Mrs. Dowsley put down her coffee cup with a sign. She was not a fan of being awoken in the middle of the night except in uttermost emergencies, and she did not agree that this instance had been a legitimate crisis. At least they had the sense not to alert His Lordship. He did not need to be bothered with trivial cases such as this.
Of course, she was not the type of person to stay silent and endure the plebeians’ mistakes. She had thoroughly admonished Mr. Auburn and Mr. Pugh for their unnecessary overreaction. Even if the girl they found turned out to be a spy, it would have made no difference if they had waited until the morning. If she was capable of escaping the security room, they had no way to contain her, anyway.
Mr. Auburn and Mr. Pugh made for excellent muscle, but that was also the full extent of their abilities. But His Lordship valued loyal subjects, and despite their incompetence in certain aspects, Mrs. Dowsley had no reason to question their loyalty.
She took another look through the very short dossier they had on their guest. Considering it was just a few hours old, it was to be expected. According to the subject, her name was Tina, but it wouldn’t surprise Mrs. Dowsley if that was a fake name. No more names, nor anything else they could use to tie her to any background. Her mixed heritage gave no notable clues. The closest thing to a clue was her speech; her dialect -- or lack thereof -- hinted that she was raised somewhere close to the capital. Certainly no first-generation immigrant, at least.
While His Lordship preferred his subjects to be of North European or North American descent, he tolerated people from other regions as well. As long as the Council’s decision to limit the number of apprentices, they had struggled with human resources. They had to make do with what they could. Some may be misled to believe His Lordship had racistic tendencies, but they would be wrong. He simply had his preferences, like everyone else. Nothing wrong with that.
Apart from her first name and a picture, Ms. Tina’s file also contained Mr. Auburn’s statement as well as well as some surveillance material and the measurement of her dampening field. Even with the best of training, she would probably never rise above level three aptitude. But Mrs. Dowsley wasn’t concerned with that; magical potential wasn’t the only type of human resources they were lacking. With proper guidance, she could certainly be of use.
That is if she wasn’t a spy. Mrs. Dowsley had already discussed the subject with Mrs. Erworth and Mr. Lagren. They had agreed that, while not improbable, it was unlikely that Ms. Tina was a spy. If she was, she most likely wasn’t sent by the Divine Hand, the Sacrilege or Dawnstar inc. Obviously, naming sense was not a requirement for founding a group. The first two had never displayed any tendencies towards using non-mages for anything. The last group only used professional adults. There was always a possibility that one of them had changed policies, but considering how long they had stuck to their guns, Mrs. Dowsley was more eager to explore other possibilities first.
She quickly crossed out the Council as a possible source for spies. They were the type to wade in and use their mind mages to extract all the information they required. And unless there were suspicions about a breach of the Veil or a rift opening nearby, they preferred to leave His Lordship alone.
What was the likelihood that another group attempted to spy on them? Who would have the motivation do so? Someone with an unfavorable impression of His Lordship, maybe? There were many who had yet to understand that he was the solution to all their problems. Given time, they would learn. Or perish.
As for Ms. Tina, though they had judged her unlikely to be a spy, they still wanted to keep an eye on her. If she had escaped once from her caretakers, it was likely she’d try again. Perhaps she was uncomfortable with authority figures? That could be fixed.
Mrs. Dowsley closed her Mac as Ms. Tina entered her office. Having seen her on the surveillance cameras, the girl looked exactly as she expected. Slightly plump and clad like a tomboy. Mrs. Dowsley preferred that girls stick to the traditional clothing, which meant skirts for school. At least she wasn’t using makeup. At her age, she was too young for that, in Mrs. Dowsley’s opinion.
Ms. Tina looked nervously around the room, or perhaps she was timid. Not what she had expected maybe? Mrs. Dowsley saw no need to decorate her room with items that served no practical purpose, except for a picture of His Lordship above her desk.
“Please take a seat, Ms. Tina,” Mrs. Dowsley ordered more than asked. “You may refer to me as Principal or Mrs. Dowsley. As for you, perhaps you could share your own surname?”
Ms. Tina bit her lip.
“I'm afraid I'm unwilling to share it at this time, Mrs. Dowsley,” she said in a slightly unsure tone. At least she knew her etiquette, Mrs. Dowsley noted with some satisfaction.
“You do realize that without your full name, we are unable to do a proper background check on you?” Mrs. Dowsley stated rhetorically.
“That's the idea, yes,” the girl admitted.
“I assume you have your reasons why you think withholding information is the smarter move,” the principal continued her rhetoric. “The logical course of action when a runaway child shows up is to notify the police,” she pointed out.
“Please don't!” Ms. Tina pleaded with her, “My fa…“ She stopped herself and turned her head shyly away. “Please don't, Mrs. Dowsley,” she repeated in a much softer voice.
Her father? There were plenty of potential problems that could arise between a father and a daughter. Some of them natural, others not so much. Ms. Tina appeared to fear her father finding her, which probably meant that their relationship was rather problematic. Was he hitting her? They’d have to examine her for fresh bruises to find out. There were also bruises that were invisible, such as those resulting from sexual abuse, or just plain mental abuse. No one enjoyed being verbally hammered every day.
Mrs. Dowsley stared at her long and hard, obviously making Ms. Tina uncomfortable. That was also her intention. Maybe she would bend under pressure? Mrs. Dowsley doubted it, though, and finally released her gaze.
“At least you have some manners,’ she commented. It was always possible to teach someone manners, but it was so much easier to teach someone who knew their manners in the first place.
“Despite your lack of talent, you may still learn to serve His Lordship,” she said.
Ms. Tina kept up the timid look without answering. Fair enough, she supposed. Either she was an excellent spy, or her story checked out.
“Will you allow me to stay, then?” the girl asked with unconcealed nervousness.
Mrs. Dowsley gave her another stare, this time accompanied by a slight smile. “If you're performing your best, and follow all the rules, then yes.” That also allows us to keep an eye on you, she mentally added.
“If you break the rules, you will be subjected to disciplinary action,” the principal continued. “As will be demonstrated now.”
She opened her Mac again and wrote a quick message to the secretary. “Please move your chair a bit too the side," she instructed Ms. Tina, "I expect you to pay attention and not utter a word until I address you.”
Ms. Tina appeared alarmed, but she followed orders without asking any questions. A moment later, the door opened and Ms. Acorn entered reluctantly. “You asked to see me, principal?” she spoke with undisguised nervousness.
“There's no use pretending, Ms. Acorn,” Mrs. Dowsley said with a stern face. “You know perfectly well why you are here and what happens next. Don't make me add to your punishment.”
The girl visibly swallowed her saliva as she stood in front of the desk. She looked towards Ms. Tina, uncomfortableness written on her face. “What about her?” she asked, referring to Ms. Tina’s presence.
“Your punishment will serve as a deterrent to our newest student,” Mrs. Dowsley explained. “You will simply ignore her.”
Ms. Acorn sent a glance towards Ms. Tina, as if sending a signal for help. Mrs. Dowsley silently sighed. Ms. Acorn was a pretty good actor, but now she was overselling it. Hopefully, Ms. Tina would not catch the clue.
She opened her Mac and clicked on Ms. Acorn’s profile. The third tab listed all instances of insubordination and otherwise irregular behavior. Ms. Acorn’s list was several pages long. It was like she was always trying to push the boundaries of what she could get away with without being expelled. What if she was? How else could a girl so obviously smart and calculating amass such a number of marks?
Mrs. Dowsley’s problem was that while she’d love to finally put the foot down on this behavior, Ms. Acorn was far too dangerous to handle recklessly. Useful, too, but dangerous. Like a fire: useful when you wanted to heat something, volatile if not monitored carefully. Given the choice, Mrs. Dowsley preferred keeping the girl close enough to watch her rather than push her away and let her play her little games. She feared the day she would get caught in Ms. Acorn’s web of intrigues herself.
“Several members of my staff had reported irregular behavior on your part,” she explained mostly for Ms. Tina’s benefit. “Count up the punishment as I read the list.“
Ms. Acorn nodded silently. Was there a hint of glee in her eyes? That darned masochist.
“Late for Mr. Owlet’s lesson, two marks. Forgot your homework, three marks. Made a fake excuse, five marks.”
Mrs. Dowsley kept reading the list of sins, and the girl winced a bit each time. She really wanted to scream to Ms. Acorn that she ought to be more subtle. Her demeanor would fit a first-time offender, which Ms. Acorn hadn’t been since her first week at the school.
“... and finally, you broke curfew, three marks,” Mrs. Dowsley finished reading.
“That's not fair!” Ms. Acorn cried out, “I was only two minutes late!”
Mrs. Dowsley gave her best threatening stare. The girl shrank back. “I'll add ‘spoke up against the principal’ for another two marks. What is the grand total?”
The girl tried to look frustrated. Mrs. Dowsley knew that she had been keeping perfect count. This was also part of her little game of earning extra punishment.
“34?” She ventured, “35?”
Mrs. Dowsley scowled: the girl purposefully claimed a higher number of offenses. “It was only 31, but since you failed that as well, I'll make it 35.” She needed to maintain the illusion of punishment as a consequence of failing, and not start arguing with the offender.
Ms. Acorn tried to look terrified, but her expression was tempered with a hint of excitement.
“Unless you want to add more marks to your punishment, I want you to ready yourself,” Mrs. Dowsley stated with a cold voice. Hopefully, Ms. Acorn would take the hint and not mess up the script any further.
Ms. Acorn sent a somewhat embarrassed glance towards Ms. Tina. She lowered her head and leaned forward, placing her elbows on the desk, so her butt was the highest point on her body. Mrs. Dowsley produced a ruler from one of the drawers. She walked behind Ms. Acorn while holding the ruler in one hand, and drew the girl’s skirt away so it no longer covered her behind. Only a thin string of material was everything that separated her anus from open air.
Mrs. Dowsley gritted her teeth: the girl didn’t even have an ounce of shame! She should add another ten strokes of the cane just for that, except she knew this brat would only revel in it more.
“Count the marks,” she told Ms. Acorn sternly.
She stole a glance at Ms. Tina, who looked slightly horrified. Mrs. Dowsley didn't know whether she should attribute this look of horror to the corporal punishment being performed or to how blatantly sexual it may seem thanks to Ms. Acorn's actions. She hoped it was the former. She struck Ms. Acorn with the ruler, hitting a bit harder than strictly necessary. The sharp slapping sound was immediately accompanied by a cry of pain.
“O-one,” Mrs. Acorn obediently counted. *Slap* “Nngh. Two.” *Slap* “Th-th-three.”
The slapping continued, relentlessly. Each strike producing a red mark, and soon Ms. Acorn behind was glowing. Unfortunately, as Mrs. Dowsley had feared, the cries of pain were soon accompanied by sounds which could only be described as moans: the girl was actually getting turned on by this. How infuriating! Her attempt to punish Ms. Acorn was rewarded with the complete opposite reaction. She put even more effort into the next strike, only earning more moaning.
She stole a glance at Ms. Tina. At least the girl was obedient enough to sit entirely still and not look away. However, her expression was a mix of horror and bewilderment: she had obviously understood what was happening to Ms. Acorn.
Despite everything, Mrs. Dowsley had to continue the punishment. Even if Ms. Acorn belonged to a very weird category of people that actually found this stimulating, it would not do good to show their newest student that she was not a woman of her word.
To make matter worse, Ms. Acorn lost count twice, which forced Mrs. Dowsley to hand out additional amount of punishment or stimuli, depending on your point of view. She was almost sure Ms. Acorn was faking it, at least if her sounds were anything to judge by.
By the time they were finally done, the girl’s bum was red as a tomato, and Mrs. Dowsley was practically dripping with sweat from the hard work. The muscles in her arm complained: She realized she risked pulling a muscle doing this without warming up first. All in all, this could hardly have gone any worse. Ms. Acorn’s acting skills were practically inverse of her lust, and now she was panting and her face looked almost as red as her bum.
“You may go,” Mrs. Dowsley told the horny girl with barely concealed disgust. If she didn’t dismiss her soon enough, she feared the girl would masturbate right in front of them: she had been caught attempting to satisfy her exhibitionistic urges before. Ms. Acorn belonged to a very short list of students who had actually managed to get the school amended for her sake only.
Both Mrs. Dowsley and Ms. Tina kept their silence until Ms. Acorn was out of the room. The older woman sighed and tried to clear the frown on her face. No reason to let Ms. Tina suffer for Ms. Acorn’s bad behavior.
“Don't worry, as long as you behave, you will not be punished,” Mrs. Dowsley told Ms. Tina. She was reasonably sure the girl was not shocked by the punishment as much as from the recipient’s reaction. Ms. Tina simply nodded obediently.
“What happens next, is that you will take a series of tests so we can gauge your current skills,” Mrs. Dowsley explained. “Each student is taught according to their specific level, rather than a system based on age. This included both academic skills as well as magical ones.”
She could already tell that Ms. Tina would have to start at the very beginning when it came to mana control, but decided not to tell her that. No need to dash her hopes just yet.
Ms. Tina nodded again. “I will do my very best, Mrs. Dowsley,” she bowed.
Mrs. Dowsley found herself smiling. Considering the girl had run away from home, Mrs. Dowsley had expected much more defiant behavior, but Ms. Tina seemed to know her etiquette. All the more reason to believe she had very legitimate reasons for running away. There was still the possibility that she was a planted spy, of course, but Mrs. Dowsley highly doubted it. If her feelings were correct, Ms. Tina would make an excellent servant for His Lordship.
“A guard will escort you to the testing room,’ Mrs. Dowsley said as she motioned for the girl to return to the waiting room.