One Stone, Chapter 8

The Assassins’ Guild was an old institution, and with that age came a certain implied respect. Old families could trace their lineage and find in far points in history, famous names that even then, attended the Old School, and learned how to avoid poisons and knives there. Nobility was much like pixie dust, scattering in the path of those who had it, touching everything around them and making things they used a little bit more special. Other schools had teachers; the Assassins’ Guild had Teachers, but it also had Examiners and Beadles and Invigilators.

Exam Invigilators were teachers who wanted a small bonus for the extra work and had a tolerance for boredom most adults never developed outside of bureaucracy. Exams, even in a school where knives were office supplies, were dull and slow. Any examination of students who had been taught how to move silently rarely needed much controlling. To invigilate the practical exams was a totally different business.

The Invigilator smiled as he kissed his wife’s cheek, hugging her around the shoulder. “Just leave my dinner in the oven,” he said. “Some of these students can take forrrrever,” he said, mustache wiggling side-to-side as he rolled his eyes and his rs. Oh, those children. Not like him back when he became an Assassin, then finished post-graduate studies to become a teacher, then became an illustrious senior member of the school.

His home was a teacher’s home, with soft carpets and small windows, and an extra room that, since his daughter had moved out to work at a drapier’s, was now full of fishing and sewing equipment. Of course, attempting to open those windows from the outside ran the risk of a very nasty encounter with a hidden razor blade, and those carpets hid an array of creaking boards that could signal to the man every movement in his living room from any part of the house, but those things aside, it was as normal as any other teacher’s home.

By the door, he stopped, adjusting his jacket. When he’d lectured, he’d been proud to say that clothes made the man – and was a bit more careful saying that after a few female students had made fun of him for it. A thick, woollen jacket that hung down over his hips hid his pocket tops, protecting them from pickpockets, and also hung heavy. Heavy clothing was a good place to hide small things like blades and extra coinage. Thick boots with thin soles, letting him feel the way of the city as he walked, and a pair of pants dyed dark blue. Anywhere in the city, he’d look like someone just on their way to something – a teamster hauling goods at the palace, or a sailor leaving dock by the river. The finishing touch, A short, blue cap with a stout metal lining in the brim, and he was off.

Normally, he just went down Pastel street, followed the river until he hit Lane Lane, and walked with the bakery boys the rest of the way to the Guild. This was an evening walk, though, and the bakery boys had finished their routes hours ago. Chances are they were already in bed! Oh, the strange schedules people kept in a city. Instead, he kept walking past Lane Lane, and tracked the river, moving amongst other men in dark blue jackets and caps, laughing and grunting as they bumped one another. It was so easy to just fall in with a group like this – people eager to talk but not about anything.

It was a short skip across a back alleyway to the servant’s quarters at the Guild, and from there, a walk across the quad. Even there, he carried a loop of rope from the servants’, scratching his bare scalp as he went. Students could still spot him, after all, and if they did, that could give them an edge during the exam. That sort of attention to detail was laudable, but there was no reason to make it easier on them.

In the foyer he passed three non-threats and the secretary on the way to the examiner’s meeting room. He nodded at the fat priest and the knight, who were both emblems of respectable, useful social scenery. Priests didn’t move quickly, and often congregated in groups – standing and listening to a priest was one of the best disguises he could use. The knight, less so, but the armour drew the eye. If you were standing next to a knight, people would remember them, and not you. The bratty thief with them was barely worth noticing. He nursed his wrists like he was recovering from shackles. Maybe the priest was trying to arrange the boy a scholarship, put him to some use. A short trip upstairs, rope dropped in a closet, and he sat across from the examiner, smoothing down his thick brown hair.

“Evening, Terry,” said the Examiner, as he sat down, resting his hands on the table. “Only one, today,” she said, turning the paperwork over. “The morning staff worked through a few more students than we expected, and the two Ds scheduled for tonight have filed out of the exams.” The silver-haired woman had the smile of a thrown axe, but Terry knew it wasn’t directed at him in particular. You just developed a certain temperament dealing with students for too long.

She slid the paper across to him. “Duthane,” she mispronounced it. “Aderyn. Slender thing, decent marks. Shouldn’t be a long one, but we’re not likely to set any record times.”

“Never do, these days,” Terry said, picking up the sheet of notes. No infractions, average marks, homework in on time. Pale blonde hair, which was never useful – most students had learned to dye theirs, or cut it short, at least. The girl’s sketch had a elegant braid – a mark of vanity that was probably going to count against her in the examination. Still – what kind of thing was he expecting? The girl was probably heading home after she graduated to spend her life organising the distribution of sheep. “No, not like back-“

“Let me stop you there. We’ve got one exam to do and I’ve a christening tomorrow morning. Let’s make this quick, shall we?”

Terry laughed, scratching his chest. “Alright.” He folded the paper, tucking it away. “Blind testing her?”

“Yes. She has a name and a quarter of the city.”

“I miss when we used to at least give them an address.”

“Yes, but finding opportunity is an important skill. If we just tell them ‘go here,’ they do it, and then knock off early to go get drunk. They are students, after all.”

Terry shook his head, scratching his thumb against his moustache. Students really were the problem in his tidy view of the school. “Alright, then,” he said, standing up and tucking his hands into his pockets, double-checking for his tools. “I’ll be waiting for her.”

*

A few minutes later, Aderyn knocked on the door with the modesty of a churchmouse. Most of the rest of her class had taken this opportunity to dress in their ‘assassin gear’ – outfits designed to give them an edge in the exam. There were so many lucky coins and boots, and a few of her classmates doing their exams that night had emerged from their dormitory rooms looking like they’d fallen into black paint. Black was dreadfully fashionable, after all!

Aderyn’s clothing was much simpler, though. She wore a heavy sweater, striped across with dark blue and pale blue, the neck high but loose. The whole thing was thick and soft, folding over and forming a pile around her throat, which emphasised how small Aderyn seemed. A daring assassin could hide a wire in all of that, but it was risky to keep any choking weapon near your own throat. No dress today, because that would be dreadfully impractical. She wore breeches, tucked into boots at the knee, folded over at the top. The breeches were stitch-tight against her, nowhere to grab or become caught on things, and the boots had more in common with ballet shoes than with the hard stomping things she’d been wearing to the store. Atop the ensemble was a dark blue cap, a little bit too large for her, but which fell a little over her eyes, which did not help her image of harmlessness. While everyone around her was projecting the image of lethal vitality, Aderyn looked like a painting that should be holding a puppy in some noble’s gallery.

Every last one of these judgmental detail flew through the Examiner’s mind as she spoke to Aderyn. As she told her her examination area, as she told her her timetable, as she told her her expected outcomes, and not a single word of it stayed in the Examiner’s mind more than a moment after the door closed. The student was assigned her task – it wasn’t her business until the Invigilator and student returned to sign their work.

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