Chapter 53 – Through a Glass Darkly


Month 12, Day 17, Thursday 11:30 a.m.

Sebastien headed straight for the washrooms. She ignored the stares of the other students, who were openly wondering what had happened to her and Westbay to become so dirty and disheveled during a rogue magic alarm. She took a thorough shower, retrieved her student token and secret library pass, then returned to the Citadel in time to catch the last bit of Sympathetic Science, which was useless since Professor Pecanty was as distracted as the students.

Westbay was uncharacteristically silent through the rest of the day, though he kept sending Sebastien searching looks.

As soon as Fekten’s grueling Defense class was over, Sebastien wiped herself down with a damp towel, changed back into her high-class suit, jacket, and scarf, and left for the city below. She put a small smile on her face, not enough to be obvious, but enough to make her seem without a care. In her own mind, it was just a prelude to baring her teeth in a defensive snarl.

She didn’t go straight to Oliver’s house. She didn’t even head in the same direction, and she kept going past the strictly upscale part of the city. She wasn’t trained to recognize a tail, but she could follow common-sense tactics like taking a winding route, suddenly doubling back to surprise anyone trying to seem normal, and peeking in the reflections of glass shop windows to see if she could catch anyone watching her.

She stopped well before arriving at the Mires and made a loop back around to Dryden Manor, all without seeing anything particularly suspicious. People noticed her, as Sebastien, but no one did more than stare for a couple of seconds too long. Even so, her Conduit never left her hand. It rolled around inside her grip, which was sweaty despite the cold.

She walked straight in through Oliver’s front door.

A male servant bowed lightly to her. “Welcome, Mr. Siverling. Mr. Dryden isn’t in at the moment…”

“When will he be back?” she asked, unraveling her scarf from around her neck and stamping her boots on the welcome mat.

“I’m not sure…”

Sharon hustled out from the kitchen before the man could finish. “Sebastien! Welcome! Are you hungry?”

Sebastien smiled as genuinely as she could despite her anxiety. “No, thank you. I’m going up to my room to wait for Mr. Dryden. Please let him know I’m here when he arrives.” Without waiting for a response, she hurried up the stairs.

Sharon called after her that she would be bringing tea and refreshments.

Once Sebastien was alone in “her” room, she pushed up her sleeve to reveal the series of thin wooden bracelets on her wrist.

After the fiasco the last time, when Oliver had set off the linked alarm on the bracelet and sent her fleeing from her dorms in the middle of the night, she’d taken a few spare moments to create more. Each was wrapped with a small section of colored thread. Different colors for different messages, still almost as simple as could be.

Grabbing one delicate bracelet near the weak metal bead that kept it together, she pulled, breaking it apart. Oliver’s own linked bracelet would grow cold, indicating that he should return to his house immediately.

Each bracelet was single-use, but Sebastien figured that if she was having such frequent emergencies that she didn’t have time to create replacements between them, she had bigger problems.

Sebastien didn’t simply sit back and wait for Oliver, however. She fell to her hands and knees and crawled under the bed, retrieving the ancient book from its hiding spot. There were no signs that it had been disturbed since the last time she retrieved it.

How much do Tanya and whoever she’s working with know about me? Is there any information that could have leaked?’ There were several possible ways someone could have learned to be suspicious of Sebastien. Anyone who knew Oliver’s identity, and his connection to either Siobhan or Sebastien could have given away clues. ‘Could his connection to me have been somehow related to the attack on the warehouse? Am I even sure that he’s safe right now? He has his own bracelets, to alert me to an emergency, but if something happened to him, what could I even do?

She opened the book and flipped through it quickly. It was the same as ever—frustrating and indecipherable.

Tanya is likely to be much more powerful than me. It’s honestly amazing that a fourth-term student was able to almost collapse an entire warehouse by herself. Unless she was using an artifact.’ Sebastien tried to remember, but for once her memory failed her. There had been too much going on in the dark, with the storm and the screaming and the fighting, and she had been too full of adrenaline to pay close attention.

Don’t panic. Be logical. What Tanya did today doesn’t mean they actually know anything about me. So why would someone do that? Why might someone—the Morrows?—not want the Crowns to find me?’ She could think of too many possibilities, but all of them seemed ludicrous, like something out of one of Damien’s stories. Anarchists that held a grudge against the established powers. Someone who knew what was in the book and didn’t want the Crowns getting their hands on it. Someone who was using this event as a decoy to commit another crime while diverting suspicion to the Raven Queen.

Even Oliver could have sent Tanya, and Sebastien might have suspected him if she hadn’t seen the scar on the other woman’s forearm. Oliver would never have placed his employees in danger with that attack on the warehouse. The Morrows were Tanya’s most likely allies.

She realized then that it might not be the Morrows at all, or not directly. ‘There is someone with a motive, as well as the means. I don’t know why, but judging by the aura of hostility, the University has some reason not to want the coppers to find me. What if that’s why Tanya was there? But if she’s working for someone at the University, how is she also connected to the Morrows?

Sebastien had to push the stolen book back under the bed when someone knocked on the door. She opened it to find Sharon on the other side with a tea tray, cookies and snacks, and a worried expression.

Sharon bustled in, setting up the tea tray on the table beside the bed. “Everyone has heard how difficult the University is,” she said, her tone failing to be conversational, just a little too gentle and conciliatory.

“Yes, the workload is crushing,” Sebastien agreed, resisting the urge to fidget in her desire for the woman to leave. “But it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Sharon stepped back from the table and pushed a cup of tea into Sebastien’s hands, guiding her to sit on the edge of the bed. “Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed by a problem, it’s best to step back and look at it from a different angle. Find out what you can pare away, what’s not absolutely critical, and then cut the rest down into manageable chunks. Be kind to yourself, Sebastien. If you aren’t, who will be?” She patted Sebastien’s hand like one might a dog’s head, then left the room, closing the door gently behind herself.

Sebastien chugged the tea, ignoring the burning sensation as it scalded her mouth and throat and hit her stomach like a cauterizing knife, somehow staunching the steady bleed of her panic. She stared at the loose leaves in the bottom of the cup for a few seconds, then let out a long breath and retrieved the stolen book from under the bed again.

Sharon may have no idea what’s going on, but she’s not wrong. Wild theories will not help me. I have very little real evidence with which to work, but at least I have a direction in which to investigate.

She placed the book on the marble floor and stared at it. “What are you?” she whispered. She knew its secrets might hold the key to all her problems. If only she could unravel them. “Why are they searching for you so desperately? How does the amulet do this to me? Who created you?”

The book didn’t respond, of course.

She knelt down, pulled her alchemy athame out of her bag, and began to peel back the leather wrapping of the outer cover, where she had first seen the edge of the space-bending array that contained the transformation amulet. She was gentle, but ruthless as she took the book apart like one might dissect a corpse, searching for any hint of its origins, purpose, or the magic that powered it. If she could find a spell array, even if she couldn’t solve the key to its lock, she might still be able to break it with precisely applied force.

But it was just a book.

If not for its contents, it might even have seemed an ordinary book.

Suppressing her seething frustration, she put the book back together and performed a simple mending spell on it using some glue and a couple strips of leather as components. When she was finished, it looked good as new.

Bringing her hands to her chest, thumbs to her middle fingers, she brought her Will to bear on the idea of stretching out her muscles and relaxing her body like it was a coiled spring. A few minutes of deep humming later, she had broken the vicious cycle of her body causing anxiety to her thoughts and her thoughts filling her body with fight-or-flight chemicals. ‘Newton’s gift of knowledge is becoming increasingly useful,’ she mused. ‘I owe him.’ It was only too bad that the effects were so temporary.

An anxiety-inducing thought popped into her mind. She couldn’t be sure what had happened to her blood with the explosion.

Still, with her body and mind calmer, a piece of positivity rose to the surface. The reverse-scrying spell based off sympathetic divination had worked.

There were other potential applications for that. Her original idea had been to find a way to remove or destroy the coppers’ sample of her blood once she pinpointed its location, but today had shown that even if she knew where it was, she couldn’t necessarily do much with the information.

But her success with sympathetic divination reminded her that other kinds of sympathetic magic were also an option. ‘Would it be possible to remotely destroy any lost piece of myself that could be used to cast sympathetic spells affecting me?’ If she could do that, not only would she solve her biggest current problem, but she would never have to worry about missing a strand of hair or leaving her toothbrush out again.

Sympathetic magic worked through the impression that different items or ideas were, in fact, the same, and so should display the same characteristics and effects. With many spells, this was forced through Sacrifice.

For instance, a transmogrification spell that took the idea of “death” and “doused fire” from a pinch of ash and forcefully applied it to a man to curse him with impotence. Or, using duplicative transmogrification to copy a gold nugget from the matter of a clay brick, forcing the brick to become the gold in truth.

But when you had a piece of the original, it was even easier. The sympathetic connection was inherent. What was once a part of the whole always remained a part of the whole in some way, even after being separated. It was easiest to do sympathetic magic with things you had a strong personal connection to, like long-term belongings—or pieces of your own body. However, the longer a piece of the whole was separated from the rest, and the more the sample’s state or that of the original changed, the less effective such magic became. This was especially true with living things.

For example, a branch taken from a tree could be used to find its parent when it was still fresh. Over time, the connection lessened. If the branch’s bark was peeled and it was turned into a walking stick, the connection would weaken. If the tree itself were cut down and turned into furniture, it would be almost impossible to use the branch to find any of those pieces of furniture.

The coppers had been using a stasis artifact—the evidence box—to keep her blood fresh, but within ten years it would still become almost useless as both time and change weakened her connection to it.

Of course, she couldn’t wait ten years. Turning into Sebastien didn’t seem to help, despite how much of a change it was. Or, perhaps it was helping and in fact the only thing keeping her safe.

If she were to leave the city, the power and skill required to find her at longer distances would be untenable. She would be unreachable. But there was only one Thaumaturgic University of Lenore, and it was in Gilbratha.

“But the reverse-scry worked,” she repeated aloud. “I found my blood.”

She hadn’t considered the full possibilities of this sympathetic connection before because of the same inherent limitation she’d faced when trying to locate her blood without the reverse-scry. How did you distinguish between which pieces of the whole you wanted to affect with the spell and which you didn’t? By the very nature of sympathetic magic, they were all the same. If you wanted to curse someone using a piece of them, say to force them to spontaneously combust, you probably didn’t care if the piece you were using burnt up, too.

But she very much cared if she caught fire while trying to destroy the blood held by the coppers.

There has to be a way around that. With enough ingenuity and power, there is always a way.

It might be possible if she could stay within wards that were stronger than whatever wards the coppers were using to protect her blood. Then someone outside both wards, maybe Liza, would try to break through, all unprotected pieces of Sebastien throughout the range of the spell would be destroyed, and the coppers’ wards would fall before Sebastien’s did. It would likely be more power-intensive than scrying over the same distance, but maybe Liza could handle it. Of course, as always with Liza, her fee would be crippling. An estimate of the work that would be involved in developing the spells for and setting up something like that made Sebastien wince.

Alternatively, they could somehow bound the area of the sympathetic destruction. If they could draw a really, really large Circle while ensuring that it wasn’t broken or disrupted, they could enclose the entirety of a place like Harrow Hill Penitentiary within it. Then, a piece of Sebastien’s blood or hair could be used to destroy only the matching pieces within the Circle, overpowering or bypassing any wards. Maybe. It was the same way the shedding-destroyer worked, only this would be targeted specifically to pieces of her rather than any human material. The problem with really large Circles was manyfold, though. They were conspicuous, easily disrupted by enemy forces or even coincidence, and the larger the area within the Circle, the harder it was to hold dominion over it with your Will. That plan would likely require joint-casting by multiple sorcerers who had thoroughly practiced the same spell together to avoid causing a disturbance in the flow of magic during spellcasting.

While theoretically possible, these ideas weren’t practical. Which brought Sebastien back to the concept of reverse-scrying. Perhaps she could use the same reverse-scrying application she had just proved worked to pinpoint a target for her destruction—just as she’d pinpointed a target for her search. It was likely that her blood would be outside of whatever protective wards the coppers normally kept over it while they used it to scry. The idea filled her with energy, but she knew that it, too, was unfeasible for the moment. Destroying her blood would require more power than simply locating it, and that kind of spell would require an even more divergent split of her attention while being scried. She couldn’t get it wrong, even once, so she would need to practice sympathetic curses on something else. In addition to her Conduit not being strong enough, her Will wasn’t strong enough either.

Because of the sporadic timing of the coppers’ attempts to find her, it wasn’t as if she could just set up a time for Liza to catch their diviners in the act. Sebastien’s frustration was returning, but she tried to comfort herself. ‘Destroying it while they try to use it is a viable solution. I may not have all I need to implement that plan, but I will not always be so weak. I’m definitely going to need a better Conduit, though. This one is not acceptable.’ That was frustrating, because she truly could not afford better. If only she’d left Ennis to rot in jail instead of paying twice to contact him, maybe lack of funds wouldn’t be a problem.

At the very least, she wasn’t worried about the coppers using her blood to attempt to kill her. They desperately wanted the book, and if she died somewhere distant, out of their grasp, they risked never finding it. However, they could still curse her in other, more subtle ways. It was illegal, sure, but who knew if that would stop them should they grow desperate? She would be warned, at least, because one of the spells in the medallion her grandfather gave her warded against curses, but it could obviously be overpowered.

She frowned. If the coppers ever knew exactly where she was, they could kill her remotely to stop her from escaping, and then take their chances finding the book through divination cast on her corpse. That, too, would be a move of desperation and idiocy, but she wouldn’t bet her life on them being calm and intelligent.

The sound of Oliver’s arrival below shook her from her thoughts. It had been little more than three quarters of an hour since she activated his bracelet’s alarm.

She hid the book, picked up the tea service tray, and walked to Oliver’s office, prepared to confess both her foolishness and what she had discovered. This was a threat to both of them, and she hoped she could count on his help. After all, she owed him, through the Verdant Stag, about a thousand gold. If he tossed her aside because of how much trouble she was, he would lose any chance of recovering that.

She stopped mid-step, swallowing with a sudden resurgence of apprehension. ‘That is not entirely true. The reward for aiding in my capture is five hundred gold now, and he could probably sell the book to the University for at least that much again. I suppose I just have to hope that he counts my future value higher than my immediate cost. He might seem softhearted, but he isn’t foolish.

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