NINETEEN


Th Testimonial of P.T. Lyfantod, Part 19

TRUTHS AND UNTRUTHS

          “Hold on a minute,” said Lyfantod.  “Cornelia Mus?”

          “That’s right,” said a tired looking Professor Fleming.  He seemed to have deflated with the resurfacing of this past tragedy, his once buoyant physique sagging with the weight of it.  

          “What did you say happened to her?”  

          “She was locked away.  For a time anyway.  They let her go, in the end.”

          “Locked away where?”

          “At the Guild.  In the dungeons below the Hall.”

          “Why did they let her go?”  Flynn was watching Professor Fleming almost as intently as the P.I.  "If they thought she was dangerous enough to imprison in the first place, I can't imagine why they'd just change their minds.

          “Guilt, I’d imagine.”

          “Because of her age?” said Lyfantod.

          “No.  Because of the death of her brother.”

          “Her brother,” repeated Lyfantod.  “You mean Reginald Mus.”  

          Fleming quirked an eyebrow.  “Yes.  How did you know?”  

          Lyfantod, who'd taken to pacing the floor, stopped and pulled down his collar to display the bandages wrapped around his neck.  “We've met."  

          Professor Fleming blanched, the blood draining from his face.  “You mean to say…”  

          “His grave is no longer occupied."  Lyfantod resumed his pacing.  Flynn watched him nervously.  “This puzzle is starting to come together, but I still don't have all the pieces.”  

          “Tell me what you know,” demanded Fleming softly.  

          Lyfantod nodded. He took himself back to the very beginning of the case—what he could share of it, anyway.  “The Strawmen are investigating Bones’s disappearance, as I’m sure you're aware.  In his office they found a note, written in his agenda.  ‘Mus, Corstorphine Hill, Midnight.'  Dated the night of his disappearance.  I don't know if you are aware of this, but that night, January the 13th, was not only the date written on the grave marker.  It was also Cornelia Mus's birthday."   

          "Her... no.  I was not aware."  If anything, Fleming's skin grew more greyish.  He sank deeper into his chair.  "That explains..." he breathed softly enough that the detective did not hear.

          "At Corstorphine Hill the detectives involved found the empty grave of Reginald Mus.  Where they encountered me.”

          “What were you doing there?”  Fleming's eyes went wide.

          “Following a different lead on a different case that led me, by fate or by luck, to the same place.  I was hired, by an independent party whose reasons I cannot divulge, to find the Necromancer that has been plaguing our city.  Necromancers need bodies, so I decided to see if any were missing.  And one was.”

          “Reginald."  Fleming's voice was husky with emotion.  

          “That’s right.”  

          “So that’s where they buried him,” the Professor murmured, staring at the closed book before him.  “I take it that the grave wasn’t unmarked, or you’d not have been able to identify him.”

          Lyfantod glared at hard at the portly man before him.  “That’s where who buried him?”  

          “The same people who killed him,” said Fleming softly, but there was heat in his voice.  “The same people who locked up his sister.”

          “The Guild.”  Gears were turning in Lyfantod’s mind.  Parts of the case that had baffled him till now began to come together to form a clearer picture.  He shook his head.  “But they had no idea who he was.  They seemed genuinely surprised when they found the open grave.”

          “And who would that be?”

          “The Strawmen.  Flint and Monroe.  They were as surprised as I was to find Mus buried there.  Although now that you mention it, one of them did say something odd...”

          “How old were these two, at a guess?” asked Fleming.

          “What?  Around my age, I suppose.  Flint a little older, maybe.  Nearer to forty.  Monroe a little younger.”

          Fleming nodded, his suspicion confirmed.  He glanced at the quiet Professor Flynn.  “Would’ve been before their time as well,” he said.  “It was nearly three decades ago, you recall.  They’d have been children.”  

          Lyfantod nodded rapidly in agreement.  "Of course."  His pacing took on a feverish clip.  Flynn, who had been watching him go back and forth, gave up to stare vaguely at a spot on the wall.  “So there's an altercation of some kind.  A Strawman kills Reginald Mus.  They cover it up.  Bury him somewhere out of the way—though they do have the decency to at least leave him with his name.  And as recompense, they free his teenage sister, whose been locked up for black magic."  He stopped and turned towards Fleming at his desk, holding up two fingers.  "That leaves me with two questions, one of which Flynn's already asked, but with whose answer I'm not yet satisfied.  First, why did they kill him?   And second, why would they let her go if they believed she was so dangerous?”  

          “To answer your first question,” said Fleming, “they killed him because he foolishly tried to free her.  No doubt the fact that it was her birthday played some part in his decision to attempt it.  Reginald left the School soon after Cornelia was taken.  He would have been thirteen, fourteen at the time.  With no friends, no family to speak of, he wound up on the streets, using what little he’d learned here to commit petty crime.  Cat burglary.  Confidence tricks.  That sort of thing.  A path more of our students take than I’d like to admit.”  Fleming grimaced. 

          “He did well enough to survive on his own.  Cornelia remained locked away for several years.  Reginald grew into a man's body.  Grew in experience and skill, but little enough in judgment.  He got it into his head that he was strong enough and clever enough to get her out.  He had experience enough to know what he was capable of.  Hadn't yet enough to know what he wasn't.”

          “And what happened?” 

          “To give him credit,” Fleming announced with heavy irony, “he did make it past the front door.”

          “And?”

          “And he was impaled with a sword, as I heard it.  Just across the threshold.  By a young Guildsman.  A man eager to prove himself.  Doing his duty, I believe was the phrase used.  You may have heard of him.  His name was Garrick Small.”  

          Lyfantod was dumbstruck.  “The head of the Guild killed Cornelia Mus’s teenage brother?”

          “Well, he wasn’t in charge back then.  But yes.  Even then, Small was the sort to act first and think later.  It makes him a decisive leader in times of crisis, but he has an unfortunate tendency not to consider the consequences of his actions until it's too late.”

          "So Reggie gets himself killed trying to break her out, and because of that they let her go?” Lyfantod said skeptically.  “That doesn’t sound very much like the Guild to me.”

          “It was a controversial decision at the time as well,” agreed Fleming, “but it was concluded that she didn’t know enough to be dangerous.”

          Lyfantod gave the professor a questioning look.

          “They gave her a test.”

          “A test?”

          “For a week,” Fleming growled, his voice heavy with old anger that set his jowls to quivering, “they left her brother’s decaying corpse in the cell with her.  The reasoning that if she truly did possess any Necromantic power, she would use it to revive him.”

          “But she didn’t.”

          “But she didn’t,” Fleming agreed.  “And they took that as proof—for the two of them truly had loved one another—that she must not have the ability.  And they let her go.”

          “Just like that.”  

          “Just like that.”  

          “But then why would Bones claim the book belonged to Cornelia?  What could he have to gain by sending an innocent girl to a dark cell?”

          “My best guess?”  Fleming jabbed an angry finger at the book.  “He was nearly discovered himself, all those years ago.  Perhaps discovered by her.  And she was the most convenient scapegoat available.”

          “Makes sense,” muttered Lyfantod.  He frowned to himself, taking long strides back and forth before the Professor’s desk, hands clasped behind his back.   “So the real Necromancer has been Bones all along.  But this book is just a beginner's guide.  That must not have been enough for him.  He wanted to go further.  To become a true master of the dead."  He shook a tightly clenched fist.  "And that’s why he stole the ring!”  

          “Ring?  What ring?”  Fleming tilted his head to the side, frowning. 

          Lyfantod froze, stomach sinking.  He'd said too much.  “Ah… nothing.  Another case.”

          "Mm."  Fleming watched him with narrowed eyes but didn't press, for which Lyfantod was immensely thankful.  Flynn chewed his lip, but said nothing.  

          “So,” Lyfantod resumed, hoping to draw attention away from his slip.  “Nearly thirty years after indirectly causing Reginald Mus’s death, Bones goes to a graveyard in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter, and resurrects him?  But why?  Do you think that was guilt as well?”

          Fleming leaned back in his chair with a leathery squeak, chewing on the thought.  “It is a tad peculiar,” he admitted.  

          “And why mark it on his calendar?  It seems careless.  And it almost makes it seem like he was meeting someone.  It's not as though Reggie was going anywhere.  Unless there is something about the magic… some factor limiting his ability to perform the spell?  A specific day, or a position of the moon, or…”  He looked questioningly at Fleming.  

          The Professor shook his head.  “Not my area of expertise,” he said, spreading his hands.  “Some magics do work that way.  Others do not.”   

          "Doesn't make any sense anyway," Lyfantod shook his head, "not with all of the zombies running around downtown...  It all leads back to Bones.  But none of it gives me the slightest clue of where to find him.”  He turned on Flynn.  “He didn’t have any secret hiding places?”  The young man shook his head.  “No hangouts in the city?  A favorite restaurant?”  

          No, no, and no.

          “Damn it Bones,” Lyfantod hissed.  “Where the blazes are you?”  

* * *

 

          Lyfantod’s departure from Barrows School was as mysterious as his arrival.  He left Professor Fleming brooding silently in his office, and Flynn led him once more on a twisting path through the cavernous halls of the school to the door through which he’d first appeared.  This time though, there was a veritable horde of students, flowing through the hallways in their matching uniforms like a flash flood through a dry and dusty canyon.  Perhaps a bell had rung and he hadn't heard it.  

          Fingers pointed when they came and excited whispers were left in their wake.  Lyfantod wondered just how many there were, but decided not to ask.  Flynn hadn't spoken since leaving the office, and Lyfantod chose to leave him to his thoughts.  

          Mrs. McMorran, when they reached her post, took grudging charge of the detective, and Flynn left him with a clipped and distracted farewell. 

          “Did you find what you were looking for?”  

          “I did."  He glanced at the towering door at the other end of the hall.  “Am I to go out the way I came in?"  He waved his hand vaguely.  "Through a hedge?”

          She pursed her lips, apparently trying to discern whether he was capable of irony.  “You needn’t worry about that.  It’s been taken care of."  She took a leading step in the direction of the exit.  "Now if there’s nothing else, I’m sure you’ll be wanting to continue with your investigation.”

         Lyfantod, knowing that he might well never get another chance to rattle her cage from such a short distance, put, for just a moment, the gravity of his case aside, and gave his best effort at nettling.  “Indeed.  Thank you for your supreme hospitality, Moira.”  He gave her a little bow.  “It was a pleasure to finally put a face to the name.  I’ll see you around.  Perhaps we'll run into one another.  Fate has the strangest way of bringing folk together when they least expect it.”  He winked, though his heart was only half in it, and turned on his heel toward the exit.  

          Her 'hmph!' of displeasure, directed at his retreating back, did something to mitigate the loss he felt at leaving.  “I most certainly hope not!” she shouted at him, and Lyfantod could not help but smile.  

          When he reached the door, wondering how he’d get it open, seeing as how it must have weighed a metric ton, it saved him the trouble by swinging silently outward, revealing a hazy glow that effectively obscured any hint of what lay on the other side.  Giving one last, wistful look over his shoulder, he stepped through.  And found himself gazing, quite disconcertingly, at his own face.  In, he soon realized, in a small, scratched, mirror covered in hard water stains.  It hung above a cream-colored plastic sink, and a funny looking toilet, scattered with unsightly blue splotches in addition to the usual yellow and brown ones.  He heard the door close, rather than saw it, and when he turned to look, he discovered that it had shrunk again.  And that it was now made of rattling, off-white plastic.  

          It then occurred to him to wonder that not only the door, but the entire world was shaking.  The toilet seat vibrated on its hinges.  The floor jogged him rudely up and down.  The ground shifted, and Lyfantod stumbled sideways, only just catching himself, and narrowly avoiding adding to his already impressive list of disgusting stains.  An earthquake?  When has there ever been an earthquake in—

          “We will be arriving shortly at Waverly Station,”  said a pleasant female voice with very little accent, muffled by the newly transformed portal.  “Please stand away from the doors until the train comes to a complete stop.  Customers are asked to take care not to leave any luggage on the train.  Thank you for riding with Scotrail.”  

          “Ah."  Lyfantod did his best to right himself, and tried the door.  It opened into a train car.  With no sign whatsoever that he’d just magically been transported from a secret school located somewhere beneath the ground.  He wondered how they'd got the door to lock from so far away.  And with no fingers.

          “Now stopping at Waverly Station,” announced the voice as the world shifted again; slowly stilled.  “Please mind the gap.”  

          “Well, at least they didn't drop me in the middle of nowhere.”  Lyfantod joined the growing queue to exit the train as the doors slid open with a hiss of expelled air. He dutifully minded the gap, and found himself once more, for better or worse, back in familiar territory.  Letting the crowd carry him, he emerged onto the bustling, snow-slicked streets to find that it was early evening.  He hailed a cab and gave the driver the address for Eroteme.  It was time to pay another visit to Cornelia Mus.  He had questions.