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Chapter 48: Cynara

Monday, February 19, 2001

Cya felt like, if she held herself perfectly straight and perfectly still, nothing would fall off.  Otherwise, she was afraid, she was going to shatter into a thousand pieces.

She kissed Dysmas and made the appropriate wiggle as he grabbed her butt with both hands and pulled her in towards him, then headed off to class, not straightening her skirt until she was out of sight.  Nobody tried to hit on her; Alexander looked over at her with sad eyes and she pretended she couldn’t see. Save your sadness for someone who needs it. Continue reading

Chapter 47: Abednego

Sunday, February 18, 2001

Rafe was being… strange.

Abednego wondered if he had been someone different, not his brothers’ sibling, if maybe Rafe might have been like this from the beginning.

The first day after the demon attacking Rafe had been awful.  Rafe wouldn’t look at Abednego, he wouldn’t touch him, wouldn’t let him talk.  It took him until after Abedngeo’s first class to even realize there was a silence order – and there had to be, although Abednego couldn’t remember getting one – and at that point he’d only changed it to “you can talk when the teachers talk to you.”

But today, he was… well, strange.  He had sat down next to Abednego and brushed his hair, fed him with his own hand, showered him and tucked him into bed next to him, both of them naked. Continue reading

Chapter 46: Arnbjörg

Saturday, February 17, 2001

She was trying, she really was.  

She wasn’t trying, perhaps, as hard as she ought to or as often as she ought to, but Arnbjörg was trying hard to accept this place.  It was just…

“It’s so fucked up.”  She threw up her hands.

“What?”  Jaya turned to look at her. They were studying together on their bed, Jaye’s head on Arnbjörg’s shoulder.  They hadn’t been talking at all; Arnbjörg had been glaring at her textbook and attempting to focus.

“This school.  Everything about it.  Babies. Continue reading

Chapter 45: Leofric

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

“Why is he fighting?”

“Heck if I know!”

“Leo, Leo, it’s okay.”

That voice, it was… “Zita?” Leofric blinked and looked around. Zita was standing in front of him, and he was in… a suite. A suite he didn’t recognize. “Where are we?”

“We’re in Sheba’s suite. Howard’s here, too. We rescued you.”
Continue reading

Chapter 44: Cynara

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Cynara sat in the living room of Dysmas’ crew’s suite.  It was Valentine’s day; Dysmas had given her two wrist cuffs that matched the collar around her neck, delicate and silver.  She’d smiled and thanked him sweetly and considered exactly how useful they would be if transmuted into a knife.

At least they hadn’t been hawthorn.  She was pretty sure he couldn’t buy those in the store, and so far, all of her attempts to work with the wood in question had been lop-sided and awful. Rowan and hawthorn took time and more energy to Work, Professor Valerian had told her, and then, with arched eyebrows, asked why she needed them. Continue reading

Chapter 43: Abednego

Monday, February 5, 2001

Abednego woke from a nightmare to find himself awash the the particular sick feeling of bond-guilt.  How the hell had he managed to do something wrong while he was sleeping?

Oh. Rafe’s hand was on his shoulder and his face was… unpleasant.  “You were making noise in your sleep.”

It had to have been pretty bad to wake Rafe up from across the room. “I-”  The words didn’t come out.

“You were talking about Meshach.”  Rafe’s voice was quiet.  It wasn’t a good sound  It felt dangerous.  Abednego moved back, but Rafe’s hand on his shoulder was holding him more firmly than he thought.  “You were talking about being sorry. What were you sorry for?”

Abednego opened his mouth.  Nothing came out.  What –  He swallowed and tried not to freak out. He couldn’t talk.  He could barely move.  He was dying oh, god this was how he was going to-

“Answer me!”

Abednego squeaked, and even that made no noise.  He bowed down in front of Rafe, prostrated himself and whimpered without sound.  He didn’t know how to answer without words.  He didn’t know even what he was supposed to answer.

Sorry.  What had he been sorry for?

“What are you?  No.  Get off.  I’m not – fuck.  Fuck, do you know how much time I spent in that position?”

He didn’t, but he had an idea.  He didn’t move.  He keened soundlessly.  The feeling of failed orders was getting to be familiar, like the pain the time he’d broken his leg, running from his brothers up in the hills near their house.  It had hurt him until Dr. Caitrin had run her hand over it, murmuring soft words to herself.  

He’d take the leg pain back, even the broken leg back.  At least Meshach and Shadrach had never stabbed right into his brain.

Get off wasn’t even’ something he could obey; he wasn’t on anything.  He scooted back a couple inches and stayed in that position, forehead on the carpet.  At least when he was like that, Rafe didn’t tend to ignore him.

There was a hand on his collar.  He could handle that.  He could — the hand was pulling backwards, that wasn’t as good. He moved with the pull, not letting himself quite get choked on the metal against his throat.

“You don’t get to remind me of him.  That’s not the point.  You don’t get to tell me how I’m supposed to be, that I’m a bad Kept.  I know that, all right?  I was a bad Kept. I was a bad friend.  That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why—”

“Kneel.”

The voice came out of nowhere.  It was a female voice, not one Abednego recognized.  The demon again? 

Then he wasn’t paying attention to anything else, because Rafe was kneeling.  His boss was trembling and kneeling, forehead to the ground.

Abednego looked at Rafe and then tried to look anywhere else.  He couldn’t be seeing this.  He still couldn’t tell Rafe what he was sorry for; couldn’t tell Rafe anything.

“You’re not supposed to talk back to me.  You know better.  You know you’re not supposed to growl, little puppy.  You’re not supposed to snarl at me.  You’re not supposed to talk about other people’s Kept unless I ask you a question. Remember?”

Rafe whined.  “She was in pain! I saw her bleeding!”

“She can take it, can’t she?  She can take all of it.  And you—”

Another voice.  This was Rafe, but not the Rafe in front of him.

“Please, mistress, I think he’s really hurting her.  I think he made me really hurt her, and —”

Rafe-on-the-floor whined.  The sound of a slap reverberated across the room.

Stop it! Abednego tried to shout,  but nothing came out.  Leave him alone!

“Help me?” Rafe whimpered.  The real one. The one in the air, the invisible one, just said I’m sorry, mistress, I’m sorry, but she-”

“She is not your concern.  And I will punish you if you forget that again.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, mistress-”

“Help me?”

Cautiously, not sure if it was a good idea or a bad idea, Abednego reached out and stroked Rafe’s hair.  

“You should know by now, if Meshach tells you do do something, you do it without question and without complaint.  If he told you to kill her, I’d expect you to wash the blood off your hands and come kneel before me, ready to serve me, do you understand?  You do what he tells you.  What both of them tell you to do.”

“Yes, mistress, but… It’s just…”

The voice in the air was still fighting.  Abednego wondered if Rafe had been that new, that fresh, or if he had been pushing that hard against the orders because he cared about something. He winced anyway, worried about what was coming.

There was no slap this time.  The voice was very quiet and very dangerous.  “Go get the blade.”

“Mistress?”

“Enough!”  Abednego didn’t know how he’d spoken.  He pushed his forehead down on the ground the minute he’d spoken.

“There has to be a limit,” said another voice.  Eris?  It sounded something like Eris, but choked.  “Seriously, at some point you have to pull yourself out of it and say ‘no, really, what am I doing?”

Abednego struggled again against the silence pushing down on him.  “He’s not,” he didn’t say, but mouthed.  “He’s…”  It was too much.  Sobs raked his body.  

“You know,” Eris’ voice continued, in a conversational tone, “at some point I wondered how much a body could take.  Conflicting orders, impossible orders, praise and punishment and everything.  I suppose I learned.  I suppose you learned, too.”

“I didn’t do it!”  Both Rafes spoke at once.  “I didn’t mean to do it.  I didn’t want to.  I tried not to, I tried to – oh,  fuck, Eris, I’m sorry.  Meshach, Shadrach, stop, stop!”

He was shouting.  Abednego couldn’t make himself any smaller, not without Workings, but he tried.  Tlacatl, body, was one of his best Words, maybe if he thought hard enough – he couldn’t do the shape word at all by maybe, urm, Transmute?  Control?  Maybe he could turn himself invisible or just tiny. Tlacatl, Tlacatl, he thought, but he didn’t even know what verb he could try.

“I would be quiet if I could, you know.”  This voice was male.  Begging.  Not a voice Abednego recognized.  “Silent.  Invisible.”

Was the thing reading his mind?

What was the thing trying to do?

“You’re never going to be quiet enough unless you stop existing.  You know that, don’t you?  You’re obnoxious, you’re irritating, and you smell funny.”

Rafe twitched and shuddered.  Stop it!  Abednego tried, but he couldn’t make himself talk again.

“Stop it!” Rafe shouted. “It’s not like I don’t remember.  It’s not like I don’t know  what they were like!”

The voice was suddenly quiet, female, and strange. “Who’s talking about them?”

The air pressure changed, as if a storm had just rolled in.  Abednego found himself being held by Rafe, hands petting his hair. “It’s over,” Rafe kept repeating. “It’s over.”

Chapter 42: Arnbjorg

Thursday, January 25

Arnbjörg was lying on Jaya’s bed, studying, or at least looking at her book, and she was humming.  Much to her surprise, she found she was in a good mood.

She shouldn’t be.  Not after that scene in the lunch room – murder?  A Keeper getting herself murdered?

Doug had grunted at her when she asked.  Jaya hadn’t known anything, and had looked, Arnbjörg thought, quite worried.  It wasn’t like Arnbjörg was going to murder any – well, she wasn’t going to murder Jaya.  

Everybody was muttering about it, but nobody seemed to know any more than she did, which was novel.  Maybe that’s why she was in a good mood.

Maybe it was the way Jaya and Sheba had stood up for her  – had stood with her.  Even though none of her half-siblings were talking to her, at least she knew that her girlfriend’s crew had her back.  And that – that warm feeling of not alone – was enough to carry her over quite a few problems, even the thorny one of who had gotten murdered.

Continue reading

Chapter 41: Leofric

Thursday, January 18, 2001

Thinking had taken a while.

Thinking about anything besides his orders, his classes, and homework was….

Professor Vanderlinden was dramatizing Brave New World at the head of the class and Leofric was attempting to keep up and take notes (don’t get me in trouble again, and if you start slacking off in classes the teachers will blame me) while Zita and Howard whispered to each other (don’t interfere with other people’s Kept, don’t draw attention to yourself, don’t speak unless spoken to, don’t cause trouble in class). The orders tugged at his mind, his actions, pushing him through the motions of being a Good and Normal Kept. That was, after all, the only way he’d ever be one (too stupid to breathe, at least you’re pretty, don’t you want to be a good Kept).

Continue reading

Interlude: Zita 2

Written by Wysteria.

Sheba went to visit her kids at night, walking through walls as if they weren’t there. It gave Zita time to think, applying the ruthless cold logic she’d learned sharing a suite with Joff, an empath she was not supposed to upset. It wasn’t emotions if it was logic.

The wall shimmered as Sheba appeared (by magic, that was still cool), and Zita let her breath out and met her new Keeper’s eyes directly.

Showtime. “Good evening.” Continue reading

Interlude: Abaddon 2

He had spoken to Dr. Caitrin, to Hayley, to Regine, and finally to Lady Maureen before being sent to Shou Sakamato to ask the questions.

Abaddon wasn’t sure why the Asian Languages teacher was the one to ask, but as the old man studied him and stroked his beard, Abaddon thought perhaps it was just because he had the inscrutable old-man face down to an art form.

“You want to know your parentage.”

“Well, at this point, I want to know why nobody will tell me something basic like ‘who are my parents’, but yeah.”

“And so they send you to me.  This is amusing.  Not to your Mentor?”

“Dr. Caitrin sent me to, uh, to Regine’s secretary?”

“And not to your Keeper’s Mentor?”

“Dr. Mendosa?  I don’t know why I’d go to her.”  Abaddon frowned. “I don’t know why I’m coming to you, to be honest, sir.  No offense, but I only have one class with you…”

“Perhaps because I am as far removed from the situation as it is possible to be while still being here.  All right.  You have come for answers.  Your Keeper does not mind you getting answers?”

“She hasn’t told me not to.”  He hadn’t exactly told her what he was doing, but he’d soothed what little guilt he felt by telling himself if it was wrong, Dawfyyd probably would’ve told on him.

Probably.  If.  Maybe.  You never could tell with Daw, although he did like getting those cookies regularly.

“Well,” the professor smiled broadly, “that is as good as permission then.  So.”  He steepled his fingers and considered Abaddon over the fingertips.  “The problem is – the reason they do not wish you to know and are playing hot-potato with you as if you aren’t going to notice – well.”  Professor Shou sat back.  “How much do you know about the project that is going on here?”

Abaddon swallowed his frustration.  “Not much?”  He had a feeling this was getting somewhere important, if only he could stand to wait.  “I know that our parents aren’t always our parents.”

“Indeed, and yet untrue.  Those who raised you are every bit as much ‘parents’ as they chose to be.  On the other hand, the genetic material that made you up, that was chosen carefully from a rather small pool of donors.  As it happens, your biological mother is the mother who raised you, Joie.” Professor Sakamoto’s eyes seemed to twinkle.  “A lovely woman indeed, and a sweet one.  You are quite lucky.”

“But my father…?”  He didn’t really want to hear the old man, nice as he was, talk about his mother quite like that.

“Your father, yes.  The man who donated the genetic material for you is Ägidius, himself the son of Aelfgar Gods-Spear and Greta BroadLeaf.”

The names meant nothing to Abaddon.  “Okay…?”

“This does mean that many of the students here – Aelgifu and Yngvi, Ragnavaldr and Arnbjorg and Leofric, to name a few – are your aunts and uncles, children of Aelfgar, and that Howard is your cousin.  That is, ah. Not the problem though.  That is more… well.” Professor Sakamoto coughed.  “Ägidius also provided several other children to the project.  Most of them you would not know, but one of them is Genevieve.”

Abaddon stared at the professor.  This had to be a bad joke of some sort.  “Say that again.”

“Genevieve is biologically your half-sister; she shares a biological father with you.’

“Saying ‘biological’ over and over again doesn’t help!  She’s pregnant!  With my baby!”

“Yes.  She is.”  Professor Sakamoto cleared his throat.  “So.  This is what I can tell you, and why Professor Pelletier or, perhaps, Hayley or Director Regine ought to have handled this.  Certain bloodlines have been marked and studied as safe for such, ah, consanguinity.  Indeed, it has been tried before to no ill effect.  So biologically-” the professor coughed and looked mildly apologetic, which would have been more soothing for Abaddon if he hadn’t also still looked far too amused – “there is no danger to the child, or we would not have let it go forward.”

“I don’t -” Abaddon took a breath.  He had heard it in his voice that time. I don’t fuckin’ care, why the fuck do you think I care? It sounded like an echo behind his voice and he could feel the bone spurs on his forehead growing. “Biologically isn’t the problem.  The problem is-”

It wasn’t like he passed out.  That would have been nice, he thought.  It was more like someone was pulling his strings.  Which, he was pretty sure, was exactly what was going on.  Someone had named him Abaddon, after all, the angel of the abyss.  The Other.  The thing inside him that had been there since he Changed spilled out and took over.  

He was standing and he was shouting.  His voice (but not his voice, the Other’s voice) echoed and vibrated through the small office and his whole body was spiky with bone spurs.  He lost the exact words but the tone was clear enough – fury.  Rage.  He dove across the desk at Professor Sakamoto.