Chapter 171 – Infernal Covenants

Siobhan

Month 4, Day 9, Friday

From her knees, Siobhan fell back into a seated position, crossing her legs and ignoring the pain from her ankle. ‘At least I realized in time how stupid I was being. I didn’t actually do it. But I obviously need to reassess my decisions. Is this abnormally impaired judgment, or am I just that foolish?

Will-strain started with headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. More severely, it caused impaired judgment, difficulty modulating the strength of one’s emotions, and rapid mood swings. After that, hallucinations, paranoia, and actions that caused harm to the thaumaturge themself or those around them. Beyond that, Will-strain damage was irreversible.

So, perhaps I am in the middling stage, or perhaps a concussion can mimic the effects. Or perhaps this room is cursed somehow to keep me from having the wherewithal to come up with a successful escape plan. It’s even possible there is some sort of compulsion or curse acting against me.’ In any case, it was clear that she needed to come up with a better strategy.

Have I been going in the wrong direction from the beginning? Should I even be trying to escape right now?’ The question seemed absurd, but she didn’t feel like she could trust her instincts at the moment.

If she didn’t escape, “the captain” was going to come. It was likely she was being held in a network of tunnels carved out of the white cliffs beneath Pendragon Palace, which meant the captain was one of the High Crown’s men. She might even meet the High Crown himself. They would want the book. Torture was a viable threat.

Of course, Siobhan would give up the book’s location immediately—Grandfather had impressed upon her that it was impossible to withstand torture forever, and best to just avoid it entirely. No information was worth her life. The only reason she would refuse to speak was if she thought she would be killed as soon as she did.

Which…might be a possibility. Siobhan rubbed her chin with her free hand. The coppers didn’t know she was here, and her allies most likely didn’t either. Perhaps she could give up false information or try to bargain for her release, but success seemed unlikely.

Even if they were somehow willing to turn her over to the coppers instead of dealing with the threat she posed and executing her themselves, all that awaited her was a trial for blood magic and treason, which would sentence her to death, probably by public execution.

So,’ she determined, ‘escape really is my best option. And quickly. I’ve lost time with this foolishness, but I still may be able to do something.

She was injured and had no way to do anything about it. Her light-refinement spell wasn’t the kind of thing that brought quick results, and in her physical state, she wouldn’t even be able to complete the necessary motions. The flesh-mirroring spell would require a spell array, but also a clarity of Will and level of power that she didn’t feel safe attempting.

Rather than trying to escape with the force of her magic, she needed someone to let her out.

She had access to two guards, at least one of whom had been willing to talk to her. They were frightened, obviously. She had to find a way to bargain with or manipulate them to convince them to set her free.

Maybe the reputation of the Raven Queen could come in handy.

But she would need to be quick-witted and silver-tongued, neither of which she felt confident in at the moment. Both her wits and her tongue were more prone to getting her into trouble than out of it. If things went wrong, the guards might retaliate. Siobhan didn’t think she could withstand another of those Radiant bombs.

She thought through all the steps of her plan first, and when she was sure she was ready, she stood and returned to the shaded window, pressing close to it in an attempt to see out through squinted eyes.

Both guards were pressed against the wall on the other side of the hallway, watching her.

She angled her head down so they couldn’t see her face and recast the shadow-familiar spell with a slow, whispered chant while holding one hand in a Circle over her mouth.

Her shadow stretched up and over her once more, black as the pit and with access to all the power she would need to stretch it for whole city blocks. It reached out to cover the little pane of reinforced glass.

The guards began to shout.

“What are you doing?” the smaller one, Parker, called, his voice high-pitched with distress.

“We have to sound the alarm!” the taller one snapped.

Siobhan pushed her shadow through the window. There was no reason that light, or the absence of light, should be stopped by glass. And regardless of whatever wards the room might have to stop power or energy from passing its boundaries, unlike most spells, her shadow-familiar was the absence of those things.

Both guards shot fireballs, which licked harmlessly through her shadow and against the other side of the cell door. These were followed by a quick barrage of slicing spells, concussive blasts, and even some strange-colored spells that she couldn’t recognize.

Their efforts may have seemed ineffective, but the sudden influx of energy threw her off balance for a moment. Thankfully, she recovered quickly and without further damage to her Will. Her shadow was completely unaffected, of course, although she let it seethe with hints of beaks, feathers, and claws.

“Oh, Radiant Maiden, protect us,” Parker murmured.

“I’ll get backup,” the bigger guard breathed, his voice barely audible through the door between them.

“Wait,” she called, her voice clear and commanding.

The footsteps that had only just begun to recede ceased immediately as the guard halted, and Parker pressed himself against the wall so hard it seemed like he hoped to sink into the stone.

She hadn’t expected them to actually listen to her, but this was even better. She didn’t need to rush, so she could be theatrical.

More darkness dribbled down the side of the door, thick and three-dimensional, and when it reached the floor, rose up again into a familiar form. Taller than any man and inhumanly thin, long, sharp-beaked darkness protruded from underneath the hood of a tattered cloak, fluttering in an intangible wind. Skeletal, too-long fingers that came to sharp points raised toward the guards, palms outward.

“Stop there,” she commanded, “and listen.”

No footsteps sounded, so the escaping guard must have complied.

“There are many rumors about me. Have you heard that I am honorable, aiding those who deserve it and harming only my enemies?”

Silence.

“Do not be afraid. You may speak without fear of retribution.”

A few more seconds passed, and then Parker responded in a halting tone. “I—I have heard that.”

“Shut up!” the other guard snapped. “You’re giving her what she wants!”

“Giving her what? She makes bargains. She can’t steal your soul just from talking to you.” In a softer voice, which perhaps he thought she couldn’t hear, Parker said, “And there’s no way we can outrun the creature of Night itself. It could cross the whole hallway in the blink of an eye, I’ve heard. We need to keep her happy, Anders. Buy some time at least. If she’s talking, she’s not cursing or killing.”

Anders spat on the floor. “I don’t get paid enough for this shit,” he mumbled. Then, louder, he said, “I have heard of your honorable nature as well as your tenacious malevolence towards those who anger you.”

Siobhan rolled her eyes behind the cover of shadow. “Have you heard that I cannot tell a lie?” She paused a few seconds, but when they didn’t reply, continued. “May my word be my bond. As of now, I do not consider you my enemies. I dislike harming the innocent. As long as you do not attempt further harm to me, that will continue to be the case. If you attempt to harm me, or to stop me, I will have no choice but to act against you.”

“T-to stop you from doing what?” Parker asked.

“Leaving, of course.”

“That’s impossible.”

She laughed, pressing closer to the glass so that she could see Anders and direct her shadow. This forced her injured cheek to press painfully against the barrier, and her eye protested the slight increase in pressure, but the pain was a necessary price to pay. “Do you really believe that?”

The part of her shadow outside the cell flashed past Anders, appearing again just behind him. It was connected to her with a line of shadow so thin it would be hard to notice. With a bit of Will and a partial splitting of her attention, she pulled heat from the air around that section alone, causing an ominous fog to roll off of its form while leaving her quite warm.

It loomed forward over Anders from behind, then let the backs of its too-long fingers trail over his cheek, sucking the warmth from the surface of his skin.

Anders stared ahead, wide-eyed and as pale as a corpse. His knees trembled badly, on the verge of collapse.

Parker whimpered.

“I assure you, this room does not work as you hoped it might,” she said. The shadow-familiar spell was perhaps her most practiced of any piece of magic she knew, and thus one of the easiest to control. But even so, the strain of holding two detailed and three-dimensional forms in her mind, one a few meters away and absorbing heat, was difficult in her state. If her Will were an eggshell, the pressure would have been putting hairline cracks through it, every moment moving her closer to the threat of implosion. “Your boss’s information about my abilities was severely lacking,” she added.

“W-what do you want from us?” Parker asked, his voice breaking.

“It is very simple. Step forward,” she commanded.

Anders seemed like he wanted to hesitate, but when her shadow-familiar pressed into his back, he stumbled forward quickly until he stood beside Parker in front of her door.

Her shadow followed, and its proximity eased the strain somewhat.

“I want you to open this door.” She waited on metaphorical tenterhooks for their response. She was botching this conversation, she knew, but Ennis had always handled the talking. This was not her area of expertise.

“I can’t do that,” Anders said.

Siobhan’s jaw clenched. “I need your thumbs and your saliva. You may provide them for me, which I would prefer. If you do not, I will be forced to take your thumbs and saliva.”

Parker looked up at her shadow-familiar, which was tall enough to almost reach the ceiling, its huge, curved beak pointed down at them as its tattered cloak fluttered in an invisible wind. He closed his eyes in resignation. “We most truly cannot, my lady. We have sworn a vow of loyalty. The repercussions—”

“A blood print vow?” she interrupted.

Parker opened his eyes. “Yes.”

“That is no trouble. They are far from infallible. Do you know how they work? It is quite possible to circumvent them. As you are likely aware, the coppers have some of my blood as well, and yet have been completely unable to locate me despite their best efforts.”

Anders and Parker shared a look that she couldn’t decipher.

“As you may also be aware, I am able to give out certain…boons. If you wish to be free of your employers’ grasp, that is a simple order, and seems a reasonable exchange for the danger.”

“But you don’t know the passkey,” Anders said. He did not sound very confident about that statement.

“I can pluck it from your minds.” Her shadow-familiar lifted its slender, pointed digits and wriggled them. “Though you would find the process unpleasant, I am sure.” Her shadow-familiar looked to her, tilting its head to the side in a questioning stance that was as eager as she could make it, leaking foggy wisps of darkness that took the shape of ravens for only a moment before dissolving back into nothing.

Anders stumbled sideways into Parker, who let out an actual shuddering sob. “Please, please, don’t.”

Siobhan’s shadow-familiar settled, looking back at them. “Freedom from a blood print vow is not the only boon I can offer,” she said. “That, and one other, for each of you. But you must decide quickly, or by your very hesitation, you will be stealing time from me, and that will make you my enemy.”

Parker clasped his hands together, fingers woven through each other to squeeze out the trembling. Two seconds passed before he spoke. “I owe a debt, and the deed to my house is held by another. Can you kill him and get it back for me?”

“It is possible, though his death may not be necessary,” she replied immediately. “It would be just as simple to repay the debt, if he is a good man.”

“He’s not,” Parker asserted.

“You can’t really be thinking of going along with this!” Anders hissed.

“I’m not about to die just to delay her a couple seconds longer,” Parker replied, his voice trembling but sure. “I have a daughter.”

“And you, Anders?” she asked. “Tell me your greatest desire, and if it is within my power, I will mold the world into alignment with your wishes. But there is no more time. You must choose now.”

“It is treason,” he said heavily, looking at Parker.

“I want to live,” Parker replied simply. “And I want a future for my daughter.”

Anders hesitated for only a moment longer. “My dog. He’s been missing an eye and a leg for a long time now. And he’s getting older. I don’t want him to die. He’s a good dog, and he deserves more. And…he’s the only creature in this world that truly loves me. Can you make him healthy and young again?”

She didn’t bother to hold back her smile of triumph. “I cannot make him young, but I can make him healthy and whole. And his life may be extended to last as long as your own.”

“And will you do that, really?” he asked, eyes narrowed.

“The deed to his house and an enemy subdued, for Parker. For you, healing and longevity for your closest companion. I will do all in my power to fulfill these boons, without any attempt to subvert their meaning, in exchange for your service this day and your neutrality going forward. My word is my bond.”

“So mote it be!” Parker piped up, grim-faced and white-knuckled as he used an ancient phrase to seal the pact.

And so, the guards opened the door for her.

As she limped through an invisible barrier over the doorway that scraped unpleasantly at her skin like thousands of fingernails, her shadow-familiar returned, melding into one piece. It disguised her features, as well as the fact that she was bare legged, wearing only a corset, though it couldn’t disguise the signs of injury in the way she moved.

She turned back to look at the featureless, shining room. Some of her blood had been smeared on the floor, and though the surface was smooth enough that there was no visible trace after she had wiped it up, that didn’t mean that absolutely none of her was left behind. She couldn’t spare the time to clean things properly, but she was less concerned than she might have been in other circumstances.

The magic of the room had some obvious destructive effects. Even if that didn’t make whatever trace amounts of her were left unviable for divination, and Lord Pendragon could manage to find said traces and a thaumaturge with enough clarity and power to use such a small amount as a component, so long as Operation Palimpsest went well, they might not even bother. With what she had planned, even an idiot would realize that trying to use sympathetic magic against her was a dead end.

Still, she turned to the guards. “Fireball the floor,” she ordered. Parker complied immediately. As the backlash of heat blew her hair around, she said, “As I doubt the High Crown will take kindly to your betrayal, if you want to live, you will come with me and fight by my side.”

Anders nodded, grip firm around his huge battle wand, but Parker seemed stunned by his own betrayal.

“We are going to rescue the other captives,” she said. “Hurry, there is not much time.”

 

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