Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Three, Part Two

Notes: Oh my god, I did it! I managed to get some words down while my baby was napping! Have some Anton and Camille and dead people, enjoy, yaaaaay!

Title: The Tower: Chapter Three, Part Two


Chapter Three, Part Two

The second morgue wasn’t quite as neat and kept up as the first, but it was still a testament to the cultural fastidiousness of Zürich’s population. There was almost no smell of death at all, and while the walls and floor weren’t clean enough to eat from, they were a far cry from the charnel houses of London. This morgue was kept along a dark side street near the red light district, and while the stars were beginning to disappear overhead by the time they arrived there, there was still plenty of darkness left to assure a successful miasma.

The proprietor, a woman this time, let them in silently. She took the handful of coins that Camille proffered, pointed toward a heavy wooden door, then took herself off to another part of the house.

“Curious,” Anton murmured.

“Not really. Frau Schumacher and I came to an agreement over the bodies yesterday. She knew to expect us. And as she is functionally mute nowadays, I didn’t expect much in the way of verbal interaction.”

“Mute?” Anton blinked. “What happened to her?”

“I believe it was an unexpected side effect of a particularly nasty spell, but it’s impolite to speculate about such things. What affects one person one way—”

“—might have a completely different effect on another, yes, I know.” It was one of the first things any thaumaturge learned in school: you could predict the outcome of a spell down to the minutiae, that was what all the symbols and equations and paraphernalia was for. The less you left things to chance, to variability, the more control you had over the outcome. However, no spell was completely foolproof, and little things about the people you cast it on or around, from their emotional state to the clothes they wore to the changing direction of the wind, might wreak havoc on it. Anton still remembered an incident when he was young, when one of his fellow students cast an illusion on another, then promptly began shrieking with horror when the illusion made the boy appear as a hideously mutilated corpse, instead of simply altered to be paler.

Camille’s gentle touch on Anton’s elbow broke him out of his remembrance. “Shall we?”

“Uh, yes. Of course.” Anton led the way into the morgue, cool and quiet. A dimmed lantern already hung on the wall, providing just enough illumination to see the two bodies, five feet apart. “Which one first?”

Camille stepped up to the body on the right and checked beneath the linen cloth covering it. “This one. This is Jackson Clark, our most adept street mage. One wonders what the finder was being asked to find.”

“The palimpsest, surely,” Anton said as he set up his equipment again.

“Yes, but by what means? If it is as secret as I suspect it to be, then there should be no way to locate it directly. The more details with a finding spell, the better, correct?”

“Always. A resonance spell would have been ideal, but without coming into contact with the palimpsest there was no way to know the resonance of it.” Anton chalked the path to the body, then went back and lit his little flame. Camille kept silent, and a moment later, as the smoke wafted over the body, the scene played out. It was sadly familiar. The man writhed on the ground, caught in the grip of an unseen hand, and after a few moments, his throat was unceremoniously slit.

Camille sighed. “As I suspected.”

“If only some of them had invested the time in learning defensive spells.” Anton shook his head. “It might have saved their lives.”

“Yet magic is notoriously poor at being quick-cast.”

“Proper defensive spells are not quick-cast,” Anton replied. “Offensive spells might be, but that is a special branch of thaumaturgy that I’ve never delved very deeply into. Defensive spells, though, those can be linked to anything, like this charm I’m wearing to hide my face. They might not be very powerful, but they could be the difference between life, and…well.” He waved at the body of Jackson Clark. “That.”

Camille seemed interested, stepping closer as Anton began to set up for the final death miasma. “Do you employ them yourself?”

“Well, I didn’t before the—the incident on the train.” And it was a shame, because being better prepared might have saved Anton from several beatings. “But since then, I’ve begun studying it a bit. The knife, you know, was a variant on a defensive spell, a very powerful variant. I’d never go that far, but.” He shrugged. “It certainly pays to be prepared.”

“Indeed.” Camille looked down at Anton warmly, and he felt his cheeks heat in reaction. “You’ll have to tell me about the fruit of your studies at a more opportune moment.”

“I-I would be delighted to, of course.” Anton looked down and cursed himself silently for blushing. Would he never have better control over his own emotions where Camille was concerned? “Give me a moment.”

“Take all the time you need.”

Anton focused his energies and cast the spell for the last time. The smoke rose toward the fourth body, the final unfortunate soul who had been lost to this killer. Anton expected the death scene to be much the same as the others, but instead—

The man’s body jerked and flailed, staggering to his feet and dropping down to his knees again as he slapped ineffectually at his chest and face. His smoky mouth opened in a silent scream, hands clenched like claws on either side of his head. Something appeared to dart down his throat, and a moment later, he convulsed and fell onto his side.

The scene repeated. It repeated again. By the third time, Anton was more than ready to abolish it, and Camille finally nodded. Rather than looking disgusted, he appeared intrigued.

“Ah, now that is interesting.”

“He was…” Anton had seen this before, just not as violently. “He was being eaten alive.”

“Indeed he was. I knew that Garth Killian’s body had been found somewhat chewed, but—” he walked over and checked under the cloth “—I didn’t know that it was because he had been attacked by his own magic.”

“What do you mean?”

“Give me a moment to confirm.” Camille pried the poor man’s mouth open and peered inside of it. “Yes. There’s a rat down there.”

Anton’s stomach swooped dangerously. “He was forced to swallow a rat?”

“He was. Mr. Killian was a very effective exterminator—it was his sole focus. For his own magic to be turned against him, or at the very least for his spell to be overwhelmed by someone else’s, he must have been killed by another thaumaturge.”

Anton slowly felt the logical part of his brain begin to function again with a little bit of distance from the horror now. “It’s hard to beat someone at their own game. There are intricacies that can only be known through years of experimentation and practice.”

“Indeed. So, it must have been a very strong thaumaturge, someone strong enough to force their will on a street mage with little to no damage to themselves.”

“Dangerous,” Anton said. “But possible.”

“The act of someone steeped in contempt for who he was dealing with, and filled with a powerful sense of his own abilities,” Camille agreed. “Well. This narrows the field considerably.”

“Where will you look next?”

Camille smiled, the warmth replaced by something sharper. “Why, at your university, of course.”

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Oh Baby

My baby is here! Oh my gosh, my baby is here. I am so full of love it's overwhelming.

I'm also tired, sore, sleep deprived, tired, hungry, sleepy, and did I mention tired? Because I am.

I will have more Tower for you as soon as childishly possible, but my kiddo has needs, and those include most of my time and brain power at the moment. First kid, what can I say? There's a learning curve.

Thanks for being patient, and for the lovely well wishes :)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Moving Things Up--ie, Why There's No Tower Today

Hi guys.

So, there should be a chapter here, yeah? Or at least half a chapter. But life has gotten in the way, in a BIG way. After a doctor's appointment last week, it was decided that Baby Girl needs to come out sooner rather than later, so tomorrow we're going in to be induced. Technically she's full term and everything looks like it's working okay, we're just three weeks earlier than I thought we'd be.

Three weeks. Three WEEKS. I was counting on having those weeks to get all sorts of stuff done, and now life has turned into a mad dash of getting the house ready, buying whatever else we might need, making preparations for our dog, readying ourselves for the hospital--you get the drill. I've been the next best thing to frantic, and tired and super pregnant to boot, so...yeah. I wish I'd gotten it done, but I didn't. I don't know when the next chapter will post, since after tomorrow I'll have a tiny human depending on my and my man, and our tiny human expertise is limited. I see a lot of trial and error in my future.

I'm excited to welcome my baby, though, and excited to get the pregnancy part of this experience over with, and excited about labor--or, wait, that might be anxiety. Probably anxiety. I'll try to let you guys know how things go as soon as possible. In the meantime, thanks for reading (or trying to read) and best of luck in whatever you're doing this next week.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Three, Part One

Notes: It's body time! Let's investigate some death miasmas, shall we?

Title: The Tower: Chapter Three, Part One


Chapter Three, Part One

The first morgue on their list was not far from the magnificent Grossmünster Cathedral, a holy place dating from the time of Charlemagne. Its grounds had served as a burial place for over eight centuries, so perhaps it was no wonder that a morgue had found its way into the church’s shadow. Those in the community who were better off would surely prefer to bury their dead in the church graveyard, and a conveniently placed morgue was essential for keeping a body fresh before burial, even in a cool locale like Zürich. It was nothing like the places Anton had worked in London, with stained bricks and wet slabs and bodies piling up in the back while he cast spell after spell, confirming cause of death and, in some cases, illuminating it.

It had been necessary, honorable work, but the stink of the nearby Thames, rotting bodies and ever-burning crematoriums had seeped into his clothing, his hair, and even his skin by the end of a day. Even the harshest soaps could not entirely scrub him clean, not in one washing, and no matter how his mother had tried, essence of lavender and extract of lemon were no match for particles of immolated fat. Anton had not been in a position to refuse to do such work, but when the chance at getting his Master’s had come along, he had seized it with both hands.

The morgue they entered now was a crisp, clean place, its front whitewashed and very visible even in the low light. An elderly man carrying a taper met them at the door. “You’re the investigators here to view the young gentlemen, I take it?” he asked calmly.

“Indeed.” Camille held out a hand and the two men shook. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with us at this early hour. This is my colleague, Herr Vogt.”

“Herr Vogt.” The old man smiled thinly. “And you the emperor’s lumière. Quite the hardy knot of justice looking into these deaths.” His smile vanished. “These poor lads should have been buried two days ago, Monsieur Lumière. It is not seemly to make the dead wait for their final resting place with the Lord.”

“It would be even less seemly for them to go to their eternal rest with their murders unresolved,” Camille rejoined. “They cannot speak for themselves now, so allow my colleague and I to discover what we may of them. If we can prevent this tragedy from befalling other talented young men, I will consider the sacrifice of their wait well worth it.”

The man grumbled a little, but turned aside and waved them through. “They are in the back, next to Frau Fischer. Go straight down the hall, it is the final door, and unlocked. No one has been inside since yesterday, when we brought the good woman in. Her husband is also anxiously awaiting the release of his dear wife’s body, so I implore you—make haste.”

“You have followed protocol most precisely, my thanks.” Camille bowed slightly, and the man handed over the taper with an incline of his own head. “We shall be gone before the next hour is struck.”

“I shall hope for it, Monsieur.” He locked the front door behind them, then disappeared upstairs. Camille didn’t bother to watch him go, just strode down the hall so fast Anton was hard-pressed to keep up at first.

“Do you want to go in by yourself first?” Camille asked, stopping in front of the door. “I remember that being quite important on the train.”

Anton shook his head. “The bodies have already been taken from their original resting places. I won’t get much out of their surroundings at this point. We’ll be lucky to get five seconds of miasma here, and it likely won’t be repeatable for long, so do join me.”

“Very well.” Still, he hung back and let Anton lead now, which was…heartening. He pushed the door open and stepped into the chill of the morgue.

However this proprietor was keeping the place cold, he was doing an excellent job of it. Anton could see his own breath in the faint light, and he rubbed his hands together briefly before approaching the first slab. He eased back the linen covering the man’s face and took in the white collar around his ruined neck. “The priest.”

“Father Jeremiah Brooks,” Camille confirmed. “A strange target, even for someone going after magically-talented Englishmen. He had enough ability to rank as a full priest, but Father Brooks was no true thaumaturge. The most interesting thing about him was his wanderlust.”

“Perhaps there will be something more to glean upon seeing his death miasma.” Anton took a step back and opened his holdall. “Please position yourself against the wall while I make the spell.”

“Of course.” Camille stepped back and then there was just Anton and the work he knew like the back of his hand. He pulled out a small silver bowl, set it on the floor, then inscribed a circle of symbols around it in chalk. From those, he drew a straight line over to the slab, ending it just shy of Father Brook’s head. He knelt again, pulled out the mixture of herbs and metals that went hand in hand with conjuring a miasma, and set the sachet inside the bowl.

He took out a match and a paper fan, closed his eyes and drew in his power along with his breath, then spoke the triggering spell. The match lit, and he lowered it to the herbs, which blazed far brighter than such a little package should have. The fire died just as quickly, and Anton used the fan to waft the smoke toward the body, allowing nothing to disturb his focus and concentration. The chalk acted like an updraft, drawing the smoke to the slab. It collected over the body, then stilled. Anton held his breath. Perhaps it had been too long, perhaps he was too late…

Suddenly the smoke coalesced into the wavering form of a standing man. His head snapped back as though he’d been struck, and he fell to his knees. His hands rose in front of him, and a moment later, a gush of smoke erupted from his hazy throat. The man fell onto his side, the life flowing out of him, and a moment later, the scene reset.

Anton let it play twice more before Camille finally said, “Enough.” He erased the primary glyph holding the spell together, and the smoke began to dissipate. Camille stepped up to his side, his expression intent. “Interesting.”


“Because he was not bound. His hands were free right up to the end. It makes me think he either knew his attacker, or was seeing them in a professional capacity before they went for him. Father Brooks was found in his rooms, but he was known to have visitors on occasion.”

“Professional capacity.” Anton finally caught up. “You mean, he was acting as someone’s priest? A confessor, perhaps?”

“Perhaps. Or just a friendly ear in a foreign city. Curious.” Camille tapped his lips with one forefinger. “Most curious. And he didn’t even attempt to defend himself, simply made the sign of the cross as he died. Why he wouldn’t cry out…”

“Maybe he wanted to die with dignity.”

“There is little dignity to be had in death, especially a violent one,” Camille said. “You should remember that much from the train.” Anton shuddered and looked away. No one who had died on that train had died well, that was certain. “But let us move on. Master Frederick Hollyoak awaits.” He gestured to the next slab.

Anton cleaned up his first spell with steady hands, despite how unnerved he felt by the scene, and resettled in front of the other body. Camille pulled back the shroud as Anton began his preparations. His expression went from calm to stone-cold in an instant. “Ah.”

Anton refocused on him. “Ah?”

“Do the spell, but I have a feeling I already know what you’re going to find.” Camille replaced the cloth gently, and waved Anton back down when he made to stand up. “No, don’t look. It won’t make any difference if you see his state, and you don’t need the distraction.”

“I’ve worked with literally hundreds of corpses before,” Anton protested. “I won’t be frightened by what I see.”

“You won’t be improved by it either. Please.” There was a note of something almost imploring in Camille’s voice, and hearing it made Anton shiver. “Don’t look. Just cast the spell.”

“I…very well.” Anton went through the motions again, preparing the spell, speaking the incantation to light the match, and finally moving the smoke where it needed to go. It huddled over the body, which didn’t seem to react. No, wait—it had shifted, so that the journeyman thaumaturge was on his belly now instead of his back. He seemed to be barely breathing, awful, hitched things that caught in his lungs. An invisible hand lifted his head up, and Anton had just a second to see the way smoke seemed to ooze from every plane of the man’s face before his throat was cut, blood gushing. The scene reset.

“Is he…was he…”

“Tortured,” Camille confirmed. “Yes. I had been told, of course, but it’s different to see the evidence for myself. He was tortured quite brutally before his murderer finally killed him.”

“But for what?” Anton murmured, feeling sick to his stomach. He’d seen the afterimages of so many violent deaths, but rarely had they ever been more than that. Acts of passion, acts of coldhearted deliberation, yes, but not acts of drawn-out suffering.

“That is what we must discover.” Camille rested his hand on Anton’s shoulder for a moment. “Can you continue?”

“Of course.” Anton shook his head a little. “Of course I can. I was just surprised.”

“Good. The other morgue is a bit of a walk, and it’s too early yet for a coach.”

“I won’t let you down.”

Anton could hear the smile in the other man’s voice. “You never have. I don’t doubt that you never shall.”