[Please read the instruction post before commenting]
“Yes, perfectly well,” Augustus replied, almost automatically. He put the article back. “Have you seen Professor Olivia Spiders recently?”
“Spiders?” Fernandez raised a brow. She’d surely practiced how to do so, given how perfect it was. “Not recently, no.”
“That’s odd. They’re doing a paper.”
“Well, I don’t keep an eye on everyone who comes in and out, and I’m not always here,” Fernandez said neutrally, surely putting together the connection between that and the missing books and not wanting to jump to conclusions.
Augustus nodded absently. “Fair enough. It’s occurred to me I have something I really need to talk to her about, so sorry to show up and to run out again so quickly.”
“I also don’t keep track of the time anyone spends here.”
He laughed at that, soft. “No, you wouldn’t. Have a good rest of your morning, Fernandez.”
“Pennywright,” Fernandez said agreeably.
There was more he could look up here, surely, but he couldn’t think of any of it, and besides, his feet were already walking him out as his mind continued to whirl.
So, Vii—his old lover Vii, forgotten, lost to this world and to the memories of those who were there with him when the incident happened—was named Violin Spiders. All he knew about Vii’s family was that he had some, and that he’d left a letter for them in the event he died in the ritual. And all that he knew about Olivia’s family was that she apparently had a sister who ran a jewelry shop in town.
Did Olivia have a sister who ran a jewelry shop, or had that been a convenient excuse? If there really was a sister, that might also be a source of information, it occurred to him. He fiddled briefly with his wedding band, his pact-mark; it wasn’t the only piece of jewelry he owned, and some of the others, less-magical, had stopped fitting so well over the years. He could take a piece to see if they could expand it and—what? Ask about missing family members while he was there?
One way or another, what he knew for sure was that Olivia had abruptly become a great deal more suspicious. Someone had been researching into summon something from beyond, and if they thought that their brother (or cousin, or whoever) was out there … well, Augustus had no family any longer, nor had he been attached to the family he’d had, but he could imagine it might drive someone to great lengths.
One way or another, he needed to talk to them. What he was going to say, he didn’t know, but he could decide that when he got there.
Unfortunately, he reached Olivia’s office to find it locked and closed, with no Olivia around after he knocked. A quick use of his magical detection charm dissuaded him from breaking in immediately; she’d apparently taken whatever advice she’d gotten on theft for her own use, not simply her sister’s, and the place was heavily warded against what he was assumed was physical intrusion in additional to magical. He had to believe that anyone stepping in would quickly draw attention, and while he could potentially manage a quiet break of the spell if he had materials and time, it would be better to do that late at night, as it would take a while to set up, and casting while painting the air over the door wouldn’t exactly be subtle.
He could come back later. It wasn’t suspicious that Olivia wasn’t in, he reminded himself. He, for example, was also not in his office right now. Nevertheless, it made him nervous. One more variable out of his control.
“What are you up to?” Pérez asked, walking down the hall.
This was fine. He pivoted back to his original plan, turning with a smile. “Just seeing if Olivia was in. They told me they’d finished a draft and would talk about it later, so I was curious! No luck, though. Have you heard anything?”
“Why would I talk to Spiders about their writing?” Pérez asked blankly.
Oh, Pérez. “Well, we’re all in this together, aren’t we? What are you doing around here, anyway? You’re not in Conjurations. Not that I ever mind seeing your smiling face.”
“You have better coffee in your lounge,” Pérez said sourly. “Must be all the deals your sort makes with creatures of luxury.”
“I could use some myself. I’ll walk you there,” Augustus said, starting that way. Maybe Olivia would be there. “Do you have class later?”
“Yes, we’re clearing the room and setting things up for a major practical test. Summoning a ‘harmless’ sylph, but—”
“What! Conjuring in your class?”
“Only to show them what not to do,” Pérez said firmly. “We don’t shamelessly court danger, unlike your sort.”
They’d walked together into the lounge as Pérez said that; Olivia wasn’t there, but plenty of other professors were, eavesdropping shamelessly on Pérez’s insults. “Oh well, speaking of that, I’ve got a big class planned later today,” Augustus said cheerfully, at normal speaking volume. “For my two o’clock class.”
“Oh no,” Pérez said.
“You’d love it, I think. It’s an introduction to Planar Studies course, so … well, I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say it’ll be an exciting day for the students!”
Pérez was shaking his head. “You shouldn’t. What if something gets out?”
“Don’t even worry about it! I’ll be there to watch over everything. I may not have your skill level, but I know how to deal with everything I teach,” Augustus said. “Even if we decide to go big.” Yes, everyone had definitely heard that. There’d be gossip about it, for sure, because professors loved to talk; he was sure that people would be saying to watch out for escaped elementals and demons. Everyone would know by noon.
So his trap was laid; people would know that he was definitely at class, and thus if he skipped and stayed in his office, he might see who showed up.
He poured himself coffee and toasted Pérez. “Well, good luck to you with your class, and good luck to me with mine,” he said, heading out and immediately beelining for Fitzfleming’s office.
She was out—she had class this morning, he knew—or at least, her room was dark, so unless he were falling into the same trap as he was about to set, he was good to go. A final burning of his mage eye charm—one that he’d have to restore before he could use it again—indicated only the standard spells against magical intrusion, so he quickly got to work with his tools.
Augustus was in quickly, shutting the door behind him and making sure the curtains were shut before he summoned a small light. She was actually out, and as long as she had no cause to leave class early, he should be able to toss her room fairly thoroughly. Classes were three hours long, after all.
Yet he took a fair amount of that time searching, because he wasn’t finding what he wanted, and kept trying to go deeper. None of the books seemed to be here. Her shelves were messy, and he spent far too long pulling books off and trying to return them to their exact place, but he was sure by the end that she didn’t have any of his missing materials.
This despite the implications she’d been the one stealing them.
His time was running quite short by the time he found the evidence that might explain their absence: a note, carefully placed at the very bottom of a stack of papers that had clearly been early drafts of her recent paper on Eidolic idolatry. He almost missed it, but it was a slightly different color than the rest of them, and had a torn edge.
It read: I have information you don’t want getting out. You’re going to help me, or everyone will know. Come to the woods behind the school this Choresday morning to learn what I need. It was undated and unsigned.
The note could, theoretically, be an unsent message from Fitzfleming herself, but Augustus doubted it. It looked like the sort of thing that someone had received and had simultaneously wanted to hide but keep close to hand. And while the mysterious author hadn’t said what they needed help with, he had most likely been robbed late on Choresday, from what Yujin had said.
Augustus carefully slipped the note back, and, after looking around to confirm that he’d put things back as similarly to how Fitzfleming had kept them, slipped out of her office with equal care, immediately beginning to move again once he’d got the door closed, using the inside lock again to lock it easily behind himself.
He barely had time to buy himself a sandwich before he needed to get back to his office, and he spent most of that time thinking as he walked. So. Someone was blackmailing Fitzfleming (or again, she was planning to blackmail someone else this week; unlikely but not impossible). But why would someone want to use her to steal his books instead of doing it themselves? Simply for the plausible deniability that they were not involved?
Augustus finished his sandwich in his office with the door locked and closed, blinds drawn, eating in the dark and hoping no mustard would drip out; he’d hate to confront a potential intruder with mustard on his shirt.
He’d only just finished it when he heard the sound of a key in the lock. He sat up straighter, staring at the door. He was a Conjurer, but he still had a trick or two, and he readied a small paralysis spell from another of his charms, aiming it for the bust next to the door so that a potential reflection ward wouldn’t send the spell right back to him. He held the spell; it’d be good if he didn’t need to use it.
Yujin stepped in, shutting the door behind themself and locking it, and then going for the lights.
“No, leave those off,” Augustus said, watching Yujin visibly startle. Disappointment flooded him. Even though he’d seen the stolen book in their office, he’d only seen the one. He’d hoped it hadn’t been Yujin, especially with all this other information. Hoped it had been a misunderstanding. He contemplated launching the paralysis spell. It’d be easy enough to get Yujin tied up after that and then force information from them …
“Sir?!” Yujin said, startled. There was something wrong with them; their hair was floating around them strangely, drifting up as if gravity had suddenly become a suggestion. Their necktie followed suit, as if in some invisible breeze. “What are you doing sitting here in the dark?”
“Waiting for you, I suppose,” Augustus said. He put as much avuncular disappointment as he could into the words, preparing to launch his spell the moment Yujin moved.
“Never mind. Thank goodness you’re here,” Yujin said. “I need your help. Someone wants to hurt you—I can’t let it happen!”
It could be a trap, luring him to let down his guard. Yet he hesitated.
[What should Augustus do?
Comment with details.]