The roads leading to Grand Cerveau were good, and mostly clear of other traffic—a few traders, a few solitary travellers, one family travelling by carriage, the children singing and laughing as they passed by. The weather was fine, chilly but sunny, and Fin had prepared for the colder weather by purchasing several warm woollen blankets. (Ashley gave hers to Maya.) The weather seemed to get warmer the closer they got to the city, also.
"It seems fortune favours us," Fin said, as they rode through the winding, hilly streets of Grand Cerveau. "Although on consideration, it might be wiser not to speak so soon."
"I think things are going fine," said Selene, who was sitting beside him. "It's not as though you could have planned for any of our misfortune."
"True, I suppose. Ah, our destination lies before us; Trinity College."
The college sprawled over a number of low hills, its numerous buildings rising and falling with the line of the land. Stone and wood competed for dominance in the architecture, the rooftops in particular a splendid disorder. Sheltered walkways connected many of the buildings, hanging high above the ground with an uncomfortable lack of visible support.
The quad that Fin drove the carriage into wasn't a true quad at all, as it had six sides—or five and the open entrance side. It was paved with large hexagonal stones, flat and colourful, pale red and blue and yellow and green. The quad—or 'hex', as it were—was surrounded by buildings, or maybe just one of enormous size, four storeys high, made of dark old wood and fine grey stone blocks. The third and fourth storeys were mostly unwalled; that is, you could see through the elaborate stonework and into the corridors beyond. Dozens of people were hurrying around with great purpose, and further dozens ambled, strolled, dawdled or simply sat, on one of the many triangular bench arrangements that filled the hex.
"With any luck," Fin said, as he guided the horses towards a covered area "my contact here will have received my letter and be ready to provide us with guest lodgings, and stabling for the horses."
Apparently they did have some luck, as this is exactly what happened.
"Selene, I'd like to introduce you to Mr Perlman. Mr Perlman, this is my assistant and ward, Selene."
"Pleasure," said Mr Perlman. He was a short older man, with thick black eyebrows and a ruddy complexion. Selene curtsied to him.
"And these," Fin continued, "are the Thompson sisters, Ashley and Maya."
Ashley gave a stern nod, one professional to another, and Maya said 'hello' with a shy little wave. Mr Perlman nodded at them, then turned to Fin.
"You got two rooms this side, one on the other side of the corridor. Keys on the table there. Any problems, don't bother with the staff, come to me. I'll take care of your horses and carriage. Need food, find one of the dining halls around meal times, few hours each way won't matter. Any other time, find a kitchen and there'll be someone there that'll sort you out. Mention my name if they give you grief."
"Thank you once again, Mr Perlman," Fin said. Mr Perlman grunted.
"Nothing more than what's owed, Mr Roberts."
With that, Mr Perlman left.
"Roberts, huh?" Ashley grinned at Fin. "Never heard you use that one."
"Ah, well. Many lives, many names, and so forth. Mr Perlman is an old friend. Our history is genuine. In the end, that's all that really matters."
"I think he seemed really lovely," said Maya.
"Fin," said Selene. "Shouldn't we be starting our research?"
"Oh, no need for haste. We'll be here for a few days, I should think, not least because we could all use the rest. However, just because it's comfortable here doesn't mean that we can lower our guard. In this place anything unusual will certainly be noticed. Sharp eyes and keen ears are everywhere, and behind those eyes and ears are swift minds. Do not use your powers at all if you can possibly help it, not even in practise, not even in play. I would appreciate..."
Fin trailed off, an odd look on his face. He raised his head slightly, as if listening, then straightened, apparently thinking hard about something.
After a few seconds of this, Ashley spoke:
"You gotta go find a toilet?"
Fin smiled at her.
"Not quite," he said. "Miss Ashley. I wonder if I might ask a favour of you..."
The duty clerk that day was a prim and proper young lady with rectangular glasses and short dark hair. She mostly dealt with confused students trying to find their study halls, and professors attempting to track down obscure texts and odd artefacts. She wasn't quite prepared for the well-built girl with calloused fists who strode up to her desk, leant on it with arms crossed, and asked if this was the 'place where you ask about finding stuff'.
"I ... I do aid students and faculty in locating certain—"
"Good," said Ashley. "I need to find a statue, heard some guy called Professor Barkwell's got it. Where's his office or whatever?"
"I'm sorry," said the clerk, "but are you a student here?"
Ashley laughed. "Yeah, good one."
"If you're not a student—"
"We're good with Mr Perlman," Ashley said. "He'll vouch for us."
"He's really nice," Maya added—the clerk hadn't noticed her until she spoke, the small girl half-hidden behind Ashley.
"Mr Perlman. Ah." The clerk frowned down at her desk, then she looked up at Ashley and Maya again. "Professor Barkwell, did you say?"
"Yeah. Got a statue we need."
"Just a moment."
Ashley watched as the clerk stood up and went through a door into what looked like a large cupboard. She drummed her fingers against the desk as she waited.
"Is this okay?" Maya asked, after a minute. "It's taking a long time."
"Just, y'know, paper stuff," Ashley said. "Takes ages to get stuff done when paper's around. Writing stuff down, reading stuff, finding the right bit of paper. It's for people who can't remember proper, I guess."
"Not like you," said Maya.
"Yeah, not like me. Hah, you get caught writing stuff down back in Unity, you'd get your damn fingers cut off. What's the fact?"
"You get told something, you make sure you remember it," Maya said, promptly.
"Thank you for waiting," said the clerk as she reappeared, a piece of paper in her hand. "According to our records, Professor Barkwell hasn't taught here for some time. Not since his death several years ago."
"Aw, great," Ashley said. "So the guy's dead, that's what you're telling me?"
"According to our records," the clerk repeated.
"Yeah, I get it."
Ashley drummed her fingers against the desk, frowning.
"Okay," she said, "but he was studying that statue I'm after, right? What happened to that?"
"Was he studying it as a personal project or as a college project?"
"Personal project," Ashley replied. Fin had been very clear about that point.
"Then the statue would be counted amongst his possessions." The clerk looked down at the paper. "Which were put into storage after ... no, I apologise for my error, which WERE put into storage, before they were sold as part of a lot to a trader."
"I can give you the name of the trading company, if that would help," the clerk said.
"I dunno, guess it can't hurt. Go on, then."
The clerk took a small card from a drawer and began writing on it, before Ashley spoke:
"What the hell are you doing?"
The clerk looked up, surprised.
"I'm ... I'm writing the name of the—"
"Just tell me, you don't need to write anything down."
The clerk stared.
"Come on, I ain't got all day."
"Ashley," said Maya, "maybe Mr Fin would prefer it being written down."
"Huh. Yeah, he does seem like a paper kind of person. Sure, okay. Write it. Old habits, yeah?"
The clerk continued to stare at Ashley, then she checked herself and hastily wrote out the trading company's name.
"Okay, thanks," said Ashley, as she accepted the card. "Come on, Maya."
"Do you think this is okay?" Maya asked, as they began to walk away.
"Who cares, we did the job." Ashley grinned at the card in her hand. "It's Fin's problem now."