Clockwork Souls – Chapter 66

“When people talk of ‘Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know’, they are largely talking about things which are dangerous when one puts too little thought into their application.

The ability to call forth a Plague of Fire Devourers for example is a perennial scare tactic as an army of twelve foot long worms made of fire and rage tend to put a damper on most people’s plans for the day. 

Of course if one does possess the knowledge of how to call forth the Fire Devourers then one intrinsically will understand the mechanism for moving said creatures across dimensional boundaries. With that capability, the caster is as easily able to banish the beasts to their home dimensions as to summon them in the first place.

Of course, certain problems will arise if the summoner calls them into, say, a confined study and is burn to ash before they are aware of the need work the banishing charm. You would think that to be an unlikely event, and yet, here we are.”

– Xindir Harshek Doxel of the First Flame in the ashen remains of the third manor to have burned to ground within one week of the publication of ‘The New Traditional Book of Proper Fire Casting’.

I have a thing about not being able to see people who are intent on doing me harm. Invisible predators don’t precisely scare me. I mean, being a predator is a perfectly natural thing, and being able to turn invisible is a solid trick in anyone’s arsenal. Neither of those alone is enough to set me on edge. It’s when someone thinks that they get to try to hunt me because they’ve put those two things together than I feel a deep visceral need to explain two things to them; first, invisibility is only one of the traits you would need to evade my senses and, second, I am a predator too and smart predators do not hunt things like me.

“How close are they?” I asked Yarrin and heard the others start to rise from table where they’d seated themselves. 

“Too far for me to reach, but so near I can feel their breath on my neck,” he said, still sunk into the distant eye’d daze.

I took a deep breath and smelled nothing but my housemates, the books, and the Archivist.

I believed Yarrin nonetheless.

There were plenty of places monsters could hide which would swallow their scent. Most of those were locations between the material realm, but it didn’t seem unlikely that Yarrin was peering well beyond the boundaries of our world.

I closed my eyes, laid a hand on Yarrin’s arm and changed my eyes to match his.

Regular illumination wasn’t going to show me what I needed. I needed the light of unseen stars.

When I opened my eyes it wasn’t the library or my companions that I saw anymore. Gone were the limitations of form and matter and in their place the vista around me burned with bonfires of light.

The torch-like fire beside me was Yarrin, or his magic to be more precise. All the power he held within, colored and spun into a holy flame of his own persona. Around us, where the book shelves should have been, flickers and sparks of power shone clearly against a backdrop of dark and empty tomes.

Rising from the emptiness where the table our housemates were at, four more sparks began to glow in power and brilliance.

And then there were the wraiths.

Not beings of fire and life but rather constructs of magic twisted back in on themselves. 

“They’re not people,” I said, probably sounding as distant as Yarrin had.

“They weren’t meant to be,” Yarrin said. “I can see the hopes in their construction. They were supposed to carry the souls of the ones who penned the book we need. Like armor to shelter a spirit in. It was part of their ritual. They made the book and inscribed it with their wisdom because that was part of how they intended to overcome death. Immortality bound in ink and words. The wraiths were the other half, but something failed.”

“Does that mean the book’s useless to us?” I asked.

“Not at all. We just can’t use it to become immortal. Looks like it works great for sending magic across the veil of life though.”

He sounded a lot more coherent, but I had to wonder if that was because I was seeing things from his perspective.

“What happens if you take the book?” I asked, wondering if that’s what it would take to complete the circuit and pull him free from their influence.

“They take me,” he said. “The book is acting as a phylactery for them. All of them. Anyone who picks it up with the intent to use the spells within risks disrupting it’s status as the anchor point for their souls, so they’ll drag the offender into their realm where the connection can’t be broken.”

“Oh. Is that all? Well in that case, allow me,” I said and dropped my touch on his arm before striding over towards the book case.

The others yelled “wait” and “stop” but we all knew I wasn’t going to do that. I was lucky there because Idrina could definitely have blocked me if she was up to full speed. Instead I got to the book I’d seen while sharing Yarrin’s vision and yanked it off the shelf, being careful to focus on the clear and specific fact that I was going to cast as many spells from the book as I needed to in order to contact my dead sister.

That did not endear me to them.

I’d gotten about two steps away from the bookshelf before invisible, intangible fingers wrapped around me and yanked me bodily across the veil between worlds, hurling me into the lightless, soundless void where the wraiths had managed to trap themselves in their quest for immortality.

Before I describe what happened next, allow me to suggest a scenario. Imagine a group of very clever chickens or pheasants or other disturbing poultry-form animals had managed to set up a hidden cave. They were cut off in the cave and safe there from the ravages of the seasons but they hungered deeply for the little bugs which crawled in the world beyond the cave. Perhaps once in a while they managed to tempt a bug into the cave’s interior when the poor little bug caught their attention and desired something cave-related. A miserable existence to be sure, but one in which the little collection of unthinking poultry instincts which passed for their minds assured them was right and proper. In the unforgiving gloom they’d banished themselves to, the silly little birds imagined themselves to be the brightest and most clever and worthiest beings in all creation.

Now imagine that in place of a helpless little bug, they lured a giant wolf into their tiny shadow realm.

That’s about how things went.

It was helpful that I’d worked out how to form rifts on my own. It made getting back from the wraith’s domain substantially easier than it would have been. 

To be fair, the wraith’s world was so close to the material one that the trip could barely be called a magical one. Tearing a rift open was roughly as difficult as ripping wet tissue paper, which was probably why the wraiths had been able to keep such a close eye on their book. Despite that, I still managed to plop back into the material world in a jumble of arms and legs which left a great deal to be desired in the dignity department. In my defense, I at least had said arms and legs looking properly human by the time I returned.

And, again credit to me, not a lot of time had passed.

My housemates wore various degrees of concern on their faces and the Archivist was in the middle of weaving a spell, but otherwise the library was unchanged.

“…should not have been…” the Archivist was in the middle of saying and came to a stop only when I hit the floor loud enough to draw her attention.

“Kati!” Narla said and had me hoisted effortlessly up onto my feet before I could blink.

“Oh, hey, thanks there,” I said. “Got a little turned around coming back.”

“Coming back?” Idrina asked.

“Yes. Please do explain,” the Archivist said, her fingers stilling and allowing the magic she’d built up to disperse harmlessly into back in the aether.

“There was a trap on the book we needed,” I said. “It was going to eat Yarrin, so I sprang it instead.”

“You disappeared,” the Archivist said.

“I sprang it into the realm of the trapmakers?” I said, which I knew wasn’t much of an explanation. “They won’t be a problem anymore.” I noticed I had some bits still on me so I brushed them off.

“And you returned when they were defeated and their realm collapsed?” the Archivist asked.

“I don’t think returning earlier was an option,” I said, which had the virtue of being both entirely true and nicely misleading. I mean if she was going to hand me a ready made explanation for how I got back that didn’t require I know how to make rifts myself, far be it from me not to capitalize on that. Especially if I could do so while technically telling the truth.

When I noticed how I was thinking I paused for a moment.

Was that how Doxle thought all the time?

Or was that why he’d picked me?

Yikes for either one.

“My apologies,” Archivist Zirneklis said. “It’s rare-to-unheard of that the guardians of a tome should be able to bodily abduct someone. Typically they will simply enthrall the mind in unbreakable bonds.”

“That sounds worse,” Narla said.

“The enchantments they use are less potent than the name suggests. The bonds are unbreakable for the ones entrapped within them. So long as there is someone aware of their fate who is not caught by the enchantments, freeing the captive is relatively straightforward. Had I known there was unusual peril waiting you here, I would have barred you from entry.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” I said. “This book has what we need.”

“How can you tell?” Mellina asked.

“Yarrin picked it out,” I said.

“I don’t understand how the wraiths grabbed you though?” he said. “The magics I used to find the book gave them a channel back to me. That’s why I needed to get to it. Once I had it I knew I’d be able to claim ownership over and it break the book free from their control. But I didn’t do that and it looks like it’s free anyways.”

“Uh. Yeah. They’re not in an ‘owning books’ state anymore,” I said. I didn’t really want to explain what I’d done because it was kinda worrisome and I was happier with them just thinking of me as I stood before them rather than what I could be or do.

“Does that mean we can take it with us now?” Ilyan asked.

“Material ownership of the tome has not changed. It still belongs to my library,” the Archivist said. “Though should you need to reference it, I will ensure that it is always available for you.”

“I don’t think we’ll need very much from it, will we?” I said and cast a glance over to Yarrin.

“Sort of,” he said. “We’ll need everything in the book to adapt the spellwork to talk to your sister, but it won’t take long  to get it.”

“That’s a pretty thick book,” Narla said. “Even if you read fast, we’re going to be here all night and most of tomorrow won’t we?”

Yarrin smiled. No. He smirked. I smiled. It was good to see a bit of confidence bubble up in him.

Without saying a word, he laid his left hand on the cover of the book, breathed in, and then looked up.

“Did you have plans for tonight? Because I’m done,” he said.

I refrained from whistling, even though he deserved one for being that smooth.

The others were a bit surprised by that. I don’t think anyone had really fathomed just how potent Yarrin’s magic was. To be fair, they couldn’t smell it like I could.

Narla though? She took it all in stride, regarding Yarrin with an appraising eyes.

“You know, I just might,” she said.

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