The curious case of Arturo Nihm, pt 2
William spoke up again, and Margot looked over toward him. She'd blinked once, then crossed her hands together in front of her and glanced aside at some artifact displayed among books upon a shelf to her right. As he spoke, Arturo Nihm paid mind to the chessboard that the room seemed to have tipped him into (like a marble on a tilting track). Something shifted in the corner of her eye and drew her gaze back to the old man. To the chessboard that he played with, to be more precise. Her eyebrows rose upon her forehead, then flexed down in a subtle furrow. When Mr. Nihm rose and returned to his desk that wary gaze followed after him.

For a second time the man spoke (at length) about Gods and how they were nothing more than a figment of mankind's misconception of The Truth around them.

What did they want to know? Margot looked over to the Hermetic she'd come to this curious place with.

For a second time, Margot held her tongue.
What had he wanted to know? Had he actually told Margot what all of this had been about? Surely, they had discussed the knife and the money and the ancient bits of knowledget hat he had been seeking for the sake of finding them but they probably hadn't actually gone into what, specifically, he was looking for. What holes was he looking to fill that had been left by his mentor's library?

There are things William doesn't know. He doesn't know that he's actually trying to press past territories that Henry had yet to actually venture, doesn't realize that these aren't gaps left by his mentor purposefully- they are merely gaps in the learning process, they are things that just flat out don't exist there. Margot is silent and William- after giving the chessboard another look with the transmutation of pieces (something that keeps his attention, brows raised and a look near delight on his features because cool)

He's adjusting the messenger bag on his hip and retrieves a book. And another book which he's opening and shaking out to try and free a piece of folded paper (24x36 folded neatly into a size that was reasonable and creased with the sort of precision that only came with practice and magickal intervention)

"I have a map," he says, has finally started unfolding it and has awkwardly perched one book in the other hand only to try and pawn one of the journals (not textbooks he seems to have brought with him, nope, books full of writings and musings and research), "and based on historical record, mythology, and observation I've put together what could be a basic assumption of various spiritual planes and what may or may not reside there. It is not even remotely close to being complete."

And thus, the young man has unfolded the map that he has drawn and erased and drawn and erased and written on in (mostly) English and (sometimes) French. It's a clean copy, though. Doesn't appear to be his working draft, but rather, the one he drags out for other people. The young man has a hypothetical place with layers, the basic layers that people live in and above that being a realm of spirits and concrete ideas (Reflection) and one beyond that for less concrete concepts (Abstractions- near and Abstractions-far, respectively). A place further out pour Célestins. It extends downward as well, the human realm being in the middle between them all. Going from the lands of the dead (the underworld, existing below the surface) to oblivion, to the abyss with a dotted line drawn between the highest layer and the lowest with a question mark there. Things are labeled with occasional historical names that one would come across in folklore. Notes pointing to stories and ideas and what-have-you, but the general ideas seem clear enough.

Less like the writings of a madman, but it's very clear that what he's done has required a fair bit of cleanup and that, perhaps, some things may have been lost in their translation. Brows raised and, if he was allowed, the young man would lay the map out somewhere to be looked at. If not, he kept it in hand, held awkwardly at arm's length so he could look and talk at the same time.

"My thoughts are that the beings of stories and folklore and old religious practice would reside somewhere along this spectrum," he says as he gestures across the spirit realm parfait he'd drawn out with a journal in hand, "and that greatly differing practice in communicating with some other being would indicate a plane of existence that isn't originally factored into this mark up.

"To go one step sideways, it stands to reason that- if we are operating under the idea that there are spiritual beings that operate with and away from the world we see- the way that we interact with our world impacts theirs and vice versa. You could hypothesize what would have to happen on a spiritual front in order to explain real world events and what real world events could conceivably do and react like across the entire continuum."

A second. Ten seconds. He realizes he's rambled and it seems to dawn on him.

"I'd like to know if my theory holds water."
Arturo moves forward in his chair to pulls several of the items on his desk off, tossing them onto the ground with solid thumps and thunks, the shotgun included which is dismissed with little more than a cursory glance for a location to set it down. Then he's tapping the desktop with a careful regard and waiting for William to layout the information that the Lad seems so excited to explore.

One might think this is good-humoured, if only at the sudden display William puts out for the odd 'map' that has been constructed. William points out several key details and facts and for all anyone can glean, Arturo seems genuinely, if passively interested, regarding each point with the same steady glance that he had provided the kids on first entry. He doesn't point in conjunction or offer any information himself, waiting out William's budding enthusiasm in favour of inspecting the piece of parchment with clear scrutiny.

"Your theory's got holes. Mostly defined by several literal qualities. Lands of the dead implies a territorial boundary belonging to all peoples and things, where the 'Living' go. Once again, a monotheistic sort of description. One place for all souls, spirits-" A hand lifts to wave dismissively at whatever word, either of them wanted to use for them "-seems a bit catchall and easy. What's more likely is multiple locations and areas worthy of particular significance to various peoples. You have to also wonder what sort of terms and themes result in people expiring toward these particular lands you've got marked or even whether they have rules for allowance, invitation or acceptance into them. Does dying during war have a say? How about suicide? What about ill deeds or good ones?"

Arturo leans over the piece of paper, regarding the landscape, rough as it may be, that has been laid out further. He taps at the area above, where the lines culminate in what might be foolishly considered a 'Heaven'.

"Here, you've got little information which is understandable. Reason doesn't live here, because most of our understanding of this region comes from telescopes and satellite imagery. It's all very pretty, but hardly worthy of distinction beyond 'Space' or 'The Ether'." A slight snort, once more dismissive, before his finger traces down toward the apparent 'Abyss'.

"...Here's where you'll run into similar problems with the lands of the dead. A single isolated aberration where darkness lives. Vast and pregnant and whole. The place where nightmares are born? Or fear lives?" Another snort. "Hardly. We invent hells to define our fears of death and in many respects, that's what this 'Spirit World' you're talking about is...A Fear of death. So we invent landscapes beyond to give ourselves comfort in knowing there's more to it all after we finally pass on. What manner of possible interaction this world could have with that one?" Once again he taps the piece of paper. "Well, it would stand to reason they would have to share some connection, though I fear for the lives and existence of any being forced to endure our stupidity for as long as we've been around. The Dark ages. Medieval times. The Wild West. Even the last hundred years of industrialization would have done horrific damage, perhaps even irreversible."
A map appeared from William's person, or a chart perhaps. What did he want? To fact check the map, apparently. It seemed to be new to Margot as well, for she leaned in nearer the desk and peered down at the careful notes and planes and dimensions graphed out.

She nodded, initially, as eyes explored from the identified 'physical plane' further out. Soon, though, a crease formed between her brows. Disagreement, or misunderstanding perhaps? She was searching for some kind of a connection, finding something that she didn't feel meshed well with the rest. Quiet still, she continued to look down to the map while Mr. Nihm offered his insight. She nodded along with his explanation-- the disconnect between Afterlife and the Dimensions/Spirit World was a shared view.

But onward, to speak of how industrialization was no doubt ravaging the planes connected to their own.

"Yeah," she said in what sounded like confirmation, agreement to support the statement about potentially irreversible damage. As though she'd held witness to the wreckage herself.

Then, realizing her own tone, she blushed lightly and raised a hand to scratch light at her neck while glancing someplace to the side. Cleared her throat and kept her gaze wandering and averted as she tried to cover her own awkward silence with a proposed thought.

"And the Looking Glass goes both ways. Those sacrifices you mentioned go across the planes. It's a path of exchange, and if something like Life and payment can pass through then any number of other things could too." By the sound of it, she didn't hold a lot of faith that things coming to their world would be very welcome guests.
Hey, good news! The likelihood of him shooting them seems to be past. It's now likely replaced with the very real possibility of them being laughed at in an academic context, which somehow does more damage than a shotgun to the ego. 

"Depends on whose mythology you're looking at with regards to the lands of the dead, doesn't factor in the very real possibility of reincarnation or how the concept of ancestor-worship or reverence comes into play. I can rail about it all I want, but my layout right now is incredibly Eurocentric. And if we want to get right down to it, very Abrahamic.

"Well... maybe not completely Abrahamic, but it definitely seems to have the whole Inferno-Purgatorio-Paradiso feel, but I'm not actually sure if Dante had any religious basis for his novels or if he just wanted to stick a bunch of people he didn't like in varying levels of Hell because he was grumpy. This all seems to hinge on the idea that the lines between are delineated and it's all like a layer cake."

He looks at the Abyss, though, is regarded carefully and he adjusts his book in hand. Peers at where it would fall in the little parfait-style cross section. 

"Frankly, I don't know why I even have that there aside from the need for symmetry. Fear is a concept, it would belong more up here-" above the fold, somewhere between the first layer and the second. Closer to near abstractions. "So what purpose does it serve?"

Aside from being the absence of all. Aside from being a place which consumes all, a place where-

He seems to pass off the look as one of contemplation. The subtle holding of his breath masked and put away and passed off carefully like a young man who has met his first real challenge to his theories. "Conversely, what if it's a two way street? Or like a bad relationship  or an infection that perpetuates itself. We cause damages to our world which reflect into the other parts of this multi-planar model, which hangs and breeds and spreads and then infects more vulnerable areas.... that thought implies that there's more of a permeable trade between the worlds, though... which really kind of would imply that this whole afterlife thing would be more of a parallel plane."

Quirks his mouth to the side. 

"Do you think I should move it? Should it stay? I'm thoroughly convinced that the whole lands-of-non-reincarnated-beings should fit into this model, but now I'm not that sure where it would go."
The pair of kids gossip and glean, enthuse and frown, bent over the copy of the mapping with an enthusiasm that is steadily eroding their caution. More and more information begins to pour out into the open, William's sketches a very real and concrete level of commitment devoted to the entire process. Margot's willingness to take it seriously and, perhaps absently, confirm where her own experiences may well demand she do. The room's eccentricities, the study and the books on the shelves and the vast stories to be told throughout the volume of Arturo Nihm's lifespan have all been put aside for this moment. This one. Singular moment:

He leans back in his chair, giving the pair of students a chance to examine. What he's said as well as what they're gleaning. His hands rise, elbows resting on his chair's armrests, fingers steepled before him while his gaze travels not to either of them but between and into the distant presence of the Chessboard with it's enigmatic game being played. He is still. Quite and very. A solid presence that is as much part of the room while they talk and bandy words about, as the books and artifacts.

It isn't until William finishes his flush of information, his depictions of what was, could be and probably isn't, that Arturo's attention sharpens. Just slightly. Enough to give the perceptive the indication he's paying them mind. Or has been and only now feels the need to respond. Those bifocals are adjusted and he leans back into his desk chair with a soft squeak of leather to catch them both with a glance.

"Religious dictation is often used as the foremost description in much of what we know, if only because of Scientific inquiry being as new as it is. Unfortunately, much of Religious dictation has gotten wrong or simply been replaced or re-purposed to suit the needs of those few who want Power rather than respect. So whatever truths may exist are, unconfirmed, easily denied and often times, outright impossible to prove. It's quite a mess actually..."

He sighs, nostrils flaring, hands moving around the desk suddenly in search of something.

"Drawing any relation between the direction any planes may or may not reside is a bit false, given Religious context was invented by Humanity, who haven't been around long enough to warrant anything more than a footnote in the book of Existence. That level of importance for such a minor presence in the scheme of the world, is....a difficult argument to make." He looks amused. Even on the very of laughter but quickly pushes on with a wriggling of his mustache. "Rather than explore the Religious quantities, the focus, which is often ignored, should be on the proven and simplified quantities of where and what. Location is, despite European theft of the concern, of most likely important."

Arturo's finger points skyward and than downward at the floor, indicatively, a frank twist to his features given, before his free hand finds a drawer and he is pulling it open to retrieve what looks to be a well carved, mahogany pipe, complete with a silver buttress ring and curved black bowl.

"But then-" And he's producing some matches and a small tinderbox from his vest pocket "-we're quite aways off the Ritual Sacrifice of some ancient civilizations at this point. Beyond even theory, really." A match is produced, the same hand leaning out to tap William's map. "This would get you laughed out of every institution across the board followed by a police pat down for the good drugs, Kids."

The tinderbox is opened, away from them, a pinch of something pulled out and stuffed into the pipe, the smell of mint and something else beneath it, taking to the air. The match is lit and the box closed, before the pipe is lifted to his mouth and he takes several quick puffs, a vaguely blue smoke tinting the air around his face.

"So what's a couple of bright younglings like yourself doing pissing away their tuition following silly myths and superstition that isn't going to get them anywhere?"
Suspense. The concluding question that Arturo Nihm posed brought the two young mages to pause. Eyes that had been following an outline of dimensions on a map-chart jumped up quick and sharp to the older man's face, expressions a matching set of surprised eyebrows and the quick thinking that came with trying to spin on the spot tales. William and Margot glanced briefly at one another, still with the same matching looks on their faces (what do we do what do we say we didn't plan ahead quite this far shit--).

They took a breath each, looked forward, and in unison began to speak.

The only trouble with that was they weren't synced up in their speech at all. William was speaking over Margot, weaving some likely believable tale that could be lost in a network of people who knew people who were networked to getting to good positions for great opportunities, and Margot's was indistinguishably lost in any number of start-and-stop-again sentences amount to nothing. In the end, though, the cadence synced up and the words came together almost exactly:

"--and we're witches."
"--and we're wizards."

A pause, where they finally heard one another, and a glance together again. This time when they looked forward again Margot was the one who cleared her throat and pressed on in her small voice.

"Sorry. I mean, there's just a pull here, to this place--" she gestured around at the walls and shelves around them. "A gravity." As she said that, her eyes landed on the chess board that seemed to tip people in, that she'd seen physically shift and change in subtle ways with her own two eyes. An untrustworthy thing, she remembered reading somewhere to be cautious about things with their own consciousness if you couldn't see where they kept their brains. "It's a weird conversation to start no matter who it's with-- not exactly something you're open about at first. A thesis is a good excuse to research, so we use it."
"You acknowledged that you cohabitate with a chess set that plays itself."

A beat.


A second beat.


He waves a hand.

"I figured we could drop the pretense and quit lying to you, sir."
Arturo's face manages to maintain a modicum of solid, unimpeachable severity. Just a moment, which is a testament to the Will f the individual sitting before them. Then-

He laughs. Outright mustache rippling laughs, head thrown back and hands over his stomach cackles as the pair come to the same conclusion about what is and what isn't the most honest of circumstances. He laughs. And laughs. And nearly falls out of his chair laughs. Then, crumples over the side arm of his chair laughs. Which turns into leaning over the table, hands spread to either side, trouble catching his breath, laughing. Which eventually subsides into a leaning back into his chair again sort of giggling that ruins all pretense of elderly appearance Arturo seems to possess. He wipes at tears. Has to remove his bifocals to actually do it properly and set them on the table while he scrubs his sockets with a thumb and an index finger.

"Hoo, you kids. Oh man..."

More giggling. More leaning back in his chair which collects beneath him with the careful sort of plushness suggestive of the outrageously expensive. His hands fold over his stomach and his face finally settles down into a pleasant, old man sort of regard that bounces between them two of them for what inevitably begins falling out of his mouth.

"You walk up to a reclusive house on the hill with some half-baked plan at assuaging your curiosity and investigating some old man who greets you with a shotgun at the door. Promptly get invited in for investigative purposes, abandon your story that got you in here in the first place, pull out a Map of something to do with otherworldly matters, openly concoct theories about said matters all while interacting with said shotgun wielding old man who you've accused of some pretense toward what exactly? Do think I'm Dumbledore? Snape? Merlin as well? Are you flying by the seat of your pants where caution is concerned or does your kind just..."

And he makes a face, trying to decipher some element or aspect of clarity about just what a pair of young 'Wizards and Witches' might do

"...Wander into stranger's houses declaring themselves excitedly as something out of a J.K Rowling fantasy on a regular basis?" A pause, the humour seems to have ebb a bit, as if the gravity of this moment were sinking in with Arturo as much as it probably is with the kids. Though he has yet to lose his smile. "Do you understand the future you've put us in? The severity of this? I don't mean the now, I mean the eventual that says Government experiments and lab tables for dissection for the both of you and anyone you know, love, hate or have had some passing fancy for. Do you have rules? Regulations? Dictations? Are those above you going to be upset when they find out an old man's gotten in touch with the police or the authorities or some other Black suited agency out there with identities and camera feeds identifying you? Maybe the old man gets dismissed for public's sake while you two are secretly hunted and all those you are acquainted with, hunted as well."

Another pause. The smile is gone, lips pursed beneath that goatee, eyes still bouncing between the two of them.

"This is the part where I ask what you're thinking. Or if you are, at all...flattered as I am that you've decided to put yourselves in my mercies..." Arturo doesn't sound at all like an angry, or vengeful or despicably cruel creature. He more sounds like a Father scolding a pair of pups on a mistake.
The tension left after Will and Margot explained in so many words (fewer understood than spoken, but the gist got across) that they knew magic could be cut with a knife. Margot was actually holding her breath while Will was parsing through gender pronouns to assign to a mostly inanimate object.

When the man began to laugh she exhaled, and only in that moment realized how long she'd been refusing to breathe for. Relief only had just enough time to start to seep into her scalp when the lecture began.

What were you two thinking?

Margot's body language spoke rightfully of shame. Her mouth twisted to the side and she looked down, suddenly interested in the cleanliness of her fingernails and rather focused on getting a particularly stubborn smudge of dirt loose. He warned about lab tables and government agencies and the safety of their loved ones. Said that for all they knew he could go about reporting them to any number of agencies that they ought to be chilled by. He wanted to know more directly, after explaining these possible terrible outcomes, what they were thinking. Margot's eyes only raised enough to flicker toward William, to find his gaze, and to portray some kind of a silent apology before she spoke.

"When a man and his collection make enough of an impact that a stranger offers you more money than you've seen to help lift something, you know whatever that man knows must be mighty valuable." She looked around, found the knife with the bone hilt that she'd spied when she'd first come into the office, and with a somewhat more determined set to her mouth pressed on. "We wanted to scope things out. Honestly, I wanted to see if this apparently valuable weapon-- something that someone would come to one of us for help with, specifically-- was in the right hands. If you could keep something of that kind of worth out of the right hands... maybe out of any hands at all."

She looked back to Arturo now, at the lack of a smile he wore now as well as how his fingers liked to steeple, and concluded, "Frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect, or what plans we'd have by the time we left today. I don't think there's much chance of getting in and out of this library with anything you weren't supposed to take, and I don't think that you've got nothing to do with that, sir. At this point? I was just thinking to offer you word of warning and that we could then be on our way."

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