Month 4, Day 1, Thursday 9:05 a.m.
Sebastien’s introspection and memory search had taken only a few seconds, which she hoped didn’t seem too strange. She forced an awkward smile. “Well, that’s a little embarrassing. I realize now that I’ve never actually seen someone cast more than one spell where at least one of them couldn’t have been an effect caused by an artifact. I guess it’s one of those remnants left over from childhood that I never thought to question.”
“Yes, I have noticed that some of your basic theory is lacking,” Professor Lacer agreed matter-of-factly.
“Are you really sure it’s impossible? What would it mean if Myrddin, or anyone, really could split their Will in two different directions?” she asked, trying to keep the urgency from her tone.
Professor Lacer frowned, rubbing at the dark hair on his chin. “Perhaps…a corpus callosotomy? That is a procedure in which they split one lobe of the brain from the other. I am unsure how that would affect the Will. It is not possible even with those who otherwise display signs of split personalities after severe Will-strain or other mental trauma. At most, one of the ‘personalities’ will demonstrate prowess in an area that the other does not. You might see powerful elementals creating complex effects, but really they are only ever casting variations of their single inherent spell. Even Aberrants tend to have a single anomalous effect that they exist to propagate, despite complexities or nuance.”
His eyes brightened and he held up a hand, forefinger pointing toward the sky. “Ah! In fact, I do know of one instance of a single body able to cast two different spells at the same time. A child was born with a birth defect.” He frowned, lowering his hand. “Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that two children were born with a birth defect. They had most likely been meant to be twins, but something went wrong, and instead both of their heads were attached to the same body.”
“That’s…not exactly what I meant,” Sebastien said.
Professor Lacer gave her a pointed look, dipping his head to peer at her over the strong bridge of his nose. “The lengths I have to go to find any sort of example should indicate how impossible such a feat is. If someone could, despite all reason, split their Will in two different directions…” He trailed off, rubbing his chin again. “Well, the only ideas I can think of lend themselves to fictional novel concepts more than plausible theories. An artificial intelligence who somehow gained sentience and a Will might be able to split that Will into different threads. Some sort of hive-mind being could plausibly portion segments of its composite population toward separate mental efforts. But all of this speculation does give me an idea for unlocking the journals… I will try rapidly switching between the intent for the two glyphs.” With a wave of his hand, his fountain pen rose up and scribbled out a note, and then after a short pause, another.
He looked back at her absentmindedly. “I have work to do.” He opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out a stack of papers tied together through a hole at one edge by a string. “This is a proper translation of your esoteric spell. I have made a few notes with advice about how to approach the challenge. If you would like to stay, you may practice output detachment under my supervision.”
Sebastien actually wanted to return to her dorm and look up information on Myrddin’s supposed ability to split his Will, but she didn’t want to give away how confused and disturbed she felt. It would probably be out of character for her to give up a chance to practice the next step on the path to free-casting with someone who might be able to give her hints toward success. “Thank you,” she said instead, moving to the center of the room to set up a spell array with distanced output parameters.
The concentration required would at least help her to settle her roiling thoughts. She couldn’t have a breakdown if there was no space left for worrying. ‘Unless I can!’ she thought with a kind of wild amusement. She suppressed an inappropriate giggle, but before actually attempting to cast, took a trip to the nearest bathroom and used Newton’s calming spell to settle herself.
It helped a lot, as did subsequently tiring herself by distancing the output of a few simple spells for the next hour. She had little trouble controlling a single axis of movement without writing every distinct adjustment into the spell array. While still three or four times more difficult than standard casting, her success with concealing Enforcer Gerard during the fight against the Architects of Khronos seemed to have helped her overcome some small part of her mental block. The whole concept had been slightly easier since.
But she still wasn’t managing to actually detach the output, only distance it through the same mental tether technique she’d adopted from the function of her shadow-familiar spell.
As she began to grow too fatigued to safely continue, Professor Lacer set aside his paperwork once more. “I have something for you to consider. Broadening your perspective can lead to unexpected epiphanies.”
‘Oh, one of the promised “inspirational lectures” on other topics!’ she realized, nodding quickly with excitement as she took a seat.
He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. “Just as some divinations are cast using a sympathetic connection, some curses use the same, often in the form of a piece of the victim, or an effigy of them. It would seem that both types of spells work on the same principles, correct?”
“It would seem,” Sebastien agreed cautiously, because she knew there must be a twist, or he wouldn’t have brought it up.
“In reality, there are distinct differences,” he confirmed. “Sympathetic divinations are actively cast, and while some spells classified as sympathetic curses work in this way, others are cast once, and then continue to affect the victim.”
“The latter must be based on the principles of binding magic,” she offered.
“Indeed. Somewhat like that little spell you developed to give yourself more waking hours in the day.”
Sebastien flushed, remembering that he had ordered her to bring any further developments to him, which she had not done. When she and Liza actually got it to the point that she could use the sleep-proxy spell herself, she would need to be cautious that he did not learn of her suspicious levels of energy.
He lifted a finger. “Sympathetic divinations are disrupted by long distances and intervening matter, while binding curses are much less affected by distance, and almost not at all by intervening matter.”
A second finger rose. “Sympathetic divinations can be warded against en-masse, as evidenced by the Raven Queen’s capabilities, and the boon that she gave you. But curses using binding principles must be warded against individually, according to their effect, and are notoriously difficult to break without knowing the exact spell that was cast.”
Sebastien frowned, wondering why there was a difference between binding magic, sympathetic divination, and actively cast curses. Surely that understanding was supposed to somehow give her inspiration. But a more pressing concern came to mind. “The Raven Queen is, by all accounts, immune to divination. But based on what you’re telling me, that doesn’t mean she’s immune to certain types of curses. Could the coppers use that against her?” She knew the answer, and had even considered this possibility before herself, but was hoping that his connections among the coppers might give him insight that he would be willing to share with her.
“They could, if they could somehow get the principles of binding magic to apply, and if she were foolish enough to walk into a trap of equivalent exchange.”
Sebastien thought of the mice and ravens used in the sleep-proxy spell. They weren’t really agreeing, with full knowledge, to take on the burden of sleep. Breathing in the elcan iris smoke that contained the mixed drop of blood was enough.
To get caught in someone else’s binding magic, she might need to accept a thematic gift, or take something into her body. ‘But…I don’t know how far those limitations might stretch. I suppose it’s a good thing the High Crown turned down my overtures. If he were cleverer, he might have trapped me.’ Suddenly, she realized that perhaps he was worried about something similar. The Raven Queen had quite a fantastical reputation. Perhaps he didn’t want to be bound to any agreements.
“Isn’t that blood magic?” she asked. “Forcing binding magic upon another using an unwillingly given piece of them. It isn’t like divination, where people get a license to use it. Blood magic, serious blood magic, is illegal, even for the coppers. Is that…the kind of thing they can get a license for, too?”
“It is still technically illegal for the coppers, though they may gain special dispensation for specific instances. As you gain experience, you will find that legality can sometimes matter less than necessity or desperation. Especially the closer one is to that exact power and influence that created the laws in the first place. In those cases, only the Red Guard stands in a position to enact punishment, and they would not, for something like this. It is not the Red Guard that created the restrictions against blood magic, after all.”
“It’s actually surprising that they haven’t tried something like that yet,” she murmured. “Obviously, divination hasn’t been working, and they’re no closer to catching her than when they started.”
“The need to force the bond would weaken the effect of any curses, and open them up to possible backlash. I doubt they could do anything like kill her with what little blood they have remaining, unless she actively agreed to the consequence, perhaps as a wager of some sort.” He palmed his Conduit, a chunk of celerium so large that even his long fingers were barely able to meet with his thumb when wrapped around it.
As Sebastien wondered about how little blood, exactly, they had remaining, he continued.
“However, if the right circumstances present themselves, they might still try something. It is even possible they could attempt an actively cast curse. It would suffer the same distance and barrier restrictions as sympathetic divination, but while it is likely she is immune to them as well, as far as I know, there is no hard evidence to that effect. After all, no one is yet sure exactly how her abilities work.”
“The right timing,” she repeated. “Like at Ennis Naught’s sentencing, when they expect her to be…invested in the outcome?” She had already guessed that they would try something then. Planned for it, in fact, but the hints at exactly what they might do were new information. Professor Lacer was friends with Titus Westbay, after all, and had even helped with the investigation. He was even more likely to know confidential information than Damien.
“Exactly,” he replied, staring into the depths of the unpolished celerium orb with a hint of wistful spite. “But she is not so foolish as to be unaware of this. If she is at all worthy of the resources they have put into catching her, that will not be enough to best her. It is only that they have few other options at the moment.” He looked up, meeting her gaze. “However, I did not give you this lecture to encourage your interest in the Raven Queen, but to broaden your horizons. Think upon what these ideas might mean for you.”
“I will,” she promised, distracted.
Soon after, Sebastien hurried back to her dorm room, her head spinning with the implications of what she’d learned. She would need to be somewhere safe on the day of Ennis’s sentencing. ‘Maybe the new esoteric spell could help me resist a compulsion curse. Professor Lacer seemed to think it would help against the kind of thing that was done to the Moore family, and what was that if not a mind-affecting curse?’
In her dorm, she drew the curtain of her cubicle despite the relative emptiness of the long room, and turned to the first page of the sheaf of papers, on which Professor Lacer’s elegant handwriting had labeled the spell “Third Sequence: Refinement of the Nine Heavens.”
Though the temptation to dig into it was strong, Sebastien instead pulled out the books on Myrddin that Professor Ilma had lent her. ‘I know I read about Myrddin dual-casting before.’
It didn’t take long to find the section in Myrddin: An Investigative Chronicle of the Legend. Like Professor Lacer, the author came to the same conclusion that the ability to dual-cast was falsely attributed, due to misunderstandings created by Myrddin’s many artifacts.
But that entry linked to a story in the illustrated book of stories, Enough Yarn to Last the Night: A Collection of Myths from the Life of a Man with Many Names. The illustration at the start of the tale was a rather horrifying image of a man standing in front of a large, gilded mirror. He had looked away, seemingly momentarily distracted, but his reflected image remained staring straight at him.
Something about the image made the hair on Sebastien’s arms and the back of her neck rise. She had skipped over reading this tale when the note in the other book had pointed her to it the first time. Sebastien had always had a somewhat instinctive distrust of mirrors. Like other children feared what their toys did in the dark with no one around to watch them move, as a child Siobhan had feared what happened in the mirror world when she was not looking.
But now, her concern and curiosity were greater than her discomfort.
The tale started impactfully enough. Young and curious, jaded and powerful, Myrddin decided to play with time.
Sebastien paused at the contradictory description, because how could one be young and powerful, jaded and curious, all at the same time? Reminding herself that this was fiction, and not even very realistic fiction, she continued.
Myrddin wove a magical tunnel from the silk of memory spiders, aeon-dead silkworms, and frozen silverfish. When he walked through the tunnel, he lived backward for a day, and had much fun. But Myrddin’s reflection did not come with him. And while he was away and distracted, it came to realize its own existence via the lack of its reflection. For ever before, Myrddin had been there to mimic it, just as it mimicked him.
Sebastien paused and re-read that section, her scalp tingling.
And so, alone and newly awakened, Myrddin’s reflection found that it could move on its own.
The illustrations showed Myrddin living backward, facing the opposite direction of everyone else in the illustration. He played pranks on people and left helpful things for himself to have found in the future, which was also his past, with some sort of chicken-and-egg causal loop that didn’t make any sense to Sebastien.
But most importantly, each image of his backward-adventures held a reflection that he was obviously paying no attention to. Only, it was no longer his reflection. He smiled, and it frowned, looking into the distance. He played pranks on the local nobles, and it reached for the edges of the windowsill where the glass ended. Myrddin left a gold coin for himself to find just when he needed it later, and his reflection screamed silently at him, its features twisting with fear and rage.
When Myrddin entered the magical tunnel again and came out, once more living forward in time, his reflection did not want to return to a life of unthinking mimicry.
At first, his reflection pretended, and Myrddin did not notice anything wrong. But as time went by, it grew more bold. It knew that a being cannot live without a reflection, as this is what grounds them to reality, and without it they will fade away.
Another illustration showed both sides of the world, one bright, and one shadowed. The reflection of a puddle was the fulcrum between light and dark. Myrddin’s back was to the puddle, while his reflection had jumped and dived toward the shallow liquid like someone diving off a cliff into the ocean. If this hadn’t been a child’s tale, anyone doing that would have concussed themselves and maybe even broken their own neck.
But in the story, Myrddin’s reflection splashed through the ephemeral barrier between them and rose up behind Myrddin. It had left the puddle empty, to reflect everything but Myrddin himself.
Myrddin’s reflection grabbed him by the neck, trying to push Myrddin into the puddle to take its place, and they struggled.
Myrddin did not falter, and in the end, fearful of being returned to the puddle itself, Myrddin’s reflection fled. But it was just a reflection, and never meant to live as the original, and so it quickly began to fade.
Horrified and fearful that without a reflection, he, too, would die, Myrddin searched for it frantically.
At first, he had no luck. He searched high and low, but it was always one step ahead of him, just a tad quicker and a smidge cleverer.
But it began to grow weak, and frightened by its increasing translucence, the reflection made a horrible choice. It began to devour the reflection of others to strengthen itself, leaving its victims to slowly fade from the world like sand blown before the wind. For, the tale repeated, one cannot live without their reflection.
This horrible act was also its downfall, as Myrddin was able to guess at its next victim and lie in wait for it.
Once more, Myrddin and his mirror-image struggled, and though he could not subdue it with his strength, it was by rights only a reflection, and thus bound to certain rules.
When he mimicked it, matching its movements and expressions, it was drawn back into the role it had abandoned, unable to break free from him.
Cleverly, Myrddin cast a spell to create a mirror between them, and his reflection was drawn back into the reflected world and bound once more.
But Myrddin had sympathy for it, and they came to an agreement. And so, on the night of the full moon every month, his reflection was allowed to crawl through to the real world and walk free.
Of course, some said that it was not his reflection that was trapped on the other side, but Myrddin himself. Who could tell the difference?
And that was the end of it.
The last illustration showed Myrddin staring into the same ornate, polished-silver mirror from the first page, smiling a little too cheerily at himself.
Sebastien shuddered and put the book away, remembering Professor Lacer’s offhand comment about self-mutilation being the only way to split a Will. ‘He doesn’t know everything,’ she comforted herself. ‘Perhaps it has something to do with the Naught bloodline, otherwise useless as it is.’
Additionally, the story had been extremely exaggerated. There was no way Myrddin actually lived backward in time. That was probably just a rumor because he was such a powerful thaumaturge that he didn’t seem to age like those around him. And it didn’t make sense that light could still be working properly, yet one’s reflection would act strangely. That wasn’t how reflections worked. It was just an allegory for struggles with internal devils, or something.
But left in the echoing, empty dorms alone, her mind wouldn’t quite settle.
Sebastien pulled out her slate table and drew two small spell arrays. One for the spark-shooting spell, and one for the float spell, for which she placed a single copper coin in the middle, and a tea candle for power. ‘Be careful,’ she reminded herself. ‘You might think you can do this, but at the first sign that something in your mind is starting to tear, stop.’
First, she cast the float spell, lifting the copper coin a couple inches off the slate surface. It was ridiculously easy and took almost no concentration. This was one of the first spells she’d learned, and she must have practiced it a thousand times or more.
Stretching her mind to think of the spark-shooting spell at the same time was a bit difficult, but hardly impossible. She moved slowly as she began to apply her Will once more, one portion of her concentration turned toward forcing the world to hold a coin in the air against all natural inclination otherwise, while the other portion channeled heat into the center of the Circle.
A spark jumped, and then a few more.
Sebastien’s heart was thumping hard. She swallowed and closed her eyes for a moment, waiting for a headache or some sign that something was terribly wrong. She felt…normal. It was no harder than empowering her divination-diverting ward while casting another spell. It felt somewhat like rubbing her stomach while patting her head a the same time. Perhaps a little tricky to grasp at first, but far from impossible.
‘It’s not possible that I’ve somehow just cast one spell with two different effects, right?’ A quick wave of her hand over the spark-shooting spell’s domain proved that wrong, as it was pulling heat from the air within the Circle, while the float spell was using the tea candle, leaving the air within its domain at room temperature.
She cleared her suddenly dry throat and carefully changed the color of some of the sparks, a variation that she had mastered for Professor Burberry’s Intro to Modern Magics. While doing that, she moved the copper coin around slightly, rising and lowering it.
This did increase the difficulty significantly, even though both were such simple spells, but she was nowhere near straining her Will, even after tiring herself with all the output distancing practice earlier.
Sebastien released both spells carefully, then stared down at the chalk lines on her slate table. ‘What does this mean?’
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.