Chapter 18
Hound in the Hole

Vigau, Arielle, Bonaventure

As handy as door alarm was, it would not be enough if Altai Turco came knocking. Giger had to devise a better system. He never expected he would need it a mere two days after he had it installed.
Even before the Mage Ban, the practice of magic was tightly regulated and the detectors served as an alert system for any spikes in magic outside the norm. After the Mage Ban, magic-based technology was taken off the streets and the overall ambient magic was greatly reduced, making it all the easier for the detectors to pick up illegal magic use.
Giger's new alert system took the technology the Witch-hunters relied on and turn it against them. With a little tweaking, he increased the sensitivity of the detectors to pick up any magic user who was not actively concealing his powers. While the regular alarm would go off with a spike at the regular threshold, Giger's own alarm transmitted a sound that only animals could hear, and that included magical animals.
"GI~~~GER!" Prissy yowled at the top of her lungs, loud enough to carry down to the basement.
Giger immediately dropped what he was doing and stepped out of his lab. Locking the door to the lab, he drew down the tapestry to cover the wall and then went over to his reading desk to take out a bag of pixy powder and a bundle of incense sticks out of the drawer. He lit the entire bundle with the taper on the desk, then drew out three sticks to put in a little brass holder. After sprinkling some of the pixy powder on the floor, he headed up.
He scattered pixy powder along the way, depositing a few more sticks on the reading desk in the corner of the living room.
"Gally, they're coming," he said. "Stall."
Confused, Gally asked him, "Giger, what's going on?"
"I said stall!" Giger snapped. He then shouted, "Prissy, Happy, upstairs!"
He spread more pixy powder throughout the living room, then went into the dining room to place more incense sticks. He also took care of the kitchen and bathroom, leaving incense sticks in the latter. With downstairs taken care of, he then made his way up. He put the last of the incense sticks on the nightstand by his bed and scattered the last of the pixy powder.
He hastily shed his robes and took out a sleeker leather suit that was specially designed to help mask his powers. It looked a bit silly even by Giger's sense of fashion, but necessity trumps all other concerns.
Prissy and Happy were already there, so once Giger was dressed, he told them, "Okay, time to transform."
Prissy of course required Giger's help, but Happy could transform himself. They took their young adult forms, their true age if they were human. Normally Prissy would be excited to be in her human form, but even she knew how serious the situation was.
"I want you two to stay up here," Giger said. "Try to look busy cleaning up. Put these on."
He tossed a pair of servant's outfits on the bed, then dug around in the closet to find chokers specially designed for each of them.
"And these."
Prissy was quick to object.
"Giger, I can't change int he same room with him!"
For someone who did not normally wear clothes at all, she was being rather silly, Giger thought.
"Prissy, we don't have time for this," he said. "Stand back-to-back if you have to, but be ready in case they come up here. Remember, you're Priscilla Prentice and you're Apollos Armand." He pointed to the outfits, "Passports are in the pockets. Stay cool and we might just live through this."
Prissy picked up the dress he had laid out for him and gave him an uncertain look. It was like she wanted to say something, but she did not get the chance as Gally called to him from downstairs.
"Mr. Ta~us!"
"Okay, I gotta go," Giger said. "Hurry up."
Giger took a deep breath--which was a little difficult with the incense filling the air--and made his way downstairs. Gally gave him a bit of a look at the sight of his new outfit but thankfully refrained from making any comment on it.
She gestured to the Witch-hunter who had previously visited the house and a wizard clad in bright red, yellow and orange, saying, "Mr. Taus, we have visitors."
"We meet again, Mr. Taus," the Witch-hunter said, pulling out a roll of paper from within his jacket, "and this time I've got a warrant."
"Hello, Inspector... Andress, was it?"
The Witch-hunter grinned.
"I'm flattered you remembered," he said. He then motioned to his wizard companion. "Allow me to introduce Master Altai Turco of ARCANUM."
Giger used the old salute for men of rank, placing his hand over his heart and bowing slightly.
"It's an honor, sir. I've never met a master mage before."
"Haven't you, Mr. Taus?" the Inspector asked.
It was almost insulting for him to make his traps so obvious.
"I believe we've already been over that one, Inspector," Giger said.
"Giger Taus... Giger Taus..." Turco muttered to himself. "I don't know that name."
"I can't imagine you would, Master Turco," Giger replied. "I'm really no one of note. Just another bohemian ne'er-do-well."
Eyeing Gally, the Inspector asked, "Who's the girl?"
"Miss Garmont is my housekeeper," Giger said.
The Inspector held out his hand.
"Passport."
Gally was well-trained enough to keep her passport on her and to produce it promptly when it was demanded of her. She only had to do it a couple times before, but she knew what to do.
The Inspector spent a few moments flipping through the pages before commenting, "You don't look like you're from Montrose."
Without hesitating, Gally replied, "My mother was from Senri, sir."
It was as smooth and natural as if it were the truth. Even with her memory restored, she seemed to be more the Gally Garmont Giger created that the person she was before the Cataclysm.
All the Inspector could say was a disinterested, "Hm."
After jotting down some notes in his notepad, he handed Gally her passport, then surveyed his surroundings and said, "Let's have a look around."
Neither he nor Turco had the courtesy to doff their shoes before stepping into the living room. The guest slippers at the entryway went ignored. While Turco mostly just stood there, the Inspector walked all over the living room. He wrinkled his nose a bit when he got close to the incense on the reading desk, but said nothing about it.
Stopping by the door to the basement, he asked, "What through here?"
"The basement," Giger replied.
"You know," the Inspector said, "you can tell a lot about a person from what they keep in their basement."
He motioned for Turco to follow him, but when Giger started to follow as well, he held up his hand to stop him.
"You can stay there," he said.
"Wouldn't it be better for liability purposes if I was there to witness?" Giger asked.
The accusation of planting evidence could easily derail a case, so it was generally seen as expedient to have the suspect present for a search. Only in rare cases would the police forgo the practice, but Giger pegged the Inspector for the sort who wanted an airtight case that guaranteed a conviction beyond any shadow of a doubt.
To still make a display of authority, the Inspector insisted, "The girl stays."
"Of course," Giger said obligingly.
With that, they made their way down to the basement. Because there was little ventilation, the incense had formed a purplish haze and Giger had to suppress a cough. The Inspector covered his nose with his handkerchief and Turco held up his sleeve, looking like some vampire off the cover of a penny dreadful.
"You do seem rather fond of your incense," the Inspector said.
"It covers up the smell of the chemicals," Giger replied.
"What chemicals?"
"Photographic chemicals, Inspector."
By then they had gotten down the stairs. The first thing the Inspector said when he got a view of the study was a simple "Interesting."
He looked around a little more before asking, "What is it you use this room for, Mr. Taus?"
"It's my study," Giger replied, "and also the darkroom where I develop my plates."
This part was no lie, but he did not usually have everything set up. Part of his new camouflage was to make it look like he regularly worked on his photography rather than it being just an occasional activity. He had made some fresh prints and had several older ones pinned up as well to make him look like he was more productive than he was.
"There are those who say photography isn't art," the Inspector said.
"You don't have to go to Philistia to find philistines," Giger quipped.
The Inspector sniffed at this. As he was getting closer to the prints, Giger warned him, "Do be careful around the chemicals."
He did at least show some caution around the trays as he inspected the prints, commenting, "You seem to have an interest in the bronze statues."
Giger deliberately chose prints from his research on the statues to bolster his alibi. Now to sell his artistic interest in the subject.
"They're all that we have left of the Ancients, after all."
"Do you have a print of the one on Rue Meredy?" the Inspector asked, picking up one of the plates stacked to one side of the workbench.
"I haven't made a print yet," Giger said, "but it's the plate you're holding now."
It was difficult to really make out the image in such relatively low light, but the Inspector made a display of appreciating it for several moments before musing, "They say no modern artist has succeeded in capturing the human form so naturally. You'd almost think they could just come alive and hop right off their pedestals."
Did he really suspect that as a possibility? Best not to lend any credence to it, as anyone not versed in magic would.
"Sounds like some fairytale, Inspector," Giger said.
The Inspector made no comment, setting the plate back down and looking to his companion.
"Have you found anything, Master Turco?"
Turco was going back and forth uncertainly, as if he were continually remembering and then forgetting something, muttering to himself, "Something... Something... Nothing..."
His mutterings were obviously of little help, so the Inspector turned his attention back to Giger. He pulled out a little handheld detector from his trouser pocket. It was not entirely unlike the Witch Crystals that were going around, only this detector was a polished orb of crystal fixed to a handle that would limit any response from the person holding it.
"You know, Mr. Taus," he said, "I've been a Witch-hunter most of my career. These detectors are quite good. They shine so brightly when I find someone defying the Mage Ban, but look at it. It glows but faintly."
The pixy powder was serving its purpose. Magic-reactive crystals were ground down fine as dust. It was only marginally useful as a reagent, but when scattered about, it did make it incredibly difficult to pinpoint any but the strongest of magical signatures. Even an experienced wizard like Turco was struggling to pierce through the fog it created in the mind, an effect amplified by all the incense.
Giger had to feign ignorance, though.
"And what does that mean?" he asked.
"I don't know," the Inspector replied. "I've never seen it act this way before. Master Turco?"
Turco was busy still pacing and muttering, "Something... Must be something..."
Giger refrained from smiling at Turco's confusion. So far everything was going perfectly according to plan, but he was far from out of the woods yet. The Inspector's senses were not so easily dulled.
To draw his attention away from Turco's odd behavior, Giger said, "It's been my observation, Inspector, that when someone really wants to find something, they usually do, whether it's there or not."
The Inspector took the bait as expected and turned to Giger, saying, "Mr. Taus, you wouldn't be accusing me of a prejudiced investigation, would you?"
His words were laced with menace, but Giger did not dare flinch.
"All I know is that you've gone to a lot of trouble and I don't think you'll be satisfied to go home empty-handed."
"Only if there is something worth holding onto, Mr. Taus."
Their little dance was interrupted by Turco exclaiming, "What is this!?"
Turco was on his hands and knees, struggling in vain to draw on the floor with ring chalk.
"I should ask you the same thing, Master Turco," Giger said. "What are you trying to do?"
"The floor... What did you do to the floor?"
"It's been waxed, of course," Giger replied. "I have to keep my workspace clean."
"Is there a problem, Master Turco?" the Inspector asked.
Red-faced and flustered, Turco mumbled, "No," and promptly stood back up.
The Inspector looked over the basement one more time before saying, "Let's continue our inspection then. Lead the way, Mr. Taus."
Getting through the inspection of the basement without his lab being discovered was the first major hurdle. His collection of Lost Technology alone would net him a life sentence or two.
Once they were back up in the living room, Gally could be seen polishing the floor in the dining room.
"I see you keep the help busy," the Inspector said.
"She earns her keep," Giger replied.
The Inspector beckoned for Gally, saying, "Miss Garmont, stand up. I have some questions for you."
"Yes, sir," Gally said, making an impressive display of subservience as she meekly approached the Inspector.
Looking at his notepad, the Inspector said, "You were born in Eglanin, yes?"
"Elantin, sir," Gally corrected.
"I see. And what brought you to Vigau?"
"Work, sir."
"They didn't have work in Elantin?"
"A bird has to leave the nest, sir."
The Inspector gave something vaguely resembling a smile at her answer.
"Quite so, but why Vigau? This isn't exactly a bustling town. What made you think you'd find work here?"
"I was referred here by a service."
"A service?"
"Yes, sir."
Gally was holding up surprisingly well. Giger considered giving her a raise for it.
Though he probably was not satisfied with the results, the Inspector relented from pressing her any further and said, "Return to you work, Miss Garmont."
"Yes, sir," Gally replied with a dutiful bow and went back to polishing the floor as before.
The Inspector stepped around Gally, his boots ruining her work, as he carried the inspection to the other side of the house. He rattled off the names of the locations as he passed through.
"Dining room... Kitchen... Larder... Bath..."
He stopped in the bathroom. Yugo almost never failed to present Gally with some form of gift every visit, so the shelves were lined with all manner of powders, creams, oils, bath salts, and perfumes. Giger was no stranger to luxury items to pamper himself, but now his bathroom looked more like a suite at some spa resort in the mountains.
The Inspector held up one of the brightly colored bottles and said, "Rather effete selection, don't you think, Mr. Taus?"
Giger was not going to say that his very wealthy apprentice from one of the most influential families in town had a silly infatuation with the nearly 400-year-old Ancient posing as his housekeeper. Instead, his reply was simply, "I entertain, Inspector."
"I see," the Inspector said, returning the bottle to the shelf. "And what do you have upstairs?"
"My bedroom."
"Been doing any 'entertaining' lately?"
If Giger had any gentlemanly pretensions, he would have slapped the Inspector for that one. Fortunately for him, he was no gentleman and did not have much in the way of honor to defend.
"I'm pretty sure that falls outside the purview of your investigation, Inspector," Giger said.
"I'll be the judge of that, Mr. Taus."
The Inspector's attention was promptly diverted by some sound upstairs, probably Prissy knocking over the nightstand.
"What's that noise?" the Inspector asked.
"The help."
"More help? A likely story."
The Inspector left the bathroom and rushed up the stairs. Giger's outfit was not particularly easy to move around in, so there was no way he could keep up, even less so the aging Turco.
Bursting in through the door, the Inspector shouted, "FREEZE!"
"Omigodwhathehell!?"
Giger made his way up the stairs, where the Inspector had a gun drawn on Prissy and Happy.
"Who are you?" the Inspector demanded.
"Who're you!?" Prissy demanded back.
From behind the Inspector, Giger said, "Miss Prentice, this is Inspector Andress of the Municipal Police."
"We work here, Inspector," Happy said.
Tucking his gun back into the pocket of his jacket, the Inspector held out his hand and said, "Passports."
Prissy and Happy produced their passports and the Inspector went through them just like he did for Gally, taking notes as he went.
"Three servants for one man in a house this small?" the Inspector asked suspiciously.
"Miss Prentice and Mr. Armand only come in once a week to help with things like the laundry," Giger explained.
This answer was hardly enough to satisfy the Inspector.
"Tell me, Mr. Taus, how does a--as you put it--'bohemian ne'er-do-well' afford the services of three servants?"
"As I said, Miss Prentice and Mr. Armand only come in once a week. Anyway, I'm not without patronage, Inspector. It has its perks."
The Inspector nodded.
"I'm sure. And who provides this patronage?"
"I'm sure my patrons would prefer to not get involved in your investigation."
"I'm sure they'd prefer that as well, but I'm still going to ask."
"And I'm going to have to decline."
The Inspector tossed Prissy and Happy's passports at them as he turned to square off against Giger.
"How would you like to come to the station with me?"
"I'd rather not," Giger replied blithely.
"Then you better start answering my questions."
Giger had already gone too far to buckle to such basic intimidation tactics. He had to stick to his guns and up the ante. It was dangerous to play chicken with a man as driven as the Inspector, but what did he have to lose?
"Do you really want to test client confidentiality in the courts?" Giger asked.
The Inspector's eye twitched a little. It would seem that the courts were a bit of a sore spot for him.
Without showing any sign of annoyance--at least not yet--, the Inspector said, "Maybe you won't be feeling so loyal toward your patrons after a few days in lock-up."
"Maybe you'd like to find out if there are worse assignments than Vigau."
"Are you threatening me, Mr. Taus?"
Of course Giger was threatening him. Meeting threat for threat was a risky proposition, but he could not hope to win by giving ground. Still, he had to tread lightly.
Casting it in more diplomatic language, Giger said, "I'm only suggesting that you stay within your legal limits, Inspector."
The Inspector looked at him in a strange mix of being both impressed and disgusted at the same time.
"You're slippery as an eel, Mr. Taus, but I'm going to expose you, I swear it."
Giger saw the chance to press his advantage.
"Before you asked me if I was accusing you of a prejudiced investigation, Inspector. I am now, and I have witnesses."
The Inspector scowled. He realized he had been outmaneuvered. Rather than say anything back, he went to the wardrobe, flung open the doors and started yanking things out.
"Hey!" Prissy protested. "We just put all that up!"
The Inspector ignored her and had the wardrobe half empty by the time he finally stopped, holding one of the dresses Yugo had given to Gally.
"There are a lot of women's clothes here, Mr. Taus," the Inspector noted.
"No lady wants to be seen in the morning in the clothes she wore the night before," Giger replied.
"Aren't you the gentlemen?" the Inspector sneered.
The tinkling of bells heralded Turco's entry into the room. His presence put both Prissy and Happy on edge. Their eyes never strayed from him as he looked around the room. Giger thought he could hear Prissy growling.
Turco took to covering his nose with his sleeve on account of the incense. He looked Happy up and down, then did the same to Prissy, who retreated when he approached.
After several moments of Turco's silent examination, the Inspector said, "Master Turco, tell me you've found something."
"Something, nothing, something, nothing..."
He was rambling much as before. Between the pixy powder and the incense, he could barely string two thoughts together.
"Master Turco, is everything alright?" Giger asked, making a show of being helpfully concerned.
Turco shot him an accusing finger.
"You!"
His stern expression softened as his mind started to wander again, and he began muttering, "Something... something..."
The Inspector had clearly had his fill.
"Enough," he said, exasperated. "Let's go, Master Turco."
The two of them left the room. Giger paid the mess left behind by the Inspector a passing glance and told his 'help', "Clean this up."
As usual, Prissy objected.
"Giger, that's not fair!"
Giger, however, did not have time to argue with her. He followed the Inspector and Turco down the stairs. Gally was still pretending to work while keeping an eye on them.
The Inspector stopped at the entryway, turned to Giger and said, "This isn't over, Mr. Taus. Rest assured of that."
"No, I don't expect that it is, Inspector," Giger said. "Perhaps my lawyer will have to have a word with the Superintendent."
"ARCANUM doesn't answer to any small-town superintendent," the Inspector replied.
"Then you can answer to the Countess."
"You think you can fool me with a bluff like that, Mr. Taus?"
He had paused before saying it, proof that even if he thought Giger was bluffing, the implications of what it would mean for him if Giger's connections ran that high crossed his mind. The seed was planted. Now to give it some fertilizer.
"Keep thinking it's a bluff, Inspector," Giger said, "and see where it gets you."
This seemed to unnerve the Inspector a little, which was not an easy thing to do from what Giger had observed. Predictably for a man like him, his only response was to bluster his way through it.
"I'll see you behind bars yet, Mr. Taus. Mark my words."
Maintaining the facade of confidence was essential to Giger's bluff, so his only reply was a curt, "Consider them marked. Good day, Inspector. Master Turco."
The Inspector slammed the door behind him. Giger made a point to lock the door and only then did he allow himself the luxury of slumping onto the couch. He unbraced his doublet to breathe a little easier. The outfit was rather tight-fitting, after all.
"Is it over?" Gally asked.
"No," Giger said with a sigh, "but we'll live to fight another day."