“Which to Bury: Us or the Hatchet?”
story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb
VIEW CONTENT WARNING
“Her Divine Wisdom Karamat,” announced the white-clad page, “High Servant of Truth, High Priestess of Thoth, and Most Holy Steward of the Hermetic Order of Khmun.” The boy bowed low from the waist, then stood to one side as Karamat’s procession filed into the Office of the Archmagus.
Two bare-chested, heavy-set guards entered first, took up posts on either side of the door. They were followed by Thutmose IX, the High Servant’s famed Right Hand, whose alchemically reinforced khopesh swayed pendulously from his sword belt. He was looming, well-muscled, with dark blond hair streaking past his naked shoulders and a hard jaw glittering with stubble. His silver gaze pierced Elisha and his father briefly from within thick rings of kohl as he took his place by the chair in front of the Archmagus’s desk.
The High Servant herself was next to advance into the room, with a fresh-faced young swordswoman bringing up the rear of her escort.
Karamat was an imperious, well-built young woman with piercing dark eyes and sleek black hair cut in blunt bangs across a proud brow. She wore regalia like what might have attired an ancient Egyptian priestess or queen: a white linen tunic, jeweled sash, and feather crown, and a leopard skin with a gold Eye-of-Horus clasp, lapis lazuli eyes gleaming from its snarling skull. Her crook and flail she clasped ceremonially crossed over her chest as she paced toward the Archmagus’s desk, her attendants assuming a tight formation around and behind her.
Levi and Elisha rose to their feet.
“Em hotep nefer, Your Honor.” The High Servant’s penetrating stare bored into the elder Weyland’s.
Levi received her with a placid gaze. “Em hotep nefer, Your Wisdom.”
“Em hotep nefer, Your Wisdom,” chimed in Elisha.
Karamat’s eyes did not stray from the Archmagus. “Prefect; em hotep nefer.”
She handed the crook and flail to her page, then lowered herself into the brown leather bergère in front of Levi’s desk. The Weylands, too, took their seats.
The High Servant sat with her left hand flat on her left knee. She held her right fist briefly over her heart, then brought it to rest on her right knee. Ordinators kept silent vigil on either side of the Archmagus’s desk.
“If it’s all the same to you, High Councillor,” said Karamat, “I’ll dispense with the usual pleasantries.”
“Indeed.” Levi smiled. “Who has the time?”
“Given that you have the perpetrator of the May 14th attack in custody, and he is one of your own constituents, it must be apparent to you that no one from my order had any part in that egregious act.”
“Harper is only a suspect as yet,” said Levi. “He has yet to render a confession, and he has not yet gone to trial. Therefore, his guilt is as yet uncertain, and it remains unknown what, if any, accomplices may have supported or facilitated his crime.
“However,” he was quick to add, as the High Servant’s expression turned fierce, “neither is there any evidence whatsoever implicating either membership or leadership of the Hermetic Order of Khmun in the May 14th attack.”
Karamat raised her chin, surveyed him along the length of her aquiline nose. “Your great-nephew and his growing faction seem grievously unconscious of that fact.”
The Archmagus nodded understanding. “Rest assured, I myself do not share Hunter’s views.”
“Yet you have not publicly condemned them.”
Elisha could see his father carefully selecting the words of his response. “I am sure you understand, Your Wisdom, that it would be a violation of Ordo Arcanus law for a sitting Archmagus to issue a statement or otherwise act in any fashion that might be construed as either an endorsement or a denunciation of a candidate currently campaigning for public office within our order.”
Karamat arched one painted eyebrow. “Have you not broad power as Archmagus to change and interpret your own laws?”
She wasn’t wrong. But it was also true, Elisha knew, that overuse of the Archmagus’s sweeping powers, particularly in defiance of time-honored conventions, had historically proven a political liability. Levi Weyland’s sparing use of unilateral action had been credited by most commentators with having kept him safely in his post these past thirty-five years.
“To be perfectly frank, Your Honor,” Karamat went on, “your reticence in this matter leads me to question whether you are truly an ally of our order after all.”
“I urge you not to be overly hasty in your conclusions, Your Wisdom,” replied the Archmagus, evenly.
“Shall I detail for you the offenses your people have committed against mine since your grand-nephew embarked on his campaign of defamation?” Karamat counted on her jeweled fingers. “Death threats, harassment—my people are afraid to leave their homes, to be seen wearing their sacred colors in public. Members of your order have repeatedly defiled our holy icons and shrines. Several butchered cats—animals you’re no doubt aware are sacred to us—were hurled through the window of our High Temple during our holy celebration of the Feast of the Receiving of Ra. Even our children have not been spared these abuses, Your Honor. Those attending your academy through the exchange program have reported unconscionable treatment at the hands of Arcanus students, and sometimes even instructors.”
“So I’ve heard,” admitted Levi, “and, believe me, I consider that a matter of grave concern. My own granddaughter is quite good friends with a girl who belongs to your order. She brought the matter to my attention some weeks ago.”
“If it is true that the suffering of my people concerns you, then I call upon you, High Councillor, to do everything in your considerable power to neutralize these extremists within your ranks. I can hardly justify to my membership the continued abnegation of so many of our own ancient and honorable traditions in the interest of maintaining such fair-weather friendship as you have shown us of late.” She leveled her glittering stare at him. “Curb the barking of your mad-dog nephew, Your Honor. Or we of the Hermetic Order of Khmun will be forced at long last to reconsider our deference to the rule of the Auctoritas Magicae.”
A silence hung heavy on the air. Elisha saw the good humor subtly vanish from his father’s expression. “Let me remind you in all good faith, Your Wisdom,” pronounced Levi, slowly, “that a violation of the Delphi Accords would constitute grounds for war. I urge you strongly not to act out of turn, but rather to permit us more time to assess and respond to your concerns.”
Karamat matched his gaze. “As you say, Your Honor. Our High Priesthood will revisit this matter after you’ve declared the winner of your magisterial election.” She rose to her feet, gestured for her crook and flail.
Levi remained seated. “As I’ve stated, High Servant, it is not my place, nor is it my custom or wish to meddle in my order’s longstanding democratic processes. And I do not care for your flagrant efforts to coerce me into doing so.”
“I did not intend my statements as an ultimatum, Your Honor; nor a threat. You may consider them…” Karamat crossed the crook and flail over her chest; curved her lips in a humorless smile. “…fair warning.”
The High Priestess nodded once to her Right Hand, who gave the signal to her retinue to assume their formation. One by one, they filed out of the office. The page took up the rear, gave a deep bow before hurrying after his superiors.
“Go out in the hall, and shut the door behind you,” Levi bade his Ordinators. “And one of you fetch me Thorsten Nimri, posthaste.”
The stone-faced guards nodded their assent, plodded out. Levi got up to erect his shield of silence, then returned to his desk.
“You think she means it?” Elisha asked, and realized he was breathing properly for the first time in several minutes.
“It would be irresponsible, I fear”—Levi eased himself back into his chair—“to assume that she doesn’t.”
“Well…fuck me. I mean, you probably should release a statement, Dad. Not denouncing Hunter specifically, but condemning the harassment in general terms. It’s the right thing to do anyway, and I really don’t see how anyone could construe it as interfering in the election.”
“I believe I shall, at that. Perhaps you should, too.”
“Done and done.”
“And hopefully this will be sufficient to placate that…woman.” Levi exhaled coarsely through his nose. “Thorsten’s still favored to win the election, is he not?”
“By a fair margin. Not as fair as I’d like, to tell you the truth, and opinion polls are never a sure bet. But it looks like the old boy’s still well ahead, at least as of a week ago.”
“Wasn’t there some kind of mishap this morning at his rally?”
“I…didn’t hear about that.”
“Wendell came to me about it. Said there was some sort of a disturbance, and that Thorsten reacted in a, ah…less-than-statesmanly fashion.”
“Oh, Lord. Well, I guess you can ask him about it firsthand when he gets that punk ass of his in here.”
“If it came to war with Khmun,” mused Levi, reverently, “no doubt Oliphas would stand with us.”
“Oh, absolutely.” Elisha’s chest constricted at the prospect. “The rest would too, I’m sure, whether they were feeling particularly gung-ho about it or not. The Accords require them to back us up, and they’ll do it, unless they’re ready to go apostate themselves.”
“La Messe Noire would throw in their lot with Khmun,” said Levi. “I’m sure of it.”
“Well, I mean, sure. But what are there, twelve of them? Who gives a flying fuck what they do.”
Levi nodded, let out a sigh. “Surely Karamat will be willing to hear reason, should worse come to worst. Khmun is mighty, but the High Servant is certainly aware that waging war against the unified might of Ordo Arcanus, Fraternitas Mercurii, and the Initiates of the Divine Flame would be mass suicide.” There came a knock at the door. “Enter,” said Levi, before seemingly remembering he couldn’t be heard through his sound shield. “Elisha—if you would.”
Elisha got up, opened the door.
Thorsten Nimri stepped over the threshold, looked startled as the sound shield crackled and sparked at his passage. The Magistrate bowed deeply before seating himself in the chair Karamat had just vacated.
Elisha closed the door after him, resumed his own seat.
“Your Honor; Prefect,” Thorsten greeted both Weylands. “How may I be of service?”
Levi eyed him. “What’s this I hear about some sort of kerfuffle at your rally?”
The Magistrate blanched, heaved a sigh. “Your Honor, some demonstrators—supporters of my opponent—showed up outside raising a most unholy ruckus, very rudely interrupting Jules’s speech. The Ordinators did their job; denied the miscreants access to the venue. My child, however”—he seemed to cringe at the recollection—“in his infinite wisdom, gave the order that they be admitted.”
Elisha and his father exchanged glances. “Why would he do a thing like that?” Elisha asked.
“In his words”—Thorsten sighed—“‘They have grievances. We should hear them.’”
Elisha winced. “Go on.”
“Jules then attempted to field questions from this unruly mob, and it went about as well as you might imagine. The ungrateful wretches treated him abominably. Kept calling him, of all things, a liar and a fraud. Finally, one of them deployed a particular epithet that I, as a father, could not countenance.”
“Oh.” Reflexively, if reluctantly, Elisha rifled through possibilities in his head.
“I…see no reason to repeat it here.” The Magistrate’s expression turned stonier—if that was possible. “Suffice it to say it was a slur regarding my child’s, erm, sexuality. I may have reacted…” He averted his gaze. “…uncharitably.”
Levi raised one hoary eyebrow. “Well, Thorsten? Just how bad was it? What did you say?”
The Magistrate again sighed ponderously. “To the best of my recollection…‘You uncivilized rabble! How dare you speak to my son in such a fashion? If you only knew how avidly he takes your part.’ And then I ordered the riffraff thrown out of the meeting hall. I fear I was quite incensed.”
An awkward silence followed the confession.
“‘Uncivilized,’ eh? ‘Rabble,’ eh?” ventured Elisha at last, with an oops in his tone and smile.
Thorsten bowed his head, nodded.
“Oh dear,” uttered Levi, after a beat. “Am I to assume these demonstrators hailed mostly from the Rising Houses?”
“Indeed.” Thorsten scowled, shook his head. “That boy of mine and his fool notions; attempting to engage rationally with that—that horde of witless apes.” He gave a snort. “Jules far exceeds me in both intellect and ingenuity. I’ve been forced to acknowledge that of late. But he places far too much trust in people’s capacity to accept reason and act honorably. The look on his face when they called him that word…”
Elisha bent his mouth sympathetically. “You want me to have a little talk with Jules? Try to cheer him up a bit?”
Thorsten made a dry, voiceless sound that was almost a laugh. “Much as I’m wringing my hands on his behalf, I think he’s coping well enough. After the whole debacle was over, in private, he hugged me. Can you imagine that? Threw his arms around my neck like he used to when he was a child, and said in my ear, ‘Love you, Dad.’” He paused, cleared his throat. “Then he said, and I quote, ‘You just screwed yourself silly, old man.’”
“Damn. He ain’t wrong.” Elisha joined his father in a chuckle, then swished air thoughtfully between his cheeks. “Well, well, well. How to spin this.”
“An apology is in order, I should think,” said Levi.
Thorsten scowled. “Off the record, I am not sorry in the least. But I’ll release whatever sort of statement you deem appropriate, Your Honor.”
“Maybe express regret regarding your choice of words,” chimed in Elisha, “and that you may have—unintentionally—appeared to paint Rising-House folks with a broad brush. But it might actually play well if, at the same time, you double down on your defense of Jules. It’ll read as sincere, and also highlight the fact that you’re a man who stands by his family. That’s always a good look.”
Thorsten jabbed a forefinger at Elisha. “That—yes. I am most amenable to that, Prefect.”
Levi nodded agreement, toyed thoughtfully with his beard. “Remind me how your platform addresses Rising-House concerns, Thorsten.”
“It—doesn’t, specifically,” said the Magistrate, a bit sheepishly. “Jules has made a few suggestions to that end, but I’ve not approved any of them as yet.”
“Now might be the time,” said Elisha.
“It’s a bit of a tightrope walk,” added Levi. “It’s doubtful you’ll be able to compete with Hunter for the Rising-House vote, but it’s best not to alienate that group altogether—nor to appear prejudiced, which wouldn’t be received well by the membership in general. At the same time, you don’t want to embrace such forward-thinking policies that you end up losing favor with your conservative base.”
Elisha remained silent at this. There was no doubt truth in his father’s words. Levi hadn’t hung onto power for more than three decades for nothing, after unbroken centuries of Lockwood dynastic rule. Still, while he usually deferred to it without question, Elisha had never wholeheartedly endorsed the degree of compromise his father’s political philosophy called for.
“Perhaps I ought to submit a draft of the new positions for your approval before making them public,” said Thorsten. “And my apology statement as well.”
“That would be wise, I think,” said Levi.
“I’ll convene my campaign team tonight,” said Thorsten. “Have something for you by morning, Your Honor—if that is agreeable.”
“It is indeed. If there’s nothing further then, Thorsten, you may go.”
The Magistrate rose from his chair, bowed deeply. “Please accept my deepest gratitude for your continued support, Your Honor; Prefect. Let me assure you both I shall mind my tongue more carefully going forward.”
“I have no doubt, my dear old friend.” Levi smiled.
Thorsten turned, made his exit.
“I’m not overly worried,” remarked Levi after he’d gone.
“Me either,” said Elisha. “I think we can patch things up well enough. And Hunter’s still a long shot either way. I’m really more concerned about avoiding further bad blood with Karamat while the campaign’s ongoing.”
“I think we must also consider that this separatist movement Hunter’s created won’t necessarily die with his defeat. That’s why it’s ever more crucial that this business with your protégé be resolved in a timely fashion. If making the true circumstances of Harper’s guilt public would compromise your investigation, then can we not at least fabricate a story that will satisfy the membership in the meantime—even if it means we’re forced to correct ourselves later?”
“Nope. Like I told you, Dad, we can’t give the public anything, accurate or otherwise.” The only way to guarantee those apostate fuckers would keep Duncan’s family alive was by keeping it unclear whether or what Duncan had confessed. Unfortunately, there was no way Elisha could tell his dad that. “I really wish I could explain, but I can’t. Just believe me when I say I’m doing everything in my power to move things along.” His smile felt strained. “Swearsies.”
Levi’s expression lacked amusement. “See that you are, Elisha. I would rather not be forced to overrule you.”
The smile faded. “Dad…I told you, innocent lives are at stake here.”
“As are the very underpinnings of our social order. It is my obligation as leader to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to preserve them; to protect the interest of the greater good.” Levi eyed his son from beneath stern eyebrows. “Do I make myself clear?”
Elisha stared at him. “Painfully.”
Levi turned his attention to some paperwork. “Dismissed.”
Elisha sat numbly a moment before getting up from his chair and exiting into the corridor. He couldn’t remember being this pissed off at his father in years—not since his days as a closeted pubescent Dead Kennedys fan.
Guess I’m just gonna hafta get to the bottom of this bullshit, quick. The second those twisted motherfuckers believe they don’t need leverage over Duncan anymore, Monique and Andrew are dead.
He moved briskly through the cross-halls that veered into the Enchantment department, where he spied Noman Kher gliding toward him from the opposite direction, Crocs farting gently on the marble tile under the hems of his purple-on-gold robes. “Elisha!” The Magistrate’s face lit up in a serene smile. “We still on for our game today?”
Elisha felt a few of the knots inside him uncoil at the sound of his old friend’s voice. “Right! I almost forgot. I’m so in, brother.”
“That was a bold move, by the way—playing hooky the night of your own fancy party.” Noman slowed to a halt, his dark eyes twinkling gently. “You’ll have to catch me up on how you celebrated the rest of your evening.”
“Oh, jeez.” Elisha mimed a melodramatic facepalm. “If you call nursing one hell of a stomachache from overeating and over-drinking ‘celebrating,’ then I had myself a gay old time up in my cringey childhood bedroom all by myself.”
Noman gave a sympathetic wince. “That’s rough, my friend.”
“Eh. Guess I’m just coming to that golden time in my life where I finally gotta reassess my limits. Who’da thunk I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Bullshit, Elisha.” Noman chuckled. “You are every bit as young as you used to be.”
“Explain my Lindsay Lohan impression at the party, then.”
“You’re carrying a tremendous weight on your shoulders lately. It’s hardly a shock that you could only put up with so much having to feign interest in Wendell’s dog Madonna before your nervous system rebelled.”
‘A tremendous weight,’ eh, Nome. You have no freaking idea. “Solid theory, old chap.”
“I rarely miss, old bean.” Noman probed Elisha with his softly penetrating gaze.
Just watch this astute motherfucker figure out I’m lying to him.
“Kinda surprised DeShay wasn’t glued to your side,” said Noman, “up there holding your hair back while you were ralphing up lobster canapés and Dom Pérignon.”
“Oh, he would’ve been, if I’d told him where I went. DeShay’s nursed enough poor, beat-up suckers for ten lifetimes in the past few weeks. Really didn’t feel like adding myself to that number.”
Noman eyed him. “Well, I hope you’ve been giving yourself plenty of chances to unwind since then, old friend. Speaking of which, how about we go crack open a couple of cold ones? Maybe just stick with checkers for today? Seems to me you could use something relatively mindless.”
“Oh, hell, yeah. I could really go for a nice—”
Elisha cut himself off, feeling a buzzing against his chest; clapped a clumsy hand over his breast pocket; withdrew from it the watch that wasn’t a watch; glanced at its face, maintaining a casual expression. “Damn—you know what? I, uh, actually forgot I scheduled something today that I really don’t think I can get out of.”
Noman surveyed Elisha’s face, then switched his gaze to the Prefect’s hand as he slipped the watch back in his pocket. A slight frown creased the Magistrate’s brow. “I’m sorry to hear that, friend. You never seem to catch a break lately. You know, if it’s anything you could use help with, all you ever have to do is ask. You were the one who took me under your wing when I joined the Assembly. I always felt I owed you for that.”
Elisha heaved a sigh. “You don’t know how much that means to me, Nome. Really. But…I don’t think you can help me with this one.”
Not without violating your principles. Big-time.
Noman shrugged his face faintly, nodded. “Offer stands.” He continued past, his gentle smile returning. “Just so you know.”
“Thanks, brother.” Elisha forced a bitter smile of his own.
He clapped his friend on the back; continued on his way, thinking back to the day sixteen years ago when he’d dropped off a tacky fruit basket in a young Noman Kher’s new office as a whimsical welcome. That felt like ages ago now. Nome had been only eighteen then, a youthful firebrand who’d come up in the Academy as a boarder, distinguishing himself right away as a gnostic and telekinetic prodigy without benefit of family or connections. It hadn’t been till a few years after his historic election to the Second Magistrature that he’d embraced his now-famous pacifism, sworn off the histrionics of excitatory gnosis, and relearned his art from scratch—with stunning success—based on the more contemplative path of the inhibitory. For the few years prior to his “awakening,” as he now called it, Noman had been a Martial Magus serving under Devisha’s predecessor. Before he’d become its most celebrated sage, Magistrate Noman Kher had been perhaps the most fearsome battle-magus Ordo Arcanus had ever boasted.
Elisha glanced back over his shoulder at the tranquil man who seemed to glide down the light-latticed hallway, bestowing a calm, clear smile on everyone he met. “I need some of what you’re smoking, old friend,” he muttered under his breath.
It wasn’t even ten minutes later that Caliban stood in front of a mirror in one of the many sound-sealed chambers in the secret underbelly of the Enclave, gazing through the glass into a dimly lit room at some undisclosed location. A lean, slump-shouldered phantom of a man gazed back.
“There’s been buzz about the place on the street,” Gideon was saying, “’cause a’ some crazy thing went down there last month. Asian kid got into it with the bouncer, knocked him flat, caused a big stir. Coupla’ minutes later, thunder and black smoke come rollin’ outta the boys’ room. Two mundane kids gone missing that night. Mundane cops come out and didn’t find a damn thing out of the ordinary—someone did a quick cleanup job, maybe some glamor work, I’d guess—but a friend of the two kids who disappeared was there that night and saw some shit.
“I had to work him over to get anything out of him. Someone musta scared ’im good. But he said a buddy of his had went in that bathroom to help out a kid who had too much to drink, and the guy never came back out. After the thunderclap, Good Samaritan’s girlfriend goes running in after him. The kid I was talkin’ to went with her, but when he saw what was in there, he ran like a pussy—left the poor girl in there all alone. Never heard from her again.”
Elisha grunted. “What did he see?”
“Good-Samaritan kid, facedown in a pool of blood. Another guy passed out, bleeding from every orifice. Eyes, nose, mouth—even his crotch, jeans fucking soaked. Then a third guy, big guy, skin all burnt off. Just a big blackened bawling hunk a’ meat.”
“That’s a story, all right. But what’s it got to do with what I’m payin’ you to look for?”
“Plenty. That Amelia gal of yours? Turns out she was a regular at the place. Seen goin’ in and out almost daily, up until a coupla’ days after this shit went down.”
Elisha narrowed his eyes. “What’d you say the bar is called again?”
“Text me the address.”
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