Book II - Chapter 41

Chapter 41

 

[Eveth]

 

Screaming was an act which most people disapproved of. Public opinion which considered the act far from respectable behavior: label it as needless hysterics and unbecoming. Yet, Eveth believed that screaming might be a perfectly reasonably course of action for someone in her current predicament.

Yes.

She had a live basilisk wrapped around her neck.

Screaming would be natural. Normal, even.

Still, it was best kept inside. Bottled up nice and tight: internalized to be put on a shelf and revisited, with all the other unpleasant experiences of her life, at another time.

“Ssss…” The Basilisk said.

Ssss.

She didn’t know how to interpret “Ssss” and even if she did, she wasn’t quite convinced it would mean anything useful.

“Ssss…” The snake repeated.

The creature hissed more than just occasionally. Eveth hoped there was some reason for it, other than to remind her of how uncomfortable it was to have a live monster around one’s neck.

"Sss...ssssss."

For a monster likely originating in the depths of hell itself, the Basilisk was very talkative. As Imra had failed to explain to her even the most basic of details for communicating with it, though, Eveth had no idea how to interpret what anything it said meant.

She didn’t speak snake. For whatever reason, that particular language wasn’t a subject offered at the Academy.

“Please be quiet.” She replied quietly, calmly as someone can when trying their best to ignore a primal shiver running down their spine. “We can’t draw attention, so please: be quiet.”

“Sss…”

It was staring at her again. From under the hood, it was quite hard to miss the set of eyes settled next to her face.

“Sssssssss…”

Its tongue was going about, doing that thing it did to taste the air... or possibly her fear.

Perhaps repeating “be quiet” for emphasis had been a mistake.

"Sssss."

Oh, it had certainly been a mistake, Eveth decided.

“Grain here! Finest quality you can find short of the Emperor’s own kitchen!” Three paces over, a shout came up from the crowd as a cart vendor began their morning sales. “Finest bread! Finest grain!” They hollered for anyone who might listen as Eveth caught a quick glance, eyeing the offered product as she continued past. Even from a distance she could see the difference between the sale’s pitch and reality. Of the bread in the baskets, most were spotted with mold.

“Grain! Bread! Dried meats!” More shouts rose up, perhaps spurred on by the rest in a strange case of group support.

“Toys and trinkets for the tots! Mage-wrought fire sparkers! Perfect for Festival!” Around Eveth, the crowd moved with renewed vigor. She tried her best not to get caught up in the current.

Maneuvering the city this time of year was a tricky business.

On the inside of the street, there was the ideal zone to try and move by foot. Not quite at the speed of a jog, exactly, but close enough. Towards the center of the street, she was as far from the vendors as could be while on a main road, and able to move at a brisk walk. Weaving in and out beside the more dominant transport in the road’s center, Eveth found her stride.

It seemed that the true lifeblood of the city was somehow still pumping. Dozens of farmers moved together, each pulling small carts along behind them. The contents of those might be questionable, or simply lacking, but that didn’t change the fact that they were present, and they weren't alone in this, either. Ahead of them, Eveth could see a noble carriage with servants trying to force their way through the thick of things as they turned down a side street. She passed that traffic by as she got to it without much difficulty. Travel by foot was the quickest option, at least it was if the accumulation of people that plugged around the crossroads were taken into account. Mixed amid the mulling trot of Ro’ cattle and carts.

Quite a lot of them, actually. She was somewhat surprised by the numbers present, as was her unwanted passenger. Beside her cheek, the creature peered out, head bobbing as it soaked in the sights and smells. Enough that it had stopped making noise, for the moment at least. Content, instead, to watch the large animals trotting along.

Small blessings, as Dren might say.

Eveth just hoped the Ro’ didn’t notice the serpent, and take to fright.

Judging with her free hand to note the sun’s position, Eveth confirmed she still had time until true noon. At this pace, she'd likely be able to reach the Guild by the end of the hour- or something close to it. From there, it was trickier to predict how long things might take.

Still, as her movement on foot was continuing, mostly unhindered: there were other obstacles.

She’d heard the commotion before she’d seen it. There, several blocks ahead, an approaching merchant’s caravan was loudly plowing its way against the normal flow of traffic. With the mooing of Ro’, came loud bellows, shouts, and the occasional scream.

Over the regular din of the streets, it wasn’t overbearing from a distance, but the crowds were already reacting. Like schools of fish under threat, those who recognized the caravan’s approach were pushing off into the more crowded sides of the streets- or simply turning around entirely. Others were slowing their pace, undecided.

Eveth found herself in the last category.

She had also originally planned to stay on this road until reaching a main plaza, keeping her presence hidden within the masses of the crowds. If possible, she preferred not to have to take a side street- not that she really could at this point: not without turning around. There weren’t many options available. They would have to wait this one out, she decided, moving to the edge of the road to get clear.

Better safe than sorry when it came to something like this.

“MOVE!” The first truly discernable shouts were reaching her ears now, as coming up the road, huge wagons were moving in steady unison. “Get your ass out of the way!” The shouts continued, unrelenting with the snap of whips.

She was in luck to find that this portion of the road had a gap in traders along its edge. What had probably been a food-stall window was boarded up along a long stretch of stone wall. The space looked abandoned, despite all of the activity on the street around it. Eveth stepped up on a stray brick likely once meant to prop the stall awning, to leverage a few more inches for her view. Holding her staff for balance on one foot, sure enough she could see over the crowds of people on the street.

The approaching caravan was impressive in a manner that made the noble’s carriage she’d seen earlier seem almost gaudy, and cheap.

There were six wagons flying the Merchant Guild’s crest. Each larger than anything visible competition on the street, built with thick timbers of real wood. The carvings and woodwork were visible every from where Eveth balanced, paint faded somewhat, dated in their style, but a statement nonetheless. Those alone were probably worth a fortune, not even considering their cargo, but what really made the caravan stand out was what accompanied it.

Dozens of escorts were in tow. Some were on foot, some were riding atop the tarps with unnatural balance: but everyone including the coachmen was armed. In plain sight they shouldered bows and drawn swords, and the vibrant flashes of bared steel was blatant in its display. Blades that caught the light like signal mirrors, as if a warning for the unspoken inclination their owners might possess. To the front, walking along beside the first approaching cart, there was even a token escort of City Guards. Their armor was unmistakable, even from a distance.

“Well, the rumors must be true then.” Eveth muttered aloud, in part on the chance her unwanted passenger was listening. “They’ve got everyone in their pockets.”

“Sss…” The serpent replied, head bobbing slowly as it attentively tracked the procession approaching them. Eveth felt as though it might be agreeing with her, though she doubted a monster would understand the intricacies of Guild and City politics. “Sss…”

That sounded like a reply… maybe.

It was hard to be sure.

"Sss..."

That didn't help either.

Eveth still wasn’t entirely convinced the Basilisk could understand her (or anyone for that matter) but she was aware that it acted the part. Also, Imra seemed to believe it could. For now, the snake seemed content to watch the caravan. With a level of seriousness she hadn’t actually expected, even.

She swallowed, uncomfortable as the scales around her neck coiled somewhat tighter.

Perhaps, she wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

“Move!” One of the front-most City Guards shouted, gauntleted hand roughly lifting an unfortunate farmer’s cart with ease, flipping it aside as the caravan behind them continue to plowed through. The Merchant wagon's heavy wheels rolling over whatever happened to spill out onto the road as the sound of protest rose.

“When I say move, I mean it!” Whatever might have started then, was quickly put down by a heavy backhanded blow that sent someone reeling back to crash into the crowd. The Guard continued shouting, again continuing through as if the incident had never happened. “Clear the bloody way!”

Just a few years ago Eveth knew this would never have been allowed. Then again, a few years seemed an awfully long time. Quite a lot had changed since she’d first come to this city.

Eveth could only assume that the caravan was coming from some storehouse, perhaps by the Imperial Dungeon entrance. Either that or they were coming from the trade plaza itself with some sort of massive haul of… something. That was how the Merchant's Guild typically operated. They bought low in large quantities and sold high when the time was right. Profits before all else.

Alem would be the one to ask for something like this, Eveth thought.

She’d caught him reading up on prices and listings more times than she could count. He had a rather particular interest in the timber markets recently, but she didn't feel it was her place to ask.

Among the group of farmers, someone else yelled back at the City Guard, this time joined by a few raised fists and what might have been a pitchfork. Eveth couldn’t see them very clearly, but she could make out that much as the Guard turned in their direction. This lead on to further shouting, the Guard making some gestures that seemed rather serious. Atop the caravans, several men lost their patience, jumping down with swords drawn. The City Guard turned just in time to realize, but not quickly enough to stop them as one of those blades rose flashed in a brutal downward strike.

Someone screamed as the Guard tried to intervene- only to be brutally shoved aside by the rest of the men as more weapons were swung in the direction of the angry farmers.

And, there it was.

More screaming. People were already pushing to get away, as more carts were ruthlessly overturned and thrown out of the caravan’s path. Another of the City Guards ran over from the opposing side of the wagons, helping their comrade back to their feet as the mercenaries who’d jumped down ignored the pair, walking on past them as if the Guards weren’t even present.

Stepping off and waiting to let this pass had likely been the right call, Eveth decided. Unlike the City Guard, the rest of the escorts had no qualms with escalating straight into violence. If anything, it seemed they were just looking for an excuse as the procession rolled closer.

“Not the kind of thing we need to deal with right now.” She said quietly.

“Sss.” The Basilisk replied.

Eveth took that for agreement.

Still, as the caravan continued, the snake hissed again. “SSSsss.” It uttered with a more distinct tone. Not of idle curiosity or undefined intentions, but almost as if a statement of fact.

“I told you already,” Eveth whispered. “Please, stay quiet.”

“Sss.” Eveth almost lost her balance as the serpent moved out further, as if to circle all the way out in front of her face. It stared at her, waiting beside her cheek, then it pushed slightly. “SSSsss.” It repeated, continuing to push until she turned, looking farther down the road.

“What?” Eveth whispered, perhaps a bit too desperately. “What do you want?” She let her head turn until the snake stopped pushing.

“Sss.” A shiver ran down her spine.

There, to the back of the caravan, several eyes were turning in her direction. Not at her, directly, but watching carefully about the crowd as they rode closer.

“Them?” Eveth stared at them from her perch, and in the pit of her stomach she felt an uneasy sensation grow. Was it just her imagination, or did it almost seem as if they were searching for something, specific. "What about them?"

“Sss.” The serpent nudged her again.

“We’re fine, we’re out of the way.” Eveth murmured quietly. “We’ll let them pass, then we'll go.”

“SSS!” The nudging had escalated into small headbutts. “SSS!” With somewhat surprising strength, the small basilisk was persistently steering her head to look away entirely, but even before she could: more and more she felt those eyes watching.

No... not watching, she thought, it was almost as if they were narrowing in.

Looking for something?

“Oh Light.” Eveth whispered. “Of-bloody-course they are.” She turned, feet finally catching up with reality as she dropped down from her perch on the brick and began to move opposite of her previous course.

Spend all of one's time thinking as a Mage, and it was easy to forget that for all the advantages the paths of magic might offer, there were other paths as well. One which offered entirely different sets of skills.

They weren’t looking for something, they were looking for someone. Eveth held back a curse as she began to move, quickly as she dared. Then, she let it out anyways.

[Intuition]

It was a well-known, if somewhat rare skill: a talent mostly attributed to those among the military-ranks, or those with extensive combat experiences. By its loosest definition, [Intuition] was the ability to be almost supernaturally perceptive of potential dangers. Someone who possessed this, could identify potential threats with ease. Often even from a distance.

Dangers, such as an unlicensed Mage with a rogue monster capable of setting an entire street ablaze wrapped around their neck.

“Shit.” Her mutters had caught the snake’s attention, just long enough to stall another headbutt. She couldn’t understand its language, but she knew what it was saying now rather clearly.

“Leave!” It was probably yelling. “Leave already, you idiot!”

Another shout rose up behind her, and Eveth turned just in time to see someone rush out of the milling crowd and try to pull something free off the side of one of the wagons. Eveth heard a loud “snapping” sound quickly accompanied by a single voice screaming.

From the top of the farthest wagon, Eveth sensed the glow of mana, as a man with a long black crossbow reloaded. Then fired with a second “snap.”

The screaming abruptly stopped.

Among the Caravan, several laughed.

“Who’s next?” A larger man atop one of the closest wagons shouted, sword flashing in the air above his head. “Come on, I dare you! Spineless pricks, I dare you!” Behind him, the owner of the black crossbow let out a barking cackle as they let another bolt loose into the crowd. Eveth heard a horrified shriek greeting where it landed in the distance, the crowds now rushing to escape the vicinity as yet another was found pointed at them.

“Move along! Out of the way!” The commands rose about the screams as the caravan broke through a final patch of carts in its way. The small dispatchment of City Guards struggled as they moved forward, shoved whatever happened to be in their way aside and ignoring the panicked protests of their owners.

Ruthlessly, others in the crowd darted to grab whatever had been spilled, backing off only as another bolt loosed to take yet some unfortunate soul through the chest.

“I said GET!” The Guards shouted desperately as Merchant Caravan began picking up speed once more, rolling into a steady gait. “This is official business! Out of the way!” One of the Guards in the front swung his sword as someone beside the caravan tripped and stumbled- almost cutting them down, stopping as they scrambled out of the way. “MOVE! Move or die!” The Guard shouted one final warning as they raised their blade up to strike.

Whoever it was, they moved, and so did Eveth.

But that was just the problem, now. There were so many people in her way- all of them thinking the same thing.

“Shit.” Eveth tried her best to ignore the more urgent ramming of scales on her cheekbone as she sought to mold back into the crowded street, but she might as well be fighting her way through a wall, and the first wagon of the Caravan was barely a hundred feet away. She was all but trapped.

“SSS!” Beside her face, the basilisk seemed legitimately frazzled now, letting out a low, constant, bursts of noise that had to be representative of something close to panic. Sounds which resonated with her, on a multitude of levels because all she had wanted to do for some time this morning was the human equivalent.

She wanted to scream. Hell- she wanted to do more than scream as the carts drew closer, she wanted to run, but instead she moved along with the painfully slow flowing of foot-traffic. There wasn’t another side street for hundreds of paces, there wasn’t even an alley in sight she could try to cram herself.

There!

She saw her chance, following as someone took a sudden detour towards a building relief. Almost hidden there was an entrance. Without even checking the sign above her, she followed the person inside- slipping in behind them just as the door creaked closed. With a final groan of metal hinges behind her, it shut with a jingle of brass bells.

Quickly she turned to peer out the window beside it as the caravan passed. From behind the thick shutters, she could see the heads turning here and there among the escorts of the caravan. Their eyes searching with interest as they passed over the crowds right outside. As Eveth waited with breath held, she watched as the crossbowman in the back of the caravan stared almost directly at her, eyes never lingering from her position until their wagon had passed well beyond the building. As they left, their expression seemed almost… disappointed.

Then, they were gone.

Finally, she could breathe again.

“First King above.” With a long-winded sigh, Eveth leaned on her staff, exhausted. “This city has gone to shit.” She whispered. The hair on the back of her neck was standing straight up, tingles of adrenaline running through her veins.

“Hiss.” The snake replied, in what Eveth believed could only be absolute agreement.

Turning from the window, Eveth took the chance to catch her bearings with the building she’d entered, eyes forced to adjusted to the dimmer light. As she was much closer to the center of the city now, she supposed it could really be anything, and a quick glance around didn’t confirm too much of value. Stone walls beside an iron-hinged door: it seemed the entryway here was something of a corner hallway, before opening into the actual store itself. The air had a musty smell, not bad or rotten, so much as a taste of “old” things. As Eveth listened, she could hear a murmur of voices behind a corner.

“You’ve brought good news then?” Down the way, a gravelly voice spoke up. “I’m in need of it.”

“Good and bad. The Empire’s looking for as large an order as you can mix to be shipped out as soon as possible. The contract’s here, and they’ll send runners to pick up.” Another man’s voice replied.

“Again?”

“Issue is going out for the whole city this time, they can’t meet production on their own.”

“This is the third time this month. I happy to do it for the coin, but I’m running out of supplies.”

“Everyone is, that’s the problem. I wanted to tell you first, have your assistants head out to the Dungeon district before the Merchants drive the prices up this afternoon. There should still be some independents with leftover stock for a few hours.”

“Fine, Luth! Rhela! Head out the back, take the purse and pickup whatever crystals are still for sale- and some rag moss, while you’re at it.”

A muffled reply answered that, followed by movement.

“But what of news?” The volume of the speaker’s voice lowered suddenly, and Eveth found herself straining to listen. “I got your letter this morning, did something happen?”

“Two more shops were burned down, just last night. Quail’s place was one of them”

“No! You don’t think…”

“Oh, I can think it all I want, but if the state of things outside gives us any idea we both know that nobody has got the backbone left to say it.”

“Those damned bastards! Buying out whoever’s willing to sell, and if they’re not? If they’re not-”

“Keep it down! Holdar, Gods above. They’ve got ears and eyes everywhere you know. Light knows the gold they’re paying for it.”

“Blast it all, fine then. Let me see that list, what in the First King's name does the Empire need so much of…” The man, Holdar seemed to grumble, as if in thought, “Lesser potions? That’s really all they need this time? Damn things are good for nothing but simplicity! Why, three years ago I’d be making custom drafts per Mage, high quality work- yet now all they want is a basic substitute?” Eveth heard the shopkeeper grumble angrily, clinking of glass and rustling of papers following. “It’s a waste of crystal, truly a waste!”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry Holdar, even if I did have a reason for why, I’m sure I wouldn’t be allowed to tell you what they need it for. Stamp on this was issued by the Royal crest, all I’ve been told is they’re loading product onto their ships by the ton. Airfield has been flying every available cargo for the last two weeks, flying out towards the West.” The reply seemed tired, and… louder, Eveth realized. As if the person had turned around to head back her way. “Listen, I’ve got three more shops to visit, but I’ll return tonight. Hopefully I’ll have more for you by then.”

Scratch that: they were coming back her way quickly.

Eveth turned back towards the door, then the hall, then the door again. She hated situations like this. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, exactly, but if they found her standing here eavesdropping, it certainly wouldn’t do her any favors- and it didn’t sound as though she had time to leave. Eveth didn’t want to go back out onto the street just yet, anyways. Hurry or not, she’d rather let things die down before taking a risk.

The footsteps grew closer, clearly heading back the way they’d originally come in, and Eveth quickly reached for the door, opened it just enough, then pushed it closed again: ringing the bells before taking several steps of her own towards the corner of the hall.

As she rounded the turn, a larger man wearing a messenger’s bag almost collided with her.

“Ah, my apologies.” The man nimbly sidestepped with quick nod as they rushed past her, and the bells rang once more- which was good enough, Eveth supposed. Her minor crisis had been narrowly avoided. Of course, she hadn’t timed that perfectly so now that she was around the bend, and in perfect line of sight of the shopkeeper waiting behind the counter. Thick spectacles shown in the light of a glow stone overhead as the older man was stared expectantly at her and at this point Eveth knew she was socially obligated to try and buy something, or at least expected to walk around politely with a promise to return.

She’d dodged, only to be hit anyways.

So be it.

“Please don’t make a scene.” Eveth whispered before heading in. “Just stay quiet. Few moments, then we’re gone. That’s all I’m asking for.”

The snake didn’t answer.

“Welcome.” The gravelly voice greeted. “Come in come in! Ah, and is that a weatherwood staff? Quite the quality piece for the price. Are you a trained mage by chance?”

“I’m just taking a quick look around, not here for… here… for…” Eveth’s reply as she entered the main room seemed to stall itself out, as her mind… well. What had once been reaching for a quick excuse to leave, found itself stuck. “Wow.” She said.

The entire store was full of magic items: shelves, tables, stacks along the wall- and then a few more shelves, for good measure. All of which were packed to the brim.

“First time in?” The man behind the counter pushed up his glasses, smiling wide. “Recommended by a friend, I hope.”

“Ah… yes…” Eveth said, slowly walking towards the closest row. Hundreds of items, each one glowing with its own aura in her mind’s eye. It was a small room, but heavens help her: there was a lot in it. How had she never heard of this place?

“Shelves are a little dusty, I’m sorry about that. I don’t get all that many Mages in person these days. Shame that, but if you force people to pick between magic and bread, the choice is a simple one.”

“That’s true.” She replied, eyes wandering. As far as unnecessary distractions went, this was a dangerous one. The magical energy in this room was intense enough for her to taste, especially now that she was well and truly inside. Weapons, staffs, scrolls, several stacks of books and contraptions were scattered about in general sections. Some in understandable context, others perhaps placed simply because there was room for them. “It’s alright if I look around?”

“Of course, be my guest.”

On the chest level shelf there was a whole dish of rings on a display case, sealed in beneath a dome of glass. Each one seemed to be imbued with a carefully crafted crystal as their center-pieces, and tiny detailed scripts all along the metal of the rings themselves. Nothing like her own rune-work, these were masterfully done. Beside them, several more rings were sitting out- as well as a few necklaces, but most seemed in rough shape. One in particular stood out to her though: a spell storage ring, empty- or perhaps left to rest without a source so long its contents had faded. It looked plain, but it was well made.

“How much for one of these rings?” She asked, peering closer. Each was tied to a small label. A name and a number were marked in small script. Not a price, but some sort of identification number for a ledger, along with a small rune.

Eveth picked the storage ring from its resting place, and then abruptly felt a tingle- growing sensation of painful pricks. Before her eyes she could see a sudden feedback of mana prompting her to quickly drop the piece back where it had been waiting before.

It seemed to defy gravity, as it pulled back to its exact position.

“Oh, careful there. I’ve got the room set with… well, some safeguards. Just let me know what the tag has written, I’ll sort it out.”

“Understood.” Eveth replied, nursing her hand.

On the shelf, the buzzing of ambient mana ceased, as if it had never been. Beneath the ring, Eveth could make out a faint glow as it settled back into the shelf itself. Glancing at the floor, Eveth felt she realized there was something similar there as well. She supposed that explained the shopkeeper’s relaxed attitude towards a stranger meandering through their merchandise. Why worry, when there was magic to keep someone honest?

Slowly she moved on to another shelf, this one filled with larger items. Ancient looking armor pieces, plates and helms. Scattered among these were arm-guards, and intricate bracers. A few of those had a much more modern appearance to them.

“Looking for something that might fit a teammate, perhaps? I get a very Dungeon-hardened vibe about you, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“Well, I’ve done my share.” She replied, as she made her way on past and around, back now to the shopkeeper. There were ingredients on this row, jars of preserved plants and powders. Eveth recognized many of them, typical collections from the upper levels of the Dungeon network, but there were a few specific cases that were much more deep dwelling. An entire jar of Azul-caps mushrooms for example, still holding a faint ambient glow of poisonous blue.

Quite the dangerous ingredient.

“Sss…” Beside her head, the basilisk crept out of its hiding place beneath her cloak to stare at it. Eveth adjusted her hood, uneasy. With her back to the shopkeeper they might not be able to see the snake, but anyone coming down the hallway would.

“Out of everything here, what gets your attention is a deadly alchemy ingredient?” Eveth whispered under her breath as she lingered on the case for a moment, waiting until the serpent returned to its relative shelter, out of sight from the more immediate view.

Slowly she moved along, only stopping once more when she reached the first table of books. Hundreds and hundreds of books.

“You're a reader, then?”

“Sometimes.” Eveth replied as she looked through. The table seemed to be trade-ins and used copies, but the shelves beside it seemed to hold the real gems of the small library. “You’ve got quite the selection.” Slowly she browsed through the titles. Advanced study of Space and Manipulation, Routine Practices of Element Mastery, Art of Flame Volume III. “Progressive mix.”

“Well, having the Academy nearby helps, but I select what appeals to me.” The shopkeeper replied. “Our main business is potions, though. Custom-make, all I need is a blood and scale reading, and maybe a few quick questions unless you’re looking for something outside of the norm. We cover mana, healing, and we’ve got a minor stamina recipe that’s been quite popular. Are you a student?”

“No, I-“ Eveth stopped as her eyes locked onto a single book lying flat atop a middle shelf. It sat alone, as if completely forgotten, leather worked with gilding of gold and silver.

Her hand reached out for it, stopping just short.

“Oh my, you are ambitious. The Modern Theory of Soul Magic.” The Shopkeeper said. “Fairly recent publication in the field, far as these things go. Written by Archmage Silus, several years ago.” Leaning over the counter, Eveth saw his glasses catch an odd shine in the light. “An extraordinarily talented man, he’s quite brilliant.”

“Brilliant?” Eveth asked, frowning. “How so?”

“Well, I’ll admit: I was quite skeptical at first. When I heard there were only five spells to be explained in the book, I almost thought it was a sort of academic joke- but, Light above: the detail of it! Layers upon layers, first spell book in a long time that made me stop and really think.”

“You’ve read it then?”

“Oh yes, several times. His take on the simple [Light] spell alone I think I’ve read a dozen times. Most convenient, the concept of splitting a channel like that, while conserving the same rate of mana consumption.”

“What of the others?” Eveth let her hand fall flat onto the book, fingers cool to its touch. “You said there were five.”

“Ah, well the rest- they’re all on the cutting edge: created by the man himself. Most are lucky if they spend their whole lives to be a part of creating just one or two, and they’re almost always rune-based nowadays. Yet he came up with four in a pure element, and completely on his own, no less! Can you even imagine that?”

“I can’t.” Eveth replied quietly, as her eyes watched the faint glow of mana respond. Slowly the current pulsed along, like a tiny network of rivers running against the gradient of weight and force. Not yet disturbed, but aware. “I can’t even imagine.” She repeated.

“Well, I suppose that’s only natural. They say the work he’s doing is going to put mankind ahead a hundred years at least. He was recognized by the Royal Courts after publishing this. Almost unheard of, for just a simple publication.”

“What was your favorite part of the book, then?” Eveth asked.

"My favorite?"

"Yes. Out of all of it.”

“Truly... well, I found the final spell of the book to be most interesting. The unfinished sixth spell, as it were. I found that to be a tantalizing line of thought. To use the element for such a purpose...”

“Did you now?” Her fingers began to lift as she felt the magic. She could see it, the pattern of it, organized and moving. So simple, so obvious now. Just a simple binding, a leaflet in the pages to the matching symbol within the wood of the shelf, and the far-off symbol behind the counter. There was a relay that ran along the floor by way of messenger runes.

So simple. So stupidly simple.

Her fingers began to curl into a fist.

“Oh yes.” He said. “The whole book leads up to the finaly spell, a theory reaching over all the combinations of the element, while maintaining the fundamentals that hold true for all of them. I found it rather daring that Silus left that last portion incomplete- admittedly unfinished. Yet, it leaves one to wonder. Would it be possible: to take Soul, and mix it with the old ways? Blood and bargain, of all things…”

“What do you think?”

“Well, I think I’ll just have to wait for him to finish writing the next addition.” He chuckled dryly.

"The next addition?" Eveth asked. "You think think there's going to be another?"

"Of course." The man let out a laugh. "It's been a year or two, but I’m sure that with a genius like Silus, it's only a matter of time until-”

With a dissonant crack the book dropped loudly to the floor. The perfectly gilded cover landed hard, to stare up from beneath Eveth’s outstretched hand.

It didn’t move further.

The man behind the counter looked up, astonished. His glasses slipped as he checked down at something behind the counter, before turned back, again at the book.

“That’s… odd. I set those seals myself." He said slowly, expression uncertain. "Miss, might I ask how you managed to-”

"Maybe the next book will explain it." Eveth replied, bluntly, as she headed back down the hallway they had come in. "Like you said, I'm sure it's only a matter of time."

“Sss?”

Sss yourself.” She muttered, as the bells rang her back out onto the street. “We've been here plenty long enough.”