Author's Note: Originally, I'd pretty much finished up the chapter, but accidentally overwrote it with another WIP I had. Needless to say, that was 2500 words gone. The good part about it was that I did know those 2500 words sucked, and was going to edit them anyways.

Or maybe that's just me telling myself "it isn't so bad" when it is.

PS: In love with Vlad Taltos. Is delicious. Since Singapore doesn't have all of the books, I've had to order off Amazon.


Chapter 16

Writhing about in her mind like a snake, Egg's Aspect butted itself against the walls of her consciousness, whimpering and slavering.

That's not quite right. How do they get so many enchantments onto one object without any two of them conflicting with each other and causing all sorts of errors? Even Door doesn't have this many on it. I wonder how much this sort of equipment must cost per unit, and given that there are so many enforcers patrolling the Academy grounds…what's their security budget?

"Youngling? Youngling? Are you coherent?" The enforcer stared at Egg, his eye-shards tinged with a faint yellow.

"It's just part of who she is, sir," Wythak said. "Egg's not being disrespectful or in pain; she simply gets lost in thought every now and then and loses track of what's going on around her."

While Egg's first impulse was to growl at that comment, she caught herself and swallowed it. It's true, isn't it?

"All right." The enforcer stared at his clipboard and scratched his lower jaw with a hand, the gauntlet itself surrounded by a nimbus of swirling colours. "We're investigating into the attack on you last night, Tharenth. I've copies of your record of entry to Academy grounds and the eyewitness' statement regarding the crime in question, but we still need your statement, for obvious reasons."

"Shall I begin, then?"

"Just wait a moment…all right, this is just protocol, but necessary nevertheless, especially since you're just contracted help and not a member of the staff or student body.

"You are to be informed that any misinformation given and proven to have malicious intent, premeditated or not, will carry the penalty which will be equal to that of the which the accused would have been subjected to. The Academy represents truth and fact, and intentional, malicious falsehoods will not go unpunished. Is this clear?"

Egg nodded.

Raising a claw to the clipboard, the enforcer returned the nod. "Good. Begin."

Narrowing her eyes in concentration, Egg recounted the events of last night in as much detail as she felt she was sure of. "--And I came to in the hospital, and thought I was dead and in the morgue because of the medicinal smell and the fact I was lying on metal."

The enforcer shifted on his stool; Egg heard his suit of scale mail clink. "You're absolutely sure of the fact that a Blue attacked you?"

Why is he asking me this? Does he doubt my word? But I've just been telling the truth!

"Yes," Egg said. "While I wasn't too sure about the fishskin-like hide, there was no mistaking the fin on the end of my assailant's tail. She was a Blue, that's for sure. There can't be too many blue-scales on Academy grounds, can there? Wouldn't it be possible for--"

"Members of the Blue Dragonflight make up a small proportion of staff and students, that is true. However, at last count, there were approximately one thousand, seven hundred and twenty-eight Blues on Academy grounds. If you mean to suggest we have a line-up and ask you to identify them individually, that is quite impossible; even if we weren't weighed down with investigating the intrusion into the records system the enforcers don't have the recourses for that kind of thing and we'd be intruding upon their civil liberties."

Egg looked at Wythak, who'd remained silent throughout the whole exchange. He caught her gaze, held it, and shrugged, as if to say he couldn't help.

"Well, then. A few more questions, youngling--you say that your assailant was spying on your employer. Have you any idea what she might have been after?"

This is an official investigation, and I know I should tell the truth, but…Master Sazalth did say not to mention it to anyone, and working on the premise that this was orchestrated all along, whatever I say here might unintentionally end up with whoever's working against Master Sazalth. She looked at the enforcer through the corner of her sight. Everyone knows the enforcers are incorruptible; they've built up that reputation well enough, but--by the Sentinels, I'm becoming as paranoid as Master Sazalth.

Egg pulled her tail across her underbelly. "No."

"Well, that seems to conclude this interview for now. We'll get back to you if we feel the need for further cooperation on your part."

"Sit down," Master Asizar said. "There's quite a bit of theory I'd like to cover tonight. For our purposes, we'll use a coastal river delta scenario I've devised."

Egg didn't have to sit on the special high stool any more; just yesterday she and Master Asizar had hauled it off to the junkyard, and they'd made a small ceremony of burying it in the trash heaps.

The board didn't take too long to set up, especially since Egg was already used to it. Counters were moved into their starting positions, and terrain features were added to the board.

"Now look here, Egg. I'd like to reiterate the basic fact that while in general, Brown pieces lack defensive capabilities and speed, their area-of-effect capabilities are potentially devastating. Take for example the illusionist here--" he picked up a counter between two claws-- "which is crippled in terms of defences, and at best moves two points along the grid at a time. In order to be used without risking it, it has to be backed up by other pieces--I'd personally suggest two enforcers--which may very well lead to a lack of support elsewhere.

"However, when properly positioned, the illusionist has the capability of causing damage to enemies in an area approximately half the size of the board." Master Asizar grinned at Egg's questioning expression. "Of course, the damage per piece is quite low, so as the game wears on the piece's usefulness is gradually reduced to annoying and wearing down enemies in hiding--if it manages to survive that long."

Egg said nothing, but grabbed a kettle from the sideboard and poured troughs of water--first for Master Asizar, then for herself. Only when Master Asizar paused to drink did she stick her snout into her own trough and take a long, deep pull.

Reaching out with a claw, Master Asizar tapped the board. "Here at the river's mouth we can see a typical Blue six-unit formation--not requiring that many individual pieces and yet perfect for entrenchment and area denial. A direct assault will most likely prove costly, so what you do is to convince your opponent that breaking ranks is worth it."

As Egg watched, a mechanic made its way towards a small hill on the other side of the river, a reasonable place for a fortification. When it passed within range of the Blues' formation, two of them left to intercept the mechanic on its path and with a small struggle, the brown counter was removed from the board.

"Now that the ranks have been broken, spring a surprise attack on the lines of this--" a battle-mage hastened another one, allowing the latter to move two additional nodes down the grid and within range of the remaining four pieces. The Blue pieces had no choice but to retreat, and their two fellows were picked off the board. "--and there we have it. Either reinforcements are brought in, stretching the forces elsewhere, or the position is given up. A very pleasing arrangement.

"Essentially, the idea to employ the same tactics which Blue uses to break their advantages--setup, deception, baiting and premeditated moves. Red can do this as well and just might be able to smash through Blue formations with sheer force, but I'd prefer Brown myself."

Getting no reply, Master Asizar reached out and smacked Egg on the head. She blinked. "Are you listening, Egg, or is it going to be like that time I was lecturing you on the relationship between strong concentrations of magic and conventional thermodynamics?"

"I…I was just thinking, Master," Egg whimpered. "While it might be a bit riskier, there might not have been a need to sacrifice that mechanic."

"Sometimes, I can't tell whether you're thinking or simply shutting the world around you out," Master Asizar said with a sigh. "But very well. Let's hear what your idea was."

Resetting the pieces into their original positions, Egg explained. Master Asizar had to admit that perhaps a mixing of playstyle was in order.

Egg stifled a hiss. While the metal threads of the sling were fine, silky and yet strong, the hide and scale of her left arm and shoulder still itched terribly, especially around the scabs and stitches. Even worse, it was just ordinary metal--not a single enchantment on it.

"Try not to use the affected area too much or subject it to shocks," the doctor said as he tied the final support in place. "At best, you'll be in a bit of pain; at worst, you'll undo all our careful reconstruction surgery and probably die from internal bleeding. Wouldn't that be a shame."

Her eyes trained on the monochromatic walls and ceiling, Egg turned a snarl into a clenching of her jaws. "About how long will I have to keep this implement on me?"

"About a twelfth-season or two. While you're not a Green, Tharenth, you appear to be patching up nicely, and the bite didn't shatter the bone. All this, of course, is provided you don't exert yourself and tear the wound apart again or something on those lines. Otherwise, come back after a twelfth-season, and I'll determine if the sling can be removed."

"My thanks. About the bill…"

The painted runes on the doctor's arms denoting his profession seemed to glow slightly. "Yes. About that. Security on Academy grounds is a priority, and we haven't had someone assaulted for a while, especially hired help from outside…in any case, the Academy itself is footing the bill for your treatment as a token of apology for this unfortunate incident."

"There's got to be a catch," Egg growled. She sniffed again at the bandages which were wound tightly around her midsection and kept the whole of her left arm immobile and gripping her right collarbone.

Egg flexed her left wing, and twinges ran into her shoulder and up her arm. The sooner I can be rid of this, the better.

"There is a condition to the Academy paying for your treatment: you mustn't go around spreading the fact that this unfortunate incident happened. We do have a reputation to maintain. The enforcer who brought me the message said there hasn't been a serious violent crime on Academy grounds for at least six hundred Rounds."

But of course. There'd be a big fuss amongst the other Flights if it got out to them their whelps could be assaulted here. Then what would the Blues think, if it got out it was one of their kind which perpetrated it? It's not as if they've the best of reputations, in any case…

"I don't see why not," Egg replied. "I'll keep quiet about the incident in general."

The doctor nodded. "All right, a few rules here, since you're not a Green. No attempts to fly, use your arm or any activity which involves your left shoulder or arm, if you want the best chance of recovery. No picking at, loosening, or attempting to change the bandages and dressings yourself, even if they itch, hurt or are obviously stained; go to the faculty of medicine's infirmary--in other words, here--and state your business; they'll help you. Whatever nasty events you've gotten yourself into, the enforcers will handle it from here, even if they're a bit stretched at the moment; in other words, keep out of trouble. Is that clear?"

"Absolutely," said Egg.

"Good. You're discharged, if you feel all right. Recovered enough to get around?"

Lifting her weight off the bed's cool metal, Egg walked a few small circles around the room. While it did feel odd having her left arm crossed like that, Egg managed to keep her balance, although she'd to shift her tail to compensate.

This is stupid. I'm not even sure why these bandages have to be so horribly tight. Isn't there some other way of ensuring an injured arm doesn't move without interfering with someone's breathing? That'd be another thought…

Egg let out a sigh and she let her wings sag. "I suppose I feel fine."

"Good. I'll see you a twelfth-season from now for your follow-up session; we'll probably remove the stitches then." The doctor gave her an encouraging nod, and grinned. "Go on. The faster you leave, the faster we can start preparing this room for the next patient."

A growl rose into Egg's throat, but she forced it down and made her way towards the door and pushed it open. It felt much heavier that it looked; she'd to lean her weight against the part where it met the frame for it to open.

"You know, you really have to stop monopolizing my time," Wythak said, reaching out to support Egg with his free hand. "The society's been complaining that I haven't shown my hide for the last two gatherings."

They walked down the corridors and out of the Academy's hospital. With this few people around, it's got to be night-time, maybe around tenth watch, or maybe eleventh…just how long did I spend in that ward?

"My apologies, then," Egg said through gritted teeth. "Did I keep you waiting long?"

Wythak held up the thick book he'd been holding. "I used the time well. Common test next twelfth-season. Did the doctor say anything?"

"Just that whatever I'd been getting myself into, I should stay out of it," Egg growled. "I…I'm not sure what I should do. The air's becoming too thin for the likes of me to keep on flying."