July 27, 2016 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Is this your idea of a joke?” Gianci demanded. His breath was warm, brushing across the top of Enrie’s head.
“It might be Taikie’s idea of a prank,” Enrie admitted, “but I doubt it. There are far too few pipes involved.” In the dark, it wasn’t easy to find the hidden door to the cupola, and this room was laid out slightly differently than the one in the Philosophy building, but Enrie managed to find it without getting too close to Gianci. “No, knowing her, she was entirely serious. And, well. I can guess why.”
She pushed the door to the cupola open. “Here’s where we’re supposed to go look for Kekla. But…” She swallowed. “Before we do. I’m up to my ears in causing trouble. It might cost me — it might cost us, Saydrie and Taikie, Riensin, too — dearly. But there are too many lies in the structure of our government.” She took a breath. “There’re too many lies everywhere. So… I’m risking my vowel, and maybe I’ll lose it and maybe I’ll earn it.”
“And?” He still sounded angry, but she thought he might sound curious, too. There was less edge to his voice and the sound of an actual question there.
“And… that is, honestly, on the ground my ancestors walked, on the names of the Three, why I couldn’t go to the races with you. That and no other reason.”
Gianci looked down at her. There was a dim wash of light coming from the stairwell, but it cast his features in shadow and told her nothing of his expression. “This is why you locked yourself in a closet with me?”
“No.” She took a step up the small hidden staircase. “That is probably why Taikie locked you in a closet with me.” If Kekla was really up in the cupola, she was definitely getting an earful. “Because I was… It upset me that I had to say no to you.” She took another step upwards.
“You said no anyway.” He moved closer to her again.
She took another step upwards. “I can’t just do what I feel like doing. That’s not being responsible.”
“You’re a first-year student. You think about responsibility every moment of the day?” He stepped onto the stairway.
At two steps above him, she was just barely taller than he was. “No, of course not. But if you were me, and the prime examples of your type were like Olisama and Ulunumani, wouldn’t you be concerned with not being… well, not being like them?”
“Some people would just give in and be like them, since that’s obviously what royals are like here.” He stepped forward, putting him nearly in her face again. “You didn’t. That’s really why you didn’t go to the races with me? This project of yours?”
“Yes.” Enrie refused to take another step backwards. “If I was like other people — like Olisama and her ilk — would you really have asked me to go to the races with you in the first place?”
Gianci looked at her for a moment, forehead creasing. He was close enough that she could see the way his collar buttoned at the neck, the faint stitching that told her someone had rebuilt his uniform to be bigger, broader around the neck. She could see the way his throat moved.
“…No,” he finally admitted.