Fire Within: Book Two of Fire and Stone (Stories of Fire and Stone 2) (6 page)

BOOK: Fire Within: Book Two of Fire and Stone (Stories of Fire and Stone 2)
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Esset and his mother went inside and she chatted happily, filling him in on everything that he’d missed. Their happiness was tainted by Toman’s missing presence, but for the moment, they were both glad he was home, and Mrs. Esset stuffed her son full of all the food she could prepare.

By the time Mr. Esset returned, Esset had eaten so much he could barely move. He’d already catnapped twice, so he was more than ready to tackle the books that Mr. Esset returned with. They pored over the literature until the small hours of the morning, only stopping to sleep until dawn. Over breakfast, they continued their work until Esset closed his book with a frustrated sigh.

“It seems that the geas is the business of very skilled, very powerful mages, and no one else,” Esset said.

“Mostly, yes,” Mr. Esset replied pensively, finishing the sentence he was on before bookmarking the page and closing his book as well.

“I don’t suppose you know one of those and how to get him or her to help?” Esset asked, rubbing his temples. He knew one mage who might be capable of helping, but even
if
he could find him, he doubted Erizen could be persuaded to help. He wasn’t exactly the charitable type, and Esset would just as soon avoid the volatile mage. The only other mages Esset could think of were dead or just not powerful enough. Other than that… Well, he knew a few others with magical abilities, but not ones who could manipulate raw magical energies to the extent that would be useful to them now.

“I know of none powerful enough,” Mr. Esset confessed.

“But we’re not done our research yet. We’ve gone through all these books, but I asked Andarus to keep searching the library for more tomes. He may find something yet,” his father added.

Esset rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I guess. Well, I’ll copy out the details from this book just in case. If there’s no other way, then there’s no other way, and we’ll have to find a mage to make this work. Maybe I could find one through Sergeant Warthog.”

“I believe the sergeant has gone underground in case Moloch tried to come after her. At least, that’s what she indicated when she told us…that you were gone.” Mr. Esset avoided his son’s eyes, triggering a surge of guilt from Esset.

“Yeah, she’d said she would, and finding her would be a task…” Esset heaved a sigh. “No, you’re right. Finding someone like her will be impossible if she doesn’t want to be found. If she’s even alive and Moloch didn’t get to her.”

“We’ll find a way,” Mr. Esset assured him.

“Let’s go to the library now,” Esset said, abruptly standing.

“Breakfast!” Mrs. Esset said sharply, giving her son the evil eye. Obediently, he sat and quickly wolfed down the remainder of his eggs and toast. His father followed suit and soon they were up at the library in search of new material.

 

Esset felt a heavy wave of nostalgia as they stepped into the building that was Sedina’s Royal Library. How many hours had he spent here as a child? Pretty much every single hour that he hadn’t spent with Toman. And a few that he had.

“Andarus?” Mr. Esset called when they entered the cavernous main room. Shelves towered high in numerous aisles. Fancy rolling ladders were attached at the end of each aisle, ready to aid seekers of books at the tops of those shelves.

Sedina’s Royal Library was an impressive collection, to say the least. The city had a great university, and it had always been lauded as a safe place for academic minds to flourish. The university had once had its own library, but given that the building was adjoined to the Royal Library anyways, it had been deemed unnecessary and amalgamated with this one. Approximately half of the library consisted of proper books and tomes; the other half was scrolls and other miscellaneous literature. There was a series of careful catalogues for the books and tomes, but the other half of the library was still undergoing its organization and cataloguing process.

“Andarus?” Mr. Esset called again.

“Over here, Ed!” a distant voice called back. The two Essets rounded the corner and went to the end of the aisle where one of the work stations could be found. Andarus was there with a mountain of scrolls and loose sheaves of paper. A special magelight hovered at his shoulder to illuminate whatever he was looking at. Fire of any sort was forbidden in this den of knowledge, for obvious reasons. Even a minor mage could create a magelight, and since the lights could be affixed to objects that even the non-magical could use, the cost was deemed worthwhile. Convenient though it was, right now the lighting only accented the absent-minded scholar’s pale skin and wild gray hair.

“Ah, Ed—” Andarus began, then stopped when he saw Mr. Esset’s son. “Oh, so the younger Esset is here too. Good to see you, boy. Too bad you never took the scholarly ways like your father. Ah well, I think I’ve found something useful.”

Andarus was Head Librarian, and he rarely left this massive room. As such, he was a rather ghostly fellow—food wasn’t permitted in the library, and since he rarely left, he rarely ate. Esset wasn’t sure how exactly he could live on the tiny, intermittent meals, but he was still here, so Esset supposed it was enough. At any rate, his mind made up for his frail body; he knew almost every book and document in the library to some degree, even the uncatalogued ones, so if you could pull him away from whatever document he had his nose buried in, you could usually find out if the library had what you were looking for.

“The works of Jionar Atah. A brilliant, if unpleasant, fellow. Still, did some interesting and valuable work. Thought mages were a load of tosh and tried to do everything without magic, including undoing many magics. According to him, a geas can be undone with salt.” Andarus held out a scroll to Mr. Esset, largely ignoring the younger man.

“Salt?” Mr. Esset repeated, surprised. He unrolled the scroll partway to read it, and his son looked over his shoulder. Finally Mr. Esset set the scroll down on the table and put weights on it so they could better examine it.

“What’s an ‘eschepharius’?” Mr. Esset asked, carefully enunciating how he thought the strange word would be pronounced.

Andarus squinted at the parchment. “No idea. He made a lot of his own instruments, but he rarely stopped to explain or diagram them. Unfortunately his workshop was destroyed with all its contents. Everything of his that we have was obtained from his apprentice years after the fact. Unfortunately this renders repeating most of his experiments impossible, but much of the work still contains important research. Unroll that further, and it shows the minimal spell structure for the geas.”

“Amazing,” Mr. Esset remarked, studying the diagram.

“How can someone forsworn from magic see it? Doesn’t that take a magical ability?” Esset mused aloud.

“Hypocrisy on the part of the researcher doesn’t invalidate the work,” Andarus replied, looking sternly over his glasses at Esset, who diverted his attention back to the scroll.

“How is this useful if we don’t have the tools to replicate it?” Esset asked.

“Well, knowing that salt works is helpful,” Mr. Esset pointed out. “Something about the constitution of the mineral must be a natural conductor for this structure of magical energy. All we need is to position the salt precisely and it will cause the geas magic to naturally undo itself. I’m not sure I understand the theory behind it, but he claims that it worked in practice.”

“I sometimes suspect that he didn’t understand the theory himself,” Andarus remarked. “But his experiments were solid, and he was definitely on to something.”

“I can’t see how this could be done without a mage,” Mr. Esset observed. “I mean, previously the mage would have needed to be immensely powerful and skilled to destroy the geas with brute force. Now the requirements have simply changed to a need for skill in at least the area of telekinesis to position the salt in the particular pattern necessary to undo the geas.”

Esset ground his teeth—he didn’t know any mage that fit that description either. Then an idea dawned on him.

“What about hydrokinesis?” Esset asked.

“Hm…the elementalist would have to have exquisite control, and there might be trouble with the salt dissolving, but with an appropriate level of control and preparation, I imagine it could be done,” Mr. Esset replied. “Why, who were you thinking of?”

“The Nadra. I know they have mages, although I never worked with any personally. I’m fairly sure they’re water and earth elementalists. It would make sense, anyways. And I know they’d be willing to help.” He and Toman had saved their race from extinction, after all.

“We’d best copy this out then,” Mr. Esset said, reaching for the supplies on the desk. They copied out the diagram perfectly and recorded all the necessary information before putting the scroll in a protective tube.

“Thank you for your help, Andarus,” Mr. Esset said, turning around. Andarus had his nose buried in another scroll already.

“Andarus?” Mr. Esset stepped closer.

“Yes, yes, leave it, I’ll clean up.” Andarus didn’t so much as look up from his scroll.

“We can help clean up—” Esset began.

“Shoo!” Andarus reprimanded. Both young and old Esset alike made haste out of the library.

The moment they were out the doors, Esset pulled open their transcribed scroll to view it in the light of the bright sun. Something just didn’t seem quite right about it. The diagram of the spell structure was complex, and he wasn’t entirely certain what the various lines and dots meant, nor the references to the bizarre instrument Atah had used to conduct the experiment.

“Whoa!” Mr. Esset yanked his son out of the way of someone he’d almost collided with—someone else who was also reading while walking. Esset and the other man looked up sharply at each other in surprise.

“Esset!” A moment later, Esset found himself enveloped in a hug, with barely enough time to identify his hugger beforehand.

“Lors!” Esset squeaked back as the bear hug squeezed the breath out of him. It was easily done, since Lors was roughly the size of a bear, and the great mop of curly black hair on his head added to the impression. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too,” Lors replied, releasing Esset. He briefly looked at Mr. Esset to greet him with a nod before turning back to the younger man. “I heard you were dead. Good to see it’s not true.”

“Very good,” Esset agreed. He’d forgotten how
big
Lors was. Although they were of a similar height, Lors’s shoulders were two or three times the width of Esset’s. Lors had been scrawnier than Esset when they’d played together as kids, but now he was so burly his mage robes looked strange on him.

“Straight to the library upon getting back though, hey?” Lors said, but his smile was conspiratorial, not mocking.

“You know me,” Esset replied. He waved the scroll. “But this time I just needed this, and I have to go again.”

“What is it?” Lors asked, suddenly serious; Esset supposed Lors must have noticed the difference in his demeanor to have responded like that.

“It’s… Well, it’s hopefully a solution. Toman’s being held prisoner with a geas on him. I’m hoping this will help free him.” Esset figured there was no point in keeping it a secret.

Concern flashed across Lors’s face and he glanced between the two Essets. Esset belatedly recalled that Lors had been closer friends with Toman than himself.

“Well, I graduated from the mage academy last year. Maybe I can help,” Lors offered.

“I don’t suppose you know how to undo a geas?” Esset said even as he passed over the scroll. He wasn’t sure Lors would be able to help; Esset knew Lors was only average as a mage.

“In theory, I know how,” Lors replied. “But I’m not near powerful enough. I doubt any of the mages here are. Geas spells are also super complicated. Not many people can even cast them, never mind undo them. You’d need a mage at least as strong as the caster…” Esset winced at the last statement as Lors trailed off and squinted at the scroll.

“What
is
this?” the mage finally asked.

Esset shrugged. “The works of Jionar Atah. He claims that if you use salt in a particular counter-pattern to the spell structure, you can undo a geas without magic. Or rather, just using what he calls the natural energies of the world.”

“That’s brilliant, if true,” Lors said. “Okay, yeah, I see it now. But do you have this diagram from another angle?”

“What do you mean?” Esset asked. “That’s the only diagram there was.” He didn’t like the look on Lors face when he looked up—it was a mix of concern, apology, and regret.

“You need another. This diagram has been flattened. Magic exists in three dimensions. This just shows two dimensions.” Lors held the scroll back out to Esset, who stared at it. Mr. Esset came over to look over Esset’s shoulder at it. He looked as crestfallen as Esset felt.

In fact, Esset felt a wave of despair wash over him. “So we know how to lay out the spell from only one angle: directly above. We don’t know how to arrange it top to bottom.”

“It seems that way.” Lors’s shoulders slumped.

“Atah never foresaw the equipment he’s referencing being destroyed,” Mr. Esset said.

“Sorry,” Lors said miserably.

“It’s not your fault,” Esset said, although it didn’t make him feel much better. “Better we know now than going all the way to Nadra with a useless…” He trailed off without finishing the sentence.

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