Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
The walk back up from the depths was slower. Christopher felt shaky and a little weak, like he had been running laps for too long. They took the elevator back up into the utility hallways, where every corridor looked more or less the same. Christopher recognized it, or at least pieces, in a way he hadn’t before. This was familiar. This was home.
Cain led him out into the city. They stuck to the side streets. There were people going about their business here and there. Christopher felt like someone who had moved away from the town where they were born and raised and returned for a visit many years later. Most of the familiar landmarks were in their expected places. In fact, very little had changed. He found himself studying the faces of the people they passed, looking for any that he recognized. An older woman stood out to him, but he couldn’t place her or summon her name from his jumbled memories.
Their journey was accompanied by a faint murmuring, and Christopher eventually realized it wasn’t the voices in his head. It was Cain talking to himself. He seemed to be having a mumbling internal debate.
“You seem uneasy,” Christopher said. He wondered at the choice of words. Would he have said it the same way before his visit to the chamber below the cavern? Was he speaking, or was it God-Speaker? Was there a difference?
“I had so many plans,” Cain said. “Years upon years of plans, and none of them worked out. Then you fell out of the sky, quite literally, by the stories I’m told.”
“This wasn’t part of the plan?” Christopher asked.
“Not exactly. All at once, everything is falling into place. I wasn’t prepared, but we just have to make the best of it.”
“And how do we do that?” Christopher asked.
“Exactly what I was trying to figure out,” Cain said.
“What’s the situation?” Christopher asked.
Cain looked up, his distracted gaze refocusing, as though seeing Christopher for the first time.
“Of course. I’m sorry if I overstep my bounds. It’s just that you’ve been gone so long. We’ve had to make do.”
Christopher laughed. “Assume I know nothing about what’s going on. Overstep away. I’m not even sure I know who I am yet.”
“There’s something very important,” Cain said. “Do you remember what happened to you, before…”
A flash of memories assaulted Christopher. Pain and blood. The dark office. Falling. Scrambling. A looming shape and a glint of light on the edge of a knife. The memories did not form a neat sequence. They tumbled out in a disordered mess, like some cartoon closet overflowing with forgotten things.
“I was stabbed,” he said. “It was unexpected.”
“Yes,” Cain said. “We found your body. Your former body. Do you know who did it?”
Christopher tried to piece the memories together. He had known the person in the moment, but the memory was focused on other, more immediate concerns. He shook his head.
“No. Someone I knew. Someone I trusted.”
“Do you remember a face? A name? Anything?”
Christopher could sense long pent-up frustration behind Cain’s words. He shook his head.
“It’s all a blur. I remember the pain and the knife. I don’t know whose hand held it.”
Cain sighed. “This is the mystery that has haunted me these long decades while you were gone.”
“There were no clues?” Christopher asked. “I…it was a meeting with someone.”
“You had many meetings, every day,” Cain said. “But who you were meeting with was not common knowledge. You had a tendency to keep things secret, unless others really needed to know.”
That word, “secret,” reverberated within Christopher. It was deep in his core, the desire to hide things, the inability to trust, the unwillingness to let his guard down, or show any weakness. For all the good it had done him.
“I think you’ve probably barely begun to understand the secrets I’ve kept,” Christopher said.
“These things happen over a few thousand years.”
“There were no clues left behind?” Christopher asked.
Cain sighed. “Precious few. There are surveillance systems throughout the city, but not in your office or home, or the immediate surroundings. At least none that we were able to find. Nobody knew who you might have met with, or nobody was willing to say.”
“What about the office itself?”
“There was plenty of blood,” Cain said. “Two or three smeared footprints that yielded no matches. No murder weapon ever found.”
“So whoever killed me was never caught?”
“Things got messy fast, once you were found,” Cain said. “The cabinet met, and accusations were thrown around. There’s no hierarchy among us, and nobody trusted anyone. The investigation was difficult because of it. There was a sort of trial held, but you can imagine how well that goes when everyone is simultaneously prosecutor and possible suspect. In the end, we held a vote. The Secretary of Justice was imprisoned.”
“You don’t think he did it?” Christopher asked. He couldn’t call up a memory of the Secretary of Justice.
“She,” Cain said. “There was some circumstantial evidence, but nothing concrete. Nothing that would have held up in an actual court. It wasn’t a trial, more like a desperate attempt to put the thing behind us and try to keep the place running.”
“Who do you think did it?” Christopher asked.
“I don’t know. There wasn’t enough evidence to say. I abstained from that vote.”
“What happened after that?”
Cain shrugged. “Some of the others pretended that it was resolved. Myself and one or two others quietly decided to keep looking into it. The Deputy Secretary of Justice was promoted to the council.”
“No more murders?” Christopher asked.
“Not among us. Murder isn’t unheard-of in Razor Mountain, but it’s rare. There’s been nothing that seemed related.”
“I would have assumed this person was trying to consolidate power,” Christopher said. “Maybe it was really just a grudge.”
“Maybe,” Cain said. “Maybe they were after power, but they knew that another killing would completely upend the system. Putting the Secretary of Justice away at least had some semblance of a resolution to the whole bloody ordeal.”
“Was there some attempted coup then?” Christopher asked.
“Nothing so obvious,” Cain replied. “Just years of endless jockeying for power. Arguments over little slivers of administrative control that fall somewhere between our individual domains.”
Christopher shook his head. “Of course, I never bothered to think about what might happen if I were gone.”
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