Month 1, Day 30, Saturday 5:30 p.m.
Oliver froze, deliberately keeping himself from visibly reacting to Percival’s revelation. “You have a photograph of the Raven Queen,” he repeated.
Percival nodded, clutching at his left wrist as he stepped closer. “I got it that night a few months ago, when she fought against the Morrows from that old bell tower. That time was an accident, too, actually. My camera confused the lightning for a flash and triggered on its own.”
“What exactly does the photograph show?”
Percival grimaced. “It’s the view from a building a few blocks away, looking up at the Raven Queen across the street. She’s free-casting, with the spell array glowing above her hand, her cloak whipping around in the wind, and the afterimage of a lightning bolt behind her. My camera obscura has the latest cutting-edge technology. It only takes about a second to capture the image, so it’s feasible to take photographs of more than just still objects. She’s barely blurred!”
Oliver’s voice remained tightly controlled. “Is her face identifiable?”
“Well…no. It’s from quite far away, the lighting conditions are sub-optimal, and the spell array is between her face and the camera. But it’s her!”
Some of Oliver’s tension departed. “I will need to examine the image. Have you shown it to anyone else?”
Percival fiddled with his glasses, shaking his head. “I was too afraid. I thought she, or you, might retaliate against me if I talked. They say the Raven Queen holds grudges, and the rumors about what she does to those she doesn’t like…” He shuddered visibly. “I do not want to anger her. Or you. This isn’t some insane threat that I’ll sell the photograph to the coppers or the newspaper. But since I have it…I thought you might be interested in buying the negative as a package deal with the one I took today.”
Oliver leaned back in his chair despite his desire to get up and snatch the cartridge from the boy’s hand. “How is it you find yourself in these situations, Percival Irving? Are you searching them out? Were you following the Raven Queen? Or actively trying to make contact with me today?”
Some of Oliver’s emotion leaked into his tone, and Percival was at least smart enough to recognize the danger, flinching and waving his hands frantically in denial. “No, no! It was all a coincidence,” he insisted, then hesitated. “Well, perhaps not totally a coincidence, because I have…peculiar luck. Things tend to go wrong for me, all at once, in cascading, interesting ways.” The word “interesting” had the tone of a particularly vile curse word, and Percival’s lip drew up in a grimace of loathing. “I periodically find myself in the middle of events that I never intended to be involved in and am not prepared to handle.”
Oliver was silent, staring at him through the shadow-black eye holes of his mask.
“I’m not just saying that!” Percival assured him. “I had a run-in with a hag, and there seems to be some luck magic involved.”
“Whatever you want to call it—luck, probability manipulation, or just some force influencing my decisions or the events around me in seemingly random ways that are actually calculated and deliberate—I don’t know. Call it what you will, strange things happen around me. I’m really, really not searching out danger.”
Oliver steepled his fingers together, watching the frustrated boy return his gaze. “And these coincidences lead to you taking photographs of important people and events?”
“Among other things, but yes. I’ve witnessed or been involved in six incidents that could have gotten me injured or even killed in the last few months alone, and which made me witness to multiple serious crimes. Seven events if you count today, I suppose. When interesting things happen, it’s like a magnet draws me in against my will.”
Oliver might have brushed the claim off as ridiculous, but he’d spent years traveling the settled areas of the world, and had experienced enough to hesitate before discounting a tale such as Percival’s. “Tell me more.”
The boy did, in a rambling, passionate account that lasted almost twenty minutes and proved to be quite entertaining. Several times Oliver nearly burst into riotous guffaws at the ridiculous situations Percival got himself into, only holding back so that he didn’t seem too eager. The boy even rolled up his sleeve to show Oliver the mysterious tattoo that had started it all.
Finally, Oliver admitted, “If what you tell me is true, it does seem that you’ve experienced a strange number of coincidences. Even more surprising were the ways you managed to get through them.” Anecdotal evidence was useless, of course, and the boy could be either misguided or an excellent liar, but Oliver was intrigued nonetheless. Although the truth wasn’t verifiable, he made a note to keep Percival as far from Siobhan as possible. The last thing he needed was the boy dragging her into his orbit of misfortune. She got into enough “interesting” situations without extra help. “I will buy both originals. Did you bring the other with you?”
Percival reached into his pants pocket, pulling out some lint, a couple of coins, and a wad of thick, dark paper, which Percival had used to cover the negative disk in lieu of a cartridge.
After verifying that it was safe to do so, Oliver unwrapped and inspected it. The image had been captured from quite far away, and was indistinct but still dramatic. He could make out his own form beside Siobhan, his mask a white spot against the darkness, battle wand outstretched, with the blurred streak of a glowing spell shooting toward the silhouetted forms on the street below. “Sixteen gold for both, then?” he asked, already putting the negative back in its protective wrapping and moving both it and the cartridge into one of his desk drawers.
“Umm, that works, but I actually need the cartridge from today back? It’s got two other negatives in it that I took earlier today. Nothing you’d be interested in. I saved up for the camera for a long time, but I didn’t realize how expensive negative disks and development would be. I’ve been trying to cover the cost by taking portraits of people. That’s what I was originally doing in the market today.”
Oliver pulled out the cartridge, then carefully examined the other two disks to ensure they were really as innocuous as stated.
“I guess this camera really is paying for itself!” Percival babbled nervously as he accepted the disks from Oliver’s outstretched hand. “I sent a couple of my photographs—normal ones, nothing like this—to the newspaper, but they weren’t interested in purchasing them without a story to go along with the photo. The only stories I have are the kind I can’t sell for fear of retaliation, or that the newspaper wouldn’t buy for fear of retaliation!” He laughed at his own joke.
The mention of the newspaper brought to mind the old printing press Oliver had found in Lord Morrow’s basement, covered in junk, dust and cobwebs. He stilled, making connections and sparking upon an idea that had been half-formed until that moment.
With some soap, lubricating oil, and maybe a bit of magic, he was sure they could repair the press and get it working again—certainly for much less than it would cost to buy a similar artifact. In fact, it might be possible to drive such an old model with manpower alone, without the need for a thaumaturge on staff. “Are you a decent writer, Percival?”
“I can read and write as well as anyone! My mom taught all us kids,” the boy said proudly.
“I don’t mean just technically. Are you engaging? Can you tell a decent story in text form, the same way you just told me all those stories about your misfortunes?”
“I haven’t written them down or tried to get them published, if that’s what this is about?” Percival said, tilting his head to the side with a frown, looking like a one-eyed owl.
Oliver leaned forward. “How would you like a job as the main investigative journalist of a brand-new publication, dedicated to the needs of the people and telling the truth? That artifact of yours will come in handy. And I can give you your first interview right now.”
Next chapter coming the first Thursday of April, 4/7. From then on, regular weekly Thursday chapters will resume.
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