“We’re not new kids anymore.” Kai looked around at the other Fifth Cohort students. Jamian was busy, but she’d talked Shahin into coming. Kendra was there, doing her best to hide in a corner; Channing was front and center. Elfred and Wyatt were there, along with Channing and Nydia. Kai had invited the entire Fifth Cohort. She was not really surprised that she’d gotten less than 50 percent attendance.
“He wasn’t a new kid last year, either. And he’s still wearing a collar.” Wyatt pointed a finger at Conrad. “What’s he doing here?”
She’d rehearsed this answer. Conrad had insisted that she rehearse it, and Jamian had agreed. “As you said. He’s wearing my collar. So where I go, he goes.”
“So, is he the upperclassmen’s spy, then?”
Conrad laughed. “First, the upperclassmen aren’t all that worried unless you’re planning a coordinated poaching of all the Sixth Cohort. Second, I couldn’t spy if I wanted to. I’m Kept, remember?” He tugged on the collar. “I’m hers, like she said.”
Kai poked him in the ankle with her bare toes. “The point is, we’re not new kids anymore. We’ve all sworn the oaths and gotten bound by the geasa. But there’s a lot we could do without ever stepping outside the rules.”
“What if I want to step outside the rules?” Channing looked momentarily mulish.
“If you figure out a way how to, let us know.” Shahin pointed her chin at her and wrinkled her nose. “The rules aren’t something written on paper. They’re a lot more firm than that. I’m surprised you haven’t figured that out yet.”
“Well, I read that little brochure you passed around and I’ve seen some of this Keeping, and there’s promises. But not those rules. Regine’s rules.”
Kai cleared her throat. She really needed to take some sort of lessons in public speaking. “Regine’s rules are bound by promises, which you mentioned, and by Intinn Workings, which are… well, they’re above a student level. We cannot yet get around those rules. So we need to work within them.”
“Work within them to do what?” Elfred leaned forward. “I know you’re not talking about open rebellion, you’re cy’Regine.”
“No.” Kai shook her head. “No. Not open rebellion. We’re not – no. Not at all. But there are things that happen here that we don’t all like. Other students doing things, things the teachers ignore.” She looked at Kendra for a minute. Kendra glanced away, looking off at the wall. “There are students who are bad Keepers,” she continued carefully, “and students who are just bad people. And there are a lot of students who don’t agree with the way those people act. But we never work together. That’s what I want to change. And if we’re going to do it, we’ll have to start soon.”