Month 3, Day 7, Sunday 10:00 a.m.
Thaddeus set down his book and stared at his apprentice, who had just managed to detach the output of his spell from the central Circle after only an hour of focused effort. He had estimated that the boy, due to a combination of talent, work ethic, and sheer stubbornness, would succeed in two to six months, practicing for a few hours every weekend, wearing down those mental ruts as Thaddeus slowly helped him grasp the necessary concepts.
Thaddeus himself had taken almost a week of practice when he gained this same ability many years ago. He knew people that struggled with it for a year or more, and many more never managed to overcome their over-reliance on the spell array and, specifically, the bounding Circle.
Perhaps young Siverling’s previous success under emotional duress had been more impactful than Thaddeus estimated. Or perhaps the boy had already been working toward this even before Thaddeus deemed him ready to make the attempt.
The boy released the light spell with a hiss of air, breathing heavily from the exertion.
“Do it again,” Thaddeus ordered, moving to examine the exact mechanism his apprentice was using more clearly.
Siverling struggled with the attempt for a minute or so but managed the feat once more.
Thaddeus’s eyes narrowed as he examined the spell array, and he cast a minor divination spell that was meant to aid perception, highlighting the signs of magic that were too subtle for human senses to parse. “Again, in the opposite direction.”
Siverling adjusted his spell array, and once more created the light sphere outside of the Circle. Sweat began to bead on his temples.
“Hmm.” Thaddeus leaned closer, examining the space between the output and the central Circle. He could see the energy flowing along the stone floor in a single band, not quite enough to let off a visible glow, but obvious enough with the aid of his perception spell tuned to exactly such a thing. “Rather than physically create a connecting line, you have extended your spell array with an effort of pure Will. In a way, this is impressive, and speaks to your future as a free-caster, but it is not the result I require.”
The boy slumped with dismay, but quickly firmed up his spine again. “I don’t understand.”
“This is the most common method for displacing the output, but your understanding is still bounded by your previous experiences, and I think you will find this method to have certain limitations. Still, you have taken a firm step toward true detachment and are wearing away at the edges of familiarity.”
Siverling’s expression grew grim. “Am I?” he murmured. “What is the eventual goal, then? What do you mean by true detachment?”
“Better if you come to understand more organically. We can continue as planned, though the timeline has accelerated somewhat. You will explore the limits of your current abilities, and I will offer you knowledge that you may form into a solution. After all, following exactly in someone else’s footsteps is its own kind of rut. Can you continue?”
Siverling nodded adamantly.
“Then let us begin. First, we expand the distance.”
What followed forced Thaddeus to reconsider his opinion of his apprentice’s talent. The boy was a monster.
Thaddeus, too, was a monster, but he had grown accustomed to being alone in that, outpacing the talented and crushing those with bright futures under the weight of their inferiority. He had thought Siverling talented, special—hungry—but for the first time, Thaddeus began to see that the boy was just an egg, still developing his potential. Given the right nutrients and guidance, when he hatched, his growth could be explosive.
This realization further fanned the flames of greed within Thaddeus, for what the boy could be to him. It did not exactly mirror his interest in the Raven Queen, but there was a special kind of pleasure in nurturing a seed—when the seed was worthy of the effort, something so elusive that Thaddeus had never before taken an apprentice.
Siverling seemed to have absolutely no trouble extending the displacement of the spell the entire length of Thaddeus’s office, either finding the stretch no more difficult, or simply improving so quickly that the added strain only set him back to the baseline effort.
Thaddeus then had the boy close his eyes before casting once again, as many thaumaturges were over-reliant on their vision to guide their Wills. Siverling’s brow furrowed, and his breathing deepened, but he managed after only a couple more minutes. “Wow, that was significantly harder,” he exclaimed despite his almost instant success.
They adjusted the spell array’s output parameters once more, to allow the light to hang in the air over Thaddeus’s desk, and this time Thaddeus had his apprentice turn his back on the spell array and location of the output.
The boy gripped his Conduit tightly, his other hand clasped around his fist, his eyes closed and head bowed in concentration.
Thaddeus was fairly confident the increased difficulty here would stymie the boy, if not for several months, at least for a session or two.
Siverling’s jaw grew tight, his brow furrowed, and despite his admirable control keeping his breaths deep and even, his temples grew wet with sweat. But then, he lifted his head proudly, opened his eyes, and rolled back his shoulders, and the light flickered into being over Thaddeus’s desk.
Wisely, Siverling dropped the spell after only a moment to confirm that it had succeeded, the pride and command melting out of his posture as he did so. Without prompting, he moved to one of the chairs shoved over to the wall and plopped down to rest.
For the first time, Thaddeus became curious about the boy’s background. To achieve this, he must have had a solid foundation, with a particular focus on his Will’s forcefulness and clarity. Whoever had taught the boy had served him well. If it had been Thaddeus, though, he was sure Siverling’s capacity could have been pushed much higher.
After allowing Siverling time to recover, they continued searching for a progression of the exercise that would finally stymie him. When he discovered one, he was unsure if he was pleased or dissatisfied. Siverling’s Will-modified spell array could stretch around corners but could not pass through a solid barrier. It also could not navigate an area the boy had not seen before on its own, even to reach a theorized destination within that area.
It was obvious Siverling was tiring by this point, so Thaddeus allowed him to rest. “The method you are currently using is useful, but it has weaknesses, as you can see. You should consider it a crutch, at best. While it would be dangerous to demonstrate at the moment, based on what I have seen I believe your displacement method would be weak against shielding spells and general wards. It has no penetrative power. But, perhaps much more dangerous, it is likely vulnerable to severing spells and other disruptions. If you encountered that, there is a reasonable chance your spell would fail and you, as well as those around you, would have to deal with the backlash. Let me stress again, this is not a party trick to play around with and should not be practiced without supervision.”
The boy nodded tiredly, barely able to focus his eyes. “I understand. I won’t do anything foolish.”
“Hmph. We shall see.”
Siverling pressed his lips together and wisely did not argue. Instead, after a few moments, he simply said, “Thank you.”
Thaddeus turned back toward his desk. “You are welcome. That concludes this weekend’s session. If you have time, feel free to come back next Saturday to practice, though I will not be giving a lecture or more guidance just yet.”
Siverling sat for a while longer, staring up at the ceiling, but eventually pried himself out of the chair and shuffled for the door. He paused before leaving, turning to Thaddeus with uncharacteristic hesitation.
“What is it?” Thaddeus asked.
Something resolved in his apprentice’s eyes. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’m friends with Anastasia Gervin and acquainted with her cousin Alec. Alec went home to visit yesterday…and all was not well. His father and his other uncle were acting…agitated. Unusually so. Alec came home early to insulate himself from the tension. I was curious…and confused,” Siverling emphasized.
Thaddeus raised an eyebrow. “I see. Anything else?”
“No. I only have suspicions, and I can’t say they entirely make sense, especially if the latest incident wasn’t truly the Raven Queen. But…perhaps it’s something to keep an eye on, and I know you’ve helped with the investigation in the past. You’re friends with Titus Westbay, right? Unfounded suspicion would sound better coming from you than troublemaking students like Damien or me. And I also don’t want Alec to have to deal with the pressure of being questioned about his father. The man already has a tight grip of fear over him. I…am worried for Alec, as unpleasant a personality as he may be. I just hope that if there is something going on, if there is further evidence, it won’t be overlooked.” Sebastien closed his eyes for a moment, letting out a slow breath and some tension along with it.
“Thank you for telling me.”
Siverling gave him a small, wry smile, a slight nod, and closed the door gently behind himself when he left.
Thaddeus set aside his reading, picked up his jacket, and made his own way out of the Citadel, walking toward the northwest. He was aware of the trust the boy placed in him. Such faith was foolish, perhaps, but he could not deny that it was perfectly designed to create mirroring feelings of warmth within himself.
Thaddeus, as well as the coppers, had already been aware of some non-inheriting members of the Gervin line attempting to treat with the Ennis Naught, and by association, the Raven Queen, of course. But that had been early in the investigation, before she gained her current reputation. If those two had continued attempting to do so even now, acting without the oversight of the investigation, it would be considered an attempt to subvert the High Crown’s justice. That they had not actually met with her did not matter, only that they had attempted to do so. There would be punishment.
He chuckled to himself as he walked into the trees, considering the irony of those two brothers treating with a fraudulent Raven Queen. Because Thaddeus was well aware of what they must have been attempting, and the whole thing was rather amusing. They had been lucky not to have met the real woman.
After a moment to consider all the factors, Thaddeus decided that he would, in fact, pass this suspicion along to Titus.
As Thaddeus exited the trees before Eagle Tower, looking up at the repaired edifice, so close to being finished, his smile widened. The real Raven Queen had been quiet lately. He wondered if the coppers would grow desperate enough to try something more than divination with what little of her blood remained to them.
But most of all, he wondered how she would respond this time.
Done with the larger revisions, doing a prose editing pass before the book goes off to the professional editor in a couple days. (I haven’t reached this chapter yet, so sorry about the errors that surely still remain.)
I actually hate this low-level stuff. I would rather do Chinese water torture for 10 hours a day than proofread for 10 hours a day. But! It helps a lot to improve the final quality, and I really care about that, so somehow it’s worth it.
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