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Nitor Meo

By Quillblade

 

The Mess Hall bustled at dinnertime, and Nylessa, like most people, had to squirm her way to a table, holding her tray up so as not to spill the meal, and collapsing into the best seat she could. The chair beside her was empty, for about three seconds, until Jedar managed to fend off the other place-hunters and sit down. His spoon clattered from the tray onto the floor and with an exasperated roll of his eyes Jedar started stirring his soup with his knife, waiting for the bustle to end before he leant down and retrieved it. Nylessa, not having soup, offered him her spoon.

"Oh, thanks," he said with a slightly embarrassed grin. "Is it just me, or do there seem to be more people here nowadays?"

"It's not just you," she replied, breaking off a piece of garlik bread and munching on it thoughtfully. "There's been an influx of Juniors and Presabers lately... Some of whom shouldn't really be here."

"Mm-Hm?" Jedar had his mouth full so that was the most he could manage.

"Take Henbane Featherfrost over there," she said with a nod in the Presaber's direction. The young man was gulping down his meal as if his life depended upon finishing first and talking loudly despite his mouth being full of food. "He's got the manners of a porcine, an ego three times larger than Duke's, he bullies those younger than him and stalks girls through the halls. Yet we let him join!"

"He's got skill," Jedar pointed out.

"Doesn't he know it!" Nylessa snorted, tearing ferociously into her steak.

"If you think this is a problem, talk to Leila about it. But he wouldn't be here if Leila hadn't approved of him, so..."

"With all the respect due to my friend, Leila is overworked. Her job and Zakiya take up most of her time, she's tired and never has time for fun, and doesn't do as thorough a character scan as she used to." Nylessa sighed. "If I tell her that, though, she'll either be hurt or hurt me."

"Yell at you at the very least."

Lessa's knife and fork grated on the platter, and she found that her dinner had been eaten on automatic. She speared the last couple of veggies on her fork and then waved it at Jedar. "Don't grin like that, Jeddy."

"What grin?" His face immediately went innocently blank.

Nylessa sighed. "Jedar, hon, have I ever told you that you're impossible?"

"Frequently."

"Then consider yourself told again."

*****

Henbane Featherfrost was twenty-two, old for a Presaber and he used this as an excuse to bully the Juniors and Presabers younger than himself. He'd been around for a while but only recently made Presaber because of his lax attitude toward training and practice. He was a somewhat bulky young man, his feathers white with a hint of grey about the eyes and dark brown hair that hung in scraggly, messy locks. Rather plain in looks but he thought himself incredibly handsome. He also thought himself incredibly intelligent, skilled, and often daydreamed of himself in the position of leadership, ruling the Brotherhood like a king of thieves.

People tended to keep away from him -- save for his little pack of cronies. He was like the leader of a gang of school bullies, always ready to toss verbal abuse or pick a fight. In short, he wasn't a very nice guy.

Nylessa, like most, avoided him whenever possible. She knew how he looked at her; she prided herself on only flirting with the guys who had nice personalities, and Henbane was not only low on that list, he wasn't even on it. But in the last week he'd taken to following her.

A couple days ago, however, she'd made it very clear that she had no interest in him, and made that point a very sharp one by drawing her blade on him. He had left her alone since then. She hoped it would be the last of it.

So she was somewhat annoyed to find Featherfrost waiting in the corridor as she was made her way back to C25 after finishing dinner. He grinned at her and leant off the wall.

"I knew you'd come this way."

"Not you again," she groaned. "Take a hint, Henbane, and get lost."

"Playing hard to get is all very well," the man replied. "But I'm getting tired of it, why don't we just go to my quarters and get done with it?"

"I'm not playing anything, you sick ugly jerk!" Nylessa growled. "And believe me, Mr I'm-so-sure-of-my-own-sexual-attraction, I wouldn't bed with you if you were the last and only man on the planet."

His arm shot out and grabbed her sword-arm by the wrist, twisting her close up to him. "You wouldn't have to be willing," he grated, and suddenly Nylessa began to feel a little worried. She struggled to get loose, but he grabbed her by the other arm and rammed her against the wall.

Worry becoming fear and then fear becoming anger, she used the force of his grip pinning her to the wall as support and kicked him as hard as she could in the groin with both feet. Featherfrost gave a tiny squeak and sank to the ground in pain.

"Take the hint, you son of a Saurian, and back off."

She whirled away, the worry she'd felt a few seconds ago vanishing like the puff of a summer breeze, and left Henbane on the ground with his face twisted in rage that she was unfortunate not to notice.

*****

Nylessa woke, later that night, to the familiar noise of her door locking. Which, she thought sleepily, was strange because she'd already locked it that night, before she'd gone to bed. It was something everyone did, although not really necessary because anyone with the basic knowledge of lock picking could get inside with ease. But no one ever did... or did with anyone else noticing...

She sat up sharply as her beside light turned on. "Who..." She recognized the man standing with a smirk beside her. "What the hell are you doing here?" she snarled, her stomach knotting. "Get out of my room!"

"You aren't in the position to order me, bitch," said Henbane softly, pulling something that looked like an old-fashioned dirk from the pocket of his jeans. "I'm the one with the weapon, now." He leered at her, and she felt herself shrink back away from him. "Now, if you don't struggle," he added, tracing the tip of the blade along her forehead, "this can be enjoyable for us both." He started to take her nightgown off.

Nylessa gave a scream and kicked out, catching him a lucky blow on the side of his face. Cursing, Henbane pushed her flat on the bed and brandished the dirk in her face. "Scream again and I'll kill you!" he snapped. "Stupid bit--aargh!" She had struck out with one hand and clawed him across the eyes. Furiously he swiped at her with the dirk but he other arm deflected it from slicing her throat open and it instead raked across her forehead.

She gave another scream but Henbane clapped a hand around her beak, cutting it off halfway, and shoved the edge of his dagger up against her throat. "This time, Nylessa," he whispered, "let's get it right. Scream. Equals. Dead."

*****

The first scream cut through Jedar's dreams and he groaned, casting a glance over his shoulder to see the time and to check if his alarm clock had gone off or something like that. It was some time after 2 AM, and drowsily he decided that it must have been his imagination and turned over again.

The second scream, cut short, woke him up immediately. He sat upright, glanced at the door, then swore softly and sprang out of bed, unbolted his door and pounded on Nylessa's. "Lessa?"

A muffled scream answered him. The door was, of course, locked tight, so Jedar dashed back into his room, snatched the pucklauncher that hung on a hook beside his closet, and shot C25's door open.

Henbane Featherfrost looked up, startled, and Nylessa took that opportunity to land him a heavy punch on the door that knocked him off her. The young man snatched up the dirk again but Jedar dove for him at the same time, twisted Featherfrost's arm back until the dagger was dropped, and then shoved the man into the wall. Henbane's head hit the stone wall with a nauseating crack, and he sagged onto the floor.

Jedar didn't bother looking at him. He sat down beside Nylessa, who was staring into space and shivering, and put an arm around her shoulders. "Are you okay? He didn't..."

"No," she whispered. "He didn't get that far." She started crying silently, and curled up beside him like a little kid. He gently brushed some red hair out of her face, wet with tears... and then glanced at his hand. No, it wasn't tears that made the hair wet; there was a gash about two inches long, just hidden under her fringe.

"Lessa, I think we should go wake Tarrin..." He looked up sharply at a noise from the doorway. Three wide-eyed Juniors peered into the room, obviously awakened by either the screams, or, more likely, by the explosion that was the door disintegrating. He mouthed, Back to bed, and they nodded far too fast, leaving in a hurry. Jedar sighed; by tomorrow this would be all over the grapevine.

Nylessa's shiverings became more violent, and he looked down in concern; but she was only laughing, a weak laugh, but still a laugh. "I... I think you broke my door."

He smiled, and then glanced over at the crumpled heap that was Featherfrost. The man was lying very still. Gently, Jedar removed himself from Lessa's grip, and she sat huddled on the bed as he walked over and prodded Henbane with his foot. No response. Feeling suddenly cold, Jedar crouched down and desperately felt for a pulse, but didn't find one.

"Oh, gods," he groaned. "I killed him."

"Good," said Nylessa harshly, still staring at nothing in particular. "If you hadn't, I would have."

Jedar stood up again, moving hastily away from the former Featherfrost, and took Nylessa by the hand. "Come on. I'll get you to the Doc. He'll put something on that cut of yours. You'd better stay in sick bay for a while." She didn't move, and after a few moments Jedar scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the Infirmary.

*****

Later, Jedar stood in Leila's Office with his gaze fixed on the floor. He was still in his pajamas -- had been the whole time, and hadn't really thought of changing before coming down to wake Leila. The young woman herself had hastily jumped into a sweater and jeans rather than to be seen in her nightdress. Now she stood with her back to him, staring at the picture on her wall. He just made a careful study of the floor; the haunted look in her eyes when he said that Nylessa had almost been raped still bugged him, but he wasn't going to risk pressing. It wasn't his business.

"So," she said finally, turning around. "Where's the guy now? I want ta see him."

Jedar sighed between his teeth and looked up at her. "Would that be just to see him, or to talk with him?"

"Talk with him," said Leila, stressing the word talk so that he got the impression that talking would involve something far more painful. The frown on her face deepened. "Why?"

"It's going to be very hard. He's dead."

There was a long silence, during which Jedar returned to his examination of the ground, and then Leila nodded and said. "Good riddance, then. A monster who tries that sort of thing shouldn't be allowed ta live."

There was a catch in her voice, he noted.

"So how is she? No, that's a stupid question..." She sighed and shook her head. "I was never comfortable with how she flitted around like that," she confessed, "I knew it would attract trouble. Even tried to warn her once in an offhand sorta way." Leila subsided into silence again, and when he looked up, caught his gaze. "But it's not her fault. It's never the victim's fault."

Jedar felt a little trapped by the steely gaze, but couldn't say anything. So Leila just continued, "You two are close, right? Even if not, ya will be after this."

"I love her," he admitted. "I'm not certain if it's returned, though."

Leila gave a wry grin. "Oh, it is, I can see that." She lost the grin just as suddenly as it had arrived, and looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Look, Jedar... you take care of her, okay?"

He gave her a slightly puzzled stare -- puzzled because Leila had never really been too friendly toward him, or anyone, for that matter. Certainly she'd never been at ease with his accent...

Then Jedar smiled. "Is that an order?" he kidded.

"You can think of it as one if it sounds better comin' from me." Leila's face was serious, but he still thought there just a trace of a return smile. But she turned away again before he could properly see. "You should be gettin' back to her," she said. "I'll be along in a few minutes. Got something to do first."

He nodded, and headed for the door. "Oh, and Jedar?" she added. He looked around. Leila was giving him a sideways look, her hands clasped behind her back, a very faint smile on her beak. "Thanks. For Lessa."

 

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