A fan work - the August Agency

And another one.

Me posting these chapters goes something like this:
Is the title ok? I need to fix it. Copy. Paste.
Did I spell Cannello right? Nope. Fix. Copy. Paste.
Wait, there’s a missing word. I should fix that in the original. Fix. Copy. Paste.
Maybe I should revise this more. Fix. Copy. Paste.
Note the title this week. Huh.

Chapter 12: Indecision Does Not Suit a Sorcerer

Month 12, Day 4, 7:30AM

Poe

When Frank awoke, it seemed the horses stomping on his head had finally taken a break and cantered off. The headache and nausea had faded to a mild feeling of eyestrain. In a few days, he’d probably be able to cast spells.

For the first time in a lomg time, he was looking forward to it.

Finally, for Marie, he could demonstrate a simple spark shooting spell, prepare some simple alchemy, and introduce her to something esoteric, so that she’d have a few, relatively safe spells to practice. Maybe he could find something to engage her imagination. He’d always enjoyed illusion.

He ate a scoop of plain white rice, adding only a few fresh beans and a dash of fish sauce while cooking it, for his breakfast. The food’s mostly mild, earthy flavors and light textures felt comfortable. At last night’s supper of boiled eggs and steamed greens, Marie had already been giving hints that she was hoping for different food. Regularly adding some flash cooked sunfish to their usual diet wouldn’t be a bad idea; Frank reckoned that she was still growing, after all.

Now there was a thought he wasn’t entirely ready to deal with. He really didn’t quite know what he would do about a girl growing into a woman, and he wasn’t sure who he could ask.

‘Surely Stella is close enough to help Marie with that sort of thing?’ Frank pressed a this slightly unsettling thought aside. But then, maybe that would be a good place to start with potions: cramp relief potions were a staple for all beginner alchemists, male and female. Women were better at them, of course.

Marie didn’t join him for breakfast, so Frank made up a bowl for her when she returned from visiting her mother. He covered it with a towel and carried it downstairs to their office. Marie had not returned, so he unlocked the outer and inner doors.

Calder was waiting for him.

“Frank. Good morning! Opening up late today? Where’s your assistant?”

“Come in, and we’ll talk in my office.”

Frank placed the food on Marie’s table and led Calder to his desk. Frank sat, but Calder did not.

“So, Frank, I spoke with the lead detective.”

“And?”

“You’re approved to see the summary reports. You have to pass on anything you think of, in writing, after your review. You’ll have to sign a blood print vow to keep the material confidential. But, otherwise, he agreed that you can get the full reward, whatever it is, if you are directly involved in the capture.”

“It’s a deal. Do you have the summaries for me at the station?”

“Yes. And the vow paperwork. My captain will handle it.”

Frank thought about it. He hadn’t entered a vow for a while; he wasn’t sure with the curse’s tendency to obscure memories whether the vow would hold. But, he didn’t expect to worry about it. He’d probably keep the vow.

“Alright; when do you want me to check this boy out?” Frank asked.

“Today, if you have the time. I’ve already got another specialist in this morning at 10; so, will you be available?”

“Yes. I’ll write you a note to deal with the curse. Carry it with you and start reading just as you leave; you may need to read it a couple of times. My notes never work as well as Marie’s.”

Calder waited patiently while Frank wrote out the content of the conversation, and took the note in hand before he left.

Frank walked him to the door. Marie had not yet arrived; this was unusual, but Frank decided that he could trust her. She was canny enough to deal with any problem that might arise. If he was feeling better, he might have scried for her; just to see if she was safe. He then decided that he would not. It was a trap many diviners could fall into; trying to know everything at all times. Becoming obsessive.

Frank knew all the stories. Diviners that would try to find their enemies through scrying; like enchanting mirrors to determine if your enemies were near. It was just as likely that you’d make enemies with that sort of paranoid nonsense.

If you wanted to destroy your enemies, make them your friends. Not that some wouldn’t set themselves against you no matter what you did …

Many sorcerers would settle their paranoia with dozens of wards. In many cases, sorcerers preferred to surround themselves in a complex web of wards and magic effects, even aside from security: remove dust, eliminate noise, fix the temperature, remove odors, and eradicate discomfort. Not Frank. He couldn’t be comfortable with magic constantly changing the environment all the time.

So, when he decided to sooth his anxiety by cleaning his pipe, he did not use magic. Instead of drawing an array on his desk and building an elaborate cleaning array, he retrieved the pipe from his coat pocket along with a waste-water cup, paper swabs, sweet nut protecting oils, and a bottle of water. Sitting at his desk, he took the pipe apart carefully, and began the process of removing the soot that accumulated in its long stem. Frank poured a little water down the length of the pipe, and he used a twist of tough tartarus-berry paper to scrub the tube.

He double checked the tiny inscriptions on the pipe and the enchantments that gave it extra strength and would allow for matchless lighting. He oiled the parts with fresh papers, and took a few moments to appreciate the fine sky kraken decoration.

The pipe was part weapon, so when reassembled, he checked that everything was threaded snug and tight in its fittings. There’s nothing more embarrassing than to have a weapon come apart mid-swing. His kiseru would block a mundane knife or club without issue, and it was surprising how few sorcerers were ready for a poke in the eye or a rap across their knuckles.

As he was putting the cleaning supplies away, there was another visitor to the agency. The apprentice girl from the University seemed to have decided to see if he was making any progress.

She came into his office and looked around a little apprehensively.

“So. I have the receipt that says I hired you, but I’m having trouble remembering the details. Are you making progress on finding the Raven Queen?”

“Yes.” Frank liked to retain a clients. It really didn’t matter whether he was actually making progress or not; the only answer to this question was ‘yes’ when a curious client asked. On the other hand, this client was problematic. “But, you may not like what I’ve found out. Your best choice, right now, is probably the Stags.”

“I can’t go to the Stags!” She replied, then blew out a frustrated sigh. “Sorry. That’s not an option.”

“You never know, things might change. But, simply put, if you want to contact the Raven Queen, they are likely to know how.”

“What do you mean, ‘likely’?”

“They won’t confirm it to me directly. If you are associated with the Morrows, you may find it difficult to get an audience.”

“How did you know I have an association with the Morrows?”

“If I didn’t before, I know now. Also, this isn’t a great place for you to meet me, is it? Having to come all the way down here from the University?”

“I …” The girl scowled. If she agreed, Frank would have confirmed another point, and she wouldn’t want that either.

“Student tokens are meant to be tracked. You can’t hide your affiliation very well if you just carry it around.” Poe said blandly. “You aren’t very good at this yet, are you? Well, that’s natural. But I wonder if your handler is very trustworthy. You can tell them I may have a better way to contact her in a week.”

The girl swallowed a retort.

“Fine. Anything else?”

“Pay me double last time. This investigation is turning dangerous. I’m in Stags territory, consorting with an ally of the Morrows, trying to find the Raven Queen. Consider it danger pay for this work.” Frank hoped this would be the end of it. Maybe raising his prices would send her to a different detective.

The girl flushed with anger, but shockingly, she shelled out the gold.

“You better find me something. This is a lot of money.”

“Next time, let’s meet closer to the University. Do you want to give me a name for a message, or shall we set up a meeting time?”

“Message. You seem to know most everything compromising anyway, and I can’t keep doing this.”

“The danger of hiring a detective is that they’ll find out more than you want them to. Don’t worry, I’ll be discrete.”

The girl wrote a name for him to send messages to “Canelo” and he wrote her a receipt, reminding her in writing that the Stags would be the most likely lead. As Canelo left, Marie finally returned.

Frank met her in the front of the office to give her the money for bookkeeping and to put in the safe. She took it with a smile.

But, Poe had seen the girl’s artificial cheeriness often enough to know that something quite serious had happened. While Marie smiled brightly, it did not touch her eyes. If anything, her red eyes and still drying cheeks showed that she’d been crying.

If she was harassed by a local gang, Frank would want to do something about it. But first, he’d need to convince his apprentice to tell him what was wrong.

“There’s some food for you here on the table.”

“Thank you Poe.” Marie uncovered it, and sagged only slightly. It was probably cold.

“Do you really dislike the food? I could wam it.”

“No. It is fine.”

“Is something else wrong?”

“No. Yes. Maybe.”

“A sorcerer may err, but indecision does not suit them.” Frank replied.

“That doesn’t sound like you.” Marie replied. “Where does that saying come from?”

“It’s something my great aunt used to say.”

“Oh. You never talk about your family.”

“Yes.” Frank agreed. He didn’t plan to. Marie picked up the spoon and ate a biteful of rice. Frank did not let her answer dissuade him. “I still do not have an answer to my question. If I am going to teach you, I need to know if there’s some reason you were crying.”

“Crying? I wasn’t …” Marie touched a hand to her cheek, and then nodded. “Maybe a little.”

“So?”

“Mille was beaten, and she’s hurt bad.”

“Your unlicensed thaumaturge friend?”

Marie nodded. She ate another bite of the rice.

Frank wasn’t sure what to make of Marie’s friend: prostitute friend and illegal sorcerer. Marie described Millie as having “shown” Marie some magic, but Frank did not approve. Learning from an unlicensed teacher would be trouble.

Of course, that just made him a fool right along with Millie; he was not a Master and was not licensed to teach. Still, he was in a much better position than the unfortunate prostitute.

The Crown families, on the other hand, bent those rules constantly. One needed only to review the will capacity tests between the “common stock” that entered the University to the Crown families. The Crown family members always started with more. He fully intended Marie would also have this advantage.

Marie continued eating.

“What would you like to do?” Frank asked gently.

“Mama says Millie is in pain and she can’t walk very well. Can you … heal her?”

“How do you mean? I am not a healer.”

“But, you have access to magic …”

“Yes, and so do you. That doesn’t mean either of us can. You’ll find that while all things are possible to magic, skill takes time to acquire. I do not have that skill.”

“But …”

“Would you like me to hire a healer to see her?”

“No, you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I thought about it on the way here; the Morrows would find out and harass you, or the healer, or both. Only someone far away from their territory, or who was untouchable could risk it.”

Frank admired the maturity for her to think that far ahead, although when he was at the height of his skills, the Morrows wouldn’t have dared.

Now, he was far from that point.

“We’ll think about it then.” Frank replied. “Do you want to go see a boy about a curse?”

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It is plausible that I won’t get a post done today. The chapter turned out very long, and went in a surprising direction, again! I need to check it for mistakes.

The sleep disorder kept me up. So, I guess I got a chapter out of it.

Chapter 13: Meeting the Witness

Month 12, Day 4, 10:00AM

Marie

Marie and Poe returned to the same copper station they has visited the prior week. Marie, again, carried Poe’s big box of components. Poe had said he might cast some low powered divination spells. Marie did note that he seemed better, and he wasn’t smoking. She took that as a good sign. He did not explain his sudden smoking habit, but she liked it better when he didn’t smoke, he seemed sharper somehow.

He met Lieutenant Robards in a crowded office and they left to meet with the station captain. This left Marie on a hard bench outside an interview room. Marie rested the box on the bench next to her, and she tried to relax.

She felt angry, sad, fearful, and nervous all at once. She still felt distraught about Mille. She tried to put it out of her mind, but she found it unbearable. Mama was probably right, the Mille needed rest. This did not make it easy to sit an wait.

Nor did all the strange looks from passing coppers. At first, Marie thought it was because of her dour expression. She realized this might give a bad impression, so she smiled and tried to look cheerful. But the looks didn’t stop.

They were surreptitiously checking her against what looked suspiciously like copies of a certain poster. Posters that Marie had seen on the way in. She stood up, strode to the common table where the posters were neatly stacked, then grabbed one. A box of broad headed tacks supplied her with a way to hang it. She strode briskly back to the bench, and tacked the poster of the Raven Queen up next to her.

Honestly! She looked nothing like the woman. The next copper didn’t need to check a piece of paper from their pocket; they just glanced briefly between the poster and Marie’s cheerful smile.

Sometime after the fourth copper had checked to be sure that Marie was, in fact, not the Raven Queen, the door to the interview room opened, providing a much needed distraction.

The bony fingered sorcerer, Themius, came through, leading a skinny teen. The teen was especially odd, Marie thought. Before walking through the door, he checked to see if the way was clear.

Themius spoke the to boy with mild condescension.

“Nothing wrong with you boy. Luck magic doesn’t exist anyway, so if you really are worried about whatever this tattoo is, just burn it off.”

“Thank you for your time, Master Themius. I will consider it.” The teen replied. From the boy’s horrified expression, Marie guessed he would rather pull off a fingernail.

“I understand that Lieutenant Robards has another consultant arranged to meet you. Wait here on this bench, and he’ll be along shortly.”

The teen glanced at Marie, and then looked at the bench. He placed his bag next to it carefully.

“Can’t be too careful!” he chuckled mirthlessly, then leaned over, visually checked the bench’s legs, then ran his fingers over the smooth plain board that made its seat, before he sat next to her. But, he sat carefully, as if he could jump up if the bench suddenly collapsed.

Something about the routine did not fit. She’d watched Poe work for a while, and as they sat next to each other for a few moments, Marie tried to puzzle out what didn’t seem normal. After a few moments, Marie realized what it was.

His unusual behavior made her examine the teen more closely. He was probably close to the same age as her, a beautiful dark skin, eyes obscured by glasses, wooly head of hair, sturdy plain clothes, and a strange contraption hanging around his neck. The strange box looked familiar, but Marie couldn’t place where she’d seen one before. He was watching her from the corner of his eye, and began to fidget.

“So, when did you meet the Raven Queen?” Marie asked.

“The Raven Queen?” He turned to her and sputtered. “How did you … Ah, what makes you say that?”

“No reason.” Marie lied. Maybe he hadn’t met the Raven Queen. But, he was the first person in ages who did not ask Marie, or double check the poster. ‘Honestly, just because I like black?’ Marie thought.

“Are you a witness?” She asked.

“No! … Or, yes, sort of. But, I’m not here to be a witness.”

“Oh, so you have met her! Did you see her conjure a monster like the wind? Or did she turn into a Raven?” Marie realized this fanciful questioning would be no place to start, so she asked the simple question that Poe would want to know. “Did you see what she stole?”

“Er. She stole a book. Didn’t she?”

“I wouldn’t know. I’m not a witness.”

The boy’ puzzled look finally gave way to a question.

“Then … who are you?”

“Marie.”

“Just Marie?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not being polite.” He looked a little embarassed. The teen held out his hand. “I’m Percival Irving. You can call me Percy.”

“Charmed.” She always liked that greeting. Like she was an aristo, rather than a cleaner’s daughter. Marie took his hand in hers. His hand was delicate and surprisingly firm in hers. But, there was some sort of tattoo on his wrist. She didn’t get a good look. He withdrew his hand, and covered it with a sleeve.

“So, Marie. What are you here for?”

“I am with the August Agency. My … supervisor, Mr. Poe, is here to meet with Lieutenant Robards about a boy with a curse.”

“Oh.” Percy sagged.

“I imagine its you?”

“Probably.”

Since he seemed a little dejected, Marie tried to think of a happier conversation topic and failed. Curiosity, however, couldn’t contain her for long.

“What is that box around your neck?”

“Oh!” Percy brightened. “It’s a camera obscura! This one is the Vista 500. It makes pictures of whatever I point it at. It’s the wave crest of the future. It’s made with the new thaumaturge created spell arrays.” Percy pointed at the fine tracery of metals that crossed the box. Marie peered at the complex spell arrays with interest.

“Oh, that looks complex.” Marie said. And, it did. The camera was orders of magnitude more complicated than the spell she used to make the raven call. “What’s the round thing in the middle?”

“It’s a lens, that helps capture the light and make the picture. This one’s lens is really good; you can get pictures really close, or really far away. The light goes through the lens, and onto a ‘negative’ disks to capture the picture, and then after you develop the negative, you can make a print of the image as many times as you want. They’re really accurate too. Like much better than a portrait. And there’s a way to link the camera to a light crystal that will flash so you can take pictures even in a dark studio. The flash automatically moves a shutter—that’s this thing here—” Percy pointed to a visible piece behind the lens, “which can open and close up to 1/500 of a second!” Marie was not sure what that meant, but Percy seemed very impressed.

“So. Okay, but what is it good for?”

“Well, for a little silver, you can make an exact portrait. Like, if the someone saw the Raven Queen, and they had a camera obscura, they could take a picture and then they’d know exactly what she looked like!”

“Don’t you think that would make the Raven Queen angry?”

“Why would she be upset?” Percy sounded genuinely puzzled.

“Well, if I was the Raven Queen, which I’m not, and someone had a perfect portrait, I’d want to stop them giving it to the Coppers.”

“Why?”

‘Surely this boy isn’t that thickheaded?” Marie thought. She closed one eye and peered at him suspiciously. ‘Is this part of his curse?’

Marie pointed to the poster. “That’s an okay image of her, right? But. Is it exactly what she looks like?”

The teen looked thoughtful for a moment, remembering.

“No, she didn’t look exactly like that.” He said.

He really had seen her before! Marie tried not be too smug.

“If everyone knew exactly what she looked like, wouldn’t it be easier to recognize her?” She asked.

Realization dawned on Percy’s face.

“Also,” Marie continued, “the Raven Queen is known for being vindictive. Wouldn’t she be angry with someone who shared a perfect picture?”

“Oh.” He swallowed. “I didn’t think about that.”

Marie smiled sweetly. ‘He’s not really dumb, he just doesn’t understand how the underworld works.’

“Of course, if someone had a picture like that, maybe they could sell it to the Raven Queen; she might pay to keep it out of the hands of her enemies. If she didn’t just kill them.”

“Yes.” Percy gulped, and then nodded thoughtfully. “But, I’d never take a picture of the Raven Queen; that seems risky just to make a little gold.”

Marie nodded in agreement. ‘Risky indeed.’ Marie thought.

“Tell me more about your camera?” Marie asked. It was fascinating how magic created these pictures from life.

Percy tried to explain how the camera worked, and he answered Marie’s questions to the best of his ability. Percy admired the results; Marie admired the methods. Percy, however, did not know much about the spell arrays that the camera used.

Marie couldn’t tell him what little she knew, because she worried that Poe wouldn’t approve.

Poe eventually returned with Lieutenant Robards from whatever he was doing, probably making the oath. Frank was pleased about something or other, because he seemed cheerful.

Percy stood and greeted the Robards warmly.

Robards led them back into the interview room. Marie set the component box at one end of the rectangular table. With only three chairs around it, Marie had to remain standing while the other three took their places around it. Poe sat on one side, and Robards and Percy sat on the other, them Poe began his examination. Marie just stood next to Poe’s shoulder.

“So, what can you tell me about this curse?”

“I have always had bad luck.”

“Really? Nothing you do succeeds?”

“Well, no. More like, the kind of luck that makes it important for me to look up every time I pass under a balcony, just to make sure no potted plants are plunging toward my head. The kind that makes me carry around a second pair of glasses and shoes everywhere I go.”

“So … bad luck. A carriage might turn a corner at just the wrong moment, or a handrail give way and drop you in a canal.”

“Something like that.” Percy shuddered, and Robards smirked. “But, its been better recently. Sort of.”

“How?”

Percy began explaining that he’d met a hag and bought a talisman, then he’d still had bad luck, but it was … more directed. He patiently explained some of these adventures. Marie found them bizarre. More surprising, she recognized the Morrow thieves. These were dangerous men, and his story sounded impossible.

‘Accidentally overpower them?’ Marie thought. ‘Magic would almost certainly have to be involved.’

Poe took this explanation entirely without comment. He just allowed Percy to tell his story, and Poe nodded along.

“So. A tattoo? Would you show it to me?”

Percy dutifully rolled up a sleeve and showed it. Poe reached out to hold the boy’s wrist. Poe leaned over the table to get a good look. Marie peered over Poe’s shoulder. There were beautifully fine lines traced into a bug of some kind. It looked like …

“A moth?” Poe recoiled, jumping up and knocking his chair over.

Marie jumped back from the falling chair and Poe.

Percy, pulled back his arm.

“Are you ok, Mr. Poe?” Percy asked.

“You saw it Marie? The moth?” Poe blurted to Marie.

“I … yeah.”

“It’s the same. It’s the same variety.” Poe said. “I don’t know what that means. It’s …” Poe started muttering to himself.

“Are you well, Frank?” Robards asked.

“No. I’m not.” Poe replied with a shaking voice. “Frigg was warning us to stay away. Why didn’t I listen?”

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Thank you… I really enjoyed this!

Ohhh, Poe is referring to the moth Frigg ate, isn’t he? Interesting. I wonder if this means Percy is going to make more regular appearances in these chapters from now on? Alternatively, Poe could also decide to just stalk him without him ever even realising lmao

Well, either that or decide to stay as far away from him as humanly possible, I suppose.

Great update! Thanks for sharing <3

Oh no. I wasn’t clear? Frigg didn’t eat that moth.

I need to go back and work on that section some more.

Just because I got this detail wrong doesn’t mean you weren’t clear enough​:sweat_smile::joy: It’s much more likely that I simply misremembered something

It should be memorable though! Some things are the author’s error.