Remembered Kisses: Chapter 11: The Dean of Arcane Studies
(Chapter 10 is here)
Sam walked towards campus, thoughtful. It had been six weeks since Kendra’s death, and grief still hung in the air like dead leaves that wouldn't fall. Death and disappearance happened in New Tamsbridge all the time, but her loss had seemed to affect campus more than most. Things are quieter now. The students were less full of the buzz and energy that had been on the campus before. Sam sighed. I've only seen the medieval martial arts group out once, and Tom had had a dour expression on his face even then as he worked through knife drills. Pallas and the rest of Kendra's coven had not been at the Day is Done more than once. Even my students ask less questions. He blew the breath out of his mouth. Not even about the explosions last month.
Six weeks and still all they had was fragments. She had met with her coven that night, as expected. According to Pallas, everything had been fine. She had been normal and happily buzzing about the ritual she was planning to perform that night. Sam shook his head. “It just doesn’t add up,” he said to no one in particular.
Autumn was winding slowly on, and the bitter breeze from off the sea was colder than a frost giant’s darkest dreams, and caught Sam’s tweed coat as if it were a sail enough so that he had to button up a little tighter to keep from being blown away. At least it's not rainy today.
Sam strode through the heart of campus, watching the students. It was already too cold for them to spend much time outside, so they bustled back and forth on their way to class, speaking in voices that were stolen away by the wind. He finished his walk to the library, glanced up at the marble columns on its broad stairs, and hurried in out of the cold. Once he was inside, he smiled, letting the scent of books fill him and warm him and set his mind at ease. If only they’d get rid of all the damn computers, this place would be pretty nice. He took another deep breath and started walking to the back, toward the narrow stair that led to the deans office was- halfway across campus from where they actually taught classes. Because that made sense. To someone.
One of the librarians’ aides grinned at him. “Afternoon professor. Anything I can get for you?” Sam shook his head. “No thank you, I have an appointment.”
He went down the stairs and turned the corner, trying not to run into the janitor as he did, a grizzled-looking man with a thick grey beard that fixed him with a dirty look. “Bloody witches,” the man said, pushing his cart past and starting to lug it up the stairs, his dour expression never changing. “It’s what’s wrong with this town. Judgement o’ god on all of us.”
“Have a nice day,” Sam said, trying not to show his irritation. The man was always like that, but at least the floors were clean. Sam shook his head and finished his walk. He stood at the windowless wooden door for a moment, gathering up his courage, eyeing the name on the doorplate: Solomon Hamble, P.hD, Dean of the Elizabeth Bassett College of Arcane Studies. He knocked once, heard an invitation in, and entered.
Solomon Hamble was both not what you’d expect and everything you’d expect from the dean of an arcane college. He always wore a dapper suit of a certain timeless fashion, a clean bow tie, and polished shoes. He also had a shock of snow-white hair still clinging to his head like a halo, and the most enormous deep-set dark eyes Sam had ever seen on a person. They shone like polished tiger's-eye. That combined with his stature (barely five-feet tall, even in his shoes) and the fact his ears looked like they could almost be pointed, and he seemed every bit of an otherworldly creature himself. Not surprising, Sam thought. You can’t spend one hundred and six years drawing on the otherworld’s power without some visible effect.
He rose from his desk and walked around it to greet Sam with a broad smile and a firm handshake. His desk, a cluttered mess, was covered with papers and tomes, and Sam knew that the dean was still locked in his constant struggle with the college’s budgetary committee, to get the basic funds he needed. Despite being one of five schools of arcane study in the nation, and having been first founded more than 300 years ago, the department still wasn’t taken seriously. No matter the zombie attack on the news last winter, and the clear presence of sasquatch in the Yellowstone national park, the rest of the world was still being very slow in awakening to the truth that there really was magic and supernatural phenomena in the world.
“Professor Lawrence,” he said, settling back down into his seat. “How good to see you. Come in, come in. Do have a seat.”
Sam inclined his head in thanks.
“How can I help you, Sam, my boy?”
“Well, sir, I…”
“Sam. Sam. We’ve known each other since you were a young sprat just learning your first incantations. Call me Solomon.”
“Solomon,” Sam said. “It’s about Marcus.”
The man’s face grew grave. “Ah. Yes. Marcus. A sad story. The boy had such potential.”
“Had such potential, si… Solomon?”
The man’s expression was kind but sad. “The death of his aimé. His beloved. Kendra, her name was? It seems to have unhinged him. We need sanity, Sam." He shook his head. "You know that. The work we do, how we do it. It is too chancy for an unstable or a broken mind. It will kill him if he keeps on as he is. And he knows no signs of stopping.”
“He says he keeps hearing her voice.”
“Does he? Voix des mortes?" He tapped his fingers on the wood of his desk. "And you? Have you heard her voice?”
“No,” Sam admitted.
“Have you encountered any evidence of spectral activity around him?”
“Neither has Professor Ling. We’ve asked her. She’s looked. No, Sam. It might simply be madness. Our students are under incredible strain while they’re here. This might have simply been the final push that did him in. It's not his fault. Not your fault. Not anybody’s fault.”
“Oh, it’s somebody’s fault, Solomon,” Sam said, and his brows darkened a little bit. “Somebody did something. Somebody killed her.”
“And do you agree with him? Do you think it was the hemovores?”
“The vampires?" Sam met the older man's eyes. "Honestly, Solomon. No. No, I don’t think so. I don’t want to think so. The treaty has held for so long.”
“The treaty holds because neither group pushes too hard into the others’ business. We’ve made inquiries. They’ve denied involvement. It ends there." The dean's expression turned stern. "Further investigations might cause offence, especially since that affair with the Van Helsing girl. It's only the light's very own blessing that we weren't involved with that or we'd already have them at our throats." Sam shifted in his seat and the dean's stern look turned perilous. "We don’t have the numbers for a war, Sam. Not with the nightmares breaking free. We already have enough on our hands without fighting a battle on two fronts.”
“I know that.”
“And you know that you already do enough. More than the rest of us are capable of, with our… other obligations. But we all have a still greater obligation to keep this city alive. A war with the hemovores, with the serpens sanguinis, means a war with the Dead Court, so long as their patriarch holds the stone chair. Can we sustain that fight and the nightmares?”
Sam was quiet.
“No. We cannot.” The man sighed and looked away, his expression softening. “I don’t like it either, Sam. She was a fine girl. She might have been a fine witch one day. Endora swears she was one of the best in her class. But these things happen. C'est la vie.”
Sam stayed silent.
“What were you going to ask me about Marcus, Sam?”
“I was going to see if there was anything you could do for him. I guess not.”
“We can only help him as much as he wants to help himself. Maybe the matron can say something to him that can change his heart, or help pull him out of the spiral he’s leapt into. But Sam, we all lose people. It is, regrettably, the most common wound of the spirit. How we deal with it is part of what makes us who we are. Part of what qualifies us to wield the power of the otherworld is our ability to think responsibly, even when hurting. To put the greater good first, and to know when action is too dangerous. His response to this... doesn’t bode well.”
Sam nodded, and slowly rose. “Well. Dean. Solomon. Thank you for your time and your wise words. I will consider them.” The dean nodded, and gestured that Sam could go.
When Sam put his hand on the doorknob, the dean called out. “Sam?”
“The nightmares. Have you found where they’re coming from?”
Sam nodded. “I have. There is a door, in the Arsenal. It wasn't there before. It connects to some part of nightmare... and there's a fog leaking out from under it.”
The man considered carefully. “So this is a result of your affair in May. With the Goblins.”
“Result? I don’t think so. I think this was happening before.”
“Sam. Everything we do causes ripples. Do not drag the rest of us down in your wake. We are important to the survival of this city, and this world. More important than one lost girl. Remember that, whatever you do."
Sam’s face hardened. “I will remember your words, Dean. Don’t worry. Now… I have class in ten minutes. Are we done?”
The Dean nodded, his dark eyes unreadable. “Thank you, Doctor Lawrence. You may go.”
Sam turned and left, trying hard not to slam the door behind him.