Chapter 68

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Helani lifted her head from the paperwork scattered across a desk of pale sandelwood. Her stoneiris pinged, cool as a drop of rainwater touching her brow. Reclining in her leather chair, she assessed the insight, turned it over in her mind and understood what she had sensed. The two magisters standing in her office paused halfway through their complaint as she turned to glare out the window. 

"Saint Helani--" one of them began.

She didn't raise a hand so much as lift her fingers from the desk, but the one who had spoken bit his tongue. Though they were only Truemages, they both turned to look out the window that served as the office's south-facing wall. They would only see the administrative district of Deserteye, a gridwork of public squares walled with olive groves, two-storied counting houses with dark ivy crawling up chalk-white walls, and the towering twin bascillicas across the street. 

Beyond the wide roads lined with evergreen ghost blossoms and the iron terraces where financiers slipped pipes out of their robes to smoke away the resting hour with their colleagues, blocked off by low walls that kept the worst of the sand out of the city, the desert rolled into the horizon, red and barren and wide as a sea. Helani was looking beyond even this, because she wasn't using her natural senses.

Her stoneiris pinged again, and in the breath it took her to deconstruct the insight, she made out a hint of concentrated Earth aura, and a sudden vacuum of Water aura, gathered into a dangerously condensed spirit.

Helani rose with the grace of a sword slowly unsheathed, and the two magisters sunk to knees and fists to bow.

"Excuse me," she said needlessly. Slippers noiseless agaisnt the varnished floorboards, Helani stepped around the bowed magisters, the door curtain naturally splitting in response to her soul and station. Because it never hurt to temper the frustrations of those below her, she added, "Your time is valued, magi, and I already have ideas on how your suggestions might be restructured. ]I will send a clerk with word of when we can reconvene."

"We serve at the mercy of the Saint," they said in unison.

She left them with no more than that, her dark red robes near black even in the runelit corridor. Staff hauling wooden scribing tablets and scrying bowls leapt out of her way as though she were a lion with leper's skin, all well trained to execute the correct bow without dropping whatever contents they'd been holding. White and blue robes pooled on brandy-coloured floorboards as they sunk to their knees. 

Helani had long mastered the art of suppressing facial expressions, but a mote of annoyance flitted inside her. People could get a lot more done and save a great deal of stress in their backs if they didn't have to sink low every time she passed. No one needed the formality -- personally, anyway. But such structures were essential to keeping a city of powerful mages in relative working order. Which is why, despite having access to a much faster form of travel, she walked.

The corridor was wide enough for ten yoked oxen to pass through, but it was a wormhole compared to the expanse of the main palace. That was partly why she preferred to work from the office, where everything was built for function rather than grandeur. It ended with two door curtains on either side, and an open archway that led out to a balcony with a black iron balustrade. Helani stepped out onto the balcony, and the afternoon sun warmed the top of her head. Here her robes lightened to a dark ruby, and her hair, long straight curtains of black that flowed over her shoulders and ended in a sharp line above the small of her back, gained back its lustre. 

Officially, she should have made her office in the basilica, but there was far too much foot traffic there for a stoneiris as sensitive as hers. And no one wanted to work anywhere within three hundred paces of an irritable Saint. Helani's face was still turned slightly towards the south when a mage dropped out of the sky to land on the balustrade with perfect balance. He bowed deeply at the waist, but Helani didn't worry about his back. He was, after all, a Judge.

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