“Remember me now?”
“You!” He gasped, “But you’re-”
“Dead?” She said in a pleasant tone, “Oh, no. I’m afraid you’re gravely mistaken.”
Four Days Ago…
93rd of Sumquar, the Summer Quarter of the year 11,901.
The city of Port Drebon was alive. The noonday sun reflected off the windows of the towering stone and brick buildings. Sounds carried up from the streets, children laughing and the general murmur of conversation filled the air. The clatter of horse drawn carriages and the cracks of whips were interspersed between the shouts of vendors, advertising their wares to eager tourists.
Gazing out over the city from her father’s stately office in Council Hall, Amalia was awestruck. To think that tomorrow she would be living in this grand city herself, all on her own. It boggled the mind.
She would be an adult, attending Port Drebon University’s College of Magics with her contemporaries, working her Engimancy outside the meagre help she gave father on his projects. Finally, her skills would be put to the test.
Her father was not here. His secretary, a thin and nervous man by the name of Henrik, informed her that he had just stepped out and would be back at any moment.
Her father was a Judge, one of five under the authority of the Prime Minister. The Judges each traditionally governed a Bureau, though their duties to any specific bureau were typically ceremonial, unless they took special interest in a project. Their real duties lie in voting on legislation and presiding over court cases where the verdict was contested.
She eyed the brass plaque on her father’s desk, reading Titus di Danti, Judge of Security. Technically that meant he was in charge of the department that ensured enemy nations, such as the Sutanni Empire, were not plotting war or inciting dissent amongst the people.
Her visit was initiated on a whim. She was at her new townhouse today, moving some boxes in ahead of time to save herself effort tomorrow, and finished early. The coachman was out eating lunch, so she decided to visit her father. Council Hall was right on The Loop, the circular road that tied the city together, so she walked down Cercis Street and turned onto The Loop, dodging crowds of tourists anxious to see with their own eyes the majestic hub of the state.
The location of her townhouse was truly favorable, close to both the University and Council Hall. The only downside was the size of the place. She privately admitted to herself that it would be a challenge living someplace that was significantly smaller than the manor, with only her bodyguard for company. But if she got lonely, she could always visit her home. There were no trains running close to di Danti Manor, but there was a stagecoach that carried passengers past it. Not that her mother had much time anyway, as she was busy overseeing the opening of her third factory, expanding the family business.
She stopped staring at her father’s desk and opened the drapes a crack, looking out over the city again. There were birds wheeling in circles around Council Hall, swooping down to get close to the windows, as though to catch a glimpse of the goings-on inside. They were the reason her father kept the thick drapes shut.
Those pigeons outside were no ordinary birds. They were black mages who stole the form of birds to spy on the Council. Protective magical barriers around the building prevented the black mages from entering, and the protective amulet that Amalia wore would keep the birds from attacking her when she walked down the street. They hardly ever tried, but it was better to be safe.
When she was a teenager studying magic, she became curious about how the black mages transformed into animals. She’d run the equations and deemed it practically impossible. The energy required to do such a thing would take factories full of crystals.
When she told her father, he forbid her from researching it further, because the magic they used to accomplish such feats involved the sacrifice of lives in profane rituals. She’d always wondered if there was a way of doing it without all the murder. It would be lovely to fly.
Currently, there were three gray pigeons, a moth, and one ridiculously conspicuous blackbird trying to squeeze onto the window sill. Every time she’d open the drapes a crack, they’d all flutter to attention, trying to get a good look before she dropped the curtain back down. It was an amusing distraction.
Amalia was not a woman of patience, and as the minutes ticked by she became increasingly distracted by the box of books lying atop her father’s heavy oaken desk. There was something strange about them, something that made her eyes drift back to them, even when she meant to be looking elsewhere.
When she attempted to identify the source of this feeling, she determined it was because those books inside the box were unlike the well-kept volumes lining the walls. These books were old and battle worn, with thrice-cracked spines and yellowed pages.
She dropped her hand from the velvet hangings covering the window, and crossed the the thick carpet to her father’s desk to examine them.
Inside the box there were two stacks of seven volumes, each different from the last. Their titles were unfamiliar to her, and as she lifted the first book, revealing the cover of the book underneath it, she realized why. She dropped the book back on top of the stack in disgust.
They were books on the darkest and most foul of magics. They were books of Black Magic.
It was then her brain connected the dots. Her father was overseeing a case. He mentioned last night that the Chief Investigator planned to raid the apartment of the man behind the factory bombings today. The man was suspected of being involved in a series of attacks on the city over the last few months. The attacks were part of a campaign by the Sutanni Empire to weaken the country. These must be his books, set aside as evidence. Father probably just stepped out to collect the paperwork.
It would do her no good for her father to see her holding such a book. Firstly, it was illegal to read books of Black Magic, and second, it was immoral. Black magic made people go insane. Invariably, practitioners become killers bent on destruction.
Yet some small part of her wondered at what knowledge was contained inside those tomes. What sick, twisted imaginings were scrawled between their covers? How did they justify themselves, casting dark rituals, summoning eldritch abominations, and cursing their fellow humans to die horrible deaths?
She’d always wondered. It was a question no one ever deigned to answer. It seemed self evident to most that Black Mages were murderous and deranged. Amalia thought they had to have some reason to turn to wickedness. People weren’t just born like that, were they? She wasn’t sure. Everyone knew that the knowledge contained in books of Black Magic corrupts the reader. But no one knows how Black Magic corrupts people. It seemed hard to imagine people suddenly deciding to torture and maim.
She knew that most people believed themselves to be doing good, even when they were breaking the law or hurting people. They made excuses for themselves, reasoned that there was no other choice- they murdered to protect their families, to protect an ideal. But Amalia could not think of any justification for gratuitous violence, which seemed to be the only goal of the Black Mages. Perhaps that was why she stood over the stack of books, contemplating them, when she ought to have moved away.
But she did not. Instead, she kept studying their outsides, trying to guess at their insides without looking. Surely, it would do no harm? Whispered the part of her that was deeply curious. Two other parts argued in synchrony, both pointing out that her father could walk in any moment, and that people went insane from reading about Black Magic. It was evil.
But what does evil look like? Amalia wasn’t even sure if there was such a thing as evil. She was not used to denying her curiosity. In fact, it was her curiosity that motivated her to study Engimancy. She was able to help improve the Watchmirrors that guarded every street corner as a teenager due to that curiosity. Most her age were still struggling to understand basic enchantments.
Shoved between the two stacks was a thin black journal, grouped with the other seven, unseen until she had disturbed the book on top. A part of her mind remarked that she could easily drop it in her purse, that no one would notice because the books hadn’t been catalogued yet, not if they came straight from a crime scene. Another part of her simultaneously screeched what is wrong with you? That’s stealing!
Outside the office, she heard her father’s deep baritone and Henrik’s nervous stutter in reply. This, this moment right here, was likely the only chance she would ever get to answer these questions. The likelihood of being in her father’s office again while he had such evidence in it and that evidence being uncatalogued was miniscule.
With that in mind, a snap decision was made. The journal was slipped into her purse. Immediately after, she felt sick. This is wrong. She made to put it back, because it had all been a mistake and what was she thinking? when her father entered the office.