It’s tomorrow and Charlotte is heading to the library to speak with Jonathon. Look at the way it’s framed, though:
Traumatized, Charlotte had decided that in the morning she would speak to the only person she thought could help.
Now, I’ve read the back of the book and I know that Alister and Charlotte both get name dropped in capital letters and Jonathon is not even mentioned. Plus, in Jonathon’s previous appearance, he assumed that Charlotte was researching alchemy out of a desire to better understand and be closer to Harthum. What I’m saying here is that while it’s possible Jonathon is arranging to have her smuggled to safety, I’m not gonna be as shocked as the book wants me to be when he instead turns out to be evil. The whole “Jonathon is my only friend” thing not only gets dropped here, but emphasized again on the next page. There’s really only one place this could be going, dramatically. If Charlotte were all “is anyone in this city trustworthy? Is Jonathon in on it, too?!” then I’d actually be uncertain, ’cause that one could go either way.
“Do not be afraid Lady Lotte,” he interrupted with a reassuring smile. “This is a time to celebrate. The Lord Eternal has chosen you as his next consort. I knew he would!”
Charlotte straightened in shock as Jonathon kneeled in front of her and took her hand. “You have been blessed,” he said excitedly. “You have been chosen by the Hero of Eternity.” He looked into her eyes. “He deserves you,” he said with the same sickening smile Lindris had given her the day before. “You will make him so happy.”
…I am alone
At least it was more subtle than I thought. I was bracing myself for some stunning moment of betrayal where Jonathon does a Hans-from-Frozen sudden reveal that he was a villain all along.
Charlotte has a mysterious letter in her bag, and no idea how it got there, but upon reading it, it turns out that the beggar she helped out slipped it in while helping her gather her stuff. I gave the book shit for a transparent save the cat moment, but it turns out that was actually relevant to the plot and not just checking a beat off the list. Still don’t see why the guy felt the need to unload his entire tragic backstory on Charlotte when all he needed to do was bump into her and then help her gather up her stuff, but hey, random vagabonds used as messengers by mysterious rebellion benefactors aren’t necessarily fantastic at the whole espionage thing. Maybe this guy had his whole excuse for accidentally bumping into Charlotte ready to go and just let it tumble out in a half-panic as soon as she dropped her stuff and he started committing treason.
The message contains a vial of sap that will mask Charlotte’s scent long enough for her to escape the stalker. Even Charlotte didn’t know this thing tracker her by smell until just now, so how did Mr. Factor learn about it? That’s not a criticism, that’s an actual question – this guy’s all mysterious, but since he’s not integral to anyone’s motivation, that’s fine. His secrets may or may not turn out to be dumb, but right now they’re not important.
Alister is docking at Megacity One.
A tall man wearing an old-fashioned suit and powdered wig came loping up to intercept Alister. He walked with purpose and a haughty gate, a small errand boy hurrying to keep up behind him. “Excuse me, this dock is for registered-”
“Am I glad to see you,” Alister interrupted. “I need your fastest men here now!” Alister nearly winced at how unconvincing he sounded.
Nothing makes my heart sink faster than realizing that I’ve just stumbled and face-planted in the middle of a con.
“I can’t tell you how hard I had to push this old girl to get here on time.” He patted The Ephrait lightly, still avoiding eye contact. “Could you imagine if I hadn’t made it?” Why am I so bad at lying? Alister thought in frustration.
This book is a window into the depths of my soul.
The clerk, now boiling red, turned to command the boy but croaked instead. Coughing, he finally found his voice and turned to Alister, “I’ve never heard of star melons before. And, I have certainly never met this ‘Arthur’ either.”
Damn. Alister looked the clerk up and down not sure what else to say. Time for Plan B.
“Look, do you have an office somewhere? I can show you my paperwork.”
“I’ll see it right now,” he said, holding out his hand arrogantly. “Unfortunately your arguments have been unconvincing. I think you, sir, are a fraud.”
“Fine,” Alister said in defeat. He peered out the hatch checking for any onlookers. With no one in sight Alister turned as if to step into the cargo hold but whirled around, clubbing the man across the head with the crowbar.
Alister is my spirit animal.
After Alister pays off the clerk’s underling not to care about what happened to him (he didn’t directly see what happened to the clerk, but he did disappear right when this obviously fraudulent unregistered fellow showed up.
And then we pivot to Charlotte’s perspective as she prepares to escape her stalker. I wish to register in advance that I will be disappointed if this doesn’t result in a chase scene that ends with the stalker being, like, blown apart with a shotgun or something.
She stopped in the epicenter of the market, picking the location because of the crowds and the extremely high ceilings. It would be much easier to lose the creature in a maze of people and canopies.
That’ll put the stalker out of range of the sap, though. Sure, Charlotte will be in range of it, but her scent will only be masked as long as she is. If the scent is clingy, then at best she’ll smell the same as everyone else in range, which means she’ll only share her disguise with however many people are in the very inexact radius of the effect (Charlotte is assured it is wide, but it’s not like she’s looking at a tooltip that gives her an exact measurement or anything). If she deployed the sap when the stalker itself was in range, then the smell would cling to the stalker, completely blinding it until it could get out of the radius – or indefinitely, if the scent clings. Picking the smallest room possible wouldn’t be wisest, granted, because even if the stalker has no senses at all besides smell, it could just pounce on her last known location, but still.
The stalker is fooled, however, even after Charlotte flees out of the range of the smell, and the stalker starts some kind of commotion behind her. As she flees the chimera, she meets with Alister.
Charlotte broke free of the surging mass of people and hid near the fountain indicated in Rapture’s letter. She crouched down and looked across the surface of water. The chimera’s cries had gone silent and she studied the ceiling, looking for any sign of the raging beast.
Just then a gloved hand cupped over her mouth, another hand, heavy with a copper mechanism, wrapped around her waist and pulled her further into the shadows.
Charlotte dropped to her knees, her scream cut off by the stranger’s hand. She thrashed and flailed, kicking and punching in all directions.
“Calm down,” said a rough male voice. “Calm dow- Gah. I’m not going to- Ouch!”
Y’know this wouldn’t have happened if you’d just tapped her on the shoulder, asshole.
Yes, Charlotte thought, he is very handsome. She blushed at the thought.
Just in case there was any danger of Charlotte getting through an entire chapter without obsessing over who she’s going to boink. I notice that Alister has yet to have so much as a stray thought for making out with anyone until the last page, when he noticed that Charlotte is super cute. I’d be a lot more willing to forgive these two instantly being taken with one another if finding a cute boy to hook up with hadn’t been haunting Charlotte’s thoughts since chapter 1.
Another hellish screech rang down the corridor. Charlotte twisted, looking to the ceiling as Alister pulled out a massive gun.
“What is that?” Alister asked, backing behind the fountain and scanning the corridor.
“It is a chimera,” Charlotte said, stepping behind him, eyes trained on the ceiling. She grasped his coat sleeve unconsciously. “An alchemic beast that is pursuing me.” Alister looked at her, confused.
“It hunts by scent,” she explained. “I thought I had escaped but apparently I was wrong. It may have picked up my scent again.”
Charlotte’s giving a pretty in-depth explanation given the time-sensitive nature of their situation. “It’s a chimera. It must have found my scent again,” would have sufficed. Does Alister know what a chimera is? Doesn’t matter! From context he knows it’s bad news and is tracking Charlotte by scent. Also, should’ve dropped the sap in range to blind the chimera completely.
The two flee for a bit before Charlotte insists that Alister leave to save himself, as she will not be able to escape the chimera now that it’s got her scent again. And since the scent explicitly did cling to her after she escaped (even Charlotte’s underperforming human nose could catch it), it would’ve clung to the chimera, too, had she caught it in the initial burst.
Naturally, the book does not suddenly take a turn with Charlotte being devoured and the rest of the story being about Alister doing something completely different. Instead, Alister devises a plan.
“This thing,” he said slowly, “this Kimeka.”
“Right. It tracks you by scent?”
“Yes,” Charlotte said stepping away from the fountain. “… Goodbye Mr. Rose”
“Wait,” Alister said, tugging her back into the shadows. “I have an idea. This might sound crazy, but take off your dress.”