Warmth started to spread through me and I felt myself zone out - the way you sometimes randomly do even when you’re supposed to be concentrating, so you came back to the world wondering what you had missed and forgetting what you had been thinking about before. But suddenly I felt Kenny’s hand wrenched out of mine and I came back to the world to see Joel holding Kenny’s arms behind his back in what looked like a painful position.
“Didn’t I tell you no?” Joel said.
“Do you want to face the Council?” Kenny asked furiously.
“Oh, that’s all right. I can tell them you left a feather around her neck.”
Kenny looked at the ground.
“But the feather doesn’t do anything to me... does it?” I asked. It felt very strange to talk about being controlled magically.
“Oh no,” Joel said cheerfully, “but a feather’s a mighty big gift. I haven’t even given Susanna one of mine.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Kenny said crossly. “It was for the Chaos-measuring.”
“Then why’s she still wearing it?”
I knew the answer to that one and I said “Because I liked it. Is that a crime?”
Joel grinned, like he was taking great pleasure in imagining Kenny’s torment. Susanna looked slightly awkward.
“Oh, yeah, that’s a big crime. Not you liking it, of course; you can’t help it. But him letting you keep it. Encouraging your affection for him.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s a big step,” I said. I suddenly realised that I didn’t know why I was defending Kenny. He had even said on Saturday that he would need to break Joel and Susanna up. But for some reason, it was important to me that Kenny didn’t suffer for what he had done: for his job, for trying to prevent Chaos. “I’m not in love with him.”
“Mm, but that feather is quite transfixing, don’t you find? Some people even say that a feather can do more than the Ring of Subjugation: that it can create a bond between a human and a Guardian. And if Susanna and I are breaking a rule or two by going out, Kenny’s breaking a more important one by letting that risk be run.”
“That bond shatters when you do the mind-wipe,” Kenny pointed out. “I really don’t see the harm in letting her wear something she thinks is pretty. It’s not enough to act as a trigger, she won’t be attracted to me because she won’t know me and it might even make her wary of your kind, so that she won’t end up in the same situation as her poor sister.”
“Don’t insult Joel,” Susanna said boldly, animated again. “And I think you should take the feather. Take the feather rather than her memories. None of us needs any reminder of your interference.”
I sighed and pulled the feather off myself.
“Look, there, offending material off.” I offered it to Kenny. He took it, frowning but nodding his thanks. He put it in his pocket.
Joel looked slightly disappointed but said “I think that’s your cue to go, Kenny. Off you pop, now.” He let go of his wrists and Susanna quickly pulled me away from him.
Kenny shook his wrists, wincing, but looked at Joel directly.
“You know I can’t, Joel.”
“Actually, I know you’re perfectly capable of not performing a mind-wipe. You leave and never try to find her again. That doesn’t seem so hard to me.”
“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Susanna added. “She was just caught up in this because of you.”
Kenny looked at me and I suddenly heard his voice in my mind.
‘Midnight tonight? Ten seconds and I’ll be done. You won’t even think you woke up.’
Trying my best not to communicate anything through my expression that would make Joel or Susanna suspicious, I thought ‘Agreed.’
‘Thanks,’ Kenny thought back. He shrugged and told Joel “Have it your way. If I lose my job, I promise I will continue to make your existence miserable.” He turned and walked off.
Joel rolled his eyes.
“He really thinks he can scare me?”
“Are you sure he can’t pursue you?”
“Yup. He’ll cause Chaos. And you can see how much he cares about that: he wouldn’t be a Guardian of Order, otherwise. They say you have to kill your heart to choose that path.”
I frowned, thinking about all the times Kenny had been gentle, the way he had smiled earlier at the thought of liberating me.
‘No, he still cares,’ I thought. ‘He’s just brave enough to do the right thing no matter who hates him for it.’ And at that point I felt more admiration for Kenny than I had ever felt for Joel. Yes, my sister was involved; yes, it would break her heart if Kenny won the battle, but I believed him about the earthquake and I knew in my heart of hearts that Susanna and Joel had to stop. Rather two broken hearts than the end of the world.
“You want to come get lunch with us?” Susanna asked me.
“Sure,” I replied, having nowhere else to be. I didn’t say anything else as we walked to the café.
When we sat down, Joel asked “Hey, are you all right?”, back to being the friendly guy. “It must have been a real ordeal for you.”
“It was just really weird,” I told him. “At no point did I feel sickened by him or horrified... and even now...” I laughed it off. “Guess I’m mad.”
Joel shook his head, smiling.
“Nah, the Ring of Subjugation is a strange thing. Few humans really detest the Guardian who puts it on them. I just find it a horrifying concept.”
“Me too. You poor thing, Jen. Well, at least we never have to see him again.”
“Mm-hm,” Joel agreed. “Doubtless he’ll try to break us up, but now we know about him, we’ll be less likely to fall for any of his tricks. Love will win out. If it doesn’t, I’ll become a Guardian of Order myself.” He grinned to show how unlikely he thought that was.
Susanna hugged him.
“I hope it does.”
I said nothing.