Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
God-Speaker sat in the half-light of his office, silent but for the scratching of his pen. The heavy paper was scored with musical staffs, and he toiled over it with a fountain pen. For writing cleanly and precisely, it was objectively worse than a modern pen or computer program, but there was something about the tactility of the pen and paper that was deeply satisfying to him and it looked better on the desk—alongside the inkwell—than a more modern implement.
A special bookshelf next to the desk was dedicated to the reams of music he had written over the years. He wrote and re-wrote it, playing with modern and ancient forms, little dalliances and sweeping epics. However, it was his symphony (his “first symphony” as he thought of it) that he spent most of his time on. He wrote it and re-wrote it, tweaked it for years, and then threw it away and started again. There were dozens of versions on the bookshelf, and many more lost to time. Long ago, he had dared to imagine it being played, but it never was. It always felt incomplete, and he wouldn’t allow it to be played until it was truly done.
The office was equipped with the sort of lights ubiquitous beneath the mountain, cleverly channeled daylight or carefully tuned artificial light, inset into the ceiling so that it filled the room indirectly. God-Speaker kept those lights off in the evenings. He much preferred using the antique lamps that had been tastefully placed here and there around the big room. Something about being at the center of a pool of yellow light felt right to him, something about the darkness around the edges of the room that the light couldn’t quite penetrate. Maybe it reminded him of traveling with his people in the old days, huddled around the campfires at night. Back then, the darkness beyond the firelight had seemed infinite and full of danger. Here, he knew the limits of the darkness. It was well-contained within stone walls, beneath the crushing weight of the mountain above.
God-Speaker made use of technology, but he didn’t relish the aesthetics of glass and plastic and chrome that were so prevalent these days. He was more comfortable surrounded by his leatherbound books in their wooden bookshelves, his richly upholstered furniture and lamps of brass and iron and stained glass. The office was filled with a faint but powerful scent of old and cherished things: dust and leather, wine and ink.
God-Speaker himself seemed to belong in this place as much as the books on the bookshelves or the furniture and rugs. He was a carefully maintained relic, and he was currently showing his age. He had gotten in the habit of staying with the same body longer in recent centuries. There were advantages to being accustomed to his vessel. He could focus on more important things. But he also felt the aches and pains. He slowed down, and he was beginning to feel that little bit of mental fog creeping in. He would make the jump soon, and relish the freshness and energy that came with it.
However, he had a situation to resolve first. At this point, he had a well-honed sense for little things out of place, signs that something was working against his grand designs. He suspected that someone, perhaps even a member of his inner circle, was working against him in subtle ways. It made him nervous, as it always did, and he had to remind himself that he had dealt with betrayal many times before. Traitors thought themselves so clever, rarely understanding the insurmountable advantages of an opponent with hundreds of lifetimes of experience.
As if the world moved by God-Speaker’s direction, there was a knock at the door directly across from him, in the half-darkness. He sealed the inkwell and set it and the pen aside. He pushed the sheafs of music to the other side. Then he pressed a button beneath the desk.
The man who came in was tall and thin, with wispy red hair that was perpetually uncertain about which direction it ought to be facing. Reed Parricida: the Razor Mountain Secretary of Labor. He wore a black suit and narrow tie that further accentuated his thinness. He wore large, thick glasses that slightly magnified his eyes, completing the vaguely insectoid ensemble.
“I’m sorry to call you in so late.”
“Is there some sort of emergency, sir?” Reed’s voice was quiet, just barely more than a whisper.
“Not an emergency, but a serious situation that must be carefully addressed.”
Reed walked into the pool of light and sat in the chair across the desk from God-Speaker. He sat with his right foot set up on his left knee, his right elbow on the arm of the chair, his chin cradled in his right hand as he stared intently at God-Speaker.
“I’m going to ask you to do something entirely outside of your usual responsibilities,” God-Speaker said. “It will require the utmost discretion, and I expect no word of it to leave this room.”
“I have reason to believe that Cain Dolus has been secretly working to expand his influence, and he may be making plans to assassinate me.”
Reed’s magnified eyes widened behind the glasses.
“Cain? Are you sure? He’s always struck me as…well, a little dull.”
God-Speaker nodded. “I was skeptical too, but I’ve been noticing things that concern me. It is also possible that there is a conspiracy among more than one of your fellow secretaries.”
God-Speaker shifted in his chair. “By virtue of your position, you have good reasons to be involved in Cain’s major building projects. I would like you to very quietly look into those projects. I am especially interested in any cases where he has been diverting funds or doing any unusual accounting.”
Reed’s narrow brow furrowed. “I appreciate the seriousness of this situation, and your trust in bringing this to me,” he said, “but surely there are others better-suited to this sort of investigation. Someone from Military or Intelligence Operations?”
God-Speaker leaned back in his chair, looking up at the shadowed ceiling.
“I think it’s likely that any traitors will be more guarded around Reese and Cas. I also need to be absolutely certain that neither of them are involved in this before I bring them on board. Besides, you have good reasons to be involved in Cain’s projects, and those two do not.”
God-Speaker didn’t mention that he wanted to avoid looking weak in the eyes of his Directors of Military and Intelligence Operations. The fewer people were aware of the situation, the less likely anyone would entertain any seditious ideas.
Reed sighed. “I understand.”
“I’m sorry to put this burden on you,” God-Speaker said.
“No need to be sorry,” Reed said, sitting up straight in his chair. “I’ll start my investigation first thing tomorrow.”
“Very good,” God-Speaker replied. “I’ll set up a daily meeting to discuss anything you find.”
“Anything in particular I should know?”
“Not at this point. I’d like to see what you can dig up before we share notes. You may find some avenues of inquiry that I hadn’t considered.”
Reed stood, and God-Speaker did as well.
“I’ve asked Cain to come talk to me tonight as well. He’ll probably be waiting outside when you leave. Try not to look suspicious.”
Reed frowned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“We often meet at odd hours,” God-Speaker said. “It’s best not to change routine at this point.”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“I don’t think that’s necessary. I know how to defend myself, and I will be on my guard. Besides, I think a direct personal assault would not be a good way to carry out the crime and get away with it.”
“Very well. Can you send me a message after your meeting to confirm that nothing happened?”
God-Speaker smiled a tight smile. “Of course.”