Scene 12: Gamble

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Oh, so you don’t want to think about it because it makes you uncomfortable?”


6th of Faquar, 11,901

Amalia arrived to class twenty minutes early. She wanted to make sure she’d budgeted enough time to get there, and she didn’t want anyone to see her limping into the room. Her ankle still ached so her guard had ordered a carriage to take her to class. She hadn’t realized you could order one on such short notice. At the very least, her old guard Oslin hadn’t.

Either way, it saved her the embarrassment of limping into class. She’d worn long sleeves to covered the scratches on her arms, and replaced the large bandage on her cheek with a much smaller one. It was only a graze, really. She could only imagine how terrible she looked yesterday, walking into the library like that. No wonder they hadn’t wanted to help her.

Of the seven people attending her ethics class only two besides her were here. They’d come in after her, which was a relief. Di Dantis did not show weakness. The people in this class would be her peers, and she wanted to impress them.

Classes were every other day, so she didn’t have math today. She’d have to apologize to Professor Hall tomorrow. The professor was her math teacher and in charge of her project. She really didn’t want to get on the woman’s bad side.

One of her two new classmates was a stranger. He was a tall boy with light brown hair. He was skimming his text and not speaking to anyone. She wanted to introduce herself, but she wasn’t sure he was interested in socializing.

The other student was Lucilia Sinclair. Amalia knew her from social gatherings when they were children. Her great-uncle was a Judge a long time ago who was assassinated by black mages. She remembered learning about him when she was a child. Lucilia and Amalia were never very close, though they were polite.

She and Lucilia didn’t have much to say to each other either, so Amalia took out the newspaper. She’d deliberately avoided reading it at breakfast for this very reason. She wanted something to do before class started. Now, however, Amalia was wondering if that was a good idea.

Yesterday’s newspaper mentioned that day, and she’d subsequently felt ill. Her hands started getting clammy. She couldn’t do that in front of Lucilia. The girl would tell everyone, and then they’d all know there was something wrong with her.

Focus on breathing. The air went through her nostrils and her chest expanded, taking in the air before expelling it again. She was safe. There was nothing wrong. She was fine.

And she was reading the damn paper.

The front page story was on Chief Investigator Boswell. He’d gone missing the day of the parade and hadn’t been seen since. Officials were offering rewards for information on his whereabouts. There was even speculation that the explosion at the parade was just a distraction to prevent people from paying attention to the real operation.

Amalia knew that was untrue. She never told her father that the boy and old man behind it looked to be Lothar’s family. It hadn’t occurred to her at the time to say something. She wanted to, but her father would probably just yell at her again and say she should’ve told him in the first place. It was true. She should’ve said something.

Now the papers were misinformed.

The next section was about the parade. There were various witness accounts. Amalia skipped it. She didn’t want to read any of that- she’d been there and knew what had happened. She quickly switched to the next section before her brain could remind her exactly what had happened.

It was another article on Pankhurst. Part of the city was still underwater from the tsunami. Amalia skimmed the rest. It was terrible, but not really that interesting. Her parents would donate money and that would help the relief effort along. There really wasn’t much else to be done.

She skimmed over the rest of the articles. There was a piece on rising criminality in the city, another piece about a man found dead in the Cyremont River. Nothing she felt like reading first thing in the morning.

She set the paper down and dug through the bag for paper and her pen. Her Aunt Basileia sent a note this morning requesting her presence for tea at earliest convenience, which meant Amalia had better write back soon and tell her Aunt when they could meet. No doubt Aunt Basileia found out about Amalia’s antics with either the journal or the parade, or worse, both, and wanted to spend tea scolding Amalia for her behavior.

She was leaning on setting the date for tomorrow to get it over with, but she really didn’t want to go to her Aunt’s house with a limp. The woman would be livid.

Maybe her Aunt had helped cover up what Amalia had done with the journal. But then again, she doubted her mother wanted to deal with Aunt Basileia, either. Of course, if her mother just blackmailed people into silence, they’d still know she did something wrong, and Amalia would likely never raise herself to a position of power within the Department of Magics. Well, not unless the people who knew were old. Then Amalia might get in when she’s 50 and the current people who know are dead. She grimaced.

The door opened and four students followed the Professor into the classroom.

They must’ve stayed outside to chat instead of coming in. It really was no matter. They were all people she knew from her mother’s social circles. Amalia glanced over at the stranger again. It was like being a child all over again, meeting someone her age that she’d never seen before.

Everyone stood to greet the professor. He nodded and they sat down.

Professor Hargrave was a middle aged man with a wide girth. He did not appreciate students who socialized in his class, and anyone who spoke out of turn was to leave, immediately. Amalia internally groaned. It was like her Aunt Basileia all over again.

“The main issue we will deal with today is intent.” He began, glaring at them as though to dare them not to take notes. “The intent to commit a criminal act, which in itself is a crime, is considered…”

Amalia glanced over at the wooden desk next to her’s, where Honorius Pheidias was sitting. She couldn’t remember if they were related or not. She’d memorized her family tree years ago, but hadn’t really paid attention to much outside the main branch, but she knew there were di Dantis who married into the Pheidias family. It was especially embarrassing because she couldn’t remember how closely Honorius was related to Harriet Pheidias, who was another Judge who’d been assassinated. It happened before she was born, but she really should remember.

To her right was the window, looking out over the campus. There was a small grassy area surrounded by a cobblestone pathway. Amalia drew her attention back to the professor. He didn’t seem like the sort to suffer daydreamers in his class.

“A license, of course, indicates that someone has intent to use their knowledge for legitimate purposes. While a failure to be screened indicates that they are hiding criminal intent. Now, I know this seems basic to all of you, but I want us to be on the same page as we move forward.”

It annoyed her, lectures like this. Not because what he said held no logic, but because it implied that doing something criminal, even once, made someone a bad person. She’d made mistakes. Did that make her some kind of horrible person who needed to be arrested? She didn’t think so. Then again, criminals always found excuses for their behavior.

If someone looked at the consequences of her actions- according to the law,- they’d see she stole a evidence, interfered with an active investigation, prevented the carriage of justice, and aided in the escape of two wanted criminals.

But in all those cases, she hadn’t meant any harm. She never meant to harm anyone.

“…with Black Mages is the corruption they spread. Take for example the West Drebon St. Parade Bombers, Bennett Miller and Harvey Kane, featured in yesterday’s paper. The Black Mage Lothar raised Kane, who became a Black Mage himself. It spreads from person to person like a disease. And if you doubt it, you need look no further than Bennett Miller, whose brother was one of the infamous Old City Bridge Bombers. Whether Adam corrupted Bennett or vice versa is merely semantics at this juncture…”

It really happened, didn’t it? The bombing was real. She felt a thin sheen of sweat breaking out on her temples. She wasn’t doing this in class, not in front of all these people. Think about her breathing. The wooden chair was under her, Lothar was lying on the ground, skull shattered, the wooden floor was beneath her feet and in her hand was her favorite fountain pen, the one with the golden cap that her father gave her for her fifteenth birthday. She breathed out through her nose.

She was okay. It was fine.

Her hand was shaking so she put the pen down, dropping it beneath her desk. If she looked like she wasn’t paying attention, fine. She wasn’t. She couldn’t if he was going to keep talking about that.

She waited for her hand to stop shaking and picked up the pen again, and flipped to a different page in her notebook. It’d look like she was writing down notes, if she just wrote down ideas on her project. She didn’t have any of her notes with her, so she’d be working from memory.

She frowned a little. She really didn’t want to work on that right now. Well, there was something she’d been considering since that day.

Amalia could try to make a better version of the amulets. The only reason she hadn’t before was because of intent. She didn’t have the proper licenses to legally take apart amulets and fiddle with their insides, but getting fined was nothing compared to getting killed, so she was looking into it, anyway.

And maybe this wasn’t the right thing to do, because her last attempts at fixing problems ended in disaster. But this was something she could do, something she could solve. The rest of it was a morass of unanswered questions and things she didn’t want to think about. Creating a better amulet would make her feel safer, and it would make other people safer, too.

She could give the blueprints to her father or to her mother and see that they would be given to the authorities to make the streets safer.

Another part of her remarked that she was always looking for a large and quick way of patching over her mistakes, like this one grand gesture would clear her name of any wrongdoing. But she really couldn’t see anything wrong with that, specifically, only that her father would tell her to stop rushing things.

But so long as the scales were even between her and her mother, what did it matter how it was done? And making the amulet would probably be a net gain, and if it didn’t work there was nothing lost. Her mother could change the wording of the questions in Compulsion loyalty screenings, so she was pretty safe as far as that went.

Amalia shifted her notes over slightly, taking them out of the teacher’s line of sight. She didn’t think the older man could see what she was writing from the second row of seats. Charlotte Larsen was sitting in front of her, and the girl had curly brown hair that was always sticking up. It provided adequate cover. But it was better to be cautious.

Charlotte was like Jeptha- a commoner family that was friends with nobles and traveled in the same social circles. The Larsen’s were involved in the imports business, and had branched out into selling inks and chlorine. Amalia’s mother did a deal with them just last year, which was why she knew. Amalia had to sit through all the meetings, because her mother wanted her to be prepared to take on the position of Head of House as Amalia got older, and part of that was managing the business.

It was part of why Amalia really didn’t want to have to wait until she was 50 to gain any recognition in the Department of Magics, because she probably would have to work as Head of House full-time and quit her job by that time. She loved that she was a di Danti, but sometimes she really hated the responsibility that came with it.

Between sketching ideas down for how amulets might work, from the likely to the fanciful, and jotting down a few reminders about things she needed to check for her project, class passed quickly.

When it was over, she hung back. Partly that was because she wanted as few students as possible to see her limping, and she especially didn’t want Lucilia Sinclair to see, and partly because she wanted to speak to her professor.

Once Gillian Burns, (the great-grandson of Lord Burns,) and Friedwald Annesley, (who she might also be related to,) left the room, Amalia started limping up to Professor Hargrave’s desk.

“Hello Professor Hargrave. I’m Amalia di Danti, heir to House di danti.”

“I know who you are, Ms di Danti.” The man gave her an irritable scowl.

“I’m sorry, sir. I was in an accident the other day, you see…”

“Your mother sent a note explaining that you might have difficulty paying attention because of your injuries. I know. You do not need to explain.”

Amalia opened her mouth and then shut it. Really, he was being entirely rude and she didn’t even know what to say to that kind of behavior.

“Was there something you wanted, Ms di Danti?”

“Actually, yes. I have a question, if it isn’t too much trouble, sir.”

“Ask away.” He looked like he’d rather be doing anything else.

“Well, I was curious about admissions, and how they’ve changed over the years with accordance to ethical standards. Have there been any major shifts from students choosing apprenticeships over universities because of it, sir?” She hoped that was sufficiently vague.

The man frowned. “Well, there have been updates to our admission requirements, but I really don’t see why you need to know that. And as far as I know, there’ve been no major shifts regarding apprenticeships. Everyone knows they’re inferior to university learning.”

“But aren’t the people who become apprentices held to the same standards as people who join universities?”

“You have to apply for the same licenses, and so does your teacher. If anything, it’s even more stringent. But it’s not like the teachers were employed by a University. The only people who offer that are people who are not rigorous enough to become proper professors.” He scowled. “If classroom learning is so difficult for you, it might be an option but I really wouldn’t recommend it.”

Amalia blanched. “No, of course not. I wasn’t suggesting that I- no. I was just curious about it, that’s all. I apologise, sir.”

With that, she scurried out the door as fast as her ankle would allow her. That had been embarrassing, though she found out what she’d wanted to know.

She wasn’t satisfied with the population disappearing as an explanation for why enrollment was dropping. It still didn’t explain why there were so few mages enrolled in university. So she went back to her old idea that maybe it had something to do with admissions requirements or a rise in students deciding to take up apprenticeships. First she wanted to see if universities and apprenticeships had the same requirements. They did, so that meant students wouldn’t decide to take apprenticeships over university because of admissions requirements.

Tuition hadn’t risen enough to warrant the mass exodus from school, and that still didn’t explain why enrollment in magics was suffering, especially, since there was no difference in tuition between 871 and today, adjusting for inflation.

Her guard grabbed her bag from her the moment she left the classroom and hefted it over his shoulder. She didn’t argue because it was easier to make it look like she wasn’t limping when she wasn’t carrying textbooks.

“Are we heading home, m’lady?”

“We’re heading to the library.” She had more research to do.

Port Drebon University Library had more people in it today, the second official day of classes, than it had the days before when she’d been researching on her own. There were several students in the stacks and a woman speaking to the librarian.

“-please. And let her know we are so honored she still visits this library, even by proxy!” The Librarian was gushing. It was kind of funny. You didn’t get to see middle-aged women fussing so much. Amalia was curious enough to listen in on the conversation as she walked past.” Though she is always welcome to come in person. Why, I remember seeing her up on stage giving that spee-”

“That is enough. Thank you.” Said the woman. Amalia walked away quicker. That woman didn’t look like she’d want a student listening in on her conversation.

The guard took up position in her corner of her stacks, close enough to hear her if she screamed, but not close enough to hear if she were having a quiet conversation, and certainly not close enough to read her research.

She was starting to like him, even with the obsessive hovering.

So let’s say for argument’s sake that some mages at university were taught black magic, and then the government found out and they all fled or were arrested.

Then what? Twenty years later the black mages would be long gone. As far as Amalia knew, jobs involving magic paid a lot of money for an ordinary job, so she’d expect a great number of people to be taking classes on magics. People certainly hadn’t gotten stupid in the last 20 years, either, so it wasn’t that everyone suddenly found magics too difficult to study.

She knew there were plenty of devisers- people who built magical machines but didn’t design them- and there were plenty of people who fixed the machines, too. But you didn’t need a university degree to do that work. You did need a degree to be able to design new machines or work as a doctor.

A lack of people working as engimancers or doctors would result in a shortage of doctors and engimancers across the country. And her observations of the world so far matched that expectation. Her Aunt constantly bemoaned the lack of doctors, and there were fewer engimancers than there used to be. Most new designs seemed to be coming from Sutanni or the Republic of Luwanna.

If all the engimancers went to those countries, then that made sense. But that was years ago. Even if that was the case, why were there still so few people graduating with degrees in engimancy?

Their population had recovered. They stopped the people from emigrating out of the country. Something was still happening that caused a lot less people to become engimancers and doctors, as well as a number of other professions.

Amalia looked through history books trying to find information on anything about 874 or 877, and large emigrations out of the country.

There was nothing. By all accounts, those years were perfectly uneventful. When Amalia went to check the years the books were published, she found nothing published before 877.

And that rang a bell.

There were no newspapers before 877, either. She was starting to get annoyed. Was this the result of another “theft?”

Actually, she ought to ask. Because the last “theft” occurred at the Free Public Library. If there was also a “theft” here, then something was definitely odd going on.

She walked up to the librarian, who was still hassling that woman, who seemed to be waiting around for something.

“Hi. I’m sorry to interrupt, but can I ask a quick question?”

“Oh!” the librarian blushed. “Of course. Fire away.”

“I was in the history section, and I noticed that there were no first-edition books. What happened to them?”

“Oh-” the librarian looked over at the woman, who was staring at Amalia. Odd. “this is embarrassing, but we actually had a theft some years back.”

“I see. Thank you.” Amalia turned around and left the women to their conversation.

There was definitely a conspiracy, she decided.

Something happened in 877, something that some persons were going through a great deal of trouble to hide, something that involved universities, emigration, and mages.  And she was going to find out exactly what-

“Hello.” Said the woman who had been talking to the librarian.

Amalia turned around, surprised. “Hello.”

The woman’s lips curled into a smile. “I’m Irene Morgan. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You’re interested in history?”

“Um, yes.” The woman had very blue eyes, brown hair, and an intense stare that made her feel uncomfortable, like she was being sized up and found wanting.

“And you’re researching first edition history texts?” Irene said with a raised brow.

“Well, yes? It’s complicated, and probably really boring. I wouldn’t want to waste your time.” Amalia subtly moved to stand in front of her desk with her research on it. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with some stranger reading over her research, especially considering that she was pretty sure something illegal had happened during that time period. She wasn’t sure who was involved, or what had happened, but if the wrong person found out, she might be in a lot of trouble.

“You don’t seem like someone who researches boring subjects.” The woman said with a smile. She turned around and grabbed a chair pulling it up to the table.

Amalia shut her notebook with a snap, dropping it on top of her texts. The bindings weren’t facing the woman.

“What if I were researching something to do with engimancy? How do I know you have a license?”

Irene rolled her eyes. “You study engimancy?”

“Yes.”

“Those books don’t look like they’re about engimancy.”

“You’ve studied engimancy?”

The woman smiled. “Yes, in fact, I have. It’s quite fascinating.”

“I agree. It was one of my best subjects. My tutors always said I had an intuitive grasp of the math involved.” Where was her hovering, over protective guard when you needed him?

The woman leaned back in her chair. “I apologize if I’m making you uncomfortable. Honestly, I’m just trying to get away from that librarian.”

Amalia grinned. “She sounded like she was fawning over someone you know?” She phrased it like a question.

“My employer. I work for the retired Prime Minister.”

Oh.” She worked for Prime Minister Recham? The one who Grand Meister Marcellus said studied black magic?

“I’ve heard of her. She studied magics here, didn’t she?”

“Yes, but I think that was before either of us were born.” The woman quirked her lips up. “Do you like trivia on old Prime Ministers, as well?”

“Oh, no. I just met with the Grand Meister a couple days ago, and he mentioned it.”

Her eyebrows raised. “The Grand Meister? Well, you must be someone special.”

“I apologize. My name is Amalia di Danti, heir to House di Danti.”

“I see. I suppose you don’t want a commoner taking up more of your time.” Irene said, though she somehow made it sound more humorous than hurt, or perhaps like she already knew how Amalia would respond.

“No, of course not. It’s fine.”

The woman gave her another brilliant smile.

“So you study engimancy here?”

“Yes. Though I haven’t really attended any true classes, well, not that ethics isn’t important. Of course it’s important. It’s just- a lot of it seems-”

“Irrelevant?”

“Well, a bit.” Amalia sat down in her chair. “They’re far too obsessed with talking about criminals for my liking. It’s like they’re constantly linking all mages with those few who are causing trouble. Honestly, it’s like they want fewer people to be interested in magics.”

“I’ve been there. It’s like they want you to think that any misstep leads down the path of wickedness, when of course that isn’t true.”

“Exactly. Plenty of people make mistakes, and simply being curious about something doesn’t mean you want to use it. Sometimes people want to know things just because no one else knows it, or because people try to keep information from them, and that makes it look even more appealing.” Amalia froze. “Not that black magic is at all appealing, of course. I wasn’t saying that. I just meant that- because you have to get a license to do things like, alter amulets- not that licenses are bad things, either.”

“Of course not. It just gets frustrating when you’re in the middle of a project and you realize you have to stop for two years to get the proper license, and all your work is void unless you do.”

“Yes. Exactly!” She let out a relieved laugh. None of her friends really understood that, because none of them were interested in magics.

“Do you have a handmirror?”

“What?” That was a non-sequitur if Amalia ever heard one. What did portable two-way watchmirrors have to do with anything?

“I’m not going to report you, promise. I was just asking because I have one, and it’s quicker than mail. I have some first edition copies of history texts at my house- my employer is a collecter and the old woman doesn’t care if I borrow a few- and you’re welcome to them if you want to take a look.”

“I don’t have one yet, but I have reason to believe I will be acquiring one soon. I can take your code and when I get it I’ll send you a mail?” Handmirrors needed both parties to be connected to the same frequency at the same time to work. She’d have to tell Irene when she wanted to talk the first time. After that, they could just decide to talk once a week or whenever.

“Sure.” Irene picked Amalia’s notebook off the text and opened to a blank page, scrawling a series of symbols into the page.

“Thanks.”

Irene smiled. “I’d stay, but I really need to get these books to my employer.” Amalia finally noticed the books under Irene’s arm.

“Oh, well, it was nice meeting you.” She didn’t know whether to call her Irene or Ms Morgan. The woman looked slightly older than her, maybe thirty at oldest. But she didn’t call Amalia m’lady or ma’am, which was what a commoner was supposed to call a noble. Since the woman was ignoring protocol, Amalia wasn’t sure what she was supposed to call her.

“It was nice meeting you too, Amalia.” She waved, and then walked off, past Amalia’s useless guard and out of the stacks.

She understood the implicit meaning hidden in Irene’s words, though. Handmirrors weren’t screened like mail was. They could talk about first edition books all they liked and no one would know any better.

She wasn’t sure that was a good idea, because Irene could be some sort of- she didn’t know- it felt absurd to say a spy. It sounded utterly paranoid. But if someone in the government was responsible for hiding information, then maybe they’d hire someone like Irene to tail anyone who researched certain topics.

It’d be a gamble talking to her, but Amalia was confident that, as daughter of a Judge, she could come out alive. At the very least, it’d be difficult to cover up her murder.

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2 thoughts on “Scene 12: Gamble

  1. Xposted here in case people don’t read the About Page:

    I really dislike doing this, but I won’t be updating Watchmirror until August 14th, 2014. I was recently hit with another project, and that in addition to classes makes it very stressful to keep writing this at this time. No, I am absolutely not giving up on Watchmirror, nor do I have writers block. Scene 2 of Episode 2 is half written and looking good. And after the 14th, my schedule clears up for a good while, leaving me with lots of quality writing time. Also, there will be artwork!

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