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