about Sylvia’s first cautious steps into that water.
“She and I, we didn’t…”
“Then why do you assume she and I do?”
“Somebody…” Arundel flapped.
“Don’t call him that!”
“The thing about not being hers anymore? I get to say whatever I want. And right now, I want to call this twit a bird-brain.”
“You get to fight your own battles now, too.” Porter sounded mild. Porter, of course, almost always sounded mild.
Gar didn’t answer with any of the stupid things he wanted to say, like, “I’m not afraid of Bird-brain.” Arundel had no fear and was a cy’Luca (if that wasn’t redundant). He was not the guy you wanted to get in a fight with.
Instead, he thought about water for a moment before answering at all. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with my year. Sylvia and I agreed we’d talk about it in a week or two, once everything’s settled in.”
“So you’ve talked about it.” Arundel flapped. “Is she okay with it?”
How do you tell, with her? Gar shrugged. “That’s her business, if she wants to talk to you about it.”
“We’re her crew.”
“So she’ll probably want to talk to you about it.” Gar was not going to get any further into it with these guys. “I’m going to go meet the new kids. You guys can.. whatever.”
“But what about Sylvia?”
“Let him go, Arundel. He’ll figure it out eventually.”
Figure it out. Gar wondered exactly what they thought he’d figure out. Was he supposedly madly in love with the woman who’d shanghaied him into a collar for a year? Just because they’d worked out arrangements with their former Kept didn’t mean they had any right to assume he had with his Keeper.
Gar stopped dead. He hadn’t realized how far he’d stomped off; that was a bad, bad sign. And he hadn’t realized he’d almost stomped into a pretty girl – an even worse sign.
A very pretty girl. He mustered up a smile. “Hi. You must be one of the new Tenth Cohort.”
“That’s how they count years here.” He shrugged. “Not Freshman, Sophomore, and so on, but ‘you guys started in Addergoole’s Tenth Year.'” He could explain the Zeroth Cohort some other time. “Hi, I’m Garfunkel.” He offered her a hand.
“Delorah.” Her handshake was tentative, like she wasn’t sure about touching him. Gar was used to that, and kept it short. “So that would make you…?”
“Ninth Cohort. Means I was right where you are now, last year.” She was pretty cute. Pretty cute, and he liked the way her eyes squinched up when she smiled. He liked that she smiled, if he was going to be honest. Smiling was a selling point on all its own.
“A little bit confused and already lost?”
“Yeah, that pretty much sums me up last year. For the whole year, if I’m going to be honest.” Or at least something approximating honest. There had been Sylvia… “It helps if you have friends to show you the ropes, help you out with the hard parts.”
“I don’t know anyone here at all…”
“Most people don’t. I mean, my sister will be coming here in a year or two, and so she’ll have me, but most people don’t have that, either.” And that would be it’s own kettle of fish. Gar clenched his jaw and thought about water. “Hey.” He found another smile for her. “Want me to show you around?”
“Hey. You want to be shown around by someone who doesn’t already have a girlfriend.” Cabal stepped up from out of nowhere, smiling broadly. “I get to flirt, pretty lady.”
“Or there’s Cabal.” Gar tried not to sigh too loudly “Cabal, Delorah.”
Readers, I apologize. It’s been a heck of a couple weeks; the very last part of the Culmination will be posted sometime in the next seven days.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?