September 6, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“And what about the aether you so misuse?” The boy who was presumably called Pyoter and just as presumably a member of Alchemy House leaned forward, sneering his accusation at Tairiekie’s guide.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any misuse going on.” Lielbyim had gone from icy to glacial. Maybe Pyoter really would need that unseasonable hat.
“Of course you wouldn’t think there was.” The blue and grey student was not shouting, at least. Someone here had to keep things to an indoor-discussion volume. “You don’t understand the aether in the faintest, and you’re going to pull it and push it and twist it like some hottest-day-fair-taffy. You people are ridiculous.”
Push and pull and twist the aether? This was what she’d come here to learn! Tairiekie took a step forward, not wanting to miss a thing.
But Lielbyim just shook her head. “This isn’t the time or the place for this argument. We should have it sometime in private, perhaps, or in the debating hall. But not in front of the new students.”
Tairiekie shared a glance with Kinyozhanya. They were both being talked over as if they were children, yet again. And this time by another student. What was going on with the aether? As if they were one being, the two of them stepped forward.
Pyoter seemed to have the same feeling as they did on the matter. “They have a right to know what they’re getting in to. They have a responsibility to understand that they are signing up to entrap and mutilate the life of the universe.”
She could still see the boy’s sickly-sweet smile. “Because you’re more fun to talk to, Lielbyim. And your students are here, now, and they deserve the right to make a choice of House with all the proper information. They have a responsibility to do so.”
“I was accepted into Akaizen House.” Kinyozhanya sounded lost. Tairiekie didn’t fault her that. The situation wasn’t exactly clear, and the continual chanting of “right to, responsibility to” made everything that much less comprehensible. Mutilate the universe?
“You can change Houses. They don’t like to tell you that, but you can. I did.”
“It’s a long and complicated process, and it’s highly discouraged. Could you stop bothering my House members, Pyoter?”
“They have to know how to change Houses.”
Tairiekie decided it was time to speak up. “My mother and father were both Mechanics and Engineering. Three of my grandparents were Mechanics and Engineering, and at least three of my great-grand-parents. I am not changing Houses unless the tower falls down.” So there.
“Stranger things have been known to happen, when aether is involved.”
“Not that you would know the meaning of the word.” Yet another voice sniped in, this one belonging to a short, too-slender boy wearing purple, red, and blue. “The way your alchemists warp it…”
“Hurry.” Lielbyim managed to hiss it under the noise of the crowd. “While they’re both occupied. If you come this way, I can show you the Class Ranking lists. From what I’ve seen of your admissions tests, you’re both top-performing students – of course, or you wouldn’t have gotten in. This is how we turn that into a battle.” She was ducking through the throng of people as she talked, moving half-sideways to keep an eye on Kinyozhanya and Tairiekie.
“A battle?” Kinyozhanya tilted her head; Tairiekie was already smiling. Mutilate the universe? Well, and get top marks doing it, she supposed.
“A battle, yes.” Lielbyim gestured to a slate in a copper frame. On the slate were chalked a list of names – Tairiekie counted eighteen – and next to them were numbers.
“This is the ranking board for our house. The goal is to get your name as high on the rankings as you can – obviously, this isn’t everybody, so you have to get on the board to start with. And then you have to hold it. There are incentives the longer you stay at the top.”
“Incentives?” Kinyozhanya leaned forward. “What sort of incentives?”
“There are trips into the city for the top two in each House, there are gifts and services arranged by all the houses – we build really good tea machines here in Akaizen House, for instance, and obviously Textiles House does some really nice clothing work. Things like that. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it. First year pupils don’t ever hit the top five, much less the lead spot.
Tairiekie glanced at Kinyozhanya. They were, she could tell, both sharing the same thought. This year, one or both of them would be in the top five. Maybe even the top of the top.
“Oh, I remember that.” Biemnyon walked up behind them. “Do you – of course you do, Dairdo, we were rivals for our whole time here.”
“Oh yes.” Tairiekie’s mother smiled in what had to be fond reminiscence. “Fighting for a position. We didn’t make it on until, what, our third year?”
“You made it on your third year. I made it on the fourth. Akaizen beat me out. He was looking to beat me out on more than that, too.”
“Oh. The. Three.” A high-pitched voice came from somewhere behind Tairiekie’s parents. “Are you Engineers Biemnyon-Dair and Dairnikkindo-Biem? Are you the ones who managed to jump from tower to tower all the way around the dormitories?”
“Gamzhyai, don’t bother the parents.” Lielbyim’s sigh had the sound of something she’d said over and over again.
“I’m not bothering anyone. I’m just asking them if that’s them. That’s not bothering, is it, sir, ma’am?”
Biemnyon was laughing by this point. Tairiekie turned around with her parents to see who it was who was talking to them as if they were some sort of celebrity. Her parents. Like they were royalty.
The boy was ridiculously slender, with black hair that didn’t seem to want to grow past his shoulders and bushy black eyebrows. And Lielbyim was sighing, and introducing Tairiekie’s parents. “Engineers Biemnyon-Dair and Dairnikkindo-Biem, this is third-”
“Fourth.” He looked a bit like a chimney-brush. A lot like a chimney brush, if truth was to be told.
“Fourth-year House Akaizen Pupil Gamzhyai.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” Tairiekie’s parents bowed, Biemnyon still laughing.
“That was us, yes. It wasn’t just us, of course, but after all Akaizen ended up known for bigger things, didn’t he?”
It was finally sinking in. Her parents had been rivals with the one who had gotten a House named after him. Rivals, and they had lost. Her mother’s attitude began to make sense. Nobody wanted their children to outshine them all that much. A little, yes, so you could say that was my daughter. But not so much that it became oh, are you her parents?
“He may have gotten the House named after him, but it was your idea, wasn’t it?” Gamzhyai pushed on, determined to idolize. “The whole plan. I’ve seen the diagrams, and they have your signature, Engineer Dairnikkindo-Biem.”
“Please, you can call me Dairdo. Everyone else does.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t think to presume. But they were your plans, right?”
“They were my plans. But it’s not really something that should be duplicated. Certainly not by my daughter. Tairiekie is going to be in your House, you know. I’m sure there are less wild exploits you could tell her about.”
“Hmm? Oh, hello.” He didn’t even look directly at Tairiekie. “Well, I’ve heard about people rappelling down from the towers, or, in the summer, climbing up the chimneys, although that doesn’t seem actually possible, unless you’re very narrow in the hip and shoulder. And there was the thing when they got the goat up on to the roof of the Agriculture House Tower…”
“Less daring, Gamzhyai. Less daring. The sort of thing parents wouldn’t mind knowing their children did with their free time.”
The boy grinned, suddenly looking like someone smart enough to have ended up in Edally Academy in the first place. “With all due respect, the ones you want your parents to know about are never the fun ones, are they? It’s the stuff your mother would fuss and yell over and your father would frown and grumble about that are the best pranks, in the long run.”
“While you most definitely have a point.” Biemnyon looked as if he was trying not to laugh, which was probably accurate. It was his normal state of being, after all. “I would rather you have that point somewhere where my daughter cannot hear me, at least for a couple years.”
“I don’t think they can really be that much of a corrupting influence, really.” Tairiekie was trying for cynical and worldly, but, to her ears, she came out sounding sulky. Well, she’d have to practice.
Then her father made everything just that much worse. “Tair-tair, there is always more corruption to be had, as you will learn when…”
“Pardon me. I hate to interrupt, but if it’s possible, Lielbyim? We need you.”
An interruption, and just in time. Tairiekie was startled to recognize the boy who had almost barreled into her earlier. He was tall, for one thing, and darker than the norm here, with long hair for someone who was presumably still a pupil, braids nearly to his knees. He bowed politely to the group, and then again to Lielbyim.
“What is it?” Tairiekie was beginning to get the feeling that the older girl just sighed as a natural state of being. Considering the other members of the Mechanics House that Tairiekie had met, it seemed like a rather understandable way to be.
“There’s a problem with instructor Talmizhaab’s Device, and it seems to have, ah, well, some of the pupil devices from last year are beginning to have problems, too.”
“You can’t be saying that it infected the other machines.”
“Of course not.” Tairiekie thought she detected the hint of a smirk on the boy’s face. “But first the instructor’s device started malfunctioning, and then something started going wrong with some of the pupil-made contraptions.”
“Not mine!” Gamzhyai looked as if he wasn’t sure if he wanted it to be his or not. Tairiekie was beginning to wonder about him. Then again… she’d heard things about other Engineer types from her parents. Maybe this was normal.
“Not yours, Gamzhyai. I’m not sure yours could malfunction, it’s so simple.”
“…oh.” He looked like a goat who’s just discovered there’s really nothing else to eat. “Oh. well, I suppose that’s good. Can I help?”
“Probably best you don’t. Why don’t you help these nice people learn more about the school?”
“Oh, oh, I can do that.” He perked right back up again, like the goat discovering a lost pair of drawers.
…no, she had not just likened herself to a lost pair of drawers. Kinyozhanya, maybe. Her underskirt’s ticking pattern could definitely be under-pants.
“I think I hear my mother calling.” Kinyozhanya looked as if she’d heard Tairiekie’s thoughts. “It was a pleasure meeting all of you.”
“Likewise.” Tairiekie bowed. “I look forward to seeing you in classes.”
“Oh, classes.” Lielbyim shook her head. “Well, you might not see her at all.”