Anger propelled Cal across the ancient stones of the Summer Court. Her legs protested, she’d come all the way up from the Fall’s District without a break and a thin sheen of sweat covered her brow, but she didn’t care. She slammed open the door to the professor’s wing, startling a student carrying a bundle of scrolls, causing them to fall all over the floor.
She made her way to Teagan’s door and reached for the handle, then paused. Even in a rage, the cautious street-dweller in her came through above the noise. What were the chances someone like Teagan would trap their door against intruders?
Cal took a deep breath and pounded a fist against the door with a solid, oaken thud.
After a minute, she heard footsteps. The door opened to reveal Teagan.
“It’s the weekend, Callion,” she said. “Don’t you have some expensive wine to be drinking?”
“We need to talk.”
“I have no need to talk. But, judging from your appearance, you need to talk to me.” She opened the door wider and walked back to her desk. “Come in then.”
Cal stepped inside. She wasn’t sure if magic was affecting the dimensions of the space, but the room was more spacious then she would’ve guessed.
In the center of the room was Teagan’s rather impressive desk. The thing was eight feet wide and four feet deep and made of dark wood and wrought iron. It looked as though it had been through battle; covered in burn marks and deep gouges in the polished surface. Various half-finished projects were strewn across the wide expanse of wood.
Behind Teagan was a large window, with an impressive view of the city below. Bookshelves lined the rest of the walls, overflowing with musty tomes and yellowed scrolls.
“Now,” Teagan said, picking up a small metal cube on her desk. what is it you so desperately needed to talk to me about?”
“The project I won,” Cal said. “I asked for it back and you wouldn’t give it to me.”
“I hope you didn’t come all this way to ask me if I had changed my mind.”
“No. Especially since I saw that my boots were on sale in the market.”
“Indeed,” Teagan nodded. “Was there anything else?”
Cal scowled. “That’s all you have to say?”
“What were you hoping for? A formal apology? My expulsion from university grounds? You’ll get neither.” She picked up a stylus and began carving a rune into the metal with quick, precise cuts.
“Do you steal work from all your students?”
“Only if it’s worth stealing.” She tilted her head as her runes began to curve into a tight spiral. “I see no one told you about the Bank.”
“The Bank. It’s what we call the Office of Patents. Any idea or invention you submit there is safe, and not even I can steal it.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Cal folded her arms. “Why not keep stealing from me?”
“Because I hardly need to steal from first years. You had one clever idea, that doesn’t make you a savant. I’m telling you this because I am your teacher, and this is a valuable lesson.”
Cal rolled her eyes. “Oh, sure, very valuable.”
“Don’t throw away knowledge!” Teagan hissed, slapping down her stylus. “Especially when freely given, for that is most rare in this place. Think—I have stolen from you, yes, but you are just as free to steal from me, or anyone else. Only the Bank is safe. Do you honestly think that students here advance just by coming up with the best ideas? Perhaps once in a while, yes, but to be truly successful you must learn to take every advantage.”
She shook her head. “I swore to only ever be honest with my students, so I will let you know this. We both know you don’t belong here.”
The words felt like a slap across the face. Cal forced her emotions to deaden, refusing to betray anything. No one here knew who she truly was after all, right?
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that you’re a stuck-up nobleman’s daughter.”
What should’ve been an insult caused Cal to feel a flood of relief. But still, she had to play her part.
“I beg your pardon?” Cal said, trying to summon the indignant tone nobles loved to use.
“The Summer Court was founded because not everyone can be born into the position that you are so fortunate to occupy. Most people have to scrape by, and even that isn’t enough. Whenever you sit in my class, you are taking a space that would better serve someone else. So if you insist on staying, I’ll make damn sure you deserve it. Now, kindly get the fuck out of my office.”
Cal resisted the urge to fight back. On the streets, letting such an insult go unchallenged was a sign of weakness. But here, she had to play pretend. She left without a word.
Usually, Cal would meander on her walks home; trying new routes, doubling back on her path, or just exploring. But this time she took the most direct path, not even bothering to cut the occasional purse on her way.
She threw open the door to the Emporium and beelined for the stairs, but Sable appeared in her path.
“Ah, Cal, a moment of your—”
“Not now.” She went to move past him, but was blocked.
“We have a job for you.”
“Look, it’s been a long day and I just want to go up stairs.”
“I sympathize with you, but unfortunately, our agreement doesn’t mention making exceptions for long days.”
“That, and it’s only noon,” said Burr from behind her.
Cal jumped, letting out a small shout.
“Gods damn it, how did you get there?” She asked.
Burr shrugged. “Quiet shoes? Anyhow, about that job…”
Cal pinched the bridge of her nose. Her hangover wasn’t getting any better. “Fine, fine. I’ll do it. What do you need? More ingredients?”
“Fortunately, this task is something more exotic,” said Sable. “We were approached by a client who seems to have misplaced something quite valuable.”
“And by ‘misplaced’ you mean—”
“He was robbed. And before you ask, the ‘something valuable’ was a ticket to the Tooth and Claw.”
Cal looked from Sable to Burr and back to Sable. “Guys, new student, remember?”
“Right. It’s a… club of sorts. A fighting ring for exotic and dangerous beasts.”
Cal frowned. “That’s legal?”
Burr smiled. “It’s Istima, darling. The only true law is ‘don’t get caught.’”
“Fine, so who stole the ticket?”
“While the client used many colorful and inventive words to describe the thief, the only real lead we have is that he was a Len.”
“Guys, I’m good, I know, but this city is full of Len. Plus, they don’t all look the same. Did this one have scales or fur?”
“The client didn’t make that particular detail known to us. But, it’s likely that the thief will use the ticket to get into the Tooth and Claw. All you have to do is get in and find him.”
“Great. So you have a ticket?”
Sable and Burr shared a meaningful look, grinning viciously.
The two laughed.
Cal sighed. “Oh, fuck both of you.”