Chapter 164: Kailani
Much stronger now the second time around 'cause
What can you do to me now?

Ice candles were, Kai was discovering, harder than they looked. They didn't want to stay in form, and when they did, they wanted to melt.

Like everything else in this place. She frowned at her seventeenth lumpy ice-candle as it sputtered and flickered. Interactions with people should be like math - easy, the same thing working every time. Instead, they were even more complicated than magic.

What was she going to do about Bowen? She could challenge Agatha, but the older girl didn't have to say yes, and why would she? What did Kai have that she could offer?

She sighed and poked disconsolately at the candle, muttering another Working to reshape it. If only she could reshape society as easily. Well, how else could she get Bowen away from Agatha, short of a formal Challenge?

Aggie was Regine's daughter. She was Shahin's half-sister, too, which made Kai feel both jealous and worried. Shahin got all the family; Kai got a dead father and a distant, cold Mentor of an Aunt. But she knew Regine, or at least she'd been studying under the woman. What might Regine and Agatha have in common?

On the surface, a certain statuesque perfection; a mannequin's beauty. Check.

Beneath that, a cold, calculating, but nevertheless impressive intellect. Check.

Heartless disregard for the desires of others. Check.

Apparent lack of empathy combined with surprising insight into what moves others. Check.

Penetrating, unflinching gimlet stare. She shivered a little. Check.

And... returning to the previous topic... her, as a relative. Her aunt was Agatha's mother; that made them cousins.

Well, then, there could be assumed to be some similarities there, as well, couldn't there? The intellect, at least; Kai seemed to have avoided the perfection. Maybe that was supposed to come with the Change she hadn't gotten yet. But that intellect, that meant that Aggie could see logic. And perhaps the only reason she hadn't seen fit to be kind was because no-one had explained it to her. Regine as a mother… and now she really shuddered. With that woman as a mother, Agatha wouldn't have had an example for compassion.

Maybe... just maybe... she could talk to her. Actually talk to her, as a human being. Had she ever really seen an example of what mercy, or forgiveness, or just basic human decency actually looked like? Maybe that's what she was missing. Maybe she was unkind just because she didn't know how to be kind, or that she was supposed to be.

Kai idly glanced down at her watch and jumped. She was almost late for practice! Frantically, she gathered up her training outfit and doused the candles. She should really put them away too, or she'd end up with a desk covered in water by the time she returned. Or...

"Quipia Yaku," she intoned instead, repeating it in a steady chant as she bustled about. That ought to hold them, at least until she got back. Hopefully. She was still having a little trouble getting that "quipia" right.

She hugged Conrad, waved at the crew, and dashed out the door. They'd make her run laps if she was late. She hated running laps.

Agatha was still on her mind, distracting her as she changed in haste, but fortune favored her; the other girls were just warming up as she burst into the room.

"Boy distracting you again?" Allyse asked, almost sympathetically.

It wasn't the topic she was thinking of, and it flustered her for a moment.

"No, well, yes, I mean, but actually... no, it's okay."

Allyse tilted her head, looking a bit like an owl for a moment. "No but yes. A boy but not that boy? It's okay but it's not?"

"Everything's fine with Conrad," she clarified. "And there aren't any other boys involved. Wait, that's not true; there is a boy, but he's not involved-involved, not like that I mean. But that's not what I was thinking of. Er, it kind of is, but not directly. And I mean not-him not-that, not not-that not-that! Not that I was thinking of that either..."

"Relax," Acacia laughed. "Stretch, do your push-ups, and start from the beginning."

Right. That was the key. Kailani took a deep breath and began her warmup, organizing her thoughts, before she started over.

Conrad. They wanted to know if things were okay with Conrad. Well, of course they were. Though that was what she was "paying" them for, wasn't it? Pushups were beginning to get awkward, with the twins protruding the way they were.

"It's not Conrad. Everything's fine with Conrad, really. It's Bowen I'm concerned with."

Acacia tsk'd. "People survive being Kept every year, Girl Scout."

"Not like this though." Or maybe they did, a little voice said in the back of her mind. "At least, they shouldn't have to."

"Well," Massima laughed, "you're not exactly in a position to say who should and shouldn't do anything, are you?"

"And why not?" she challenged the older girl. "I'm a free person. I have every right Agatha does."

"Same reason you're not going to say what I should do, Girl Scout. I can kick your ass. Might wins."

"Okay, so I can't just make her do what I want, that's true. But I could convince her to agree with me, or bind her to a deal."

"Using what, your charm and good looks"? Massima scoffed. "Face it, kid, you have to wait till you're a big fish to play with the sharks."

"I was thinking maybe I'd just talk to her. Has anyone tried actually reaching out to her before, as a person? I mean, she is my cousin, after all."

"Channing's my half-sister, but that doesn't mean we're close," Allyse countered.

"Maybe it's not the best idea, then. But it won't hurt to try, and what else have I got? What would you do, if you had to get someone to release a Belonging?"

"Force them," Massima answered promptly. "Or there's the old bait-and-switch; get them beholden to you for something else and set them up to have to make a trade."

That could work, Kai reflected, although it was sneakier than she'd like. Besides, it would take too long, and she still had no way to make Agatha owe her for anything in the first place. No, that was off the table.

"Do what your little friend did," Allyse offered, "and trick them… well, it helps if you're sneaky. Not really something you're all that good at, is it?"

"No, it's not. Besides, how could I trick her into anything? At the very least I'd need bait, something she wants from me."

"There's always Anatoliy."

"Tolly?" That was still an uncomfortable subject, and she could tell it showed in her voice. "What about him?"

"He seems to be all moony over you," Acacia commented thoughtfully. "He's not as swift as Agatha, and you have quite a hold on him, don't you?" The idea stopped Kailani in her tracks. She hadn't even thought of trying to get to Agatha through the few people that it seemed she might actually care about.

"I suppose I do," she said slowly. "So, what do you suggest I do with it? How do I go from asking something of Anatoliy to getting what I want from Agatha?"

"Well." Acacia looked thoughtful. "What does he have that she cares about?"

"I don't really know," Kai confessed. "I mean, supposedly they're friends, but she doesn't treat him like a friend. Not from what I've seen, at least."

"Well, how do you define friend?" Allyse asked. "What we are, the Thornes, that's different from, say, what Shiva's crew is."

It was a good question, and something they could probably spend an entire afternoon discussing, but she didn't want to be sidetracked by it right now. She filed the thought away for another day.

"Well, regardless of how she feels, I don't know what he has that she wants."

"His graduation," Allyse murmured.

"But that's not something I can control, and I don't think the Administration would really help me for something like this."

"But it's something he can control - and something he owes to you and your friend, isn't it?"

Was it? She wouldn't say it was owed, really - but he might. He'd offered her, tried to give her - well, everything.

"Yes," she said slowly. "Yes, I think you might be right; or at least, he might see it that way, the same way you are."

Allyse smiled broadly at her, and glanced over at her sisters, a little mischievously. "We made it through our first year because we were tough, and we had each other. You'll make it through your first year, too."

"I will," she agreed, finally smiling. "I don't know what I'd do without all of you. Thank you."

Finally, she had what seemed like a realistic, reasonable, working plan to get at Agatha.

It was devious.

It was cunning.

It was underhanded.

It was exploitative.

It would work.

Now she was really thinking like one of the Girls.


  Copyright © 2009-2012 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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