Chapter 4 of Gravity’s RevengePosted by in Uncategorized
“Chancellor?” Hiresha turned to regard the elder enchantress.
With a long neck and a narrow face, the approaching woman resembled a worm wearing a wig. The chancellor’s lavish black braids were decked with gold beads, and kohl paint shaded her eyes after the fashion of the Oasis Empire’s capital.
The chancellor’s gaze slid past Fos. “Provost Hiresha, your spellsword is cavorting with novices while on duty.”
“Alyla is his sister,” Hiresha said.
Fos said, “I was protecting her against frowns, Chancellor. There’s nothing more dangerous up here.”
“A professional distance must always be maintained between spellsword and enchantress.” The chancellor spoke this too at Hiresha.
“Studies show that pupils of good cheer learn faster,” Hiresha said, with a glance to Alyla. She’ll pass her practicals next time, poor girl, and earn her first enchantress gown.
“A mien of humility in students better befits the Academy of the Opal Mind, may the goddess’ wisdom ring through the centuries,” the chancellor said.
She stepped closer with a click of the beads in her wig. Her small eyes flicked over Hiresha’s shoulder to where Janny chatted with her daughter. The chancellor lowered her voice.
“Why do you seek to demean the Mindvault Academy at every turn? The waifs you submit as novices bring neither wealth nor prestige.”
Hiresha stiffened, and between her fatigue and chill it took a few deep breaths before she could thaw a response. “Perhaps you have forgotten that I too arrived at the Academy without resource.”
“You had talent, your unnatural propensity for the magic of dreams. Have your protégés shown similar aptitude?”
“Spellsword Fos has proven himself remarkably—”
“Novice Alyla has shown no talent, no aptitude, and no potential as an enchantress.”
Hiresha thought the chancellor’s critical remarks concerning Alyla most unfair, considering the chancellor herself had less magical skill than the average snail. She had not enchanted so much as a copper coin in all the time Hiresha had studied at the Academy.
This is what comes of electing a bureaucrat, Hiresha thought. Her hand strayed beneath two of her layers to the hard point of a pocketed jewel. With it, she could crumple the chancellor against the snowy rock. Hiresha never would so assault an enchantress, but knowing that she could granted her the resolve to stand up for Alyla and Minna.
“Princesses of less skill are admitted every season.”
“Exactly. Room must be reserved for the nobility.”
“Alyla is intelligent and imaginative. Testing merely makes her nervous.”
The chancellor might as well not have heard her. “And you insist on bringing a new girl of the same social strata? Who will you enter into the novice registry next to offend the goddess? That animal?”
She sniffed at the fennec scuffling in Hiresha’s arms. The fox buried himself in her layers.
The chancellor asked, “Or perhaps open the Academy to men?”
“In point of fact,” Hiresha said, her breath misting out from between her clenched teeth, “I believe the Academy would benefit if we considered admitting male novices of great potential skill.”
The noise of distaste made by the chancellor reminded Hiresha very much of a fox’s sneeze. “What would one even call male enchantresses? Enchanting men? Enchantmen?”
“Enchanters,” Hiresha said.
“‘En-chan-teers.’” After saying the word, the chancellor’s yellowish tongue curled toward the back of her mouth.
Hiresha glanced to Fos. She said, “And some women might make exceptional spellswords. In some ways, a female guard would be more—”
“Enough. Being Provost of Applied Enchantment in no manner gives you the right to question rules enacted by the Opal Mind.”
“You mean the goddess of imaginative thought? She would want us to honor her by looking for new methods and practices to enrich the Academy.”
The chancellor swiveled in a snap of blue lace to face Alyla and her brother. “Spellsword Fosapam, inform Spellsword Trakis that you will be serving as the Academy’s night watchman. For the entirety of this month.”
To have Fos stand each watch was a punishment that enraged Hiresha. Spellswords alternated shifts so no one man would suffer exposure in the freezing night air. The injustice of it caused heat to smolder under Hiresha’s gown, and she felt hot and sick.
Fos was blinking wide-eyed at the chancellor. Hiresha imagined him thinking of all those nights, so inclement that his lips froze to his teeth. She took some comfort in knowing she could cure any frostbite. Even so, she had to wonder if Fos would yell at the chancellor in outrage, or complain.
The spellsword grinned. “Then I’ll have all the time to practice my long jump. And the stars won’t judge me if I get it wrong. Well, they may smirk a twinkle.”
His brows furled in focus as he lowered himself. A pinging noise sounded in Hiresha’s inner ear as he Lightened his greaves and himself. Weighing no more than a fox but with the muscles of a grown man, he launched himself into the air.
The wind swatted him to his knees.
The chancellor nodded at his failure and stalked off, her train of gowns leaving a path in the snow.
Hiresha winced for Fos. “You’re brave to even attempt the long jump. Most spellswords delay learning the technique years for fear of embarrassment.”
“It’s the timing.” He brushed the white from the scale vest beneath his coat. “Have to Lighten myself then drop the spell before my feet leave the ground. Too soon and I only hop. Too late and I’m an overlarge leaf in the wind.”
Hiresha refolded his right lapel. “It is my fault, about the night duty. The chancellor knows she cannot reprimand me directly. The Ceiling of Elders wouldn’t have it.”
Fos shrugged it off.
Maid Janny sauntered up, her arm around her daughter. The maid’s rather shapeless body jiggled with happiness. Minna gazed at Spellsword Fos then adjusted her veil and squirmed out of her mother’s grasp.
Hiresha pinched the bridge of her nose and glared after the chancellor. “Janny, was I ever so disagreeable as that?”
“You’re only a headache away from being so again.” Janny winked at the enchantress. Next she knuckled Fos’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry. I’ll bring you some mulled ale so you won’t freeze outside. Just so long as you promise to keep the place free of Feasters.”
Beside her, Minna winced at the mention of the dangerous illusionists. The girl gazed up at the building above and mouthed, The Recurve Tower. The spire twisted about itself like a knotted serpent. It shadowed them, except for a patch of light between Hiresha and Janny from where the sun fitted between the structure’s coils.
Janny elbowed her daughter and chuckled. “Told you so.”
“Mother! Ew!” Minna turned to Hiresha and asked, “What’s the real reason they built it so wrapped around?”
“For practical reasons, of course.” The enchantress would have winked then, had she ever learned the knack of it. “The Recurve Tower is the longest tower in the Lands of Loam, yet it couldn’t have been taller than the observatory. How then could the Minister of Orbiting Bodies observe the stars?”
Minna asked, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to build the observatory higher up?”
Fos swept a hand up to the Recurve Tower. “What? And have a plain old tower? Who’d want that?”
Hiresha tapped her lips and smiled. A clever girl. The enchantress said, “Alyla, would you be so good as to show Minna around the Academy?”
Alyla had hung behind her brother in her novice robes like a teal shadow. She murmured something.
Minna tore her eyes from Fos. “What’d you say?”
In a tiny voice, Alyla said, “I have a class now. I can’t—”
“Minna may join you,” Hiresha said. The enchantress turned to Janny. “Are her quarters prepared?”
“Already stowed her basket of personables on the owl’s floor,” Janny said. “She’s no lark. Never can seem to settle herself to sleep before the throbbing hours of the morning. Aww! Would you look at those two young things together?”
Minna only came up to Alyla’s shoulder, but the taller woman walked stooped forward, arms held over her chest as if shielding herself from unseen aggressors. Hiresha hoped the two would become friends. The Opal Mind knows that Alyla needs one.
Hiresha shivered, feeling a sheen of sweat freezing to her inner gown. Battered by shock and insult, she wanted to recover in her dream laboratory. There she could determine who the falling woman had been. If she truly had been. Fatigue made Hiresha’s face feel tight, and her eyelids twitched.
“Fos, would you escort me to my chambers?”
He extended an elbow. She clasped him under the thickness of his arm. The two strode toward the serpentine tower at the center of the Academy. Hiresha’s sense of unease redoubled. She felt unbalanced and vulnerable, as if the curving tower was tipping toward her in a collapse.
With the next breath, the enchantress reassured herself the spire was stationary. Despite its twisting design, a mortar of magic held it stable. Yet the feeling remained that she must do something, soon.
“Fos,” Hiresha asked, “while on patrol, you didn’t see an enchantress approach the edge did you?”
“The cliff edge?”
“Yes. A younger woman, wearing a green dress perhaps?” Hiresha had not recognized her, but Hiresha only taught advanced courses in Applied Enchantment. If the other enchantress had been more than a figment, she must have been a student of dream exploration.
Fos stopped and faced her. “Should I have seen something?”
I must be ailing. Hiresha prided herself on her logical thinking. She would not rile herself into a frenzy over something she may or may not have seen. And if the unfortunate woman was real, she is beyond my help now.
Before Hiresha could speak further to Fos, the chancellor ambushed them with a cursory curtsey. “Provost Hiresha, you are required to teach Introduction to Magic Theory this afternoon. Enchantress Symera has made herself unavailable.”
Hiresha frowned, and her fatigued mind dredged up Symera’s fine-featured face, not the same as the falling woman’s. Compared to her deadly fall, Hiresha reasoned that encountering the chancellor twice in one hour was not so terrible a trial. Some blissful months, she need not see the Chancellor of Precious Enchantables at all while the bureaucrat was out collecting funds.
“Has Enchantress Symera fallen…” Hiresha caught herself. “…that is, has she fallen ill?”
“She is running about searching for her teaching assistant.”
Hiresha felt as if an icicle had lodged in her throat. “Her assistant, she’s not to be found?”
“Sadly, you are not the only undependable enchantress in the faculty,” the chancellor said.
Fos angled his jaw and head away from the chancellor at this, muscles flexing along his neck.
The chancellor adjusted her sleeves. So many frills of fabric branched from her wrist that the layers resembled an artichoke. “A pity you lack the time to make yourself more presentable. You are wearing, what, only half of your honorary gowns?”
“Eight dresses,” Hiresha said, “plus or minus one depending on Janny’s mood. Now about that assistant—”
“Only eight? At this rate, you will soon be traipsing about the halls wholly denuded.”
Hiresha could not flex her drowsy mind to respond to that ridiculous statement. “The assistant wouldn’t have worn a green gown, would she? With copious ribbons?”
“Why ever should I know that?” The chancellor’s lip curled upward.
“I regret that I am too out of sorts to lecture. The Skyway climb fatigued me more than expected.”
“If you feel yourself inadequate to perform your duties, Provost, you could always resign. No one would blame a woman of your relative youth from buckling under the weight of an office beyond her capacities,” the chancellor said. “Barring that, you have a classroom waiting for you.”
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