Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Eight, Part Two

Notes: In which things happen, but mostly just to set up OTHER things happening. In other words, THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN! Enjoy :)

Title: The Tower: Cjapter Eight, Part Two

***


Chapter Nine, Part One



“It makes no sense.” Mongtomery started the shake his head, then stopped with a wince and laid a careful hand on the bruising around his neck. “Harry and I have been friends for years, we knew each other before we came here. There’s no good reason for him to have done this.”

“Are you that confident in your understanding of Mr. Beaufort’s business?” Camille asked, sitting across from Montgomery in Dr. Grable’s office. The doctor himself was off beginning the slow process of freeing Beaufort from the stone—like Anton’s spell, it was one that could be cast rapidly, but required a lot more time to undo. It would probably be another five or six hours before Beaufort was free and able to be interrogated, so Camille had opted to begin here. Anton stood off to the side, hoping to go mostly unnoticed, but there was no such luck where Montgomery was concerned.

“Did I know everything about the man, obviously not, but before this I would have said I knew everything important! We’re mates! He’s never—he’s never been like this before, right Seiber?”

“I—I wouldn’t really know,” Anton stammered, taken aback to be asked. Fortunately, Montgomery didn’t seem to care.

“Do you think Percy knew? No, Percy would have told me, I’m sure of it. He’s too much of a choir boy not to.”

“Is that how you’d categorize him?” Camille asked.

“Percy?” Montgomery forced a grin. “Oh, absolutely. It was almost as hard to get him to go out for a night on the town as it was Seiber here. If Harry and I weren’t around to drag him out of the lab or away from the church…” His smiled faded. “Hell, where is Percy? He should know about this.”

“I’ll go and get him,” Anton interjected, ready for something to do that got him out of the eye of Montgomery’s strange, entreating looks. “Although the way word is flying around here, I’m fairly sure he already knows.”

“Then he would be here, with me,” Montgomery said staunchly.

“I’ll be back in a moment.” With a nod from Camille, Anton slipped out of the office and toward the lab he knew Percival had space in. Montgomery was right about one thing—Percival would want to be there for him if he knew that Harry was a killer who had almost done his friend in. Anton knocked, then entered. “Percival?”

There was no reply. The lab was empty. Anton frowned, then headed for the rooms. It was lucky he’d seen Percival stumble drunkenly into his not long ago, or he’d have no idea where the man lived. It was on the second floor, in the middle of the hall. The door was closed. “Percival? I need to speak to you about Harry and Gerry.” Anton winced at the awkward rhyme. “May I come in?” No response.
“Percival?” Now Anton was beginning to worry. What if—what if Harry had started with Percival, and moved on to Gerald? What if he was lying in there, dead? “Percival!” Anton pushed his way into the room and breathed a reflexive sigh of relief at finding it empty. Then he saw what was lying on the floor, and his relief vanished.

It was a rosary, Percival’s rosary, its jet-black beads scattered across the floor. The silver cross from the center of it was missing. The mirror on the far wall was cracked, and there was a bloody hand print pressed to the shards still in the frame. “Oh, no.”

On his way back down to the office Anton made sure to check the classrooms and lecture halls, even the dining area, just in case Percival was there. He saw many students, plenty of whom peppered him with questions, but no Percival, and no one could seem to remember seeing him either, except—

“He left over an hour ago, I think,” one of the sophomores said. “I tried to ask him a question about the lecture he gave yesterday, and it was like he didn’t even hear me. He looked rather distraught.”

“Did he get some sort of bad news?”

The student shrugged.

“Which way was he heading?”

“He took the south exit, like he was going toward the Limmat.”

Heading for the river… It made no sense, but then, none of this did to Anton. He wasn’t the one piecing the puzzle together, Camille was, and right now he had information that needed to be shared. He made his way back to the office and knocked.

“Come in, Anton.”

“How did you know it was me?” he asked Camille as he walked in.

“The only other person who would even think to interrupt at a time like this is Doctor Grable, and as this is his office, I doubt he would ask permission first. No, don’t apologize,” he added when Anton made a face. “We’re partners in this. What did you learn? Where is Mr. MacPherson?”

“He left the university over an hour ago, apparently,” Anton said. He relayed what he’d been told and the scene he found in Percival’s room. “I think something bad must have happened to him. He wouldn’t damage his rosary like that unless he was truly unsettled.”

“It does seem like a bad sign,” Camille agreed. “I’ll have to track him down.”

“I can come with you,” Anton said.

“So can I! He’s my friend, I ought to be the one to find him, tell him what’s going on.” Montgomery shook his head wearily. “He might be in a hell of a state if Harry got to him first. Maybe he cast a spell on him.”

“I didn’t think those sorts of spells were within Mr. Beaufort’s wheelhouse,” Camille said. “He’s less about compulsions and more about direct force, isn’t he?”

Montgomery pressed his lips together so tight they went pale. “If there’s one thing only I’m sure of now, it’s that I didn’t know Harry as well as I thought,” he gritted out.

“Nevertheless, we can’t be too cautious. You said you were barely even aware of him approaching you in your room, much less trying to kill you.” Camille stood and straightened his jacket. “Who knows how the aftereffects of what he did to you might linger?” He turned to Anton. “Do you mind staying with him until I get back?”

Anton squared his shoulders a bit. “Not at all.”

“Thank you.” He nodded to both of them, then left.

The ensuing silence was almost deafening, until Montgomery forcefully broke it by chuckling. “It seems there’s far more I likely don’t know about you than about Harry, Seiber. When did you start working with a lumière? More to the point, when did you start working with one who could serve as one of Percy’s pet projects?”

“We met a few months back,” Anton said. “He helped me get here on time when I ran into…” A murder. Actually, several murders. “Some trouble,” he finished uncomfortably.

“Rather an intimidating sort, isn’t he?” Montgomery chaffed at his arms, every move reminiscent of a twitch. “Must we wait here in tenterhooks for him? Can’t we do something else in the meantime?”

“I’m sure he won’t be long.”

Montgomery shrugged. “Who knows how long he’ll be? I’d just rather not—I mean—I need to do something, Seiber. I can’t just sit here like a snared rabbit waiting to be found. And I know that I’m being unreasonable, all right, I know Harry has been caught, but—it just—”

Anton knew exactly where he was coming from. “I suppose we could take a short trip. Where would you like to go?”

Montgomery’s face brightened. “How about your lab? I’ve always wanted to get a look in there, we all of us did, especially—well.” He coughed. “You know. Anyway. How about it?”

Gerald Montgomery was just about the last person Anton wanted in his lab, but he had made the offer. “Very well.”


“Great.” Montgomery stood up, shook out his hands, and clapped Anton on the back. His fingers lingered for a moment on the skin just above Anton’s collar. “Lead the way.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Eight, Part One

Notes: Not too long, but action-packed! The case is definitely progressing, but nothing is perfectly linear with this story.

Title: The Tower: Chapter Eight, Part One

***


Chapter Eight, Part One


The halls were fairly quiet when they arrived back at the dormitory. Somehow it was already suppertime, the day flying by so quickly that it seemed as though Anton had barely had a chance to note its passage. He was familiar with becoming so absorbed in his work that he forgot to eat, much less glance out at the sunshine, but he hadn’t expected something similar to happen as a result of an investigation. Perhaps he was enjoying himself a little more than he thought he would.

It was several minutes since Anton’s spell had alerted them to Montgomery’s return, but hopefully he would still be in his room. The door was closed when they arrived, so Camille knocked briskly. “Mister Montgomery? This is Lord Lumière, here on the emperor’s business. Open the door, if you please.” There was no reply, but a faint sound from inside was just barely audible. It sounded like—like someone choking on something?

“Damnation.” Camille tried the door, but it was locked. “Stand back,” he instructed Anton, then leaned away, lifted his leg, and slammed his foot into the innermost edge of the door. The wood cracked under the force of his blow, sending shards flying. The door slammed open, but before either of them could enter the room, a spark seemed to appear out of nowhere in the middle of the darkness.

“Get down!” Anton threw himself at Camille, knocking both of them to the floor just in time to dodge the massive gout of flame that erupted over their heads. The heat was intense, enough to make Anton wince, but it died out just as quickly as it began. He moved onto his knees, but was immediately knocked over again by a man in a long cloak, its hood pulled over to disguise his face, who came running out of the room.

The few students remaining in the hall watched in shock, not realizing the danger they were in as the man sprinted toward the exit. Anton surged back to his feet just in time to watch another jet of flame disperse the few who were idling inside the door, setting one of them on fire. “Get out of the way!” he yelled, pulling his silver wand and a round steel ball from his holdall. Camille was already running down the hall after the attacker, and Anton dropped his bag and hastened after him.

The exit led into the center courtyard of the university. It was getting late, and cool enough that not many students normally chose to linger there, but a special lecture must have just let out, for the cobblestoned space was filled with people. The man in the cloak tried to push his way through them, but after a moment seemed to give it up for lost and pulled out another familiar-looking wooden dowel.

“Oh, hell,” Anton muttered. Neither he nor Camille would make it in time to stop the man, but he wasn’t a neophyte himself when it came to imbuing objects with powerful spells. He hadn’t tested this one before, but now was as good a time as any. He whispered the incantation, gathered his will and tapped the ball with the silver wand to energize it, then threw it at the attacker’s feet.

The tiny steel ball rolled unerringly at Anton’s target, gathering both speed and size as it went. Molecules expanded, forcing something formerly small but solid into a hollow sphere the size of a globe, and that globe took the hooded thaumaturge out at the knees just as he fired the wand. The flames went up instead of into the startled crowd as the man was knocked flat onto his back. His hood fell away, and to Anton’s surprise—although why he was surprised he wasn’t sure—Harry Beaufort’s glaring face was revealed.

“Idiot!” he snarled, his hand already vanishing into his robe for another wand. Anton’s ball had rolled to a stop somewhere in the distance, and that was the only offensive capability he had on hand. Camille was going for his gun, but could he fire fast enough to take Harry out before Harry worked his vile magic?

In the end, it was neither the one nor the other man who came out first. In the blink of an eye, Harry’s wand hand was slammed down onto the ground, the stones themselves reaching out to grip and hold him. Granite shuddered and rose like water, rolling over him in a wave and binding him to the earth. Harry screamed in fury, but after a moment the stone covered his mouth as well. It coated everything but his nose, eyes, and ears.

“What…” Anton looked around in confusion, only to see Dr. Grable striding forward, one hand extended and holding a dull gray wand.

“So,” he said grimly. “I see your hunt has turned up our fox.”

A suspect, at least,” Camille amended. He looked completely unperturbed by what had just happened. Anton didn’t know why he was surprised—the man had weathered flying bullets with little more than a tilt of his head before, but a tremendous gout of flame was rather less commonplace. His own heart was still beating rapidly, in a not-quite regular tempo, and his hands shook so bad he could barely hold onto his silver wand.

“Let me,” Camille murmured, taking the wand from him and putting it neatly in Anton’s inner pocket. “An interesting spell, Doctor,” he said.

Dr. Grable looked up from where he was kneeling next to Harry. “I’ve taught here a long time now, ever since my services were no longer required by the emperor after the last war. One of the first thing I did was put safeguards into place against this eventuality. I cannot effect great change within the dormitory itself, but on this common ground?” His lips tightened to a grimace. “Responsibility is mine, and therefore so is protection. So, Beaufort is your man after all.”

“Perhaps,” Camille allowed.

“Perhaps nothing! What clearer evidence do you need that the man is a murderer?”

“A murderer…oh hell!” Anton turned and ran back the way they’d come, pushing past gawking students and racing down the hall to Montgomery’s room. The door was open, and Montgomery himself was—

Bent over on his knees, coughing and soot-stained but alive. Anton let out a sigh of relief.

“Seiber?” Montgomery looked up at him and coughed again. His expression was one of pure confusion. “What the hell just happened?”

“Harry tried to kill you. Doctor Grable stopped him,” Anton added.

“I know he tried to kill me, but…why?”


That, Anton thought, was the real question.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Seven, Part Two

Notes; More Tower, yay! A brief interlude before the beginning of the final climax. Yes, we're that far already. These stories fly.

Title: The Tower: Chapter Seven, Part Two

***


Chapter Seven, Part Two



Unfortunately, Gerald Montgomery was nowhere to be found. Anton and Camille checked the classrooms, the labs, and even his personal chambers without success.

“He has to come back sometime,” Anton muttered to himself as he reached into his holdall for a piece of clear wax. “And I will make sure than we know when he does.” He closed his eyes and gathered his will for the simple spell he was about to cast, then began inscribing invisible glyphs on the handle of Montgomery’s door. Perhaps fifteen seconds later, he finished with a tired sigh, the energy flowing out of him like water from a cracked jug. “There. Now when he touches it, we will be alerted. It’s better than running around after him all day with nothing to show for it.”

“It will give us a chance to eat,” Camille said briskly, taking Anton by the shoulders and turning him toward the double doors at the far end of the residents’ hall. “You need sustenance.”

“I feel fine,” he protested, but internally he had to confess that it was rather nice to be manhandled in this simple, affectionate fashion. Anton couldn’t remember the last time he’d been touched this way. Perhaps by his mother, or Caroline before her wedding, almost…God, was it two years ago now? He truly needed to find the time to visit her—letters simply weren’t enough, and her husband seemed to take issue with her leaving his ancestral estate now that he’d got her there. Normally this wouldn’t be enough to dissuade her if she set her mind to it, but Caroline’s last letter had intimated that she was expecting a child, and that was no condition to be traveling in.

Camille led him all the way off campus, to a quiet restaurant not far away, but on a side street that Anton had never ventured down before. The host sat them at a small, round table in the corner, brought them each a mug of mulled cider, and then left them be while they waited for their food.

Anton took a sip and sighed with satisfaction. “How do you ever find all these little nooks?” he asked. “You can’t have visited every city in the empire, but I’d be willing to bet you know of places like this in all of them.”

“You would probably be surprised by the extent of my travels,” Camille replied, removing his hat and leaning back against the chair. He looked delightfully casual, Anton thought, and marveled at the fact that they had reached a point where the lumière could be casual in his presence. “I have been to the edges of the empire and beyond, multiple times.”

“You must have entered your profession very young.”

“I did.” Camille smiled wryly. “You could say I was born into it. People with my condition are rare, but if we are discovered and handled with a modicum of compassion, it isn’t unusual for us to end up in service to the crown. The emperor has made it known that he has a place for those with unique talents, and it cannot be said that we are without advantages in cases that involve violent thaumaturgy. Some of us are used as jailers, to keep restrained those with talent whom the emperor still wishes to use, but cannot allow to be free.”

Anton blanched. “That sounds ghastly.”

“That particular prison is a rather challenging place,” Camille agreed. “I worked there for a year in my youth, but quickly understood that my talents and interests lay elsewhere. I developed my abilities, and here I am. Speaking of abilities, how is it possible that there are so many disparate courses of study within one university?” He raised one eyebrow. “I cannot imagine there are experts in everything your fellow students seem to study available there, and yet no one seems to study exactly the same subject.”

Anton was grateful for the change in subject. He felt as though he’d wandered close enough to Camille’s secrets for one meal. “All of the undergraduate students do learn the same basics,” he said, “but even those are slightly different for each user. Thaumaturgy is not just another mental process, it is a skill that is developed on multiple fronts, and therefore has unique components for every user. It’s like I said earlier—there’s no telling how a particular spell will work for everyone. Our professors realize this, and grant each student a certain latitude in their studies. By the time you are seeking mastery, you’re expected to have specialized, and those specializations can go in many different directions. No master has the same abilities, even when they share a profession.”

“And yet, there are standard professions,” Camille rejoined. “So there must be some standard of ability for those who undertake said work.”

“A standard, yes, but that is the bare minimum. Take myself and the man I worked for as a journeyman in London,” Anton said, warming to the topic. “He was a forensic thaumaturge, like me, but his ability focused more around the place than the person. He could examine a corpse that had been pulled out of the river and tell you where that person had been killed to within half a block, which is truly astonishing given the size and scope of that city. His magic had a connection to the city, the city where he’d been born and spent his whole life, that mine never could. Likewise, my skills lent themselves more to illuminating the death scene itself, focused on the body, not the place. We worked quite well together, actually.” Anton had been offered a permanent position in the London morgue, one that would have paid more in six months than his father had made in the last year of his life, professor or no, but it wasn’t what Anton had wanted.

“Fascinating.” From the warm tone of Camille’s voice, he actually meant it too. Anton fought a blush.

“Not so fascinating,” he demurred. “It must be similar in your line of work. Not every investigator can share exactly the same skills, surely.”

“Not exactly the same, true,” Camille admitted. “But every investigator must have the same base knowledge in order to be effective at their work.”

“There you have it, then.” Anton sat back in satisfaction. “The circumstances are the same.”

“Similar, to be sure.” Conversation halted as their food was brought, beef and onions in sherry that had surely cooked all day to be this tender, and fresh bread for sopping up the sauce. It was simple but delicious, and Anton ate with vigor.

“One would think they starve you, at this university.”

It dawned on Anton that he might be shoveling food into his face a bit too fast. He swallowed and cleared his throat. “I eat plenty there, just not with much variety. Eating out as I have with you is quite a treat.”

“We must endeavor to do more of it, then.”

Anton would have replied, except that his hand twitched just as he went to set down his fork. “Oh. Montgomery is back.” He frowned at the inconvenient timing. Camille smiled in return.

“And now you see a downside to my profession—a profusion of meals interrupted by the call of duty.” He pushed his own plate away and stood up. “Eat what you can while I settle the bill, and then we’ll be on our way back. Hopefully our time with Mr. Montgomery will bear more fruit than our earlier attempts.” He left and Anton took his advice, eating as fast as he could without choking. It left him feeling uncomfortably full, but he knew he’d be grateful he finished the meal in another hour, although he wasn’t as confident that they’d get something from Montgomery as Camille was.


After all, what could a man like that, coddled and cozened for his whole life, possibly have to do with something so complicated and vile?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Holidays and People

Darlins,

The horde has descended--literal horde, in-laws and siblings and aunts and cousins and their spouses and kids--and it turns out I'm busy as hell right before Thanksgiving. So! Holiday break for The Tower, because I'm just making myself crazy here, and wherever you are, know that I count myself very thankful to have you in my life, as readers and, for some of you, as friends. I'm so fortunate, and I know it.



December is going to involve me giving you a lot of stuff, because you deserve a very happy holiday season too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Seven, Part One

Notes: Whaaat, on time today? I flabbergast even myself sometimes. Enjoy some burgeoning destruction!

Title: The Tower: Chapter Seven, Part One

***


Chapter Seven, Part One



Harry Beaufort couldn’t be found inside the main building at all, or any of the accessory halls. There was a small park in the center of the campus where many of the students paused for a moment in the sun before scurrying off to their next class, but he wasn’t there either. Eventually Anton simply stopped and asked someone he recognized from one of their mutual classes, who told him, with a wry look, to “follow the sound of blasting, sir. Beaufort’s the only one with permission to be experimenting like that right now.”

Anton frowned, ready to ask for more detail, when Camille’s hand on his arm cut him short. “Listen.” He caught Anton’s eye and gazed upward. “Higher up.”

Now that he mentioned it… “The roof, perhaps? But what on earth could he be doing there?”

“I suggest we go and find out.”

The stairs leading to the roof were old and worn, and obviously not used much. In fact, there was only one set of footprints in the dust that Anton could see. Whatever Harry was doing, it wasn’t something he cared to share with others.

As soon as Anton opened the door leading out to the top of the building, he understood why. Harry stood perhaps twenty feet away from a metal dummy fused to a post midway down the rough stone expanse. He held what looked like a wand of some kind in his hand, and raising it toward the dummy, he squared his shoulders and shouted a single word: “Fire!”

To Anton’s shock, a thin jet of orange flame shot out of the wand with a bang, straight into the dummy’s chest. It didn’t cause it to burn, naturally, but the rapid appearance and speed of the flame was surprising enough. Anton heard a crack and a moment later, Harry dropped the wand to the ground, shaking out his gloved hand. “Damnation,” he muttered. “Thought I had it that time.”

“Impressive.”

Camille’s dry tones caused Harry to whirl around, one hand already reaching inside his robe for—what? A weapon of some kind, perhaps another one of these strange wands? He paused before withdrawing anything, though. “Who are you, then?”

“I am Lord Lumière, here on the emperor’s business. And you,” Camille indicated the expanse between the dummy and Harry, “seem to be in the business of novel thaumaturgical destruction.”

Harry didn’t really relax, but he did at least lower his hands. Anton breathed a silent sigh of relief. He was confident in his own abilities, but he had no idea how to quickly counter anything like a jet of flame, and despite Camille’s untouchability when it came to spells, that likely didn’t apply in this situation.

“And what do you want with me?”

“At the moment?” Camille smiled disarmingly. “A simple explanation will suffice. How did you accomplish that spell without writing out the equations for flame and prepping the ingredients beforehand?”

A smug looked crossed Harry’s round face. He looked like an overgrown cherub, rather incongruous given the smoking remnants of the dangerous wand at his feet. “Ah, but I did write the equations and prep the ingredients beforehand. I contained everything this spell needs in a hollow wooden dowel and arranged it so that my palm connected with the open end of the equation. All it takes after that is the will and the word.” He glanced down at the broken dowel with a little frown. “The energy backlash is still unstable, though—it breaks every one of the wands. I won’t try it with a stronger substance before I’m sure it won’t blow my fingers off.”

“Ingenious.”

“Isn’t it?” His gaze sharpened a little. “You say you’re here from the Emperor?”

“On his business, yes.”

“You should tell him about this. Within a year, I will have a way to revolutionize how we make war. Imagine, not just one but hundreds of such devices in the hands of those who have the innate talent, but no true training. All it would take is the word and the will, and they could have an entirely new sort of weapon at their disposal.” Anton had never seen Harry so animated. It made a slight shudder run down his spine, contemplating exactly what was making the man so enthusiastic. “Fire is easy, but there are many other spells that could be loaded into these things. Percussive forces, pure heat, perhaps even poison gas! Truly, it could render pistols obsolete.”

Camille stepped a little closer. “And yet, a pistol can fire multiple shots without needing to be reloaded, whereas this appears to be done after one shot.”

Harry grinned. “Who needs one shot when you’ve got power like this? Imagine the fire spreading out like a fan instead of firing straight and slender. As a weapon to intimidate your enemies, there would be nothing else like it. Do you think the emperor would be interested in such a thing?”

“Your concept is quite intriguing, and I shall certainly mention it to him.” Anton was sure he would, too. As much as the idea sickened him, no ruler would want something like this in the hands of their enemies and not their own troops, if they could help it. The best way to get ahead of that eventuality was to be the first one to take advantage of the technology. “But this is not the matter most relevant right now.”

“Oh? What is, then?”

Camille gently interrogated him about the men who had been murdered, but at the end of it all they got from him was a shrug and a simple, “Don’t know any of those blokes. The only business I ever have on that side of town is buying cheap drinks for whatever lady of the night happens to have caught my eye.”

“I see. Can you verify your whereabouts on the night of these murders for me?”

“I was out with my mates. They were with me the whole time, you can ask them.” He pulled another wand out from the inside of his coat. “Are we done here, then?”

If Camille felt at all threatened, he wasn’t showing it. Anton did his best not to blanch as well, but it wasn’t easy. “We’re done for now, Mr. Beaufort. Thank you for your time.”

“Don’t forget to mention me to the emperor,” Harry directed as he turned back toward the dummy. “Someone’s going to pay me a lot of money to develop this for them. If it isn’t him, it’ll be someone else.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” They left, but Anton couldn’t quite bring himself to speak until they were back down on the ground floor.

“He’s a madman.”

“Sadly not.”

“Are you blind? What he’s developing—a technology like this, it could—it could—the damage that could be done is incalculable! In what way isn’t that mad?”

Camille shook his head sadly. “Unfortunately, in the world of politics, methods like Mr. Beaufort’s will be seen as innovating and enterprising and, worst of all, inevitable. Thaumaturgy has long been the mainstay of religion and science, but it was only a matter of time before such things were developed in more destructive directions. I’m afraid Mr. Beaufort’s fortunes are assured no matter where he decides to peddle his idea.”

Anton was almost spitting with disgust. “That is absolutely hideous.”

“You are not wrong.” The solemn agreement in Camille’s voice made him feel just a bit better. “And his alibi is as shaky as Mr. MacPherson’s, depending on each other as they do. We need to speak to Mr. Montgomery to get the complete picture, though.”


“Then let’s find him, fast.” If the culprit was Harry, then the sooner they could lock him away, the better.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Six, Part Two

Notes: I wrote half of this in an actual coffee shop! Out and about! I've got a friend here with me giving me the courage to actually go places with my baby, which is exciting and nervewracking. Anyway, have some more investigation!

Title: The Tower, Chapter Six, Part Two

***


Chapter Six, Part Two



Percival MacPherson worked out of a communal laboratory on the first floor, but he wasn’t there when they checked. Another student pointed them in the direction of the Thaumaturgy and Religion lecture in the main building, where to Anton’s surprise, Percival wasn’t just a student, he was the teacher’s assistant. In fact, he was the one speaking to the class as they walked in. A few curious heads turned their way, but Percival didn’t even pause.

“—posit that due to lack of thaumaturgical evidence, there is a corresponding lack of the eternal. Since the inception of thaumaturgy, its use in religious rites has served a dual purpose of reinforcing the existence of God to man, and proving that there is a seed of the immortal in us as well, in that the presence of the Holy Spirit responds to our rituals. It is an overly simplistic view of faith, religion, and indeed the soul itself.” He spoke sternly, and for the first time Anton noticed a rosary gleaming on his chest. Perhaps he didn’t wear it when he wasn’t teaching.

“The truth is, there are vast and unplumbed depths yet to be studied concerning the link between magic and God. For example, we say there are those who are damned because our blessings don’t appear to have any effect on them. What if, rather than consigning them to the midden heap from birth on because we assume they lack a soul, we assume that we are the ones who lack the proper equations to create a spell that detects their soul? What if it resides in a different place, or in a different form? What if their connection to God is deeper and more profound, and therefore ineffable? We have made assumptions for centuries about who is and who is not capable of holiness. I think the time has come to question those assumptions.”

“A passionate speaker,” Camille murmured to me. “Especially for a Catholic. The papal decrees on this subject are quite firm.”

“I had no idea,” Anton confessed. “He’s always seemed so much more…flippant.”

“Then he will be an interesting conversationalist.”

Camille waited until the end of the lecture and the dispersal of most of the students before heading to the front of the hall. “You make some very compelling points, sir.”

Percival cocked an eyebrow at him. “I know I do. What is your interest in the subject?”

“A personal one, but not the reason I’m here. I am Lord Lumière, on the Emperor’s business.”

Percival took a slight step back. “I-I assure you I have all the necessary permissions to be pursuing this line of research,” he babbled, all his former confidence gone. “Doctor Grable assured me that this was all legal! I’m not doing any sort of—”

“I’m not here to shut down your research,” Camille assured him. Percival relaxed slightly, but his face didn’t lose its wary cast. “I am here to investigate a magical murder. Several, actually.”

“Ah.” Percival shook his head. “Is this about Father Brooks?”

“You knew him?”

“Not personally, but my priest did. His death was quite disturbing.”

“Indeed it was, especially since it was likely aided by magic.”

“What?” Sadness gave way to skepticism. “This is the first I’ve heard of that.”

“Nevertheless.” It was hard to argue with a nevertheless, but Percival tried anyway.

“It doesn’t make sense. Why would a thaumaturge have reason to kill a priest?”

“Why does anyone kill anyone else? In cases like this, the motives are usually personal.” Camille’s voice took on a more speculative tone. “You believe that there is no such thing as soullessness?”

“I do.” It was said with such perfect conviction even Anton found himself wanting to nod along.

“Why?” There was a beat of uncomfortable silence before Camille continued, “I assure you, I am the last person to judge you harshly for this line of investigation, but you surely understand that this is considered settled doctrine by the church. If the blessings don’t take, then the afflicted is excommunicated.”

“And that is ridiculous!” Percival exploded. “It is this sort of thinking that takes us back to the dark ages of a vengeful god instead of a loving one, for why else would God allow such a thing? I cannot believe it.”

“Many clerics ascribe it to an act of the devil while the child is still in the womb, perhaps a punishment for the parents.”

Percival scowled. “A line of thinking I consider equally ludicrous. No child should have to suffer for the mistakes of their parents. It is antithetical to the very nature of Christ. There is always the chance for forgiveness.”

“But how are you so sure?” When Percival’s lips tightened, Camille held up a hand. “I have no interest in arguing with your convictions. I find the hypothesis intriguing. I simply wish to understand the why of it.”

Percival sighed. “I suppose it wouldn’t be difficult for a lumière to find this out about me. I have a sister. She was born perfectly normal in every way, a beautiful baby, healthy and happy…but the birth blessings didn’t take. She was declared soulless, and my parents were advised to put her away in an asylum.” Where she would probably be dead before she’d reached her first year. Not a lot of care was taken with those considered to be soulless.

“I take it they didn’t.”

“No. They kept her, and while their social standing has suffered for it, my sister has thrived. She is as blessed in the sight of God as any other child in this world, I would stake my own soul on it. There are those priests who agree with me, many more than will say it publicly, but until I can provide some sort of thaumaturgical rationale for the failure of the blessing, they’re too afraid to speak up.” He looked distant. “She is ten years old now, and life is easy enough for her at the moment, but she will never be allowed to go to a public school, or marry in the eyes of the church, if I don’t do something about it. She will become more and more isolated and shunned, and that’s insupportable.

“But the research isn’t supported by the Church of England, or by most European universities. This is the only one that would assist me in my studies, so…here I am.”

“Was Father Brooks a believer?”

“I don’t know, but my own priest thought highly of him. He was new to the city, as I understand.”

“I see.” Camille did a quick rundown of the other victims, but Percival claimed no knowledge of any of them.

“You aren’t considering me as the perpetrator, surely?” he asked, an incredulous smile hovering on his face.

“You’ve been known to be less than judicious in your company and actions,” Camille pointed out, and Percival blushed.

“Gerry’s hard to say no to, but he’s a good sort at heart,” he said awkwardly. “I don’t know many people here, so I want to hold on to the few people I do know. If that means the occasional night out, so be it. We don’t do anything illegal or dangerous.”

“Ah.” The interview wrapped up a few minutes later, and Percival left before both of them.

“I am stunned,” were the first words out of Anton’s mouth. “He’s always been such a bloody idiot, I didn’t realize he could be anything else.”

Camille hmmed. “Even idiots can have hidden depths. I’m surprised he found any school to formally support his line of inquiry, especially in the Empire.”

“Zürich is famously neutral in all sorts of conflicts. It stands to reason it would maintain that neutrality in the mental sphere as well as the physical.” Anton wanted to dig a little deeper, to see how Camille felt about someone researching the idea that he might indeed have a soul, but Camille was already moving toward the door.


“Two down. Two to go.”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Six, Part One

Notes: Happy NaNoWriMo, for those who are doing it! I'm...just doing my best. But here, still getting some things done, have some story!

Title: The Tower: Chapter Six, Part One

***

Chapter Six, Part One



If they must leave the warmth of their shared bed behind, at least it was for a good reason. Anton found sleeping with another man quite enjoyable after so much time alone, but Camille wasn’t here to indulge Anton’s desire to spend the day in bed. First and foremost, they had a killer to catch.

Lucardo Klein had a space in a laboratory on the bottom floor of the building. Anton had been envious at first, before realizing that the location was entirely strategic on the part of the professors. It kept Lucardo close enough to keep an eye on, close enough for them to step in and put out fires—literally, in a few cases—before they blazed out of control. Lucardo resented that, from what Anton could tell, but not enough to demand things changed. One thing a thaumaturge had to be was honest, at least with themselves, over what they could and couldn’t accomplish with their powers. Lucardo was ambitious and creative, but so lacking in control as to be dangerous to himself, and sometimes to others. Anton could certainly see why he was on the list.

“What’s this note about ‘miasma extension’ I read next to his name?” Camille asked softly as they entered the tower, heading for Lucardo’s laboratory.

“Ah, it’s what he wishes to make into his thesis, I believe,” Anton replied. He was wearing his relatively youthful, redheaded glamour, and was happy to be able to take full strides this time around. “Lucardo has ideas about setting up—he calls them monuments, I believe—to the dead. He’s trying to figure out a way to prolong a death miasma indefinitely, with much greater visibility, even in the light of day.”

“Ambitious.”

“And fruitless, most likely, but it’s an interesting concept.”

“Why set up monuments to the way people have passed on?”

“As a warning to the living, I think.” Anton bit his lower lip for a moment. “I don’t know much about Lucardo’s youth, but I believe his family died violently. He was made a ward of the lord of his canton once his abilities were discovered.”

“I suppose that explains his preference for pursuing thaumaturgy that relates to the dead rather than the living.” Camille glanced at Anton. “When we see him, let me do the speaking. Your glamour is undoubtedly good, but does it also change your voice?”

Good point. “No.”

“Then we don’t want to risk him recognizing you that way, even if it seems unlikely. You will simply be my assistant.”

“I understand.” Anton pointed at a door on the right, one that looked like it’s frame had been recently replaced. “This is his space.”

“Thank you.” Camille stepped up to it and knocked briskly against the heavy wood. “Mr. Klein.” He paused a moment. “Mr. Klein?”

What?

That single word was a mixture of such abject anger and frustration that Anton drew back a little, startled. Camille went for the doorknob, but it opened before he could open it himself. Lucardo appeared in the doorway, wild-eyed, his frantic gaze fixed firmly on the floor. “Jesus God in Heaven, where are all these little bastards coming from?” he snapped.

Anton looked down to see two rats flee into the hallway, running along the wall. “Those are the fifth and sixth ones I’ve found in my lab in two days,” Lucardo continued, running one hand through his thin brown hair. “Filthy little vermin.”

“Why not kill them?”

Lucardo looked at Camille as if he’d only just noticed him. “What?”

“You seem to loathe rats, and they are only vermin, as you say. Why not kill them?”

He shuddered slightly. “Then I would have to touch them. Hideous things, I just wanted them gone, and revulsion spells are easier to manage than death spells.” His dark eyes narrowed into suspicious slits. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“You may call me Monsieur Lumière.”

Lucardo’s face unaccountably brightened. “A lumière? Here on the emperor’s business, I take it?”

“Correct.”

“How can I be of assistance? Do you require a thaumaturge?”

“I already have one.” Camille indicated Anton, and the searching glare that Lucardo gave him made the hair on the back of his neck rise. “I prefer to speak privately, Mister Klein.”

The glare was leveled at Camille now. “And I prefer not to be importuned while focused on my research, monsieur, but clearly we don’t always get what we want.”

Camille smiled politely. “I do.” The stared at each other in perfect silence for a long moment before Lucardo finally stepped to the side, waving them inside with ill grace.

Anton had to keep himself from shivering as he stepped into the lab. It was cold here, far colder than the hall outside, and the whole room carried a heavy odor of burnt incense like a residue in the air, rubbing off on skin and hair as they moved into it. There was only a single lit torch on the wall, and no window to the outside.

“What is it?” Lucardo demanded once he’d shut the door behind them. “If you don’t need my help, then why are you bothering me?”

“I’m here on the matter of a murder.”

“You already said you don’t want my help investigating anything!”

Camille endured the shouting without a ruffle. “What I need your help with, Mr. Klein, is determining whether or not you are the murderer.”

Well, that was…blunt. But it did the trick of shutting Lucardo up for a moment. His anger seemed to diminish and his interest rise yet again. “Am I to understand that these murders were committed with magic?”

“Magic was certainly involved.”

“And you came to me? Why?”

Camille shrugged. “My focus is on those thaumaturges with profound power. Your name was mentioned.”

Lucardo preened. “Grable finally recognizing my worth, it seems. I’ll take the compliment, monsieur, but I am no murderer. My goal in life is to stop such heinous crimes, not perpetrate them.”

“You don’t deny that you have the ability, though.”

“Any fool who can throw a brick or drug a drink has the ability to be a killer. And to kill with magic would require great skill and great preparation, as I’m sure your—” the way he looked at Anton was scathing “—apprentice here can tell you. It would be far easier to simply stab a man and have done. Less telling miasmas as well.” He brightened again. “How many people have been killed? May I inspect the bodies?”

“Several, and they are already buried, I’m afraid.”

Lucardo scowled. “Wasteful. Who investigated them with you, this man? I do not recognize him. Where did you train, sirrah?”

Camille stepped between them. “I have no further questions for the moment.”

“Why even bother if you’re not going to really grill me?” Lucardo muttered. “You know who you should pursue next? Anton Seiber. He’s a sly, conniving man, nowhere near as powerful as me, but he does have a certain…finesse. Find him and see whether he can defend himself.”

“I shall.”

A moment later they were back in the hall, the door slammed in their faces. Camille turned to Anton. “Interesting.”

“Interesting? He’s trying to lay the blame on me!” And so clumsily, too. It was insulting. “Why didn’t you question him harder?”

“Because I knew from the moment he opened the door that he wasn’t the one we were looking for. If his reaction to a few rats in the same room as himself is so virulent, he would never be able to use them to eat another person alive. But it is novel that he seemed so keen to be accused. And then to lay the blame in your direction, probably the one forensic thaumaturgy student in the university who regularly bests Mr. Klein in his studies…” Camille smiled slightly. “Is it merely jealousy, or a more nefarious motive?”

“Ask him!”


“Later. For now, we have another suspect to locate.”