The Fearful Void - Part 20

Whistling to herself, Miss Loungueville made her way down the long hallway, following the curve of the building up and around to the rooms she had been allocated. The headmaster's secretary nodded once to the housekeeper, who was bustling along, checking the doors were locked, and let her pass. The green-haired woman fished in her pocket for her key, and after two tries got the door open.

With a sigh, she collapsed onto the narrow bed, the old springs groaning under her weight. She lay facedown there for a moment, before rolling over and beginning to unfasten the laces at the front of her dress.

Relieved of the weight of her dress, which she neatly hung up on one of the manikins she used for that purpose, she wandered around her room in her chemise. The woman stretched, working the muscles in her arms and legs, finishing with running her hands flat along the low roof.

With a click, the small button on the topside of one of the beams clicked, and a perfectly weighted stone slab in the adjoining wall slid aside.

The headmaster's secretary grinned, with a slightly more predatory smile than might have been expected from such a demure, domesticated woman. From the pocket of her dress, she recovered a brass-watch, and checked the time.

"Hmm. Still time yet," she said to herself. Somewhat clumsily, she lifted a linen-wrapped case from the hidden compartment. It was about as half as large as she was. She laid it down on the ground, beside her bed and standing on tiptoes, tapped the inner lining of the hidden compartment. Light flared, and the stone unfolded away from the second hidden compartment, revealing what to the naked eye appeared to be a normal stone slab with a metal brace driven into that.

Miss Longueville removed that with the same care most people would usually reserve for a kinephotographist's nitrated papers.

The woman lowered the stone block to the floor, knees straining. Turning to her basin, she took off her chemise and dunked it in cold water, before draping it over the block.

Moving more slowly despite the chill, the green-haired woman unfastened her trunk. In it was kept neatly folded clothing, carefully packed as to minimise space, and between each garment was pressed flowers to give the clothes a floral scent. From it she put on a fresh chemise, inhaling the scent deeply. Running her fingers along the underside of the catch, something clicked, and the secretary lifted the entire inner lining holding the clothing out. Underneath were other clothes. Her... work clothes, one might say.

Hand-made garments in mismatched grey, green and blue, commissioned from the finest tailors in Romalia to her own personal design. A pistol – a cyclic, good for six shots – painted black to take the shine off its fine Germanian steel, and loaded with powder and bullets she had hand-made. A long, flowing cloak which strangely shifted to match the colour of the background. That had come from the personal treasure vaults of the Albionese King, Founder damn his milky eyes.

And finally came the mask. As she lifted it to her face, adjusting the straps, the scent of old sweat and leather filled her nostrils. She exhaled, hearing the hiss of her breath through the filters, and inhaled, getting used to the heavier breaths required when wearing it. The enchanted lenses of the mask, stolen from the Gallian bishop of Tolou to replace the ones which the original had possessed, painted the world in shades of green, the enchantments on them taking the least bit of light and amplifying it manyfold. It was a marvel of the thaumaturgists of the Romalian Imperium.

It was hers, regardless of whatever petty legal claims a few dozen people in various places across the continent might have made to ownership of it.

The rustling of cloth accompanied her dressing, and the scrape of her wardrobe denoted it being dragged in front of the door. Apparently that was not sufficient, for soft chanting then followed, and the stone ground up from the floor, to seal the entryway to her room further. A final crunch accompanied her forcing the iron brace into the stone.

Fouqet, called by some "the Ruined Tower", thief and occasional assassin, dropped out of her third storey room. The ground under the earth mage's feet bent silently, absorbing her impact, and slowly returned to normal. The grass there would all be dead by the morning, but that was not really important. Not compared to other things which were in motion.

Also, she'd never liked the head gardener. Sanctimonious, obnoxious little man who seemed to think that no woman could resist a man who spent as much time around compost as he did.

The shadowy figure made her way across the night-time grounds, outer layers blending in with the darkness of the Academy's grounds and inner layers barely more visible. When she moved, she was a barely-there blur. When she was still, she simply wasn't there at all. She was as still as stone, and the marvels of her stolen cloak broke up her image like a tortoiseshell cat in the woods.

In the middle of the courtyard by the bathhouses, Foquet paused for a moment. Slowly, never moving fast enough to draw the eye, she stared around. She waited while a pair of late stragglers walked down the torch-lit paths - completely ruining their night vision - and went into the female baths. She waited a little longer, still wary.

A short incantation, and suddenly the grass was marred by a series of giant footsteps, crushed into the earth as if by a great weight.

Her stealth was broken, just for a moment, by a low feminine chuckle. A laugh of someone considerably more intelligent than most people around them, who got the joke.

Or at the very least found things funny when no one else did.

It was still hours until moonrise, which was not due until the second bell after midnight.

And under the cover of darkness, her dark grey airship drifted to a stop. Right over the central tower of the Academy of Magic.