Everybody except Anton, he doesn't win. He loses. He loses so hard.
Title: The Tower: Chapter Nine, Part One
The Tower, Chapter Nine, Part One
It was a strange feeling, being followed up the stairs of the tower toward his lab. Anton didn’t think it was arrogance to believe that his research was fascinating, but he also didn’t think it would appeal to many people beyond himself and other forensic thaumaturges. Compounded by the fact that he really didn’t know what Montgomery studied here at school, not to mention that he was keeping the palimpsest hidden in there, and his discomfort grew with every step.
However, he had made the commitment, and he would keep it. Camille likely wouldn’t be long at any rate, or Doctor Grable would succeed in uncovering Harry’s mouth and getting some answers out of him. They would both be needed then.
The sun had almost vanished over the mountains, but there was still a bit of natural light filtering through the highest windows in the tower as they reached the top floor. Anton pulled out his silver wand and murmured the spell to cast light with it anyway. “Sorry for the gloom,” he apologized awkwardly as he led the way down the hall. “The staff don’t bother to light the sconces up here, since there are only a few of us with workspace and most of the others have the sense not to work too late.”
“It doesn’t bother me,” Montgomery said easily. “I don’t mind a bit of darkness every now and then. All the better to get up to mischief in, eh?” He nudged Anton’s side companionably.
“I’m not really much for mischief, I’m afraid.”
“So I’ve noticed about you, Seiber. So I’ve noticed.” He stood back and gave Anton a little space as he worked his magic on the door to his lab. It took a concerted effort to open it, peeling back his protections and modifying them to allow Montgomery to follow him in, but Anton managed it. He smiled a bit as he pushed the door open. He was getting better at thaumaturgy on the fly, thanks in no small part to his adventures with Camille. He wanted to be ready for anything, after all.
“This is it,” he said, setting his wand to the nearest light and passing the incantation along. The room slowly illuminated with a silvery glow, and he tucked his wand back into his pocket. “Not much to look at, I’m afraid.”
“On the contrary, it tells me all sorts of interesting things,” Montgomery replied, heading over to the table and inspecting the experiment that Anton had set up there. He didn’t touch it, thankfully—at least he had that much sense. “This is for what now?”
“It’s—it has to do with finding the right ingredients to strengthen an individual’s death miasma, possibly to preserve it beyond what is currently achievable.” Anton felt himself falling into lecturer mode. “It’s just energy, after all, so if the proper link between the death miasma’s natural energy and another type, some sort of—of battery, if you know the term, it’s rather new—”
“I’m familiar with it.”
“Ah, good. My thought is that, if you can feed the miasma, strengthen it enough, then you might be able to expand it. Make it more visible, make it last longer, possibly even intensify the feeling of it, although why you’d want to share the feeling of death I haven’t worked out yet, but I’ve got to be thorough about this.”
“Of course you do!” Montgomery clapped him on the back again. “And is this your only current project?”
“There are several other small ones going, naturally. And then there’s my translation effort, but that’s—” Anton forcibly jerked his mouth to a halt. “Wait.”
“Translation?” Montgomery didn’t appear to hear the last part of his sentence. “What are you translating?”
“It’s a…” Anton shook his head. “Wait, no. I don’t—I can’t—”
“Of course you can.” Montgomery’s hand tightened around the back of his neck, going from companionable to painful in seconds. “What is it you’re translating, Seiber?”
“A pa-pal, a palllll,” the word stuttered on his tongue, but something forced him to spit it out eventually. “A palimpsest. Good God, what’s happening to me?” He could still speak of other things, but he wasn’t able to not speak about the palimpsest. And his body…it felt like he’d been encased in wax or resin. He could move, but not fast, and not out of the reach of Montgomery’s brutal grasp. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just guiding you a bit, Seiber,” Montgomery murmured in his ear. “Just giving you a little push. I should have tried this ages ago, but I didn’t really think you were the man I was looking for. Harry and Percy were enough help for a while, but everyone I had them deal with turned out to be a bust. And to think, all this time, you were right under my nose.” He leaned in and pressed a kiss to the side of Anton’s neck. “You know, this compulsion would have gone on a lot easier on you if you’d come out with us and tumbled into my bed. I don’t even need to touch the boys any more to get them to follow my directives, but you and I, we have to do this the old-fashioned way.”
“No.” Anton’s mind seemed frozen, locked down by the horror of what was happening to him—and what was going to happen to him. “No. No.”
“Yes, pet.” Montgomery kissed him again, and the last of his will to speak drained away. “You should have looked into me a bit more, hmm? So easy to take a vapid playboy for granted, until you realize I’m one of the few thaumartuges in the world who can cast spells of mental compulsion. Now.” He stepped back a bit, but kept his hand on Anton’s neck. “Where have you hidden that little gem?”
Anton, to his rising terror, pointed toward the window.
“Let’s fetch it then, shall we?” Montgomery walked Anton over to the window, then frowned. “There’s nothing here. What, do you have some sort of hiding spot in the wall?”
“N-not the w-wa-wall,” Anton stuttered.
“Well then, let’s see it! Fetch me the palimpsest, Seiber, and fast.”
“I nee-need my wa-wa-wand.”
Montgomery’s grip tightened. “No, no more using your wand. Too much chance for mischief. Chalk if you need it, otherwise—well, you’ll have to work a little harder to concentrate, won’t you?”
Damn it. If Montgomery had let him use his wand, Anton could have activated another one of his defensive spells. It was a shock, literally, for whoever was holding onto him, and would have dislodged Montgomery’s hand. If Anton could only get free…
The compulsion pushed at his mind like a knife in his brain, wrenching a pained cry from his lips. “Now, Seiber. We don’t have all evening for this. Retrieve the palimpsest before I crack your skull in two.”
Anton gritted his teeth and put his bare hand to the closest windowpane. He shut his eyes in concentration…it was so much harder to pull the little book out of its transformed state without a wand, but he had no choice. The pane of glass wavered under his hand like a mirage, flickering in and out of existence until eventually, it spit the leather-bound booklet onto the floor, leaving the window intact but several millimeters thinner than it had been before.
Montgomery laughed and picked up the booklet with his free hand. Anton screamed inside his head, desperately pushing against the compulsion, but all that emerged from his lips was a pained whimper.
“Clever! So very clever, my goodness. Hiding it in plain sight, but that was a neat bit of transparency. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the like. You’re quite a little genius, Seiber. It’s a shame I didn’t get to you sooner, I could have used you.” Montgomery sighed philosophically. “But then, no one can predict the future. I wouldn’t have pushed so fast at the end here if my hand hadn’t been forced. Harry will spill his guts soon enough, but Percy is out of the way, and by the time they find your body, I’ll be long gone.”
“My body?” This time he had no difficulty expressing his shock. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I can’t leave you alive at this junction, can I? You know a bit too much, and your knowledge of the palimpsest makes you dangerous. It’s bad enough Grable didn’t kill Harry—that’s a loose end I didn’t need.” Montgomery sounded slightly put out. “But Percy should have drowned himself by now, and you, Seiber? You’re going for a very short walk, and a very long drop.”
He pressed the length of his body flush to Anton’s back. “It’s a shame we don’t have more time. I would’ve enjoyed having my way with you, but I can’t linger, not with that damned soulless freak running around,” he added disgustedly. “Trust you to fall in with one of the only people in the world that my compulsions won’t work on. Ah well. No matter.” He kissed the nape of Anton’s neck, and the urge to move wrapped Anton up like a noose. “Open the window.”
Anton fumbled with the latch but eventually managed to unlock the large double-window and push it open.
“Good. Step out onto the ledge, Seiber.”
Anton’s legs folded jerkily, propelling him up onto the windowsill.
“Even better. You’re doing so well. My associates and I thank you.” He stepped away, but before Anton could muster the will to truly break the compulsion, Mongtomery said, “Now fall forward, Seiber. And goodbye, pet.”
Before his mind registered what his body was doing, Anton tilted forward. The cobblestones so far below him were completely enshrouded in shadow now, the sky gone from the color of sunset to a sultry, velvety blue. Gravity turned his tilt into a fall, and a moment later, Anton tumbled from the top of the tower toward the ground.
The only sound to follow him was the quiet click of his window closing.