The Necromancer: Part One
"This way, Miss Ward."
Emma Ward adjusted her thin-framed rectangular glasses, smoothed her already-smooth pencil skirt, and brushed an imaginary speck from her trim white blouse. She was a Darigan Aisha, so neatly dressed and so perfectly controlled in all her movements and phrases that she seemed to have stepped out of a store window within the last several minutes. Certainly she was a great deal more impressive in appearance than her companion, who, though perfectly capable-looking, was rather short in stature and far too talkative. Detective Colburn, age thirty-four. Not a candidate for the promotion, so far as Emma was aware. Lacking in ambition perhaps, or in ability. It never failed to astonish her, how little some people did for themselves.
"Just down here is where we detectives work," Colburn explained, leading the way down a long, narrow, windowless corridor, harsh with the glare of artificial lighting. The only sound was the click of Emma's stilettos. "You'll be a little farther down, by the High Commissioner's office."
"I understand," Emma said, speaking for the first time since introducing herself, "that the High Commissioner is not, as I was originally led to believe, a Mr. Nicholas Chase."
"No. Oh, no." Colburn gave her an oddly transient smile. There was some private meaning there, Emma thought, but she could not even begin to guess what it was. "Nick - Detective Chase - does work here, but he's a detective like the rest of us. They brought in someone from Meridell to fill the vacancy. He'll be your direct superior. You came over here from the Public Relations department, is that right?" she broke off - rather irrelevantly in Emma's opinion.
"Yes, that's correct."
"Well, I don't know much about it, but I think you'll be doing more or less the same job you were doing there."
"That was my understanding when I applied for the position."
"I don't think you'll have much to do with us detectives, anyway. Of course we're always happy to help you in any way we can. But mostly you'll be working in direct contact with the High Commissioner - a Mr. Lockwood."
It seemed logical to glean what information she could from such a willing source. No doubt Colburn was biased in some way or another, but then so was every source apart from solid, unmanipulated data. She could do far worse than to obtain a subjective account about the man she would be working for. "Who is Mr. Lockwood? I can't say the name is familiar."
"Oh," said Colburn, with a sidelong glance, "I don't know much more about him than what I've already told you - he's from Meridell. He hasn't been here for very long, actually."
An unknown variable - an important one at that. It was not the kind of situation that Emma Ward liked. All around, it was a strange reversal of expectations. Just a few weeks ago Nicholas had assured her that he would be promoted to High Commissioner, and given her several excellent reasons why she should, consequently, transfer to the Enforcement Department. The timing was good, and even she had to admit that the idea of working under an old acquaintance was rather agreeable than otherwise. (Not, of course, that she would ever have allowed it to undermine the quality of her work or to alter the trajectory of her career.) But it seemed that it was not to be.
"Is he by any chance a sorcerer?" Emma inquired, quite suddenly recalling something that Nicholas had said.
"Y-yes," Detective Colburn said. Rather reluctantly, she thought. "Although they have a sort of a... less flattering name for him in the department."
"Well, yes, they... it's all nonsense really, you understand." She smiled and shrugged with the nonchalant air of someone half-ashamed of what she was saying. "They call him the Necromancer."
This would have been an unflattering and peculiarly ominous nickname anywhere; on the Darigan Citadel, a place where dark magic had been very recently so very real, the connotation was less pleasant still. Emma couldn't say she much cared for the idea. Sorcery was not something that should be brought into the workplace, let alone necromancy. "But he doesn't really - ?"
"No, no, of course not. As I said, the whole thing is absurd. He most certainly does not raise the dead. I'm not sure I even know how it started - something to do with how good he was at solving murder cases, I think." They had finally reached the end of the corridor, and she pushed open the final door to reveal a large room - an office area, so obviously and comfortably inhabited that, after the cold silence of the hallway and the conference room, it gave Emma a slight jolt. It was filled with desks, the unapologetic disorder of some of which made Emma's fingers twitch to straighten and reorganize. But the several officers who were presently here seemed friendly enough. A few of them waved to Detective Colburn as she passed through.
Emma followed her guide through the room, past another suite of offices, and into another corridor. This one, she noted, was still lit with the softer, traditional oil lamps found throughout much of the older Citadel. (Aesthetically pleasing, but inefficient.) Colburn gave her a brief explanation of the area as they walked. "What we just passed through is for the regular detectives, we all have our desks there... the private offices on either side are the seniors and higher-ups. Through this door to the left here, we have the interrogation rooms and the record rooms. It's a bit of a maze, but I'm sure you'll know your way around within a couple of days."
Emma, who had no doubt of it, gave only a nod in reply.
"And finally, down at the very end here, is the High Commissioner's office - which is where I'll leave you." She paused in front of the door, her hand poised to knock. "Do you have any questions, about anything?"
"I think you've covered everything very satisfactorily. Thank you."
"In that case," Detective Colburn said, as she gave the door two sharp knocks, "I guess I'll just hand you off to the High Commissioner."
The answer from inside the room was a languid, "Come in," and Colburn opened the door and held it for Emma to pass through, giving her a nod that was clearly meant for a goodbye. Indeed, she exited the office with remarkable speed once Emma had entered - almost as though she had some dislike to being in the presence of the Commissioner.
In person, however, Mr. Lockwood was far from repulsive. He was a shadow Gelert, and certainly very striking in appearance, if only by dint of being truly, extraordinarily handsome. It was true that the ugly scar on the side of his face, and perhaps a certain coldness in his expression, gave his handsomeness a strangely unpleasant edge. His was an appearance to inspire more admiration than friendship or trust. Nevertheless, Emma would have ventured to say that he was objectively more pleasing in appearance than the vast majority of people. He was also remarkably well dressed, in true Meridellian style, with an immaculately tailored black suit and a crimson silk cravat making a single splash of color at his throat. His office was similarly, though not equally, handsome; it was richly furnished by Darigan standards, and it boasted a window - a rare commodity in this part of the Citadel, though it overlooked nothing more auspicious than a dreary grey courtyard far below. Outside, she noticed, it was raining.
He appeared in no hurry to commence conversation, and so Emma, feeling that nothing would be accomplished by the two of them staring at one another, introduced herself in a customarily efficient manner. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Commissioner. My name is Emma Ward and I've been assigned as your new assistant."
"I see," he said slowly, surveying her with what she thought was a rather odd expression in his eyes - perhaps the coldest grey eyes, now she came to think of it, that she had ever seen. He was silent for another moment or two, and then, somewhat to her surprise, he stood up to shake her hand and greeted her with the utmost cordiality, expressing his pleasure at meeting her. He had an obvious Meridellian accent, and his voice was smooth and pleasing. But still she could not shake her first impression that he was not a person to be trusted. She could not have told from what personal antipathy this unaccountable bias sprung, and she was determined that it would in no way influence her work performance; and yet it was so. There was something about her new superior that she simply did not like.
"I am pleased to be working with you," she said by way of further introduction. "Perhaps, if I may ask for a little clarification – what precisely will be my job description here?"
Lockwood made a leisurely circuit of the room, wandering over to the window, which he seemed to look out of without seeing anything, and then back to his chair. He tapped a finger absently against the edge of his desk. Without answering her question directly, he said, "So I am to understand that you were previously working in the propaganda department?"
Emma straightened her skirt. "Public Relations."
"Ah yes... excuse me." Though his mistake seemed relatively sincere (it was after all a nickname in common use), there was an oddly sarcastic smile hovering around the corner of his mouth. "And what, may I inquire, did you do there?"
"I analyzed our target audience for various characteristics and developed strategies as to the most effective methods for achieving our desired results."
He surveyed her for a moment more with the same hint of a smile - it was the kind of smile that Emma was not sure she would want to see more than a hint of, though she could hardly have said why - then spoke. "I gather you will have no difficulty in fulfilling your intended role. And now, perhaps, you would like a chance to settle yourself in your new office. I am quite certain that the department will welcome you with great enthusiasm – and if you would be so kind as to return this evening, I imagine there will be something important for you to do."
"Thank you, Mr. Lockwood. " It struck her as a slightly odd thing to say, but then again he had said many things that seemed slightly odd to her. No doubt it was simply a product of being Meridellian. They used so many superfluous words that it was, in fact, always difficult to decipher their actual meaning. What she was entirely clear about was the fact that her new superior was not a man to be trifled with. Nicholas could say what he liked about the man's lack of competence; for her part, she suspected that he knew precisely what he was doing. It was a trait she recognized easily for the simple reason that it was present in herself. And it was for this reason also that Emma had faith in her ability to hold her own against Lockwood. She would just need to keep her wits about her.
Miss Ward rose to leave.
To be continued...