The Night Runners: First Year

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Chapter 17

Upon rereading Katrynn’s letter three times, the two girls rushed to the board and studied it again with the name in mind. Nothing seemed to connected to Katrynn’s research. However, swept away in the excitement of the moment, Brittainy copied Katrynn’s words into large letters and pinned the note carefully onto the board. To the girls’ surprise, when they told Mistress Hilda-Beth, who often dropped by Chrystyna’s Tower every other afternoon to ensure that it was being adequately cleaned, the woman frowned. After rereading Katrynn’s missive, the blonde-haired Mistress-in-Training disappeared immediately without even checking the windowsills for dust.

“I need to talk to Master Geoffrey about this,” she had told the girls absently before she left. “Stay here and don’t move either of you until I return.”
Brittainy raised her hand. “What if I have to go to the washroom?”

Mistress Hilda-Beth closed her eyes, and then opened them again and glanced upward at the ceiling. Without a further word, the woman turned about and descended the stairs.

“I guess you will just have to hold it in,” Chrystyna noted. “Where do you think she’s going?”
“There’s something about that note,” Brittainy sighed. “I feel terrible for not understanding why it’s important.”
“Do you think we’ll get a low mark?”

The girls waited. A few hours later, when the sun had begun to set in the sky and the girls’ stomachs were beginning to make growly noises, Mistress Hilda-Beth and Master Geoffrey’s heads appeared at the landing. Arms laden with paperwork and four paper bags, the two adults rearranged the table. From the paper bags, a delicious smell wafted.

“Gravy sausages,” Master Geoffrey said, “with chips. You girls need a break after a long afternoon of hard work.”
“I hope it was a long afternoon of hard work,” Mistress Hilda-Beth said with a warning note to her voice.
“It was,” Chrystyna reassured them quickly. “I was able to read ahead.”
“I got all my homework done,” Brittainy added in slightly shocked tones as though the fact that she had finished her work was even a surprise to her.
“I am sure your teachers will be happily surprised,” smiled Mistress Hilda-Beth.
“More like faint with shock,” chuckled Master Geoffrey. “But what we really need to talk about is our next step of investigation.”
“Which needs to take place tonight,” Mistress Hilda-Beth added. “Your teammates, Master Colin, and Mistress Athylee are returning the day after tomorrow, so I think it would be best for us to finish our work before we have our final meeting.”
“Tonight?” breathed Brittainy, eyes shining. “We are going to go on a night mission?”
“We’re short on time,” Master Geoffrey explained. “I did some research this afternoon in the public library and archives. Last time we researched, our reading selection was quite focused. This afternoon I widened the search – and our initial findings at the party are fairly supported.”
“So...” Chrystyna said thoughtfully. “There is something else going on?”
“I think so,” Master Geoffrey nodded. “Your instincts were correct. However, as we learned, the Guildmaster is not behind it. The man – Taryth Sadon – has no personal ambition in regards to social climbing. His finances are clean and he is quite well off.”
“He doesn’t want to be in Karrowyn either?” asked Brittainy. “Some people think it is better to have a title and land even if it isn’t a good title or nice land.”
“I agree that some adults do strange and terrible things for political power,” Mistress Hilda-Beth agreed, “but there’s no sign of Taryth Sadon talking or aiming for a title.”
“What about the Cravanagh’s finances?” asked Chrystyna. “Katrynn’s letter said something about a donation going to an orphanage.”
“Yes,” Brittainy perked up. “The orphanage! What does that mean? Does that mean...” A pause. “There was a baby?”
“What baby?” Chrystyna blinked. “Who had a baby? Lady Matilde?”
“Perhaps,” Mistress Hilda-Beth shook her head. “Other than the fact that the Cravanaghs had traveled about the countryside of Quartz Hills and adjoining provinces, there seems to have been no other information regarding the baby. However, considering the dates and the rumours during her first season concerning Lady Matilde and a young nobleman, it could have been Lady Matilde’s baby.”
“And that name is the name of the baby,” guessed Brittainy. “Can we research it?”
“Well, we can talk about what I found out,” Master Geoffrey said, “but that can wait until tomorrow. What we need to do tonight is double-check the couriers that Katrynn mentioned in her report.”
“The, um, Zimmer people,” Chrystyna said slowly.
“You remembered!” Brittainy smiled at her friend.
“Infiltration,” Master Geoffrey cleared his throat and gave the two distracted young girls a hard look. “Tonight. Mistress Hilda-Beth and I will come along to ensure that the operation goes smoothly, but we will allow you two to do your part as well.”
“We’ll be able to pick locks?” Brittainy asked, starting to get even more excited.
“She is good at picking locks,” Chrystyna nodded. “I’ll hold the lantern.”
“You’ll be doing more than holding a lantern,” her Master told her. “How well can you whistle? Can you give quiet, low whistles?”

Chrystyna pursed her lips, spluttered out air, and then shook her head.

“As usual, no,” the tall girl sighed.
“As usual?” asked Brittainy.
“I’ve never been able to whistle.”
“Girls,” Mistress Hilda-Beth interjected.
“Why do I have to whistle?” Chrystyna asked.
“Well, you could have been lookout,” Master Geoffrey said.
“I can stand watch,” Hilda-Beth assured her teammates. “I am a splendid whistler.”
“That might be something you want to work on.” Chrystyna’s Master frowned at his student. “What will you do if you need to alert your comrades during a mission?”
“Well…” Chrystyna eyed the tall man and chose her words carefully. “I would… not… shout?” She ended her statement the lilt of a question, hoping that her answer would not make him annoyed.
“That’s a start,” Mistress Hilda-Beth laughed. “Now, you girls should know what to wear. Remember to wear your standard issue soft boots. After dinner, return to your dorms, get ready, and rest. I’ll bring you more information to reread after Master Geoffrey receives his reconnaissance report.”
“Reconnaissance report?” asked Chrystyna.
“I have a friend who will have a look at the Zimmer courier shop and tell us how to get in,” Master Geoffrey explained.
“So,” Hilde-beth gave each girl a stern look. “We’ll meet at the side-door of this tower tonight around ten-thirty. Don’t be late.”
“We will be ready,” Brittainy and Chrystyna chorused.

At ten-thirty, Chrystyna descended the tower’s steep stairs, dressed in her blacks complete with soft boots. The assassin boots, one of Ellamere Ingleby’s most famous inventions [1], were made of the softest and most supple of leathers encasing a metal-plated sole which formed to the foot of the wearer. The metal plate, designed to protect any assassin from walking on sharp objects, was muffled well by layers of leather and cotton. They had, in a way, become a symbol of the assassin, and each student (particularly those who came from assassin families) looked forward to receiving their boots at the beginning of the year. Chrystyna had just been glad to receive footwear that was brand new, well made, and nice looking.

Master Geoffrey stepped into the tower’s room quietly just as Mistress Hilda-beth opened the side door and poked her head outside to check the weather. Brittainy stood by her side. Dressed in all black, Brittainy looked very different compared to her usually flouncy petticoats and flowery dresses. Her hair was also severely pulled away from her face and tied back with many hair bands. She pulled her assassin’s mask down over her head, trapping her hair and hiding most of her face except for her eyes and nose. Chrystyna followed suit and turned to really have a look at her Master. Her green eyes widened. Her stylish Master was gone!

Like Mistress Hilda-Beth, Master Geoffrey wore his soft black boots, black pants, black long-sleeved shirt and vest, as well as a black mask. Master Geoffrey without a single bit of colour on him looked quite severe and pale. And skinny, Chrystyna thought. But she approved of the loops of rope he had slung across his chest, the various holsters holding small throwing knives and a hand pistol or two. On his back was strapped a long sword. Mistress Hilda-Beth carried a crossbow.

Chrystyna shivered with delight. She turned to Brittainy to say as much when she realized that the short girl was hopping from foot to foot. What is she doing? Chrystyna wondered in confusion.

“It looks like we are all ready,” Master Geoffrey said, raising an eyebrow at Brittainy’s antics. “More or less. For names, we’ll go with the standard ‘Agent’. I’m Agent One, Hilda-Beth is Agent Two, Chrystyna is Agent Three, and Brittainy’s Agent Four. Got it?”
“Yes,” chimed the two girls.
“Let’s go, girls,” Hilda-Beth, noticing Brittainy's jig, gave the girl a sharp look. “Wait. First, we need to review a couple things. What did I tell you about how we behave on a mission, Agent Four?” She asked her student.
“We should be quiet. We should be anonymous. We should work quickly. We should always follow the plan… um…” Brittainy ticked off the points on her fingers and then paused to think. “What did I miss?”
“No dancing.”
“Oh yes,” Brittainy said with a sigh. “No dancing and no flailing.”
“Flailing?” Chrystyna tripped over the unknown word. “What is flailing?”
“Waving your arms and legs about,” Master Geoffrey said. “Doing so is careless and may draw attention to you.”
“I see.” Chrystyna looked at Brittainy. “I won’t flail or dance.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” her Master said. “Hilda-Beth. Anything else we should say?”
“We will be going by carriage into the city. Then, when we are close to our target, we will dismount at a prearranged spot and slip through alleys to the back door of the business.” Hilda-Beth reminded the girls. “You two read the instructions I wrote down earlier today, right?”
“Yes,” Brittainy groaned. “All of it.”
“It was only a page long,” Hilda-Beth rolled her eyes. “So then what happens next?”
“We break in, find the information, and read it and then… we leave the same way we came,” Chrystyna said quickly.
“And what happens if there’s an unexpected complication?”
“We withdraw immediately – and follow your instructions to the letter,” Brittainy finished quickly.

Brittainy is more serious than usual, Chrystyna mused. Even if she is dancing – or flailing.

“It looks like you two did your homework,” Master Geoffrey’s eyes crinkled upward, his smile hidden. “Let’s go then.”

Just as Mistress Hilde-Beth had planned, the group of four made their way into the city in a small hansom driven by Master Geoffrey. Dressed in a large great coat and bowler hat, his assassin’s mask tucked down about his neck like a scarf, Geoffrey hunched over the reins and held his short whip just like the cabbie he was pretending to be. Inside the hansom with the girls, Hilda-Beth went over the details of what the girls were looking for – any files related to Lady Matilda, Taryth Sadon or the name within Katrynn’s letter.

After an hour, the hansom arrived. Half an hour earlier, doleful bells had rung eleven times, and Chrystyna, looking through the smudgy panes of the battered hansom’s windows, had noticed that the streets were mainly empty. Now, having arrived at a ‘safe house’, the four handed the hansom over to a waiting assassin who took the reins and mounted the box.

“You know where to go,” murmured Master Geoffrey.

The assassin nodded and drove off with their transportation without another word. Brittainy and Chrystyna watched silently and then followed Hilde-Beth to the small back gate which led out to a narrow alleyway. Good assassins, Hilde-Beth had told them, have back up plans. Back up plans, Brittainy recalled, are plans you thought up for times when things went wrong. If there was a problem, their group wouldn’t necessarily be able to return to the safe house the same way.

So that person, whoever they are, is our backup plan. Brittainy smiled to herself. We must be very good assassins.

Following her Master, Brittainy walked as quietly as she could. Behind her, Chrystyna followed just as carefully. At the rear, Master Geoffrey, now without his great coat and bowler, kept an eye out for anyone who might try to follow them. In this way, the small group made their way down the alley and then turned right into another small road.

In the distance, at the far end of the road, they could see a large street dimly lit with the sickly light of gas lamps. Surrounded by the night and fog, stragglers here and there hurried their way home. Occasional yowling of cats and barking of dogs broke the silence. Somewhere far down the street, they could hear a crashing sound and shouts. A gang brawling, perhaps. The clop-clop of hansoms and carriages with the clatter of their metal or wood wheel rims also approached and passed by.

However, Hilde-Beth did not bring them close to the street. Instead she raised a hand, bringing everyone to a stop and turned left. The back door of a well-maintained green and brown fence loomed. Soundlessly, the expert assassin drew out a small bundle of cloth from her right thigh pocket. Unwrapping her pack, she bared a lovely set of lock-picks. Choosing two carefully, Mistress Hilde-Beth rolled the pack back up, put it back in her pocket, and then began to quietly tinker with the lock. The two students watched carefully while Master Geoffrey, stepping back into the shadows took guard.

Within half a minute, the gate was unlocked and all four were inside. Locking it behind them, the team approached a white back door which Mistress Hilde-Beth also opened with another key from her pack.

Bending down and clasping both girls’ shoulders to draw them close to him, Master Geoffrey said in a low tone, “We are here. Remember your instructions.”

Find the name you’ve been given, Brittainy mentally recited to herself. If there are records of letters, make a note of when, how often, and to whom the letters were written.

Mistress Hilde-Beth gave Brittainy a nod as the short girl followed Master Geoffrey and Chrystyna inside. Master Geoffrey, whose friend had visited the establishment earlier in the afternoon, went straight to a small room off the side. As his friend had guessed, it was a records room, filled with numerous cabinets neatly alphabetized. Without further word, Master Geoffrey drew the curtains and opened the small lantern he had brought, shedding a dim light around the room. The three split up.

Brittainy turned and noted that ‘P’ was right before her. Further to the right, was ‘Q’. Tugging on Chrystyna’s elbow, she jerked her head. The two found ‘S’ and ‘T’ right around the corner a few seconds after. Just as she hoped, the cabinet was locked. I get to pick a lock! For real! Brittainy thought gleefully. Well, I picked locks for real before… and the Headmaster’s lock. At the thought of the Headmaster and his glinting blue eyes, the blond girl shivered. I had better focus on this job, she told herself.

After half a minute, Brittainy had unlocked hers. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Chrystyna wrestle with her lock. There was a sharp snapping sound at which Master Geoffrey froze and then slowly turned to glare at his student. Brittainy nudged Chrystyna aside, removed the girl’s broken pick and set to work on the “T” cabinet before her. Doing it slowly, she hoped Chrystyna was paying attention. Even if she does, Brittainy wondered, will she still be able to understand how to do it properly? I knew she was bad at picking locks – but not that bad!

For a while there was silence. Almost silence. There was shuffling and rustling as files were slowly perused. Brittainy found a file for ‘Sadon, Taryth’ as hoped – but the communications of Taryth Sadon showed exactly what they had guessed – nothing. The man on occasion sent word some merchants and that was about it. There were two letters sent to the Sadon estate in Karrowyn a few years back, but that was to Lord Sadon and his ‘estate manager’. Probably business.

Shutting the cabinet and locking it again carefully, Brittainy joined Chrystyna. Chrystyna’s file was thicker with several sheets of paper heavily lined with names. She took two and ran through the name list – and then stopped as she realized that Master Geoffrey was reaching down over their shoulders to pick up a page. The two girls stopped and watched as he crossed the room soundlessly and flipped to a section of his file on ‘Cravanagh/Sadon, Lady Matilde’.

He’s comparing something, she realized. Has he found the information we need? Is there a correlation between these names? When Master Geoffrey began to carefully order his file and put it away, Brittainy sighed. Perhaps not.

Chrystyna nudged Brittainy and jabbed a gloved finger at her list. Their heads crowded together as they perused the sheet in the lackluster light. Lady Matilde Sadon, nee Cravanagh. Line after line after line. A hand laid on their shoulders drew their attention upward to Master Geoffrey’s masked face. This time he was definitely smiling, his eyes curving up.

Leaning forward he said in a low voice, “She wrote to her sisters but on the way the courier dropped off another secret letter somewhere else. You see it, too?”
“Lady Matilde was writing to…him?” Chrystyna whispered.
“To Peter Tynne,” Brittainy frowned.
“To her grownup child,” Chrystyna said in awe.
“We are done here,” Master Geoffrey nodded. “Let’s go.”

With that, Chrystyna carefully put the sheets Brittainy and she had read back in the right order. Brittainy relocked the cabinets they had used while Master Geoffrey doused the lantern and then drew back the curtains. Double-checking that they had left no sign of their presence, Master Geoffrey looked around the room before shutting the door behind them. They emerged from the house and waited for Hilda-Beth to lock the back door.

Creeping out of the gate, they locked the gate behind them. Just as they were approaching the back alleyway, they heard a clatter. All four immediately hid themselves in the shadows as best they could, backs to the small road’s fences. Master Geoffrey glanced over a pile of boxes behind which Chrystyna and he hid. Two men were yelling loudly.

Drunks, Brittainy thought. This isn’t good.

“Oi!” Someone shouted down from above. “Quiet down there or I’ll have the Night Watch on you!”

The Night Watch! Master Geoffrey and Mistress Hilde-Beth exchanged glances. Pulling Brittainy back slowly, Hilde-Beth drew the young girl toward the back alley soundlessly. Far off they could hear a sharp whistle. With that, Hilde-Beth darted back to the alley, followed closely by Brittainy, shrugged off her thin rope, fastened a loop, and threw it upward into the night above them. The noose found purchase on a hook by the roof’s eaves and drew tight.

“Up,” Mistress Hilde-Beth signed to her student.

Brittainy began to swarm up the rope, her heart thumping. The Night Watch is coming. I hope they don’t mess up our plan – or our back up plan! Reaching the top, the girl turned about and looked down. Mistress Hilde-Beth was climbing up. Far below, Master Geoffrey appeared to be whispering heatedly with Chrystyna.

Oh dear. A three story building… Brittainy winced. This is not going to go well!
“What’s the matter?” It was Mistress Hilde-Beth, realizing that Chrystyna hadn’t appeared yet.
“Chrystyna,” Brittainy whispered as quietly as she could, “is very afraid of heights.”

Mistress Hilde-Beth then appeared to lie down and rest. Brittainy did not think she was resting, however. Probably having a conniption. Brittainy knew all about conniptions. Her cousin Alexandria often had them. Sometimes her mother did as well. It often involved lying down, crying heavily, flailing, yelling, or all of the above. Of course, Brittainy reminded herself, assassins have silent conniptions. Mistress Hilde-Beth really is professional.

There was a gentle slipping sound and a loud panting approaching. Chrystyna’s wide eyes and pale face appeared over the edge of the roof. Brittainy lent a hand and helped pull the girl up beside her. From the way Chrystyna moved, Brittainy guessed the girl was obviously beside herself in panic. Master Geoffrey joined them a few seconds later, pulled up the rope, untied it, handed it to Mistress Hilde-Beth, and then signed ‘Follow me’.

Chrystyna was not having it.

Chrystyna shook her head and clung to the black shingle seemingly unable to move. Just as Master Geoffrey crept to his petrified student’s side, a loud crash resounded down the street. Hidden in the shadows on the roof, the group froze. No one will be able to see us, Brittainy told herself. Not unless they have a strong light. We are on the side of the alleyway as well. The fight is on the road. And the fog is on our side.

From a short distance away, a sharp whistle drew close. As feared, the Night Watch was coming to handle the situation. It’s a good thing we have police who work hard at night, Brittainy sighed. Just not this night. Trying to keep as far away from the edge of the roof as possible, the Masters and their students leaned back against the shingle and waited patiently.

It took the Night Watch fifteen minutes in all to part the two men and drag them off. Various windows banged shut in response to the fracas. As it became apparent that the Watch and the men were not going to enter the back alleyway, Hilde-Beth took lead and guided Brittainy around the side of the building where the roof ran alongside another roof. The space was only a foot wide and the two were able to cross easily.

Somehow Master Geoffrey got Chrystyna moving and the two followed as quickly and silently as they could, leaving the shouting and scuffling behind them. The next row of houses were tenements all connected with a single roof which was less steep. Once they made their way to the far end of the tenements, Master Geoffrey made his way to the head of the group and pointed downward.

Securing his rope, he disappeared downward.

Mistress Hilde-Beth turned to Chrystyna and Brittainy.

“A flight of stairs,” she said in a low voice.

Brittainy, leaning over, caught a glimpse of Master Geoffrey’s head not far down. The Master was standing on a landing which led to a flight of stairs downward. Grabbing the edge carefully, Brittainy slid off the roof, gripped the rope tightly, and let herself down slowly. Above Chrystyna looked at the edge with loathing. However, within a few minutes, Chrystyna’s boots appeared and then the rest of her. Chrystyna’s trip down seemed to last forever, but eventually the rope was drawn up, untied, looped around Mistress Hildebeth’s neck as she withdrew a metal hook which she tied to the end of the rope. Setting the metal hook on the hook which the rope had been tied about, Hilde-Beth made her careful way down.

The girls held their breath.

If she moves too much to either side, the hook will slip off… Brittainy watched with excited glee as her Mistress made her way expertly down the side of the red brick.

Once she reached the landing, Mistress Hilde-Beth held her rope taut while Master Geoffrey withdrew his long sword. Reaching up on tiptoe, he used the tip of his blade to lift off the hook, removing the evidence of their presence. Mistress Hilde-Beth removed the hook from the rope, handed the rope back to Master Geoffrey, and stashed the hook away while her partner rewound his rope and slung it across his chest.

After waiting for a few moments more, Mistress Hilde-Beth led the group again, followed by the formation they had decided on earlier. This time, the girls were led down another small street and before they reached the main road, turned left into an alleyway. After a series of twists and turns, the group found themselves by a low fence surrounding a park. Climbing over the fence and crossing the park, Chrystyna and Brittainy saw that they had arrived at a small back road where a familiar hansom waited.

The Mistress Hilde-Beth and the girls got into the cab, and Master Geoffrey slung on his bowler hat and coat to join their silent partner. Then they were off.

Inside the cab, there was not much space to move – but Brittainy could not help but fidget with excitement.

“We did it!” she repeated over and over again. “We got the information!”
“The name was there?” Mistress Hilde-Beth tried to keep the girl still – and failed.
“It was a success, I guess.” Chrystyna leaned back and closed her eyes, clutching the worn leather seat as though her life depended on it.
“You guess?” Brittainy asked incredulously. “You guess?! We got what we needed! Oh.” Realization hit the girl. “You’re talking about our detour across the roofs!”
“You two did very well.” Mistress Hilde-Beth smiled. “A good report for us to write up.”

Chrystyna did not look cheered by the thought.

“How did you end up climbing up and down?” Brittainy stopped to eye her friend. “I know that you are terrified of heights.”
“I had to,” groaned the taller girl. “If I didn’t, I could have been caught… and taken to the police station… and put in jail for the rest of my life.”
“Hardly for the rest of your life,” Brittainy rolled her eyes.
“I would have failed my first year at the Guild. I would probably be kicked out.”
“You would end up returning to your family and farm.” Hilda-Beth said. “Hardly the end of your life.”
“Have you been to Grey Crags?” asked Chrystyna, opening her eyes reluctantly. A pause. “No. I had to climb. So I did. I hope I don’t have to do it again soon.”
“I’m sure if you did it before, you could do it again.”
“Only when I really have to,” Chrystyna promised them.
“Well, that means that you are dependable, in your own way,” Mistress Hilde-Beth smiled. “That is not a bad thing.”
“We should feel really proud about what we did tonight. I can’t wait to tell Emalynn and Katrynn,” Brittainy bounced up and down on her seat. “We were so quiet! And quick! And amazing! And I didn’t dance or flail at all!”
“Now you need to work on your studies,” her Mistress said. “If you work hard in school, you really will become a great assassin.”

Brittainy wilted at the thought of homework. Chrystyna managed a smile at her friend’s disenchantment with school.

“I suppose we all have our trials,” she said.
“And triumphs,” Brittainy added, trying to stay positive.
“And triumphs,” Chrystyna echoed. “We have our missing clue. Our assignment is now truly done.”

It was hard to work for the program on top of doing regular schoolwork. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I would be able to really help – not like Emalynn or Katrynn anyways… But in the end, it was interesting. I learned a lot. Now it’s over. At the thought, Chrystyna felt a little sad.

[1] Ellamere Ingleby and Russell Carroway are the Assassin Guild’s most famous inventors, having patented over two hundred useful inventions. Few inventions were shared with the Royal Army or Navy, for in a day when science and technology make much progress (the Iron Marks, the Dirigibles, and the Turing Machine), the Assassins need as much of an upper hand as possible. Ellamere Ingleby, known for her SIAB (Standard Issue Assassin’s Boots) and DAHGK (Double-Action Hand-Grip Krampon), is famous for saying: “An Assassin is only as good as his gear.”

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