February 26, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
They were safely across the courtyard, standing in the passageway that would get them to the Dining Hall, when the first people noticed the goat.
Noticed may have been the wrong word. It was more like got doused by.
Tairiekie’s creation perched on the top of Philosophy House, drawing water in through a long flexible hose (she’d had to beg it off the Stable Master) from the fountain below. It was a nice fountain, one of three features set in a triangle around the courtyard, a shrine to the god/dess Tienaabaa. She’d had to sweet-talk Saydrie and promise him extra prayers on the nineday to get him to agree to use the shrine’s water.
Running down the hose was a rope that hadn’t been part of the plan; she’d belayed down on the rope, hiding it against the hose so that her route of egress wouldn’t be immediately obvious.
It had gotten her down fast enough that she thought it was worth the possible exposure.
That wasn’t the awesome part, though. The absolutely wonderful part was what the goat was doing with the water.
“You can offer the goat the river, but a stupid beast will still choose the puddle.”
This one was making a river, the strategically-placed spigot streaming water down onto the courtyard below. Into a watering trough, actually, with a short hose back to the fountain, but there was quite a bit of spray.
It wasn’t the tidiest mechanism, but it didn’t have to be. It got the message across.
Right onto people’s heads. Tairiekie swallowed a laugh as an Art House student got a splatter of goat-water on his head.
An instructor was hurrying across the courtyard; not just one instructor but three, and there was House Monitor Libkazaari, and, by all that was holy, by the Three’s Breath, there was Head of School Wiltemika, running across the center courtyard… watching Tairiekie’s goat urinate down the side of Philosophy House.
“We should get to class.” Enrie tugged on Tairiekie’s sleeve. “We really should.”
“We should stare a little, because… well, because we should. Everyone else is.” And she wanted to watch a little bit. After all she’d gone through for it. After the punishment she might end up getting.
“But not too long, okay?” Saydrie patted her arm. “This is really risky as it is, and you’re going to be obvious if you’re stumbling in late to class.”
She hadn’t thought about the stumbling. Tairiekie nodded ruefully. “It’s pretty wonderful, isn’t it?”
“It is-” Enrie was interrupted by a high-pitched squealing from across the courtyard.
“This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen! I have to know whose idea this was! This is the best prank in the history of the Academy. This is better than the thing Biemnyon-Dair and Dairnikkindo-Biem did!”
“Gamzhyai.” Tairiekie found herself smiling broadly. “Oh, may the Three kiss his forehead, that’s Gamzhyai. All right.” She nodded at her friends. “Let’s get to Biology.”
In Biology Instructor Kesmasik was smiling. More than smiling; it looked as if, under his beard, he was grinning widely. The loose sketch of a goat urinating over the side of a tower – which dominated the chalkboard – seemed to confirm that, yes, the Biology instructor was pleased with their little prank.
“Today we are going to digress from the normal lessons to discuss the urinary tracts of goats. This is not normally a subject we explore in depth in this year, but I am finding myself very interested in it for some reason.”
Tairiekie stifled a giggle, glanced at her friends, and had a much harder time stifling the next laugh.
“It is said, I have heard, that you can lead a goat to the river. I’ve never been fond of this saying, as a goat which drinks from a river is likely to get quite buffeted by the waters and, above all, get its feet wet. I do not know about you, but I have yet to meet a goat which enjoys getting its feet wet.
“Furthermore, our autopsies of goats have shown…”
And he was off. Tairiekie found that her smile kept growing as time went on, and it didn’t fade even as they moved on to their next class.
Many of their teachers attempted to act as if nothing had happened. Instructor Kaatetzie, in Basic Mechanics, spent the class discussing pump devices, using Tairiekie’s goat as an example. Although there were several places in which he critiqued her design, she found herself still smiling. He might be critiquing pieces of it, but he still said the overall design was sound. Sound!
I’ll give him a river.
Instructor Pelnyen, on the other hand, was less thrilled.
His hair was damp, which probably meant he’d gotten in the way of the spray, but he made no reference to that, to the mechanism, or to goats in general. Instead, he spent the class discussing a philosophy of obedience and fealty, something called Azhien’s Law.
He didn’t look directly at Tairiekie once. She didn’t mind; she was having a hard time keeping a straight face.
The rest of the classes wrapped up, leaving her feeling vindicated, happy, and a little bit giddy. She knew she ought to sleep; two cups of coffee with a hurried breakfast and another one at lunch were really only borrowing time from a later hour. But it was only now that she had time to investigate something she’d seen very early this morning.
“Taikie, where are you going?” Enrie grabbed her elbow.
“I have to…” People were listening. “Check something out.”
“You need to come study Philosophy with us. Remember.”
“Today. Because if you don’t, you won’t, and then it will be tomorrow, and then it will be next week. Today, while the lesson is still fresh in your mind.”
Saydrie stifled a yawn. “Maybe tomorrow, when we’re awake? Enerenarie, none of us got much sleep last night.”
Was Enrie going to accept the excuse? Tairiekie didn’t need to fake a yawn of her own. There had been precious little sleep, hadn’t there. Maybe an hour’s nap while they waited for everything to cool and settle, but that hardly counted.
Enrie was yawning now, too. “I suppose tomorrow would make sense. All right, to bed with me.”
“And me.” Saydrie stretched.
“I’ll see you both in the morning.” Tairiekie couldn’t bring herself to lie directly to her friends, but she could handle walking towards her Tower while they walked towards theirs.
She wasn’t completely certain what she’d seen. To be fair, with the exhaustion and the sleep deprivation she wasn’t entirely sure she’d seen anything at all. It could have been light-sprites flitting in front of her eyes from the shifting illumination; it could been nothing more than a waking dream.
But she had seen something on the roof of the Mechanics and Engineering Hall from her vantage point atop the Philosophy Tower, and she needed to know if it were real. If it was, it might answer several questions she’d had.
She slipped into her Tower, up to the third floor, and from there snuck into the passage between the Tower and the Hall. There weren’t many people in the Tower this early in the evening and she thought the Third-floor pupils were probably used to being a highway to their Hall, too.
Once in the Hall, she had to orient herself. If the roof path was over there, close to the building, then the extra chimney she’d seen hiding behind the main one had to have been over here, to the left of the central hall.
She slipped through classrooms and hallways she’d never been in before, then others she’d seen only for a few minutes of the basic first-day tour. Past the student labs and past the instructors’ offices, past Instructor Talmizhaab’s Device – gleaming, shining, clean, and taunting her. She took a back stairway up – the sort hiding in a closet, of which there were more than seemed rational or sane – to a third-floor hallway that had to be almost exactly under the spare chimney she’d found. And then, when reason said she should be almost there, she came out onto a gallery of sorts, open to the floor below.
She wouldn’t have to rappel this time, which was good. She wasn’t sure her arms could hold up anything heavier than a pencil right now. But there were no obvious stairs down to the next floor. She could go back, look for another way around, and waste more time – or she could go over the railing and let herself down.
It all seemed like such a good idea until her grip slipped. She fell to the floor, scrabbling the whole time, and landed with an unfortunately loud thump on the slate below.
She needed to move. She stayed sprawled out on the floor, the breath knocked out of her, her bottom leg screaming in pain.
There were footsteps coming; she needed to move. She levered herself up a hand-span and fell back to the floor, her arms refusing to take her weight.
Someone was coming around the corner, and from here, she could see why she’d never seen this area of the building. It was blocked off on both ends with heavy doors, locked doors with heavy bars. How was she going to get out of here?
She tried getting up, again, and fell back to the ground. She tried to get up again, and fell to the ground. The footsteps were getting closer.
She’d seen that robe. She’d seen that coat, and that hood, just a day before. She tried to stand up, and for the fourth time fell down.
“Well, you do turn up in all the most interesting places, don’t you?”
“I…” Her lungs hurt. Her… well, everything hurt.
“You, indeed. You’re the clever one. The smart one.”
Everyone here is the smart one. That’s how we ended up here. But she couldn’t manage that many words.
“Everyone here thinks you’re brilliant, yes.” She still couldn’t see his face, but by this point she could, at least, tell that it was a he. “You’re their little golden child.”
“Don’t lie to me, I see how they are. The legacy. The smart one. Brilliant. A genius, ahead of her time.” The words came out like missiles, and he was spitting them in her face. She reached up to wipe her face and fell over again.
“Of course you’re not really. But they don’t know that, and they don’t need to. What they see is your shining light, and they want to worship that. I was there. You’ll tarnish soon enough. Or you would.”
He stood up. That didn’t seem like a good thing. Tairiekie levered herself up onto one elbow, ignoring the pain for the panic that was starting to overwhelm her. “No…”
“You’re so articulate, aren’t you?” He paced around behind her, stopping her backwards retreat. “Such a brilliant new pupil.” He ducked down, getting far too close to her. “And the thing is, I know how twisted you are.”
“No I’m not!” It came out more in panic than in any sort of strength; she pushed herself away from him with the same burst of energy. “No. I’m not brilliant and I’m not twisted.”
“We’re the same, you and I.” He seemed not to hear her. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he’d gone mad. Maybe he was just that self-centered. She didn’t recognize his voice; who was he?“You can deny it all you want, but it doesn’t stop the core fact that brilliant students who just can’t hack it are a dime a dozen here. And I am sick of being part of the farmer’s cast-off bin.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her breath was coming back. She was still in pain, but pain was survivable. She pushed herself up into a sitting position. “I don’t know who you are.”
“Just another student of Akaizen House. Just enough smart student who the teachers didn’t quite appreciate enough. Just another Mechanic looking into the nature of the aether.”
“Just –”He was coming towards her again. Tairiekie got to her feet just in time to be shoved back to the floor.
Her head hit the slates this time. She tried to push herself up, but her arms were like hoses. The pain was fading – and she had a feeling that wasn’t a good thing.