I awoke at around five in the morning and couldn’t get to sleep again. My body was still convinced it needed to be running on Greenwich Mean Time. At about eight my phone buzzed. A text. It was good to know my phone was working this side of the Atlantic. I read the text.
Good Morning Mr Stirling. Mr Beckman would like to see you in his office (Room 221 West Building) at 8.30 am. Kind Regards, Julia Proses.
Tom Beckman wanted to see me! Yes, this was what I had come here for! I grabbed something small from the dining hall. I had to pay again; I still hadn’t sorted getting my card registered. I did see Verity Pour successfully obtain some breakfast with a shiny new identity card.
I arrived at the door to room 221 of the West Building at 08:25. Not wanting to wait, I knocked on the wooden door.
“Come in.” Beckman called from within. I entered. Beckman’s office was a marvel Everywhere I looked there were thick tomes on economics, accounting, and Divitaetion. I had read a lot of them and at least heard of most of them but there were a few that I had never heard of. I memorised the titles to see what I could find on them later. “Ah Mr Stirling, good morning and welcome to the headquarters of the Church of Mammon.”
“Good morning Mr Beckman.” I said, a little breathlessly. “I’ve been eager to start.” The edge of Beckman’s mouth perked up a little at that.
“Good. Take these.” he gestured towards a large pile of paper on his desk. His desk appeared to be mostly covered in paper, but this particular pile was a little higher and a little better defined than the others.
“What are they?” I asked, peering over at the top sheet on the pile. It appeared to be a report of some kind. How was that going to be used in my studies?
“Reports.” Beckman confirmed my suspicions. “I need you to do some digging for me.”
“Digging?” I echoed.
“Yes. I’m now going to be busy training Miss Verity Pour, so I need someone to carry on an investigation I have been heading up. A pit opened in my stomach. Verity had told me, but I hadn’t really believed it until then. Beckman was going to be training Verity, leaving me out in the cold. He was meant to be teaching me! I didn’t voice this complaint though, and instead asked:
“An investigation into what?” Beckman didn’t reply immediately, and instead shuffled a few more papers around. Eventually he said:
“Have you heard about the assailant?”
I had. Everyone acolyte knew about the assailant. Someone had been ambushing acolytes of the Church of Mammon and stealing their cards. The assailant would withdraw as much money as possible before the card was cancelled.
“Yes.” I nodded.
“I encountered them a month ago.” Beckman revealed. “And as expected of someone who has been regularly defeating acolytes, they are skilled at Divitaetion.”
“You fought them?”
“Briefly, and I haven’t encountered them since.” Beckman gestured to the noticeable pile of paper again. “These are the compiled reports from the acolytes who were ambushed. I need you to study them.”
Study the reports? I was meant to be studying Divitaetion! I was meant to be studying Divitaetion under the man in front of me who instead was giving me what essentially sounded like busywork so that he could go and teach someone else!
Beckman continued to explain: “I need you to see if you can find anything that’s common between the incidents, anything that links them, so that we can predict who will be ambushed next. Any questions?”
I had plenty of questions, but I kept them to myself.
“Excellent. You can work in the reference room.” I’d passed the reference room on my way in. I nodded and picked up the pile of paper. With some difficulty, I opened the door and left fuming. With an equal amount of difficulty, I opened and entered the reference room. The reference room was dark and cramped. It was occupied mostly by shelving units that reached from the floor to the ceiling and were stuffed to bursting with folders and books. Had the Church of Mammon not moved to a digital system? Tom Beckman had a computer in his office but it had looked decades old. There was a small wooden desk and a plastic chair in the corner by a small window that was letting a sliver of light through. This was not the glamour I was expecting from the headquarters of the Church of Mammon. I dumped the pile of paper on the table and, after a brief look around the room, sighed and sat down. I heard voices from the hallway. One of them sounded like Beckman, and the other was the unmistakable voice of Verity Pour. I shook my head and began reading the first report, determined to find something useful.
I learned very little from the reports, other than that the average first level acolyte of the Church of Mammon possessed little literary skill. They also shared another common theme: they were very short. Pretty much every report followed the same order of events:
Step 1: The acolyte is out performing some duty or grunt work. Perhaps picking up donations from a meeting house.
Step 2: The acolyte is ambushed by a mysterious assailant.
Step 3: The acolyte is soundly beaten by the assailant and their bank card and any other money they have on them is stolen.
Step 4: The End.
Compelling stuff. The only one that broke this pattern was Tom Beckman’s report, which I read avidly. Unfortunately, if I was being honest it also didn’t help too much. The big piece of information it added was that not only could the assailant perform Divitaetion, they were also skilled enough to be a match for a third level acolyte like Beckman.
The hours passed slowly as I flipped through the reports. I was taking notes on the back of one of the them. It was lucky that I always carried a pen around with me, not that I had many notes to take down. I continued reading report after report on how useless my fellow acolytes were in a fight. A few of them noted how much money the assailant had used to wipe the floor with them, and the numbers were depressingly low. This assailant seemed adept at making a little money go a long way, when it came to robbery at least.
I was awoken by someone entering the reference room. It took me a few moments to realise that I’d drifted off. Jet lag had struck me and I’d barely put up a fight. I turned to see who had entered and it was the worst possible person. Tom Beckman had walked in on me sleeping on my first day on the job.
“I uh this is…” I struggled to explain but nothing I could come up with sounded like anything other than an excuse.
“Have you made any progress?” Beckman asked me, making no reference to my blatant napping. I felt my face heat up.
“Ah… not much…” Beckman picked up the sheet I had been taking notes on.
“You noticed that the assailant has been using small amounts of money for his casts.” he commented.
“Ah yes. Most of the reports say the assailant only used fives and the occasional ten. Yours is the only one that mentions anything as large as a one hundred dollar bill.” I managed to get that sentence out without tripping over my words. Beckman merely nodded.
“You’re dismissed for the day. Starting tomorrow you have free reign to investigate in whatever direction you see fit.” Before I could say anything, he turned and left. What the hell? I was meant to be studying Divitaetion not playing Cluedo! Before I could get any more indignant my stomach growled. I tidied up my pile of reports and grabbed my pen that had fallen to the floor when I dozed off. The pen was a gift from my father, not something I wanted to lose.
Rather than immediately going to the dining hall, I walked in the opposite direction to the lobby. Julia, the woman from the day before, was sat at the desk. I had a short and slightly terse conversation with her that ended with her promising to get me registered so that I could use my identity card at the dining hall. With that sorted I returned to the dining hall, hoping that this would be the last time I had to pay.
“Can I sit here?” I heard the last voice I wanted to hear. Verity Pour stood by holding her tray. She really needed to speak to other people.
“Fine.” I lied. She sat down, looking almost apologetic. I continued shovelling food into my mouth. After a while.
“Good first day?” she asked. No. No it wasn’t and I had you, Verity Pour, to thank for that.
“Fine.” I lied again. More silence.
“I started learning Divitaetion.” She continued. “I learned to cast force today.” She learned to cast force in a day? Even I hadn’t gotten the hang of it that quickly! Verity didn’t seem to have picked up on the implicit meaning behind my stony silence and carried on talking.
“What did you do today?”
“I was meant to be continuing my studies of Divitaetion under Tom Beckman…” I began, “But, because of someone, he was busy and I was sent to read reports all day.” I didn’t mention the hours I spent napping. The look on Verity’s face told me that she had realised who that someone was.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t ask for this…” She looked down at her food. Of course she didn’t ask for this, but that didn’t stop her from ruining things for me! “So what were you doing instead?” She asked with a forced cheeriness.
“An investigation. Since Mr Beckman is training you, the task of finding someone who has been causing a large amount of trouble of other acolytes has fallen to me.” Verity cocked her head to one side. “What?” I said, questioning the look on her face.
“It sounds like he trusts you a great deal…”
“I…” I didn’t have anything to say in response. In the end I changed the subject. “So how do you find Divitaetion?”
“It’s… strange.” Verity concluded. “I’ve been able to generate heat for ages but learning that I can do much more than that is… odd.”
“Generate heat for ages?” I queried. Verity gasped and stammered slightly.
“I learned to generate heat on my own when I was very young…” She confessed. “That’s why I was invited here.” A few things clicked into place. She’d been invited here because of her surprising natural aptitude for Divitaetion. Like a scholarship. I wasn’t aware of such programs at the Church of Mammon but perhaps allowances could be made for someone who displayed great potential.
“How did you even discover you could do that?” I asked. Verity shook her head as if trying to banish a memory. That was universal code for I don’t want to even think about it. I was left to wonder what it took for her to develop that skill. We talked a little more, mostly about Divitaetion. Verity had spent her day learning the ins and outs of casting force. While she’d gotten the hang of getting coins to jump out of her hand, she was struggling to do anything more complex. One of the key aspects of force was delayed casts. While a Divitaetion cast would typically happen instantly, you could delay it. Any acolyte worth their salt knew the exact amount of time it took for a coin to drop from their hand to the floor, so that they could place a foot on it and have it launch them in the air. Verity hadn’t reached the point where she was launching herself with coins, but she had been able to delay casts. The timing was a difficult thing to get right.
Our conversation wasn’t purely about Divitaetion. Verity asked me about my life before entering the Church of Mammon. I had already told her that I was born and raised in Kent, and spent my early childhood moving between my home there and boarding school. When I was seven my father told me one day that I wasn’t going back to that boarding school, but that I was going to start studying at the Church of Mammon. I didn’t know my father well, but I did trust him, and the fact that he had begun diverting large portions of wealth to a religious organisation didn’t bother me.
When I asked Verity about her childhood, she gave an even shorter answer. She lived in a flat with her mother and her younger brother. Her father had left when she was very young.
“Do you remember anything about him?” I asked. Verity paused for a moment, then shook her head. I once again received the code for I don’t want to even think about it.
I finished my food and stood up.
“Thank you.” Verity said as I went to leave.
“You’re welcome.” I replied, unsure what I was being thanked for. I returned to my room, trying not to smile, the phrase “it sounds like he trusts you a great deal” replaying in my head over and over again.