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“First of all,” Augustus said, and was pleased when his voice didn’t shake too much, “I would have you make me a cup of tea. Herbal. I need to calm my nerves and get my thoughts in order.”
Enmity’s eyebrows lifted—for all of what Augustus liked to think of as their domestic bliss, Enmity wasn’t much in the habit of being ordered around for trivialities. But again, he decided not to say anything about it this time, slowly releasing Augustus and sliding his legs off the workshop bed, then heading for the stairs.
Augustus imagined his demon lord husband tinkering around naked in the kitchen and swallowed a laugh that threatened to be more of a hysterical giggle than anything else. He sat up and crossed his legs, clenching cold fingers into the fine material of his trousers and forcing himself to breathe.
When Enmity returned—still naked, of course, carrying a teacup with a strainer in it, and a separate bowl to remove the leaves to when the tea was appropriately steeped—Augustus was feeling, if not better, as if he had at least roughly managed to line his thoughts up.
“I’ll start from the moment it shifted to the cave,” he said, since that was when Enmity had stopped talking originally in the memory-divination, and did so, describing the icy cold waters, the warm current beneath him, his sudden decision to get back out of the water and head into the caves to follow the voice. It was hard to describe what he’d seen when he emerged out into that central cave opening that the ritual had clearly occurred in, but he did his best. “So, as you can see, something went very wrong,” he concluded. He knew he was talking stiffly, but couldn’t not. It felt like trying to forcibly recall a nightmare. “I don’t know if it was accidental or sabotage. The things Soren was yelling could have been aimed at either Vii or myself. Or it could have simply been an inaccurate stream of consciousness, given his lack of mental stability at the time. Considering that we were playing with forces beyond our control, it could have been accidental and he was simply blaming himself. But I do wonder if there was foul play involved. And by whom, if so.”
Because that was the rub, wasn’t it? Emotions were high. Vii and Soren had issues with each other, but were also drawn to each other, and Augustus knew himself well enough to suspect he might have been playing them off each other for the thrill of being so desired. He didn’t want to think he would have actively sabotaged either of them, but he didn’t have enough memory to confirm.
“You weren’t there at the start of the memory,” Enmity pointed out, interrupting Augustus’s spiraling thoughts. “You were somehow in a pool of water, deeper in the cave system from what was happening. Do you think you might have been the one who ‘abandoned’ them, since you weren’t there at the time?” He made scare quotes with his talons around abandoned.
It was strange; he wasn’t used to emotional pain. He sat with that feeling for a moment, an accusation of abandoning people who were still, to his current self, near strangers. “Perhaps,” he said. “Entirely possible. Say that when the ritual started, I got afraid. Or when it started to come through—I could have become insensate and fled. If I fell into a pool of ice-cold water, it might have shocked me back into my senses and allowed me to go back to try to help after all. Or perhaps I was coming to the ritual through the caves and was late, and they got started without me. One way or another, whether I was there and ran away, or if I hadn’t been there at all, I was clearly too late to help.”
“Dost thou ache, worm?” Enmity asked, tucking fingers under Augustus’s chin, curling claws against the soft flesh there.
It made him smile, at least. “I don’t know. It’s a bit intriguing, I’ll admit. Well. Whatever the cause, and whether or not it was intentional, it looks as if Vii was consumed in some way by the Beast Beyond. Clearly not the intended outcome, given how we’d been talking. And then I lost my memory, and Soren lost more than that … I don’t think the ritual itself wiped my memory, but … perhaps that scream at the end. It felt like it cut right through my mind and seared parts of me away. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it did damage to me.”
“While I couldn’t exactly take a look around your ritual area, obviously, I don’t think you had any kind of useful warding up,” Enmity said. “How could you? It was something you’d never encountered before. It’s just lucky that rift slurped it back in, or who knows what other damage it might have done to the world?”
As if Enmity could talk. Augustus gave him a fond look, and earned a coyly innocent expression back. “Well, that’s what planar definitions are supposed to do. Be a failsafe against things going where they don’t belong for too long.”
“And here you are trying to change them.”
“Of course I am, darling. If my world is your world, then it couldn’t possibly deny you. Who could?” Augustus leaned up and kissed Enmity’s nose. And then, sitting back suddenly, “And given my stolen research, I might not be the only one trying to change the definitions. Especially given that you told me that you felt someone try to reach for something beyond the planes recently already. If someone who knew about the Beast had an idea of how to define to allow its entry, they might be able to cause some major havoc.”
Enmity sighed. “I’m not getting laid tonight.”
“You’re not, sorry. I need to plan, and then I need to rest without nightmares, if you can do that for me.”
“I can do that for you.”
Augustus nodded. “Well. Tomorrow, I don’t have plans until the afternoon. So first thing in the morning, I can go to the library, see if there’s any news about Vii. Things are only shared through magical interlibrary loan if they’re of interest, so it’s unlikely but not impossible there will be student records. But given that suddenly Soren became unwell and Vii disappeared without a trace, there might be a news report. That’d be shared.”
Enmity hmmed absently, tracing shapes over Augustus’s forehead with a talon.
He could feel the sleepiness start to sink in. “Depending how long that takes, perhaps I can then break into Fitzfleming’s office. See if I can find the proof that she’s the one doing it. And if not … well, maybe I can lay a trap. Tell folks that I’ve got an exciting class planned. If I get all the evidence I need before that, sure, I can run a class. Otherwise, I can make everyone think I’m going to and then skip. See if someone tries to get into my office while they believe I’m busy.”
“Lie down, maggot,” Enmity said, pressing him back and sitting on him, tracing more patterns down his throat and chest. “I need to finish this before the spell ends, if you want a good sleep.”
“Mm, yeah, exactly. Then I’ll go home. Bring you home to me physically. Voidspace takes so long to set up compared to a physical summoning. And you can’t stay long when it’s like this. Physically, we can only trick the planes for a day or two before it’ll kick you out. But I want you there when Soren comes over, and if things are going to kick off soon … I need you. I need you.”
“Sleep,” Enmity said, and Augustus fell into a dreamless sleep.
When Augustus woke, he was, as expected, alone. But that was fine. He was calmer now, prepared.
He got up and ate his leftovers from dinner rather than taking time to prepare any breakfast, dressed quickly in a fairly simple charcoal suit with opal-swirl lining, and strode off to the university library. He nodded to Fernandez as he passed, heading right for the section relevant to arcane universities.
As he’d expected, Pwent’s enrollment history didn’t make it over here—he could request an interlibrary loan if it was incidentally both approved to get scanned in (which it might not be, if any politician’s children had been in the classes) and then someone had the time to magically scan it. But he did find news from the same year, pulling things out and making his hands stay steady.
Incident at Pwent, One Student Injured, Another Missing.
That was certainly it. He began to pull it out and froze when Fernandez came over.
“Fernandez,” he agreed. “Can I help you?”
“The other way around, I think. I told you I’d do inventory. You were correct; some titles that seem relevant have been late in being returned. You may want to talk to Professor Fitzfleming if you want them back.”
Disappointing, but not unexpected. “I see. Thank you,” he said, and turned his attention back to the article, skimming it for names. He searched for his own—didn’t find it—and skimmed again for the others.
Yes, there was Soren Kincaird, poor thing, ankle broken, described as incapable of explaining what had happened.
And then he saw Vii’s full name: Violin Spiders.
It could be a coincidence, of course. The Spiderses were a large, multi-branched family.
It didn’t feel like a coincidence.
“Pennywright?” Ferdanez asked. “Are you well?”
[What should Augustus do?
Stick to the plan? Change it up?
Comment with details.]