It was lightly snowing when Athylee and Katrynn made their down to the school’s main gate where a small horse and cab waited. Katrynn, turning her face up at the pale grey sky overhead, smiled. Winter, her favorite season, had begun in earnest, bringing with it chill winds, occasional snow and sleet, and little sunshine. It’s the start of Twelfmon, Katrynn thought. The best months of the year. Winter Solstice is going to be here before we know it!  Katrynn sighed with satisfaction. Not only do I get to skip class today, I’m also going on a super-secret mission with my mentor... like a real assassin! Finally! And it’s snowing!
For a month, Katrynn had waited for the ‘real’ assignment to begin with mounting excitement and disappointment as each week passed and she remained at the school. After all, Emalynn had gone for a trip to Karrowyn and Brittainy had gone on an undercover mission to an Upper Court social. Well, Mistress Athyl and I practiced undercover skills together, Katrynn told herself. The interviewing practice was fun and making up back stories was so interesting... But now we can do our part! Maybe we’ll find new clues for the information board.
In Chrystyna’s bedroom, the small meeting place for their team had taken on an official look which greatly pleased Katrynn. The young girl loved looking at the maps and diagrams and notes and bills which festooned the cork board Geoffrey had set up on a large easel. Another cork board was covered in pins with colored strings that drew connections between the daguerreotypes of Lord Sadon, Mr. Taryth, Lady Matilde, and Ulston. Where Colin had gotten the daguerreotypes from, Katrynn did not know, but on first seeing the boards and notes and piles of paper, the young apprentice had felt even more energized about the task which lay before her.
Now, it is happening, she thought with glee. Remembering Athylee’s instructions, however, Katrynn was careful to put on her best Ecarte gaming face.
When the cab finally arrived in the center of the city, Katrynn felt more than prepared. Mistress Athylee had reminded her of their agenda, and Katrynn’s palm-sized notebook and favorite pen were already out and waiting.
“Well, we’re here,” Athylee said, as she too hopped out of the small cab, paid the driver, arranged the time for their return trip, and turned to stare up at the pillared edifice of the Capital’s central police station. “Quite grand, isn’t it? We’ll be taking the side entrance today, though. More inconspicuous.”
“Yes,” Katrynn echoed. “Inconspicuous.”
‘Inconspicuous’ was a word Katrynn was beginning to understand thanks to Athylee’s careful instruction. For the first time in her life, Katrynn was beginning to get a glimpse of what being anonymous actually meant in the most practical sense. Her clothing, for example, had to be very ordinary (which initially disappointed the young apprentice). Katrynn – dressed in dark trousers, a white long-sleeved shirt, a navy cardigan, and a thick black fleece coat complete with a green scarf, hat, and mittens – looked like an ordinary child of Doran. However, Katrynn felt she was anything but ordinary. In her mind’s eye, she was swathed in darkness, complete with a hooded cloak, hidden weaponry, and a heart of steel. Beside her, Athylee looked like her harmless Auntie. She wore a dark, thick bonnet, a heavy black shawl, a thin dark purple jacket, and a brown dress with sensible boots below. The bag tucked under her arm might very well contain knitting for all the world knew. It did not.
‘Inconspicuous’ also seemed to entail going through very small, out of the way side entrances instead of up the wide, granite steps past the leering gargoyles and grand pillars. Once inside and checked in with a rather harried secretary, Athylee consulted a notepad and made her way up and down various hallways until she came to a wooden door with a glass window marked in black stenciling: ‘Para-Security Liaison’. The glass, Katrynn noticed, was fogged and thick so she could not see inside.
“Enter!” Someone invited, and the two assassins slipped in.
A solid, florid woman was rising to her feet, setting aside various piles of paperwork and clearing off her desk. She paused a moment, shook Athylee’s hand, and gestured at the seat.
“Name’s Caryll Smithson.” She waved a hand at two wooden chairs which stood before her desk and then continued to move paper from her one of her filing cabinets to another set of battered shelves. Upon finishing her task, the ‘Para-Security Liaison’ helped herself to some tea and took her own seat.
Mistress Athylee, Katrynn noted, seemed unperturbed by the liaison’s behavior. But then, Katrynn reminded herself, an invasion of Doran could be underway and Mistress Athylee would be as cool as a cucumber. Katrynn wondered if she would ever achieve the high level of calm which her mentor displayed. It was almost an art form.
As Caryll Smithson ruffled through another set of notes and glared at the writing over a pair of pince-nez, Athylee took out her own papers and set the seal down by the rows of pens, quills, stamps, and ink pots.
“Willem left a note about your arrival somewhere,” said the woman, brushing her graying hair back impatiently. “He is always terrible with the paperwork when he’s on shift. Ah, here we are. You need some information on Lord Sadon... Any information.” Caryll frowned. “I had no idea that the – er – the Guild had an interest in the man. There are no real records on him.”
No real records? Katrynn wondered. What are unreal records then?
“‘No real records’?” Judging by Athylee’s eyebrow, the Master-in-Training was sharing the same thoughts as her apprentice.
“That is to say, there are no serious charges,” Caryll elaborated. “I’ve got the basic records and information here.” At that, she slid forward a slim folder. “We probably have other specifics in the Archives-”
“We will need those as well,” Athylee interjected smoothly.
“However, you are not allowed to withdraw the originals from the Archives, so you will have to go there to take notes.”
Katrynn watched Athylee closely. Would Athylee become a woman of action and threaten the uncooperative liaison? Would she bring out some secret and blackmail Caryll? Or would Athylee bring to bear all the weight and authority she held thanks to the Headmaster’s Seal? At that thought, Katrynn’s speculative gaze shifted to Caryll.
Athylee at first did not respond. Instead, she flicked through the slender brown folder which had been given to her. The Master-in-Training consulted the sky outside the small window, the folder, and then the ceiling before replying.
“My assistant will go to the Archives and take the required notes,” Athylee finally replied, “while I talk with the two officers listed in these records.”
“Of course,” Caryll nodded. “Do you have any questions on the subject? I asked around and got some information for you, which may or may not be on file.”
“Hm,” Athylee passed the folder to Katrynn who opened it calmly and read the almost illegible handwriting. “There appear to be some rumors of connections between Lord Sadon and drugs. What are the odds of such stories being authentic?”
“Highly unlikely,” Caryll leaned forward and glanced at Katrynn measuringly.
Katrynn, focused on the words in the report and the difficult vocabulary, had no idea that Caryll was watching her closely.
“You may speak openly,” Athylee prompted the woman gently, noting Caryll Smithson’s silent inquiry as to whether she should elaborate.
“Well then,” Caryll continued, “as you know, Lord Sadon is quite well known. That is to say, he is a member of the King’s Court and, as an aristocrat, is under the spotlight of society.”
“I hardly see Karrowyn as being under the spotlight of society,” Athylee disagreed mildly. “His estate is far from Cape Cove and even more so from the Capital. It would be very easy for a man with such a… well-appointed estate to become involved in smuggling.”
“Still,” Caryll sighed, “in terms of smuggling drugs, Lord Sadon has a tenuous connection at best.”
“As far as you know.”
“As far as I know,” Caryll added hastily. “As I said, I asked around and most people only knew him in relation to his connections at Court. There appears to be no obvious connections to drugs. Well, I believe there was that one time drugs were found on a ship he hired. Hm, but that’s in the record as well.”
“Is it because he didn’t own the ship all by himself?” Katrynn said then, looking up. She glanced at Athylee, hesitated, and then continued at Athylee’s encouraging nod and smile. “It says here that he had shares in a variety of ships which were also owned by other merchants or guilds. The time the drugs were found, the ship was also co-owned by the Textile Guild.”
“Lord Sadon shares many ships with others, including the Textile Guild,” the liaison leaned back and sipped her cup of tea. “After all, there is a family connection, isn’t there?”
“I believe so,” Athylee glanced down at Katrynn. “Where do the drugs usually come from?”
“The Far East and the Southern Continents. Any place that is exporting textiles,” Caryll said. “We’ve got the usual: Coca, Black Drops, Laudanum, Smack, and, of course, Poppy’s Dust. Poppy’s Dust, in particular, is popular among the young people of the Capital since it gives them a lot of energy for the high end parties. Quite a few have ended up participating in criminal activities while on the stuff.” The woman sighed. “We have been working quite hard toward finding the source... but...”
Katrynn, putting the folder down, glanced at her mentor. Athylee didn’t seem too impressed by Caryll’s summation. If this had been put in assassin’s hands, Katrynn thought, there wouldn’t be so much hassle about getting rid of the Poppy’s Dust. I guess the police are more incompetent than I had imagined. Or, her eyes narrowed as she eyed the slim folder, there is something else at work here.
“I will drop my apprentice off at the archives,” Athylee said after a moment. “The two officers listed are on duty – or no?”
“Both are on duty at present,” Caryll assured the quiet assassin. “In fact, they are in the building at my request. I had figured you would wish to... speak... with them. Clip these passes onto your lapels, and you can speak with anyone you wish.”
“Indeed,” Athylee rose to her feet, took the two pieces of thin metal which had a visitor’s insignia upon them and gave one to Katrynn.
“May I ask a question?” Caryll moved around the desk toward the two assassins, her pale blue-eyed gaze resting momentarily on Katrynn again.
“You may, but I cannot promise an answer,” Athylee replied, packing her bag again. The seal disappeared with the papers.
“I’ve had two visits this month,” the liaison said tentatively. “Both times the, er, Guild had young people with them.”
“Ah,” Athylee nodded, “you must be new then to not know about the training.”
“A training program,” Caryll said and seemed to relax.
“Something like that,” Athylee agreed vaguely.
The way in which Athylee cloaked herself with a misleading aura of harmless absentmindedness was masterful. Katrynn approved. It is quite useful when one doesn’t wish to share information, she mused. Quite helpful for those times that you cannot kill the annoying person.
“I see,” Caryll said, not really seeing at all. “So young!”
“Brilliance has nothing whatsoever to do with age,” Athylee reminded the older woman serenely.
“I would never let my Carolynn traipse about killing people,” Caryll sniffed.
“My student does not traipse about killing people,” Athylee smiled gently. Then added airily, “Not yet at any rate. Time is slipping by. We must be off.”
With that, the two left the curious Caryll and made their way down the hallway in search of the Archives. For a public institution, the Central Police Station was more mundane and unattractive than Katrynn would have liked. There is nothing mysterious or amazing about the place, the young girl thought. Dim, smoky and a little grimy, the maze-like passageways – complete with creaky wood flooring – seemed to wind on forever.
As she passed by various small offices often labeled with long important sounding words , Katrynn glimpsed dark uniformed men and women pounding away at typewriters and looking irate; citizens (no doubt hardened criminals, Katrynn thought) filling out paperwork at important looking desks; graying, mustached senior officers sitting in small groups muttering about ‘raids’ and ‘take downs’, while puffing ferociously on pipes; younger officers standing around rickety tea tables, sipping tea and, no doubt, vivaciously spreading gossip; and a variety of other, less well-dressed staff – chatty cleaning ladies, dirty errand boys, rowdy apprentices and unsavory characters who might or might not have been informants. Although Katrynn initially felt a thrill of excitement at the opportunity to see what the police force was like at work, as the two undercover assassins passed by unnoticed, Katrynn began to wonder at the efficiency and efficacy of the great instrument known as ‘the Arm of Justice’.
“It doesn’t seem very secure here,” Katrynn said, voice lowered as the two assassins made their way down a set of stairs. “Anyone could wander in.”
“Good observation,” Athylee said after a long moment, during which they arrived at a door labeled, ‘Archives’. “Ah. Here we are!” She stared at the door’s title for a few seconds before turning to look down at her apprentice. “Do you have your list?”
“Yes, Mistress Athylee.”
“And your notepad and pencil?”
“Yes and yes,” Katrynn produced her writing materials from the small satchel she had brought with her.
“Very good,” Athylee smiled absently. “You know what to look for – and here is a seal for you to show if anyone tries to question you or interfere with your investigation. Remember to use it sparingly. After all, we do not want the entire world to know who we truly are.”
“I will be as secret as the grave,” Katrynn breathed, her brown eyes shining with intense earnestness.
“I will return in two hours. Stay here and take notes. When you are finished, do not move. Just wait. When I return, we will have lunch, review our information, plan our next steps.”
Katrynn nodded once again. With that, Katrynn entered the Archives and Athylee disappeared back up the stairs.
The Archives, Katrynn discovered, was a strange subterranean world consisting of a maze of shelving units. Lines upon lines of bookshelves and file cabinets and containers and jars and packages filled the long room which initially appeared to continue onward eternally into darkness. Knowing that she had no time to get lost (and un-lost), Katrynn approached the main desk with the list of keywords that would help begin her research. Glancing at Caryll’s identification cards clipped to Katrynn’s scarf edge and at the neat rows of names and places written by Athylee, the Archivist consulted two very large tomes and a black box, which Katrynn correctly identified as the very rare, very expensive Corlette Machine often used by the military and the richest of the rich . After jotting down a few marks, the tall, weedy uniformed officer handed over a small piece of paper.
“The first letter is the section area, followed by a number – which is the row. The final Letter-Number combination is the specific shelf. Understand?”
“I understand,” Katrynn said quickly and, ignoring the curious looks she was getting, looked at the small map by the front desk, drew a quick map of the sections in her notebook and then went on her way.
An hour and a half later, Katrynn looked up from her careful notes and discovered Mistress Athylee seated and focused on her own notepad, looking thoughtful. After finishing the last bit of her writing, the Master-in-Training pulled a camera out of her bag. Katrynn’s curiosity heightened as the woman fumbled with various catches, pulled off the lens cap, and checked the back. Standing up and tilting the large daguerreotype camera in her hand, Mistress Athylee took six pictures of three photographs in the file as well as three pieces of documentation. Leaning forward, but being careful not to touch anything, Katrynn watched as the small squares of photographic paper slowly scrolled out of the large camera and into her mentor’s hands.
“I’ve never seen that before!”
“It’s a new invention that allows the camera to develop pictures instantaneously,” Athylee said, checking the back of the camera again, reengaging all the clasps, and putting the lens cap back on.
Stowing the camera back in its small leather case and then back into her own bag, Athylee sat back in her chair and sighed. Then she began to gather up the documents. Katrynn eyed the still blank squares of photo paper. There didn’t seem to be any pictures showing on them.
“Really?” Katrynn was torn between skepticism and excitement.
“Hm. The Guild invested in acquiring some pieces of technology from the military three years ago.”
“I want one,” sighed Katrynn.
“Perhaps your generation will see privately owned cameras,” Athylee smiled at her young apprentice. “This one belongs to the Guild, so we have to take good care of it. You should be able to turn the pictures over now, I think.”
Gingerly, Katrynn turned the pictures over, and, sure enough, there were the photographs of the documents and older daguerreotypes. It is so much clearer than the old photos you see in the museum, she thought. You can even read the words!
“Is it alright to take photographs of private documentation?” asked Katrynn. “Probably not, right?”
“Not really,” Athylee winked. “That’s our secret.”
“Part of being an...” Katrynn stopped. “I finished my notes.”“We’ll talk about it in a more secure area,” Athylee rose and gathered the files and folders and books Katrynn had collated. “Let’s get out of here.”
 Within the country of Doran and most of the Northern Continent, the following names are used for the months of the year starting from the first month to the last: Anmon, Twamon, Thriemon, Feomon, Fifmon, Sixmon, Seomon, Eamon, Nigomon, Tienmon, Endlemon, Twelfmon. During Twelfmon, the Winter Solstice (also known as Starne’s Feast to the southern provinces of Doran) takes place. During Feomon, the Spring Solstice (also known as Skroll’s Rising to the southern provinces) is celebrated as well. There are other Doranian holidays within the Northern Calendar; however, since the Winter and Spring Solstices tend to take a good two weeks to celebrate, they are the most favored among children. Gift-giving also happens – and who doesn’t like a good gift, I ask you?
 Mistress Athyl’s bag held a couple pages of documentation, a list of information she specifically was looking for, a small, hand-held daguerreotype camera, and a very important looking seal which gave her authority to question any person related to the police. It also contained a small block of cheese, a paring knife, two daggers, three pencils, a piece of rubber, two note pads, and rope. There is always rope. Creighton Digby-Digby would approve.
 Coca, Black Drops, Laudanum, Smack, and Poppy’s Dust are the five main illegal substances which are created at certain locations around the globe. Despite the dangers which come from using such drugs, a variety of people have been drawn into the culture and the habit of drug-taking.
 It is amazing how the size of one’s office is conversely related to one’s title. For example, the office for “Sub-Administrative Vice-Officer of Para-Legal Counseling” looks no bigger than a broom closet, which only goes to show that office life is, in its own way, a mysterious thing.
 The Corlette Machine, invented by Arnaud Corlette of the Middle Continent, combines the capabilities of the abacus and simple calculator with that of image display and data saving. Programs developed by various military also enable the Corlette Machine to run database programs and other time-saving processes as yet to be shared with the general public.