This is the second part of a novelette. If you haven’t already, please read the first part.
CHAPTER THE SECOND
“Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to me to rest in the flowers.”
That evening, I was buried in a good book, ostensibly going over old cases but really just enjoying the style of one Sir Arthur, when another knock came at the door. The ‘H’ volume of my biographies also lay open on my desk.
“Come in!” I said, setting the book aside and turning to face out. Years of training enabled me to hear the door squeak faintly as it opened. It closed with absolute silence. A single swish of fabric reached my ears a moment later.
“Well. Hildegarde, is it?” I said before my visitor could reach the room.
“At your service, my lord,” a voice said behind me. As slowly as I could, I turned my chair back.
“Must you do that, your Highness?” I said, putting on a look of mock pain. She was stepping out of a trap door in a deserted corner of the room.
Her undecorated robes were those of a simple lady-in-waiting, with the purple stripe at the hem that signified personal service to His Majesty; her dark hair hung loosely just past her shoulders. One patch of her hair was beginning to lighten, but the rest, as I have seen is customary with those familiar with the Power, especially the Chosen, remained stubbornly dark despite her great age. On her finger was a silver ring indicating amateur usage of the Power. Sitting on her nose were the empty rims, favoured by Master-level mages, that show Power usage and residues (and related data not readily visible) as colours and patterns. Set on her head, though not readily visible even to my trained eye, was the circlet that declared her a princess. Her shoes were the same kind as those that the Minister of Justice had been wearing that morning, but hers were slightly damp in a ring half an inch above the soles and dusty beneath it.
“You have been in Reignalmia, I perceive; you came here on foot, but not through the streets, and you walked on the roofs to reach this building,” I said. “Also, you used the Power before entering.”
“Don’t use that title, please, since I am here as a lady-in-waiting assigned to the Department of Intelligence. I used the passage because I needed the practice, and I thought you might like to know about it. How did you know it was I, though?”
“Thank you for warning me about that security hole—did you design that passage, by the way? It has your style. I knew you from that squeak in the door that you haven’t been able to conceal, and from that rustle of fabric. My hunch was that you would be sent with the data, though, from the conversation I had with the Minister of Justice this morning.”
“Oh, well— I thought I’d fixed that squeak. I have also unravelled your deductions, or perceptions as you seem to prefer to call them. My visit to Reignalmia you deduce from the band on my robe, used only in the outer provinces, and from my shoes, which are currently popular only there. The route you deduced from the dampness of my shoes and the dust on the soles. The Power usage you deduced from the absence of a rope mark on my hands. You could not deduce whether I used the Power to lower myself or to remove the mark.”
“Very good. You did fix that squeak, by the way. I put it back. That door creaks for a reason. If you can get in silently, then I need to add some more defences.”
“Here’s the data on those missing files, my lord.” She placed a briefcase on my lap. “Be careful with that, though. It’s larger on the inside than the outside.”
“Thank you.” I set the case on my desk and popped it open. I took out and opened a file folder labelled ‘Summary.’ After scanning a few pages, I looked up and said, “It looks like I’ll need to do some hard research, on foot, and I think I’ll need some help. Would you be willing to assist me?”
“In what way?” she asked cautiously.
“The support I need is twofold. One. I need an insider at the Department of Intelligence. For example, I need to know what is normal, and whether anything I find is actually relevant. Two. I need a mage, to run certain tests, do tracking, and so forth. That would be even more imperative if this were a murder case, where I need to be able to tell whether anyone was in the room at the time of death, for example, but I have been in the Empire long enough to know what sorts of things I miss without backup. You are the best choice I have in that regard, because I read in your biography here that your ‘Power seems to bypass dampeners and guards set against it’ even though it is ‘largely untested.'”
“I am entirely at your service and would be delighted to aid you in this.”
“Thank you, my dear lady. As soon as I finish this summary document, I believe, I will begin to gather my own data,” I said. She heard the dismissal in my voice and departed.
CHAPTER THE THIRD
“‘Capital!’ cried the inspector. ‘Capital!'”
The next morning, I was just finishing the second summary report in the briefcase when Hildegarde came into the room. I looked up, surprised, as she approached my desk. She wore a dark robe, of a sort used only by the Chosen, and a common cap. The rings on her fingers, although seemingly ordinary, could prove her rank upon close examination.
“How did you get in? Is it a new secret passage?” I asked.
“No, I just managed to get around that squeak. I thought you might want to see this.” She placed a sheet of paper before me. It described the contents of the missing documents: security details of the rapidly-approaching wedding of Princess Anvila and Prince Narcissus. The most important public event of the decade, probably, but also a defensive nightmare. I was glad not to be the one in charge of that mess, but I could relate.
“That squeak was too easy to get around anyway. Either I should retire, or my defences need a lot of work. That’s another place where you could assist me. Thank you for both warnings. Shall we be going?”
“Whither?” she asked. “Besides, by the looks of things, you aren’t ready to step out of this room. I can see the arsenal of defences on these walls, but the hall isn’t built for that kind of thing. And that’s just protection. You’ll need all sorts of tools to find any traces.”
“Exactly.” I got up from the desk and walked to the centre of the room, holding my arms out. “Obliviscor.” It was the command word. Mechanical arms stretched out from all over the room. They pressed a breastplate and backplate onto my torso, buckled them, and presented me with a choice of weapons. I took a rapier and poignard, a buckle for my arm, and then a gunpowder pistol and a long rod of hazel.
“What are you doing with that?” Hildegarde asked. “You aren’t a mage.”
“His Majesty himself prepared this for me. It delivers an electromagnetic shock, intensified with Power, proportional to the weight on a person’s soul. It would probably lay a murderer out in a coma for hours.”
“And why the half-plate? If you’re thinking of weight, chain mail is better.”
“That’s to draw attention away from the rest of my costume. It all has true-silver woven into it, with Power added to extend the effect throughout. Let’s to the lab.”
When we reached my laboratory, I opened one of my special cabinets. This cabinet was larger inside than out, with the special property of making its contents instantaneously available to me anywhere while I carried the key. Hildegarde and I went around the lab, collecting the things we thought might be needed and putting them into the cabinet. I made sure to note what went where so that I wouldn’t end up pulling out acid when I needed fingerprinting powder. Once the cabinet was full, I locked it and pocketed the key.
This continues in Part Three.