The Necromancer: Part Five
By the time the High Commissioner finished his interrogation, Emma was nearly done cross-referencing all of the different Lawson-related interviews in her files, and thirty-four minutes had passed. It was a long time past midnight. The harsh artificial lights glared against the tiled floors and the dark windowpanes, creating an impression that was almost surreal. Or maybe it was just that she was tired, and everybody except one guard had left. She caught herself chewing her pen and put it down neatly next to her papers in disgust. For some reason she couldn't work – couldn't concentrate. Her eyes kept straying to the locked iron door of the interrogation room, and her thoughts kept drifting back to what Nick had said. But how could it be that she was so unsettled by nothing?
Because nothing was precisely what Mr. Lockwood had done. Emma was no idealist. She knew that sometimes, brutal methods had to be used to achieve results, and she was a supporter of results in all cases. Lockwood had not laid a hand on Jones. He had not even allowed himself the latitude of an average detective – at least, he had not when Miss Ward was in the room, and she could judge by nothing else.
But still she felt uneasy, and was relieved when the door opened and Lockwood came out followed by Jones. The Kyrii looked shaken, almost sick, but unharmed. The High Commissioner was as composed as ever. "You," he addressed the guard, "and you, Miss Ward, perhaps you will do me the honor of accompanying us to the dungeons."
"Have you established guilt, Comissioner?" Emma asked as they began walking. The sound of her heels echoed in the empty hallway.
He seemed to consider his words before answering. "Mr. Jones is not our killer."
"Then why are you detaining him?"
"Because it pleases me to do so, Miss Ward, and because he has most willfully interfered with our investigation. In any case he is an embezzler." Casually he handed her the piece of paper he was holding, and Emma scanned it quickly. It was a handwritten sheet, signed by Conrad Jones – a confession, she realized. Not of murder, however, but of robbery: in his capacity as deputy director it appeared he had been helping himself to the Public Relations department's funds.
"I don't understand, sir," she said with a frown. "What does this have to do with Lawson's murder?"
"Ah, Miss Ward. I am an idealist, you know. I simply cannot bear the thought of wrongdoing. I cannot conceive of any crime going unpunished."
It struck her as a strange thing for him to say, since as far as she could tell he was positively cynical, but it was not her place to question his motives. Her job was simply to carry out his orders and be as efficient as possible, which luckily were areas in which Miss Ward excelled.
Still, she could not help wondering where Lockwood was going with this case. What had Jones said to him in that room? How could he be so sure that they hadn't caught the murderer? He seemed to have proceeded so far on instinct and pure whim rather than facts and evidence, and this was a strategy that Emma could not approve.
The Draik guard led the way sedately through the winding halls; within a few minutes they had reached the dungeon entrance. The sentries there let them pass and they proceeded into Master Vex's domain.
Emma had never been here before, and she looked around with a certain amount of interest. The facilities, she thought, could hardly be called a dungeon. It was obvious that at one time they had deserved the name, but now everything was, if not exactly cheerful or aesthetically pleasing, well taken care of and not at all damp or drafty. The stone corridors were, however, lit by flaming torches mounted on the walls; and when they reached the warden himself, his little table was illuminated by a single melting candle. The weathered, careworn Mynci sat hunched over a game of Cellblock, gloomily contemplating the board although he appeared to have no opponent. He looked up as he heard them approaching and twitched his scarred eyebrow upward in some unidentifiable emotion.
"Master Vex," Lockwood greeted him calmly.
Emma observed that the warden did not seem even remotely intimidated by Lockwood's presence. Instead he looked thoughtfully at his visitor, maintaining his silence.
Lockwood inclined his head slightly toward Emma. "I will leave the rest in your remarkably capable hands, Miss Ward."
She nodded, and watched him walk away before turning back to Master Vex. She knew the procedure, of course; there were very few procedures she did not know. "I am entering this prisoner, Conrad Jones, into custody on behalf of the High Commissioner."
Vex rubbed his chin and moved a piece on the board in front of him. "Are you now."
"Yes," she replied, wondering why it was that all of the Citadel's officials had to be so eccentric. "I will require the forms, sir."
"Then I will get them for you," he said, though he made no move to do so. "You sign for Mr. Lockwood, do you?"
"Yes," she said again. Since he had not asked for an explanation, she did not venture to give one.
"Hmm. And, may I ask, what has Conrad Jones done?"
It was true enough that the prisoner looked very unlike a criminal, and the question nearly gave Emma pause because, in fact, she didn't quite understand the situation herself. But she instantly recalled the signed confession and handed it to him. "I believe this will be sufficient explanation."
Master Vex said nothing for a few seconds. Then he remarked, "How ironic. I would have figured High Commissioner Lockwood for a take-no-prisoners kind of person."
"I can't comment on that, sir," she said without emotion. What on earth did he mean by that, she wondered?
"No... no, I suppose you can't." She was beginning to worry that he would never give her the papers, when at last he rose abruptly from his chair. "Well, Miss Ward, I'll get you your forms. And you might consider telling your superior to remember that five in a row is a win, but four in a row is as good as none."
With that cryptic comment, he disappeared into the darkness of the hallway.
It was nearly five o'clock in the morning, and deep in the heart of the dungeons Master Vex was playing Cellblock with Lord Darigan. The single candle had nearly burned down; all that could be seen now was the shadowed faces of the two players, and the gleaming eyes of the prisoners behind their barred cell doors. All was silent, except for the occasional whisper and the clop of a stamping hoof.
Suddenly Master Vex's voice broke the silence. "You almost had that game, Darigan. Very close – you're improving. But you forgot your strategy at the last minute."
"I suppose you are right." Darigan smiled slightly. "I don't have your head for strategizing, old friend." He sighed, sweeping his pieces off the board. "There are times when I truly think I should resign and leave it all up to you. You'd make a better leader than any of us."
"Me? Rule the Citadel?" Vex gave a derisive laugh. "I think not. My place is here, in the dungeons, till the day I die. But if you're interested, I do have a piece of advice for you. Not one that you will want to hear, I admit. Still, that doesn't make it any less a piece of advice. If anything it probably makes it more."
"You know that I am always both grateful and honored to hear your opinions."
The warden, however, did not begin immediately with giving his opinion. "The High Commissioner paid me a visit today. Tell me, now that you've seen him doing his job for a little while, what do you think of Mr. Lockwood?"
Darigan rubbed his eyes wearily, clearly foreseeing where this was headed. "I think he is a generally well-meaning individual with some really dangerous personality traits. Does that satisfy you?"
"No," Vex replied simply. "What if he is not so well-meaning? Lockwood is dangerous, you're right. He is dangerous and unstable. Rumor has it that he's insane..."
"An untrue claim; he may be unstable to a degree, but he is not insane."
"So you say. A sorcerer, 'unstable to a degree,' with 'dangerous personality traits'. Where could anything go wrong?"
"A sorcerer with no ability to use magic is hardly a threat."
"Oh yes, you say his claws have been removed. And nobody can be dangerous without magic - is that right?"
Shrugging helplessly, Darigan neither argued nor agreed. Instead he replied, "If I have made a mistake, then at least I'll have made it with my eyes open. I will trust Lockwood until I have reason to do otherwise. He has made mistakes – very, very grave mistakes, and... in short, I am hardly the one to condemn him. What right do I have to deny him a second chance? How can I judge him harshly for succumbing to the exact same temptation that I once did?"
"In theory, maybe you're right. But you have to look at what's actually happening. Jhudora knows, our detectives are bad enough without a High Commissioner who terrorizes suspects the way Lockwood does."
"The entire system," Darigan acknowledged painfully, "has a long way to go. Whatever I do, I cannot seem to eradicate the influence of Kass's reign. But I have not heard anything to prove that Lockwood is any worse than all the rest. And he is very efficient, to say the least."
"Perhaps he is. When it comes to the detectives, however, let them run their own department. At least let them choose unwisely for themselves! They've been doing what they do for a long time, and interference will only breed resentment. You should not have made an appointment at all, Darigan. But," he interrupted himself, "you know how I feel about all that. Now, speaking of efficient, I don't trust Lockwood's new assistant either. A Miss Emma Ward – are you familiar with her at all?"
"No, I'm afraid I am not."
"In that case you might be well advised to remember the name. If I disliked Lockwood even a little bit less, I would have warned him to watch his back."
"You think then that she is untrustworthy?" Darigan mused, drumming his long fingers on the edge of the table.
"She's too cold – too ruthless. The kind that sticks at absolutely nothing. You know what I mean."
The candle, having reached its absolute end, flickered and died out. "Well," said Darigan, his yellow eyes glowing in the near-total darkness, "I will give a good deal of thought to everything you have said, Vex."
To be continued...