Chapter 70: Arnbjörg

Sunday, May 20, 2001

“So are we gonna do it?”  Arnbjörg was shifting her weight from the balls of her feet to her heels and back again.  “I mean.  I know Leo went a little…” She considered the room and forced a little bit of tact to come out of her mouth. “Well, he was having some trouble with blackouts when he was here?”

Zita looked at her pointedly. “I don’t know. Are you going to do it?” Her tone was too pleasant to be real.

Arnbjörg looked straight back at Zita. “Should we?”

“Eight months ago, sure. Now?” Zita shrugged.

Arnbjörg considered that answer, looked at Zita again, and decided it was a yes. 

Aviv backs him up,” Sheba said. “Aviv wasn’t really happy to be backing him up and wants us to leave him out of it – don’t get that look, Arna, they might be a shitty crew, but they’re crew.  Leo’s lucky that Aviv was willing to admit that what Dysmas is doing is beyond the pale – a lot of crews wouldn’t.”  Sheba looked at Magnolia quietly for a moment, something passing between the two of them.

They might not look anything alike save for having cat features, but there were moments it was easy to see that they were family.

“Yeah,” Magnolia drawled.  “Mebbe more crews oughta be willing to tell the Keepers among them when they’re bein shitty.  Maybe I ought’ve, back when.”  She reached over and poked Phelen in the arm hard.  “You and Jay and Niki, you keep that in mind.  All right?”

“What?  I’m never a bad Keeper.”  Phelen did his best imitation of innocence.  It wasn’t a very good one.  “Jaya’s got Arna now, and can you imagine Niki Keeping anyone?”

“I’m right here, you know.”

“See, that’s how much you’re not a Keeper, I don’t even see you when you’re in the room.  His Kept wouldn’t even hear his orders, Mags.”  Phelen’s grin was unkind and very pleased with himself.

Arnbjog didn’t really care.  “Are we gonna do it?” she repeated.  “I mean.  Zita said it.  Howard said it.  They’re stable.  Leo said it.  His Keeper said it.  And besides, like you said.  nobody else is really in a bad spot.  And if she is-”

Zita snorted quietly, not looking up from her Shakespeare reading.

Howard’s tail switch gave an irritated swish every so often.  “Ain’t real friendly-like t’leave her there iffen there’s somethin’ we can do ‘bout it.  Even this late, then she’d know we tried,” he said, aiming the last at Zita.  “But…” He scowled, frustrated by what he’d learned, often the hard way, about the difficulties involved “What would take t’do it?”

“Well, let’s see.” Sheba cracked her knuckles.  “We know he has some sort of mind control power.  

“The eyes.”  Magnolia gestured towards her own eyes.  “He has to be looking you in the eyes to do it.”

“Right.  So we’re going to hit him from behind.”

Monday, May 21, 2001

Hit him from behind turned out to be the easy part of the plan.  The next day, after classes had let out, they attacked in probably the most coordinated thing they as a crew had done all year.

Arnbjörg grabbed Dysmas from behind; Sheba popped in front of him and stuck duct tape over his eyes while Phelen covered the cameras in shadow.  Howard picked Cynara up and held her out of the way while Zita stood in front of them, providing a short, if sharp, guard.  Magnolia blocked the routes in both directions with spiky, spiky plants.  And Jaya was murmuring a Working that ought to make Dysmas feel as if this was a major catastrophe.

“Temp-” Dysmas began, and with more glee than she’d felt in a while, Arnbjörg told him “No.”

His mouth shut.

Cya was not struggling.  Arnbjörg thought this was interesting, but she wasn’t going to back down now.  “This is what is going to happen.  You are going to let Cya go, because if you don’t, we’re going to hurt you.  And then we’re going to track you down and hurt you again.  And again.”  She added the second part only because Jaya had told her it would help.  “It’s almost the end of the year, so you’re not losing all that much.  Especially compared to what you’ll lose if you don’t give in.”

“You think you scare me, girl?”  He sneered it, despite the way he was still struggling to get out of her hold – strength wasn’t his thing, apparently – and the way she could see the vein in his neck twitching.  

“Personally, brother, I think you’re terrified,” Phelen offered.

“You, too?”  Dysmas scoffed.  “They might pretend to be your crew, but you have no stake in this nonsense.  Just because that big bull of Magnolia’s thinks he has some claim on my Kept…”

“Her name is Cya,” Howard snarled.

“Like I said.”  His voice was surprisingly smooth.  Cya whispered something to Howard.  Howard gestured Magnolia over.  Magnolia’s eyebrows shot up.  She whispered to Jaya.

Arnbjörg would have paid money to know what was going on, but Jaya and Magnolia were whispering Workings, so she did her best to distract Dysmas.  She slid her favorite little penknife right under his ribs.  “Do you bleed like a normal person?  Or are you some sort of creep that doesn’t actually get rid of the blood, because you need it to live?  Everyone knows you’re a monster-”

“Do you think being called a monster is going to bother me?  Everyone here’s a monster.”

“No.”  Arna dug her knife in a little deeper.  It wasn’t going to hit anything vital – assuming his vitals where were a human’s were – but it was probably going to hurt him.   “Lots of people here aren’t monsters at all.”

“Dysmas.”  Phelen’s voice was a lazy drawl that didn’t seem to fit in.  “You know what the opposite of shadows is?”

“What?”  Dysmas’ face turned towards Phelen, blindfolded or not.  “What’re you talking about?”

Magnolia’s lips were moving.  The hall was getting very bright and very warm.  And then Phelen moved one hand lazily and it got even brighter and warmer.

“It’s like being right in the face of the sun, isn’t it?  I mean, a little work and it could be the sun…”

“Phelen!  Phelen, we’re family.”  He was writhing in Arnbjorg’s arms now.  She held him tighter.  “You can’t let them to this to me!”

“Let them do it?  I’m going to do it myself.  All of you bastards thinking I was just like you is getting a little old.”  He yawned.  The light got brighter. “Or you could just let her go.”

“I can’t.  She’s mine.”  His paper-white skin was starting to redden and blister as he writhed and pushed.  Arnbjörg, it turned out, was still stronger than him.

“Well, if you care that much about it, I suppose she can still be yours, but it’s going to be hard for you to enjoy her…  I mean.  If she’s that important…”

“No!  No…  She doesn’t mean anything.  She’s not important!”

Ouch.  Arnbjörg looked over at Cya, but her face wasn’t showing anything at all.

“Then come on, cousin, I don’t have all day.”

He sagged again.  “I release her.  I release Cynara.”

Arna pulled the knife out and wiped it on his pants.  They were, she was disgusted to notice, wet all down the front.

“Too late.” Phelen yawned.  “I’d run away, if I were you.”

With a groan, Dysmas turned and stumbled away blindly.  He didn’t even seem to notice Sheba teleporting him outside the thorns.

“It won’t last long,” Jaya whispered.  “Let’s get going.”

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