an Inventrix Guest Story, Part the Third
Addergoole, Year 25
Hell Night Saturday
The cafeteria was mostly empty when they got there. A couple of students seemed to have made it through, but the majority of the school was either still roaming the halls - or, it being early Saturday morning, still asleep.
"Are you sure you're not going to get anything?" Sigruko picked up her tray and looked thoughtfully at the counter.
Corentin shook his head. "I already ate."
"You must have been up early." She raised an eyebrow at him, then grabbed an extra bagel, a granola bar and an apple. For later.
"Most of the upperclassman do on Hell Night, to set up and stuff."
"Right. 'Hell Night'." Sigruko glanced around the room and made for an empty table near the edge. "We're in the cafeteria now; are you finally going to tell me something?"
"As promised, princess." He stepped around and pulled out a chair, gesturing for her to sit down with exaggerated formality.
Sigruko rolled her eyes and sighed, putting her tray down. "Fine, I give up. But I get to call you something just as annoying in exchange."
"If you can come up with anything." Corentin slid into the chair across from her with a grin. "Good luck with that."
"I'll figure out something. But first." She brandished a spoon at him. "Explanations."
"Yes ma'am." He exhaled loudly, resting his arms on the table as she started eating. "So, you weren't really wrong with the whole 'magic haunted house' idea. It's a school tradition: a kind of new-kids hazing event. One part 'let's scare the newbies', one part getting you guys used to the weird bits. Well, maybe not you," he added as Sigruko looked up at him incredulously. "But most of the newest Cohort, yeah."
"How nice of you."
"It's not so bad. Well, it shouldn't be so bad." Corentin looked uncomfortable, scratching absently under an ear. "The thing is, some of the students... Well, a 'magic haunted house' can get pretty scary on its own, but some people... take it a little too seriously."
Sigruko glanced up with a frown. Before she could ask what exactly that was supposed to mean, however, she caught sight of another familiar face. Yoshi (her brother - or, more accurately, her half-brother's half-brother) was approaching their table, looking wary.
Trying to remember if they'd argued about anything lately (because really, why else would he be nervous), she waved him over. "Come on, we're not going to bite."
Corentin twisted around to see who she was talking to. The two boys looked assessingly at each other for a moment before Corentin gave a cheerful smile. "Hey Yoshi. I was just explaining Hell Night to your sister."
Her brother glanced back at her, still looking tense. "Did you run into any trouble?"
Sigruko rolled her eyes - he could be so over-protective sometime. Sometimes she wondered if he'd be even worse if they were full siblings. "Nothing I couldn't handle myself."
"I almost got stabbed," Corentin added, looking woeful.
"Serves you right for sneaking around in the dark!"
Yoshi grinned, some of the tension finally draining from him. "You'll be okay heading back?"
"I'll be fine." Her eyes glanced past them and over to where Yoshi had come from, at the pretty dark-haired girl sitting by herself. "I think someone else would appreciate the escort more, anyway.."
"Let's hope she will." Yoshi turned a thoughtful smile on the girl, and with a wave, went back across the cafeteria
"So." Sigruko turned back to Corentin and their original conversation. "Some students take it too seriously. That's what everyone's all worked up over?"
"Um... pretty much." Corentin looked uncomfortable again. "Yeah."
"Well then." She stabbed her yoghurt with a spoon. "Consider me warned."
They passed through a couple of other setups with little incident on the way back - some sort of illusory dead end, and a sticky quagmire that almost got her. Sigruko noticed the upperclassmen kept looking at Corentin before letting them through, as if there was some unspoken communication going on. Which, considering how much the school liked mysteries and secrets, there probably was.
It might have been her preoccupation with said mysteries or just the uneventfulness, but for whatever reason, Sigruko let her guard down at exactly the wrong time - entirely failing to notice the figure looming out of the intersection as they passed through.
A hand grabbed her shoulder - a sharp, clawed hand - and shoved her up against the wall, hard. The impact knocked the wind from her lungs and left her struggling for breath.
"Well, look what I caught." The man - creature? - man smiled at her, sharp pointed teeth gleaming redly in the light. Almost as though they were covered in blood.
Sigruko found herself wondering if they were venomous, like her mom's.
"Let her go, Fishel." Corentin was standing a couple feet away, glaring at her assaulter - but not, she noted, ready for combat. What good was he going to be, then?
"Why, is she yours?" Fishel leered at him, still grinning.
Corentin looked over at her, mouth half-open with the reply she'd cut off and clearly taken aback by the force of her denial.
"No," Sigruko repeated, more calmly. "I'm not."
"I guess that means you're all mine, then." Fishel lifted his other hand beneath her chin, his sharp claws pricking under her jaw as his grin widened.
She knew what being his meant well enough. Like being one of Aunt Cya's cycle of boys. Be good and do what you're told. Well, she wasn't planning on sitting down like a good girl for some stupid bully.
"I don't belong to anybody."
"Not yet." Fishel's grip on her shoulder tightened, his claws digging through her shirt. "Maybe I'll change your mind."
She swallowed, fighting a sudden sense of panic as she felt his claws just break her skin, so close to her throat.
Sigruko watched the stick swinging towards her as if in slow-motion. She couldn't block it. It was going to hit her. It was going to hurt. Losing her composure in a sudden panic, she dropped her own practice sword and cowered, hands covering her head.
Nothing hit her.
"Ruki, are you okay?" Her father crouched down in front of her.
She shook her head. "I'm scared."
"Being scared is okay." He ruffled her hair. "But you can't let it stop you, remember?"
"I couldn't block!" She looked up, on the verge of tears. "I didn't want to get hurt!"
"I won't hurt you, Ruki-love." He smiled, a little sadly. "But someone else might."
"But I couldn't block..."
"If you can't block, what can you do?"
Sigruko rubbed at her eyes and thought hard, then looked around at the open field. "...Run away?"
"Yes!" Her father gave her a hug. "Stay calm, and run away."
Addergoole is copyright © 2009-2012 Lyn Thorne-Alder. All rights reserved.
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