Scriven

“Beware the gap between the lesson taught and the lesson learned.”

– Delosi saying

Eudokia mostly remembered being hungry.

She wasn’t sure how she had ended up on the street, but then most of the others didn’t either. They begged by the thoroughfare with worn bowls, getting coppers or scraps when they weren’t being chased off by the guards, and it was a rare turn of the moon where one of them did not disappear. Sometimes they died in their sleep, the good way to go. Sometimes it was the cough or the bubbles, which were bad, but worse yet was people. Corrin had spent half a day drowning in his own blood after that guard roughed him up. It didn’t get better, even when priests out in the streets said it would. They said that Delos sent coin to the city, that it would get the little beggars into houses, but it never did. Eudokia was young, but already she knew better than to believe it ever would.

The Secretariat’s money always went to the walls and the nobles. No one else ever saw so much as a silver of it.

When the men came, she’d been sleeping. Hadn’t had anything to eat in two days, she could barely stand. But the noise of it woke her up and she headed to the abandoned temple on the other side of the street, where a handful of men dressed like merchants were talking. She slipped in and saw they were smiling, but not the kids. The strangers were offering to take them away, to bring them to a school where they would learn a trade and become scholars.

“Three meals a day,” the smiling man promised. “And a roof over your head.”

The smaller kids were eager for it, but the older ones knew better. Sometimes neatly dressed men came from the nicer parts of the city, offering bargains like this one – when they bothered to ask at all – but the kids that went never came back. You learned not to ask questions and to keep with other kids when night fell, even though they might steal from you. It was better than disappearing.

“Where would we go?” a kid asked. “Where would you take us?”

“Delos, child,” the smiling man said. “Far from these dirty streets.”

And it was a trap, had to be, but some of the little kids went for it. Ignored the older ones that tried to hold them back. After that it was the desperate who went, and Eudokia bit her lip. Two days, since she’d last eaten. She didn’t have anyone who’d share if she asked and she was starting to sleep a lot. She’d seen it happen before, how it was the beginning of wasting away. They might kill her, she thought, but it might be quick. Better than going slow, the empty belly hollowing you from the inside.

“I’ll go,” Eudokia said, and the man smiled at her.

They hadn’t been chained up when they travelled by wagon, and the merchants hadn’t lied when they said there would be three meals a day. Good signs, but how long would that last? Still, Eudokia couldn’t remember ever eating so well and neither could any of the others. Meat and greens, sometimes with fresh olives and warm milk after. Like most kids she couldn’t remember a life before the street, and there was enough hope in her that she didn’t even argue when the merchants stopped the wagons by a river and told them all to go out and wash. They used soap that smelled like flowers and got to sleep in clean blankets after. One of the older boys had eavesdropped on the merchants at night and he said they were all really headed to Delos, to the great city where they said Secretariat ruled for the good of all.

A lot of them spent parts of the day sleeping, not used to eating so much or feeling so safe, and Eudokia would admit she was one. It was why she didn’t see them enter Delos, she’d been napping in the back. She only woke when they were near the place where they would live and the other kids got rowdy, nervous the good times would end and taking it out on each other. The smiling man was still smiling when he told them to cut it out, that they would soon be at their new home. That, at least, Eudokia was awake for. She filed out the wagons with the others and stared curiously at her new home. It looked like a temple, she thought, but also a little like a school. It was large, though, larger than any building she’d ever seen: long and wide, with three stories and other dwellings attached.

There were walls around it, which she didn’t like, but through the open gates she could see people in robes going around – some were cleaning with brooms, others carrying scrolls and there were even kids not much older than her running around playing.

“This is the School of Gulls, children,” the smiling man told them. “You will live here until you are grown, learning your trade.”

And part of her still thought that it was a trap, but when they were ushered in no one hit them and the people inside didn’t glare. They weren’t brought into the large temple-like place, instead to the smaller houses on the side, but Eudokia didn’t mind. The merchants, who told them they were to be called Scholars now that everyone was part of the school, said it was because the large building was used for lessons and the dormitories of the older students. Deep down Eudokia was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but as the weeks passed it didn’t. They were fed and clothed, given beds in the small houses and brought to classrooms to be taught letters and numbers by smiling Scholars. Eudokia made friends with some of the others, though most with Cassandra.

She was a little older, but no luckier like Eudokia she’d been starving before she came here. She had curly hair and now that her cheeks weren’t hollow they were red like apples. She talked and laughed a lot, too, which Eudokia liked. She was quiet, so it felt nice to have someone that’d fill the silences.

“We never have lessons with the older kids, did you notice?” Cassandra said one day as they sat in the courtyard for their midday meal.

“They read scrolls in their classes,” Eudokia pointed out. “We can’t read yet.”

“Maybe,” the other girl mused. “Still, it’s strange we see so little of them. And there’s two kinds of robes they wear, did you notice?”

“I asked about that,” she replied. “The blue robes are from outside, students who paid to study here. The brown robes are street kids like us, taken in.”

Cassandra frowned.

“So why is it that the brown robes try so hard to avoid us?”

Eudokia didn’t answer, but she figured she knew. It must be embarrassing for the students, now that they’d learned all those lessons, to be put next to ignorant kids like them when the blue robes were looking. Like being told you were the same as the kid who pissed his pants all the time. She didn’t tell Cassandra, though, because then she’d smile less and she liked Cassandra’s smiles. And though Eudokia let the conversation die, the curiosity did stick a little. Enough that she approached one of the blue robes after the day’s lessons were over, asking the older girl if she could maybe answer a few questions. The blue robe passed a hand through her hair, sighing.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” she said, “but explaining anything to you might end up a waste of time for me.”

Eudokia flinched, which had the older girl’s eyes widening.

“I don’t mean that being an orphan makes you less,” the blue robe hurried to assure her. “Family can’t get you through the askretis examinations if you don’t have talent. It’s just that you haven’t gone through the threshing yet.”

“The threshing?” Eudokia warily asked.

“When six months have passed, they send the slower children to one of the branch schools and keep the sharpest here,” the older girl said. “About half of you will be leaving.”

Not unkindly, the blue robe patted her shoulder.

“Come see me if you stick around, yeah?” she said. “I’ll help you find your way in the library.”

She shared what she’d learned with Cassandra that night, and the two of them only grew more determined. They’d study twice as hard and be part of the ones that stayed.

“Together,” Cassandra promised. “We’ll make it together.”

“We will,” Eudokia promised back.

By the time the sixth month since their arrival came at an end, all of the orphans knew what was coming. Word had gotten around, and Eudokia suspected she might not even have been the first to learn of it – the others had just kept quiet so there’d be less competition. So when one morning the entire class, all thirty of them, was taken to one of the examination halls in the back of the school everyone knew what it was about. Scholar Linos, a cheerful fat man that everyone liked, was the one who greeted them inside.

“Good morning, students,” Linos smiled. “I imagine you’ve pieced together why you’re here.”

There were scattered answers, a few of them mentioning the word ‘threshing’ outright. Eudokia kept her silence, seated on the desk by Cassandra’s.

“It is nothing to worry about,” Scholar Linos assured them. “All children learn at different paces, and it may be that the School of Gulls is not the best place for you to learn. It does not mean we will abandon you.”

Not a single child in the room really believed that, deep down. When the test was given – slate and chalk had been given out where answers were to be written to the questions that Scholar Linos asked out loud – all went at it aggressively, Eudokia tracing the words and numbers with methodical care. Cassandra looked like she might be struggling with additions, so she waited until Linos was looking elsewhere and showed her friend her slate. They’d make it together. When it was done they all had to set down their chalk and two other scholars came in to help Linos pick up their slates. They left, leaving the smiling fat man behind, but then someone else came. A bent old woman in brown robes, though hers were belted with cloth of gold. The door was locked behind her.

She spoke not a word, only looking at them curiously, but even if Scholar Linos hadn’t bowed at her entry the kid would have gone quiet. She felt serious, important.

“Children,” the old woman said. “You may call me Crone.”

Linos cleared his throat, gesturing significantly, and they all greeted her.

“I am an elder in the School of Gulls,” Crone said, “here to greet you today as you truly enter it. There is one last test for you to pass, as I once did and others will after you.”

Everyone leaned forward, worry and hope fighting for the reins.

“Get in pairs and stand up, children,” Scholar Linos gently ordered. “You can choose your own.”

They didn’t hesitate: Eudokia and Cassandra shared a look and immediately rose. A few others did too, until there were only a few hesitant kids left that paired with each other reluctantly. Scholar Linos showed them all an hourglass, which he set on the desk at the front of the examination room and flipped. The sand began to pour down.

“Children,” Crone said. “You have until the hourglass runs out to kill who you paired with. Anyone who does not will be killed when the sand runs out.”

Disbelief rippled. Some tried to laugh, but the two adults were perfectly unsmiling. Some screamed, then and a boy made for the door. It was still locked and wouldn’t move. A pair of girls moved closer to Crone, screaming to let them out, but the old woman simply backhanded the taller of the two hard enough blood flew. Jolly, fat Scholar Linos sighed and revealed a knife.

“Do not try that again,” Linos warned.

Eudokia felt the shift in the air then. She took a step back, towards the corner of the room, and Cassandra – oh, to her relief Cassandra looked just as terrified and the two of them backed away, holding each other tight. It was a scarred boy that threw the first hit, striking a smaller one in the face, and it was like a dam broke. Not for everyone, there were some who backed away like Eudokia and Cassandra, but so many. More than half. After six months of steady meals and exercise, they’d all gotten stronger and so instead of petty flailing it turned murderous. Blow and strangling, kids smashing each other against desks or stepping on each other’s throats.

The hourglass began to run out, and some of those that’d held back turned. Afraid of getting killed like Crone had said. Eudokia was even more scared of doing anything at all, and when the last bit of sand fell she held Cassandra close and closed her eyes.

“Eleven blooded,” Crone mildly said. “A good batch.”

“The streets always make them sharper than orphanages, Crone,” Scholar Linos replied. “Harder lessons. Our holdouts?”

“You know our way,” Crone simply said.

Eudokia’s stomach clenched and at the sound of the door opening she opened her eyes. Only instead of rescue or relief it was two Scholars who came in, and they called out strange words before waving their hands.

Darkness claimed her.

She woke up in a cell.

It was cold and wet and she was lying on stone, but there was a bundle of warmth at her side. Cassandra, she realized. Who was still sleeping. Eudokia looked around, trying to figure out where she was, it was just a cell of bare stone leading into iron bars. Pressing her face against those she tried to have a look outside, but all she saw was a glimpse of a corridor and what might be other cells. No light. At least not until she heard footsteps coming from a distance and torchlight flickered against the walls. Eudokia hurriedly shook Cassandra awake, who opened her eyes even if she looked dazed. The steps were unhurried, so the two of them got to their feet before the Crone appeared on the other side of the bars.

“Children,” the old woman greeted them.

“You’re evil,” Cassandra hissed. “All of you.”

Crone shook her head.

“I am sinless, child,” she said. “As either of you would have been, had you killed the other.”

“Killing is a sin,” Eudokia quietly said.

“It is the sin of the hand, Eudokia,” Crone smiled. “Not of the tool. And this is what we are, here in the School of the Gull: tools. We are no more sinful than a sword or a knife.”

“The Secretariat’ll stop you,” Cassandra defiantly said.

“They know of nothing to stop,” Crone said. “Those of your class that bloodied their hands will be assigned an older brown robe to follow, and keep secret under pain of death for both. The dead will never be seen again, sent away to schools that do not exist.”

“And us?” Eudokia asked.

“Your test is not finished,” Crone simply said. “So it will continue.”

“Fuck you,” Cassandra bit out. “We won’t do it. We won’t kill each other.”

“Not at first,” the old woman agreed. “But you will receive no food until you do – and only enough water to live.”

Eudokia shivered.

“Those with will, like you two, make the finest assassins,” Crone smiled. “I look forward to teaching you as a true student under the School of Gulls.”

And she walked away, torch going with her and leaving them to stand alone in the dark.

Time was hard to tell, in this place, but again Eudokia knew hunger. The two of them whispered in their cells, making plans to escape they both knew would come to nothing. They paced and slept and sometimes cried. Twice Eudokia was unnerved enough to vomit in the same pot where they relieved themselves. And time slowly crawled forward, hunger gnawing ever deeper in Eudokia’s belly. She began sleeping much again. Cassandra moved more, and drank most of the water, while Eudokia’s long silences turned empty. She was jealous of her friend, who still thought they would live through this. She knew better.

When her limbs began to tremble and weaken, Eudokia knew the end approached. She pulled Cassandra close against her, their shivering forms giving each other some warmth, and closed her eyes to sleep. Perhaps she would wake from this one, but it would be one of the last. Only Eudokia did wake, in the end.

With Cassandra’s trembling hands around her throat.

“I’m sorry,” her friend wept. “I’m so sorry, Eudokia.”

She fought back, tried to claw back the hands, but Cassandra was stronger and as her vision swam she wondered if it might not be better this way. If one of them got out, at least. So she stopped fighting back, her hands coming to rest on Cassandra’s shoulders, and she closed her eyes. When the end came for her, she did not fight it.

The first thing she felt when she woke up was pain.

She’d just been thrown on something and it had jarred her awake. Her breath rasped out, her throat burning and feeling clogged. Her nose ran and her body ached. Then she remembered to feel faint surprised, at the fact she had woken up at all. Groping around she felt at what she was on, for she could not tell, and when her fingers closed around hair her blood went cold. Corpses. It was a pile of corpses she had been thrown on. And when Eudokia opened her eyes it was to torchlight, the night sky tall above her head and Crone’s wizened face looking down at her with curiosity.

“Survived, did you,” Crone mused. “She waited until her grip was too weak to finish it.”

A man in Scholar’s robes approached, spear in hand, and stood at Crone’s back.

“Shall I finish it?” he asked.

Crone looked down, thoughtful, and Eudokia met her eyes. A long moment passed.

“No,” the old woman said. “Luck is a skill too. She will not be one of us, but we have a use for her.”

It was as if nothing had happened at all, in some ways.

Mere days later, after a sorcerer had healed her throat of the bruises, Eudokia was attending classes again. Sitting with children, some she had come to the school with but also older ones now. Cassandra was in only a few, but would not meet her eyes. Eudokia did not try to speak with her. Alone of all the brown robes she was not sent to shadow an older student. Instead Crone sent her to the front of the school, to sit with an old man in plain grey robes at a large desk.

“Scribe,” the old man said. “That is my name.”

“Eudokia,” she hesitantly replied.

He clicked his tongue, shaking his head.

“That is a person’s name, girl,” Scribe said. “And neither of us are that. We are tools in the hands of others. Choose a better name, or I will choose it for you.”

She hesitated. Then she thought of the pit they had plucked her out of, the pile of dead children they had thought to bury her with. The grave she had stepped out of.

“Graven,” she said.

Of the grave, she had learned it meant in these very halls. Scribe peered at her, revealing startling blue eyes.

“So they haven’t choked it out of you,” the old man said.

Then he sighed.

“It would be safter to be broken,” Scribe said. “But I will not demand it of you. Come, girl, you have much to learn.”

The School of the Gull, Scribe taught her, had existed in one form or another for nearly five hundred years. It had been born in Nicae, not Delos, but after having been implicated in the death of a Basilea they had been purged from the city and fled under the rule of the Secretariat. There they had flourished, occasionally changing name or disappearing for a decade whenever they drew too much attention from the askretis – who believed they had destroyed the School three times, each under a different name.

“Assassins, they are,” Scribe told her. “They call themselves Scholars but the trade is poison and the bloody knife.”

“They,” Graven said. “Not us?”

“You will not learn their little lessons, girl,” the old man said. “You only get mine, and my trade is simpler.”

Scribe was exactly what his name claimed he was. It was only that he wrote for more than a school: he was also a keeper of contracts. Clients, nameless, reached out through his place at the front of the school to inquire as to the death of others. They would then be given a price, which they would have to pay up front if they wanted to but the death. In exchange, even if the first attempt ended in failure the contract would remain ongoing until the bought death was delivered.

“You could destroy them,” Eudokia said. “Give everything you have to the Secretariat.”

“It would not be enough,” Scribe said. “There is little proof. When the askretis will send investigators, the School will just sacrifice a few expendables to make it seem as if the matter is at an end. It has been attempted before, girl.”

So Graven learned her lessons. And yet she could not forget the night she had woken up in a grave. Or the hands around her throat, though after a year passed that itch was scratched. One night she woke up as the door to her room – barely larger than a cupboard, she was a servant and not a student – opened, and as she groped for a cutting knife she saw a familiar face staring back at her. Cassandra closed to the door, and a moment of silence hung between them. Graven clutched her knife tight, and then the other girl fell to her knees.

“I’m sorry,” she wept, as she had in the cell. “Eudokia, you have to believe me, I never meant to-”

And she babbled and cried, on her knees, until Eudokia pulled her into an embrace. Stroked her hair and soothed her, but her eyes stayed open and without a single tear.

“I should let you kill me,” Cassandra mumbled. “It’d be fair. I don’t deserve to-”

You won’t, Eudokia thought. You just don’t want to feel guilty. So Eudokia denied the offer and comforted her until late in the night, Cassandra creeping away shamefaced as she admitted if she remained any longer her absence would be noticed.

“Anything you want,” Cassandra swore. “I know I can’t earn forgiveness, but I’ll do anything you want.”

She left, and Eudokia sat in the dark holding her knife. Anything she wanted, huh. Never before in her life had she been offered such a thing, and it forced her to think about what she might want. Food, a roof over her head. What else? Safety, she decided. And after that her thoughts trailed off. Yet a moment kept retuning to the forefront of her mind, and though it was not a want she found she could not set it aside. That instant where she had opened her eyes to the night sky, laid atop a pile of corpses. And perhaps that was an answer, in a way. So the next day she snuck off to find Cassandra and told the other girl what it was she wanted.

“Teach me,” Eudokia said, “all that they teach you.”

“You are,” Scribe said, “playing a game.”

“I have learned shatranj,” Graven replied. “I find it soothing.”

The old man scowled at her. The two of them sat at the entrance of the school, having moved into the sun as it did good for Scribe’s joints come autumn. He liked to be close to the courtyard trees even if there was a large anthill beneath the olive tree, large black ants swarming around the stones. Graven had been learning from him for three years and was slowly leaving childhood to come into girlhood.

“That brown robe girl,” Scribe said. “She’s the one who threshed you.”

“I have forgiven her,” Eudokia lied.

The old man grinned, revealing broken yellow teeth.

“It’s not something you forgive,” Scribe told her. “I would know.”

She had seen her teacher leaving the bath, once, and on his chest there was a small scar that had yet to face. About a knife’s width, just above his heart. In some ways she envied that. There was no trace left of the bruises around her throat, no proof it had been anything but a dream in the dark.

“I have a curious nature,” Graven shrugged.

He clicked his tongue.

“You’re using her to learn Scholar lessons,” Scribed said. “Why?”

“Is it not the trade of this school?” Graven replied.

He hummed, looking unconvinced, but did not purse the matter further. She did.

“I’m told Crone’s lessons are never blade or poison,” Graven said. “That they are… philosophy, almost.”

“That we are sinless,” the old man scoffed. “That we are tools.”

“You don’t believe it?” she asked.

“When the little scholars reach sixteen,” Scribe told her, “they are given another test before they can begin taking contracts.”

The wind stirred the trees in the courtyard, cooling the warmth of the lazy afternoon.

“They must take a life,” the old man said, “with as unusual a tool as they can. Be it a goblet or kicking horse or even a silken nightgown. Most of the Scholars see it as a test if inventiveness, to see if they can use means other than blade or poison, but Crone seeks to teach them a different lesson.”

His jaw clenched.

“That everything under the sun is a tool to deliver death,” Scribe said. “That to take a life cannot be a sin any more than a river flowing can be a sin. There can be no good or evil in following the currents of Creation.”

Graven stayed silent even as he looked away, up into the sunny blue sky.

“I had a cough, you see,” Scribe finally said. “So I might have died anyway. By embracing those teachings, she gets to think of it as embracing the inevitable when she slid the knife in me.”

He smiled.

“Even if she is my sister.”

Graven stayed silent, listening to the wind in the leaves as her teacher remained lost in memories long past. Everything under the sun is a tool to deliver death, she mused. The words, they echoed to her of something like the truth. But Creation was not a river, not a current flowing one way, it was not so simple. How many smaller, hidden decisions had it taken for Cassandra to decide to kill her? Dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands if one went back far enough. Creation was not a river, it was… her eyes fell to the anthill beneath the tree. All those hundreds of insects moving around, going about their purpose never knowing that there was a larger world around them. That someone’s whim could be their salvation or their demise without them ever realizing it.

Eudokia smiled, because at last she knew what she wanted to do. And today she was thirteen, so she had only three years left.

Graven took to visiting the anthill every day.

She brought the ants dollops of honey or spoiled fruit, watching them swarm over it as the months passed and she considered how it might be done. The School of the Gull was not so different from the swarm of insects, when closely observed, and Graven had been watching them for years now. Patiently, silently enough most hardly even remembered she was there. And like the ants following their favourite paths, looking for food to scavenge and enemies to fight, the assassins had routines of their own. Graven knew them line no one else in this school save her teacher could, for she knew what contracts came and who took them. She knew who went out and when, where the coin came from and where it went.

It all came across her ledger, in the same words and numbers that the School of the Gull had taught her years ago. So Graven went looking for her tools.

Scholar Myron was a test, for was this school not fond of them? It was a simple enough matter, to ensure that he got the contracts for killing in the merchant quarters. The man was rash and unpleasant so he was often given night watch – and since Scholars were given right to peruse contracts that arrived under their watch, all Graven had to do was delay receiving the contract until night watch came. That Myron would take the contract was certain, for merchant killings paid well. Only Myron had been from such a family once, before it knew ruin and he was taken by the school, so whenever he went back there he drank and gambled to cope with the unease. He was not a skilled gambler, even when he did not drink.

It took three months for him to be in such deep debt that he tried to steal from the school, at which point he was caught. He was, after all, rash and disliked. Myron disappeared one night, never to return, and so Graven had killed a man without so much as touching a knife. And yet the truer test had not been for Myron, it had been for another. Scribe had seen it all. He was old now and his joints ached so Graven was given more and more of the work, but he had still ever step of the murder Graven had committed. The old man could have, at any moment, put an end to it.

He had not.

Instead Scribe sat with her in the courtyard as autumn turned to winter and told her stories. Rambling, one might think, about nonsense and old glories. Only those stories were always about Scholars, but their lives and things they had done and things they wanted. About who held power in the School of the Gull and who they had taken it from. Friends and enemies and lovers. And the two of them, Scribe and Graven, sat in the grave they’d survived as they watched the small ants and talked of the large ones moving around them. In the warmth of the winter sun, she found herself smiling.

“Do you like my stories so, girl?” Scribe teased.

“I like,” Eudokia honestly said, “that we share something.”

Scribe chuckled and tossed a slice of orange skin atop the anthill. The insects swarmed it furiously ripping it apart.

Nine months before she was sixteen by the reckoning of the School of the Gull, Scribe died.

It was not surprising or unexpected. He had been bedridden for a week, and sickly before. He could barely walk some days, until the day came where he could not. Graven went to him, on that last morning, for she had been sent for. On her way there she found Crone leaving the room, face unreadable, and the old woman brushed past her without a word. Graven entered, nose wrinkling at the smell of death. Scribe did not notice, for he could barely see now, but he recognized it was her.

“Girl,” he breathed out.

Graven did not answer, simply sitting by his bedside. He reached out with his hand and tangled his fingers in hers, clutching them tight.

“She wanted,” Scribe breathlessly said, “for me to speak her words. To absolve her.”

“Did you?” she asked.

The old man laughed.

“I did,” he said. “I told her-”

He broke into a cough, starting again when it passed.

“- that you taught me to embrace it,” Scribe said.

Graven stilled, unsure what to say.

“My last gift,” the old man wheezed. “She won’t see you, now. Her eyes will only see what she wants to see.”

She breathed out in shock.

“Finish it, girl,” Scribe whispered. “Gods, finish it. Close our grave.”

He lasted only a few heartbeats more. In the thick silence of the room, Eudokia closed her eyes and wept. When she opened them, Graven began her work.

The School of the Gull died because of three sacks of flour gone bad.

It began there, at least. As the graduation of the children she had arrived with approached and with it their last test, so did Eudokia begin her own. As Crone wanted of the other orphans that had ridden the wagons, she would take a life with as unusual a tool as she could.

The sacks of flour themselves were not of particular importance, except in that they had gone bad. This should not have been possible, for they were freshly bought so that the bread baked would be of good quality when served to the paying students in blue robes that believed the place a simple school. The kitchen was immediately suspected of a common enough trick, which was selling back the fresh flour and buying older one at cost while pocketing the difference. The cooks had not, as it happened. Graven had simply poured some water at the bottom of the bags so they would be humid and go bad. Yet when Scholars were tasked to look into the matter by Crone, another of the elders gainsaid her.

It was only flour, Elder Lack said. No need for a Proceran inquisition.

It was so blatantly suspicious that a third elder, Silk, ordered a covert investigation, which unearthed what the second had tried to hide: there was corruption in the kitchen, simply of a different kind. Lack had placed a dozen of his kinsmen among the staff under fake names, which a deeper look into the families revealed, and they’d ensured that it was their family shops that many of the goods were bought from. That would have been scandal enough, until it was noticed that one of these kinsmen handled some of the private meals for the elders and hadn’t one of them died of bad shellfish a few years back? Perhaps that was not a coincidence after all. And suddenly it was a little more than a scandal.

Lack, his life now on the line, tried to drag in as many allies as he could. There were only nine elders in the School of the Gull, but now half of them were at each other’s throats and through Crone tried to calm the waters she ran into an obstacle. With the kitchens disrupted it had been necessary to hire new staff while those implicated were arrested, and before the matter was ended it had been judged prudent to buy the food from outside the school. Only when Crone had gone about this, she had found fewer funds in the treasury than she should. Some of the school’s cuts from contracts paid had been entered on parchment but not in truth.

Records were sought and Graven furnished them without argument, knowing exactly what three Scholars they would point to. They had done no such thing, of course. It had taken Eudokia two years to accomplish the deception: one gold coin a night, all hidden in the same place. All matched to a set of specific contracts that would jump out to an attentive eye when the ledgers were looked at. All three Scholars were loose allies of Elder Silk, which fanned the flames to new heights as Crone was accused of trying to cover for Lack. Perhaps they had been in bed all along, trying to cover it up.

That was when the killings began.

Crone’s teachings had been deeply embraced by some of the Scholars, after all. And Graven had ensured they would be out on contracts when this all began, to come back just as the School of the Gull seemed to betray all the teachings they loved and Crone was unfairly accused. They reacted as they were taught to: by taking lives. There were three drownings and a swiftly fatal ‘sickness’ that followed a meal within a day of them having returned. And once the knives were out, all restraint evaporated. Murder came nightly, the blue robes were sent home for a week under pretext and of the nine elders there now remained six.

One of them, by the name of Shore, was to be the death knell of the school. She was the youngest of the elders and the most ambitious, she and her allies aiming only for the most lucrative of contracts and openly disdaining Crone’s teachings. Graven had taken particular pains to ensure she would not be implicated in any of the troubles, knowing what would follow: Shore attempted to take control of the School of the Gull. By diplomacy at first, presenting herself as the foremost untouched by scandal, but when that did not work she resorted to violence in the night. It might even have worked, had Graven not warned Crone the night before it happened.

It was still a close-fought thing. Many had gone Shore’s way, including several of the Scholar mages, and the stones of the school ran red with blood. Crone only won by dragging in the students yet to graduate, which tipped the balance even as they died in droves. In the end, when dawn rose over the beleaguered school, only two elders remained: Crone and Dour. Graven had known Dour as Scholar Linos once, the cheerful fat man who had watched as children murdered each other in his examination room. He’d only grown fatter since. The School of the Gull was already a shadow of itself, two thirds of its Scholars dead and half of the students either slain or crippled.

Excuses would have to be made for that before the school opened again but Graven was sent for because of another reason entirely. During the months where it all happened, the Scholars had almost entirely ceased taking contracts. Several were still ongoing, unfinished, and with the rising costs of repairs and bribes to cover all this up the treasury was nearly empty. Graven was not allowed to sit before the two elders, only to stand and present her ledgers when ordered to. Neither of the elders liked what they saw. Crone was the one to address her as more than breathing furniture.

“Come summer there is usually a rash of easy contracts related to affairs,” Crone said. “Across the years you have seen, how much would you say the sums they represent amount to?”

Graven dutifully quoted it, prompting the other two to grimace. They now realized they must cut costs if they were to avoid bankruptcy before the blue robe students could return and serve as steady income again.

“We rid ourselves of some expense and rush graduation,” Dour said. “It’s the only way.”

“We have gained expenses, not lost them,” Crone said, sounding irritated. “What would you even suggest we cut?”

Graven, remembered the lessons on movement that Cassandra had taught her, moved just enough to draw the eye. Her face was already schooled into an expression of hesitation. Dour picked up on it, leaning forward.

“You have something to suggest, Graven?” he said.

She mutely nodded, waiting for his invitation to speak.

“Communal meals, until the paying students return,” Eudokia shyly said. “The students can cook together for everyone.”

And, without even needing to look, she knew she had Dour. It would appeal to him, the simplicity of getting rid of all the kitchen staff. All the troubles had begun with corruption there, it was not only getting rid of salaries but also a way of cleaning house. It also put students to work, which would lessen the load on the few Scholars left: with fewer needed teaching, more could take contracts. But Crone’s eyes watched Graven, unblinking, and for a moment she thought she’d been seen through. That the old killer had glimpsed the hatred under the mask. But she couldn’t, could she? Oh, it would cost her too much to see it. So in the end Crone only nodded and smiled, praising Graven for the notion.

For if Graven was a traitor, then her brother had died despising her to the last breath.

Graven had never taken a single class on the subject of poison, so how could she be suspected? Why would anyone at all be suspected, when at last all their troubles were over?

It was madness, besides, to poison a cauldron soup ever single member of the School of the Gull would eat from. Unless you had the antidote at hand. Graven had been careful, still. She’d made sure there were enough onions in the broth to cover the taste of the douce morte and that it would be taken at supper. No one died because it was a slow poison, instead heading back to their dormitories and rooms as night fell. Graven drank her antidote and rid herself of the vial, then headed out to the courtyard under moonlight and sat by the anthill. She’d not been in weeks, so when she dropped the orange peel the ants swarmed it eagerly.

And they ate, ate, ate it up even though it had been dipped in poison. It was their habit, and they were so very hungry.

As Graven sat in the dark, the last of the School of the Gull died. The douce morte was a gentle way to go, more than they deserved. After a few hours paralysis would set in and they would fall asleep, never to wake. All except for one. She rose to her feet, passing the rooms of the dying, until she found Cassandra. Paralysis had already set in so she had to force open the other girl’s mouth and pour the antidote in before massaging the throat so she’d swallow. Not a full dose of antidote, though. Just enough to delay the death and undo some of the paralysis, not save her life. Cassandra woke as Graven helped her on her feet, taking her outside. She was only able to speak when they reached one of the gardens, seemingly confused.

“Eudokia,” she croaked. “What’s happening?”

“I want,” Graven said, “to show you something.”

She set the other girl down against a tree and took a few steps forward, finding the shovel she had left there. And she began to dig under the grass and the flowers, shovelful by shovelful, until the moon shone down on pale bone and Cassandra let out a gasp.

“It’s where they buried us,” Graven quietly told her. “It’s where I woke up, once upon a time, looking at the sky.”

She kept digging, moving the bones aside, until the pale light revealed something else entirely. Gold. Every piece of it she had stolen from the treasury, buried in a place even the most cold-hearted of the Scholars avoided like the plague. Cassandra saw it too.

“You,” she got out. “It was you.”

“It was,” Graven admitted, setting her shovel aside and rising from the hole.

“Why?” Cassandra moaned. “Why do it?”

“Because I am the last graduate of the School of the Gull,” Eudokia smiled. “Behold my last test: I have slain the school, wielding its own hands.”

She grabbed Cassandra by the collar, feeling her breath grow panicky.

“And now I finish the work,” Eudokia said, throwing her into the grave.

She filled it back up over Cassandra, shovelful by shovelful, as the other girl screamed so much her voice broke. When it was done, Eudokia stood over the grave and closed her eyes, breathing out. She’d thought she would feel something, at the end. Pleasure, joy, even simple satisfaction. Only all she found, when she looked inside herself, was a vague sense of relief.

Like she’d finished evening out a ledger.

She picked up her things, robbing what was left of the treasury on her way out, and overfed the kitchen fire after tearing down the grid. It would all catch fire soon enough, erasing the last traces of the School of the Gull. There were still Scholars our there, some branches out in other places, but the school was done. It was dead and bankrupt. Eudokia, walking out through the courtyard, stopped by the desk at the front. There she opened the ledger a slid a single piece of parchment, one with an address written in it.

Then she walked away and never looked back.

It took a fortnight before the first one came to the little house she had bought on the outskirts of Delos, at the address she had written. The man looked hesitant even as she welcomed him in, invited him to sit and served tea. And though he danced around the subject, he had come for exactly the same reason men had once come to the School of the Gull: to buy a death.

It would not be the same as before, Eudokia thought. It would be her hand that chose the tools that would do the killing for her. She would make killers of her own, bind them to her with ink and learning. And always she would remain out of sight as the work continued, merely the woman holding the ledger than no one looked at twice. It did not feel right, not exactly, but something close to it.

Like clothes tailored for her.

“And what should I call you?” the man asked, looking nervous.

A name, she mused. She must bear one again and no longer would she use Graven. She had, at last, left behind the grave they had ripped her from. So what should she use? Eudokia thought, then, of startlingly blue eyes. Of the rough kindness of the man who had taught her, of the long vengeance they had shared. Then she smiled, for the answer was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Scribe,” she said. “You may call me Scribe.”

6 thoughts on “Scriven

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, EE found a way to mend the plot hole left by the decision of making Assassin a living puppet made of an Aspect of Scribe.
      As it was from Amadeus’s POV that we learned that Assassin had killed all his fellow students in the assassin school, and Amadeus was there when Scribe developed Assassin, he would know it wasn’t Assassin that did that but Scribe, but yeah it’s way to tie those lines together and make it so it makes sense even if one has to wiggle a bit for it to fit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. SeventhSolar

        It wasn’t really a plot hole when EE knew who Assassin was from the very, very beginning. He gave out some hints to people asking early on, and the killing of Assassin using goblin fire in the Fourfold Path was a clue that Assassin was just a magical artifact.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Onos

        What plot hole? Spider/Webweaver, the Fourfold Crossing, the fact that Scribe (of all Named) just “makes people disappear” like a very, very good assassin….

        Oh, you’re just salty you never figured it out, cool.

        Like

  1. caoimhinh

    Honestly, I had imagined that the last Extra chapter would be from Amadeus’s POV, something like how he came to earn his Name, or the moment that drove him to start his campaign of changing Praes for the better and break it out of its mold, since that’s the ultimate cause that set forth the events of the whole saga.

    But Scribe’s origin story was pretty interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

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