Addergoole
Interlude: Manira

Something was wrong in the halls. In the whole school, really, although she couldn’t taste it in her dorm room. Manira wandered through the school with seeming aimlessness, barely noticing the other students, occasionally tasting the air like a snake looking for dinner.

It wasn’t, for once, her own appetites that concerned her. Something else, something with less scruples, had tainted the flavor of the school. The blow-up in the cafeteria the other day had been only the most obvious sign, and the staff in this place didn’t seem to be doing anything about it.

Maybe they’d never dealt with a dragon. They were all so young, and so very puritanically American, even silly little Linden-Blossom. Maybe they didn’t know what to look for, the tell-tale shifts in the emotional flavor and color of people.

They couldn’t really be blaming it on that poor little lamb, could they? That sort of draining took will and intent – Linden, at least, should know that. It was basic, something you learned when the Becoming was still rushing through you. How to do it. When it was appropriate, and when it was not, and why. She’d taught it to Tell, all those centuries ago. Whoever was doing this was skilled, determined, and entirely without conscience. And if it wasn’t stopped soon…

“Manira.” The aggravated tone in the voice told her she hadn’t been paying attention – this wasn’t the first time her name had been called, was it? She turned around, trying to remember her Manira face, her pleasant, sweet-little-girl expression of naïve trust.

“I’m sorry, Professor VanderLinden! I was just thinking about…” Thinking about what? Something suitably sweet… “Ambrus, and I didn’t hear you.” Wait, what? Damn that boy! She felt an entirely unbidden blush rising to her cheeks. He shouldn’t be able to get to her like this!

“What a coincidence,” the professor said dryly. ”I was just thinking about Ambrus as well.”

Oh, wasn’t that a fun image? An Ambrus sandwich, with two Daevas the very hungry bread…

Down, girl. She wasn’t a Daeva. She didn’t even know what a Daeva was. She was just Manira, the sweet farm girl who played piano and was into 4H. She hoped Linden wasn’t reading all of this confusion in her emotions.

“He’d a very nice man, isn’t he, professor?” she asked sweetly.

“He’s a nice kid,” Linden agreed. ”Why don’t we go sit down in my office and have a talk about him?”

“Of course, Professor.” She hoped this wasn’t going to be some variation on the good-girls speech. She’d had a hard enough time keeping a straight face when her mother – Manira’s mother, that was – had painstakingly explained the mechanics of reproduction and contraception to her. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to manage it at all with Linden-Blossom.

The young Daeva was solemn-faced and emotion-shielded when it led her into its office, entirely at odds with the boudoir feel it had created in the small room. She managed to brush against its wrist as she sat in the chair it offered, and used the contact to reach for some insight into this little tête-à-tête.

She nearly recoiled physically; she did sit down with unseemly haste. Linden-Blossom was overflowing with emotion, thick with seething anger and worry. Underneath all of the distress, like a thick layer of bedrock, was more strength than Manira had ever tasted in another Daeva. And guilt, nasty black viscous lines of guilt.

The Professor sat down in its own chair, its face a twisted mask of cynicism. ”Another empath,” it said tiredly. ”Well, we can talk about the ethics of reading others’ emotions when we’re done with our first topic.”

“Sir?” The anger was a little frightening, more so for his near-complete control over it, even more so because she didn’t know exactly what she could do in this hobbled halfbreed body.

“Ambrus.” He steepled his hands and looked over the fingertips at her. ”You’ve been ensorcelling him. Stop.”

“What?” She’d been expecting some sort of gentle questioning on the way he was treating her, or a little lecture on dallying with older men. This was so far afield, it was in a different country. She struggled for a response appropriate to her persona. ”Professor VanderLinden, I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You might not, but it’s going to stop anyway,” he said grimly. ”The poor child has been driving himself crazy trying to fight it. He deserves better than that.”

“He deserves better than that woman!”

“Did he tell you that?” the professor asked, as mildly as if she hadn’t just yelled at him.

“How could he?” She realized her error the moment the words were out of her mouth, but it was too late to take it back. Linden glowered at her, lips pursed. ”So you’d help him see the error of his ways?”

That seemed safe enough. ”Yes.”

His frown deepened. ”That is not your place. Release him from his ensorcellment.”

“He has to choose on his own?” She was probably being too clever, but she wanted to hear his answer.

“He needs to make his own decisions, Manira.”

She could work with that. “Yes, sir,” she said meekly. ”I’ll release the … thingy.”

Discuss

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