Two days after the New Year began, the Academy reconvened, its great door opening in welcome to the students returning from their winter holiday vacation. Clumps of First and Second Year girls chattered over the latest Court gossip, while the older girls discussed at length the rumors that Alzahabad and Bonas (two countries on the South Continent) were once again fomenting against each other. The boys discussed the latest scores in the Capital’s curling championships and whether the latest Ironside Mark IV, which the Great Sea Commission had just produced for the military, would be more efficient this time round.
Looking harried and more absent-minded than usual due to last minute preparations, teachers bustled about, black lecture robes flapping and notes and paperwork clutched in hand. Other school staff – cooks, maids, errand boys and serving men – hustled about, trying to maintain order as luggage and packs and sacks and school supplies flooded in. It was a busy beginning to the new year.
Chrystyna, loathing the crowds, fled to the tower room she called home and unpacked her things. As she brought out the socks and the small throw blanket which her mother had crocheted as a gift, the girl smiled over the memories of her holiday. It turned out better than I thought it would, as usual. She smiled. Now there’s school to think of – and my upcoming assignment with Master Geoffrey.
At the thought of Master Geoffrey, Chrystyna once again felt an overwhelming sense of confusion. At first she had not recognized it as confusion, but after discussing the matter at length with Brittainy, the girls had come to the conclusion that Master Geoffrey was a man of wonder and puzzlement.
Why does he stand still at random before mirrors? Why does he speak with such a fake accent? Why do his ties always match his socks? Why does he laugh and smile for no good reason? How is his hair always so perfectly styled? Is that what hair is supposed to look like? Is that his real hair color?
So many questions, so little time, Chrystyna shook her head. Perhaps I can make this my secondary mission while we go on our assignment for our primary mission.
Chrystyna loved the words ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’, particularly in relation to ‘missions’ and ‘assignments’. When Master Colin had used these words in their short briefing before the group had disbanded for Winter Solstice, Chrystyna had been impressed. The fact that she could now use those words with actual purpose and not for make-believe made her feel rather grown up.
She was unpacked. Her holiday homework was done. Chrystyna considered her options. She could go downstairs or she could double check her homework.
Double-checking homework it is, she quickly decided.
Two weeks later, after all the students had settled into their routines and classes had begun, Master Geoffrey, with a heavy heart, waited at the main entrance for the dark-haired, awkward child he called Apprentice. The prospect of being alone with said apprentice worried the suave Master-in-Training on many levels. The child is spooky, he shivered in his best black greatcoat. Strange, unexpected… bizarre, odd, and eccentric. Unhygienic, backward, awkward, and old-fashioned as well. How am I to survive two days more or less alone with the girl?
Glancing down at his fob-watch, the tall, blonde-haired man sighed. Where is the girl? Out the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a grey-white pinafore. Geoffrey jumped just a tiny bit and then froze as he realized that it was his apprentice who had been standing quietly at his elbow.
With something like amusement glinting within their depths, green eyes peered at him from under heavy bangs.
“Chrystyna,” he gasped. “I did not see you there!”
“Master Geoffrey,” said the girl rather formally.
“Are you ready to go?” The man frowned. “Do you have your quills and paper and notebooks?”
“Everything is here,” said the girl cheerfully. “I also brought along a couple daggers and a small coil of rope just in case.”
“Rope?” Geoffrey said blankly.
“For just in case,” Chrystyna repeated matter-of-factly.
“Indeed,” the man replied weakly. “Well, let’s get going then, shall we?”
During her stay at the Academy, Chrystyna had discovered that despite her background of sheep farming and taking care of baby siblings, she enjoyed reading and writing. In other words, the pursuit of knowledge had successfully caught her interest – and nowhere did this call seem so strong as in the Academy library. The Capital’s Central Archives, adjoining the city’s seven floored central library was another kind of heaven to the girl.
To the ordinary eye, the Archives were not so grand. Grey-walled and tiled with tan and cream tiling, the ancient institution lacked the grand design of the Royal Public Library or even the smaller Academy Library and Archives. Its ceilings were high, but they were not lofty nor were they detailed with carvings and small statuettes and classical pillars.
“It is not much to talk of,” Geoffrey sighed as he led his quiet apprentice down the aisle. “I have spent quite a few hours here myself and I can tell you that if there were one place that could steal the soul from a man, it is this place.”
Chrystyna imagined her Master without a soul. Would he be a demon then? Or a ghost? Or one of those unfortunate spirits who lost their way to the Halls of Starne?
“Yet, our job entails an in-depth research on the Subject,” Geoffrey continued with some emphasis on ‘subject’. He hoped that his apprentice would appreciate her Master’s discretion and care. “This will be our new home for the next few days.”
“We can sleep in the Archives?” asked Chrystyna.
“Or rather, I should say we’ll be here as long as we must, but – what?” Geoffrey glanced back at the girl to ascertain whether the somber child had made a joke. She had not. “Goodness me, no. Civilization was built on hot showers and soft beds. Let us not abandon culture in pursuit of truth, my dear.”
Chrystyna did not look convinced. Geoffrey sighed and turned back to watch where he was going. Eventually, they arrived at a secluded corner two floors up. There were two desks surrounded by a thin wood partition which rose to Geoffrey’s shoulders. The door to the ‘study booth’ (as Chrystyna mentally named it) was easily unlatched. The two went in, slipped their satchels off their shoulders, and set about opening said satchels and unpacking them. Notebooks, paper, pens, quills, and other paraphernalia were soon laid out.
After reviewing their strategy, the two split up with a short list for each to research. After an hour or two, the Master-in-Training and his apprentice returned, double-checked what they had found and then sat down to take note of what they laboriously read. It was, as Geoffrey stated, dull work, yet Chrystyna, knowing that her alternative was to sit through Mistress Stonecroft’s Assassin Life classes and Master Ahmeen’s physical education was more than happy to help Master Geoffrey.
Carefully, she read and summarized the documents before her until lunch was announced. Chrystyna, looking up, realized that Master Geoffrey at some point must have slipped out to grab something for them to eat.
“I smuggled it in,” Geoffrey said with a great air of accomplishment. “When I was a lad back in the Academy, we learned the finer arts of food smuggling when it came time to prepare for exams or catch up on homework. Come, let’s relax a bit and eat. We can talk about what we’ve been reading all morning. What have you got?”
“A lot of math,” Chrystyna sighed. “Math is not one of my strengths… So it is slow going, I’m afraid.”
“I brought along a simple Electric Abacus,” Geoffrey rooted about the bottom of his satchel and pulled out a square metal box.
It was large and heavy when it rested in both of her hands. Along the top was horizontally inset a thin pane of glass, below which were arranged ten large buttons labeled zero through nine. At the bottom in two rows of five, ten other buttons were decorated with various math functions. A few were familiar to the girl, particularly the addition and subtraction signs. Turning it over, she noticed that the back was comprised of a grill and an odd round hole. On the side was a small switch.
“How does it turn on? This switch?”
“Indeed yes – but first we must plug the monster in.”
“Plug?” Chrystyna asked carefully, turning the word over and over in her mind. It did not sound familiar.
“It runs off of electricity,” Geoffrey explained. “Well, electricity isn’t for the masses, but a few wealthy families, certain public institutions, and of course the military, will spend the money to use it. It is rather handy.”
“Yes,” breathed Chrystyna, totally enchanted.
“So, what we have here is a portable battery-“
“Battery,” echoed Chrystyna, her green eyes glittering with excitement as her Master-in-Training pulled out another large box with a long thin cord attached.
“We plug the Corlette Machinette into the portable battery and – there we go! It’s on – the Electric Abacus!”
“Where did the battery get its energy from?” asked the young girl curiously.
“Well, I send my portable battery into a shop every other day and they top it up overnight. How, I do not know.”
“Brittainy said most energy used for power comes from steam which is made from boiling water or burning things and boiling water is caused by burning coal. Sometimes people use a liquid that burns easily - but that is very dangerous and expensive.”
“Yes,” Geoffrey said carefully. “Coal and gas.”
“So maybe the place you top up,” Chrystyna haltingly produced the new vocabulary, “has a steam engine in the back? Or it is next to a river…”
“More than likely a steam engine,” Geoffrey paused for a moment to consider his apprentice’s question. “They don’t have a river handy in that part of town. At any rate, you can use it if you have need of it. Sparingly.”
“Of course,” Chrystyna hastily said and set the machine down carefully on the table.
For the rest of lunch, the girl ate the sandwiches provided her as though in a dream, her green eyes fixed on the box of mystery which she had been given.
In relative peace, the afternoon wound its course. The small window above them which let in a few stray rays of light, turned from a bright yellow to a golden as the sun moved its way across the sky. Chrystyna, who was known to her classmates, her teachers, and her parents as being a plodder, worked her way steadily through the stacks of papers and lists of expenses which Geoffrey had given her.
When supper came around, the man forced the young girl to stop.
“We’ll come back tomorrow morning,” he said. “You need a bath and a bed and a good night’s rest. As do I – and my Corlette Machinette will need to be sent for a topping up I imagine.”
“We just got started,” Chrystyna said sadly. “I could go all night!”
“I am sure you could, my dear,” Geoffrey smiled winningly at Chrystyna, hoping she would not notice his horror. “But we need to think of our health – and our sanity.”
“I discovered quite a bit today,” Chrystyna sighed, packing up her bag. “It seems a shame to stop now.”
“That sounds exciting,” Geoffrey steered the girl out of the cubicle and down the aisles to the stairway. “We need to get you back for supper – well, a late supper in the kitchens. Time has certainly gotten away with us! Goodness me, I am quite fatigued.”
How can he be tired? Chrystyna wondered. All we did was sit and read. The young girl, however, held her peace, allowed herself to be maneuvered into a cab and returned to the school, where, as Geoffrey predicted, she had a late dinner in the kitchen. After making sure the girl was headed up the stairs to the girl’s washrooms, Geoffrey went in search of his colleague, Master Colin Shermore.
Geoffrey found Colin in his usual spot by the third training field enjoying a pint of beer with a roast beef sandwich while contemplating the sunset.
“She is going to be the death of me!”
Geoffrey took a seat by Colin on the wooden benches provided for spectators. With a heavy sigh, the fashionable man, for once ignoring the state of his tailored grey pants and great overcoat, huddled by his friend.
“Hilde-Beth hen-pecking you again?” asked Colin idly, pushing over his large plate in wordless offer of a roast beef sandwich.
“What? Hilde-Beth? No – no. I meant my apprentice.”
“Ah. I should have guessed,” Colin smiled. “Few people have the power to fluster you.”
“You would laugh,” Geoffrey groaned. “That girl is impossible!”
“What did she do now?”
“More like what she didn’t do!”
“Oh dear,” Colin frowned. “She didn’t complete her assignment? I gathered that this was something of a last chance for her. Chrystyna seemed biddable to me.”
“No, no. Her work ethic is… well, it is adequate. She worked hard, and I cast an eye over her notes. She still needs much practice in writing and language, but otherwise, her grasp of fundamentals is fairly sound. Of course, her math skills were poor, just as Master Thompson warned me-“
“Ah, Master Thompson,” Colin interjected with a chuckle. “He’s still alive and teaching?”
“Yes,” Geoffrey said shortly. “With that in mind, I brought along my Corlette Machinette – and she needed it, but once she got going, Chrystyna did some good work. I daresay her calculations were even correct since she has a knack for handling new tech.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Colin said. “Concerning Lord Sadon, were our assumptions correct? What did the financial records tell you?”
“It’s a bit early to say,” Geoffrey reminded Colin. “Only day one, but off hand it appears to me that it was as we guessed. Lord Sadon’s estate, at first, was in dire straits. I read a variety of letters and petitions both to Karrowyn’s Cape Cove Royal Treasurer and to the Financial District here in the Capital. Those ended around the same time that smuggling became common in Tawyrs.”
“The dates align. Hm.” Colin glanced at his colleague. “So, your research trip will be a success.”
“If I can survive it,” Geoffrey groaned. “The girl is a menace.”
“What? She does not respond to the Englund charms?”
“Stop – stop laughing, Colin! That’s not – that’s not what I meant!”
“Well, it certainly sounded like it.”
“What do I do, Colin?” Geoffrey wailed with his usual theatricality. “The girl is – is – like nothing I’ve ever encountered before!”
“Look,” Colin managed to get his chuckles in control. “The way I see it…” Colin shook his head and sighed. “Women are a bit like arithmetic. That is to say, you know that if you add this sum to that sum and use that fraction, the total should be this or that. How it actually comes to be is a mystery.”
“You weren’t good at arithmetic?” Geoffrey snorted.
“Women are the same. You know that if you say this or that, or do this or that, their reaction is more or less predictable – but the whys and wherefores remain enshrouded in the enigma of the feminine. Without that hidden knowledge the, er, different women become even more of a puzzler.”
“You’re saying that Chrystyna is an outlier,” Geoffrey mused.
“Outlier?” asked Colin.
“The number that does not fit the average of a specific set of data.” Geoffrey glanced at Colin’s dim profile now edged with the red and orange of the last rays of the sun. “You are terrible at maths.”
“Why are we talking about maths?” complained Colin, hoisting himself up to his feet. “Let’s go. My bed is calling.”
“Old Man,” laughed Geoffrey, grabbing the plate. “Hey, Colin! Don’t forget your mug!”
The following day, very much like the first, was filled with the quiet shuffle of pages turning, the regular scritch-scratch of quills moving across the parchment, and the occasional click of the electric abacus. After lunch, Geoffrey disappeared into the lower regions of the Archives to access some of the Sadon family history. When he returned, Geoffrey was weighed down with two birth registry tomes, six pale cream folders, and four large rolled parchments.
“Now that we have the financial side done, let’s take a quick look at the official records for their family history and double-check the facts we know. See if there is anything we don’t know,” Geoffrey said with a short huff as he set down his burden and then dusted off the arms of his sweater.
Setting aside her notes on money and trade, Chrystyna turned, scratched her head and looked at the pile.
“Why did you get ‘C’?” Chrystyna asked, looking at the thick tome that lay on top of ‘S’.
“Cravanagh,” Geoffrey said shortly. “Do you remember who they are in relation to the assignment?”
“Ummm…” Chrystyna frowned. “They do sound familiar. Wait, let me think.”
Geoffrey rubbed his eyes and forehead tiredly and waited. After a few seconds, Geoffrey felt as though he had more or less pulled himself together and lifted his head, unaware that some of the ink on his fingertips had smeared across his forehead.
“They’re…” Chrystyna paused and then asked carefully.
“They’re… related to the wife?”
“Was that a guess?” Geoffrey asked.
“Um, a bit?” Chrystyna hazarded.
“Well, it’s a good guess,” her Master-in-Training had to admit.
“The Cravanagh’s are Lady Matilde’s family. Of course, you have never heard of the Cravanagh family before. Well, they’re quite upper class and come from old money. They hail from Marble Vale – that would be the capital of Quartz Hills.”
“We need to look into the wife’s family too?” asked Chrystyna.
“Hm,” Geoffrey leaned back in his chair and glanced over his apprentice’s shoulder to look at the fresh stack of paper Chrystyna had already retrieved for the note-taking yet to come. “Why do you think I picked the Cravanagh family records?”
“Well,” Chrystyna paused and then added carefully. “Perhaps we’re covering every clue, um, lead, that the word that Mistress Stonecroft used the other day. Just in case. I remember Mistress Stonecroft said an assassin leaves no stone unturned in an investigation.”
“That is what we try to do,” Geoffrey agreed. “So, which family do you want to take?”
“I’ll take ‘C’,” Chrystyna said. “Unless you want ‘C’, then I’ll take ‘S’ – or I can do both and-“
“S’ is fine,” Geoffrey waved a hand. “Let’s get this done.”
With that, the two once again sat down at their desks, backs to each other as they focused. Silence once again prevailed. The large hands of the clock were pointing at five o’clock when the two heard a cheerful ‘hullo’. It was Athylee and Colin, peering over the cubicle wall. Geoffrey, pushing his chair back on two legs so that it rested against the back of Chyrstyna’s chair, lazily reached over and unlatched the flimsy door.
“Welcome to our little study nook,” he drawled, yawned, and then stretched. “Goodness me, I’m knackered.”
“Yes,” Colin said, trying to keep his face straight at the sight of the long smudge across the usually pristine brow of his colleague. “I am sure you must be.”
“Keep laughing,” Geoffrey sighed. “You have no idea how hard it is to get through these entries. I don’t know why people think abbreviations are a good idea.”
“Probably to save on paper,” Athylee said with some sympathy.
An awkward pause ensued as Colin and Athylee glanced at each other and then at Chrystyna, who smiled back absently.
“And you, uh, Chrsytyna,” Colin said tentatively, “have been working hard I see. That’s a lot of notes you have there.”
“Quite a hard worker!” Athylee added kindly.
“It’s interesting,” Chrystyna pushed back a few strands of dark brown hair working free from the loose bun which fell in straggling wisps around her neck. “Who knew that families could be so complicated? And they only have four children!”
“That’s the rich for you,” Colin said. “Always getting into trouble.”
“Well, Lady Matilde’s family is rich,” Chrystyna said. “I finished looking at their money books this morning. I don’t understand a lot of what I read, so I copied much of the notes. Master Geoffrey did explain what the accounting sheets meant… and all I can say is that Lady Matilde’s family, the, ah, the Cravanaghs, own a lot of money and land.”
“A long history in Doran,” Geoffrey gestured at the papers before him. “The Sadons are similar, but less… accomplished.”
“I suppose it’s a matter of resources. Those on Karrowyn lead different lives,” Colin mused, leaning forward to pick up Chrystyna’s tidy notes. “Ah, look at that. The Cravanaghs gave over five hundred sovereigns to their local parish – that is, the Cleric’s Order of Riaine. Interesting. Do they often give charitable donations like that?”
“No,” Chrystyna shook her head. “It was that one time. I mean, yes, they tithe the regular ten percent required monthly by the Clerics, but from what I understand, not everyone does that.” The young girl sounded a little shocked as she shared her information. “I remember talking to Emalynn and Brittainy about their practices… and Brittainy has never tithed to the Church.”
Geoffrey could almost hear the unspoken word: heathen. I suppose when you live on the edges of society, some things change less than others. You cling to old beliefs and you hold onto the Old Ways. Fewer and fewer people in the Capital look to the Seven Aspects. Even old landed families and up visiting the cathedrals once a year.
“Well, it looks like they give to charity on a regular basis and tithe as well,” Colin flipped through Chrystyna’s notes some more. “Yet, nothing is as large an amount as that one donation. Of course, no other information,” Colin shook his head. “Rich families!”
“The Cravanaghs are definitely well-known in the upper circles of society,” Athylee agreed. “Their traditions and life choices are certainly different from our own.” She took the notes from Colin’s hands. “Did some of your research support Hilde-Beth and Brittainy’s information?”
“The ladies’ delightful gossip?” Geoffrey smiled indulgently. “In some cases, yes. We saw a lot of travel expenses among the young ladies of Cavanagh – and we saw the decline of the Sadon fortune when Lord Sadon was a young lad. There were some notes as well on the Cavanagh family tree. Gavin, Koralee and Annabeth. Married, married, old spinster, and married. Hm. What else?”
“Lady Matilde was their youngest daughter,” Chrystyna supplied. “Annabeth was the one who didn’t marry. Someone always never marries in larger families.”
“Statistics,” Colin murmured.
“Lady Matilde was a bit of a trouble-maker, wasn’t she?” Athylee added. “Married down and all that.”
“Yes,” Chrystyna nodded. “Master Geoffrey gave me two articles to read from Echelite. It seems that everyone thinks she definitely married down – but maybe it isn’t so bad for her because she was the youngest. Younger siblings always do what they want. They get away with murder,” the girl added sagely.
Obviously the girl has experience with larger families, Geoffrey mused. I suppose, in a way, she is very insightful in matters related to family dynamics.
“And what about the Sadons?” asked Colin curiously, handing Chrystyna’s notes back to her.
“Well, financially, as we’ve all heard, they are not well off. According to the tax revenue offices, the Sadons went through a fifty year, ah, decline, but there was a reversal in fortunes during the current Lord’s lifetime.”
“Matching the start of smuggling activities,” Colin said. “You said that last night.”
“Right. So perhaps the recent wealth of the Sadons is, in fact, founded upon drugs and illegal imports,” sighed Geoffrey. “Not that the other family members haven’t done well for themselves in their own way.”
“Ah. Lord Sadon has two younger sisters and a younger brother…” Athylee recalled.
“Yes. Lady Nessa, old spinster. Barto, the third child and second son, deceased. Natural causes. His widow lives with her son, Taryth, better known as the current Guildmaster of the Textile Guild. Taryth married the previous Guildmaster’s daughter and has three children – two girls and a boy.” Geoffrey recited smoothly, drawing on his infinite capacity to remember faces and names. “The last child of the Sadon family, a girl, grew up into a gorgeous woman who snared Lord Holda Armines. You know the Armines of Malcho?” Geoffrey paused, noted the three blank stares directed at him, and sighed.
“Never mind. It stirred up the entire city for a season since young Lord Holda had supposedly been courting Lady Esmerelda from Redaire. Then, he set eyes on the dark-haired, bright-eyed beauty of Karrowyn and they eloped.”
“Goodness,” Athylee interjected. “It is like a play!”
“If it had fighting in it, I think it’d be more interesting,” mumbled Chrystyna.
“At any rate, Dynell married up. A smart match if there ever was one. That woman, no doubt, has social ambitions. There are two children so far from that marriage – a boy and a girl.”
“Hm. So, the current heir of the Sadon estate is Taryth, the son of Barto and…” Colin scratched his head.
“Gysella,” Geoffrey finishing the unasked question. “Yes. As we heard, Lord Sadon and Lady Matilde, having no children, will leave the manor and Tawyrs to the current Guildmaster of the Textile Guild, Taryth.”
“How are Taryth’s finances?” asked Colin. “Do you think he’s in on the smuggling as well?”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Geoffrey reached over for a sheaf of papers and tugged out a heavily lined parchment. “The answer seems to be ‘no’. Both used the same ships on occasion in order to cut costs, but Taryth has always led a comfortable life accompanied by seemingly clean finances. I can’t see him risking all that for some extra sovereigns he does not really need.”
“And, it would be difficult to hide such illegal activities with a vigilant Vice-Guildmaster such as Master Tynne,” Athylee shook her head. “Jake said that Master Tynne has been the primary motivator behind the investigation.”
“If I was in the smuggling trade and I was Guildmaster Taryth, I would want to pay off Master Tynne and people like Jake so no one would notice. Or I would kill them.” Chrystyna put in. “I don’t think the Cavanaghs would take part in it either because of their position and their current state of richness.”
“Of wealth,” Geoffrey gently corrected his student, but he also looked a little proud of the girl’s perceptiveness. “I agree. It seems to me very clear cut and straightforward, I’m afraid. The Textile Guild is concerned about illegalities, and the police force has been less than helpful. They turn to us to remove the head of the organization, the origin of the illegal activity. Cutting off the source of the problem is always the first step.”
“Is Lord Sadon the source, though?” asked Chrystyna curiously.
“I mean, why must we, ah, deal with Lord Sadon this way?”
“If I had my way, I’d go to Gojin and take down the cartels there – but that would entail… well,” Colin sighed, “war. The source, being Gojin, is well-nigh impossible to remove permanently.”
“It just…” Chrystyna trailed off.
“What is it, dear?” asked Athylee, but the girl just shook her head, shrugged, and turned back to papers.
“I think you’re right, Geoff,” Colin handed back the papers and nodded with relief. “It does look like a pretty simple matter to me. We’ll write up our reports, add the apprentices’ reports, and turn in our assignment forms. I foresee some high marks ahead!”
“It is exciting,” Geoffrey smiled, his blue eyes flashing with excitement. “Not that it was a problem, but knowing that we did a job well… well, it’s a relief.”
“Now to focus on our thesis and essays,” Colin sighed.
“Be glad there aren’t any maths,” Geoffrey chuckled.
“Maths?” Athylee blinked.
“Never mind,” Colin said hastily. “I’ll get back to the school and leave you two to finish your notes. We just wanted to see how things were going – and they are going well thanks to your hard work!”
“And here’s dinner,” Athylee held up a large paper bag. “I got you some toasted ham sandwiches with cucumbers and watercress and tomatoes. Two bottles of ginger beer included.”
“Thank you, Athylee,” Geoffrey took the paper bag with a grateful smile. “You are a sweetheart.”
“You’re welcome, dear,” replied the woman. “I’ll see you around, dear,” she added, patting Chrystyna on the shoulder.
“Good luck, Geoff,” Colin punched his friend playfully on the shoulder before leaving the small study nook. “Keep an eye on him, Chrystyna!”
“I will,” said the quiet girl. She added ominously: “Always.”
“That is not creepy at all,” Geoffrey shivered. “Stop giving her ideas, Colin.”
“Ha,” Colin grinned. “Maybe I’ll see you later tonight?”
There was a short silence as Colin and Athylee moved off quietly chattering to each other. Then, Colin’s voice broke in on Geoffrey’s and Chrystyna’s studious quiet, causing the tall man to jump a little.
“Oh, Geoff,” Colin said with a wide grin, very obviously not commenting on how he had startled his colleague. “You should have a look at your forehead. Looks like you tussled with an ink bottle and lost. Just wanted you to know.”
With that, the brown-haired man disappeared with a laugh, ignoring Geoffrey’s cry of dismay and look of horror. Turning to his apprentice, Geoffrey noticed that Chrystyna didn’t seem too worried.
“Seriously?” He asked, panic rising a little in his voice. “Is there ink on my face?”
“A little,” Chrystyna hedged.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” The usually well-kept man demanded. “I could have gone outside like this – and looked like a mad man!”
“I didn’t think it was that important,” Chrystyna said reasonably. “Besides, I would have told you before I left. Probably.”
“Probably!” Geoffrey rose and fled to the nearest washroom muttering imprecations about cruel friends and clueless apprentices.
Had he looked back, Geoffrey would have noticed that for the first time, Chrystyna seemed to be genuinely amused. A very small smile had settled on her lips and her green eyes glittered with something akin to humor.
That night, Geoffrey (with his forehead scrubbed clean), upon returning to the school and making sure that his apprentice had been delivered to the girl’s dorm housekeeper, went in search of Hilde-Beth, Athylee, and Colin. Hilde-Beth and Athylee, according to Mistress Knowles, had returned to their shared guest rooms for the evening.
“As for Master Colin,” the round-faced cheery Alchemy instructor scratched behind her ear in thought. “Last I saw, he was headed with Master O’Shore to the teacher’s lounge on the second floor. They were discussing this season’s curling championships, I believe.”
“Thank you,” Geoffrey said with a courteous nod and, extricating himself from a long-winded discussion on potions with the absent-minded woman, made his way up the servant’s side stairs to the second floor of the main building.
Down the hall, behind a nondescript brown door, Master O’Shore and Colin were seated on the purple-backed sofa by the wood stove.
“The conquering hero returns,” Colin greeted his friend jovially.
The tan assassin looked, to Geoffrey’s eyes, as disgustingly relaxed as usual. He never panics or gets annoyed, Geoffrey mused. I don’t suppose ink on his forehead would worry him… Colin could roll in the mud like a pig and still feel at home. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration – but still!
“Yes, conquering and clean,” Geoffrey gave Colin a look.
“Don’t worry,” Colin said easily, “I told Master O’Shore the story about the ink already.”
“Colin!” Geoffrey glared even more fiercely.
“It happens to the best of us,” Francis O’Shore chuckled with no small amount of amusement.
The History and Social Arts teacher, a good ten years older than Colin and Geoffrey, had not attended the Academy with them. However, Geoffrey’s obsession with his looks had become legendary at the Academy since the mildly effete assassin began attending.
“Only Geoffrey would think it the end of the world,” Colin continued with a roll of his eyes, “which is why I consider it so amusing.”
“I do not find it funny at all,” Geoffrey said crossly, flopping down by Colin. “Not after the two long days I spent in the Archives and Public Records.”
“Oh, how sad,” Colin patted his friend on the shoulder in mock sympathy. “Poor Geoffrey – having to sit around and read journals for his assignment.”
“It had its moments,” protested the blonde-haired assassin, sweeping back a curl from his forehead.
“Chrystyna was there as well,” O’Shore leaned forward. “How did that go?”
“Well, let’s not dwell on her apparent lack of hygiene and her absent-minded lack of common sense,” the Master-in-Training grunted. “She did well, though. Her observations were very interesting. You were right, Master O’Shore. She does have an eye that sees things that aren’t there but perhaps are.”
“I told you,” the History teacher smiled proudly. “Chrystyna has the ability to see patterns that are not as obvious to you and me. She just needs more time to adjust to Academia – and she could fit in well.”
“With our technology or alchemic teams, perhaps,” Geoffrey mused. “Or work in a strategist capacity. Given time, Chrystyna could go far… Perhaps she won’t be attending a coming-out ball anytime soon, but I could see her quite happy in a variety of capacities within our Guild.”
“All of our girls have brilliant futures,” Colin agreed. “Emalynn and Katrynn, although they carry the burden of resentment from their classmates and the expectation of an older generation of assassins, work hard to earn the respect of their teachers. Brittainy has her own odd flair and, when given the opportunity shows glimmers of competency.”
“Brittainy?” sighed Francis O’Shore. “That child is a menace… A long history of getting away with everything short of murder, a rich family background, and an easily bored kind of intelligence – it’s the worst formula possible. I take your meaning, however. I don’t know if it is Chrystyna’s influence or the fact that this school is more challenging – and therefore interesting – to her, but Brittainy is showing glimpses of promise.”
“Hilde-Beth doesn’t know how to handle her,” Geoffrey chuckled. “It’ll be interesting to see how this assignment turns out for her. I was talking with Hilde-Beth the other day. Apparently, she took Brittainy out for a midnight run. The girl has great physical ability, but upon completion of their errand, the girl began to dance about on the rooftop. Nearly gave Hilde-Beth a heart attack.”
“By the Seven,” ejaculated Colin shaking his head. “Dancing?”
“Dancing,” Geoffrey repeated. “On the roof. A flighty child, I think.”
“I don’t know,” Francis frowned. “I just think she’s a bit excitable.”
“At any rate,” Geoffrey chuckled, “Hilde-Beth ended up literally roping the girl in. The last thing you want on your hand is a child with a broken leg or arm.”
“I don’t know how Master Ahmeen does it,” Francis O’Shore agreed.
“Master Ahmeen?” asked Colin.
“The current Physical Education teacher.”
“I wonder how that poor man survives,” Colin mused, thinking of Brittainy’s spastic energy and Chrystyna’s plethora of phobias.
“A lot of coffee,” Geoffrey said grimly. “At any rate, the assignment is almost completed.”
“You think so?” Colin asked. “Chrystyna looked like she had something on her mind.”
“She may,” Geoffrey shrugged, “but unless she asks us permission to pursue her personal line of inquiry, everything will go forward as planned, right?”
“Yes, I suppose,” Colin sighed. “I really hope the apprentices feel comfortable speaking up about any doubts they may have. After all, we are their masters, even if we are only in training, and it would reflect poorly on our skills if our apprentices don’t feel encouraged to explore their own abilities and interests. Besides, they might have a view on this assignment that we can only guess at.”
“We can give them another week or two to cogitate and puzzle over the facts,” Geoffrey suggested. “See what happens, you know what I mean?”
“I’ll talk to Athylee and Hilde-Beth about it,” Colin nodded. “I think they’ll agree.”
“Sounds like a great plan,” Francis O’Shore rose to his feet. “I am glad you four managed to work with my students. They’ll definitely be the better for the experience.”
“I think I could say the same to you,” Colin smiled back at the History teacher. “I have a feeling I’ll learn something from them as well. Don’t you agree, Geoffrey?”
“Hm,” Geoffrey said, his brows knitted together in thought as he considered his apprentice. “Perhaps.”
 Produced by the Great Sea Commission for Doran’s Royal Navy, the Ironside Mark I, having put out to sea, took on water half an hour off the coast of Nichtdoon and very nearly did not make it back into harbor. Ironside Mark II was not much better since it required several tons of coal just to sail for half an hour. Ironside Mark III, fitted with a new gas engine, almost exploded due to a leak. It remains to be seen how Ironside Mark IV will fare.
 Geoffrey’s response may be construed as either a devastating absence of The Assassin Mentality due to his lack of appreciation for rope or it may be seen as confusion since nobody really carries ropes into a library unless they are handymen coming for repairs. Or, as Chrystyna would point out, an assassin.