May 13, 2016 by Lyn
Does anybody out there want a second-hand heart?
One that’s already broken in?
Conrad looked uncomfortable, his tail drooping, as he took his seat back with the crew. Cassidy, facing him, picked up on it immediately.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” His question seemed directed as much at Kailani as at Conrad.
Kai was already feeling guilty; she should have asked Jamian to try dismantling the magic on the collar right away. She jumped as Cassidy questioned her and glanced nervously at Mabina.
“Something happened to Conrad’s collar,” she answered slowly.
“Something?” Mabina asked, smoothly picking up Cassidy’s conversation as he ate. “What happened?”
“We were talking with Shiva’s crew about the strange Word Jamian manifested last night. Conrad was telling me to calm down,” she looked down at the table. “I was probably getting a little worked up. And his collar shocked him.”
On the other side of her, Taro coughed softly.
“And you didn’t set it up to do that?” Cassidy asked. “Where did you get the collar?”
“I wouldn’t do something like that! I don’t even know how to!” She lowered her voice at a sharp look from Mabina. “I bought it at the Store, like you told me to.”
“The Store turns off anything like that when they buy back used collars,” Taro offered, sounded rather subdued, for him. “I saw Akatil do it, once.”
“Used collars?” She reached out to touch Conrad’s neck, not sure how she felt about him wearing something someone else had worn first. That was the second time Akatil had come up, too…
“Secondhand,” Conrad nodded. “Collars last longer than Belongings, around here.”
“But it’s never done that before,” she mused, glad he was talking again. “And it’s not like it’s the first time you’ve told me what to do.” Taro coughed again; she tried to ignore him.
“Well, maybe one of them did it over there.”
She was fairly certain, by now, that Jamian had done it by accident, but she didn’t want to bring that up until she knew for certain. “They don’t seem to be the sort of people who would do that.”
She could take the collar off, but he’d complained the last time she’d done that in public. She just had to solve this as quickly as possible. “Mabina,” she said hesitantly, “I invited Jamian oro’Ty over to the suite tonight.”
“That’s all right, honey, it’s your suite, too, you know. But what are you going to do about Conrad’s collar? As amusing as it is, I don’t think it’s kind to leave him that way, do you?”
“No,” Kai shook her head. “Taro, you said Professor Akatil was your Mentor, right?”
“Could you take us there after class and introduce me? I have some questions.”
“Sure. I’ll meet you at the suite, then?”
“Yes, thank you.” She hugged Conrad tightly. “I’ll take care of this,” she whispered. She couldn’t stand seeing him unhappy.
“Okay,” he nodded uncertainly. “You’ll figure this out, right, Kaia?”
“I will,” she nodded firmly. “I’ll take care of you, Conrad.”
Taro and Conrad were already back in the suite when she got there after magic class; Taro was looking constipated, or perhaps thoughtful. “Akatil’s office is all the way downstairs,” he told her.
“Okay.” She wondered why, when most of the professors had offices on the first floor, but she could figure that out later. She held out a hand to Conrad. “Are you doing okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. It hasn’t done anything, without you around.”
She nodded, unsurprised. “Let’s go talk to Akatil, then.”
Taro led them down to a heretofore-unexplored corner of the third floor, uncharacteristically quiet. Mea had said she’d saved his life, that he’d been frozen in a block of ice. She had so many questions, but she didn’t want to bother him. But… “Mea says she saved your life?”
“Yeah,” he grunted, not looking at her.
“You should take her out to dinner. You know. To thank her.”
Taro grunted again, but it sounded positive. “Here’s Akatil’s office.” He knocked on the small, unmarked door.
A very short man opened the door. He was maybe four feet tall, with a long black beard and a tangled thatch of black hair; his office, which seemed to go back at least thirty feet, was lined with shelves full of mechanical parts; in lieu of a desk, he had a workbench full of tools.
“Taro! What can I do for you? And hello, I see you’ve brought friends.”
“Hello, Professor.” Kai was surprised at the respect she heard in his voice. “This is Kailani and Conrad; they’re in my crew.”
“Hello, Kailani, Conrad. Come in, sit, how can I help you?” He gestured at chairs near the entrance.
“I’ll see you later,” Taro murmured, and headed off. Kai hoped he was going to talk to Mea.
She sat, a little belatedly, to find the diminutive professor looking thoughtfully at Conrad’s collar. “Interesting; I remember seeing that collar once before.”
Kailani nodded. “That’s the question, Professor, well, one of the questions. It seems to have a Working active on it that it didn’t, before; and Taro thought that you might have removed a previous enchantment if it was a second-hand collar?”
He squinted at the collar and muttered a multi-Word working under his breath. “Yes, yes, I remember removing that one previously. A very nasty enchantment, sort of a behavior-correction sort of thing. Acacia put it on Carter; you might ask them about it. I could re-remove the enchantment now, if you’d like?”
That would be the easy answer, but she was still wondering about Jamian’s ability. “I have something else I want to try, Professor, but if it doesn’t work, could we come back later for that?”
Akatil nodded. “Of course. I’m usually here until midnight or later.”
“Thank you.” She took Conrad’s hand. “I guess we should go talk to Carter. Do you know where he lives?”
“I think so, yeah. I know the pod at least.”
“Okay.” She squeezed his hand and headed back for the dorm floor, not sure what to say, letting him take the lead.
He remained quiet as they walked the halls, before finally knocking on a door. She watched him worriedly. Should she have taken Professor Akatil up on his offer? A Conrad without opinions was strange and uncomfortable.
The door opened, halting her musings. A lean, ginger-haired boy answered the door, taller than Conrad, taller than Kai.
“Conrad,” he nodded. “And this must be Kailani.”
“Yes,” she said cautiously. ”Professor Akatil suggested we talk to you about… about this collar?”
He glanced at it, disinterestedly at first, but then frowned, pursing his lips. “What about it?”
She hesitated, knowing she wasn’t going to be able to be politic about it. ”It seems to have had prior enchantments reactivated.” She settled for clinical distance in lieu of tact.
“That’s not my business anymore. I’ve had nothing to do with it.”
She frowned. ”I’m sorry. I…” She glanced over at Conrad, and then back to Carter. ”I’m just looking for answers.”
His expression softened just slightly. “I don’t have them for you. You’ll have to ask the collar’s owner.”
“She’s off rescuing other students.” She frowned softly. ”Thank you for your time, Carter.”
“Yeah… if I were you, I’d just get rid of that thing.”
She nodded. “That’s probably a good idea. Thank you.” She wandered quietly back to the suite, still holding Conrad’s hand, not letting go until they were in his room with the door shut.
“So what are you going to do?” he asked quietly.
She pulled the key out of her purse. “I’m going to take that thing off of you.” She hadn’t realized how angry she was until she started talking, how ashamed or herself. “Sit down?” He did, not yet speaking. It made her sick. It made her wonder how she’d ever thought Acacia was a decent person. It made her hands shake so badly that she dropped the key on the bed.
She snarled in frustration and fumbled for the key, her eyes blurry with tears. “I’m sorry…”
“It’s not your fault, Kaia.”
She found the key and managed to turn it in the lock this time. “I… I could have had Akatil handle it. I could have taken it off you the first time it zapped you.”
“Hey, relax, Kaia. It’s fixed now, right? I’m okay.”
She leaned against him, catching her breath. “I want to see if Jamian can do a dismantle… frodleikr on the collar. But even if he can turn it off again…” she touched the faded burn on the side of his neck. “You’re never going to want to put that collar on again, are you?”
“I’d really rather not. And ‘dismantle’ isn’t ‘destroy’, remember; whatever it is, separating it into component parts may not help.”
“Do you want me to release you?”
Her heart skipped a beat as he considered his answer for a moment. “No,” he said hesitantly.
“If you ever do,” she said, not sure what she’d do if he did, “tell me right away. Okay?”
“Okay,” he nodded.
She hugged him tightly from behind. She’d never felt this close to anyone. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispered. I don’t want to lose you.