Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 5

“Again? Really, Agatha.” Sidheag was unsympathetic.

“To be fair, yesterday it was the lip tint. If you only kept your side of the room cleaner.”

“You can’t blame me for your absentmindedness.”

“Yes, I can.” Agatha only really had any gumption with Sidheag. Which was funny, because Sidheag was so gruff and Agatha so timid. But after months of their living together, Agatha had learned to stick up for herself. Sidheag was a big softy underneath her grumbling. It came, they all suspected, from being raised by werewolves. As Dimity said, “Sidheag surely does grumpy old man very well for a sixteen-year-old girl.”

“Are you four going to sit there gossiping all night?” Preshea was standing above them, looking down her nose. A rare opportunity for the girl, as she was quite short.

The dining room was empty. Somehow, they had missed the mass exodus. The maid mechanicals were beginning to clear the tea tables.

“Oh, I see, you’re waiting to gather up the extra pikelets, so Agatha can have a snack later.” Preshea had a very clipped way of talking, as though each word were murdered just after being spoken.

At the dig over her portly frame, Agatha teared up.

Dimity gasped and put her hand to her lips.

Sophronia was so perturbed by the direct nature of the attack that she lacked a ready rebuttal.

Sidheag, on the other hand, simply threw her mostly uneaten pikelet at Preshea.

“Lady Kingair,” said Preshea, shocked, “this is a new gown!”

“Well, you shouldn’t go around being nasty when the rest of us are armed with nibbly bits, should you?” Sidheag was unperturbed by the smear of jam that now decorated Preshea’s décolletage.

Preshea flounced off, still in possession of verbal superiority. After all, they ought to have responded with wit, not flying pancakes. But Agatha looked cheered by Sidheag’s pikelet defense.

Dimity sniffed. “That girl is like walking, talking indigestion. Sophronia, can’t we do something about her?”

Sophronia frowned. “I don’t know if it’s worth the risk. They’ve been watching me closely since the Westminster Hive incident.”

“Please?” Dimity gave her big hazel-eyed look of appeal.

“I’ll think about it. Now come on; we’re late, and the staircase won’t wait.”

They abandoned the last of the pikelets uneaten and trooped down after the rest of the students toward the midship deck. Before they could catch the other young ladies, however, they were waylaid.

“Lady Kingair, a moment of your time, please?”

Professor Lefoux was the most fearsome teacher at the school. Her subjects included deadly gadgetry, high-impact weaponry, and infiltrating academia. Even Sophronia was equal parts terrified and impressed by her visage, attitude, and abilities. However, she was not the type of teacher to accost one in the hallways, nor intercept a student when she was already late for class.

Sidheag, controlling her surprise, faced the austere lady. They were almost of a height. Professor Lefoux was the only person at the school next to whom Sidheag’s governess-like attire seemed soft and approachable.

The professor, Sophronia always felt, looked as if she had been sticking her head out the side of a very fast carriage. All her hair was pulled back from her unlined face, making her seem stretched.

“Yes, Professor, how may I help you?” Even Sidheag knew when to be polite.

“You have received”—Professor Lefoux paused, distressed, if such a thing were to be thought possible—“a pigeon.”

The girls gasped. Pigeons were for emergency use only.

Sidheag blanched. “Has someone died? Is it Gramps? Has he been challenged?”

Professor Lefoux glanced at the other three girls, who nudged up to their friend sympathetically. “It is a private matter. This way, please. Alone, young lady.” She turned and strode down the hallway, expecting Sidheag to follow.

Dimity gave the taller girl’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “Good luck.”

The three watched until Sidheag was out of sight ’round a bend in the passageway.

“What do you think could possibly require such extreme measures?” wondered Dimity.

Agatha and Sophronia looked at each other.

“Problems with the pack,” said Sophronia, “has to be. Only a crisis in the supernatural community warrants the pigeon.”

Agatha nodded, upset. They all knew how devoted Sidheag was to her pack of werewolf uncles. Plus, crises in the supernatural community rarely stayed localized.

They proceeded to their next lesson minus one companion, and a great deal more somber as a result.

Captain Niall’s classes took place groundside, on the moor proper. Like all werewolves, he was unable to float. His classes also involved all the students at the school together, some thirty-eight or so, fewer than when Sophronia had first arrived. Many of the older girls had gone out into society, and Mademoiselle Geraldine’s hadn’t taken on an equivalent number of debuts.

The school sank as far as it safely could, the propeller whirling to steady the airship against the winds, and the staircase folded down. The deployment crank was manned by a couple of sooties up from engineering. One of them—a tall, good-looking young man with ebony skin and a quick white smile—issued Sophronia a private wink. She should, of course, have been shocked by such forwardness from an underling, but Soap was one of Sophronia’s best friends and favorite people in the world. So she winked back—when she knew none of the teachers were watching, of course.

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