Chapter 48 – Unresolved Curiosity


Month 12, Day 14, Monday 9:00 a.m.

After getting rid of Ennis’s belongings, Sebastien spent the night studying, allowing her magic-casting faculties to rest, except for a single use of the divination ward against a scrying attempt. The coppers seemed to be trying at random times, hoping to catch her off guard, but with the way the ward worked, it would start to veil her even without her conscious aid, and the stabbing feel of it in the skin of her back when it activated was impossible to ignore or sleep through.

After a couple days of research, she determined that a map-based location divination was her best option. Her blood was almost certainly at the coppers’ base, and Oliver was doubtful of their ability to access it. But that simply wasn’t acceptable. There had to be a way to actually solve the problem, and pinpointing the location of her blood was the first step in doing so.

The spell she eventually settled on was meant to precisely determine the location of the separated piece of her blood on a map. With multiple castings, she could use more detailed, close-up maps to determine its location with increasing precision. Once she knew exactly where it was, she could destroy it.

Maybe I could have a Lino-Wharton raven messenger fly in an explosive potion, or force my blood to escape from its confines with a telekinetic spell, or even get Liza’s help with a switching spell or something. It is impossible for them to ward against everything.

It also helped that the map-locating spell didn’t require any overly expensive components, except for the tiny vial of mercury and an eagle’s eye.

That weekend, Sebastien bought alchemy ingredients at Waterside Market again—which Oliver reimbursed her for—along with the ingredients for the scrying spell—which she had to cover herself. She then spent almost the entire weekend brewing for the Stags to try and pay off at least some of the interest on her debt. She focused on the more intensive potions that Oliver’s enforcers would need, like the philtre of darkness and revivifying potion, as well as the blood-clotting potion, which she could produce a lot more of in a single batch. Every enforcer should be supplied with at least two.

Despite her inability to channel large amounts of energy through her new Conduit, she could still complete potions in smaller batches. These were worth more than many of the more common-use potions sold in the Verdant Stag’s little alchemy shop, and she made a single extra dose in a couple of her batches for herself, so she still came out ahead.

It was likely that getting her blood from the coppers would take a combination of money and power, neither of which she had at the moment. Retrieving her blood, like figuring out a solution to her sleep problem, would likely be a long-term project.

A week after the rogue magic sirens had gone off, the coppers released a statement about their cause. It had indeed been an Aberrant.

Apparently, a prostitute had been attempting to cast an illegal, dangerous allure spell and had corrupted her Will. She’d broken under the strain and become a rabid creature of evil. The Red Guard had dealt with the Aberrant easily enough, and there were no lingering effects or danger.

Everyone was talking about it that Monday in Intro to Modern Magics. There was plenty of gossip and speculation, but no real details. Being as pleasant as possible, Sebastien even asked Damien Westbay, “Is that the full story? Have you heard any more details?”

He brightened perceptibly under her interested gaze. “My brother wrote to me that the spell she was trying to cast was new magic, something she cobbled together trying to do more than one thing at once. She was apparently disfigured, so she turned to magic out of desperation to attract customers,” he said.

“What were the abilities of the Aberrant?” she asked. “Some kind of allure effect, I’m assuming.” Usually, Aberrants had some relation to what the thaumaturge had been casting when they broke.

Westbay shook his head regretfully. “I don’t know. He didn’t go into detail. I could write him and ask, if you want?”

Sebastien hesitated, considering it, but shook her head. The last thing she wanted was for the leader of the coppers to know her name, or anything else about her. “No, that’s alright. Thank you, though,” she murmured, her thoughts turning inward.

Westbay beamed as if he’d won some sort of award.

Professor Lacer might know something, too, if the rumors about his past association with the Red Guard were true, but she was afraid to ask him for gossip.

Professor Burberry reeled back in the students’ attention to introduce their project for the week, a color-changing spell. It was labeled a transmogrification spell, and they were all given half a dozen different items in bright colors to use as components, plus a little vial of yak urine, which was apparently known for its ability to help dyes stay color-fast. They would be casting the spell on a white mouse with the intent to overcome its natural resistance and change the color of its fur.

The rest of Westbay’s group of Crown Family friends had been interacting with Sebastien more frequently, likely spurred on by his own sudden amicability toward her. They sat around her, Ana on one side and Rhett Moncrieffe on the other, with the rest of the group scattered close by. After a single silent nod to Sebastien, Moncrieffe turned to the pretty girl on his other side, who blushed under the weight of his attention. Sebastien was relieved he wasn’t as pushy as Westbay.

As Burberry lectured on the details of the color-change spell, Waverly Ascott tried to read a book on summoning under the table while Brinn Setterlund gently covered for her and alerted her whenever she needed to pretend to be paying attention to the professor.

When the time came to cast the spell, Ascott succeeded without much trouble despite her lack of attention, then returned to her surreptitious reading, her straight black hair shifting forward to hide her face.

Ana caught the direction of Sebastien’s gaze and leaned a little closer to murmur, “She dislikes Burberry because Burberry is prejudiced against witches.”

Now that Ana mentioned it, Sebastien realized that there had been hints of that in Burberry’s lectures. Sorcerers reigned supreme in their professor’s mind. “But…Waverly is a sorcerer?” Sebastien murmured, turning her eyes back to the caged mouse in front of her whose hair they were supposed to be turning different colors.

“For now, yes. The Ascott Family doesn’t approve of her interests, but she’s preparing to make a contract with a powerful Elemental. She’ll have succeeded by the time we finish with the University, if not sooner.”

Sebastien was intrigued, and could admit she respected that kind of passion, even if she herself preferred the personal control of sorcery. Instead of a celerium Conduit, witches channeled magic through their bound familiars, which could be tamed magical beasts, creatures, or even sapient beings conjured from one of the Elemental Planes. There was less chance for a witch to lose control or go insane from Will-strain, as their familiar took on some of the burden of casting, and the witch would always find casting spells that were within the natural purview of her familiar’s magic easier. However, spells that were antithetical to the familiar’s natural abilities would be more difficult.

Witches gave up versatility for focused power and safety. And for some witches, maybe for companionship.

Sebastien returned her focus to her own spellcasting, but was distracted again as Alec Gervin snapped at the student aide leaning over his shoulder.

“I did exactly what you said! You’re bungling the explanation. It’s useless, I can’t work with you. Send over the other guy,” he said, jerking his head at the other student aide with a glower.

The student aide seemed taken aback, but Gervin was resolute and got his way.

To Sebastien’s surprise, Westbay waved the reprimanded student aide over and made a murmured apology for his friend.

Sebastien grunted in disgust. “Surprising, that you and he share the same last name,” she murmured to Ana.

Ana smiled demurely, her eyes remaining on her own mouse, which was cowering in the corner of its little cage. “Alec was never taught finesse. He’s failing several classes, and he’s afraid of what’s going to happen when the Family finds out. His father, my uncle, is a horrid man. I’ve no particular love for Alec, but it’s best to think of him like an abused dog. He lashes out at strangers because his master lashes out at him.” Her smile grew crooked, a little wicked. “In fact, he’s like a dog in many ways.”

That’s no excuse,’ Sebastien thought, but she was smirking too.

But as they were filtering out of the class, Sebastien brushed against Gervin, who was still glowering with those bushy black eyebrows. “Our student aide, Newton Moore, does paid tutoring,” she murmured to Gervin. “He taught me a spell, and I found his explanation to be very clear. Perhaps you’d prefer working with him?” Alec Gervin could afford it, and from what she’d learned, Newton could use the coin.

Gervin scowled at her suspiciously, but she was already pushing past him.

On Tuesday, after Sympathetic Science, Sebastien stayed to talk to Professor Pecanty while the other students left.

“How can I help you, young man?” he asked in that lilting cadence that made everything he said sound like poetry.

“I’ve got a couple of questions about transmogrification.” Pecanty nodded, so she jumped right in. “Does it actually matter the conditions when components are gathered? What’s the difference between morning dew gathered before the sun rises or afterward? Or from morning dew and a bit of steam from a boiling cauldron?”

Pecanty’s genial smile fell away, and he seemed to puff up a bit. “I think you’re a little too young to be questioning the achievements in understanding of all those that have come before you. Surely you can see that the intrinsic properties of morning dew are very different than steam off your cauldron? This is Sympathetic Science, Mr. Siverling. If you still wish to question the expertise of myself and the people who have filled our library with books on the subject, please wait to do so until you are at least a Master of Sorcery.”

Sebastien’s shoulders tightened, and her chin rose involuntarily, even though she knew it wasn’t a good idea to challenge a professor who was so obviously unimpressed with her. “Well, what about the different types of transmogrification? Professor Lacer mentioned it. Some of it’s copying a template, and some of it uses ideas that are so vague as to be ungraspable. Are the delineations between different types of transmogrification officially recognized? I’ve never heard anyone talking about that.”

“Transmogrification is all the same. If you do not understand, it is because your foundation is patchy and weak. Understanding builds upon previous learning and enough practice that the feel becomes instinctual. If you are too impatient to put in the long-term effort without succumbing to your need to force the world into your little boxes of classification and order, you will never progress past petty questions that have no answers. Go now, young man, and try to see the beauty in the book of poems I assigned, rather than analyzing every word for its technical definition. Believe me, this type of questioning will not serve you well in my class, or in this craft.” He waved his hand at her and turned away dismissively.

Sebastien’s heart was beating loud in her ears, and she felt her cheeks tingle with blood. Clenching her jaw hard to keep herself from speaking, she strode out of the classroom and up to the second floor, where she’d recently found an out-of-the-way classroom that had at one point been used as a supply room for the elective art classes. There was an old slate lap table with a carved Circle that had once been an artifact whose magic kept the rain and elements off the writing surface. Now, it was empty of energy and entirely mundane—which was probably why it had been abandoned. It was the perfect aid to help her practice her fabric-slicing spell on one of the walls. She left behind light gouges in the white stone until her anger had dimmed and cooled to embers rather than a fire devouring her rationality.

Panting, she put away the small folding table and set up a spell to practice sympathetic divination. ‘Time to find my blood.

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