The buildings were almost entirely stone, or, at least, things that would qualify as Eperu; according to Regine’s records, that was one of Cynara’s best Words, although Meentik had not been one of her Words at all. They were made with skill and grace, not generally more than three stories tall, and their architecture echoed both Hopi buildings and northeastern brownstones. Bright banners and signs hung from many walls, and the shops lining Main Street seemed to be doing a brisk business. Regine noticed three clothing vendors, each with their own specific niche market; a yarn-and-thread-and-cloth store with three people spinning in the center of the store and one weaving in the back; a baker, a butcher, a candlestick-maker; a cheese store with the fragrant odors of ripe cheese wafting out. The list went on. Nothing was particularly high-tech, but everything that one needed to live somewhat comfortably seemed represented.
“It seems to be a thriving town,” Regine allowed carefully. “I do, ah, see some people who appear poor.”
“I imagine that is a side effect of being a city.” Drake nodded at the woman Regine had been thinking of, a thinnish woman with four small children close to her, all of them dressed in worn but clean clothing. “They do not appear starving, however.”
“You’re quite proud of this little town, aren’t you?” Regine could not remember the last time Drake had spoken so glowingly of anything.
“Cya was my Student. And considering how dark some of my Students have chosen to go with their understanding of the Law, it is pleasing to see one being productive. Ah, lemon ice. I wonder if they do that with Workings, or if they have refrigeration? We should stop on the way back.”
Regine ignored him. He was clearly biased about Cynara and everything involving her. “And here are the gates to the Tower. Another wall. Lovely.” The Tower was a Reuleaux triangle in base, encased in a larger Reuleaux triangle of walls. Wide, open, unguarded gates admitted them from Main Street into the Tower’s courtyard; the Tower itself had doors tall enough to admit a giant, also propped open.
A short teenaged boy was leaning insolently against the door. He had feathers growing from his flame-red curls, a nose like a beak, and more freckles than Regine had seen on any five people. He was wearing a grey and black plaid kilt with a white dress shirt and sky-blue and yellow tie and socks, and his smile was cocky and self-satisfied.
When he pushed off the door, Regine noticed he had tailfeathers as well, in red and iridescent green-blue. “You must be the vee-eye-pees.” He drawled out the word like he found it amusing.
“Let me see. You must be Director Regine, sa’Lady of the Lake, and Professor Drake, sa’Firedrake.” His bow was low enough to be comical. “I’m Kurt cy’Inazuma, and I will be your guide today. First, we need to go to the Principal’s Office. Right this way.”
Regine followed obediently, as did Drake, although he was making a thoughtful face. “‘Inazuma’ means lightning,” he murmured. “But I don’t remember anyone with a Japanese Name.”
Kurt turned around and grinned at them. “Tall guy? Blonde? Awesome swordsman? Anyway, Professor Inazuma is awesome. Here’s the first floor of the Tower, it’s mostly city offices and the giant assembly hall, that’s that point of the tower and, ah, most of that one.” He gestured casually around the marble-lined-and-floored foyer. “And we’re going up a few flights.”
The stairs – marble as well – coiled up the center of the tower in a wide, showy Reuleaux triangle of curved flights, up until they reached the third floor, where the stairs narrowed and straightened to something more staid. And up they continued. Regine was not out-of-shape, but she thought perhaps five stories was a bit high for a Principal’s office. The child, on the other hand, had seemingly no problem bouncing up the stairs.
“Principal, not Director?”
“Oh, well Principal Doomsday is Principal. Director Cyndequil runs all the day-to-day stuff, and then sa’Doomsday runs the school.” Kurt grinned brightly. “And cy’Red, of course.”
“Of course,” Regine answered dryly. She recognized Cyndequil’s name, too. He’d been a very clever student, and had turned down her job offer. She wondered if Cynara had given him a choice.
“And okay, here we go. I’ll be waiting outside when you’re done, and then I’ll show you the school.” The boy bowed again, so deep that his kilt flew up in the back, and gestured them into the office with a flourish.
It said “Principal Doomsday” on the frosted glass door. The door itself was open a crack, and when Regine went to knock, it swung open.
Inside, Cynara sat behind a heavy oak desk. She was smiling, which Regine found she immediately distrusted. “Director Regine. Professor Drake.” She did not stand, but nodded her head at them. “Please, take a seat. I wondered how long it would take you to deign to visit, Director.”
Because she was aware of it, Regine noticed immediately that the chairs were both uncomfortable and lower in seat than Cynara’s chair. Subtle pettiness and nothing more, and yet she shifted in her seat. “I didn’t believe I would be welcome, and it seems I was accurate. What are you hiding while you stall, Cynara?”
“Hiding?” She had not changed her Mask since she left Addergoole; she still had the same ridiculous dyed-red hair and the same just-finished face of a teenager. Her eyebrow raise, she’d clearly learned from Drake. “I’m hiding nothing. If anything, I’m showing more.” She gestured out the window behind her at the city. “Did you enjoy your walk?”
“This pettiness does not suit you, Cynara.” Regine frowned repressively.
“Pettiness?” Cynara smirked. “Oh, no. Pettiness would have been turning you away at the front gate. Or attacking you as an invader. No, this is how we greet people in my city.”
“Not all people.”
“Not all people are threats. Speaking of — will you be wanting to see the school?”
“Is that then a threat?”
“No. It’s an assessment of the threat you provide. Will you?” She was so smug. Regine did not remember her having ever been this arrogant before.
Feu Drake leaned forward. “We would be interested in seeing the facilities, Cya. I give you my word that I do not come with any military or tactical interest in mind, nor do I come wishing the students of Doomsday Academy or their parents any ill-will.”
Regine raised her eyebrows. “Is all that really necessary?”
“Have you ever known me to swear an oath when it was not absolutely necessary, sa’Lady of the Lake? We are not here as her teachers; that would be ridiculous. Cya jae’Doomsday has been an Adult for over fifty years. I gave her the Name she carries before the gods returned. We are not her teachers.”
“I do get the point, yes. But we raised and taught her, and thus have the right to–”
Feu Drake cleared his throat loudly. “Excuse me, sa’Lady of the Lake, but I believe you will wish to reconsider your phrasing. We are not on the Council, we are very notably not part of the Council, if you recall, and even the Council exists next to and not within the Law. We have absolutely no right within the Law and no human rights other than those given by the laws of Cloverleaf in regards to Cya Red Doomsday.”
Regine cleared her throat. “There are, of course, implied rights…” Such as her implied right to blast this irritant where he stood. He had the absolute worst timing when it came to his more pedantic moments.
“You brought me here to advise you. Sa’Lady of the Lake, I am advising you that at this moment, it would do us much better not to lean on implied, suggested, or potential anything.”
Regine found her heartbeat was speeding up and her fingers were drumming on the desk. She stilled herself. “I accept your advice.” She nodded at Cynara. “Please, you were saying?”
The girl smirked at her, insouciant and unrepentant. “There’s a form to be signed, if you’re going to be going near the students. Which a tour of the school would, of course, necessitate.” She passed the paper across the desk. “Profesor Drake’s oath covers all the necessary points, but I still need a signature from you.”
Regine spared the paper a brief glance. “And if I don’t sign?”
“Then we will see you to the gate and bar your entrance.”
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