Chapter 2: Arnbjörg

Friday, September 8, 2000

“This sucks.”

Arnbjörg had been at Addergoole for a week, and absolutely nothing she’d seen in that time had made her hate the place any less.

She slouched across the dining hall, ignoring Aelgifu waving at her. The girl — “Fifth Cohort,” that meant she was only a year older than Arnbjörg — and her girlfriend were insufferably nice and insufferably cheerful about everything.  It was enough to make a body want to puke.

She sidestepped the handsome Ambrose who was, like her, “Sixth Cohort.” (And didn’t that make them sound like an army in training?) She slipped her arm out of the touchy-grabby Rand’s hand before he could get a grip.

She gave Nikolai and his friends a smile and a wave before shaking her head, almost regretfully.  Nick was a nice guy — they all were, Nick and Melchior, Alex and Anwell — but the last thing she wanted, after dealing with this place all morning, was to deal with more of this place during lunch.  She’d rather sit off in a corner, thank you very much, and eat in peace.

At least the food was good.  It was as if Addergoole had taken a look at what being a school was supposed to be, thrown out half of it entirely, and decided to do the rest of it as if its prisoners were normal adult people instead of, well, imprisoned teenagers. Oriental carpets in the hallways? Wood paneling?  Deliciously tasty food, and portion sizes that were actually reasonable? Sure. You can have as much as you want.

Freedom?  Fresh air?  The chance to even pick a single one of your classes except which language do you want to learn?  Not so much.  You couldn’t even skip a class, you couldn’t say no thanks to a highly invasive medical exam…

You couldn’t get away from the people wanting to be your friend, heavy sarcasm on friend with an extra dose of creepy for good measure.  She sighed as three girls settled themselves at the table she’d claimed for herself.

“This wasn’t your table yesterday, I looked, nobody’s sat here all week, so if you’re going to say I’m in your space…”

“No, no.”  The middle girl held up her hands and smiled.  She was covered in an improbable number of freckles, wearing a Batman T-shirt, and absolutely the least threatening person Arnbjörg had met since coming here. “We just wanted to say hi, that’s all, and then if you want to eat the rest of your lunch in peace, we’ll go away.”

“Where’s your guys?”  The question sounded as sour as it tasted.  ”Everyone I see here, they’ve got guys all over the place.  It’s like a girl can’t go ten feet without a male escort.”

The shorter of the other two snickered.  The taller one gestured off to a nearby table, where two guys were sitting, eating their lunch with clear sulk in their body posture. “We sent them off to wait,” she drawled. “You don’t seem to enjoy the male species so much.”

“Let’s be honest.”  They weren’t being that bad, they really weren’t.  Arnbjörg still didn’t want to be their friends. “I don’t like the human species that much.”

“Touché.  So we’ll introduce ourselves, and then, like I said, we’ll go away.  I’m Sheba, I’m in the Third Cohort.  This is Magnolia — Mags.  She’s in the, ahem…”

Magnolia was the taller of Sheba’s escorts.  She was lush, beautiful, with light brown skin, dark brown eyes, and a purple streak through her black hair. The hair, Arnbjörg noted, matched her velvet pants perfectly.  She coughed at Sheba’s hesitation.  “I’m in the Second Cohort,” she drawled.  “Turns out you really can flunk a grade in Addergoole.”

Can’t you flunk a class anywhere?  ”You weren’t expecting it?”

“It’s safe to say I wasn’t paying attention.  At all.”  She shrugged one shoulder and smiled disarmingly.  Arnbjörg found herself distressingly… almost disarmed.  ”Just means I get more time to hang out with my friends.  Like Jaya here.”

She gestured with both hands at her shorter friend — shorter at least by comparison.  Arnbjörg had a feeling that if she stood up, all three girls would be taller than her.

Jaya was wearing — really, seriously — a plaid schoolgirl skirt with a form-fitting sweater.  If Sheba looked earthy and Magnolia looked luscious, Jaya looked cute. Arnbjörg found herself a little distracted.  Crooked, defensive smile, curly hair so tousled it had to be on purpose, a blush on those brown cheeks as she noticed Arnbjörg’s attention.  She was the epitome of adorable.  Arnbjörg just wanted to eat her up.

“If I could have your attention please.”  The Director of the school was suddenly standing on the stage at the end of the dining hall.  Sheba aimed an apologetic smile at Arnbjörg as the three of them sat down around her.  “First, the important news. As we have done every year so far, we will be hosting a small dance – a ‘club night,’ if you will…”

Jaya was sitting next to her. Arna found herself tuning out the Director — what did she care about dances, anyway?  That was the sort of thing you did if you wanted to make friends.  And, while she might have some interest in getting friendly with Jaya — who was smoothing her little skirt down as if she was nervous and smiling sidelong at Arnbjörg — she wasn’t here to make friends.

“She does this every year,” Jaya whispered. It seemed like everyone older than the Sixth Cohort knew that — they weren’t watching the Director; they were watching the Sixth Cohort. “It’s… a thing.”

“…Please be patient, and try not to let anything you see or hear alarm you.”

A thing.  Don’t let anything alarm you.  Arnbjörg glanced around the dining hall.  The doors were all shut.  There was a teacher standing in front of each door.

“I’m getting alarmed,” she muttered, mostly at Jaya, because Jaya seemed safest.  “This prison just got a lot more…”

Jaya, cute, adorable shy Jaya, Jaya had horns.  Little goat horns, poking out of the curls of her hair.  Little goat horns.

Arnbjörg cleared her throat. “You, ah.  Okay, now I’m really alarmed.  Can we — can we get out of here?”

With the guards at the doors, it seemed unlikely.  But Sheba was already taking her by the elbow, and Magnolia had already stood up.

“Yeah.”  Jaya patted Arnbjörg’s shoulder.  Normally, normally someone would lose a hand for that.  But there was nothing normal about right now.

She snorted quietly and clenched her fists at her sides.  “I knew this place was fucked up. I knew it.”

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