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Inside the Akashic Pyramid was as marvelous as the outside. Every wall, every ceiling was enchanted to look like a window, with full views of the gardens and the sky, so every hallway, no matter how deep inside the pyramid, felt like you were only a breath away from outside. An impressive display of magic, but it hadn’t taken Corinne long to realize that it was another way to make outsiders feel off balance and confused. You had to know your way around the school by rote. The halls gave no clue of what they were connected to or where you might be in relation to anything else. It would be easy to wander lost for hours.

Corinne knew her way. As with the rest of the Dragon Fortress, Corinne had been walking these halls since she was a child. Since the day her gifts had first manifested and her father had proudly brought her through the barrier to see the place that was to be her future.

Girard’s office was at the very top of the pyramid. The head of the school was always at the top, where they could look down on everyone else. Dragon akashics weren’t big on subtle metaphors. In the same way, the great library took up the entirety of the first four floors of the school--knowledge being the foundation on which everything else rested. In between, classrooms and workspaces were interspersed with study nooks and private lounges to create what became a second home for both teachers and students. No one actually lived here, but it was a near thing.

Corinne climbed the final set of stairs and knocked at the shimmering door at the top. She always knocked. Even when she was invited, expected, she didn’t dare intruding on her father’s space without announcing herself.

The door opened, and Corinne was surprised to see Ambassador Soon-mi on the other side of it. She greeted Corinne with a smile, then over her shoulder, said, “Thank you for your time, Girard-sensei. I’ll do what I can to make sure your requests become part of the treaty.”

“Always a pleasure, Ambassador.”

She winked at Corinne as she left.

Girard was standing behind his desk. His formal expression dissolved into a warm, welcoming smile at the sight of Corinne. “What a surprise. Come in, come in.”

Corinne did, throwing herself down into a chair that seemed to float in space, surrounded by mountains and sky. Girard sat as well, idly fiddling with the amulet that hung around his neck. A unique, nima-infused pendant that allowed him to come and go through the barriers that protected the academy, even though he had no gifts of his own. It had been an unprecedented gift from the former director of the school, but then, Girard had proven to have a mind like no other and an understanding of the arts that no gifted akashic could match.

A mind sharp enough to pick up on the not-so-subtle clues that Corinne was upset about something. “What’s happened now?”

“I’ve been assigned to Parliament.”

“Well. What an utter waste of your talents.”

“Yes! Thank you.”

He leaned back, continuing to twist his amulet back and forth, and the gold and ruby design flashed and glittered in the bright afternoon sun. It was an oddly fidgety gesture from her usually composed father. “This is…unfortunate. I had hoped, since you wouldn’t be on active duty, that I could make use of you myself. Certain investigations…”

Corinne jumped to a guess. “The attack on the fortress. The demon.”

He nodded. “But…” He turned his hands in a subtle shrug. “Perhaps there’s some use to be had in you sitting in that room. When they talk about—”

“They won’t talk about it. They haven’t and they won’t.” Corinne knew she shouldn’t interrupt, certainly shouldn’t talk over her father. But she was just so frustrated. With everything. “How can they ignore it? How can they just pretend it was no more important than some bandit attack in the provinces?”

“They don’t want to see. They don’t want to believe there can be a threat to their world, and especially that the threat could come from,” his face twisted into a bitter smile, “inferiors.”

“Well then they need to open their eyes. It was our own people involved, too. I saw the arrest reports. People in the fortress—in the Guard—”

Girard waved his hand impatiently. “Yes, they know that as well as you do. They will ignore the implications, if for no other reason than they believe themselves untouchable.”

“If someone has figured out a way to open a rift inside planetary wards and pull a demon through, no one is untouchable.”

He gave an approving nod. “Exactly. I knew you would see it.” The compliment filled Corinne with warmth, but it drained away at his next words. “A pity you won’t be able to help me look into it.”

Corinne sat up sharply. “Why not? I would love to help you.”

“I’m sure you would. But it seems your mother has different ideas.”

Fresh anger swelled. “Can’t you do something? Get me reassigned? Talk to her?”

Girard gave an impatient look at Corinne’s last suggestion. A look Corinne had earned. Sabine wasn’t any more in the habit of listening to him than she was to Corinne.

“If you were part of the academy, that would be a different matter,” he said, regret filling his voice. “As it is, there’s nothing I can do.”

It was an unfair blow, a reminder that Corinne hadn’t exactly followed the life path Girard had wanted for her either. It might be true that he genuinely had no influence to exert to get Corinne out of her new job. Or, he might be twisting the knife her mother had placed because Corinne had taken her talents elsewhere.

Either way, it was clear he was going to be no help.

For now, Corinne was stuck.

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Barbara J Webb

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