2nd of Faquar
The front page of The People’s Press was overtaken by a picture of Lothar Czako, the now-infamous Black Mage and separatist. Amalia skimmed the article while she ate her toast. There was going to be a parade. Apparently, the higher ups thought a great big celebration would make everyone feel safe again. So Lothar’s execution was now a day of celebration. Amalia grimaced. It seemed distasteful.
No doubt her father agreed with her sentiment. What were they going to do? Cart him around on the prisoner’s carriage? This was one of those times Amalia found herself completely baffled. By giving people like Lothar attention in the papers, they only encouraged more people to follow in his stead. People who were already disturbed- like Black Mages- would compete to get that front page. They wanted to create suffering so that they would be remembered, even in infamy.
Amalia sighed. It was pointless getting worked up about it. She could do nothing to change the media’s policies, at least not yet. When she graduated from University and joined the Department of Magic, then she would be able to affect change.
Of course, if she were arrested for possessing a banned book, she wouldn’t get to do anything.
It was that thought that kept her up all night, digging through her boxes until she found the journal. It had been stuffed under some other books in the third box.
The townhouse was still a mess. Between the stress of finding Lothar’s journal and trying to figure out whether or not the watchguards would come knocking, she got little sleep.
Amalia was used to an organized space, it was how she grew up. The boxes, clothes, and books scattered across the townhouse made her itch to put all of it in its proper place. She’d been looking forward to organizing everything, but she had to prioritize. She spent the night fretting over the journal and her father’s words while scowling at the messy floor.
The situation was making her anxious. She’d never been in any real danger before. She didn’t know what to do. Instinctively, she wanted to run to her father and confess. She wanted to tell her friends and beg them to help her think. She wanted to tell her mother. Well, maybe not.
Early morning found Amalia in the kitchen, unpacking the box containing her cooking utensils. She made herself breakfast and put a pot of tea on to boil. When the newspaper smacked her door, courtesy of an overeager paperboy, she jumped and almost spilling tea all over herself.
Amalia rubbed her eyes. It wasn’t just the fact that she might get caught, it was that she decided to steal the journal in the first place. It was incredibly stupid to want to know more about Black Magic.
Her father likened a Black Mage to someone having a loaded gun on them at all times and no impulse control. Learning about Black Magic unhinged people because the magic itself was inherently harmful. It was because of that inherent harmfulness that no one knew what black magic was really like. Well, not that people didn’t come up with theories.
Most people said it involved the sacrifice of human lives. Others said that the magic was like a miasma, the corruption spread from the black mage to anyone that black mage associated with, making them go mad, as well.
That’s why they were executed when they were caught; there was no reforming them. It made her wonder if something was wrong with her. Some people said that only those who were already demented could be interest in Black Magic. But she always thought of herself as an upstanding person.
She thought that if someone tried to tempt her, she’d report them to the watchguards. She thought that if she ever found a book of Black Magic, she’d be only disgusted by it, not curious.
Of course, that didn’t mean much. Everyone thought they were good people. Thinking you’re a good person doesn’t necessarily make you one.
She tried to think back to that moment, to remember what she had been thinking.
She stole it because she was curious. She had known there might never be another chance to learn about it. Could it be that simple? There was a way to find out.
Amalia shut her eyes.
She imagined a world where anyone could find out how Black Magic worked, just like you could go to the library and look up information on plants or geography. She imagined herself in that world, in her father’s office. She saw the black journal. Did she want it? Not at all. It was disgusting. Besides, it wasn’t like it was knowledge she would use.
Amalia frowned, contemplative. Well, that answered some of it. Part of it was how available the information was: the more accessible it was, the less interest she had in it, kind of like how she never bothered to look up information on geography or plants. If someone banned information on geography, Amalia would probably be curious about geography. But somehow that explanation felt incomplete.
She imagined another world, where the information on Black Magic was in every library, but would vanish after today. It didn’t matter how it would vanish. Maybe the watchguards were going to burn every single book. She saw the journal in front of her. Did she want it? Yes.
Amalia opened her eyes, blinking. That explained a lot. It was the thought that she might never have the opportunity to find out, that the information would be lost forever, that drove her to act stupidly. Running with the geography analogy, she guessed that if she found out today that all geography books were going to be burned the next day, she would rush out to buy one.
She bit her lip, tapping her fingers nervously against the tabletop. Well, from now on whenever she is in a situation where information is scarce, she would remember this instance. She would also try to remember that feeling- that cross between hunger and need. Next time she felt like that she would take a step back and analyze the situation. Low availability and scarcity of information interfered with her usually-good judgement.
The worst part was that she was still curious, even knowing why it had fascinated her. Understanding the source of her curiosity didn’t make the idea of reading it any less tempting than before. The book was tucked behind the bookshelf, wedged between the wall and the wood. Her eyes felt like they were magnetized to that part of the room. But it was already bad enough that she took the book in the first place. If she did get arrested, when they used the truth Compulsion on her, they would have to take it into account that she did not read the book. She still had no knowledge of Black Magic.
But then again, they’d also know that she hadn’t read it precisely for that reason. If she were an interrogator, that would be one of the questions she would ask. She didn’t know if they would find her just as contemptible as a result.
This train of thought was unproductive. She should be trying to figure out how to avoid getting caught, not assuming that she would. Getting caught was the worst case scenario.
Amalia cleared the dishes and went to wash them.
She didn’t exactly know what to do. She couldn’t make everyone forget she went to her father’s office that day. Moreover, she had no idea how many people entered and left the office. It was too complicated a plan, even if she could figure out a way to do it.
There were also the watchmirrors to consider. They were on every street corner and she knew from her father that there were watchmirrors inside the building, even though that was technically a secret, though not a well-kept one. Pretty much everyone knew they were inside the halls, though Amalia wasn’t exactly sure where.
She had never paid attention to them before. They were there to keep her safe. Now they were the enemy. She had to figure out which ones she’d been seen on, and if they saw the journal on those watchmirrors.
The watchmirror’s could be made to display false images, but since she couldn’t make her father or Henrik forget, there was no point in attempting to alter the records. But they don’t need the watchmirror records to figure out it was her. They just needed to call in everyone else who had access to the journal and Compel them. Once the investigators knew that all of them were innocent, then the obvious suspect would be Amalia. If she were even suspected, she would be in a lot of trouble.
She had to forget about changing watchmirror records. It was ineffective. Not to mention, she’d have to break into the records building, which was very illegal. Amalia suspected the building would be well guarded, anyway. Otherwise, Black Mages would rarely be caught. They’d just wipe watchmirror records, and everyone knew that watchmirrors were how the watchguards caught Black Mages. She had to solve this through something subtle. There can’t be a suspect to question.
She couldn’t frame anyone, either. Well, she could, but she wouldn’t. Sentencing another to be imprisoned or fined in her place was unconscionable.
And she could forget turning herself in. That wasn’t even an option. Every single one of her plans would be destroyed if she did that. Amalia doubted she would be put in prison, but she did suspect that she would never be able to get a position in the Department of Magics. Worse, it would blacken the family name. People won’t want to do business with her mother, and her father would be dishonored. All she ever wanted in life was to make her family proud.
A part of her wanted to throw in the towel. There was no solution. She should just tell her parents… but if she told her father he’d be honor-bound to report her. If he didn’t, then he couldn’t ever testify under Compulsion again, and as a result would never be considered a trustworthy Judge. Besides, maybe the internal investigation had nothing to do with the journal. Then she’d just be incriminating herself for nothing. In other words, that option wasn’t viable either.
They didn’t need to see the journal in her townhouse to know she took it, so it would be pointless to destroy it. Not to mention, burning it would be another strike against her, as it would be destroying evidence. Again, thinking about getting caught was useless. Her life would be over if she were caught.
The problem here was that she had so little information. She didn’t know exactly when they figured out the journal was missing, nor how many hands it passed through before reaching her’s. Invariably, every watchguard who touched it would be cleared, and then they’d come to her. Even if she had an idea of how many watchguards, that would give her a timeline to work within.
Investigators probably already checked to see if the book was lost in transit. They also probably checked the watchmirror feeds. That would be the first thing she’d do if she were in their position.
Well, the only thing to do with a question was to answer it. In this case, that meant finding out more information on the internal investigation and finding someone willing to bend the rules for her.
She frowned. It would have to be someone at the office… Henrik, her father’s nervous secretary. Funnily enough, the best option came to mind first. Usually she spent a few minutes just thinking before running and taking an action. She supposed that sometimes her instincts were clever enough to trust.
In this case, Henrik was perfect. He was a known gossip. Her father complained about it to her mother once, saying that he didn’t know how to keep a secret, and was thinking of having him transferred. Of course, if he told her any information and the watchguards found out, he would be transferred, but her conscience barely twinged. He was going to be transferred already, so what was the harm?
Amalia left so she’d arrive at Council Hall about a half hour before lunch. Her father liked taking early lunches, but he didn’t know she knew that. It was the sort of thing her father mentioned carelessly at dinner, and wouldn’t remember saying it. She hoped.
She was going there claiming to bring her father lunch. She didn’t want to actually run into her father. She wanted to catch Henrik and subtly question him. Amalia brainstormed questions and her approach while she made her father’s lunch. Nothing fancy, just some berries and almonds crushed into a paste over bread. She wrapped it in paper.
Amalia grabbed the keys, her father’s lunch, and the stack of Compulsion screening papers she had to turn into the university, and went out the door.
Oh, shit. Compulsion screening papers.
Amalia walked quickly towards Council Hall, all the while cursing herself mentally. She just hadn’t thought of it. That was her whole problem in life: impulsive decisions.
Before she joined University, she had to submit to loyalty screenings. It was one of the requirements for admission. An interrogator used a Compulsion spell, which forced you to tell the truth. They wanted to keep the Black Mages and other dangerous individuals out of the institution.
The process was fairly straightforward. She went to an office off of West Drebon Street, right on the Loop. She sat in a waiting room for a few minutes before being directed to a drab room guarded by two watchguards. Inside the room was the official inquisitor, who asked a series of questions from a script that was approved by her Head of House. There was also a witness, who made sure the inquisitor followed the script, and two watchmirrors which were recording.
Of course, the watchmirrors couldn’t pick up sound, so they recorded their faces. An official lip reader could then use the watchmirror records as evidence in a trial. Amalia was asked a series of generic questions (“Have you ever committed a crime?” “Are you affiliated with any Black Mages?”) and told to answer honestly. Then the inquisitor asked Amalia to close her eyes. Something touched the back of her neck and suddenly it was an hour later.
No one retained the memories of being Compelled.
For now, she was fine; she’d already been tested. Problem was, when she got her diploma, she’d have to get screened again.
She was screwed.
Amalia swallowed down the anxiety and told herself to focus on the current problem. Once she cleared that hurdle, she could focus on finding a way out of the Compulsion screening. Worst case scenario would be dropping out of University and helping her mother with her business. It would ruin some of her plans, but it was better than being charged with a crime.
When Amalia got to her father’s office, she breathed out a sigh of relief. She was right. Henrik was at the office and her father wasn’t. The secretary’s desk was right outside her father’s office.
“I’ll just leave this here for him, is that alright?” She asked.
“Oh, fine, fine. Don’t worry about it, m’lady.” Said Henrik.
“I just- I thought it might help. I mean, he’s been stressed lately.” Amalia bit her lip. She hoped she looked concerned.
“Yes, well, with all that’s been going on, that’s no surprise.”
“An internal investigation? My father told me about it. It sounds dreadful.” Lies, blatant lies.
“Ah, yes, well, I can hardly believe it myself, m’lady. Evidence was stolen right out of his office! Can you imagine?”
Amalia looked around Henrik’s desk appraisingly, “I always thought this place was safe. Don’t you have watchmirrors in here?”
He laughed. “Only in the main hallways, m’lady.”
“They should install them in here, too.”
Henrik gave her a smile that looked more like a grimace. “Of course, m’lady.” He then shuffled some papers around on his desk. Amalia suspected Henrik didn’t like the watchmirrors. For once, she could sympathize.
“I don’t mean that they should be watching you, of course. I just meant that there should be more security in general.”
He checked his watch, frowning. “Look, I have to go and grab lunch. I usually go down to the Gray Gremlin on Grace street, and someone will take my usual table if I wait too long. I’m sorry to cut you short, m’lady.” Amalia suspected he wasn’t that sorry.
“It’s fine. I’m sorry I kept you.”
“Do you want to wait for your father here, m’lady?”
“I don’t know.” Amalia trailed off. “I’ll wait a couple minutes and see if he shows up. I have someplace to be as well.”
“Alright. Have a good day, m’lady!”
Amalia smiled and waved back.
Once he turned the corner she began looking around Henrik’s office. No watchmirrors. So that meant Henrik wasn’t lying.
So the evidence had been catalogued before entering her father’s office. It was kind of obvious in retrospect. Who would place dangerous artifacts in her father’s office without inspecting them? No one. Her father would never allow such negligence.
Henrik’s desk was useless. He was orderly to the point of neuroticism. There was his timesheet half filled out, lying on his desk. There was another folder out on the desk, containing the week’s timesheets. She wanted to roll her eyes at the waste of time, but she did remember her father mentioning they were important for some reason.
What she didn’t get was how they knew it’d gone missing from her father’s office. Was it possible her father did allow a watchmirror in his office?
But then, why hadn’t the investigators pulled her in for questioning yet? Would her father delay them, hoping she would come clean to him? Amalia chewed her lip. It wasn’t worth the risk to confess. She knew that.
There was nothing more to find here, so she headed back.
As Amalia walked towards the University, she continued thinking. There was a way to solve this problem. There was always a way to solve the problem, she just needed to think.
But first, she had to get through a meeting with the Grand Meister.