Interlude: Manira

The hallways were delicious. Manira moved at a leisurely pace through the darkened hallways, pausing in out-of-the-way places to take in the wonderful aromas of fear and anticipation and desire. It was quite a blend, like Prom Night on steroids, some lurking around with acquisition topmost in their minds, others just wanting to make it through the day.

Hell Night, she heard someone refer to it as, and she giggled a little bit. It was adorable, all these children trying to be big bad predators, like watching kittens learning how to hunt; it was even more fun, watching the new students, of which she was still supposed to be one, running right from what they thought was danger into the real traps.

It shouldn’t work, what the upperclassmen were doing, but she could taste the electricity in the air when they managed to hook someone, the tinny post-storm taste of an oath taking hold. What were they doing with this place, to twist the Law like that? She could see the outline of the wards in the walls, if she looked really really carefully, but she’d never been very good at interpreting such things.

She didn’t have much room to think now, anyway. The emotions were so thick in the air that it was nearly too much, like being drowned in chocolate espresso, smothered in Kobe beef. She could glut on this, keep devouring the thick custard of emotion until she could take no more, and wander around drunk and giggly and happy for weeks – but she couldn’t.

The form she was in constrained and tethered her. She could eat, of course, take in the banquet of terror-pleasure-want laid out for her, but the girl she was being would be afraid, like so many of the Fifth Cohort were afraid, and so the fear beat at her, a pounding bird in her chest trying to get out.

It was almost a pleasant novelty – almost. But this near-human body was so much more prone to such things than her accustomed form, and it got in the way of everything. Even courting, or, as was more appropriate and far more entertaining, being courted.

And where was the boy, anyway? They’d had a lovely date yesterday, and he’d been a perfect gentleman, all animal want, masculine and growly (so much more so than at the dance!) overlain with a concrete façade of manners, so carefully solicitous of her innocent self that she’d found it daring to tilt her head up for a kiss when he delivered her back to her room – and then been crushed when he’d pecked her lightly on the cheek as a good-bye, and, for the first time in centuries, actually questioned her own appeal.

Then, this morning, with the lights out, she’d looked for him. He had to be around somewhere, right? Roaming the halls, tasting the same feast she was tasting, looking for her.

Or looking for someone else. She frowned, letting the body take care of the simple animal need to hide from the monsters, to hold very still in a shadowed corner while they pounded by. Could he have gotten bored with the hunt so quickly? She was no good at being prey, she knew, but her “no good” ought to still be better than any half-breed amateur’s best try. With the exception of his Owner, who he would get sick of soon enough, he shouldn’t be looking anywhere but at Manira. What was wrong with her?

Be realistic, you silly bint, she told herself. She’d grab this too-human body by the scruff of the neck and shake it if she could. He wasn’t out here because he Belonged to the Director, and, whatever she was doing down here, she couldn’t let it appear as if she were complicit in this madhouse hunt.

She swallowed the tiny but still whisper that threaded its way through her consciousness and stepped back out of her niche. There was the most tasty-smelling thread of hate coming from the hall just ahead, the sort of pulsing, mind-consuming loathing that destroyed nations. It was such a lovely playground Regine had built; the young burned hot and cold with insane extremes and hairpin turns, and here they were, all buried together in this insulated bunker for the eating. If she ever got out of here, she’d have to bring back a couple others. Eirian and Zahavi, maybe. If she ever got out of this body.

She rounded the corner, intent on the trail, lips trailing over her fangs as she grew closer to the source. Such murderous rage! She wondered if she could fan it into something truly deadly, maybe start a small riot?

“Hello, Manira.”

Hel-what? She stopped, settling back hard on her heels; there was someone directly in front of her, oh, holy fuck, a teacher. What was he doing here? She blinked, looking up at his curly ram’s horns twisting out of that golden hair, and was mortified to find a blush rising to her cheeks. Of course; he was a Daeva as well.

Carefully, covering it with a comely, cute smile up at the professor, she pulled in the tendrils she used to glean emotions. If he caught her at it, it would blow her cover in a heartbeat. “Hello, Professor VanderLinden” She looked around, allowing her nervousness to take the forefront again. “It’s a little crazy around here, isn’t it?”

“It gets like that once in a while,” he agreed easily. “Why don’t you let me walk you to the lunch room?”

“Oh, would you?” Relief gushed out of her in a silly little-girl voice. “It’s kind of scary out here.”

He looked sidelong at her as they walked, and she wondered if her horns were somehow showing, or if she’d just laid it on a little thick. “Have you chosen a Mentor yet, Manira?”

“No, sir.” She’d been distracted with all the shiny things Addergoole offered her.

His smile suggested that he knew that, and that he found it delicious and amusing. “I’d like you to consider taking me as your Mentor.”

Linden? She suppressed a chuckle as the memory came back to her. I taught your mother the game, boy! But she’d need a Mentor, and this one, and the look in his eyes…

“I’d like that a lot, Mister VanderLinden.” And Ambrus would hate it.


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