October 4, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Nothing Stinks as bad as Betrayal
Saydrie had been having nightmares since Taikie showed him the newspaper. The discussion with Falvia – and three with other Cevati Bitrani that he hadn’t sought ought but had ended up being corned by anyway – were doing nothing to alleviate his fears or to calm him in any way. If anything, the more the Cevati Bitrani talked, the more worried he got.
There were phrases he kept hearing. We are Bitrani, of course, and make the Calenni notice and others that made less sense, including paint their treaties over with blood.
The night before, he had stayed up late reading on Bitrani history, which had found him the original use of that phrase. It had been a bloody mess, that much was sure, and it had ended with more than three times as many Bitrani losses as Calenni, although they had technically won that one.
His dreams all night had been of a battle where Taikie and Enrie, armed only with pipes and old books, went against Piadro and Darnio, while Gianci and he stood helplessly aside and watched the blood spill and spill and spill. There had been some parts where the world smelled bad, like rotting animals, and he’d turned a corner to find the rotting bodies of all the animals from the enclave farms.
He’d woken in a cold sweat before dawn and taken a long walk around the campus until he felt like he could sleep again, but there had been no sleeping when he laid back down. Instead, he picked up his favorite history book and read stories of princess and princesses long-dead until his roommates woke up for the day.
Now he was trying to make his way to breakfast without being ambushed by a strange princess, an over-eager Art House student, or a royal-blooded fellow-History-House denizen – or, for that matter, any Cevati Bitrani, the five Diplomacy House students who wanted any Bitrani Student’s take on this whole thing, a teacher who wanted to yell at him, or anyone who might notice that his hair might be perfect again thanks to Lakaizai but he had bags under his eyes and his skin was pallid and a little puffy despite repeated applications of cold water.
He had to try a new route, because every time he repeated a route, someone found him. But he was still barely awake, despite having been up for hours.
When you do not know, leave it in the hands of the Three. That wasn’t, technically, a writing of the Three; it wasn’t in any of the Books. But they had said it quite a bit in the enclave.
He picked up a handful of leaves and let the wind take them. There was a brisk breeze today, bouncing a bit inside the courtyard. The leaves picked up and blew over to the Alchemy building.
That was generally further than he liked to stay out in the courtyard these days, but he had committed to follow the will of the Three, so he crossed the courtyard, moving casually but quickly, and ducked into the Alchemy building through not the main door but through a door that the leaves settled by, hidden almost at the joint of the buildings and the same color and stone as the walls around it. Not secret, he thought, just meant to not take away from the architecture around it.
It opened to his touch and he slipped in, just as he caught a glimpse of brightly-colored silk, not in a uniform combination, out of the corner of his eye.
How did she do that? How was she always right where he was, no matter how much effort he took to take new paths?
He closed the door firmly behind himself. He was on a landing of a stairwell that looked like it hadn’t been used in some time. It was not a servants’ staircase, not from the look – wide, twisting around, up and down, with marble stairs and a finely-wrought railing. It was rather dark; there were four tiny windows that he could see, but they were made of colored glass and not letting in that much light.
Down. Down was always a good bet. He hurried down the stairs. As he turned the corner, he thought he heard a door open above him.
There weren’t going to be any Art House students or Cevati Bitrani – or Enrie and Taikie – to rescue him this time. He was going to have to get out of this somehow without offending a royal lady, if possible, or getting himself hit over the head with a spanner.
He took the first turn he came to, which took him off into a basement level that he hadn’t been in before – he did try to avoid the Alchemy building whenever he wasn’t in classes there, as things had a tendency to explode when you looked at them strangely.
(Considering some of the things he knew and was learning about humanic aether, and some of the things that Alchemy students said when they thought they were unobserved, Saydrie was beginning to wonder if looking at a mixture funny might actually cause it to react differently.)
This level seemed to be lab after lab, each one with its own very careful warning signs in Calenyen, Bitrani, and Arran. Some of the warnings were more creative than others: If You Value Your Eyebrows Stay Out; The Work Going On Here Is Forbidden By 7 Treaties But I’m Doing It Anyway (Saydrie doubted that one; Alchemy postdated most treaties that he knew of); Only Enter If You Are Bringing Food or Reagents. Some were simply the sort of “Dangerous Chemicals and Aether at use in this room.”
He didn’t enter any of them. It didn’t seem like a very safe risk, even if he was being followed by a mysterious woman who didn’t seem to take no for an answer.
But since the hall seemed endless, he did duck into the first room he found without a series of warning signs.
He found himself in a storeroom dimly lit by two lamps. Shelves were piled high with mystery things that he didn’t really want to know too much about. A strange smell permeated the place, like something had died in a corner and not been found.
There was, however, a back door to the room, which he took quickly, before someone could step in and find him here. Maybe on the other side –
The stench overwhelmed him as he stepped into another storage room. What was worse, he could hear voices coming from the other side of the cluttered shelves.