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Augustus had very little time to react. But—he couldn’t run all the way back to Fitzfleming’s without drawing attention, and even heading back to his office so quickly might be noticed, especially if it looked like he was running from the research assistant block.
Nevertheless, appearing right outside the door would be too suspicious even for him. He quickly turned and sprinted down the hall to round the corner, waited a few moments until he heard the door open and close, and then came back around casually. Yujin seemed surprised, and Augustus fixed a similar expression on his own face, which he allowed to melt into a smile and a wave.
It wasn’t the least suspicious thing he could do, but he was trading one suspicious option for another, and he was fine with being a little suspicious.
After all, apparently Yujin thought he was ominous or whatever anyway. He still wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or annoyed by that.
“Sir? I thought you were going to talk to Fitzfleming,” Yujin said, coming over. “Was she out?”
Augustus didn’t have to pretend to be annoyed about this. He wrinkled his nose, shaking his head. “Unfortunately, she was in. She didn’t want to talk to me, though. She kicked me out.”
Yujin seemed to let out a breath at that. “Well … that’s better than it could be,” they said.
“What do you mean?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a lot to tell you,” Yujin said. “Maybe not here.”
Augustus nodded. Everything was falling into place. “Let’s go for lunch, my treat,” he declared. “I have to eat something quick before office hours anyway.”
Yujin seemed surprised. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure the last time he’d treated them to anything. Maybe a coffee a few months ago? It couldn’t have been longer than that, could it? But then again, hadn’t it been to warm up from the snow? Maybe it was longer than he’d thought. “Sure,” Yujin said, after a moment. “I’d love lunch.”
The best place for lunch was The Magician’s Appetite, a little café just off campus—but very near the professor office block, since he’d be cutting it close to get back. Augustus gestured to Yujin to walk with him and began leading the way there. “What do you have after this? Just working on your own things for a while?”
“Yeah, for the afternoon,” Yujin said. “Nothing too exciting, I don’t think.”
“Anything else later?”
“Why, do you need me for something?”
Hmm. Avoidant. Then again, he’d probably be the same if his older professor was asking about his hobbies, when Augustus was Yujin’s age. He was fairly sure he had not had good hobbies back then. “No, not at all. I just realize I don’t ask you much about your life, and that’s wrong of me. I know I demand things from you at all hours, and I don’t want it to impact your life in a negative way.”
Yujin didn’t seem to know how to react to that, watching their feet as they walked. “O-oh, that’s …”
To Augustus’s surprise, he found he meant what he was saying. “I’ve noticed you’ve been very antsy since the break-in. And that’s understandable. I’m on edge too. But is there anything I can do to help you?”
Yujin almost jerked their head around, staring at Augustus with eyes that Augustus realized were quite uncanny, with an unusual white line around the edge of their dark irises. Had he never looked them in the eye before? “O-oh. I … thank you.” They sounded genuinely moved, almost a little choked, and turned away again quickly, ducking their head again. “I’ll be fine, I think. Nothing like a robbery to put you on edge.”
One they’d committed, or one they’d stumbled over the end result of? Or both? Interesting that they were so moved, though.
They arrived at the café before he could decide how to follow up on that, and they both placed their orders at the counter before going to sit. Yujin placed a remarkably large order—an amount of food that Augustus would have for dinner, and he never skimped on his own meals. He didn’t comment on it; he was curious if the extra snacking had some sort of magical origin, of course, but Yujin was a young adult and people needed to eat to live. Heaven knows Augustus enjoyed doing so, and people who had decided it was their business to make comments about it were the bane of his existence when he was younger. “Now,” he said as they sat. “Tell me what Feather told you about Soren Kincaird.”
Yujin nodded, doing so, continuing to talk between bites as their meals arrived.
The gist of it was that Soren had gotten his undergraduate degree at the Twent College of Arcane Arts, as Augustus had assumed. He had taken seven years to get through the program, because he had a gap in the middle. He got his Doctorate at Jollifer’s University after another two-year break between degrees. Both were good schools, with excellent reputations, and to Feather’s understanding, he’d done quite well at both.
Feather hadn’t know the cause behind either of the gaps. She’d pointed out (Yujin said) that undergraduate school could be hard, especially in arcane arts, where you had to have such a strong mastery of multiple fields even to move into magics. He could have had an ailing parent, or have been sick himself. She wasn’t going to pry into her professor’s past like that.
Beyond that, there still weren’t too many specifics. He’d worked at Twent prior to this job, but abruptly left. Feather didn’t know why—maybe von Beekeeper had found a way to lure away a promising professor, or maybe something else. Feather had added—something Yujin said they found interesting, and Augustus had to agree—that Soren had apparently come to this school due to “personal reasons”, which he hadn’t told Feather about. She’d thought it was weird, but not enough to pry into.
Soren’s personal research appeared to be in the space beyond the planes, “which I thought was interesting because it’s sort of what you’re working on too, just from a different angle,” Yujin said. “He’s apparently working on a paper about why nobody has ever successfully summoned anything from beyond the known planes, and if it means there’s nothing out there after all, just a void. But Feather also said that none of the stolen books ended up in his office, so it doesn’t seem likely that he’s the thief. She said that Fitzfleming had asked after one of them, though.”
“Fitzfleming again,” Augustus said, finishing his meal. “Suspicious.”
“Definitely,” Yujin agreed. “You said she kicked you out? Did she say anything first?”
“She said she disagreed with me academically for personal reasons,” he said slowly. “And it would be better if I were in a different field. But that just is Structural Spiritualism talk. Perhaps.”
Yujin shook their head. “I don’t like it,” they said. “But it’s not evidence either. Unless you think it’s enough to take to the authorities?”
“I don’t know,” Augustus admitted. He sighed, pushing his plate back. “Thank you, Yujin. I’ve got a lot to think about. I’ve got to go but … listen.” He made eye contact with them again, deliberately. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
They seemed to tear up, blinking rapidly. “I … no, not really,” they admitted in a small, airless voice. “I’m dealing with a personal issue right now. But I will be fine, and I don’t want to talk about it. It shouldn’t affect my work. Okay?”
He didn’t have the time to push now. He had to get to his office. “Okay,” Augustus said gently. “But if you ever want to talk to me, I’ll listen.”
Yujin didn’t answer, so he just got up, patted their shoulder as he passed, and then hurried to his office.
Olivia was already waiting outside when he got there, arms crossed, tapping their foot. She lifted her brows as he hurried up. “Your doors say you have office hours now,” she said, with no greeting. “Are you sure now’s a good time to go meet Kincaird?”
[What should Augustus do? Comment with details.
If you go with Olivia, you’re likely to meet Soren. What do you want
to ask him about, and how do you want to approach the meeting?]