It had been the worst week of my young life up to that point, and it was about to get worse. I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly or I would never have gone in search of a necromancer. But it seemed the right thing to do at the time. After all, death waits for no woman—or so they’d have you believe.
It’s safe to say that no right-minded person ever went in search of Gustobald Pitch. He was as much a hermit as any man could be in the big city—partly out of circumstance, but mostly by choice. He rarely left his cottage and he never had visitors; they didn’t care for the smell. You get used to it eventually. I don’t notice it at all anymore.
But the day I came to call on the necromancer, the smell was completely different. I could taste the pancakes before I even knocked on his sturdy door. It was a little late for breakfast—three in the afternoon—as I had chosen the time carefully to avoid interrupting any pressing engagements the man might have had. It was folly in hindsight, of course; Gustobald Pitch was never idle.
“Go away!” came the muffled cry from within, and I had promptly turned about to do just that when I nearly collided with an older gentleman climbing the stoop.
“I’m here to speak with Gustobald Pitch,” the man said, looking me dead in the eyes as if challenging me to disagree. He was dressed oddly for a wizard. His brown slacks and frock coat were simple but clean, and he was neatly shaved. His attire had no markings identifying to which school of magic he was affiliated. When I didn’t answer fast enough for his liking, the man stepped closer and removed his rounded hat, a style and practice quite foreign to the region. “Please. I’ve come a long way and I’m quite out of options. I must speak with your master, Gustobald Pitch.”
His voice wavered with unconcealed desperation, and I saw my own dark reflection within his glassy eyes. It was this sense of urgency, coupled with his congenial manner, which prompted me to once more take hold of the iron skull knocker, this time belting the striking plate three times for good measure.
“Dash it,” called the same ill-tempered voice from within, then a string of ever-intensifying footfalls and the unlatching of multiple door locks. “I say, dash it!”
At length, the door swung open and I caught my first glimpse of the wizard-detective. No doubt you’ve seen paintings of the famous Gustobald Pitch and thought to yourself that surely they were exaggerated for the sake of artistry, or the painter’s fear of retribution, but I assure you this is not the case. The old man could scarce stand still long enough for one portrait and would abide no meanderings of the truth, to his favor or otherwise, for fear that any others would come along looking to get it right. To my knowledge, in all his years, he only ever stood for the one portrait, and future imitators were understandably hesitant to take much license with the original.
Aside from the cooking apron and twin spatulas, he was exactly as you might picture him—tall, lanky, with more hair on his chin than the top of his head. His six-inch gray beard was braided and beaded into a solitary knot at the very tip, and his softly-focused brown eyes looked past you to some place he’d rather be. Gustobald’s expression was ever the same, appearing inconvenienced at having to suffer through the petty concerns of others.
“Well, what is it, then?” the wizard asked before the door had even finished its arc. “Will you keep me standing on my doorstep all day?”
“Master Pitch.” The handsome stranger cleared his throat. “My name is—”
“Confound it, man! Your name is of no importance. None whatsoever! What is your business? My cakes are burning!”
“Well, may I come in?” the stranger asked.
“What?” Gustobald glanced over his shoulder toward the kitchen.
“It’s a rather long story and I’m afraid—”
“My cakes!” And Gustobald Pitch was gone, apron strings bouncing in his wake.
There was a clatter and a howl from the kitchen, and the stranger took it as an invitation to enter, under the pretense of ensuring the old man was all right. He took hold of my arm and dragged me in with him, as if my presence would justify his own intrusion. When the door closed behind us and locked itself, we were unsure how to take it. At best, we were now guests of a madman; the worst was unimaginable.
“Well, come in and sit down, then,” the wizard called from the far chamber.
The stranger led me into the other room with practiced poise, where the table was set for one. I suspect it was the only plate in the house, judging by the bare counters and cubbies.
Gustobald’s head was hung low in shame or frustration. “Burned, as I suspected,” he said, heaping a stack of charred cakes straight from the frypan. “They’re all yours. Be my guest.”
“A kind offer, Master Pitch, but I’m afraid I’ve already—”
“Be. My. Guest.” A brief smile crossed the necromancer’s lips for the sole purpose of fading. “Now.”
The stranger looked to me for support, but I wasn’t getting involved. The pancakes were burned black and emitted a foul odor the likes of which I’d never smelled before or since. Nevertheless, it’s unbelievable what a person will do for the sake of good manners. The gentlemen picked up the knife and fork, sliced a large piece for himself—much larger than I would have risked—and dug in.
And then he was sick. He covered his mouth with his hands and rushed back to the front door, which was still locked in half a dozen places. Fortunately, there was a waste bin nearby where he could finish the job. I looked to Gustobald for some sign of satisfaction but was met with the opposite. Could it be he was offended by the harsh critique of his cooking?
“Who are you?” Gustobald Pitch looked at me for the first time, as startled as if I had appeared from the ether itself. “Does no one introduce himself anymore?”
“Isabel Ives,” I said, a little louder than I’d intended, as I was competing with the stranger’s retching, which came to a sudden stop. Gustobald gave me a look as if to question my answer, and I nodded reflexively to reassure him.
“Deblin Bartleby.” The gentleman returned to the smoky kitchen, standing as upright as possible to salvage what dignity remained to him. “I apologize for the mess. I’ll take care of it.”
“It’s a messy business,” Gustobald said, shaking his head. “But do tell me exactly why you felt the need to—evacuate yourself.”
“I mean you no offense, sir. But that was truthfully the worst thing I have ever tasted.”
“By the gods. Of course it was, man! But I must know why. Because they were burned or because of the maggots?”
“They were rotten?” I asked, and Mr. Bartleby’s complexion turned that much paler.
“What?” Gustobald had the appearance of a man who had just stumbled into a conversation. I was to see that same expression countless times over the course of our working relationship. To this day, I’m still not sure how much of it was an act. “Oh, because of the maggots,” he said to himself. “Goodness, no. I made the cakes from crawler larva, ground fresh this morning.”
I thought Mr. Bartleby would fall over, but he retained his composure long enough to find his seat at the table. He pushed the plate of pancakes as far away from himself as possible and inspected the glass of water closely.
“Well, drink up, Mr. Bartleby,” Gustobald said. “They taste horrid. Believe me, I know.”
“Then why make them in the first place?” Bartleby asked, downing the entire glass in one go.
“He needs them as reagents for his spells,” I said, realizing I was correct about Mr. Bartleby’s exclusion from the proud ranks of those studying at the academy. “Some spells require special words, others specific movements of the hands. The most powerful require material ingredients to focus the magic, or any combination of the three.”
“Very good, miss,” Gustobald said, eyeing the starburst embroidered on the breast of my pale yellow tunic, which identified me as an apprentice of the school of manifestation.
“I don’t know any spells that require you to eat maggots though,” I said. “Crickets maybe, but-”
“Right.” Bartleby spoke in a voice that suggested that he was the butt of some practical joke, but when his eyes landed back on the plate his face flushed anew.
“We thank you kindly, girl, for the lesson in rudimentary spellcraft. And I thank you, sir, for sparing me a small bit of trouble today, as it’s been my month-long quest to make the common maggot more palatable. Now, how may I return the favor?”
“Well—” Bartleby seemed lesser of a sudden, but it was apparent it had little to do with his stomachache. “I’ve come to hire your services, Master Pitch.”
“I’m afraid I must stop you there,” Gustobald said. “For starters, I am not, nor will I ever be, a master of the arcane arts—not at this academy anyway. I have too many enemies for that to ever come about. Secondly, I am prohibited by academy law from providing service to the general public. But thank you, sir, for visiting, just the same.”
“My brother needs your help.”
“Bevlin Bartleby is quite capable of extricating himself from any trouble in which he might find himself.”
“Bevlin Bartleby is your brother?” I asked, feeling stupid I hadn’t made the connection when I first heard the visitor’s name.
“You know my brother?” he asked, but I shook my head.
“You mean the Archseer of the Academy Magus who shares your last name and looks just like you?” Gustobald huffed without looking up from brushing off his apron. “Of course. He’s a close friend of mine. Although not close enough to share that he had a twin, apparently.”
“He wouldn’t have,” Bartleby said. “We’ve been estranged these nine years.”
“Well, good luck with that, then,” Gustobald said. “I cannot be your go-between. I’m a very busy man, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Bartleby,” I said in an attempt to ease the tension that had steadily crept across Mr. Bartleby’s sharp features. “You’ve come for the funeral, then?” At this, Gustobald gave us his undivided attention.
“Apparently, that is now to be my primary purpose for visiting,” Bartleby replied, retrieving his hat from his lap with a jerk that rattled the plate on the table. “As it appears justice cannot be served in the magic city. Good day, Mr. Pitch.”
“Funeral, you say?” Gustobald asked, ever-ready to propel death to the forefront of any conversation.
“For my brother,” Bartleby said. “Your close friend who was murdered just one week ago.”
“What?” Gustobald jumped into Bartleby and grabbed him by the lapel. “When did this happen?”
“Just—one week ago,” Bartleby repeated, glancing over at me and gripping Gustobald’s wrists as if they were a pair of serpents trying to constrict him.
“The entire academy has shut down, Mr. Pitch,” I said. “It’s impossible that you haven’t heard this news. It’s the only thing everyone’s talking about.”
“I don’t talk to everyone,” Gustobald said, releasing Mr. Bartleby and giving him time to straighten his ruffled collar.
“Don’t you talk to anyone?” I asked.
“This is most distressing,” Gustobald replied, shaking his head and tugging his beard.
“Mr. Bartleby is a pillar of strength,” I said. “Your brother was an amazing man. I knew him by reputation only, but he was respected by all.”
“Why did you come to me, Mr. Bartleby?” Gustobald asked.
“Well, you’re a—” Bartleby waved his hat gently in Gustobald’s direction. “I mean, I was told you were a—”
“A necromancer,” Gustobald said. “Have no fear now, Mr. Bartleby. A great man has been murdered, and you were right to come to me first.”
“Actually, I sent word to the Crown-appointed inspector in Astar first,” Mr. Bartleby said. “He said that the Academy Magus handled its own investigations with regard to its members, but he would look into it if he found the time.”
“Well, you were right to come to me straight away after,” Gustobald said with a firm nod.
“I went straight to the divination school for answers, but they told me it was beyond their scope—whatever that means. What exactly does that mean, Mr. Pitch? Out of their scope? Or perhaps I am confused as to the meaning of the word divination.”
“Who else?” Gustobald asked with stooped shoulders.
“Who else did you go to?”
“Well, I was out of alternatives,” he said. “It was a desperate hope that you could tell me something. I almost didn’t come at all.”
“Well, Mr. Bartleby, you were right to place your trust in Gustobald Pitch. I stand by my statement; I am forbidden to offer my services to the general public.”
Mr. Bartleby sighed and then nodded in defeat.
“However.” Gustobald stabbed a finger upward in defiance—he always did have a dramatic streak. He rushed for his long-stemmed pipe and crooked hat, then made for the front door. “Like it or not, the Academy Magus is in need of its one-and-only resident necromancer. Rest easy, Mr. Bartleby. By my beard, I shall get to the bottom of this. No time for shillyshally, now. And—” He stopped just short of walking out the door barefoot in his ridiculous cooking apron. “Who are you again?” he asked, gesturing my way as he stepped into his boots, but waving me off as soon as I had opened my mouth. “It doesn’t matter. You’ve got the job. I could use an extra set of hands, even those of a novice elementalist.”
“I’m an apprentice,” I corrected, but my protest fell on deaf ears.
“Of course you are,” he replied, tossing his apron on a peg near the door. “Lead the way, Mr. Bartleby.”
I’d never visited the Archseer’s Tower before, but in those days it was impossible to walk the streets of the magic academy without noticing its shimmering spire. Perched stately atop the hill in the very center of the grounds, it was the tower commissioned by the legendary Banedan Vesper, who was posthumously named the first Archseer of the Academy Magus. The entire structure was enchanted with a spell of continuous light, making it officially the largest magical artifact known to humankind. It shone proudly throughout the night, and there were days its radiance rivaled even that of the sun. A lot of good it all did for Archseer Bartleby.
The inner workings of the tower were posh in both design and decoration. There was an enormous gilded round table in the center of the circular floor, where expert wizards were arranging and rearranging documents in the light of a grandiose self-suspended candelabrum directly overhead. The massive collection of gold and crystal hung upside down menacingly. Beads of candle flame dangled from their wicks as if they would drop down at any second, but nothing fell to the table below, not even the wax.
As beautiful as the display was, it couldn’t hold my attention long in the light of the double helix staircases that spiraled upward along the outer walls in opposing directions, branching out into the open air and terminating at a single point fifty feet above. Never breaking his stride, Gustobald chose the right-hand set of stairs and waved for us to follow, but we had already drawn attention to ourselves.
“Don’t mind us,” the necromancer said to the approaching wizard, whose yellow robes marked her as an apprentice in her field like me. She was tall, approaching her middle years, with tired eyes and a commanding air. She didn’t slow her step, even as Gustobald waved her off. “We won’t be here long enough for you to trouble yourself.”
“Gustobald Pitch,” the woman replied in a raspy voice, causing a few mages at the table to glance nervously in our direction. Gustobald himself did a double-take at the mention of his name, but only slowed his step when she leaped into his path. “What business could you possibly have here today?”
“Have we met?” he asked, adjusting his crooked hat and eyeing her with mistrust. “How do you know my name?”
“I’m a diviner,” she said. “It’s my job to know things. But I don’t need my craft to remember the mess you made the last time you were here. Well, not today and not ever again!”
“I see,” he said with a gentle nod. “That was an unfortunate misunderstanding. The Archseer had asked for an explanation of the practical applications of necromancy. I was only doing as he requested.”
“I’m the one who had to clean up after you!” The woman scrunched up her nose in remembrance of the occasion and laid a gentle hand on her stomach. “It was without a doubt the worst day of my life and I’m not about to relive it. As you can guess, we’re very busy; come back in a week, after the new Archseer is named. There will be no one here to talk to you today.”
“Just as well,” Gustobald said. “I’ve no time for chitchat now. I’m here to lend my services to the investigation.”
“Investigation?” she asked, furrowing her brow. “You’re a week late for that. There is no investigation. He was assassinated.”
“My brother was not assassinated,” Mr. Bartleby said. “He was murdered.”
“I’ve already said too much,” she replied. “None of you should be here. And why are you escorting an outsider around the Tower of Seeing?”
“That’s my own business,” Gustobald said, straightening his beard. “I don’t have to explain myself to a wizard-in-training.”
“You’d better,” she said. “As Master Bartleby’s only apprentice, I have full run of this tower in his absence. What’s more, I knew him better than anyone, and I can assure you, he had no family. So, please tell me why this doppelganger claiming to be the Archseer’s brother is cloaked from my sight and roaming in places he doesn’t belong.”
“I’ve been enchanted against your seeing spells,” Mr. Bartleby said. “By my word, I am Bevlin Bartleby’s brother, and I will see him avenged. You have no reason to hinder me in this, so step aside or I’ll be forced to conclude that you had a hand in his death.”
The woman crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. I couldn’t imagine anyone hiding beneath her close scrutiny, warded or otherwise. She stepped closer to Gustobald and tugged his sleeve lightly, then pulled him aside for a private conversation.
I took advantage of my shared moment with Mr. Bartleby to remind him that he had entered a culture wholly foreign to his own. If one hoped to get anywhere in the magic city, he or she must first show the proper respect—however blatantly false it may be—with the experts and masters especially, as they are unaccustomed to hearing harsh words from any whom they consider to be of lower standing.
“I’ll take it into consideration,” was his disproportionally short reply, giving me the feeling that I was wasting my breath.
“Is it true that you’ve had shielding wards placed upon you?” I whispered, inching closer.
“I have,” he replied. “I’ve come to understand that it’s not so uncommon in the wizarding world.”
“It isn’t. In the wizarding world. But I’ve never heard of a—” I motioned to him, unsure of what to say.
“Commoner is the word you are looking for, is it not?”
My face suddenly grew warm, and I turned my eyes away from his steady gaze. By then, Gustobald and Miss Sinclair had returned from their own discussion. The necromancer was smiling assuredly, but the apprentice’s sour expression remained unchanged.
“My name is Adele Sinclair,” the apprentice wizard said, chin held high. “For today only, I will be your guide through the Archseer’s Tower, on two conditions. First, you must promise to stow your wand while you’re here, Gustobald. I don’t care if the Archseer supported you. I don’t have the energy to deal with your unsavory practices today.”
“Done.” Gustobald’s tone was cheerful.
“Also,” she added, eyeing his long-stemmed pipe. “There is no smoking in the tower.”
“And done,” Gustobald replied, tugging the wide brim of his hat down and nodding. “Lead the way, Miss Sinclair.”
“I’m not finished,” she said. “The other condition—”
“What? You said two conditions.”
“Yes, I did.”
“No trouble. No smoking. I’ve agreed.” Gustobald tucked his pipe under his arm like a fashionable walking cane and spread one hand toward the staircase in a welcoming gesture.
“The smoking wasn’t one of the conditions,” she said. “I mean—it is, but it isn’t.”
“Sorry, it is or it isn’t?” Gustobald had that vacant stare again.
“It is but it isn’t,” she said. “Nevermind, I don’t have time for this. Just follow me and don’t make any trouble.”
“Stay close,” Gustobald said, turning back toward me with a wink. “Wouldn’t do to get lost in here. I know. The masters are a catty sort who will ridicule you to no end. The Archseer was no exception.”
“Mr. Pitch, you mustn’t speak ill of the dead,” I whispered with a glance to Mr. Bartleby, who seemed not to take much offense at the slight to his brother’s good name.
“Nonsense!” Gustobald huffed. “If not me, then who? Besides, Bevlin knew it was true. He wouldn’t dare deny it. And please, call me Gustobald. If we’re to be working together, we may as well get past the awkward pleasantries.”
Working together. The prospect was thrilling. That very morning I had been a stranger on the necromancer’s step, unable to find an excuse that might grant me entrance into his home, let alone his confidence. I couldn’t allow myself to get my hopes up, but I was still foolish enough to string along.
We moved up the staircase in single file, led by the somber Adele Sinclair, who turned around at regular intervals to ensure we didn’t fall too far behind. For his own part, Gustobald held a steady stride up the steep steps. He was surprisingly fit for a man of advancing years.
To make matters worse, there were no handholds along the staircase, which seemed to grow narrower the higher we climbed. Having no disposition for heights one way or another, I risked a glance downward to the main chamber through which we had passed. The floor had been a jumble of multicolored tiles from my previous perspective, but from my new vantage point, I recognized the great seal of the Academy Magus: the occulted moon. The concentric rings encircling the seal itself were marked with recognizable symbols—those representing the six schools of magic—as well as a few I had never before seen. I might have spent many minutes interpreting the markings, but I had to quicken my pace when I realized I was falling behind the others.
Mr. Bartleby also lagged behind as his confidence in his own balance waned. I had to take him by the hand to keep him moving, assuring him all the while that contingencies were in place in the event that he fell. In the end, my white lie went untested, as the stairs vanished before we reached the top, and we found ourselves in the Archseer’s archives.
“This grand hall represents the sum of all arcane knowledge,” Miss Sinclair said. “Only a privileged few have unrestricted access. You mustn’t touch any of the texts here.”
“The texts are indestructible by anyone other than the Archseer,” Gustobald said. “And the library itself is self-categorizing. We couldn’t possibly cause any harm.” Miss Sinclair gave him a dirty look and he shrugged his shoulders and looked around as though unsure who had actually said it. He paused long enough to roll his eyes at me when she was out of earshot. “I’ve been trying for two months to get access to these tomes, but my requests have gone unanswered.”
As we passed through those age-old shelves, no more timeworn than the day they were installed, I longed after the secrets hidden away by the most powerful mages in the history of the civilized world. It was unlikely I would have understood the contents of those texts and scrolls even if I had been allowed the attempt, but I would have been happy just to hold the knowledge in my hands.
Like the ground floor, the layout of the archives was circular, the architects having opted for the traditional style, but there was no staircase leading up to the third level. Where the ceiling might have been was only a dark star-filled sky, all the more impressive due to the fact that it was still daylight outside the tower. All the familiar constellations were in place—the Axe, the Crying Maid, the Wyrmlings. It was something from an astrologist’s dream.
The bookshelves were wall to wall, many towering twenty feet in the air, nearly halfway to the night sky above. A simple glance at the odd orientation of the most central shelves revealed a maze with only one entrance. This was the Labyrinth I had read so much about, designed to trap any and all who dared to steal its secrets. This safeguarding of forbidden knowledge was the original purpose of the tower, centuries before the Academy Magus had sprung up around it.
I wondered how many souls the cursed library had swallowed in its time, if somewhere inside were scattered the dusty skeletons of its victims, books still clutched in bony fingers. It was rumored to have claimed the lives of more than one Archseer over its long history. They had my sympathies. The Labyrinth called to me, as it did to all wizardkind. It challenged me to enter, to wander the remainder of my life through a sea of books where no one would ever find me.
There was only one man walking the aisles of the outer depository. He hurried over the moment he spotted us, and Gustobald gripped his pipe as if to defend against attack. The man was middle-aged, with prematurely white hair, slightly older than Miss Sinclair, but with only half her portion of contempt.
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, removing his spectacles and rubbing his eyes. “This area is restricted.”
“That’s a good man,” Gustobald said. “We won’t be a nuisance. We’re with Miss Sinclair, only passing through.”
“Passing through?” The man shook his head incredulously. “The Archseer’s quarters have been magically sealed. The tower is off-limits to everyone. Adele, you know this.”
“Ignore this man,” Miss Sinclair said. “He’s merely a servant here. Step aside, Mathis.”
“I’m the custodian of these archives,” Mathis said. “I won’t have people mucking about where they don’t belong.”
“I’d watch my tone if I were you, bookkeeper,” Miss Sinclair said, stepping past him. “Master Bartleby isn’t here to protect you anymore.”
“I’m not afraid of you, woman. I was here long before you and I’ll be here long after you’re gone.”
“He loves to say that,” Miss Sinclair whispered.
“Rest easy, man,” Gustobald said. “I’ve been invited to make an investigation of the Archseer’s quarters, where this foul deed took place. We’ll sort through this deviltry. Mark my words.”
“Master Bartleby would never allow strangers to pass through these archives, no matter the reason.” Mathis flashed an angry eye toward Miss Sinclair.
“That’s up for discussion,” Mr. Bartleby said. “At the moment, my brother is in no position to allow or deny anything. He was murdered.”
“Run along and dust your tomes, bookkeeper,” Miss Sinclair said. “We’ve wasted enough time on you.”
“The new Archseer will hear of this intrusion,” Mathis said. “We’ll see how smug you are when you’re ousted from the magic school.” With a haughty grin, Mathis retreated into his shelves, pausing to adjust the position of one of the scrolls before he disappeared from sight.
“That commoner doesn’t belong here,” Miss Sinclair said, leading us to a non-descript stretch of wall between two hanging tapestries bearing the Archseer’s sigil. “He’s not a wizard. I have no idea why Master Bartleby put so much trust in him.”
“He seems loyal to his duty, at least,” I said, feeling small as Miss Sinclair and Gustobald both silently chided me for speaking out of turn.
“Miss Ives is correct,” Mr. Bartleby said. “Just because a man has no magical prowess, doesn’t mean he is untrustworthy. In fact, many believe just the opposite.”
“The common folk must stick together, I suppose.” Miss Sinclair traced a symbol on the wall and the concealing ward dissolved, revealing the etching of a stone portal. She stepped into the wall and disappeared, Gustobald close on her heels. I offered my hand to Mr. Bartleby once more, in case he had reservations, but he politely refused and followed the two wizards through the portal.
Passing through the rift was as gentle as stepping between two rooms, not nearly as disorienting as my first trip through the ether. Mr. Bartleby seemed to handle it well, and I suspected it wasn’t his first jaunt either. He and his brother had been close at one point in time, so it made sense that he’d be no stranger to the ways of magic. I had misjudged him.
The Archseer’s personal quarters weren’t as splendid as I had imagined. Unlike the lower floors, Master Bartleby’s chamber was rectangular, with an eternal fire situated in the center of one of the long walls. The walls themselves were covered in maps with themes ranging from local and continental geography, to trade routes, to world maps with strange symbols and arrows placed at seemingly arbitrary positions.
There was a small bed with blood-blotted sheets, and a couple of tables with scattered books opened to whatever pages held significance to their former master. There was a large looking glass of wrought silver placed on the outer wall which caught my eye, and a large basin of oil that gleamed near the fireplace. The vessel had been fashioned from a single block of obsidian and inlaid with gold and ivory. These were extravagances in the somewhat prosaic surroundings, but necessary ones; diviners prided themselves on their tools of seeing.
“The body has been removed,” Gustobald said with a frown.
“Of course, it has. It’s been a week,” Miss Sinclair said, her voice now soft and forlorn.
“Should have called me,” he said, shaking his head. “I could have preserved the body long enough to learn what needed to be learned.” He took a short trip around the room, examining the books without touching them. He moved past the bed table, which held various sundries: a silver comb with missing teeth, half a bottle of rosewater, a clean hand towel, an unfinished glass of golden liquor. He opened the top drawer of the bed table, revealing the matching set of silver combs lying on the velvet field of an open-faced case within.
He moved on to the far display cabinet, where liquid spirits were in good supply, from spiced wines to foreign liquors, to sealed bottles of ale. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but it was quite obvious that Master Bartleby knew his spirits. The wood of the cabinet was inlaid with coin currencies of various regions and sovereignties, many of which I didn’t recognize.
“Master Bartleby had a flair for the exotic,” Miss Sinclair said.
“As do we all,” Gustobald replied, closing the glass window. “He was found in the bed?”
“That’s right. Everything else is exactly as I found it. Master Bartleby was lying on his back on the bed, a black-hilted dagger in his chest—the symbol of the Black Hand.”
“Preposterous!” Mr. Bartleby said. “My brother was no target for assassination.”
“Master Bartleby had his fair share of enemies,” she replied. “The Black Hand was high on that list. He spoke out against them and even incarcerated and executed a few members of their higher echelon. As difficult as it may be to hear, Master Bartleby’s murder was for the clear and express purpose of sending a message to the Council of Masters. He didn’t deserve to go like this. I hope the new Archseer hunts them down like dogs.”
I felt as if I were an intruder in a larger world, a feeling that would make frequent return visits over the coming months. This was the biggest news of the wizarding world—and all of Coranthia, by extension. Everyone everywhere would be talking about what happened here for years to come, and here I had blindly stumbled into the midst of it all. I expected to be kicked out into the street at any moment.
“Is anything missing?” Mr. Bartleby asked. “My brother owned a number of powerful artifacts that could be misused in the wrong hands. Perhaps someone teleported in, murdered and robbed him, and made off with his possessions.”
“Impossible,” Miss Sinclair replied. “There are wards in place to prevent all outside teleportation, scrying, or magical traps of any kind within the Tower of Seeing. Only the Archseer has such access.”
“Even so, I would like access to Bevlin’s personal effects.”
“Master Bartleby’s possessions have already been distributed in accordance with his last wishes, with the exception of what you see in this chamber. To be honest, I haven’t had the heart to return here to deal with the rest of it.”
“Who is my brother’s primary beneficiary?” Mr. Bartleby was ashen.
“I am,” she replied. “If you must know.”