57.2 \ 239

“Does it have to do with the giant obelisk that’s remained within a ten-block radius of our route for the past hour?”

“I’m looking for a way to stay disguised and gain the presence of the highest-ranked military officer under the monarch. For reasons befitting his station, I assure you. I know it may not serve you to enter into the realm of authority.”

Derringer dropped his voice a few decibels. “You’re speaking of General Alisandre.” He lifted Chip’s fingertips as though he were the courtly lady he actually was. “If you will allow me.” With this gentle guidance, he proceeded them past their talking spot, and they walked quietly until the next block. “I would be most pleased to assist you in gaining that audience.” Partial suspicions confirmed, Chip Soleil made a small smile of acquiescence.

57.1 \ 239

“I’ve been holding it as a good idea not to know too much,” said the private investigator to his disguised royal charge, “but where are you taking us?”

A man of similar age and reasonably comfortable stature looked over at Derringer from between a bowler hat and mustache. He had an appropriate-sounding voice, but it was really Princess Soleil, Magus Ascendant, under her chosen illusion as a respected and regular mid-clearance official in an office suit. “You may not like it,” she warned him.

They were on a serpentine walk from block to block between capital districts, with Soleil leading. She had a purpose – getting the lay and timing of the area before staging some form of infiltration, while collating all her relevant knowledge into the correct moment of approach. In other words, she was figuring it out as she went along, but as if she knew what she was doing. Derringer understood this, he knows about this. He was beginning to get a sense of where they were and might be going, along with the satisfying feeling that what he wanted was similar to what everyone wanted.

Soleil-as-Dalib-or-call-him-Chip made a conversational stop outside a residential front garden gate. “Okay. I’m nervous. I want to tell you what I’m trying to accomplish, because now I believe you should be informed.”

56.2 \ 238

Cristobal had been adding words to the comics battle he and Toller drew yesterday. His new friend had thrown in some total non-sequiturs with a serious look, as though these particularly imaginative images were important. Without lifting his eyes, he tuned his hearing to the adult discussion. “…need to have a discussion with the new student at our office location, about possible sensitive information related to his admissions.” It seemed that anybody could hear the man’s words in the quiet of the classroom.

The teacher, Jae, replied, “Toller has been a great addition to the class, a knowledgeable student and positive presence. I hope the discussion goes well. We’ll be happy to have him back here anytime soon.”

Toller made no effort to hide his attention when they walked up to him. He was glad he’d given his notebook comics pages to Cristobal yesterday. Glad he told the older brother how to be prepared without alarming him, by sharing imperatives as though they were a nonexistent father’s lesson. The urgency of caring for another in dangerous times. He wanted to help this kid from being trapped in safety when safety might be shattered, though the guy seemed to have suspected for a while already.

“Apologies for taking you from class Toller, but we need to ask you further details about the circumstances that brought you here.” The suited man addressed him softly but firmly. The adolescent turned to his cohort and winked with brave nonchalance. Carlo, the younger prince, was looking at him with friendly attachment and fidgeting with discomfort over the unfamiliarity of this scenario. Other classmates were also rapt to this scene with undisguised trepidation. Toller picked up his few things and went quietly. He noted the faces of his classmates and teacher. He noted every visibly detachable item on his escort.