Month 3, Day 1, Monday 7:25 a.m.
Sebastien arrived to breakfast a few minutes late, joining her friend group—because they were her friends, and if she was being honest and less of an asshole, she should admit that—at the table. She took out a pouch of mixed nuts and dried fruit from her pocket, sprinkling it atop the steaming slop, then looked up to see Ana watching her over the morning newspaper with an expression of concern, her mouth tight as if holding back words.
“Extra calories and some flavor. I picked this up from the market. Just because the University won’t sell us firsties proper food doesn’t mean we can’t bring it in ourselves, as long as we’re discreet.” Sebastien smiled, shaking the pouch invitingly. “I’m willing to share?”
Ana just stared at her, swallowing hard, then looked away, her eyes flicking around the room.
Sensing that something was wrong, Sebastien followed Ana’s gaze. Those with their own newspaper subscriptions were buried within the flimsy, ink-stamped pages, reading avidly. “Did something happen?”
Rhett lowered his own newspaper. “The coppers released their report into…” he paused, looking at Ana, and then to Damien, who was reading the other half of Ana’s newspaper, the part with the comics and stories instead of the serious news.
Ana cleared her throat. “Into the Aberrant incident,” she finished for Rhett. “With Newton.”
The whole table looked up at once. Sebastien’s blood ran cold.
Damien reached over and ripped the paper out of Ana’s hand, his eyes flickering over the words and widening with horror.
Sebastien wished she, too, could grab the paper for herself, but he was too far away. “What does it say?” she demanded.
Damien’s eyes stopped flicking back and forth over the words. He closed them for a few achingly drawn-out heartbeats, reached up trembling fingers to smooth back his hair, and then returned his gaze to the top of the page and began to read aloud.
Corrupted Magics Led to Rafton Street Aberrant Incident, Seven Dead
Readers may remember the rogue magic incident of six weeks prior, many being woken from their sleep to the disquieting sirens. While speculation and rumors surrounding the events of that evening on Rafton Street have abounded, the investigation report carried out by the coppers and the Red Guard has now been completed and released. You are reading it first, here in the Daily Sun.
On that foggy evening, seven people died, including one copper, two civilians, and the University student whose self-destruction caused most of the damage. Photographs of the site and victims have been restricted, but according to the investigation report and eyewitness accounts from the family whose home was broken into and destroyed, those deaths were appalling and brutal. “My husband unraveled like a spool of thread,” Molly Harper said, sobbing as she struggled to get through her interview with this reporter.
Local copper Willy Brodson, who was first on the scene and witness to his partner’s death, said, “This job is dangerous, and you know that, but you never quite expect that your next patrol will be your last. He didn’t even know what hit him. To die like that…I can only pray to the Radiant Maiden that his soul will be able to rest in peace.”
The night’s horrific events were hosted by an eclectic cast. According to the investigation report, a group of local gang members, the Morrows—who were one of the main forces involved in the fighting that caused so much destruction to the city not long prior—arrived at the Harper’s business and residence late at night, having captured three people they believed to be unexceptional. The scoundrels planned to rob and perhaps ransom or blackmail their captives. Unknown to them, one of the seemingly innocuous victims was none other than the Raven Queen herself in disguise.
Though the Raven Queen needs no introduction to the locals, this reporter will remind you that she has been involved in several violent incidents, and is wanted for treason, the practice of blood magic, and numerous other crimes. For more details, see previous Daily Sun issues, listed at the end.
The other two stars of the evening were a pair of third-term University students, both student liaisons and respected among the faculty and their peers. How this eclectic trio came to meet, this reporter does not know, and alas, those who might tell, either will not or cannot. We can speculate that perhaps the students, both being from impoverished backgrounds, hoped to gain the bounty for the Raven Queen’s capture. Or, perhaps, the Morrows captured them while they were dealing with her in some more nefarious capacity. It is even possible that the whole incident was planned to draw out and kill the Morrows.
In any case, once the hooligans had broken into the Harpers’ shop, which is on the ground floor beneath their home, fighting broke out. While the Raven Queen and her shadow companion were terrorizing the astonished Morrow members, University student Newton Moore tried to cast a dangerous spell. It was at that point that everything went horribly wrong.
As readers may know, those who cast immoral magics—and blood magic specifically—are more likely to corrupt their Wills and become Aberrants when the strain of their evil magics becomes too much. The exact nature of Moore’s attempted spell is unknown, but Elden Preem, a local expert on rogue magic events, speculates that it may have been some sort of mass mind-control spell, meant to take control of the fighters for his own benefit.
It does cause one to wonder, could mind-controlling spells or other underhanded tactics have played any roll in Moore’s admittance to the University? Master Patham, a University faculty member, assured this reporter that, “The entrance procedures are properly safeguarded against any kind of exploitation or malicious influence. Newton Moore may have become misguided out of desperation, but he entered the University legitimately, and earned his position as a student liaison the same.”
Inquiries revealed that Moore’s family lost their home in the recent gang violence, with some of his family members being injured, and in danger of eventual destitution. Friends of his say that it was around this time that he began to act differently, becoming more secretive and showing signs of mental and emotional strain. He began to fall in with a bad crowd and likely experimented with corrupting magics as an answer to his problems, not knowing what the consequences would be. It is even possible that he was out for revenge on the Morrows, who he could have held responsible for his situation.
One anonymous friend who was close to Mr. Moore before he fell to his darker impulses stated, “Newton was always a little desperate, you know? He really needed his place here. At first, that just made him a hard worker, and he seemed like a really nice guy. But after his family hit hard times, I started seeing a hint of something darker in his eyes. He started acting strange and slipping away to do secretive stuff at odd times. I distanced myself from him at that point, but I never imagined he could actually be doing blood magic or whatever. It just goes to show, you can’t trust everyone.”
Whatever the reason, Mr. Moore dragged many victims down with him. There has been some valid speculation about whether this includes his his fellow student liaison and friend, young Tanya Canelo, or if she was complicit in these events from the beginning. In either case, she no doubt regrets her involvement, as the girl who experienced the whole event was hit by a powerful curse that will affect her until her dying day. What she saw that night, she may never speak of. “It’s very tragic,” one University faculty member who declined to be named stated. “The curse is unbreakable, and the poor girl cannot even undergo counseling to soothe the burden these memories must place on her mind. So betrayed by one she thought a friend. I know she had nothing to do with Moore’s degeneracy. He probably called upon her for help that night, just like that Siverling boy, and she had no idea what she was getting into. I’m sure she would have reported him to the faculty if she knew what was going on.”
And Moore did, indeed, call upon another innocent for help—young Sebastien Siverling, first-term apprentice to Grandmaster Thaddeus Lacer and friend to a number of Crown Family youths, including the Gervin heiress and the younger Westbay. Sources say the courageous but somewhat hapless boy was contacted via artifact, arriving to find the Aberrant already in the midst of its murderous ways. Gullibly believing that Moore needed his help, Mr. Siverling entered the scene and, apparently, was forced to do battle with the Aberrant itself. Though the exact nature of his duel with the evil creature remain undisclosed, the young man, widely known as a prodigy among his classmates, managed to subdue it long enough for the Red Guard to arrive!
“It’s no surprise to me at all,” one anonymous fellow student commented. “I mean, there must have been a reason for Thaddeus Lacer, a war hero, to take him as an apprentice. Sebastien is so intense, you can just tell he’s got hidden, complex depths, like a tortured hero.”
Several students agreed that aside from his small group of friends, Mr. Siverling keeps to himself and focuses on his studies. Somewhat appropriately, considering who he is apprenticed to, he has gained a certain reputation for a sharp tongue. “I’ve never met someone so impolite and tactless. It’s almost like he’s trying to create enemies, too stupid to realize he doesn’t have the foundation to bear the consequences of his actions.”
However, other students argue with this interpretation of his personality. “Sebastien might come off gruff, but that’s just because he has really high standards. He’s actually kind of nice. I’ve seen him helping other students with their spellwork—even ones who aren’t part of his group of friends, and he’s nice to anyone who doesn’t waste his time. And—this is a kind of a secret, but [a fellow student who declined to be named] told us she saw him making a nest for some sprites when winter hit, so they wouldn’t die. We’ve all been taking turns feeding them since then. It’s a little secret pet project that Sebastien and a small group of us are in on. He doesn’t have the patience for people who are lazy or rude to others, and he doesn’t care if you’re rich or connected or not. People who don’t like him…well, they’re the people who gave him a reason to comment on their misbehavior.”
And so, it seems that Mr. Siverling has a history of pitting himself against what he considers to be injustice, even at risk to himself, and without ever asking for reward.
As Agent Vernor of the Red Guard stated about his actions that night, “Courageous is just another word for stupidity, in this case. Both the Raven Queen and an Aberrant were on-site. It’s only through luck that he managed to walk away from that night alive. But not unscathed…” Agent Vernor refused to comment further, but this reporter cannot help but speculate.
It is believed that Miss Canelo was cursed by the Raven Queen herself, and Mr. Siverling may have been subjected to a similar misfortune. Could he have been undergoing treatment for injuries, either physical or mental? The Raven Queen is known to be vindictive.
Mr. Siverling spent several days away from the University after his battle against the Aberrant. Student Bayo Oswin claims to have seen the aftermath, as Grandmaster Lacer brought Mr. Siverling back to the University for healing in the wake of his ordeal. “[Siverling] looked like a corpse. It was too dark to see if there was blood, but Professor Lacer was floating him in the air because he’d passed out from some kind of injury. Professor Lacer got him straight to the infirmary.”
University healers have refused to comment on Mr. Siverling’s admittance, citing confidentiality vows. Healer Prium announced, “That boy is a hero, and I’ll thank all you vultures to leave him alone! Bad enough what he went through. Thank him by giving him the peace he so obviously wants and deserves!”
Grandmaster Lacer and Mr. Siverling were both unavailable for comment.
The biggest mystery of the evening surrounds the presence of the Raven Queen. Why was she there? What was her purpose in cursing young children? Was she the one who drew foolish Mr. Moore into the darker aspects of the thaumaturgic arts? Despite her known vendetta against the Morrow gang and her spiteful acts against the two living University students, eyewitness reports from both the surviving Morrows and the Harpers say that the Raven Queen protected them against the Aberrant, using unknown and powerful magics. It seems even such a bold criminal can unite with others to do good when faced with such horrific evil.
The mysterious villain then slipped away before the coppers arrive through some unknown means, seen by none. This reporter doubts the veracity of the rumors, but heard from multiple sources that it is well known among the southern areas of the city, where she has been most active, that the Raven Queen can travel through the shadows, and has the ability to disappear as long as no watchful eye is upon her.
Despite the tragedy and mystery surrounding the event, the Red Guard arrived promptly and managed to secure the scene and kill the Aberrant, valiantly preventing any further deaths. After having conducted a thorough investigation, they assure the citizens that the area is safe, and that no anomalous effects linger either in the building or in the survivors. They once again caution against blood magic and other immoral undertakings, and urge all citizens who have knowledge of possible practitioners of corrupting magic to report them. If you see something, say something.
Together, we can help create a safer Gilbratha.
“What. The. Fuck.” Alec said, punctuating the silence that followed Damien’s recital of the article.
“My sentiments exactly,” Sebastien said, feeling perfectly attuned with Alec for once. Shock was quickly giving way to rage, and she could feel the tingle that signified her cheeks flushing. The things written about her were profoundly uncomfortable, but the things about Newton sent ripples of fury through her skin, the emotion seeming too large for her body to contain.
Damien laid the newspaper down, his clenched fingers wrinkling and tearing the delicate paper. “It’s a hack piece. Newton fell in with a ‘bad crowd?’ He was casting corrupted magic? Bullshit! And the stuff about Sebastien? Who are all these people given anonymous statements, acting like they know him!?”
“Newton wasn’t like that,” Alec said firmly, staring down at the table. “He was a nice person. He never got impatient with me, even when he was obviously tired and I couldn’t grasp what he was trying to teach me. He never said an unkind word about anyone, even when people were rude to him. And there’s no way he was doing blood magic, no matter how poor his family is. He wouldn’t. This writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Who are his supposed friends that said those things about him?”
“It’s sensationalized,” Ana said softly. “You’ve all seen this a thousand times, don’t be surprised now. They just want to sell more copies, and the whole story makes for very interesting reading. But all interesting stories need a hero and a villain.”
“I would have thought the Raven Queen would take the role of villain,” Sebastien said.
Ana shrugged. “But she helped protect civilians against the Aberrant this time, and it’s hard to make that fit. It’s possible other newspapers will have different takes on the whole thing, though. And Sebastien, if I were you I would be on the watch for a sudden influx of interest from the rest of the student body. Please don’t snap and start cursing anyone this time. They’re going to be stupid either way, and that’ll just draw even more attention toward you.”
Sebastien looked around, and as Ana had predicted, found dozens of people watching her from around the room, some already whispering gossip.
“Did the reporters even bother to ask you for a statement?” Damien demanded. “No one talked to me.”
Sebastien shook her head. “No. I didn’t even know this was happening.” In the corner of the room nearest the door, Tanya stood up, threw away her food uneaten, and hurried out, escaping the stares and whispers directed her way.
Someone spoke loudly in her wake, his voice carrying over the hushed murmuring. “I bet she was messing around with that same dangerous shit that turned the other guy into an Aberrant.”
Before anyone else could respond, Alec stood up, so abruptly that his chair skidded back and fell over. The cafeteria quieted so quickly that the clatter of the fallen chair was the only sound. “Shut up!” Alec yelled, turning to face the direction of the speaker.
Before he could continue, Ana grabbed him by the arm. “They’re like a pack of rabid dogs right now,” she hissed. “They’ll tear you to pieces if you start siding with an Aberrant.” When Alec looked as if he was going to protest, his thick bushy brows drawn down low like two bristling caterpillars, his eyes glinting with what might have been the first signs of tears, Ana hauled him physically out of the room.
Rhett watched them go, then leaned in over the table, resting his jaw on his palm. “It’s social suicide to argue that a guy—who turned into an Aberrant and killed six other people in a way so horrendous that even the Raven Queen stepped up to save people—was actually a nice, innocent person,” he drawled. “That’s why his supposed friends turned on him.”
Damien stood. “But the reporters should have some integrity, at least. This whole thing is outrageous. I’m going to write Titus about the Daily Sun’s libel.” He turned to Sebastien. “They’d never do such shoddy reporting without hard evidence about someone who could afford to sue them, don’t you think? Maybe they’ll change their tune, when they realize Newton had real friends with enough power to make them sorry. I’m going now.”
Sebastien’s lips turned down wryly at the thought that this was the first time Damien was truly acknowledging the effects of the class divide. “I’ll come with you,” she said. “But eat first. You’ll be dead on your feet by lunchtime without the calories.” She never wasted food, no matter how upset she was, and it wasn’t as if she could take the bowl of oatmeal with her to eat later. Her hands trembled as he brought the spoon to her mouth, unable to taste the oatmeal or the treats she’d added to it. She had planned to take a half-dose of the beamshell tincture, but there was no way she could add that electric energy onto the wash of anxiety and anger that was burning like acid through her body.
Damien huffed, but when he couldn’t convince her, he sat back down and shoveled his food away without even bothering to chew.
They left the cafeteria together, both wearing imposing scowls that were enough to keep the other students away, for the moment. Sebastien remained silent as Damien muttered angrily to himself about all the threats he would make to the Daily Sun, and how he wanted to make the people who’d given negative testimony about Newton sign a written apology. “If the Sun doesn’t agree, I’ll send Titus after their owner. I’m pretty sure they’re run by a lesser branch of the Rouse Family…” Damien trailed off as they spotted Professor Lacer striding briskly down one of the nearby pathways. “We should talk to him about this!”
“Do you think he could do anything?”
Damien scoffed. “He’s Thaddeus Lacer, he’s a professor here, and this involves the reputation of a good student and the University itself. I’m sure he’d be willing if both of us asked him to do something.”
They ran to catch up with Professor Lacer, and under the man’s questioning, arched eyebrow, Damien spewed out the whole situation in a single breath, somehow remaining coherent as he did so.
Professor Lacer scowled. “The reporters refrained from harassing you, I hope, Mr. Siverling? I warned them meticulously…”
That explained why Sebastien hadn’t been approached. Either the reporters had been discreet when questioning the other students, or she had simply failed to notice them.
“That’s not the point!” Damien insisted. “It’s everything else they wrote.”
“I see,” Professor Lacer drawled. “And what do you expect me to do about this?”
Damien was taken aback. “You don’t…care?”
“About the reputation of a foolish child who I never met, that endangered my provisional apprentice’s life while trying to take on the Raven Queen and doing a horrible job of it? I cannot say that I do. But that is not the point, child. Do you really believe that the University was ignorant of what would be printed? Yes, much of what you say was written is a lie, but that lie is beneficial to many parties. Think.”
“I don’t understand. What good does it do anyone to tell people that Newton was a bad person?” Damien asked, his voice strained.
Professor Lacer sighed. “Not that he was a ‘bad person.’ That he corrupted his Will through morally repulsive magics.” He turned to Sebastien, looking at her expectantly.
Frowning, she thought as quickly as she could. “It’s bad publicity for model University students to have break events. Or any connection with the Raven Queen. But they couldn’t blame it all on her because she fought against the Aberrant after Newton died…?”
“Partially,” Lacer said, seeming disappointed in her response. “The University does not want it to seem like the Raven Queen has a particular vendetta against the institution, nor that she might make it a point to endanger innocent students simply for attending. Not when she’s proven so difficult to catch, and fear and awe for her is growing so out of control. The University wishes to be considered as safe as possible, considering it’s an institution that hosts young thaumaturges, and especially because the end of term exhibitions are coming up, which is a big source of revenue.”
“So something needs to separate Newton from the rest,” Sebastien mused.
“Indeed. Otherwise, people might start getting uncomfortable. What else?”
Damien still seemed confused, but Sebastien understood. “It’s not just people worrying about the University being safe from the Raven Queen. It’s about people feeling safe from thaumaturges in general, isn’t it? Because if a nice boy like Newton could break, never having dabbled in anything corrupt, and end up horrifically murdering six other completely unsuspecting and innocent people…then no one is safe. And if no one is safe, that’s evidence that the Crown Families don’t have as much control as people think.”
Professor Lacer smiled. “Very good.”
Damien blinked, looking between them with dismay. “But what about Newton? And his family? They don’t deserve this. Even Sebastien is getting pulled in!”
“Mr. Moore’s family have surely been compensated for the dishonor. Generally, in a situation like this the Red Guard would offer them something like a replacement house and to cover all their medical expenses. And if they like, they will have been moved out of Gilbratha to a place where none of the neighbors will know what happened. Despite your outrage, there is little to be done, and if you will take some advice from me, little that you should do. As for Mr. Siverling’s involvement, I am afraid that is an unavoidable consequence that he brought upon himself. I have done what I can, but even I cannot keep people from gossiping. Now off to class with you. I am busy.” He walked away without another glance to them.
“See you in class,” Damien mumbled after Professor Lacer’s back. After a few moments, he turned to Sebastien. “So I can’t make them retract the article?”
“Maybe you can, but it won’t be the only article. And if even his family has been paid off to agree with what they’re saying…” She looked down, kneading at the muscles in the back of her neck to try and stave off a headache. “This is very disappointing, and somewhat disillusioning.”
Damien let out a scoffing laugh. “Understatement of the century.”
“That’s hyperbole. You’ve just been too gullible all your life,” Sebastien retorted without any of the usual humor that would have accompanied their bickering. “I should have actually guessed something like this would happen.”
Damien looked around to see if anyone was watching, glared harshly at those he caught looking, and then whispered, “Is there anything they can do? Our people? Newton was working for them, by proxy, I mean.”
“I doubt it,” she replied shortly. She wasn’t prepared to put everything at risk just to fight a war of public opinion. “At least Newton isn’t around to know about this.”
“That is not a silver lining, Sebastien!” Damien snapped, then spun on his heel and stomped off to class.
Sebastien followed him, her mind playing over the memory of Professor Lacer’s completely unsurprised face as Damien explained the situation. ‘They reported on what happened, but they were duplicitous about the details. What else might be false like that? How many of the newspaper reports I read about other Aberrants were partially falsified or simply misleading, too? Does the Red Guard keep real records of the break events? They must.’
She remembered Liza scoffing at the idea of blood magic corrupting the Will. ‘Is it possible…that they’ve been lying all along about what creates an Aberrant? I mean, the Will breaking and losing control of the magic is real, but what about the rest?’
Next chapter is the regularly schedule Thursday chapter on 8/15.
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