Kenspeckle looking for answers? What’s the lead?”Valkyrie shrugged

Kenspeckle hardly glanced up from his lab book. “Clarabelle, for the last time, it is literally impossible for you to burn your hand off with the lemon extract. It is helpful for speeding up the growth of bacteria—””Kenspeckle,” Valkyrie said, mouth twisting into a smile.Kenspeckle blinked and adjusted his glasses. “Valkyrie,” he said. He stood, abandoning his work and crossing his arms. “What injury have you brought to me today? Broken bone? No, you’re not holding back tears—a sprain then? Nasty bruise?”Valkyrie held her hands up and spun in a slow circle. “I’m fine, really.””And yet, almost every time you come, you are bleeding from at least one abrasion.” Kenspeckle looked around. “Then I assume you’re here to ask an inconvenient favor from me. Where is your dear friend Mr. Pleasant, hm? Skulking around, looking for answers? What’s the lead?”Valkyrie shrugged one shoulder. “No, he’s not here. It’s just me today.” She hesitated, licking her lower lip. “It’s my day off, actually.”Kenspeckle raised his bushy eyebrows. “Really? A rare social call?” He sat back down in his chair, rolling back a few inches.Valkyrie nodded. “I wasn’t sure what I should wear. I was going to wear, like, jeans and a sweatshirt, but I figured that was unprofessional.””Nonsense.” Kenspeckle waved a hand.There was a silence.”Valkyrie, are you alright?” His voice was soft, and Valkyrie had to look away.”I…” Valkyrie’s mind whirled. “I came about Myron Stray.””Ah.” Kenspeckle nodded. “Are you… coping?””What?”Kenspeckle leaned forward. “Valkyrie, if you need to talk about anything…”Valkyrie’s heart jumped to her throat. “Oh, God!” she laughed. “Oh, no! No, not about—no, I’m not here because of the Sanctuary. I guess I was just wondering how like, all that works. With True Names.”Kenspeckle looked at her, eyes boring into her, and Valkyrie was sure that he knew, knew she was Darquesse, knew the ruse, was going to open his mouth and expose her for the murderer she was going to be.But then he leaned back, grunting.”Why not ask Pleasant? He knows enough where he could explain it—better than me, anyways.”Valkyrie turned away, looking for a chair. “Well, I wanted to visit, and he’s busy.” She ended up hopping onto a table. “Plus, I want to hear it from you. Like, how it all actually works. Not the applied science of it.”Kenspeckle closed his eyes and nodded. “Understandable. Most people—that is, mages—never delve into the actual hows and whys of it. In that sense, I admire mortals; they would have magic figured out by now. I’m honored you would choose me.”Kenspeckle considered. “It has to do with chemicals released when you hear your name. Not to get into details, but all sound is converted into chemical signals for our brain to interpret. Your True Name is just the combination of sounds and syllables that opens you up to being manipulated.”Valkyrie’s heart sank. “So, Myron Stray…”Kenspeckle nodded. “It was his biology. Nothing magical, really.””So, there’s nothing he could have done? Nothing at all?””Theoretically, there is.” Kenspeckle shrugged. “I mean, there’s always theory. I don’t deal much with symbols or their effects, but there could be a particular combination that could counteract the various chemical signals. You would have to talk to someone who studies sigils.”Valkyrie nodded, wondering how she could ask China without being interrogated. Or worse: exposed.”Valkyrie?””Hm?” Valkyrie wondered if she had enough money for a cab to drive her to China’s and back to her house. Probably not.”Valkyrie, you don’t have to worry about someone finding out your True Name.””Oh, Kenspeckle, no, I don’t think that.”Kenspeckle raised a hand. “Valkyrie, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. You don’t have to kill someone if you don’t want to. Valkyrie, you don’t have to hurt people if you don’t want to. Do you know that?”Valkyrie tried a smile. “They usually deserve it.”Kenspeckle sighed, his eyes trailing away, looking somewhere far, far away. “Be careful with that line of reasoning. One day, you might find yourself thinking everyone deserves it.”Valkyrie’s insides went cold.There was the distant sound of a timer going off. Hurried footsteps. The timer stopped.Kenspeckle found Valkyrie’s eyes again.”I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound as though I thought you would become like that. But hurting people for a living can do things to a person’s mind. Hurting people in general.” He rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses.”Kenspeckle…” Valkyrie wished she was wearing jeans. “Are you okay?””Me? My back aches. This chair Clarabelle bought for me—unwillingly—goes straight to my vertebrae. I swear, this is the most uncomfortable chair, but she brings it to whatever laboratory I’m currently residing in. The chair follows me around. It’s maddening.”Valkyrie laughed. “Well, I guess I meant more about…” Voice lighter than she really meant it.Kenspeckle nodded. “About my creation destroying the Sanctuary? Harming people, destroying living, breathing beings? I’m as alright as I can be, after that. I didn’t hear about it until three weeks after.””I—I’m sorry, I thought someone would tell you—you know I would have if I had known that—”Kenspeckle waved away Valkyrie’s words. “I didn’t expect you of all people to tell me.” He busied himself with collecting his lab notebook, flipping through a few pages. “I knew that damned thing would cause me trouble.””Then why did you build it?”Kenspeckle paused on a page of his lab book. “To see if I could. To see if I could split an atom in a controlled radius.””What, like an—””Like a nuclear weapon, yes. I didn’t know that at the time. They regretted their actions as well.””We’re going to catch her.” Valkyrie leaned forward. “I swear.”Kenspeckle glanced up at her. “It’s not your job.””It is my job.” Valkyrie hopped off the desk. “I have to go.”