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If it was a long walk from the infirmary to the library, it’s a positively enormous distance from the library to Aurel’s workshop. The servant leads her down several corridors and paths of the palace, including a long glass walkway that she takes care not to look down in. At the end of the hallway is one of the palace’s great spires, and the servant takes her up a glass lift to yet another hallway filled with more tapestries and mosaic floors. It smells vaguely acidic.
Even going slowly, Isla is out of breath after all that walking.
“This is the master’s workshop,” the servant says. They pull the door open, and Isla goes in.
Aurel is at the back, working at a drafting table. He’s wearing a set of magnifying artificer’s lenses, which he carefully removes as he glances up at the door. “Isla. I hope you were well in my absence. Was your stay in our library informative?”
“You could say that,” Isla says.
“That’s good. I received the results of my preliminary search.” He holds up a small square of paper. “I ran an analysis on the data and your friends are, in fact, within the continent. They seem to be fairly close, though with the resolution afforded by this scan, that can mean anything up to a fifty mile radius.”
Isla sighs in relief. “So we’ll be able to find them. Does that mean I should do my spell?”
Aurel puts his paper down. “If you are feeling well, then yes. I can have the reagents pulled together for you and we can move to a location not far from here where the interfering effects of artifice should be reduced.” He pauses, then says, “But Isla, please keep in mind that the spell I am asking you to perform is not a locating spell. I cannot guarantee we will get useful information from it.”
“I know,” Isla says. “I’ll cast the spell. I just want to make sure they’re okay.”
Aurel nods and leads Isla out of the workshop and down the lift, out into the courtyard. They’re very far from the center of the palace now. There’s a smooth stone path laid in the grass, and Aurel takes it down towards a reasonably sized domed building perhaps five minutes’ walk away.
“This spell as first documented is about eight hundred years old. It is described as a farsight spell, and was used for espionage during the Empire’s War, when magic hadn’t yet been outlawed and still saw use in battle. It is the only spell of its type I was able to find which allows the visualization of an individual without a physical object pertaining to that individual, or knowing the location of that individual beforehand. It is also known for being able to visualize even those that cannot be easily visualized by other means due to interfering magic or curses, or loss of life,” Aurel says. “As such, the actual visualization it provides is limited, and cannot be adjusted, at least to my knowledge.”
“You…you don’t think Lucian and Solanus are dead, do you?”
“I have no way of knowing their status, but even if they have come to such an unfortunate fate, we will be able to observe it,” Aurel says. “But there is no reason to worry about that until after you have cast the spell.”
Isla takes a deep breath. “Okay. So this spell will let me see them?”
“Correct. The hope is that in your visualization you will be able to observe some clues to their location and discern their condition and hopefully continued health.” Aurel turns right down a narrower path, and Isla wonders how he manages to get around without getting lost. “You will visualize them in a pool of water, held in a vessel made of pure silver, and cast the spell using a number of sigils that I will allow you to inscribe yourself.”
“Sigils are drawn, not inscribed. If a spell is etched and the base it’s etched on breaks, it breaks the spell, but if you draw the marks on and the base breaks, the spell stays intact, and it’s safer because you can break the ritual yourself by erasing…” Isla trails off and looks down. “…Sorry. You probably weren’t asking about that.”
“Think nothing of it. This only proves my ignorance of magical practice, and anything to correct that is welcome,” Aurel says. “You will draw the sigils yourself, and cast the spell here in this chamber. It should be sufficiently far from the main palace to avoid all interference effects.”
Aurel pushes the doors open into what must be the most plain-looking room Isla’s seen in the palace yet. It’s large and empty with plain wood floors and white walls, but little else of note beyond that.
“The components will be brought into the chamber shortly,” Aurel says. “I will allow you to cast the spell alone. My own inscription may interfere if I am too close, and the scripture seemed very insistent that the caster of the spell be the only one to witness the results.”
“As for the spell itself, the literature describes the procedure as follows…”
Aurel describes the spell, which is a much more complicated one than Isla’s usual wayfinding spell. It needs three sigil rings, candles and special herb preparations, as well as a minor blood sacrifice, but it’s nothing beyond Isla’s abilities–or at least she hopes not. She listens and repeats the procedure back to make sure she’s got it.
About twenty minutes later, a pair of servants arrive with trays of spell ingredients. They lay them down gently on the floor, then leave without so much as a word. Aurel nods at them, then at Isla, and exits the chamber as well, leaving only Isla in the big empty room.
Isla takes a deep breath, picks up her chalk, and starts drawing. Three sigil rings take up a lot of space, sprawling outwards over a meter from the silver bowl in the center. She has to be careful not to step on the chalk and disrupt the lines as she goes around and draws each and every line.
Sigils completed, she sets out four candles. One north, south, east, and west, and she lights them counterclockwise, starting at north. She takes the herbs and crushes them together, one at a time, then burns them. A pungent aroma fills the air, and Isla sweeps the ashes from the ground and tosses them into the silver bowl. They float on the surface of the water.
Finally, Isla kneels in front of the bowl of water. She takes a deep breath and picks up the razor blade Aurel had provided and says, “I wish to see Lucian, my friend and traveling companion, whether near or far, in health or sickness or death. I wish to see Lucian, no matter what barriers may attempt to stop or hinder me, no matter what forces may try to interfere. I wish to see Lucian, be the power of my blood and magic.” She presses the blade to her palm and a large drop of blood oozes out of the cut and drops down into the bowl with a plop. It diffuses outwards like a drop of ink, slowly drifting through the water. Isla breathes out, and sets her hands on her knees. “Let it be so.”
She waits. Nothing happens for an agonizingly long thirty seconds, until the water in the bowl suddenly clouds and becomes murky and black. Isla gazes into it, but sees nothing but smoky darkness–until slowly, it clears, and she sees it.
Lucian’s against a wall, in what is unmistakably a…a prison cell. There’s a single bed and smooth gray walls, and Lucian looks worse for wear, still dressed in the same clothes she was wearing when they’d been attacked by wolves. She’s sitting against the wall with her arms around her legs and–
She doesn’t have hands.
Her arms end in jagged stumps, like someone snapped them off like they’d snap a branch in half, and Isla feels her breath catch in her throat. How could that have happened? Who could have done that? She tries to put more magic into the spell, to see more, and–
Lucian stirs, and looks up and around, confused. “Isla Isla, is that you–“ Her voice cuts in and out, echoing faintly in Isla’s ears.
“–find me, there’s–“
There’s something that feels like the snap of an overdrawn bowstring breaking, and Isla flinches back, pain lancing behind her eyes and through her skull. She blinks and tries to see again, but when her vision clears, the water in the bowl is empty again.
Isla takes a deep breath.
Lucian’s alive. She’s alive, thank everything she’s alive, but she’s in trouble, and Isla has no idea if time is running out.