January 29, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Tairiekie wanted to feel as if she were dressing for war, but there was little warlike that she could do with a class uniform.
She braided her hair carefully, plaiting it into four groups of three and then looping them instead of the two-braid she usually did. She used a tiny bit of hoarded cosmetics (a winter festival gift from her mother’s sister) on her eyes and lips, because they made her feel braver, even if they did very little for how she looked. And she picked the cleanest, best-fitting of her uniform vests.
She really needed to take the time to get someone from Textiles House to fit her clothes better, but in the meantime, she could do a passable job on this vest herself, and did, sewing by gas light in the early morning.
That helped, a vest that fit her lines properly and a hairdo that looked like she was serious. Of course, if she did this properly, nobody would be seeing her to know she was serious… but that was another matter, wasn’t it?
She laced on her best boots, picked up her book bag, and went to breakfast.
“We’re going to do it today, or, at least, I am.” She picked at her food; she didn’t have time to truly eat, not and get the timing right.
“We’re going to do what?” Saydrie peeked at her. “We’re already cleaning the Device.”
“Yes, but my Device is still missing. So now, while everyone is at breakfast, we’re – or at least I am – going to go back into the Akaizen Tower and look through the rooms for the stolen goods.”
“And then what?” Saydrie’s voice was almost a squeak. “Tairiekie, they’re only a little mean now. Do you know what they’ll be like if you steal stuff from them?”
“My own stuff, you mean? What will they do, tell the House Monitor that I stole back their stolen goods?”
“When you put it that way, it’s a little hard to argue your point. “ Enrie, at least, seemed to be on Tairiekie’s side.
Saydrie, however, was still frowning. “Tairiekie, this isn’t a joke. They’re not going to be stopped by the rules or the legality of the situation or they wouldn’t have done it in the first place. They’ll hurt you. It won’t be three or four people that we can take on our own. It’ll be lots of them, and maybe not just in your House, it’ll be in all the Houses.”
She tightened her jaw. “I know they could hurt me. I know they’re already hurting you.” She tilted her head at Saydrie, where she knew his uniform vest was covering bruises again. She knew how he held himself when it’d been a bad night, and from the looks of his stiff shoulders and tense back, it had been a really bad night. “They’ve already stolen enough stuff that some of the pupils on my floor are considering going home. They’re already making trouble… so what’s pain compared to that?”
She softened her voice, because it wasn’t just her pain she had to worry about anymore. They were a team. “Guys, you don’t have to back me up on this. You don’t have to come with me; I can do this on my own, and you’ll be free of culpability.”
“I don’t think that would stop them. I don’t think anything will stop them at this point.” Saydrie set his hand on the table. “If you want to do this, we’ll do this together.”
Enrie put her hand next to his. “For our success. Although we should probably not wave our fists in the air if we don’t want them to know we’re up to something.”
Tairiekie felt more relieved than she had words for. If they hadn’t agreed, if they hadn’t been all right coming along with her… “For our success. Yes. Thank you, both of you.”
Enrie smirked at her. “‘Work together, be a team, help the others in your threesome succeed. That’s what we were told to do.’ Isn’t that what you said?”
Tairiekie ducked her head. “I said I was sorry.”
“But I hadn’t, yet. You were right, Taikie. If we’re going to do this right, well, we might as well start with the one thing they’ve told us to do which we all agree with. Let’s be a team, and help the rest of our threesome succeed, even if we’re succeeding in burning down towers.”
“That would be rebellious enough, I think.” She couldn’t help a smile. “Let’s start with ransacking, okay?”
“Probably a better place to start. I don’t know how well your device could handle being burnt.” Enrie tilted her head at Saydrie. “Ready?”
“What are they doing to do to me, punch me a little more?” He shrugged. “Yes. Although one could wish for less obvious clothes.”
“In a school full of people wearing the same thing? These are the least obvious things we have. Besides, the upperclassmen can’t tell one first-year student from another.”
“Except those of us that are blonde.”
“Well, there’s three of you, that ought to at least slow them down.” She smiled, not because it was funny, but because she was feeling the edge of wild energy like she hadn’t felt since she climbed the mountain. “We’ve been far too boring since we got here.”
“We’ve been a bit busy studying and cleaning up dung and arguing.” Enrie, of course, had to be reasonable about it.
“Well, yes, but that’s no reason to continue to be boring. Let’s go.” She pocketed a pastry and headed for the door.
“In trouble, first-year?” A boy in Alchemy colors tapped her shoulder. Not just any boy, she realized, looking at his green eyes; this was the one who had tried to get her to change Houses on her first day here.
She wondered if it would have been any different in Alchemy House. Probably not.
“Not any more than I was in yesterday. What about you?”
She’d wanted to say not yet, but that was as much as admitting that she was up to no good, and that attracted attention, and then they’d get caught.
She didn’t mind being rebellious herself, but she didn’t want her friends getting hurt.
“Me? No. Alchemy House doesn’t get in trouble, they make trouble.”
“Sounds like fun.” She couldn’t make her voice sound nearly as sarcastic as she wanted.
“We’re a lot of fun. You should still consider switching, you know.”
“I’m sure she should, but right now, I need her help stitching my vest.” Enrie grabbed Tairiekie’s arm, bowed to the boy, and hauled until Tairiekie let herself be moved from the room.
“Convenient lie, but I did see how you took yours in – very nicely done. Maybe you could help me later?”
“Of course. Anything for a friend.” Although when they would find the time remained a bit of a question.
“He’s rather attractive, too, isn’t he? He’d be a nice distraction when we weren’t so busy. What’s his name?”
Tairiekie ducked her head. “I don’t know. He’s in Alchemy House-”
“-and he wants me to consider switching Houses.” It appeared he had cared, just not enough to seek her out. That didn’t make Tairiekie feel very comfortable with the whole idea.
“Oh, that’s what he meant!” Enrie pursed her lips. “Interesting. I wonder why.”
“My mother used to be in Alchemy House.” She didn’t think that was why, or at least not all of it, but it certainly had something to do with the subject. “Before she switched to Akaizen.”
“You’re just followed around the school by the ghosts of your parents, aren’t you?”
“Sometimes it feels like it. Aren’t you, too, though?”
“Well, a bit. More like the ghosts of all my ancestors since the first Emperor of Calenta.”
“That’s quite a few more ghosts than mine.” She looked around. “Where’s Saydrie?” They had gotten to the space between the Alchemy classrooms and the Mechanics and Engineering Hall, where the plant life in the little walkway gardens was starting to wither as the cold threatened.
“He’s taking the secret passage so we’re not all walking into Akaizen Tower together. I thought that would be a little more discreet.”
Tairiekie glanced at her friend sidelong. Enrie was smirking, looking immensely pleased with herself. She pulled up the quote from their Intro to Government class. “‘Diplomacy…’”
“‘Is remarkably similar to spying, only done with more manners and the lights lit.’ Yes.”
“We were talking about your parents. And right now, we’re splitting up. You go in the front way; I’ll go through Tedreboot Hall.”
“You thought this all out in the last few minutes?”
“I thought this all out while you were talking to green-eyes. Go on, we don’t have that long before classes.” Enrie gave her a light shove. “Go on. I’ll meet you on the second floor.”
“Sixth-year students are too busy for pranks like this.”
“Your logic is, as always, impeccable. Second floor it is.” She headed down the gravel pathway, while Enrie headed into Akaizen Hall.
There weren’t all that many students around at this time of day; most of them were in the dining halls or preparing for classes. There was a lot of preparing going on, of course; even with weeks until mid-term exams, everyone was very focused on their studies.
How had the upperclassmen even found the time for the hazing rituals? Did they say to their Instructors, “sorry, I didn’t get my homework done on time, because I was running up and down the stairs all night to keep the first-year students awake.”
And did the teachers then say “certainly not a problem. Don’t let it happen again, of course, but we can’t let these first-years get too much sleep or the Three alone know what they’ll do.”
Or was it all much more clandestine? The doorway to her House Tower had never seemed so ominous. She stepped through anyway. She was going to do this, or she wasn’t going to be able to face herself in a mirror, much less her parents.
Her boots sounded loud on the stairs. They always sounded loud on the stairs – stone treads and wooden soles – but they sounded even louder, today. She kept going anyway. One more student from Akaizen House on the stairs was not remarkable. It was just a matter of existing.
Saydrie and Enrie had beat her to the second floor, and were already in an upperclassmen’s room. The rooms were bigger, the windows bigger, the beds bigger, the trunks bigger. But the trunks held clothes and their own tools, not Tairiekie’s device.
Six rooms, fourteen chests. They found the wildly-colored scarf that belonged to Tudines, a stuffed mink doll that she knew belonged to another boy in the first year, and part of Disya’s Mechanics homework. On the next floor, they found some missing textbooks and another one of Tudines’ scarves (the boy had at least nine, one for each day of the week), and one of Tairiekie’s wrenches.
“Hey. What are you kids doing here?”
Sorry for the delay; Lyn was sick.