Rating: M/15+ for this bit
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Slash, some disturbing themes in this part.
Summary: HDM AU. Moriarty vanishes, and as Sherlock and Raniel try to untangle the reasons why, John and Amarisa ask the alethiometer a very important question - what does Moriarty want?
(Title page by birddi )
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Part Two: Stepping Stones
Part Three: Foundations
Part Four: Shadowed Archways
Part Five: Buried Labyrinths
Part Six: Crossing The River
Part Seven: Glimmers in Darkness
Part Eight: Perdition's Bridges
Part Nine: Building The Republic
Part Ten: Lit From Within
Part Eleven: Structural Integrity
Part Twelve: The Reader
Part Thirteen: Spiraling Down
Part Fourteen: God Killer
God Killer (contd.)
Sherlock and Raniel prided themselves on knowing everything they needed to know to solve crimes. The solar system wasn’t important to crime solving, so they didn’t care about it. Witch artefacts had never been important to crime solving, so they’d never learned anything about them.
In the car on the way back, they came to the conclusion that they were beginning to regret the latter.
“And you’re sure that’s what it was saying?” Raniel asked, his claws tense and tight in Amarisa’s fur as Sherlock heroically refrained from cursing at the slow-moving traffic in front of them.
“Of course I’m sure,” John said, one hand in his pocket and undoubtedly curled around the alethiometer. “I’m pretty definite on the ‘god killer’ part, I just have no idea what that is.”
“Neither do we,” Raniel admitted. “But we’re pretty sure it’s a witch artefact, possibly the very one they were so worried about this morning.”
Amarisa cocked her head. “Really? Any particular reason for this theory?”
“Oh, come on!” Sherlock snapped. “Moriarty wants something called ‘god killer’ and at least one of his spies made an effort to discover the location of an artefact? Seems a bit coincidental, doesn’t it?”
John and his dæmon said nothing, but his lips thinned and Amarisa’s ears flattened.
The drive back to the Holmes house was almost silent, Sherlock processing what he’d learned and exploring the ramifications.
They had assumed Moriarty’s goal was the same as the witch clan that had birthed him, the same as Traditional Values for a Bright New Britain – foolish; he of all people should have known better.
Raymond Coram had told him some Gyptians had been tasked with moving stores of metal – actual, physical stores of metal, not stashes of drugs or smuggled humans. It wasn’t what Sherlock and Raniel had been expecting, because taking metal over the more obvious black market trades suggested either that Moriarty was building an armoury, or that he was attempting to hire armoured bears.
The bears seemed more likely, but they were reluctant to assume anything after this little revelation.
So, metal supplies (possibly to recruit armoured bears), and a desire for something called a ‘god killer’ which was possibly a witch artefact. And the theft of the Maystadt Guillotine as well. But what did they add up to?
Raniel hissed and squirmed, sharing Sherlock’s frustration – it was absolutely infuriating to have all the pieces, yet be unsure what kind of pattern they made. Something told them that all the threads were right there in front of them, they just needed to tug them in the right way…
And they didn’t know which way to pull them without knowing what Moriarty hoped to achieve by acquiring the ‘god killer’.
“Did you ask the alethiometer what a ‘god killer’ was?” Raniel suddenly piped up.
John nodded. “It just kept giving us circular answers – ‘the god killer is the god killer’ and variations thereof. We must not be asking the right questions.”
“We even tried asking what the god killer does, as opposed to what it is,” Amarisa offered. “But we didn’t really understand the answer – the alethiometer seemed to be telling us that it was something used to ‘move through worlds’. But that’s the most sense we could get out of it.”
“Move through worlds,” Sherlock repeated. “So is it some kind of universal passport among witches? The equivalent of an all-access keycard?”
“Do witches have passports?” John mused.
The question was apparently addressed solely to his dæmon, but Raniel chittered in surprised amusement.
“It’s a valid question!” Amarisa protested, indignant enough to nip at the polecat’s ear. “I mean, we know that they move between countries, so do they have passports to get through airports and across borders? Is there some kind of witch equivalent that identifies their clan, the way passports identify your country?”
“And I bet if it’s magical, it’s probably hard to fake,” John went on, clearly warming to the subject. “So maybe whatever Moriarty wants is like psychic paper, or something.”
“Just what is psychic paper?” Sherlock asked, feeling a bit snappish – he never liked feeling ignorant.
John grinned, seemingly amused by Sherlock’s frustration. “Just something from the telly.”
Well, that was acceptable, then – Sherlock and Raniel refused to pollute their hard drive with ‘popular culture’ unless strictly necessary, as in the Connie Prince murder.
“But then why would they call it a ‘god killer’?” Raniel pointed out.
“The most lethal thing a passport could give you would be a really bad papercut,” agreed Amarisa, wrinkling her nose.
John went back to looking out the window, but not before Sherlock saw a frown beginning to etch itself in his face.
John and Amarisa had been feeling uncomfortable ever since they’d read the alethiometer – the same prickling, anxious/afraid feeling that gnawed in their gut while they waited for an enemy attack in Afghanistan. The sense that this was the calm before the storm, and that said storm promised to be big.
At least Aeliana was still home – John and Amarisa had been worried that she would have left with the others.
They’d been half-expecting Mycroft to rain holy hell (well, maybe more like frosty disapproval) on them for taking the alethiometer, but it didn’t look like anyone had missed it. Probably too busy ‘cleaning house’, as Mycroft had said.
They’d been planning to ask what a god killer was as soon as they walked in the door, but Aeliana spoke first.
“The artefact Moriarty’s spy knew about? It was determined to be a fake half an hour ago,” she said bluntly.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, and John stifled a resigned sigh.
“Of course it was,” Amarisa muttered, low enough for only John to hear.
“And now we have no idea how long ago it was stolen,” John replied. Then, frowning as a sudden thought struck him, raised his voice, “It hasn’t been a fake all along, has it? I mean, the artefact was authentic at one point, right? And how do they tell?”
“It was originally authentic, yes,” Aeliana sighed.
For a moment her hand seemed to twitch, the way John had seen nervous patients do when they wanted to reach for their dæmon but didn’t want to show how nervous they were. But of course Nostrepheus was nowhere near – he had gone with Hasna and Tamsyn.
For the first time, John wondered if those people who separated from their dæmons ever regretted that they had. Of course it gave them extra mobility, it meant they didn’t have to worry about any limitations their dæmons might have…but did they ever get lonely? Did they ever miss the constant companionship, the knowledge that wherever you went, your dæmon went with you? What did they feel when they instinctively reached for support in times of stress or crisis and their dæmon wasn’t there?
“It used to be different, you know,” Aeliana said, her voice distant. “Witches never used to bother about artefacts – they were communal property, and one clan couldn’t be said to ‘own’ anything. But there was a…war many years ago, and the witch clans started to become divided. And then when humans rose in power and technology, when they used that technology to scour the cliff-ghasts from the face of the Earth, some witches didn’t mind, and others…did. Suddenly witches from different clans could be as remote as humans from different countries, and possession of artefacts took on new importance.”
“So what was this artefact supposed to do?” Sherlock asked, sounding impatient. “And does it have any connection with something called a ‘god killer’?”
Aeliana went very still. “Where did you hear that word?”
“I asked the alethiometer what Moriarty wanted,” John explained. “And it said he wanted the god killer, which is supposed to help him move between worlds.”
John had the very strong impression that if Aeliana had been anyone else, she would have sat down very abruptly. As it was, she only squared her shoulder and titled her chin, but that sign of shock in a centuries-old witch had John reaching down to twist his fingers in Amarisa’s ruff and relieve his anxiety.
“The artefact I am talking about, the one that we must assume Moriarty stole, is known among the witches as Æsahættr – the translation of which is god killer – and among humans as the Subtle Knife. We don’t know how the knife was made, but one side is sharp enough to slice through any material presented to it, even a bear’s sky-armour. And the other side can open holes in whatever it is that binds and separates realities – parallel universes, as you would call them.”
To say John was surprised would have been something of an understatement. The thought of something like that in Moriarty’s hands brought ‘horrifying’ to whole new levels. Amarisa bristled, a low growl rumbling through her chest and John rubbed at her ears as Raniel made low, crooning chitter of reassurance.
“And Moriarty probably has it…” Sherlock said slowly, articulating his thoughts the way he did when he and Raniel were thinking in a hundred different directions at once and needed to focus themselves.
“How did your clan end up with that?” John couldn’t help asking. “I mean, it sounds like something that’s far too dangerous for anyone to have, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Some might say the same about a man who can read the alethiometer,” Aeliana quipped. “But you’re probably right – I think every clan would have fought us for the knife…if it had still worked.”
“So it’s broken?” John tried to clarify. “Moriarty won’t be able to use it?”
Aeliana nodded, and John wondered if the relief he suspected everyone could see on his face was half as strong as what he was actually feeling.
“I won’t bore you with the details,” Aeliana continued. “But the last bearer of the knife came to the same conclusion you did, John, and shattered it. While the shards are probably still unnervingly sharp, the knife cannot cut between the worlds unless it is whole.”
John nodded – it made about as much sense as anything else.
Aeliana cocked her head, for a moment looking very much like her owl dæmon. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this point, but you seem to be absorbing the news about the knife very well. I expected a bit of disbelief, at the very least.”
“Well, don’t most physicists agree parallel worlds exist?” John shrugged. “And besides, I’m the object of an ancient prophecy and apparently have a magical ability to read a device that always tells the truth – I think my bar for ‘unbelieveable’ has been raised several notches in the last few days.”
Aeliana smiled. “I suppose so. As for how the knife came to us…originally, the bearer took it back to his home, for he wasn’t born of this world. But the holes it made between the worlds were still open, thousands upon thousands on them. While some…people…agreed to journey across the worlds and close them, it was to be a very lengthy process, and I’m sure many are still open to this day.”
Aeliana had put a curious emphasis to the word ‘people’, but John filed that away as something to think about later. “So the bearer came back.”
The witch shook her head. “His granddaughter did, with the shards of the knife. She entrusted the shards to my clan, and asked us to keep them safe.”
“And then she went home?”
“Unfortunately, no. She never managed to find the hole through which she’d entered – those kinds of openings can be temperamental. You can know where it is to within five feet, and still not manage to go through it. And people rarely last more than ten years in a world not their own; she died when was thirty-five. We never learned why she came, but some of the things she said, the fact that she was carrying the knife shards with her…I’ve always believed that her crossing into this world was unintentional, an accidental sidestep as she was fleeing from something in her world.”
“How do you know this?” John couldn’t help asking. “I mean, it doesn’t sound like most of this is common knowledge, even among witches. Or is your clan just really good at keeping secrets?”
“My aunt, the previous clan queen, told me,” Aeliana related with a fond smile. “Serafina Pekkala was said to have witnessed these events herself.”
“I just can’t understand why!” Sherlock suddenly burst out.
John and Amarisa didn’t so much as twitch – they were used to these sorts of outbursts after Raniel and his human had spent some time wandering off in their own mind. Aeliana only smiled and shook her head with the fond exasperation only a mother was capable of.
“Why what?” John asked.
“Why does he want the knife? Not for its cutting ability, surely – nowadays, lasers can take care of what simple blades can’t. So does he want to move between worlds? But to what purpose?”
John shrugged, and even Amarisa rolled her shoulders.
“We’ll leave that to you,” he said to Sherlock. “I think my psyche’s disturbed enough without trying to get into Moriarty’s head.”
Sherlock made a dismissive, sweeping gesture that over their relationship John had learned to translate as ‘I’m busy thinking, go do whatever you have to’.
John nodded even though he knew neither Sherlock or Raniel would see it, and he and Amarisa made their way down the hall, trying to remember how to get to the library.
They had a hunch. It was a very vague hunch, true, but strong enough that they wanted to talk to Grayson and Samieyah rather than dismiss it out of hand. And the library was where they thought Sherlock’s father was most likely to be found.
Sure enough, as soon as they entered the library they saw the golden osprey dæmon perched on one of those high-back leather chairs that probably cost a full year of John’s salary. Usually, that kind of casually displayed wealth would make John wary and self-conscious, but Aelina and Grayson were just so unconcerned and nice about it that he and his dæmon had never felt the need to stand on ceremony.
John couldn’t help but smile when he came around the chair and saw Grayson engrossed in a Nature journal. Samieyah’s head rose from where it had been leaning over her human’s shoulder to look at them, and Grayson glanced up as his dæmon did.
“John,” he greeted, smiling with every appearance of welcome. “How did it go?”
John shrugged. “We got some information that apparently means something to Sherlock, but I can’t figure it out.”
Grayson nodded, and Samieyah sighed, as though in resignation. “I understand completely – I only barely understand Aeliana when she starts talking about her clan. Witch politics go completely over my head.”
Then he sobered abruptly. “But I’m not entirely blind to the troubles of this…” he made a frustrated gesture, “…situation. My son and my wife are in real danger, aren’t they?”
John’s first instinct was to lie, to mouth some empty reassurance, but he was stopped by the hard light in Grayson’s eyes, the tension in Samieyah’s claws where they gripped the chair. They weren’t stupid, and they were telling him not to treat them as such.
“Yes, they are,” John admitted.
Grayson made a humming sound, the sort of noise Sherlock made when he was thinking; he even steepled his fingers in the same way. In spite of the rather grim line of conversation, John felt his lips twitch as Amarisa’s tail wagged.
“You’re a soldier, John,” Grayson said, apropos of nothing. “I’d wager you have good instincts for danger. And you’ve been in the thick of this from the very beginning. Tell me truly – how bad do you think this is going to get?”
John glanced down at Amarisa, seeing in the wolfdog’s yellow eyes the same dread and determination he was feeling. “If these kinds of actions had been perpetuated by a foreign government, not a single man, we’d probably be gearing up for World War Three.”
Samieyah made a low noise of distress, her feathers ruffling and shivering. Grayson raised his hand and ran the backs of his fingers over her chest in a soothing gesture.
Even if honesty was what he’d been asked for, John couldn’t help feeling guilty that he’d made them so worried.
“I promise you, I’ll do everything I can to protect Sherlock,” he assured them.
It was a promise easily given because frankly, John and Amarisa had been planning on doing exactly that.
Grayson’s lips twitched, as though he wanted to smile but didn’t think the mood was right for it. “I don’t think my son would appreciate that sentiment.”
John shrugged. “Tough.”
At that Grayson did smile, though it was only for a moment. He dropped his eyes back to the journal in his lap, but Samieyah pinned them with a gaze so intent that John had to take a moment to assure himself that ospreys did not have X-ray vision.
At least now he knew where Mycroft had learned that disturbingly penetrating gaze.
“I’m given to understand you may be in just as much danger as Sherlock and Aeliana,” Grayson said slowly. “Perhaps more, given your…talents.”
It was John’s turn to drop his eyes as Amarisa’s hackles rose. He hated that they still felt the need to hide whenever someone said anything about them being ‘special’ or ‘different’, but a lifetime of caution couldn’t be unlearned in a few weeks. And John and his dæmon’s previous experience told them that being branded as unique made people back away, not come closer.
It was different with witches and bears in Afghanistan because there was a strange kind of comradeship in all of them being regarded as unusual by the rest of the humans. It had let John feel comfortable with them, allowed him to ask questions about their lives and cultures without worrying about being intrusive, or feeling defensive when they turned that same scrutiny on him.
But when other humans did it? It left John and Amarisa feeling marked.
Grayson seemed to realise John was uncomfortable. “But you haven’t come here to listen to depressing reiterations of facts you’re already aware of, have you?”
“What do you know about the Maystadt Guillotine?” John asked.
Grayson blinked, but otherwise didn’t react, though Samieyah bated nervously. “Nothing pleasant.”
“You know we think Moriarty might have stolen one. I want to know if you can think of any reason why.”
Grayson extended his arm to his dæmon, and Samieyah gripped it, careful not to scratch him with her claws as he lowered her to rest on the arm of the chair, rather than the back. He left his hand on the golden feathers of her back, and John felt Amarisa press herself against his legs as his fingers tightened in her dark fur.
It was almost reflexive to clutch at your dæmon when you were discussing intercision, like when an actor was bloodily disfigured on the telly and you found yourself clutching at the site of the injury. You needed reassurance that you were still whole – that your own dæmon was there and that no one would ever part you.
“Everything we know about intercision comes from the notes maintained by those scientists and doctors that worked in the concentration camps,” Grayson began. “It’s true that the Magesterium experimented with severing children in a place the witches refer to as Bolvangar, but almost none of that so-called ‘research’ survived its destruction.”
“But what can you gain by intercision?” John asked, feeling vaguely ill even as he spoke. “I mean, from what I know and what I’ve seen, intercision just seems to result in an…empty person and dæmon. They have no interest in anything, like mindless automatons-”
“Exactly,” Grayson broke in. “Mindless. A severed person will agree to anything, perform any task set to them without question or complaint. We do not know what changes at the moment of intercision, but we do know that severed people have no will of their own, so they seem to adopt the will of whoever is around them, accept the directions of whoever commands them.”
So if Moriarty wanted to create an army of mindless slaves, intercision was the way to do it. But the thought didn’t sit right with John – Moriarty didn’t seem to have any problem manipulating people into doing his own bidding without them even knowing it, so why would he need slaves?
“Is there anything else?” he asked. “I mean, Moriarty doesn’t seem the type to need slaves.”
Grayson shrugged but Samieyah twisted her head to peer into her human’s face, yellow eyes intent and prodding, as if urging him to remember something.
“Although…” he said slowly. “This was never proved or confirmed, but…are you aware of the mysterious circumstances regarding Lord Asriel’s disappearance?”
John shook his head, but the name jogged something in his memory. “Asriel…any relation to the Asriel procedure?”
Grayson nodded once. “He invented the method of treating film so Stanislaus particles would show on the photograph. He disappeared around the time the Magesterium established the General Oblation Board and first became a little shaky in their position. He wasn’t the only one, to be sure, but…as I said, this was never proved…”
Amarisa gave an exasperated growl, expressing her and John’s frustration and Grayson cut himself off.
“There was always a theory floated around that Asriel had crossed into another world,” he said eventually. “He’d been discussing research into such before he disappeared, claiming that the Aurora borealis was a place where the divide between the worlds was thin. Aeliana told me that this much was true, but she doesn’t know about the last part.”
“What last part?” John wondered.
“The part where it was suggested that he broke the barrier between the worlds with the energy released when the bond between human and dæmon is severed. He believed that intercision results in an enormous outpouring of energy at the moment of severing which, if harnessed, can potentially create a gateway between the worlds.”
Something told John this was more likely than the slave-army. If Moriarty had stolen that artefact – what had Aeliana called it, the Subtle Knife? – to try to cross between the worlds, it made sense that he’d explore other means of opening up those gateways as well. But to what purpose?
What did Moriarty want that he couldn’t find in this world?
--AN: Thanks so much to ginbitch, who caught several inconsistencies in this part for me.
Part Fifteen: Dark Hands