Chapter 74: Kailani

She stumbled more than walked into the bedroom, holding onto Conrad, refusing to look behind her at Anatoliy until they got to the bed. He lingered sheepishly in the doorway, hands folded in front of him.

“Come in,” she murmured, feeling weird about doing it in Conrad’s room. She glanced at Conrad, wondering how difficult he was going to be.

He still seemed distinctly displeased with Anatoliy’s presence, but at least he wasn’t saying anything. The giant closed the door behind himself.

Kai frowned at him. She didn’t really want to talk to him at all, but considering the way he’d gone about it, she couldn’t really turn him down. “I don’t want to Own you,” she offered.

“Okay,” he nodded. “I just... I’m sorry, Kailani.”

She gulped. What did you say to that? She couldn’t very well say… “I can’t say it’s okay,” she said. “I mean, it’s not. But… I know it wasn’t your idea.”

“That doesn’t make it any better,” he said. “I want to set things right between us.”

She frowned at him. “We’re going to get in an endless cycle of reparations,” she complained. “And that’s going to end poorly.”

“Better than the alternative.” He smiled faintly, a much more natural expression on his big face. “With their tempers, Emrys and Taro might keep trading hits forever.”

She smiled weakly, and settled in more comfortably, running her hands through Conrad’s hair. “That was pretty bad,” she admitted. “But,” she sighed, “I don’t know…”

He spread his hands, an impressive gesture on his frame. “What can I do?”

“I don’t know!” She glanced at Conrad, wishing he had the answers. “What am I supposed to want? What should I want that doesn’t bring us right back to where we were when Agatha came pounding on our door?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “There isn’t an easy answer.”

“You’re supposed to be about the answers,” she complained, but there was no heat about it. There weren’t set rules for this, or, at least, she hoped there weren’t.

She turned back to Anatoliy, forcing herself to think about the things she’d been avoiding. “This is different,” she said carefully, “depending on whether you-” if she thought about it clinically, she wouldn’t freak out. “-managed to impregnate me. Although, with Agatha’s remaining five minutes…” she stopped, twitching softly. She still had five more minutes of that bitch to endure.

He avoided the first, uncomfortable part of the statement to focus on the second. “She probably doesn’t expect you to realize she has them. She’ll wait to spring something on you.”

“I’m not stupid,” she pointed out irritably. “I can count to twenty as well as anyone.”

Tolly shrugged. “A lot of new students would’ve assumed it meant all at once.”

“I did,” she admitted, “but then I realized I hadn’t been clear enough.” She bit her lip hard. “When she calls in the rest… Tolly, don’t give her any reason to do anything different.”

“Wait, what? She wouldn’t do that again...”

“She has a lot of options. I don’t like any of them. But if she honestly wanted to help you meet your graduation requirements…” She had to stay calm. If she didn’t stay calm, she was going to freak out. Loudly.

“Five minutes isn’t possibly enough time. Besides... she probably already did the best she could.”

She smirked tiredly; of course. “The Working. I noticed that. But…” Outside, a scream ripped through the air.

“Shahin?” Tolly blinked, turning towards the door.

“Not again,” Kai muttered.

“Let her take care of herself,” Conrad scowled.

Kai shook her head. “That would be petty and kind of childish,” she argued. “This isn’t her fault.” But she still had to come up with a way to deal with Tolly, and he was far too happy to get distracted arguing about what Aggie could or couldn’t do. She reached out, forcing herself not to flinch, and put a hand on his arm.

Tolly nodded. “We can finish this later.” He turned to open the door.

Kai hugged Conrad tightly. “She’s not a bad person,” she insisted. “And neither are we. So we should help.”

“Whatever my Mistress wishes,” he smiled, his tone playful enough that Kai recognized he actually agreed.

When they got to the doorway, however, Shahin wasn’t there to help. Tolly was crouching near Cassidy, who was flopped just inside the entrance to the suite, while, outside, the hallway burned.

“Can you put that fire out?” the big man rumbled.

“Oh! Yes.” Maybe she could do this with a little more finesse this time, since no-one was on fire, as far as she could tell. “Meentik yaku brecho gamma, meentik yaku brecho gamma, meentik yaku brecho gamma!” Slowly, rain began dripping from the ceiling, clouds seeming to form out of the smoke until the entire area was filled with a pounding rainstorm. A wind whipped up from somewhere, brushing Kai with spray from the storm, and, heedless of the danger, she stepped out into the rain.

“Nice,” Conrad murmured appreciatively behind her.

She flushed with pleasure at the praise and, more than a little reluctantly, banished the storm before she flooded the hall. “Where…” she turned to frown at Cassidy. “Where did Shahin and Emrys… and Taro! go?”

“There was... I don’t know, some sort of monster. Their magic only seemed to annoy it. It took Shahin and paralyzed Emrys. Took all my strength to free him, even after it was gone.”

“And then Emrys went after it to rescue Shahin?” That made sense. “But what about Taro?”

“Emrys asked him to come along. Said everything would be square between them, and Shahin too.” He barked a weak laugh. “Well, you know those two. Those weren’t quite the words they used. But that’s basically what they agreed to.”

She frowned. “That doesn’t… oh… darnit.” She shook her head, and looked around at the dripping hallway. “We can’t do much to help them, then, can we? The fire’s put out… are you going to be okay, Cassidy?”

“Aye. Just bushed.”

“Well...” she frowned at Anatoliy. “That leaves you.”

He nodded slowly. “What can we do?”

“I don’t know,” she whimpered. She looked back at Conrad, hoping he’d have materialized an answer while she was putting out the fire.

Alas, he seemed equally stumped. “Y’know, you’re making it harder to hate you, man.” Tolly shrugged apologetically.

“Hating him won’t really solve anything,” Kai frowned. “I mean, I don’t know how to solve this. I barely know what the problems are anymore. Agatha’s problem with us trying to help Bowen is over, right? So that leaves the remaining five minutes, which we can’t plan for because we don’t understand…” She gulped a little… “I am discovering,” she said carefully, hoping she wouldn’t start crying, “that there are things it actually doesn’t help to think about. That’s not fair.”

“Very little about this place is fair,” Anatoliy said sadly.

“But…” She stopped herself from feeding into a recursive loop of “not fair!” “Yeah. It seems like the founders were either ridiculously cruel or suffered from a failure to understand human nature.” She frowned wryly. “One of those is genetic, I guess.”

“Well, everything here is based on genetics,” Anatoliy agreed, slightly missing her point.

Kai decided not to clarify. “It’s a massive breeding proj…” She bit her lip, frowning. That wasn’t safe ground. “You really…?” No, that wasn’t good either. She didn’t want to think about Anatoliy’s lack of children. She didn’t want to think too hard about what might be going on in her uterus. “Oh!” She caught the sob, but not quite in time. “Oh, I…” She didn’t want Tolly’s child! She wanted Conrad’s babies, happy, smiling children.

And then Conrad’s arms were around her, warm and safe and supportive. “Shh, Kai. It’ll be okay.”

She slumped against him. “I don’t know how to handle any of this,” she muttered. “You’re right. Hating him would be easier.” She could always hate Agatha. That was easy.

“We can always fall back on that,” Conrad teased.

“I think…” When in Rome, her mother had always said, live like a Roman. “I think revenge would be better.”

“Um?” Tolly questioned, not quite nervously.

“Oh,” she blinked, “not you. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” Conrad didn’t know, and her Mentor was useless, somehow. “Shiva!” Shiva had said she could ask her anything. She started walking, glad to have a destination.

“Shiva?” It was Conrad’s turn to question her. “How’s she mixed up in all of this?”

“She told me I could come to her if I had any questions. I have questions.”

“Well, I suppose so.”

“Agatha,” Anatoliy said quietly. “You’re talking about revenge on Agatha.”

She gulped. She hadn’t so much forgotten the giant was there as forgotten that Agatha was his friend. How was she supposed to answer something like that? It was a little late to deny it, wasn’t it?

Selectively. She could answer selectively. She paused, looking up into the big man’s eyes. “I don’t mean it like that,” she started, even though that meant nothing. “I don’t have any intention of escalating this.” True. She didn’t want to embroil Mabina’s crew in some sort of clan war. “I’m not going to attack her. I’m not going to repay her in kind for what she did.”

“That’s good,” he nodded. “She’s pretty unassailable. She lacks for nothing. Her magic is strong, and she’s filled in the gaps in her own skills with her crew,” he said, slowing down a little as if realizing this for the first time. “The only Words missing are eperu and yaku.”

She watched his face, wondering what was going on. “Earth and water,” she said, to fill in the space, looking at Conrad in hopes he could make things clearer.

“A well-balanced crew is hard to fight,” Conrad supplied. “If they lacked an important combat word - kwxe, tlacatl, intinn, hugr - it would be an exploitable weakness.”

Well, that hadn’t been what she wanted clarified, but okay. “I have no intention of getting into a fight like that,” she asserted. “I’m really not a fighter.”

“Good,” Tolly sighed. “I... I don’t know. Aggie’s changed, lately. Well, in the past couple years. But she used to be a good friend. I don’t want to see her hurt.”

“We can discuss that later,” Conrad said, cutting off any protest Kai might have had to Agatha’s supposed benevolence. “We’re here.”


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