March 20, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“You did, didn’t you?”
“Here.” Lusnyoot shoved the wrench into Tairiekie’s hand. “Fix it and stop asking questions.”
“What were you going to do if I didn’t wander through looking for you?” She started loosening the fixtures, paused, shook her head, and turned off the toggle switches first. She noticed the needles bounc erratically a few times before the machine was turned off; it had to be because of the misaligned ramping column.
“I could use your notes, I’m sure. Or if all else failed, I could ask another student.”
“But you’re asking me.” She had to get out of here. She looked around the room under the guise of grabbing for a pair of pliers, found the pliers, froze at what else she found, and made herself go back to fixing the mess Lusnyoot had made of her device. “You could ask anyone, sure. But it’s my device, and I’m here.” It couldn’t really be a body there. It couldn’t be a corpse, could it?
“You intruded on my lab space. How did you even get through here?”
“Carefully. And by jumping.” She could hit him. He’d given her the wrench. But what if she failed? What if he caught her hands? Then she wouldn’t have her weapon anymore.
“Jumping, climbing… you really are a goat, aren’t you?”
“I’m a daughter of Calenta.” She stuck her chin in the air. She had to get out of here. She had to hit him.
“Ooh, a nationalist on top of everything else. That must work out really well with your Byittie teammate.”
“Don’t call him that!” She swung, hard and fast and without thought, aiming, inasmuch as there was anything like aim involved, for his throat. “Don’t you dare say things like that about Saydrie!” The second swing caught him in the hands and then she was off and running.
Hobbling, mostly, but he’d buckled over and she only needed so much of a head start. She found the door this time and took the precious seconds to slam it shut, then was out and hobbling towards those heavy locked doors.
Lusnyoot didn’t terrify her, but he worried her. He seemed as if he had spent too long with his head upside down in a machine, breathing fumes. But… but there was possibly a corpse in the back of the restricted rooms, and that was enough to send her at her current top speed down the hall.
She shoved into the door, hoping it was open, hoping she could force the lock. It was heavy, though, probably designed to protect the labs here from curious-student invasion and ransacking.
She could hear Lusnyoot, too. He’d gotten the door open and was swearing a long streak of words she’d never heard before. It would almost be interesting, if he hadn’t been coming after her.
A chitter from above caught her attention. Chitter? She didn’t have time for animal noises… oh. Oh. Ledryik! “Ledryik!” She looked up at the creature, wearing Philosophy House violet, scarlet, & dark sky blue today. It was leaning down from the railing of the overhead gallery, holding something in its teeth. A key? Seriously, a key? “Here, Ledryik!” It was impossible, of course. For one, it was probably the key to something on the other side of the academy; for another, it was probably the key to a washroom; for a third, it was now covered in weasel slobber.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Lusnyoot jumped up, grabbing for the key. “Give that thing here!”
Ledryik danced back out of the way, and Lusnyoot jumped again.
He was, for a moment, distracted. It was ridiculous. He was ridiculous, and the weasel taunting him was a hundred times more so. The whole thing was absurd.
Tairiekie thought back to what she’d seen in Lusnyoot’s lab. She swallowed her gorge as it rose again, stopped thinking about the absurdity of the situation, and went back to figuring out the door.
It took her only a moment to figure out why she was so stumped, and then she nearly slapped herself. The door was locked. It was barred. It was bolted.
It was locked, barred, and bolted from the side she was on.
The weasel had gotten Lusnyoot all the way to the other side of the gallery. Tairikie moved as fast as her aching everything would let her move and as quietly as that speed would allow. She pulled the bar off last, after she had shot the bolt and turned the lock-crank. That way, when it hit the floor with a thud, she had only to haul the door open and leave.
Her feet hit the ground in something that was almost a parody of running. Her left foot was dragging, something in her ankle screaming at her. Her right knee was complaining from the way she’d twisted it the night before. Her lungs were stabbing her with every movement. And from behind, a madman was shouting at her.
Tairiekie kept going, even though there was no way she was going to get away. Lusnyoot might be insane, but he was in good shape. He probably hadn’t been up the night before; he almost certainly hadn’t climbed a tower, vaulted a gallery, and shaken his brain in the last day. She could barely stay afoot.
A loud chittering caught her attention and, again, she turned. Ledryik was just vanishing into a dark corridor. Tairiekie, realizing she was taking aid and advice from a weasel, followed anyway.
She’d gotten only a double handful of steps down the hall when she ran into something solid. Had the weasel betrayed her?
Had she really just asked herself if she’d been betrayed by a weasel?
“Oof. Hello, there.”
“Where are you, you miserable brat of a first-year tinkerer?”
“Ooh. Shh, then.” A hand found hers in the dark. “This way.”
She had gone from being led down a dark hall by a weasel to being led down a still-very-dark hall by a strange voice and a very firm hand. Tairiekie was not sure this was an improvement. She really should have taken Enrie’s advice and just gone to bed.
“Where are you? I’m going to find you and you’re going to fix my device!?”
“Oh.” The hand pulling her paused. “Oh.”
“Oh?” She didn’t want to make any sound at all, but that Oh sounded painfully ominous.
“Oh, that’s where it got to.” And now she could recognize the voice. Of course, that made sense. It was Instructor Davenpor, which explained what his weasel had been doing around here – inasmuch as it explained why a Textiles Instructor was spending all his time wandering around the Mechanics and Engineering Hall. In the dark. Holding her hand.
“We need to get out of here.” There was another tug on her hand, and an abrupt right turn.
“You piece of lying goat feces, do you know what I’m going to do to you? You need to get back here, right now where I can see you, come back and fix my machine so I can kill you.”
Either Lusnyoot was immensely unhinged, or he was completely sane and admitting far more than he really should be. Tairiekie really couldn’t put money on either choice.
The way Instructor Davenpor was gripping her hand, he couldn’t, either.
“Through here.” His voice was a breath against Tairiekie’s ear. “Close your eyes.”
It was pitch black. But the Instructor had her hand, and she trusted him, even if he was as mad as Lusnyoot.
She heard a door open, then felt warmth against her face and saw brightness even through her closed eyes. The door shut with a breeze and a slam and she heard a few locks turn.
“He’s been sneaking around away from me for the entire semester.” There was a crack in the Instructor’s voice that Tairiekie had not heard before. “I thought he’d hidden some of Tal-tal’s work in his student lab, but it wasn’t there. I thought he might know where Tal… Talmizhaab had gone to. His notes had been ransacked. There were volumes missing. But I didn’t think he was hiding right under my nose.”
The Instructor’s voice was getting louder and louder, and it had cracked on the last note. Tairiekie risked opening her eyes, slowly, very slowly, one eye and then the other.
At first all she could see was bright light. It looked like the sun, like the center of a very hot forge, like staring directly into the center of a piece of flame aether. She turned towards the Instructor’s shaking voice.
“Hiding right under my nose, that the Akaizen House staff and instructors were letting him hide right take sanctuary in the restricted labs. With Tal-tal’s notes! With some of Tal-Tal’s work, when my Talmizhaab is missing and his lifework is destroyed!”
Tairiekie swallowed. “It’s possible they didn’t know he was there, Instructor.” She thought about what she’d seen in the lab. All of what she’d seen in the lab. The mess of work, not all of it connected to the project in the corner. The way things looked as if they’d been sitting there a long time, the forgotten-projects feel to everything. “I think he snuck in.”
“But how did he get in, then?” The Instructor was coming into focus for Tairiekie. He was running his hands up and down his thin arms, over sleeves embroidered with golden roses…. no. She blinked again. No, they were golden gears, racked up in a shrinking spiral to resemble roses. That was rather lovely and entirely not the point at the moment. “Tal-tal, sir?”
“Oh, please don’t tell him I said that, she does get irked when I use the childhood nicknames. He doesn’t like it any more than I liked being called Dav-vad.”
Tairiekie forced down her gorge again. “Sir, where are we?” She wanted to handle the easy things first.
“This is the great Gissievassie Hall Mechanics room. This is where the engines designed by the brightest of the pupils and Instructors here… well, they power a good deal of the things that happen throughout the school, through a series of aether energy-storage devices and, primarily, steam tubes. You can’t go anywhere at all in the Academy without running into the pipes, although most of them run in tunnels through the walls. It’s very nice and, I might add, leads to having the warmest loos in the entire country.”
“We have…” She shook her head. “How did you find this place?”