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Sharper than Knives

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In any other story Damien would say "You knew what I was when you picked me up," and maybe you didn't the first time but that was only the first time (you never have another kiss that doesn't taste of blood). You learn your lesson better than anyone wanted to teach you.

 


 

 This year you focus on white and blue magic. Not just out of interest for all you can see where events and exams would have been easier with these kinds of spells, but because Grabiner will answer questions if they're on topic and worth his time with brutal efficiency and clarity where Potsdam dropped hints about the importance of consent, how the otherworld works in terms of culture, laws, and consent. She doesn't answer your questions if you ask them outright. You stop asking her questions.

 

You talk to William a lot. Or he talks to you in case you break down over last year. He's apprenticing, tutoring red magic in exchange for letters of reference for otherworld schools. You hide your questions as curiosity and he tells you things the others don’t mention. Talks about edict and reciprocity. After you take notes in the back of your notebook from last year. Ellen complains about the lack of cultural information you get taught and you agree, mention how strange it is there's only two teachers and one of them the headmistress. Virginia rolls her eyes at the thought of more school until you mention multiple teachers mean a better shot at avoiding Grabby. 

 


 

Damien knew what you were when he picked you up. Held out his hand and lifted you from the ground. Taught you the games that people grew up knowing. Treated you like you were special, a Wildflower in a dead field. 

 

You weren't the only one who went round picking petals off flowers.


 

Potsdam made the wards around school keep cambions out, but no one thought of summer. Magicless summer with your parents who got a glazed look in their eye when you mentioned school, friends who had moved on to other things like exams and moves and tv that you had  missed completely. You weren't just gone for a year, you missed a year. 


 

At night you dream of the lake and skip off-colour stones into the off-colour water. It would make sense if it was a nightmare. If the lake turned to blood and Damien showed up just to slice you with his-your knife. Instead you wake up feeling like you're missing something. 

 

You spend less time with your parents and more time wandering the streets. You know this place, could once have drawn a map on the back of your hand. Now there are new shops, the park took out the merry go round and sharp metal corners have been replaced with plastic curves. You have a scar from that park on the back of your right knee that no other child will have the chance to earn.

 

You bin the dress you wore to the dance and buy one that doesn't remind you of beach house curtains. The colour is the same as Damien’s eyes and you wonder if anyone will notice. It's big on you now, but your parents are tall and you'll probably get taller. Besides it's easy to make big things small.  


 

The freshmen are bright eyed even when asked to do stupid things by the seniors. You toss sting at anyone crossing the line into bullying. By now it's only the freshmen who don't know what happened to you last year, even then you think most will be told by the end of the week. But no one challenges you on your magic use. You are a warning to the masses.

 

You want to think the spells are for the freshmen’s sake but it's not and you know it. Everything in school has settled into a pattern and you can see wildseeds making mistakes that they didn't know to avoid. Anything that came from your encounter with Damien seems to be more in line with 'That's why you don't trust demons' than explain what consent actually meant in the world of magic. You want to rip things apart with teeth like knives and teach them-

 

You and Ellen pool what you know and slip leaflets under the freshmen’s doors while Ellen does her treasury rounds. William vanishes to his other world course and you write him letters. He answers, sometimes copies out pages from books or his own notes for you. You share with Ellen. Victoria rolls her eyes and plays soccer without magic. You wonder if she would give up magic for sport. You wonder if she would give up family for health. You wonder a lot of things and most aren't nice.

 


 The ring when you wear it is too much on you, suited for the school dance but not daily wear. Pastel could wear it and look natural, you are not Pastel. You buy a chain from a new store half way home and tread the ring though it. It drops to sit between your beasts, hidden and close to your heart. You don't take it off again.

 

You lost part of yourself at that school, to Damien, and if this ring is what you get in return then you're going to keep it close. You gave him so much of yourself it's almost a joke, what did the virgin give to the demon? Her soul of course.

 

Strange that after all that time you spent making sure not to give the impression of sex you consented to something much more.

 

Funny that no one mentioned consent to you. 


 

It's 2 weeks to valentine’s day when you run into Pastel almost literally. She still hasn't got the allure that she wants to have but you still want to kiss her anyway, her lip-gloss first year tasted like spring rain and sugar, now it's sickly sweet.

 

"Trying your luck with another halfling?" She asked but slowed her steps to match yours. "I'm not quite into taking souls." 

 

"Mines spoken for." You say and grin. She laughs like bells but you're not joking.

 

"Alright, what do you want?"

 

When you kiss her there aren't sharp teeth but you taste blood anyway. She pulls you closer and presses you against the corridor wall. Her grip is sharp enough to make you bleed.

 

You come hard, pressed between her and the wall. And again in her bed with her face between your legs. You return the favour, listen to her gasp and laugh against her thigh.

 

"Was that all you wanted?" She asks and fixes her hair.

 

"Hmmm. What's love?" You ask.

 

She laughs again and kisses your cheek. "Oh mon petit cheval, love is for humans."

 

It's not funny but you knew she was going to say that.

 

(you have always been more comfortable with obsession anyway)

 


 

You don't go to the lake but you dream of it. Always now you wake up expecting to hear the movement of water. It might be easier at school, when you can distract yourself with magic, with writing down everything there is to know but at home there isn't a distraction.

 

Your parents are looking through you. You wonder if you will return home next year.

 

You wonder where else you could go.

 

You dream of the lake and him, the more you dream of the lake the more you think of Damien. You have his knife on you still. You wonder what it would be like to bury it in his chest. You wonder what it would take for him to let you. You wonder if you want to return the favor.

 

You wake up and eat breakfast and exist like a ghost in your house.


 

William tells you about changelings, about babies made of twigs and leaves and shadows left in cribs with the window open. William tells you about wildseeds plucked from their beds and taken away, about the spells that blurred your parents minds. He tells you everything he can and more he shouldn't and when he comes to visit his siblings you smiles at him and acts like a stranger. You see how he didn't last as Damien’s playmate, William would trust a scorpion not to sting as he carried it. He trusts you.


 

 If anyone knew what you were doing they'd kill you both. You and Ellen sitting next to each other with pinkie fingers linked and uniforms carefully arranged. Between you is the result of Ellen’s summer work, a netbook perfectly suited for a student at any school but yours.

 

Neither of you can do magic here where the mundane world slides off both of you. Instead you have a camp cooker and a cast iron pot. This is only magic because you're doing it, cutting and grinding and boiling.

 

(when you held the pot your flesh stung and even now a rash drags up your arm and this is a turning point come too late)

 

You trace a string of shapes across the shell of the netbook, loops and curls that confuse the eye all made of the gunk from the pot that smells like burnt herbs and something acrid you didn't expect. For all intents and purposes the netbook doesn't exist to anyone else.

 

(the first week of school you and Ellen both will discover you cannot touch it with bare skin and you will laugh and laugh and laugh until Ellen holds you while you cry.)

 


 

Ellen continues to be treasurer and combined you make more leaflets, better leaflets, for the wildseeds. You smile with too much teeth at the new senior class and somehow become an event manager, in charge of preparation for apple fairs and Thunder calls and Dark Dances. You warn the students better than you were ever warned.

 

Pastel has graduated and you find yourself missing the simplicity of her, of kissing her and making her come. There isn't the time for that now. There are too many freshmen with too many questions and you answer all of them, trade them for favours and promises and shiny memories of home. You warned them all, wrote it out clearer than Potsdam ever did, and they still come to you with hungry hearts. 

 

You press favours into your old notebooks like flowers and cut yourself on your edges.

 


 

"Do you want to stop?" Ellen asks you once, only once. Your hands are still tender from the last touch of a magic neither of you understand but that isn't the question. Ellen knows you better than anyone, knows the collection of favours owed and how you owe her owe her owe her.

 

"A bit late for that, isn't it?" You grin. When she doesn't laugh, doesn't look away, you sigh. "I'm going to change everything they know." You breathe, less promise more statement. "And you're going to make it stick."

 

"I am." she agrees. and that’s the end of that. 

 


 

This place is all the more alien for its familiarity and that is why you sit on the swing and kick. You have a feeling for them now, those places where real and unreal and everything between mix and stretch and fray at the edges.

 

He walks into the park. It hits you like a Push to the chest and you think of the knife in your pocket the ring over your heart and the taste of blood in your mouth. He is not as you remember, hair tied back wearing something in more dimensions than an Escher painting. He's so much sharper than you remember, jaw and wings and eyes and teeth.

 

He sits on the swing next to you in silence. Once you would have filled the space with questions, with demands for answers you would not get. Instead you remember reciprocity, pull out your earrings and hand them to him, obsidian shards sharp enough to draw blood. 

 

(You kiss him and bite into his mouth, lick the blood off his teeth as he claws the hair from your head. He grins bloody and bruised as the sun sinks. "Teeth sharper than knives." he says and his laughter lingers long after he does.)


Your parents forget to set a place for you at dinner and you pack the last of the things you care about into a bag, leave behind photos and certificates and all the collective mementos of a life that you don't fit into. When you leave you take the money from the emergency box in the kitchen, seven hundred dollars that you tuck into an old pair of socks. 

 

There’s three weeks until school starts and the thought of spending them on campus is unappealing in the same way that eating dog food is. You want to set something on fire, set a lot of somethings on fire and if you're on campus you will wake with ashes on your tongue. You spend ten dollars on lighters and modify them until the flame is two inches high. You cut your hair and burn the strands finally identifying the acrid smell from last year.

 

Your reflection is sharp and unfamiliar and you laugh and laugh.


 

 Three days before semester Damian sits next to you at breakfast and steals a strawberry from your plate. You raise an eyebrow and he grins as juice runs down his chin. This is the first time you've seen him since you gave him earrings. Obsidian darkness to whisper in his ears, the closest to romantic you've been since you give part of your soul to a demon. Obsidian arrow heads  hanging where no piercing was before.

 

"You're playing with fire." He says and you bite your tongue on the laugh. "They'll know what you're doing, you haven’t' been subtle."

 

For a moment you consider telling him what you're doing, what you've been doing. How with one email you can destroy everything Iris Academy holds dear, bring every wildseed to your side and have them thank you for it. You aren't a very good person anymore.

 

(you aren't a person anymore)

 

"Subtle isn't the point." You say instead and drag a piece of pancake though syrup. "But I've been subtle enough." you know he doesn't know what you're doing, otherwise he would have lead with that. Instead you're wondering what he tastes like, what he wants from you that’s brought him to your table.

 

He hums an agreement. "I talked to Pastel, I think I'm jealous." 

 

For a moment all you can do is imagine it, imagine him. Imagine how he would sound when he comes, how he would make you scream.

 

"You should be." you tell him instead and lick your lips like you're imagining the taste of her and bite back a smile when he growls.

 

"And here I came to offer you something." Damian drawled and it was unfair how attractive he made it sound, how attractive he made all offers sound. But then that was how you ended up half dead in a circle, how all this started.

 

There's too much to say, too much you want to say and shouldn't for you to say anything. Your silence has always been an answer and he takes it like he always did.

 

When he leaves there’s a paper box where he was, the top folded like petals and you wonder because you always wonder like there’s nothing left in you but wondering and sharpness.

 

(Later you unfold the letter and read and read and read and remember the taste of his blood when you sucked it off his tongue.) 


 

Potsdam smiles at you like a sunrise in a forest fire. Her letter of reference is three pages long, gushing with praise and skipping over that unpleasantness at the end of first year. However much she thinks you know about this school, this world, she is wrong. But oh, you're the perfect example of a wildseed caught and cultivated and soon to be fit for display and Potsdam wants to show you off.

 

Grabiner’s letter is short and succinct, calls you adequate and he looks at you like he knows what you're doing. He doesn't, she doesn't, they don't know what you're doing because you slipped into the cracks between them and the students they don't plan for until you were the one they went to for advice. You traded favours for spell help, to stop bullies, to study for tests, to get the bunny from the claw machine. You were the one who was cried on after break ups and gushed to after first dates, who suggested study partners and food choices and candidates. 

 

Ellen has a laptop than runs off ambient magic, invisible to anyone but the pair of you. She has the scientific method and a promise made in threes. If you could you'd love her and instead you protect her and give her anything she could want. If she asked you would do anything anywhere to anyone. She has an email to send if you vanish that will bring the veil down and change every world.

 

(You have seen Damian six times this year and each time he looks better and each time you want to bite the smirk off his face.)

 

(In the library is a notebook explaining how the world works. The real one is hidden in the inside cover of an outdated encyclopedia that requires in-depth knowledge of early two thousands internet meme's to find.)

 


 

You graduate to the applause of the younger years and Pastel's family sponsoring you through university, or what counts for it there. You spend nine years leaning Blue Red White and Black magic and laugh when your Green magic withers plants. 

 

(William talks to you once and never again. You're not sure what you did in that two minutes but you almost miss what could have been.)

 

You walk back into Iris Academy one year and three months after you graduate and take a job teaching white magic and tutoring in whatever subjects students need. Potsdam drags you out in front of donors and doesn't realise why they're giving the school money.

 

You meet Ellen for coffee in a mundane cafe where Damian once stole your food and she tells you about MIT, about the way she can pull neon from lights, about how "if you just ask, just say the word-" and you want to kiss her but you don't get to keep the things you kiss.

 

(You wriggle your way into the wards of the school, into all the ones that matter. You feel them hum under your skin and stroke the one that keeps Damian out, that keeps all like him out. So like this school to think that all like Damian would look like him.)

 


 

You ask Ellen to send the other email. 


 

The investigation has Potsdam's smile pulling tight at the edges and Grabiner snapping at anyone who catches his attention. You make tea and soothing noises and offer to take classes off their hands. The investigators smile approvingly at you as they make notes and you can feel things falling into place.

 

Six months later (relative to you, much longer for those running the investigation) and you are being presented the role of Headmistress by Potsdam with a forced smile. She has been given the opportunity to guest lecture in a section of the Otherworld that you cannot pronounce and will not embarrass yourself by trying. It is a punishment disguised as an opportunity and everyone over the age of twenty five knows it. Grabiner will be staying on staff part time as some family obligations have been discovered, and as the last of his line the responsibility falls to him. You might owe Pastel a screaming orgasm for that.

 

The wards settle around you like a summer shawl, official where before you were just a blip of extra power. You breathe in and bow and thank those present for the honour.

 


 

Over summer you hire new teachers. Bring Ellen back (because you miss her you miss her and having her where you can't see her for ten years has been hell and suffering and you need her close) to teach customs and edict, the first thing students learn is consent.

 

You bring in old friends from university to teach the magic classes, offer Virginia the chance to teach gym and slowly remake the school in your image. 

 

Damian sends you a letter of congratulations, fishes for your goal, and gives you a ring with a chunk of tourmalinated quartz. You laugh and wear it as the warning it was meant as. You dropped the wards around cambions two months ago and Damian will notice eventually. You can't wait.

 

(One day the families in the other world who trick wildseeds into bargains will find that these random children with magic know more of the rules than the ones who made them. By then Ellen will have taught technomancey and there will be options. By then the world will be in your image.)

 

Until then you look over budgets and book lists and get ready to restock the library. You are the Headmistress, the beacon of the future, and there is work to be done and a world to ruin.