Chapter 65: KailaniDiscuss
Do you know what's worth fighting for?
When it's not worth dying for?
“Are you feeling all right, Kai?” Mabina asked, as breakfast Tuesday was winding to a close. “You’ve barely said anything.”
“Mm?” She looked up from her comfortable pillow of Conrad’s shoulder. “Oh, yes. Just thinking. And a little tired.”
“Have you been doing what Doctor Caitrin told you to, to recover?”
“Oh! Um… more or less.” She smiled shyly and snuggled closer to Conrad. The Doctor had told her not to use magic, and heavily implied that the bed should be used just for sleeping, and she and Conrad had ignored both orders.
“Well, if you actually rested more, you might recover more quickly.”
“Probably,” she allowed, snuggling tighter against Conrad, “but I think it’s worth it. Besides, I’m not training with Doug and the Thorne Girls again until Thursday.”
“You’re not what now?” Cassidy demanded.
“Training with the Thorne Girls. It was part of our deal.”
Cassidy looked between her and Conrad accusingly; Taro, in the background, snorted. “I thought you had no secrets?”
“I don’t!” He was looking at Conrad, but it wasn’t really his secret, was it?
“You don’t call training with the Thorne Girls a secret?” He seemed awfully worked up about this.
“I call ‘secrets’ things that I intentionally keep from people.” She took a deep breath, and kept going at a very careful, quiet tone. “I didn’t think it was a big deal.” She looked pleadingly at Mabina, who was looking very solemn. “I wasn’t keeping anything from anyone intentionally.”
“We know, Kai,” she said gently. “Cassidy’s just worried about your safety.”
He was still glaring at Conrad, too.
“Don’t look at me, man. I told her it was a bad idea.”
Cassidy shook her head. “That Crew is bad news.”
Kai frowned at him. “They had answers I needed. Have answers I need. Which reminds me...” She bit her lip and glanced at Conrad.
“Reminds you of what?” he asked cautiously.
“I have something to do after dinner,” she hedged.
“Something you need me to be elsewhere for?”
“You’ll be happier if I let you come along, won’t you?”
“I won’t worry as much, at least.”
“Okay.” She wouldn’t mind the company anyway. The halls weren’t really safe. “Let’s go, then?”
“Hey,” Cassidy frowned.
“Go where?” Conrad stalled.
“To talk to Doug,” she admitted. Luckily, that seemed to make Cassidy relax.
“Okay,” Conrad nodded. “Now, or after classes?”
“I guess we should wait till lunch, at least,” she conceded.
“Okay, we’ll go straight from Chemistry.”
She nodded, relieved he wasn’t arguing. “That sounds like a good plan.” She could wait that long.
It went, as class often did for her, rather quickly and very enjoyably. Sitting next to Conrad in Chemistry, though, she noticed from the droop of his tail, and, less reliably, from his frown and constipated-looking expression, that class wasn’t going either quickly or enjoyably for him. She held off saying anything, not wanting to annoy Professor Pelletier, until they were walking to Doug’s office.
“I can help you with Chemistry,” she offered carefully, “if you wanted.”
“Um, no, I’m fine,” he said quickly.
Worried she’d pushed where she wasn’t wanted, she just nodded and muttered an “okay.” She wasn’t going to force her help on him.
He was quiet for the rest of their journey to Doug’s office off the gym, which made her more certain she’d overstepped. “Sorry,” she muttered, just before she knocked on the office door.
His abashed look could have meant anything as Doug invited them in.
“What’s up?” the stocky teacher asked. His desk was arrayed with wooden weapons.
“I want to help,” Kai blurted out.
“What, watch football?”
She shook her head, unwilling to be put off. “Something attacked me. I want to help find it, or him, and stop it. Him. Her.”
Doug looked over her shoulder at Conrad in that obnoxious way that everyone seemed to be doing today.
He, in turn, just sighed. “She really means it, Doug.”
“Why does everyone keep doing that?” she couldn’t help but complain.
“Looking to you every time I say something.”
“We expect him to have some common sense,” Doug rumbled.
“Really?” he smiled faintly, tugging at his collar. Kai winced, wondering if she should offer him an out. He’d seemed fine last night…
“Really,” Doug nodded. “You’re still supposed to keep her safe.”
“Hey…” she complained.
“I'm not doing that badly at it,” Conrad protested.
“Right.” He nodded. ”Which is why she’s here, wanting to hunt monsters.”
“As opposed to out in the halls trying to do it without your expertise, yes.”
“I’m right here!”
Conrad quieted, looking to Doug, who didn’t look the least bit apologetic. ”It’s not time for you to go monster hunting yet. You’re not nearly well-enough trained; you’d get killed.”
“I don’t want to hunt them! I’m fine with once. I just want to help you find them.”
Conrad stayed out of their debate for a moment, but then blinked. “Wait, what? Once?”
“And what do you think you can do that seasoned hunters can’t?” Doug plowed over Conrad’s question.
“Be brilliant,” she snapped. She turned back to Conrad. “Once,” she agreed, more quietly.
“Once what? Once fighting monsters?”
She nodded. “Yeah. It was part of the agreement,” she added even more quietly.
“What? What else did you agree to?”
“Please calm down,” she pled. “Just that and the training.”
“They’ve got you going on their crazy raids?”
“One. One raid. Conrad, you’re not helping.”
She hugged him impulsively. ”If you want to fight about it, we can do that later. Right now…” she looked back at Doug.
“Brilliant. Right. How would you track something that has full run of a place meant to be open? Something that leaves no scent or physical trail?”
“Hell Night,” she answered immediately. “Block off intersections.”
“All right, you’re not stupid,” he granted. “But it looks like you have some issues to work out first.”
“She’s right, we can take care of that later.”
Doug glowered, but nodded anyway. “Look, we talked to Aelfgar, and he’s pretty sure that what’s out there is a Nedetakaei Dragon.”
Conrad let out a low whistle. “Kai, maybe we better leave this one alone.”
She looked back at him, feeling betrayed, and, worse, ignorant. “I don’t know what that means.”
“It means it’s way, way out of our league.”
“Okay. But what do the words mean?” It wasn’t really “okay,” but maybe if she stopped arguing that point, he’d explain.
“Dragon means exactly what you think it does, only worse. Nedetakaei... Doug can explain better than I.”
“Nedetakaei are Law-breakers. Monsters. Ellehemaei who think they’re better than the Law.”
She blinked. “I didn’t think that was possible, the way the Law works.”
“It shouldn’t be. But some people do it anyway,” the gruff man shrugged.
“How?” Conrad watched their conversation uneasily; she leaned back against him, hoping it would calm him down.
“How in hell do I know? Do you want me to pin one down so you can ask it?”
“I thought that’s what you and your monster hunters did?” Conrad offered.
“What, are you helping now? Aren’t you supposed to be the voice of reason?”
“No, Doug,” came a voice from behind them, “he’s supposed to do what she tells him to do. That’s what the collar means. Hey, Girl Scout.”
“Hey, Acacia,” Kai smiled. Conrad looked a little miffed, but kept his mouth shut; she snuggled a little closer to him.
“Making trouble?” the Thorne Girl asked lazily. She was armed, Kai noted, with at least three wooden blades.
“Trying to help,” she admitted. “I don’t like things attacking me.”
“Look,” she drawled, with a tone Kai knew wasn’t going to lead to something she wanted to hear, “if Aelfgar’s right, this thing is going to be a stretch. The best thing you can do right now is stay out of our line of fire. Trust me,” she grinned, “there will be things for you to fight later.” She patted Conrad’s head in a way that made Kai bristle. “Take him home and stay safe behind a closed door.”
“I’m not a puppy,” he complained, but there was no fire in it.
Acacia just laughed. “Right, kiddo. Look, Girl Scout, thanks, but get him out of here before Sima and Allyse show up, or she might decide that he’s your best contribution to the war effort.”
Bristling, frustrated, and feeling something close to humiliated, Kai couldn’t manage much more than a nod. She captured Conrad’s hand in hers and fled before she could start yelling.
He went with her, frowning. She tried not to let it bother her, but she was only halfway to her room before she slowed down, and still outside her pod when she stopped to hug him fiercely.
He hugged her back tentatively. “What’s up?”
“That was pretty horrible,” she muttered into his shoulder.
“No. That wasn’t bad, for her. Doug. Being treated like a stupid kid.”
“Well, Doug’s a lot older than we are, he has a lot of experience.”
“I’m not used to being talked to like I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“You’re brilliant, Kaia, but on the subject of monster hunting you really don’t.”
“Well, if no-one will give me any information, no, I won’t.”
“There’s not a lot of concrete facts to be had. These things are very individual, but they’re universally deadly.”
“Well, that’s more than I knew before.” She looked at where they were standing, and, rather deliberately, opened the door to her room. “I think the teacher told us to go be safe in my room.”
“He did,” Conrad nodded, stepping inside.
She smiled as she followed him inside and shut the door behind them. “You can yell at me now, if you want to,” she offered.
“I don’t want to yell at you; I just sometimes wish you wouldn’t dive into things so eagerly.”
“If I don’t dive in, how am I ever going to find anything out?”
“Step by step, so you don’t break your neck jumping down all at once.”
“If I went by that method, I wouldn’t have Owned you,” she pointed out.
“No, that’s step by step. All at once would’ve been being Owned yourself without ever seeing it in action.”
“So you’re analogizing going on a monster hunt with the Thorne Girls with letting Taro own me?”
“Well, Taro owning you would only last a couple years tops. A Nedetakaei could capture you and enslave you forever, if it didn’t literally eat you outright. So it’s not really comparable.”
She frowned. “It’s possible I didn’t think that arrangement through very well.”
“What exactly are you beholden to, there?”
She focused on remembering the words as closely as she could. “To train with Doug and the Thorne Girls once a week for the rest of this school year, and, on a hunt of their choosing, to go monster hunting with Acacia and her crew.”
“A hunt of their choosing... they could call that in at any time, Kaia. What would you do if they dragged you off tomorrow?”
She frowned. She’d already admitted that she’d made an error in judgment; what did he want from her? “Dodge?” she offered weakly.
He sighed. “If only it was that easy... if you promised, you’re stuck, unless you can get them to release you.” His eyes were full of concern. “I don’t want you to get hurt, Kai.”
She hugged him tightly. “I didn’t mean dodge the fight. I meant dodge the monsters. It’s why Acacia said she wanted me there.”
“To dodge?” He paused a moment, then his eyes widened. “God, Kaia, she’s going to use you as bait.”
She gulped. “Well, as you said, I’m stuck, so I guess I’m just going to have to get really, really good at dodging.”
“And hope they give you the year to practice before calling in their marker.”
“I’d rather rely on practice than hope. And, Conrad?” She didn’t want to point this out, but better now than later. “If the timing’s bad, they’ll call it in when I’m in the third trimester.”
He just stared at her for a long moment. “Are you, already...?”
“I don’t know yet. I imagine I could get a pregnancy test at the Doctor’s office.”
“She can check,” he agreed.
“Oh, yeah,” she smiled weakly. “Magic. Well, that’s good, then. If not, I guess we can take our time.”
“Let’s head down there and find out, then?”
“Are you in a hurry?”
“Not really, come to think of it. We’ll handle it, together.”
She smiled and squeezed his hands. “It’ll be fine. I think I’ll be able to duck even carrying your baby.”
“You’ll be fine,” he smiled back at her. “We can do this.”
Her stomach growled. “Maybe we ought to do it… after lunch?”
“Oh, yeah, it is lunchtime isn’t it? Let’s get to that.”
She smiled up at him, amused, noticing that Acacia was right, that he did like to steer. But it was just lunch. “Let’s.”
The halls were quiet; lunch was probably already well underway. Even Kai almost missed the boy as they passed him, curled into one of the ubiquitous niches, hidden by the shadows, only his collar catching stray light. She stopped, a little hesitantly, but he was clearly not okay.
Conrad came up behind her, peering over her shoulder. “Who’s that?”
She noted the shaggy brown hair and the tiny horn-buds, no tail, no apparent hooves. “Probably Bowen.” She knelt down next to him, close enough to catch a whiff of his lanolin scent. “Definitely Bowen.”
“Damn... he’s not okay, is he?”
She felt for a pulse, and found it under the collar, weak but steady. “He’s alive.” The boy moaned quietly and tried to curl up more tightly.
“That’s something, at least. You want to help him, don’t you?”
She looked up at him, trying to gauge if she was going to get another “jumping into things headfirst” lecture. “I’d want someone to help me, if I was passed out like this.”
“Yeah, I was afraid you’d say that. I want to help him too. Best we can do is probably carry him to Caitrin.”
She brushed a hand lightly over the boy’s collar. “This is why you think it’s a bad idea, isn’t it?” She was shifting Bowen as she talked, getting him in an easier position for lifting.
“That’s why it definitely is a bad idea, yeah. But it’s the right thing to do.” Conrad got his arms under the boy and hefted him carefully.
Bowen made small noises but didn’t wake up at all. “It seems to be that way a lot, here. That the right thing to do gets you in trouble.” She walked next to Conrad, one hand on Bowen’s hip to help steady him.
They carried him down to the infirmary that way. “Well, you never know. We’re kind of counting on Agatha’s good nature and philanthropic spirit here.”
“Agatha…” She pursed her lips. “So you’re saying there’s going to be trouble.”
“Could be,” he nodded, backing into the clinic entrance.
Dr. Caitrin stood in the waiting room, looking harried and exhausted. “Another one? Oh, departed gods, Bowen. Tell me it’s just a fainting spell.”
“I don’t know, we just found him like this in the hall.”
She nodded. “Probably not Agatha’s doing, then. Take him into exam room two; there should be an empty bed there.”
Conrad carried him into the indicated room, setting the boy down on the bed. There were three cots set up in the room, all of them occupied by students in various stages of groggy and dazed-seeming. Kai recognized Ioanna from the shock of rusty-orange hair, now seeming limp and dull, and the matching orange sweater, and Xaviera, the ophidian bully, from the line of scales down her bare arm.
Dr. Catirin came in as they were leaving. “Good, thank you. If you see Mark cy’Luca, could you ask him to send Ivette my way? Or Rafe cy’Drake, Joff? Or Ty cy’Linden, Jamian?”
“Why?” Kai couldn’t help but ask. The doctor smiled wanly at her.
“Certain strains of Daeva halfbreeds – and many Daeva themselves – have the ability to transfer energy from one person to another. In a pinch, they can act as a magical battery, and, in my opinion, this counts as a pinch.”
“Ah.” Thinking of the cots in the exam room, she nodded quietly and, clinging to Conrad’s hand, left for the lunch room.
They hurried through lunch, since they’d missed more than half of it with their adventures. Conrad managed to soothe Mabina&Cassidy’s worries with a short “talking to Doug” which made Kai wonder how honest he was in telling them he had no secrets. She didn’t, however, wonder enough to tell their fairy godparents about the rest of their adventures. She’d had enough of being yelled at for the day.
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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