Month 10, Day 29, Thursday 4:00 p.m.
Siobhan hung another banner on a streetlamp, which was long parted from its light crystal. After four days of this, she was almost finished. As projects tended to do, this one had stretched, taking almost twice as long as she originally hoped. The area under the Stag’s banner was only a small chunk of Gilbratha, but a small chunk of the largest city in Lenore actually covered quite a lot of people.
Siobhan had overheard a dozen more conversations from Dryden’s—the Verdant Stag’s—people. She had even participated in a few herself after people had grown used to seeing her with Katerin and the other gang members working on the project.
Her whole body felt slow, her feet hurt, and she was tired of the stench of the Mire’s streets, but she was also buzzing with excitement. She would be moving to the University in a couple of days, and she’d improved her dreamless sleep spell.
Artifacts used glyphs to trap a specific cast spell and release it at a later time, according to various rules. She was still far from a proficient artificer, but she’d learned enough from studying to make the banners to cobble something together that seemed to work.
She’d modified the structure and intent of the spell to keep the magic trapped within the spell array, which she drew every night in alcohol and herbal oil extract on the bed underneath her pillow. It heated the bedding as the trapped energy circulated around beneath her head, so she’d had to add in a function to shunt the heat outward. Admittedly, this could have been dangerous, if she was a powerful enough thaumaturge to worry about starting a fire without specifically attempting to set something alight.
The spell was bigger, took more time to cast, and was very inefficient, but it helped to smooth out the release of the magic over a longer time. Which meant that she could sleep for longer.
It wasn’t a long-term solution, but it was something. ‘I’ll find even better options at the University. That library has to hold all the answers anyone could ever need.’
Theo came running up to them with his hands in his pockets and Dryden trailing after him.
“Don’t run with your hands in your pockets, Theo!” Katerin called out in a long-suffering tone.
The boy looked up at his aunt, startled, and tripped on a jagged edge of cobblestone. With his hands stuck in his pockets, he fell forward with no ability to catch himself.
Dryden lunged to catch him, but missed, and the boy’s face smashed into the raised edge of the sidewalk.
Siobhan gasped and ran to Theo without hesitation, only slightly behind Katerin.
Theo managed to get his hands out of his pockets. He climbed to his knees, his hands clamped over his mouth. Blood dribbled between his fingers, his eyes wide and horrified.
Katerin had to force his hands away from his mouth to see the damage.
Two of his top teeth to the right side of his mouth were missing.
“I—I’m sorry. I tried to catch him…” Dryden stammered.
Siobhan looked around on the ground for his teeth. ‘If we can put them back in quickly enough, there may still be a chance for them to heal.’ Though there was already plenty of blood splattering the cobblestones, she found no teeth.
She looked closer at Theo, who started to cry now that the shock had worn off. She placed her hand on his forehead, tilting his head back. “Let me see,” she said.
The nubs of white peeking out of his bleeding gums confirmed her suspicion. “The teeth are still there. They were simply smashed back up into your gums.”
Katerin and Dryden shared an uneasy look. “What does that mean? Will the teeth come out again? Will this damage his adult teeth?” Katerin asked, her voice higher and more frantic than Siobhan had thought the cool, collected woman capable of.
Theo only cried louder, blood and saliva pooling in his mouth and dribbling onto his clothes and the street.
“I can fix it,” Siobhan said. She held Theo’s head and repeated her words as she stared into his eyes, making her voice as soothing as possible. “Don’t worry, child. This will be over soon. Keep your mouth open so I can see what I’m doing, and lean forward so the blood doesn’t keep spilling all over you, alright?”
Dryden was watching intently. “You know healing magic?”
Siobhan found a red oil pastel stick in one of her pockets and unwrapped the wax paper from around the tip carefully. “I’m not a healer. However, I can fix simple things like this, because it doesn’t require any life force or special components to do so, and the other side of his mouth is undamaged. Now, please be quiet. This may not be a serious wound, but anything involving the human body is delicate, and I need my concentration unhindered.”
She reached out to the boy’s face and drew two Circles as evenly as she could, one covering Theo’s cheek and chin on the damaged side, and one on the intact side. The Circles met in the middle over his good teeth. It wasn’t as perfect as she would have liked, but she was trying to draw over and inside a crying child’s mouth while they dribbled blood, snot, and tears. It would have been easier to draw the adjacent Circles on the ground, but perfectly aligning it to his face from there seemed a precarious proposition.
She laid his head down in the puddle of blood on the ground, and then drew a Circle around it all. The glyphs for “blood,” “mirror,” and “tooth” followed, then a pentagram inside of a pentagon, for the combination of transmutation and transmogrification that this spell entailed.
It was simple. Like many of her more useful spells, it relied more on the Will and the Sacrifice than the clarity or complexity of the written Word. She kept the Word in her mind instead, in the form of a detailed, focused image of what she wanted to happen.
When she began to work the magic, Theo’s eyes went wide, and he tried to jerk away.
Dryden’s hands clamped down onto his shoulders from behind and kept him still.
Siobhan combined the sympathetic and natural connection of one half of Theo’s mouth to the other in order to pull his teeth down again, mirroring the damaged side to the healthy side. She tightened the gums as best she could, and then, when her knowledge of anatomy ran out, she simply poured power into the spell, using Theo’s bodily fluids, currently pooled up on the ground beneath him, as the Sacrifice.
The blood of a magical creature was always a good source of power, and humans were, technically, magical creatures, but this was especially efficient, because it was Theo’s own blood.
When it ran out, she let the spell go and leaned back. “Those teeth might be loose and tender for a few days, so be careful with them.”
Theo felt around the spot with his tongue, then spat a few times to get the blood out of his mouth. He rubbed at his tear and pastel-stained cheeks, his sobs calming to shuddering hiccups.
Siobhan stood, only to find both Dryden and Katerin staring between her and the Sacrifice Circle on the ground, white-faced.
Katerin looked around, seeming worried about observers.
“Keep your mouth closed, Theo,” Dryden ordered gravely, looking around as well, though he did so less obviously. He grabbed Siobhan by the arm and dragged her off.
Katerin shoved Theo after them, then worked frantically to scrub out any signs of the spell array from the sidewalk.
“What’s wrong?” Siobhan asked, keeping her voice low.
Dryden pulled her into an alley, looking back out into the street suspiciously. Anger and alarm were obvious in the half-snarl on his face and the way his knees bent and his fingers flexed, his body preparing for violence.
Siobhan’s back straightened and her shoulders pulled back, her grip tightening around her Conduit. She looked out of the alley into the mostly-dark street, but saw no one. ‘No coppers,’ she thought with relief.
When Katerin arrived, she posted herself at the mouth, facing the street like a guard. “Be quiet, Theo,” she ordered, though the boy hadn’t yet said anything.
“Are you trying to get yourself caught and executed!?” Dryden snapped, standing a little too close to Siobhan.
She pulled her arm out of his grip. “I’ve been putting up the banners for days. Surely, if someone were going to turn me in for not having a license, they would have done so already? I understand this was more flashy, and there’s no deniability in my involvement like with the wards, but surely it’s not such a big deal? It’s dark, and even if someone saw, there are no coppers around, anyway.”
“Performing blood magic is very different from placing alarm artifacts on street corners,” he hissed.
She shook her head, frowning at him. “Blood magic? It was just a small movement and mirroring spell.”
He let out a sharp, scoffing laugh. “You used his blood as a component. As a Sacrifice.”
She opened her mouth to argue, then closed it. She hadn’t purposefully bled Theo to power some great and powerful spell, but Dryden was right. Using a human, or any part of a human, was one of the ways they could define a spell as blood magic.
And blood magic was punishable by death.
Which explained their reaction.
Her face grew pale. “But there was no force involved, no removal of free will, no pain caused by the spell. Surely the Crowns would realize the distinction between healing a boy’s injury and blood magic? It’s no different than using a patient’s reserves to accelerate healing, and that’s common when an appropriate Sacrifice isn’t available. Healers do it all the time. The blood was already out of his body. It’s not like I could put it back!”
Dryden rolled his eyes sharply, his fingers curling like he wanted to reach out and grab her again. “You quite literally used his blood as part of the spell. Just because you didn’t harm anyone won’t make you innocent in the eyes of the Crowns or the citizens who are terrified at the very idea of the Blood Empire.” He snapped his mouth shut, breathing hard. After a few moments to calm himself, he spoke again. “A benevolent purpose won’t save you if you’re caught and arrested. You must be more careful. Where did you even learn such a spell?”
“My grandfather cast it on me when I was a child. I stepped on a nail, and he knitted the flesh of my injured foot back together to match my uninjured foot. Truly, it’s harmless. I’ve used it a handful of times to knit together minor cuts and the like.” His scowl was only growing, so she hurried to say, “However, I’ll be more cautious in the future. It’s easy to forget how different Gilbratha is than what I’m used to.”
Neither Dryden nor Katerin were appeased, but he seemed to accept her words, and after a few minutes of stiffness, Katerin said, “Thank you for saving Theo’s teeth. Next time, though, perhaps we should just bring him to a healer.”
They hurried through the last handful of street corners and returned to the Verdant Stag.
Dryden and Katerin were silent and tense for the rest of the evening, but Theo seemed enthused by the entire ordeal. It was as if the adults’ response to her use of blood magic confirmed all the fantastical stories he had heard of her and how dangerously interesting she was.
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