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Augustus had almost never been so tempted to commit mischief, and he had certainly gotten up to his fair share before. It would be so funny to take the book and put it back in his office in an obvious place, just to watch Yujin sweat. Yujin did know that he had keys to their study room, sure, but he never used them (given that it would be incomparably rude to go through Yujin’s space while they were out), so they probably wouldn’t even think about it. It’d be very ‘murderer hallucinating bood, that guilty stain and proof of your crime’ of him to do. And there’d probably be some real data he could get from Yujin’s reaction.
But … however fun that option was, he knew the more cautious idea was likely to just put the book back where he’d found it. If he needed it later, he knew where it was, and it allowed him to hold back from confronting Yujin with the information he had. He still had an incomplete picture of what was truly going on here, and being able to choose when to reveal that he knew Yujin had the book would likely give him more options. Besides, he probably didn’t need to absolutely torment his poor assistant to get answers.
Regretfully, he carefully wedged the book back in behind the side drawers, and gently slid the middle drawer shut. Then he headed out of the room and locked back up—leaving no sign of his passage.
Now, to go eavesdrop on the tail end of Yujin’s conversation with Soren’s research assistant, Feather St. Saint.
Augustus continued along the hallway of the research assistants’ study room block, keeping an eye out for the names next to the doors, since he wasn’t familiar with where she worked; he’d only just happened upon her name when he saw the shared workroom door open down the hall, and a vaguely-familiar research assistant exited, coming back this way.
It would be too obvious now if Augustus stopped and listened, and there was nothing in the hall that he could pretend to be occupying his attention with. Instead, he continued down the hall, nodding at the assistant as they passed each other—he was one of the ones who Augustus had eavesdropped on at dinner, Olivia Spiders’s research assistant, River Brooklake. He continued down the hall until a glance back showed that Brooklake had disappeared into his study room, then looped back quickly to plant himself outside of St. Saint’s room, leaning against the wall and straining to listen.
“—did you need all that for anyway?” a young woman, who he presumed to be St. Saint, was asking. Augustus had clearly missed all of the sharing of biographical information, but Yujin was going to report that back to him anyway.
“I wish I knew,” Yujin said ruefully. “My boss wants to know, so here I am. I don’t know that it’s actually about the missing books, he said it like he was trying to get one over on me, but I can’t figure out what else it’d be about. Unless he’s into Kincaird and is trying to get information to increase his chances or something.”
“Wait, missing books?” St. Saint sounded alarmed.
“Yeah, haven’t you heard? Most everyone is talking about it at this point, Pennywright’s been going around talking to all kinds of professors about it. Someone stole a bunch of his books. I was the one who noticed, actually. It really freaked me out,” Yujin added, voice dropping into an uneasy tone.
“Why? ‘Cause what if you’d been there?”
“Yeah, exactly! I was in on my day off to drop off a paper for him, and like, I do that sort of thing all the time. I’m always in his office at weird hours to help find him things or put things back at his request or making notes for him while he’s off calling his mysterious husband. What if the thief had shown up while I was there?”
“You’d probably just have scared them off?” But St. Saint sounded even more uneasy now, likely imagining being in that situation herself. “But …”
“Right, we don’t know. This person could be armed.” Yujin’s voice dropped lower, so Augustus had to strain to hear. “And if it’s one of the other professors, they wouldn’t want it to get out that they were a thief. They might get dismissed. You know half the people here wouldn’t think twice about murder.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Damn, Yujin. So which books were taken? Was it all one subject? Kincaird studies the same field as your guy, so someone might try to get into his office too.”
“Shadows of Fear in the Fearful Shadow, or whatever it’s called, by Mahogany Mahoney. And some small folios and books about planar entities? It’s hard to say exactly since I was just noticing that things were missing in most cases, rather than remembering what was supposed to be there. But they seemed to all be about planar creatures and what places they come from.”
A pause then, probably them sharing their reactions through expressions alone. Augustus noticed Yujin hadn’t mentioned the missing ghost book, though technically it might fall under that vaguely descriptive umbrella.
Yujin continued finally: “Part of the reason I was so freaked out is I’d just dropped Fear-Shadow off the day before, so it was just such a narrow window that the thief could have broken in. Anyway, keep your keys on you. I’m pretty sure someone got ahold of mine and either used them or made copies. Hoping they didn’t have copies, though, that’d mean they could get into my study too.”
“You armed?” she asked.
“I’ve been carrying a knife now, yeah. Not that I know it’ll do much good. Anyway, you think someone’ll target your boss too?”
“I don’t know!” St. Saint sounded pretty freaked out. “Kincaird hasn’t built up much of a collection since coming to this school, though obviously he has some books of his own. Did you say Shadows of Fear from the Shadow Fear … uhhh, that’s not the full title. But like. That one?”
“Fitzfleming asked last week if Kincaird had a copy of that!”
“Fitzfleming did?” Yujin asked. “Oh no, my boss is talking to Fitzfleming right now. I hope he’s okay.”
“I don’t know. If they were fighting, I guess the whole school would know about it,” Yujin pointed out. “I’m sure it’s fine … I’ll go there right after this, though. I was going to meet him again anyway. It’s weird that Fitzfleming would want it, though, right? She doesn’t really work in that field. She’s all about the spirits of this world.”
“Yeah, I thought that too,” St. Saint said. “But then again, she did recently write that paper about maintaining the academic divide of earthly spirits from unearthly ones, I just figured she might want to write an addendum or something.”
“Mm,” Yujin said, in a kind of pained voice. “It’s probably just that, but everything looks suspicious now. Fitzfleming and Pérez know that I’m the one who sources books for my boss, so they’re always bothering me about what I’ve got hold of. So I’m surprised Fitzfleming didn’t ask me first. Even Spiders got in on harassing me recently.”
“Ohhhh. I thought—”
A snort. “Yeah. She was really questioning me about my boss and what he’d been up to lately. If I’d noticed anything weird.”
“Like you’re doing with mine?”
“Yeah, but I get paid to do it and you’re not going to tell anyone,” Yujin said. “Otherwise why would you have answered my questions?”
“I guess I can keep it under my hat,” St. Saint allowed magnanimously. Augustus tried to decide if he should be worried about that. “So had you noticed anything weird about your boss?”
“Yeah, I mean … I guess I have. But I didn’t tell Spiders that. And the problem was …”
“… the problem was?” St. Saint prompted, when Yujin didn’t continue.
Oh come on, Augustus pleaded silently.
“No, seriously, what’s wrong?” St. Saint asked, apparently alarmed by whatever she was seeing.
“Sorry … I’m fine. They just said something that read as kind of … threatening me,” Yujin said hesitantly. “But professors do that all the time. I don’t think they even know they’re doing it. Even my boss does it. And, like, Pérez threatens me whenever we talk. It’s like he needs to do it to live.”
“I’ve noticed that about Pérez,” St. Saint agreed. “It’s like those sharks that have to keep moving to breathe. If he’s not superior and ominous at least once every sentence, the curse will get him.”
“You probably don’t get to be a professor unless you like being ominous,” Yujin said with a tone of finality.
“Kincaird doesn’t tend to be ominous,” St. Saint said. “Or he hasn’t been yet, anyway. You sure you don’t want to stay for another cup of tea?”
Yujin groaned. “No, I should be going. I need to go rescue my boss from Fitzfleming, I guess. And I don’t want to take too long with it, I’ve got a date later.”
“Well, cheers,” St. Saint said.
That was the sound of Yujin’s chair scraping back. Augustus took a step back from the door, trying to decide what to do. Should he act like he’d just shown up and was waiting for them, or run all the way back to Fitzfleming’s? Or go to his office and pretend like he’d been there since Fitzfleming had kicked him out early? Or just… avoid Yujin, to give himself more time to think?
If he did talk to Yujin now, what should he ask about—beyond getting the obvious rundown from them about Soren’s personal history, like he’d asked for already?
Also, Augustus was becoming rapidly aware that he needed lunch, but he’d used up a bit more time than he’d meant to. Olivia would probably be heading to his office relatively soon to come introduce him to Soren …
[What should Augustus do? Comment with details.
Also, yesterday I posted a summary of all info learned to-date — check it out!]