Chapter 10 of Gravity’s RevengePosted by in Uncategorized
Spire of Magical History
Hiresha worried that Fos would soon be making his way along the Skyway for his night watch. I must warn the spellswords in the Blade and spare him that danger.
With the rector in a state of shock, the dean stayed to supervise the evacuation of all the women to the ground floor of the Recurve Tower. Hiresha swept out from the entrance onto the Academy Plateau. The minister and warden flowed after her over the snow in two tides of bright fabrics.
The warden’s breath whistled through her black mask as she hustled to keep pace. “There are no jewel records of the Academy’s enchantments fading, yet our search must begin in the Spire.”
Hiresha felt a golden rush of relief at the sight of Fos’s purple jacket. He strode upright onto the plateau. As she went to him, he greeted her with a glacier-melting smile.
“One of your gloves snuck off?” He looked up from her bare hand to her face. “Say, is something wrong?”
“To put it simply, yes. Did you have any difficulties walking the Skyway?”
His face lifted then slumped in the expression of a boy caught. “How did you know? I must’ve stepped off the path. Late to bed last night and all, but I Lightened myself and got my feet back on the cliff.”
“I see I worry overmuch for you. Your spellsword magic protects you.”
“Thanks to your enchantments.” He lifted one leg. Though greave plates turned his feet into pillars of metal, he still managed a few lumbering dance steps. The greatsword hilt above his shoulder bobbed side to side. He stopped when the minister and the warden approached, and he went to one knee. “Elders.”
Hiresha said to him, “See that no one else attempts the Skyway. And direct everyone into the Recurve Tower, but not by the Lofty Bridge.”
“Where are we headed?” The Warden of Faceted Knowledge paused to lean on her ebony cane.
The Minister of Orbiting Bodies spoke with patience. “You said you could show us some manner of records.”
“Concerning the academy’s enchantments,” Hiresha said. “And their degeneration.”
“That would explain why I’m holding the chancellor’s amulet.” The warden hobbled down a path between the Grindstone and the Recurve Tower. “Why isn’t Chancellor Ringwold with us? This must be important.”
Hiresha exchanged a glance with the minister, who wore rose-tinted glasses against the glare. Hiresha said, “The chancellor would wish us to correct this issue without delay.”
The minister adjusted her star-patterned scarves. “Ringwold was the finest administrator the Academy has ever seen. She must be given the wind burial.”
The words “thimble-minded, gold-sucking bureaucrat” came to mind, but Hiresha felt petty for thinking them now. Even if the chancellor had seen fit to deny most of Hiresha’s funding applications, Hiresha admitted the bureaucrat had seemed to have a knack for encouraging donors’ generosity for the Academy.
“Wind burial?” the warden said. “Whoever the enchantress is, she will be the thousand and twenty-first to receive that honor.”
The Waterfly River crossed over the plateau, frosted and frozen. An enchantment caused the course of the river to lift into the air, forming a bridge of ice, which the elder enchantresses walked under. The bottom of the river overhead glistened with distorted reflections.
A few novices were talking. One held up a blade of polished ivory bound to the bottom of a shoe. “Will the ice be thick enough for skating tomorrow, do you think?”
“I wouldn’t try it for a week. That water is deathly frigid.” The second novice nodded up to a lake suspended as a globe around an enchanted pillar. She glanced back to the approaching women. “Oh, inspiration to you, Elders.”
“Off to the Recurve tower with you,” Hiresha said. “No dawdling. The dusk is threatening, and the Academy is not safe at present.”
The warden asked, “Why ever not?”
“The Academy’s Attraction enchantments are decaying.” Hiresha was well used to repeating herself for the forgetful elder.
“That I doubt,” the warden said, “although they may be depleted. Hurry, we must check the keystones in the Spire.”
The three enchantresses approached a spinning tower of crystal. Made weightless by enchantment, the Spire of Magical History rotated from the force of wind pushing against the iridescent sheets of glass that fanned out from its sides like fish fins.
Once inside, the minister fanned herself with affected vigor. “A hot flash. I must breathe a moment, but you two will go on.”
Hiresha doubted the minister had ever experienced a hot flash. Regardless, she must be close to hyperventilating from the stress of it all. Hiresha felt dizzy herself and could not draw full breaths. An achy sense of unease was growing within her that everyone in the Academy was in danger.
Pushing the worry away, Hiresha focused on the task at hand. Tinted light of green and purple passed over her from the revolving glass above. The warden had set a foot on a pillar leading upward when Hiresha reached to pull her back.
“You can’t go vertical. It is not safe.”
The smoothness of the mask that hid the warden’s face gave her an impression of youthfulness. Every time she spoke with the gravelly voice of an elder, Hiresha felt a touch of surprise. “The Academy keystones are at the most superior and secure reaches of the Spire.”
Hiresha pinched two green tourmalines from the pockets of her sash. “These gems will Lighten us, and if the Academy’s enchantments fail, we won’t fall far.”
“Why would they fail?” Eyes within the warden’s mask blinked when the provost tossed the jewel at her. The warden’s thick-jointed fingers tried to pull the gem from her gown, but it stuck. “The chancellor won’t care to hear of you flicking your jewels at senior faculty. Wait, where did I acquire the chancellor’s amulet?”
Hiresha clasped hands with the warden on their way up the column. The stone curved under their feet, and hues of dark blue and purple slid by as the spire turned around them. Shelves of crystal extended from the walls, holding outdated skyscopes, crudely carved effigies, papyrus scrolls, jaguar teeth capped in gold, a sea serpent’s vertebrae, and a piece of the prow of the first land-sailing ship. The antiquities revolved overhead, within reach.
“Novices steadfastly refuse to put the artifacts back on their proper shelves,” the warden said. “I should never sleep if I had to worry about them meddling with the jewel archives, too. Now, which gems did you wish to reference, Provost?”
The limestone of the column they walked on changed to a pink granite. Hiresha knew that novices could go no further. The new level of rock would only Attract those wearing amulets given to enchantresses. If someone had tampered with jewels critical to the Academy’s enchantments, it could not have been a novice.
“The Academy’s keystones, if you please,” Hiresha said. “Ah, mind yourself, Warden.”
The elder enchantress dropped her cane as she drifted off the side of the column. Hiresha held onto the floating woman’s hand, coaxing her upward through the air. Only the tips of her feet were visible within her puff of skirts, and they paddled until they settled back onto the column.
“Well, shatter my toes! Never happened before. Oh no, that’s my support.”
The cane had slid down the side of the column. Without any amulet attached to it, the ebony stick had dropped all the way to the base of the Spire. Hiresha shuddered to think that without her Lightening tourmaline, the warden may have made as sharp a sound colliding with the stone floor below.
The thin voice of the minister called up. “Warden? Provost?”
“Quite safe,” Hiresha called back. “But do remain below yourself. Now, Warden, you were taking us to the keystones.”
“No need to repeat yourself, Provost. My memory is superb.”
“Of course,” Hiresha said.
Shelves spun overhead with hundreds of jewels in velvet settings, marked with numbers on bronze plaques. Beyond the jewel archives, the column became the black of basalt. The warden glanced around herself and at Hiresha, checking no doubt to see that only another elder enchantress attempted to ascend to the highest level.
Jewel-encrusted scimitars and shields of historical significance were secured to the Spire walls. A glove of gilt chain, a wand with an opal tip, rings mounted with human teeth, and more jewels containing the Academy’s most precious records cluttered the highest shelves.
The warden pointed to an empty display setting. Then lifted a shaky hand toward Hiresha’s face. “Reserved for your earrings, yet I like to think Elder Enchantress Planterra prefers her soul to travel with you.”
“I ever appreciate the brightness of her dreams.” Hiresha touched the blue diamonds decorating her ears, which glowed from the power of the deceased enchantress. Hiresha wondered if Chancellor Ringwold had planned to store her soul in a jewel instead of going to the afterlife. She doubted it, as the chancellor had never been known as a prodigious dreamer.
The warden’s gowns flowed upward over the top of the column. A platform capped it with etchings of platinum. Hiresha followed, swinging in one long step to an upright position. Her weight disappeared. Without the Attraction spell—weakened as it was—binding her to the side of the pillar, she floated to her tiptoes. The tourmaline of Lightening shone where she had slapped it on her shoulder. She kept a firm hand on the drifting warden.
The crystal of the spire had dimmed to tones of dusk, and the mountain range outside was a series of rippling shadows. The metal under their feet glinted blue from the light that leaked from Hiresha’s enchanted earrings. Her chin tilted up to see a cabinet of obsidian at the tip of the spire.
“Warden, did the chancellor visit the Spire during the last few days?”
“Ringwold never comes here. Not without a tour of nobles.”
Hiresha wished she could better trust the warden’s recent memory.
“In a sense, the keystones are the most precious jewels in the Lands of Loam.” The warden lifted the chancellor’s amulet and after three tries fitted it into an indentation of four concentric circles. “This is a crypt for those enchantresses who bound their souls to the Lands of Loam to empower the Academy with their….”
She gasped. Fumbling off her mask, she gazed up into the vault. Hiresha was shocked to see the warden’s true face for the first time. Part of her had expected some disfigurement, but the woman’s features were merely plain, with aged skin dry and peeling.
“The keystones, they’re gone!”
“We did expect as much,” Hiresha said. “And only the chancellor’s amulet opens this crypt?”
“Why would Ringwold remove the keystones? She had to know it’d enervate the Mindvault.”
“I doubt the chancellor knew they were missing. She would never willfully allow anything to damage the Academy’s reputation.” Hiresha moved her fingers over the empty niches, and the glassy darkness of the obsidian chilled her hand. “What is this?”
A grey metal sigil of four concentric squares lurked in place of the missing jewels like a warning. It weighed down her hand, a necklace chain attached to it was slinking out of the crypt. An amulet then, though not one that would open any doors in the Academy, she thought. And made of lead. The metal was poisonous to enchantments.
The lead amulet appeared slimy, and the enchantress took care not to touch it with her bare hand. It left dark spots on her glove.
The warden squinted at the square pendant. “The iconography is not typical of any nationality east or west of the seas. Put your young eyes to use, Provost, and tell me what the inscription reads.”
“‘Dreams are the mind’s midden heaps.’” Between the squares, words had been carved in the lead. Hiresha frowned and rotated the amulet to read another. “‘Nothing not first forgotten.’ I see. This is mocking the Academy’s mottos. We can use this particular outrage to track down the perpetrator. A smith must have forged it, and we’ll begin a survey of….”
Oh, no, we can’t. We can’t even descend to the valley safely. Hiresha’s hand grew slack, and the amulet and its chain slithered out of her grasp to clang on the platinum plate below her feet.
The warden’s gaze returned to the empty crypt.
“Ringwold had to have taken the keystones.” The warden worried the platinum chain of the chancellor’s amulet between her fingers. “And how can I have this? She cannot have dropped her amulet. Its enchantment bound it to her. Where is she? Why did the chancellor entrust this amulet to you?”
“She did not, but perhaps she did lend it to the wrong sort of someone.”
Hiresha’s mind flashed with the image of Tethiel with a ghost of a grin on his lips. The thought of him taking the keystones racked her with guilt. She even imagined him throwing the jewels off the cliff, and the idea enraged her, brow sweating, teeth grinding.
Ridiculous! Why would I think that, even of him? He has no reason to sabotage the Academy. She hoped trapping scores of frightened women on a mountain was not reason enough for the Feaster.
And we are trapped. Hiresha realized this might have been what had upset her before, had sent worms of worry wriggling through her. With the Skyway failing, the icy Waterfly River would be even less safe. Hiresha considered if anyone could climb the cliffs to bring supplies to the enchantresses. Fos and other spellswords made a sport of scaling rock, but not in the winter. Not when fingers turned white and lost all feeling.
The provost and the warden descended the Spire of Magical History. At the base of the column, the tourmaline that had Lightened Hiresha for safety now caused her to drift in the air. She no longer had any other enchantments pulling her to a surface, and her magic had undone gravity. She hopped and paddled her way through the air to the Minister of Orbiting Bodies. “How long will the Academy supplies last?”
“I would estimate four months, as the Mindvault was built to withstand a siege.” The minister stroked her chin, blinking at Hiresha. Unlike the other elders who sported a scraggle of white whiskers, the minister’s chin was smooth. “I conclude that the keystones were in fact absent?”
“Just so,” Hiresha said. “We’ll return to the Recurve Tower and begin searching for them. But not just yet. I have no wish for the wind to blow me into the mountains. These Lightening enchantments will wear off in several more minutes.”
“And I have no wish to see another colleague in a wind burial,” the minister said.
Once the tourmalines had dimmed and Hiresha could remove them, the three enchantresses headed out into the glitter of the stars and snow.
“A pity that my skyscopes will be of no use in finding the keystones.” The gaze of the Minister of Orbiting Bodies lingered on the night’s stars. “Even so, might I suggest the chancellor’s offices?”
“Reasonable,” Hiresha said. “Yet I suspect this is a matter not of ‘where’ but ‘who.’ Someone stole the keystones.”
Hiresha’s hand strayed to her jewel sash. In the leftmost pocket she kept a black diamond. Should it touch another’s skin, the jewel would use a dual Attraction spell to implode the heart.
She would destroy whoever had stolen those jewels. Tethiel was right about the Academy, and about what I will do to the perpetrator. What baffled her to the point of sickness was thinking of who would commit such a murderous and profane crime. A memory tickled her of a thief she had once met in Oasis City. But, no. He is likely dead by now from the gods’ Blood Judgment.
“Why would the keystones be in the chancellor’s office? They are in the Spire of Magical History.” The warden started turning back toward the Spire. “In the pinnacle crypt.”
Hiresha caught the elder and explained the situation once more, leading her around the Recurve Tower. They encountered Spellsword Fos again. He bowed his head to acknowledge them and lifted something pale to Hiresha.
“Elders. Hiresha, I found the most amazing icicle for you. Look it has two tails—or whatever they’re called—that wrap around each other. Doesn’t it look like an ice scepter?”
Hiresha took the offered icicle from Fos though she could not bear to look at it. She could think of nothing but the wounded Academy. Swallowing hard, she pushed the icicle back to the spellsword.
“You must keep it for me. If I bring it inside it’ll melt.”
“That’s true,” he said. “Think Alyla will like it?”
“Fos, we have matters that need attending. All is not well in the Academy, and you mustn’t allow anyone to go down the Skyway.”
“I’m sure you’ll put it to rights soon.” Fos handled the icicle as if it were a sword and made a convincing thrust. His inclined his head and jogged away.
Hiresha and other elders strode to the tower door. The minister positioned herself on the circular dais to the right of the portal. The stone door Lightened, and the slab inched upward. More sluggish than I remember. The granite and its circle of quartz slid up into the wall of the tower. Hiresha eyed it, imagining what would happen to her if its weight returned when she tried to cross beneath the stone door.
She dashed through. The minister followed with equal caution, taking the warden’s hand. The Warden of Faceted Knowledge doddered without her cane. Hiresha helped pull her train of gowns in and wasted no time in deactivating the enchantment by standing to the left of the door. The full weight of its stone returned, slamming it closed. Thick blasts of mountain chill were shut out.
She had half turned to follow the elders when she spied something unexpected through the crystal window at the middle of the door, someone outside in the snow. A woman was walking with a black staff.
A deeper coldness settled over Hiresha like an infestation of ice shards creeping over her skin. She did not understand why she should feel so strong a reaction to seeing the lone figure striding toward the tower and Spellsword Fos.
He had trotted into view, and he glanced at the woman with the long staff. No walking stick, it was tall as she. Fos stopped to look again.
Only then did Hiresha realize how out of place the woman with the staff was. She could not have been an enchantress because she lacked a gown. Not a servant or novice in those clothes of thin rawhide that would do little to blunt the cold. Rope was spooled over her shoulder, her belt clinking with metal hooks and spikes. Not even a Feaster, Hiresha thought, for she’s too plain. More surprising still, the woman walked through the snow in sandals.
The realization of who the figure was—what she had to be—shocked Hiresha to speechlessness. By the time she sucked in the biting air to shout a warning to Fos, it was too late.
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