Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Four, Part One

Notes: It's short but it's here! Two weeks in a row, booyah! Have some planning and preparation, and also some cake. Mmmm, cake.

Title: The Tower: Chapter Four, Part One


Chapter Four, Part One

It was not that Anton couldn’t see that Camille’s determination was logical. When working a crime that involved thaumaturges, especially ones capable of killing each other, it made sense to steer the investigation toward the highest density of magic users. In this case, though…

“You do realize there are over four hundred students, graduate students and professors at the university, don’t you?” Anton questioned over tea and tortes in a little café not far from his dormitory. Camille had insisted on buying him breakfast after their early morning, and Anton soon recovered enough of his appetite to make the idea of eating appealing. He added a bit of jam to his pastry and bit in, doing his best not to moan at the taste of it. He hadn’t eaten out in…well, perhaps since arriving and having a welcome dinner with Doctor Grable. The food provided in the dormitory cafeteria was simple and filling and, best of all, cheap, but it rarely came with jam.

“I realize that, yes.” Camille sipped at his cup of coffee, which Anton had to admit smelled good even if it tasted vile, then shrugged. “But the vast majority of them are easy to exclude.”

“How do you figure that?” Anton asked after a hasty swallow.

Camille waved a hand at him. “Consider what we know, and then tell me who we’re looking for.”

Anton frowned. “Are you trying to turn me into an investigator?”

“Simply trying to expand your already-impressive powers of deduction. You are a man of logic. Approach the problem logically, and you’ll soon see why a near-hopeless task becomes quite doable.”

“Fine.” Anton set his pastry down and thought about what they’d seen that morning. “It must be someone powerful. But, power is difficult to quantify, and in fact there are rules against trying to categorize ourselves, in order to keep down abuses of authority.”

“And yet, you are ranked as students,” Camille pointed out. “Thaumaturgy has never been about simple raw power. It is a combination of finesse, attention to detail, willpower and, only lastly, the inherent strength of one’s ability. Given what we know of our murderer, I believe that no one in less than the top tenth percentile of practitioners could do what has been done.”

“That still leaves you with forty people to consider, and that’s if it’s a student at all. It could be a local, or someone working here—after all, the men killed were workers, not students.”

“True, but one must start somewhere.” Camille dabbed at his lips with a linen napkin. “And I believe we can narrow it down even further.” He didn’t continue, just looked at Anton patiently.

“Because…you believe the killer is…” What had he insinuated before? “A fellow Englishman?”

“I think it entirely possible.”

“But the Devoué are not as well-established in England as they are on the continent. Doesn’t it make more sense for the killer to be one of them?”

“The Devoué are merely one branch of a larger movement, one that encompasses the British Isles as well as all of the mainland. And, as you say, they may not be well-established in England, but they’re not unheard of.”

It still seemed like an awful lot of guesswork to Anton. “So you think we’re looking for an English thaumaturge who is ranked in the top ten percent of students at the university?”

“It’s merely one possibility,” Camille said. “But a strong one, strong enough to begin with. The timing works, if we assume that it’s the palimpsest the killer is after. And that assumption isn’t one we can easily dismiss.”

“The Universität Zürich has a very large population of foreign students.” But among the best in his classes… “I think there are perhaps eleven or twelve of my fellows whom I would categorize both as adept enough to do this and of my own nationality.”

“Excellent. I shall confirm this with your Doctor Grable and begin my enquiries this afternoon.”

“I can meet you at his office by—”

“No.” Camille’s brisk headshake put an end to Anton’s brief hopes. “I don’t want to throw any more of a spotlight on you than I already have. We still don’t know the entirety of the killer’s criteria when it comes to choosing his victims, and I don’t want to make it any worse for you by singling you out.”

Was Camille going to push him away, now that he had utilized Anton’s particular expertise? “I can still help you.”

“You have already done so, most admirably.” Anton opened his mouth to object, and Camille raised a hand. “And you shall continue to do so after I’ve met with Doctor Grable and procured the information I need. But I will not be careless with your safety, Anton. Your disguises are no doubt excellent, but remember—there are no guarantees. What one can do, another can see through. Let me do this on my own, and we shall meet again this evening to begin narrowing down our search.”

Well, damnation. It was hard to argue with the man when he based his entire argument on protecting Anton’s life and livelihood. “You swear you will not cut me out?” he pressed.

“Absolutely.” Camille gave him a half-smile. “Anton, I came to you this time, not the other way around. I’m not planning on relinquishing your assistance before the murderer is caught, or before I am made to for some unavoidable reason. I promise.”

There was more to the heft of his words and the heat of Camille’s gaze than Anton was entirely comfortable staring down, but he didn’t look away. He had never been so infatuated with another human being in his life, and the very idea that his interest was still reciprocated, perhaps strongly enough to act on this time… “Where should we meet this evening, then?”

“My rooms are private enough, I believe, and I don’t want to give away my presence to the general populace at the university too soon.” He gave Anton the address. “Meet me there, discreetly, at half past seven. I’ll provide food and drink, you can provide me with your opinion on the people who make the cut.”

Anton swallowed. “I’ll be there.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Camille paid the bill, then pressed to his feet. “Until this evening, then.”


He smiled and left the café, and Anton reached for his tea and swallowed the remnants down in one enormous gulp. Good lord, could he be any more awkward?

Then again, if awkwardness hadn’t put Camille off of him so far, it wasn’t likely to at this point. Feeling cheered, he finished his torte and stood up, heading out into the street. He carefully dismantled the spell obfuscating his appearance as he went, so that by the time he reached the university, he once again looked like himself. He had ten minutes left before his first class began.

Anton already knew that the day would drag, but at least he had something—someone—to look forward to at the end of it.

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