The inquest sounded good in theory. When something bad happened, it was important to understand how and why it had happened so that it could be prevented from happening a second time. As a concept, it embodied things that Philip cared greatly about; seeking truth and correcting bad policies.
Philip enjoyed reading through records. Most of them had been written by aides, such as himself, and they were spotty in ways that were sometimes frustrating, but for the most part it was possible for him to imagine what had happened at those previous inquests. What they revealed was an equal share of incompetence, reluctance to change, and political struggles. Hundreds of methods of improving both the town’s defenses and the lanterns’ engineering had been discussed over the centuries. Some of these had been implemented, but most had not. Sometimes the council agreed to taking a series of actions during the inquest, but there was no record of anyone following up on it in later meetings, or after an analysis of cost or feasibility, it was quietly shelved.
In the course of preparing for the current inquest, Philip made his own long list of measures which people would suggest could have helped to prevent the disaster from happening, all compiled from the notes made during previous inquests.
The most common suggestion was to have a second, empty lantern installed in the building of each lantern. When the lantern failed, the sphere of hava could be transfered to the second lantern, which could then be ‘lit’ in short order to bring the area back under the protection of gliminance. The most common rebuttal was that the lanterns weren’t designed for the removal of the hava; it was possible to construct a lantern so that the hava could be moved from within it, but these other designs hadn’t been tested by hundreds of years of continuous operation. Not only that, but changing the design of the lantern was necessarily a risky thing, because it was impossible to make serious alterations while the lantern was still on. There were also arguments over cost, both in terms of the cost of building an empty lantern and the work that the engineers would have to put in to ensure that the empty lantern stayed functional at all times. These arguments held little sway, since in the wake of a serious lantern failure many people believed that cost was no object.
The only development that had ever come out of that particular argument, repeated over the years, was that a pilot program had been done at Chancellor’s Lantern, which did have a different design from the others in order to permit removal of the hava. Chancellor’s Lantern had been protected by the other lanterns for many years now, which made switching over a much less risky prospect. It had been running that way for more than thirty-seven years now, which did much to blunt the argument that the design was untested; Philip wondered whether some like-minded fellow from back then had seen the shape of these repeated arguments and pressed for a change that would sway opinion some decades into the future.
There were other, lesser suggestions along the same line, but for the most part they were variations on a theme. Some were rejected due to cost, some were accepted and never implemented, and a few were implemented and then canceled decades later after having provided no benefit to anyone. Lantern failures were rare things, and serious failures even rarer.
Another common theme was adding to the defenses of the town in some way. Walls were brought up many times, and shot down just as many; darklings were excellent climbers, according to the wardens. Walls would inhibit both mobility and field of view — for the wardens, far more than the darklings. There were proposals to give better training to the Auxiliary, which definitely would have helped in this case. Of the eight previous times this had been suggested, on four occasions it was opposed by the members of the Auxiliary, on two occasions it was opposed by the glimwardens, and twice it was actually implemented, only to be stopped later on (it had lasted seven years the first time it was tried and three years the second time it was tried). It appeared that the Auxiliary’s mandatory appearance at any alarm was, in fact, a result of a previous attempt at ensuring that no lantern would ever fall.
(One of Philip’s greatest sources of irritation was that these matters were decided as part of the inquest itself, or immediately following it. Philip was capable of making good decisions in the moment, but it seemed that other people were not, in part because they let their emotions get the better of them. If the city council wanted to make good decisions, it should have waited until they could be made with clear eyes and a stone heart. One of the failures of democracy was that this went contrary to the desire of elected officials to continue getting elected. Philip suspected that reacting to the most recent event was a common failure of people in general, because otherwise the incentive wouldn’t exist for elected officials to rush to action.)
There was something in the inquest six years ago that caught Philip’s eye. A young engineer by the name of Kelso Kelly had come before the council and told them that it was idiocy to have the glimwardens fight when mundane means existed to kill the darklings. The meeting minutes were garbled at that part, but apparently he spoke at length about some kind of rotary gun, which the council had given him provisional funding to build, despite the protestations of the chief glimwarden. Philip had leafed through the meeting minutes of the next few months, trying to find some mention of it, but came up with nothing. He added it to his list of topics that might come up. If they’d paid Kelso for his invention and lost the thread, it was possible that the engineer would be called in.
The bulk of any inquest was not the suggestions for remediation, but instead the casting of blame. Sometimes this was a broad cast, touching every person even tangentially involved, but other times it was a clear act of scapegoating. Inquests were the place where the tensions between the glimwardens and the engineers ran highest, and that had been true even before this most recent bout of unpleasantness between the two. The engineers were clearly to blame for any failures in the lanterns, since of course it was their job to keep the lanterns running. The glimwardens, meanwhile, were responsible for defense, and any death, injury, or damage to public property was laid squarely at their feet. These two sides wouldn’t appear to have too much to do with each other, but both had a representative on the city council, and both had an incentive to push the finger of blame in a different direction.
When Philip was seven years old, his father had declared him a cynic. They had been in the middle of family dinner when Philip had said that people didn’t actually sacrifice their lives for others. His father had asked what Philip thought the glimwardens did, to which Philip had replied that they didn’t actually mean to sacrifice their lives. They were willing to accept the risk-reward proposition of having power and being important, but when they saw death coming, they would have been perfectly willing to murder a baby or flay one of their elders, if only it would buy them an extra minute of life.
His father had laughed in a way that Philip now understood to be the reaction of someone who didn’t want to face the truth of what his son was. Philip would never use such language these days, of course, not even when speaking to people who were prone to cynicism and would be amenable to the argument. If he were normal, he imagined that he would cringe in remembering the incident, but while he had taught himself to cringe when appropriate, he had no immediate physical reaction to social mistakes, only a recognition of what could be done better. Still, what he’d said was clearly worthy of provoking a wince. His father had ignored the problem and framed Philip as a mere cynic.
Philip wasn’t actually a cynic. He had expressed a cynic’s viewpoint then because he hadn’t understood people well enough; he had imagined that everyone else was like him. It had taken a long time for Philip to disabuse himself of that notion, especially since it was so easy to make up explanations for why people were really acting in their own strict self-interest, even when it appeared that they were not. Now though, Philip had a better grip on the truth. Other people really did love one another. This love went beyond what could be explained by reciprocity or appreciation. They felt honor, duty, loyalty, guilt, all things which he’d once thought were part of a tapestry of selfishness. Because his view of the world was incorrect, he made every effort to change that view. Being a cynic meant being wrong.
Philip tried his best to think of what might happen at the inquest that could reasonably surprise a cynic. He made notes, then left further notes in the margins of his notes. Next to the competition, the inquest would be the most important thing to happen in Light’s Hollow for the next year. He did his best to be prepared for every foreseeable outcome.
Unfortunately, it all went off the rails ten minutes in.
Linda Linwell had taken the unusual step of calling for a closed inquest, which was unprecedented in the history of Light’s Hollow. Inquests were meant to be open, messy things, exposing the guts of the town’s defenses to the citizenry. She had refused to say why she was calling for a closed inquest, but the chief glimwarden certainly had no objections, and the mayor was inclined to heed her request. That left Gregor Golland as the council’s lone voice of dissent (a dissent which he delivered in a pair of rhyming couplets).
The day after the mass funeral for those that had died in the attack, the inquest was held in the same large meeting room where closed sessions of the council occurred. Philip found himself looking to the light of Chancellor’s Lantern more than once, and on occasion he thought he could hear the distant sound of a siren before deciding that it was nothing. Linda Linwell was dressed all in black, the color of mourning, even though not one engineer had died in the attack; Philip wondered how long she would keep wearing it. In contrast, Samuel Seaborn wore the same green armor he always wore, with his axes hung at his hips. His thick red beard had been recently trimmed, likely for the funeral, but he still looked unruly. Neither looked pleased.
“Let the inquest come to order,” said the mayor with a tap of his gavel. The city council members and their aides sat rigidly in their seats, waiting for what was to come. Philip imagined that this was his father’s favorite part of the proceedings, despite the dour expression he wore, but that might have been a simple case of projection. “Now, where should we start? I’ve always had a preference for the beginning. Councilor Linwell, if you could provide for us a summary of your findings?” Witnesses would be called in later, as needed, though only a few were waiting in the halls.
“At 12:14pm, the alarm went off, which was the first indication our engineers had that anything was wrong. Led by Lanternkeeper Duncan, they immediately began following diagnostic procedures. While engineer Odell and engineer Tolbert began tracing the connection to the alarm system itself to see whether there was a malfunction, engineers —”
“Why did you insist that this be a closed inquest?” asked the chief glimwarden, unable to contain himself any longer.
The mayor rapped his gavel once. “I am sure that we will get to that in due time.”
Linwell frowned at Seaborn. “While the alarm system was being checked for malfunction, engineers Duncan, Vipond, Spence, and Jardine began checking over the physical machinery of the lantern. That accounts for all six active members of the lantern at that time. There are a number of ways in which a lantern can fail. The most common are failures in the connections between various parts of the equipment, specifically with the insulating materials used for those connections. After ten minutes had passed, Lanternkeeper Duncan withdrew to a more supervisory role and recalled engineers Odell and Tolbert to help with diagnosis of the failure. It was at this point that engineer Jardine discovered what we now believe to be an act of sabotage.”
Seaborn slammed his hand down against the table. “Are you trying to start a civil war?”
“Obviously you have less respect for me than I have for you,” Linwell said coolly. “If you had thought about it for two seconds, you would realize that I called for a closed inquest precisely to keep this information from the public. It would be more likely to incite a witch hunt than a civil war, but either way it’s nothing that this town can afford.”
Philip’s eyes shifted quickly between the two of them. One of the places that Linwell excelled was in giving justifications for her actions. Philip’s mind started wandering down the familiar cynical pathways, looking for a reason why Linwell would have given up the advantage of an open inquest and a public declaration of sabotage. Sabotage, after all, would clear the engineers of any wrong-doing or negligence for the lantern failure, except perhaps for an argument that they should have kept tighter security. Linwell herself — or Colsum, who backed her — might have been involved in the sabotage effort for some unknown reason (Philip would have to check the records of land ownership later) … but it was more likely that she simply worried for the safety of the town.
“Sabotage implies a saboteur,” said the mayor. “If someone was responsible for the lantern failure, we need to know who, so that we might levy the harshest possible penalty against them.” Exile, in other words, though the mayor took it so seriously that he was careful to never utter the word.
“As I was saying, it was the first of several clear instances of sabotage,” replied Linwell. “There were no fewer than five places where action had been taken against the mechanisms of the lantern, whether that was in the insulators, regulators, fuses, wires, or switches. A single defect in the wiring insulation had caused the lantern failure, but the other acts of sabotage would have ensured subsequent failures if they weren’t caught. Lanternkeeper Duncan was hesitant to turn the lantern back on given what he had found, but he followed protocol once the parts were replaced from the lantern’s supply closet.”
“Five is a portentous number, ill and unbalanced,” said Gregor Golland. “It is the action of an ill and unbalanced mind then, to make such marks against a sacred fountain of our prosperity.”
“The sabotage will warrant a separate investigation,” said the mayor. “It is beyond the scope of this inquest.”
Seaborn turned to Linwell. “The engineers cannot be allowed to investigate on their own.”
“Wardens know nothing of the machinery,” replied Linwell. “Teaching you everything that you need to know would take time away from figuring out what happened.”
“The lanterns are uncomplicated,” growled the chief glimwarden. “I’ve personally assisted with field repairs of the traveling lanterns.”
“They’re on an entirely different order of magnitude!” Linwell protested. “The amount of power they generate should be enough to frighten even you. The lanterns are dragons, chained to our bidding but ready to strike the moment anyone grows careless.”
“A serpent with seven heads,” Golland nodded.
The mayor tapped his gavel once. “Again, this is beyond the bounds of this inquest. I think we can all agree that the matter will be kept strictly to those with a need to know, not just because of the panic it might cause, but to ensure that we have at least some element of surprise.” He looked to Philip, who sat beside him. “How many foreigners have come to Light’s Hollow in the recent past?”
“Twelve in the last year,” replied Philip. “All from Gossom.” The question wasn’t entirely unexpected; Philip’s father was attempting to find a convenient scapegoat which wouldn’t cause political problems. Outsiders were a perennial favorite for that purpose, but Philip disagreed on principle. Stringing up an outsider only solved the immediate political problem and did nothing to deter a second act of sabotage. If Philip had been a member of the council, he would have said something in protest, but his place was only as an aide.
“To continue on,” said the mayor. “I believe we must talk about the handling of the defense.”
Seaborn grunted. “Then we’re to hear no more from the engineers?” he asked. “If Councilor Linwell was aware of this claim of sabotage, shouldn’t she have come to the inquest with more? Details on the engineers that were posted or people who came to visit the lantern? We’re supposed to be getting down to the bottom of things. You’re telling me that there’s going to be a separate inquiry later on, so that the engineers can skip out on taking responsibility? If there was a sabotage, they should have noticed it sooner, there should have been regular checks.”
“Samuel,” said the mayor gently. “Linwell has done you a favor by requesting for this inquest to be private.”
Seaborn folded his arms over his chest. “Fine. You want an accounting?” He spat the word. “There was a new darkling, given a name just that morning. A Schism. It was ungodly powerful. Your son says that it was able to withstand the full glare of the lantern from two hundred yards away. While we fought it, the smaller darklings killed or slipped past the Auxiliary, until we had to retreat toward the lantern or risk losing it. The result was four glimwardens killed, with a fifth dead from her wounds this morning. The losses to the Auxiliary were far worse.”
“We’ll need more than that,” said Linwell. “What were the individual wardens doing when the alarm —”
“Five dead,” interrupted Seaborn. “Another three with serious injuries. I couldn’t tell you where a quarter of my wardens were, because they’re not alive for me to ask them. I’m telling you that we face a huge threat. The Schism can breach our borders. We don’t have the manpower to defend against it, if it attacks. And if there’s someone going around mucking up the lanterns, then you should know that we won’t be able to defend a second time, not if you want any wardens left alive to put hearts into your lanterns.”
Linwell drew her lips into a thin line. “I suppose I’m glad this inquest is closed to the public, if we’re speaking such harsh truths. You would inspire a panic if you said that to the masses.”
The mayor looked back and forth between the two of them. “The last thing we need is for people to start preparing for the collapse of this town. We’ll want to proceed with caution, so as not to display the weakness of our hand. Can we agree to that?”
Gregor Golland nodded along. “When wise men speak of conspiracy, the dolts grab their hidden blades and wait for nightfall. We of the council cannot last long with such duplicity, but the ties that bind us to our position command silence on our parts and beckon lies to trumpet from our lips.”
Silence fell over the meeting room. Even two weeks ago, Golland hadn’t been in such a bad condition. Everything that left his mouth now came out in a strange cadence, and the contents of his speech were little better. Philip could tell that everyone else was doing the calculus of keeping him around. The moment passed quickly, but Philip had felt it. Golland was not long for the council.
“This is not coincidence,” Golland continued. “The pitch black of a darkling made manifest and the darkness of the soul of a traitor, a foul duality, both the reflection of the other.” His two aides, both young members of his family, looked to one another for support and found none.
“If you’re feeling unwell, I believe this inquest can continue without your participation,” said the mayor.
Golland nodded along. “Yes, yes, quite unwell, sickened by secrecy and treachery alike, twin snakes in my guts.” He lifted himself from his seat and steadied himself with a hand on one of his grandchildren. The room was silent, save for the sounds of him shuffling off with his ineffectual aides behind him.
“We need a plan for what we’ll do if there’s another failure,” said Linwell once he’d left. “I’ve already doubled the shifts at the lanterns and instituted tighter procedures for who’s allowed access, but Lanternkeeper Duncan told me that it was possible for the sabotage to have happened at any time in the week before the failure, which means that there might be other instances of sabotage in the other lanterns. I’m having them discreetly checked over, but not all areas of the lantern are accessible while it’s running.”
“The lanterns have been running non-stop for years,” said Seaborn. “How would someone have broken the parts of the lantern that they can’t touch?” He was glaring at her; they both knew the answer before she said it.
“It would be possible with the bind,” said Linwell. “Projection of a non-conductive cutting edge is, I believe, within the purview of those abilities.”
“If you dare to accuse me and mine —” Seaborn began.
“No,” replied Linwell. “Again, you think less of me than I think of you. I defer to your expertise, but I was under the impression that members of the Auxiliary had some command of the bind. It’s also possible that a cullion might have taken this action, is it not?”
“Is there any evidence that the bind was used at Healer’s?” asked Seaborn.
“It’s unclear,” replied Linwell. “There was internal damage, yes, but it’s possible that it was the result of an error in the building of the lantern or happened in taking the lantern apart for diagnosis. But again, we’ll have our own investigation into the matter.”
Philip rested his hand on his father’s elbow, which drew a look, then a nod.
“Is it possible for someone to hide the shadow of the bind?” asked Philip.
Seaborn frowned and took a moment to smooth out his mustache. “If it were possible, it would be something to be kept secret.”
“Naturally,” said the mayor. “But it appears that this meeting will be replete with things that must be kept secret.”
“Then yes,” said Seaborn. “It’s possible. It would take practice and concentration, along with leaving the cullion powerless for the duration.”
There were murmurs as Linwell conferred with her aides. Even if they knew that the sabotage had been caused by someone with access to the bind, it wouldn’t help them all that much. The scope of suspects couldn’t be limited to the surviving members of the Auxiliary or the glimwardens, nor would it be obvious if some outside force had come in.
Philip kept meticulous notes as the meeting went on, but all the energy had gone out of the room. Linwell had little interest in prosecuting the glimwardens’ mishandling of the defense, not when there were more pressing concerns, and not when there was no one to hear it. The inquest was closed not too long after, with no witnesses being called and no formal recommendations. Linwell and Seaborn hadn’t eliminated all tensions between them, but they had reached something of an unspoken truce.
“So,” said the mayor, once everyone else had left and he was alone with Philip. “What do you think?”
“Golland was right,” said Philip. He looked into his father’s pale blue eyes, which were mirrors to his own. “It’s not a coincidence.”
“I don’t see how that can be,” Philip’s father replied. He looked at the gavel. “You said yourself that there was some sort of new darkling.”
“Yes,” replied Philip. “The Schism was supposedly unknown to the glimwardens until that very morning, but Linwell said that the acts of sabotage would have been done in the week prior. If it’s not coincidence, that means that whoever our saboteur was, he must have been someone who goes out into the wilds, which narrows down the suspects considerably.”
“And then there’s the question of motive,” said Philip’s father. “No one benefits from a lantern failure, not the engineers, not the wardens. Both come out looking bad.” He paused with his mouth open, then closed it. “Philip, people are talking about you. They’re praising you for running into battle, for a speech you apparently gave about the importance of defending the town … you saved the chief glimwarden’s son and killed dozens of darklings without any bind. Of all the people who were there, you’re the only real hero.” His words were hesitant.
“That’s not true,” said Philip. “Sander saved my life at great risk to his own.”
“What I’m trying to ask is —” his father paused and bit his lower lip and sighed. “Did you have anything to do with this?”
Philip shook his head. “No.”
“If you did,” his father replied, “You could trust me. I would protect you.”
Philip felt his face twitch. It was an interesting possibility. Beyond the fact that he hadn’t done it, it would have been completely unworkable as a scheme. Slipping into Healer’s Lantern wouldn’t have been too difficult, but he would have had no idea how to set the lantern up for future failure. Even if he had been able to surreptitiously obtain that knowledge, that still left the immense problem of being able to make his mark on the field of battle. He had been able to survive the attack for a number of reasons: his friendship with Sander, Sander’s signature, and the fact that darklings seemed to preferentially target those with some amount of bind. The first of those was the only one he’d had any knowledge of going in.
But even if he had known everything he’d need to have known, including the appearance of the Schism earlier that morning, he still wouldn’t have done it. The plan would have had too many moving parts and too high of a possibility for failure. Philip didn’t commit crimes, because crime didn’t pay. He did his best not to tell lies, at least not when there was even a remote possibility of evidence being brought forward, because lies were too easy to uncover and too damaging to a reputation. Destroying a lantern wasn’t unthinkable, but he would never do it.
“It wasn’t me, father,” said Philip. “I know better than that. You called me a cynic once, but now I’m afraid that I have to turn that back around at you.”
“No, no,” said the mayor. “Of course not. I was only … I know you, and … you’ve always had a very different way of thinking from other people, even if you try to hide it.”
He seemed convinced, though Philip could tell that the underlying doubts hadn’t been allayed. It was gratifying to know that his father would stand by his side even through what was surely far beyond the limits of conventional morality, but at the same time, Philip wished that it were possible to live his childhood again. The number of unforced errors he’d made, especially with regards to his parents, was, in retrospect, simply unacceptable.
It was one thing to make the wrong response because you didn’t understand the question, but it was another entirely to say the wrong thing without any prompting from anyone. When he was little, he had told his mother that he loved her less than he loved his father, because his father was more powerful and important. She had cried, which he’d found irritating. Looking back, it was one of the things that he wished he could do over. He didn’t love either of his parents, not like they loved him, and if he had to choose for one of them to die he would obviously have chosen his mother, at least until his father was more obstacle than ally … but there was no reason to share that with anyone unless forced to.
He had made a similar error with Legal Multiplier, his radio companion, though he still wasn’t sure what that error had been. Their next radio date was only a few days away, but he wasn’t sure that she would be on the other end listening for him.
That thought brought him back to the matter at hand. The appearance of the new darkling at the same time as a lantern failure wasn’t coincidence. Legal Multiplier had said that the town of Langust had suffered their own failure more than a week ago, forcing abandonment of their town and an exodus to Gossom. If there was a connection between the two failures — Healer’s Lantern and Langust — it implied either a single saboteur or a single force striking out at both places at once. Perhaps his father hadn’t been so foolish to start thinking about outside threats.