Red leaned back on her chair, staring at the ceiling with a zombified glaze to her eyes. Halfling had fallen asleep a long time ago and was now snoring softly in the seat behind her, Doppel occasionally leaning over and drawing on his sleeping classmate’s head with a smirk. Red foresaw a severe beating on Doppel once Halfling woke up, but she wasn’t complaining. Doppel was a jerk, regardless of the fact that he was Blondie’s twin.
“Class, turn to page eighty-four.”
The two goblins sitting next to her stifled yawns as they turned to the indicated page in the textbook.
Red sighed. Another page on abstinence. What kind of health class was this?
“Now, I know that you’re all teenagers, and teenagers like to touch things they shouldn’t be touching,” the teacher said in that gratingly patronizing way. She primly straightened out her starched white shirt, weirdly ever-present smile stuck in place. Both of the goblins—Red was guessing that they were brothers (they were actually pretty cute…)—exchanged glances, smirks playing across their faces. “But I’m here to tell you why you have to resist those urges, especially you young ladies.”
Red wished that there was a window in this room that she could stare out of. She decided to fidget with her pen instead. Maybe draw little pictures on the margins of her textbook.
“I’m not going to tell you what sex is. You shouldn’t do it until you’re married, so you don’t need to know what it is, yes?” That hatefully fake smile looked like it was flash-frozen there. Red wondered if it would move if she poked it. “But remember girls, if any boy touches your ‘feminine’ areas, even if you don’t want him to, you’re a dirty whore.” The teacher leaned forward, her hands on her knees, and her smile looked like it was from one of those creepy kids’ shows. “And none of you want to be dirty whores, do you?”
Red was only half-listening. She glanced over at the goblins next to her, and the one missing his right eye looked secretly appalled, but the one missing his left eye looked like he wasn’t even listening.
“Whores won’t go anywhere in life. Whores go to the Headmistress and are sent to solitary restriction. Whores are always asking for what they get, and they get a lot.”
Red frowned a little, squirming uncomfortably, but she found that she was too scared to object. The last girl who had objected had been dragged away to solitary restriction. She had come back in three weeks without a tongue.
Red would let the crazy teacher keep talking without interruption.
“But just in case you decide to be a dirty whore, here are the facts.” The teacher clapped her hands together. “You are the lowest form of life, and you will get a disease and die. Even if you do not get a disease, your fathers are legally allowed to kill you for it.”
Wait, what? They were allowed to what?
Oh, right… Yeah, that was actually common knowledge. Of course fathers and husbands were allowed to kill their family. It didn’t happen often, but they were allowed to.
“And if they don’t kill you as you deserve to be, then you’ll be forced to marry the person who you lost yourself to and they will kill you. Or sell you into prostitution. As you deserve to be.” That fake smile was still there. “Or as you would deserve to be if you’re a dirty whore.”
Most of the kids looked uncomfortable, but none were willing to inject their opinion. What she said was true—fathers and husbands were legally capable of having their daughters, wives, and sons killed or sold into slavery—but few were willing to point out the fact that the father or husband actually had to want the person killed. That decision didn’t hinge on what some crazy health teacher thought.
Besides, there was a huge social stigma against patriarchs sentencing family members to death, and it was only barely legal at this point. Red suspected that it would be made illegal by the time she graduated.
Demon was the first to raise her hand. Red was actually surprised that anyone dared to—the teacher looked rabid enough to bite someone.
“Can you get pregnant your first time?”
The room got cold. Red had to admit that she was impressed—Demon could be seriously beaten or something worse for asking anything that implied she was considering sex out of marriage.
And anyone who got that crazy teacher’s grin to freeze like that and have the color drain from her face was okay in Red’s book. She’d have to hang out with Demon that night.
Demon put her hand down, leaning forward and propping her head on her fists. “Well, can you?”
“…” The teacher picked up a marker from her desk and started to fidget with it. “…No.”
She turned around to the whiteboard and started writing out what she said. “You can’t get pregnant your first time, and you can’t get pregnant until you are a full adult by your species’ definition. An elf can’t get pregnant until she is one hundred and thirty, a goblin can’t be pregnant until she is seventeen, a human can’t get pregnant until she is twenty, and so on and so forth.”
Finally, some actual health education.
Red leaned down and started taking notes.
“Finally, you are here.”
Elf looked up from a circle of books on the ground, crossing delicate arms and glaring as Crim put his backpack on the ground. “Last period ended seven minutes ago.”
“The teacher was slow to let us out.” He sat on the ground with the elf, glancing through the books she had already taken from the shelf. “What have we got?”
“Little to nothing.” Elf scowled at him as though it were his fault. Crim could already tell how much he’d enjoy working with this girl. “There are only books about the Olympians, but no one was assigned the major gods. Element probably did not wish to anger them.”
“Don’t worry. There are temples and shrines all over the town—we’ll just sign up to go there this weekend.”
Elf stiffened slightly, then frowned and looked away, crossing thin arms. “I refuse to go to the town. They strip-search the students returning from those excursions. I prefer my privacy to be respected, thank you.”
Crim sighed, but he couldn’t really bring himself to be exasperated by that. He had been reluctant to deal with someone making him take his clothes off for them, too. “Don’t worry. We can always skip out on the registering for the trip.” Crim pulled a book out of the shelf in front of them, checking it for any information on minor deities. “Demon was telling my brother about it in Health. Some of the monitors and some of the teachers are willing to turn a blind eye if you don’t get a permission slip to go to the town, and if you never got a permission slip, you’re not registered for a strip-search. As long as you’ve never gotten in trouble before and the teachers and monitors you’re with don’t think you’re going to try to run away or bring contraband in or something, you don’t have to go through it.”
Elf frowned, hugging her knees casually. “Does that not defeat the purpose of a reformatory?”
“I don’t question it. Half the rules here make no sense anyway—I’m not partial to following rules that make no sense.” Crim sighed at the book and put it away, taking out another. “I think that Scar and Nature are in charge of the trip to town this weekend. Scar will be reluctant to go against the rules, but if I explain that you don’t want to be strip-searched, he’ll understand. He never liked enforcing a system that subjugates and violates girls. Nature hates this place and does everything in her power to help out the nice students.”
“Who is Nature?”
“Biology and Natural Sciences teacher.” Crim flicked through the pages of the book in his lap. “I think this may have something. It has a family tree in it, so maybe we’ll find Morpheus in there somewhere. So are we going to town on Saturday?”
“If we must.” Elf crossed thin arms, scowling defiantly. “But I will not enjoy it.”
“I never asked you to.” Crim rolled his eye. “This project is going to take a lot of work. We’d better get used to being with each other.”
Elf huffed, then sidled up to Crim, looking down at the book in his lap and taking notes.
“Why are we coming along?”
“Because you need to hang out with someone besides your brother and I figure that if I bother Drow enough, he’ll actually say more than two words.”
Drow scowled, glaring from silver eyes and ducking his head to hide behind white hair. Patch glanced at him, frowning thoughtfully, then glanced up at the red-haired girl leading him and the dark elf away from the stone buildings of the boarding school to the field on the front side of it, all the way towards the fences that closed the reformatory off from the thin dirt road that led to the town after a day’s walk.
“Hey, am I about to be brought in on some trouble-making my first day?”
“I dunno. I’m just bringing you off to a bunch of other boys. We’re probably going to do something stupid.”
“Cool. My brother’s a straight arrow, so I need to stir up enough trouble for the both of us.”
Red glanced back at him, smirking, and Drow rolled his eyes, pulling his hood up and still not saying anything.
“Hey, look who the cat dragged in!”
Patch looked up at the barbed wire fence they were approaching, noting that a few boys he recognized from his dorm were sitting against it. A halfling kid who Patch knew to have a single-person bedroom and who had his windows barred and his door locked every night (Crim hadn’t been too eager to find out why that was, and frankly, neither was Patch), a dwarf, and a dark-skinned human.
“Hey. You’re in the room above us, right?” The black-skinned human stood up and held out his hand. “Coal.”
“Patch.” Patch clapped his hand against the human’s, gripping it tightly before pulling away. “Yeah, I’m above your room with my brother.”
“We cannae ‘ear ye gettin’ ready fer bed. Th’ insulation leaves a loot t’ be d’sired.” Dwarf said, glancing up at the fence. “Coal, if yer going t’ try t’ jump this, then ye c’n count me out.”
“What, you’re scared?” Halfling smirked, pulling at the fence. “The administrators of this concentration camp are just a lot of hot air.”
Red shook out her hair. “Halfling, Elf was talking about how some girl in her class was beaten so hard that she bled down to the chair. I’m not interested in that.”
“You sound like my brother.” Patch shoved his hands in his pockets, smirking, eyes sparkling with charm. “They probably stage that stuff to scare us. I mean, I’ve only met a couple of people who actually look like they need a reformatory.”
“Why would any of us be here if we didn’t need it?” Coal sat back down against the fence and everyone followed suit, even Drow.
“Well, I know my big brother doesn’t need this place. He’ll be off being the youngest president ever or something in ten years at most. You’ll see.” Patch reclined lazily on the ground. “And I’ll be off roaming the world. That sounds fun.”
Drow rolled his eyes but said nothing. Halfling started climbing up the fence.
“You guys can stay here with your tails between your legs, but I’m going off to the town.”
“You’re going to get busted, Halfling. They’ll have your head.”
No one got up to stop him. Red rolled her eyes and shook her head, lying down next to Patch as Halfling got up to the barbed wire.
“Come on. You’re going to get yourself hurt up there.”
Halfling made a rude gesture and started squirming past the barbed wire.
A tremor past through the metal.
The halfling howled in pain and Coal jumped away from the fence, shouting, and an alarm roared through the school.