Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Tower: Chapter One, Part One

Notes: On to our new story at last! This is the sequel to The Train, and will make more sense if you've read that one. If not, then know this: this is alt history, magic-wielding, pre-WWI craziness. The continent remained conquered by Napoleon, and is now ruled by his grandson Napoleon III. Our hero is Anton Seiber, a young thaumaturge--a magical scientist, basically--from England who traveled to Zurich to continue his education. Getting there was really difficult, and he became friends--and maybe more--with an imperial investigator who is immune to magic.

This starts three months after they part. Enjoy!

Title: The Tower: Chapter One, Part One

***

The Tower

Chapter One, Part One



“Seiber!” A meaty hand clapped Anton on the shoulder before he could escape it. “Where are you lurking off to now? Not going to crawl back into your dusty lab and burn the midnight oil on one of your projects for the dead, are you?” Without giving Anton a chance to reply, his captor spun him around.

Face to face, Gerald Montgomery was even less appealing to Anton than he’d been from behind. Montgomery was the unofficial head of the surprisingly large contingent of students at the Universität Zürich who hailed from the British Isles. He was as loud, brash, and universally disliked by most of Anton’s fellow master’s students as any of his ilk had been at Cambridge. And like at Cambridge, he was not only tolerated, but by and large, encouraged—Gerald Montgomery was in line to become a marquess when his father died, and it was never a bad idea to ingratiate yourself with a member of the peerage. Anton had to remind himself of that as Gerald’s hand on his shoulder tightened to the point of pain.

“Alas, I have spells in situ that simply cannot wait.” Finally, Montgomery let go of his shoulder, but Anton’s relief was short-lived as the man immediately threw his arm around Anton’s neck. It felt—unsurprisingly—rather like being yoked as though he were a beast of burden.

“Seiber, Seiber, Seiber.” Montgomery shook his head. “You will waste the best years of your youth if you spend them all on the edification of the mind to the exclusion of the body. Mens sana in corpore sano, as the Romans say. Come with us to the pub, have a few drinks, relax for a while! The Langstrasse area is an easy walk from there, and I daresay we could find an easy woman who might tempt even your virtue.”

Oh, yes. Lovely. Just what Anton wanted after a long day of taking and teaching classes, handling both eager and recalcitrant students and pining for his own hard-earned space—a trip to the whorehouses of Zürich with a group of drunk, loud, and largely ridiculous fellow thaumaturges. Perhaps one of them would get creative with his spellwork and set off a stink bomb, or turn someone’s skin purple. Fortunately, Anton had a trump card to play.

“Have pity on a poor student,” Anton said smoothly, patting Montgomery on the forearm before casually ducking out from under his grasp. “Some of us are here on scholarship, you know. My work output is all that keeps me in my studies, and I cannot afford to falter.” Under normal circumstances, he would never advertise his own relative poverty, but on this early evening Anton was more than willing to paint himself as a sad sap in exchange for liberty.

Montgomery frowned. “You always say that. But I will spot you the coin tonight, free you from your workaday shackles.” Clearly the idea of being seen as a patron to his peers appealed to him. Anton wondered, for perhaps the hundredth time, why this privileged son of the aristocracy had come all the way to Zürich to pursue a degree he seemed to have little interest in, when he would have been accepted with open arms and grasping pocketbooks by the finest universities in England.

It wasn’t that Gerald Montgomery was unskilled at thaumaturgy—he was rather irritatingly efficient at casting spells, in fact, although his basic preparations left much to be desired and were more often assembled by his cadre of admirers. It was simply that he seemed to have little interest in doing more than the basics, spending the rest of his time in personal and rather frivolous pursuits. At a research institution like this one, it made no sense. The man wouldn’t even have to rely on his thaumaturgy skill to earn a living one day—he was nobility, he was guaranteed an income.

“Not this time,” Anton said. “My spells simply won’t wait.”

“Then later this weekend,” Montgomery insisted. “You cannot have every minute of every day planned, and if you do, then change it.”

Change your life to suit my smallest whim, Seiber. Anton kept his calm smile on his face with a great deal of effort. “I will endeavor to, I assure you.”

“Gerry!” Another one of their British fellows called to Montgomery from the lecture hall’s side stone egress. “Hurry, before we lose our chance at a good place in the pub! Ella’s section always fills the fastest!”

“Shut your flapping lips, Percy, I’ll be there in a moment!” He turned back to Anton with a bit of mischief still in his face. “Are you sure? Percy can’t hold his liquor to save himself, and he’s hilarious when he’s blotto.”

“Next time,” Anton said, and finally, finally, the other man shrugged and turned away. Once he finally vanished into his throng of admirers, Anton let out a slow, relieved breath. There was one obstacle down, at least.

Fortunately, he had no students waiting for his time this evening. As soon as the university’s Head of Thaumaturgy, Doctor Grable, had ascertained that Anton possessed a Device that allowed him to speak seven different languages—Doctor Grable was renowned for his ability to detect and interpret thaumaturgical signatures of all kinds, and Anton had had no chance of denying his father’s Device’s existence—he had made Anton the go-to graduate student for students who struggled with English and German. He’d spent many hours he would have rather been researching helping those students interpret thaumaturgical equations and simplifying high-level magic as best he could.

It was useful work, and he didn’t begrudge his professor the right to give him responsibilities, but Anton was desperate for time alone. He had far too much to be getting on with to waste time on people like Gerald Montgomery. Anton shook his head to help clear the day from it, then gathered his paraphernalia into his holdall and headed for the Tower.

The Universität Zürich had different branches scattered throughout the city, but the sciences were housed in and around the main building, an imposingly large gray stone edifice lightened by patches of lawn and sky-high cupolas. Just behind the main building was the Tower of Thaumaturgy, where the founders of the school had wisely set apart their most volatile researchers. It was less of a tower than a dark, veiny square block that rose without grace into the air, buttressed by thick stonework and fewer windows than the rest of the university monuments. It was often described as “ugly, a blight, more like a prison than a university.” It was heavily spelled to maintain a neutral magical space, and securing a place for research in it was the source of much cutthroat negotiating between graduate students.

Anton had such a place, a small laboratory on the thirteenth floor, the highest in the tower. It was a long walk up, especially after an exhaustive day of teaching. Happily, that very inconvenience made it even more worthwhile for Anton, because few people found their way up there, which meant less botheration by his peers. On top of that, his lab was thaumaturgically secured by a series of locks that Anton had been improving ever since he settled in, three months ago now. It was as inviolable as he could possibly make it, which made the sight of his door standing open rather shocking to him.

“Oh no,” he murmured, hastening along the hall toward his tiny chamber, silver wand held high to project his simple charm for illumination down the stone corridor. Rather than bolting inside as soon as he got there, though, he bent down and surveyed the door itself. The spells were still there, they had simply been rendered—inert, for lack of a better word. They would need to be recharged, but that was easier than reconstructing them completely. Only a truly exceptional master would be able to get through his defenses without setting off an alarm. There were no signs of scuff marks around the edge of the lock or handle itself, so if it was a thief, then they were very good at picking locks.

But if they were so good, why had they left the door open? There were only two logical options for who could have entered so smoothly and obviously, and one of them would never make the hike to the thirteenth floor when he had an expansive laboratory of his own on the first.

Anton’s hand trembled slightly on the handle as he pushed the door the rest of the way open. Inside, the last rays of the sunset were barely enough to combat the encroaching grayness, but Anton could make out the familiar silhouette of a tall man in a top hat standing along the far wall.

He's here! But Anton had to be sure. “Camille?”

The figure turned, and Anton’s heart leapt in his chest when he verified the identity of his mysterious visitor. “Anton.” Lord Lumière, special investigator for his majesty Napoleon III, solver of the convoluted murder of the Viscount Bonaparte on the train to Lucerne, and one of a secret class of people who were immune to magic—some said because they were soulless, damned at birth by God—inclined his head in a show of perfect politeness. The smile on his face, however, was far more welcoming. “It is astonishingly good to see you again.”

That was all the welcome Anton needed to cross the room in six long steps and throw himself into Camille’s embrace. It was precipitous of him, probably even ridiculous, but he couldn’t help himself. He had experienced no truly welcome touch since their kiss farewell, three long months ago. Anton barely knew Camille, really, but he felt far closer to him than their stressful, exciting train trip together had merited. From the way Camille’s arms closed around his waist like they belonged there, pulling him closer and warming him from head to toe, perhaps Anton’s feelings weren’t entirely foolish or one-sided.

Nevertheless, he remembered his own abandoned dignity eventually and pulled away with a faint cough. “I—I wasn’t expecting you.” He winced, because what had he expected, that the lumière would tell him he was coming? That was the opposite of covert, and Camille was an expert at being covert.

“Forgive me for not contacting you in advance,” Camille replied, surprising Anton. “I was actually on my way to another part of the country when the emperor redirected me here.”

Oh. So it was mere chance that had led Camille this way again, rather than…something else. Anton nodded and put a little more space between them. “I see.” Of course he did, and he could be professional about it. “What is it that brought you to Zürich, then?”

“A murder, of course.” Of course. “Several, in fact. And when I ascertained the targets of these murders, I would allow no other lumière to take on the task.”

“Oh? Who is being murdered?”


“Englishmen.” The word dropped between them like a boulder, heavy with unspoken implication. “People like you, Anton.”

5 comments:

  1. This is going to be SO GOOD! I can already tell! Ahhh! Its off to a great start!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Cari! I'm excited to read this, but where is "The Train"? Do you have a link? Do I buy it? I want to read it first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gee! You could either pick through the blog to read it all, or--better option, check it out on AO3. I actually forgot I'd posted it there until just now. Enjoy!
      http://archiveofourown.org/works/7627132

      Delete
  3. They're back! I love this world and these characters, can't wait to see how this plays out.

    ReplyDelete