A Wish Too Dark And Kind (sample)

Chapter One

The Prophet and the Nun

Evidence N-0112 to the investigation I-7242
Arnaud Demeure’s handwritten note
Scribbled on an ancient text — the title translates as ‘A weapon that pierced the heavens’

A ring
A vow,
The soul of an angel.

Only two men are fit to use. One who has lost the will to live, and one who has given himself to death.

The young sister ran through the silent city while the prophet waited for her to arrive. The old man knew she would come; he had seen her already. Hidden by the shadow of an old staircase, eyes fixed on the door, he tried not to get distracted by the creatures in his vision.

Thousands of them, maybe millions, all crammed within glass walls.

The youngest sat at the center of the glass prison. It was taller than the tallest mountain. It was quiet amidst the frenzy of its brothers. Its head so high it saw beyond the roof of its prison, straight in the realm of the Eldest Lords. Light leaked from underneath its shaking half-closed eyelids. It peeked into the future.

As the prophet watched them, the creatures stared at him from far away. He could see them, yet his mind could not make full sense of their shapes, only of their features. A crowd of wings, fangs, stingers, every piece of every animal he could think of and some he had never seen, crawling on each other while human parts pushed their way through. The tall one, its eyes closed, hummed over and over.

“We are so close. It won’t be long.”

The others followed its chanting and moved back and forth in front of the glass holding them prisoners, just like animals expecting a bite of their prey.

The prophet almost missed the nun’s arrival. She ran up the stairs, hesitating as she put one foot on the first step.

Unseen, the prophet followed.

From the roof, he tasted the entire city. A forest of concrete and metal spreading in every direction, so much so that nothing existed if not within it. The sun blinded him, shining in white and gold. Dawn was a miracle. He stood still, in awe of the most magnificent city, and he almost forgot that he followed someone.

But there she was, the young sister, standing close to the balustrade, her arms raised to the sky, her shape dark against the sunlight.

The tall metallic tower pierced the sky and stabbed the sun, just like an arrow. The star bled, scattering its light all over the town.

White particles fell from the sky. Snow perhaps, or dust, he could not say. He dared look up. The sky had turned dark despite the sun shining on it, light still leaking over the city.

The previous night’s chaos dissipated. In the cold air, no audible sound but the wind.

Nothing else made a noise. No sound of cars, nor their horns. No one talking or music playing, no chirping of birds.

The prophet stood transfixed.

Cars were still on the asphalt, their lights on. Some stuck in place, some coasting along the streets. Many had slid, hitting nearby objects. Tombstones in an old graveyard, they lay against each other, against lampposts, or sat on the sidewalks.

Men and women, asleep, still clutched to their steering wheels. Their heads blasted out of the windscreens or hung from the windows. Hundreds and hundreds of bodies covered the sidewalks and the streets. More must have been resting within the buildings, unmoving, untouched.

Here and there, white, black, and red stains, each tens of meters large, covered the streets — flocks of birds caught in whatever happened.

Nobody moved, nobody talked, everyone rested in this cemetery, testimony of a dark miracle.

The world had moved on. The city, now empty, stayed behind.

Paris was dead, and the Great Ones were free.

Preface to the investigation I-7242
Letter, John Ricart Wilhelm to Horace Hastings (Headmaster assigned of the School of Winchester)

Sir, I have taken the liberty to send this to your personal address as I am not sure I can trust anyone else on the matter. I have drafted it and sent it ensuring that others, even the councilors, could not intercept the missive. In it, you will find everything pertaining to the Paris Para-natural Occurrence and the related investigation (I-7242).

After our investigation of Demeure’s palace, we believe there is a connection between the events in Paris, the sudden disappearance of the headmaster, and the potential death of councilor Dryden. We also suspect the headmaster and most of the council have been in contact with Mr. Demeure for the past few centuries. I have collected all evidence in the packet accompanying this letter. It contains Mr. Demeure’s memoir, notes, scraps, voice recordings, and photographs relating to the guests.

Whatever magick-related event has happened, it has dissipated already. Our agents in the area claim they have observed an increase in telluric pressure beyond Schwarzschild level. Assuming this information is true, we did not find traces of a Schwarzschild box, and it would be a first for one to appear and vanish in such a short time.

What we found is concerning, though. We have discovered multiple traces of fights and, at the time of writing, three dead bodies: two women, one beheaded, the other killed by what seems a rib piercing her skull, and one man who had gone through full turning before dying from an unknown cause. We suspect at least another one dead, incinerated. The analysis of the ashes will confirm.

Councilor Dryden might have encountered a similar fate. We have not found her body, but we found a bowl of blood, confirmed to be hers, and multiple marks suggesting she has performed some kind of ritual.

I will send an update as soon as my agents complete the sweep at the guests’ addresses (you can find the locations in the notes I sent over).

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Chapter Two

The Witch of Winchester

Evidence L-0354 to the investigation I-7242
Letter, Tylanus Spencer to the Egregious Gwrtheyrn Blake (Headmaster of the School of Winchester)
2 March 1549

It was bound to happen.

The servants carried the bodies to me immediately after the fact, but there was no hope to save them. Cracked skulls, burns all over, dislocated elbows, and broken knees. Bryce’s back had been snapped in half, and by the time the man reached my rooms he had bled out enough that nothing, not even magick, could save him. Katrina was already dead. They are Drydens, so it would cost me many favors to keep this quiet.

It is not hard to see, egregious headmaster, that the child is out of control. She is showing the traits of the monsters she got her blood from. She is restless, does not trust any of her tutors, and still refuses to learn our language. But she is powerful indeed. Such a gift I have never seen. The servants report she lifted Bryce and Katrina Dryden, accomplished wizards of their own, using only her mind, burned their skin using pure tellur as heat, and threw them flying against the walls with such sheer force it cracked the stones.

This is power the School cannot leave uncollected. We need to grow and use it.

I have an idea that might allow us to harness the child while also solving the situation she has created with the Dryden family. A spell of my devising, but seeing now how strong she has become, I will need the council’s support.

I will be back at Penrose in two days. We can discuss the details then.

Councilor Tylanus Spencer.

The moment Alex stepped onto the small stage at the helm of the class, a murmuring chatter spread across the students.

“Silence,” Alex hissed and snapped her fingers. Everyone stopped talking and stared at her. “Not yet the time to show your true colors. The reason you are here,” Alex said, stepping forward, “is that we have selected you, as the most gifted amongst your peers in the great families.”

She was one or two years older than the teenagers in front of her, or at least so it must have seemed to them. Her body, crystalized in an unchanging youth by the secret magick of the School, might have made them doubt her authority, but she was sure she had enough attitude and presence to stop any of their rebellious thoughts. For sure, she had been already more effective than professor Corbyn, who stood next to her. A greasy old man who had lectured for decades but had nonetheless failed any attempt to halt the kids’ chatter.

“I came here to welcome you to your new school, your new life, and your new family. The School of Winchester is one of the few institutions of its kind, hailed as the most honored amongst this few.

“What characterizes us,” Alex said, sauntering from one side to the other, “what makes us special, is our continued pursuit of knowledge. Where others lingered on the teachings of the ancients, we have pushed the boundaries. Therefore, today should be the happiest day of your life. The day you start a new one.”

Alex paused and breathed in some air. The house smelled like daisies, as it always did for her but only for her. She glanced out of the window and there it was, a beautiful garden nobody else could ever see. There, bushes and trees, masterfully shaped as animals, formed a labyrinth where only she could walk. Alex looked at the kids again. She had seen so many coming and going over the years, and the thought that the house would never be such a caring mother to them as it had been to her clung to her stomach. But their puzzled faces made her realize she had been silent for far too long.

“Now, what are we going to teach you?” She cleared her throat and signaled to her assistant; Ricart, a man with fiery red hair, so tall and slim, that it looked as if someone had stretched him. He had a frowning expression persistently stuck on his face, which Alex suspected to be the cause of.

Ricart, who had been standing, waiting near the door, rushed out followed by Corbyn.

“We are going to teach you how to change reality in your favor. The noble role all humans and us, the pinnacle of humanity, play every single day. This is what we learn, what we discover, and what we apply.”

The men brought four candles, each on its own identical golden pedestal, and placed them on the desk between Alex and the class. The same four unextinguishable candles she had enchanted when she was still a pupil herself. They had seen as many kids come and go as she had.

“As some of you might already know, this reality is nothing but an agreement between the parts that compose it. Physics, chemistry, and mathematics result from this agreement. At first—” Alex started but stopped as a man rushed into the room.

Sweat ran down his forehead, and his blond hair stuck to his skin. His desert boots, brown trousers, and a wide green shirt over a striped sweater made him look like something between a hipster and a soldier.

The girls in the class giggled at one another.

The man panted, bent with his hand on his thighs. “Grand Inspector Dryden,” he said, taking a deep breath. “We need your help at the containment quarters. A creature has escaped.”

Alex opened her mouth to speak, but before she could do so, her assistant roared. “How dare you? It’s councilor Dryden, you fool! Don’t you have someone else who can help you?”

The audience chuckled, but Alex glared at her own assistant with such bitterness he froze in place. “Kids,” she said without taking her eyes off her assistant. “I give you back to Professor Corbyn, who has actually something to teach you and has been eyeing me for wasting time off his lesson. I promise I’ll stop by before the end. Professor Corbyn,” she said, looking at the black-haired man next to her assistant, “make sure you show them the basics with the candles.”

The professor, still standing in front of the entrance door, waved both hands and mouthed something that read like ‘I would never…’

Alex ignored him. “You,” she said, now talking to the man in desert boots, “lead the way.”

The man nodded and rushed out of the room. Alex and her assistant followed.

“There is no need to run,” Alex said flatly as the man, who had run ahead, turned to look at where she was.

“But councilor,” the men in desert boots said, stopping. “If that thing escapes the house—”

“What’s your name, young man?” Alex asked, interrupting him.

“Thomas Blake.”

“And have you solved the house, Thomas Blake?”

Thomas swallowed without speaking and glanced away from her. “No councilor Dryden, I haven’t.”

“What are the rules of Penrose house for someone who hasn’t solved it?”

Thomas stared at her and spoke, his voice shaking, and with the cadence of one repeating something learned by heart. “A condition to leave the house is to solve it by learning how to navigate the currents of its tellur. The house forbids those pupils from performing magick unsupervised. They must not run, stare straight through glass and mirrors, or draw on any surface of the house. If they open a door, should they find a corridor behind it, they should close it and reopen it until the room they expect appears. Ignore any creature, humans included, that appears in such corridors. Pupils must not turn right in the main hallway over five times in a day. Should a portrait or poster appear hanging on a wall of their dormitories, they must not remove it, nor look behind it. Should they not respect these simple guidelines, the council takes no responsibilities of the consequences the house might cast on them.”

“Good,” Alex said, smiled, and took at strolling again. “Now, as we walk, tell me about this creature.”

“We couldn’t see it,” Thomas said. As he walked, he kept upping the pace, gaining a few steps on Alex and Ricard and then stopping until they caught up. “But there was a loud buzz and all the wizards in the lab ended up killed, cut into pieces by an invisible sword. Only one assistant was alive when I left but badly wounded.”

“Invisible and buzzing,” she said. “And it killed the wizards before the assistants. I might know what it is. Stop.” Alex stood still and counted till five.

The other two stared at her.

 “Turn around now,” Alex said as she finished counting and spun on her heels.

As she did, she found a wooden double door a few inches from her nose. ‘Containment Rooms’ had been engraved on the top of the door’s stone arch. A metallic sign attached to the side of the door read, ‘Warning: authorized personnel only. Any creature you might see with your peripheral vision is likely an illusion. We store the real ones in the cells.’

Alex shrugged. “Not true anymore.” She was about to open the door, but she turned back to the others. “Ricart,” she called her assistant. “Off you go. Fetch me a tea. I’ll meet you back at Professor Corbyn’s classroom.” She glanced at Thomas. “You should wait outside while I sort this one out. It’s dangerous in there and it shouldn’t take me long anyhow.”

Ricart didn’t wait for her to repeat, and by the time she was mid-sentence, he was already about to leave.

“I’ll come in with you, councilor,” said Thomas.

As he spoke, Ricart, who was already rushing away, stumbled and muttered a curse under his breath.

“You won’t,” Alex said, and she glared at Thomas. “There is no need for you to get back in and risk your life after who knows how you managed to escape.”

“I can’t sit out here while she… my colleague is in there.”

Alex sighed. “Ok, we are wasting time arguing anyhow. You can come in, but stay out of my way and don’t even think unless I tell you so.”

The hall of the containment area was like she remembered. A large circular room acted as a hub for the real containment sectors. No more, no less than labyrinth-like dungeons, where the School stored any specimen (animal, human, or para-human) that piqued its interest. The headmaster had hence arranged the space as a laboratory to support the experiments on para-humanity and immortality. Since then, it had always worked as one of the most respected institutions within the School of Winchester, having produced paper after paper for decades and promoted many council members from within its ranks.

Two hospital beds sat empty at the center of the room, enveloped in pieces of electronics attached to cables that sprouted from the roof above them. Some old-looking tables ran along the walls, covered in whirring and puffing lab instruments. Portraits of illustrious former members of the laboratory covered its walls. In one glance, Alex found a picture of herself hanging between the two doors leading to the dungeons — ‘Alexandra Emilia Dryden, Councilor’ was engraved at the bottom of the frame — they had received the memo. She would have a hard time at being just Alex anywhere she would go.

All normal, if not for the two dead wizards. One, a woman, had fallen face down a few inches from the beds, both her hands cut away and nowhere to be seen. Another, a man, sat against one of the doors leading to the dungeons. His decapitated head rested on his lap. A third, a young woman, blonde and fair, who judging from her clothes was an assistant, was alive but pale as a corpse. She had crawled under one bed and curled like a ball — she hadn’t seen Alex and Thomas coming in.

“That your girlfriend?” Alex asked Thomas, pointing at the woman. “Kinda obvious but fits your type of hero. What’s her name?”

Thomas swallowed hard. “Ariel… She… you think that thing is still here? You know what it is?”

“Yes, to both. Those two were experienced wizards, and they likely tried to use their sight but didn’t see it. This, and that it cuts everything in its way, tells me it’s a fully turned fae. Nasty beasts, invisible even to people with the sight, eyes all over, and two pairs of claws as sharp as razors. We are in luck as it can’t see us either.”

“But it did,” Thomas said. “It followed them around the lab as they tried to escape.”

“That’s because they moved. If you stay still, you’ll be safe. It can’t see you and it can’t hear you either. It just follows the flicker of light as we move.”

“So what do we do?”

“Easy,” Alex said and carefully took off the robe she was wearing on top of her mundane clothes. “We bait it out.” She threw the robe in the air.

A loud buzz filled the air, as if thousands insects had flown in.

“There you are,” Alex said, and she opened her mind’s eye. With it open, she had the sight and she could see the network, the mesh of tellur and its translucent floating strands that connected everything with everything else.

Alex was ready to cast a spell, but before she could, Ariel, having noticed them, and probably believing that Alex’s distraction would offer her a cover, rushed out of her hideout. But as she did, the buzzing noise shifted in her direction.

“No,” the young man yelled and raced toward his girlfriend. As he did so, the strands of tellur around him shook and a single wave traversed them, running away from him.

“Don’t! You foolish child,” Alex said. “Don’t do magick without a plan.”

The network of tellur kept vibrating as Thomas reached Ariel and hugged her tight. A moment later, a splash of green sticky liquid covered them both, and a pair of enormous claws, severed from the fae, fell from thin air. The beast shrieked so loud it covered its own buzzing.

The strands of tellur moved again. This time, a wave traversed them toward the young man.

“Newbie,” Alex called. “Handle your dissonance!”

It was too late, and Thomas too slow to react. The wave reached him and again a spatter of liquid, red this time, covered both him and his companion. His own right arm vaporized.

Thomas’ screams roared so loud that they rivaled the buzzing and shrieking of the fae.

Alex hurried. She focused on the network in front of her and the place where she heard the noise coming from — above the other two. Once again the strands pulsed, this time with her at the center.

Another loud shriek and the creature fell out of thin air, now visible. It smashed against the floor in front of the couple, cracking it as if someone had smacked a huge invisible hammer on the monster. All that remained was a mess of wings, eyes, and claws curled together.

Alex had no time to celebrate, as the network was already throbbing once again around her. She focused on the wave of tellur that moved in her direction through the strands. Under her watch, the wave changed direction and flew toward Thomas, who sat, ghostly white, on the ground, one arm around Ariel’s shoulders. As it hit him, the wound on his shoulder burst into a bright flame that vanished in an instant.

“It’s done,” Alex said exhaling, “it’s done.” Then looking at Thomas still laying in Ariel’s arms, Alex’s face burned and her heart beat hard again. “I told you not to move,” she yelled at the man pointing a finger at him. “Teaches you a lesson not to disobey me!”

But Thomas didn’t react — he had lost consciousness. Alex found Ariel’s watery blue eyes staring at her the same way they looked at the beast dead on the floor.

She glanced at the crushed body of the fae too, and was reminded that for most wizards she was closer to the specimens than she was to them. She might be an improved version, a better para-human, and the School made sure to stress that being turned immortal should be considered the highest honor, but, after all, she still was a para-human. Just a receptacle for the bundle of instincts that boiled within her soul. Maybe one day, she’ll lose control turning finally into a beast, like the fae that she had just killed. The odd sense of peace coming from this thought left a dull feeling in her stomach.

“I told him not to move,” Alex said, but to Ariel this time; slowly, almost soothingly.

“Councilor,” said Ariel, her voice cracking. “Can’t you help him?”

“I did,” Alex said, checking that the man was still breathing. “I cauterized his wound. The healers will get to fix the rest in a couple of days. We’ll just have to wait for them to arrive.”

Once Alex reached the classroom, Ricart was outside with her tea in his hands. She ignored him, distracted as she was by Professor Corbyn’s long-winded discourse on the magick principles of will, energy, form, and dissonance. He had already lighted three of the four candles, and since Alex knew that lesson by heart — as she had taught it for decades — she also knew what came next.

But Corbyn went on for minutes on a rant so obscure that even Alex struggled to understand. On and on he went about Divine Waters and Lord of Shards, Thelema and Kia.

Alex watched the man talking in disbelief. He was such a quack. How could someone speak like that in this century? Her own blood pumped into her ears at the thought that Corbyn would indoctrinate the children with his religious misrepresentation of something as natural as magick. It was only quantum physics, a network, and a basic re-application of Newton’s third law — no need for Divine Waters and Mills of God.

Corbyn glanced at the door and nodded at her. “You have also seen that to impress your will on the collective agreement, you must use a form — a shape — that helps you focus on the outcome you desire. We used our voice and a wave of our hands. Now, I want to show you how an expert wizard can do the same by just focusing on the shape of the desire in their mind. Councilor,” he said. “Would you lend a hand?”

Of course he would ask her. Corbyn, the quack he was, could never do formless magick.

Alex stepped into the classroom without taking her eyes off the professor.

Corbyn jumped, startled, as the last candle caught fire, burning so high and bright it looked more like a torch. One instant later, the other three did the same. An icy breeze traversed the room and frosted the glass of its windows.

“Magnificent!” Corbyn said. “A round of applause for the councilor and her perfect demonstration.”

Alex waved one hand, stopping the kids before they could obey. “Can I have my tea, please,” she said, gesturing to Ricart.

The assistant rushed into the room and almost tumbled, but delivered the cup of tea safely in her hands.

She took it quickly and took a sip. As she did so, her face contorted in disgust. “Cold, as usual,” she said. As she spoke, the fire on all candles extinguished and their tips covered in frost — the cup in her hand fuming. She took another sip, and a smile escaped from her.

“Magick in reverse, and using the dissonance to the wizard’s advantage,” said Corbyn. “This, right here, is the mark of a great wizard. We should be grateful to the councilor for being so generous to show us. Now,” he continued. “Any question before we let the councilor go?”

The kids glanced at each other hesitantly, and no one spoke.

“Well then,” Corbyn was about to say, but a girl raised one hand.

“Sure,” he said, pointing in her direction.

“I just wanted to ask… well… father says you are immortal. Is it true?”

The other students looked at each other again.

Ricart, who had been leaning against the wall looking at his own shoes for the previous few minutes, jumped up as if about to run to put himself between the student and Alex.

The witch just offered a faint smile. “What is your name, dear?” she asked.

“Maggy… Margareth Owen, Miss Dryden.”

“Owen,” Alex repeated. “Daughter of Jonah and Lilian?”

“Yes, I am,” said the girl with her back now rigid against her chair.

“Your father is a good man, but he overvalues me,” Alex said. “I’m not immortal. Hard to kill, maybe. Unless someone puts some effort into it, I won’t die of age, no. But I can still die, for sure.”

The kids exchanged even more puzzled looks and whispered.

“Immortality is an honor that only a selected few of our pupils receive,” said Corbyn. “The greatest achievement of the School, I might say.”

“Any other question?” Alex asked.

Many hands rose amongst the students. She smiled. “Anything not related to me or the likelihood of my departure from this world?”

The same hands that rose went slowly down.

“Excellent!” she said, nodding, and glanced at Corbyn.

“Class,” Corbyn said. He took a book from a drawer of his desk and showed it to the class.

On its leather cover, three figures were etched, a crescent moon, a long-legged bird, and a dog-faced baboon. Alongside the three figures, also etched on the leather, stood four words: knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, and valor. Alex recognized the book too; she had studied on it herself as a young pupil.

“Take your copies of Mercurius ter Maximus’ De Natura Absconditus from the library as you walk to your dorm,” Corbyn continued. “But before you go, all stand up to thank Miss Dryden for visiting us.”

The class all stood. She nodded at them before disappearing through the door, followed by her assistant, who had gathered the candles and the tea she had left behind.

Alex had reached her office at last. With Ricart gone for a while, she would enjoy some time alone. She savored already the silence of the room and the relaxing idea of an armchair against her back, thus took her seat, threw the glasses and heavy robe on a nearby chair, dropped her feet on the desk, and hard-pressed her eyes massaging their surroundings.

It had been barely a minute like this when Ricart swung the door of the office open. “Councilor Dryden,” he called.

She opened her eyes too quickly, and the light blinded her. All she saw were blinking circles, and as she returned to a sitting position, she pushed a few papers off her desk with her legs.

“Ricart,” she chided. She could only see his shape without her glasses on. “For god’s sake, haven’t I told you to knock first? What now?”

“The headmaster, councilor, he wants to talk with you.”

“What does the old man want with me now?” she asked, scrambling to find her glasses.

“I asked, but he didn’t say. He demanded that you go to his office right away.”

“Does he understand that I don’t work for him anymore? He can’t boss me around like this.”

“Shall I… shall I tell him you won’t go?”

“What?” Alex’s tone was a pitch higher than she wanted. “No, I’m going right now. It might be something important, you know, if it’s this urgent.”

A few minutes later, she knocked at the headmaster’s door.

“Come on in, please,” a voice said from inside the room.

As she opened the door, she found the room illuminated by the faint light of candles. There were many of them on a candelabra on the headmaster’s desk, others on the cabinets that ran along one side of the room, and more on the chandelier that dangled from the roof. She could not grasp what was the root of the headmaster’s aversion against modernity, but the room was still like the first time she had entered it. Even the smell was the usual mix of wax, the wood burning, and old books — so many of them stored in the same cabinets that hosted the candles. The very first memory she had of the School was in this room. Just like him, she hadn’t aged much since then, but at least she had let the simplifications of modern life have the best of her. In a way, it still made sense for someone as old as the headmaster Tylanus Spencer to be nostalgic.

The man sat on an armchair behind his desk and looked straight at her as she walked a couple of steps inside. He smirked, and she found it ironic that the man could still be so full of himself when dealing with her. The high and mighty Spencer, who had turned himself into an immortal capable of doing magick, hailed as a hero of the School. He was a legend. Yet she knew the truth now, that it had all been by accident, and no one, including him, had been able to repeat this feat. All the others, since then, had been created from his blood and then from the blood of the ones he turned, and so on. Alex was among the firsts the council had turned, or so she was told. The council had wiped any memory of the events from her mind, a habit they had kept when turning wizards from outside their VIP club. But she was in the club now, so she knew their secrets, and as much as she hated it, she had to keep them such.

“Ricart said you had asked of me. What can I do for you, sir?” She stood, hands folded behind her back.

“Alexandra, my dear, you used to wish me a good evening when you were little,” said the man with a smile. “Look at you now, always ready for business. Take a seat, please.”

The headmaster Spencer was a plump man. His cheeks full, eyes too tiny for his face, a broad nose, and a large bush of curly hair on his head. As he spoke, he gestured for her to sit in one chair in front of the desk.

She sat, saying nothing.

“Alexandra Dryden,” the man said, clasping his hands. “Look at you all sitting straight. It seems yesterday that you used to sit on my knees.”

“That was half a millennium ago. People would talk if I did that now, sir.”

“Always a smart answer,” said the man with a bitter grin on his face. “If only your old man could see you. First in class, accomplished witch and even appointed to the high council.”

Alex gripped the flesh of her own thigh. “Not thanks to you, sir. You voted against me at the council. Would my old man be glad of that too?” She looked out of the window beside the headmaster.

“I tried to protect you from yourself. I’ve held my position in the council for many centuries. I understand it isn’t just about talent or skills, and you are not what one would call a people person. Had I been gifted with a talent as bright as yours, I would have spent less time studying and more time learning how to be liked by my fellows.” His voice turned from sweet to low and serious in an instant. “Talking of which, I heard what happened to that kid today.”

“He did it to himself. He should have listened,” she replied. “And how did you hear about it already?”

“That’s just a perk of the headmaster’s job,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “That, and he is a Blake. His family will make my ears hurt, you know that.”

“Did you call me here just to talk about this, sir?”

The headmaster leaned forward, both hands under his chin. “You and I both know that one day or another you’ll annoy enough of them. You need to be more careful now that you are a council member.”

“Yeah, the prestige of the council is important to you.”

“You paint a worse image of me than you should,” said the man in a condescending tone. “I care about your safety.”

“Sure, you care about the safety of the order, sir.”

The man laughed and smirked. “Anyhow, that is not why I called you here.” He took an envelope from a drawer and slid it over to Alex.

“What is that?” she inquired.

“An invitation to a party for you to attend.”

“You send me to parties now?”

“Well, it’s from an important friend of the order in Paris.”

“Paris?” she asked, dragging her chair back. She was about to stand up but restrained herself. “The courses have just started. I can’t go on a trip now. I have to monitor the state of the programs.”

“The School will be fine. As a councilor, your time is better invested away from teaching, and the place has survived for a while without your monitoring, anyway.”

“That is what I’m trying to fix, sir.”

“Read that letter, Alexandra,” he said, leaning back again and looking at the roof.

Her hands were shaking as she reached for the letter. She almost tore it apart while opening it. How could he dare give her, a member of the high council, such a direct order?

She pulled the letter out with some trouble and skimmed it up and down. Then her eyes stopped on the signature at the bottom.

“Is this some kind of joke?” she asked. “The man has been dead for what? A few centuries?”

“We never said he was dead. He retired from the spotlight.”

“And what would Mr. Demeure want from me anyhow? I have never met him or been at his parties.”

“Beats me if I know,” the headmaster sighed. “He is an eccentric man and comes from a time when he could do anything he wanted. I think he has sent this invite to me under the false assumption that I still hold any authority over you.”

Alex tapped her fingers on the desk. “Are you saying that I can refuse?” she asked, grinning. She knew the answer already.

“No, I’m not. The order requires you to go,” said the headmaster. “That man has been an important ally for us in our early days. From what it says there, you are not to bring any servants with you, so make sure you can arrange your security somehow.”

No servants. It sure sounded suspicious, but as much as they disliked her, the other councilors would not do this to her. Not this soon. She still had enough support.

“You know what the man was famous for, right?” asked the headmaster, interrupting her thoughts.

“All of those stories about fulfilling wishes?”

“Exactly those. I have seen him with my own eyes. I have been to those parties. Those are not stories.”

“I’ll take them for what they are then,” Alex said, standing up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, sir, I have to prepare myself for this trip if I have to leave so soon. I also have to arrange things so that everything here keeps running as it should in my absence.” She half-bowed and headed to the door without looking back. “Have a good night, sir.”

“Alex…” said the man behind her. Something new was in his voice. Concern.

“What now, sir?” she asked, one hand still on the knob.

“Nothing,” said the headmaster. “Just have a good night and a safe travel, Alexandra.”

Evidence L-0472 to the investigation I-7242
Letter, Arnaud Demeure To Tylanus Spencer (Councilor of the School of Winchester)
24 Feb 1532

I have received the stone. The inscription is authentic, so I will pay my side of the bargain. And yet I know you don’t fully trust me, despite what you have seen with your own eyes. I couldn’t fathom I would live the day when a wizard would not trust the infinite ways of magick. But you were there when I, an immortal, did the impossible and performed the art.

Let me tell you: there is hope in your quest for knowledge. With eternity in front of you, you will have the time to discover every secret this world offers.

Go east, in the land of the Strigoi. If you want what I have, you must make an enemy of them. One Strigoi Lord has a jewel, a weapon of my making that hides in the guise of a child. Find it, and in the blood of that child, you will find the secret I carry.

Once you find the child and discover the secret of how immortals can do magick, you will keep the child with you, and use it for the glory of your dear School. But remember, the child is mine and mine alone. One day, when I will come asking for it, you will return it to me.

Arnaud Demeure

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