Chapter 41: Kailani
And I said yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Bet you don't know what your parents do
“So, what Word did you end up with?” Taro ambushed her with the question as they sat down for dinner, seeming interested enough in the answer that he didn’t notice the little dance of seating going on, leaving her between Conrad and Vlad and him to Mabina-and-Cassidy’s left.
“Kaana, ” she answered, savoring the little breeze that came to her hand when she said the word. It no longer seemed important at all that she’d mangled a couple Words – “Nobody resonates with more than five or six Words initially,” Professor Valerian had said, which hadn’t been that reassuring, but her follow-up had helped: “Proficiency with a wider range of Words comes with time and practice.”
Time and practice, study and determination, she could do. In the meantime, she had the wind.
“Ha. I told you,” Taro grinned triumphantly. “Like your name. You’re probably really good at yaku, too.” The word sounded mangled and dry in his mouth, horribly wrong, but she recognized the core of it.
“Yaku,” she repeated, knowing she was showing off and not really caring. “Yes. What does it mean?”
“Water.” His grin threatened to stretch his face. “You are a storm.”
She’d never thought of herself as stormy before coming here, but it seemed like a nice thing to be – wild and untamable. Still, she didn’t like his self-satisfied assumption that he knew her. “I suppose that means you’re good at working with earth?”
“Eperu,” he intoned, still smiling. The word that had twisted her tongue painfully came out like a song from his mouth. “Yeah. It works pretty well for me.”
“What about you?” She twisted to look at Conrad, catching him swallowing a sour glare at Taro.
“My name means ‘brave counsel,’” he answered, pulling his attention away from Taro and smiling at her. “I can’t do any of the elements at all.”
“None?” she asked, puzzling out what a name like “brave counsel” would mean. “Any of them? There are… four?”
“Four of the Words correspond to the elements, yeah. Vlad’s really good at yaku.” He mangled the word, too, but not as horribly as Taro had.
“Really?” She turned to Vlad, who was blushing an interesting shade of puce.
“Yeah,” he muttered, “I’m a merman.” He held up a cupped hand and murmured for a moment – she heard meentik and yaku, and a word that sounded like minimus - and a tiny pool of water appeared in his hand. He tossed it around her, splashing Conrad across the face and shoulder. “See?”
Glancing at Conrad’s wet-cat face, she couldn’t help but chuckle. Their rivalry was so good-natured, it somehow seemed to lighten the tension in the room when they had a tiff.
“I see.” She wiped the water off the side of Conrad’s face, calling up a light breeze carefully. The words were still new to her, and wind was showing a tendency to come in very enthusiastically if she didn’t limit it.
He smiled at her, and shook his hair out like a dog, spraying water everywhere. “Like I said, Vlad’s good with water.”
“Mmm.” She swallowed a question about appearances – Kylie had begun going through her change, and looked nothing like a breeze (she might look up, later, if foxes were associated with the wind in any mythology, of course), but Vlad actually looked like a merman, or at least what a merman on land might look like. And Mabina-and-Cassidy… she glanced over at them.
Cassidy grinned. “Oh, you know, pumpkins into carriages, mice into coachmen – we’re still working on that one, actually, it’s harder than you’d think-”
“-and rags into ball gowns?” she guessed.
“Well, in that case, it was ball gowns into ball gowns,” Mabina answered, smiling approvingly. “Yes. We’re faerie godparents.” Her hands rested maternally on her round belly.
“Which is funny, not just because we’re going to be parents,” Cassidy added, “but because our name-meanings seem more like those cobbler-elves than twinkly-fluffy-dressed Glindas.”
Taro snorted unpleasantly. “I’d pay money to see you in a twinkly pink Glinda dress.”
Cassidy perked up, clearly amused. “Really? How much?”
Taro shook his head. “Forget it. You’d do it just to freak me out.”
“You betcha,” Cassidy answered cheerfully. He turned back to Kailani. “So, yeah. Names are sort of a loose guideline, but it really depends on if your father was prescient, and, if so, how much so. Some fathers just throw names at their children that they like.”
“Like Shadrach,” Mabina said darkly, “who named his poor daughter Chandra. Might as well have gone with George, George, and Georgina like Foreman did.”
Kai blinked, lost. “I don’t have a father,” she said, “I mean – obviously there was someone who provided the semen, since even my mother couldn’t have figured out parthenogenic cloning yet, but there’s never been a father figure in my life.” She’d managed to get through “semen” without blushing, but as she continued, she found her face turning hot, and she couldn’t quite look at her friends.
“I always assumed that my mother had just gone to a sperm bank, since she hates men so much.”
She glanced up at them, shyly, surprised to see something that looked like sympathy on their faces – Mabina, Cassidy, even Taro. It was he that asked, his voice gentler and less scornful than it had ever been,
“Didn’t she ever tell you?”
“Tell me what?” More secrets? This place was rotten with secrets that everyone seemed to know except her, sneaky little half-truths and all these inside knowledge things that were hoarded and passed out in little tiny never-satisfying doses. It made her angry… but right now, it looked as if she might get an answer or two, so she tried not to yell. “What do you know about my father?”
“Not about your father in specific,” Taro said, but Vlad picked it up before Taro could muddy things too badly.
“Your mother might not have known your father very well, but she did know who he was.”
“Even if she chose artificial insemination – and if she hates men, she might have,” Mabina added, so gently that Kai couldn’t take offense – “she knew who he was, and so does the school. It’s the same for all of us.”
“One-parent households,” Cassidy added, “or a step-parent and a biological parent.”
She stared at them, twisting around to look at all of them in horror. “Why?” she asked. “Why would you know that? Why would someone have a school full of single-parent students? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Because telling you about the parts we can quickly leads to questions we can’t answer,” Cassidy said softly. “Like this.”
Kai shook her head, trying to put pieces together. “But if the school knows, why would they have my name listed in the paperwork with just my mother’s name – why do they call me Kailani sh’Moonchild?” The blush was coming back, and she couldn’t bring herself to look at Conrad. Still, he answered her question.
“It’s the Laws of Belonging I told you about, Kaia,” he said gently.
She looked at him, her eyes trailing to his collar. “A Child Belongs to its mother… and then to its Mentor… and then to itself.” He nodded, although she didn’t need the confirmation. “So, because this school is ‘down here,’ they use the Laws of Belonging for naming purposes?”
“Yes,” Mabina answered slowly.
“That seems complicated,” she complained. “We have perfectly good names already. But… sh’Moonchild means ‘daughter of Moonchild?’”
“‘Child of Moonchild,’” Vlad corrected.
“Genderless. Odd.” She looked to Mabina for more explanation, but she shook her head.
“That’s another story,” Cassidy said, brushing it aside.
“Aargh,” she complained. They were being forthcoming about other things, though, so she went back to the questions she might be able to get answers to.
“Okay, if a child belongs to its…” she frowned. “Okay, genderless. Its mother, then its mentor, doesn’t that mean your name will change when you get a Mentor? My name will change?”
“Yes.” Mabina smiled; even Kai could tell she was relieved. “You go from sh’Mother to cy’Mentor.”
“And then to oro’Owner, if you’re a weasely bastard,” Taro offered helpfully.
“So…” she glanced at Conrad.
“Conrad oro’Kailani,” he nodded.
She frowned, realizing that she’d heard some of this before.
“You told me about this before, peripherally, when I…” she pushed through her embarrassment doggedly, “when I Owned you. You’re trying to sidetrack me.”
“You sidetrack yourself beautifully,” Cassidy teased lightly. Flustered, she tried to remember what she’d been asking about.
“Tell me,” she said to Conrad, commanded Conrad.
“Tell you what?” he asked, a sort of strain to his voice that made her hurt. But she had to know. This was why he had wanted her to Own him, wasn’t it? The reason he had given, at least.
“Why do you know that we’re all bastards?”
She hadn’t meant to use that word, even though it was technically correct. Her mother had decried it loudly – why would a child be any less legitimate for the so-called sins of her parents, and so on – but she’d still internalized the term.
Conrad looked down at his lap for a moment, and answered slowly, with none of his usual vibrancy; even his tail hung limply. “Not all of us are illegitimate. But all of us were planned. Our parents were all picked by the same people, and for the same reasons.”
He looked up at her then, his shoulders clumped, his expression un-readable but clearly not his sunny, wonderful smile. She wanted him to smile again. She wanted answers.
“What people, Conrad? What reasons?”
He smiled, but it was a sickly thing, and he looked past her at Mabina, as if looking for help.
“You got yourself into this,” Mabina answered, not unkindly, but implacably. He whimpered quietly, like an animal caught in a trap, and she relented softly with a sigh. “Kailani, if you’re going to ask him things he’s under geas not to tell, you’re going to have to command him directly every step of the way.”
“Every step.” She bit her lip as another little whimper escaped Conrad’s lips. Taro barked something that could have been a cough and could have been a laugh – she ignored it. “Tell me who, Conrad, planned us, and who, exactly, ‘us’ is.”
“Your Mentor and her crew,” he answered, watching her intently. “She planned us, all of the students of Addergoole.”
Chapter 41.5: Kailani
I don’t need no good advice
No well-intentioned sacrifice
Conrad looked pale, drawn, sick; he’d even broken a sweat. She was pushing him too hard, too fast, against this stupid geas, and she didn’t know the limits of it until she ran into them. She had to stop for now, to give him a chance to breathe.
“That…” It was madness, but the sort of madness that made sense – when Regine had told her she was bred for intelligence, she hadn’t been using a figure of speech, she’d been being painfully literal. “Bred…” Conrad made a small noise, something that sounded like it had escaped without his volition, and she stopped. World’s biggest hamster.
“I’m sorry.” She was, too, even if she sort of felt he deserved it for coming up with the idea. “That’s enough for now, I think. Thank you.”
He nodded, looking down at the floor. “You’re welcome.”
He wasn’t actually a hamster, not even a horse. He was a sentient human being, and he was her responsibility, and she couldn’t deal with this with sunflower seeds or sugar cubes. Even if he’d bribed her into this relationship with the promise of information, she’d chosen it willingly, and she had to deal with that.
“Want my cookie?” She plucked it off her plate and offered to him. It was silly, she knew, but she hoped he’d understand that she meant it as a peace offering.
He looked at the cookie for a moment, as if considering whether to take it. Behind her, Vlad cleared his throat and said, rather loudly, “How far did you get on that project for Earth Science, Cass?”
“The one due tomorrow?” Mabina asked, laughing. “Why? How far did you get?”
“About halfway through,” he admitted. “I got stuck on quartz.”
They’re not talking to you, Kailani reminded herself. Indeed, while she’d been distracted, Conrad had relaxed a little, and was reaching for the cookie.
“Thank you,” he murmured, as he took it. He looked so beaten… she wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be okay, even if it wouldn’t, even if he had more idea what was going on than she did.
He might know what’s going on, but you’re in control, the insidious little voice in the back of her head reminded her. This may have been Conrad’s idea – but he clearly hadn’t been entirely aware what he was getting into when he suggested it.
She stood before she could talk herself out of it, trying to ignore the way his eyes followed her, and sidestepped behind him. Hugging someone in a chair was awkward at the best of time, but, as socially clumsy as she was, she knew she could at least be physically graceful. She wrapped her arms around his chest and rested her chin on the top of his head, breathing in his scent.
“Mmm,” he said; it sounded happy. He folded his hands over her arms and leaned his head back against her shoulder. In the background, Mabina-and-Cassidy, Vlad, and Taro talked on about rock formations – she was both surprised and not to learn that Taro knew what he was talking to when it came to rock-based topics. Conrad made no move to join in, and Kai didn’t want to sound like a know-it all, stayed out of the conversation as well.
“I have to go talk to Acacia and her friends,” she told him after a while. She knew he wasn’t going to like it – and he twisted in her arms and frowned at her, indication that she was probably right.
“Why?” he asked softly.
“Because neither of us know how to handle this situation that…” that you got us into… “that we’ve gotten ourselves into. You weren’t anticipating it being this hard, and I had no idea at all what to expect, and we’re both lost without a roadmap.” She took a gulping breath and brought her voice back down to a reasonable volume. ”I took responsibility for you. So I have to do this.”
His frown got deeper. ”Kaia, no-one expects you to do this for real. I mean, I backed you into this to give you information. I don’t expect you to be my Keeper, with all of that baggage.”
“You just wanted to do it for, what, for play?” she asked, forcefully keeping her voice low. ”For pretend? A way to get close to me, to bind yourself to me so that I couldn’t get away, that I was less likely to argue with than Belonging to you?”
He didn’t say anything. That was admission enough, but she wanted more. ”Tell me. Tell me honestly and directly.”
He nodded, his voice so soft she had to strain to hear him. ”Yes. I wanted to Belong to you to be close to you. I wanted to be able to tell you things, too, but,” he gulped softly, and was quiet for a moment before he continued, “but I didn’t think it would be this real. I didn’t expect you to take it this seriously.” He glanced down at her arms around him, and muttered, “but it does feel really nice.” A little louder, he added plaintively, “Can I stop now?”
“Yes,” she said, hoping she sounded gentle enough. She wasn’t really angry at him. Well, not too angry. He had gotten them in a predicament without having all the information, but he was caught worse than she was by it. “You don’t expect me to do it for real,” she repeated, “but you don’t have a choice in the matter, do you?”
He shook his head no mutely.
“It has to be real for me, too, Conrad,” she says softly. “Words have to mean what they mean… at least when they come out of my mouth.” She couldn’t expect honesty from anyone else if she couldn’t be honest herself. ”So I have to know how to do it right.”
He looked as if he wanted to protest, but he didn’t. ”Okay,” he finally sighed. ”Please be careful.”
“I will be,” she assured him. ”I’ve dealt with bullies before.” Of course, she’d never before been asking bullies for advice, but there was really no reason to bring that up. ”And,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “I will not offer them you. I promise.”
He shivered as the air – not actually the air, she realized now, but something beyond or under the air – twisted and popped lightly around them. ”You could have, you know. It wouldn’t be that horrible.”
She studied him for a moment. She’d always believed that those little social tells were something other people understood, not her – but his were easy, or at least not incomprehensible. He was not quite lying, but she didn’t think he was telling the truth, either.
“You don’t know that,” she asked.
He shook his head no, smiling a little bit. ”I don’t. But I can hope.”
Pieces began to fall into place. She thought of the way Taro sounded when he talked about being Kept, when he talked about Megan. The possessive way she’d tried to claim him by sitting to his right that time. The weary sort of not-very-hopeful expression on Conrad’s face when he said he could hope. She smiled gently at him.
“Do you think,” she suggested carefully, “that perhaps you should have thought things through before putting your well-being in someone else’s hands?”
“Probably,” he admitted, leaning his head against her collarbone. ”It might not be the cleverest thing I’ve ever done.”
She pushed his braid aside and kissed the back of his neck, just above the collar. ”There’s no need to worry,” she told him, smiling a little as she said it. ”I’m not a bitch.”
He let her go to visit the Thorne Girls. He didn’t really have a choice, but he’d walked her to their suite and then left without complaining, which was better than she’d expected.
She knocked on their door, finally nervous, now that she was done arguing with Conrad. Bearding the lion in its own den seemed a much better idea in theory than in practice, and these were some rather intimidating lions who seemed to have no like of her – and there were no teachers to stop them in their own suite, even if the teachers would stop them.
She hardly had time to panic, however, before the door swung open. Finnegan, a pale, skinny boy with whom she shared American History and English Lit classes, opened the door. He looked less drawn and harried than he had been looking recently; even his shoulders were set more comfortably, not hunched forward. Around his neck he wore a thin brown leather collar – a new addition; he hadn’t been wearing it in class this morning.
“Hi,” he greeted her, not quite meeting her eyes.
“Hi,” she echoed, wondering what the problem was.
“Who is it?” Acacia called from somewhere behind him. He turned to look into the living room, revealing a series of bruiselike hickeys running from just behind his ear down his neck, disappearing under his collar and T-shirt.
“Kailani? The redheaded hippy in Mabina’s crew?”
Finnegan looked Kailani over quickly and turned back to face the room. The hickeys were in age sequence – the ones closest to his ear were several days old, beginning to yellow, while the one by the shirt collar was fresh and red. “Yes’m, that’s her.”
Redheaded, yes. Her hair was a riotous shade of orange-red that had earned her any number of unkind nicknames in high school. Mabina’s crew, yes, although she was still not quite sure how that had happened – blame Taro. Most things seemed to be his fault. But hippy? She glanced down at the batik-printed waves on her blue skirt. It was a reasonable assumption, she supposed.
“Tell her we don’t need any girl scout cookies,” someone else called – not Acacia, although the voice was similar. Finnegan stammered incoherently in response.
“She’s kidding, kiddo.” Acacia again. “Let the hippy in.”
Looking immensely relieved and more than a little embarrassed, Finnegan stepped back to let Kailani in. Although she was growing more and more doubtful about this whole idea, she stepped into the Thorne Girls’ den.
Acacia and her two friends were sitting in the living room, the TV going softly in the background, homework and the remains of a pizza taking up the top of the coffee table. It looked so ordinary and everyday – no knives, no loud music, no black-painted walls.
“Come on in, take a seat,” Acacia called. “Beer?”
“No, thank you.” Kai tried to keep her voice level and not stammer in surprise. Apparently, the drinking age really was a non-issue down here. She sat down in the leather wing chair Acacia had gestured to.
“Probably just as well, you’re kind of a lightweight. So, what brings you here?”
She thought about dissembling, but she was horrible at any sort of social subterfuge, so she dove right in. “Rozen thought you might be able to offer me advice.”
“Rozen? The Black Demon?” She barked out a little laugh. “I’ll give you this one for free – anything Rozen gives you, even advice, he does because it will serve him in some way. Having said that, what sort of advice do you need?”
Best to continue the way she’d begun, probably – straight on through. “Conrad talked me into Owning him,” she told them, “and it’s working out horribly.”
“Horribly?” Acacia raised an eyebrow. “Is he fighting the bond to disobey you?”
“Is he sulking in a corner and refusing to eat?” Allyse asked.
“Is he playing the literalist game and obeying things to the letter of the law to cause trouble?” asked the third – that must be Massima, the one who wanted Conrad, the only one she didn’t share a class with.
“Is he telling you what to do?” added Finnegan, from his apparently-comfortable spot between Allyse’s legs.
“No,” Kai answered, a little overwhelmed. “None of that.” None of that had even occurred to her, and she wondered why they know it all so well.
“Then what?” Acacia asked. She wasn’t even smiling, and yet she still seemed as if she was laughing at Kai.
“He’s just… miserable,” she said, wondering how to describe the bright spark, the wide smile that she hadn’t known she’d liked until they were gone. “He’s suffering from a failure to thrive, I think.”
“He talked you into this, and you’re worried because he’s miserable?” Massima asked. “Why not kick him to the curb?”
“I don’t think he’ll let me.” It sounded absurd when she said it, but Massima looked as if she was taking it seriously.
“Make him miserable enough and he’ll let you.” Kai twisted her face in a frown, trying to find a polite way to explain how much she disliked the idea, and the bully laughed at her. “No? Right, you want him less miserable.”
“We can probably give you some useful advice,” Acacia cut in, “but it will cost you.”
She nodded. She’d sort of expected that… but she still had no idea what to offer them, except for Conrad, which she wasn’t going to do!
“What do you want?” she asked.
“How about we call it a favor for a favor?”
Kai shook her head, feeling a little brave. “Conrad told me I shouldn’t make a deal like that. Too open-ended.”
Finnegan snorted softly, and Kai cringed. It sounded stupid, didn’t it? He was telling her what to do.
Acacia, though, nodded. “Not bad advice. All right, then, something definite. I want you to go on a hunt with us. One hunt, by the end of this school year.”
“Cay!” Allyse protested loudly. Kai was inclined to agree with her. Acacia just shook her head.
“It’s not as crazy as it sounds, Allyse. This girl’s got chops, if she just trains them. Look.” She stood up in one fluid, easy movement and kicked at Kailani’s head. She telegraphed the move and Kai ducked it, slipping out of the way even as she yelped in protest.
“See?” Acacia continued, before Kai could say anything. “She’s slick. With some training she’ll be able to hold her own. She shouldn’t be cy’Regine, she should be cy’Doug.” With that still hanging in the air, she turned back to Kai. “New offer. Unlimited, honest advice on how to deal with your toy-boy, for the length of this school year. In return, you’ll train with us and Doug once a week for the rest of the same year…”
“Cay?” That was Massima this time. “Have you lost it? Just because she can dodge?”
Acacia shook her head. “Allyse calls ‘em, I translate them. You remember what she said.”
“‘The storm will clear your path?’” Massima frowned. “That seems like it’s a bit of a stretch.”
“Trust me,” Acacia grinned. “I know what I’m talking about. Plus, I think this will be funny.”
“Oh, all right that.” Massima settled back down. “Carry on.”
Smirking, Acacia turned back to Kailani. “…train with Doug and us once a week for the rest of this school year, and, on a hunt of our choosing, you will come monster hunting with my crew and me.”
Kai gaped. “Monster hunting?”
“It’s pretty much what it sounds like. There are ‘good guys,’ more or less. That’s us. Then there are monsters. Dark, evil boogeymen that need to be eliminated. And,” she smirked, “if you train with us, you’ll learn all about them.”
That was all she’d had to say. Conrad would throw a fit. Taro would probably throw a fit. Her mother would scream obscenities if she ever found out. “It’s a deal.”
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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