Chapter 92: Kailani
And if at once we saw the ties that bind us all the sight would blind us
Everybody needs a helping hand - Everybody needs a friend
Everybody needs to be the one with a helping hand to lend

Kai wasn’t really sure how she felt about standing here in what she was finally admitting was her living room, talking to – arguing with – Agatha’s friends. She appreciated that they’d stopped by – she thought she understood why; they’d been here to clear things up when the dragon had grabbed Shahin – but she couldn’t help flinching every time Emrys looked irritated. Her possibly-too-helpful memory kept presenting her the sight, the smells, of Taro burnt to a crisp from the other boy’s anger.

And he seemed very touchy. They both did: Shahin normally didn’t have any social cues at all that Kai could read, so it was hard to tell from her expression if anything was going on, but she was dressed far less formally than she ever had before, her hand was clenched around Emrys’ as if afraid he would get away, and she had new markings on her skin, writhing every time Emrys spoke.

Right now, the tattoos were ice blue and holding completely still. Kai didn’t blame them; she was doing the same.

“Maybe we ought to,” Shahin had just said. Ought to change the way things were. Kai looked between Conrad and Emrys, wanting to say something, wanting to agree with her, but not wanting to worry Conrad unduly.

Conrad nodded slowly, looking over their guests. “It’s a thought,” he said, a bit guarded. She took that as her cue, and stayed quiet, watching their guests, wondering what she was looking for.

“Beaten. Tortured. Raped.” Shahin dropped the words like rocks, her eyes not on them, but on Emrys. “Someone rescued us.”

He sighed, but then nodded in turn. “My father. Not quite the same...”

“Your father?” Kailani couldn’t quite suppress a moment of jealousy. She’d come to accept the idea that most people here didn’t have fathers. It seemed unfair if that wasn’t actually true.

“Yeah,” Emrys admitted with evident reluctance. “There’s a few students every Cohort who are actually kids of the staff, generally.”

“Interesting. I suppose that makes sense; I’ve been wondering…” She stopped herself before she could really start rambling. “But, in reference to changing things, within the school, is rescue possible?” She’d heard several opinions on this, but she was curious to hear what Emrys had to say. Of the few upperclassmen she and Jamian had talked to about it, he seemed to be the most willing to take her seriously.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘rescue’. If you’re talking about getting people un-Kept, there aren’t a lot of choices. Your best bet is to try to buy them.”

That… was practical, and a little bit horrible, but he was being straightforward with her, or, at least, she was pretty sure he was. “Are there other sorts of rescue?” She dithered, but had to add, “buy them? Really? That’s worse than the trading cards thing!”

“Buy them,” he repeated, nodding. “Almost everyone has a price. Figure out what their Keepers want and trade them. Or ask what they want, but you’re more likely to get ripped off that way. You’re better off doing your research ahead of time.” He discussed it as casually as going to buy a car.

“So,” she said slowly, hating how used to the idea she was becoming, “really treating Kept as simply another commodity. A thing.” She looked at Conrad unhappily, wondering how he was dealing with this conversation.

“That’s the way it works,” Conrad agreed impassively.

She shook her head, glad Mabina and Cassidy had left the living room. She was getting riled up again, and didn’t want to be yelled at for it. “Because it can work that way, doesn’t mean it should.” She caught her breath. “Okay. So you can challenge someone for their Kept. You can buy their Kept from them. You can trade Kept like trading cards. Anything else?”

“Challenge?” Emrys said quickly. “Who told you that? I mean, yes, technically...” He trailed off, glancing to his companion with a look she was coming to recognize as seeking permission. Clearly he hadn’t been unKept long.

Shahin didn’t seem, to Kai’s eyes, to make any sign at all, but it seemed there’d been something that he recognized in her apparently-unshifting expression, possibly a tiny upturn of her lips.

“Challenging people is a bad idea,” Emrys finished.

“Why?” she persisted.

“For one, you don’t know how.” He ticked off points on his fingers as he talked. “Two, you’d likely just get yourself killed, and it’d be perfectly legal. Challenges are serious business. Three, if you weren’t killed, you’d probably wish you were, after the concessions you’d make.”

She shuddered. She had some idea about concessions, didn’t she? But that wasn’t a challenge. That was just Aggie being a bully. “So ignorance is, again, the problem,” she pointed out, cringing a bit. If people had just told her more, she wouldn’t have ended up in that mess at all! “But if I knew how…?”

“Then you might try it, and you’d still lose badly against any of the people you’re likely to want to challenge.”

He was being rather defeatist, but it was possible he had a point. She sighed, and dropped it for the time being. “Trading, buying, challenging… anything else?” she reiterated.

Emrys glanced at Conrad for just a moment, but he was already shutting his mouth again, having not spoken, when Kai’s gaze followed.

“What?” she asked impatiently.

“There’s always force,” Conrad said quietly. “It’s the only language some people understand.”

“Like mugging them and stealing their Kept?” Shahin interrupted dryly.

“Kind of? But that’d just be sinking to their level, anyway.” And not very practical, either, Kai considered. She’d seen the Thorne Girls training; she was no-where at all close to that level of skill.

“Since we’re talking about a theoretical ‘they’ who beats, rapes, and tortures their Kept,” Shahin put in, “I’d say ‘sinking to their level’ would be beating, raping, and torturing our theoretical Kept, not sneaking up on them in a dark alley and saying ‘your Kept or your life.’” Kai could have been mistaken, but she was pretty sure Shahin was smiling as she said that. Was she enjoying this?

Conrad, on the other hand, looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Well, okay...”

She didn’t like it when he got that expression, or the way his tail drooped. She didn’t like talking about Kept as things while he stood there listening. Could she derail this? “Mugging has the same problem as challenging someone, anyway,” she pointed out; “relative power level differences. It sounds like it’s a pretty steep learning curve, for the difference to be that great? With ageless beings, that doesn’t seem very reasonable.”

“Out in the world, it wouldn’t be such a difference,” Emrys noted. “Here, we’re being purposely taught to wield our powers. Think of the difference in, say, math skills between a fourth-grader and a first-grader.”

“So they’re purposefully educating us in violent magic, as well as in academics. It’s an odd combination,” she mused. “I can’t imagine someone like Regine doing anything ‘odd’ without a solid reason behind it…”

“Well, all magic, but some of it can be used pretty violently, yeah.”

“Do you ever wonder what she’s up to here?” She looked between the three of them, wondering if it were obvious and she was just missing it.

“Who knows?” Emrys began, but was interrupted by another knock on the door.

Kai headed to answer the door, a little frustrated at the interruption. Emrys could be difficult, but he was rather forthcoming once you got him going.

When she swung the door open, Jaya frowned slightly at her expression from the other side. “Is this a bad time?”

“Oh!” She smiled happily. “No, come on in! We were just talking about… stuff.”

“Stuff?” The other girl stepped inside, and then noticed Shahin and Emrys. “Oh.”

“Oh?” Shahin asked icily, her eyebrow raising. Kai wondered if she knew she’d stepped in front of Emrys.

“I... I didn’t know she had other guests,” Jaya stammered, and, just as quickly as she’d chilled, Shahin warmed again. It was fascinating to watch, if completely incomprehensible.

“Just us,” she smiled, gesturing negligently with her free hand. “Just talking about ‘stuff.’”

“The stuff we’ve been talking about,” Kai clarified quickly, before things could go south again.

“You’ve been having this discussion previously?” Emrys asked. Something about the way he said it grated on her, like she shouldn’t be talking about it.

“Considering what happened to me, are you surprised?” she retorted sharply.

“Frankly, yes. Most people try to bury things like that,” he said matter-of-factly.

She wondered for a moment if he was trying to bury what had happened to them - Beaten. Tortured. Raped, they’d said. But they were talking about her. “I’d rather fix problems than try to ignore them.”

“So, you’ve been talking about the problems with them, then?” Jaya asked. “We could really use an upperclassman on our side... Wait, are they going to help us?”

It was a good question, and Kailani realized with chagrin that the others hadn’t actually committed to anything, not even keeping their plans a secret from the upperclassmen. From people like Emrys’s crew. She turned back to Shahin and Emrys to hear their response.


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