Halloween I.F. – “Body of Work” – Day 3
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“I didn’t expect you to be in today either,” Augustus said with a smile, trying to hide his irritation. He’d given up husband time today to do research, and now he had to deal with—
—well, with what exactly? Perhaps it wasn’t so strange that Yujin was going through his things. Being his research assistant did give them a certain amount of leeway, though going through his desk itself was a bit of a transgression in terms of personal boundaries.
Augustus attempted to get a quick overview of everything that had been disturbed without letting his smile slip. Nothing except the desk seemed disrupted, at least at a glance, and most of his desk was still in place, including his ambrotype of his husband—an odd image, that, since it barely resembled the man, but charming nonetheless and he was glad to see it untouched. The papers spread out seemed to mostly be personal research, some of which he’d sourced, and most of which were his personal notes about spiritual hosting—the summoning of spirits and anchoring them onto this plane instead of the other by giving them some kind of host, and how that related to the dichotomy of the planes. It looked as though some other personal papers were there as well, bills and notes and so on, though he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Those could have been pulled out incidentally.
“What brings you here, then?” Augustus asked lightly when the silence had stretched on for perhaps a moment too long.
Yujin had remained frozen the whole time, looking a little flushed and very mortified, but that still wasn’t a sign of any actual misbehavior. Frankly, being interrupted like this looked bad, and thus would be mortifying even if there were a reason for it. Now, they seized on the question, flashing Augustus a relieved—even grateful—smile and stepping around the desk. “The library finally got in that loan of Umbric Resistance in Summoned Spirits, and I know you weren’t the only one with a request for it, so I decided to check it out and bring it in before anyone else could get their hands on it. By the way, you might want to review the relevant parts and get it back as soon as possible, Fernandez was really annoyed by how much demand there’s been for books on this subject lately and how many people are harassing her, so you getting it back quickly will probably help get you in her favor …”
They were rambling a little, brushing down their coat and making sure their sleeves were out of the cuffs. Augustus nodded. “Thank you for getting that for me,” he said gravely. He didn’t ask more. He deliberately didn’t ask, seeing what Yujin would do if he didn’t.
That earned him another flashed smile from them. “Of course, it’s my job. Um. Anyway, when I came in, a paper I’d brought yesterday wasn’t there. I was a little worried, but I thought maybe you’d come in and put it away or something, so I figured I’d check your desk.”
He definitely hadn’t come in yesterday. He’d been gardening most of the day. “That’s odd. What was the paper?”
Yujin winced. “I don’t remember the title. It was that one by Mahogany Mahoney. You know, the one on common fear legends from different extraplanar locations. The one that’s like Shadow-Fear-Shadow-Shadow.”
“Shadows of Fear from the Shadows Feared by the Unshadowed?”
“That’s the one,” Yujin said, rolling their eyes. Relatable. “Anyway, did you take it?”
“I didn’t,” Augustus said, frowning now. “I didn’t even know you’d brought it. You’re sure you didn’t forget it?”
“I definitely came in with it,” Yujin said. “I wasn’t carrying anything else. I can’t imagine I’d have walked out with it and I remember putting it on your desk so you’d see it. I checked around and there’s a few other things I think might be missing, unless you’ve taken them to your workshop?”
That was alarming. “What else?”
“A few books and folios on extraplanar studies that I usually see around here. But I don’t know everything you have.”
“I’ll have to check,” Augustus said. He came around to do so, sorting through his papers almost absently. “Only you and I have keys to the office.”
Yujin nodded. “That’s what I was thinking. So if someone did come in, they either teleported—bypassing your wards without damaging them—or stole keys from one of us and put them back without us noticing.”
Neither option was great. At least, other than the things Yujin had pointed out, Augustus hadn’t yet noticed anything else missing. “Do you know who might have had access to your keys?”
“I never left them alone with anyone deliberately. I might have occasionally stepped out of my room to get a package or some such from the front door without taking them with me or locking up, because why wouldn’t I? And occasionally other professors have barged into my study room to ask for specific papers that they’re accusing me of hoarding, so there’s a small chance one of them might have grabbed the keys and returned them without me noticing,” Yujin admitted, more embarrassed than defensive.
Augustus nodded, gathering up the pages that Yujin had spread out and squaring them. “Which professors?”
“Ivory Fitzfleming and Cordero Pérez are the worst offenders. Most at least wait in the hall,” Yujin grumbled.
“Keys aside, you should have said something,” Augustus chided. “They don’t get to abuse my assistant because they want access to the same resources. They can ask like anyone else.”
“But that’s not your fault,” Augustus added gently.
Fitzfleming was a Professor of Structural Spiritualism, not Conjuration—Structural Spiritualists focused on the essence and spirit that existed in this plane within objects, plants, animals, and so on, all of which could be awakened and used. Most Structural Spiritualists viewed Conjuration as a field that was largely historic—in other words, no new achievements could come from it, just repetitions of old discoveries. Fitzfleming was no-nonsense about things in general, but was, to his understanding, working on a paper that might have led her to demand access to some of his research materials.
Meanwhile, Pérez was in Wards and Protections, and was both pompous and beautiful, especially for a man of his age. Warding, as a field, tended to view Conjurations as playing with fire unnecessarily, but on the other hand, the entire field of Warding hardly needed to exist if Conjurers didn’t do their work. And Pérez had already nagged Augustus in person a few times to share information about Augustus’s monograph to ensure he didn’t get “over his head in demonic nonsense.”
Of course, it might not have been either of them. Augustus sighed. “Thanks for getting this for me, Yujin. And for looking into this weird disappearance.”
“Of course, sir. I wish I had more to add, but … well.” They shrugged. “May I be excused?”
[Comment below. Should Augustus:
> Make Research notes from new book & return it to library immediately
> Ask Yujin not to leave — and what would you have them do?
> Try to find Fitzfleming — and how would you approach the situation?
> Try to find Pérez — and how would you approach the situation?
> Give up on all this and call his husband after all
> Do something else
Describe the details in the comments!]
Ask what their plans are today (better make it funny, “oh, I can’t imagine you have anything else to do on a Restday, anything special?” kind of vibe) and let them know you’ll be following up on this more tomorrow, at the least.
It does seem wise to reassure them that you’ll be following up on this more, and also wise to do that (tomorrow, anyway). For today you might want to take an inventory and see if you can, in fact, figure out whether there are missing things from your office, and if there’s a commonality between them, but you don’t need to keep Yujin here for that. It’s rare that anything in academia moves so quickly that it can’t wait a day, so there’s no need for haste.
It would be nice to actually get some work done, though, since you committed to doing that today. Notes from the new book would do as well as anything else. You should definitely deal with Fitzfleming and Perez at some point — acting like that to your research assistant is at best inexcusably rude — but honestly doing that on a business day is probably better all around.