Illusions of Grandeur: Part Eight
I became a magical grounding line, pulling raw power from the mages and running it through my body to the ground. Silver and red-gold and the pure blue of a summer sky: magic in all its glory and forms, in all the colors the Sight opened me to. All around me, all within me, was Magic, pure, untainted, and far too powerful for any mortal – perhaps even any Faerie – to handle. I reached out in desperation, searching for the person I knew better than anyone else, perhaps even better than myself. He was part of the Earth in a way that I could never be.
The strong gold-red-green-blue rope that connected Siobhan to me pulled at my heart, calling me north. With the Earth holding me fast and the Fire and Lightning coursing through my physical body, I knew exactly where I was anchored; it was simply a matter of moving far enough fast enough to touch Siobhan and unleash some of this into him. The wrath of fire and the dance of lightning weren’t what I was used to; my magic was bound to light and darkness and the wind that moved between them.
I breathed my partner’s name in my mind, and on that breath I felt him. First as just a surprised presence, and then as an avalanche of emotion that I let bury much of the power that carried me to him. I felt him ask a single worried question before the connection broke. It wasn’t anything I could answer, but I tried to send reassurance to him. I rebounded back to my body, opened my mouth, and screamed.
My eyes opened with that scream, and I could see, in that infinitesimal moment, brilliant fire coursing through Doug’s body and shadows and storms writhing around Peregrine’s. I could see each line in the wood, each crack in the stone, each mote of dust floating in the air. I could see everything around me; my ears were filled with the sound of my scream; my fingers caught in the blackened wood beneath me; my every nerve cried out in pain as fire and lightning ran through my veins.
Then Earth closed in and I could breathe again, though I felt disconnected to the world around me. Now, instead of a scream, my panting breaths filled my ears, and I could barely lift my head to see what Doug and Peregrine were doing. When I did, I gave a croaking laugh. They were both staring at me, and neither of them was calling their power anymore. I coughed and croaked out, “Not what you expected?”
Doug’s ears twitched for a moment, and then he started to laugh, shaking with nervous mirth. “By the Faeries, I thought you were—”
“You shone,” Peregrine said, cutting into Doug’s words. “You shone with light strong enough to burn wood.”
I let my head fall back down to inspect the floor. So I had. Ashes and dust, not wood, were in front of me. I shrugged tiredly, sitting back on my knees. “Doug, didn’t you leave fire behind when you became a professor?”
“Never,” Doug said, smiling shamelessly. “It’s far too much fun.”
I glanced at Peregrine.
The Lupe followed my gaze. “Ah, yes, you.” Doug tilted his head to one side, clasping his hands behind his back. “You’ve been a mite of a problem to us, you know,” he said, as he started walking around Peregrine, taking long, steady strides. “Trying to resurrect the dead, casting illusions of the dead, hiding your use of magic from the Institute...” He was halfway around the Acara now, and very deliberately not looking at the lord. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to get yourself branded a traitor.”
Sparks started fizzling around Peregrine’s clenched hands. “Lord Cavanaugh, may I remind you that you have no power outside the Institute?” The feather in his hat quivered, and Peregrine’s green eyes narrowed. “You can do nothing to me.”
Doug shrugged and took his last step. The sparks disappeared, and Peregrine looked at his hands in shock. Doug turned to face Peregrine, tail slowly waving in satisfaction. “I can do more than you think.”
I examined my hands, slowly opening and closing them. Though they had taken the brunt of the power flowing through me, they looked just as they used to. They still worked perfectly. I had felt them burning, just as my throat had, just as my arms had, but nothing seemed damaged at all. I raised my eyes again in time to see Peregrine hit the barrier Doug had raised. I smiled. Doug’s instinctive skill for destruction was impressive, but his basic magical talent still showed in his less showy conjurations. Peregrine simply bounced back to the center, thrown away by the backlash.
The Lupe simply raised his eyebrows. “Really, Peregrine?”
“What am I supposed to do?” the lord growled, throwing out one lightning-colored hand. “Stand here and wait for you to pass judgment?”
“That’s the typical strategy,” I said. My voice worked again, I was pleased to hear. I stood, with a wince as much for the ruined clothes as for my aching body, and walked over to Doug. “You’ll find that you can’t do anything right now. Not without an accomplice out here, and I doubt you have one of those.”
Peregrine’s eyes darted behind us, and I felt Doug raise a swift barrier, just in case. Neither of us moved, however, and Peregrine snarled again.
I laughed. “Everyone tries that trick, m’lord. We’re used to it by now.”
“Why do you work together so well?” Peregrine gave another violent wave of his hands. “You can’t have seen each other for years, even if once you both studied here.”
Doug rested his hand on my shoulder. “We’re friends. That doesn’t go away.”
Peregrine made a disgusted noise and turned away from us.
I shook my head and pulled away from Doug. He could handle Peregrine better than I, and I wanted to ensure that Cecilia didn’t try anything rash. I avoided looking at the ashes where I had burnt a hole in the floor to reach the earth and carefully stepped around that spot as I returned to the door and the little garden where I had left Cecilia. As I approached, I saw her still there, and I smiled. She ran and hugged me, tears running down her face and into my shoulder for the second time that evening.
I held her and waited until she had the breath to speak, even in sobbing bursts. When at last she stilled, and simply stayed put, clinging to me like I was keeping her afloat at sea, I gently raised her head and smiled. “I’m fine, Cece,” I said, fighting to keep my voice steady. “I’m fine.”
“You didn’t—” She swallowed and continued. “I thought you were going to burn.”
“Earth doesn’t burn,” I said simply. “And if I tie myself to earth, then neither can I.”
Cecilia smiled a little. “Wh— what happens now?”
I glanced at Doug and Peregrine. Doug caught my eyes and jerked his head at me. I sighed. “I contact the council and tell them what’s happened.” I hugged her tighter. “I’m sorry, but you’ll need to be a part of this.” I let Cecilia hold on to me for another minute before gently prying her off. I wasn’t familiar enough with any of the Ark’s current council members to risk having her presence interfere with the spell. I closed my eyes and sent an airborne tendril of thought to Doug, who obliged me by giving me a mental signature of the council member I’d know best.
Doug’s laugh echoed in both my mind and head. I sighed and reached out for the mind of Professor Jocelyn Rose, our old teacher and friend. I could feel the red Ogrin’s surprise at my mental touch, but when I started telling him, in the odd combination of images and concepts air-based telepathy allowed, why I had contacted him, the surprise turned into shock, then fear and anger. When I finished by wishing him well, he returned the feelings, with a promise that he would come as quickly as possible to deal with Peregrine.
“Why didn’t you tell me Lyn had reached the council?” I opened my eyes and glared at Doug’s laughing face. “Your sporadic letters come often enough for news like that.”
“I’m sorry.” Doug didn’t sound contrite, but his next words kept me from harping on it. “He asked me not to tell you; said that you wouldn’t agree with his acceptance of the position.” Doug’s normally cheerful eyes darkened, and he glanced down. His next words came out in a rush. “He’s the council’s judge, Gianni. He... you’ve never approved of that position.”
I didn’t say anything. I just sighed and walked over to Doug, Cecilia trailing behind me. Doug was right; I hated the way the Institute’s council was set up. The Academy’s triumvirate of equals was much simpler. “It’s fine,” I said, more harshly than I intended.
Doug glanced at me with a tight smile and a quick shake of his head before turning back to Peregrine. “I suggest you hope that Lyn is lenient with your sister, Gianni. If he’s not...”
I bared my teeth at Doug, knowing he wouldn’t be able to see my expression. Cecilia’s gentle touch on my shoulder smoothed my expression, and I turned. Her starry fur seemed paler than usual, and her eyes were wide. “What’s he talking about?”
“The council’s judge is often jury as well,” I said emotionlessly, watching Cecilia’s expression turn once more towards fear. “And you, as the instigator, have as much to be punished for as Peregrine, who worked the magic.”
“Depending on what Lyn finds, you might even have more reason,” Doug added. His voice held restrained fury, and though I could tell he meant it for Peregrine, I didn’t think Cecilia could. I gathered her into my arms, desperately hoping she wouldn’t return to tears as Doug went on. “The sentence is equal to the crime, unless there’s a very good reason for it to be otherwise. Stole something magically? Use your magic to help out until you’ve repaid the person you stole from. Tried to raise the dead?” Doug laughed harshly.
“Enough!” Peregrine’s sharp voice cut through Doug’s laughter. “Leave the explanation to this Lyn, whoever he is.”
“Only the best mind-mage in the kingdoms,” I said, almost bitter. “Only the man who taught us half of what we know.”
Peregrine took a slow, deep, breath and bowed his head. “Then I await his judgment.”
A faint hiss of magic filled the air. I looked towards the source and smiled bitterly. Very few people were tied to magic in such a way that they could teleport, but Lyn was one of those few. “Good evening,” I said to the Ogrin, trying to keep any hatred out of my voice. “Now the fun begins.”
To be continued...