Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Nine, Part Two

Notes: I wrote this two whole days ago in anticipation, so voila! Another post on time! The next one will come in the new year, so in the meantime, let's have some Anton desperately trying to survive.

Title: The Tower: Chapter Nine, Part Two


The Tower, Chapter Nine, Part Two

Anton had never had so much reason to be thankful for extravagant gothic architecture in his entire bloody life. The university had existed in Zurich since the early fifteenth century, and while most of the original buildings had been redone, the tower had stayed in the original style. Its pyramidal spire was ornamented with projecting marble leaves and curling flowers, a departure from the usual religious symbolism, but not one that Anton had ever given much thought to. It was safe to say that he was thinking of nothing else right now.

Just beneath his window, one of the tower’s elaborate stone ribs protruded just far enough that he happened to hit it on his way down. The pain had jolted Anton out of his magically-induced reverie, and he turned and scrambled against the stone as his descent continued. He finally managed to arrest his fall perhaps three meters below his window, hanging on to the very edge of the rib before it curved back into the body of the tower. The knob he clung to was frigid in the oncoming darkness, and the wind swirled his coat around his dangling legs like it was pulling at a kite. Anton gulped for breath, and tried to think his way through this.

You are still alive. He was, despite the odds, despite Montgomery’s unheard-of thaumaturgy and deliberate act of attempted murder, not yet dead. That was a fact, and an enormously comforting one. On the other hand, he was also bleeding at the temple from where he’d hit his head on the way down, his vision was blurry, his strength was failing, and his window was so far above him now that it felt like he would never be able to regain it.

Don’t think like that. Imagining defeat was almost as perilous as actual defeat, and in this instance, defeat meant certain death. He could not call out for help—no one would hear him over the wind, and no one would see him in the gloom of night. He had to save himself. One step at a time. First, he had to regain his footing.

That was easier thought than done, of course—his shoulders and arms ached from the effort of holding himself up, and his hands were almost completely numb. He clung to the farthest point of the rib, so there was nothing beneath him to fix his feet to, but perhaps if he swung his legs sideways, he might—Anton tried it, then lost his breath in a wave of fear as his hands slipped with the momentum and he nearly lost his grip.

Not that way, then. But it had to be some way and it had to be fast, or he would lose what chance he had left at saving himself. There were other decorations he could grab, and perhaps if he separated his hands he could get the leverage to push himself up onto the arch above him. It was risky, but what wasn’t?

It was a decision he needed to make, and fast. Anton stopped considering it and simply threw himself into the movement, shifting his right hand over a foot to the neighboring stone knob, catching it by the grace of god and hauling himself up high enough that his chest impacted the angled arch above him. His perch was still precarious, but once he got a knee up and over the edge to stabilize himself and rearranged his hands, he could breathe a bit easier.

Anton curled his entire body against the arch and looked up at his window. It was the only ingress close enough to make use of, and while it being closed wasn’t exactly auspicious, he was certain he could break it if he had to. He got his feet under him, blew on his hands to put some feeling back into them while carefully avoiding touching the blood—if his fingers became slippery he’d never get out of this mess—and began to climb.

It was so easy for the first few meters than Anton almost—not quite, but almost—mustered the energy to smile. He’d get out of this, he’d find Camille, and the two of them would—

Oh hell. Oh hell, wait, he’d gone and lost the palimpsest. He’d given it to that traitor, given it to him without even attempting to hold back, how could he have done such a thing? How would he explain that to Camille? Anton’s brief burst of good humor drained away, and as he approached the last meter just beneath his window, he found no reason to resurrect it.

He would have to let go of the arch completely to get his hands on the ledge. He could leave his feet on, but it would be an awkward position, and if his grip slipped he would be left leaning backward over space with little recourse left for saving himself. Anton gritted his teeth and breathed in pure determination. He would make it. He had no choice—he had a great fault to remedy, and little time to do it in. Hell, Montgomery might be talking with them right now, making his excuses, executing his escape…

Anton leapt. His hands caught the ledge with a painful slap, and he managed to keep his footing, if just barely. He pushed his hand forward, reaching for the bottom edge of the window, and—

His fingers slipped sideways, like they were sliding on butter. He fumbled but regained his equilibrium and tried again. Same result. No matter how hard he tried, his window stubbornly resisted his touch. Another spell. A spell of avoidance, perhaps, but why bother when Montgomery couldn’t have known that Anton would catch himself?

Perhaps he was drawing attention away from what had been the hiding spot of the palimpsest. Anton had kept it there for a good while, and magic tended to shed a bit when left in one place. There would be a signature in the glass, one that might be used to infer Montgomery’s objective, if someone was clever enough to detect it and put the pieces together. Camille was certainly smart enough, but he didn’t have the magic. Perhaps he would—

Anton’s hand slipped again, and he felt his heart leap into his throat. His body was desperate now, and his mind wasn’t much better. This window was his only chance if he didn’t want to try and cling to the arch for the rest of the night and into the morning, until someone noticed him. He didn’t have his chalk, he didn’t have his wand, he couldn’t do his magic. He wasn’t like Montgomery, able to work miracles of thaumaturgy on the fly. He was—fuck, he was—

Both his hands slipped this time, the spell pushing back against what it perceived as an intruder, and Anton couldn’t stop them. He barely registered the sudden light illuminating the window, or heard the click as the latch was opened. He could only hear his own voice, harsh but faint, and the moan that emerged from his throat as he slid backward toward his doom. The wind was harsh now, cold and cruel, and this was it, he was about to die, he had fought to survive for nothing—

A hand so warm it felt blistering on his frozen skin closed around his right wrist just as Anton began to fall. Strong arms lifted him up and over, back into his laboratory, until his curled, shaking body finally came to rest against a decidedly familiar and entirely welcome one.

“Anton, good God.” Camille’s long fingers brushed tentatively at his head, searching for the source of the sluggish blood. “What happened to you? Never mind,” he added a moment later as fatigue and shame clogged the words in Anton’s throat. “I’m just grateful I found you in time. Grateful that you’re alive.”

Well. That made two of them, although Camille undoubtedly wouldn’t be so grateful once he knew how Anton had failed. Anton shut his eyes and let his lover hold him as the worst of the pain seeped out of his body. He would have to own his failures soon enough. There was no harm in accepting a bit of comfort before it was lost to him entirely.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Nine, Part One

Notes: Yep, I'm getting this up early! Tomorrow is a busy day, and my baby is being beautifully cooperative, so everybody wins!

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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Tower: Chapter Eight, Part Two

Notes: In which things happen, but mostly just to set up OTHER things happening. In other words, THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN! Enjoy :)

Title: The Tower: Cjapter Eight, Part Two


Chapter Nine, Part One

“It makes no sense.” Mongtomery started the shake his head, then stopped with a wince and laid a careful hand on the bruising around his neck. “Harry and I have been friends for years, we knew each other before we came here. There’s no good reason for him to have done this.”

“Are you that confident in your understanding of Mr. Beaufort’s business?” Camille asked, sitting across from Montgomery in Dr. Grable’s office. The doctor himself was off beginning the slow process of freeing Beaufort from the stone—like Anton’s spell, it was one that could be cast rapidly, but required a lot more time to undo. It would probably be another five or six hours before Beaufort was free and able to be interrogated, so Camille had opted to begin here. Anton stood off to the side, hoping to go mostly unnoticed, but there was no such luck where Montgomery was concerned.

“Did I know everything about the man, obviously not, but before this I would have said I knew everything important! We’re mates! He’s never—he’s never been like this before, right Seiber?”

“I—I wouldn’t really know,” Anton stammered, taken aback to be asked. Fortunately, Montgomery didn’t seem to care.

“Do you think Percy knew? No, Percy would have told me, I’m sure of it. He’s too much of a choir boy not to.”

“Is that how you’d categorize him?” Camille asked.

“Percy?” Montgomery forced a grin. “Oh, absolutely. It was almost as hard to get him to go out for a night on the town as it was Seiber here. If Harry and I weren’t around to drag him out of the lab or away from the church…” His smiled faded. “Hell, where is Percy? He should know about this.”

“I’ll go and get him,” Anton interjected, ready for something to do that got him out of the eye of Montgomery’s strange, entreating looks. “Although the way word is flying around here, I’m fairly sure he already knows.”

“Then he would be here, with me,” Montgomery said staunchly.

“I’ll be back in a moment.” With a nod from Camille, Anton slipped out of the office and toward the lab he knew Percival had space in. Montgomery was right about one thing—Percival would want to be there for him if he knew that Harry was a killer who had almost done his friend in. Anton knocked, then entered. “Percival?”

There was no reply. The lab was empty. Anton frowned, then headed for the rooms. It was lucky he’d seen Percival stumble drunkenly into his not long ago, or he’d have no idea where the man lived. It was on the second floor, in the middle of the hall. The door was closed. “Percival? I need to speak to you about Harry and Gerry.” Anton winced at the awkward rhyme. “May I come in?” No response.
“Percival?” Now Anton was beginning to worry. What if—what if Harry had started with Percival, and moved on to Gerald? What if he was lying in there, dead? “Percival!” Anton pushed his way into the room and breathed a reflexive sigh of relief at finding it empty. Then he saw what was lying on the floor, and his relief vanished.

It was a rosary, Percival’s rosary, its jet-black beads scattered across the floor. The silver cross from the center of it was missing. The mirror on the far wall was cracked, and there was a bloody hand print pressed to the shards still in the frame. “Oh, no.”

On his way back down to the office Anton made sure to check the classrooms and lecture halls, even the dining area, just in case Percival was there. He saw many students, plenty of whom peppered him with questions, but no Percival, and no one could seem to remember seeing him either, except—

“He left over an hour ago, I think,” one of the sophomores said. “I tried to ask him a question about the lecture he gave yesterday, and it was like he didn’t even hear me. He looked rather distraught.”

“Did he get some sort of bad news?”

The student shrugged.

“Which way was he heading?”

“He took the south exit, like he was going toward the Limmat.”

Heading for the river… It made no sense, but then, none of this did to Anton. He wasn’t the one piecing the puzzle together, Camille was, and right now he had information that needed to be shared. He made his way back to the office and knocked.

“Come in, Anton.”

“How did you know it was me?” he asked Camille as he walked in.

“The only other person who would even think to interrupt at a time like this is Doctor Grable, and as this is his office, I doubt he would ask permission first. No, don’t apologize,” he added when Anton made a face. “We’re partners in this. What did you learn? Where is Mr. MacPherson?”

“He left the university over an hour ago, apparently,” Anton said. He relayed what he’d been told and the scene he found in Percival’s room. “I think something bad must have happened to him. He wouldn’t damage his rosary like that unless he was truly unsettled.”

“It does seem like a bad sign,” Camille agreed. “I’ll have to track him down.”

“I can come with you,” Anton said.

“So can I! He’s my friend, I ought to be the one to find him, tell him what’s going on.” Montgomery shook his head wearily. “He might be in a hell of a state if Harry got to him first. Maybe he cast a spell on him.”

“I didn’t think those sorts of spells were within Mr. Beaufort’s wheelhouse,” Camille said. “He’s less about compulsions and more about direct force, isn’t he?”

Montgomery pressed his lips together so tight they went pale. “If there’s one thing only I’m sure of now, it’s that I didn’t know Harry as well as I thought,” he gritted out.

“Nevertheless, we can’t be too cautious. You said you were barely even aware of him approaching you in your room, much less trying to kill you.” Camille stood and straightened his jacket. “Who knows how the aftereffects of what he did to you might linger?” He turned to Anton. “Do you mind staying with him until I get back?”

Anton squared his shoulders a bit. “Not at all.”

“Thank you.” He nodded to both of them, then left.

The ensuing silence was almost deafening, until Montgomery forcefully broke it by chuckling. “It seems there’s far more I likely don’t know about you than about Harry, Seiber. When did you start working with a lumière? More to the point, when did you start working with one who could serve as one of Percy’s pet projects?”

“We met a few months back,” Anton said. “He helped me get here on time when I ran into…” A murder. Actually, several murders. “Some trouble,” he finished uncomfortably.

“Rather an intimidating sort, isn’t he?” Montgomery chaffed at his arms, every move reminiscent of a twitch. “Must we wait here in tenterhooks for him? Can’t we do something else in the meantime?”

“I’m sure he won’t be long.”

Montgomery shrugged. “Who knows how long he’ll be? I’d just rather not—I mean—I need to do something, Seiber. I can’t just sit here like a snared rabbit waiting to be found. And I know that I’m being unreasonable, all right, I know Harry has been caught, but—it just—”

Anton knew exactly where he was coming from. “I suppose we could take a short trip. Where would you like to go?”

Montgomery’s face brightened. “How about your lab? I’ve always wanted to get a look in there, we all of us did, especially—well.” He coughed. “You know. Anyway. How about it?”

Gerald Montgomery was just about the last person Anton wanted in his lab, but he had made the offer. “Very well.”

“Great.” Montgomery stood up, shook out his hands, and clapped Anton on the back. His fingers lingered for a moment on the skin just above Anton’s collar. “Lead the way.”