“I feel like I have been trapped in this school for an age!” Brittainy pronounced theatrically one day as they were leaving Mistress Knowles’s alchemy class.
The four girls had found themselves shoulder to shoulder as they were swept out of the spartan school laboratory. Around them, groups of students chattered, discussing how Clarke had once again nearly blown up the class and how Mistress Knowles’s bird chirps had ominously been absent throughout the entire session. Making their way back to their wooden cubbies where their history textbooks were stashed, the girls followed the eddy of classmates.
“That’s because we are halfway through the year,” Emalynn said with her usual air of ‘I totally understand what this is’. “We had our mid-terms before Winter Solstice and just finished our first set of final exams last week. Even though we’ve completed a semester, we still have one more to go.”
“Another round of mid-terms are coming up in a month or two - and then there is the week of the final FINAL exams,” Chrystyna added with ghoulish zest (or at least, it seemed so to Brittainy).
“I think you just need a change of scenery,” Emalynn suggested. “How do you feel, Katrynn?”
Katrynn, gaze affixed somewhere in the distance, did not hear her sister and was in fact in the middle of tripping over Karlson’s feet. Righting her younger sister, Emalynn sighed.
“Katrynn is clearly not here either,” Emalynn groused.
“What?” Katrynn asked clearly not understanding what Emalynn was talking about.
“My point exactly,” Brittainy sighed. “I need to get out. Run. Fight. Play. Bite someone.”
“You aren’t biting anyone today,” Emalynn frowned. “Do you want to end up back in the Headmaster’s office, calling your father to explain why you have detention?”
At the memory of detention (which involved staying home and being trapped with her mother in a variety of social events), Brittainy shivered.
“I’m doomed!” she wailed.
“No, you are not,” Emalynn rolled her eyes. “We just need a break to clear our heads.”
“Maybe we can use our assignment passes and go for a long walk,” Katrynn said.
“I hate walking,” Chrystyna shook her head. “You go for a walk. I’ll stay in and read and think.”
“Read and think about what?” asked Emalynn.
“About the assignment,” Chrystyna sighed. “Something feels odd to me.”
“The assignment feels odd?” Brittainy, arriving at her cubby hole, stashed her alchemy notebook and textbook carefully away before removing her history materials.
“I can’t say,” Chrystyna glanced about as she hastily shoved her books into her own cubby hole. “Not here.”
“I have an idea,” Emalynn brightened as a brilliant idea occurred to her. “Half an hour’s cab ride from here, there’s this really nice little tea shop. We can go there and enjoy some tea and homemade scones. And it’s cheap,” she added for Chrystyna’s benefit. “And it doesn’t entail much walking.”
“We’ll have to walk down to The Crossroads Inn to ride a tram, won’t we? That could take up some time.” Chrystyna said thoughtfully. “Would we be planning this secret meeting on Starne Da?”
“Secret meeting,” breathed Katrynn.
“It’s not a secret meeting, Kat.” Emalynn rolled her eyes. “The day after tomorrow? Hm. Well, Starne Da does seem like a great time for all of us.”
“Let’s do it!” Brittainy danced up and down – nearly treading on Master O’Shore who had come up behind the now tardy girls.
The History and Social Arts teacher was wearing a set of very fine polished black boots below a flamboyant looking deep purple suit complete with a light blue shirt and black vest. Brittainy froze and slowly lifted her chestnut granny boot off the man’s foot. Master O’Shore seemed to think it better to ignore Brittainy’s failed attempt at surreptitiously removing herself from his attention. Looking over his silver horn rims, the short man coughed and gave the four girls a sharp look.
“Are you four ready to begin class?” Master O’Shore asked. “Or do you young ladies wish to spend some quality time with Headmaster Amarost?”
“History class,” Emalynn said quickly and slipped into the classroom followed hard by Katrynn and Chrystyna.
Brittainy turned around and nodded reluctantly.
“I’m glad to see that we have some enthusiastic students today,” said the History teacher.
“Yes, Master O’Shore,” Brittainy said, subdued, trudging after the dapper gentleman. “Always.”
On Saturday, after a cramped half an hour’s ride on the tram into the middle portion of the city, the girls descended and followed Emalynn as she led the small group to her favorite tea shop. Although a serious aficionado of coffee, Emalynn enjoyed teatime when done properly. Her mother, a connoisseur of hot drinks, had brought her daughters there on a number of occasions. At the familiar sight of the navy velvet curtains, the white delicately carved window frames, and the purple and red festooned wreath on the door, Katrynn’s eyes lit up.
“The Faeries’ Nook!” She smiled. “I love this place! The scones and the tuna sandwiches are to die for. Literally.”
“Really?” Chrystyna looked around the small shop as she followed her friends inside.
It was indeed a quaint shop with small booths comprised of fluffy looking sofas curving around small round tables.
“A very comfortable kind of salon,” Brittainy was saying as she followed Emalynn to a corner booth by a window. “Look at the fairy decorations.”
There were indeed a lot of fairy-themed decorations. The iron-worked lamps hung from the ceiling, embellished with curlicues and leaves and ivy and tiny winged fairies. Little fairy ceramics peeped out from behind small potted flowers and greenery set on the shelves which separated the booths and tables from each other. Even the teapots and cups boasted pastel colors delicately painted in gentle arcs and swirls.
“It’s a bit overdone,” Emalynn admitted. “However, it does show a kind of...”
“Obsession?” asked Katrynn, taking a seat by Chrystyna.
“Dedication,” Emalynn said firmly, “dedication, I think, which promises other good things.”
“Like fluffy scones,” sighed Katrynn, “and well-mixed tuna sandwiches.”
“Anastacia will come round in a few minutes,” Emalynn peered around the corner of the booth, catching the eye of the plump, cheery maid who was taking another customer’s order. “We’ll have a nice tea in no time.”
Sure enough, in a few minutes, the friendly maid, Anastacia, arrived at their booth, took their order with good cheer, chatted about the weather and the most recent gossip about the Court, then swept off to deliver their order to the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, two pots of King’s Brew were on the table next to a plate of scones, two small pots of raspberry and strawberry jam, a bowl of whipped cream, and another small tray bearing a stack of tuna and salmon sandwiches with garnishes of cucumbers and watercress and cherry tomatoes.
“So,” Emalynn said around a mouthful of cinnamon and raisin scone, “what feels off to you about the assignment?”
“Hmmmm…” Chrystyna gulped down her cup of tea and poured herself another one, adding milk and sugar liberally.
“It’s just…” The girl stopped and frowned into her tea cup. “There seem to be some loose ends.”
“Loose ends?” Emalynn’s sharp eyebrows rose. “Like what?”
“That one time donation the Cravanaghs made, for example,” Chrystyna said hesitantly. “Why did they do that? Then there is the whole-”
“We are investigating you-know-who,” Katrynn blinked. “Not the Cravanaghs.”
“Yes – but don’t you want to know why?” Chrystyna’s green eyes looked worried. “It’s odd, right? Aren’t we to look into anything odd?”
“Charity isn’t odd,” Emalynn rolled her eyes. “You are just reading into everything.”
“What else do you think is strange?” asked Brittainy. “Are you thinking about the fisherman’s story?”
“What about the fisherman’s story?” Emalynn sighed.
“Isn’t it odd that he waited so long to finally point a finger at Lor – at the subject?” Brittainy asked. “I mean, he is angry because his grandfather died from drug use – but five years later? And then he specifically points a finger at L – at the subject?”
“Yes,” Chrystyna leaned forward. “That is another thing. I don’t understand why we have to kill – I mean,” the girl amended hastily, “remove the, er, subject.”
“You mean, why he doesn’t go to prison or something?” asked Brittainy.
“It is probably a matter of politics and lack of evidence-” Emalynn paused and then frowned, recalling Katrynn’s report. “More like a matter of politics.”
“I guess rich people get away with committing crimes more often than poor people,” Chrystyna sighed. “It just doesn’t make sense to me though.”
“Rich people don’t get away with committing crimes,” Brittainy frowned. “My father is always going down to the station to pick up Eric.”
“Eric is always in jail?” asked Katrynn. “What does he do?”
“He goes to some stupid parties and does stupid things,” Brittainy said sharply.
“Like what?” Katrynn leaned forward, dark eyes gleaming with curiosity.
“Katrynn,” Emalynn sighed, giving her sister a Look.
It obviously bothers her, Emalynn thought. I suppose it is frustrating to see your family make poor life choices all the time.
“Drinking and running around and stealing cabs from cabbies and racing around the city and sometimes doing stuff with Dust and things like that,” Brittainy frowned. “He gets in trouble, and Father has to go down and pay fines and bail for him to get out. If the person we are talking about is responsible for killing people or causing people to die because of drugs, he’d go to jail too.”
“Doran is usually quite fair,” Emalynn conceded.
“Which makes the, um, subject so unusual,” Chrystyna said.
“Why not just put you-know-who in prison and go after the real source of the drugs?”
“No one wants to start a war with Gojin,” Katrynn said. “Father says that Gojin has many people and the world’s largest army.”
“Still… Perhaps Gojin does not want drugs either,” Chrystyna frowned. “I just don’t know why our – uh - subject specifically is chosen in this long line of people responds-responsible for the drugs.”
“Hmmm…” Brittainy leaned back and considered the pale rafters of the coffee shop. “Perhaps there’s a secondary reason somewhere – like revenge?”
“Or ambition, or money,” Emalynn mused.
“You’re thinking of the heir – Guildmaster Taryth?” Katrynn asked, brown eyes wide as she imagined a hunch-backed man rubbing his hands and cackling as he signed the request for the assassination of his uncle. “It was the Textile Guild who-” The girl stopped and adjusted her mental scenario as she remembered the facts of the case. “Well, anonymously, the Textile Guild asked for L- the subject’s assassination.”
“Hm, perhaps that was the point,” Brittainy nodded, excitement rising as the situation made more sense to her. “I could see that! He would hide his personal ambition to be a lord and he used the Guild!”
“I don’t know if anyone in their right mind would want to be a nobleman in that province,” shuddered Emalynn. “Maybe he’s a little crazy?”
“If he was crazy,” Chrystyna scratched her chin ruminatively, “wouldn’t he go to a sanatorium?”
“Should think so,” Brittainy said around another scone. “Lots o’people end up there when they are crazy.”
“We don’t know if he is crazy,” Emalynn hastened to remind the others. “It’s a possibility. More than likely, he’s just a very bad man who needs to spend a good long while in prison-”
“Or be dead,” Katrynn said with relish.
“Or be dead,” Emalynn sighed. “On the other hand, it isn’t good for our people to be used for someone’s personal agenda.”
“Agenda?” asked Chrsytyna.
“For their own reasons,” explained Brittainy.
“Oh, yes,” Chrystyna nodded, now understanding where the conversation had ended up. “It would be terrible-”
“Embarrassing,” Emalynn interjected.
“Unfortunate,” Katrynn added.
“So, we need to do some more research on Master Taryth then? More research on the family, more research on everything?” Brittainy asked. “Can we do that?”
“Well,” Emalynn thought for a few seconds before nodding. “I think we could.”
“We have permission,” Katrynn pointed out.
“But we need to retrace our steps,” Chrystyna said, “which means going back to the places we visited… and that means traveling for Emalynn. Emalynn can’t just up and leave.” Chrystyna blinked and then stared off in the distance before hesitantly adding: “Can she?”
“I could,” the dark, curly-haired girl shrugged. “Technically, I could pack up and slip out tomorrow – but that would be trouble with a capital T. We’ll need to get permission.”
The girls looked at each other before smiling and chorusing: “Master Colin!”
The four girls found Master Colin with Mistress Athylee in one of the side studies in Building Three filing a stack of papers which looked like reports and forms. Emalynn made a mental note to triple-check hers later that evening after dinner when she had time. Master Colin is not going to find a single thing wrong with my report, the earnest girl vowed to herself. It’s going to be perfect!
“Girls.” The brown-haired, tan assassin looked up and smiled his usual easy smile. He paused and glanced at Mistress
Athylee before meeting the girls’ somber gazes. “Did something happen? You look like someone died!”
“Has – has our assignment been officially completed?” Emalynn asked carefully.
“Well, not all of your reports are due yet – and we have a load of things to mark and write.” Here, Colin gestured at the stack of paper before him. “I don’t know about Master Geoffrey and Mistress Hilde-Beth, but Mistress Athylee and I have quite a bit to do before we turn in the complete assignment. Why?”
“We want to double-check a few things,” Emalynn, who had been voted as spokesperson for the group, explained carefully.
“Our assignment’s conclusion doesn’t feel… right to some of us.” Here, she glanced at Chrystyna.
“I see,” Colin looked at Chrystyna who decided to attempt to shrink back and hide behind Brittainy (which didn’t work since the curly-haired blond girl was at least one head shorter than the farm girl). “What do you think, Mistress Athylee?”
Colin, turning to his teammate, paused at the sight of Mistress Athylee’s dreamy eyes. Obviously the woman hadn’t heard him.
“Oh,” Mistress Athylee’s dark gaze suddenly focused on the group of girls standing before their table. “Absolutely.”
“Absolutely?” asked Colin, looking puzzled.
“The girls must do what they must,” the absent-minded woman said firmly. “If there is a doubt in anyone’s mind, a double, even triple, check is necessary. Since there is only an academic deadline for the mission concerning the subject, we can take the time required to make absolutely certain of our findings.”
“We were just wondering if it was only about the drugs,” Katrynn said. “Perhaps there’s another motive to name the suspect we are contemplating as the person to punish.”
“I see,” Colin leaned back, folded his arms and rubbed his chin. “Interesting.”
“I have dinner plans with Master Geoffrey and Mistress Hilde-Beth tonight,” the older woman said. “I’ll get their formal permissions and send you a note in the morning.” She gave each of the girls a look. “Yet, I must remind you that you four will be on your own, so care, caution, and responsibility as well as diligence are required. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the four girls chorused, encouraged and awed by the broad permission granted them.
“Hm,” Mistress Athylee pulled her papers closer to her and picked up her pen. “You’ll get my note tomorrow.”
“Good luck, girls,” Master Colin added cheerfully.
As the four girls herded out of the room, no doubt fearful that their Masters-in-Training would change their minds, Colin and Athylee heard snatches of gleeful whispers.
“I cannot believe it-”
“That was too easy-”
“They aren’t going to go with us?”
“Our own mission!”
“I still cannot-”
Colin and Athylee glanced at each other. The older woman, pulling her hand-knit navy shawl over her shoulders, shook her head ruefully.
“You were right, Colin.”
“Still unexpected,” the younger assassin sighed. “Who would think they would actually act on their hunch?”
“They are a special bunch,” agreed Athylee. “I can’t wait to see what trouble they get up to.”
“I can’t wait to see if they find anything new,” Colin said, a grin growing on his face. “This assignment just got more exciting.”
“Looks” come in a variety of combinations. The Mother Look is perhaps the most devastating Look a child can receive, more often than not promising corporal punishment of some kind. The Sibling Looks (ranging from vindictive to scolding) can be equally powerful. Teachers, aged adults, and shopkeepers also have Looks. Determining the danger level of each Look is a lesson well learned by clever children.
Sanatoriums in Doran, remote mansions filled with the insane or permanently disabled, are mysterious places most often explored in dime serials of gothic adventure, which are most often read by young ladies gifted with incredibly overactive imaginations and unrestrained gullibility. More often than not, the sanatorium is run by a suitably creepy, bearded man attended by unpleasantly beautiful nurses (if possible) and someone is stalking and killing the inmates with a long knife. The author must also note that in reality sanatoriums within Doran are less exciting than the novels and more often than not are staffed by well-meaning nurses and Clerics.