Clockwork Souls – Chapter 67

“Go looking for adventure? Why would I ever be inclined to do that? Don’t you know that adventures are what ambush you when you’re attempting to take part in some entirely reasonable activity of your own, like an afternoon of calming gardening, or serving a new mixture of tea to an intimate party of guests, or casting a misguided Count down into the bowels of Hell, or a perfectly lovely stroll along the manor’s roads after the spring thaw to view the state of the grounds. No matter how mundane the task you set out to undertake, you can never predict when an adventure will be waiting to complicate everything you had planned.”

– Xindir Harshek Doxle of the First Flame as he and two dear friends finish disposing of the last of the bodies.

It seemed like it would have been polite to let Yarrin and Narla head off to whatever assignation they could negotiate a path too, but, unfortunately for them, I had no idea how to find Vena and Hemaphora short of wandering back to where we’d last seen them and playing blood hound all over the Academy.

Since I was pretty sure the wrong sort of people would notice me padding around the grounds as a Dire Wolf, I had to regretfully impose on Yarrin’s time. To my surprise though, neither he nor Narla (nor Ilyan) seemed to have assumed they were going anywhere but wherever I was next.

“They’re not hidden at the moment,” Yarrin said before I could ask him if he’d help me locate the blood sisters. “So I think finding them shouldn’t be too bad.”

“You know where they are?” Mellina asked, only mildly surprise at the news.

“In a general sense, yeah, I’m not sure what else is around them though,” he said.

“You’re magic is limited to people you’ve met?” Idrina asked. She wasn’t sizing him up for battle. Yarrin wasn’t a threat to her. Plus she wasn’t in any shape for more fighting. Of those I was pretty sure at least one was true, and I was really hoping it was the one I thought it was. 

“No, or well, yeah, it’s better with people I’ve met,” Yarrin said, admitting weakness as though he was surrounded by people who would shield him from any harm that might result. “In this case though the problem is that I can see that there are people or things around them but those things are hiding. So when we find Vena and Hemaphora, we’ll have company, and I can’t tell how happy that company will be to see us.”

“This is not a good group to be unhappy with,” Narla said.

I saw Idrina straighten up at that, as though compelled to take her place on a fighting line that didn’t exist yet. Worryingly, I was still reasonably certain that even in her current state, she’d still be a better fighter than I was.

“Since I need to ask Vena and Hemaphora’s help, I’m thinking we’ll just try talking first,” I said. “If the hiding people are their friends and family, it may be better for me to endure a little hostility if that’s needed to convince them to work on the spell.”

“And what if they’re hostile to the rest of us?” Mellina asked, not at all worried by the notion, just curious from what I could see and smell.

“That would be a mistake on their part,” I said. “I won’t ask any of you to suffer any indignities on my account.”

“You haven’t asked for any of this,” Mellina said.

“It wouldn’t have been fair,” I said. “None of you owe me anything.”

“That is not entirely true,” Idrina said.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes it is. You are, all of you, free of any obligations to me or to House Riverbond. I refuse to bind you. Even implicitly.”

“That’s very important to you, isn’t it?” Mellina asked, her curiosity sharpening.

“I won’t own anyone,” I said. “That’s where most of the trouble in the world starts.”

It was a lesson Grammy had taught me without ever saying a word of it. She’d had simply been emphatic with the people she employed and how she believed others were to be treated. She lived her whole life as a sort of condemnation of what she saw as being wrong in the Empire. It hadn’t made her even a tiny bit popular, but there was a lightness to her spirit that seemed to come from living in a manner which agreed with her conscience.

“Yeah, no kidding, that’s why we love you,” Ilyan said. 

I expected him to punch my shoulder, and I’m pretty sure he would have except he was standing a bit too far away.  That none of the others disagreed with him seemed weird though. Of all of them, only Idrina had a notable reaction and that was to turn and shoot her brother a glare.

“And it’s why we’re going to help you contact your sister,” Yarrin said.

“Plus we’re really curious to see how this turns out,” Narla said. “And all the good fights are happening where you are and I don’t want to miss out on any of them.”

I suspected that last point was the strongest incentive for her and paused to be grateful that I was at least nominally on the same side as Narla was. I glanced over to Idrina to see if she shared Narla’s sentiment, since it seemed rather likely she did, but found she was looking away, her attention captured by some of the books I guessed.

“I’m going to do my best to avoid any fights for the rest of the night at least,” I said. “It’s been kind of a long day so far.”

“Would you like to travel under concealment then?” Mellina asked.

“Maybe we could skip that?” Ilyan said. “It’s great and all, but my magic goes a little nuts and…”

He didn’t finish the thought, apparently not being as willing to say ‘and I’m far too beat up to deal with that kind of agony tonight’. I was not one to throw stones in that particular glass house, and I noted that Idrina hadn’t even been willing to admit that Mellina’s cloak of shadows bothered her, when the whiffs of pain I caught from her said it was even worse for her than it was for Ilyan.

“That sounds fine,” I said. “If we run into anyone, I’ll tell them I’m following the directive of an Imperial Advisor, which has the benefit of being true and something that can be verified.”

It was a sound plan. I’d have a whole lot of companionship when I walked into whatever lair Vena and Hemaphora were holed up in, and my companions would be covered under the mandate that Doxle had given me. I could have explained too that the Empress herself had told me to seek out my sister, but I was pretty sure no one was going to believe me on that and I wasn’t sure I wanted people to know I was working for her just yet.

The thought struck me again that I was taking a page from Doxle’s playbook in trying to convince potential enemies to overlook or underestimate me.

That probably wasn’t a good sign. I hadn’t know him that long and he was already rubbing off on me. What was I going to look like after working with him for a month? Or a year? Or a decade?

Probably best not to think about that.

What would have been better to think about was the small patrol of upperclassmen who ran into us as we exited the library.

“Classes are done. What are you all doing here?” asked their leader, a tall boy who’d shaved his head bald and adorned it with a tattoo of House Ironbriar.

“Research,” I said. It should have been obvious, but then anyone who painted their house affiliation on the side of their head like a targeting bullseye probably couldn’t be relief on to figured out the obvious.

“Heh, right, what kind of research?” His six friend posted up beyond him, bringing their group to a point of at least numerical superiority to mine.

“The book kind,” I said. Yeah, I know I wasn’t being helpful, and my skills at deescalation were miserable, but I was trying.

“You’re funny. You think you’re funny don’t you?” He asked, stepping closer to loom over me. I smelled a few different aromas of aggression from behind me, but help out a hand as a small call for calm. 

The last thing I needed was Ilyan starting a brawl that would leave him in worse shape than he was.

“Not really,” I said. “I suck at humor. You’re with House Ironbriar right?”

He obviously wasn’t just a fanboy for them, but giving him something to talk about that he could be proud of struck me a decent approach to take.

“What’s it to you?” the boy asked.

“Ironbriar provides security for the Academy,” I said, ignoring his question. “Are you part of the watch?”

“Nah, we’re freelancers.” He said it like he was dropping a hilarious joke and his cohort seemed to agree that is was.

“Volunteers?” I said. “Your efforts are a credit to your house then.”

I was trying, really trying to find some peaceful waters to share with them. There was literally no reason at all for there to be hostility between us. Someday we’d probably need to work together. Heck someday our lives might depend on each other. Forging some tiny semblance of camaraderie would pay off so well in the long run.

Plus I had two members of House Ironbriar behind me and one of them had already tried to kill me for an insult given to her house.

“A credit? Yeah, that we are,” the leader said and for a brief moment I was able to hope he’d turned the corner. “The important thing is that you know that, and know your place.”

So much for hoping he’d discovered a clue there.

“Yep. Our place is over there,” I said, pointing in the direction we’d been heading before they stopped us.

“Nah, see, that’s where you got it wrong,” he said and stepped close enough to step on my feet. “Your place is where we say it is you little plebes.”

I want it noted that I did not do anything violent at all then. I feel I deserve a tremendous amount of recognition for that.

“You’ll want to step back and reconsider your position here,” I said in a calm and clear voice. 

So he shoved me in the chest.

“And why’s that plebe?” the leader said.

“Because she is the head of House Riverbond,” Idrina said. “Insult her and you insult her House.”

“Who asked you?” the leader said and then noticed who he was addressing. “Oh wait, you’re Iyrthan’s little brat, or wow, both of them. We got a matched set here guys. Heard the psycho-girl caused a big mess for her family though.”

“You’re going to want to address the people in my party with respect,” I said keeping the growl that was building inside out of my voice.

“Oh? What are you going to do about it if I don’t?” he said and cupped my chin with his left hand.

I feel it’s extremely important to note that it was still attached to him at that point.

“If you choose to assault my companions, physically, or verbally, I will be forced to take that as an assault on House Riverbon and react accordingly,” I said without emotion.

Was that not a clue? Was it not a very obvious clue?

“I’m not assaulting anyone,” the leader said without releasing my face. “I’m just saying what I heard. It’s not every day that the family council gets to kick a worthless lout like Iyrthan out after all. I mean I should really be thanking that little bi…”

It turned out to be fairly difficult for the leader to complete his sentence with a spear piercing the right side of his body front to back, including the lung he’d been using for being such an annoying jerk.

“You…you killed him!” one of his cohort shouted as they all began to back away.

“No, she didn’t kill him,” I said.

He was choking and gasping but he still hadn’t let go of my face.

So I tore his head off.

“I killed him,” I said.

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