Scene 2: Suspicion

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1st of Faquar, the Fall Quarter of the year 11,901.

The next day, Amalia moved into her townhouse. The air was clear and crisp. Jeptha, fair skinned and perpetually smiling, was helping her carry boxes and move furniture.

The night passed without incident, in spite of Amalia’s increasing worry over the journal. She didn’t get to speak to her father much, in spite of her attempts to subtly figure out if he’d noticed the missing journal.

He was too busy arguing about something with mother. For a few terrified minutes she’d thought he’d found out and was telling mother to do something about it, but mother walked in the room later and didn’t say anything. If mother thought Amalia was behind it, she wouldn’t hesitate to call her out on it. The argument probably had nothing to do with the missing journal. Her father was likely still upset she was going to live in the city.

Many times she wanted to tell her father the truth, have him discreetly return it and absolve herself of the whole matter. But her mouth would not open. How would he look at her, knowing she stole, knowing she wondered at the minds of Black Mages? He would be ashamed.

She wanted to throw that wretched journal in the fire, but halted her hand for fear of being cursed. Who knew what manner of wickedness Black Mages wielded in the protection of their journals? She didn’t know, and she did not want to experience it.

In any event, there was no mention of a missing journal, nor any suspicion that Amalia left her father’s office with more than when she had entered, so she shoved the journal under some of her books and put it out of her mind. If she never read it and kept it out of sight, no one would know. She did not want to even think on it, for every time she saw the book she was reminded of her guilt and shame. And it served her no use to be in such a state when she had to pack her clothes and figure out what she was bringing to the new townhouse.

The townhouse, named Nottingate House, was on the Second Loop, the second of five concentric roads that encircled the city, radiating out from Council Hall. She’d become rather taken with it when she realized she could see the park through the front windows. It was the main reason she chose this townhouse over one closer to the University. As a person who grew up in the country, she was unaccustomed to buildings of dour gray stone and streets clogged with pedestrian traffic.

The building was narrow in the front but long, extending so that there were more rooms than you would initially expect. The first floor was comprised of a kitchen, dining area, and parlor. Upstairs was the bathroom, workroom, spare room, and bedroom. The furniture was installed in the morning, and they were now adding in her personal touches and effects.

It was odd, buying a townhouse. Typically, people from families like her’s inherited houses. The di Danti’s did own a property in Port Drebon, but right now her Aunt Basileia was living there, and the old dowager moved for no one, not even the heir to the House. Mother could have forced the issue, but buying real estate in the city was a good investment, and the di Dantis never accumulated much in the way of properties, so they figured it was a responsible acquisition.

Father thought it was ridiculous to buy an entire townhouse for her to attend University, and said Amalia could just ride with him in the morning. He took the carriage to Port Drebon every day.

Amalia argued that it was a 45 minute drive, and that she’d spend most of the day waiting in the library, because she only had two classes. The majority of her work would be the completion of her journeyman’s project. If she had to commute, she would lose hours everyday that she could be working on her project, and it was too fragile to cart back and forth.

In the end, she’d won, and the townhouse was purchased. They hadn’t bought any new furniture, of course. Most of it came from storage, or from her rooms at the Manor. Her father, who was still a bit upset about the townhouse, insisted she do some of the work in moving her belongings to the new place, to teach Amalia responsibility. Mother didn’t care and no one was stupid enough to tell Aunt Basileia that her niece was doing manual labor, because she’d start a major fuss over it and no one wanted that. So Amalia bore it and invited her friends over to help her unpack.

Jeptha arrived in what was to be her new workroom, carrying a box.

“Philomena’s downstairs bullying the coachman into helping us.”

Amalia laughed. “I take it he’s having no parts of her?”

“None at all.” Said Jeptha. Philomena was another close friend. They’d grown up together, as their parents were associates. Jeptha was originally from another city, Harkow, up north. They met when they were eleven years old. Her father and his mother worked on a project together. As a result, Jeptha and Amalia spent a large amount of time together as children.

Footsteps tramped up the narrow stairs. “That lazy man! He refuses to help. Here we are, with more boxes than hands, and all he’ll do is sit in the driver’s seat.” A petite woman with sharp features and tanned skin stalked into the room, face cross. Philomena was the most stubborn person either of them had ever met.

Jeptha and Amalia shared a look, and then he turned to address her in a futile attempt to  placate the indomitable fury that was a ticked off Philomena. Amalia was too busy arranging her desk so that she could view the street and park to pay them any mind.

Along the west wall went her bookcase. The workers carried it up earlier that morning, almost nicking the wall twice. She opened the first box of books, sorting out how she was going to arrange them. Alphabetically, or in order of how likely she was to use them?

A second box hit the floor with a heavy thud, and Philomena began shoving books into the bookcase haphazardly. Amalia resigned herself to reorganizing it all after they’d both left.

It was then she realized.

The journal. She froze, hand midway to the shelf, petrified. She didn’t know which box it was in, if it had even been packed. Either way it was an unmitigated disaster. Any moment Jeptha or Philomena could come across it and— Stop. They wouldn’t know what it was, would they? Well, Philomena wouldn’t, but Jeptha’s mother was a General in the army. He would recognize something was off.

She was so stupid.

“Jeptha, let me get that. You carried up two boxes already.” She hoped her voice didn’t sound too strangled, and by the look Jeptha was giving her, she knew she failed.

“What’s—”

There was a knock on the doorframe. Amalia looked up, and her anxiety immediately doubled, with an added dollop of guilt on top.

Her father was here.

“Good afternoon Mr. Harland, Ms. Pelorian. How are you both doing today?” He greeted her friends.

“Hello Judge!” Jeptha gave her father a mock salute. “Splendid, as usual.”

“Of course. And you, Philomena?”

“I am fine, thank you Judge di Danti.” Philomena seemed to still be intimidated by her father, even after all these years. Jeptha, on the other hand, showed a certain lack of regard that bordered on disrespect.

“I see you’re both helping my daughter. I thank you on her behalf, as she has no doubt neglected her manners.”

“I thanked them both.” Amalia said, indignant.

“No she hasn’t. Right bossy, she is.”

“Oh don’t say that, Jeptha. She thanked both of us at least twice.”

“See? And thanks again if you’ve forgotten.” She threw Jeptha a baleful look, temporarily distracted from the thought of the journal. Speaking of said journal, there were three large boxes of books, and it could be in any one of them. She needed to keep them from rifling through the boxes.

The thought of her father or friends discovering that journal was even worse than her private guilt. What would they see when they looked at her, Lothar’s journal in hand? Would they see her like they all saw Black Mages, like strange alien creatures with no empathy? Would they wonder if she was just as lacking, if it was just a matter of time before she became just like him?

Amalia didn’t want to find out.

“I jest. I am here only to insure that my daughter is safe in her new home.” He gave them a fond smile. “Amalia, your mother wanted me to give you this.” He handed her a map of the city.

“That was thoughtful of her, but I know my way to the University and Council Hall.”

“Yes, but we know you, you will want to explore the city.” This brought to mind, of course, her curiosity and how that same damned desire lead her to pick up the book that was currently the source of all her troubles. And her father bought her a gift, after she had stolen from his office. Not that he knew she’d stolen from his office, but she did, and that was enough.

“How are you handling my absence?” Her voice may have contained a bit of dry humor.

“I’ll be fine. I just wanted to be sure you’re safe. It’s only natural for you to be making your own way at this time of your life.”

“And how goes the investigation?” She asked, more than a little curious. It was in the papers that morning. The black mage’s name was Lothar. He was some sort of Sutanni nationalist who wanted destroy Jaborre. It was horrific thinking there were people out there like that.

“I can’t tell you anything that is not already in the papers. The investigators Compelled him to tell the truth. He admitted to being a practitioner of the Black Arts, and was behind the factory bombings. He gave the weapons he stole to Sutanni sympathizers and even helped a few spies across the border. Now the department will have to track them down, too. The only additional part is— well, that is an internal matter that won’t be printed in any paper.”

Amalia froze. She shrunk in on herself, anxiety eating at her. Jeptha was whining at her father, and Philomena was scolding him, but Amalia heard nothing but the blood rushing in her ears.

“I’m sorry. It is an internal investigation and I cannot provide any details.” Her father said.

“I won’t tell anyone! You know I’m trustworthy Judge D! Besides, it’s this one” Jeptha gestured at Philomena, “you have to worry about, not me.”

“I wouldn’t!”

“Your dad owns the press. Don’t tell me you don’t know.” Jeptha grinned at Philomena who glared at him in return.

“I don’t!”

Amalia didn’t bother speaking. Her thoughts were on her father’s words. Internal investigation? It couldn’t be. Jeptha’ gaze lingered on her for a moment, and Amalia realized he was trying to cheer her. She gave him a wan grin.

“I really wouldn’t know.” Philomena’s voice went flat. “I don’t know anything about my father’s work.” Her tone was entirely off, but Amalia was too distracted by her anxiety to pay it any mind. Philomena’s father owned the major publishing company in Port Drebon.

Titus di Danti let out an expansive sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “You three never change.”

“Nope!” Jeptha grinned.

Her father sighed again. “It’s confidential. Pretend I didn’t say anything. Now, to the heart of my visit. Do you remember where the bridge to Old City is?”

“Yes, you told me before.” Said her mouth. Her brain was still too busy analyzing what he said before about the internal investigation. How much should she be panicking?

“Well, where is it?”

“I think…” It had been a while since he told her, and she hadn’t exactly been paying attention. She had no intention of going there. “It’s off Finner bridge, right?” Well, technically there were three bridges that crossed the river, but Finner was the closest to where she lived.

“Correct, but don’t let me catch you down there. One of the stipulations your mother and I set for allowing you to live here is for you to never enter Old City. Do you understand? It’s dangerous.”

Across the Cyremont River was Old City. Port Drebon, like every city, had a good part of town and a bad part of town. Originally, Old City was crowded with dockworkers and had a thriving fishing industry. It became overcrowded with immigrants, and the Council sought to expand the city across the river. As property in the new part of the city became expensive, property in Old City became cheap. People who couldn’t afford to move to Port Drebon before were able to afford it, and Old City remained crowded as a result. The overcrowding and poverty led to resentment of the people living in Port Drebon proper, and so Old City became a slum that bred dissenters and separatists. It was a hive of criminals, muggers, and Black Mages.

“I know. I won’t.”

“Yes, but I must impress upon you: the remnants of the Free Mage Armament are in Old City. You are a Judge’s daughter. Do not force me to choose between obeying the laws of my country and saving my daughter.” Judges did not negotiate with Black Mages, even when said Black Mages were holding their families hostage. Amalia knew there had been situations like that in the past.

The Free Mage Armament was a vicious group of Black Mages that used to attack Judges and their families, trying to destroy the government. They were monsters, worse than the average Black Mage, and far worse than Lothar. Her father was instrumental in the destruction of the Free Mage Armament, so the remnants might try to get at her father by targeting Amalia.

“I won’t. I said I promise. I won’t go to the other side of the river.”

“Actually, just do your mother and I a favor. Don’t go beyond the third loop of any quad and avoid the east side of the city, altogether.” Okay. Now he was being ridiculous.

“Father, stop. I can judge for myself what’s dangerous. I know not to go down by the docks and to avoid the sleazier parts of the East Quads.”

He sighed. “Fine. So long as you are careful.”

“I will be. I always am.”

“I just wanted to make sure.” He said. “I don’t know what will come of this Lothar investigation, and I want to be sure that you know what to do if you are in any trouble.”

“Of course.”

“Have you read over the paperwork on the Aegis system?” The Aegis was a protective barrier guarding the house. It was powered by crystals. They needed to be recharged every day or so.

“Yes. Every twenty hours. I read over it.” Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She read over the parts about when to charge it and what each dial did, but that was all.

“And you know how to set the controls?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Father spent some time making polite conversation with Jeptha and Philomena, then went to double check that the protective spells surrounding her townhouse had been properly installed. It was another stipulation he made before allowing her to live in the city by herself. She had to wear her protective amulet every time she left the house and keep it charged at all times.

He also assigned a personal bodyguard to her, though Oslin was someone she knew from back home, and he knew to stay out of the way. On good days she could pretend she didn’t have a bodyguard at all.

Amalia thought he was being ridiculous. There was a Watchmirror on every street corner. Anything reflected in the watchmirror appeared on another mirror inside Council Hall. They could see everything that went on within the city.

She was safe. No one would dare touch her, as her father no doubt had Watchguards monitoring the mirrors outside her townhouse day and night. The amulet alone was more than enough protection.

Finally, her father left, but not without parting words. “You have done more for this country in your eighteen years than most could ever dream, and I have faith that I will see more greatness from you in the future. You make your mother and I very proud.”

The words weighed heavily on her.

She supposed if she hadn’t stolen that journal, she would be full of pride, if not a bit embarrassed. It was only a happy accident that she’d stumbled upon a way to improve upon Watchmirrors when she was a teenager, and she hadn’t done anything truly spectacular since then.

She hadn’t even used her knowledge of engimancy to do it. She was just bored one day and wandered into her dad’s office at home and found an unused watchmirror. She’d fiddled with the controls for a while and managed to get it to show a recording that someone had erased. Apparently people don’t spend hours fiddling with controls, and didn’t realize the erased images were retrievable.

But with the theft of the Journal, all his words did was make her feel guilty. He was proud of a thief. He was proud of a thief who possessed a book of Black Magic.

Once he was gone she let out a soft sigh of relief. That was one variable out of the equation, one less person to worry about discovering the journal. What was she thinking, taking that thing?

Now all she had to do was convince Phil and Jeptha that she had it handled, and she could search the boxes herself and see if it was there. If not, then she would rent a coach and tell her mother that— that she’d forgotten something at home. It wasn’t a lie, not really. She could then shove it into the back of her closet and forget it ever existed.

It ended up taking little to convince Jeptha and Philomena that she could handle the rest on her own. They’d been at the townhouse since this morning and were tired. Jeptha, who apparently lived not far from her townhouse, insisted on giving her directions before he left. He used the map her father gave her (A Tourist’s Guide to Port Drebon, her father must have picked it up at a stall on the way to the townhouse. Amalia suspected her mother had nothing to do with it,) and circled Amalia’s townhouse and drew an arrow between it and his apartment.

“See? Now you have to visit.”

She promised, and he left with Philomena.

Then she went to hunt down that stupid stupid journal.

 

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