Month 12, Day 20, Sunday 6:25 p.m.
“Not nightmares,” Gera, the prognos woman, said. “Visions. My son is part prognos, part sylphide, and, as you might have noticed, he carries a drop of fey, as well.”
The fey ancestry was the source of the shimmer in the boy’s skin. ‘A member of the fey hasn’t been seen for centuries. Some of the books even say they’re extinct. Add that to being a prognos-mix cambion from the Plane of Air, and he might be the only one of his kind in the world.’
Siobhan could guess part of his problem just from common knowledge. The sylphides were powerful, humanoid elementals from the Plane of Air, given to song, laughter, and knowledge carried on the wind. Combined with the predisposition for divination that the prognos had, and the strangeness common in all the stories passed down about the fey, it was unsurprising that the cambion child had powers beyond his control. “Tell me more about the visions,” Siobhan requested.
“He has had them since he could first speak,” Gera answered. “Maybe before then, too. They come to him on the wind, incomprehensible pieces of the present and past. They are incoherent, but intense. When he is awake, he can mostly block them out. Only a few of the strongest slip through. His abilities are not like my own, and not like those of the sylphides we have invited to see him, either. They are a curse.” Her voice broke, and she pressed a hand against her face, taking deep breaths.
The boy looked to his mother, then slowly back to Siobhan, a tiny hint of a frown between his brows.
Lynwood took over while Gera worked to regain her composure. “Some of the supposed experts we have contacted have suggested that the visions may become more coherent when he has reached maturity in a few decades. He grows slowly—slower even than the prognos—and as time passes the strength of his visions is outpacing him. They plague him even when he is awake, and rouse his mind from sleep like a beast harrying his limbs.”
Gera raised her head. “The healers say that he will die if he cannot sleep, but they have no long-term solution to the problem.”
The healers were right, according to everything Siobhan had read on the subject. She peered at the boy assessingly, watching every slow blink and muffled flicker of emotion as he listened to his mother and uncle pronounce his fate. “What has been attempted to cure him?”
Gera took a deep preparatory breath. “He has seen half the healers in the city, it seems, and some experts in non-human physiology and divination as well. Most have been completely useless. They’ve cast spells and given potions to calm him, to put him into a deep sleep, to keep his mind active and in control while he sleeps, to suppress divination abilities, to ward off nightmares, and even prescribed such treatments as bloodletting at his energy points to release ‘bad humors.’ He’s had healing potions and revivifying potions. There were a few who said he was cursed or haunted and tried to release him from this.” Gera scowled, the expression twisted by her scar. “One suggested we place him in a large, completely sealed room to cut him off from the flow of the wind.”
“That did not go well. Did any of these treatments show promise?”
His mother smiled wryly. “You are correct. The sealed room caused severe panic attacks, and by the time we realized what was happening, he was hysterical with fear. It took him months to recover from that incident.”
“The man was punished for his incompetence,” Lynwood murmured, and Gera nodded.
“Some of what once worked has lost its efficacy as he grows older,” she continued. “When he was a toddler, the calming magic was enough. When that grew insufficient, the sleep magic took over. Keeping his mind active while sleeping was a particular disaster. Suppressing his divination abilities was…unpredictable. Sometimes it seemed to work, and sometimes it provoked crazed raving and had him flailing about enough to injure himself.”
“We were worried it might have other ill effects,” Lynwood said.
“The bloodletting left him weak, but did not do the same to his visions. The healing potions helped for a time, if not helping him to sleep then reducing the effects of his fatigue, but eventually his body developed a tolerance for them. When attempts to dispel a malicious influence had no effect, most concluded that he was not cursed or haunted, but a couple of those who came to help told us that the evil influence on him was simply too strong to dispel.”
“Nonsense, if you ask me,” Lynwood interjected.
“What of the attempts to block nightmares?” Siobhan asked.
“Only mildly effective when he was younger, and without benefit for years now. We were told that my son would die within the year if we could not find an effective treatment. There have been some more…radical suggestions, but I would not maim my son or curse him for life if there is any other option. Currently, we give him a powerful narcotic potion meant to cause the sleep of the living dead. We commissioned a master alchemist to modify it so that its effects are strong, but fast-fading. It does allow him to rest, but…” Gera gestured meaningfully to her son, who was swaying on his feet, his eyes trailing through the empty air as if watching something invisible to the rest of them.
‘Hallucinations? If he’s to that point, he does indeed need urgent help.’
“But too deeply,” Lynwood finished. “He is insensate for twelve or more hours at a time, and often soils himself while he sleeps. And when he wakes, he is groggy and clumsy the rest of the day, almost as if he has not truly rested at all.” He nodded meaningfully to the boy, and Siobhan realized that perhaps some of his daze was not from lack of sleep, but a side-effect of the potion.
Lynwood added, “His mind and emotions are muffled, except for sudden, wild flares. He fractured a rib in a sudden laughing attack last month, and his nursemaid swears she saw him about to stab a knife into his own abdomen the week before last. This sleep of the dead is a stopgap measure at best.” He reached out for Gera’s hand, squeezing it tightly while he turned to face Siobhan more fully. “This is my sister by choice, rather than by blood. The boy is my nephew. The Nightmare Pack would be grateful if you would grant us this boon and help him.”
Siobhan took a long while to think, staring at the boy. While she hadn’t the deep pockets or connections of the Nightmare Pack, she too had consulted healers and shamans and anyone Ennis had access to that they thought might be able to stop her nightmares. All had failed, and over time, through endless trial and error and sheer desperation, she had developed her own spell to deal with the problem. It was only partially effective, but better than anything others had offered, and cheap enough to cast that she could actually afford to do so. However, it sounded as if the boy’s condition was worse than her own, and she wasn’t even sure that her dreamless sleep spell would stop visions.
Nevertheless, her research had taught her a lot about sleep, and one of the things the prognos woman had said sparked an idea in Siobhan’s mind. Sleep was mysterious at best, even to the most learned of healers and researchers, but it seemed clear that the body used it both to heal and to process, cataloguing the experiences and thoughts of the day. It allowed long-term memories to settle, and without it, dreams would start to slip into the waking world in the form of hallucinations.
Siobhan had been restricting her own dreams for years now, and hadn’t had any problems with decreased brain function. Her mind was a steel trap. Of course, her dreams did manage to slip through after only a few hours of rest, so she was not suppressing them completely. That healing and revivifying potions had mitigated the boy’s problem, even for a time, showed that the most critical function of sleep was whatever it did to heal and effectively reset the brain, like recharging a battle wand.
She’d never been able to afford healing components for her own efforts. The closest she had come was coffee beans loaded with wakefulness magic, and that hardly counted. Siobhan’s fingers caressed her new black Conduit, fascination causing her thoughts to focus just on the edge of true Will engagement.
“Your son has no need of a sedative,” she said. “It is not that he cannot fall asleep, but that he cannot rest. He has fallen asleep over a dozen times since he came into the room,” she said.
She was sure he was falling into what the University’s library books had called “micro-sleeps” with almost every slow blink. “He’s already exhausted to the point of death. First, he needs something to calm the fear and desperation that are likely making his visions worse.”
“Will you help, then?” his mother asked.
Siobhan hesitated. “I cannot cure him,” she stated. “Because he is not sick.”
Gera’s knees buckled, but she caught herself on the edge of Lynwood’s chair with a whimper and straightened.
Siobhan lifted a hand in a calming gesture. “He must learn to master his own nature, either through age and experience, or through practice and discipline. But I have several ideas for another short-term solution, one that could give him a semblance of normalcy and the time to learn that discipline before the visions once again outgrow him.”
“Yes,” Lynwood and his sister both said, almost simultaneously.
“I will design something that your people should be able to handle without me,” she said, giving herself an excuse for why she wouldn’t just be free-casting some spell that would have the boy dreaming of frolicking in a meadow. “After all, I cannot attend to the boy every night. I assume you have access to resources like components from the Elemental Planes?”
They both nodded readily.
She wasn’t surprised. After all, Liza could access components like that, and if they were willing to go to such lengths as described for the boy, the cost of extra-planar components wouldn’t bother them. “Good. We will attempt the simplest of my ideas first, to judge if my theories are sound. Take down a list of items and bring them to me here. Gather a handful of thaumaturges, too. At least three, at most…however many you can call upon, as long as they are competent and can be trusted.”
Lynwood waved to one of his people who had been standing silently by the side, and the woman hurried to grab a scroll and a fountain pen.
Siobhan listed her requirements. “Crystal—preferably clear, uncut quartz. Also amethyst and polished moonstone. Eagle or gryphon feathers, from a creature too young to have mated.” She herself used eagle, but gryphon feathers would likely be more powerful, and they could afford them. “Strong, clear liquor. Some herbs—these should be fresh: Valerian root, preferably grown in a place where human footsteps do not often pass, night vanilla, chamomile picked at sunset, lavender grown in a place that has a frequent northern wind, and poppy flowers, as pale in color as you can find.”
The specific guidelines on the growing and harvesting conditions of the components might or might not make much difference—she couldn’t get a clear answer on that from Pecanty—but she needed all the help she could get, and hopefully the extra effort of gathering components that matched her specifications would make her seem more legitimate. People valued what cost them, after all.
Seeing that the woman was scribbling frantically, she continued. “You will want to create a permanent Circle and spell array, but for tonight bring me wax from the Plane of Earth and the powder of all the gems I mentioned, plus either gold or diamond dust. Finally, something from the Plane of Radiance, still-living. A small star-maple sapling would do. If you cannot find that, then any slow-growing plant from the Plane of Radiance might do as a substitute. A beast core or three will power it all.”
The woman scribbled a little longer, and then finally looked up.
“That is all,” Siobhan said.
With a nod from Lynwood, everyone but himself, his sister, and the boy rushed from the room.
Siobhan stood, moving forward and reaching out a hand to the boy’s shoulder, steadying him. “What is your name?”
“Millennium,” he said in a small voice. “But everyone just calls me Miles.”
“Miles. Go find a chair and rest. In a few hours, you will sleep without dreams,” she said.
He stared back at her as if to assess the truth of her words, and though his eyes had trouble focusing on her face, they didn’t slide away from her under the compulsion of her anti-divination ward. “I hope so,” he said, full of vibrant emotion for the first time.
She hoped she could keep her promise. She knew objectively that she might not be able to, but the energy and focus she felt at the prospect of a problem to solve, given all the resources Lord Lynwood could provide—including other thaumaturges to supplement her immature Will and a Conduit that would no longer hold her back—made her believe she could do it. She was hungry for the challenge.
“Get me paper and pen,” she ordered, walking over to one of the tables.
Lord Lynwood’s sister complied, and with only a bit of focus remaining on keeping her ward up, Siobhan turned the rest of her mind toward creation. ‘A modification of my own dreamless sleep spell. Better components, more power, and with a healing factor. It needs to be actively cast for the whole duration of sleep, rather than placed and released like I do with my own castings. If I can improve his rate of regeneration while he sleeps, simply boosting his own natural processes, perhaps he won’t need as many hours, and there will be less chance of him growing a tolerance to repeated healing spells or potions. Alas, if only I could get someone to cast this spell on me…’
She looked up some time later, a finished spell array fresh under her pen, to find herself surrounded by scribble-covered papers, her hands smeared with ink, and her fingers cramped from writing.
Lynwood’s people had returned, and brought with them almost a dozen other people—likely the thaumaturges she had requested. One of the other tables was covered with spell components, and among them sat a small star-maple sapling in a pot. The sheer efficiency was astounding. She couldn’t have been working for more than a couple of hours.
Siobhan pried open her fingers to release the pen and stood.
The other members of the room quieted their low murmurs and turned to face her quickly, some squinting at her and some not even attempting to meet her gaze.
“We have gathered everything you ordered,” Lynwood said.
“We will be casting what I suspect is a newly created spell today,” she said to the newcomers. “If any of you are not comfortable with your ability to do so without endangering yourself or your fellows, leave now.”
A few feet shuffled, betraying their nervousness at her words, but no one walked out.
“These are the best thaumaturges among my people,” Lynwood said. “They will learn and obey, at your discretion, Queen of Ravens.”
Siobhan tried not to smirk at that. ‘Too bad I don’t have a group of sorcerers to boss around on a daily basis.’ She realized immediately after thinking it the folly of that wish. ‘No, wait, that might actually be horrible. Most people are imbeciles. I don’t want to be stuck leading a group of imbeciles who cannot do anything without constant instruction.’
“Follow along, then,” she said. “Nothing we do tonight should be beyond your comprehension or abilities, and I do not enjoy repeating myself.”
First, she made the crayon stick to draw the spell array with, mixing the wax with the crystal and gem powder. They’d provided both diamond and gold dust, so with mixed feelings of heartache at her own inability to afford such things and pleasure at the chance to use such fine components, she added both to the wax crayon. The Circle and Word array drawn with it would handle more power than something simpler or cheaper, though not as much as a permanently engraved array made of solid precious metals. As she mixed the wax with the multi-colored dust, she channeled her Will in the same way she would when making a potion, every component touched with magic and intent.
Then, waving a hand for the others to clear a large spot on the floor and bring in a mattress, she drew the array, every glyph and angled line touched with her Will. There was no energy to channel into this, no active spell, but her grandfather had taught her that there was more to magic than the parts that were easiest to quantify.
Next were the herbal tinctures, drawing out the oils through crushing the plant matter and soaking it in bottles of alcohol.
“Process matters. Magic may be a science, but beyond our understanding it becomes an art,” she explained to those watching her work, not bothering to turn and see whether they understood what she meant, or if it was obvious that every competent sorcerer started applying their Will long before they actively cast the most powerful spells.
They placed the mattress in the center of the large spell array, and the components in the outer Circles. Siobhan walked along the whole thing, inspecting the lines and glyphs for damage or mistakes, and explained, in as much detail as she could, the purpose of all the interconnected pieces.
She stopped at the head of the mattress, motioning for Miles to climb onto it. “Most important in all of this is not the components or the power. It is your Will, tuned perfectly. Think on the spell till you feel it in your belly and the dark places of your mind. We will begin casting in a few minutes. I will join you, but merely as a guide. You will provide the impetus on your own. Discuss amongst yourselves,” she said with a wave of her hand.
She rolled her shoulders, the thrill of magic a delight that made her bones itch and her thoughts bloom. She turned to Millennium, climbed onto the mattress, and sat next to him.
She spoke in a low voice, soft enough not to be heard over the talking of the others. “Can you cast any magic, Miles?”
The boy, more awake than he’d been before, despite the late hour, shook his head. “Not yet. I’m only ten, and my mom says it’s not safe if the visions make me lose concentration. I could hurt myself or someone else.”
Siobhan herself had cast her first spell at the age of eleven, a simple levitation spell on an acorn, under the watchful eye of her grandfather. It had been a bit early, but he was insistent that only stupid, immature children needed to wait till the traditional age of thirteen to begin an apprenticeship. It was lucky, because if she had waited, she might never have had the chance to learn from him at all. “You’re not afraid of magic, though, right?”
Miles shook his head, but paused with his mouth open, suddenly hesitant. The silence drew on.
“You’re a little afraid?” she guessed. “Because of your visions and everything they’ve done to try and fix them?” She gestured to Lynwood and the boy’s mother, who were both watching them intently from across the room. “Which hasn’t been so pleasant, and sometimes, has been quite torturous.” She herself had taken a couple years off practicing magic after the…incident that led her father to taking over his duties as a parent again.
Miles nodded. “They’ve been talking about you…whether to call you here or not. They’re afraid of you. But they’re afraid of what I might do if they don’t fix me, too. And I’m dying,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Tonight will not hurt,” she said. “And it will not be frightening, either. At the very worst, nothing will change and you will wake up as soon as your visions slip through. But if things go well, you will wake up in the morning feeling better than you have in a long time. To make sure you can fall asleep, I want to try something.”
“Okay,” he said in a small voice.
She knew that sometimes when she was exhausted beyond all reason, it actually became harder to fall asleep. “I’ll need you to sit in my lap, with your back against my chest.”
Slowly, awkwardly, he moved to climb into the scoop of her crossed legs. His small body was cold and faintly trembling, either from the chill or sheer exhaustion.
She reached her arms around him, touching her middle fingers to her thumbs, with the large black Conduit gripped to her palm by her pinky and ring finger, a little awkwardly. She pressed her hands against his sternum.
Miles copied her.
She took a deep breath and let it out with a low hum, like Newton had showed her.
As soon as Miles caught on to her rhythm, she began to cast the esoteric calming spell on the both of them. The spell wasn’t meant to work on someone else, but with him being so small and close, and going along with all the prerequisites except for actually casting himself, it wasn’t that hard to bend the magic in this way.
A few minutes later, Miles was slouching against her limply, his eyes closed and on the brink of sleep, the only indication that he was still awake being the purring sounds coming out of his throat along with her own deep hum.
She released the magic, settling him back on the bed and drawing a thick blanket over him to hold in some warmth. She sent a servant to fetch a wrapped, hot brick, and then tucked it next to the boy’s feet so it could warm him up slowly.
Without further preamble, she announced, “It is time,” with what she hoped was sufficient gravitas.
The other thaumaturges quickly moved to stand at equal distances around the outer Circle.
She moved to the head of the bed and, with a finger dipped in herb-infused alcohol, drew a small Circle around the boy’s head, straight on the pillow. Aloud, she walked the others through the process as she cast her normal dreamless sleep spell, which would facilitate Miles falling asleep but probably wouldn’t keep him that way.
Then she stepped back to the head of the larger Circle drawn on the floor. They would be actively casting through the night for Miles, keeping him asleep, dreamless, and facilitating his body’s natural healing process.
She pulled her hood up to cover her face. Her ward remained active, but she reduced the attention and power she was channeling into it. Her mind couldn’t handle the split concentration when casting something new like this, even with all the others to provide power and stabilize the spell.
Siobhan was the first to start casting, drawing upon the trio of beast cores sitting within one of the component Circles for power. She channeled it with ease through her new Conduit, as smoothly as the one Lacer had lent her.
The other thaumaturges joined in, one by one.
Siobhan thought she could feel it when Miles fell asleep. Slowly, she increased the amount of energy flowing through her Conduit and the lines of the spell array, drawing on the star-maple for healing and the other components for dreamless sleep. Her companions did the same, till the air thrummed faintly against the hair on her arms and the array began to glow.
At this rate, the boy would have slept for the equivalent of two or three days by the time the sun rose, and without the accompanying problems with pent-up bodily processes that would have normally interrupted such a long rest.
After about half an hour, when she was sure the others had the hang of it and was starting to feel the crush of true fatigue herself, she released her grip on the spell and stepped back. The spell array flared for a moment with inefficiency, and she frowned. ‘I was channeling under three hundred thaums, at best. The spell shouldn’t have been so strained by my departure.’ She looked suspiciously at the others who were still casting.
Lord Lynwood and Gera were standing a few feet away, staring avidly at the sleeping boy. They both turned their attention to Siobhan as she moved toward them.
Gera’s scarred, blind eye was weeping, and she bowed deeply before Siobhan could say anything. “I thank you,” she choked out.
Siobhan was too tired to go through the long-winded standard niceties. She’d been brewing all day, and after this, she just wanted to collapse into her own bed. “You were lucky that this is my specialty.”
“Is it working, then?”
“It seems so. The spell does not force him to remain unconscious, so if his rest were being disturbed by visions, he would wake. You will need to have someone cast this on him every night for the time being. It need not be this large a group after this first time. Millennium will wake rested and will only need maintenance going forward. One or two moderately powerful thaumaturges should be enough. However, none of them are particularly good at this spell, and I doubt a lack of practice is the problem. I have a number of suggestions.”
“Speak them,” Lynwood said.
“The boy should be trained. Give him physical and mental exercise each day. Exercises that focus on clarity—some call it meditation—could be helpful, if he can master them deeply enough, and he need not actively channel magic to learn that. As for your casters…”
She sneered. “Keep them awake, like the boy has been kept awake. When they are truly desperate for sleep, only then will they understand how the spell is properly cast. When he has rested, they will be able to as well.”
Lynwood frowned at them. “I will do as you say, Queen of Ravens.” He hesitated, obviously wanting to speak.
She waved an impatient hand at him.
“Might depriving them of rest make them more likely to lose control of the magic? This spell you have designed…is it meant to be cast by someone without your particular advantages?”
She sighed. “If your people are so incompetent that a little fatigue has them miscasting, you should replace them. I hear first term students at your Thaumaturgic University deal with such conditions on a regular basis. This spell is not special. It is not even particularly difficult. It works as it does for me because I know what it is to be desperate for oblivion.”
Lynwood and Gera bowed again, said some more words of thanks and praise, and, in a moment when no one was looking at her, Siobhan strengthened the force of her anti-divination ward. Its effects seeped into the physical world so well that she was ignored, even by the prognos, as she left the building.
Outside, she smirked up at the University atop the towering white cliffs to the north of the city, visible by their light crystals twinkling in the dark night like so many stars. She broke one of her bracelets to let Katerin know she could finally stop scrying for her.
‘That should fortify the Raven Queen’s reputation. What a fruitful evening.’
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