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Proserpina

“You’re a deus ex machina,” Miss Havisham whispers.

“We are not yet,” says Proserpina tightly, “out of the machine.”

They can’t get out the way they came in. Emily-Jane’s already had to break an orderly’s nose; more must be coming soon–

And then, suddenly, Elijah is standing in a delivery door. “Come on,” he says. The world outside is surprisingly sunlit.

“I’m taking her into town,” says Proserpina. “Elijah?”

He nods.

“I have to get back to school,” says Radiane. “Georgette, Euphrania, you can help me cover–”

“I’m going to tell my father,” says Iala, pale and sick and furious.

Radiane

Radiane’s read the books about asylums, too.

Her wrist aches a little: sparring and bag work didn’t really prepare her for laying out a grown man, even one with a glass jaw. It’s cold in here. There have been no howls or rattling chains yet. She has noticed that the doors on these rooms are heavily secured, though, and the man at the entrance had no convenient ring of keys.

Georgette is shivering, but following; Iala is pale. “You do have a plan,” she murmurs, “as to what to do when we find her?”

Proserpina says nothing, just strides grimly on.

Proserpina

Proserpina doesn’t have to make a rousing speech; she doesn’t have to draw a line in the sawdust. “Iala, you owe me,” she says. “Radiane. Ernestine. The rest of you can join us or not. I wouldn’t.”

And in fact, of the core group, four decline. But lumpy, awkward Euphrania Dowell volunteers, as does Emily-Jane Northup, their only third-year. So, to some surprise, does Georgette. Two glances between her and Radiane tell Proserpina everything.

“I don’t suppose we’re waiting for a moonless night to go skulking into the horrid place,” says Iala dryly.

“No,” says Proserpina, “for visiting hours.”

Proserpina

They watch the girls sneak back in pairs, waiting until last to leave themselves. Radiane rests her head on Proserpina’s shoulder.

“I was happy, you know,” she says suddenly. “Eating with Georgette, playing field hockey, hoping Father would buy me a horse. I was.”

Proserpina is silent.

“What happens to all that now?”

“It’s still there.”

“No.” Radiane cracks her neck: an awful habit they’ve all picked up. “You took it away.”

“I haven’t taken anything,” says Proserpina, a little coolly.

“That’s true,” says Radiane. “All you do is give. But your gifts are the kind with hooks in the ribbons.”

Radiane

Few in history are the referees who have resorted to striking the contestants in order to persuade them to abide by Queensberry rules, but Radiane is not exactly a veteran of the position.

Fewer yet (if not by many) are the boxers who have found this situation a first bit of common ground, and who have siezed the newfound bond to turn their gloves upon the referee in question.

But unique to this match is the interruption of a teenage girl named Georgette: shrieking, leaping from the rubbish bin-cum-cornerpost, defending her friend with the world’s first flying elbow drop.

Proserpina

“Do I have to wear the gloves?” Iala frowns.

“They’re for your hands, not her head,” sighs Proserpina. “Stop tucking your thumbs inside your fists or I shall break them before you do.”

“Swish swish crack!” mutters Ernestine, in the other corner, making little swipes as she stares at the sand-marked edges of the ring. “Pop swish pop!”

“Keep your hands up,” says Radiane, “and please don’t try to pull her hair.”

“I won’t if she doesn’t,” Ernestine lies.

“Eep!” says Georgette, upon accidentally dinging the bell. The chatter of the assembled first-years spooks the pigeons in the rafters.

Proserpina

Proserpina and Iala have been friends since their second day, and each has found this useful: Proserpina is most confident of the new girls, Iala the best at charming their elders. Between them they have half the school in their jumper pockets.

Radiane seems to have only one friend, an apple-cheeked second-year named Georgette; they eat lunch and do assignments together. Proserpina mentions to Iala, casually, that they should talk with Georgette more. Doesn’t she seem like a darling? Lucky there’s a space at their table.

Radiane eats alone after that, looking cool and bored and never their way.

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