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Chapter 54 – Commission to Investigate

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SebastienMonth 12, Day 17, Thursday 5:30 p.m.Oliver stalked into his office a couple seconds behind Sebastien. His dark hair was windswept, his cheeks and nose red from the cold, and...
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Chapter 53 – Through a Glass Darkly

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SebastienMonth 12, Day 17, Thursday 11:30 a.m.When they were released from the shelter, Sebastien ignored the stares of the other students who were wondering what had happened to her and...
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Chapter 52 – Faulty Deductions

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DamienMonth 12, Day 17, Thursday 9:00 a.m.Damien had noticed Sebastien growing more distant over the last week or so, refusing to join him and his friends in their morning study...
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Chapter 51 – Saved by the Enemy

Sebastien

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.

Westbay groaned.

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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Chapter 50 – Eagle Tower

Sebastien

Month 12, Day 17, Thursday 9:00 a.m.

Sebastien hesitated for a moment, staring up at Eagle Tower. ‘Should I just walk away? Avoid the risk and go to class along with everyone else, hide among the other students and hope no one notices me?’ She played with the possibility in her mind, but she knew she wouldn’t actually stop.

Moving ahead was risky, but it was also an opportunity. As long as she held off the scrying attempt—which was becoming increasingly difficult with every passing minute—the downsides seemed minor. At most, she’d be seen as a curious student hanging about where she shouldn’t. Maybe she could learn something important.

If she instead ignored what was happening, perhaps there was some future upside to be gained from patience, but, by the very nature of the future’s inscrutability, she couldn’t see what it might be.

So, after a pause to tuck her student token and restricted library pass into the pile of dirt and leaves at the base of the tree beside her, she kept walking. She didn’t want the University to be able to look up the logs of everyone who had entered Eagle Tower and find her name on them. If necessary, she would wait outside for someone to leave and slip in behind them.

Luckily, it turned out the entranceway wasn’t warded to require a student token like the Menagerie. She walked right in with no trouble.

The tower seemed even bigger on the inside, like a slightly smaller version of the Citadel. A hallway circled around between the single central room on each floor and the squat, wedge-shaped rooms on the outside. The walls of the inner room on each level were made of reinforced glass, so the researchers within were visible to those outside. Everything was brightly lit. It gave off a feeling of clarity and cleanliness. The researchers within would always be aware they were visible. It would help to keep their minds sharp and their experiments to the proper procedure.

It also let her see that she was on the wrong floor. As if designed to make navigating the tower more difficult, the entrance to the stairwell was all the way across the building from the main door, at the other end of the curving hallway. And when she got to it, the door was locked. ‘This is where they require the student token,’ she realized. ‘But it probably wouldn’t even matter if I went back and got mine. I’m not authorized to be here in the first place.

Since the last time she’d been in a similar situation, two stories up on the outside of the crappy little inn her father had rented, she’d taken the time to study a few unlocking spells.

But she was a first term student at the University with a Conduit that could channel barely more than two hundred thaums. This lock was visible to the rest of the floor. The mechanism was both physical and magical, and no doubt cast by someone much more experienced than her.

One of her paper utility arrays was an unlocking spell, and she could use the slate lap table she’d taken from the abandoned supply room to support the page and the necessary components at the level of the door handle, which would speed the process of casting. However, she’d still be doing it right in the middle of everyone, and she couldn’t imagine that Eagle Tower didn’t have protections against such rudimentary magic. There was a high chance she would fail and end up setting off the alarms.

She’d paused for a second too long, staring at the obstacle between her and where she needed to be, when a hand reached out from beside her and opened the door, holding it open for her.

She turned, looking a couple inches down into mercurial grey eyes. “Westbay,” she said.

He waved her through.

She stepped into the stairwell, off-kilter. ‘He followed me.

He waved a metal token at her. “You need one of these to get through the doors here. Maybe you didn’t know, if you’ve never been in here before.”

“And how do you have one?”

“I swiped it off some random person’s desk.”

On the other side of the doorway, within the silence of the stairwell, she stared at him. She didn’t make fumbled excuses about why she was in Eagle Tower. She didn’t ask him what he was doing, before at the dorms and now, right here with her when they both should have been in class. Instead, she stared silently, as if she could read his micro expressions like letters strung together on a page, as if her eyes could pierce past his skull and see into his soul.

He stared back for a few seconds, but then his eyelids fluttered and he looked away. “I…” he swallowed. “I don’t know what you’re doing,” he said, offering up answers to her unspoken questions under the pressure of her gaze. “I’ve just noticed some things lately. You’ve been…distracted. Or, focused, but just on something different. And I was curious. And…I thought maybe you could use some backup?” He grinned a little, slightly nervous but with a spark of real excitement. “Don’t worry. No one saw me, and I dropped my student token under the same tree you did.”

Suddenly, Sebastien had a realization. ‘He thinks we’re in an Aberford Thorndyke story. This is just… He thinks we’re about to have an adventure.’ She was simultaneously relieved that he wasn’t a threat and irritated, almost offended, by the casual level he seemed to live at. ‘Nothing matters to him, because there have never been any real stakes for him—nothing he really stands to lose. Maybe he can’t even comprehend that it’s not the same for everyone else.

“That’s an interesting stealth spell you’re casting,” he said, squinting at her. “An artifact, or is it something esoteric? I can feel that you’re here, but my eyes keep wanting to slip away, and I’m having trouble focusing mentally on you, like my thoughts want to slip around to the idea of you rather than the reality of you.”

If only that had kept you from following me, you thickheaded peacock.’ She barely kept herself from snapping the words at him aloud. ‘Or maybe he’s more cunning than that, only trying to seem harmless so I will not realize the danger he poses to me.

“The spell is privileged information,” she replied. “Family secret.”

He seemed to recognize the hostility she couldn’t keep from her voice. He raised his hands. “I won’t pry. I was just curious. Everyone has their family secrets. But you are doing something?”

She was about to tell him to walk away and go read his detective magazines if he wanted a sense of excitement in his life when an upper-term student, a research assistant probably studying for Grandmastery, walked down the stairs.

He stopped and looked at the two of them. “Firsties? What are you doing here?”

Westbay stepped forward. “Bruner. I can’t believe you’re still here. What is it, your thirteenth term?”

Bruner narrowed his eyes. “Westbay? Oh. I—I didn’t recognize you at first. Should have known by the eyes.”

“No matter,” Westbay said, waving his hand with regal nonchalance. We’re on an errand for one of our professors. No time to chat at the moment, but maybe I’ll see you at a Family gathering sometime.”

Bruner’s eyes widened, and then he bowed.

Westbay grabbed Sebastien by the arm and began to drag her up the stairs.

Bruner turned and bowed again as they climbed past him, stammering. “Oh, yes, definitely. I would be honored to attend a Westbay gathering. At your convenience. Thank you, Westbay, good to see you.”

They left Bruner behind, and Sebastien swallowed the scathing words she had been going to say. “Useful,” she admitted instead, grudgingly.

Westbay grinned. “Thank you. The Family name does come in handy sometimes. Now why are we here?”

Sebastien eyed him with consideration. ‘He’s irritating and spoiled, at best, but he hasn’t told anyone about the accident in the defense building or my subsequent Will-strain. I still owe him a favor. Perhaps he doesn’t want to get rid of an asset before it can bear fruit. And as he’s just shown, he can be useful, through no merit of his own.

Aloud, she said, “No questions. In fact, don’t talk at all.” She looked around, then turned back to the stairwell, motioning impatiently for Westbay to open the door for her.

“Where are we g—” He snapped his mouth shut halfway through the question, then smothered a smile that made him look like a child who’d just stolen a cookie from the jar and was reveling in the thrill of it with the friend eating the other half of the cookie. He tried to put on a serious face, but the excitement kept peeking through.

“You’re an idiot,” she muttered.

A spark of ire flared in his eyes, but slipped away just as quickly as it had come in favor of a rueful smirk. “And you’re a porcupine,” he muttered when her back was turned.

With saint-like self-control, Sebastien ignored him. She might have found him harmlessly amusing if the situation wasn’t so critical.

She found what she was looking for on the fourth floor of the tower.

It was busier than the floors below, filled with both coppers and a good handful of the faculty. Within the central, glass-walled room, a handful of coppers with sorcery experience were aiding a trio of prognos with the scrying spell. They stood around a huge Circle engraved into the marble tiles of the floor in precious metals and gems, with the type of components Sebastien had only ever read about in books powering the spell.

Her eyes flicked around, taking in the University staff and group of coppers watching this from the hallway. Both groups stood separately.

The University staff were tense, though some did a better job of hiding it than others, and the coppers beside them weren’t hostile, but were far from relaxed. The University staff didn’t want the coppers there.

But why not? That doesn’t make sense. One would think they’d be happy that the coppers have a better chance of finding me with the more powerful scrying array. Except there’s some sort of conflict of interest here. I have no idea what it could be about. What exactly is written in that book?

Her observation and contemplation were finished in the mere two seconds that had passed since she’d opened the stairwell door.

She moved toward the closed door of a room on the outside of the hallway. Someone’s office, currently empty, which she knew because no light came through under the door. She closed the door behind herself and Westbay and turned to the window that showed the view of the hallway and central room. Moving slowly, she peeked around the edge of the drawn curtain.

The pressure on her divination-diverting ward was growing stronger.

I made a mistake,’ she admitted to herself. ‘There’s nothing I can do here. But I’ll watch and wait. Maybe…there will be an opportunity if I’m clever enough to notice it. If I can wait them out, maybe I could see where they keep the blood, if they take it back with them or perhaps even leave it here. Though it would be easier if Westbay weren’t looking over my shoulder.

“That’s a divination spell,” Westbay murmured. “Who are they looking for?”

She didn’t respond.

He smoothed a nonexistent hair back from his face. “I have a spell that can enhance hearing. Maybe we could…listen in?”

That was enough to gain her attention, despite the increasing strain of empowering her ward against scrying.

His eyes slid off her. Without waiting for further response, he dug into the couple dozen pockets built into his suit vest and jacket for components.

At least he’s thaumaturge enough to keep himself stocked with the basics at all times.

Two minutes later, he’d used a thin black stick to draw a spell array on both palms. He didn’t use any components, shaking his head at her offer of the small lantern she carried in her bag. “It barely uses any power. The warmth of my hand will be more than enough. This spell is all about…control.” Somewhat comically, he placed his hands behind his ears, cupping and swiveling them like he was pretending to be a dog.

She caught the faint smell of honey. ‘Are the components part of the array itself? Maybe honey for capturing sound and charcoal for filtering?’ She was curious, but it would be rude to inquire or study the spell array too closely. Some magic was a closely guarded secret passed down within families or from master to apprentice, and Westbay had just refrained from questioning her about the spell he thought she was casting to avoid notice.

“It enlarges the surface area that can capture incoming sounds, filters them, and lets me artificially focus my hearing,” he murmured, wincing when he turned back to the hallway. “Loud.” After a few seconds, his expression settled into fascination. “They’re chanting. For the spellcasting. It’s advanced. I haven’t heard anything like it.”

Sebastien straightened her shoulders, settling her mind. The Conduit in her off hand was flush with energy, the five Circles in the flesh of her back were cold and filled with the sensation of needles, and she imagined that within half an hour she would start feeling faint from blood loss. ‘How long can this go on?’ It was becoming increasingly obvious that she was the metaphorical frog being slowly boiled alive, too stupid to realize the water was heating.

“Someone in the hallway just said something about the Raven Queen,” Westbay said. He stared blankly for a moment, and then his head turned slowly toward Sebastien. “They’re scrying for her…right now?”

She had a sudden vision of herself in jail, trying to convince the coppers as Sebastien Siverling that she had no idea why Siobhan Naught’s blood kept leading back to her. ‘Would they believe me, if I pretended that I’d met the Raven Queen and had my blood stolen by the “evil sorceress” to use as a red herring and lead the investigation in the wrong direction?

She shook her head. ‘No, I’m sure they have wards against untruth, and obviously they have access to more than one prognos. They’d know right away if I tried to lie. And with enough reason to look into me, they’d tear my entire backstory apart.

She tried to estimate how many thaums of heat and blood she was channeling. ‘Close to two hundred, already. So according to what Liza told me, they must be channeling many times that. There are so many of them, they can probably keep going well beyond what I can handle. So I have two viable options. Sticking around is no longer feasible. I can ask Westbay to borrow his Conduit, which is surely rated much higher than mine, or I can run now and hope that I’m far enough away by the time their scrying spell breaks through my ward that they can’t catch me.

She felt flushed beneath her jacket and scarf, but resisted the urge to pace back and forth between walls that felt like they were closing in. ‘If I borrow Westbay’s Conduit, he’ll wonder why I need it. He might connect the dots. If I run, at least I have the gold I sewed into the lining of my clothing and boots.’ There might still be time to get her things from the dorms. If she hired a carriage, she could be halfway out of Gilbratha before they found her. If it turned out she could, somehow, hold out longer than they could, she could simply return as if all was well. ‘Or…should I attack Westbay and take his Conduit? If I could keep him from sounding the alarm until I’d escaped, I’d at least have a Conduit powerful enough to handle my Will. It would buy me a few more minutes, maybe half an hour.’ The thought made her feel a small prick of guilt. He was often irritating, but he hadn’t done anything to truly deserve that. ‘His family could afford to buy him twenty more of those without worrying about the budget for their next high society ball. It wouldn’t hurt him at all for me to take it, except for a blow to his pride,’ she reasoned.

She was considering it, thinking about how she might have him follow her back to the dorms, steal his Conduit, and then tie him up in one of the bathroom stalls before escaping, when someone else, someone she hadn’t expected to see, opened the door to the fourth floor.

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