EIGHTEEN


The Testimonial of P.T. Lyfantod, Part 18

TRIVIAL DETAILS

          “We don't have a Headmaster,” said Flynn, observing that Lyfantod deflated a little as he said it.  

          “You don’t?”

          “What I mean to say is we don’t call him that.  Barrows School is overseen by the Rector.”  He tipped his head to the side.  “Have you found something?”

          “The Rector,” Lyfantod repeated slowly, trying out the feel of the new word.  “Huh.”

          “They’re essentially the same thing,”  Flynn offered helpfully.  

          “Oh well," Lyfantod muttered, and made an effort of magnanimity as one of his secret dreams died a quiet death.  “Whatever he’s called, I need to talk to him.”  He brandished the book he'd found for Flynn to see, waving it it back and forth.

          “What’ve you got there?”  Flint squinted at the book.

          “A book," said Lyfantod unnecessarily.  "From Professor Bones’s office.”  He paused for dramatic effect.  “With a false cover," which he demonstrated.  "An introduction to the art of Necromancy.  Or Necromancie, as they have it.”    

          Once more, Flynn pulled his paling act, but his time rather than one of disbelief his expression was one of dismay.  It must have stung to have his mentor proven practitioner of dark magic, liar, and cold-blooded killer all in the same fell swoop.  “Might I take a look at it?”  He had wilted rather pitifully, and the hand he held out was trembling.

          “Better not."  Lyfantod took a step backward.  “I think it’s best if as few people see this as possible.  Wouldn’t want to tempt anyone.”  He tucked the book under his arm protectively.  “Where can I find this Rector?”

          Flynn shook his head.  “He’s away.  Since before Aminus... since before Professor Bones disappeared.  We’re really missing his guidance.”  Flynn chewed his lip in consternation, then seemed to come to a conclusion.  “I’ll take you to Professor Bogstout.”  He levered himself out of his chair.

          “Bogstout?”

          “She teaches Magical Law.  And she’s been here for a very long time.  She’ll know what to do.”  

          “All right.”  Lyfantod nodded dubiously.  “Lead the way.”  

          Wrapping himself once more in his tweed jacket, Flynn preceded Lyfantod out into the hall and locked the door behind them, not-so-blissfully unaware as Lyfantod silently sulked about the distressing lack of Headmasters.  What kind of school of magic is this, not to have a Headmaster?  I suppose this Rector'll wear tweed as well...

          They retraced their steps, climbing the crooked, narrow stair that led down to the lower levels and Bones’s office, and soonLyfantod found himself once more in the wide, airy halls lit by the sunlight that was apparently not.  Lyfantod was absently going back and forth between wondering if this Professor Bogstout could also turn into a tabby cat and whether anyone in this place wore robes, when they encountered the first other people he’d seen since his unexpected arrival.  Other than Mrs. McMorran, that is. 

          He heard them before he saw them, approaching rapidly from behind.  He looked back to find a quartet of tittering girls in their late teens, their eyes glued the portly older man scurrying along in their midst.  They were making quite a lot of noise, asking eager questions, while the man—a professor, presumably—gave an animated explanation of some advanced concept.  Lyfantod stopped, watching them draw near, and Flynn was forced to stop as well or leave him behind.  

          “All in the hips, ladies!” the professor was saying loudly, a smile in his voice and spread across his broad face as well.  He wiggled nimbly in demonstration.  Short and stout, he'd a mess of curly, mouse-colored hair that was going to grey, and a bulbous nose that looked like an overripe grape.  Like Flynn, he too was swathed in tweed, though with his bulk he required a great deal more of it.  He was all over shades of brown and grey, except for his pocket square, which was a vivid canary yellow.  

          Whatever his subject might be, Lyfantod thought, if ample hips are a prerequisite, he is more than equal to the task.  

          “Professor Flynn!” the man boomed, leading his gaggle to a wide-eyed stop before them, no few looks and whispered remarks exchanged at the sight of Lyfantod.  

          Flynn winced at the use of the title.  “Good afternoon, Professor Fleming,” he replied soberly.

          “What’s got your goose, Flynn?”  Fleming's concern sounded genuine, but it was not enough to dampen his boisterousness.  “You look like a cat ate your cockatiel!  That course load proving heavier than expected will be my guess."  He turned to Lyfantod.  "And who’s this new face?  Eugenius Fleming, at your service!”  He thrust out a pudgy hand which Lyfantod shook. 

          “A—pleasure."  Lyfantod's voice acquired an unintentional vibrato as Fleming pumped his arm enthusiastically.

          “Professor, this is Detective Lyfantod.  He’s looking into Professor Bones’s disappearance.”  

          “A gumshoe!” rumbled Fleming, eyes wide with interest.  “Is that what’s got you looking so gloomy, Flynn?"  He leaned in conspiratorially, giving Lyfantod a light punch in the shoulder.  "Have you found something shocking?”  It was then that he spied the book in the crook of Lyfantod’s arm.  “I say,” he breathed, pulling backward, “Where did you get ahold of that old thing?”  

          “You know it?” said Lyfantod and Flynn at the same time.

          “Oh yes,” Fleming nodded, setting his neck to wobbling.  “A long tale, that.”  He turned to address the girls, clustered around him in their matching school blazers like a flock of bluebirds, nearly forgotten.  “All right!” he shouted, “off with you!  It seems we’ve got some serious business to attend to.”  He shooed them away with vigorous sweeps of his arms.  They went, but not without the token grumbling at being left out of something clearly exciting.  “Better come to my office,” said Fleming as the girls vanished around a distant corner whispering enthusiastically amongst themselves.  

          “We were just on our way to see Professor Bogstout,” Flynn protested.  By the look on his face, he new it was futile.

          “That old buzzard?  Nonsense!”  Fleming hurried off, forcing them to follow.  

          As they trailed Professor Fleming down the wide corridor, hurrying to keep up with the shockingly spry older man, Lyfantod whispered to Flynn.  “What does he teach?”  

          “Enchanting.  Illusions, mostly,” Flynn whispered back.  There was no real need.  Fleming was a creature of his own world.  Lyfantod gazed at his wide back with fresh interest.  Illusions... all in the hips?  

          They reached Fleming’s office before long, closing the gap between as Fleming worked to open the lock.  The office turned out to be as full of character as the man himself, a cornucopia of curiosities.  The most noticeable difference from Bones’s dungeon—aside from the lack of viscera—was that along the back wall there was an enormous, arched window.  Cool light streamed in and imbued the space with a cheerful atmosphere.  Lyfantod had little time to look around however.  Fleming quickly circumnavigated his desk and plopped snugly down in a chair that was just a wee bit too small.  He threw open a drawer, withdrew a pair of perfectly round spectacles, placed them on his nose, slapped the desk noisily, and presented Lyfantod with a fleshy palm.  “Give it here.”  

          “I—”

          “Go on then,” he said with a voice that brooked no argument.  

          Lyfantod, to his own great surprise, found himself obeying, pulled along by weight of the man’s air of authority.  Flynn stood silently behind him, exuding an aura of supreme discomfort.  

          Professor Fleming lay the book down on the desk before him, running his meaty finger over the gold lettering, along the edges of the cover; subjecting it to meticulous scrutiny before opening it to the title page with a creak of leather.  He gazed at the damning inscription in silence, and then closed the book firmly and removed his glasses, folding them without putting them away.  

          Lyfantod, waiting to see what he would do, watched as the man’s face, so suited to merriment, perceptibly changed.   He drooped, and looked very suddenly quite as tired as Flynn.  

          “I've not seen this book in twenty seven years,” said Fleming, breaking the silence.  “I thought it had been destroyed.”  He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.  

          “You know it, Professor?” Flynn took an uneasy step forward.  

          “Aye, I know it.”  Fleming looked up at the two of them.  First at Flynn, then at Lyfantod.  “It was you who found this?”  

          “I did," Lyfantod agreed.

          “Where?”

          “In Bones’s office.  Hidden in plain sight, amongst his other books.”  

          “Best place to hide a thing,” muttered Fleming to himself.  He sighed.  “Twenty seven years ago...  There was an incident at the school.”

          “I’ve never heard about any incident,” Flynn objected.

          “Of course you haven't.  It was before your time, and they did their best to cover it up.  The Old Guard.”  His gaze flicked to Lyfantod.  “You understand that Necromancy is outlawed.  Not just within these Halls, but all over Europe.”

          Lyfantod nodded.

          “Do you know why?”

          Lyfantod glanced at Flynn.  “Not specifically,” he admitted.  “I assumed it was because people didn’t care for having their loved ones turned into mindless slaves.”

          “There's a part of it.  Another is the spread of Christian values.  People don't like the idea of the soul being robbed of eternal paradise, whether they're sure it exists or not."  He turned his spectacles over thoughtfully in his hand.  "It’s been forbidden since the time of Charlemagne, and for good reason.  Besides being a moral abomination, like all magic it has a tendency to alter the practitioner.”

          “I'd never heard that."  Lyfantod frowned.  "Alter them how?”

          “For one, it inures them to death.  Though that's no doubt partly a consequence of simply being around so much of it, death being something of a prerequisite of the art, I believe that there's more to it as well.  The line between living and deceased becomes blurred in the mind of the reanimator, and the sense of loss, which for most cuts as sharp as a knife, grows dull.  As a result, it becomes far easier for them to kill."

          Flynn looked sick.

          “The Necromancer begins to see people as tools.  As weapons.  As a source of power.  Of course, there may be a predisposition for it.  It takes a certain sort of person to take it up in the first place.  Most find it repulsive.  Not too unlike your and Professor Bones’s discipline, in that regard,” he nodded to Flynn, who swallowed.  “Over time, it is said the effects become more pronounced.” 

          “How so?”  

          “They've no regard for life.  Find joy in causing pain to others.  And they are very good at disguising their true nature.  Psychopathy they call it, in medicine.  But there’s one little fact works in our favor.  Helps us weed out the Necromancers when they do crop up.

          “What’s that?”

          “There are physical changes.  I don’t know what, exactly.  No one is supposed to have practiced Necromancy in over a hundred years and as such there are very few people who've actually seen it.  Hogwash of course.  No matter how illicit a thing is, there's bound to be someone doing it somewhere.  One even hears rumblings from time to time.  But even so, I've never met anyone who's encountered one.  The saying goes that ‘rotten fruit betrays tainted seed.’  That’s a direct quote. 

          “You said there was an incident, Professor,” prompted Flynn.

          Fleming shook his head sadly.  “There was a student.  A girl, but sixteen years old.  She was discovered reading from this book.  By Professor Bones.”

          The room was silent as the two of them digested the information.  “Where did she get the book from?” asked Flynn.

Fleming face darkened.  “No one has a clue.  Had.  I have my suspicions now...”

          “What happened to her?” said Lyfantod.  

          “She was expelled of course.  And locked up.  It was decided that there was no choice but to turn her over to the Guild.  She might have become a real threat, with the knowledge in this book.  And when Bones said he’d found her with it, no one questioned him.  He was a Professor.  She was a troubled young girl.” 

          He looked back and forth between them, his eyes sharp.  “Her mother was one of our own, but she was a recluse.  She withdrew from the community.  I don't know about the father.  When her mother died, no one heard of it for years.  The poor girl and her brother spent years in the foster system before they were found and brought here...

          "No one could figure out where the book had come from.  How had a child gotten ahold of a book of forbidden magic?  Had it been her mother's?  Had she brought it in from the outside?  It was all we could do to guess.  But ultimately the answers to those questions proved irrelevant.  We were blinded by fear.  She was guilty.  And now it looks as if it was Bones the whole time...  It all begins to make sense.  I’m ashamed I didn’t see it.”  His eyes were heavy with regret.  “She was a favorite student of mine, as a matter of fact.  Showed real promise.  Had a knack for glamours.”  He grimaced, his voice heavy.  Bitter.  “What a bloody waste.”

          “This student,” Lyfantod asked, though he was afraid he already knew the answer, "what was her name?”

Professor Fleming sagged back in his chair.  He looked defeated.  “Cornelia,” he said.  “Cornelia Mus.”