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.

“Graduate,” he teased now.  “You have your two children – you don’t have to worry about that this year; I’ve got my two and I don’t need another one-”

“I could-” she began.  A baby Dysmas.  She didn’t even know how she was supposed to feel about that, much less how she really did feel.  Were they even different things anymore?

“I really prefer my women not pregnant,” he cut her off.  “It gets in the way of feeding, and you’re lovely the way you are.”  He ran his hand possessively over her ribs and flat stomach.  “Don’t ever change.  This is gorgeous, like this.  But eventually… eventually everyone has two children, one way or another.”  Something about the way he said it made the or another sound ominous.  Cya wondered what could be ominous about children, and then she thought about Leo and stopped wondering.

“So that’s what you have to do to – to be released from here? Two children?”  She thought she probably ought to have been shocked or horrified or… felt something about that except a kind of dull disgust, but there had been too many clues already, too many round bellies and whispers and offhanded comments.  It just made one more piece fall into place.

“And the basic studies and such, of course, but you seem smart enough.  You’re not having any trouble with your classes, are you?”

On one side of her, Leo and Zita were exchanging expressions that held worlds of words they couldn’t speak.  On the other side of her, Howard was glowering, the magnolia in his hat brim every bit as much a sign of ownership as the collars the rest of them wore.  They stole minutes in the beginning of class and joked about the future – the real future, years from now – never talking about things like when they went home from class.

“Classes are pretty easy, yeah.  It’s better when I’m not moving every month.”

“Well, once you’re here, you’re here for good.  There’s no moving away from Addergoole.”

His hand slid up to her throat, almost a warning.  Cya ignored it.  She wasn’t trying to leave the school.  This was where her friends were.

“I kind of assumed that,” she admitted.  “Everything about this place is – ah – institutional.”

“Not the word I would have used,” Dysmas mused.  “No green-painted walls, no bars…”

“No doors,” Cya countered, feeling a little put-out.  Hadn’t she gotten over feeling put-out over him?  That dull feeling that she’d done something wrong, the grumble of irritation that she’d picked exactly the word she wanted.  She moderated her tone, made it a joke.  “I mean, who needs bars on the windows?  Put it all underground and you can avoid the whole idea of windows.  But it’s an institution, it’s meant to keep us here, isn’t it?  If we can’t leave until we have two children?” She wanted to ask who had mothered his two, but he thought that might be a bad idea.  Asking about his past sometimes led to quiet frowns and suggestions they change the subject.  

“There are doors.”  He put on his most smug expression, which made her wonder if he’d been setting her up as much as she’d been setting him up.  “You got in, didn’t you?”

“Through a warehouse that doesn’t always exist when you head down that hall, yes.  But, I mean —”  if she found another angle of attack, maybe she wouldn’t be proven right and he would actually tell her about the hidden doors Luke had showed her.

That was, of course, assuming Luke hadn’t already told Dysmas and Dysmas wasn’t just toying with her.  That was always a possibility.  Dysmas liked to be superior, and one way to do that easily was to withhold information and then lord her ignorance over her.

She felt a little guilty at that thought.  Some part of her muttered that Dysmas was doing what a Keeper should, and if she didn’t like it, that was a flaw in her, not him.  He’d told her this was what Keeping was like.  He’d told her she was his, his to do with as he liked.

She could go around for hours in loops like this, and it just made her feel sick and unhappy.  She smiled instead and let her mind wander to the blood trickling down her throat for a moment.

She’d forgotten she left off in the middle of a sentence.  “Don’t you know what you mean?” Dysmas teased.  “Or did you lose it in there?”

“Oh, the bite, it feels nice.”  She was flushing a little, but it was the truth.  The bite – or, rather, the way he whammied her somehow when he bit her – felt very nice.  “I mean, people have children here. Presumably some of them want to see their kids once in a while?”  Eriko had never said anything about children.  Neither had Dysmas or Aviv.  But someone must?

“Oh, you mean the Village.  Most people keep their kids out there, in the creche. That’s run by Lady Maureen.  Some of the girls just drop their kids there and never come back for them.”

“What about their fathers?”  Cya had been raised entirely by her father; she had never even known who her mother was until someone here had explained the “sh’Amika” the teachers kept tacking on to the end of her name.  “If the mother doesn’t want the kid — I can see that, we’re all fairly young — why not allow the father to raise it?”

He gave her one of his most condescending looks.  “The child Belongs to the mother.  Who would hand over that sort of leverage, especially to someone they used to Keep?”

Used to Keep, not Used to be Kept by.  Cya noted that, realized he was talking about himself, and said nothing else on the matter.  “So the Village, that’s where the kids are?  There has to be a way to get there, then?”

“There is, of course.  But like everything here, it has a price.  Tell you what.”  He’d put on his indulgent-Keeper-with-a-foolish-Kept voice.  Cya hated that one most of all.  She smiled back at him and thought about the way his fangs felt in her neck.  “If you can find one of the doors, I’ll take you out into the village.”

If that wasn’t a challenge, she didn’t know what was.  She nodded.  “When we get up…” Because there would be more biting, and there would be all of the other things, and it would be an hour before he wanted to leave the bed.  “Then we can find a door for me.”

An hour later, she closed her eyes, pulled exactly the shirt she wanted from her trunk, and wondered if maybe she was a little bit magic after all.  She let Dysmas take her hand, she felt the rug under her thin-soled shoes, and the walked with her eyes closed to the door to the outside.

“How…?”  He looked down at her, a frown creasing his lips.  

“Magic?” she shrugged.  She had to pretend she couldn’t see the door, but she could’ve been able to tell from his expression that she’d made it.  “So can we go?”

“Once it gets dark out.”  His frown had vanished into a possessive smile.  “First, let’s see what else you can find.  Can you… find, hrmm.  Anwell.  Find Anwell.”

The tugging of the order pushed her along another tugging in her mind, the feel of the pale-scaled snake-boy with the neon green hair.  “Up,” she told him.  “And… that way.”

Three hours later, outside under a thin slice of moonlight, Dysmas was still asking her to Find things.  “Point to… Alaric?”

That was an important piece of information, she thought.  She pointed in the right direction and wondered who Alaric was.

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