Month 12, Day 17, Thursday 9:05 a.m.
Tanya Canelo, their other student liaison, looked around, breathing a little too hard, as if she’d run to Eagle Tower and up the stairs. She didn’t notice Westbay or Sebastien in the small side office, her eyes landing instead on the spellcasters in the tower’s central room. She stared at them for a few seconds with narrow eyes, then looked to the crystal wall clock on the other side of the hallway.
‘Why is she here?’
Tanya touched her jacket pocket, then spun around back to the stairwell, hurrying to one of the upper floors.
Sebastien’s mind was grasping at mist, feeling that she was missing something, but too occupied by feeding the planar divination-diverting ward to bring her full mental capacity to bear.
She’d turned to tell Westbay they should leave, but was barely halfway through the sentence when the first screeching wail of a siren reached them. That distant siren was quickly followed by others, all sounding in concert, melding into one city-wide warning.
Westbay’s head jerked back and he yanked his hands away from his ears, dropping the sound-enhancing spell. “Again? It hasn’t even been two weeks since the last one.”
A few seconds later, the pressure of the divination spell searching for Sebastien disappeared. She felt a relief that not even the sound of the rogue magic sirens could ruin. Gilbratha’s coppers were used to this, and prepared for it. They would handle the danger, and even if they failed she was safe inside a heavily warded building, manned by people dozens of times more powerful than her. As long as the danger wasn’t inside with them, she would most likely be safe.
Some of the people outside grumbled, some were obviously worried, but none hesitated to leave. Most headed downstairs, while a few of the staff went up instead, probably to man the watchtower and magical weapons set into the highest level of the tower.
A handful of coppers tried to join them in going up, but were rebuffed.
‘There’s conflict between the University and the coppers, beyond just wanting to catch me,’ Sebastien realized. ‘The University doesn’t want to give the coppers access to their power at all. I didn’t expect that. I thought the University was happily subject to the Thirteen Crowns, even if they had their own power structure.’
“This is terrible timing,” Westbay said, scowling at the emptying central room. “They can’t keep casting during a citywide emergency. I’m sure they would have caught her otherwise. There’s a shelter in the first basement level. We’ll have to join them.” He brightened, moving toward the doorway. “Hey, maybe they’ll talk about the investigation. We might learn something interesting.”
Sebastien reached out and stopped Westbay from opening the door.
He turned to look at her curiously, able to focus on her normally now that the anti-divination ward was deactivated.
After thinking it over, she stepped back. “Nevermind. Go ahead, then.”
His eyes narrowed. “Are you not coming?”
“I have something to do, first.”
“I’m staying too, then,” he said stubbornly.
“Whatever set those sirens off could be anywhere. It might not be safe,” she tried, hoping to appeal to his logic. “I would wager the University has a higher incidence of Aberrants than the rest of the city. So many thaumaturges in a relatively small area. You should know the numbers. Your Family runs the coppers, right?”
He swallowed, hesitated for a few seconds, but still shook his head. “I’m not going to miss out on this. The curiosity would kill me. Unless you promise to tell me what you find?”
She should have known an appeal to logic was futile. “I promise.”
His expression of hope collapsed. “You’re lying. You’ll just pretend you didn’t find anything interesting if I don’t come along and see it with my own two eyes. Otherwise you would have brought me in on whatever this is from the beginning.” He sniffed with irritation.
‘He’s not a complete idiot.’ Aloud, she said, “We’re not friends, Westbay, and I’ve yet to see you do anything useful except throw your Family’s name around. I had no reason to bring you in on this.”
His look of irritation deepened into something harsher. “Oh, so you knew about the door-pass tokens? You had a handy spell to eavesdrop on what they were saying? I may not be a once-in-a generation prodigy, but you shouldn’t underestimate me. I’m staying.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
Sebastien scraped her tongue against the inside of her teeth to keep herself silent, turning to look out the window for any signs of stragglers or danger. She wanted to see if she could get into the divination room. If the thaumaturges were careless, maybe they had left her blood behind with the rest of the components when they evacuated. Maybe she could simply walk in and steal it back. ‘All my problems could be solved through a moment of serendipity. But if Westbay comes along, he’ll see me take it. Maybe, if it’s there, I can steal it when he has a moment of inattention. If necessary, I’ll force that moment of inattention.’ Her shadow-familiar spell might do the trick, if she could stretch it around to draw his attention from the opposite direction. She didn’t know any spells to safely knock someone unconscious, unfortunately.
Once Sebastien was sure that the above-ground levels of the tower had emptied, they opened the door and moved into the hallway, the small sounds of their movement drowned out by the piercing sirens. Sebastien moved to the glass wall beside the door of the divination room, her eyes flicking over the components within. She didn’t see her blood immediately, but she wasn’t quite sure what she was looking for, either. ‘It could be in any kind of container, or they could even have used it to create a prerequisite spell component and it could be unrecognizable.’ She moved her eyes to the spell array engraved in the floor, hoping to tell where it would be placed by reading the spell’s Word.
The stairwell door flew open, slamming into the wall.
Both Sebastien and Westbay spun around toward it like startled rabbits, jumping about a foot in the air. Westbay even let out a small, high-pitched scream.
Tanya Canelo stood in the open door, obviously as surprised to see them as they were to see her. She was still breathing heavily, either from exertion or fear. She recovered from the surprise first, frowning at them. “What are you two doing here?”
Sebastien and Westbay shared a look.
Tanya’s frown turned into a scowl. “Didn’t you hear the sirens? Why haven’t you evacuated?”
Damien stepped forward, raising his chin like the young aristocrat he was, his previous anxiousness seemingly forgotten. “We heard the sirens. We were in the Menagerie when they went off, and we ran, but it still took us a while to get back. Eagle Tower is the first building we came to, but everyone was already gone when we got here. We’re trying to find the shelter.”
Tanya seemed suspicious, walking toward them slowly. “It’s underground. Like all the shelters.”
“Really? I thought it would be on the top floor. That’s where they keep the weapons, right?”
“Are you qualified to fight against something powerful enough to warrant the sirens?” Tanya scoffed, rolling her eyes. “If not, you should be sheltering underground with everyone else. You may be a Westbay, but you’re only a firstie. Getting greedy for glory will only get you killed.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Come on, we need to go.”
Damien scowled and muttered, “I’m not greedy for glory,” but Tanya ignored him, looking at the ceiling again.
Sebastien was reluctantly impressed with Damien’s deflection. Tanya might not totally buy his story, but she didn’t seem to suspect the real reason for their presence.
Tanya grabbed Sebastien’s arm and tugged. “Come on. If you’re not both in the shelters within the next sixty seconds, I’m giving you both a demerit,” she snapped.
Sebastien resisted the urge to growl in frustration. They would have to run to get five floors down within a minute. Something was strange about the way Tanya was acting. The skin in the other woman’s neck was fluttering under the force of her pulse. ‘Why is she so anxious?’
A pressure moved through the air, like the instant before lighting struck, and Sebastien’s inherent sense of danger screamed at her.
Tanya’s expression twisted with sudden horror, and she yanked forcefully on Sebastien’s arm, hard enough to pull her off balance.
Sebastien leaped into the the force of Tanya’s pull, reaching out for Damien with her free arm. They all stumbled a few feet away from the central room, and Tanya managed to fumble open a door to one of the outer offices.
They were halfway through the doorway, jammed together and blocking the way through, when the the tension in the air broke.
The wave of pressure hit first, slamming them to the floor.
The ceiling collapsed next, from the center outward.
White stones and waves of visible magic tore down from the floor above, destroying the central divination room. Glass burst outward as the reinforced windows buckled. Aftershocks of sound and color swirled around and lashed out as the suddenly-released magic of whatever had been in the room above collided with and destroyed the divination components.
Sebastien lay in the pile of bodies on the floor for a few seconds, covering her head with her arms. When things had settled, she raised her head slowly, carefully, not sure whether the ringing in her ears was from the explosion or the sirens.
The air was full of dust, some cloudy sections shimmering unnaturally with neon colors.
She coughed violently, then pulled up her scarf over her mouth and nose, wiping away the tears streaming from her eyes.
The outer edge of the ceiling above was still intact, and the frame of the doorway they’d all gotten jammed in together had protected them from some of the falling debris.
Sebastien looked around for the source of the damage, up through the destroyed ceiling into the room above. She squinted, but saw nothing moving. ‘Were the sirens set off by some hazard within the tower itself? I’d assumed the danger was more distant. Somewhere else on the University grounds at worst. Stupid of me. Careless.’
Tanya crawled to her hands and knees, coughing and retching, completely coated in dust and disheveled. Her sleeve had been torn back, uncovering her forearm and revealing a fractured spiderwebbing of thin scars, still pink and relatively fresh.
Sebastien stared at the skin for a few seconds, frozen, until Tanya pulled her sleeve down again. “Are you both alright?” Tanya rasped.
The ringing in Sebastien’s ears was settling.
Westbay weakly held up his hand and gave them a thumbs-up.
“No serious injuries. We need to move,” Sebastien said, pulling him to his feet and then offering a hand to Tanya. “Whatever caused that could still be around.” She looked up at the hole in the ceiling again, then over the fallen debris, searching for signs of danger.
Tanya let out another retching cough, but was stable as she regained her feet. She shook her head, holding her sleeve over her mouth to block the dust. She shouted, “The floor above was being used for some alchemy experiments. They must not have properly settled and stored whatever they were working on, and it exploded. But the fumes could be hazardous, and the ceiling might not be sound any more. It could still fall on us.”
“No breathing, no getting crushed by falling stones,” Westbay croaked. “Got it.”
Sebastien gave a last look toward the destroyed divination room, but gave up on the idea of searching it now.
Westbay waved to Tanya to lead the way. When the other girl’s back was turned, he gave Sebastien a searching look.
Sebastien ignored it, staring at Tanya’s back and moving down the stairwell as quickly as she could. A few pieces of rock had hit her legs, and she could feel the bruises already beginning to form.
When they arrived at the first basement level, which had a huge, vault-like iron door on the far side of the room, Tanya knocked on the door and showed both her student token and the tower token that allowed her to open the doors. After a few seconds, someone on the other side unlocked the door and it swung open slowly, with a loud creak of rusty hinges.
A professor scowled out at them, and Sebastien saw that there was a second door behind the first one, which led to a small room between them and the emergency shelter. ‘Smart. It’s not so easy to break through twice.’
The professor looked them over suspiciously, taking in their dreadful state. “Canelo. Were you attacked?”
Tanya shook her head. “There was an explosion. I don’t think it’s related to the sirens. Something on the fifth floor went wrong, collapsed the whole floor. I suspect someone was in too much of a hurry to evacuate to properly settle and clean up whatever they were working on.”
“It’s been almost ten minutes since the sirens went off.”
Tanya rolled her eyes and jerked a thumb toward Sebastien and Westbay. “These two were out in the Menagerie. They got here late and didn’t know where the shelter was. I had to retrieve them, and then…well.” She gestured to herself and the signs of being caught in the alchemy explosion.
“No signs of Will-strain or other oddness in either of them?” the professor asked.
Tanya shook her head. “They’re fine. A little too curious, maybe, and as stupid as most first-term students, but nothing abnormal. I’ll make sure to thoroughly educate them on the proper procedures for evacuation when this is over,” she said, giving the both of them a look promising punishment.
The professor nodded, and then an almost invisible wave pulse from the door through them, a ripple in the air that prickled against Sebastien’s skin. She thought it was the same revealing or maybe nullification spell that came standard in a copper’s battle wand.
The professor turned and opened the inner door for them, apparently unconcerned by the results of the spell.
The people within were tense, and immediately started to question the three new arrivals about the source of the sound and rumbling they’d all felt.
Tanya explained again, and those upper level research-aid students that had been on the fifth floor paled under the glares of everyone else, stammering to make excuses for themselves.
Sebastien took a seat in the corner of the large shelter, which rather than being directly one floor down from the rest of Eagle Tower, was attached to the underground tower level like a component Circle might be attached to the main one in a spell array, her back up against the stone wall.
Damien joined her, a slight frown on his face. Thankfully, he remained silent.
Sebastien’s mind worked swiftly as she watched the crowd, piecing together the things she hadn’t even realized were clues until she saw the final pieces of the puzzle. ‘Tanya got a note from someone, just before the coppers started scrying for me. She was in a hurry. When she got to the tower, she looked at the clock before heading to the fifth floor. She didn’t evacuate with everyone else.’
She fell into speculation, reminding herself not to stare at Tanya too suspiciously.
There was some worry among the others that another Aberrant had spawned, but a while later the professor who’d opened the door for them got a message through one of the spell arrays engraved into it. He threw back his head with a loud sigh and massaged his temples. “It was a false alarm,” he announced loudly, the frustration clear in his voice. “Someone was careless enough to get Eagle Tower blown up for a false alarm.” He glared pointedly at the people from the fifth floor.
The whole room filled with grumbles of frustration and relief, and they filtered out.
Sebastien looked for Tanya in the crowd, tracking the other girl’s dusty blonde hair as she headed toward the dorms. Not just anyone could set off the rogue magic sirens, and from the things she’d pieced together from reports and rumors of Aberrants, it wasn’t a simple process that could be triggered by accident. ‘That is simply too much of a coincidence.’
As if noticing Sebastien’s eyes on her, Tanya moved closer to them and said, “You should both probably go to the infirmary and get checked out.”
“I’m fine,” Sebastien said.
Tanya rolled her jaw with frustration. “Even if you’re not hurting too badly now, that could just be the shock. Something in the air could have been poisonous. At best, you both likely will need a calming potion. You were just caught in an alchemy experiment that could have killed you.” Having done her duty in warning them, Tanya strode off toward the dorms, where she had a room with an attached bathroom to herself.
‘Tanya looked at the clock right before the sirens went off,’ Sebastien repeated to herself. ‘Did she know? Was it planned?’ She looked at her palm. The thin scars where she’d fallen on glass were almost invisible. She’d been extra careful to heal them completely before anyone else had a chance to see them, just in case.
She’d recognized similar scarring on Tanya’s arm. Except Tanya’s scarring had obviously been deeper, and the pattern matched what Sebastien imagined a wound from a glass ball exploding and embedding its pieces into the flesh might look like.
‘Tanya was the sorcerer who attacked Oliver’s warehouse. Which means Tanya is working with the Morrows. And she just blew up the divination room to keep me from being caught. Or, more accurately, to keep Siobhan Naught, the Raven Queen, from being caught.’
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