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author: hazard_us ([livejournal.com profile] hazard_us)
email: scorpio_kaur [at] yahoo.com

The teacher's lounge at the Assassin's School for Girls was an oasis of quiet on the morning of the first day.

The teachers, all women of impeccable training and vicious cruelty, drank the last dregs of their tea or coffee. They read the obituary sections of foreign newspapers and books on the histories of tyrants. They knitted chainmail or embroidered poisoned thread into handkerchiefs or simply reflected on their last free minutes until the bells rang and the new year began.

During this interval, absolutely no one died.

A teacher at a similar school would have been surprised, but the Headmistresses here were quite clear on the rules: No killing other teachers for any reason during the school term without their express permission. It played havoc with their scheduling and they hated to fill positions mid-year. One teacher had been killed fifteen years ago when a new hire had decided to interpret the rule as allowing a death before the first bell, but that had been a wrong interpretation, as she'd learned at lunch when she mysteriously died of ten arrows in her back.

The teachers, all called Miss, though many weren't, waited patiently for the heavy wooden door that led to the Headmistresses' shared office to open. When that door swung open and the Headmistresses entered, everyone went to their feet, like soldiers in the presence of generals.

The three women, one old, one older, and one oldest, walked to their seats. One chair was short, stuffed, and wider than normal; it was specially made for Miss Velochek. One was a pale yellow wooden rocking chair that smelled of the same smoke Miss Vickers smelled of. One was high backed with curled claw legs and arms, made of dark polished wood and fit for a queen with especially good posture.

The last chair was the one Miss Valley sat in. She touched the lock of pure white hair that had escaped from its bun and pushed it behind her ear before folding her hands in her lap.

"Do sit down,"said Miss Valley. A visiting fly on the wall wouldn't have understood a word of what she'd said though. A very specially educated fly on the wall might have recognized something of the accent of the secret cult of Vulx, a smattering of dock tongue from Old Bithby, and a few words of High G'yni. It was said that the First Headmistress, hundreds of years ago, had invented the language for ease of communication. She was also said to have stated that it was easier to make everyone learn the assassin's tongue rather than everyone running around like heathen polyglots.

The teachers sat as Miss Valley ordered, after checking their seats for poking pins or other surprises. For all the rules, habits died hard and having a horrible disfiguring disease didn't mean you couldn't still teach. It was always good to be in practice.

Miss Valley's incisors were longer than her other teeth, making her smile look oddly predatory on her grandmotherly face. She not technically a 'Miss' - she was as old as Methusaleh and as hard to kill as... well, there were whispers in the hall that she had drunk out of a poisoned chalice that was supplied to her by the Bishop of Malankara and smiled at him after draining it dry. She'd completed her assignment by astonishing him to death.

"I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays."

They had. Getting away with murder for months at a time was just the thing to invigorate a teacher after the messy business of cleaning up after end of year exams.

"Our business will be short, ladies. Firstly, we have fifteen students beginning their first term."

A few women nodded at Miss Yung, the first year teacher. In this part of the world, most new students assumed Miss Yung painted her eyebrows on because she was a foreigner and that's what foreigners did. In fact, a few mishaps in the chemistry lab had seen to her absent eyebrows. Barring those few accidents, there was no doubt that she was a master of organic poisons and slow defusing explosives. She also had a great hand with young children and never told them not to run with sharp objects: it weeded the clumsier ones out quite quickly.

The second Headmistress, Miss Vickers, spoke next. She always smelled of pipesmoke and had tobacco-yellowed fingers, which matched her sallow yellow skin and her strangely vibrant yellow hair. Her aged courtesan manners and charming accent were deceiving; she had once pierced a fly in the air at their Christmas dinner with her dessert fork.

"Miss Zamora, we would like you to note that Lydia Van de Morken, from the 7th year, will not be returning to school." Miss Vickers slowly poured a measurement of tobacco into her carved ivory pipe; she was the only one who would dare do so in the lounge. "From what we understand, her marks in the garrotte were barely passing, while her summer guest did quite well."

Miss Zamora nodded, her fingers playing with the fringe on her scarf. Her hands were never far from it. The corner of her mouth twitched, as if she were repressing a smile.

None of them were surprised at the announcement. Lydia had been wretched at the garrotte. If she wasn't cutting herself with the wire, she was strangling herself with her own ligature. It had been the only time, Miss Zamora had said loudly and often in the teacher's lounge, that she had felt the urge to kill her own student on principle. A few other teachers wondered at the truth of the matter. Perhaps Miss Zamora had arranged for a classmate to have her principles for her; it was unlikely that anyone but the other student, Miss Zamora and the Headmistresses would know the truth.

Miss Valley spoke again, quickly running through the class schedule and assigned clubs. The teachers took notes when necessary. Finally, Miss Velochek gave a shuddering sigh, her chins wobbling. It was well-known that she ate her weight in creme brulee every day. It was also well-known she was not to be trifled with; the halls were adorned with the records she’d broken in her youth and papered with articles of her completed assignments.

"We have been doing well. We have received only high praise from our clients based on our graduates' work. But we must not remain complacent." Miss Velochek paused, breathing heavily. "Based on projected needs for our graduates in the future, we hope that the upper-level teachers will encourage their students to focus on Western Qellian languages, practical mechanics, and the harp."

Glances were exchanged. The last one was a bit of a surprise. But that was why the school existed - to create surprises and to eliminate them as well.

The three headmistresses sat and drank their tea, coffee, or honeyed milk while the teachers waited patiently.

Miss Valley looked up and smiled when the first bell rang. "That will be all. Please tend to your students and have a wonderful new year."

The teachers echoed the sentiment and left the lounge. All of them were still alive, which was nice. It was hard for the teachers to forget last year’s first day and how distracting it had been when Frau Ramsden, who had had a few unsatisfactory fitness reports the year before, had foamed and flopped in her chair the entire time. While the teachers were not allowed any exercise on the schoolgrounds, the Headmistresses had their own rules and were not above firing someone quite pointedly.

All in all, it was quite an uneventful meeting. The teachers looked forward to the new year.

the end
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