03.14 – Whispering Shadows

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Isla returns to the library. She has to ask for directions two times on the way there, but she makes it eventually. The table with her books has been cleared since she was in here last, which is annoying.

She starts searching through the shelves for something a bit more useful. Spellbooks, magical theory, obscure texts about magic herbs and rituals. Anything that might help her find Lucian and Solanus.

She gets a bundle of books and starts reading. There’s a lot of useless information to sift through–things like demon summoning circles and potions and other magic that won’t do what she needs it to do. It seems like every spell she finds that might even remotely do what she needs it to isn’t quite what she wants, or there’s not enough information on how to actually cast it.

“These trifles are unnecessary,” the witch whispers to her. “You have the power to find your friends through your will and my magic.”

“I don’t need you,” Isla mutters. “Stop bothering me.”

“You wanted to use magic for something useful,” the witch says. “You have the power within you. Will you use it to find your friends? Or will you continue searching fruitlessly for answers that do not exist?”

“I’m not going to use your powers to find Lucian and Solanus,” Isla says. “I’m going to use my own magic.”

“Isla.” The sound of her name makes her feel like ice, and the feeling of being watched suddenly seems so much heavier, like a physical pressure on her back. “Your magic is my magic, Isla. It is what you asked for.”

Isla grits her teeth. “Shut up. Shut up, just shut up! I’m going to find them without you, so go away!”

“I could deliver them to you. All you must do is ask.”

Isla slams her book shut. “Shut up!” she shouts. She feels a touch just below her chin, across her shoulders, like the faintest touch of wind and shadows. “You’re not even real, so get out of my head!

“Not until you pay me your dues, Isla.”

Isla clenches her fists. She can’t do this. She can’t stand to hear her name in that voice, feel the witch’s presence hovering over her shoulder, in her shadow, whispering in her ears.

“Go away!” she screams. “Leave me alone! Leave me–Leave me alone, for fuck’s–” She takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I don’t want to hear you. Go away. Shut up. Get out of me. Leave me alone. Please.”

There’s silence and the cold touch of shadows around her arms, like invisible spidery fingers.

“If that is what you wish,” it finally says. “You will ask for my assistance soon enough.”

“Haven’t you taken enough from me?” Isla asks.

There’s no response. Not from the witch, and not from any of the servants shuffling past, either.

She still feels eyes on her.

Feeling thoroughly unsettled, she reads through her books in silence. She never manages to shake off the feeling of being watched, or the tendrils of darkness lurking at the edges of her vision, or the phantom touches around her necks and arms, but the witch, or her delusions of it, stays silent.

It takes three hours and twelve books to find the spell she wants. It’s similar in some ways to the spell she usually does with the candle, but uses a conjured flame to directly lead the way to the target. The list of required reagents is almost nothing, needing nothing but a large amount of space to draw the complicated sigils and a large amount of power. She can manage both.

She memorizes the spell, closes the book, and leaves the library. Aurel doesn’t want her to cast magic because of her health, but she doesn’t care. She feels fine. Fine enough.

She’s going to find Lucian and Solanus.

She gets back to her room and tells the servants she doesn’t want to be disturbed. She’s not sure if they’ll listen to her if Aurel wants to talk to her, but Aurel’s all the way in his workshop and she doubts he’ll call for her right now. She’s probably in the clear, at least for now.

She pushes the couch and tables out of the way to clear a large space on the ground, then takes out a stick of chalk from her bag and starts drawing. The sigils are nearly as large as the ones she had to draw for the spell she had cast to see Lucian, and she double- and triple-checks them before taking her shoes off and standing in the center. She clasps her hands.

“Lead me,” she says, calling power into her hands. A small pink light forms in her palms, and she tries to push more power into it.

“That won’t be enough.”

Isla grits her teeth and ignores the witch’s voice. She concentrates, forcing herself to put more power and magic into the spell, but there’s no magic to pull. Her magic is dry, no matter how deeply she reaches.

She growls. “Lead me!” she shouts, and the light in her palms flares white–

There’s a flash, then a rushing sound, then darkness.

Isla wakes up after passing out for the second time that day in her bed in her room. Aurel is sitting in a chair nearby, reading a book.

Isla groans and sits up. Her skin feels like it’s burning, or like it’s been stretched out and tacked back together.

“Isla,” Aurel says. “Are you all right?”

“I…I think so,” Isla says, rubbing her head. “What happened?”

“I believe you are better equipped to answer that question than I am,” Aurel replies. “The servants reported a loud sound not unlike an explosion coming from your room, then finding you unconscious inside. I believe you tried to cast some form of spell despite not having the strength to do so.”

Isla opens her mouth to protest, then closes it again. She can’t really argue with that, but she should have had the strength to cast the spell. There was no reason why her energy should have run dry like it did, or why something went so wrong that she passed out again.

“You are lucky a failed conjuration did not burn your hands off entirely,” the witch whispers, snide.

Isla purses her lips and forces herself not to respond.

“I would like to say that I disapprove of you attempting to cast spells without my knowledge,” Aurel says. “I understand you are distraught due to the status of your friends, but when I asked you to refrain from using magic, it was in the interests of your health, not out of a desire to restrict you. I hope you see the consequences of your choices for yourself.”

“Sorry,” Isla murmurs.

“You need not apologize to me,” Aurel says. “I simply hope you will be more careful with yourself in the future. As it is, it is late. There is some food if you are hungry, thought it has likely gone cold by now. I apologize for that. We did not know when you would awaken.”

Isla shakes her head. She feels a bit queasy and she’s not sure if she can stomach much more than a glass of water.

“Very well,” Aurel says. “I was able to extract some useful information from the wolf automaton and have used it to start another search. We should get positive results by tomorrow evening. In the meantime, please rest and sleep well, Isla. I do not wish for you to fall ill again, or to injure yourself with reckless use of magic.”

“Thanks, Aurel,” Isla says. “Sorry.”

Aurel snaps his book shut and stands, then bows once. “Then I shall see you again after you awaken,” he says. “Good night.”

“You, too.”

Aurel leaves, and Isla shuts the light off. She has a lot to think about.

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