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“You want to talk to me?” Pérez sniffed imperiously. “I suppose so. But if any of my students arrive, you will need to leave immediately.”
“Of course,” Augustus said, as if he were surprised that Pérez would even think he had to say it. “I know how devoted you are to teaching your students. I’d never dream of interfering with that.”
Pérez looked mollified. Conversations with Pérez were remarkably easy in some ways; pompous people loved feeling as if their vanity was rooted in reality. The challenge was going to be in keeping up a friendly stream of compliments without being too overt about how much he was massaging Pérez’s pride, and in avoiding either losing his patience or being so friendly that Pérez walked all over him.
“The thing is,” Augustus began, affably apologetic, “I’ve noticed some of my books and documents going astray. I was wondering if you’d noticed anything similar?” Pompous people also loved being viewed as the solution to the problems of lesser people.
“Nothing’s gone missing,” Pérez said immediately, but with a frown. “I’m confident of it.”
He didn’t seem inclined to check, Augustus noticed, but that wasn’t necessarily a sign of any guilt; if he were to look, he’d probably do it privately. “I just don’t want Yujin to blame themself. They’ve been worried about the possibility of people entering their room without permission and taking their keys. Apparently some professors haven’t been that great about waiting outside …?” If Pérez recognized this was referring to himself, he didn’t react. Augustus went on. “I suppose if nobody’s taken anything from you, I have to worry that it’s a bit more targeted, rather than a crime of opportunity. I’d think they’d prioritize your work, given your standing.”
“It might simply be that my defenses are better than yours,” Pérez pointed out. He seemed genuinely concerned now, though, stroking his clean-shaven chin. “What kind of work was taken? Demonic? Conjuration of such spirits? If you let some half-trained rogue steal those things, we might have a real problem on our hands. Most of the reading materials should be harmless by itself, but they contain just enough instructions that if the thief also got hold of ingredients, and hadn’t stolen any of my important work on warding, the results could be catastrophic!”
“It seemed to be mostly theoretical studies on planar work, outside the realms of demons or other standard extraplanar spirits,” Augustus said, trying to hide his amusement. He couldn’t quite resist adding: “Are you accusing me of demon summoning?”
“Ugh!” Pérez threw both hands up. “Spiritual Conjuration isn’t all the same, and you and I both know that, but it’s a slippery slope. The knowledge demons can offer is too dangerous to intelligent men such as you and I, and that’s the problem here!”
Augustus made sympathetic noises until the small rant finished. “Yes, yes,” he agreed. “Don’t get too worked up, Pérez, you’re going to wrinkle your suit. Lovely work, by the way, where did you get it?”
For a moment, he thought he’d risked laying it on too thick—but his assessment was correct, as Pérez calmed down and smoothed his shirt front. “It’s custom. Why, planning on impressing someone? Hoping to take advantage of your husband’s constant absence?”
“Never without his permission,” Augustus said, smiling. “Fortunately, he likes to know I’m happy and enjoying my life. My husband aside, if you think just stealing some theoretical reading is as dangerous as it would be if it involved demons, I’d love advice from a colleague so well-versed in spiritual protections.”
Pérez hmph‘d softly. “I don’t know much about how to deter theft from more mundane sources. If it were me, I’d set an alarm ward and leave it at that. I can’t believe I’ve had to talk about alarm wards twice so recently. It’s really not my area.”
“So you have heard of other thefts?”
“Not in any relevant sense,” Pérez said. “Olivia came by a week or two ago to ask about warding alarms for material intrusions and how one might get around them. Their sister runs a jewelry shop in town and she wanted to know what to look for in case of trouble.”
It took Augustus a moment to place the name, since very few professors went by given name—but given that the person in question was Olivia Spiders, it was generally more confusing to use her family name. Olivia, a cheerful younger professor of Spiritual Contract Law who went by both she and they pronouns, was perky, friendly, and tended to joke around; he recalled them as an easy person to talk to. It didn’t seem relevant, per se, but Olivia’s personality meant that following up about it later would at least not be a trial.
Augustus began, “Well—” but before he could continue his interrogation, there was a rap at the door. Disappointed, he rose at once. “I’ll see myself out, then. Thanks for the help, Pérez. I always appreciate your thoughtful answers.”
Pérez preened. “Of course. Stop by any time.”
So that had gone well enough, he thought as he stepped past the student who was on her way in. He headed to his workroom. He kept it much tidier than most others that he’d seen—no crystals spilling across the counters, no half-erased markings—but instead, it was a fairly comfortable open space with a small bed against one wall for late nights, a carefully-organized work desk with the most dangerous books and papers tucked away in there rather than his office upstairs (all of which thankfully seemed to still be in their place), and a huge apothecary’s cabinet full of magical ingredients.
He set up the wards to keep the upcoming demonic intrusion from bleeding out of the room, combined the relevant conjuration-voidspace materials and set them to developing, and headed back out to the pub, stopping by his office only briefly to grab his spare jacket so that he wouldn’t bring the smell of sulfur with him.
The campus pub, named the Magician’s Apprentice, was just starting to come out of its quiet period; it was still relatively early in the afternoon, but just late enough that people who favored an early dinner had started to come by. He could see a few professors and students sitting by themselves—including the aforementioned Olivia Spiders, who was wearing a flowy pantsuit with wide lapels that somehow didn’t swallow her despite her diminutive size; they had their hair up in an elaborate series of braids, and the sunlight through the window reflected both off the tall glass of ale in her hand and the freckles on her face.
Also sitting by himself was Octothorpe the Hunter—not actually a hunter at all, and a vegetarian who reputedly fainted at the sight of blood, but from an unusual sect of wizards who, upon graduation to their full rank, were required to claim a unique color much as clowns had to claim a unique pattern of face paint. Hunter was, based on Octothorpe’s outfit, a shade of dark green. Octothorpe himself was of orcish heritage, with small tusks and strong, greenish features, and he hulked sadly over his own tankard.
Nearby sat a table of research assistants; it sounded as if they were complaining about something or other as a group (Augustus had to assume it was probably their professors) and they had clearly already been drinking pretty heavily. Yujin wasn’t there with them, Augustus noted without surprise.
He went to the bar and ordered himself a beer, and as he waited for it to be pulled, he looked around again to try to figure out who to approach.
But before he could decide, the door opened again and admitted—what was his name again?—Soren. Augustus’ heart skipped a beat as he watched Soren glance around, bending over a menu. He was about Augustus’s age, also human, with dark skin and even darker, curly black hair, wearing a simple soft gray suit that fit his angular form nicely. Augustus couldn’t help but admire his appearance.
Soren was a recent hire, a professor of Conjurations in, to Augustus’s understanding, the field of Aetherial Spirits. He didn’t know Soren, he was pretty sure, but the few times he’d seen him around, a strange spark of familiarity would shake him, that sense of don’t I know you from somewhere that never seemed to find a home. Perhaps they’d given guest lectures in the same place or something like that. He could probably find out if he asked, but, too uncertain of the strength of his own feelings, he’d never actually talked to Soren before.
[What should Augustus do? Comment with details.]