Halloween 2022 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F. – “Body of Work” – Day 13

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Best to start by pretending nothing unusual was happening, and slowly turn up the heat. You could boil a frog or damn a soul that way; why wouldn’t it work to get an apparently-stressed professor to talk? “Oh, I’d like to pretend it’s all social, but I was wondering if I could pick your brain about something,” he said cheerfully.

“Pick my brain? I can’t imagine that I have anything that you’d want to know about,” she said, voice tight. “In fact—” 

Augustus tuned out the rapid patter of remonstration. Now that he was thinking about it, Fitzfleming wasn’t the only person who’d been acting odd lately. Olivia Spiders had been unusually late to class, though they’d had an excuse when he’d talked to them. And Yujin had been acting odd too, actually; they were always a little weird—and who wasn’t, at this university—but they were more skittish than usual. It could just be paranoia caused by thinking someone had taken their keys to rob their boss, of course. 

He wondered if other people around the place were acting strange now too, or if they always were and he’d just never noticed it. But it was still odd. Worth thinking about. 

Not now, though; Fitzfleming had fallen silent and was frowning at him. Best to pay attention. “It’s really nothing like that,” he said, to whatever they were saying. “You don’t need to be so strict about it. I know you’re not in our department, but I was wondering if you knew anything about that new professor? Soren Kincaird?”

“Soren Kincaird?” she echoed. “Wouldn’t you know more than I would? You two went to the same university.”

“Did we? I hadn’t heard that,” he said, which was technically not a lie; he was doing great on the technicalities today. “Undergrad?”

“That’s right,” she said. “I would have thought you two might know each other.”

“Conjurations is a big field,” he said, demurring. 

“And I cannot imagine why it’s so popular,” she snapped sharply. “It’s a locked study. There’s nothing more you can discover about conjuring monsters from beyond that wasn’t originally discovered hundreds of years ago. You’re just refining things, and honestly shouldn’t, given the things you work with.”

He nodded. “Right, you just published a paper about that, right? Defining the difference between natural spirits, those belonging to this plane, and the ‘unnatural’ ones from beyond. What was it—ah, yes, Spirits Inherent and Eidolic Idolatry, right? I understand that disagreeing with us is your specialty. I don’t take it personally.”

“Perhaps you should!” she said, tense. But she didn’t look angry; she looked miserable. “The things you do are less than useless, which is why your department funding’s in danger. If you got out and shifted focus to a better area, things would be better for you. At any rate, I barely know Kincaird; I greeted him when he came around to introduce himself; he said he was interested in the spirits of this world as well as those beyond, which is more than I can say for most of your lot.”

He lifted his brows slowly. Time to turn up the heat. “Is everything all right, Ivory?” he asked, softly.

“Wh-what?” That took the air out of her more surely than a blow would have. “What—of course—” 

“You seem very tense. Upset,” he said. “Listen, I know we’ve never been friends, but if you need someone to talk to, I’m happy to be a neutral ear.”

Fitzfleming bit her lower lip, and just like that, he was sure something was wrong for her. She had the look of someone who wanted sympathy but who found it almost an unknown quality when she was receiving it. For a moment, he was sure she was going to open up to him. But she began to harden again almost immediately, though. “I’m fine. Thank you.” But her words were too tense, too airless.

“If you change your mind, I’ll be here,” he said. “I know we all have things going on at home—” She shook her head briefly at that. “Not at home? Is it something here?”

“Enough, Pennywright! I said I’m fine!” she said, an air of desperation to it.

The knife was in, to mix his metaphors; he could twist it and see what way she jumped. “All right, of course. It’s just that I’m not the only one who’s noticed. I’ve heard people talking about it, and I’m worried that something might happen. The students have already noticed; they might take advantage to try to manipulate their grades. Or—well. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are thieves around recently,” he added, innocently. “I’ve had some things stolen from me. I’m worried similar things might happen to you, if you’re not alert—”

“Get out!” she snapped, half rising behind her desk, slamming her hands down on it. “Get out of my office! I said enough, and if you don’t listen, I’ll have you thrown out!”

He rose, hands raised. “Of course,” he said mildly. “I’m sorry to upset you, Fitzfleming. But keep in mind, I mean you all the best.”

Augustus left before she could actually kick him out, and walked a little ways down the hall to ponder one of the bulletin boards there without seeing it. That was interesting, he decided. He wouldn’t be surprised if she were the one who had taken his research, based on how she’d reacted to him—though why she’d want it at all, he couldn’t say. But she implied something between them was personal. Implied things would be different if he got out of Conjuration. Whether or not she was involved, she knew something.

Then again, he’d thought she was about to open up to him, and something had scared her off from doing so. He wouldn’t expect that if she’d stolen from him out of malice.

Well, he was out of her office far earlier than he expected. He could try to see where she might have stashed his things, if she had done so—it hadn’t seemed to be in the office, though, so he’d need a plan of attack to try to get into her better-protected workroom or her home. 

Then again … the way Yujin had been acting was preying on his mind, now that it had occurred to him. And he knew where Yujin was theoretically off to right now. He could stalk them there and try to listen in on the conversation with Feather St. Saint. Or he could go to Yujin’s office himself while they were out, dig around, see what he could find there. He had the keys, even; it’s just that he’d never had reason to use them.

Perhaps it would be better to just let them be and do something else in the meantime, as he’d originally planned. Find out more about Soren. That would make the most sense for his goals. 

And yet … he’d never been good at resisting temptation.

[What should Augustus do? Comment with details.]

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