Chapter 39 – Paper Spells


Month 11, Day 30, Monday 4:00 p.m.

Sebastien worried that the Morrows would rally after their failed attack and attempt to retaliate against the Verdant Stags with more violence. In fact, if the Morrows did not, it might be seen as a sign of weakness. Consequently, the Verdant Stag needed to recover and prepare faster than the Morrows could.

Even having acknowledged that, she didn’t have the mental energy to start brewing healing and battle potions for the Verdant Stag right away. Besides, Katerin could brew, and they had at least one other alchemist making concoctions for them. If they needed more, Oliver should have the funds to buy anything Sebastien could make from someone else. She was not the only supplier of the alchemical concoctions that the enforcer teams needed.

Trusting someone else to be competent enough to do what needed to be done was dangerous, but she believed Oliver would do his best to make preparations even if she wasn’t there. He had proven he was willing to take the weight of responsibility that many people shirked.

Gritting her teeth past the renewed headache from casting in Professor Lacer’s class, she went to the library. A private table hidden in a remote alcove sat thankfully empty. The natural light from the windows didn’t quite reach it, but her throbbing brain found that a boon rather than a detriment.

Sebastien pulled out some paper and her fountain pen, using cryptic notes—just in case someone were to somehow read them—to help organize her thoughts and rearrange her plans. Writing things down had often helped her settle her racing mind. ‘I need to study emergency procedure and triage—to make up for the knowledge I was clearly missing during the attack. Hopefully I’ll never need to use it, but…if I ever do, and I haven’t tried to correct the mistakes I made with Jameson, I couldn’t forgive myself.’

The University had healers’ courses, but only for those above Apprentice level. They started in the fourth term, once students had a stronger foundation. It was a complicated subject that required a lot of knowledge and power. She wouldn’t be able to learn everything on her own, but basics about how to triage and stabilize traumatic wounds should be accessible.

I need a variety of spells ready to go. Having a spell array memorized isn’t enough. It would be best if I had them primed to cast without the need to stop and draw the array before adding the components. Such a delay could be fatal in the wrong situation.’

With her lack of skill with artificery and her lack of funds to buy artifacts or potions, alchemy was the best way to accomplish her goal. As soon as she had the time and mental fortitude, she would go to Dryden Manor and brew a variety of the most useful potions she could think of. Starting with the blood clotter. ‘That’s good, but I should have other contingencies in place, too.

The glass pane that had made her spell arrays portable was quite useful, if unwieldy and dangerous…and ultimately disastrous when she cut herself. She could see many scenarios where something like that could be invaluable. Actively cast spells weren’t quite as conveniently ready-to-use as alchemical concoctions, but alchemy didn’t have an equivalent recipe already developed for every spell. Pre-brewed items also couldn’t have their effects changed on the fly, and the cost of component ingredients was often higher.

The glass pane would have been even better if she weren’t forced to erase and redraw the Circle and Word every time she switched spells.

That’s what the giant tomes of magic that some sorcerers carried around were for. Some laypeople mistook them for grimoires, whose pages held instructions and notes on the spells. Magic tomes instead held useable spell arrays. The pages and arrays were made of special materials and cost more than a normal artifact to make, but provided access to more castable spells than would fit in most artifacts, up to two or three dozen.

The military offered its soldiers a few portable arrays made of precious metals wrought into the desired shapes, but those would be even less accessible to someone like her, and certainly were not something she could lug around in an emergency.

Sebastien paused her cryptic scribbles, staring down at the cheap paper as the ink from her pen tip began to feather out and form a blot.

Even if she couldn’t create a tome of magic from materials meant to handle spells, that didn’t mean she couldn’t set up the Circle and Word for a few useful spells ahead of time. Normal paper was a particularly poor surface for spell casting, but as long as it worked, some inefficiency could be excused. Even if the paper burnt up from the force of the magic flowing through it, it would just destroy the evidence. In fact, it would likely be a good idea to create a small spark-shooting spell array at the corner of each page, just in case she ever needed to quickly turn one or all of them to ash to keep them from being used against her.

The library, like the jail, had wards to notify them of sudden fluctuations of energy within a small area. Such fluctuations usually corresponded to magic being cast, which was prohibited due to possible damage to the books. Thus, she couldn’t immediately test her theory, but that didn’t stop her from bouncing up to feverishly grab research and reference texts.

She found a handful of low-powered but versatile spells that seemed like they would be useful to have on hand. Research on emergency healing measures was less successful.

Even with the help of the crystal ball search artifacts placed around the edge of the atrium, she found no information about blood transfusions except to mention that the Third Empire—also known as the Blood Empire—had performed them. Like all blood magic, they were illegal, and their use was considered high treason. Anything useful, like how to do them safely and properly, was restricted in one of the many underground archives.

Humphries’ adapting solution remained the only viable alternative. The solution could be spelled directly into the veins in a blood-loss emergency. Its original purpose had been to keep creatures from the Plane of Water alive on the mundane plane, but it could also act as a filler and keep blood oxygenated. It was expensive and difficult to make, and didn’t have a very long shelf-life, so it wasn’t feasible for most people except dedicated healers to stock. She had heard of it, but never brewed it herself.

And…the recipe was only available on the second floor of the library. Which she did not have access to. She almost kicked the base of her crystal ball’s marble stand in frustration. Despite this setback, she peered into the clear crystal and dutifully wrote down the locations of the books that contained a copy of the recipe. ‘Just because I cannot go there myself doesn’t mean I cannot get information from the upper floors. This is innocuous enough, not like the restricted archives. I just need to get an upper-term student to check the book out for me.

Her research continued through dinner, which she was much too focused to pause for, until ten, when the library closed and she was unceremoniously kicked out. Instead of going to the bed, she went to the dorm bathrooms. She would have preferred an empty classroom, but the Citadel closed at this hour, too. She checked to make sure all the stalls were empty, then sat down on the tile floor in one of the shower stalls and pulled out her notes and materials.

Using a piece of thread as a makeshift compass tool to ensure her Circle was as uniform as possible, and thus increase the spell’s efficiency, Sebastien carefully inscribed a rudimentary barrier array onto the paper with her fountain pen. Grubb’s barrier spell had been the weakest she found in the library, and at under two hundred thaums to manifest, the only one she could hope to cast, if feebly. It only protected against physical projectiles, but she had already proven that could be critical against a certain kind of opponent.

She took the components from her school satchel and placed them atop the correct spots on the paper, lit her tiny lantern for energy, and cast the spell.

The paper caught fire along the lines of ink she had drawn, and within a few seconds was nothing but ashes and wisps of smoke. The energy she had been channeling blew the white-blonde hair away from her face and scattered the ashes around the room, but thankfully didn’t manage to do any damage to her mind or her surroundings as it escaped.

She sat back, rubbing at her forehead and letting out a disappointed puff of air. Still not completely deterred, she took out another sheet and redrew the spell. This time, she focused on being as efficient as possible, casting more slowly and bearing down harder with her Will. The paper began to smolder and smoke along the ink lines, and though the entire sheet didn’t catch fire this time, the spell lashed against her Will, and she had to release it as pieces of the spell array disintegrated from the rest of the paper.

That could be quite dangerous. What if an inner Circle containing important glyphs were to burn separately from the rest of the paper and blow away in the wind, leaving me with only part of a spell? Or if the entire paper caught fire midcast, and I got Will-strain from the backlash?’

She tried using a wax crayon instead of ink, but quickly found that the wax melted into the paper and only added fuel for any opportunistic spark.

Behold. I have created a very tiny candle.’ She shook her head ruefully. ‘No, ink is obviously better than wax. Perhaps the inked parts are burning because the channel through which all the energy travels is so thin? Too much heat in a small space can set almost anything alight.

Tiptoeing into the dorms, she retrieved a small ink brush from her chest of belongings. Using that, the third attempt was a bit sloppier, but the lines were definitely wider. It helped, but again, not enough. Pieces of the spell array smoldered and burned away, even with her only holding the small shield spell active for a few seconds. That wasn’t completely useless, true, but it was close to useless.

She groaned and rubbed at her aching eyes. ‘Perhaps it would be best to set this idea aside until I have access to materials better suited to channeling magic. If they aren’t too expensive, that is…’ Her eyes opened, and she stared down at the small glass inkwell beside her. She already had a material better suited to channeling magic. Her blood.

She hesitated only briefly, considering the illegality of using blood, even one’s own, to channel magic, and then cast the hesitation aside. ‘No one will find out, especially if I simply mix blood in with the ink. The blood will be unrecognizable. And if I find there is somehow danger of discovery, I can simply activate the self-destruct spark spell and burn away the evidence of “blood magic.”’ Of course, this meant that the spell papers could never leave her person, but to fulfill their purpose of emergency preparedness, they shouldn’t be out of immediate access, anyway.

The brief mental nod to legality out of the way, Sebastien quickly made a small cut in her forearm with her athame, letting her blood fill the inkwell to the top. A dab of skin-knitting salve left only a faint scar to mark the spot, which would fade soon enough. She mixed the ink and the blood thoroughly, then painted the barrier spell on yet another piece of paper.

This time, the small barrier burst to life like a bubble, shimmering faintly, and the paper endured.

Sebastien let out a small “whoop!” of excitement, then let the spell go. Touching the paper revealed the ink lines were quite warm, perhaps almost to the point of catching fire, but casting was still feasible. ‘If I get my hands on some thicker paper, a little warmth won’t be disastrous. Maybe a double-ply bound together with paste. It should last at least a minute or two per sheet.’ Parchment, even the relatively cheaper parchment from a goat or a cow, would be extremely fire resistant, but then it wouldn’t be so simple for her to destroy any evidence that could lead to suspicion. Also, she still might not be able to afford it.

Having returned the spell components to her bag and carefully tucked away the paper and inkwell, she finally made her way to bed.

Only then did she remember the actual classwork that she needed to complete for Sympathetic Science the next morning. Normally, she would have completed it as early as possible, simply to get it out of the way, but now she was forced to resort to taking out her potion of moonlight sizzle and using its light to scribble her way through the assignment.

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