Things Go Boom, aka Student Revolutionaries Are Stupid, aka Capes Are The Downfall Of The Revolution, aka Shira Was Bored On The Plane.
Eric and Henry were first-year alchemy students and very good friends. They'd gone out for a walk in the city, desperate to escape from the University after a long week of classes. Many of their friends were spending their night off in taverns, but Henry had shyly suggested a walk, and off they went, side by side, through narrow alleys crowded with early spring flowers spilling out of windowboxes, up broad thoroughfares where carts had worn ruts into the cobblestones and the boys had to dodge piles of manure left by various beasts of burden. They passed the occasional couple going home after a night out, some teens loitering in a plaza, a few furtive figures going about their furtive business, and a copper, walking his beat. They were almost home, walking down an avenue paved with pale flagstones which glowed in the diffuse light of the foggy evening, when it began to rain. The avenue held big, important buildings, banks and city offices, and the boys ducked under the broad awning of the post office to wait out the rain. They would have ordinarily just made a run for it, laughing and leaping through the rain, but they were both wearing capes in the latest fashion, thin, flippy things, and they did not want to get them wet.
So they sat together on the broad steps of the post office, wondering why there was suddenly such an awkwardness between them. Eric stood abruptly. "Damn," he said, "I think I can smell dragon manure all the way out here."
"One must have just come through."
There was a silence. "So," Henry tried, "That was a hard problem that Elloyis gave us yesterday, wasn't it?"
Eric perked up. "Actually, I think I may have solved it." He dug about in his pockets until he came up with two small oil-cloth wrapped bundles. "I found some interesting things at that little store, the one with the stuffed alligator. So you take the sugar..." There was a pause as he looked through his pockets again, finally coming up with a little bag. He poured its contents onto a stone step. "And then you add this one..." He dribbled the course brown powder about the sugar and stirred it with his pinky. "And then you put this one on, just a bit of it, and don't stir it in, just let it sit on top. And then when you add a spark it burns in the exact shade of turquoise she demonstrated!" Standing back, he snapped his fingers, calling up a tiny flame which danced between his spread fingers. With a little throwing motion, he transfered it to the pile of powder on the stone. It exploded in a fountain of exquisite turquoise fire, sending the boys scrambling backwards, trying to shield their faces.
"I think I may have put too much sugar in," Eric said thoughtfully. The budding alchemists both laughed. Then Henry stopped abruptly, staring upwards in horror. Eric followed his gaze and winced at the hole burnt in the awning, and said, "Oh, dear. But it's not that bad... It's the city. They have lots of money. They can patch it."
"It's not that..." Henry pointed to what had once been a flag pole sticking out from above the door. It was now a charred stick. "The flag."
Eric swore. "Flag burning's a crime of treason."
"We didn't do it on purpose..."
"Do you think they'll care?"
"You're right. Shit. We'd better go before a copper comes along. Come on!"
And the boys dashed away into the rain, ignoring their ruined capes in their haste to get away from the scene of the crime.
The next morning they were sitting on Eric's bed dreamily discussing whether they were going to do any of their homework before the very end of the weekend when there was a sharp knock at the door. When they didn't open it immediately the knock was repeated more forcefully. The boys eyed the door nervously.
"Yes?" called Eric.
The door opened to admit a man and a woman in the uniform of the City Guard. The City Guard was technically military, an army belonging to the lord or lady of the province, but within the city they served the duties of common coppers, which was what most people thought of them as.
"Which one of you is Eric Ayn?"
Eric miserably raised his hand.
"Traces of your magic were found at the site of a crime. You need to come with us and answer a few questions."
Henry bounced to his feet. "He didn't do it, it was my fault!"
The coppers regarded him with amusement. "Then you can come too."
They cringed, wide-eyed, as the coppers cuffed them, and obeyed like beaten puppies, quivering tails tucked between their legs, as the coppers firmly herded them out the door.
Their fellow students watched with surprised interest as they were led along, manacled and scared.
The coppers walked faster as the buzz of rumor started to spread through the school.
Dreamy, homicidal little Ilsa was sitting comfortably in a pub near the university that was frequented by students nursing a drink and repeating her desire to poison a tart, or possibly the pub's infamous stew, in the name of the revolution.
One of her companions, a boy rather larger than herself (Her other friend was quite a lot bigger, too. Ilsa collected big, burly friends.) shook his head slowly.
She frowned at him. "Don't you like that idea? I do."
"Oh, no, it's not that. Although it might be good to think it over a bit more. I was just wondering why every single pub, tavern, and inn I've been in sells stew. Generally not very good stew, but always stew."
The muscular girl on the other side of Ilsa perked up. "Perhaps it is part of what defines an inn."
"By whom? Who defines it?"
"Either society, or the inns themselves."
"What, they feel they are not inns if they do not serve stew? Like, oh, I don't know, the way we feel about summer. It rains here in the winter, right, and is dry in the summer. But in other parts of the world it snows in the winter and rain is a summer event. As natives of this clime we have trouble accepting that it's truly summer when it's pouring outside, because rain, to us, is a winter phenomenon."
"I'm not sure if your metaphor captures the fact that it is the inn, or, rather, the people who make up the inn, who are doing the defining, but yes. That, or people expect, or people expect that people will expect, stew at an inn. And if you are convinced that everyone else expects it, you make sure it's there. And it's circular--the thing causes the definition, which forms the thing."
"So what would happen to this pub, say, if they stopped serving stew and started serving clam chowder, or minestrone, or perhaps a light cream of broccoli?"
This important question was prevented from being answered by the innkeeper and a trio of tough-looking City Guards. Even Ilsa, who had been carefully studying the contents of her glass while the question of stew ranged over her head, looked up as the four men stopped purposefully in front of the small group. The coppers were purposeful, that is. The innkeeper hung back, looked nervous. "These are the ones," he said.
Ilsa frowned dreamily at them. "We're the ones that what?"
"You three are under arrest for treason and fomenting rebellion."
The three of them stared at the copper. Ilsa's companions had the presence of mind to offer indignant contradictions, but the tiny girl stared fearlessly up at them and intoned, "We will not talk!"
The copper shrugged. "Not my problem."
Ilsa put up a fight, but as it was possible to render her helpless by holding her off the ground, this didn't do much good. She hung in the careful grip of a businesslike copper, speechless with fury, struggling in vain to harm her tormentors. Her friends, with more well-developed senses of self-preservation, went without a struggle.
They were all tossed into a cell and told they would be asked some questions in the morning.
In the cell across from theirs they discovered the reason for their capture, in the form of an angry bunch of students Ilsa recognized from the Dalmatian meetings. They'd been arrested earlier that evening for getting drunk, finding a couple coppers, and attempting to force them to release two boys who had been arrested that morning for burning a flag--a treasonous act. The coppers, rather sensibly, had agreed and taken them to the guardhouse, where it happened to be shift change. The rowdy students were in cells of their own in fairly short order, and word was sent through the Guard to watch for more treasonous students.
And so then I was thinking there's a Dalmatian meeting, and some students attempt to break their friends out of jail, and when they're caught people decide the students are dangerous, which, by this time, they actually are, a bit, and send the Guard (does that work, by the way, the City Guard bit?) after them and we get to have the catapult bit and then everybody ends up in the cells.
Is it actually spring? I just said that so I could have flowers and rain and my little spiel about rain in summer all make sense.
And Emma--it's ok that I stole Ilsa, yes? Upon reflection I think she may have appealed to me because of the whole adorable and homicidal thing. But mostly because of your brilliant line about poisoning tarts in the name of the revolution. ^^
Also, I need an explodey-type icon.