“Admittedly, it was my fault for not specifying the flying fortress had to be able to fly in directions other than up. Oh, it can fly down as well? Splendid. Guards, drag the Lord Warlock beneath my fortress. It’d be a shame not to use it at least once.”
– Dread Emperor Inimical, the Miser
“Walk me through it,” I said, then added, “metaphorically speaking.”
Masego’s mouth snapped shut. His quarters were larger than I’d expected, but I was rather familiar with the way it got filled from our years together. It was unusual, by Wasteland standards. Given how sorcery tended to come with some degree of wealth and influence, at least in Praes, the rooms of most mages I’d seen tended to be tasteful and well-furnished. Many even had a corner set aside to receive guests and a few impressive-looking magical trinkets to impress the uninitiated. Research or actual practice of sorcery would take place not there but in workshops and mage towers, behind heavy wards and away from the prying eyes of rivals. Masego, on the other hand, had never seen sorcery as something he practiced. He was a mage first and foremost, even without his magic, so in his mind there was nothing to separate his living quarters from a workshop. Our surroundings made that exceedingly clear.
Where my own quarters in the Arsenal had a parlour to entertain guests, he instead had a neat and well-organized library whose shelves went from floor to ceiling. A comfortable scribing desk – I’d actually seen cushions like this one’s on Alcazar furniture and the red didn’t match the wood, so Indrani had probably stolen it – with enough leg room for him to sit reading without feeling cramped was the only concession to this being somewhere actually lived in. The same couldn’t be said of the larger room deeper in, where I found the mixture of lazy chaos and almost rigid orderliness to be a nostalgic sight: like his tents out on campaign, or his rooms in Laure. While dirty clothes, plates with half-eaten meals on them and the blade cleaning kit Hakram had gifted Indrani a few years back had been strewn around without a care, it actually only served to contrast with the parts Zeze did care to keep clean.
Like a long table with half a dozen leather-bound manuscripts, the sole open one revealing Masego’s finicky calligraphy in ink, also boasting several reference books I dimly recognized from my continuing lessons on sorcery with Akua. All were laden with bookmarks, though none more so than the heavy tome titled Metaphysics of Realms from some ancient Warlock by the name of Olowe. Stacked scrolls and carefully folded parchments along with a nice leather armchair told me this was likely where Zeze sat to work, and there was not a single crumb or speck of dust on that table to be found. Another nook looked like a small alchemy lab, another like an enchanting table and yet another was covered in glass domes constraining pulsing luminous mushrooms. Experiments, I rather hoped. Around those islands of order even the wood shavings from the wooden carvings Indrani had carelessly sown around everywhere else seemed reluctant to enter.
I wouldn’t but it above Masego to have warded them.
The large bed in the corner, which evidently neither he nor Indrani had bothered to make, seemed to have been placed there almost like an afterthought – fitted in there after the important stuff had been, half-heartedly wedged in where there was still room. My suspicions that he might have forgot to put actual furniture in there at first were deepened by the way the dressers were on opposite sides of the room and the closet was awkwardly close to a cupboard opening the opposite way. It went from suspicion to standing assumption when I noticed that the small table where they ate meals – by the amount of dirty plates – was clearly Archer’s work by the look of the carvings. Zeze was not particularly fond of tapestries, so I assumed the few hung on the walls were there at Indrani’s addition, but the sheer amount of magelights and candles was all him. Beautiful and elaborate carpets clearly from the Wasteland – no one wove those quite like the Taghreb – added a splash of colour that livened up the room into a place where it might actually be pleasant to live.
Yet it was a small room behind all this where we stood, though, behind a steel door warded tightly so none of the influences from the other parts of his quarters could drift in and contaminate the workings. Here the walls were bare stone and even the tables and chairs polished granite, with only his work on the Quartered Seasons breaking up the stony monotony. Half a dozen copper boxes with glass lids and water held in crystal spheres – an improvement on the traditional scrying bowl, though significantly more fragile – revealed shifting colourful shapes from places beyond Creation, while on the left wall a great slate covered in markings and formulas depicting the secrets that the Hierophant had successfully teased out of the Pattern. I’d been invited so sit on one of the granite chairs but instead elected to stand at his side, looking at the slate.
I gestured for Hierophant to begin, and with sharp nod he moved closer to the slate. He found a corner of it without writing, then paused and turned towards me. With his full body not, just his eyes, which got my attention.
“I will begin by noting that the Hunted Magician’s information was the definitive factor in this success,” Masego said.
My brow rose. I’d suspected that it’d be useful stuff, but this was much stronger praise than I’d anticipated. Hierophant was in no way shy about claiming intellectual successes when he believed himself their author, and to this day still utterly disinterested with politics, so if he was talking up the Magician then every word spoken was true.
“I hear he’s come across some trouble under the Terms?” Masego continued.
“He worked with the Bard, among other things,” I said. “I’m not eager to press for an execution, given his uses, but letting him off with a slap on the wrist isn’t in the cards.”
“I’ve little interest in those matters,” Masego admitted. “But since you told me he gave what he knew as part of an arrangement for leniency, I’ll specify that his information saved me possibly literal years of work. I was looking in entirely the wrong places.”
That’d weigh on the scales, though less than Zeze might expect. The way I saw it, the Hunted Magician couldn’t be allowed to buy his way out of consequences no matter what he offered up. All that he floated us and ended up panning out, though, should be put together as a case for why certain punishments should be sought instead of others.
“I’ll pass that along to his tribunal,” I said. “And I might need you to put it in writing at some point.”
From the look on his face, he was already tossing the entire matter into the pile of things he felt no particular need to remember. To my eye it was still an improvement that he’d bothered to speak to the subject at all instead of simply assuming I’d handle it, so if anything I was rather pleased.
“The crux of the matter is a question that concerns one of the few commendable books on sorcery to come out of the Principate, Madeline de Jolicoeur’s work ‘Essences of the Fey’,” Masego said, charmingly taken by his subject.
He drew a small circle on the slate, his long fingers deft. It was always heartwarming to see him genuinely in his element. I frowned a heartbeat later, though.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that name before,” I told him.
Where? Obviously it was from Proceran history, but my studies of that had been rather skewed. I’d focused on the major wars and turning points, along with Cordelia Hasenbach’s rise and reign. Considering the sheer size of the Principate, even though the state hadn’t even existed for half the time Callow had that still meant a staggering number of things would have slipped through the cracks of my learning.
“I believe she was also known by her contemporaries as the Fey Enchantress,” Masego said.
Ah, her. Leave it to Zeze to primarily remember the villainess that’d taken over most of Cantal and Iserre only to fail at toppling Salia and the Highest Assembly for her apparently impressive magical research.
“Lady Madeline was part fae herself, and familiar with the Courts of Arcadia, which eventually led her to ask the question of what happens when fae are killed,” Masego said. “Her work was the first to suggest that fae cannot truly die, and that the changing of the seasons is the mechanism through which the Courts renew themselves.”
“So fae don’t die,” I said. “You told me that several times in the past, and I’ve seen the proof of it myself. What’s useful about this?”
“When the physical body of a fae is slain, they are not destroyed,” Masego said. “We know their essence continues to exist, as it will be spun anew into another fae come the changing of seasons. Where, then, does that essence go?”
Huh. I’d not considered that, actually. Fairies didn’t have souls, so it wasn’t like they’d pass into beyond and then be resurrected when they were needed by their endless cycle again.
“It could lapse back to the crown of their respective court,” I eventually said. “Some fae are dukes one cycle and princes another, so we know there’s a variance in power to some extent. It might be the ‘crown’ is a system for apportioning that power into different fae.”
Masego turned burning eyes towards me, noticeable even under the eyecloth.
“Akua has been very good for you,” he seriously said.
Words to make half of Callow faint in rage, but I decided to let him finish his thought before settling on a reaction.
“You’ve always been clever,” Zeze continued, “but now your instincts are grounded in knowledge. I am glad she has been tutoring you, even if your closeness makes Vivienne unhappy.”
“More than just Vivienne,” I reminded him, and left it at that.
He shrugged, unconcerned with the broader ramifications. Most days I wished I could be as well, given how much simpler it’d make my life.
“A return to the crown was my first theory as well,” Hierophant told me. “Which led to the creation of the copper eyes. Through a process you are not educated enough to understand even if I explain, I created power that would behave similarly to Spring or Autumn and released it in different places with the aim of tracing it back to the crowns.”
This part I’d known about, though not the reasoning behind it. The ‘copper eyes’, the scrying boxes in the room with us, were meant to follow the power he was releasing into the wilds and so find the location of the crowns. They were linked to measuring devices that’d been put out in different layers of Creation and adjoining realms, with great difficulty, but for all the trouble last I’d heard that avenue had proved to be something of a dead end.
“It didn’t work, though,” I said.
“It worked perfectly,” Masego contradicted. “It simply found nothing. My theory when facing those results was that I was simply not releasing the power in the correct places, which was not improbable given the size of Arcadia alone – much less the full spectrum of the search.”
“So what changed?” I asked.
“To understand that, first consider a more recent theory introduced by my own father,” Masego said, drawing a second circle on the slate. “Namely, that all of Arcadia – even the fae themselves – are of the same fundamental matter, with the differences between a stone and a duchess being essentially cosmetic. Father suggested that fae cannot truly die not because of an effective immortality of essence, but instead because they are not truly alive.”
He spoke of Warlock with a tinge of wistfulness, but the grief had visibly faded. I wasn’t too surprised. When the Dead King wasn’t riding in the back of his head, Masego actually tended deal with his emotions better than most of the Woe. I set that aside and considered his actual words instead, the theory the Sovereign of the Red Skies had put forward. I wasn’t quite sure I bought it, not after some of the things I’d seen.
“If the fae were entirely self-contained in their story cycles, I’d agree with that,” I noted. “But that theory doesn’t explain Larat.”
Who had walked away from kingship Twilight and become something else. If fae were not more thinking than a trebuchet or a water wheel, merely more complex, how could his actions be explained?
“A fascinating contradiction,” Masego warmly agreed. “Are Larat and your former Wild Hunt then the first fae to have ever lived, or by virtue of living do they cease being fae at all?”
“Which links to Quartered Seasons how?” I asked.
“It doesn’t,” Hierophant replied without missing a beat. “I simply find it a gripping mystery.”
I, uh, should have seen that coming. Honestly it was a sign of how engaged he was with this subject that he’d only ended up going down a side path the once.
“Returning to the theoretical framework,” Masego happily said, “if we believe both Lady Madeline and Father we are led to a particular state of affairs. Fae are not destroyed when their body is slain, return cyclically, and are not fundamentally distinguishable from the rest of Arcadia.”
My eyes narrowed.
“A return to the earth,” I said. “That’s what you’re getting at. Like Arcadia itself is a pool of water, and when they ‘die’ the water just returns to the pool.”
“Precisely,” Hierophant grinned. “From there I draw not on the work of others but on my own, if you’ll forgive the intellectual vanity.”
“I’ll magnanimously deign to do so,” I replied.
He eyed me sideways, knowing there’d been sarcasm in that sentence but with little interest in deciphering where and why. He still drew a third circle, below and in between the first two.
“My own Quartered Seasons theory was built on the back of the two older theories I’ve introduced you to,” Masego said. “Madeline de Jolicoeur suggested that the changing of seasons was a way for the courts to renew themselves, but I would venture to go further. The existence of the seasons themselves is a mechanism for that very purpose, allowing a set of two seasons to be active while the other two become ambient and begin condensing into their coming shape. Your own vision, Catherine, made it clear that the transitions between seasons were not instantaneous. Given Arcadia’s otherwise loose accord with creational laws, there must be a mechanical reason for this to be so.”
“You’re losing me,” I admitted. “I thought that your theory was about the separation between a court’s ‘crown’ and its ‘power’.”
“It is,” Masego said. “Think of Arcadia as the pool of water you mentioned.”
He drew a large circle in the centre of the space.
“Each Court is, for lack of a better term, a smaller pond that will be filled through a canal at regular intervals.”
His hand moved again, depicting four lines leading out of the large circle and leading into four smaller circles.
“All power is limited,” Hierophant stated, idly filling in the large circle with ‘water’. “I believe that, for reasons of stability and coherence, only two ponds can ever be safely filled from the pool’s water. That leaves two ponds’ worth of power returned to ambient Arcadia, slowly shaping themselves into the coming seasons. If all four ponds are filled…”
“The pool would be empty,” I frowned. “And so Arcadia would grow thin. That seems dangerous.”
“It would be, which is why I believe a deeper mechanism ensures that only two ponds can be full at a time,” Masego said. “The decay in victory of Winter or Summer until they become Spring and Autumn, which you saw in vision, would be the visible part of that mechanism in action.”
“So the water is the power, that I get,” I said. “That still leaves out the crowns.”
He nodded, pleased, and methodically drew little crowns above each of the four smaller circles, the ‘ponds’.
“The crowns are, in effect, simply the shape of the pond the water is poured into,” Masego said. “Given the cosmic scope of these ‘waters’, however, this had still made them godheads in every meaningful sense.”
I watched the slate board, fingers clenching an unclenching. He’d not kept talking, which meant he’d given me the rules of this as he knew them. It also meant that I might be able to figure it out, at least in part. It was a sloppy habit to have all this explained to me all the time, one that might come back to bite me in the future, so I forced myself to think.
“When the King of Winter and the Queen of Summer wed,” I said, “neither of them lost their crown. They didn’t stop being royalty, just became the royalty of something new.”
“Correct,” Masego said.
He drew a line through two of the found crowns. On opposite ends of the pool, as Hierophant was nothing if not precise even in his doodles.
“But I know they didn’t get to keep the power of Winter, because I got my hands on it,” I said. “And then Sve Noc ate it, to stabilize the Night into something that won’t destroy their entire species if it collapses.”
He drew a line through one of ponds already bereft of a crown.
“I am still uncertain whether the lack of corresponding crown to go with the power you inherited is what kept you largely sane or was instead the very reason for your troubles with principle alienation,” Masego admitted. “Regardless, it is undoubtedly why you were only ever able to command but the barest fraction of that power.”
“If your ‘deeper mechanism’ was working right, when the newborn Court of Arcadia Resplendent was formed there would have been two ponds back in the pool,” I slowly said. “The power of Spring and Autumn.”
His lips quirked. I’d underestimated how much and how long he’d been wanting to talk to someone about this, I thought. The secrecy meant neither of us had brought in even the Woe fully, though Hakram knew some things and no doubt Indrani had gone looking through everybody’s papers as was her wont. Masego drew lines through two ponds, the same who still had their crowns.
“Given that in this state their very purpose is to be shaped anew for a coming cycle, it would explain the ease by which this unprecedented Court of Arcadia Resplendent was formed,” Masego agreed. “And we look at two crowns’ worth of control for two ponds’ worth of power, which would lead to a highly stable arrangement explaining why we’ve not heard of collapse in Arcadia since.”
“Winter’s power went into Night,” I said. “Which means it has to be Summer that went into Twilight, it’s the only pond of power that was still free. Except we had no call on that power, Zeze.”
“We did not,” Hierophant agreed. “Yet you struck a bargain with the Prince of Nightfall, who did.”
What I’d promised him was seven mortal crowns and one, though, and while we’d undeniably both been at war with Summer at the time neither of us had held a right to its power. Although hadn’t the imprisoned Princess of High Noon gone spare when I’d told her about the bargain with Larat? She must have seen something looming on the horizon even that far back.
“I can’t see how we got our hands on it, even then,” I admitted.
“Though I cannot be certain, I believe it to have been a matter of blind mechanics having worked to our advantaged,” Masego said. “Larat was fae, and so his ritualized apotheosis called to power of a fae nature. It made the water go down the canal, so speak, and there was only one pond’s worth of water left to flow.”
“And the seven crowns and one?” I asked.
“When trying to force such a powerful mechanism to work, some manner of power must be spent,” Hierophant suggested. “It is telling that the same fae who escaped the foundation of united Arcadia asked for this specific bounty, among all those that could be asked.”
That many crowns would have a weight to them, undeniably. Was that what the Princess of High Noon had seen and panicked about? Not necessarily that Larat would eventually use up the very stuff of Summer, I doubted even fae could be that farsighted, but that he was aiming to make a Court of his own. It fit, I had to admit. If there was a recipe to make a Court, it made sense that royalty on both sides of the fence would be at least vaguely aware of it.
“So that leaves the crowns of Spring and Autumn up for grabs, like we thought,” I said. “Where were they, that the Hunted Magician was able to help you – wait, actually, what about the fae we fought here in the Arsenal?”
My brow knotted. I’d almost forgotten those, but they were a stick in the wheel of what had been explained to me so far.
“They were Autumn,” I said. “There shouldn’t be an Autumn left, Masego, by your theory.”
“The answer to this was obtained by Roland, though unknowingly on his part,” Hierophant said. “He captured alive one of the fae, whose physical body it turns out we’ve destroyed before. The Duke of Green Orchards, who was slain in Dormer, though he now goes by Count of Green Apples.”
So I’d not been wrong, I thought, when I’d noticed an eerie similarity.
“I saw him,” I admitted. “Noticed his face. So you’re saying all those fae that attacked the Arsenal are, what, salvaged corpses?”
“Those entities whose bodies were slain can never be made anew with a new Winter or Summer, as there will never again be either of these,” Masego said. “That leaves them existing, yet purposeless. Some must have bound themselves to the crown of Autumn to acquire that purpose. There will be some of other natures, kept into existence by outside ties like contracts or debts, but I imagine much of the roster will be those killed in the Arcadian Campaign. For all those that anchored themselves to Autumn or Spring, I expect ten times as many went wild and are now partaking of sundry powers on Creation or elsewhere to sustain their existence.”
The Prince of Falling Leaves, then would have continued existing because of the Hunted Magician’s unpaid debt. That had a sharp little irony to it I could not help but find amusing – that man really was prone to shooting himself in the foot, wasn’t he? Actually, now that I was considering this, was my pact for the crowns with the Prince of Nightfall what’d allowed him not to become one of the subject princes of Arcadia in the first place? Larat, I thought with reluctant admiration. You cleverest of foxes.
“So fae fell through the cracks of our mess and now suckle at whatever they can find, including Autumn,” I summarized.
That sounded like it’d be an issue in the long term, fae loose in the world and grown hungry, but right now we had more pressing cats to skin. And it was now occurring to me that if the dead fae from my old campaign were excluded from the newborn Court that’d followed it, then most of Winter and Summer’s royalty had been removed. The very same kind of entities that might be rivals for whoever sat the newborn thrones.
Somewhere, I suspected, the creature that had once been the King of Winter was smiling.
“More or less,” Masego agreed. “And to answer the question you never finished asking, what the Hunted Magician provided was not exactly a location. There is, if you’ll forgive the metaphor, no buried treasure to unearth. That was what he clarified for me, that I could not find a crown because in a very real sense it does not currently exist. What he gave us is a set of circumstances that will coalesce the crown of Autumn into being. More specifically, a ritual to be used in a particular place and alignment.”
“So when you said you found the crown of Autumn,” I leadingly said.
“An artistic flourish,” Masego proudly said. “I have merely confirmed the ritual will function and located an appropriate ritual site and date.”
I let out a noise of appreciation.
“Well done,” I said. “What kind of a timeline are we looking at?”
Considering how much about the fae had to do with seasons, I’d guess somewhere around a year. Maybe the autumn solstice or something else along those lines.
“Thirty-one days,” Hierophant said.
I blinked in surprise, lapsing into a stunned silence.
“I could make the attempt tomorrow,” Masego said, misinterpreting the reason for my quiet, “but to both travel and prepare for the ritual over so small a span would significantly increase the chances of failure.”
“That…” I began, almost at a loss for words. “That changes things. The location, the resources you need, it’s all set?”
“I’ll have to significantly empty the Arsenal reserves of gems and precious metals as well as require of the services of at least two hundred mages – three hundred would be more comfortable, it would allow for replacements and adjustments – but in principle all needed is at hand,” Masego said.
Noticing my surprise, he smiled.
“You have helped create one of the grandest magical sites of learning and magic on Calernia, Catherine,” he said. “Do not then be surprised that it serves that purpose with distinction.”
I coughed, slightly embarrassed.
“The ritual site itself will be familiar to you, as the Princes’ Graveyard was fought near it,” he continued.
“The Mavian prayers on the hill?” I asked.
“Indeed,” Masego said. “There are other locations with perhaps more precise alignments, but this one benefits from being the seat of a permanent Twilight gate. The logistical benefits are obvious.”
I could definitely believe that tumulus would work as a ritual site, at least. I still remembered walking the tall raised stones and feeling the echoes of long-faded might, the call they’d made to the last wisps of fae power in me.
“The ritual could fail,” I said.
“All rituals can fail,” Masego pointed out.
“Allow me to rephrase that,” I said. “If the ritual fails, what are the consequences?”
“The ritual site will be obliterated, a significant portion of the mages involved will die or go mad, the fabric of Creation on a regional scale will be weakened for several centuries,” Hierophant calmly listed.
My fingers clenched. That was not negligible losses.
“The Twilight gate?” I made myself ask.
“Three in five odds of withstanding the damages and keeping full functionality,” Masego said. “No chance of destruction, or that partial functionality will not remain. We did not craft a fragile artefact, Catherine.”
Considering the sheer amount of Night we’d wielded that day and the way he’d come into an aspect halfway through, I was not inclined to doubt him.
“Odds of success?” I pressed.
“Tomorrow, perhaps one in five,” Hierophant mused. “Likely a little less. By my suggested timeline, I’d say somewhere between seven and eight in ten. Closer to eight, by my calculations.”
“If we wait longer can you bump that up?” I asked.
He frowned, staying silent for a long moment.
“With another two months, perhaps a little over eight,” Masego finally said. “With a full contingent of Wasteland mages and a month to teach them we could near nine in ten, though I believe that Dread Empress Malicia might be disinclined to lend us these.”
By the tone of his voice, that was very petty of her. I suppressed a smile. Indeed, how dare international politics and all these wars get in the way of one of the great magical feats of the century?
“I’m currently inclined to wait the three months and get all the sureties we can,” I said. “But I’ll discuss it with our allies, since Quartered Seasons is starting to become a genuine war asset.”
If nothing else, having this kind of a tool in our pocket would greatly strengthen the case of those commanders among the Grand Alliance who favoured the defensive strategy to this war. Princess Rozala and Prince Otto Reitzenberg had been arguing from the start that so long as we held our defensible borders, time would be on our side – either because of the amount of Named we’d accrue, or because the Arsenal would eventually produce a weapon capable of turning around the war on a strategic scale. The crown of Autumn might just qualify, since while it had no real use against field armies it could potentially allow us to deal with Neshamah himself. Not destroy him, mind you, that’d been what the Severance was for, but neutering him as a threat was more important than outright destruction.
“Assuming you successfully coalesce the crown,” I said, “will it be a physical artefact?”
“One not unlike the crown of Twilight when it was formed,” he said. “Though the strength of the godhead is in the concept and not the material.”
“And once we have the physical artefact,” I said, “you can begin shaping it.”
“I’ve had the appropriate workshop for the work built in the Arsenal for some time, though it is currently sealed,” Hierophant said. “It is difficult to estimate how long it would take me to shape the godhead, as even the Dead King’s work in Keter bears only passing similarities for me to draw on. It is safe to assume at least several months.”
I hummed. We wouldn’t need the crown to take back Hainaut, anyhow, which in my opinion was a prerequisite to taking a swing at Keter itself. We simply couldn’t afford to thin land defences against his armies the way we’d need to in order to make a serious crack at the Crown of the Dead, the risk of collapse was too high. Pushing Keter back beyond the lakes would allow us to dig in, though, and muster the armies properly for an assault on the Hidden Horror’s capital next spring or summer.
“We can afford that,” I said. “Especially if it wins us the war, which it will if we can make him lose control over the undead.”
That was, after all, what lay at the very heart of Quartered Seasons. Something like the Severance, an offensive artefact, it could be resisted. Which was why we wouldn’t be attacking the Dead King, we’d be giving him the crown – not in a way he could refuse, but still as a gift of godhead. That’d slip right through the overwhelming majority of his defences, by Masego’s reckoning, and Hierophant had spent most of the year with Neshamah riding in the back of his head. He knew the Dead King, understood him in ways most of us could only dimly grasp. The trick was that we wouldn’t just be tossing him the crown of Autumn, Hierophant would be shaping it first. It had to remain powerful, or it’d wiggle out of the groove of being a gift, but we’d get to choose what power was given. And what strictures accompanied it, of course, because the mantle of godhood could hardly come without costs.
I was more than comfortable making the Dead King physically indestructible if that power came at the expense of, say, his ability to command the dead.
I jolted myself out of my thoughts, since there still remained a question I’d forgotten to ask.
“Spring’s crown will still be out there,” I said. “That strikes me as a dangerous thing to leave simply lying around.”
Not the highest priority, but given my personal role in shattering the old order of Arcadia it’d be irresponsible to simply hide my head in the sand when it came to Spring.
“I agree,” Hierophant calmly said. “And since me might not have need of it for the war efforts, I’ve been considering how else it might be used.”
My lips thinned. I knew where that was headed. It wasn’t like Masego had ever made it a secret that he still intended on apotheosis, though he’d set those pursuits aside temporarily in deference to the horrors currently trying to sweep over the continent.
“I’m not sure I have the pull to allow you to get your hands on that,” I admitted. “Not after that mess in Iserre before the peace. I’ve been having trouble with heroes as well, so to be frank your pursuing godhood might end up the proverbial match in the munitions warehouse.”
“I believe that power is even less in your hands that you know, Catherine,” Hierophant said. “I attempted to narrow down possible ritual locations for Spring’s crown, so that I might test them for essence resonance, but out of the five locations I scried three repelled my spell.”
I breathed in sharply. While Masego might not currently have direct access to the Observatory, arguably the finest scrying facility in existence bar none, he was still one of the finest living practitioners of that art and sitting on a treasure trove of resources. There weren’t a lot of people, of defences, that could just repel him.
“The Dead King?” I asked, tone gone grim.
If Neshamah got his hands on a godhead, he’d make anything we might make out of one look like child’s play.
“No,” Masego sad, shaking his head. “On the third attempt I was ready for the opposition and salvaged a glimpse before my scrying sphere was shattered. I’ll show you.”
Walking over to one of the granite tables, as I watched he opened a compartment and took out what appeared to be a small sphere of silver glittering with sorcery. His aspect pulsed and he wrested it out, weaving for my eyes an illusion. The background was unclear, though I thought a tall streak of grey might be stone and the muddled green perhaps a field, but the forefront was crisp. A tall, slender and inhuman shape turned and watched with too-large eyes. It did not move, but the spell broke less that a heartbeat later. Silence held the room for a moment before I let out a long sigh.
That, unfortunately, had been an elf.