Halloween I.F. – “Body of Work” – Day 26
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He had to hide, Augustus decided. It would at least give him the chance to get some idea of what the intruder wanted.
Was there anything left out on his desk that the intruder might use against him? He remembered the mug he’d stolen from Soren and grabbed his own coffee cup quickly, then ducked under the desk with Yujin, pushing the chair out a little to shadow their hiding spot further. Yujin made eye contact with him, expression wild, but nodded without Augustus having to say anything to them. Clearly, they understood this part of the plan, at least.
It was impossible for his anxiety not to spike as he hid under the desk with Yujin, the two of them huddled together listening to the intruder trying what sounded like several different keys. It brought him back to his childhood, his mouth dry, knowing that something was out there hunting for him, still not knowing what had happened to the rest of his family, if they had lived or died. He reached out and squeezed Yujin’s shoulder reassuringly, and Yujin let out the faintest breath at that.
He had to focus up; he was a full-grown adult man, just this side of middle age, not a child afraid of monsters in the dark. And he needed a way to get some kind of view of what was happening.
Augustus released Yujin’s shoulder and hurriedly dug in one of his pockets, finding his grooming kit. Carefully, he flipped it open—no need to accidentally send a razor flying on top of everything going on here—and angled it, trying to use the gap between the bottom of the desk and the floor to get at least a small view of the room with his shaving glass. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.
And he kept careful control on the paralyzing spell. He could wish he had more failsafes, but hindsight was perfect, after all. If it were his home or his workroom, it would be much easier to defend, but people avoided putting too many defenses on their offices on purpose. People, students included, were meant to be able to come and go safely here. And he wasn’t exactly a combat mage, especially without having prepared materials in advance. He simply had the paralysis spell stored, and he’d have to make it count.
The door opened finally—or so it felt, though he knew it had been a matter of seconds still—and then shut behind the intruder. A dim light was activated, and began to move from the doorway to his desk. Through the angle of his shaving mirror, he could see very little; women’s boots disappearing into the bottom of a professional tweed dress, moving toward his desk, stopping in front of it. The intruder was standing on the rug that he had the spell trained on, at least, though now those boots blocked his view entirely, directly in front of him as they were.
He found himself fantasizing that a beast wore them, rather than a person, looming over him and his assistant, his charge, unseen. He forced his breathing to slow again, and made eye contact with Yujin under the desk again, seeking … something. Yujin bit their lip, but held themself very still. Their hair was still floating ominously around their head as if they were underwater. The ghost riding them was clearly still fired up and ready to take action.
“Fuck,” he finally heard from nearly directly over him. A human voice. Fitzfleming’s voice, actually, which wasn’t a surprise, though she didn’t generally swear like that. “Where is that ambrotype of his?”
The picture he kept on his desk was now safe at home, though he wondered for a moment what she wanted with it. Certainly, an ambrotype could be used for all sorts of purposes, as it captured a moment in time of a person. And it could be used for that for anyone in it, so it could also reveal certain things about his husband if the magic were strong enough and probed deeply enough. It had been risky to have had Em pose for it, perhaps, but generally speaking there was really no need to go examining a man’s disgustingly sweet couples picture. He had never, he thought, made enemies who would particularly try to target him. He was a teacher, for crying out loud.
“Did he take it home? Damn. If I don’t get it … no, maybe it’s still here “
Home. He thought longingly about the plans he’d made for after this. He wanted to go home, invite his husband over properly, and then receive Soren and talk to him directly with Em’s help. He didn’t want to have to waste time here interrogating someone. Plus, Yujin’s situation still needed dealing with.
The feet began to move, and he was abruptly out of time to think about such inconsequentialities. Fitzfleming was going to come around the desk to investigate the drawers and see if he’d just put it away; it’s what he’d do. Besides, she was about to step off the rug.
So he triggered the paralysis spell. It launched with a loud crackling sound and a visible flash of light, and she went down.
She hit the desk on the way down, too, which he couldn’t feel dreadfully sorry about.
Augustus surged to his feet, pulling Yujin up at the same time. He had about five minutes now; five minutes in which she was totally insensate, stunned and unable to process the world around her. No more than that. The spell worked in fives: zero to five minutes, she’d be completely out of it. Five to ten minutes, aware of the world around her but incapable of any movement beyond breathing. Ten to fifteen minutes, able to speak but not move her body more. Fifteen to twenty, movement but lacking good coordination. Beyond that, she’d be back to normal.
He could use her lack of awareness afforded by those five minutes and just … leave. Or even search her and then leave, so long as he put her pockets back to rights after, and she’d be none the wiser. She wouldn’t even know he’d been here; he could let her think that she’d triggered an automatic defense. If he did this, he wouldn’t get to question her, but he’d know she was the culprit and she wouldn’t know that he knew.
Or, he could spend that time tying her up. He could wait, then interrogate her. It would mean he could ask questions, but he couldn’t guarantee answers, and it was possible she had some spells stored up as well somewhere on her. Those didn’t require movement to activate, so they were a real risk. He didn’t have any stored Mage Eye spells left to confirm what kind of magics she might have on hand, either. Ironically, he’d used the last one breaking into her office.
Which should he do? He stared down at her, still clutching Yujin’s hand. Whatever he decided to do, he was going to have to do it in front of Yujin, who was clutching the edge of the desk with their free hand and looking extremely alarmed by all this. So there had to be a moral limit to his actions here.
At least he had a witness if he wanted to take this to Ethics, Augustus thought. There was an edge of hysteria in the thought, but only just an edge.
[What should Augustus do?
Comment with details.]
I will point out that you DO have the option of sending Yujin out to do something else before anything (maybe you want to preserve your witness by not getting them involved in this further and risk their eating shit along with you!) Even if you don’t want to, it also doesn’t hurt to ask, like: can GHOSTS sense magic? Could Skylar pick up if she had any spells left?
If not, you can still search her pockets and tie her up. You can question her while she’s unable to move AND facing away from you so she has a harder time actually catching you with a spell that needs aiming, AND maybe keep some furniture between you in case that would absorb a spell as well.
Also relock your door if Fitzfleming didn’t lock it behind her. The last thing you need is someone else walking in on this.
+1 everything that Seth said! Sending Yujin away requires trusting Yujin (but I think we’re like, in it with them now) – but after Fitzfleming wakes up you can quickly tell her that someone else knows that she’s here so if she tries anything, she won’t get away with it. You can tell Fitzfleming you know what she was looking for, and you know about the blackmail, so unless she wants to get roasted and reported to ethics, she should spill what’s going on.