I wasn’t hungry but Binshala waited for me with mid-mornings. And Tobeas must have been keeping watch for me to come back. “Did you want company, Spark?”
Things had changed a lot since I’d shared my drunk and my hangover with them. They seemed to like me more, maybe trust me, more. “Yes, please. Did you want to eat?”
“Certainly we’ll eat with you, Spark.”
“All right. Binshala, please set things up next my fountain, if you please?”
I checked for a second… the ‘if you please’ had just come without me thinking. If you’re polite to everyone why wouldn’t they like you? Chevenga’s voice again. Hmm. I checked to make sure the wraps I know wore to keep my penis firmly down where it belonged had not shifted. It hadn’t, so I was reassured that I finally had control of all those urges, especially since I was thinking of him so often.
The weather was the topic of conversation, hidden under the tuneful sound of the water, at first. I had a cup of kaf with foamed cream and waited to see how it sat on my stomach. Mishahis’s things had been bundled into bags, and packed into a wooden crate at the Miscellaneous storage bay where the Sereniteers and Ministry of Scales placed odds and ends where there were no perfect slots for.
I had just skated up there and casually skated around the servants and their donkey cart a couple of times, ostensibly learning a new trick on my skates that required me to sit and adjust the fit, before skating around them once more. I checked to see which part of the administrative section of the Palace they were heading to, and ‘happened’ to see which office they took it to.
A number of officers from the Sereniteers had keys to those archival rooms and I wasn’t sure they’d been cleaned out since the beginning of the Present Age.
“These ones are not boring the Spark?” Ordas put his sweet kakao bun down, concerned. They all looked at me. Tomeas looked at his close namesake, Tobeas, who was twitted about having the same name as my stuffy dekinas, one reason we started calling him Tob. Silasas drew circles on the tile table with his gloved finger.
“Oh, no… I was thinking of another kind of prank, though.”
“Perhaps one that we could help the Chip of the Effulgent Light with?” That was Def. He had a good grin and happy eyes, even after being one of my Companions. His hair was a trifle less straight than most aitzas valued, and fine enough that whisps feathered around his face. I had a sudden pain around my heart thinking of Mana and Chevenga. If I hadn’t been Father’s son might we have been close friends?
“Oh, I’d like to have your help, but this is not just a prank…” I put my elbows down on the table. “I can’t tell you what it’s about. You don’t want to know.”
They looked at me, then at each other. Filibas sipped a goblet of fruit juice and set down the cup with a click. “Spark,” he said, equal to equal as close as he could. “We’re your companions. The six of us left. You haven’t chosen four more since you sent Kallen and his home. Just that was enough to make us yours. You believed Definas and Tomeas. Of course Kallen just had to be an ass and push it. But we’re yours. Let us help the exalted one.” It was enough to stun me silent. Where had I acquired friends?
Six. Filibas, Ordas, Tomeas, Tobeas, Silasas, Definas. Seven if I counted Chevenga... no, I shouldn’t. I should not have anyone I called friend. I was too dangerous to have a friend. I hesitated, then let it all happen.
I rubbed my hands over my face. “Thank you. Thank all of you.” I wasn’t going to tell them about the other Haians. But I might mention Misahis… perhaps I could be forgiven for that connection if Father found out about any of this. Of course, I was ‘supposed’ to become close to my own companions. I’d just been planning to go in by myself and steal a keyring out of someone’s desk. This way I could hide it in something unsuspicious and forgiveable.
“Father might suspect I’m putting together a court of my own if I really let you all in on my plans… too hayel spawned dangerous.”
“Are you? Setting up a shadow or eclipse court?” Silasas asked, deadly serious.
“No. Of course not. Father is Imperator. That’s the end of it.” But I should consider it. “But I’ve found Misahis.”
They were even more solemn. “We’ll swear to help,” Tomeas said to the other five’s nods. “Don’t tell us anything, but use us as your solas, Spark. It’s just a stupid prank, nothing serious. For the Haian… I’d set the city on fire.”
“Hey, you idiot, my family's houses are in the city,” Filibas obviously kicked Tom under the table.
“Ow! It’s a philosophical statement, as Koren says, you dog-son! ALL our families' houses are in the city!”
Before they could escalate the good natured bickering I set my cup down and picked up a bun. “All right then. I need to go skating in and around the Sereniteers offices today, all of us.”
“Hmm. Spark… do you need some commotion? Like trailing a rope of sausages for a pack of lady’s lap dogs?”
I had to grin at that image. “I think we might toss a couple of links of sausage back and forth…”
“The Folirmen family have a lot of their aitza in the women’s wings. They let their lappies run around and chase the cats.”
“Well. I suppose we should liven their lives a little. Thank you, my brothers.” I wasn’t going to tell them my target. If I could grab the right keyring… hmmm. I’d twist the key off and drop the ring. That way I could make it look like it came loose in the excitement and get kicked under a desk or something so it wouldn’t be found till next day. That storage archive wasn’t the highest security. The Sereniteer might not even notice immediately that that key was missing. So he’d find it on the floor sometime later.
I could hope. “Why don’t we go down to Muunas Triumphant and quietly swear to each other? That we’ll keep this quiet?” Everyone nodded all around. We crammed the last of the sweet buns into our mouths and brushed crumbs off our faces, grinning like the young fools we were.
We skated around and around the Earthsphere rotunda, where a statue of a golden man crouched, holding up a stone and glass globe over his head. It was the roundest place to skate in, between the government offices and the public presentation rooms of the Marble Palace.
Ordas was off, just to swing open the doors from the women’s quarter and draw as many of the pack of lapdogs as he could, tossing bits of sausage for them. We each had a loop of linked sausage that we had stashed between the feet of the globe-holder. We hoped for perhaps five or six. That should make enough noise and commotion.
Tomeas was spinning, sitting back on one foot, as we waited, then froze and stood up, listening. We could hear Ordas coming by the yapping. Where had he found that many dogs? Ten Gods… there were half a hundred little dogs kiyipping behind him.
“Tob, go left toward the Ministry of Scales… Fil… you try and draw a dozen down to the Ministry of Beauteous Works!” We grabbed our bait and, trailing greasy smears of sausage behind us, the meat hitting and bouncing off the floors with wet smacking sounds.
All of a sudden we had dogs all around us. There were more coming from different parts of the Marble Palace, drawn by the commotion. There were even some of the fessas’s rat-catcher dogs mixed in with the pack of fluffies.
Tom opened the double sound-proof doors, flinging them wide as the rest of us got there, peeling off to one side, waving his lure.
I swooped into the open chamber that was the main hall of the Sereniteers, the Hall of Diligent Inquiry, turned to the right toward the offices around the edges. There were rows and rows and rows of desks, with the Sereniteers, looking tired and overworked taking down statements from the dregs of Arko. Boys barely wearing any gloves and too much makeup to hide their bruises. A healer arguing with a Sereniteer over an all but catatonic Herb-head. A screamer echoed down from the cells as they came down from Brainrot, ignored by everyone. The gang-members with their sculpted hair showing their alliances, barely restrained by palace guard, stopped mid-rage as they tried to continue their fights across the beleaguered Sereniteer’s desk.
A Masker hauled in for questioning on ethical conduct turned, her silver face mask no less frozen than the flesh faces all around the room as we came roaring in, tucked low over our skates, trailing sausage meat and dogs, yapping, howling, growling, us yelling and whooping. “--oh shen on a crapstik—“
The slaves dove for the niches behind the statues as the whole scene unfroze. The gang members scrambled up on the desks they’d just been trying to throw themselves across, a boy leapt straight into the Sereniteer’s arms to get out of our way. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray --!” someone yelled as we flooded into the room…
The guards stood still, letting the fluffies foam around them, trusting their leg-armour though a couple of golden fluffies latched onto one man’s leathers and started trying to pull his trousers off, leaving him hopping on one foot trying to shake them off, not daring to kick the aitza’s pets. “Hey! Off! Off! Off! Get off you stupid dogs!”
I ducked under an open filing drawer, saw my trailing pack scoot under the desk next to it. I could see it coming as the clerk clung to the open drawer, drawing his feet up. It happened in slow motion. The file cabinet… more than head high… leaned over slowly, picking up speed as the weight of the clerk pulled it over, his eyes going completely round “—get them, stop them, oh my professionalgod—forget the Spark, you! Stop!—Dogs!”—as he dropped free of the drawer while it was still moving slowly and jumped sideways to get out from under the tons of paper now rushing toward the floor.
“—Dogs! I HATE dogs!—Stop, Spark, CALL OFF YOUR DOGS—Oh sweet Ten—“
The cabinet hit the desk and the stone floor with a boom and I ducked into one of my target offices, just as the man… some bureaucrat… lunged out to start yelling at his underlings. “What in sweet Hayel is going on out—“ The shattering boom silenced even the dogs, for a moment, as I grabbed the keyring off the wall… The archive key would have the same pattern on it as the door… the same color…
Another boom… oh, Ten Gods, it must have hit the cabinet next to… BOOM… “Oh my professional god that one’s going to hit the next one and… oh my professional god!” Key… key… which one… key…BOOM. YIYIYIYIYIYyiyiyiyiyi. BOOM. Key… key… forzak it! Which…BOOM…key… Ten…ah… here…
I dropped the open ring, scattering the various keys across the floor under its peg. A rat catcher jumped up and swung from the links of sausages wrapped around my wrist shook his whole body trying to wrench free a link for himself, sending the Hayel forsaken key out of my hand. BOOM.
Sil zoomed by, jumped over someone’s chair, a hairy stream barking past the door after him.
The key in my hand flipped up as the little dog dropped down, dragging his prize under the Sereniteer’s desk to devour, and I lunged for it, slid on my stomach, managed to seize it just before it slid forever out of reach between two ancient and no longer perfectly aligned slabs of marble tile. I froze, holding it carefully between two greasy fingers.
With the key safe in my fist I found myself looking out of the door at a rain of paper fluttering gently as it settled to the floor, people picking themselves up from under desks and from behind doors. Dogs barking, tugging lengths of sausage between them—YI YIYIyiyiyi—growling, shaking their heads. A woman on a desk with her skirt over her head showing that she wore no underclothes… screaming she was afraid of dogs…
The whole centre of the room was a mound of cabinets, the last one having just missed shattering the three storey Window of Justice, cracking the sill instead of the glass. A gang member scrambled up the last cabinet, hit the glass with his arm up and tumbled out the broken window, glass raining down inside and out, people diving for cover from the flying splinters “Stop! Stop! You’r under arrest!—Dogs! Why dogs here?—Hail Spark! Hail Spark!”
Other gang members followed their fellow’s example and two more made it out the window, two Sereniteers holding onto the third’s ankles, hauling him back down, bloody, off the cabinets… “…It took me a year of my life to organize that cabinet…”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, dogmother of the Ten!—dog, you got that right—“ I scrambled to my feet, fleeing the scene. There was enough of my bait still trailing from my wrist that I gathered up a dog or two as I ducked around the paper that would have sent me skating on my rear if it clogged my wheels.
Tom and Def and Ord were still wheeling in circles around a whole row of desks, with people perched on top of them as if to avoid a flood. Sil leapt over a desk, screeched to a stop, tapped both Tom and Def as they went by, pointing to me…
A whore dressed all in see-through lace and enough face paint to plaster a wall leapt up onto a desk. “You there at the window, stop anyone else from getting out… block it with a drawer or stand there yourself! Someone stop that woman screaming the dogs won’t get her…” she started snapping out orders and Sereniteers began responding…
I made it to the main door, turned, and my companions waved me on when Ord caught my eye. I waved my besausaged wrist and they broke off -- to scatter and re-group as we’d planned… I turned and fled, with my prize clenched tight in my unadorned fist.
I ended up back in my rooms in my shoe closet, door closed, catching my breath, listening to the muffled sound of the fountain in the other room. I sat with a rat-catching terrier and a fluffy on my lap, feeding them bits of sausage to keep them quiet, waiting for the others to join me.