Chapter 40: Cynara

Monday, January 15, 2001

Something had to change, and it had to change before she lost control of her emotions.

Cya was not taking combat classes.  She hadn’t asked.  She wasn’t with a Mentor who taught combat.  She wasn’t the sort of girl one thought about when one thought about violence and such things.

She had come to school knowing three ways to kill someone if she had to and had come up with two more already in the course of her Workings.  She would have to be quick, and clever, and would have to put all of her power into it, but she was fairly certain she knew where the mental processes were that controlled breathing.

Unlike that bitch Eriko, who did it accidentally with an order.  What a stupid, ridiculous, hateful bitc…

Cya put her smile on a little more carefully.  She couldn’t kill Eriko.  Killing someone could, she heard, get you expelled, and if she got expelled, then that would leave Howard to try to look after Leo and Zita on his own.  

And Leo… Leo needed more looking after than one person could handle.  Eriko didn’t seem to care anymore, if she ever had. Cya wouldn’t trust her with a pet rock, much less with a person.

Dysmas was in a good mood, the way he always was after he’d fed. “I was thinking…”   Cya began, trying to sound casual rather than cautious. “Maybe we could do some sort of, mmm, Kept club?  Just an afternoon out once in a while, get some fresh air, practice cooking?  Zita has a lot of good recipes, and I know Lily and Leofric can’t really boil water without help, but if we managed to give them some help…”

Adding Lily in was a gamble.  She barely talked to the girl – almost nobody did; if anyone was angrier than Arnbjorg, it was Lily – but Zita and Howard had managed to make friends with her, and what they said – or didn’t say – was nearly as worrisome as what Cya saw with Leo.

On the other hand, not adding in Lily made it the crew, and the problem was, their Keepers were pretty sure – even Howard’s Keeper, who generally seemed like a decent sort for a mind-raping monster – that first-year students in general and Kept for definite could not have crews.

It didn’t seem to matter.  Dysmas frowned down at her.  “You know Eriko doesn’t want Leofric spending time without her.  That kendo thing is too much, if you ask me.”

“I know,” she ducked her head in apology.  “But he is still a person, too, who might be able to use a little breathing room?  Maybe he’d be better…” stop getting himself punished so badly, “if he had a little room?  And learning to cook better really behooves all of us…?”

She’d said the wrong thing.  She knew it as soon as she finished the sentence, even without looking at Dysmas’ face.  His body language had changed.  The way his hand was on her had changed.

“There’s plenty of time for all of you to be people next year.”  It didn’t quite sound like a quote, but it definitely had the feeling of something someone had said to him before.  “Leofric will survive this year just fine without any ‘room’, just like any Kept, and you do just fine at doing the cooking for this crew.”  In a voice that was almost gentle, he added, “I wouldn’t worry too much about breathing room, if I were you.  Wiggle room just gives you more room to hurt yourself.  Look at Leofric – Eriko gave him too much room, and look where he ended up.”

Cya felt sick and numb inside, but there was nothing to be done to argue with that tone.  She’d tried to do something to give them all a little space and it had failed.  If she was quick and careful, it might not backfire horribly on all of them.  “Of course.”  She looked up at him through a fringe of hair with a small smile, one that bordered on coy.  Bordered on was important.  Dysmas wasn’t stupid.  If he was, everything would probably be a lot easier. “You know everything here better than I do.  I’m still learning.”

She really was still learning.  She’d learned she couldn’t say anything about being a person – about any Kept being a person.  That was a little new, but it did not surprise her.  “Thank you for explaining,” she added.  “Sometimes I can be impulsive…”

That, that was very close to a lie, so she let herself look guilty for the fib and let him think she was guilty about the so-called impulsiveness.  She certainly had a lot of impulsive urges, right?  Like the one where she strolled up behind Eriko and…

No, no.  She let her guilty look slide into a blank smile.  She could not kill Eriko.  Not now.

Don’t ever commit something you know is a crime unless you have your escape route planned and are fairly certain your can cover your tracks.  Always know the local laws as well as you can manage, so you don’t accidentally commit a crime.

Her father’s lessons might have been punctuated a few too many times by the exceptions – “well, pumpkin, I knew it was a crime but I knew they’d never prove it was me, see?  And we did have a back door and three escape routes, right?  Just have to wait a few years before we go back there…” but she’d certainly learned a lot.

And right now she was ignoring a very important one of his lessons. Pay attention to the problem in front of you.  The other problems can wait.

Luckily, Dysmas hadn’t really noticed much.  “You can’t go around being impulsive while you’re mine.  Then you do stupid things like try to Know the mind of nothingness, and look where that gets you, mmm?  Just be a good girl and do what I tell you do, and you’ll be fine.”

If she was a good girl, maybe it wouldn’t make her teeth set so much when he said things like that.  She smiled at her, what she thought of as her cops-and-truant-officers smile.  “What do good girls do?”

“Well, sweet thing,” his hand settled on the back of his neck.  “You know most of it already.  They look pretty for their masters – which you’re fairly good at – and they don’t argue with people where it would  cause a problem.  They take care of the household troubles and they don’t talk back.  Leofric is not very good at being a good Kept, but you can see all the things not to do from looking at him.”

Don’t fall in love with your Keeper, check.  Don’t be Kept by a miserable bitch, check.  “Yes sir.”  She gave him her best good-girl look.  “You know I want to be a good girl for you.”

“I know you do.”  His hand in her hair felt nice.  She tried to ignore the part where it also felt like he was holding her in place.  “And you’re very good at it, my adorable angel.”

She could be a blank little angel for a year.  She smiled a little more and let the feeling fill her.

Chapter 39: Abednego

Thursday, January 4, 2001

Abednego couldn’t help but notice the fuss on the other side of the dining hall.

He was pretty sure they noticed it in the next state (even if he was a little confused what state that might be, here underground).  Arna  – what had Arnbjörg been up to?  She’d stomped right up to that table with the six-armed girl and her friends, just like she stomped up everywhere.  Abednego had tried not to cringe, but he hadn’t bothered not watching.  She was glowering at the six-armed girl and the collared boy next to him.

“What does she think she’s up to?”  Eris sounded fascinated.  It was the first time Eris had sounded interested in anything since Zita left.  (Left.  Was taken.  Was “rescued”.  Was gone).  Abednego wasn’t sure that boded well for whatever she was interested in.  Continue reading

Chapter 38: Arnbjörg

Thursday, January 4, 2001

“Good,” Doug grunted, as Arnbjörg pushed back against his strike with a block and a shouted No.  “Fun power.”  He took a step backwards, nodded.  “Again.”

Again, and again, and again, blocking and pushing with her power and striking back, until sweat drenched her hair and she felt like her arms and legs were made of rubber.  “Good. Enough.”  Doug leaned against the wall and gestured at her.  “Walk.”

She paced the small training room, once, twice, until he gestured to her, enough, and leaned against the wall with him.

“Fun power,” he repeated, and then, “Aelfgar kids.  Always have fun powers.”

Doug didn’t say anything without purpose.  Doug barely spoke. Arnbjörg glanced at him, waiting to see what else he’d say. Continue reading

Chapter 37: Leofric

Thursday, December 28, 2000

It was the worst Christmas break ever. Leofric was pretty sure that if it weren’t for his cy’ree practice, Eriko wouldn’t have let him out of the suite at all. As it was, he was missing his kendo lesson; it wasn’t vacation, so he didn’t have to go. At least that’s what Eriko had said when he’d asked.

So instead, he was stuck here, in the suite, sitting to the side while Eriko watched a movie. Some kind of romance drama. He’d tried following it, but he was finding it hard to care about contrived angst when everyone in his own life had it so much worse.

Why Eriko hadn’t decided to get rid of him yet, Leofric had no idea. He was constantly miserable. She was constantly crying, or angry, or crying and angry…

His musings were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. When he looked around, Cya was already getting up to answer the door, so he turned his attention back to how boring the movie was. It wasn’t like it would be anyone to see him, after all, not while he was here. And if Cya was getting the door, he didn’t have to worry about Eriko trying to make him do it. Continue reading

Chapter 36: Cynara

Tuesday, December 26, 2000

“How do you get out of here?”  

Luke and Professor Reid had shown Cya the doors, but they’d done something to fog her memory.  She could see them — but she hadn’t been able to get back to the doors, no matter how many times she tried.  She knew they were there. They’d told her she needed an upperclassmen with her.  For safety.  She took that as for not running away.  

So now she was lying next to Dysmas, a thin trickle of blood running down the side of her neck, fishing for the answer she needed. He was in the best mood during these times, and when he fed on her – more than he ought to, Dr. Caitrin said, but still not enough, not enough to keep him from feeding on other girls, bringing them into his bed right past her while Aviv played Go and chess with her like neither of them could see what was going on – Cya found she was in a good mood, too.  Inquisitive, but brave enough to test out questions and mellow enough to not mind when he treated her like a silly child.  It was the perfect time to ask him about the doors.  To see if he would help her find them again. Continue reading

Chapter 35: Abednego

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

“All right.  Don’t forget to do your homework this time, class, and tomorrow we’re going to be moving on to the next chapter.”  Professor Valerian nodded at all of them.  “So be ready, bring fresh pens, and try to get a good night of sleep tonight, all of you.”

Abednego did not laugh at his professor.  He did not want to bring her attention down on him, not after the mess that had happened last time.  The last thing he wanted was for her to get involved again, get Rafe all worked up, and be stuck in another fight about why things didn’t work.

Which they wouldn’t.  He’d hoped for a while that something would happen.  Joff had taken him out to look at the outside; that had been nice, if futile.  Zita had been rescued, because Zita, whose Keeper broke down in tears randomly and tended to shout a lot, clearly needed rescue.   Continue reading

Chapter 34: Arnbjörg

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Doug had been not nearly as impressed with Arnbjörg’s new power as she’d hoped he would be, but he’d said “Interesting.  Work on that,” which she took to mean that it was at least an acceptable power — if not as cool as some of the others she’d seen — and as tacit permission to tell everyone and everything no.

She tried telling a door no when it was trying to close in her face, but it only hesitated for a moment before swinging shut.  She had told Rand no, which was very pleasing, if only to watch the look on his face.

She hadn’t quite been brave enough to try telling Luke no, but when it came to Calc class, she was more than willing to look Professor Solomon in the eye and say “No, sir.”

The look of surprise on the professor’s face was wonderful.  The way he coughed and took a step backwards.  “Well, isn’t that interesting.  Arnbjörg, please stay after class, and -”

“No, sir,” Arnbjörg repeated.

“Aah, ahem.  Well, then.  If we could take open to page seventy-two-”

“No, sir.”  This was surprisingly fun!

“Would you just shut up?”

She was not expecting that from Leofric, of all people, but all of a sudden he was glaring at her from across the classroom.

Arnbjörg smiled widely. “No.  No, I’m not going to.  I don’t have to, for once, and I don’t see why I should.” Continue reading

Chapter 33: Leofric

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Leofric doodled idly in the margins of his history notes, trying not to think of being stuck in Eriko’s room as boring. It helped a little to think of it as being grounded; it made him feel more like a typical rebellious teenager, and not like a horrible, awful, worthless, why couldn’t he do anything right

The tip of his pencil snapped, rolling gently off the page and landing on the floor with a quiet tic. He watched it go, then pulled out a pencil sharpener from his backpack and started sharpening his pencil for the third time. Not that he needed it sharpened, since he’d already finished his homework. But he hadn’t been ordered to stay in his mistress’ room until he finished his homework; he’d been ordered to stay there and finish his homework. So now he was only under orders to stay in the room, and he had nothing to do. Continue reading

Interlude: Luke

Monday, December 11, 2000

He thought he might hit something.

He was certain he was going to hit something.  The question was whether or not he was going to manage to wait until he was out of Regine’s office.

“I know.”  He spoke very carefully, because if you got “emotional” around Regine, she stopped listening.  “Emotional” meant that you weren’t being “rational,” and that meant that she could discount any and everything you said.  “I’m aware that the Student Council interfered in the matter of Zita.  But they don’t see the same things as we do, and they’re — they’re biased.” Continue reading

Interlude: Ambrus

Monday, December 11, 2000

It felt like the air was too heavy.  Ambrus wandered the halls, feeling like there was something pressing on his throat, feeling like there was something sealing his mouth shut, feeling like he was wrapped up in mummy-wrappings so tightly that he couldn’t move at all.

He leaned against the wall and felt a frission of misery and anger.  That was not any better. Continue reading