A fan work - the August Agency

Ok - I’ve never done this before. And what I mean is: post stories online at all. I love investigators in fantasy fiction; and I had this idea about how rumors get blown out of proportion so fast. And so, it’s been written that I can post a fan story here to see if people like it.

I’ve also decided to publish on Royal Road (which is where I originally found PGTS)

Chapter One:

Not the Raven Queen

Month 11, Day 30, 7:00 AM

In a narrow, three story building, which was little more than three large rooms stacked one on top of each other, at the end of a narrow street, and sandwiched between larger buildings, resided the office of the August Agency. And, at an ebonized oak table in that office, sitting on a plain wooden stool, in front of cheap wooden partition, Marie waited for clients.

Marie’s hair was black and dyed blacker. Her lips were painted lampblack. Her eyeshadow was a dark charcoal. Her her eyes were carefully lined with black cosmetic pencil. Her nails were painted a shiny black lacquer. Marie’s clothes were also black: her long-sleeved knee-length dress was as black as she could afford, and her legs covered with tall black oilcloth boots that nearly covered her knees. Altogether, this overwhelmingly black ensemble set off her otherwise warm skin color; giving her a near bone-white appearance.

Surely, this obsession with black would represent a depressed soul.

However, aside from looking like the least welcoming girl in all of Gilbratha, Marie cultivated positive personality. For instance, she would smile at all the potential clients. She would greet the prospective client’s warmly.

For her, this wasn’t all that different than the day-time work at the massage parlor, except, first, she was working in Verdant Stag territory and not over in the Morrows’, and, second, she didn’t get the occasional sense that a patron was interested in her.

Marie also had a few items that she kept as a secretary here that she didn’t at the Massage Parlor. She kept an account book (also black) on the table, with a crow feather quill resting in a bottle of iron gall. She also kept a clean stack of white paper for correspondence, and receipts, if the need arose. And, finally, She had a metal box in the corner, where she would be particularly careful to take the client’s money and keep it safe from Mr. Poe - the thaumaturge and investigator of the August Agency. He would otherwise spend it needlessly on books and helping poor people.

She also had a thick book: Prim’s Primer, Vol. 1. Poe directed her to study the book when no clients were in the office, which was most of her day, and they had a lesson every lunch and dinner. He said it was to make her a better employee, because it had lessons on writing, geometry, line drawing, music, and abstract board games. She wasn’t sure why the last two mattered, but he insisted these were necessary and useful skills she could not do without.

So, when the middle-aged gentlemen entered the office only moments after it opened, Marie smiled and put aside the Primer.

“Good afternoon sir! Welcome to The August Agency ! How can I help you today?”

Dark complexion with a hint grey hair at his temples and subtle wrinkles at his eyes, the man wore the distinctive hobbed boots that clearly showed that he was a copper of some sort. Marie did not know the uniforms well enough to say what his rank was, but she always felt a little uneasy around coppers. This one stopped and stood entirely still as soon as he saw her. For an uncomfortable moment, his eyes bore into her.

“Who are you?” He demanded.

“Marie.”

“Has anyone told you that you look like Siobhan Naught?”

“No.” Marie lost her smile. The copper kept looking, but must have decided not to press the issue.

“Quite right, too young, and too pale. Looks like Mr. Poe got himself a secretary.”

“Can I help you?”

“Mr. Poe in? I’ll just walk on back, shall I?” And the fellow walked around the partition. Marie thought that was a little presumptuous, but perhaps Frank Poe knew him. Frank certainly had contacts with the Westbays and law enforcement.

She heard their conversation perfectly clearly. The partition didn’t even go all the way to the ceiling.

“Good Morning Poe. It’s been a busy night, and I was wondering if you want to do a little divination job for us? We’re paying 20 Gold for a solid lead, and 5 gold if you’ll just come out and consult with any scrying aid you can give us.”

On the other side of the partition Marie gasped. Twenty gold! that was almost a three full months’ rent. Then she thought about it; it was a fraction of the full reward for Naught. Cheapskates.

“No divination.” Frank replied. “No scrying. Don’t you remember Calder? Gives me a headache. I told you the last time you were here.” Marie suppressed an eye roll. Of course the copper doesn’t remember, Marie thought. Very few people could remember the details of a conversation with Frank Poe. She was an exception, but she didn’t know why.

Poe explained his curse to her once, at least as well as he understood it. People would remember him, but not remember meeting him.

“Well, ok, a job then. The Raven Queen — Siobhan Naught — made an appearance down from here; she was seen at a warehouse the Stags were setting up. I’ve been authorized to pay local diviners to come down and see if they can tell us anything about her.”

“I’m not a diviner; I’m a detective.” Frank protested.

She’d had enough of that. Frank needed work. She needed him to work. They almost hadn’t made rent last month, and Marie had to pay some of her completely-legitimate-and-not-at-all-embezzled funds to the landlord’s drop box. Marie stood up and stalked around the partition into Frank’s office.

His office behind the partition was its usual mess. Books overflowed the shelves which went from floor to ceiling on all four sides, including in front of the windows. His writing desk had books piled on and around it, both for lack of space on the shelves and because Frank tended to pull a book off the shelf then set it on the floor after he looked at it. There were some cushioned armchairs in front of the desk, but Frank sat in a plain wooden ladder-back chair across from the standing officer.

Frank was quite striking, with short reddish-brown tea colored hair, and mismatching eye color: one orange, one blue. This was aside from his clothes. As usual, Frank himself was dressed in a brightly-colored suit decorated with an open pattern of yellow, red, and orange flowers and a lemon-yellow shirt. People should recall Frank Poe on the sheer volume of color he wore, but Marie knew otherwise. Still, none of that would matter if he didn’t take on work.

“Frank Poe.” She scolded him. “You will take this fine officers’s case, or I will quit. And then no one will remember you.”

Frank cringed at her tiny black-trimmed fury. The officer seemed bemused.

“Fine.” Frank turned to the officer. “Leave your information with Marie here. Make sure you get a receipt.”

As Marie lead the officer back around the partition, he was already beginning to show the signs of the curse taking hold. He seemed distracted.

“Wait here for a moment.” Marie told him, while she drafted up a receipt. By that point, the curse had taken full effect. Just as she finished, the officer finally began speaking.

“So,” the officer began, “My name is Lieutenant Robards, I was wondering if I could commission some work from Mr. Poe. Is he in?”

“You’ve already asked that.” Marie replied.

“I have?”

“Yes. Please read this receipt.” She handed him the receipt. He read the receipt, and his face seemed to lose its confusion.

“Of course. This must happen to everyone? How do you cope?”

“It’s never affected me.” Marie replied.

“Right. Well, remind Poe I need him down to the station in about an hour to help with the divination.”

As the copper was on his way out, another man swept into the room. He was a Thaumaturge with black hair, tied at the nape of his neck, and a slightly unkempt beard. At least, he seemed like a Thaumaturge. Much too clean to be a local, too practically dressed to be a noble, and too arrogant to be a clerk or some sort of copper.

Marie greeted and smiled at this man too. She was the best secretary.

The dark-haired man gazed over his severe nose, and haughtily scrutinized her carefully. He raised one eyebrow. Marie’s smile grew brittle.

“This … office, is where I would find the best non-prognos diviner and detective in the city?”

“Yes, sir!” Marie replied.

“Who told you a fool thing like that?” Called the voice of Frank Poe over the partition.

“Perhaps I’ve come to the wrong investigator …”

“No sir! Frank Poe is the best!”

The black haired man stared at her. He took in the all-black attire, her painfully thin arms and legs, black hair, and her oaky-brown eyes.

“You wouldn’t happen to be the Raven Queen?”

“Not the Raven Queen sir!”

“I see.” The man replied quietly.

“Would you like an appointment, sir?” Marie asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous Marie! Send Professor Lacer back here immediately!” Frank called. As far as Marie knew, Frank couldn’t see anything from the other part of the one-room office except his bookcases and the back of the partition.

This Professor Lacer carefully examined Marie for another moment, and then stepped around the partition.

He must have cast some sort of spell, because she didn’t hear his conversation with Frank.

After a few minutes, he stepped back around the partition.

“Sir, did Mr. Poe agree to take your case?”

“No so much a case, as an errand.”

“I don’t suppose you talked about the fee?”

“I will compensate him fairly. You need not worry.”

Marie felt herself flush. It was always difficult to explain the next part, especially when the client was as arrogant as this Professor seemed to be.

“Professor, sir, Mr. Poe is a powerful diviner but there is a side effect to his power; clients find that they forget that they’ve met him. I must insist that we put your agreement with him in writing.”

“I am well aware of his ‘curse.’ He was a student, and very nearly received his Master’s certificate at the University. It will not affect me. Nevertheless …” Lacer carefully took paper from the table, held it in his left hand for a moment, a glittering gem and beast core in his right, and after a moment of concentration passed her a receipt. On it was written: Commission to The August Agency - discover a method to contact Siobhan Naught. Pay commensurate with difficulty. - Lacer

“Thank you for your patronage!” Marie smiled brightly. She’d had actively-cast magic explained to her before, but this was nothing like what she!d seen; where was his circle? Components? Marie, a friend of hers and, well, a prostitute, had once shown her a glamorizing spell. Now, Marie wondered if she’d understood how magic was done at all. Lacer strode out.

Marie carefully took her copy of the receipts, noted them in her black book, and then put the copies receipts in a mostly empty box next to the table. If past practice was any consideration, Poe would be leaving soon to start work. She’d honestly never seen him cast a spell, but he was undeniably good at the tasks he set himself to. She’d never seen him fail in an investigation. Not that there were many.

Just as Poe rounded the partition, a short haired blond woman, perhaps only four or five years older than Marie, entered. She had the clear eyes and haughty look, but not the clothes, for a full journeyman Thaumaturge. Probably, Marie guessed, an apprentice or student at the University.

Marie smiled again, and tried her greeting. This was an unusually busy morning! If she could keep Poe on task, this might be the most work he’d had in weeks.

Poe, however, seemed unable to keep himself from giving a bad impression.

“I suppose you are here at the behest of a professor?” Poe snapped.

“I am, … yes, my advisor sent me to …” The blond was slightly off her stride, a furrow of surprise creased her face for a microsecond. Marie also noticed that she looked exhausted, like she’d spent most of the night awake.

“Ask me to work on divining the location of the Siobhan Naught, or otherwise get in contact with her?” Poe barreled on through the conversation without letting the woman finish. The blond’s composure was definitely cracked by Poe’s certainty.

“Well, yes. We think that …”

“She can be contacted through the Verdant Stag, because she fought for them last night and was seen with Lord Stag.”

“Uh. Yes.”

“Fine. Give your name to Marie.” Frank waved his hand in Marie’s general direction. He put on his smoked orange colored glasses to hide his heterochromia, then deftly shrugged on a calf-length blue coat embroidered with orange, black, and silver carp and walked most of the way through the slightly ajar door. He turned, just as he went to close it. “Or don’t. If you want to remain secretive about it, I don’t know. But, if Marie doesn’t give you a receipt, you’ll forget we spoke.” He sucked in a breath through his nose. “And that will be awkward in a couple of days when you come back and ask for me to do the same thing.” With this, he pulled the door closed.

Marie smiled as sweetly as she could at the blond woman. But, internally, Marie was horrified. There was no way this apprentice would continue with the commission after that display of rudeness. The blond, however, stared at the door for a moment and then turned to Marie. Marie looked expectantly at the blond. The blond looked back. Marie raised an eyebrow. The blond sighed.

“You are wearing a lot of black.”

“Yes.” Marie replied. The blond smoothed her brow with her hand.

“Has anyone asked if you …”

“No.”

“Okaay. I guess you aren’t old enough … I am … here to ask if Mr. Poe can take up a commission. Is he available?”

“You just saw … missed him.” Maybe she could recover this disaster. Marie glared at the closed door. Poe was always doing that!

“It’s a confidential commission, so … can I get an appointment?”

“Ah.” Marie had seen the curse work quickly, but that was unbelievably quick. “You just gave us the commission … Don’t you remember?”

“I … I did?”

“Yes. You did.” Marie cheerfully weathered the apprentice’s skeptical glare.

“Ok. Let’s say that I did. You would be able to tell me what commission was.” The blond seemed sure that she would triumph in this obvious ruse to trick her. Marie rolled her eyes and took up the challenge.

“You are here for Mr. Poe to investigate how to contact Siobhan Naught?”

“That’s … that’s right.” She must have been more used to mind-altering spells or something, because she rebounded quickly. “Ok. So, what now?” The blond slouched a bit in defeat.

“I’ll give you a receipt. Two Crowns per day plus expenses. How can I contact you?”

“I’ll return in a week, and you can tell me Mr. Poe’s progress.”

“Can you pay a week’s retainer?”

The blond nodded, and paid Marie the 14 Gold.

Marie took another clean sheet of paper and wrote out a receipt with the details, which Marie gave to the apprentice before she left. Marie put half the money in the lock box and kept the other half.

Marie hoped Mr. Poe knew what he was doing. Naught was a dangerous criminal after all.

4 Likes

So, I posted Chapter 1 this morning; and shared with friend. She wants to read the next chapter, so here you go! Um. I’ll mention this: thanks to Azlaea for giving the days and times for her chapters - it makes outlining a fan fic with a parallel timeline really easy.

Chapter Two:

A raven queen

Month 11, Day 30, 7:30 AM

Frank Poe left his office and took a right to begin the long trudge up from his ground floor office, up the building’s stairs, setting out for the roof. Now, when Frank Poe has first started his detective agency, he had always consulted a raven before he took a case. Then, he’d found Marie. She insisted he take more cases.

Frank Poe found it very nearly upsetting that a mere thirteen-year old had a mind like a polished steel knife and a will so clear and forceful you could practically feel it in the air around her. If he’d taught her how to channel magic, he was entirely sure she could channel a dozen thaums into her first spell. Some people just had talent.

But, did she actually have the desire to learn? Should he teach her? And, should he teach her?

He’d come out of Willowdale Retreat just a year ago. He could have stayed; his family might have wanted him to. He was … not cured, exactly, but he still had the will sufficient to continue magic. The healers let him keep his journeyman certificate. On the other hand, he’d was unsure if he’d ever return to studying free casting. But, he was still young for a thaumaturge; he would heal. Probably.

In their private conversation, Grandmaster Lacer seemed to know what Frank Poe was considering for Marie. Lacer had called him an idiot. But Lacer implied that he also was considering an apprentice, and Frank couldn’t have been more shocked. Everyone knew Lacer would never take an apprentice. Whoever they were, they must have been an exceptional talent.

In contrast, Professor Lacer never showed any fondness of Frank Poe as a student. So, Poe felt surprised that Lacer thought to ask him to find a way to contact this new “Raven Queen.” Just Lacer considered Poe worthy of some sort of employment made Poe feel oddly satisfied. Poe had only been visited by a few of his former classmates and friends while at Willowdale Retreat, and all of them stopped coming in short order. Too much of a reminder of the dangers of will strain and experimental magic.

But, none of that would change the way he worked. He wasn’t a normal detective. He didn’t look for “clues” or “follow” suspects. He considered himself a detective of the gestalt. People would come to him and ask him about the details. But, everyone was a part of everything. Seeing the big picture would help him find the details, which would pay the bills. Clients didn’t want to know the whole picture. But, for Poe, examining the larger pattern was essential to getting to the truth.

His cases were like a painting; each stroke followed another, cause and effect until the painting was complete. Another way to look at it was, by twisting the lines of cause and effect backward, if one just immersed themselves in the picture they could see how the picture had been painted in the first place. But, to see a picture you needed to look at it first, and to do that, Frank had a method. It took a little trial and error, but after Willowdale, normal divination magic was just too hard anyway.

Thus, Frank always consulted with the raven he called Frigg before taking cases. He called her Frigg, because she was the name of an ancient Queen, and this raven was the most royal bird he’d ever known.

He climbed the three flights of curving and twisting stairs, which had their own niche in the back of the building. He trudged past the his apartment above his office, the empty apartment above that, into the attic, and he eventually shimmied through the roof hatch. It was here, on the coo and gently sloping metal roof, that he would consult with his own queen of ravens.

Magic could have brought Frigg to him. After all, “summoning” magic was possible if you knew how to manipulate fate. Frank could do it. But Frank also disliked it. Like weather magic, if you brought rain to a farmer in one place, were you taking water from somewhere else? What if those distant farmers needed rain more badly than your farmer? Cycles of growth, cycles of death, and cycles of fate; Frank learned from bitter experience: they weren’t for messing with.

Likewise, Frank had been told “luck” magic did not exist, but he knew putting the thumb on the scale of probability could be done in any number of ways. Not the least of which was to simply be prepared to find luck when you saw it.

And when it came to the raven, Frank had found Frigg would always arrive when she was supposed to.

Best not think too carefully about how it worked, because if you did, it might not work at all.

He considered for a moment. He defocused his eyes and just let himself be: feeling his breath, seeing motion of the sky, smelling the sour air of the Mires.

Up there, in the cold wind, he communed with the flow of the city. Spreading his will out lightly to feel it: the mice in the apartments, the pigeons wandering the roofs, and the people trudging along the streets below.

Frank found his gaze settling down the street at the colorful green ribbon on the street corner. The thaumaturge who had set those up was just scratching the surface of connection; but their will had been clear and the little ribbons were becoming an important part of the pattern near him.

The roots of a new tree of fate hung below that ribbon, and the branches were growing up, up, up to the sky. There were voices calling to him up there.

Inhaling sharply, he eased away from the strings and branches of fate. He would not allow a relapse. That was the way of madness: hearing the whispers again, catatonic, unable to control himself or the hallucinations. Instead, he turned his meditation to his offering.

He needed to give Frigg a good clear offering for this case given to him in threes: Coppers, Grandmaster Lacer, and the “professor” who sponsored that blond girl.

This last was definitely trouble. The blonde had covered it with her coat, but there was a bandage on her arm. If it hadn’t been for her student token tucked away in a pocket, Frank would have thought she was with a criminal element. Not the Stags, presumably, but if what the copper said was correct? The Morrows wouldn’t be well pleased with Siobhan Naught.

Lacer’s interest surprised Frank. Lacer was like a lodestone; he unconsciously bent fate around himself all the time. Even his mild interest showed that something big was happening in the Gilbratha.

And the Coppers. That made some sense, Frank reckoned. Frank was sure Tidus was well embarrassed. Frank didn’t have a close association with the head of the Coppers, but they must have been getting desperate if they were inviting local Thaumaturges to join in a ritual divination. One would think the University was a better choice.

The whole search seemed like a bit much, though, for just some academic artifact.

If Frank could find the connections, then he might see the whole picture. And if he did, he might understand what was going on. At that point, he hoped answering his clients questions would be trivial. At least Marie would be happy that they would make some gold.

Who was Siobhan Naught? What did she want? Why was she given the name, Raven Queen? What would represent her best?

Frigg liked her offerings to be different each time, but Frank had figured out the trick of it. He needed to give a gift that represented the case; or in this instance, cases. So, if Siobhan Naught was a “raven queen,” then to ask about her, Frank would have to give Frigg a kind of symbol of who the raven queen was.

A raven was a thing of the dawn and dusk: a competitive gatherer of things that was also proud and social. A Queen of ravens would expect something valuable, and maybe something to represent her cleverness. Siobhan Naught was a thaumaturge; everyone agreed on that. Poe sifted through the pockets in his coat and found something that suited this new Raven Queen.

In an iron bowl on Frank never removed from the roof, he offered the gold plated nib from a pen.

Frank sat patiently. Frigg would come, drop a gift, answer a question, and take the offering. Hopefully. When Frigg left without taking the offering behind in the bowl, Frank reckoned that was inauspicious. That had happened a few times before. Like when he’s hired Marie. Of course, he could have gotten the offering wrong. Asking oracles questions wasn’t entirely reliable or easy. Still, Frigg left a cracked monocle for him at the time. If she’d really disapproved, Frank reckoned she would have taken the monocle back.

But Frigg did not control him; he’d hired Marie anyway.

Like usual, it didn’t take long for Frigg to arrive. She glided on wings of iridescent black over the roofs and chimneys, and she landed next to Frank like a kiss on a lover’s cheek. She gave the little golden nib in the iron bowl an unblinking glare.

In exchange, Frigg hopped over, and dropped a smooth black stone next to Frank. The raven didn’t always have something to exchange, but what she did leave was rarely as mundane as a rock. Frank resisted the urge to pick up the stone; the bargain wasn’t complete.

Frigg then worried the little golden nib with her beak; tossing it up and down and letting it fall and making the little iron bowl ring softly. Frank watched her, unmoving. He did not want to upset her.

“So, what do you think Frigg? Do I go looking for the Raven Queen?” Frank asked conversationally.

Frigg looked at him with one eye, then turned her head and looked at him fully with the other eye. Frank knew that she was the wisest raven he’d ever met, but she still didn’t talk. Mostly. After a few moments of seeming contemplation, Frigg regally nodded her bill once. This done, she picked up the nib piece and flew off toward the Mires.

Frank reckoned that the nodding and taking the golden nib meant yes. Marie had insisted that he take the case; now, he knew that he must. The raven took something, but she’d also left something intriguing behind: a polished black stone.

Frank carefully picked up the stone she’d left. He laid it flat on his palm, then brought it close to examine it. It was perfectly smooth, and glimmered with an inner light that became a star when he held it up, even in the overcast early morning. A black star sapphire. Frigg had never brought him anything that valuable before.

As he gazed into the depths of it, he felt for a moment that he couldn’t breathe. Heart racing and his own breath choking him, whispers without sound flooded his thoughts, and swirls of silvery white lines blinded.

Some time later, he found himself curled up next to the iron bowl. It didn’t feel like he’d lost a lot of time. Just enough to dry the tears. They had left salty tracks over his face. The black star sapphire had fallen from his fingers and rested in the crook of his arm. Carefully sitting up, he took out a pure white square of cloth and used it to pick up the sapphire; he folded the sapphire into it, and he tucked it into one of inner pockets of his colorful carp-decorated overcoat.

He dug through his remaining pockets and found a handkerchief to scrub his face. Shame he hadn’t collected the tears; the tears of madness could be a pretty useful spell component.

He scooted carefully off the roof, back down through the little hatch, and down the twisting stairs to the office.

3 Likes

Rereading chapter 2, there are so many typos and bad sentences! If I post this somewhere else, I’ll have to fix it.

As I’ve been writing this over the last few weeks and it’s been a blast to match up story events.

I find fan fiction a little weird when the fan uses the author’s characters for POv. So, for me, I like seeing them, but I don’t want to write them as a POV. But, the the idea of this story is to give everyone a cameo. It’s plotted through the events of the second book (so, if you want to avoid spoilers, you have to read that book first).

This world is perfect for an RPG. It’s got this great vibe. You really can just do whatever magic you want and it all feels like, oh, that’s just something you don’t understand yet.

I do not like that the italic gets stripped when i cut and paste.

So, anyway, i spent the most time on this chapter of the batch I’ve done so far. If I’ve done this correctly, this coincides exactly with an event in the second book.

Chapter 3

Magic is not even a little bit safe

Month 11, Day 30, 8:00 AM

When Frank came back to the office Marie perked up. She’d known he’d go to the roof. There was some sort of magic involved; he called it “consulting the raven.” But, she hadn’t seen him do it yet.

“You look terrible.” Marie observed.

“Thank you Marie. You look like an evil witch out of a Myrddin story.” Frank replied. Marie decided that Frank was in a mood. He continued. “Now, we have to head off to the Coppers, because someone was too nosey to stay her desk.”

“Table.”

“Whatever. Come with me, and pick up that chest.”

“What … chest?” Marie asked.

Before Frank Poe pointed it out to her, Marie never noticed. A chest sat beside the wall of the room, resting next to the iron lockbox. The painted wooden chest might have been mistaken for a carpenter’s tool chest if it wasn’t for the enchantments that covered it. It looked, well, heavy. It was meant to be carried with two hands and seemed to be just barely a step above a crate; it looked held together with ordinary nails.

“That one.” Frank smiled and pointed. “It’s not as heavy as it could be, but you’re not as strong as you should be. Grab it and follow me.”

Marie grimaced. She was not going to complain. When she picked up the box, it was surprisingly light. She’d see if that lasted; if Poe expected her to walk all the way to the nearest copper station, this was going to be a long trip. For as long as she’d known him, Poe walked everywhere.

To her surprise, however, Poe called a cab. He loaded the box himself and gestured for her to join him inside.

“How much do you know about divination?” He asked as they set out.

“Well, they make the girls at some of the pleasure houses sign a blood print vow. My friend Mille, one of the ladies, told me that they can’t run away. It’s something to do with divination. Although, I’ve heard that blood magic is illegal.”

“Right.” Poe frowned when Marie mentioned Millie, her prostitute acquaintance. She wasn’t sure if Poe disapproved of Mille, her profession, or that Mille was an unlicensed thaumaturge.

Marie was at least pleased Poe wasn’t one of those that seemed interested in pleasure houses. It was one of the reasons Marie wasn’t too worried about her employer trying anything. In fact, she wasn’t sure she’d even seen Poe even shake someone’s hand.

He continued, “Those contracts use blood, because blood is the the easiest way to track a person using scrying or divination. I imagine they somehow got a bit of blood from Siobhan Naught, and we’re going to help the official diviners find her.”

“Isn’t that … illegal? It’s blood magic!” Marie announced, putting forward the persona of a completely naive teenager who was not-at-all-familiar with slimy streets of Gilbratha. Poe looked at her suspiciously.

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“A little.” Marie shrugged. “Is there anything a copper can’t do?”

“Oh yes. The Crowns forbid plenty. Many types of divination are blood magic, and you need a license. I have one, but if I did not, I would be lucky to only go to prison. Dozens of other divination spells can only be performed with special dispensation from the Crowns. Military secrets and the like. Watch everyone carefully. Touch nothing. Ask no questions of the other diviners.” Poe seemed lost in thought for a moment. “If that woman, Liza, is there, we’re going to turn around and come straight home. She might as well be Master in her own right, both in divination and enchantment. There’s no point if she’s on the case. But she has no love for coppers, and she won’t come out for a mere handful of gold.” Poe practically muttered this to himself.

“What’s the box for?”

“If the Raven Queen has been hiding behind wards, it’s useless to just try to use some sort of map scry.” Poe got quiet. “There’s something I’ll try. It’s between an augury and a divination. But, I’ll need the box to prepare it.”

“Is it dangerous?” Marie asked. Poe looked up at her, his eyes a bit wild.

“All magic is dangerous. All of it. Magic is not even a little bit safe.” He expression grew a bit wild.

“Then why do it at all?”

“Because,” Frank Poe replied, subdued. “It is also wondrous.”

Marie felt a spike of anticipation. Dangerous forbidden magics. Why work for a thaumaturge if you didn’t get to see some astonishing magic from time-to-time?

When they arrived, Marie lugged the chest, while Poe lead the way striding in with a swirl of color. A young woman copper met him as he strode in. After a few words, they headed to top floor of the station, where, purportedly, a scrying array was set up.

Poe was right; Marie didn’t think the chest would have been heavy for other people, but carrying it made her arms tremble and the backs of her legs ache as she carried it up the flights of stairs.

They finally arrived in a corner room on the top floor.

Marie wasn’t sure why she thought scrying would be done in a smoky basement room, smelling of incense and sweat. She entirely failed to anticipate this bright clean room. If anything, this room smelled of clean linen and lemon.

Huge floor-to-ceiling glass windows lit the room from two sides. The scrying room was almost sterile white, with a gold circle two strides across set into the floor, and a pentagram contained inside it. In the middle of the circle, a colorful painted diagram sat. Marie had never seen one that detailed before, but it looked like a map of the city - twisting roads and buildings all drawn out. Near the windows, a group of robed thaumaturges were in the middle of an argument about which components they should be using.

Poe did not join that argument. Instead he directed Marie to put the box down next to an open wall. He sat on the floor next to the box and began opening it.

It had some sliding piece of board holding the lid in place. After Poe removed the board, he then slid the top to the side, which let him lift the lid completely off. He flipped the lid over, and showing the clean light blue underside, and revealing a white circle etched in the wood.

Poe gestured for Marie to kneel next to him.

Inside the opened box she saw trays holding miniature labeled bottles, pens and brushes, sticks of ink, chisels, etching tools, fine wire, several journal-sized books, beast cores, and a portable lamp. Taking a beast core, he removed that layer and set it on the floor, to reveal three etched and polished flat bowls set in velvet niches: one made of black stone, one made of black horn, and one made of black clay. He slid these aside, moving the tray out of the way into some sort of expanded space recess, to reveal more small objects set in trays, glass specimen bottles, labelled paper boxes, spools of shimmering thread, and trinkets and baubles of all kinds.

Even though it seemed like Poe had reached the bottom of the box, he slid even these trays aside to reveal a velvet-lined, segmented, and carefully labeled tray. In each of dozens of tiny slots, there were cut and uncut precious and semiprecious stones: diamond, emerald, onyx, sapphire, citrine, amethyst, and many others, all arranged in a rainbow of color. In the center of these, however, was a clear, uncut, unpolished chunk of cerelium the size of her fist set in a velvet recess. Everything glimmered like, well, shiny rocks. But still! This was a fortune.

Marie suddenly wondered why Poe seemed poor at all. His dusty and book-filled office? His ridiculous couch filled apartment? The plain all-vegetarian lunch he shared with her every day? This was at least a thousand gold worth of gems, just hidden away. No, not hidden at all; the box had been sitting in plain view in his office. Not that Marie noticed it.

Marie felt a lot less guilty about taking half the income of the agency if this was how Poe spent his money.

Poe inhaled deeply through his nose before he reached out and picked up the cerelium. He seemed relieved that nothing happened, and then he tucked it into an outside pocket of his coat.

He picked out a black onyx, a polished green citrine, and a clear uncut diamond, then he slid the trays back in place until only the bowls were visible. He lifted the horn bowl out of its niche and put it aside. He then replaced the top tray, but removed a pen and a bottle of red ink.

He placed the lid’s spell array facing upward on the of the box. He put the bowl on top of the lid, then he gestured for Marie to stay seated while he stood. He got the attention of the apparent leader.

“Well, well. Frank Poe.” The pale diviner with white thin bony fingers greeted him. “I thought you were still in Willowdale?”

“Krause.” Poe’s lips twitched into an insincere smile. The other diviners, and even the copper, became silent and tense. Poe shrugged. “I got better.”

Marie felt jittery as the air filled with some ineffable tension. She was having a little difficulty breathing, but she wasn’t sure why. Poe’s face suddenly grew stern.

“Get control over yourselves. I am perfectly capable of casting, and I still have my journeyman’s license, if you’d like to see it.” Poe snapped.

“Of course, of course.” Krause laughed a bit too loud. “No need to prove yourself here.” Some of the others joined in with halfhearted chuckles.

The uncomfortable feeling let up. Marie felt she could breathe again.

“If that’s out of the way, has anyone bothered to scry Siobhan Naught’s nature yet? Or are you trying to guess?” Frank was being rude, again. But, the other diviners seemed to be less sure of themselves at his question. Krause was unfazed.

“I don’t know who you think this girl is, exactly, but we’ll put a little bit more will into it and I’m sure we’ll have her sussed in short order.” Krause replied.

“Do not underestimate the Raven Queen.” A coarse voice said from the doorway. A copper in a long coat, holding a box that was covered in spells, stepped into the room, flanked by two more coppers. He immediately began coughing. When the short fit ended, he continued.

“I am Investigator Kuchen, leading the investigation on the ground here in the city. The Raven Queen has been elusive and careful, and even now that we have her blood, she’s avoiding us. We’ve scried her using our resources from Harrow Hill several times since we found her blood, and she has been immune. This attempt is closer to the Mires, with locals, because we hope your familiarity with this side of the city will improve our chances. Now, Master Krause, are you ready for your attempt?”

“Sir, we are still working out the array.” Bony fingers said.

“Here is her blood.” The Copper offered the evidence box to Krause. “For the rest of you, I want to remind you of the confidential nature of this investigation. You are all being paid for your time, so we expect that you will not reveal anything you see here to others.”

As Krause began carrying the box to the big scrying circle, Poe pulled him aside.

“Master Krause.” Poe at least sounded deferential, “I’d like to try an initial divination before you get to the main attempt, it should help us get the correct components for your spell.” Poe said. Krause gave Poe a critical look. Even Kuchen gave Marie’s brightly dressed boss a once over.

“Well, you always were talented, for whatever good that did you. What’s the spell?” Krause replied.

“It’s a divination and an augury I designed for gestalt investigation.”

Kuchen raised an eyebrow. While Krause hesitated to answer, Kuchen nodded to him.

“Very well, if it helps us put together the spell array, then any little edge might assist us. But, show me your array first.” Krause said.

Poe shrugged. He gestured to Krause to come over to view the array on top of the box. Poe sat on his knees on the bare floor, and started laying out components on the array. The gems went around the array, along with some other things Marie couldn’t identify, with the bowl in the center. Then he produced a bottle of water from his coat’s inner pocket to fill the bowl, which developed a mirror-like reflective surface. He removed his glasses, and tucked them into a pocket. If his mis-matched eyes bothered anyone, no one said anything.

Poe began drawing little glyphs with the red ink. Marie couldn’t quite tell what he was doing, and she couldn’t read any of the strange glyphs. Poe’s motions were deft and practiced. He did not write any words or anything similar to that. Or at least nothing that Marie could read.

“I’ll need the blood here.” Frank pointed.

“Fate? Character? Memory? Cycle? I do not see anything for sight?”

“I’m not trying to find her; I’m trying to find out what she’s like.”

“Very well.” Krause opened the box and, using metal tongs, withdrew a sliver of glass with a bit of blood smeared in one ragged edge.

“Huh.” Poe mumbled when he saw it.

“What?”

“The glass has been a part of a spell.”

“How do you know that?” Kuchen spoke up.

“I’ve used glass as a surface for spell arrays often enough.” Poe gestured for Krause to hold the shard of glass up to Kuchen. “See that purple-blue sheen on one side? That’s from exposure to channeled magic.”

“It’s not anything special.” Krause noted.

“Witnesses said she was taking drops of blood and putting them on glass for her magic.” Kuchen said.

“Really? Well, that’s troubling. A blood sorcerer. I may not get much from this then.” The other diviners drifted over to observe the spell. Poe rolled his neck and glanced up at them all standing around. “You can watch, but do not interfere.” Suddenly mindful, everyone took half a step away. Everyone still stood , except Marie, who had a clear view where she was. Poe sat in the eastern style on his knees directly on the other side of the box. In the little bowl of water, she could see Poe’s face in the reflection.

Krause placed the chip of bloody glass at the remaining empty spot Poe indicated.

Poe slid his hands into his coat pockets—Marie guessed he was probably touching the beast core and conduit—and he began a whispered chant. Marie shivered. She could feel it faintly: the sense of magic being worked in the world.

The water in the bowl shimmered and turned a glossy silver. But, it did not reflect the ceiling. It shown blue, like some unidentifiable sky, then began to swirl with darkness and golden light. Brilliant stars and colorful shapes came and went; she had no way to interpret them.

Perhaps if she had been a Prognos, she could have seen it, but whatever Poe was doing, it seemed to puzzle all the others as well, as brows furrowed and they cast questioning looks at each other. Marie tried to be a good secretary, and not have a face filled with awe.

The circle began to glow slightly, and Poe breathed slowly and deeply. Marie saw the pattern of carp on his coat shimmer and move to an invisible wind. The color in the bowl’s water went black. So black, no light escaped it: like a hole in the world. Then, she saw a terrifying golden eye open. It stared out of that blackness, unblinking and warping the darkness around it.

Marie felt frozen, like prey that some great predator had found. Still, she thought, stay still and maybe it won’t see you. The array took on an increasingly intense light; glowing enough to give Poe’s countenance a sinister air, even in the brightly lit room.

Marie suddenly had the sense that the eye was turning its gaze to her specially; terror choked her voice and she whimpered.

Poe’s eyes opened wide. Everything stopped. The smell of a freshwater pond filled Marie’s nose: algae and wind over the water.

The scrying bowl returned to an ordinary reflection, and Marie could see Poe’s face in it again.

Poe drew shaking hands from his pockets. No one else seemed to have seen the blackness; or at least they didn’t react the way Marie did.

“Well. That was something.” Poe muttered.

“What?” Kuchen asked. He was gazing on over Poe’s shoulder, the least perturbed of the them all.

“A couple of things. I was looking for her nature to discover an idea of who she is. This can help select appropriate components. When she lost this blood, her nature was to hide, to change, and to grow. Not really surprising. She’s young, and she was trying to escape. Her elements are unclear … Dreams, definitely. Also, Radiance? Air?” Poe paused, thinking. Marie saw a tension around his eyes, and sweat was beading on his brow.

“So?” Kuchen interrupted.

“She’s protected. Elusive. She’s not a thief. Or, rather she might steal, but she has bargained. Probably prefers it. Oh yes. Powerful mundane and magic bargains protect her. And, one other thing.”

“What’s that?”

“There’s darkness; terrible darkness. This is not shadow, or the darkness of a moonless night. This is a Watching Darkness, a Devouring Darkness. I had to end the spell. It … it noticed me.”

Krause scoffed.

“There’s no such thing as the plane of darkness. And, what in Myrddin’s name is an element of Dreams? You just can’t admit your attempt failed. Fate magic is speculative at best.” Krause leaned over and gingerly removed the shard of glass with the Raven Queen’s blood on it. “You forget, I am at least as accomplished in divination as you. I was watching your scry bowl. I saw nothing of the sort.”

“Did you now? Well, I feel a headache coming on. I’ll watch your divination, but won’t join it. If she strengthened the protections around her since she lost this blood, she’ll crush your attempt like stepping on a bug. Still, I suggest you put in elements of air, radiance, dreams or sleep, and components that symbolizes the honest bargain, as well as a component that represents shapelessness or change. The better components will have been acquired in honest trade, not theft. Do not scry the darkness; you will fail that way.”

“Outrageous. The Raven Queen is a liar and a thief.” Krause towered over the seated Poe. Marie fought the urge to lean away, but Poe seemed entirely unaffected.

Poe shrugged. “Divination is the least reliable of all magics. One must open the third eye to the strands of fate, and I never managed it.” Marie scowled. Why was Poe giving up on his results so easily? Even she had seen that terrible black emptiness. That eye made her jittery with fear.

The rest of group of diviners began talking among themselves.

Krause directed coppers to obtain components, but Poe began carefully putting his components away. He tipped the water back into a bottle with a silver funnel, gathered the gems and other bits and bobs from the spell array, rubbed the ink off the array with an alcohol soaked rag, and carefully tucked everything back into his box. He dropped the lid in place, and then slid it firmly to lock it in place, replacing the locking piece.

Marie noticed that he didn’t return the chunk of cerelium or the beast core. He kept them tucked into his pockets.

“Marie. Do you recall well enough to write down what I said?”

“Yes boss.”

“Write it all out. We’ll have to give it to the Investigators before we leave. Show me your draft, and I’ll copy out the version we give them.” Poe handed her paper and a sharp pencil from his pocket.

As he stood, she sat on the stone floor at the box and used it like a small desk, writing out Poe’s conclusions. When she was done, it was almost a quarter to 9, and the diviners began working their spell. She stood next to Poe in a corner of the room, observing.

“Fools.” He muttered to her. “They’ve put darkness in the array with those angler fish scales, and I’m pretty sure that spider-silk scarf representing air was a piece stolen and taken from the copper’s evidence stores.” Marie wasn’t sure what he was referring to. The spell array looked like it had just little piles of animal parts, dead weeds, and junk spread around it.

Krause ceremonially placed a drop of quicksilver in the center of the array, in the center of the map. He carefully stepped back. The diviners all sipped a potion from the same dark brown bottle, then joined hands.

At first, Marie felt their will splash out in a soft but a ragged wave, before it stabilized and began to throb like a heartbeat. A magical pressure built slowly; it spread no quicker than honey from a jar. The spell array took on a faint glow, and all eyes in the room focused on that little droplet of quicksilver. It wobbled, but it did not move. Marie held her breath, staring at it.

“More” Krause growled. Marie saw the tips of the diviner’s fingers whiten, as the group tightened their grip on each other and the magic. The waves of will became stronger, but it was like an unbalanced wagon, rocking in the ruts on a road. The array blazed with power, and the bead, instead of moving, began to get smaller as it boiled away. Sweat began to bead on their faces.

“Stop!” Poe shouted. “Stop you fools, stop!”

Marie began to feel like she was standing on some small fishing boat, her legs unsteady, waves rocking it uncontrollably. Unbalanced, the wind was whipping water over the gunwales, and she was going to be thrown into the black waters of a storm tossed sea. She tasted copper and brine in her mouth. The glow from the spell shimmered.

“BE STILL” Poe thundered. Marie turned and looked at him.

Poe’s hands had returned to his pockets. The fishes’ mouths on his coat opened and closed like the mouths of the real carp, their gills fluttering. Then, they moved, alive and animated, swimming over the fabric. Their motion became more Real, swimming just below the surface of the coat. They leapt from the coat with splashes, swimming in the air. The carp floated around Poe, seemingly protecting him from the uncontrolled will of the diviners.

From Poe a great smothering blanket of will poured out over the room, calming the waves. Marie blinked. The fish stopped moving, not only still, but returned to their places on the coat as if they never had moved at all.

The ritual wound down, and the magic eased, until the magic calmed like the water in the bottom of a scrying bowl. The little bead of quicksilver had boiled away entirely.

“Curse you Krause.” Poe whispered, and he staggered against the wall. His hair and eyes were wild, and blood dripped from his nose.

Kuchen carefully scooped up the precious piece of bloody glass from the array, placing it in carefully in its evidence box. The officers nearby began shouting for healers, and men and women in clean white robes rushed into the room.

Kuchen looked at Poe, and then turned to one of his subordinates. “If he survives, give him a bonus.” The investigator took a deep breath, then covered his mouth for an uncontrollable coughing fit.

3 Likes

I already told you this, but I love it, I love it, I love it a thousand times, and I can’t wait until you’re ready to post more chapters! This is such a fun story.

1 Like

I’m loving all of this so far. It’s really helping tide me over while Azalea builds her buffer.

it reminds me of Dirk Gently (the book, not either of the shows) and I mean that in the best way possible.

1 Like

Thank you! I’ll admit Dirk Gently was part of my inspiration here. If this story is half as fun as that, it is doing well.

There’s several explicit references to Dirk and Douglas Adams, including Poe’s philosophy of investigation, and Poe’s apartment.

Dirk is different than other fictional detectives; pretty much all fictional detectives are deductive. Dirk is an anti-deduction detective. There is no way for the reader to understand what is going on and predict the outcome using deduction in those stories because the explanation is supernatural. Dirk, who is perfectly willing to accept a supernatural explanation, figures out the mysteries almost literally like Edgar Allen Poe wrote his mystery stories: start with the end and work backwards.

Also, Dirk Gently was based on a Dr. Who plot that Douglas Adams wrote, and I’m a fan of that as well.

A deductive investigator is much less interesting here. We know all the clues to who the Raven Queen is, so, for me, it’s no fun just to run out and have the detective go, “ah ha! there’s a clue! I figured it all out!” like Aberford Thorndyke . . . or Sherlock Holmes. There’s plenty of places Sherlock would have figured this out by now, because he’s an ridiculous character: “I saw person walking down the street and it told me everything I needed to know about them, let me tell you how.”

So, in contrast, this kind of adventure detective (Dr. Who and Dirk Gently) seemed like a good model for this story, because Poe and Marie can have an adventure meeting with characters in the books, and it gets them closer to the truth in a way deduction never would.

2 Likes

Chapter 4

Who are you really?

Month 11, Day 30, 1:00 PM

Lying on the sleeping couch in his apartment above his office, Frank Poe was too tired, and too hurt, to be furious. Oh, but he wanted to be furious. Krause had pushed that divination well beyond safe levels for the apprentices and journeyman. They’d built the power unevenly and lost control. If Poe hadn’t intervened, there could have been backlash, or worse, a break event. As it was, everyone involved walked away with at least a little will strain.

Several hours into the day the copper’s healers finally released Poe.

In the meanwhile, Marie seemed very protective of his components; she carried it with them everywhere until they locked it in the office. She didn’t seem to realize that almost everyone else would practically forget that it existed if he didn’t point it out. Once he’d pointed it out to her, however, she was unaffected by the enchantments. Her mind was so resistant to mental magic, she didn’t have a good frame of reference.

Frank worried about Marie. She’d not said anything except a few subdued words since the failed divination. She was paler than usual, and seemed on the verge of tears whenever she looked at Frank.

Frank felt sick, and it was more than the headache or the nausea. Marie was more than sensitive enough to have seen that absolute blackness, and … Frank still felt unsettled. This might affect her.

He knew that there was more out there than he’d seen. The wastes. The remote wilds. Many of the other planes. His mind was full enough of horrors with living in this world, let alone the nightmares of others. But, he knew this: his divination showed real horror in the Raven Queen’s life. If Marie really saw it, well …

Not that Marie’s life was easy. While on a case, Frank had found her “helping out” at the desk of a massage parlor that was not entirely focused on physical rehabilitation and sore muscles. She was directing the clients to the services with a bodyguard the size of a mule.

Among other things, she was unaffected by his curse, which might have shown she was a null. But, it turned out that she had quite a strong natural will and therefore some other sort of immunity.

Realizing how she had no trouble recalling him, Poe immediately knew that she was a talent. In a pleasant surprise, Marie herself seemed to be learning how to balance books from the “auntie” who ran the place. This meant she could passably read and write.

Moreover, he’d been pleased that she’d jumped at the chance to work away from the pleasure houses. Nothing wrong with that work, he supposed, when them that chose the business were adult enough to make a fair choice. However, even if Frank Poe wasn’t an altruist, he wasn’t going to let talent like Marie slip into that work if he could help it. Even if not that, she’d be entirely wasted as a house servant.

Also, Marie seemed to think he needed her to manage his affairs, which was adorable in its own way.

Now she was heating water for tea at the cast iron stove. She dropped a scoop full of leaves in the teapot, poured the water over them, but only set out one cup in the tray.

“Bring a cup for yourself.” Frank called from his couch. He adjusted his pillows. He winced. There wasn’t much for it; will strain was best treated with rest.

Marie looked up at him with a mechanical daze. After taking a moment to register his words, she picked up another teacup from the shelf and placed it on the tray. Walking from the other side of the room through the maze of loveseats, settees, sofas, and the occasional coffee table, she banged a shin on a footstool.

“Ugh. This apartment is mostly couch!” Marie muttered. She wasn’t wrong. Frank had found it this way; couches packed in every corner, and some stacked and leaning against the varnished paneled walls. And, they weren’t upholstered in any sort of consistent style. Frank chose a linen and paisley fabric-covered one for his bed, but there were leather (brown, red, and black), blue velvets, green cotton, and patterns of embroidered wild flowers. All these couches seemed trapped in the one-room apartment, most of this furniture unable to fit through the door, and none of it could be maneuvered down the twisting stairs.

Frank smiled. Or rather, he tried to, but winced and closed his eyes for a short rest. Marie finally showed some liveliness since they’d returned.

Marie set the tray down on the side table next to Frank, and sat on the narrow lounge at the foot of his sleeping couch. Frank sat up among a mound of pillows where he’d collapsed fully clothed. Marie poured and handed a cup of tea to Frank, and then poured a cup for herself. She wrapped both hands around it, but did not drink.

“How much was the bonus then?” Frank asked.

“20 gold.”

“Misers.” Frank replied. He took a sip of tea. It was light and sweet. He didn’t think he’d kept a tin of tea that nice around the apartment. “That’s enough of working for the coppers for awhile.”

Marie silently nodded her agreement.

They sipped the tea in silence for a long time.

“Tell me, what did you see?” Frank asked.

“When?”

“In the scrying bowl.”

“There were images, and darkness. And …” Marie shivered noticeably “a golden eye.”

“An eye?”

“Yes, it opened, and then it … You stopped the spell.”

Frank sipped his tea. After seeing that, it was a credit to Marie that she was sitting here with him at all. Ah, youth. Never afraid enough of death. On the other hand, he hadn’t seen an eye in that black void. He only sensed it. That was enough for him. He wouldn’t be scrying the Raven Queen again.

Frank could speculate on what that blackness was. Some unique protective spell? An anti-divination ward? That’s what he had suspected when he first felt it, but now … that felt wrong. It was like something out of a Myrddin story; irrational and unexplainable. Had he awakened some other creature that interfered?

He’d also only had told the coppers’ gathering a part of what the spell told him; the gestalt examination of fate he’d kept to himself. There was something in the larger pattern … He’d think about that when his head didn’t hurt so bad.

“Mr. Poe?”

“Marie.”

“Who are you really? What …” Marie’s question drifted off. It was easy to forget, given how jaded the teen was, that she’d barely seen a tiny piece of the world yet.

“Would you like me to try to explain?” Poe asked gently.

“Yes.”

“Who I am right now is a detective for hire. But, I got here through a combination of family, education, bad choices, and bad luck. I was a research assistant at the University. All journeyman students might try to study various types of magic, or even natural science. But to be a master, you have to develop some specialty; it’s not a matter of power alone. I have wealthy relatives, but I’m disowned now, of course. I’m letting them down, going into the trade. Still, my old classmates, like Krause, remember me.” Frank sipped his tea. His head was pounding. “Even if they mostly abandoned me after …” Frank trailed off, trying to overcome a sudden nausea.

“So?” Marie asked after an uncomfortably long silence.

“I was researching fate magic. It’s not a well understood branch of magic, even now. The Fey understood it, maybe, but they are long gone now.” Frank felt another spike of pain in his temples. He rolled his neck. “In short, I made a mistake and paid for it by spending some time in wizard hospital, trying to relearn how to talk. I am lucky to be able to cast magic at all.” Poe sighed.

“You weren’t poor?”

Frank laughed, then winced. “No. And, I am still not ‘poor.’”

“Is that why you have a box full of gemstones?”

“No. That’s my component kit. But also yes, because components are expensive. I have other money saved. Speaking of. You have been taking half the fees of the August Agency for yourself.”

Marie flushed. “Well, I … You’d just waste the money anyway. I still paid the rent with part of what I kept. And, you weren’t making any money at all before I joined the agency.”

When Frank was an arrogant young aristo, he might have been offended. But, he wasn’t that young anymore. And he definitely wasn’t an aristo.

He reckoned, for a thirteen year old, Marie hadn’t presented too bad a defense. A good thaumaturge was always ready to defend themselves, and not easily bent. Assuredness was fine. Arrogance, of course, would suffer.

“Oh, did we agree that you’d be a half owner of this agency?” Poe sipped his tea.
Marie, her tea cup forgotten, opened then closed her mouth. Poe continued. “Moreover, after the events of today, we obviously need to renegotiate your contract.”

Marie recoiled a bit, and slumped. She would be obviously less enthused about this prospect.

“Poe, I mean … Mr. Poe, surely the extra …” Marie protested.

“If I had not been there today at that the divination, there would have been a disaster. Accordingly, you were quite right to insist I participate.”

“I was?”

“Yes. And, you showed sensitivity to both the expressed will of others and the scrying, which even experienced thaumaturges did not.”

“I did?”

“Yes. And, you followed my direction quite closely.”

“I did?”

“Yes. And finally, I’ve concluded that over the past few weeks your instruction has gone very well.”

“It did?”

“Yes. Accordingly, you will now be my apprentice.”

“What?”

“Apprentices must, of course, pay for their training, which you will do by remitting your half of the August Agency’s income to me.”

“What?!”

“And, since apprentices are due a stipend, room, and board. You will have to eat here, and you may need to do some of your own cooking. Considering the immediate value you provide to the Agency, a fair stipend would be 10 gold per month, perhaps more if income improves.”

“But, we only made 12 gold last month?”

“And you should have the use of the empty apartment above mine in this building.”

“Where will the money come for rent?”

“Because I am the owner of the building, there’s no need for you to pay rent.”

“You are the owner … wait. Who have I been paying rent to?”

“Me.” Frank grinned. “You’ve been paying me the rent to offset your quite gross embezzlement.”

“Uh … didn’t you say I could skim money for my salary?”

“Yes, I did. Now, as my apprentice, I expect you to study hard, greet the clients of the agency, maintain records, and generally assist me in investigations.”

“Don’t I do that now?”

“Yes, but you don’t live here where I can keep and eye on you. Also, you desperately need training in magic, and so I’m going to make sure you get the supervised training you need. In four years you will enter the University, where, unless I actually become destitute running this failing business, I’m willing to sponsor you to attend.”

“But, my mother …”

“Has already approved. I’ve invited her to stay with you, if she wishes. Tonight we’ll go to your … home and tell her that I’ve extended an offer to you, which she should have been expecting for some time now on condition of absolute secrecy.” Frank frowned a bit. “Besides, I don’t like that you sleep at that ‘massage parlor.’ It was no place for a child, but I’m now quite sure a dangerous place to live, with the Morrows escalating their war with the Stags. Hands, Hearts, and Palms is a Morrows-run business? It’s much better over here in the Stag’s territory.”

“But …”

“It’s not a ‘formal’ apprenticeship mind you; journeyman are discouraged from taking students.”

“Discouraged?”

“It’s illegal. So if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it. You’re my assistant.”

Marie looked a little bit like he’d broken her brain. Her face moved between, confusion, anger, excitement, resignation all at once.

“Why are you doing this?” Marie said, exasperated.

“A couple of reasons. First, because it’s ridiculous that the Crowns don’t train more naturally talented thaumaturges from a younger age. We … rather, they have plenty of money for it. Even if you discover magic on your own, which I expect you will soon anyway, without proper training, your talent will be wasted. Second, you have been able to deal with my curse for me in a way that I can’t. When you hand the clients the notes, they remember to pay me. That never worked when I handed them the note. Of course, your embezzlements will have to stop. The stipend should cover you, and if it doesn’t, we can talk about what you’ll need money for, given that I expect to be feeding and housing you. So, what do you say?” Half of those reasons might be a lie, but Poe wouldn’t admit that they were.

He didn’t want to think too closely about it. I am not a bleeding heart. He thought, I am a tough investigator, who is not at all sympathetic, and certainly not doing this because I am doing something stupid like trying to change things.

“I … yes! Thank You!” Whatever was going on inside in her mind, Marie smiled at Frank. He smiled back. This felt like the first good decision he’d made in a while. He wouldn’t let the Frigg’s opinion sway him against it.

“Excellent. If you think you’ve been studying so far, just wait till we really get going.” Frank smiled.

Sure, she wasn’t some scion of a crown family, or at least not a legitimate scion, but that did not matter. Frank just had to grow the August Agency into something that could afford to give her a decent education. And, he could work a little bit harder, besides.

“Now, just let me recover for a few minutes and I’ll escort you home to get your clothes and things for the apartment. So, please retire to the office and intercept clients, while I take a nap.”

After Marie left his room, Frank fell back on the pillows. Dealing with her took more energy than he thought it would. He leaned over and reached under the couch for a couple of potions he’d kept there. He grabbed a pain reliever, anxiety reducer, and a sleeping potion.

He hated it, but he needed rest, and these would get him there. He took a swallow from each. This particular will strain felt bad; not as bad as the incident that put him in Meadowbrook, but bad enough. The healers assured him he wouldn’t slip into a coma, but that was the least of his worries.

As he drifted in pain, trying to rest, he thought back to the parts of the divination he did not reveal; the result of the augury. The Raven Queen’s future. While she seemed impossibly well protected from examining her present, and her past was cloudy and misleading at best, her future, as unreliable as predictions could be, was at least visible.

The image of the golden bell: notoriety, or perhaps fame, was already part of her future. The Raven Queen legend was only starting, and Frank was sure it was going to grow. There was also a flash of butterfly with dark and golden wings; likely transformation, present tense, but also further into her future. More than growth, Frank thought. And finally, because the augury only gave three signs, the last sign had been ravens, shifting into that devouring darkness. That could mean many things; ravens were clever, so perhaps she’s grow in cleverness. But, ravens also followed armies to war. She could be the sign that war was coming again; a cause or effect.

Frank sensed that darkness was terrible and dangerous. The Raven Queen might not be a human at all. Not that there weren’t other intelligent creatures in the world, but she was unlike anything he’d ever scryed.

The spell did not give him enough to see where she fit in things, and in that respect Krause was right. Frank’s spell had failed. Perhaps he’d check his books …

After a while, Frank passed into a deep sleep.

3 Likes

Thank you, and thank you. Love the story and the characters!

1 Like

You are welcome! If anyone has thoughts about these chapters, or feedback, I’ll take it. I’ve been thinking about putting this up for a larger audience, and now’s the time to make edits while going through what is basically a first draft.

1 Like

Holy macaroni, this really isn’t what I was expecting when browsing through the forum🤣

Is it bad that I’m already attached to Marie and (although admittedly to a lesser extent) Frank? I mean, you’re obviously going to say that it’s not a bad thing seeing as you’re the author and thus creator of these characters, but heck, I don’t usually get attached this quickly! If anything, I tend to be overly critical of OCs in fanfiction!

You have honestly done a great job with them. I’m genuinely impressed​:blush::clap:

It’s really interesting to see more people that aren’t important higher-ups react to the RQ’s actions. That’s one thing I would love to see more of in the actual story, even though I understand why there isn’t. Chapters would probably get too bloated if Azalea included even more reactions, and then she would struggle even more to publish one a week lmao

I wonder if Marie and Frank are (probably unknowingly) going to run into Siobhan at some point? Maybe while she’s Sebastian? Lancer already got involved with them, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for him to make his apprentice run an arrand there, right?

Regardless, I’m really enjoying this so far! Thanks for sharing it with us <3

1 Like

Thank you! I am glad that you like it.

This story is very much inspired by Catastrophe Collector, and Azalea’s other short stories in this setting, so if you haven’t read those, you absolutely should.

It’s also practice for the kind of book I’d like to write one day. I have a very old-fashioned sense of what it takes to write a book: 2-3 drafts for plot and story, then 2-3 edits to cut the fat, fix errors, etc. This writing is not that.

I’m also not a quick writer. I have a full time job and many other hobbies (music-listening and making it-pottery making, furniture making, book making, movies, reading, video games), a family, and a home that seems to need constant work. So, most of this up to this point was written on a handful of weekends before I posted the first chapter.

I really wanted to try out Azalea’s style of threads through a story.

Also this idea that one can write for a bit, and then go backwards and add it to a couple of chapters earlier, so it makes it seem like the idea was there all along. Writing that way while working on a first draft is something I never really thought about, as common sense as it is.

1 Like

Alright! I have sat on this chapter long enough. When I realized the Raven was going to leave the star sapphire, I knew I’d be writing this:

Chapter 5

A black star sapphire

Month 11, Day 30, 4:00 PM

Hours later, Marie had already fixed the books to reflect the actual payments and credits. It had, after all, been only a handful of clients.

Then she had practiced the next set of lessons in the Primer, then checked her answers. Reading a chapter on drawing, she realized that her drawing skills would need to improve if she was going to be a drawing spell arrays and things, so she practiced making even loops with a pen for a time, until her hand cramped. The loops weren’t very even. In fact, they weren’t even very straight.

Finally, out of absolute boredom, she grabbed the dusters stored in the main office and began dusting books. The books were, in fact, very dusty. She’d never paid much attention to the titles, but now it occurred to her that she couldn’t even read most of the spines; they were all shelved with the pages out. Hundreds of books on the overpacked shelves.

But as she pulled them and put them back, she realized many of them were relatively new.

She was beginning to see how Poe … Master Poe? … had a lot more money than she thought.

He just did not spend it on new clothes, or a nice place to live, or on furniture, or cleaning services, or food. In fact, as far as she could tell, he just drank tea, ate boiled eggs, rice and oatmeal and the occasional boiled potato. His ‘kitchen’ was little more than a single stove, a pot, a kettle, small cold box, and a shelf. He even had water delivered, instead of connecting to the cistern on the roof. Today had been the first time she’d actually seen him eat away from the Agency.

She was, despite the excitement of being an apprentice, a little terrified for Poe. He looked like a ghost after the big divination, very pale and shaking. Blood had poured from his nose. He’d stopped it with a handkerchief relatively quickly, but he was wincing at the slightest motion or sound. What ever he’d done, it had hurt him. Badly.

Magic wasn’t safe.

She didn’t like that he was hurt. He wasn’t so much older than her that he could have been her father, but he was certainly at least twenty. And, she was a little attached to him. His bright clothing and his strange koi-decorated coat made him seem like a fool in a play. His big round smoky glasses were odd-looking, and his eyes moreso.

He always seemed to know what she was thinking. That was a little disconcerting, but he never seemed to take advantage of her fears, in fact he often did the opposite: reassuring her more often than not.

She was in the middle of her third bookcase, when a she heard the front door open and close. The Agency really needed a bell on that door.

When she came around the partition, she met a youngish sharp-featured young man with a predatory look. Marie suddenly felt uneasy; without Poe back from his nap, she didn’t have much protection here. Just the folding knife she had hidden a seam pocket.

The Stags were respectful, but the Morrows could be quite dangerous. It wasn’t clear which gang this one might belong to, even though he wasn’t wearing a green or red bandanna.

“How can I help you?”

“Is Mr. Poe in?”

Marie smiled at him. It was always good to give the client a positive impression. Marie thought for a moment, and decided there was no reason to tell this fellow the whole truth.

“Mr. Poe is busy at the moment.” Poe hadn’t come down from his nap, but that counted as busy, right? “Would you like to make an appointment?”

“Oh.” The skinny fellow kept twitching, fidgeting, and looking around the office. Despite the entire lack of any furniture, he still seemed to make a go at looking for a chair. There were no chairs. Realistically, Poe didn’t have enough clients to need them. “Yeah, okay. Look, I’m with the Pack. I’m just bringing a message. Gera is calling in a favor. She needs to see Frank Poe right away. Can you tell him?”

“Yes, of course.”

The young man looked relieved, thanked Marie, and prowled out into the evening. Marie sighed. It was near time the office closed. Poe, however, was absent.

Marie had another premonition that he we more unwell than he let on. She closed the door and locked it with her key, then climbed the stairs to Poe’s apartment.

She opened his door, and it stopped half way, because it collided with another couch. She would have moved the thing out of the way, except there seemed to be no place to move it to.

“Who has all the couches? Master Poe, apparently.” Marie muttered.

“Marie?” Poe croaked from his sleeping couch.

“I’m here Master Poe.”

“Good. Can you bring me some more tea?”

“Of course.”

“I’d get get up, you understand, but my stomach is not in a good place. Nor, I fear, is my balance.”

“Right.”

Poe looked terrible. Perhaps even worse than right after they had left the copper’s station. His mismatched eyes were bloodshot and sunken. He looked pale. Or, paler than usual. He appeared to be in no condition to leave.

Marie made the tea and brought it to him.

When she got to him, he was, at least, sitting upright. He thanked her for it and sipped it carefully.

“You don’t have to walk me home, Master Poe.”

“Just call me Poe, Marie.”

“Ok. I should get going, before it gets too dark.”

“Oh no, I’m not letting you cross the city alone with a nascent gang war.”

“Nascent?”

“It means “just beginning.’” Poe rubbed his temples. “I must be more tired than I thought if I’m using words like that.”

“You have to be awake to use normal words?”

“Once you become educated, transparent conveyance of ideas becomes a struggle.”

“Are you making fun of me?”

“Sadly, no.”

“I need to get home.”

“I’ll come with you. Let me finish this tea.” Poe swallowed the hot liquid with a sudden burst of energy, tossed away his coverlet, and stood.

His hair was wild with sleep, but it looked artfully tossled, instead of a wreck. He was still in his now-rumpled suit and koi-decorated coat. Marie checked: the fish didn’t twitch.

Mr. Poe looked more like a down on his luck fop than a powerful sorcerer that scryed the Raven Queen and stopped some sort of magic disaster. While Marie thought of that, she reminded herself of the new client.

“Oh, I almost forgot. A man came round and left a message saying that Gera wanted to see you immediately. He sounded like it was important.”

“Gera.” Poe said heavily. “There was nothing I could do. But, perhaps …” Poe brightened slightly. “This is connected. We’ve got to go to visit the Pack.”

“The Pack? Aren’t they … dangerous?”

“Oh my yes. Very. But only to those that do not bargain fairly with them. Come my apprentice! You’re going to learn something useful.” Poe set the teacup down on a chesterfield, and set off through the maze of couches toward his apartment door. Poe confidently strode between the couches, and in one instance, over a divan.

Marie followed, but a little less gracefully. She found hurdling the divan a little beyond her short stature, and had to scoot around it.

“But, I need to get back to my mom …?”

“We’ll do that after. You might be late, but this will be an important lesson, and we shouldn’t miss a chance for bit of practical education.” And they headed downstairs.

Poe, again, purchased a ride across town; this time to the manor of Lord Lynwood. Marie felt extravagant. On the way over, Poe practically fell asleep, leaving Marie with an unclear idea of why this Gera, who Marie didn’t know, would be able to request Poe to cross town in such haste.

As they stepped out of the carriage, they met a guard at the iron-barred gate of Linwood Manor. Poe asked for Gera, and they were promptly led inside to a drawing room with a massive fireplace. It was lit, and shadows danced around them. While they waited for Gera, Poe seemed inclined to talk after his long silence in the carriage.

“Lord Lynwood is the Alpha of the Pack. He’s the leader, but he may not greet us; I’m hardly important enough. Gera, is a prognos, and she’s been a good friend. Do not offend her. In fact, do not offend anyone here.” Poe whispered to her.

Marie was barely listening. The furnishings and the art on the walls looked expensive. There were paintings of scenes in nature; not landscapes. Paintings had scenes of wolves hunting, great bears in deep woods fighting, and the sublime images of massive cats stalking from the branches of trees. The impression she had was that whoever lived here, their art preferences were not at all passive.

Poe noticed her distraction.

“Pay attention, you are about to meet one of the best diviners in the city. Don’t bow; they don’t like it, but you should duck your head a bit.” Poe demonstrated. “Also, Gera is blind, but she sees with divination. Don’t stare. Be respectful.”

“When am I not respectful?”

“Hush.”

The door opened and Poe stood, gesturing to Marie to do likewise. A woman prognos that entered at the arm of a huge dark complexioned man. Marie was unnerved by the scar the crossed her eye, and it’s milky white blindness. With only the light from the fireplace, eerie shadows played about her face. The pair entered and sat across from Poe and Marie.

“Alpha Lynwood, and Lady Gera. I came as soon as I heard. What is the matter? Is it Miles?”

“Who is this?” The blind prognos asked, gesturing toward Marie.

“Marie is my apprentice.”

“She can be trusted?”

Frank nodded. Marie felt a surge of warmth that he thought so.

“Frank, things have become worse with Miles, and we are desperate. The visions now intrude so deeply that he cannot sleep at all. The healers say that he’s dying. We know you suffered from something similar, and they treated you at the Retreat, but you didn’t have a solution for us when we discussed it.” Gera said.

“I am sure, as he grows, his mind will adjust … unlike my situation, and my curse, it is his power, and a part of him. He will be able to control it.”

“He’s still a child, and he cannot. The last time you discussed this with us, your letter said that you would consult an animal oracle - a raven; did you get some answer?”

“No.” Frank sighed. “The raven gave me no hint, or if she did, I did not have the wit … huh.” Frank leaned back in his chair, face going slack for a moment. Marie had seen that look before; he had a realization. His eyes wandered the room, sightlessly contemplating.

“What is it Frank?” Gera asked.

“Gera, I’ve explained to you my Gestalt of investigation?”

“You believe that we are all connected; by observing the connections, you would be swept up into those connections and solve the problems that are brought to you. You felt that Miles was naturally touching the chords of this pattern.” Gera replied. “And, that as an investigator of the pattern, you did not think you could touch it or dampen it around him without harming him.”

“That’s right. But this morning, I’ve taken on several commissions to contact the Raven Queen. So many at once. It can’t be coincidence. Then, the oracle raven approved of these cases.”

“Do you mean to contact Siobhan Naught, who appeared a few nights ago in that fight with the Morrows?” Lord Lynwood asked.

“Just so.”

“Strange rumors follow her.” Gera noted. “She called a great shadow to her. Prognos have been called to divine for her. With her blood they can not find her.”

“I believe she’s something more, but more importantly Gera, I know she has the element of dreams in her nature. The coppers called me in earlier today, and I was able to divine a little about her. No one I know will be able to find her through divination. Do you understand?”

“She is not human?” Lord Lynwood spoke for the first time, in a deep rumble.

“Possibly not. Her blood seemed human enough. But she … in her nature is growth and rebirth, change, and dreams. She’s …”

“Shapeshifitng?” Lynwood seemed particularly interested. “She may be predisposed to ally with us.”

“I do not know Alpha Lynwood.” Poe turned to Gera. “But, let me go straight to why things changed. I must give tribute to the raven oracle when I consult her. Occasionally she brings me something in exchange. These items: it’s symbolic. I rarely give her anything of great value; although, when I tried to consult with her about Miles, I did. She didn’t take that tribute.” Poe seemed a bit manic as he explained. “But. This morning I consulted her regarding the Raven Queen. And, … she left me an extremely valuable exchange.” Poe sucked in a deep breath. “It’s completely out of character, unless it’s part of the pattern. I think it is. You contacted me after I found out the Raven Queen’s connection to dreams, and after the raven oracle gave me this gift. I do not think it’s a mistake that I received this when your need was so great, and you had already asked for my help.”

“What did she give you?” Gera asked.

“A black star sapphire.” Poe drew a pale white square of cloth from his pocket; he carefully opened the fabric to show dark stone, nearly a third the size of his palm. Marie saw it glimmer in the dim light; black, but somehow not dark. In it’s black depths, a six pointed star. “Stones like this, they make good conduits - especially for spells related to illusions, dreams, and the mind. I … can’t touch this one.”

“What does that mean?” Lynwood rumbled.

“This stone, it could be connected to the fate of this Raven Queen. If it is … let me leave it with you. My apology that I haven’t been able to do more.”

“How do we contact the Raven Queen?”

“I do not know. Perhaps Lord Stag will know.”

“We will have to approach the master of the Verdant Stag carefully.” Lord Linwood rumbled.

“Frank, you have come at the right time. Maybe … maybe there is hope.” Gera whispered.

“Learn what you can; consult your lore-masters and grimoires. I do not yet know where the Raven Queen fits in the pattern. You know that I don’t believe in coincidence; but, do not let my belief sway you. I have made many mistakes before I understood what was going on. I … am not entirely sure that I can be your ally in this, although I am your friend always. You have done much to help me understand my own predicament. But, powerful people have asked me to find a way to contact her, if not find her. If you ask it of me … I will cancel the August Agency’s contracts.”

“No, your honor is important to you. We will find our own way from here.” Lord Lynwood said.

Poe rewrapped the gem in the cloth and carefully dropped it into Lord Lynwood’s palm.

As they were in the carriage, after Marie had written out a summary of the conversation and put it into the hands of a servant, Marie was puzzled by the variety of magic she’d seen. Nothing was as straightforward as she’d thought. And that last? Consulting a raven was possible? How did that work?

“Poe, is magic always going to be as confusing as this? I saw a sorcerer cast a spell with nothing but a conduit and a beast core, a group of diviners use a bunch of junk to cast a spell, a blind woman who can see, the sapphire, and the Raven Queen can turn into shadow or summon ravens and attack coppers. … Is this the way magic really works?”

“Practical Sorcery is studied, ordered. It’s science. Tested. Analyzed. It started during the blood empire, even as terrible and horrible as it was to live in those times. We are beginning to understand how it all works. Long ago, however, ‘science’ was a word that just meant an expression of art. Now, we pretend we know better, and give ‘science’ a meaning that is mechanical; rational. But it’s not entirely true; performing magic is still art. There are many kinds of artists, even in this rational age.”

“Am I going to learn all this magic?”

“I’ll be teaching you the principles of modern sorcery; but make no mistake, some magic is nothing at all like the science we talk about.”

4 Likes

Thank you for sharing and continuing with your (and their) story. I truly believe this is a wonderful idea for talented authors to create and collaborate various character story lines in the Raven Queen’s ‘universe’. Readers can really enjoy and benefit from this interactive approach of a community of authors world building together. ’ All for one (story), and one (story) for all ! ’

2 Likes

Thank you! I’m glad that Azalea doesn’t object to fan fiction because otherwise I really wouldn’t have written this.

I might as well just say: I am a little terrified that Azalea may read it and not like it. By writing a derivative work like this, I have to be somewhat accepting that Azalea actually controls it for the most part. If she came to me tomorrow and asked me to take it down, I would.

I don’t normally write fan fiction at all; but, this idea was in my head and I had to get it out. And since Azalea is between books right now, I thought people might like it.

2 Likes

Oh, I love how this fits in with what happened during Siobhan’s first meeting with Gera & Co! I’m currently rereading the entire story, so the line about Gera and Lord Linwood sharing “a meaningful glance” after Siobhan chose the gemstone is still fresh in my mind​:heart_eyes::joy:

This feels more like a missing scenes compilation than a fanfiction, and I’m all here for it lmao

3 Likes

Did I mention that I am grateful that Azalea actually puts days and times on the chapters? If I’ve done this right, they meet with Lord Stag soon after this meeting. I think the canon of this was that he reached out at Siobhan’s suggestion because he needed allies. But, it’s fun to speculate that they had some additional reason to want to speak to the Raven Queen specifically, and knew Lord Stag was the way. Also, I tried to pick things that were her “nature” that would explain why they offered the items they chose: a hidden test that S. had no clue was a test.

3 Likes

I’m not writing as fast as I’m posting, so after the next chapter this might slow down, unless I speed up.

Chapter 6

A war is coming

Month 11, Day 30, 8:00PM

A short drive from the Lynwood manor, Poe and Marie stepped out of the carriage at the Hands, Hearts, and Palms massage parlor on the edge of Morrow territory. Down the street were a collection of rough bath houses, saloons, and dance halls that catered to a rough sort of patron on the Mires side of the city.

Trash accumulated in the corners; only some of the “nicer” businesses managed to keep trash from the doorways. It wouldn’t do to have patrons have the allure of the cheap entertainment ruined by piles of putrid trash.

The manager of the Hands, Hearts, and Palms made sure that its illiterate customers knew what they were in for: placard over the door showed a painted a pair of hands, and palms in a cupped shape. The door itself was black with a shiny brass handle. This early in the evening, customers were walking through the propped door to make an appointment with a delicate beauty or a handsome muscular masseuse to ease the effort of a long day. If those services were focused on relieving tensions beyond the musculature, the masseuse charged only a modestly higher fee.

This was not the sole source of income; more wholesome services, like water and cloth to make oneself presentable could be had - although clear water might be a bit extra. And they really would provide an actual massage, if that’s what you wanted.

Poe had discovered the Hands, Hearts, and Palms through an investigation for a father concerned about a wayward adult daughter. Poe didn’t find the daughter, or rather, he didn’t find the daughter quickly enough to get paid. His client had a fatal misadventure involving a chair leg, a woman of negotiable affection, three-quarters of a gallon of alcohol, and an angry gang enforcer.

Poe followed Marie, who headed straight in. Poe had never been entirely comfortable at Hands, Hearts, and Palms. For one thing, he was never quite sure where to look. The parlor was always populated with masseuses dressed in simple white thigh length tunics. They all tended to be nearly stunningly attractive, perhaps glamoured-so, and the tunics were very translucent. He was also a little anxious because he’d encountered the Morrows before, and they had a worrying tendency toward kidnapping. He knew this from his own cases. The only reason he wasn’t better known to them was that they tended to forget that he’d even been involved. One of the few advantages of the curse.

There were, however, plenty of other employees, and to distinguish them, those employees performing ordinary chores—like washing, fetching water, and doing laundry, wore black.

Marie was utterly comfortable among the patrons and employees of the Hands, Hearts, and Palms. She had, after all, been working there herself as a cleaner and greeter when Poe encountered her. In fact, she’d kicked him out, with the help of the hulking bouncer she greeted by the front entrance.

“Hi Dinkey! Is Mama around?”

“Little Marie, you’s late. Your Mama asks me four times if’n you came back yet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Where is she?”

“In the laundry. Who’s with you?” Dinkey asked.

“It’s Mr. Poe Dinkey; the detective that hired me?”

“This him? Looks like a fancy.”

Poe nodded to Dinkey. He’s already learned from experience, Dinky’s muscles were not for show.

Marie giggled. “Maybe Dinkey, maybe. We’ll go on back?”

Dinkey nodded. As Frank walked past him though the door, Dinky held out a hand like a shovel and stopped Poe for a moment. “You hurt ‘er fancy man, you gonna get hurt right back, you understand?”

“Her person is completely safe with me.” Frank replied.

“Better be all of her, not on’y her person, yeah?”

“Ah … yes, of course.” Arguing that her “person” consisted of “all of her” would require a potentially condescending explanation that this particular heavy-lidded and violent man might not take kindly. Frank reckoned that kindly thoughts were preferable with enforcers who had protective and violent tendencies.

The hand lifted and Frank proceeded to “the back”, which were those rooms and places prohibited to customers.

Frank counted that Dinkey, and several other of the bouncers, had given him this warning nearly a dozen times, including at least once for every time he visited. Poe found this a definitely undesirable side-effect of his curse. Because the various bouncers, guards, and enforcers could not remember they’d made the threat, Frank had to hear a version of this little speech every time her walked Marie home from the Agency.

But, it comforted Frank, in a way. Marie had people to watch over her, even if they were the employees—and probably gang members—at this shrewd little business.

Frank followed Marie down a series of poorly lit hallways. These were the spaces where the staff toiled to keep up the facade of luxury; here, they kept the supplies to stock the rooms with massage oils, cleaning supplies, and spare lamps filled with sweet-smelling oils.

The rooms out front were clean and whitewashed; these spaces had a shabby, dirtier, and less well-maintained feel.

In the back, in a room that smelled strongly of soap, they kept the enchanted boilers for hot water, the big tubs for cleaning the uniforms and table covers, and generally did the laundry for the business. Black clothed women and men hauled fabric between the washing, rinsing and drying. They chatted about nonsense, and generally worked hard but laughed and joked while they did it.

Here is where they found Mama Stella, armful of dried clothes in her arms as she moved to the folding and pressing station. Frank had encountered her before. She was a tough-looking, stern, and thin woman. She had straight black hair, pulled into a bun, and, while working, she wore a plain all ankle length black dress and a faded black apron. Frank had never seen her smile at anyone.

“Mama!” Marie called to her. She rushed forward, but didn’t get in her mother’s way. “I’ve got great news Mama! Mr. Poe is going to apprentice me! I’ll go live at the Agency while he teaches me!”

Mama dropped her laundry at the folding station, and accepted Marie’s hug. She released Marie and looked down at her disapprovingly.

“The investigator you’ve been working for? The one that keeps you out late so your mama worries about you?”

Frank wasn’t sure he liked the way this was going.

“It’s not been that late, and we had work.” Marie replied, oblivious to the danger.

“You been out all hours of the night, when the Raven Queen is doings her evil blood magic? That Lord Stag has been stirring up trouble? Where have you been?” Mama Stella worked up a bit of heat in her voice.

“We visited Lord Lynwood, because Mr. Poe had a job with him.”

“The Pack now too? What is he getting you into? And he wants to apprentice you?”

“Yeah! He’s a thaumaturge. I saw him scry for the Raven Queen at the copper station!”

“A wizard?”

“I mean, yeah …” Marie looked over that Frank anxiously “he can do magic.”

“He keeps you out late at night, takes you to an enemy of Lord Morrow, meddles with things better left alone, is friends with the coppers, AND he wants you to live with him. No. I don’t think so. How are you sure he’s not a scam? Remember that useless luck charm Betty bought? And then she had that bad customer that pulled her hair? I was ok with an honest day job, but this is too much.”

“Ma’m.” Frank spoke up. “We discussed this when I hired Marie; I left you a note about it?”

“Who are you? I don’t have no time for reading.” Mama Stella replied.

“That is … ok. I am Frank Poe, and Marie’s … boss. Your daughter seems to have a talent for magic, and I think if she were to practice, she could attend University.”

“You’ll want paying? We don’t have money for that.”

“No, Marie’s work at the Agency is sufficient to pay her way. I would even provide room and board during her apprenticeship.”

“What kind of work needs her to live with you? I’ll not sell my daughter to the likes of you.”

Frank blushed. This was exactly the conversation he didn’t want to have with Mama Stella. If she’d actually read his note … He kicked himself. She didn’t read the note because she was illiterate. She didn’t remember any of their previous conversations, and he had not had another way of making the offer of apprenticeship memorable.

“Mama, Master Poe isn’t like that!”

“Master Poe is it? What right does he have to be called a ‘Master’?”

Poe would have preferred to drink the laundry water than continue this conversation, and Marie didn’t look much better.

“Stella, please. I run a reputable investigative agency, and I do have a license to practice magic at the journeyman level. I do not want your daughter for anything untoward. In fact, I was hoping to invite you to live with her in the rooms above my own?”

“What, and stop working here? What would I eat?”

“No, not stop work here …”

“It’s all well and good a fancy man like you living on your own, but I need to work for a living.”

“I think we’re drifting off course here; Marie has talent, and she would benefit from an apprenticeship. I promise I will treat her like a little sister. Look, I can give you references if you like?”

“They’d be nouwt to me.”

“Mama, please?” Marie grasped her mother’s hand.

“You are happy with this man?”

“It’s not like that Mama! He’s gonna teach me magic! I can be a sorcerer, why would you keep me from that?” Marie’s cry was loud enough, some of the other workers took notice and were clearly trying to listen, without seeming to listen.

Mama Stella gave Frank a withering look. He tried to look as innocent as possible.

Marie eyes drifted sideways, and her brow furrowed. Frank had seen that look before. Marie pulled her mother back from Frank, and switched to a sweeter, quiet voice.

“Mama, if you can’t come live with me, I’ll come visit you first thing every morning, before you go to bed? That way you know I’ll be safe. And if I don’t come, you can send Dinkey to check up on me. I’m sure he’d do it.”

“Marie, be safe. I love you. You know that there’s bad people that will take advantage. You’re just so small, I worry about you. It’s because you were sick when you were young, and I thought you were going to die. If I could, I’d go, but I can’t leave this job I owed the Morrows.” Mama Stella quietly tried to explain.

“But, I’ll learn magic, and then no one can hurt me; and I can help and protect you too. If I get a job as a thaumaturge I can pay off the debt!”

“You sure he’s going to teach you magic, and not do … other things.”

“No Mama. He’s been great. He’s going to give me money for the job too. I’ll share it with you if you want.”

“No need to share your money with me, dear, if you’ve earned it. Just, people like that, they get used to taking what they want.”

Marie lowered her voice to a whisper. Maybe she thought Frank wouldn’t be able to hear over the other who were washing, but the other workers were being pretty quiet. He suspected they’d stilled so they could catch as much of this juicy gossip as possible.

“Mama, please trust me. I know what I’m doing. I’ll go without your blessing if I have to, this is too good an opportunity to miss. I still got my knife, in case someone wanted to, you know …”

“That’s the trouble” Mama replied quietly, “not all thems that take use big muscles. Some of ‘em take with sweets and flowers.”

Marie looked up at her Mama pleadingly. If she ever looked at Frank that way, he was pretty sure she’d get whatever she wanted. This seemed to be enough for Mama Stella too.

“Oh, very well! You come visit me everyday or send somebody with a message. If’n not, Dinkey will come and bring you home and that will be that.” She relaxed around the eyes. “If anything happens, you can always come home, hear me?”

Marie nodded seriously. “I hear you three times, Mama.” Her mother turned to Frank.

“You better be good to my little girl Lord Poe.” Her mother admonished Frank.

“Mr. Poe.” Frank reflexively replied.

“Whatever you call yourself. I know your type. I may just be a maid, but I have friends in the Morrows. Her papa is an important man!”

Frank had never met Marie’s father; Marie had come to work for him under a similar vague threat. He reckoned that people did not need to threaten him to persuade him to do the right thing. But, if she was conceding, he wasn’t going to argue a won battle.

Marie rolled her eyes a bit at this as well; she didn’t talk about her father, so Frank assumed that he’d abandoned his lover and their little girl.

“You can count on me.” Frank said. He leaned down to Marie to have a quick conversation.

“I don’t know how much your mother is going to remember. If you want to spend the night here, and pack tomorrow?”

“No. Master Poe, it’s not that much. Just my make-up and some clothing. We should go now while my Mama has said ok.”

“Look, once I leave , your Mama will forget; you’ll have to do some of this conversation over again, mostly by yourself. Do you think you can?”

“Yeah. Wait for me out front?”

“Uh. I’m not really a patron …” Frank felt a headache and another blush coming on.

Marie giggled. “You are so silly. Ok, you can wait over by the service entrance in the alley. I’ll come get you when I’m packed up.”

Marie looked over the room and shouted at a boy who was helping load a tub of fabric. The boy took a little cajoling, but Marie convinced him to show Frank to the back door while she went to pack.

Frank found himself deposited outside next to two men and a woman dressed in the white tunics; they had fluffy white dressing robes on, to keep the chill out, and they were casually smoking some sweet smelling herbs wrapped in papers.

The trio got quiet when he appeared, shuffling closer together and stiffening in discomfort.

Sharing a smoke was a time-tested rapport builder, so Frank searched in his coat for his smoking equipment. He eventually drew from one of the specially expanded pockets his pipe and smoking pouch.

He hoped a pain-relieving smoke would smooth his still pounding head and ease the nausea. He had different treated smoking herbs; nothing addictive, and nothing mind altering. He admired shamans, but not that part of it.

He still considered himself more of a modern sorcerer. He had several smoking mixtures; this kinninnick made from hair-like strips of crimson dogwood and fey alder bark. His blends of kinninnick were practically a potions by themselves, but the smoke would burn hot. This was alleviated by the pipe. Made of cast iron, his pipe was a little longer than his forearm and would cool the smoke to keep him from burning his mouth.

The pipe was a little work of art as well. The kiseru-style pipe was decorated with a sky kraken relief that was part of the sand casting. The solid metal smoking pipe, with enchanted toughness and other protections, worked as a defensive weapon in a pinch.

With a flourish for the trio, he packed the little bowl with the sweet kinninnick.

“Can I get light off you?” Frank asked. He had no need for a light; he had mundane and magical means of lighting the pipe on him. But, he didn’t want their discomfort to continue longer than necessary. Asking for a favor would help lower build rapport as well.

“Sure,” the short of the two men offered the end of their little rolled up smoke. Frank borrowed it, and lit his pipe with a a quick draw of flame. He passed the twisted paper and the burning sickly sweet drug back to the masseuse.

“Don’t mind me.” Frank said, taking a mouthful of white smoke and blowing it out gently.“I’m just waiting for Marie.”

“Are you … from around here?” The woman asked.

“I live nearby, if that’s what you’re asking.” Poe replied. “I won’t say anything about you smoking back here, if that’s what worrying you. You needed a break. I get it.”

The three relaxed a little. They returned to chatting among themselves. Poe tuned them out, and looked up at the stars.

The light from the city made it difficult to see all but the brightest stars. The alley had a surprisingly good view of the palace atop the wall as well. The palace was lit this evening with weir lights and shone silver against the dark sky.

He’d thought, once, that he’d be working there by now. A respected thaumaturge. A Master. He’d really wanted that. Now, it made him a little sick to think about.

“You hear about the big fight down by the Stag’s warehouse?” The shorter of two men said conversationally.

“Sure.” Frank replied mechanically, lost in his own thoughts, as he was focused on feeling the pain in his temples ease. He drew more smoke into his mouth, held it for a moment, and blew out a white stream of it, vaguely lit bit by the dim light at the back door.

“I heard Lord Stag himself was there. With the antlers and everything. He knocked out a couple of our boys the other week. They thought they’d get him, but he jumped off his horse and beat ‘em all senseless.”

“Hush. You know Morrows don’t like us gossiping about that.” The taller man said.

“Don’t worry,” said Poe, “I won’t rat.”

“The Raven Queen has set herself against us now.” The woman said. “She could come for any of us.”

“That seems a bit petty.” Poe said. “A sorcerer ought to have more to worry about.”

“Yeah. What do you think we did to catch her ire?” The taller man asked.

“More like, what do you think Lord Stag gave her for her help? What did he promise?” The shorter man replied.

“Souls, blood. Who knows what she wants?” The woman shuddered. Frank snorted a bit of smoke out his nose. Souls? That’s a bit dramatic.

“I heard she turned into a shadow and sent down a flock of ravens on our boys. They even had some sorcerers with them, people from up at the University, and they couldn’t do anything. They had a shield up and everything. Worthless against the Raven Queen’s shadow magic. They were lucky to get away alive.” The short man said.

“Shadows can’t cut your shin to pieces.” The taller man said grimly, and took a drag from his blunt. “I saw ‘em come in, leg torn up. Like a demon bit him. She was flinging some horrible spell from the top of a tower. Not like a stunner. Real evil magic. I heard it was screaming as it flew at them. Like she was throwing tortured spirits.”

“Lord Stag is getting bold. Now he’s got the Raven Queen with him? Giving up a couple of poor streets is one thing, but he’s muscling in.” The shorter man said.

“Hush. Not in front of an outsider.” The taller man said. The woman gave Frank a sideways glance.

“It’s not a secret. A war is coming. Lord Stag has someone backing him. There’s money there somewhere. Connections.” The shorter man replied.

“We’ve got connections of our own. We’ll be safe enough from some upstart.” The taller man said.

“But, the Raven Queen? Nobody has connections like that, except the Stags.” The woman was nearly done with her smoke. Just a small bit left.

“Just keep the customers happy. Keep your head down, and your hands soft.” The tall man finished his smoke as well. He flicked what was left of it in burning arc the struck the ground in a flash of sparks, then he stomped on it.

They all nodded. The conversation lulled. Rumors, Frank thought. But also connections. He’d definitely have to try to contact the Stags if he wanted to fulfill Lacer’s commission, and the other one. The apprentice with the bandaged arm.

Frank took another contemplative draw on his pipe. The palliative smoke pleasantly reduced his headache.

He suspected that the Raven Queen would not have any special use for souls. But, blood, with that she could do a lot of damage. If she really was a blood sorcerer, she was a threat. Would the Red Guard get involved?

The idea of monetary support for the Stags raised tantalizing new connections as well. If the one of the powerful Crown families were affiliated, she might have a too-close covert connection to one of them. That would be interesting all by itself.

He wondered about the investigative file. Even if she currently had no noble backing, the crown families were always looking for some leverage; the Raven Queen would be a powerful ally, or a dangerous enemy. And not just the magic.

Why did she have an element of dreams?

Frank gazed back up at the palace. It looked invincible; remote, and impossible to reach. Appearances, Frank thought, aren’t everything.

He’d hoped for a week of rest, but the Raven Queen wouldn’t be resting. No. She’d be moving in the shadows, just out of sight. He worried that finding her might not be such a good idea after all, but he’d promised, and it was hard, so very, very hard, for him to go back on a promise.

The workers went back inside, and Frank finished his pipe. Marie arrived a short while later with a massive bag filled with various lumpy shapes, hard edges, and soft clothing stuffed between. He carried it for her to the street, where they called a cab and returned home: the offices of the August Agency.

———————-
A couple of things post script, which you totally don’t need to read, because it’s a soapbox kind of thing. There is stuff here though that I think no fan would object to, but I still feel like I need to explain why I’m writing some of these things into the story:

  1. I do not smoke, and I do not recommend it.

No kind of smoking has been demonstrated to be generally healthy. In fact, I didn’t even realize that Poe smoked anything at all until I was writing this chapter. You’ll have to forgive him. but it goes along with his sort of rational shamanism, and is a bit of XXXholic reference as well.

I also had to do some research into what he would smoke that would be ok with him: Like a S., he’s very concerned about loss of control. Kinninnick is a real name for a blend of smoking barks and leaves. It is often blended with tobacco and the leaves of the Kinninnik plant. I hate tobacco maybe even more than cannabis, which I also dislike with a barely describable intensity.

So, it’s going to be magic bark smoke in my story. Treating it like an inhaled potion is the most I’m willing to go with. Smoking as medical treatment is real thing, and I’ll admit there is something magical to me about the smoking wizard, like Gandalf.

  1. I am not endorsing the soliciting prostitution either.

But, I’m not going to make prostitution into some morality play in this story, by making prostitutes suffer or die in horrible ways, aside from what is already in Azalea’s stories. I read Let the Great World Spin, and I was really unhappy with the basically miserable prostitutes not because I expect it to be a happy life, but because one of them dies without any real reason for it except maybe because prostitutes are not allowed get any kind of happiness. If they had happy endings in stories, then readers couldn’t look down on them.

Marie grew up here (there is a story reason, we’ll be getting to it in a couple of chapters - but the sharp eyed will have already noticed it), she didn’t have much choice about it, and it’s not much different to her than growing up at a bakery or a blacksmith. Except the customers have a tendency to be dangerous to a young girl. But then, so do churches, schools, and numerous other places where girls should be safe, and yet, oddly aren’t.

  1. Literature is littered with orphans, and it doesn’t do what people think.

If you are destined for greatness, there’s a good chance one or more of your parents are dead. E.g. Pip, Frodo, Bruce Wayne, Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, Siobhan, et al. My wife hates this, because orphans are Less Likely to be well adjusted and be happy. They are less likely to be a success. Therefore, Marie has a mother (and father) as does Poe. They aren’t dead (yet). Because I’m going to reject the trope whenever I write something.

2 Likes

A day later than I intended., and maybe bit shorter, because the chapter I was writing actually got somewhat long.

If I was engaging in extensive edits before posting, I suspect this chapter would be cut, or substantially reduced.

Thanks for reading:

Chapter 7

Finding many interesting things.

Month 12, Day 2, 7:00 AM.

They closed the office for the day. Marie had felt like a poor apprentice, but Frank, from his sleeping couch, insisted. Marie did, however, need the time to set up her apartment.

A mess of discarded junk filled Marie’s third-floor apartment. While the bed could be said to be ready, perhaps, to sleep in, a jumble of cheap crates and broken furniture piled along the walls. Heaps of dust gathered in the corners, and Marie thought she might have even seen a dust bunny.

A sneezing fit forced her downstairs to Poe’s couches to sleep.

Thus, on her first night sleeping at the Agency, she had the opportunity to see Poe’s ankle-length, white and blue pin-striped, sleeping gown. Perhaps it was just her upbringing, but she’d never seen night attire so ridiculously conservative. Even her Mama wore a tunic and pants to sleep in.

Rising early, she visited her Mama first; walking to the parlor among the early morning crowds headed out for the work in city. Mama was fairly lucid about the previous night’s discussions; although, she has not slept. Mama was a night shift cleaner, so after they had a quiet talk about the apprenticeship, and Mama gave a second and less reluctant blessing for it, she went to bed. Marie returned to her apartment via a boiled egg breakfast at a street vendor.

After she returned, Marie cleaned. A lot. It took the entire day, and she still felt it was not up to standard in the end.

Her black dress turned grey with the pale dust that covered everything in the room: crates, old furniture, rolled up carpets. She only had three dresses, all black, of course, but the one she liked for wearing when working at her table was the newest, and therefore, the nicest. To clean, she wore a handed-down dress from the workers the Hands, Hearts and Palms. It was shapeless and somewhat ugly, but that was the point. Cleaners weren’t there for the guests.

In the crates, she found many interesting things: alchemy equipment, caldrons, chalk, chisels, tiny hammers, a wooden hand plane, saws, jeweler’s loop, magnifiers, strange unreadable journals, metal molds, a tiny anvil, glue, flake shellac, nails, screws, and wire. There were also labeled ingots of lead, tin, copper, zinc, glass and iron, but nothing to melt them in, and no obvious use for them otherwise. Whoever had had dropped off the supplies here before also seemed to be a seamstress. There were many needles, tough waxed thread, thimbles, tan colored ribbon, and a bolt of coarse cloth. And, they had been something of scribe as well, because there was a thick stack of paper and five bottles of ink of different colors and types.

Marie also found many pieces of odd, mismatching, and interesting furniture. The few normal pieces of furniture were the two black stools, the black iron framed bed, and an empty black ebonized mule chest, that had a painted white interior. Marie suspected that Poe has arranged those to be delivered, because they were new, and suspiciously matched the table they used as her “desk”. But, everything else looked like pieces from a workshop: folding leg tables, a low woodworker’s workbench, a red wooden table at kneeling height with a big circle carved on the top and inlaid with silver, a dry sink, a marble basin etched with glyphs, a metal stand with a treadle (without the machine it worked), and many other interesting tools.

There were some necessities included too. A small double-walled stove with cooking top was connected to the chimney, and there was some dusty charcoal in a bin for the fire. To cook with, the room included a single cast iron pan, and to wash with, a tap supplied freezing cold water from the cistern on the roof. For personal necessities, she was have been supplied with an extravagant self-cleaning magical chamber pot and big bowl and pitcher to wash with.

The room had a number of glass windows, although some had been patched over with wax paper, so light in the daytime was adequate. There were a number of different lamps of several different sizes to choose from, but wicks and oil were in short supply. Finally, she settled on an old ships lamp

In some ways it seemed tidier than Poe’s room full of couches. At least if felt like someone could live there. How Poe managed to live in his unpartitioned room made no real sense. Also, with just the stove, and no obvious place to store clothes, it was almost as Poe had some other place he lived. After cleaning her room for a whole day, Marie even wondered how Poe’s room remained relatively dust free. Everything else in the building accumulated dust constantly.

Marie’s room had one advantage over Poe’s; there were five folding partitions available, which was nice, because she could divide the space up into rooms, provided that she could have lifted them. Which, she could not.

Poe was asleep and likely still sick, so she went back to her Mama’s and got a drowsy Dinkey out of bed and convinced him to come help her shift everything. After he helped her make a “bedroom,” “kitchen,” “washroom,” and “workroom,” she treated the massive man to a big fried fish sandwich off a street vendor, then sent him home to begin his shift.

In the end, Marie had found many interesting things, and made her space livable for the time being. Food was her biggest worry; with nothing to cook, and little to cook with, she’s be reliant on food vendors and whatever porridge Poe made. She wasn’t used to luxury, but at least the food had been decent at home. She vowed to try to find a way to make a proper stew and buy bread or something.

It was a long exhausting day, and she fell asleep that evening in her new bed almost immediately.

After going to visit her Mama first thing in the morning, when it was still just blue outside, before the sun rose, she returned to the Agency’s office.

After she had just opened the door to receive the day’s clients. Poe was awake, she thought, because she heard him in his room boiling water for tea. But, he wasn’t yet down the stairs when another potential customer arrived. One that Marie recognized.

“Lieutenant Robards!” Marie smiled. “How can the August Agency help you today?”

“Marie. Is Frank in? I need to hire him; nothing official though.”

“No Lieutenant. He’s …” Marie paused. She didn’t want to give away too much about Frank’s condition, because she didn’t want him to seem like he couldn’t take on work. “He is going to be down shortly. I think he’s just making a tea.”

“I’m only going to be a few minutes; I need to start my shift at the station.”

“I’ll go get him.” Marie decided Robards was not likely to steal from the office, so she left the Lieutenant to wait while she climbed the stairs to Poe’s room.

He was, in fact, awake and dressed. As usual, Poe had dressed in an obscene amount of color: a suit decorated in splattered spirals of white, blue, orange and black. He was wearing the Koi overcoat. Marie wondered if he expected to go out. But, otherwise, he was sitting next to his kettle of tea, drinking from a steaming mug that smelled like swamp water.

“Marie.” He winced. “Is there something the matter?”

“Lieutenant Robards is back. He wants to commission you for something; it’s personal he says.”

“Right.” Marie thought Poe looked a lot better. He was no longer so pale, and his eyes were bright instead of glassy and sunken.

He took his mug with him down the stairs and met Lieutenant Robards in his office.

“Alright Calder. No magic. I know you heard about what happened by now. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the work, but it’s detective work only for awhile.”

“No. That’s not why I’ve stopped by. I met a boy that tells me that he has a curse. So …”

“I have curse, so I must be an expert, eh?”

“You’ll know more than most. Just, as a favor, take a look?”

“I guess I can.”

“How much are you paying?” Marie asked.

“I don’t have a lot of money to spare on this, half a gold to just take a look and give an opinion…”

“That’s not very much. We have to eat you know.” Marie replied.

“Don’t be ridiculous Marie. I don’t need Calder’s money. Although…”

“What? I know that look. You’re about to suggest something I won’t like.”

“Can I take a peek at the Siobhan Naught file?”

“No.”

“Won’t be a long peek or anything.”

“No.”

“So, the file will have the evidence on which of the Crown families attempted to buy her off, or is that part omitted?”

“N … Wha … Who told you that?”

“Only makes sense. Why keep her father in a place she can talk to him? Why not sentence him to something horrible right away? I just want to know who tried it. Her Father has confessed by now. Everyone seems to know a lot about her already.” Poe shrugged. “Or, they know as much as could be known about a homeless drifter girl.”

“The file is confidential.”

“Alright, I’ll do your favor if you ask Kuchen to give me access. He doesn’t even need to hire me. In exchange, I promise I won’t make a play at the reward. Just list me as a consultant; after all, I’ve already done some of that for you.” Poe sipped his tea. Marie, however, was not satisfied with this bargain.

“Now just wait. The bounty went up. I saw posters yesterday.” Marie said. “It’s a five hundred gold crowns! That’s a lot of money we could use, you know, to buy books and train me to become the best sorcerer in all of Gilbratha.”

Poe choked on the tea in an effort to keep it from spraying everywhere.

“Please don’t say things like that in front of … our esteemed law-enforcement client.” He choked out. He coughed a bit into his tea.

“Oh.” Marie realized she may have implied more than was safe. “I mean, you agreed to sponsor me, right?”

Robards looked between them. He just frowned. “I sense you aren’t telling me something Frank.”

“I am sure I’m not telling you many things.” Poe cleared his throat. “But, there isn’t time to discuss all of them, is there? I think I can forgo 500 … actually no.” Poe leaned back and tapped his lips with a finger. “Here’s what we’ll do. If Kuchen hires me it’ll be on contingency; if I find the Raven Queen, and my information leads to her direct arrest, I’ll get whatever the current reward is. If I don’t, I won’t even ask for expenses while I look for her. You talk to your office to pay me in information, and I’ll take a look at the boy for you whether or not I get the job or information.”

The lieutenant seemed to weigh this offer very carefully. “I can’t promise he’ll allow it.”

“You don’t need to. You are the most honest copper I know Calder; your word is good. Tell me that you made the attempt to get me this deal, and I’ll check the boy at your earliest convenience.”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s just some words Calder. I’m not asking for you to swim the Charybdis Gulf.”

“You don’t know what Kuchen is like.” Robards responded. “But, this is a good kid, and he’s practically a hero, although he’ll deny it.”

“Excellent. We’re agreed, right? Marie? Memorialize this conversation for Lieutenant Robards.”

“Memorialize?”

“Write it down.”

Marie took Robards around to her black table and wrote him a long note. She handed it to him, and he left for work successfully reminded.

Poe came out of his office, coat still on.

“It’s time to consult Frigg.”

2 Likes

I said it already, but I love the new chapters. I’m greedy for more Percy, so I can’t wait for the next ones!

I snorted water out of my freaking nose. :joy::rofl:

I know you don’t endorse smoking, but this chapter made me want to. No such thing as truly quitting nicotine - you always crave it.