Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Five, Part One

Notes: Okay, so don't kill me, I swear the cockblocking won't last. I swear! It's just how this one turned out!!!

Title: The Tower: Chapter Five, Part One


Chapter Five, Part One

One might expect that a lumière, one of the emperor’s cadre of elite investigators, a person imbued with more power and responsibility than any individual other than Napoleon III himself, would be staying at the best hotel in Zürich, not even contemplating anything less than that. One would be wrong. In fact, a little investigating of his own after the incident on the train had led Anton to the conclusion that the real value of a lumière came from his or her irreproachable reputation and devotion to the laws of the empire, and the power of the emperor. Nothing he could find, no news stories, no anecdotes even, could point at a lumière living a life of luxury. They were austere, serious in their dedication to the task at hand and unwilling to deal in petty local politics, which included refusing any signs of grandiosity.

He had wondered, idly, how many of them were like Camille—soulless, or at least unaffected by magic, ritually religious or otherwise. How many of them would have been excommunicated if not for the emperor intervening as he had with Camille, or finding some other lever with which to compel absolute loyalty. Part of him, the scientist in him, wanted to ask, to categorize and fit the group with the appropriate labels in his mind. The rest of him, the larger part, reminded himself not to be rude and to restrain his curiosity. The last thing he wanted to do was to make Camille think he was untrustworthy, digging for information like that.

Perhaps tonight would offer an opportunity to examine the issue further. Or perhaps it would lead them in an entirely different direction. Anton felt his face flush, and was grateful for the masking dark of twilight. He stopped in front of the Limmathof, a modest three-tiered place just a few blocks down from the train station, then squared his shoulders and walked inside.

The front entrance was a bit gloomy, the dark wood swallowing most of the light the lantern over the front desk provided, but the air smelled like hot roast and potatoes, and Anton’s mouth watered a bit despite himself. He stepped over to the desk and met the eye of the young man behind it. “Excuse me, could you tell me where I might find—” He faltered for a moment, unsure of how to introduce the very concept of Camille. Was he incognito? Would asking for the lumière give everything away?

“Ah, you are Herr Seiber?”

“Yes.” Of course Camille had foreseen this.

“Our guest has directed me to send you straight up to his room, number two-oh-four. Your dinner will be up shortly, sir.”

“Thank you.” He turned toward the stairs and headed up, keeping his steps brisk. There was no sense in letting his nerves get the better of him now. He got to Camille’s room, at the very end of the hall, and knocked twice. The door opened, and the warm glow inside cast Camille into a shadowy silhouette in front of Anton, dark and distant. For a moment he was stuck, immobile, before Camille laid a warm hand on his shoulder and broke the illusion.

“Anton.” He squeezed for a moment before letting go. “Please come inside.”

“Thank you,” Anton managed. He followed Camille into the room, tried not to let the quiet snick of the door closing affect his nerves. Alone at last…and Anton had no idea what to do with it, whether it meant anything beyond the business at hand. It was probably better not to presume. He sat where Camille directed him and cleared his throat. “So, you spoke with Doctor Grable?”

“I did.” Camille settled into the high-backed chair across from him and reached for the teapot on the side table, pouring a fresh cup. He handed it over to Anton, then continued. “He’s a rather intimidating man.”

“Yes, he is.” That, at least, they could agree on.

“I’ve met very few thaumaturges with combat abilities before. I wonder to what uses his might be put.”

Anton paused with the cup halfway to his lips. “Are you suggesting…that Doctor Grable might have—”

“Not seriously,” Camille said, but he sounded pensive. “Yet it’s suggestive, isn’t it? The only thaumaturge in a hundred miles that is an acknowledged master at manipulating the magic of others, and in such a position of power and responsibility. The good doctor is a man with many connections, not all of them clear enough for me to make out. I cannot know all of his motivations, and that makes me…questioning.”

He shook his head before Anton could press him on the point. “But his very expertise makes him less likely to be the murderer, because one assumes he could make those deaths look completely accidental, not so deliberately the work of a thaumaturge. Let us move on to the other candidates.” He picked up a sheaf of papers and glanced at the one on top, then handed it over to Anton. “These are his picks for potential killers among your ranks. Tell me your impressions of them.”

Anton set his tea aside unsipped, his attention wholly focused on the names in front of him now. Ten people, nine men and one woman, all students at the university with him. “Not Bella,” he said immediately.

“Why not? Because of her sex?”

“Oh no, that wouldn’t be an impediment for her. But she’s not…she’s…” How did he explain something like this? “She has far more pressing concerns than murdering for the Devoué.”

“Such as?”

“She is in competition to become the court thaumaturge in the canton. Her skills are by far the best, but the rest of the competitors are all men, from well-placed families, so she is working twice as hard for half as much recognition.” Anton pursed his lips. “She wants to become a part of the status quo, not fight against it.”

“An acceptable interpretation. And the others?”

“Hmm.” He scanned the list again. “The five who are underclassmen, I sincerely doubt have it in them for this. They are all powerful, in uniquely different ways, but again, they all come from locally influential families. They have little reason to disrupt their futures.”

“Little reason that you know of. There are few things more opaque than the aristocracy, and motives come from all quarters of the heart and mind.”

“Even if they wanted to work against their own best interests,” Anton persisted, “our younger students are monitored with far more rigor that our graduate students. I sincerely doubt they could have mustered the time away to effect one murder, much less four.”

“We’ll save them for later, if our early investigations don’t bear fruit,” Camille said.

Assuaged, Anton looked at the next name on the list. Lucardo Klein. His eyebrows raised without his permission. “Oh.”

“Oh what?”

“I should have—hmm. I didn’t even consider Lucardo.”

“Why not?”

“Well, he’s also studying forensic thaumaturgy,” Anton explained, feeling a bit on the spot. “But honestly, he’s got a long way to go before he’s ready for work in the field. I—I know because we take certain classes together, having the same specialty. He’s quite powerful, it’s true, but his power isn’t very…subtle.”

“He sounds like he would be better suited to another specialty then.”

“Try telling him that.” Anton hadn’t been brave enough to attempt it after listening to Lucardo eviscerate a professor who tried to steer him in a different direction at the beginning of the term. His vicious outburst led to a suspension and he’d been better behaved ever since, but apart from those times when being in his presence was unavoidable, Anton never sought the man out. The reverse wasn’t quite true; Lucardo knew Anton was further along in his studies and approached him several times for assistance, but with such an air of petulance that it was more of a chore than anything else to deal with him.

“He’s worth looking into,” Anton said. “But knowing what he does about our craft, I would have expected him to be more careful as well.”

“And the last three names?”

Anton looked down at them and burst out laughing. “Gerald Montgomery. Naturally.”

Camille leaned forward a bit. “You know him as well?”

“Not as well as he’d like me to know him, but somewhat.”

Now Camille’s eyebrow rose. “In what way is he interested in you?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but I’d rather not find out.” Anton sighed. “He’s a nobleman, with all the attendant inability to take ‘no’ for an answer. The world must bend to suit his wishes, or he becomes obsessed. I haven’t bent for him yet, and I don’t intend to.” He looked at the next two names. “Percival MacPherson and Harry Beaufort. Likely more aristocracy, of lesser rank if the way they cling to him is any indication.”

“Doctor Grable ranks their abilities highly.”

“He ranks their power highly,” Anton corrected. “The term is scarcely over, he hasn’t yet had ample opportunity to observe their abilities with any certainty. Gerald is powerful, I can attest to that. Possibly more so than any other student at the university, but it is an undirected force. He has great strength of will but little discernment of how to properly harness it.”

“And the other two?”

“I can’t say.” It grated on him, not being able to be of more use. “I should know, but I’ve spent more time evading these gentlemen than evaluating them. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Camille stretched out a hand and Anton gave the paper back to him. “This is a good place to start. We’ll begin with your Lucardo tomorrow morning, and move on to the fractious aristocrats in the afternoon.”

“You want me with you for this?”

“If you have another of those disguises handy, yes. Having your insight into their powers will be invaluable assistance.”

Anton’s heart swelled with contentment. He was good, he was useful. “I’m well-prepared, I assure you.”

“Good. Now that that’s out of the way, then.” He fixed Anton with a stare that was blatantly heated. The power of it was so unexpected that Anton almost flinched, and that wasn’t the impression he wanted to give. “Perhaps we may speak of what occurred between us on the train moments before we parted. If that’s of interest to you.”

“Oh,” Anton breathed. “Yes. Absolutely.”

“Excellent. In that case—”

A rap on the door postponed whatever Camille was about to say, followed by a voice announcing, “Brought your dinner up, sirs!”

“Damn it,” Camille muttered.

Anton had to agree.

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