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Chapter 18: In Which Burgen Winterstarch Is Competent

The life of a magician was made up first of study, then of magic. Every magician was a Wielder, but not every Wielder chose to become a magician. In Auranora and most of the neighbouring countries, women were not allowed the privilege of studying magic, and some men in rural areas deliberately chose not to take that path. While a life in magic could hold much glory, and much fame, it was not a life meant for everyone who had the skill for it. Many magicians, regardless of how ambitious they were, spent their lives grazing only the lowest ranks of magedom.

The study of magic was all about trying to understand it; how it worked, where it came from, where it was all going. Magicians were as much philosophers and theoreticians as they were men of action. It was a harsh life, for they constantly had to challenge life, and thus challenge death.

Most magicians grew thin, bald and shrivelled. The deeper one went into magic, the less one ate, the less one slept, the more daunting and draining it all became.

Marning had gone through those sleepless nights of study and had missed more meals than five young magicians put together. By now he had had enough of that; by now there were several generations of younger magicians who could lack sleep and nourishment on his behalf.

It was past midnight. He slept.

The room he was in was threadbare, like all magic seminary rooms: a desk, a lamp, a bookshelf, a bed. There was one small window that had no curtain, and the moonlight flooded in, both illuminating and casting deep, dark shadows on the walls and floor.

One of those shadows, a thin one on the wall cast by the back of the narrow chair, began behaving oddly. It wriggled around in waves at first, then collapsed in on itself before it grew straight and thin once more. It stood still for a moment, and then, following one shiver, a piece of the shadow disconnected itself and began hovering about the room. It took the shape of a human eye as it would have been drawn by a pen; the upper and lower lid, the lashes, and the pupil were outlined in black, but no face filled the space between the lines. The eye looked about the room until it located the sleeping form of the Grand Master. It drifted toward him, hovering over the pillow by his head. It blinked once, and then rearranged itself into a pair of lips.

The lips parted, revealing the outline of teeth and a tongue. "Grand Master," they whispered.

Marning snored loudly in reply.

"Grand Master, sir," they whispered again.

No answer.


Marning sat up at once, eyes wide, the few remaining tufts of white hair on his mostly bald head standing on end. "What is it, Winterstarch?" he demanded, searching for the source of the voice. Then he remembered that this was a seminary room, that Burgen Winterstarch was miles away and that the one who spoke was the small shadow that had morphed into an eye and was hovering by his head.

When the eye saw that it had Marning's attention, it rearranged itself into a mouth again. "You have to come back, sir!" Winterstarch's outline of a mouth said.

"What happened? And why just your mouth?"

"I was in a hurry, Grand Master!" Winterstarch's voice was strained. "It's the kid. I had a visit from a concerned guard, he said that the boy was taken down into the dungeon and they're using argentbane on him!"

"AREGENTBANE?" Bed-sheets and pillows flying everywhere, the Grand Master leapt out of his bed and grabbed his robe from where it hung on a peg on the bare wall. "What are you waiting for? GO STOP THEM."

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