Monday, November 20, 2017

Holidays and People

Darlins,

The horde has descended--literal horde, in-laws and siblings and aunts and cousins and their spouses and kids--and it turns out I'm busy as hell right before Thanksgiving. So! Holiday break for The Tower, because I'm just making myself crazy here, and wherever you are, know that I count myself very thankful to have you in my life, as readers and, for some of you, as friends. I'm so fortunate, and I know it.



December is going to involve me giving you a lot of stuff, because you deserve a very happy holiday season too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Seven, Part One

Notes: Whaaat, on time today? I flabbergast even myself sometimes. Enjoy some burgeoning destruction!

Title: The Tower: Chapter Seven, Part One

***


Chapter Seven, Part One



Harry Beaufort couldn’t be found inside the main building at all, or any of the accessory halls. There was a small park in the center of the campus where many of the students paused for a moment in the sun before scurrying off to their next class, but he wasn’t there either. Eventually Anton simply stopped and asked someone he recognized from one of their mutual classes, who told him, with a wry look, to “follow the sound of blasting, sir. Beaufort’s the only one with permission to be experimenting like that right now.”

Anton frowned, ready to ask for more detail, when Camille’s hand on his arm cut him short. “Listen.” He caught Anton’s eye and gazed upward. “Higher up.”

Now that he mentioned it… “The roof, perhaps? But what on earth could he be doing there?”

“I suggest we go and find out.”

The stairs leading to the roof were old and worn, and obviously not used much. In fact, there was only one set of footprints in the dust that Anton could see. Whatever Harry was doing, it wasn’t something he cared to share with others.

As soon as Anton opened the door leading out to the top of the building, he understood why. Harry stood perhaps twenty feet away from a metal dummy fused to a post midway down the rough stone expanse. He held what looked like a wand of some kind in his hand, and raising it toward the dummy, he squared his shoulders and shouted a single word: “Fire!”

To Anton’s shock, a thin jet of orange flame shot out of the wand with a bang, straight into the dummy’s chest. It didn’t cause it to burn, naturally, but the rapid appearance and speed of the flame was surprising enough. Anton heard a crack and a moment later, Harry dropped the wand to the ground, shaking out his gloved hand. “Damnation,” he muttered. “Thought I had it that time.”

“Impressive.”

Camille’s dry tones caused Harry to whirl around, one hand already reaching inside his robe for—what? A weapon of some kind, perhaps another one of these strange wands? He paused before withdrawing anything, though. “Who are you, then?”

“I am Lord Lumière, here on the emperor’s business. And you,” Camille indicated the expanse between the dummy and Harry, “seem to be in the business of novel thaumaturgical destruction.”

Harry didn’t really relax, but he did at least lower his hands. Anton breathed a silent sigh of relief. He was confident in his own abilities, but he had no idea how to quickly counter anything like a jet of flame, and despite Camille’s untouchability when it came to spells, that likely didn’t apply in this situation.

“And what do you want with me?”

“At the moment?” Camille smiled disarmingly. “A simple explanation will suffice. How did you accomplish that spell without writing out the equations for flame and prepping the ingredients beforehand?”

A smug looked crossed Harry’s round face. He looked like an overgrown cherub, rather incongruous given the smoking remnants of the dangerous wand at his feet. “Ah, but I did write the equations and prep the ingredients beforehand. I contained everything this spell needs in a hollow wooden dowel and arranged it so that my palm connected with the open end of the equation. All it takes after that is the will and the word.” He glanced down at the broken dowel with a little frown. “The energy backlash is still unstable, though—it breaks every one of the wands. I won’t try it with a stronger substance before I’m sure it won’t blow my fingers off.”

“Ingenious.”

“Isn’t it?” His gaze sharpened a little. “You say you’re here from the Emperor?”

“On his business, yes.”

“You should tell him about this. Within a year, I will have a way to revolutionize how we make war. Imagine, not just one but hundreds of such devices in the hands of those who have the innate talent, but no true training. All it would take is the word and the will, and they could have an entirely new sort of weapon at their disposal.” Anton had never seen Harry so animated. It made a slight shudder run down his spine, contemplating exactly what was making the man so enthusiastic. “Fire is easy, but there are many other spells that could be loaded into these things. Percussive forces, pure heat, perhaps even poison gas! Truly, it could render pistols obsolete.”

Camille stepped a little closer. “And yet, a pistol can fire multiple shots without needing to be reloaded, whereas this appears to be done after one shot.”

Harry grinned. “Who needs one shot when you’ve got power like this? Imagine the fire spreading out like a fan instead of firing straight and slender. As a weapon to intimidate your enemies, there would be nothing else like it. Do you think the emperor would be interested in such a thing?”

“Your concept is quite intriguing, and I shall certainly mention it to him.” Anton was sure he would, too. As much as the idea sickened him, no ruler would want something like this in the hands of their enemies and not their own troops, if they could help it. The best way to get ahead of that eventuality was to be the first one to take advantage of the technology. “But this is not the matter most relevant right now.”

“Oh? What is, then?”

Camille gently interrogated him about the men who had been murdered, but at the end of it all they got from him was a shrug and a simple, “Don’t know any of those blokes. The only business I ever have on that side of town is buying cheap drinks for whatever lady of the night happens to have caught my eye.”

“I see. Can you verify your whereabouts on the night of these murders for me?”

“I was out with my mates. They were with me the whole time, you can ask them.” He pulled another wand out from the inside of his coat. “Are we done here, then?”

If Camille felt at all threatened, he wasn’t showing it. Anton did his best not to blanch as well, but it wasn’t easy. “We’re done for now, Mr. Beaufort. Thank you for your time.”

“Don’t forget to mention me to the emperor,” Harry directed as he turned back toward the dummy. “Someone’s going to pay me a lot of money to develop this for them. If it isn’t him, it’ll be someone else.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” They left, but Anton couldn’t quite bring himself to speak until they were back down on the ground floor.

“He’s a madman.”

“Sadly not.”

“Are you blind? What he’s developing—a technology like this, it could—it could—the damage that could be done is incalculable! In what way isn’t that mad?”

Camille shook his head sadly. “Unfortunately, in the world of politics, methods like Mr. Beaufort’s will be seen as innovating and enterprising and, worst of all, inevitable. Thaumaturgy has long been the mainstay of religion and science, but it was only a matter of time before such things were developed in more destructive directions. I’m afraid Mr. Beaufort’s fortunes are assured no matter where he decides to peddle his idea.”

Anton was almost spitting with disgust. “That is absolutely hideous.”

“You are not wrong.” The solemn agreement in Camille’s voice made him feel just a bit better. “And his alibi is as shaky as Mr. MacPherson’s, depending on each other as they do. We need to speak to Mr. Montgomery to get the complete picture, though.”


“Then let’s find him, fast.” If the culprit was Harry, then the sooner they could lock him away, the better.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Six, Part Two

Notes: I wrote half of this in an actual coffee shop! Out and about! I've got a friend here with me giving me the courage to actually go places with my baby, which is exciting and nervewracking. Anyway, have some more investigation!

Title: The Tower, Chapter Six, Part Two

***


Chapter Six, Part Two



Percival MacPherson worked out of a communal laboratory on the first floor, but he wasn’t there when they checked. Another student pointed them in the direction of the Thaumaturgy and Religion lecture in the main building, where to Anton’s surprise, Percival wasn’t just a student, he was the teacher’s assistant. In fact, he was the one speaking to the class as they walked in. A few curious heads turned their way, but Percival didn’t even pause.

“—posit that due to lack of thaumaturgical evidence, there is a corresponding lack of the eternal. Since the inception of thaumaturgy, its use in religious rites has served a dual purpose of reinforcing the existence of God to man, and proving that there is a seed of the immortal in us as well, in that the presence of the Holy Spirit responds to our rituals. It is an overly simplistic view of faith, religion, and indeed the soul itself.” He spoke sternly, and for the first time Anton noticed a rosary gleaming on his chest. Perhaps he didn’t wear it when he wasn’t teaching.

“The truth is, there are vast and unplumbed depths yet to be studied concerning the link between magic and God. For example, we say there are those who are damned because our blessings don’t appear to have any effect on them. What if, rather than consigning them to the midden heap from birth on because we assume they lack a soul, we assume that we are the ones who lack the proper equations to create a spell that detects their soul? What if it resides in a different place, or in a different form? What if their connection to God is deeper and more profound, and therefore ineffable? We have made assumptions for centuries about who is and who is not capable of holiness. I think the time has come to question those assumptions.”

“A passionate speaker,” Camille murmured to me. “Especially for a Catholic. The papal decrees on this subject are quite firm.”

“I had no idea,” Anton confessed. “He’s always seemed so much more…flippant.”

“Then he will be an interesting conversationalist.”

Camille waited until the end of the lecture and the dispersal of most of the students before heading to the front of the hall. “You make some very compelling points, sir.”

Percival cocked an eyebrow at him. “I know I do. What is your interest in the subject?”

“A personal one, but not the reason I’m here. I am Lord Lumière, on the Emperor’s business.”

Percival took a slight step back. “I-I assure you I have all the necessary permissions to be pursuing this line of research,” he babbled, all his former confidence gone. “Doctor Grable assured me that this was all legal! I’m not doing any sort of—”

“I’m not here to shut down your research,” Camille assured him. Percival relaxed slightly, but his face didn’t lose its wary cast. “I am here to investigate a magical murder. Several, actually.”

“Ah.” Percival shook his head. “Is this about Father Brooks?”

“You knew him?”

“Not personally, but my priest did. His death was quite disturbing.”

“Indeed it was, especially since it was likely aided by magic.”

“What?” Sadness gave way to skepticism. “This is the first I’ve heard of that.”

“Nevertheless.” It was hard to argue with a nevertheless, but Percival tried anyway.

“It doesn’t make sense. Why would a thaumaturge have reason to kill a priest?”

“Why does anyone kill anyone else? In cases like this, the motives are usually personal.” Camille’s voice took on a more speculative tone. “You believe that there is no such thing as soullessness?”

“I do.” It was said with such perfect conviction even Anton found himself wanting to nod along.

“Why?” There was a beat of uncomfortable silence before Camille continued, “I assure you, I am the last person to judge you harshly for this line of investigation, but you surely understand that this is considered settled doctrine by the church. If the blessings don’t take, then the afflicted is excommunicated.”

“And that is ridiculous!” Percival exploded. “It is this sort of thinking that takes us back to the dark ages of a vengeful god instead of a loving one, for why else would God allow such a thing? I cannot believe it.”

“Many clerics ascribe it to an act of the devil while the child is still in the womb, perhaps a punishment for the parents.”

Percival scowled. “A line of thinking I consider equally ludicrous. No child should have to suffer for the mistakes of their parents. It is antithetical to the very nature of Christ. There is always the chance for forgiveness.”

“But how are you so sure?” When Percival’s lips tightened, Camille held up a hand. “I have no interest in arguing with your convictions. I find the hypothesis intriguing. I simply wish to understand the why of it.”

Percival sighed. “I suppose it wouldn’t be difficult for a lumière to find this out about me. I have a sister. She was born perfectly normal in every way, a beautiful baby, healthy and happy…but the birth blessings didn’t take. She was declared soulless, and my parents were advised to put her away in an asylum.” Where she would probably be dead before she’d reached her first year. Not a lot of care was taken with those considered to be soulless.

“I take it they didn’t.”

“No. They kept her, and while their social standing has suffered for it, my sister has thrived. She is as blessed in the sight of God as any other child in this world, I would stake my own soul on it. There are those priests who agree with me, many more than will say it publicly, but until I can provide some sort of thaumaturgical rationale for the failure of the blessing, they’re too afraid to speak up.” He looked distant. “She is ten years old now, and life is easy enough for her at the moment, but she will never be allowed to go to a public school, or marry in the eyes of the church, if I don’t do something about it. She will become more and more isolated and shunned, and that’s insupportable.

“But the research isn’t supported by the Church of England, or by most European universities. This is the only one that would assist me in my studies, so…here I am.”

“Was Father Brooks a believer?”

“I don’t know, but my own priest thought highly of him. He was new to the city, as I understand.”

“I see.” Camille did a quick rundown of the other victims, but Percival claimed no knowledge of any of them.

“You aren’t considering me as the perpetrator, surely?” he asked, an incredulous smile hovering on his face.

“You’ve been known to be less than judicious in your company and actions,” Camille pointed out, and Percival blushed.

“Gerry’s hard to say no to, but he’s a good sort at heart,” he said awkwardly. “I don’t know many people here, so I want to hold on to the few people I do know. If that means the occasional night out, so be it. We don’t do anything illegal or dangerous.”

“Ah.” The interview wrapped up a few minutes later, and Percival left before both of them.

“I am stunned,” were the first words out of Anton’s mouth. “He’s always been such a bloody idiot, I didn’t realize he could be anything else.”

Camille hmmed. “Even idiots can have hidden depths. I’m surprised he found any school to formally support his line of inquiry, especially in the Empire.”

“Zürich is famously neutral in all sorts of conflicts. It stands to reason it would maintain that neutrality in the mental sphere as well as the physical.” Anton wanted to dig a little deeper, to see how Camille felt about someone researching the idea that he might indeed have a soul, but Camille was already moving toward the door.


“Two down. Two to go.”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Six, Part One

Notes: Happy NaNoWriMo, for those who are doing it! I'm...just doing my best. But here, still getting some things done, have some story!

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.”

“Ambitious.”

“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?”

What?

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?”

“Correct.”

“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.”

“I shall.”

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?”

“Ask him!”


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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, darlins, be safe out there!





Expect more of The Tower on All Saints Day.




Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Five, Part Two

Notes: FINALLY! And even on the day I intended, because my baby is being so good today. *knock on wood* It isn't the longest scene ever, but I hope you enjoy it.

Title: The Tower: Chapter Five, Part Two

***


Chapter Five, Part Two



It felt cruel—worse, unfair—for their moment to be derailed by something as simple as dinner. For an instant, Anton wondered if it were even worthwhile to pursue this man any further. Clearly God and the universe were determined to deny him. He rolled his eyes at his own melodramatic thoughts, but truly, he couldn’t remember feeling so frustrated so consistently by anything else in his life.

While Anton sat and stewed, Camille went to the door and retrieved their meal from its deliverer with a simple, “Thank you,” before shutting the door once again. It smelled good, hearty and filling, and Anton could almost resign himself to eating rather than enjoying more novel pursuits.

Then Camille set the covered tray aside, reached out to Anton, pulled him from his chair and pressed their mouths together in one swift motion. Anton flailed for a moment, startled, before his body caught up to Camille’s. He threw his arms around the taller man’s neck and leaned into the kiss like it was elemental to his very existence. At that moment, it might have been. No one, there had been no one else since that day on the train—and even before that, no one for a long time. The flame that had been smoldering ever since Anton laid eyes on Camille yesterday roared to an inferno, and he didn’t even realize his hands were fixed so tightly in Camille’s jacket they were close to tearing it until Camille pulled back just enough to breathe and murmured, “It’s all right, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I don’t believe it,” Anton muttered. “In another minute there will be a mysterious murder, or someone will attack us with an enchanted knife, or perhaps the sky will fall. Something will try to prevent me from touching you, and that’s intolerable.” Nevertheless, he let go of Camille long enough for him to unbutton his jacket, while quickly seeing to his own as well. He almost pulled a button off in his haste, but Anton couldn’t find it in himself to give a damn.

“Even if the sky did fall down, I would stay here with you.”

Anton smirked. “So I rank above natural disasters but below murders? That is good information to have.”

“It’s best to be honest with each other at this juncture, isn’t it?” Camille reeled him back in and Anton went, his breath hitching as those long arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him in tight. Tight enough that he could feel Camille’s interest, and God, if that wasn’t enough to set his heartbeat on a tear again. “But if it helps,” Camille said, trailing his lips over Anton’s cheek and down his jaw, “I would insist upon you joining me for a mysterious murder.”

“It-it definitely doesn’t—ah—doesn’t hurt.” Nothing hurt right now—his blood was hot and swift and coursed through his body like lightning, pleasure following in its path. “Can we—can we not—”

“Come here.” Camille sat down in his chair once more and drew Anton down onto his lap, legs straddling his thighs. It was a ridiculous position, not what Anton had had in mind at all, but once he was there he was immediately reluctant to shift again. Camille held him tight like a vise with one arm, the other sliding beneath the waist of his trousers and freeing his shirt. Anton fisted his hands in the lapels of Camille’s waistcoat and pressed back against the touch.

It had been so long. Too long, but every offer of company he had refused, every advance he had ignored in favor of work or solitude or even simply out of caution, it was all worth it to feel this way now, like he was going to shudder free of his own flesh from something as simple as fingertips tracing the knobs of his spine. He couldn’t move, just held on and breathed and tried to keep from flying apart. Camille pressed a kiss to his Adam’s apple, then began unbuttoning his shirt.

“Gorgeous,” he murmured as he slowly exposed more skin. The room wasn’t overly warm, not with its stone walls and lack of a fireplace, but Anton felt deliciously overheated in Camille’s lap. “I wanted to see you like this almost from the moment I met you.”

Anton chuckled, a raw, hungry sound. “You—you were considering killing me the moment you met me.”

“I did say almost.” He rocked Anton forward to kiss his bare chest, bringing their bodies flush together. Anton moaned and thrust down, sliding one hand behind Camille’s neck and using the other on the armrest to provide leverage. The contact tantalized, but it wasn’t enough.

“Let me up and I can undress more fully…” He didn’t want to pull away, but how else were they to continue?

“Mmm, no.” Camille moved his free hand to the front of Anton’s trousers. “No, I like you like this, just debauched enough that I can still picture you all buttoned up, stern and proper.” He undid the fastening, then slid his hand inside. Anton arched helplessly into the touch of his warm palm. “Just open enough to remind me how fortunate I am to get this far.” His fingertips gently grazed Anton’s erection, making him groan with need and frustration. “And just passionate enough that I could never forget who it is I’m with.”

“And desperate enough that I will wreck you if you don’t—” His words choked and stuttered in his throat as Camille gripped him at last, hand warm and tight around his member, and began to stroke. It was dry, but that didn’t matter, Anton wouldn’t last long enough to feel the burn of it. He glanced down once, then shut his eyes, almost overwhelmed by the sight of Camille’s hand gripping him so closely. His mind strained for control, for a bit of distance, but his body had other ideas and rocked in time to Camille’s rhythm.

“This is what you wanted.” The words were a blistering heat against his collarbone, followed by sharp, curiously gentle teeth. “This is what I wanted, to see you like this, to feel you open and wanting, even though you know exactly what I am. You’re brilliant, so brilliant, Anton. Come for me.” The words were part order, part entreaty, and Anton could no more disobey them than he could relinquish his magic. He gasped and let go, soaking the space between them and ruining Camille’s waistcoat without a second thought. Pleasure flared across his mind like a wildfire, burning fast and hot and fading into a sweet, satisfied glow as he caught his breath.

With his breath returned his reason, and Anton looked down, dismayed. “You haven’t—”

“Not yet.” Camille smiled wryly, and perhaps a bit jaggedly himself. “It won’t take much. Just—here.” He pulled Anton down more firmly and thrust up against his groin, hard and firm into the crease of Anton’s legs. Anton moaned, residual pleasure swamping him, and the sound echoed through Camille’s chest a few moments later as he found his own release.

They sat together a while longer, breath gradually slowing and hearts calming. Anton was reluctant to pull away from where he’d draped his head over Camille’s shoulder, afraid of what he’d see in the other man’s face now that the act was done. It would be awkward, there was no denying that, not with his cock laying limp and cool now between them and the smell of sex still lingering pungent in the air. Awkward he could handle, as long as there was no regret. Regret, he didn’t think he could bear.

“Anton.”

“Hmm?”

A gentle hand guided his head back, but before Anton could force his eyes open, his mouth met Camille’s in a gentle kiss. His anxiety melted away, tension he hadn’t even recognized creeping into his shoulders vanishing just as fast as it had arrived. They kissed without the desperation and heat of earlier, but it was just as satisfying in its own way.

When Camille finally pulled back, his expression betrayed nothing but contentedness. “Dinner?”


Anton bit back the urge to break into laughter at such a simple question after what they’d just done together. “Yes, please.”

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.