Chapter 156 – Nine-Light Filters

Sebastien

Month 3, Day 29, Monday 10:00 a.m.

Sebastien attacked the archive like an extremely respectful hurricane, careful not to do any damage as she familiarized herself with its contents at top speed. She explored methodically, starting from the shelves on the far left of the room and moving right. Many were either copies of the originals or translations, complete with notes left by the translator in the margins, but at least half remained in their original language, and thus unintelligible to her.

Sebastien quickly found that everything was organized incomprehensibly. “All the different types of magic and thaumic requirements, from Apprentice to Grandmaster, are all jumbled together.”

“Information on these spells is organized by location of use and time period, respectively,” Professor Lacer explained, moving to sit at the room’s only table. “This room is meant for historical and anthropological research, not to conveniently supply young thaumaturges with instructions to lost spells.”

That…is going to make things harder.’ Sebastien sped up her search, quickly discarding any texts written in a different language, or that dealt with farming, community rituals, warding against pests and other common threats, or that did something so simple that the convenience of an esoteric spell didn’t make much difference—like creating a candle-sized flame. She also discarded anything that was obviously beyond her thaumic requirements. Unlike with modern sorcery, which contained the written Word as a spell array, it wouldn’t be so easy to adjust an esoteric spell to be less magically demanding in exchange for time and preparatory precision.

She set aside a few interesting options, like a spell that enhanced the five senses, and one that purported to turn the user’s bones to steel over the course of seven years of repeated casting. One scroll described a spell that allowed the caster to turn the tip of their finger into a burning coal, useful for lighting fires…or burning symbols into things. She was a bit dubious about how literal such a thing might be, as charring off your fingertip in exchange for a spell that could let you draw out a single other spell array without writing implements seemed a costly exchange. Even worse, the scroll seemed shoddily translated. ‘How horribly wrong could attempting to cast with mistranslated instructions go?’ she wondered ironically.

Still, with a peek at Professor Lacer, Sebastien read through the instructions twice, committing them to memory as best she could without seeming suspicious. There might be a time when she was willing to sacrifice a finger in exchange for her life or freedom.

As she went along, she found a spell that allowed the user to mold their own flesh, though it was unclear to what degree or whether this effect would be permanent or not. Another offered to open the third eye and allow the caster to take one step closer to the “perfection” of the prognos. Yet another claimed to give a self-blessing, but was so vague as to be suspicious. As far as Sebastien knew, “good luck” magic didn’t actually exist, though a fraudster hag might tell you differently when trying to sell one of their charms or talismans.

Several more powerful texts contained intriguing attacks, like calling forth lightning or causing bone spikes to explode from the caster’s fist after a hard enough impact—like a punch. Those, however, required a capacity well beyond hers, and were obviously incredibly dangerous as well.

No, she was looking for something more like her shadow-familiar. Something innocuous but with flexibility and wider utility.

A very interesting spell allowed the caster to step down into the earth as if descending into water, but the thin book it was written in mentioned a range of additional spells the caster would need to know to further mold the earth once submerged—to keep from suffocating or being crushed. Instructions for those additional spells were not given, and so the whole thing was useless. The capacity requirements weren’t mentioned, but she probably didn’t meet them anyway.

One spell supposedly allowed the caster to communicate with aquatic creatures, but not understand them in return. Another allowed the caster to leave an invisible mark on something that they would be able to find forever after, which seemed like an early foray into modern sympathetic divination. That one, she also read twice, as unlike the fingertip burning spell, it actually made sense and seemed fairly easy to cast, though with admittedly convoluted requirements that would take a long while to complete.

Professor Lacer was reading a yellow-paged book, the title of which was written in a looping script she couldn’t read but vaguely recognized as originating from the tribes of the Tataroc Desert. Despite saying that he would check any spell she picked up for safety, he didn’t seem concerned that she might be able to memorize more than one during her hour of access.

As she made her way through the shelves, time wore on and she became increasingly anxious. While the magical knowledge was fascinating, she didn’t feel that she’d found the perfect option yet. ‘If only I’d been able to research what was available ahead of time!

However, she eventually found one spell that stood out from the rest, two scrolls bound to each other—the original and the translation. Unlike most of the options contained in this room, this spell was based on what seemed to be fairly complex physical movements. A preface by the translator noted that it required abnormally high amounts of both physical and mental control, but there were no specific thaumic requirements. Even the weakest thaumaturge could cast it, hypothetically.

It drew Sebastien in with its frankly ridiculous benefits. The spell was called “nine-light filters” and allowed the caster to absorb sunlight to heal and repair not only the body but, more specifically, the mind. It sped up mental recovery, reduced the need for sleep, and improved mental strength, clarity, and defenses. Over the long term, it was supposedly able to reduce the chance of Will-strain.

How is that even possible?’ she wondered, a shiver of excitement coming from deep in her chest. ‘Is it improving the framework of the Will itself? Increasing clarity and stability? Or somehow improving the robustness of the brain directly, like Liza and I do to the mice?’ However it worked, this discovery was extraordinary. Even a small decrease in the likelihood of a break event was incredibly valuable. And even if it didn’t improve casting capacity, stabilizing the Will and increasing mental endurance was almost like a gift from the stars above. And beyond all of that, if she could combine this with the sleep-proxy spell, she might be able to go even longer without dreams.

It must be incredibly difficult to cast. Or have a really slow return on investment.’ There was no other way something like this wouldn’t have spread among the more powerful thaumaturges, at least. But then again, maybe it had, and she’d just never learned of it. There was a reason the scroll was tucked away dozens of meters beneath the surface of one of the most protected places in the known lands, after all.

She unfurled the scroll further, reading through the dense text and examining the extensive diagrams of the human body in motion. There was even an audible component, though luckily, no actual words that she would have to struggle to pronounce in the original tongue of those who developed the spell. Her stomach sank as the scroll continued to unfurl, until the total length was taller than she stood. In total, it probably reached two or three times her height, each inch densely packed with information.

She checked her watch. Less than fifteen minutes remained in the hour Professor Lacer had allotted her. No matter how voracious her mind was, she couldn’t memorize all the instructions—some of which were translated confusingly and would need thought to decipher—along with the diagrams and notations. It would take even longer to try and make a copy by hand.

Sebastien turned to Professor Lacer, hoping that he would once again provide a solution for her. “This is the one I want,” she said. “But I’m going to need more time to study it. It’s too complex to memorize. Maybe you could cast a duplicating spell to transfer the information to another scroll?” The delicate spellwork needed to preserve the integrity of text was beyond her, but she was sure he could manage it.

Professor Lacer waved her over and held out his hand for the scrolls.

Instead of the translation, he skimmed through the original with the same ease as someone reading in his native tongue, his eyebrows slowly rising. She did her best to subdue the urge to fidget impatiently, but by the time he had reached the end, the hour allotted to her had already passed.

Finally, Professor Lacer looked up, rolling the scroll back together. “An interesting choice. Difficult, to be sure, but if you can manage it, it could be useful to fortify yourself against memetic effects and compulsion-based magic. While you may not be in danger of such attacks, they are the kind of thing it is best to start preparing for well ahead of time, rather than attempting to undo only after it becomes relevant.” He gave a single nod of approval, strangely heavy with meaning.

He’s hinting at whatever the Red Guard did to Newton’s family,’ she realized. ‘He thinks I’m interested in the spell because of that.’ Admittedly, she now found the spell even more tantalizing.

He thought for a moment, and then said, “This spell was developed by the gestura. Are you familiar with them?”

She had never met one, even in the University, which boasted of its diversity, but she had heard the stories. “They are thaumaturges who practice a different craft,” she said. “They train from the age of three in monasteries, until they are able to control the elements through sympathetic connections to their movements. Some say their craft is halfway to free-casting, though much less versatile, as they can do nothing outside manipulating the elements.”

“That manipulation of the elements has more utility than you might think. After all, consider all the applications water or stone have as components. But it is a fact that the gestura are dying out. Their craft takes too long to master, and is indeed less versatile. They made wonderful battle mages, but the world is moving on, and they cannot keep up.”

He slapped the scroll gently against his palm, scrutinizing her. “Learning one simple spell from a new craft is very different from becoming a master of their methods. But even so, this will be difficult for you to learn. I know without even needing to watch you attempt it that you do not have the physical stamina or precise control to succeed.”

She clenched her fists, hoping that he was not going to tell her to put the scrolls back and choose another.

“I will not be able to help you when you inevitably struggle. If you feel any doubt about your desire to dedicate yourself to such an endeavor, speak now.”

“I am not afraid of hard work or learning new things. I will learn it,” she promised him with dark intensity.

“Hmm,” Lacer said noncommittally, then glanced at the contents of the translated version and immediately frowned. “Nine-Light Filters?” he muttered. “That is a very poor translation.” He looked at her, back to the scroll, and then stood up decisively, his chair scraping against the rough stone of the floor. “Allowing the University archives to make do with such a sloppy translation is unacceptable. As the purported greatest institution of knowledge in the known lands, this is a source of shame. I will be checking this text out and re-translating it as a service to the institution.” He tucked both scrolls into one of the wide inner pockets of his long coat. “You may come by my office to pick up a copy of my translation in three days,” he added, as if the statement was unimportant and incidental.

She blinked a couple times, remembering the length of the scroll. If made into a book, it would probably contain at least a hundred pages of dense instruction. To translate something like that in three days, he would have to spend his time on little else. She swallowed hard past a sudden lump in her throat, looking away. Ennis would never have gone to such trouble for her. Not without expecting her to somehow repay him tenfold. No one since Grandfather had been willing.

But there was nothing Sebastien Siverling could do for Thaddeus Lacer, wealthy and powerful Grandmaster. And he must know that as well as her.

She blinked again, more rapidly, turning her eyes to the ceiling to nip any watering in the bud, and nodded jerkily. “Thank you.”

He made no comment, turning to the door and waving over his shoulder for her to follow.

It was hard to reconcile this kind of decision with the callous way Professor Lacer had responded to notice of the Moore family’s mental tampering. ‘But people are nuanced,’ she reminded herself, ‘and there’s a lot I don’t know about the hidden side of this world. A lot I don’t know about him.’ It might not be safe to put her fate in his hands, her deepest vulnerabilities laid bare, but he was proving, again and again, that at least she could trust him with any possible responsibility a Master held to their Apprentice. She smiled wryly. “Best three hundred contribution points I’ll ever spend.”

He snorted but neither turned nor replied.

She redoubled her determination to learn the spell. She might not be able to repay him, but she would, at the very least, prove that his investment in her wasn’t in vain.

Professor Lacer led her back to the library’s ground floor, then waved her off with a reminder to stop by his office in three days.

Her strange but pleasant mood was somewhat ruined when she picked up a discarded copy of that morning’s newspaper on one of the benches outside, left behind by some careless student. Stamped large and black at the top of the Daily Sun’s front page were the words:

High Crown’s Pledge of Justice!

Lord Pendragon Vows to Catch and Execute Raven Queen

Her message to the High Crown had outlined the method and timing of his response—a coded ad in one of Gilbratha’s most popular newspapers, three days hence. The High Crown’s response had come sooner than she had expected, but there was no need to agonize about the meaning: her tentative offer of negotiations toward some form of cooperation had been firmly rejected.

Rather than agreeing to any sort of meeting, he had called for her to turn herself in before the might of the law that she might be judged, for the Crowns—and especially Lord Pendragon, greatest of the Thirteen—did not submit to fear-mongering and would never let “evil” go unpunished.

Sebastien stared at the flimsy paper and the arrogant, unbending words spread across it. Her eyes unfocused until the letters looked like little more than squiggly black bugs ready to be crushed under her thumb. ‘How strange and foolish it is, for him to respond like this,’ she thought. ‘It must be impossible to keep an organization of any type running smoothly when pride becomes more important than effectiveness.

But perhaps there was something she was missing. Some plan that she didn’t understand. She forced her jaw to unclench and read the article once more, searching for any clues in the message. In the end, she was forced to concede that it was merely a straightforward denial of her overture.

It was a shame, but it wasn’t as if this left her any worse off than she had been before. After all, she was already putting her other idea into motion. This had always been Plan B.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the Engagement Challenge I’m running, with the reward of an extra chapter. Available for everyone to enter, and the reward coming to everyone, as well.

Edit: Apparently you have to be a patron to comment on the patreon page, even though the post itself is open to the public. This was not intentional. Feel free to submit your entries in the comments here instead.

If you are a patron, you might remember that story I mentioned featuring Percival (Percy), The Catastrophe Collector. Well, I may have been struggling to keep up with my admin and management tasks, but I have been making super slow progress on this side story. More info coming in the monthly Inner Circle newsletter, and after that… actual story content.

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