High in one of the seven towers of the palace of the High Sorcerers, in a cold, dark room lit only by three slim windows set high on its tall walls, Julien watched as Evindr lay the Sword of Orowyn down on a rectangular table. The table sat in the middle of the room, and it seemed to be made of the same cold, smooth stone as the tower itself. Neither the walls nor the floor were covered – the ceiling was to high for Julien to see — and the table could very well be a fixture of the room. There was no other furniture.
He watched as Evindr set a few ritual elements — a bowl of incense; another bowl containing water, probably magically enhanced, with petals floating in it; and seven small glass-like balls of various sizes, all larger than marbles, the biggest about the size of a golf ball. Then he held a gold wand over the setup and began to chant an incantation. The whole setup began to glow, starting with the small spheres and swirling out around the rest. The light was a bright white at first, and Julien covered his eyes, which had only just adjusted to the dark room. When the light died down, Julien looked again. The items on the table now glowed red, and words moved around the surface of the table, as they had across the walls of the bath before. Julien tried to read them, but he only managed to make out a few words before they faded.
“As I thought,” Evindr said. Julien jumped a bit. “I was able to get the information that I need from this spell. This will help us find the thief — and the killer.”
“Yeah…” Julien said. He still could hardly believe they’d found a dead body yesterday — murdered — and someone so important as a High Sorcerer, at that. Julien was becoming more and more nervous about what it was, exactly, that he’d wound up in the middle of.
“By the way,” Evindr started. Julien looked to him, listening. “We are alone now. I mean, if you — well, you probably have questions for me that you cannot ask around others. Now would be the time to discuss them.”
“Right,” Julien said. Where to begin? “Well — those words.”
Evindr looked at him, the unspoken loud enough in just his expression.
“Those ones,” Julien said, nervously pointing to the table. He shifted awkwardly in his clothes. Today, he’d been able to choose his outfit, and he wore something lighter than the previous day’s ensemble, but it was all still all new to him, and he hadn’t yet become comfortable in these styles.
“You mean from the spell?” Evindr asked. Julien nodded. “They are a part of the magic.” Evindr said. “In some cases, they appear as the magical forces are interconnecting as per my instructions — through the incantation — and in some cases, the words are the result. In this case, what I wanted was the information about the sword, which came through in those words.”
“I can read them,” Julien said. “I mean, a little bit. I saw your name, when I woke up… I don’t know how I could tell it was your name, though.”
“I gave you the ability to read them when I brought you here,” Evindr told him. “Before you ask, I cannot do such a thing magically for other languages. Only this — the language of sorcery. It is the fact that sorcery itself is made from the same parts as this language that allows me to transmit the knowledge of it to you through sorcery.”
Julien nodded, pretending to understand that more than he did. “This is all, well… it’s a lot to take in.”
Evindr looked like he was going to apologize again. Julien stepped in before he could — that had become so awkward over the past… two days? Had it really been only that?
“So, the sword,” Julien said. “At the meeting, they mentioned that it could do some things, with magic. How does that work?”
Evindr seemed more in his element answering technical questions. “Certain materials can hold magical energy. Those with an exceedingly high capacity for it can hold it in patterns. This is how tools such as our wands work. We create spells, or patterns for spells, then encase them into tools to use later, without having to set up a whole ritual. This can be compounded several times over — both the glass balls that I used in the setup, and the wand that I held over them, contained spells.”
Julien grinned. “That sounds a little like my world’s computers, with software programs.”
“It is,” Julien said. “We have gotten a lot of ideas from observing other worlds, such as yours, and learning from their organization methods. Worlds without magic have been most enlightening — how they create things with such limited resources.”
“I thought you said people didn’t cross between worlds a lot,” Julien said.
“They do not,” Evindr said. “But it is much easier for us to merely observe you, than to go there. Here in the High Sorcerers’ palace, we observe other worlds fairly regularly as part of our research.”
“So, you’re basically magical scientists?” Julien asked.Evindr almost grinned. “Yes, pretty much,” he said. “That is interesting that you say that. Many in your world would see that as an oxymoron, but you seem to understand how it is not. You’ve caught on well, for someone so new to all of this,” he said.
“Ah, thanks,” Julien said. He hadn’t been expecting compliments. “So, well. The sword,”
“Right,” Evindr said. “The sword and the other magic artifacts are special because they are made of some of the finest magic-holding materials ever found, crafted into beautiful tools by some of the kingdom’s finest artisans. But the thing that sets them apart most is that they contain spells crafted by some of history’s greatest magicians. Unlike your computer programs, these spells cannot be so simply copied. They were created under very precise circumstances, and the deepest intricacies of what makes them work are not yet understood. But as long as the tools themselves are preserved under the right conditions, the spells inside of them can be used.”
“Wow,” Julien said. “And this one’s still in one piece?” He looked to the sword.
“Yes,” Evindr said. “The person who stole it was careful not to disturb the spells within.”
“So then they must respect the sword,” Julien said. “Does that narrow down the possible suspects?”
“Not at all,” Evindr said. “It would be hard to find someone who would dare disrespect such important artifacts, or at least someone who would admit to it publicly.”
“What if they didn’t know how to keep the spells safe?”
“Such a person would not have been able to break into the vaults and steal it in the first place,” Evindr replied.
“Right,” Julien said. “So, what spells does the sword have in it, anyway?”
“That’s where things get complicated,” Evindr said. “The main function of the sword, magically, at least, is to compel a person to speak the truth.”
“Is it the only thing that can do that?”
“That is my concern,” Evindr said. “On the contrary, there are many things that can do that. It is also not hard for a sorcerer of any experience to design their own spell to accomplish it. This sword’s specific strength in that respect only applies in very specific circumstances. It is hard to imagine that this could be one of those.”
“Then…” Julien said.
“As a weapon, it is not very special,” Evindr said. “If anything, it is less functional. It was formed as a sword for symbolic purposes only, you see. It was not meant to be wielded.”
“But it was, wasn’t it?” Julien asked. “I mean, the report said that the wounds were made by something of that shape…”
“And my analysis says that it was something other than this sword,” Evindr responded. “Another twist to this story. This sword bears no traces that the relevant parts of its blade ever touched the body.”
“So… what?” Julien asked. “The killer had a copy made?”
“It is a possibility,” Evindr said. “And if that were the case, they could have kept the real sword, and distracted us with a copy so that we would waste time and let them get away.”
“So this sword might be the fake?” Julien asked. Evindr nodded. “Can’t you tell with magic?”
“Yes, but it would take time,” Evindr said. “The preliminary level of analysis I have done here could be fooled quite easily, actually, if the thief had the real sword in hand at the time the copy was made. An in-depth analysis would need to be done, however…”
“It’s the same problem,” Julien said. “If it is the real sword, you could waste time authenticating it and let them get away just the same.”
Evindr looked at the sword, and considered the issue. “We will discuss it with the others later,” he said.
“I was thinking about something else,” Julien said. “Karolis was a High Sorcerer, right? How did the killer even get close enough to kill him? Couldn’t he block against something like that?”“Not necessarily,” Evindr said. “While it is true that the High Sorcerers have a high degree of magical ability, that does not necessarily mean they can automatically do things like block attacks or sense an assassin. Not unless they had set up a spell for that in advance, which I am fairly sure Karolis had not. However…”
He left the chamber momentarily and came back with some of the reports that they had been given – they could not bring their belongings inside, for fear of interfering with the spell.
“According to the reports, it didn’t seem as if the killer ran up and struck him suddenly. It’s almost as if he was killed standing still. Like he let it happen.”
Julien blinked. “Does that mean it was someone he knew?” he asked. “Or someone he’d planned to meet, at least?”
Evindr frowned. “Perhaps. At least, it indicates that the encounter started without violence.”
“Another thing,” Julien started, then paused. He wasn’t sure whether or not he should ask, but he decided to go ahead. “I was wondering… you don’t think this is connected to the missing prince, is it?”Evindr didn’t react. “What makes you think that?” he asked.
“It’s just, well… the way they reacted, in that meeting yesterday when you said who I was – I mean -“
“I know what you mean,” Evindr said. “Yes, they did react to that. But you don’t need to worry about it. There are… Well. There are other issues there, but they aren’t anything you need to worry about.”
Julien started to protest, but Evindr was right. He was there to play a role, a temporary substitute. It really wasn’t his place to ask those sorts of questions.“So, Evindr,” Julien said.
“The prince, wherever he is…” Julien said. “Do you think he knows? That he’s actually the prince?”
“It is most likely that he would,” Evindr said, “He would discover it as soon as he began studying magic. Those of the royal line have more powerful magic than other people. His teachers would figure it out soon enough.”
“How do you know?”
Evindr started to speak, then stopped. After a moment, he responded, “Because it’s true. It simply is.”
Julien wasn’t convinced.
“Is the royals’ magic that much stronger?” Julien asked. Evindr said it was so.
Evindr seemed to be trying to focus on putting his magical implements away, as if he was trying to avoid continuing the conversation. Julien took the hint and dropped it.
“It’s about time for the meeting,” Evindr said. “We should hurry.” He picked up the last of the implements and put it in his bag as they left the room.
They walked down the stairs, to the floor where the meeting was. When they reached that floor, Julien realized they were on a different end of the palace than where they had been before – they would walk through this floor to the meeting room. Where they came out of the stairs was something of a pavilion at the other end of the floor. Evindr continued to the hall that led to where they needed to be, but Julien stopped.
On the wall across from them was a large mosaic. It seemed to be a figure casting a spell.
“Ah,” Evindr said, coming back to where Julien had stopped. “Are you interested in this?”
“Y-yeah,” Julien said. The detail, the colors of the tiles, the composition, all were amazing, but Julien was captivated by the central figure. There was something about her pose, about the look in her eyes – though her face was only barely suggested by a couple of pieces in the mosaic – that spoke of a deep sadness, even though the task she was performing was clearly intensive, powerful magic. She focused through the emotion, and the people watching, depicted near the bottom of the mosaic, seemed to celebrate for it, oblivious to the despair she was feeling. As for what she was creating, Julien couldn’t tell what it was. She held her hands above her head, and they glowed, but the glow faded into the light stone of the walls. Was she some sort of goddess creating the sky? It seemed a bit too new for that, though, like it depicted a history, not a myth. She seemed far too human.
“Come,” Evindr said. “I will tell you the story as we walk. You should know it anyway – it would be most peculiar if you did not.”
Evindr told Julien that the figure was Queen Thaisa, an important historic ruler of Thyreia, and a powerful sorceress whose work in magic was still highly important centuries later. Julien remembered her name from the history lessons, but the stories all ran together in his mind. He was glad for this refresher.
The mosaic depicted her performing a spell to create something big. “What was she creating?” Julien asked.
Evindr waved his hand around. “This,” he replied.
“What… the building?”
“Yes,” Evindr said. “The whole palace complex. And she built it by her own magic alone, creating the buildings from memory, after one that had been destroyed. This is why the three buildings on the corners, that the complex is formed around as a triangle, are identical. They were all based on her memory of the same building, the old palace that she had lived in, that had been destroyed.”
“Wow,” Julien said. “Can sorcerers really do all that much?”
Evindr seemed to hesitate slightly in his step, before answering. “There… there were once some. There are none as powerful now as she was,” he said.
Julien paused. He didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing. He felt as if he had stumbled on something deep. He wanted to ask how the old palace had been destroyed, but he could tell it would have to wait.
They didn’t speak for the rest of the way to the meeting.
As Julien walked behind Evindr, watching him, he contemplated the sorcerer. Evindr was still a mystery to him. Well, everything else was, too, still, but Evindr in particular… Julien had spent so much time with him, and yet he felt he still knew almost nothing of what the white-haired sorcerer felt, what he thought, what his experiences had been. Julien had thought to ask, but the atmosphere had never felt right for it.
And what did he feel about the murder? The High Sorcerer, Karolis, had been his teacher. When the other students found out, they had been horrified. Julien hadn’t been there when they’d been told – he had been by the body while the guards went to alert the rest of the group. Only Ianthe had come down to the scene, and she had been quite upset – but Evindr’s shock had been different. He had stood silent, as if deep in thought. And he had been very tense after that. The ease that the two of them had been developing had slipped away to almost nothing. It was such a change from how he had smiled in the garden, just before they’d found the body. He had tried to seem as he had before when he met Julien that morning, but the tension was still there.
Julien looked ahead at Evindr’s tense shoulders and wondered, for a moment, if the sorcerer blamed him. It wouldn’t be unusual if he did. After all, he had been sent away to cast this spell, taking who-knows-how-long to prepare it, to summon him, a fake prince… and to return to this news. If he hadn’t gone, maybe he would have been able to prevent this whole mess.
If he hadn’t gone, Julien thought, I wouldn’t be here, would I?
The feelings that evoked surprised him. He should want that alternative, shouldn’t he? He should wish that had happened… maybe he should even resent Evindr for bringing him there, even if the mission wasn’t his idea.
So then why didn’t he? Was he really just some stupid nerd who was that into this sort of thing that he’d really ignore the risks? Did he not realize the gravity of the situation? Shouldn’t he miss his home?
He did – of course he did. He shook his head. Why was he even thinking that? This was temporary – he needed to complete this task and get home as soon as possible. People would miss him – he had classwork to complete. There were responsibilities waiting for him there. But he shouldn’t resent Evindr for it. After all, they needed to work together.
Julien looked up and realized they had arrived at the meeting. It was in the same room as the meeting the previous day, but now, everything was different, wasn’t it? The theft investigation had now become a murder case. The atmosphere had been tense the day before, but now it was even more so.
The table in the room was round, and Julien sat down, immediately to the left of where Evindr sat. On Evindr’s other side were Aris, Niocles, and Ianthe, his fellow students. Julien had met them the previous day, but he hadn’t gotten a good look at them. Now, he studied them as they waited for the meeting to start.
Aris, sitting immediately to Evindr’s right, was sitting back in his chair, arms folded. His face seemed tense, his fingers impatiently tapping against his arm. He wore his long, blond hair in a ponytail with a braid on the side, like before, and a loose-fitting sleeveless top pinned at the shoulder, with detached, fitted sleeves.
On his other side was Niocles, who sat up, focused on the papers on the table in front of him. Two pens lay parallel on the table next to the papers. He traced the lines with his long, pale finger as he read, going over some parts again and again, double-checking them. His black hair was in a long braid, and he wore a similar style of shirt to Aris’.
The third was Ianthe, even more intense today than she had been yesterday. She held a file of papers about four centimeters thick in front of her on the table. Her red hair was in two loose braids over her shoulders.
All three of them wore several pieces of jewelry that seemed to contain magic spells – gems that looked like the glass spheres that Evindr had used in the analysis spell. Ianthe had two bracelets on the arm that held the thick file, Niocles had a piece on a necklace, and Aris had a few bands around his arms, plus a ring. And that was just what he’d noticed so far to look magical – everyone here wore a lot of jewelry. He wondered if there was any magic in the pieces Evindr had given him. He hadn’t known to look before.
Princess Demetria, across the table from Evindr, began the meeting. Ianthe gave her information first.
“I’ve compiled a report based on the residual energies in the vault,” she said, passing the large file to the princess. “We used six methods of analysis, following standard procedure. The details are in the file. Fortunately, we were able to find a lot of residual energies,” she said. “Though it still remains to be seen whether or not we can use them to figure anything out.”
Julien tried to follow. Evindr had explained this to him, and he tried to remember what the sorcerer had said. When magic is used, remnants of the energies of the spells remain in the air, and these can be analyzed to figure out what spells had been used in a place at what time. This could lead you to a specific sorcerer, since most sorcerers have very specific sets of spells that they use frequently. But the analysis was the tricky part – first, in deciding which energies to test for; since certain tests could end up interfering with the energies in the space, the order of testing was the first sensitive part of the process. Second, analyzing the energies found could be difficult. The same reading could mean different things – one spell five hours ago might read the same as a different spell ten hours ago. The more spells in the room could make it even trickier – combinations of spells could easily be mistaken for different things entirely, and a clever thief would think to use spells that would be intentionally confusing to analyze.
But Ianthe was an expert – the top of her field, like the other students, second only to the High Sorcerers. Her analysis was bound to be as accurate as possible.
Escala leafed through the document as Julien thought back over the explanation he’d heard.
“This is very complete,” the High Sorceress said, passing the file to the princess. “Good work as always, Ianthe.”
“Thank you,” Ianthe said.
Princess Demetria took the file and looked through it. She seemed to finish a page, when she noticed something and went to look back over it. She flipped to the next page and read through that as well. Then, she frowned, and read over a section again.
“Is something wrong?” Ianthe asked.
“Ah- no,” Demetria said. She closed the file, and passed it to her right. Julien realized he was the next person. Nervously, he took the file, and passed it to Evindr.
“I’m not an expert,” he said. “I doubt I’d know what to do with this…” he trailed off, cringing at how awkward he was.
Evindr diverted the attention, clearing his throat. “I performed some analysis on the sword that was found next to the victim,” he said.
Suddenly the room seemed to grow even more tense. The victim. Julien watched the students’ expressions, as well as those of Escala and the princess. They all seemed to keep their emotions in check, but the tension in the room gave voice to what they would not. They were keeping the death a secret for now, but Julien wondered how long that would last. He assumed there would be a funeral, but when?
His attention returned to the meeting, and to what Evindr was saying to the room. Not that Julien understood any of it. It seemed to be a more technical version of what he had told Julien earlier, about what would need to be done to be completely certain that the sword was not a fake.
“There are several paths we can take in this respect,” he said. “I have described them, and my own analysis, in my report,” he said, passing his file Julien, to hand to the princess. She smiled as she took it, seeming relieved about something.
From there, they heard Aris and Niocles’ reports as well. Aris gave further information from the autopsy of the victim. Niocles had gone through the things that Karolis had been working on at the time of his death. The room grew even more tense as Niocles spoke – the reality sinking in that the High Sorcerer was truly dead as they spoke of specific things about him, not just of “the victim” in abstract.
After a few final decisions, the meeting was dismissed, and everyone started to go their separate ways.
“Evindr,” Demetria said, as he and Julien had begun to leave.
“Yes?” he asked.
“I -“ she started. “That is, I have something to ask you about. Regarding your report.”
“Of course, Highness,” he said.
“If you would meet me in the Emerald Room, in an hour from now, we can discuss it,” she said.
Evindr nodded. Julien watched his expression. So he hadn’t been imagining it – the princess had seemed bothered by something in Ianthe’s report. Julien didn’t need to understand magic terminology to pick up on that.
“And bring my cousin,” she continued, “If you would.”
“Of course,” Evindr replied. Julien looked to him, and Evindr replied with a glance that seemed to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle this.”
An hour later, they entered the room that Demetria had specified. It was, true to its name, full of green. The walls were off-white, decorated with gold and marble parts, and they served as an excellent backdrop to the green-upholstered furniture of the room. On side tables sat vases and small sculptures, the same shade of green dominating, plus other various items that Julien didn’t recognize. Of course, now was not the time to ask Evindr, but he wanted to.
The princess sat on a couch facing away from the entrance, and Julien and Evindr entered and sat opposite her.
“Thank you both for coming,” she said. Julien noticed that the three of them were alone.
“Of course,” Evindr said. Then, he cut right to the chase. “You noticed something in the residual energies report, didn’t you?” he asked.
Demetria inhaled sharply. “…You noticed,” she said.
“I know you well, Princess,” he replied.
“Very well,” she said. “In that case, I should just tell you.”