Chapter 205 – Special Agent Lacer [Book 5 Start]

Thaddeus

Month 8 Day 15, Sunday 6:00 a.m.

Thaddeus had not slept.

The Raven Queen—Siobhan, as she had told him to call her—had left his cottage hours before, disappearing into the trees during the darkest hour of the night when most of the city slumbered. Theoretically, there had been time for him to catch a bit of rest, but Thaddeus had not even attempted to lay his head on his pillow. He knew sleep would not come. Even now, he was still buzzing with the energy of her visit.

He was walking through Waterside Market so early because Siobhan had made triply sure to impress the need for urgency upon him before leaving.

Thaddeus scratched at one eyebrow in embarrassment as he remembered. He had done his best to react to her unexpected arrival with aplomb, but with his more instinctual responses of cutting cynicism and some measure of disdain off the table, he had been off balance.

It had taken him a regrettable amount of time to recover from the surprise of her presence. He would have wagered his Conduit that she had noticed and found him amusing. Her unfathomably dark eyes had been knowing, the set of her lips hinting at a shared secret, as if she could taste the surface of his emotions. He did not believe she could truly do such things, but she was insightful.

Siobhan Naught had been little like the rumors, and yet so much better. Unlike what her reputation might have suggested, she had staged no spectacle in an attempt to cow him with awe or fear. She’d been polite, completely sane, and looked nothing like a creature out of nightmares. In fact, she treated him more familiarly than many of his fellow professors, and without either the hero worship or animosity of many of the agents in the Red Guard. In fact, if one could overlook a few strange behaviors, her company was quite pleasant. Even if she was a degenerate heathen who ruined her coffee with both milk and sugar.

His perception of her hadn’t changed when he cast several spells meant to cleanse and protect the mind from outside influence. Such things were never foolproof, of course, but he was inclined to believe that she had been honest.

Thaddeus turned down one of the market’s side streets, pulled a short incense stick from one of his pockets, and used it to free-cast a minor compulsion that would keep people from recognizing him as Thaddeus Lacer. Despite the precautions the Red Guard took to keep the entrances to their field bases secret, a pseudo-celebrity being seen entering the cover building was an unnecessary risk. It was unfortunate that Gilbratha’s field base number one was in the direct center of the city and on the edge of Waterside Market.

His destination was a rather ordinary, if slightly run-down, building that failed to properly advertise what goods or services it provided. A ward created a subtle compulsion to find the building uninteresting and somewhat offputting, and once that took effect, to suddenly remind anyone who got too close to the front door that they’d forgotten something urgent that required their attention elsewhere.

Thaddeus shrugged off the attempts to turn him from his purpose. The front door shrieked with poorly oiled hinges and set off an irritating jingling bell above, creating enough racket that there was no possible way anyone inside would miss his entrance.

The area beyond was decorated with cheap, kitschy fake artifacts and spell components chosen more for their decorative ambiance than their properties. A woman glamoured to look both older and rounder than she actually was looked up from a desk in the corner, separated from the rest of the shop by a curtain of cheap beads. “Come to get your dreams read?” she asked, after an awkward pause where she tried to pretend she didn’t recognize him. She gave him a gap-toothed smile. “Only six gold.” The price was outrageous.

The Red Guard agents working here were trained not to break character. Manning the face companies that secured the non-emergency access points to a field base was considered a leisure assignment. Agents would take on the job on rotation, or after a traumatic event that required a break from more directly serving the Red Guard.

Some of the agents had taken the responsibility to deceive, discourage, and drive away civilians as a personal challenge, and it had turned into a game of one-upmanship among several of the field bases.

Despite his lack of interest in the endeavor, Thaddeus had picked up a detailed understanding of their work simply from the idle chatter during meetings he was required to attend.

This agent pretended to be a dream diviner. She would give the worst possible interpretations to any determined client who made it past all the discouragement and forcibly purchased her services.

She counseled clients that they were haunted by a tenaciously bad fate, which could only be escaped by moving away from Gilbratha entirely, but certainly would be made worse if they ever returned for another dream divination, as the thing causing their bad fate had marked their visit and would attempt to keep them from gaining further advice about it.

Thaddeus had heard her bragging about how many superstitious people she’d actually convinced to pack up their entire lives and move away from the city.

He gave her a sharp nod but otherwise ignored her, walking toward the doorway at the back of her shop. He suppressed the sudden and somewhat urgent need to urinate, which was connected to the impulse to look at the sign that said there were no bathrooms in the building and gave a map to the nearest location one could relieve themselves.

If one made it past the dream diviner, the next area housed another agent who acted as a supposed alchemist researcher with an obviously fake license. The man beyond was in the middle of eating a sandwich, and when Thaddeus opened the door, tried to inhale and stand at the same time. He ended up choking, red-faced and leaning over his desk.

This area was filled with shelves of ancient, pickled animal components and dozens of the scariest-looking concoctions known to the Red Guard.

Anyone who made it to this agent would be non-violently accosted as he tried to get them to accept a position as a research subject to test the effects of his potions. This position required the research subject to read and sign an entire binder of waivers for possible side-effects, ranging from all hair follicles being turned upside down to create ingrown hairs, to all orifices on the body melting closed into a seamless patch of skin.

And it was non-paid.

The agent had been reported to the coppers for illegal experimentation and suspicion of using blood magic eight times already by people who had escaped his clutches.

Thaddeus forcibly cleared the man’s windpipe with a small spell and waved at him to sit back down again. “I’m here for a beauty treatment,” he said somewhat ironically, opening the door to the stairs at the back of the room. He ignored the sudden intrusive knowledge that he had forgotten any and all forms of possible payment at home, as well as an unpleasant smell that was hard to place but made him sure that continuing to breathe it would give him a horrible headache and perhaps kill some of his brain cells.

Down the stairs into the basement, a prospective customer would find a day spa that specialized in the therapeutic uses of aquatic creatures. Specifically, the carnivorous sort. The agent there was happy to recommend their cleansing foot baths to any amazingly stubborn customer who managed to reach them.

The man was slightly less harmless looking than his two coworkers, ready to magically accost anyone who seemed a little too interested in certain parts of the room with some mind-altering spells, but still defaulted to driving them away harmlessly.

The foot baths used fish to eat the dead skin off of whatever was immersed in the water, leaving behind skin “as smooth as a baby’s bottom.” He would demonstrate their miraculous function by dropping some crusty, dehydrated animal appendage or other into one of the foot baths and letting the customer watch as the fish completely devoured it, leaving not even bone behind.

He had a stellar record, and no civilian had ever managed to watch this display while in the presence of the man’s unnaturally shiny smile and twitchy eyes and still decide that they wanted to stay in the building.

Thaddeus gave him a nod of respect. “Hello, Mike. No time to chat today.”

The agent deflated—he did not receive many visitors—but waved Thaddeus on.

With his badge out, Thaddeus walked through the invisible barrier around one of the glass fish tanks that held some particularly vicious-looking spiny eels and stepped down into the water. It was all an illusion, of course. There was no water and no eels, only a ramp that reacted to his badge, melting out of the stone floor and leading down into the darkness.

The ramp was wide enough for a few people to walk side-by-side and spiraled outward into a descending hallway. The spiral, somewhat strangely, grew continuously wider and more shallow as he walked down it. It took a few minutes before he finally came to a heavily warded metal door. This wasn’t the only access point to field base one, but it was the only one sanctioned to be used for non-emergency purposes.

The door took a complex password, a tiny sliver of his fingernail, and thirty seconds of contact with his Red Guard badge to open up. Finally, it revealed a large cylindrical cavern of Gilbratha’s white stone. A smaller Circle at the center of the outer Circle that people called the white cliffs.

After the Red Guard had discovered this space and taken it over, they’d partitioned off large sections for various functions, but much of the area was still open and airy, with the light crystals set into the high ceiling creating the illusion of natural light. It helped to keep the agents who spent too much time here from going insane.

Thaddeus moved past the lobby and recreation area, with its potted plants, dueling board games, and snacks preserved within Shipp’s evidence boxes. Someone had even brought in an aquarium, and a giant-sized rocking horse took up enough space for a dining table, for some unknowable reason.

He pushed aside any vain attempts to distract him and walked past the desks where a couple squads of agents were filling in research reports, doing paperwork, or chatting with each other, ignoring the sudden silence that spread as they noticed him. The quarantine zone and the debriefing rooms were adjacent to each other in this base, and he made his way to the latter.

As Siobhan’s story had led Thaddeus to expect, there were two teams in one of the debriefing rooms, sitting in their individual cubicles in front of the shield spell that bisected the room. It was a surprise that they were still there, several hours after their altercation with her. It was even more of a surprise, and not a pleasant one, to see Captain Goldfisch on the other side of the shield. 

The short, dark-haired man sat next to the much taller and fairer Captain Aisling, the half-jentil in charge of this base. A horn of speech rested on the table in front of the mismatched pair, most likely connected to the captain of field base two. With the other two captains in physical attendance, she couldn’t be there in person due to the risk of an attempt to decapitate the local leadership of the Red Guard. It was a paranoid safety measure, but it had paid off more than once.

Both men and all four of the agents being debriefed wore the bulky helmets meant to suppress memetic effects. All of this signaled, unfortunately, that they were on high alert and discussing a potentially very dangerous threat.

Thaddeus opened the glass door and stepped into the room.

“Special Agent Lacer,” Captain Aisling said with mild surprise, his voice deep but somehow still mellow.

Captain Goldfisch’s features all drew together into a dark scowl. “What are you doing here?”

“I am here to pass on a message from the Raven Queen,” Thaddeus said.

The air in the room seemed to tighten as multiple strong Wills reacted to his announcement.

“What do you mean?” Captain Goldfisch asked.

“Exactly what I said,” Thaddeus responded. “The Raven Queen was displeased by how her interaction with a few of our agents went last night, and contacted me to pass on a message to those in charge.”

“Were you accosted?” Captain Aisling asked calmly.

“To the contrary,” Thaddeus said. “I have been in contact with her for some months now. When she found herself in this situation, she simply reached out for a small favor.”

A woman’s voice, somewhat metallic, came from the horn on the table. “You’ve been in contact with the Raven Queen?”

Captain Goldfish’s deep-set eyes narrowed dangerously. “You’ve been secretly colluding with an enemy of the Crowns?” he whispered.

Thaddeus lifted an eyebrow sardonically. “It was not a secret. I already reported, and even later confirmed again, that Siobhan Naught is not the kind of threat the Red Guard was created to deal with. I have taken no vows restricting who I can associate with beyond that.” He allowed the tone of his voice to grow darker, the inflection of his words more cutting as he stared at Captain Goldfisch as if the weight of his gaze could squeeze the man down until he lost a few more inches. “Or, perhaps, are you suggesting that the Red Guard is subordinate to the Crowns? That Lord Pendragon’s enemy is naturally our enemy as well?”

Captain Goldfisch flushed, but to his credit, did not glance shamefully at Captain Aisling, who was currently the highest-ranked agent in Gilbratha. “Do not put words in my mouth, Special Agent Lacer. We were merely examining a legitimate potential threat. And judging by the events that transpired last night, it seems obvious that we were correct to do so. It’s my own folly that I didn’t realize the danger the Raven Queen presented earlier. It seems the rumors hold more water than hot air.”

“What rumors would those be?” Thaddeus asked.

“Blood magic rituals with civilian victims, a girl who is really some sort of ancient monster, and the hints of a budding cult. And tonight, strong evidence that she’s either controlled by or working with an Aberrant. What if she’s the source of the civilian disappearances we’ve been hunting down?”

“Is there anything to connect her to the disappearances?” Captain Rashell asked over the horn.

“There is not,” Captain Asiling replied succinctly.

Captain Goldfisch did not look away from Thaddeus. “We’ve pulled the reports from the Pendragon Corps about what she did to their men. The evidence is all there, even if you want to deny it. She’s a threat and needs to be neutralized. If we cannot control her, we must destroy her.”

Thaddeus swallowed down a surge of hot, angry acidity. “Of the claims you have made, I believe I can firmly refute at least three and a half of them.”

There was a moment of silence, and Captain Goldfish’s scowl wavered in confusion.

“What half do you believe to be correct?” Captain Rashell asked, as he had hoped she might. Of Gilbratha’s three captains, she was the most level-headed and unbiased.

“I am quite sure we do not have clear evidence that she has performed any blood magic rituals with civilian victims. Blood magic, yes, but almost all turned toward the purpose of healing, to my knowledge. And the laws against any and all forms of blood magic are not our own. We do not enforce the will of the Crowns, or the will of whoever happens to be the current ruler.”

Thaddeus paused just long enough to let that barb sink in. “What you call hints of a budding cult I call desperate and misguided ignoramuses, creating their own hope through superstition. Miss Naught has not cultivated their numbers or encouraged any form of worship, but is aware of the potential problems and willing to take measures to mitigate them. And, again, we do not interfere in political or religious movements unless they become an existential threat. By no means can you make that claim at this point.”

Behind the shield barrier, the four field agents were watching their conversation, tracking the movement of Thaddeus’s mouth and the body language of the captains with weary interest.

Captain Goldfisch opened his mouth, surely to make some offensive statement, but Captain Aisling waved indulgently for Thaddeus to continue, patient to wait for him to make his point. The huge, golden-haired man always seemed slightly amused in Thaddeus’s presence, and even more so when Thaddeus’s tongue was sharpest with irritation or fatigue. Thaddeus had at first believed it to be mere humoring and despised it, for who was Aisling to patronize him, but eventually realized that the man looked at the entire world with earnest interest.

Thaddeus moved on to his next points. “That she would be involved in the civilian disappearances is not only baseless speculation, but contrary to the character she has displayed until now. She acts against those that offend her, and otherwise as at worst capricious, and at best benevolent. And as for the creature of shadow that you believe to be an Aberrant, I examined that ingenious spell only a few hours ago. It is fascinating, and holds certain important implications for those who know what to look for, but it is still only a product of power and Will, with some aspects of an artifact that allow it to mimic certain actions in defense of its owner. But of the one accusation you brought forth that might have a partial basis in reality…”

He paused as he considered how best to word his revelation. “Siobhan Naught’s existence has always been shrouded in…discrepancies. She should be a young woman without significant magical training, and yet she is a powerful free-caster with mysterious abilities. We have found no evidence that her background is fraudulent, and she put herself at risk with what seems to be a genuine emotional connection to her father, but the theft of the book seems impossibly coincidental. There are some hints that suggest Raaz Kalvidasan had more of a motive than altruism for adopting Miss Naught’s mother, and there are rumors that the bloodline of the Naughts has some resistance to casting through their own flesh. I have considered that there might be some kind of connection to the research of the Third Empire.”

Captain Goldfisch drew in a sharp breath.

Through the horn, Captain Rashell chuckled. “It seems I have been missing out on all the fun. Well, don’t leave us hanging, Special Agent Lacer.”

“Additionally, Siobhan Naught’s childhood village was destroyed in a Blight-type Aberrant incident. This is open Red Guard record, and I do not believe she was tainted by the incident, but it does make one wonder what exactly might have led to such a powerful break event, and of whom. And finally—“

“Oh, there’s more?” Aisling murmured, rubbing his palms together.

“She has displayed an interest in the concept of how one might magically encapsulate and store a consciousness.”

Captain Aisling frowned. “That is a fascinating line of inquiry, but how is it relevant?”

“Consider the origin of the books that were retrieved from the Black Wastes. Even if you are not a historian and have no particular interest in Myrddin, I think we all know the most common legends. Who has not heard of Carnagore, the steed of white metal, an artifact so complex that it was indistinguishable from life?”

“You think the books hold the secret to such a thing?” Captain Goldfisch asked, his stubborn reticence beginning to melt away.

Thaddeus smiled thinly. “I have, perhaps, left out the most relevant pieces of information. One, she assures me that she can open and read Myrddin’s journals, a feat that some of the best minds of the University and even I myself have failed to accomplish after months of effort. Two, she agrees that her adoptive grandfather’s research may have some relation to how Carnagore was created. Three, I have personally watched Siobhan Naught cast two different spells, from two separate spell arrays, at the same time. She claims to be capable of splitting her Will.”

To their credit, none of the Red Guard captains spoke immediately or spewed thoughtless exclamations.

Captain Aisling cross his arms and tapped one finger against his bicep. “Do you believe her?”

“She claims that the Raven Queen does not lie, but I cannot be sure. She is resistant, perhaps immune, to divination. The other explanation would be that she houses two consciousnesses within the same mind, each with a distinct Will. I do not know which is most likely. I was once a skeptic, but I have come to believe that Myrddin’s research must be more important than I would have ever originally guessed. Perhaps there is more truth to his legend than rumor.”

Thaddeus allowed the silence to linger for a few seconds, then added, “I see the potential for great benefits to whoever works with her. I would hope that we do not alienate and make an enemy from a situation that could otherwise be a great opportunity. And, quite fortuitously, she has asked me to act as a liaison.”

Captain Goldfisch snorted. “Of course, the great Thaddeus Lacer, always greedy for merit, to be spent on avarice,” he muttered, just loud enough that Thaddeus could pretend he didn’t hear.

Thaddeus raised one side of his lip in a sneer, but did not call the man out. There were more important things at stake here than a petty game of one-upmanship.

Captain Rashell spoke hesitantly. “Special Agent Lacer, do you think it is possible that Myrddin trapped the consciousness of a powerful sorcerer who calls herself the Raven Queen within the book? If that were so, and the sorcerer maintained a working Will and was then somehow able to escape into the mind of a willing host…”

According to Grandmaster Kiernan, Siobhan had intimated as much, but Thaddeus still had his doubts. Just because the woman supposedly could not lie did not mean she could not deceive. “I think we still know too little to form any coherent hypothesis. However, even if that is not the case, there is something behind her ability to split her Will, and the kind of galvanizing opportunity that might only come once in a generation if we are able to convince her to share her secrets.”

“It seems to me the attempt to reach out to her was quite botched,” Captain Rashell said. “Despite the rumors, your agents underestimated her resourcefulness, Captain Asiling, and frustration at the difficulty of contacting her may have led them to be more aggressive than necessary. Agent Lacer, are you sure she is still amenable to a friendly relationship? Would she join as an agent, or perhaps a consultant?”

Captain Aisling’s fingers tapped silently against his own arms. “We could assure her good intentions through our vows. She would be an asset, if she can be controlled.”

Thaddeus was surprised by the visceral rejection that rolled through him, and he shrugged his shoulders slightly as his body forced a physical reaction to the emotion. He had spent a very long time within the bindings of the Red Guard, and many of those years had been spent loosening the hold of his vows, increment by increment. He would not see her go through the same, if he had the choice. “She very much values her freedom, and our agents did not make a good impression on her. But they also did not make enough of an enemy of her that she decided to take vengeance. I doubt she would be willing to submit herself to our vows and restrictions to become an agent, but we might be able to get a loose consultancy agreement out of her. Or, at the least, the promise of a couple of favors.” Thaddeus chuckled. “Though she might call them boons.”

Captain Goldfisch was already shaking his head. “That’s not acceptable. We cannot allow someone so dangerous to go free.”

Captain Aisling frowned at him. “Is it not even more dangerous to forcibly bind a dragon, as they say?”

“Yes,” Thaddeus agreed quickly. “There is a reason why even we, knowing the critical importance of our purpose, have allowed Aberrants like the Dawn Troupe some leeway. I give my sincere testimony and advice at this moment, and I can only hope that you listen.” He met the gaze of Captain Aisling, who would be the one to make this decision in the end. “Do not make an enemy of her. Those who have already done so will surely come to regret it.”

Goldfisch turned to look at Captain Aisling with frustration, but even he, that self-righteous prick, knew that continuing to display his grudge against Thaddeus when the matter was so important would be to his detriment.

Captain Rashell remained silent as well.

Finally, Aisling spoke. “I would know more before we set our course. Please, tell me of your interactions with the Raven Queen, Special Agent Lacer.”

Thaddeus had expected this demand and prepared for it. He recounted, more or less, his correspondence with her and their conversation when she visited his cottage the night before. However, he left several things out. He did not tell them about her interest in shamanry or the hints he had given her about it, what he had done with the Naught’s heirloom ring, along with a number of other small details he found distasteful to share.

They were most interested in the magic he had witnessed as well as her claim of access to the contents of the journal in her possession.

At his urging the night before, she had cast what she called her “shadow-familiar” spell for him to observe and examine. “It is not truly a familiar,” she had warned him as he set up a few diagnostic spell arrays that would be too difficult to free-cast. “This spell merely allows me to take control of my own shadow. When I was young, it was one of the first esoteric spells I learned, and I would form it into the shapes of various creatures and pretend to have conversations or go on adventures with them. That is why my grandfather took to calling it my shadow-familiar, and the name stuck. I find it useful for distractions, concealment, and occasionally to cause fear, but it is not corporeal and cannot actually cause any damage.”

Siobhan had borrowed some of his spellcasting supplies to draw out a rudimentary sound-muffling spell, not dissimilar to the one he often free-cast. Her handwriting was careful and slow, as if she did not spend much time with a pen, but elegant and beautiful. At first, he was curious about why she would do so when she was known by all to be a free-caster, but then she cast that spell and used it to contain the sound of her voice as she cast the shadow-familiar spell with her mother’s ring and her hands cupped in a Circle around her mouth.

Her shadow darkened ominously, but Thaddeus had been too shocked by the display of dual-casting to pay full attention to it. He examined the spell array again for the signs that she had cast that spell as an artifact, but found none. The strictures and containment required by an artifact could not be free-cast. Artifacts required physical spell arrays.

She had smiled up at him, and he realized he was gaping. He shut his mouth immediately. “I will examine your shadow-familiar first, but you must demonstrate your ability to dual-cast more fully afterward,” he said, his words coming out harsh, more a command than a request.

Siobhan had lifted one warning eyebrow, but did not argue or admonish him further. She turned her head to her shadow, and it peeled off of his floorboards like a black sticker. Then it filled out, becoming three-dimensional.

She grimaced, and it quickly moved beyond mimicking her form, stretching up into the nightmarish, spindly, beaked form Thaddeus recognized from reports and the memories of the Pendragon Corps.

Entranced, Thaddeus cast a few diagnostic spells, then stepped forward and swiped his fingers through it. “As I thought, it is incorporeal. Enemy spellfire would pass right through. But several people have reported being touched by it.”

“Well, that is most likely a misconception based not on the sensation of pressure, but of cold.” And just like that, the creature began to suck the heat from the air. Almost immediately, the air around its perimeter began to grow foggy as water vapor froze from contact with the area of her shadow.

After confirming that it was safe to do so, Thaddeus swiped his fingers through its form again. It was true. The cold seemed to create an illusion of sensation, likely aided by the very distinct delineation between the area within the shadow, which sucked heat from his flesh with almost painful speed, and the surrounding area. With careful control of the shadow to create the illusion that it was interacting with his flesh, Siobhan was able to easily mimic the sensation of it running an ice-cold claw down his forearm.

“How far can it extend away from your body? Can you increase the absorption of heat fast enough to cause frostbite, or perhaps kill someone by flash-freezing them? Can it absorb other things beyond light and heat? What about spellfire? Was the spell modeled off of Myrddin’s void-shield?” Thaddeus stopped himself before more questioned could shoot out, then turned to stare at her impatiently when she did not answer.

Her lips, which were larger than the current fashion, but, in his opinion, complemented the rest of her features perfectly and made a wonderful canvas to paint with the color of blood and fear, stretched into a slow smile. “I will not give away all my secrets, Thaddeus. I can extend it some distance from my body. I have never attempted to give anyone frostbite or flash-freeze them to death. And as for Myrddin’s void-shield…” She laughed. “I am nowhere near as powerful or skilled as he was. To be able to absorb spellfire is a distant dream, at best.”

But when Thaddeus watched as she drew out two simple spell arrays—of his choosing—and simultaneously cast both the light-based illusion of a blooming flower along with a spell that desiccated a piece of fresh squid that had been kept in his refrigerator, he could only think that from an outsider’s perspective, she was not as far from the feats of Myrddin as she seemed to believe.

It was some small consolation that the effort seemed to strain her.

When she dropped the spells, Thaddeus sat back in his chair, pressed his fingertips together, and stared at her. “Is there any chance that you are, biologically, part brillig? Either through birth or some other method?”

Siobhan had stared at him blankly, then blinked a few times. “That seems exceedingly unlikely, but I suppose it could be possible, somewhere far, far back in my ancestry, from a time before the brillig were culled. Though I was under the impression that the brillig could not interbreed with humans, that might not be accurate.”

Thaddeus frowned. “Are you entirely sure that Ennis Naught is your biological father? Forgive me for stating it so insensitively, but you do not look like him.”

“Ennis No-Name,” she reminded him. “I have cast him out.” She raised a hand, idly playing with one of the red-orange feathers sprouting from between the dark strands of her hair. “I have previously used some of my hair to partially anchor a locating spell for him. I suppose my mental model of him could simply be good enough that the hair was unnecessary, but I find it unlikely that the spell would have worked were he not my biological father.”

“In that case, are you entirely sure that you are splitting your Will? I asked you about this once before, but you would not answer me. Grandmaster Kiernan mentioned your conversation to me. He suggested that perhaps there was some consciousness held within the book. A consciousness separate from Siobhan Naught. One with a Will of its own, perhaps?”

She paled. “That is a terrifying thought.”

He noted that she still did not actually deny the claim.

Siobhan swallowed. “But I can assure you, I am myself, and my Will is my own. Every speck of it. I am not two entities casting two different spells. It is merely a splitting of attention. I understand why the concept might be hard to grasp, because the act of enforcing your Will seems to require such force that it seems only logical that the entirety of one’s consciousness must be bent to creating that force. However, I have found that I can enforce my Will just as irrevocably without actually turning one hundred percent of my concentration to the task. I am hesitant to suggest that others experiment with getting past this mental block. I believe we can both imagine the consequences if it were to go wrong.” She shuddered.

“It would almost certainly go wrong ninety-nine times out of a hundred,” Thaddeus agreed.

“Do not attempt it,” she warned him, clasping her hands together and leaning forward.

“I do not wish to meet death, nor am I curious about what Aberrant form I might take,” he assured her. “Your abilities fascinate me, but I find a singular, complete Will to be enough to serve my purposes. Still, I wonder if we might find some knowledge of the topic within Myrddin’s journals.”

She released her clasped hands and showed him her empty palms. “I could not say, but I am eager to find out.”

“You are sure you can open them, then?”

“If they are all protected with the same method as the one within my possession, yes.”

It was Thaddeus’s turn to lean forward urgently. “Tell me of what lies within the pages of your journal. We believe them to be grimoires. Is that accurate?”

She nodded easily. “Yes, though mine is not structured like any sort of instructional text. Myrddin did actually use it as a journal for random thoughts, and he seems prone to tangents and stopping halfway through a thought as he had some new idea or epiphany. He was more knowledgeable than I am, and some of his inventions and discoveries are difficult to understand. But if you wish to know more than that, we would have to come to an agreement about what you could offer me in return. Acting as my liaison with the Red Guard will not suffice.”

They had spoken for some time afterward, and discussed how best each should handle the current situation, but as soon as Siobhan had left, a half-dozen topics that were left uncovered and questions unanswered tumbled through Thaddeus’s mind.

He had looked around at his empty cabin, in which her presence lingered indelibly, and wondered if perhaps it was more than sentimental perception, or if she really did have some control of the shadows, and had left some of her attention behind.

When he was finished telling his nominal superiors everything he was willing to pass along, and they had discussed it from every angle and questioned him thrice more, he said, “The Raven Queen is willing to meet and has agreed to a basic assessment so that we can be at ease toward her nature and her intentions. But the meeting will be on her own terms.”

 

I’m still in the process of moving into my new place, and have unpacked absolutely nothing.

This week, we have 2 important things going on!

  1. I’m opening up naming ideas for the Cult of the Raven Queen. What do Siobhan’s misguided “followers” call themselves? Please go over to Azalea’s Arcane Alcove to submit your ideas.
  2. I forgot the other thing. OTL No joke. I will update this if I can remember.
    Edit (I remembered): This Chapter connects directly to some bonus content! Thaddeus’s Short Story Codename: Moonsable even features Captain Goldfisch’s first appearance. If you’re a patron you have access to it at the $2 tier, but you can also purchase the ebook/audiobook from Azalea Ellis Books.

 

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