Henri was in class, sitting at her desk. Today was a testing day, which meant that most of the thirty or so young faces in her class, were tilted forwards, focused on what was on their desk.
The class portion of things would be easy, but the following days would almost surely be a slog of corrections and grading.
As the proctor Henri was supposed to be walking around and making sure no one was cheating.
To be fair, she was in fact doing just doing that, but there were only so many times that one could be expected to make a circuit around a classroom.
The cheaters were fairly obvious, either staring openly with their eyes roving, or conspicuously “praying” their heads focused on something that lay either on their desks or on their laps.
There were a few magical tools and charms that could help someone cheat, but a week before the testing period started, the school had given her a sensor that picked up on the usage of the more common ones.
The more uncommon cheating tools, were rare enough and expensive enough that the school didn’t worry too much about them.
If a student could pay for one of “those” then they or rather their parents, could likely pay for a better school. Or at least afford a tutor for whatever subject the child was cheating for.
Finding herself with time to spare and nothing but the sound of number two pencils scrabbling across answer sheets, Henri discreetly brought out her phone.
She looked down, pretending not to be the slightest bit bothered by the lack of any calls, emails, or messages from the family and friends she’d left in Cyrillus.
The sting of it, having been much removed after nearly four months time in Ashok.
She thumbed the icon for the phone’s web browser and was immediately greeted by the a series of stacked images. The top and biggest being one involving a toppled building and a small cadre of police and firemen, working to clean and cordon off a part a nearby city that had been attacked by fiends.
The smallest and oldest image was a picture of a ground breaking ceremony for a new school that was being built. A confirmation that yes, the Moonfire would be closing down a few of its old schools, but in return they’d be opening a bunch of new better ones.
News that had more than a few of the staff here in Aybek Prep feeling a little worried.
Somewhere in the middle was a picture containing a cordoned off crime scene with Pixelated smear in the background. A picture taken from a story that was still running after a full two weeks had already passed.
A story concerning the mysterious and ghastly demise of the head of certain small sect. The man was found half submerged into the side of one of Ashok better-known financial institutions.
His arms and legs were broken, and the word “fool” was scrawled across his forehead.
The Police still had no idea of how it had happened, but to be fair, since this was clearly the result of a factional conflict, it wasn’t like they were trying very hard to find out.
Henri looked at the time and glanced at the class, making sure that most were paying attention to their work. One boy was raising his hand, so she got up to see what he wanted.
“I’m done, Miss.” said the boy.
She took his test with her when she returned to her desk. He asked if he could go to bathroom, and she said he could.
Back at her desk, she returned to her phone, she used search browser to type in her own name and while she was somewhat depressed to find that there were still plenty of articles concerning the scandal, she was pleased to see that none of them were new. With the most recent dating back from three months before her wedding.
Then she typed in the word “October”.
She got a bunch of pumpkin recipes, some articles about fall fashion, and some ads for old horror movies. As well as an offer for spooky, romantic hayrides, in the more rural parts of Cadeyrn.
She went through a few pages of search results finding nothing, before deciding to try her search a second time, using the words, “October Last Name”. That had very few relevant results as well. But she did find a Clyde October, who lived in Zurich, a Roger October who lived in Bolton a few towns south of Cadeyrn and a Samuel October who apparently owned a few businesses in Cadeyrn.
She tried to search for a “Desmond October” and got no results.
There was nothing to explain why Desmond wanted to change their name, nor anything to make her particularly suspicious.
She frowned at the screen, because the lack of information, meant that the only context she had to use for making the decision was her own feelings, goals and intentions.
A problematic thing, since he barely knew the man enough to have any feelings whatsoever, not mention “strong” feelings, and her goals and intentions, had consistently remained murky since the move to Ashok.
Unsure of what to make of it, or what do, she spent the next five minutes distracting herself with a cellphone game. A well textured, tower-defense clone chock full of micro-transactions and enough reminders to buy those little power-ups to turn her off of the game, by the time the five minutes was over.
The day ended with her back in the homeroom with one of the school Admins going over some things on the school P.A. system. Henri went over some things in the class. More or less just reiterating what had been said on the P.A. system.
She passed out some paperwork for the kids to take home and have signed. The Paper work ranging from the usual forms to confirm lunch status, school status, living status and health, to the specialized forms for those who were trying to get into the sect-admittance track by the beginning of their fourth year in the school.
Then it was class dismissed, with a few of the kids actually taking the time to say “goodbye” to her.
From there, though the students were done for the day, her job still went on. She left the homeroom and headed to the shared office where the teachers of her year all did their paperwork. She spent fifteen minutes making sure her attendance logs were in order and copying the records she’d taken during all the gym classes she’d taught that day into Mr.Sato’s record book.
When that was done, there was a small staff meeting in one of the lecture rooms on the third floor, which was followed by more workshopping because apparently the orientation hadn’t cut it.
Since networking was always important no matter where one was, Henri made a friend, a work-friend. A bunny-eared woman named Marie who taught mathematics to a quarter of the first and second year classes.
They’d met before during the pre-term orientation and gotten along well enough that Henri felt it’d probably be safe to go the extra step and try and get on friendly terms with her. Exchanging phone numbers and emails.
It was around six by the time she was able to get out and leave the Prep School in her rearview window.
Fortunately traffic was light that day.
She arrived at her home and the first thing she saw was a dark haired woman stepping out from the front door of her house. Whether it was her personal experience or her simple instincts as a leveller she couldn’t “not” ask who that other person was. Having strangers in her space was the kind of thing that made Henri twitchy.
“Good evening, Mistress.” said the dark haired woman.
Hearing the other woman speak as if they were familiar with one another Henrietta immediately tried to place her. Trying to see where the other woman might sight in her memory.
The dark haired woman was tall and dressed in simple blue-black gown and white apron. A satchel hung, slung across her shoulders. Her build was athletic and well formed, perfectly settled within that holy middle-ground that lay between the lean and the curvaceous.
All together that amounted to grand total of nothing in Henri’s memory as aside from the gown and satchel. Though her form was moderately more high caliber than the norm, there were still a great many people that walked and drove by on the streets that could be said to share the girl’s features.
“I’m sorry if we’ve met already, I don’t suppose you could…”
The other woman blinked looked down at herself and then nodded as if understanding something.
“This one is Jacqueline, Mistress.”
Now it was Henri’s turn to blink taken aback. It wasn’t all that big a surprise, bloodlines that came with some form of minor or major shapeshifting included weren’t all that rare. Especially with the fae, spirit and machine races.
As a Gloom Wraith, even Henri herself could do it a little, altering her height, between its normal five foot nothing, to something just a bit taller as she so choose.
“Yes, Miss.” said the maid.
Henri chewed the tip of her tongue, it was a very touch and go thing to ask about a person’s true nature. Depending on how one asked and what one asked it could be fine, otherwise it could offensive and Henri was the kind of person who usually would bend over backwards to try not to offend, if she could stop herself from putting her foot in her mouth, that is.
“I…uh…okay.” said Henri.
Jack gave her a kind, soft smile. Seeming to understand the other woman’s difficulty with words.
“This one, is a machine, miss. In my case I can operate as many bodies as I have cores.”
“Oh, that’s interesting…” said Henri meaning it. She’d met many machines in her time, and as far as the online world went, she could have been said to have quite a few machine friends. She never heard of any bloodlines with an ability quite that remarkable.
Fascinated she shifted from one foot to the other deciding to ask a follow up question.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking but…Just how old are you exactly Jacqueline?”
The maid replied, with an offhand,
“This one will be turning twenty-seven this year.”
That particularly revelation took Henri aback, she hadn’t expected the other woman to be older than her.
“Oh, that’s,…wait, then why are you usually a little girl?”
The maid shrugged. Her gaze shifting to the side slightly.
“My forms vary depending on purpose and primary task. This form is because I have to go on errand that would be inconvenient to attempt while looking like a child. My general-use units are based on a smaller model that I grew accustomed to using during my time working at the Caldwell…”
“…Mind explaining that, please? I’m not sure I follow.”
“For some reason, operating as an adult led to incidences in which various hindrances would get in the way of my work. Operating as a child has generally proven to be both more energy efficient and has also served to make me a smaller target. Which has also proven handy for stealth orientated tasks.”
“Ah, alright…er…thanks…Sorry for the hold up…It just er nevermind… Let me get out of your way.” said Henri. Realizing that she’d spent the last five minutes grilling the other woman. She stepped off the path to Jacqueline pass.
The maid just shook her head, bowing at the waist.
“Not a problem ma’am. This one quite literally lives to serve.”
Henri watched the other woman walk off, watching the almost hypnotic sway of the maid graceful, yet efficient stride. Watching till the girl had disappeared from view. Watching just a little longer till she found herself blushing, realizing that she’d been staring at the woman, almost hungrily.
Henri shook her head. Having heard the maids words and seen her in action, Henri more than understood what Jack was talking about. If those at the Caldwell house, were like those at the Andras house and at the houses of her former friends amongst the elite circle and the sect, then there was no doubt that more than a few “hindrances” would pop out.
Loutish men and the more aggressive amongst those women who preferred their company female. The girl looked average at first glance, with the impersonal iron fortress that was her expression and bearing, but given enough time even an idiot would realize that the girl was actually quite attractive.
The kind of attractive that usually got a maid turned into a bed warmer, or a mistress, or got a maid kicked out of a job, if the wife or husband happened to be the jealous sort.
It occurred to Henri that she probably should have reassured the young woman that she wouldn’t be having that kind of trouble within their home.
Which led to Henri worrying that this might not necessarily be true, for various reasons. She didn’t know what the situation between the maid and her young master was like,
Honestly the way “she” herself had been standing there. Staring. Her mouth open wide enough to let the flies come in, Henri couldn’t be certain that she wouldn’t end up doing or saying something stupid in the near future.
This line of thought led into, and was diverted by, a sense of relief. For while she hadn’t been entirely clear what the situation between her enigmatic husband and his maid was, she’d been sure “something” was going on there. While she’d yet to say anything about it, she’d been harboring worries and suspicions that the man was one of those with more “unpleasant” tastes.
While such things weren’t necessarily illegal per se, in the same sense that there wasn’t much that was perfectly legal or illegal in the land of Agartha, they weren’t something many, including Henri herself, approved of, or abided by, so it’d had been becoming something of a worry for her. Watching the little maid go in out of the man’s room at all hours of the night.
Seeing the woman’s true form, alleviated those worries. Though it did beg the question of whether Henri was going to be the kind of wife who let her husband have partners and mistresses.
Before she might have said no, but here she was, trapped in a sham marriage, with a person who was more or less a stranger, so she didn’t know. By her way of seeing it, despite the rings on their fingers, their relationship was so vague and nebulous it seemed a bit unwise to try and put rules on it.
In the same way that the man had little to no real claim on her and her activities, she had no real claim on him. Which she supposed she was fine with, for all that she hadn’t expected such state of affairs for her life.
Henri stood there at her front door for a few moments more, then it began to rain and the water droplets splashing down on her and through her, falling through her ghostly form, shocked her out of it.
It wouldn’t be till much later in the night that she’d think to wonder what the maid had been talking about when she’d mentioned “stealth oriented tasks”.