I've been working on my new series more, lately, which means I'm pretty much all-consumed by thoughts of medieval peasantry and poisonous plants and fantasy-novel hijinks to appropriate in a satirical manner. At some point I really do plan to give a character sketch of Sammæl and Vek and Vanyard and Janecy and the others, but right now I always seemed to be a little too busy actually writing down their story.
ANYWAY! For today's story: Happy Halloween! I wrote this story, like, last May or something. But I haven't posted it, and it's mildly creepy, and I designed it to be a songfic with a rather insidious song, so I suspect it might be a perfect fit for a Halloween story.
Crap. Does this mean I'm going to have to come up with stories for Simon's birthday and Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's, like usual? Well, I suppose it can be a writing challenge for me.
Title: Seven Circles of Manipulation
Characters: Simon, Mal, Everard Gilford
Summary: In which Simon and Mal torment a freshman, and the mystery of Justin's unusually-discreet roommate is finally uncovered.
Notes: A series of seven double-drabbles (200 words each), each corresponding to a line in Jill Tracy's deliciously creepy song "Diabolical Streak", which has been provided here for your listening pleasure. Let me know if the media embed for the song doesn't work. Also, Everard probably won't be back again, except in passing as Justin's roommate; I just needed to have Simon and Mal torture someone, and couldn't think of a reason for them to do it to any of the main cast.
One to nullify the pain
Two to make it real again
Three please give me one to grow on
Four my recompense
Five don't leave me in suspense
Six promise not to peek
My diabolical streak
ONE (to nullify the pain)
Everard Gilford swallows nervously. He hadn't wanted this sort of attention so soon at a new school. He hadn't wanted any attention.
He hasn't yet worked out the dynamic between his tormentors. The taller one, with red hair, seems to be in change. The other just watches idly. Some sort of lackey, evidently.
Then terror runs through him and he misses what the tall one says. He is much more concerned with the hand wrapped integratingly around his throat.
The observer speaks up, then. “Mal,” he says, “I'm sorry, but this has just gotten boring. And besides,” he flashes a dangerous grin, “he's new, and this is a poor welcome. Doubtlessly he will have an unpleasant first impression of us, and by extension, of the fine institution we represent.”
The hand is removed from his throat resentfully, and Everard reaches up tentatively to rub his neck. The dark-haired observer glares at him. “What are you still doing here?” he demands. “Go.” And Everard goes. He has no reason to stay, after all, and every reason to leave.
As he walks away, he reconsiders his earlier curiosity. Not a lackey, then. Something far worse: a savior.
TWO (to make it real again)
Everard is on his hands and knees behind the bleachers, watching blood pour from his own nose. He accidentally swallows some of it, and instantly feels ill. He adds gagging and coughing to his repertoire.
Someone settles in beside him. “Your nose could be broken, you know,” says Simon Tremayne genially. “I'd offer to check for you, but it looks like it'd be a mess.” He watches the new student for another moment and sighs. He pulls out a handkerchief and offers it reluctantly. “Pinch your nose closed, wipe off your face, and resign yourself to swallowing a lot of your own blood,” he advises brusquely. “Don't be surprised if you throw up later. You'll be here forever if you try to wait it out, though, like you're doing.”
Everard glares at him. “I didn't do anything to him,” he mutters accusingly. “You could have said something to stop him.”
Tremayne rises and absentmindedly brushes himself off. “Keep the handkerchief.” He glances back with a look not quite sympathetic. “I have nothing against you,” he admits. “But still, for your own well-being: when dealing with Mal, don't assume that I'm your friend.”
THREE (please, give me one to grow on)
Everard notices that Simon Tremayne has taken to appearing wherever he is. He can't decide whether or not this is to be preferred to Severo's sudden appearances. Severo's are more painful, but Tremayne's are more deeply unsettling.
“Don't take it personally,” advises Tremayne, who is suddenly walking beside him, “you're not the only one he hates.”
Everard laughs bitterly. “No?”
“No.” A pause. “Do you know Justin von Roesche? I believe he's your year.”
Everard nods. “We have biology and rhetoric together.”
“There. Mal hates him more than he hates you.” He says this as if it is celebratory news.
Everard is not impressed. “Really? He has fewer bruises, then.”
Tremayne looks affronted by this suggestion. “Of course. He's mine,” he says, by way of explanation. “Safe from violence, if not hatred.”
Everard grits his teeth. “I don't...” He grimaces and starts again. “How would I do that? Be part of that group. Yours.” he says, equally humiliated and desperate.
Tremayne smiles wistfully. “A tempting idea,” he agrees, “but no.” He turns his mad smile to Everard, who flinches automatically. “The position's already been filled.”
FOUR (my recompense)
Everard gets in one magnificent swing. The look of shock on Mallory Severo's face is glorious to behold. He can't deny that he had been, once again, losing the fight rather badly. Mal's surprise allows him to retreat, though, and the older boy doesn't follow him as he backs away unsteadily.
He is out of sight and nearly feeling safe when he stumbles into someone. For a wild moment, he assumes it is Severo again, and lashes out frantically.
In response, he finds his arms locked behind him, and another arm around his neck. He freezes.
“Feeling calmer?” murmurs a sardonic voice that he recognizes as belonging to Simon Tremayne. He turns around.
Tremayne is watching him. “Good show. I saw you with Mal.” He smiles lazily. “Nicely done.”
Everard's heart is still pounding. “I thought you were his friend.”
“Oh, I'll patch him up later. I like for someone else to punish him occasionally. Usually it falls to me.” Tremayne raises an eyebrow. “And Mal requires so much punishment.”
Everard gapes. He knows that Simon Tremayne isn't his friend. But he can't shake the feeling, suddenly, that he might not be Severo's, either.
FIVE (don't leave me in suspense)
“I haven't seen Severo lately,” says Everard cautiously. Simon Tremayne has once again appeared beside him, and Everard usually tries to say something to avoid the vacuum of silence.
Tremayne shrugs, unconcerned. “Everyone's getting ready for the ambassador's visit. Or, I should say, the ambassador's daughters' visit. Even Mal.”
Tremayne considers the question. “The ambassador is powerful, his daughters are both gorgeous and entertaining, and it's to everyone's benefit that Strathford is granted special privileges.”
There is a silence: Everard can feel it pulling at him. “Louis Windham wants to mess it up,” he volunteers, wanting to contribute.
He receives a sharp look. “Who?”
He frowns. “Windham. He's my year. His family doesn't get along with the ambassador's family, I guess. He won't tell us what he's got planned, though. But he laughs when he mentions it. And not in a good way.”
Tremayne nods tightly. “We'll see. I don't think I want that,” he growls sharply.
Everard says nothing. Even the ensuing suction of silence cannot induce him to respond.
Louis Windham is unexpectedly expelled the following Thursday. Rumors abound, but Everard is careful not to hear any of them.
SIX (promise not to peek)
Everard looks up from his book and is amazed to discover that even here, on the forth floor of the library, Simon Tremayne has silently appeared across the table from him. He puts down his book, feeling the familiar ill trepidation that Tremayne induces.
“Regarding Louis Windham,” he murmurs. “Well played.”
“Wasn't aware he was your roommate,” continues Tremayne calmly. “And now you have a room to yourself for the remainder of the semester.” His eyes narrow thoughtfully. “You've really managed to come out ahead, haven't you? And with very little effort on your part.”
“I think,” muses the older boy, “that I have just willingly concluded an undertaking from which you, personally, have benefited greatly.” He pauses. “It now follows that you should reciprocate. This is the natural order of things.”
Everard's stomach clenches as he contemplates being in Simon Tremayne's debt for the foreseeable future. He tries to take shallow breaths and wonders what happens to someone who dares throw up in a library.
Tremayne smiles humorlessly. “Don't worry,” he says. “I'm sure I'll eventually come up with something you have that I want.”
SEVEN (my diabolical streak)
His tormentors even find him studying beside the lake, Everard notes hopelessly.
“I've decided what you can do for me,” says Tremayne cheerfully.
He shakes his head. “No. I'm withdrawing. I've already turned the paperwork in.”
He doesn't see the glance the older boys share.
“My friend Justin is in need of a roommate,” continues Tremayne, as if Everard hadn't spoken.
“It's an easy job,” interrupts Severo, and nods toward his friend. “He spends afternoons and evening over there.” He leers happily. “Nights too, sometimes.”
Tremayne rolls his eyes and turns back to the younger boy. “Nothing sordid, I just need someone who...understands how things work. Say you'll do it.”
Everard shakes his head. “No,” he whispers, feeling secretly relieved. “Maybe if I hadn't already turned in my papers.”
“Papers?” Severo has pulled out a sheaf of papers that look, to Everard's eyes, to be sickeningly familiar. He opens his hands, and Everard watches dully as paperwork floats gently out onto the middle of the lake.
“Perhaps you should stay,” offers Tremayne innocently. “Do say you'll reconsider.”
“Right,” growls Severo happily. “We'd miss you so much.”