WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
Kebrin normally lost track of the world around him while taking exams, but something broke his concentration this time. He looked up and around, a little confused, and his eyes were naturally drawn to the odd motion of Kailas’ hands on his desk. He watched for several moments, mind awhirl with possibilities, and then steeled his will and forced himself to finish his own exam. He told himself that what he had seen was probably nothing, probably just sweet nothings or words of encouragement passed from one lover to another. But he didn’t really believe it.
The exam had been early in the morning, and Kebrin worried and worried about what he should do – or if he should do anything at all – until lunch time. By then, he had decided that if there was a good, simple solution he would have already come to it. He sought out Tumar – who Kebrin had come to view as a reliable source of approachable grown up wisdom – between classes, and asked if he could make time to talk about something important.
Tumar had tanned deeply during the summer and his physique had filled out from frequent swimming. He had become the target of some resentment, openly attracting the attention of girls while simultaneously showing no interest in them. His social circle had narrowed as a result and he had plenty of free time for Kebrin. “You look serious,” Tumar began, “Need to talk somewhere private?”
Kebrin nodded, perhaps a little too quickly. Kebrin normally smiled easily and often, but not today. Today his lips were compressed into a stern flat line. “Yes. Please.” He gladly followed his friend to an inconveniently-located student lounge and study area that was seldom ever used during the day. Kebrin picked seats with a good view of the door, just to make certain no one overheard. As soon as they were seated, he began awkwardly, “I… think I might have seen something in class today. I keep telling myself that it was probably nothing, but… I don’t really believe that.”
Tumar folded his arms on the table and leaned forward. His eyebrows raised as he regarded Kebrin, waiting for the meat of the conversation.
Kebrin had leaned forward as well, almost conspiratorially, without realizing it. “I’ve seen a dorm mate slipping little notes into his girlfriends’ sleeves for a while now, but not thought much of it. I assumed they were just love notes. But today, I also saw him intentionally placing his hands on his desk in weird patterns. I looked over, and she was watching. I… I think he was signalling her.” He quickly ticked off on his fingers, having obviously put some thought into this, “Between the ‘love notes’ he put in her sleeves, the hand gestures today, the fact that they always sit close to one another, and their exam grades are always pretty close together…” He sighed heavily, unhappily, and fixed his older friend with a pleading stare, “I just can’t shake the feeling that they’re cheating. I need you to tell me if I’m crazy and need to let this go, or if I might be onto something.”
Tumar ruffled his own hair in thought. “I don’t think you can know for sure, but the Masters could keep their eyes open for it. I’ll bet they can tell if it’s cheating,” he offered. “They’ve probably seen it all.”
He stared off into space, pondering for a moment, “We could tell Administrator Leeland. If he thinks it’s nothing, then you never told a Master. What do you think?”
Kebrin’s body language grew a little more tense as he listened to Tumar’s advice, and he glanced nervously toward the door purely out of instinct. He was quiet for a few moments as he pondered Tumar’s advice and then nodded slowly, haltingly, “Yeah… I guess so.”
It was obvious from the tone in his voice that he had reservations. “I’m probably wrong, and I don’t want to get a dorm mate into trouble… but what if they really are cheating? Can you imagine if she took a posting and didn’t really know what she was doing? If she got the Teaching Songs wrong, or made stuff up to fill in the gaps? Or if they weren’t scrupulously honest in their dealings with Hold and Hall?”
You can take the Weyr brat out of the Weyr, but Harper Hall had obviously not been wholly successful at taking the Weyr out of Kebrin. This was a deeply troubling matter of Hall honor for him, and made worse by split loyalties between a dorm mate and his Hall.
Tumar looked slightly surprised, “A dorm mate?” His expression changed to one of anger and understanding. “It’s settled then, let’s find the Administrator right now. You can’t let a cheater cast doubt on Taskin, your other mates wouldn’t stand for it.” He stood up and marched toward the doorway with a determined stride. “I know I wouldn’t!”
More out of reflex than anything else, Kebrin stood and followed after his friend. He was a little baffled by Tumar’s mention of what sounded conspicuously like Taskin Dorm’s honor, but thought that maybe it was a Journeyman tradition – something he hadn’t encountered before. Regardless, he had come to trust Tumar’s judgement, and so followed him willingly – if still more than a bit nervously – through the halls.
Tumar bounded down the stairs into the main hall and turned toward the Academic Affairs wing. Despite the solemn demeanor and hurried gate, the pair were not conspicuous. Harper Hall students were often seen rushing about, or conversely, wandering while lost in thought.
Administrator Leeland was in his office. The middle-aged man had seemed pleasant enough when Kebrin dealt with him briefly, receiving dormitory assignments. By the look of his desk, he was a very organized man, an essential trait for the person in charge of student life. Despite spending most of his time on paperwork or in meetings, he had a healthy physique.
Tumar walked into the room first and greeted the Administrator with the proper respect. He introduced them both, then threw his friend to the wherries. “Kebrin has something important to tell you,” he said, stepping back to make Kebrin the center of attention.
[Attribute check: Will 11, rolled 6.]
Startled, Kebrin paused for only a brief moment, marshaling his suddenly flighty thoughts and forcing them back into order. With surprising aplomb for a teenage boy facing an imposing authority figure, he began, “Thank you for seeing us, Administrator Leeland. I saw something today, and shared it with Tumar – someone whose judgment I have come to trust. He agreed it was worth bringing to you.”
He glanced pointedly toward his friend and then looked straight back at Administrator Leeland, just like he had been taught in one of his extracurricular classes on speaking. “A dorm mate is smitten with a a girl of… very modest… talent. I’ve seen him slipping little notes into her sleeves for weeks now, but assumed they were bits of romantic tunings, doggerel love poetry, or the like. But today, I saw him making making hand gestures during an exam. She was watching. I think he was signalling her.”
Again calling upon his training, he took a breath and squared his shoulders and jaw before he came to his conclusion. “Between the notes, the gestures, the fact that they always sit close to one another, and their exam grades are similar… I think they might be cheating.” He then met the Administrator’s gaze levelly, bracing himself for the Administrator’s response.
Tumar watched Kebrin with a look of amazement. He hadn’t expected his friend to explain the situation so adroitly.
Administrator Leeland’s sharp eyebrows met over blazing hazel eyes. “You understand the seriousness of this allegation, do you not?” he asked, the deep and clear tone of his voice hinting at many Turns of formal public speaking. “Which students are involved?”
Kebrin nodded slowly, his jaw set, refusing to look away. “Yes, sir. I do. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that they’re just passing love notes, and that him moving his hands over his desk like that is just nerves or some trick to help the memory that I haven’t seen before. But we’re Harper Hall, sir. We live and die by our integrity. We can’t fudge the Teaching Songs, the traditions. And we can’t have people who aren’t completely, utterly trustworthy spreading news or serving as diplomats. I…”
He faltered for a moment, and then his sails caught wind again. He squared his jaw. “I accept the consequences if I’m wrong, sir. I hope I am.” He swallowed hard when it came time to give the names, but he did it – uttering each slowly and gravely. “Senior Apprentice Kailas and Senior Apprentice Nissa, sir.”
Weyr brat, indeed.
Leeland sat back in his chair, listening to Kebrin’s words with an inscrutable expression. “That’s very commendable,” he said slowly. “I will alert the appropriate Masters so that they can monitor the next exam more closely,” he assured both teens. “Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” The conversation ended abruptly.
Tumar left the room ahead of Kebrin. When they were out of earshot down the hallway, he asked quietly, “What was that?”
Kebrin wasn’t certain what response he was expecting from Administrator Leeland, but that wasn’t it. At all. He had expected to be believed, or disbelieved, but not dismissed.
Confused and feeling increasingly shaky now that the gauntlet had been passed through, he replied quietly, a tinge of concern in his voice, “What do you mean? I told him about the same thing I told you, didn’t I?”
Tumar’s face was a dark mask of indignation and he almost shook with raw emotion. “I had no idea Kailas and Nissa were so shameful! A pair of cheaters and liars, changing songs and destroying our traditions. We can’t stand for it, people need to know!” He picked up his pace to the point where Kebrin nearly had to jog to keep up.
Kebrin was already feeling emotionally drained from his confrontation with Administrator Leeland, so this was the last thing he wanted to deal with – or would have imagined happening. It was completely out of character for the normally even-keeled Senior Journeyman.
Kebrin formulated a response as he half-jogged alongside his friend. After passing a few more doorways, he finally spoke, trying to make his voice as calm and hopefully authoritative as he could manage. “Tumar, listen to me. You’re right to be angry – If they did something wrong. Which Administrator Leeland and the Masters are going to look into. They know a lot more about that kind of thing than we do, and we might mess up their investigation – and our careers – if we interfere. We did our part, now we need to let them do their job. C’mon, man – we’re Harpers. We’ve got to keep our wits about us, and decide only once the facts are in.”
He paused, swallowed hard, and reiterated forcefully, “I might be wrong.“
Tumar’s pace slowed and his expression melted into one of confusion. He stopped and faced Kebrin, asking “You said they’re going to hurt the whole Hall behaving like that, unless we stop them, didn’t you?”
He put out a hand to lean against the wall and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the other hand, closing his eyes as he thought. “I guess we’ll wait and see. Look, I feel really tired. I’m heading back to my dorm,” he finally decided.
Kebrin was deeply relieved when Tumar’s paced slowed, because it gave him more time to calm his friend down – and more time to try to figure out what just happened. Tumar was not normally given to emotional outbursts like this. Quite the contrary. “If they’re actually cheating then, yes, they could hurt the whole Hall. But they haven’t yet. And now that Administrator Leeland and the Masters know, they almost certainly never will.”
He tried to offer Tumar a reassuring smile, but it felt more than a little forced. “They’ll get to the bottom of this, one way or another. I have faith in them.”
He gestured down the hallway that led most directly back to Grenser Dorm where he lived. “I’ll keep you company.” He started walking slowly in that direction, “And Tumar? Thanks. For believing me, and for going to talk to Administrator Leeland with me.”
Tumar looked distracted but nodded when Kebrin stopped talking. “Sure, anytime,” was all he said.
The walk did Tumar some good and he seemed improved by the time they reached Grenser. “Good job catching those two. I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe?” he asked, sounding genuinely interested in meeting Kebrin.
Kebrin nodded quickly and flashed an easier, more genuine smile this time. He was deeply, almost pitifully, relieved to see that his friend’s strangely aggressive mood seemed to be passing. “Thanks. And, yeah, I’d love to hang out.” More accurately, he very badly wanted to check on his friend’s well-being again the next day – just in case. He scheduled the visit with his older friend and then tried to return to his normal schedule for the rest of the day, but found it difficult. His head spun with concerns about what the Administration would do about Kailas and Nissa, and whatever had come over Tumar.
Time passed as if nothing had happened. Kebrin had a full sevenday to forget his concerns, so the severity of the situation took him by surprise on a warm Fifthday evening.
He walked into the common room his dorm to find a Harper reading a formal announcement to Kailas and a handful of other Senior Apprentices. Kailas’ face was hard – he was trying to cover fear with anger. The other dorm mates were openly shocked.
“You will be demoted to Junior Apprentice due to allegations of academic dishonesty. You were observed using slips of paper containing answers for specific examinations. Further, you used hand gestures to provide solutions to written problems. These actions go directly against student conduct and community standards. Your dorm delegate will meet with you and take further action as determined appropriate according to our rules,” the Harper informed him.
Kebrin could have heard a pin drop.
When he was done reading the rest of the letter, the Harper neatly folded and handed it to Kailas, walking briskly out of the dorm and leaving a stunned audience behind him.
[Attribute check: Will 11, rolled 9.]
Kebrin stood, listening, with growing horror. He felt vaguely nauseous, like he just might throw up if given a little more provocation. Kailas had just lost two whole Turns of hard work, which felt like an eternity to young Kebrin, plus whatever administrative punishment that the dorm delegate heaped on him – which was almost guaranteed to be legendary.
Would Nissa suffer the same fate? Perhaps more importantly, did anyone know that Kebrin was the one responsible for turning them in? For the first time, Kebrin belatedly – and miserably – pondered Kailas’ disregard for rules and surly disposition. If he ever found out, he was almost guaranteed to be an enemy for life. And he knew through Eurielle that girls were often more vicious than boys.
He desperately wanted to slink off quietly to his room, to hide, but steeled his nerve and moved over to take an inconspicuous seat on one of the well-worn couches. He didn’t want to hear what was said, but he stayed because he feared he needed to.
Once he learned what there was to learn here, he pondered how best to learn Nissa’s fate.
He also needed to find a way to tell Tumar, hopefully without over-exciting him again.
Kailas crushed the letter in his fist and disappeared into his room. In his absence, the quiet conversation began timidly, but it wasn’t long before the boys were openly discussing the scandal. None of them seemed entirely sure how to handle it. A few people came and went, perhaps spreading the news outside of the dorm.
Kailas’ roommate, a carefree blond youth named Alwyn, returned around dinner time and did his best to avoid the debate. When he eventually excused himself and went up to their room, Kebrin couldn’t tell if he would offer sympathy or further rebuke.
Well after sundown, Kailas stormed out of the dorm into the courtyard with his theorbo in hand. With a shout, he swung the massive bass lute and smashed it violently into a stone column. The body cracked, spruce ribs broke free, and several strings snapped with a discordant twang. Kailas rounded on it again and again, until the instrument was nearly unrecognizable on the ground before him. He threw the neck away with a muttered curse, wiped tears off his face with the back of an arm, and stormed off into the night.
Alwyn gathered a few things and slept in the dorm delegate’s room.