June 2, 2016 by Lyn
Will you compromise and then realize the price is too much to pay?
Winners and losers, which one will you be today?
For the first time in her life, Kai was considering cheating at an academic event. It wouldn’t be easy; Caity and Renata were nearly as smart as she was, and Wren was rather bright, if flighty. She was pretty sure it could be done, though; she could probably manage to leverage Taro’s rock-headedness and Nydia’s sleepy dazed incoherency against the intelligence of the rest of Team Misfit.
But she’d need more than a plan of dishonesty, she’d need a target. “Who do you think the worst Keepers are?” she asked Jamian, as he played out a length of twine behind him. The two of them were navigating the maddeningly unpredictable shelves of the school Library together, in hopes of finding information on Jamian’s strange Word.
“The worst Keepers? How do you mean that?”
“You know,” she murmured. “Who puts the history of cooking in between biology and calculus, really? People like Agatha.”
“You’d think it’d be after calculus at least, even if only alphabetically. Um. Well, there’s Agatha. Is her crew any better? What about Dysmas? And Ofir of course.”
“Didn’t Shahin talk to Nydia and say she seemed happy? I mean, she seems anemic and underfed to me, but Shahin’s better at that sort of thing.” She frowned as they passed a statue with a loop of twine around it. “Isn’t this our line? I recognize the Little Mermaid statue.”
“I guess that’s true. And yes, it is, I think. Well.”
“Well, we came from that direction originally, went that way, and now we’re coming from here, which leaves straight ahead.” She shook her head. “I see the reason for the twine.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Oh, and Shera, she’s, um, Uberto’s I think.”
“So Agatha is cy’Linden. Ah, this looks like we’re going in the right direction. “Who’s Ofir’s Mentor?”?
“Valerian, I think? Why?”
“I’m trying to discern what we’re up against.” She paused in front of a blank wall of paneling, frowning faintly. “Agatha, Ofir, Uberto… Uberto and Shera are both cy’Ginger. Is there anyone else in your cy’ree who even has a Kept? Um, aside from Ty, of course,” she blushed.
“No, I don’t think so. A few Kept, but no Keepers.”
She nodded. “The same with my pseudo-cy’ree. No Keepers.” She pondered. “How good are your people?”
“Good, like, nice? Or benevolent? Or do you mean good at the competition?”
“At the competition. Do you think you have a good chance of winning?” She began a Working as she waited for his answer. “Idu kaana beta, idu kaana beta, tempero kaana beta…”
“Surprisingly so, actually. Some of them are really smart, once they get down to business!”
“Mmm.” She coaxed the air around and over the paneling, looking for openings. There was indeed, a tiny crack where air could work its way in and out, and a latch where the air did not get through. “Hidden door. So you guys could really win it.”
“A hidden door, seriously? Like in Sherlock Holmes and stuff?”
“Like that, yeah,” she smiled. “Do you happen to have unutu? And, hrmm. What about cy’Doug?”
“Yeah, but with what? And you mean like Kylie?”
“More like Allyse. There’s a latch right in here,” she pointed.
“Allyse? Oh, yeah, she has Finnegan, right? I don’t know him all that well. As for the latch… I could take it apart, but I’m not sure that’s really what we want.”
“Hrrm, all right then.” She dug in her purse for something long, thin, and metal. ”Finnegan, yeah. I could have sworn I had a… ha.” She unearthed a paper clip and worked it into the tiny space between the hidden door and the rest of the paneling.
“How’s he doing, anyway?” Jamian asked, watching her with interest.
“It’s hard for me to tell,” she admitted. “No bruises, but a habit of fading into the background, and, since he Changed after he was Kept, we can’t say if he had that beforehand.” She wiggled the paperclip carefully.
“Right. Well, you know those girls better than I do. What are they like?”
“The Thorne Girls? Ruthless. Strong, fast, violent. I don’t know how the genetics of the Changes work, but it seems like there is a lot of feline in them – cheetahs. They move faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.” She rubbed the back of her head where Sima had knocked her out; it was healed, but she could still remember the sensation.
“Right, so, like a pack kind of thing? What’s that make Finnegan?”
“Hrmm. One second.” If she wiggled the clip just right… there. The lock clicked, and the door swung open, into her toe. “If we were going with pack references, I suppose the omega. Cheetahs don’t really have an equivalent.” She frowned at herself. “I should ask Shiva and Magnolia about that.”
“So, even though he technically belongs to one of them…”
“Yeah,” she nodded slowly. “That’s sort of the impression I get.” She squirmed a little as she continued. “They have their suite, their kitchen… and their boy. But,” she added hurriedly, “I think he really likes Allyse.”
“Okay. So, that could be worse, then.”
She nodded slowly, and tugged the hidden door open. “I’m honestly not sure how bad his situation is. It’s not like some of the really obvious cases.” Despite the unpleasant conversation, she couldn’t help but smile at the shelves full of ancient-looking leather-bound books that greeted them.
“Well, looks like we’ve identified the worst cases then. What can we do?”
“I’m wondering,” she admitted softly, “if we could get the Keepers away from their Kept for a bit… Linguistic theory of the Old Tongue. History of Language Evolution. Magical theory, there, we’re getting there.”
“Oh, wow,” Jamian said, walking down the aisle and running a finger over the ancient spines. “Keepers away from their Kept, right, yeah.” It was clear his attention had shifted.
To be fair, hers was shifting as well, as she pulled down a tiny volume titled “[the missing words, in latin].” “Give them a break, you know? Could you say that Word again?”
“I guess… say it with what? I’m not sure using it is such a good idea.”
“I agree. Probably not with anything, just on its own. It…” she frowned. “I have a hard time remembering it too long after I’ve heard it.”
“Frodleikr,” Jamian intoned carefully, drawing out each syllable. Kai nodded, concentrating on the word, and flipped through the book. It was written in Latin, but it wasn’t that hard to work out; at least it was in the same alphabet.
“Epe… it looks alphabetical, it should be after that. Nope, huamu. Hrrm…” she kept flipping. “You’d think one of the teachers would have known something about…”
Behind them, the door thudded shut. Jamian jumped, spinning around. “Hey!”
Kai frowned distractedly at the door. “Intinn… okay, it’s got to be in an entirely different section.” She kept flipping.
Jamian, meanwhile, was sounding increasingly distressed. “It’s stuck shut. Is there another way out of here?”
“We can jimmy the lock again. I think I’ve almost found it.”
“I mean, I don’t think it locked, it just won’t budge. It’s flush with the wall again.”
“Oh. Well, that could be a problem.” She looked ruefully at the book. “We’ve come this far, shouldn’t we find out about the Word first?”
“I guess so?” Jamian said dubiously, approaching to look at the book with her. She flipped a few more pages, until she reached a page marked Frodleikr.
“There!” she exclaimed, and read “‘Frock-licker is considered to be one of…’”
The book slammed shut. Frowning, Kai opened it again, only to have it close again, nearly on her nose.
The book rose from her hands of its own accord while she stared at it, slotting itself neatly back onto the shelf. An image overlaid the shelf for a moment, a pointing hand, with a single word emblazoned over it: “OUT”.
“Well, that was clear enough,” she frowned.
Jamian looked towards that wall. “You think there’s another door there?”
“Well,” she murmured, thinking back to childhood movies watched, “there’s either a door or a pit trap.”
“A pit trap?” Jamian scoffed. “That’s detective novel garbage.”
“Like secret doors?”
“Well, only one way to find out.” She began walking in the direction the hand had pointed. There was no pit, at least, but the wall in front of them looked as solid as, well, as the last wall that had actually been a secret door.
It wasn’t in her nature to ask for help, so Kai murmured another air-sensing Working, asking the wind to find cracks in the wall for her.
There, barely, there might be something. She set her hand on the wall, intending to investigate further, and a large section of it swung freely and swiftly at her touch. Kailani leapt forward to avoid being struck, and found herself back in the main part of the library – with a solid wall behind her.
“Jamian?” she called. “Jaya?” No response was forthcoming; she was alone.