Chapter 170 – The Heart of the Sun

Siobhan

Month 4, Day 9, Friday

Siobhan may have blacked out for a moment—maybe more than once—as the world spun with strange incoherent imagery and flashes of light and darkness, a song from the void reaching out to her with velvet tendrils.

Rough hands on her arms and around her waist made her abdomen moan in pain. The Pendragon guard’s terrified eyes matched with gritted teeth as they met her gaze for a moment. A fist in her hair, yanking her neck to the side until her spine sent out twinkling, twinging signs of warning. A swirling sickness as she was thrown into the heart of the sun and came down hard on its surface.

When she stopped wavering in and out of reality, someone was keening ferally, mournfully, warbling notes to a distant song.

As she ran out of air, she realized the sound was her own incoherent moan of confusion and pain. She forced herself to stop, even though she was pretty sure the impact on the black sapphire Conduit under the pressure of her corset had broken at least one of her ribs.

Her head ached like an invisible bison was stamping on it again, and again, and again. Concussion, certainly. Will-strain, possibly. How was one to distinguish between the two when it got to this point?

Her body was even more battered and bruised than before, but it was hard to take stock of her injuries beyond the pounding of her skull and the aching claws piercing her side with every breath.

The draw on her divination-diverting ward had stopped entirely.

Siobhan kept her eyes closed against the light and twitched her fingers. The ones on her left hand were in bad shape, smashed twice against the wall. But her right hand was fine. She reached up and touched her face. Her nose was, surprisingly, not broken or even bleeding. Her right cheekbone and the bottom of her eye socket bloomed with pain at the slightest pressure. The skin was raw, and her eye itself was filled with a strange, aching burn. She touched the back of her skull to discover a growing lump and a small wet spot of blood. She licked the blood off her finger, swallowing it along with the sudden pool of nauseated saliva in her mouth.

Her features were all in the right place, and neither her face nor her skull had caved in.

She shifted, holding back a broken whimper, and managed to rise to her hands and knees, stabilizing herself drunkenly as the world spun around her. It was too bright to open her eyes. She could see the searing white light even through the pinkness of her closed eyelids. Even ducking her head down away from the ceiling and walls didn’t ease her discomfort.

Her medallion was burning horribly cold against her chest, so it had either just wrenched itself dry and melted out yet another protective spell by blocking that Radiant explosive, or it was protecting her from something at that very moment. Perhaps both.

Her left ear was bleeding. She wiped the fluid on her corset. Even when the situation seemed dire, it didn’t do to get sloppy and start leaving your blood everywhere. That was what had gotten her into this in the first place. The thought sent her into a paroxysm of strangled giggles that just made everything worse. She couldn’t hear like she should on the left side, even as the ringing in her other ear was beginning to subside.

Even when she put a hand over her face to protect her eyes from the searing light, it was still too bright to open them. She was pretty sure that wasn’t from the concussion, though her condition might be making it worse. Despite the foolishness of casting magic in such a state, and especially after what just happened, she crouched down with her face pressed to her knees, forehead against the floor—so that what she was doing was less likely to be noticed—and brought her hands together in front of her mouth again.

She knew it was dangerous, but she was desperate. If she couldn’t even see, what chance did she have to escape? She clamped down her Will without channeling any power first, assessing its weight and coherence. It was tremulous, weaker than normal. She chanted slowly and deliberately, allowing power to trickle through the air of the Circle and into her shadow.

It made the throb in her brain worse, and she had a moment where things spun dizzily, but she maintained control through the end of the whispered chant. Her shadow was tiny, scattered to small patches over her own body, but none against the ground, even where she was pressed directly against it. But there was so much power available, the air between her fingers didn’t even grow cold.

Her head settled into a slightly worse ache. She knew she couldn’t do anything strenuous, but this much, at least, didn’t seem to be driving her insane.

She attempted to keep her shadow’s appearance as normal as possible, purposefully going against the spell’s nature to keep from absorbing all the light. She brought darkness up from the space between her torso and her legs, up from her armpits and between her thighs, out from the gap between her tongue and the roof of her mouth, wrapping it over her eyes in a hair-thin band that pressed flush against her flesh and widened over her pupils. She increased the drain of light over her eyes more, and then more still, until she was finally able to open them.

She lifted her head and looked around.

She was in a small square room, perhaps three meters across, with light shining from every centimeter of the walls themselves. Even the floor was glowing.

She checked for any lost drops of blood from her ear, first. She found a couple on the floor. Maneuvering her battered hand carefully, she repeated the same trick from earlier and shrank the Circle of her fingers until she could free one hand. She used it to wipe up the drops of blood and swallow them, despite the nausea. She wished she could cast the shedding-destroyer spell, but she had nothing to draw out even that simple spell array with. Nothing except her own blood, which rather seemed like it would defeat the purpose.

She stood and limped to the door that had been at her back. It, too, was glowing, and sat flush and almost seamless with the wall. A single dark pane of glass was inset at head height, an artificially darkened window, reinforced with bands of steel and barely the size of her head.

She pressed her face to the window, close enough so that she could see out into the relative darkness of the hallway.

Two guards were posted outside. She recognized the first as the one that had been screaming before. He had a name that started with “P,” but she was too woozy to search her memories for exactness. The second was one of those who had come back with reinforcements. They were the ones who had cast fireball spells to push back the prisoners and make room for the Radiant explosive.

Both were wide-eyed, their battle wands up as if she would somehow break through the door.

She angled her face against the glass, looking to the side. There was a similar locking device embedded in the wall outside this cell as the one before.

The smaller of the two guards, the one who had been so terrified by her earlier, spoke, only slightly muffled by the door between them. “You’re trapped! Don’t try anything funny. We know you can’t use your powers in that environment.”

That didn’t make any sense. If anything, this environment was wonderful, great for both her shadow-familiar and her light-refinement spells. If she could draw a spell array, she would have plenty of power to sacrifice. But if she understood the situation correctly, this room had been created to imprison her, specifically. There must have been some rumor that the Raven Queen was weak to light, unable to use whatever strange powers she possessed outside of darkness. It fit, she supposed, thematically. Luckily, this wasn’t a story, and the Raven Queen didn’t have to adhere to storybook rules.

Siobhan’s mouth fell into a lopsided grin under the Circle of her fingers, and she swallowed heavily as her mouth filled with nauseated saliva.

“The captain will be here soon, and he’ll deal with you harshly if you attempt anything dangerous,” the screamer said.

“How soon?” she asked, her voice a little hoarse.

Both guards startled slightly, as if they hadn’t expected her to be able to speak, and the larger turned on his companion with a scowl. “Don’t talk to her, Parker!”

“What if I don’t attempt anything dangerous? How will your captain treat me then?” she asked.

They didn’t respond.

Unlike the other cell, the walls and door of this one were incredibly smooth, made of some hard, glowing material that definitely wasn’t the stone of the white cliffs. Leaning against the door and lifting one foot, she scratched her toenail against the door to test the material. It did nothing but create a soft squeaking sound. Even if she still had her boots and the finger-daggers hidden in the heel, she doubted the blade would make a mark.

Whoever the captain was, and whatever he had planned, she doubted it would be advantageous for her to meet him. Any advantage she could grasp required her to move quickly, to seize the initiative before they could properly respond. “What wards have been placed on this room?” she asked.

Neither of the guards responded.

She trailed her fingers along the wall, walking all the way around as she contemplated. Her thoughts were both flighty and ponderous, and she continually had to bring them back on track.

There will be some kind of built-in detector for sudden fluctuations in energy or temperature, the kind of things that signify the casting of a spell. The door is well locked, obviously. I could try to break through the wall itself—which is unlikely to succeed, given the care they put into the material—but even then I might face some kind of magical barrier in addition to the physical. Two guards outside to sound the alarm if I try anything obvious.

But Siobhan wasn’t powerless, either. She continued to walk around the edge of the room, running her fingers along the frictionless wall as she planned. Obviously the room couldn’t stop her from casting esoteric spells, and it didn’t seem to have sounded any alarm for her subtle use of the shadow-familiar spell. She might not be able to carve a spell array for anything complex into the floor, or draw one with chalk or crayon, but she had blood.

She also had a spell to turn one of her digits into a burning coal, which might be better, because any burnt residue left behind wouldn’t be close enough to her unburnt flesh for anyone to use as a sympathetic link against her.

She knew a passkey-divining spell, learned in vain for Myrddin’s journal, and a way to distance the output of a spell and thus cast short-term effects at a distance. She also knew spells to control the air for both manipulation and attack.

Perhaps she could divine the password the guards must have used to open the door and throw her into this room just minutes before.

If her spell array was large enough, she might even be able to cast it through the wall. Then, she could adjust the parameters of a barrier spell, maybe mixed with an air compression spell, to manipulate the lock’s number key mechanism and enter the passkey.

Then threaten the guards into doing their part. Or simply use her air-based slicing spell to carve through their necks, cut off their thumbs, and somehow work the fine manipulation of an air-molding spell or a floating spell to get those thumbs wetted with saliva and up to the lock.

She hadn’t done anything exactly like that before, but she’d practiced with several different types of rudimentary manipulation spells. How hard could it be?

The password-divining spell required components, though. A fine dust, the echo from a seashell, and a lens. She had none of that…but she knew a disintegration spell. She could make a fine dust from the material of her corset, perhaps without setting off any alarms. And she had the bone of a sea creature, again in her corset and its whalebone stays. With enough Will, she could turn one of the bones to powder and then remold it into the shape of a seashell. As for the lens, she didn’t have a spyglass or magnifying glass and probably couldn’t create them, but she did have a contact lens, made of glass just the same.

It would be the most cobbled-together spell ever.

The password-divining spell gave its output as a faint illusion, so she would need to maintain the shadow-familiar spell so that she could see, and maybe even use it to shield the spell array so that the light of the illusion wasn’t drowned out by the searing brightness all around her. But she had dual-cast spells before. She could do that.

Killing the guards would come first, so they didn’t interfere. Then, she would need to get the divination spell array’s domain into contact with the lock because, while she could adjust the output parameters, she still needed the input to be within the Circle. But that only meant burning a large enough Circle against the wall. The spherical domain could reach all the way through to the other side. She could hold the components in place against the wall with pressure. Maybe two, one with her free hand, and one with her forehead, which would still allow her the single free hand to cast the shadow-familiar spell with—

Siobhan stopped. Stopped thinking, stopped walking, stopped casting. She dropped the shadow-familiar spell and held up her hands over her eyes to shade against the searing light, which seemed to be giving her the start of a sunburn. “Oh, no,” she whispered.

That is the stupidest plan I have ever heard.

That thought seemed to echo in her mind for a moment with its sheer truth. ‘If Damien or anyone else had come to me with that scheme, I would have slapped them across the face and told them to come to their senses. Trying to dual-cast two completely different spells, using components cobbled together from shaped pieces of my clothing while also detaching my output with a method that Professor Lacer specifically warned me might not work past a barrier spell. The only way it could have been worse is if I planned to try a different method of detachment modeled off of my Will-splitting, without anyone here to save me if it goes wrong.

All this, while knowingly under the effects of a concussion and probably Will-strain.

She took a shuddering breath and sank down onto her knees with her back facing the door. ‘I was about to kill myself. Or entirely shatter my Will and turn into an Aberrant.

 

Here is the much-belated chapter. The reason for this is a bit of a long story which I won’t re-post. If you want to read about it, you can do so here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/slight-delay-86089481

Suffice it to say, things tumbled down around me leading up to and during my trip out of state, largely by my own fault. This is last Thursday’s chapter, and this coming Thursday we’ll resume the standard schedule.

As my trip could in no way be considered a relaxing vacation (for an introvert who also doesn’t enjoy road trips), I’m about as tired now as when I left. If I can overcome the urge to work, I might even take a half day off today to try to recuperate.

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