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Chapter 37: In Which Problems Pile High

The hammering at the door was loud enough to wake the dead. As it was, the Grand Master wasn't even asleep, so a simple knock would have been sufficient. He felt weary beyond measure, but who could sleep when the world was about to end? Everything was falling apart, and Marning could not find the glue that would put things back in order.

He rose to answer the door, but it burst open before he could reach it. Burgen Winterstarch, who had the ability to look refreshed at every hour, was properly ruffled up, his clothes disheveled, his hair so tousled it had become a mane of fluffy golden curls that stood like a mound of dandelions on top of his head. His eyes were bloodshot and there were deep baggy shadows underneath them. "Grand...Master," he panted, shoving forward a scroll that he held tightly in his fist. "This is absurd!"

"Which part of this is absurd?" Marning asked, trying to take the scroll from him but Burgen pulled his hand away.

"Why didn't it work?" Burgen demanded. "The spell of making should have worked, I've looked through every single script that ever mentioned that dagger and they each point out the condition. But there's only one condition and there's no argument – they're in unanimous agreement about what it is!"

"Ah." The Grand Master laid his hand across his forehead and sighed. He had allowed himself to forget about that problem, because, while it certainly served to be a big problem, it was rather unfortunate for everyone that there were troubles even bigger than that at hand. "Yes, that is very curious."

"Curious?" asked Burgen, "Curious? There can be only one King's Magician at a time, and only when that one dies there can be the next. You knew this condition all along. How then could you be so calm?"

"You mistake calmness with despair, my boy," the Grand Master said. "Perhaps with this curse upon us there are new conditions we are unaware of."

"Good gods." Burgen shook his head and began pacing back and forth, holding the scroll between both his hands. "I've tried to understand, I tried to figure it out, perhaps the King had nominated a King's Magician behind our backs – but then, he looked dreadfully surprised yesterday and his acting skills have never been up to par –And then there's the chance – there's the possibility that – " Burgen paused, pursing his lips together. "Could you have been wrong, Grand Master?"

"Anything is possible," Marning replied, "however, I doubt I was wrong about that."

"But he was the greatest magician in the world!" exclaimed the young man, flinging the scroll at the Grand Master. "Maybe he found a way to trick even you."

The Grand Master flattened the slightly crumpled scroll, scanning the letters. It was enough to simply read the title to understand what Burgen was thinking, but he pored over the sentences and over entire paragraphs until he finally looked up. "He would never," he hissed, "do such a thing."

"Did you really know him that well?" Burgen asked. "I heard that after the King married Varemini, he lost it."

"I won't contradict you, Winterstarch," the Grand Master said with a sigh. "That issue deeply affected him in ways even I couldn't see. But I can assure you that the sacrifice that this spell requires – the lifeblood of a child with no Wielder powers – would prevent him from carrying it out, he would never commit such an odious crime."

"But look what he was willing to do with this -" Winterstarch stopped speaking abruptly probably due to the Grand Master's glare. "Maybe he found a different way, Grand Master," he said instead.

"Maybe," Marning said curtly.

"You're trying to convince yourself. Why can't you accept it? Cooper is alive."

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