Charlotte has kept close tabs on Ghostheart, both personally and magically and with Summer’s invaluable assistance thanks to her drones. The enigmatic occultist has been minding their business quite thoroughly. Still, the proprieties must be observed, and privacy afforded, and so there are gaps in the surveillance that could spell trouble.
Now, she watches from afar as Ghostheart erects a magicked barrier against scrying within their apartment. Charlotte has power to push through such barriers, but two things stop her. First, the invocation of King Paimon that’s included in the ritual. For Ghostheart to call on the patron demon that’s bound them is unusual. Second, that Paimon’s domain is knowledge. To use a scrying spell would require Charlotte pitting her power not merely against Max Gallian, but against a goetic demon of the highest tier.
Some things are better left unknown, she tells herself.
Twenty minutes after the ritual began, the barrier falls away. Max leaves the apartment, and Charlotte follows by proxy.
The trail leads to the industrial and manufacturing district of Halcyon City. The shine of newly built factories and hyper-tech hives gives way to the rust and roughness of post-War facilities. Charlotte finds Max entering an even older complex. To her surprise, there’s an affective force field here - a barrier against emotion and psychic emanation. The product of a magic ritual? After a short examination, she concludes it’s closer to something Concord could have created.
The abandoned complex echoes with Max’s lonely footfalls, and aches with the weight of memory and loss. Max descends rickety staircases only barely bolted to the walls, climbs down ladders that seem prepared to dissolve into rust, and navigates a maze of corridors lit only by a pocket flashlight.
Charlotte realizes in time that she’s gone much further underground than she ought to have, if this were a normal facility. But of course - this is another spiritual access point, a way into the Underworld.
What of the force field? Do the Concordance have an interest in the human afterlife? Does Concord? Charlotte is intensely curious, but there’ll be time for that.
She follows the trail into a massive open chamber. The room is a huge sphere, a football field’s length in its radius. It’s well-lit, with cabling and pipes and other appurtenances of technology jutting from the interior surface. There’s a catwalk that runs in a ring around the edge of the chamber, and a control room visible at the far end.
She sees Max already halfway around the catwalk when a door slams shut and seals behind her.
“Charlotte Palmer. The Magus.” The voice is casual, masculine, unknown to her but with a familiar accent. “Right on time. Thank you, Max.”
Charlotte narrows her eyes. “If you wish to do more than have a civil conversation, you’ll find me well able to defend myself, sir,” she calls loudly at the omnipresent voice.
The room’s light grows to a painful intensity, and Charlotte feels herself pulled up off the catwalk, into the air, and whisked to the center of the room. Powerful forces suspend her there - she can see lines of what seem to be white lightning gushing out of access points in the walls, and converging on her. At the same time, she feels a horrid, spiritual tearing, as though something were rending at her soul with talons of ice and steel.
Bound to the center of the mystical lightning storm, she finds herself unable to muster any mystical counterattack. Something about the chamber? Something about her? But the voice is talking again.
“If you’ll permit me to introduce myself. My name is Devon Crowninshield.”
“You’ll forgive me, sir, if I’m not obliged to show you any politeness at the moment.”
“Quite. However, let me assure you I mean you no personal ill will.” Crowninshield’s voice is that specific sort of Southern politeness used for enemies on one’s property, when one has a shotgun aimed at them. “In fact, you could say I’m doing you a favor.”
“A favor from a real gentleman would be to release me from this duress,” she snaps back.
“Alas, I’m a scholar first, gentleman second. For example, shall I tell you of the readings we obtained when you went on all those journeys to close those interdimensional rifts? The etheric data we collected on you in Albania and elsewhere? None of this would have been possible without your tireless efforts.”
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Charlotte quips.
“In the interest of fairness, I’ll give you something you’ve been seeking. Lest you think this the ramblings of a villain in the midst of enacting his master plan, let me clarify and say giving you this knowledge is necessary for my plan to work.”
Crowninshield can be heard adjusting something from the control room; the intensity of the mystic lightning increases, causing Charlotte to thrash at the locus of confinement.
“I can think of nothing I would like from you but my freedom,” Charlotte calls, gritting at the increased discomfort.
“Oh? That’s no way to speak to me, cousin. Many times removed, to be sure, but we are related.”
The accent’s familiarity becomes clear.
“You and I, Miss Charlotte Palmer, are both members of the Hidden Family of the Vyortovian Throne.”