Zeroth draft of The Gatekeepers 1
She's the only daughter, and she has four older brothers. Toughness is a requirement. Two of the four were headed toward medical practice from pretty early on; one's now a naval officer, the last is working as some foreign affairs liaison for the government. (This is the youngest but her; they were quite close, and she wheedles him into essentially letting her become a spy when it's time for her own book. It's more complicated -- it usually is -- but … that's the gist.)
Chrys is so, so, so not okay with the idea of going to finishing school. This is the dumbest thing ever, they're morons for thinking it'll work, they're morons for thinking she'll even do it. She's a moron for even going. Not only that, they forbid her from taking any of her toys (her weapons, holsters, etc., but she calls them toys). Goddammit. Of course, there's a difference between being allowed to do a thing, and being able to.
And … then it's not really so bad, not when it comes down to it. It would suck of course, and it did for the first week or so, except then she makes a couple of friends who aren't, you know, white-handed useless cotton candy girls. Audrey, Chrys, and Darlene. Together, they're the Hedonists. Evenings they tend to hang out in the kitchen, which Francis allows as long as they clean up before they leave. Darlene tries out new recipes (usually for desserts, which are generally well-received) on the other two, and Audrey and Chrys brag to each other about their exploits. It's a good time.
She starts re-assembling her toy chest pretty soon after arrival, though. Habit, mostly. She was able to sneak a few knives and some stars into her other things (luckily her mother was addicted to scarves and insisted her baby take some, so they provided pretty good cushion, even if they did arrive at the school cut all to hell) but none of her holsters or leg straps would fit, and the blades aren't much good without them (unless your opponent comes to you when you're sharpening one, of course).
She's bemoaning the lack sometime in the second week there, griping about something or other. Giselle overhears her, and suggests that she might try the hall closet by the side door (or wherever). Velma usually has a couple of baskets of "give to the church" donates getting ready to take to town (not that she remembers when she actually GOES to town, but whatever) so Chrys goes through it occasionally to see if there's anything that can be adapted to a more, well, martial purpose. There's a pair of leather chap pants she cadges and starts working into a new set of paraphernalia, while the other girls are attending their toilettes or whatever they do in the evenings.
See, for herself, her own peace of mind, she's keeping up work on her toy chest. She's made a friend of -- well, that doesn't seem her style … she's bullied into submission? she's using? -- the boy who delivers the groceries (Velma can never remember, and Francis patently refuses the human interaction necessary to go shopping, so she has a standing order with one of the grocers in town and things are delivered every week). Okay, maybe the boy is being bullied by his cousins? he's maybe the grocer's son, and the cousins are a bit higher-up financially and they're also snot-nosed athletes at the boys' school and need someone to pick on? And Chrys is practicing outside one day early in the term and he's awkwardly admiring, and she sees an opportunity to begin replenishing her sadly depleted toy chest. So she says she'll teach him how if he'll run an occasional errand for her. So her arsenal is starting to look respectable again, piece by piece.
So … she can be patient. Well, she can be a little patient. She was patient once. She didn't remember how it turned out.
Lucienne knows what she wants. She has a strong, healthy connection to her body and mind, and is quite passionately opposed to pretending otherwise. She's a bit like a smarter version of Marianne Dashwood.
She voices her pleasure -- and displeasure -- in a way that the other girls often resent (but occasionally admire, because more often than not she gets what she wants, and who doesn't want that?). She was the baby of her medium-sized, upper-middle-class family with pretentious of wealth, and enjoys indulging in expensive, luxurious things. She's also quite gifted magically, and able to follow the complicated and rambling meanderings of Velma's instruction. Her parents disapprove of magic -- even legitimate magic, so it's a new experience for her. And she's discovering that magic is actually a field of delightful, incandescent variety. She's also luxuriating in the glee of doing something vaguely naughty -- defying and distancing herself from her folks, as we all, eventually, must. She's keen on a feeling of superiority, but not in a tauntingly juvenile way.
She's also ... well, Kendra is her opposite; Lucienne feels that Kendra is boring and dirty, inattentive and blasé. Lucienne looks at Kendra and fears being old. So she's less tolerant and … petting … of Kendra than the others are. Most of their antipathy because they have such very, very different pleasures. Kendra hates to feel, and Lucienne believes, and perhaps enunciates, that the only life to have is one which collects as many sensations as possible. (Sensory seeking, anyone?) Kendra sees Lucienne as a squeaky wheel who causes ruckuses for little reason. Or at least, the reasons seem pointless to Kendra -- but lots of things do. So even though Kendra is almost everyone's confidante, Lucienne avoids her more often than not. She kind of only speaks to her from a sense of penance (both for the way she normally regards her, but also and more importantly because things in her other relationships are not fitting well).
How to begin? What needs to happen? Who is she? Does she fit? Does she not? Is there already conflict, or is it pretty peaceful? Probably pretty peaceful; there's more than enough conflict later. So it's her first year at the snotty girls' school that the riche (nueveau and otherwise) magical families foist their daughters upon. It's a quaint little place, a quirky mix of formal tradition and upfront practicality (the latter more of an 'our little secret' between the proprietresses and their students; the families, God love them, seem to be rather small-minded about the benefits of practical information). She's made some friends, perhaps some frenemies, and is generally feeling pretty good about life.
Eliana's last year at the school is underway. Some of the new students are grating and irresponsible, as they always are. She's facing some difficult decisions about where she'll be going afterwards. Her initial decision, to go into the family business (magical sales? magical diplomacy? hell if I know) is beginning to fracture. Interrupting her ruminations, she receives a letter saying that a family friend has become seriously ill, and her parents are going to change their Thanksgiving plans to visit her. She's saddened, but not alarmed; many of her folks' friends are quite elderly, and it won't be the first or last funeral to which she sends conciliatory flowers in lieu of attendance. But it's sad. In some ways, it's just one more reminder that nothing lasts forever.
The Twelve's first trip into the Weird World, and first morning they wake up with their shoes worn through.
Great; more people. As if all the other girls weren't enough noise.
Eliana observes the other girls, and starts noticing shoes, glances, humming ... things that suggest that she's not just having a strange recurring dream by herself.
It's not so bad, really. There are worse things than dancing the night away. I mean, the world may be a frightening place, but if this is the worst that it gets, perhaps she'll survive after all.
Kigh wears the translation spell, and Giselle is shaken, intrigued, frightened, enchanted (obviously) and hesitant.
And asks him, at the last moment, to wear it again.
Chrys actually isn't seeing the connection between the shoes being worn out and any nefarious dream -- she doesn't remember her dreams, and is a bit confused by the other girls' confusion, if that makes sense. She's irritated by having to spend a whole day with the babbling girls shoe-shopping, but whatever. You do what you have to do.
It also gives her a chance to visit with her delivery boy, briefly -- and place the next order.
No, no, I know. I'm just saying, of course we'll need to do something about it, but the party is a bit sooner on the schedule, you see, and ... perhaps if we held it in the afternoon? Perhaps -- but it would depend on the weather. Or maybe we could ... no. There's nothing for it. We have to get more immediately, I think -- at least, as immediately as possible. Let's see, when was the last time I gassed up the van ...?
Are you out of your ruttin' mind? I've got eight turkeys being delivered tomorrow, I'm already up to my elbows in boiling cranberries, and Darlene's going to be stronger than Chrys by the time all these potatoes are peeled and chopped. And you're here underfoot blathering about shoes. Party shoes. WHO CARES about the damn shoes? I refuse to be distracted by such a ... NO you cannot take Darlene, I need her. She's the only one of ALL this silly crop who can keep up, and I'll be damned if I give her up just for -- Fine. You take care of it. And get out of my kitchen!
Lucienne loves to feel, and fears outgrowing the ability. She enjoys the enchantment at first -- hey! a new thing! -- but eventually grows bored with it (especially as the clothes become less opulent and the weather turns colder, and -- even more significantly -- they've decided not to discuss it with the Sisters, so she can't even think about it from a magical analysis point of view). She'd like it ended -- she doesn't like being bored.
She's getting itchy and restive, bit of cabin fever, especially as the weather starts warming up and it just feels like something's going to happen. Classes with Velma are getting irritatingly wordy -- even more so than usual. She snarls at Ursula for being so longwindedly useless; she snaps at Hannah or Beryl (or both) about their fluffy nonsense. She feels surrounded by useless and breakable things.
In the dream world -- the Weird world -- she (literally overnight) starts looking at it through the lens of "enemy territory". She starts watching the reaction speeds and mannerisms of the Weird boys -- most of them are just, you know, teenage awkwardness with typical guy-world bravado. One or two seem out of place, though.
The next night, Chrys picks up a rock or two from the shore and slips them in her pockets before stepping onto the dock. She spends most of the boat ride peering around the lake, getting her bearings, noting that there's a collection of lights back the way they'd come, pretty close to where the school would be if they were in "their" world. Smatterings of other lights here and there; she made a mental note to check that out further on subsequent trips.
After docking on the lake's other side, Chrys lagged toward the back of the group. The railing on the left side of the stairs was solid, and most of the girls climbed the whole way with their hand upon it. The right side had intermittent railing, but there were several spaces where paths broke off from the staircase and vanishing in the night's gloomy shadows. The illuminated steps were nice, but their glow made it harder to see very far at all into the rest of the Weird world.
Chrys watched the boys, including her own companion, as they climbed the stairs. It was such a familiar trip no one was much watching where they put their feet, or looking to the sides for the time being (except Audrey, whom Chrys noted with approval was counting additional paths and peering around avidly). Chrys waited until they were all ahead of her, and then took one of the rocks out and threw it up into the brush on the side of the extra paths, about level with the middle of the pack.
Only a few of the Weirds reacted beyond the instinctual flinch or glance, though most of the girls jumped. One or two of the Weird boys gasped and clutched at something around his neck, like it made them feel better, and the nearest of their companions laughed scoffingly at them.
The third Weird who reacted strongly was climbing toward the rear of the group (Beryl's? Vanessa's boy?). As the rock struck he crouched and spun toward the sound, reaching into his jacket as though for a weapon. He looked searchingly into the trees to their right, only dropping his hand and starting back up the stairs once he was satisfied there was no further movement or noise. As he climbed, Chrys studied him. He moved smoothly, his steps light and fast. He looked maybe a little older than the other Weird boys. Early adulthood, probably, rather than late adolescence. Assuming Weird development looked anything like human. Lean but filled-out silhouette, maybe a bit less stretched-and-ungainly than some of the other boys. It was too dark to see much other than shape and movement, but she could tell that his hair was on the lighter side. She made a note to study him further when they got to the lighted pavilion.
The girls get together for a messy and only partially conclusive meeting about what's going on. They decide, after much discussion, not to say anything. Why? Because ... they think the Sisters are the ones doing it, and it must be for some test. And who else are they going to tell? No one else is THERE.
Kendra thinks, "So the other girls are dreaming, too. I wish they didn't have to be so obnoxious about it, but I guess it makes them feel better. Can I go, now?"
Chrys doesn’t really think about the dream — or even the shoes — until stick-up-ass Eliana gets the girls all together to “decide what to do” about it. Chrys tends not to think about things that don’t seem immediate, so it doesn’t really worry her until it really worries her. At the “loose lips” meeting, she ramps up to feeling tense and angry. Just not saying anything does not, to her mind, qualify as enough of a response. She’s got a bad feeling about it, but there isn’t anything obvious to attack just at present, and that in itself’s a bit frustrating.
Some of the girls are freaking out (of course) and some are actually enjoying themselves. F*ing Ursula thinks it’s a grand adventure — “Yeah, bookworm, but in real life people DIE in adventures. Whether we tell the Sisters or not, we need to do something about this. I’m just sayin’.”
She doesn’t really participate in the discussion, but she does think a bit more about it.
Despite not saying much in the Loose Lips meeting, Chrys has thoughts on the Enchantment, and over a drink or so with her friends she gets to chatting about it.
So, that winter and early spring started off nice and easy. They're still going dancing every night, but nobody's getting hurt, and the exercise can, you know, do some of these other soft-edged girls some good. And it's nice getting a little cross-training in. The footwork keeps you moving, anyway. Yeah, so some of the others are freaking out, but that's them. There isn't much point in worrying about it getting bad; just be ready for when it does.
So she's hurt and upset as Giselle starts withdrawing from her, which she does toward the beginning of December -- about the time that Giselle's parents are arrested, or when she finds out about it, in fact. Lucienne doesn't know about Giselle and Kigh, she doesn't know why Giselle is less friendly than before, and she wonders why but doesn't have the … disciplines of shared vulnerability … to broach the subject. So she just keeps up her end of their increasingly brittle and thin relationship, occasionally talking with Vanessa about it, but they have very different levels of concern about it, and that produces its own friction between the two of them.
When her family writes and says they won't be sending for her over the holiday, she's not bothered much. She'll miss seeing her favorite brother, but he would probably be working anyway. She'd miss her mom's cooking but Francis and Darlene's was pretty damn good, so no complaints.
Giselle doesn't find out until she gets the mail, but yeah, that's what happens.
The dancing has gotten a lot more ... athletic; Eliana, who's always (of course) approached sport with drive and energy, finds it homey. She enjoys herself, and starts having sequences, rather than mere flashes, of real-life memories of the weird world. Perhaps her -- and Chrys's, and Audrey's -- delight brings the two worlds a tiny bit closer.
Grief and shame and confusion ... she is devastated and embarrassed, angry and amused. No it's not funny. Only a little. I mean, not at all. And she can't even explain to any of the girls why she's both wanting to burn something to the ground and simultaneously wanting to burst out laughing.
Well, what more would you expect? No WONDER she's upset. But I don't really know how to comfort her ... because trying to laugh her out of it is just offending and irritating her. I don't KNOW how to tell her that it doesn't MATTER, you know?
Lucienne confides some of this to Kendra, partly because she's embarrassed at being thought so judgmental ... and knows that that estimation is justified, at least when it comes to the way she regards Kendra. So she rambles at Kendra a little, and feels marginally better.
Hm. Well, at least I won't be traveling over break. Maybe it'll be quieter here, anyway. Not much to do in the garden, either. I could use a bit of a break.
They're always doing that kind of thing -- just what they want, anyway. It doesn't bother her too much, but it makes her hope that Giselle comes around, because it's kind of lonely at the school with her newfound friendships out of whack.
Eliana reacts - Well, THIS is new and different. And ... threatening, unpleasant, eerie. Something is setting off her alarm, here. She's increasingly distracted and irritable.
Group Projects; at least it's with Ursula, who -- even if she's distractible as a cat, at least she knows her stuff -- it turns out is very, very interested in Mythology.
If she wasn't such an overachiever, Eliana might have let Ursula just write the whole thing and not bothered to look it over. But she is. And she does. And she sees ...
Secrets are hard to keep. She's so happy. Kendra knows, but then Kendra knows just about everything because she never talks and always listens -- something Giselle envies but acknowledges that she will never emulate. But The other girls ... most of them suspect. Of the group, Beryl is the closest to the truth, but no one ever believes Beryl. Audrey thinks she has a human lover and offers, quite sincerely, to help her make arrangements.
We're in a myth! And we're, basically, fucked! Because that's what happens to girls like us in myths!
Eliana is frightened beyond belief, and she feels that the time has come to ask for help. So she does what NO ONE in fantasy does -- she calls upon her parents.
She hopes her parents come. She hopes she put enough postage on the letter. She hopes they can help. She hopes, she hopes. She worries, she is so afraid they will arrive and nothing will happen, or they'll be drawn in too, or they'll discover it's her fault somehow. It's not, of course, but ... it might be.
Eliana is both glad and upset to see her parents arrive. Her parents have shown up obviously ready to take her away immediately -- and so have several of the other girls' folks. Some of the other girls feel betrayed and infuriated; others feel relieved. Eliana is accused, thanked, patronized, rejected. She feels embarrassed, angry, confused, belittled, to blame.
The distraught, outraged, and fearful family members of (several of) the girls (Eliana, Beryl, Darlene & Vanessa, Lucienne, Audrey, Ursula) descend on the school and start following their children around and sleeping in the halls and whatnot. It's annoying and ridiculous -- until they find out about Giselle and Kigh.
When the parents arrive, Lucienne's are among them (as are Darlene and Vanessa's). They have come to rescue their "baby" -- they feel vaguely guilty about having sent her to the school in the first place, so they are vehement and reactionary (as are they all) in a way that upsets and embarrasses Lucienne greatly. She doesn't want to leave, or if she leaves she wants to take Giselle with her because she's my friend, Mom, no, you don't understand! Please!! And of course her parents brush her off and basically haul her to the gate as do the other frightened and angry parents their variously protesting or thankful daughters.
Lucienne is, of course, shocked and frightened when Norn "arrives" or whatever, as are they all. She's a bit discomfited by the suggestions Norn makes in her monologue -- about their parents wanting rid of them all, about the uselessness and futility of the path the parents had marked out for their excess daughters (or whatever). But she's not bothered by that ("she's an angry sorceress, of course she's going to say awful things, guys") as much as she is by her parents blithe refusal to even consider bringing Giselle.
The terrified, infuriated parents try to take their daughters and exeunt, but when they get to the gate ... NORN: I DON'T THINK SO, YOU STRINGY CRIPPLE MOTHERFUCKERS. I've got your girls on a magical leash that you cannot break, you cannot cut, you cannot even stretch. Take them beyond the gates, my darling nemeses, and the leash will squeeze the life from them before they've taken three steps. They are mine; you are too late.
*She also, in this, rubs a bit of salt in the wounds of their parental guilt, you didn't even COME here before packing your darling daughters off, serves you right, etc., etc.
And then -- what was a big thing was when Eliana, who was usually all right, more awake than a lot of the girls, anyway, wrote to her folks. It was a big deal because not just hers -- Eliana's -- but several of the other girls' parents (including Darlene's and Audrey's) suddenly descend on the school like inept paratroopers, practically frothing at the mouth and blundering into everything.
Really? THIS is what you do? Run to your mommy for help? Fucking useless.
Eliana is furious, lividly, convulsively, when she finds out that Giselle has been talking to -- has fallen in love with -- her weird boy. She sees this as a terrible mistake that could cost every one of the girls their future. This isn't just something that is happening! This is catastrophic and terrifying and if we don't stop it God knows WHAT will happen but the odds that it'll be GOOD are vanishingly small!
The parents are irritating and awful to have around, and missing her friend just sucks. She snaps at Kendra for getting dirt everywhere; she snarls at Mara for hurting everyone's feelings. She's angry with Audrey for her lighthearted hedonism, and with Beryl for her earnest illogical romanticism. She's surrounded by people who only care about themselves, etc.
Virtually all the girls think this. Even, increasingly, Eliana.
Eliana, in watching the parents -- most of them -- flipping out and being terrible, begins to question both her decision to appeal to them and the validity of their response. I mean, she's upset at Giselle, too, but ... she knows Giselle. She's a smart, loving, compassionate, charismatic person with a delightful personality who's so much fun to be around; she's not some evil deviant manipulative monster bent on destruction and chaos. HOW the angry parents are trying to change the situation makes Eliana question WHETHER it's the right thing to do at all.
A couple days after the escape attempt, Darlene puts her folks off with saying that she's gotta do some work in the kitchen and go on to bed for crying out loud. So Chrys makes her way there, takes out her leatherwork, and they sit in companionable silence for a bit. Audrey's folks finally fall asleep and she comes in, too, and sits at the table, too. And they talk about it a bit, because they can. Gossipy, banter-y, more-or-less distant stuff. Geez, what's up with Giselle, huh? Darlene thinks she's homesick. Chrys just thinks she's lazy. Audrey's got a notion that she's been getting some and now isn't, and sympathizes (God how she sympathizes, damn their parents). But the talk naturally turns to the enchantment, because all roads lead to Rome, don't they? When you get close enough.
On the one hand, the parents're right -- they've gotta do something. But that was just stupid, grabbing their daughters and plunging towards the gate. Like that would work. Geez. It'd'a been a lot better to figure out this Norn lady's game first before letting her know they knew, but whatever. We're no better off -- and Darlene and Francis are even busier feeding all the extra people and have that much less time to sit and figure out a plan. Dammit. The question is, now what?
They decide Chrys needs to start thinking about maybe magic-proofing her weapons; it's also obvious that if they're going to do anything about this nonsense, it'll have to be when they're actually there. Not here. After all, that's where Norn is. And she's pretty obviously the Bad Guy.
And they -- the Hedonists -- didn't know exactly what was different about there, but for damn sure it had more magic running loose.
So Chrys, reluctantly, approaches Ursula to figure out whether that was in fact a possibility, and luckily 'Sula thinks it's an interesting question. So she ('Sula) and Lucienne work on putting something together for it. It's more a solution or potion they can dip stuff in, and it may not work but it's worth a try. So she's been putting together a sort of mini-arsenal, and 'Sula and Lucienne are (in all their spare time, and trying to keep it hidden from the parents because that's all we need) putting the things through the process.
Tension and frustration continues to mount. She, too, gets snappish and brusque. Well, brusque-er. She grumbles at Eliana for running to her parents for help when they should have been talking with the Sisters from the get-go, because, hey, dummy, they CAN do magic, huh? and that's pretty obviously something we could use.
Velma's decided that they need to have a dinner party at the end of March. Because sometimes it's nice to be distracted, and they were supposed to have quarterly birthday things anyway, and she forgot about them last term, and everyone -- the increasingly grumpy-looking parents, especially -- looks like they could use a bit of fun. So she's got Francis and Darlene working double-time, Darlene's getting to (ha! "getting to") show off a few of her custom confections, she's corralled a few of the moms into flower-and-decor shopping and the dads into moving the furniture around in the public rooms. Chrys helps with moving the furniture and stays the hell away from all the decor talk.
And the party's fine. Loud. Lots of tipsy people talking stupidly and pretending to have a good time, same as all parties. There's no dancing, naturally.
As they're cleaning up afterward, Chrys finds out later, Audrey sidles up to Giselle and says something sympathetic about their dry spell. Giselle seems confused; Audrey clarifies ("badly, of course, and not just because I was kinda drunk, I mean, I really thought …") and says that she knows how frustrating it is, not being able to see one's lover, and maybe she could help? You know, it's not impossible, even with everyone's folks underfoot. I mean, this one time -- and Giselle isn't really thinking and says more than she means to, and unfortunately a couple of the overactive-helper parents overhear her. And they sort of freak out, but before they plunge into a deeper hysteria they round up all the other parents and have a 'no girls allowed' meeting. Ah, parents.
Once the other girls' families descend like harpies onto the school, Giselle's life goes from stressful to very grim indeed. She's accosted nearly everywhere she goes, accused, belittled, blamed; one dad, terrifyingly, tries to exorcise the demonic spirits from her. She takes to spending a lot of time helping Velma.
In her difficulty putting Audrey off, Giselle is outed. The girls' responses run a wide gamut. Lucienne is cattily accusatory and Eliana, scared and angry. Chrys is outraged, and Darlene, huffy. Hannah is grossed out, and Vanessa thinks, 'good for you, man'. Only Ursula seems to have no reaction. "Well, yes, I'm surprised," she admits. "But then, you can talk to each other. And we see them every night. It was bound to happen."
She explodes (figuratively) in fury when she finds out about Giselle and Kigh -- because she didn't tell her! You're my best friend! Why on earth would you not tell me? How could you think so little of me?! She's devastated, then angry, then numb …
Audrey tells Chrys and Darlene about it while the parents are closeted together stoking and stroking their anxieties. The Hedonists are hanging in the kitchen (Francis is with Kendra and Darlene's in charge of the kitchen, getting day-after-party lunch ready, and the other two are helping).
Darlene's a bit put off -- hygienically, anyway, ew. Audrey's a bit jealous (her boy was just perfectly blank every evening, no fun at all) but kind of "eh, to each her own". Chrys is indignant -- not because of the miscegenation aspect (what does she care?) but from a tactical standpoint. What the hell? He's one of them for god's sake! How the hell do we know that she isn't the entire reason that this Norn lady has such a hold on them!?
They argue about it, about what to "do" -- well, sort of. They argue about Chrys wanting to beat the shit out of Giselle, really. Audrey says no, and Audrey tends to lead, but Chrys finally has someone to target, and she'll be damned if, etc., etc.; Darlene finally shouts them out of the kitchen because if you're only going to get in the way you can go get in someone else's way!
Chrys goes for a walk, fuming. Audrey's gotten her to agree to wait until they've at least talked with Giselle, because what if harming her tightens the magic instead of weakening it, huh? You don't know! We need to find out first!
She's angry and embarrassed about her outburst, but Giselle assumes that Lucienne really is judging her for … everything. Lucienne wants to apologize, but doesn't know how, and avoids Giselle because of it. Vanessa thinks that Giselle has withdrawn from both of them because of Lucienne's outburst, so she's upset with Lucienne, so Lucienne is back to being a lone wolf. And not super happy about it. In fact, it's a very, very miserable time Lucienne has at this point. She finally vents a bit to Kendra, in the guise of trying to make amends (which isn't really necessary, because Kendra would rather be left alone).
Chrys goes for a lot of walks the next few days, especially since she's avoiding the kitchen, and practicing as she's used to is not a very viable option with the parents patrolling everywhere (what are they looking for? henchmen?) so she's got to get the kinks out somehow. And on one of her walks, she comes upon Giselle being, well, accosted by one of the other girls' dads who's -- holy shit -- trying to cast demons out of her or some shit. He's a fucking psycho, is what, and she's crying, and he's holding on to her arms and shouting at her, and Chrys basically kicks him in the balls from behind and half-pulls, half-drags Giselle out of sight before he can get up.
Giselle is shaking and still crying, and Chrys is kind of disgusted and still furious with her, but … shit. That was not okay. Giselle tries, snivelingly, to thank her, which only makes Chrys mad. Chrys brushes her off and says, "Don't thank me. He was out of line, okay, but he's right about one thing -- there's something wrong with you." And as she's leaving she says, "I'd stick close to Francis, if I was you."
Chrys tells Audrey and Darlene about the incident that evening. Giselle hasn't told anyone, so no one knows but the four of them. They decide to start keeping tabs on the parents in a more deliberate way, and break for the evening. Chrys returns to keeping her knives sharp, her leather oiled, and her toy chest organized.
Two of the other girls' mothers try to kill Giselle. She's saved at the last minute by Francis and Velma, who magically put all the parents to sleep to keep the girls safe.
The Fates meet with the girls at dinner and they discuss what has happened, and argue more or less pointlessly about what can be done now. The girls and their conflicting frictions prevent any meaningful conclusion.
Eliana overhears the plotting mothers' final plans, and runs straight to Francis begging for help to stop them. She's just almost too late.
[discover's Francis' reaction to the plot to murder Giselle] Oh, my gracious! I don't blame you at all; I'm glad you got them all in there. It's just such a shame, isn't it? What they were up to, I mean. But Giselle's not doing anything they didn't do when they were her age, now, is she? It's not as though they really have any room to complain. I mean, other than the obvious ones like they're frightened and uncomfortable -- oh. Oh, yes, I guess we probably should do something. Sigh. I hate this part -- I always get it wrong. Francis ... ? No, you're still a little overwrought. Okay, ladies and gentlemen -- not that you're acting particularly gentle at the moment -- you're becoming so very sleepy, aren't you? It's getting harder and harder to keep those eyes open. Isn't it just a lovely day for a bit of a nap? How nice it would be to lay down, that's it, to shut one's eyes just for a spell ... yes ... no ... that's it, just settle and there, there ... Francis, dear? Francis, it's not holding. I just don't understand -- no, no, stay still, you're so tired, dearies -- any ideas?
[discovers the plot to murder Giselle] HOW DARE YOU ATTACK A STUDENT AT THIS SCHOOL?!!!!! GET IN THERE. GET. GO. BACK. I'M NOT TELLING YOU TWICE. SLAM
Lord, Velma, of all the times ... What are you -- oh. Right. They're parents. They're USED to being tired. How 'bout we tell 'em it's fine? I mean, if they sleep long enough, it even will be.
What's funny, kinda, is that, in following and listening to one or two of the 'lead' parents, Chrys and Audrey bump into Eliana! of all people, who shushes them and they all eavesdrop together. One of the type-Aist of the moms is filling another in on the plan they've decided, which is already in motion, to -- oh, god -- grab and silence Giselle. For good. For the good of all the other girls. Eliana's taking it rough, and is going to scream, and Audrey muffles and holds her until she's calmer. Chrys shakes her, urgently, saying -- and repeating -- "tell Francis. TELL FRANCIS. Tell Francis. Now, right now -- go tell Francis!" and Eliana nods and sprints off. Chrys and Audrey take off after the retreating moms. Giselle's been (not taking Chrys's advice) wandering aimlessly in the garden most afternoons nursing her misery, what a whiner. They're planning on grabbing her once she's out of sight of the house while Francis is working on dinner and Velma's grading papers, and taking her to the lake where they can dump the body.
The girls follow the parents long enough to know that they're headed down the long path to the clearing where they'll likely find Giselle, and then beat feet the shortcut path that cuts almost straight downhill sans the picturesque curves that Kendra spends so much time keeping nice on the main path. They plunge down, knocking branches out of their way and jumping over fallen limbs. They break into the clearing before the parents do, Audrey grabs Giselle's arm and starts pulling her back toward the shortcut pantingly trying to tell her what's going on. Giselle's shaking her off, objecting, what the hell, leave me be! what are you doing!?. And the parents show up, and Chrys jumps in front of the other two, saying, low and forceful, "stay back dammit" and hoping to hell there's only the one group. This is a horrible place for a fight -- they could come from anywhere.
The parents keep walking slowly forward, one of the dads (not the same one) talking placatingly, condescendingly to Chrys and Audrey, being reasonable and diplomatic and conciliatory. I know she's your friend, I know how this must seem, you really must understand, however, this is what's best …
Chrys hasn't moved, she's still standing in front of Giselle with the frightened, angry parents walking steadily toward her. Maybe it is just the one group, she thinks; maybe she can take them after all, but this is gonna suck -- oh, wait, shit -- the rest of them are appearing, in couples and triads, all around the clearing. All eleven of them. And there's only Chrys and Audrey. Audrey turns so that she's facing the opposite way from Chrys, with Giselle between them. FUCK.
Then Francis is suddenly there in the clearing, still wearing her apron and with flour on her hands, standing in a glowing fury between Chrys and the advancing parents.
"HOW DARE YOU ATTACK A STUDENT AT THIS SCHOOL?!!!!!" she thunders. And everyone -- parents, Chrys, Audrey, Giselle -- are hurled like leaves up, up, magically billowing up out of the clearing, over the woods and the garden, tumbling back in through the open front door of the school. "GET IN THERE. GET. GO. BACK. I’M NOT TELLING YOU TWICE." Chrys and Giselle tumble out of the way, and the parents are pushed bodily into the parlor. SLAM goes the door, CRASH go the locks.
Velma, breathless, sweeps by the still-shaken Audrey, Chrys, and Giselle and tosses over her shoulder, "Wait for me in my office, my dears, would you please, it looks like there's been a thing, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to --" and then Francis comes around the corner and the two of them, well, start doing something that makes their hair stand up and want to be elsewhere. So the three girls trudge back to Velma's office, where they wait.
And wait. And don't say anything, and just sit in prickly silence.
Velma comes in; Chrys is silently sullen, Giselle silently miserable. Audrey is just silent. Velma nods. Says something roundabout. Eventually lets them go get cleaned up and says she'll see them at dinner. Chrys starts to ask about whether it's safe, whether they need to, you know, stick with -- and Velma says, essentially, no, it's fine, don't worry.
So they go separately to straighten up, which for Giselle seems to mean sitting dejectedly somewhere, and for Chrys means some stretches, brushing the leaf bits off her trousers, and tucking her braids in again. Audrey does whatever she does.
At dinner Francis stands up and starts in on the Here's What's Happened thing. This isn't participatory -- the girls are quelled with a look or, less often, a gesture before they can comment. The girls are told that the parents have made an attempt to harm one of the students (a few glance toward Giselle, but Francis's quite dour poker face remains firmly intact, and the room stills again) and are now all asleep in the parlor. Unfortunately, as the parlor is where we have been having our lessons, we will need to decide upon an alternate location. "And now I'll welcome your suggestions, because I've already had quite enough decisions to make today."
A few people venture how about this room, or that one, or the dining room (which Darlene objects to strongly since she has a hard enough time getting it put back to rights in time to get TO class, and who's going to get it READY for class in the first place after each and every meal?). Mara wonders sarcastically why they're bothering -- what does it matter that we even have class anymore? It's not like we're going anywhere after this. At which Francis slams her large hand on the table in front of her, making all of them jump, and says something solve-the-problem-at-hand-ish, and we'll work on tomorrow's problem tomorrow.
They decide on the terrace, which is covered, and has enough room for everyone to sit. They move a hodgepodge of other furniture out there -- a settee from one space, a banquette from another, an armchair or two. Some floor pillows from the girls' bedroom. Velma fetches a chair down from the attic that she's always liked but hasn't found a place for, a lovely ridiculous throne of a chair on which she perches with glee. And class resumes the next day. And life settles back into its pre-parent pattern, more or less.
Chrys is edgy. With the parents out of the way, she resumes her training regimen and even, reluctantly, approaches Velma about her anti-magicking arsenal efforts with Lucienne and Ursula (at Lucienne's behest, because she's pretty sure that it's time to get the experts involved … and it's not like they're going to be sent away, is it?). Velma is vaguely encouraging, but doesn't offer much in the way of actual assistance. The gist, if Chrys followed it all, was that they'd done more or less what she would have, and isn't that interesting, etc., etc. Not as much help as Chrys had hoped.
The other girls seem tense and snappish, too. Secrets Class has become Talking About The Enchantment time, and other than that they don't, at all, any of them. Time just stretched.
Giselle grows more and more detached, unresponsive, and miserable during the day. She's living for the moments she can spend with Kigh, but even that is difficult and complicated. They agree not to use the translater, and try to part. She wanders in a haze of misery, rejected or ignored by all the other girls except Beryl, Kendra, & Vanessa.
Eliana bitterly regrets having written to her parents. Giselle isn't speaking with anyone, especially not Eliana, but she feels terrible and responsible for the attempt on G's life (even though, really, she's responsible for its failure; people are strange like that). She wishes that, if the enchantment's success is, as seems quite certain, inevitable, she -- and the others -- could have at least ENJOYED it more. She's still bullheaded and isn't giving up -- she tries, every night, to resist the drag of the spell -- but she's pretty sure that it's not going to work.
Eliana seeks out the sisters, rouses them from sleep, and pours out what's happened to Giselle. She's in tears -- of guilt, fury, pain, envy. She begs the sisters to help rescue Giselle, somehow, whatever they have to do.
She's heard about some of the scarier Trading rituals ... if they need ... I don't know how to say it. If you need, well, a sacrifice ... I will.
The sisters listen without comment, and gently put Eliana to sleep for the night after her tale. (They like putting people to sleep. It tends to help far more than you'd think.)
Giselle is, for all intents & purposes, kidnapped.
Velma wakes Francis up; apparently there's some new, urgent crisis to add to the existing pile. So Giselle's stuck. Or kidnapped. Or run away. (Hey, let's consider all the options.)
Francis & Velma listen without much comment, and decide to send Eliana to sleep while they work out what can -- might could, really -- be done.
Eliana, tearstained and dirty, shakes Velma awake. Something terrible has happened -- something more terrible than being caught in an inexorable enchantment spiraling the entire world to its doom? Well ... yes. A more immediate, more specific doom. Giselle has been kidnapped. And it's all Eliana's fault. And ...
She and Francis listen without saying much to Eliana; they exchange looks, and send her to sleep so that she'll be ready for ... whatever they can figure out for tomorrow.
So the girls put their heads together -- all but a few of them that the Sisters drag off to a corner to do some magicking or whatever -- about how to bring her back. First, we get the whole story, as much as we can, from Eliana, that the Weird boy ("what's he like?!" Audrey asks, and Chrys kinda gets on her case about it and she's like, "I was just asking," and laughs in spite of the dire tension) had realized that his Giselle was an illusion and caught up with Eliana as she was stepping through the gate.
So … the trouble is we don't know anything about the Weird world at all, except for what we've seen. And it's pretty unlikely that she's still at the pavilion, because it clears out when we leave -- it does? how do we know? Oh, of course, Beryl would take a last, lingering glance at it before leaving some nights, savoring its melancholy poignancy. We should have guessed. Anyway, there's nowhere to hide anywhere in it.
And … shit. [babble, babble]
Eliana breaks in. "Okay, that's enough, listen, here's what we do. We're going to have to take a couple of nights and gather some more information."
"we don't have a couple of --"
"but what about --"
She pressed on, cutting across the babble of voices "We simply don't know anywhere near enough, and plunging in blindly isn't going to help Giselle at all. So we need more information. How do we keep Norn from finding out what we're up to, though? We play it smooth. Obviously. Each of us just observe a little bit more than usual -- Vanessa, you scope out the shores. You're always on about how pretty they are, anyway; how many paths are there in sight? Any other docks you can see? Is ours the only one with boats?
"Audrey, you look at the paths themselves. Does the creek bank block the view once we're in the Weird world? If not, what's further back than the gate, can you tell? And on the far shore, as we're climbing the stairs, are there any branching paths? Those stairs are illuminated -- are there any other staircases like that you can see? Mara, while we're on the water, keep an eye out for any other clusters of light you can see around the lake. The pavilion's lit up like a beacon, but what about everything else? Does it look like there are any towns or cities nearby? Or just scattered houses?
"Once we're in the pavilion proper, Hannah, I need you to figure out as much as humanly possible about EVERYONE there. No, what I mean is … you've got a heck of an eye, and these Weirds aren't so different as I used to think. The important ones look important, and, you know, dress important. So who's important? Besides Norn? And who looks to be in pretty tight with her -- who's dressed like her, who catches her eye a lot, you know? Is there any friction between the folks on the dais, or are they pretty solid? Who has money, and who's pretending to? Who's only there for the free food?
"Speaking of food, Darlene -- darn it, right. Okay, um, Kendra. Kendra? Listen, could you look at the Weirds table and tell me about their food? Not just what it is -- you know, is it the same as ours? but also … is it anything we could poison if we needed to -- or eat? We need to know what's on their table. And more importantly, how it gets there and who clears it away?" Kendra nods, and Eliana looks relieved.
"Okay. Beryl. We're going to need to find some way of getting things into the Weird world and keeping them there. Weapons, I mean. I believe Chrys will have a few toys she'd like to take?" Chrys nodded. "I need to know where we could stash them -- along the paths on both sides of the lake, and at the pavilion, especially. Find me some hiding places.
"And finally, Chrys. You know this's going to be mostly on you, because the rest of us are just guessing about what to look for. So you just follow your nose and we'll try to stay out of your way?"
Chrys was already grinning. "Fair enough." She'd already done most of the scoping out that they were talking about -- but there wasn't any harm in a second (or fifth) pair of eyes on the same problem. It might even be helpful.
"And you? What are you gonna …?" someone asked.
"Since I'm the one Giselle's boy talked to, that's what I'll keep with. We need to know everything he can tell us -- where she might be, how to get there, how to get back, what's likely to be in the way, how we can avoid attracting Norn's attention …" she paused, thinking. "There is one thing I'm worried about."
"Only one?" Mara murmured. "Your worry-o-meter must be broken."
Eliana almost laughed, and even did grin, lopsidedly. "What about the magical pull, the way we can't actually go anywhere but forward, can't actually stop for any length of time on the paths, all that? None of the rest will matter if we can't get out of the pavilion."
The girls exchanged looks, not speaking. "Well, just one more thing to find out, I guess. I'll ask him. Would somebody please ask the Sisters?"
Vanessa said she would. "Thanks. Okay. Everyone clear?"
Everyone nodded; most also shrugged. "Then let's … get ready for bed."
So they do. And they fall, fitfully, anxiously, to sleep. They rise in the night and dress in tense silence. Chrys is centered and calm; most of the others seem jittery. Anxious. Well, she won't be too hard on them. They were all right, really. She'd gotten into the habit of wearing a knife under whatever getup they were supposed to be wearing; as she mechanically strapped it on she wondered about taking anything extra. Decided against it -- tonight was for observing. She didn't want to have to keep track of any more than she had to.
They hurry to the shore, and as they reach it there's a phantom Giselle among them. And they all pretend not to notice, keeping the pattern of fanning out to the boats the same as all the previous nights. Eliana's one of the first to the shore, and -- luckily? by design? -- the phantom Giselle's Weird boy has maneuvered up beside her. Eliana's and Giselle's Weird boys (Kigh, Chrys finds out later; what a ridiculous name) exchange glances, and E's boy curls his lip and keeps fiddling with the rope a while.
Eliana and Giselle's Weird boy talk, low and quickly, as the phantom Giselle gets in the boat. They keep talking all the way across the lake -- and Chrys observes the way that E's boy, with a look of vague distaste, pretends not to notice that, either. Chrys has a wonder about it, and checks out the other Weirds one by one … and they all have a similar, if not the same, expression. Boredom. Distance. Slight -- only slight -- resentment. She thought about it. It was about the way she probably looked when she got to the school, before she started hanging out with Audrey and Darlene. Bored resignation to a bearable, if unpleasant, experience. At the beginning, they had seemed to be enjoying themselves -- were they becoming irritated and intolerant of the enchantment by now? Were all of them? Or just the uninvolved ones? What was going on really?
As they dock, the other boys hold the boats for the Real girls, but none help them out. Kigh starts to reach toward phantom Giselle and checks himself. They move toward the stairway as usual, Weird boys and Real girls walking out of step. Chrys tries to lag behind, but the beefy, light-on-his-feet Weird of Beryl's she'd observed before kept keeping himself back of the line. And the magic seemed to push more on her when he glanced her way. She filed that away for later, too.
Over the next couple of nights, they experiment and consult. And discover:
a) Germain, Norn's inside man, is holding the reins of the nightly practical magic. When he sees -- or feels -- any of the girls (or other Weird boys, as Kigh discovers) moving outside the bounds, he tugs them back in. (He's Beryl's partner, and isn't a very good one for her. She's in love with dancing, and he thinks it's lame and pointless. So he's perfunctory and inattentive, and it's only because of her self-absorption that she doesn't mind. Or really notice much.)
b) During the musicians' break, Germain consults briefly with Norn most evenings, and also hears the reports of the roaming guards. The guards are a new development.
c) Along the path there are a great many lovely hiding places, and it seems that the path is not checked between nights, so they're able to stash a few of the magic-proof weapons along both their own side of the lake and the pavilion side.
d) There are more guards on campus -- even more than around the pavilion, actually -- and there's been a drastic surge in the amount of "buzz off" magics around Norn's building. It's possible -- even likely -- that that's where Giselle really is. Once Kigh was pretty sure he saw someone taking food to the side door, but a guard passed by around then and he had to bugger off.
So they come up with the battle plan. They need:
a) time -- enough time to get to Giselle, release her, and get her back. How much time is the question -- it's only about a ten minute walk from the gate to the school, so if the Weird campus is the same … but that doesn't account for any guards. "Chrys?" "My pleasure."
b) maneuverability -- either stretch them past their elasticity, or slip the rescue party out of them altogether … maybe Chrys's and Audrey's love/use interests can be of some use here? More characters? what are you, insane? but it would be kind of awesome to pass them off that way
c) distraction -- something needs to occupy Norn's attention (and Germain's) long enough … so the girls who will go on to the pavilion will need to, I don't know, set it on fire or something. Lucienne will go with that group, since the Sisters can kinda-sorta talk with her.
The sisters decide to try to make Norn not a Fate anymore. Desperate times, you know? To do that, they'll need to set up another complicated ritual, have each of the girls bring something back from the weird world, take blood from all the girls, something, something magically. The general idea is to push the pressure of Francis & Velma's magical reservoirs low enough to trigger a compensating flow from Norn's, and then use her connection with the girls to sort of grab the rest of Norn's power and pull it down, too. Of course, it's just a theory.
I don't care what you think of me. I don't even care what you think of the enchantment. We will rescue Giselle. We will stop this. All of us together.
The twin plans both call for a bit of reconnaissance, which the girls do over the next several nights. Darlene and Lucienne gather samples tracing a path to the pavilion (commenting occasionally about "mementos" in case Norn is listening); Kigh sketches out a rough palace plan for Eliana, and tells them how they'll get there. And then they wait. A night passes. Another. The tension is almost unbearable.
Francis and Ursula have come up with a plan. Sort of. I mean, it sounds like a plan. But of course, most things do, when you say they happen in a certain order, and haven't happened yet. Anyway, it sounds like it might work. We'll try it, anyway. What's the worst that can happen? What was going to happen, anyway. And Velma likes and misses Giselle. It would be nice if it worked.
Eliana sweeps into the dining room and announces that Giselle has been kidnapped. Lucienne suspects the truth -- that it's more "kidnapped" than kidnapped, but she nonetheless crushed. Perhaps she's even more crushed because of her suspicions. But she's also relieved, a tiny, tiny bit, because there's something she can do -- and it's something she's good at. So she, and the rest of the girls, set to work trying to decide how to do it.
There are two sides to the crisis at hand. First, of course, there's the matter of Giselle's rescue. Immediate, and emotional, but it's not the only problem to be solved. In fact, it's not really the right problem … the real one is Norn. As the bulk of the girls go to work on a plan to spring Giselle, the Sisters call Lucienne, Ursula, and Darlene -- the analytical, good-at-problem-solving ones -- aside. And start hashing out a plan to (of all things, but the Sisters are adamant about it) remove Norn from the Fateship. Lucienne is the best at magic of the girls, and the Sisters will need a third enchanter for their spell to work; Ursula is knowledgeable and has, even more importantly, taken notes from their nightly journeys. And Darlene has a good memory for details.
Eliana's unwavering, defiant assurance in sweeping all the girls into the attempt to rescue Giselle needs to be pretty awesome. Of course, they all value Giselle -- even those who didn't particularly like her -- so it's not a hard sell, but getting them off high center takes all the strength of her forceful, magnetic personality that Eliana usually suppresses beneath layers of guilt and self-doubt. As she grapples with the feeling of Being In Charge the other girls also start coming together -- not without friction and irritation -- but in a more unified way than they have done anything else hitherto. They're congealing, of a sort, into something like a team.
And then one morning, middle of May or so, Eliana swoops into breakfast and, lo and behold, Giselle's been snatched. And not by the sleeping folks -- by Norn. Well, shit. I like Giselle. Even if she is an idiot. Of course I'll help get her home. Y'all'll need me, anyhow.
Okay, let's do this.
And the pieces are in motion.
Unfortunately, you know what they say about best-laid plans.
Lucienne's also been appointed to be one of those who go with Eliana to meet Kigh and rescue Giselle. Despite not being at the meeting. The dangers of committees. It works out, partly because all of the casting assistance the Sisters asked from her was handled before the ball starts rolling, so she's free. And partly because the Sisters can, sort of, communicate with her magically, so she'll be valuable from a tactical standpoint as well. And she's too full of nervous energy to NOT play an active part.
On their way there, as they talk with Kigh, Francis and Velma FINALLY, desperately, convince Lucienne that Norn wants Kigh and Giselle to be together -- because what Norn really wants the Real and Weird worlds to crash together in all their messy rage, and little would do that as concisely as the publication of an inter-world liaison. Which one or two of the parents -- press people, of course -- are virtually straining the reins to do the instant they wake up and remember what the hell is going on. Lucienne is, again, crushed and miserable, because she realizes that she must ask Kigh to break her friend's heart. Again.
And they realize that the way to do it is for Kigh and Giselle to pretend, to Norn, to each other, to themselves, that they want what they really want. To lead Norn to believe that Kigh will return with Giselle to her world, pretend that they don't see any problem with this, and then, at the last minute, not to come. So he goes back with them to the gate, and then turns and moves away. (Of course, it's a bit more dramatic than that.)
And Norn's attention -- and magic -- are focused enough on that spot, and the Sisters have effectively been pulling her closer -- her magic, her attention, and also her physical person -- up the path with the retreating rescue party, that she is in fact pulled bodily through the gate with the others. And then Chrys, seizing the moment, knocks her out. And Lucienne
Francis and Velma corner Norn, using the magical tie she has with the girls to home in on her while the rescue party is doing its thing. Because Norn's attention is elsewhere, they are able to, well, see into her intentions a little -- they are, after all, triplet guardians of the ideas of the world.
The Sisters discover that :
a) the enchantment is trying to draw them and the weird boys together permanently
b) it's very likely that such a union would be catastrophic to both worlds
c) unless they make Norn believe that plan has succeeded, the rescue attempt will only lead to the other girls' capture -- they frantically push that thought messily toward Lucienne, who resists and rejects it at first. How awful.
And it goes more or less according to plan, surprisingly enough. Giselle is, in fact, in Norn's office -- funny place to keep a prisoner, but whatever. They had to neutralize a few guards on their way there, but what are henchmen for but to spice up the climax? And Eliana, who goes in first, gets knocked out or something by the magical doodads Norn's got protecting the room, but Chrys throws a rock through the window and they're able to get everyone out without going through the door again.
Germain is coming up the path as they get almost back to the tree gate; he and Chrys fight epically and not at all magically (since Mara had unstrung the charm necklaces before he sprinted off toward the prisoner). He is good. She's almost enjoying herself, their fight is so fucking brutal. This is how you're supposed to do it. Geez. And then -- she'd fallen back, winded, and he was pressing his advantage (she was already twisting to catch whatever force he'd use, maybe pull him off-balance, shit he's strong -- and fast) when he stopped short, held up his hands, and started beating feet back up the path. The hell? She spun herself back up and was halfway into her sprint after him when Lucienne called her off. She was right, too -- we did get what we came for. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, sniffs, and nods. I think.
So -- except for Kendra wandering off, who was supposed to be watching her that night, anyway? -- they went back through the gate as normal. But it was obviously not over yet -- not with the Sisters waiting just outside the gate. She raises her eyebrows and they nod for her to wait with them.
So when Giselle and Lucienne -- and not Giselle's really not-worthless-after-all boy, whatsisname -- come through and there's some kind of sticky, static-y magical struggle which she stays out of the way of, Chrys stays just out of reach. And there's a loud sucking crack or pop, and whadaya know, that Norn lady pops out and stands right there. Norn's about to start something, too -- so Chrys jumps in front of her and lands a fast uppercut to her jaw, and she's knocked out cold. "Nope."
The girls and sisters celebrate their success, and work to spin a believable yarn that lets the sleeping parents wake to feel like heroes.
After that, Chrys wasn't really involved. I mean, she was there of course, but she mostly just washed her wounds and let the other girls figure out what to tell the parents. She enjoyed hearing from Darlene and Audrey about the hijinks at the pavilion -- and she enjoyed even more bragging to them about her successful badassery. And, too, their taunting about just how much she enjoyed the fight with Germain -- because, you know, it's a thing. It's a thing they would say.)
It'd be great if she could happen to see Germain making fun of Beryl in some way and throat-punch him or something. Just some "oh, no you motherfuckin' don't" thing. I don't know if that would work, though -- he doesn't seem to be much in the story at all. I think maybe Chrys kind of regretted not getting to finish their fight.
The girls, having come together and wrested their friend from the clutches of an evil enchantress (hey, it's fantasy) still have a task. They must figure out what to tell their parents.
And it's a less organized, but much more companionate, meeting than the others even hoped to be. They've come through so much, and even the most antipathetic of them can't deny that you know, we're DAMN good together, aren't we? So let's do this.
So Lucienne is, sort of, a hero -- she rescued her friend! Kind of! And more importantly, she defeated her friend's kidnapper! But … it's not really enough. It's not that Giselle is angry at her anymore -- she's not, at all -- but there's too much between them. Too much guilty, awkward, prickliness. Too much time spent not talking.
She's also (like most of the other girls whose parents ate up their explanation) disillusioned and put out with them ... she's avoiding Giselle (or Giselle's avoiding everybody, or both) and she's also spending a bit of time helping Velma tie up some loose magical ends so she's not really in a celebratory mood. She and Velma discuss the possibility of her pursuing magic studies in a more formal way, and as the group celebrates post-graduation she decides to do it. Velma has already offered her assistance in procuring sponsorship and admission (but not guaranteed, of course, dear, because these things are really sometimes a bit more tricky than you'd expect, but I'm sure it will work out one way or another ...). She talks a bit to Kendra about it as a way to escape her folks' company for a while, but doesn't conclude much. It's obvious to the reader that she's more retreating into magical studies because she's hurt than choosing it because it's delightful. Poor Lucienne.
The sisters work through the night to ... soften the minds ... of the parents, and work with the girls to carefully set up a believable framework of "of course, don't you remember?"
Eliana retreats to the porch to take a break. A pause. Her parents, looking for her as the party winds down, find her and she takes a deep breath and tells them that she's not coming home.
But where will you ... what will you ... ?
I don't know. I'll tell you when I figure it out.
Eliana's crisis, really, is far more about this. She is gruesomely disappointed and disillusioned with her and the other parents, but sees that -- whenever the sisters let them wake up, or the sleep spell wears off, or whatever -- placating them is still, perhaps more than ever, a priority. So she talks with the other girls, with the sisters, ... she's not sure about anything they conclude, but at least they're discussing it.
She's actually not as central a participant in this conversation as she might have been had things turned out differently. She can't stop thinking about the look on the mothers' faces as they plan Giselle's murder. She can't help feeling that, no matter what her future holds, she couldn't bear it to become like them.
This is part debriefing and part "wait ... what are we going to tell them when they wake?" meeting. Lucienne finds herself doing a lot of the talking, which is sort of expected and sort of foreign, because it's painfully obvious to her that what they've done (despite having to be done, despite it being right and needful) is nonetheless ... ruinous. At least on her tiny, personal scale. Nonetheless, she keeps it together and they together come up with a plausible and efficacious tale to spin for their sleeping folks.
The parents wake up and ... are placated.
Eliana has been putting her parents off about her plans for after graduation. The ceremony and afterparty are fine; they have a good time for the most part, everyone enjoying themselves and drinking too much.
After graduation, for which her own parents arrived in time, barely, and she had to suffer their anxious and grateful flutterings about how dangerous it had been and how lucky that the other parents were there, for god's sake, she decides to accompany them at least as far as … London. ;-) And, while there, pay a visit to her brother.
Most of the girls leave the school after graduation, some to return next year and others to begin their 'real' lives. Kendra, Eliana, and Giselle, for different reasons, do not. So they settle into a different summertime routine, and the days stretch and blend.
Giselle knows the stakes. She knows that Kigh is ... inaccessible. She's not brave enough, yet, to say 'gone.' She knows that even if he weren't, they wouldn't be able to be together, because their worlds must remain separate.
But she aches for him.
Her parents were supposed to be getting out of prison early; they were supposed to be either coming to pick her up or sending someone to do so. So she waits. She helps Kendra in the garden. She helps Francis in the kitchen. They never come.
Kendra doesn't care about much. That isn't exactly true, but she's certainly not interested in the things other people are. But she's fascinated by the world gate. She studies it obsessively. She figures it out. She decided to put it back together. And this becomes -- well, it begins, anyway -- her life's work.
The enchantment has been acknowledged in the daylight world. Stage 1 is complete, and the girls are bound to the weird world securely.
Giselle and Kigh, in speaking about their respective worlds, realize that there are so, so many things about both the other and their own worlds that they do not know. There are vast galaxies of knowledge of which they are only dimly aware, and the staggering volume of their ignorance is overwhelming.
So everyone has a different theory about what's going on -- most of them think the Sisters are doing it. Giselle doesn't think so, but ... well, it makes as much sense as anything. She stays out of most of the discussion -- after all, she can't really afford (literally or emotionally) for them to find out that her experience is pretty radically different than theirs.
Giselle can't take any more. She feels that nothing she has ever known is real, and nothing she learns can be real, and she's spinning off into a void of uncertainty. She wishes she'd never met Kigh, never learned how to dance, never come to this terrible school.
Giselle is increasingly distant and brusque with Kigh. She's doing her best to be just like the other girls during their nightly trips ... and of course not succeeding very well, otherwise it'd be a pretty short story. Her monosyllabic answers and clinging to the group of other girls during the nights' parties makes her feel both like she's doing, maybe, sort of the right thing -- because it's making her miserable and snappish, not that she didn't have reason to be so anyway. But ... it HAS to be the right thing to do because it's NOT what she wants to do, you know? Ah, youth.
Kigh, frustrated but concerned, asks her what’s wrong. She has a hard time explaining, but he listens. He offers comforting words, and says, “Let me tell you about MY family…”
They laugh and scoff and grieve together. As they part, she thanks him fervently.
The next night, they keep to the back of the line, and he hugs her and asks if she’s okay. It’s a rough night; she’s confused and vulnerable, and he’s awkward and nervous. As she exits the boat, he gives her a small something wrapped up. She thanks him almost inaudibly, but doesn’t open it where the girls could see. The next day, she locks herself in the bathroom and opens it; it’s a flower and a gift of some sort. And she is over the moon. And that night she brings him … something. She can’t decide what. She ends up with something quite silly, but he laughs and likes it anyway.
They have a month or so of delighted-in-each-other entanglement.
The most frightening argument in Eliana's whole life. And not because of what was said -- because, them not speaking the same language, nothing was. No, it was terrifying because a) her feelings were all over the place, and they were outside the pavilion screaming at each other in inarticulate rage, and she wasn't able to keep it together like she ALWAYS is, and she doesn't know what's wrong. And then, b), as she turns to leave -- the only way to respond to something so disorienting -- she feels her body, shoes, dress, and all, PLUCKED back up and slammed down, still on her feet, onto the veranda outside the pavilion. Her body won't even TURN to go back down the stairs; the only way she can move is forward, toward her shaken-looking weird boy, who escorts her back inside.
Kigh barely catches up with them as the first girls pass back into real life, and hurries to pour out his fears and suspicions to Eliana, who's the last in line. She's pulled back through the gate before she can respond, and she's only able to turn back as the bank behind the branches reappears.
Giselle decides that she'd rather be enchanted forever than live this way. Giselle decides that the only thing to do is to stay in the weird world. Having thus decided, she -- without discussing it with Kigh, because, well, they literally aren't speaking -- approaches Norn toward the end of the evening and asks to remain there. Norn, of course, is delighted. She "allows" Giselle to remain, even creating a phantom Giselle to deceive Kigh.
When the phantom Giselle doesn't whisper "thank you" for helping her out of the boat, Kigh realizes with a shock that Norn has managed to trap her in their world. Kigh chases after the eleven retreating girls. He barely catches up with them as the first ones pass back into real life, and hurries to pour out his fears and suspicions to Eliana, the last in line. She disappears without his being able to hear or see any response, and he doesn't know whether she even heard or understood him.
It doesn't go so well; it doesn't even go poorly enough to TELL him anything useful. No. Germain disappears, and there's some kind of work being done on and around Kaufmann Hall so he can't get TO his office.
Kigh decides to do something anyway.
The girls, working together for once, collect items and do their thing with their weird boys. They all see, and pretend not to, the Illusion Giselle. This might just work!
He warns him off of getting involved in any Real world-related fracas. And it's a predictably messy, dysfunctional moment (as usual) for the two of them.
She tells him about the Protector surveillance spike around the university lately, and how he's got to be silent and work alone.
His spy toys, it turns out, work pretty well. After some tinkering. He discovers that Germain isn't working alone (duh) but whomever he's working with is a lot more careful -- and well-disguised-- than he is.
Kigh, Chrys, Ursula, and Eliana make it to Giselle and negotiate with Norn for her release. They've both -- Kigh and Giselle -- figured out, though, that Norn's plan is to get them together. So they have to pretend, to make her believe, that they intend to be together. Which they both long for, deeply. But they have agreed not to. And are devastated but resolute.
Also, Dwight is a fucking Protector! Shit!
Giselle and -- Dwight? -- convince him that there are Protectors coming to arrest him. He asks Giselle where she is, and goes there.
Germain, debriefing guards. Germain, tweaking the pavilion setup.
The other girls, laying their plans. The other girls, seeding the paths to the pavilion with magic-proofed weapons.
Germain and lackey? lover? discussing additional parts ordering for adapting the activator sequence in the boys' spells -- given the apparent disinterest of the boys in their Real girl partners.
And apparently the only way that Giselle (and Dwight, probably, though of course Dwight is not on the conspirators' minds) can leave the room is through the front door, to which only Germain and his lackey have the key.
Call in the cavalry.
Germain and Lackey (Professor Irda?!) making the final changes. And, in doing so, spelling out the plan in enough detail to well and truly freak out Kigh and Giselle.
Like, at all.
The Protectors now have "sting on sight" or whatever orders for any Real interlopers. Fucking great. And the other girls are making their move tonight.
I love when everything happens at once.
7:00 pm - One last moment with Giselle
7:07 - Arming scene
7:10 - Kigh leaves to set up the distraction -- to lure the protectors elsewhere; Giselle turns on & mans the monitors (or whatever), checking and re-checking the connections
7:15 - everything's in place. It's go time.
7:16 - Kigh goes to visit his aunt. Visibly.
7:20 - Protectors mobilize. Not as bureaucratically as you'd expect, really, but they are still definitely responding.
7:30 - Kigh makes it onto the bus; Protectors mostly avoid visible action (part of the "tranquility" of their mandate); they follow the bus, out of sight, its entire journey.
8:30 Kigh arrives at his Aunt's town, exits bus, begins walk to Aunt's house
8:40 Kigh ambushed, as expected, between High and Eastern
8:41 Kigh disappears! Haha! Protectors, confused, fan out to search nearby streets
8:50 Kigh reappears; Protectors zoom to him.
8:55 Kigh's over here now! Now here! Now here!
8:59 Kigh disappears again
9:00 Now the tricky part.
Dwight's spectre takes Kigh into custody and manages -- somehow -- to throw a big enough fit about jurisdiction or seniority or something that the others let him. But the conspirators have also seeded the rest of the town (with help from his Aunt) with other miscreants so booking is WAY backed up.
Kigh leads Chrys, Lucienne, and Eliana to Norn's palace. On the way, they put the pieces together and realize that Norn is, in fact, expecting and planning for something like this. Eliana and Ursula realize that the way to prevent the catastrophe is for Kigh and Giselle to pretend that they want ... what they really want. Eliana is afraid that they won't be able to; she knows how they feel about each other. But she asks him anyway. You do what has to be done. And ... they surprise her. And she feels defeated even as the rest celebrate around her.
Kigh, Chrys, Lucienne, and Eliana make it to Giselle and negotiate with Norn for her release. They've both -- Kigh and Giselle -- figured out, though, that Norn's plan is to get them together. So they have to pretend, to make Norn believe, that they intend to be together. Which they both long for, deeply. But they have agreed not to. And are devastated but resolute.
They do what has to be done. They say good-bye. They are shattered.
Kigh and Specter Dwight switch forms; Specter Kigh continues sitting, waiting, in booking; Non-specter Kigh-Dwight flies out the front door unencumbered.
Unencumbered, that is, until a couple of grizzled old Protectors snag him and drag him to ... a mandatory training on the latest update. Fuck!
These Protectors take their trainings seriously.
He actually just drifts through the wall; incorporeality is terribly convenient
Since Kigh's incommunicado, Dwight grumblingly goes to warn the rescue party about the Protectors, apparently forgetting that a) he is one, and b) he looks like Kigh. So he and Kigh actually arrive at the same time, and it freaks a couple of the girls out when Kigh waves Dwight back into his true form. (It would freak me out, too.)