The Night Runners: First Year

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Chapter 18

Next morning, being Starne’s Da, Brittainy and Chrystyna were able to sleep in. Waiting for Emalynn and Katrynn to arrive, the first day of the weekend felt like it was going to last forever. However, in the morning of Skroll’s Da, Emalynn and Katrynn, escorted by their mentors from the train station, arrived at the Academy just in time for lunch, which they ate heartily. Gulping down the sandwiches and tea offered them, the four girls finished as quickly as they could, barely able to contain their excitement.

It is all coming together, Brittainy thought. Who would have thought an assignment could be so interesting? For the first time, it’s as if school really matters.

Of course it is useful! Another part of Brittainy (which sounded a lot like Emalynn) reminded her.

Upon finishing lunch, the girls bolted up the stairs to Chrystyna’s Tower, talking over each other in a rush to get their stories out before the debriefing meeting. During the meeting, Master Colin would no doubt wish them to “stay on target” [1], so if any of them wanted to share something especially funny or interesting, now was the time.

On arriving at their secret meeting spot, the girls fell silent at the busy scene before them. The mentors were already waiting. Mistress Hilde-Beth was arranging chairs and stools in a circle, while Mistress Athylee prepared tea. The older woman looked even more thoughtful than usual. She failed to hear Master Geoffrey’s repeated coughing and nudging as he attempted to get past her to close the window. Knowing how distracted Brittainy and Chrystyna (and Mistress Athylee) were, the tall man wanted to limit the girls’ range of vision. Open windows invited cloud watching, pigeon feeding and daydreaming. Standing in front of the two corkboards, Master Colin was furiously taking notes.

“Take your seats, girls,” Mistress Hilde-Beth said as she took one of the canisters out of Mistress Athylee’s lax hands. “I’ll bring you some tea.”
“We will start in a few minutes,” promised Master Colin.

The girls nodded and took their seats silently, looking at each other with barely suppressed looks of nervousness and excitement. It’s the final debriefing, Brittainy stiffly watched her mentor with caution. We should be on our best behavior because Emalynn says debriefing means that we have to talk about what we learned. It’s a bit like an exam, I guess. I hope I remember my notes…

At this, Brittainy glanced down at the three small pieces of paper tucked in her pink blouse’s wristbands and then glanced over at Chrystyna. One of Chrystyna’s palms looked suspiciously black. Did she write her notes on her hand? Brittainy wondered in amusement. I wonder if looking at our notes counts as cheating.

“Well, everyone,” Master Colin began the meeting with a proud smile at the four students and his colleagues. “This has been a very interesting year – and definitely a very interesting assignment.”
“Hear, hear!” Master Geoffrey raised his tea cup.

Mistress Hilde-Beth, having given the girls their tea cups, took her own and sat down.

“We have learned quite a bit as mentors – and as assassins, I believe,” Mistress Hilde-Beth said.
“Yes. I am always amazed by what we can learn when our eyes are open, our ears are listening, and our hands are ready to do work,” Mistress Athylee agreed. “This debriefing session will be a great help for us to solidify whatever suspicions we may have harboured.”
“Now, debriefing sessions often involve a Archives Secretary and a Senior Administrative Assassin,” Master Colin continued. “However, you girls will not be required to deliver your report to them personally. You will give your oral report during this meeting and will submit a written report within the week.”
“Another writing assignment?” Brittainy grumbled not so quietly.

At the sight of her mentor’s disapproving gaze, the young girl subsided.

“Let’s try to-“
“Stay on target,” the girls finished Master Shermore’s usual suggestion.
“Exactly,” the tall man took his seat. “We will begin with Emalynn.”

Rising to her feet, for the first time in her life, Emalynn felt a wave of nervousness wash over her. It was a shock for the usually courageous girl. Nervousness before a small oral report – in front of them? Emalynn glanced at her classmates. I am not afraid of them! Emalynn frowned and focused instead on the items she had memorized the night before.

“Emalynn Romayan reports on her mission to Karrowyn,” Emalynn began the standard phrasing she had read in one of her upper classman’s textbooks.
“Speak, Assassin,” Master Colin nodded formally, his pen poised over his paper.

He isn’t going to be taking actual notes of what I say, Emalynn’s anxiety rose a few notches. Master Colin will be probably marking on how well I report my findings.

“I returned to Karrowyn with the mission of double-checking facts as well as attempting to find any missing details regarding the motivations and circumstances of the informant.”
“State the informant’s name for the record,” prompted Master Colin.
“Ulston, Garrett Ulston.” Emalynn continued as smoothly as she could. “In our initial reports - the Assassination Request Forms as well as our own questioning during our first trip to Tawyrs – Ulston appeared to be a concerned citizen who was upset by illegal activities within the area. We also knew that Ulston had lost a family member due to an accident caused by drug use.” A pause. Master Colin kept his pen moving and did not seem to be stopping, so Emalynn went on. “During my second trip, more information came to light. Well, I suppose that there were some clarifications because we had suspicions and we knew what to look for. Ulston’s grandfather was indeed a victim of drug abuse – and Ulston himself, I believe, was a victim of manipulation. When asked about the Sadons, Ulston had nothing but praise for the Lady Matilde. He stated that she attended his grandfather’s funeral – and even spoke to him afterwards. Highly suspicious, I think.”
“In what way?” asked Master Colin. “It is often common for the Lady of the House to take interest in the affairs of small communities.”
“Lady Matilde said that…” Emalynn, noticing that Chrystyna’s green eyes were looking a little glazed, decided to make her words simpler. “…that it was too bad that Ulston’s grandfather died. She seems to have agreed with Ulston that drugs were terrible and that the drug smuggling was not a good thing. In a way, she said that. I bet she left Ulston with the impression that he ought to speak out.”
“She incited Ulston to rat on her own husband,” Master Colin’s dark eyebrows rose. “Impressive. Did you see any sign of her in Karrowyn?”
“No, but many of the townsfolk talked about her. They feel fond of her.”
“What are your feelings toward her?”

Emalynn frowned as she processed the question. My feelings? I haven’t met Lady Matilde, so how can I have any feelings about her? I suppose he wants me to consult my gut about this. Hmmm…

“I think…” Emalynn hesitated, then ended with a rush. “I don’t think Lady Matilde is necessarily evil. Her motivations, as far as I know, are as yet unclear to me, but I have a feeling that there is a reason behind all of this. Here my report ends.”

She sat down, forcing herself to breath evenly as the stress slowly drained away. Master Colin is smiling. Chrystyna and Brittainy, she noticed, were clapping and looking very impressed. Katrynn, she thought. Chrystyna. Brittainy. This assignment wasn’t what I expected. Some parts of it were awful – the never-ending discussions, the hours spent in this tower room, the long road to Tawyrs, but all of those annoying times had fun parts as well. In the end, it wasn’t that bad.

For a few seconds, Emalynn felt just a little sad that it was over. Her part was done.

Katrynn stood up next. Today, she looked quite excited. It was a bit difficult to tell thanks to the black plaid felt cap pulled down low, overshadowing her eyes. Newsboys usually wear those things, Emalynn winced, looking over her sister’s all black outfit. The hat is no doubt some attempt for her to look mysterious. Where did she get it from? I need to get it away from her and burn it.

Of course, Katrynn was beside herself with excitement. However, the young girl was making great effort to keep all of her energy bottled up. Emalynn reported really well, Katrynn thought. It’s my turn to do a great job as well. I’m not going to let Mistress Athylee down!

“Katrynn Romayan is reporting about her mission to Marble Vale,” Katrynn attempted to keep things as formal as Emalynn.
“Speak, Assassin,” Mistress Athylee’s usually absentminded expression was gone. Her eyes were now keen and sharp as she took note of her student.
“I went north to Marble Vale for a secret mission in order to investigate the Cravanagh family. We needed to double-check the amount of money they donated to the local parish. If possible, I was to not only find out how much they donated and when, but also why. Another thing I had to find out was the movements of the family and their most recent history.”
“What did you discover?” asked Mistress Athylee, her pen coming to a stop.
“I discovered quite a bit, actually,” Katrynn’s chest puffed out a bit with pride. She raised her chin a bit revealing her eyes a little – brown eyes gleaming with anticipation. “First, the Cravanaghs have a fairly boring history. They are a normal noble family-”
“Most nobles don’t have boring histories,” Brittainy mumbled under her breath. [2]
Katrynn glared at Brittainy and continued on in slightly raised tones: “-who are not usually in the press. They have avoided getting in trouble. Second, they have traveled quite a bit around Doran, particularly the southern parts. I noted all the dates. One year is important: 1436. That is the year the Cravanagh mother and her daughters traveled through various parts of Doran around their province. Third, in the same year of 1436, they donated a large sum to Marble Vale’s Cathedral. Finally, when I visited the Cathedral, an informant there, Sister Clarice, showed me something interesting. The same year the Cravanaghs donated the money, the same year the girls and mother were traveling - was the same year that a baby was left at the orphanage!”

Katrynn stopped for effect. Chrystyna, her eyes distantly focused on her far away dream land, was no doubt imagining the whole thing. Emalynn was smiling proudly at her younger sister, while Brittainy bounced up and down on her seat. The mentors, however, seemed to be taking this news calmly. Did they already know? Katrynn wondered.

“I believe – as does Sister Clarice – that the baby belongs to one of the Cravanagh girls. Considering the fact that Lady Matilde came out in 1435 and the fact that many men were chasing after her, it is totally possible that the baby was hers!”
“How do we know it was not, say, her older sister’s?” asked Mistress Athylee calmly.
“Well,” Katrynn thought for a second before answering her mentor. “I think the baby’s name is a clue. Peter Tynne. Peter Tynne is the Textile Guild’s second in command. We all know how it goes: if Lord Sadon dies, Taryth Sadon has to take his seat at Tawyrs and resign from the Guild, and Peter Tynne will become the new Guildmaster. If Lady Matilde is plotting against her husband, it would make sense that she would be doing it for her child. I doubt Peter Tynne even knows what Lady Matilde is doing.”
“That will be a matter for the Guild to find out,” Mistress Athylee gave Master Colin a look, upon which the man took a note on his paper.
“I learned something really important,” Katryn shook her head. “Mothers really will do anything for their baby.”
“Not mine,” mumbled Chrystyna.
“Even if it means killing their husband?” asked Mistress Athylee.
“She’s not… exactly killing her husband,” Katrynn pointed out. “She’s pursuing justice because her husband is a bad man, but it’s not good that she’s using us as a weapon to help her baby.”
“That is a fair assessment,” Mistress Athylee agreed with a smile. “You can be seated, Katrynn. Good job.”

Katrynn sat down and gave Chrystyna an encouraging look. I wonder what she found out. Our assignment has gotten so much more interesting. The young girl sighed. It’ll be much duller around here when our apprenticeship is done. I suppose I am going to have to find myself my own cases to solve.

As Chrystyna clumsily got to her feet, she looked around at the group cautiously. I don’t have much to say, she thought. I don’t know why Brittainy couldn’t cover everything herself. Still… I suppose the whole point is to practice making a report.

“I’m here to make a report,” she started.

What had Emalynn said again? Chrystyna wished for the umpteenth time that things people said didn’t go in one ear and out the other. She sounded more… formal.

“State your name for the record,” Master Geoffrey said stiffly.

Chrystyna noticed, however, that his lips were twitching and his left eyebrow was raised. Horrified amusement – that’s what Brittainy said that means. The tall girl resisted scratching her head in thought and said her name.

“Speak, Assassin,” her mentor replied.
“Well,” Chrystyna peeked at her very smudgy black hand. “Although our initial ‘off-the-records’ mission to get a Headmaster’s Seal did not end well, Brittainy and I were able to attend a social. The, ah, party was held at Duchess...” A pause and she squinted at her hand. “Trelaawnneyyy… Trelawney. Yes.” Chrystyna looked up recalling more of that evening. “We went there to double-check the status of Taryth Sadon, the Textile Guild, and any more information that could be had about the Sadons and the Cravanaghs.”
“What information did you gather?” prompted Master Geoffrey.
“According to the staff there – I don’t remember their names – I discovered that Taryth Sadon is a very good person. He likes working at the Textile Guild, and he is in no hurry to live at Tawyrs. People generally think Taryth Sadon is a good man. Everyone also seems to know that Lord Sadon and Lady Matilde haven’t had any luck getting a child.”
“Good.” Master Geoffrey nodded, his pen scrawling across his page. “Anything else?”
“Um, Brittainy discovered that the Textile Guild is a model of efficiency thanks to Taryth Sadon and Master Tynne. Oh, I suppose that’s the same Peter Tynne who is Lady Matilde’s baby. Right. Yes. So, Brittainy also heard the same rumours we had heard before: the Cravanaghs are nice, the Sadons are distant, Lady Matilde is nice, and she can’t have any babies. Brittainy noticed that there were conflicting rumours about where the Cravanagh ladies spent their mysterious season out in the countryside. I guess something strange is really going on if a super nice, upstandin’, upstanding family are lying about their whereabouts. An unexpected baby could be one of them.”
“A good theory.” Master Geoffrey finished writing and looked up. “Most noble families like the Cravanaghs would do anything to hide an unfortunate pregnancy.”
“It’s a sad story,” Chrystyna added her opinion. “I can’t imagine my mother giving up any one of us. Nothing would make her do that. Lady Matilde probably feels sad about not seeing her baby grow up. Somehow she found him… and I bet she was happy for him.”
“Sounds like there is quite a bit of sympathy for Lady Matilde in the ranks,” Master Geoffrey gave his companions a wry smile. “You may be seated, Chrystyna. Well done.”

Chrystyna slumped back in her seat with a loud sigh of relief. She smiled with contentment and then sat up straight at the sharp look sent her from her mentor. We’re not done yet, she thought glumly. I still have a report to write… and final exams to pass. If I want to stay at the Academy, I have to keep fighting until the end. People thought I would fail this special assignment, but maybe it didn’t go so badly. Maybe I’ll have another chance and be able to come back next year.

Just thinking about her new friends and obstacles she had overcome, including climbing up to a roof in the middle of the night, Chrystyna felt even more determined to return.

This is the best school ever.

Brittainy did not get up out of her chair so much as bounce out of it. This is amazing! She kept telling herself. I am going to give a report to Mistress Hilde-Beth – and it is going to tie up all of the loose ends. Well, she hesitated, I guess it’s apparent to everyone now what exactly happened, but still! Report time!

“Brittainy Brython is here to report about her mission, ma’am,” Brittainy saluted.

Mistress Hilde-Beth winced at the excessive energy of her student.

“Speak Assassin,” she said, giving her student a quelling look. Brittainy, sadly, did not seem fazed at all.
“I will be talking about our super, secret mission the other night,” the blonde haired girl’s curls bounced in time with her hop-hopping from foot to foot.
“Stand still and straight like on parade ground,” Mistress Hilde-Beth barely managed a smile around her grinding teeth, “and give us a concise, careful report.”
“Right,” Brittainy’s feet stopped moving but her tongue did not. “I’ve got cards here. Lots of them.”

With a wild flourish, she drew out a small stack of white cards which flew out of her hands and scattered across the floor. One of them hit Master Geoffrey on the forehead – a feat in and of itself. Master Colin began to cough and sputter. The next five minutes were spent picking up the cards, sorting them, scolding the hyperactive young lady, and starting again.

“Alright,” Brittainy said, batting away a stray curl. “The day after our, uh, reconnaissance at the Duchess’s boring tea party, we got Kate’s message. As a result, we had to go to the couriers.” Brittainy let her first card drop on the ground. “The couriers were called Zimmer – and we had to visit them… AT NIGHT.”
“Keep your voice down, Brittainy,” her mentor sighed. “You are a young lady as well as an assassin.”
“Oh, right,” Brittainy’s voice lowered just a little. She dropped her second card. “Of course, we got into the shop in time. I helped pick locks. So fun!” A third card dropped onto the ground heedlessly. “Oh yes, and Chrystyna can’t pick locks, so I had to help her. We read a lot of stuff. Most of it was boring.” Two more cards were discarded. “Master Geoffrey read the Cravanagh file – and the Lady Matilde files. I read the Taryth Sadon file. Chrystyna read Peter Tynne’s files.”

More cards scattered about the girl who had thankfully focused on her atrocious writing and was at least completing her report. Even if she had no clue on how to meet her audience’s eyes or speak to a group.

“What did you discover?” asked Mistress Hilde-Beth.
“What we expected by then.” Brittainy couldn’t help but smile triumphantly at everyone. “Taryth Sadon didn’t write to anyone interesting or unexpected. He’s boring. Peter Tynne had a file – that was thick… but!”
“But most of his letters were to Lady Matilde!”
“And Lady Matilde’s records? Did they match?”
“Yes,” Brittainy nodded. “The couriers keep good records. Lady Matilde and Peter Tynne were communicating with each other. What they were writing, of course, we don’t know, but they were thick as thieves.” The girl stopped. “But they are probably not thieves, really.”
“Glad to know,” Mistress Hilde-Beth. “You did well, Brittainy. Er, collect your cards and be seated.”
“But I have five more!” Brittainy said in dismay. “All about our rope climbing and our rooftop jumping and Chrystyna being super brave!”
“I think that’s better left for story time at dinner,” Hilde-Beth rubbed her temple.
“Well, if she can say the five cards in two sentences,” Master Colin managed to suggest with a straight face, “perhaps Brittainy could be allowed to finish her notes.”
“Very well,” Mistress Hilde-Beth gave Master Colin a sharp look. “It will be on your head if things spiral out of control.”
“We are almost done anyways,” Master Colin pointed out.
“I can get it done in two sentences!” Brittainy begged, staring hard at her cards. “I think.”
“Let’s see how you do then,” Master Geoffrey folded his arms. “Quick and concise.”
“Alright! Alright! Here I go.” Brittainy thought hard. “After leaving the couriers without leaving a trace of our presence, we were threatened with the appearance of the Night Watch who had come to deal with some drunk men. We had to climb a rope to the roof, which Chrystyna bravely managed because she had to-“

Emalynn snorted a small laugh, and Katrynn gave Chrystyna a wide smile.

“-and we all got away without alerting the Night Watch – by running over the rooftops and returning to our carriage by a second route. Done! I can sit down now.”
“You may be seated,” Mistress Hilde-Beth shook her head. “I am pretty sure that second sentence was a run-on, young lady.”
“Grammar,” Brittainy stuck her tongue out. “Yuck.”

Everyone laughed then.

“At least she’s honest,” Mistress Athylee smiled at the girl.
“I just hope I can read her written report this time and not make her do it over three times.” Hilde-Beth set aside her notes. “Well done, Brittainy. Enthusiastic… and you did get all the necessary details in.”
“But remember you have to do the same thing for your written report – legible and clear.”
“I know…” Brittainy pouted.

Written reports… are terrible, but, the girl mused, everything else has been fun. I am glad I could take part in this extra assignment. I was able to meet some really different and amazing people, and I made new friends. And we uncovered a conspiracy! Who gets to do that at school? If I told Alexandra and John what I did this year in school, she would be so jealous – but I can’t. It’s top secret, which is even better. I can’t wait to come back to school next year and see what happens!

Brittainy realized that the mentors and her friends were clapping. Joining in, Brittainy sighed with relief. The meeting was almost done.

“Everyone,” Master Colin rose to his feet and looked around the group. “I think we did a great job. We have had our ups and downs. We have learned a lot from each other. Even more importantly, we have successfully protected the integrity of our Guild by uncovering the manipulations of Lady Matilde, and possibly Peter Tynne. After you submit your written reports, your mentors and I will take our completed report to the Guild Council where the senior members of our Guild, including Headmaster Felix Amarost, will make a decision on what to do. Since the assignment is now ended, officially at the end of the week, please hand in your official papers and your passes to the Academy office. Do not attempt to leave the Academy or do any reconnaissance on your own. The matter will be taken out of our hands – and it will no longer be our business. Understood?”
“Understood!” The girls chorused solemnly.
“I’m glad to hear that. This is not just for your safety,” Master Colin continued. “This is also for the safety of our Guild and the Academy. Yes, Emalynn?”
“Will we be told the results?” Emalynn asked, lowering the hand she had raised.
“Perhaps,” Master Colin glanced at the others. “We will see if the Council sees fit to let you know any details about the results of our report. We won’t know for another two or three weeks at any rate, so be patient and focus on your studies. Thanks to everyone! Our meeting is over!”

Everyone rose to their feet. Hugs were exchanged swiftly, stories were swapped, and best wishes were offered to each other. After half an hour, the mentors reluctantly tore themselves away, saying something about a mentors-only meeting they had to attend. When dinner time rolled around, the girls walked downstairs together, chatting in lowered voices. Eventually, however, an odd contented silence fell between them.

The mission was over. Life was back to normal.

However, within their shared glances, there was a sadness.

The mission was over.

[1] “Staying on target” is a euphemism used by most adults, such as parents and teachers, when they are telling you to only talk about what they have chosen as the topic of conversation - or be quiet. For some people, such as Katryn and Emalynn, staying on target is second nature and perfected to an art form. For others, such as Brittainy and Chrystyna, staying on target is almost impossible as flying to the moon in a dirigible.

[2] Brittainy Brython, member of said aristocratic class, is mostly right. The Noble Families of Doran are most well-known around the world for their bizarre habits and lifestyles. If it is possible to have eccentric eccentricities, the Doran nobility have them. A case in point is, of course, the infamous Quirren Thornton. See Note 13.

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