Chapter 149: Kailani
So be it
Threaten no more
To secure peace is
To prepare for war
"Conrad, Kailani, come on in," Magnolia purred cheerfully. "Good to see you."
"Thanks," Kai answered uncertainly, clutching her invitation in one hand and Conrad's hand in the other. She'd never been invited to a party before. Conrad clearly had, but he'd seemed just as surprised as she was when the two invitations arrived at their door. Maybe he wondered, as she did, why they alone of the crew were invited; on the other hand, she'd been spending less time with the rest of her crew herself.
While she was lost in thought, Conrad was leading them both inside, looking over the other partygoers. Cy'Linden, of course; she tensed until she realized the tiny blonde menace wasn't in attendance. Maybe the rest of her cy'ree hated her as much as Kailani did. In fact, the rest of that crew were all in attendance as well, without her. Dysmas was with Nydia; she passed her gaze over them quickly, not wanting to meet theirs in return. Emrys and Shahin looked a bit worn, as if something were weighing on them; she certainly had more than she wished to contribute to that, so she kept looking. There was Tolly, alone, of course. And looking her way. Without meaning to, she clutched Conrad's hand tighter.
"Just relax," he murmured quietly. "We're here to have fun, right? There are plenty of people here to talk to."
There were, too - all of Ardell's crew, for instance. The suite was getting a bit crowded. Kai took a breath and tried to take Conrad's advice. "It's a lot of people," she murmured.
"Much safer than just a few people. Come on, let's see what kind of snacks they have first then, get out of the crush a little."
"Food sounds good," she agreed, staying close to him. People were shifting and moving in strange patterns, Aneislis seeming to move at the end of an invisible tether, Shera sticking close to Uberto, Jamian's hand on Ty's comfortably - and Anatoliy, circling the room looking at them.
Conrad followed her gaze and shook his head. "Okay, it looks like he has something to say to you. Do you want to let him?"
I don't want anything to do with him. But it was a small school, and the year was going to be long. "Yes?"
"We'll let him speak his piece and then walk away," Conrad promised her, as he led them to intercept.
"Thank you," she murmured quietly. Something had changed in him while she was gone, and she liked it more and more.
Anatoliy saw them coming and smiled, a big, broad grin. "Kailani! And Conrad. I wasn't sure if you'd be here."
"We were invited," she murmured uncertainly. Were they not supposed to be here?
"Good, good! I just didn't see any of the rest of your crew. It's good to see you."
"I don't think they were invited." Thank God. Mabina would find some reason to disapprove of this. She smiled up at him, unwilling to lie and say it was good to see him.
He nodded, seeming to mull that over, and lowered his voice, moderating it to something less conspicuous than his usual basso bellow. "Actually, I have to talk to you about something."
She took an unconscious step backwards. "What?" Conrad was right there behind her, protecting her, supporting her with his presence. She leaned into him, resting her head against his shoulder, letting him hold her.
"The thing you gave Nydia. Dysmas showed it to me," Tolly explained.
She tensed, despite Conrad's reassuring hands. "Ah," she nodded. She'd known it was a risk, giving it to the Kept. She only hoped he'd let her read it, too.
"Are you trying to start a war, Kai?" The giant's quiet intensity wasn't threatening, or even accusing, but curious. Intrigued. Concerned? She didn't understand how he could be concerned for her, after… but he'd been very weird about the whole thing.
He asked you a question. A strange question. "A war?" Images of bombs flying through the halls flickered through her mind. She wouldn't mind one hitting Agatha in the face…
"Between... well, I don't even know who would line up on each side. But I'll call them the Establishment, and the Discontent."
"Ah." She pondered that. "No. I think someone started the war several years ago."
"You are fighting, then," he replied disconsolately. "I thought that might be it."
"I…" She frowned. "I don't think I'm fighting." Was that true? Was she fighting, or not? "I mean it, though, that there's a war. I'm just trying to keep my head above water."
"I hope you do." Was he really as sincere as he sounded? "But I'm afraid you can't. When this gets out - and it will, too many people have seen it or will see it - there will be people lining up to take you down. Powerful people."
Her heart skipped a beat, but she jutted her chin out and stared up into his eyes. "I've already promised Acacia I won't distribute any more of the pamphlets. And I haven't done anything against the Laws. I checked."
"I know it's not illegal, and I'm not telling you to stop. I just don't want to see anything happen to you. Anything else happen to you."
"So what would the safe path of action be?" she asked curiously. Conrad's hands on her were reassuring; nothing was going to happen to her with him there.
"I don't know," the giant admitted, spreading his hands wide. "But these people play to win. If you're picking a fight, you'll want to bring it to them, before they decide to bring it to you."
"One of 'those people' is in your crew," she pointed out softly. Why was he trying to help her?
"I know," he sighed. "But there are worse out there. Delaney makes Agatha look like Rainbow Brite."
She shuddered. Ardell scared her when he looked at her. If Delaney had a reason to get ten minutes of Kai's time… "So I need to be smarter than them," she answered, her chin still up. "And more clever. One of those is easy. The other one I need help with."
"Those aren't the same thing?" Tolly asked, squinting at her. "One of them is just being brilliant," she shrugged. "The other, that's dealing with people. I'm pretty horrible at that one," she admitted quietly. She turned to look at Conrad. "You're good at that, though."
"I do alright, but I wouldn't want to match wits with some of the upperclassmen, either."
She sighed in frustration. This is what crews were for. This is what having people to back you up was intended for.
"Don't get me wrong," Conrad continued. "I've got your back, always. And I'm no slouch in that department, it's true. It's not like your intelligence though; I've got equals here, and likely betters. Magnolia, Dysmas, Ardell - any of them could be a step ahead of us, and we wouldn't know it." "So we need more help." She kept frowning, and looked back to Tolly.
He shrugged, casting a quick glance around the room to make sure their bubble of relative privacy was still intact. "I don't know what you need, really, except to be on your guard."
"I can't even trust my - Conrad's - crew," she said, feeling a little tired of the whole thing. "I'm not sure how much more on my guard I could be."
"Don't be alone. Anywhere. Ever. I mean it," Tolly said, looking abashed to be telling her this, but perfectly earnest.
She swallowed. "I can do that." It wouldn't be pleasant, but she could do it.
"Your crew; they're not supporting you in this?"
"'Bina will support me in being a good little housewife." She surprised herself with how bitter she sounded, but it was true, wasn't it?
"That's good enough to avoid an invisible assailant, at least. And yes, invisibility happens; I'm the only member of my crew who can't do it. Delaney and Cassidy are good at it, too."
"Invisible…" She pondered that. "The air would still know where they were, though."
"Maybe; it'd depend on how they did it. You can't be looking all the time anyway, though, and there's plenty of other nasty tricks out there. And of course, we're worried about a physical attack, but there are other ways too."
She nodded slowly. "Mind magic. Emotional control."
"Too many angles to cover. I'm not trying to scare you, I just wanted you to know what a can of worms you opened."
She glanced at Conrad, wondering what he thought of all this. Can of worms. She'd known she was taking on the administration. Why was the idea of taking on her fellow students so much more frightening?
"He's right," Conrad said grudgingly. "It's likely to be a fight, in one form or another."
"Well," she said slowly, "I guess I'd better figure out how to be prepared, then." She'd come too far to back down now.
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