Interlude: Eriko

Eriko had made a mistake.

She wouldn’t ever admit it to anyone – it would make her look bad, making stupid mistakes like that – but after the third time some thing had written all over her room, or angry voices yelled at her from the walls, she’d had to admit that maybe, just maybe her former Kept hadn’t been pranking her the whole time.

Eriko would have scoffed at the idea of ghosts and poltergeists before – there were no such thing as ghosts. But there were no such thing as fairies and elves to the rest of the world, either. Down in this school, maybe there was such a thing.

But why her? She hadn’t murdered anyone. She hadn’t bothered anyone at all! She’d just…

Everything kept going back to Keeping. Not just the school, but the… hauntings, the voices. And now, weeks after the fact, Eriko had been forced to admit to herself that hers had gone spectacularly badly.

“You like being a good Kept for me, don’t you?”

“No, Mistress.”

What kind of a Kept didn’t like being good, anyway? It was no wonder it had gone badly, if she’d gotten stuck with a defective Kept…

Eriko frowned at her homework (not that she was doing it). Defective Kept. She hadn’t noticed before how much that made him sound like a thing. Leofric might have been an awful troublemaker who cared too much about other people for his own good, but he wasn’t a thing. Had she really called him that?

It was too quiet in the suite, these days, she decided. Dysmas’ girl wasn’t any good for conversation – not that she ever had been – Aviv was even less of a conversationalist, even when not stoned six ways to Sunday, and Dysmas just wanted to talk about himself or his games all the time when he wasn’t holed up in his room (which, she reminded herself again, was not her business). She was left with watching television, going back into her bedroom alone where she might be harassed by whatever that thing was again, or her own thoughts. That’s why she kept finding herself thinking about Kept and Leofric.

Maybe not defective, but there was obviously something wrong with him. Everyone had heard how much more trouble he’d been causing Lydia – and Sheba hadn’t even wanted him, after all that negotiating. The rumors were all about some kind of a rescue, which made her squirm. No one needed to be rescued from her. She wasn’t a bad Keeper; she just wanted to mind her own business.

The door to the suite opened. Eriko looked up to see who it was – Aviv, probably, since Dysmas was in his room and his Kept was in the kitchen – and found herself looking straight at Leofric.

Fear. There was no way she could interpret that look any other way. He looked at her, caught her eye, and the expression on his face…! It wasn’t just fear, it was terror.

The moment hung in the air, frozen for what felt like an eternity. Then he was gone, nothing but the sound of running footsteps pounding down the hall and vanishing into the distance.

Eriko closed her books, stood up, walked to her room, and shut the door behind her. It felt like her heart was going to pound itself out of her chest. He was terrified. The boy she’d Kept was terrified of her. Like those other students had been terrified of… of the Thorn girls.

Of Meshach. Her mind forced her to make the link.

Eriko hid her face in her notebook, sliding down to the floor, but closing her eyes just made that look of terror in her head all the more visible. She’d just wanted him to behave, to stay out of trouble. Isn’t that what Keepers were supposed to do? What had she done to earn that look?

Leofric was terrified of her. The pretty brunet boy who’d practically thrown himself at her feet, who she’d thought had just turned out to be terrible at being Kept, was as terrified of her as– as–

“Departed gods,” she whispered into the empty room. “What did I do to him?”

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