After her near miss on the goat path, she had gone from indifference to guns to outright dislike. She could not shake the memory of Felix lying bleeding from a gunshot wound, and later, Soap dying of one. Not to mention the fact that guns were loud and terribly hard on one’s gloves.
Strangely, it was Preshea who put it best. “If I am going to kill someone, I should be more elegant about it. Guns seem sadly crass.”
Dimity was the only one who actually liked the French-issue ebony-stock percussion muff-pistols that the school provided for student training. “They are easy to use. And all the mess is some distance away.”
By which Dimity meant blood. Occasionally, she still fainted at the sight of it, but she had mainly gotten over the response after Soap went down. Now her inclination to faint was only overwhelming when blood spattered on her clothing. A sensation that Sophronia could almost understand. Dimity was developing a style that involved shooting her target and then instantly looking in a different direction. Professor Lefoux despaired of her.
For some reason, Sophronia did not feel bad about the crossbow. Possibly because it was a weapon most often applied to vampires. And while she had made her peace with the hive temporarily, she didn’t trust them as far as she could throw them—not after they’d kidnapped Dimity. Truth be told, even with Sophronia’s arm muscles, vampires could hurl her a great deal farther than Sophronia could hurl vampires. A great tragedy of life, no doubt.
The others noticed Bumbersnoot’s absence but accepted Sophronia’s excuse that he was with Vieve getting a special holiday overhaul. With extra Professor Lefoux classes, this was a relief. Sophronia spent a great deal of time making certain Bumbersnoot and Professor Lefoux never encountered one another. Even when Bumbersnoot was disguised as an unbelievably frilly reticule, Professor Lefoux was too gadget-savvy to see the sausage dog as anything but a mechanimal. Unregistered mechanimals were illegal, even groundside in regular society. Professor Lefoux would not be understanding in this matter.
With Bumbersnoot off ship, Sophronia no longer had to be constantly worried about what he might be up to. It was a relief knowing there was currently no way he could get into trouble. She wondered if that was a bit of how the teachers felt about her sometimes.
Professor Lefoux was giving them crossbow lessons on one of the midship decks. They were shooting at handkerchief targets, held in the claws of soldier mechanicals arrayed on the inside of the deck. This allowed the bolts to go through the material and embed themselves in the pitted wall behind.
“You ladies are developing into passably good shots.” Professor Lefoux indulged in a rare moment of praise.
“We should be,” muttered Preshea. “We’ve been at it for ages.”
Preshea could hit the handkerchief well enough to knock it out of the soldier mechanical’s grip, but not to pin it against the wall. Agatha missed one out of every four shots. Dimity struggled to get the bolt loaded but after that did fine.
“Everyone, see how Miss Buss holds her bow?” Professor Lefoux instructed. “But her stance, too angled. Square up, Miss Buss.”
Agatha was staring off into space, fingering her Depraved Lens of Crispy Magnification.
Sophronia caught her at it and couldn’t resist. “I suppose that could be considered a courting gift, from an evil genius.”
Agatha dropped the lens as if it burned.
Professor Lefoux focused on them. “Miss Temminnick, if you would be so kind as to demonstrate the draw?”
Sophronia hefted her crossbow, loading the bolt and pulling back on the string. Then, without much thought, she raised her arm, pointed, and fired—hitting a dead-on bull’s-eye through the handkerchief. This was a surprise to Sophronia. If she had known she would be that good, she might have purposefully failed. It seemed to be a surprise to the soldier mechanical as well, for it puffed out smoke from beneath its neck attachment in a little stutter of shock.
“There she goes,” sniffed Preshea under her breath.
Professor Lefoux approved, as much as her personality would allow. “Adequate, Miss Temminnick. But consistency is also vital. I want both accuracy and precision. Do it again.”
Sophronia loaded, pointed, and shot, casually, hoping she would miss but not willing to do it on purpose now that the teacher was watching her closely.
“Another bull’s-eye. Have you been practicing extra hours, Miss Temminnick?”
Sophronia shook her head.
Professor Lefoux grunted. “I suppose natural talent happens. I will move you up to a more weighty draw.”
Agatha dropped her bow with a clatter while Professor Lefoux was talking to Sophronia, then bent over to pick it up, spilling cleavage everywhere willy-nilly.
“Miss Woosmoss, act like a lady!” remonstrated the professor.
Agatha modified her bend into a crouch, stays creaking.
Professor Lefoux rummaged about in an immense carpetbag with six little wheels affixed to its bottom, producing a teakettle-like object, an embroidery roll of wrenches, and a few other tools. Eventually, she found another crossbow, larger and heavier than the others. She handed it to Sophronia.
“Now, class, note how much stiffer the string is on this one? That will yield a more forceful bolt. This is more deadly and more accurate at distances. Go ahead, Miss Temminnick.”
Sophronia gave it her best effort, but it was impossible to pull back the string. It snapped forward several times, nearly taking her fingertip with it. She finally managed it by bracing against the wall with her foot and using both arms. Shooting the higher-impact crossbow was fun—the bolt flew with satisfying force and fairly tore the handkerchief in half before hitting the wall behind with a loud thunk.