Heretic

Chapter 16 – Heresy and Other Forms of Redemption

I relaxed slightly. Brother William may have snuck up on me, but he couldn't have known how well-versed I was in magic. If I convinced him that I would not struggle or shout for help, I felt certain that he would let go of me. Though that wouldn't put us on equal footing, it would give me the opportunity to defend myself and maybe even catch him by surprise.

I met his gaze and he slowly released me.

"Byron was following you?" I asked.

Brother William nodded. "I'm not supposed to be wandering the halls after dark," He admitted.

"Then why are you here?" I paused. I had my own ideas, of course… but I wasn't about to jump to conclusions. I evaluated him slowly as he stared at me. Knowing what he was, and who… I couldn't help but notice his filed, white-painted nails, his missing teeth and clipped ears. I'd thought my suppressants were unbearable. I couldn't even imagine the pain he'd gone through.

"I wanted to meet you. Your brother told me that you commonly work late," He replied. "And considering how I… startled you in the hall, I rather suspected that you wouldn't come to me."

His accent was faint, but I still noticed it. When he spoke, there was something in his voice that was beautifully compelling.

I'd translated every bit of his work I could get my hands on whether the High Priest asked me to or not. Aside from Judith Ilhoyan and the ever-so-scandalous Calixtra of Enessa, he'd become my very favorite writer. And as I sat there speaking to him face to face, I felt exactly as I always did when I read his verses. I felt as if I were transported into a different world, one that was somehow more real than the world I lived in.

"You're staring," he observed, seeming immediately self-conscious.

"I've wanted to meet you too," I admitted. "Byron said we had a lot in common. We're both… linguists."

"So we are," he nodded slightly. "You translate Mage-Tongue?"

"Among other things," I nodded. "But honestly, you could have sent Byron to me. We could have met during the day."

"I doubt it. I'm watched continuously," he replied. "No one trusts me."

"You're new. It's always like that when you first transfer somewhere," I didn't say what I was actually thinking, but I could tell from Brother William's reaction that he could see right through my casual façade.

"It's about your Mission," He replied bluntly, getting straight to the point.

"I've heard you're organizing one and I want to go."

"I know," I nodded. "I've got your application right here. It's incomplete. I see you've attached a copy of a letter here from High Priest Michael Byron-Winthrop that says you are exempt from all routine physical examinations and are never to receive vaccinations of any kind. That's… unconventional."

"I have some reactions to medication, that's all," he nodded, not bothering to explain why he didn't have to see a doctor for a physical. "It isn't something you need to worry about. I exercise regularly and am in fine shape. I can run a few miles, and lift some weight."

Pretending to appraise his condition, I decided that was a tremendous understatement. As strange as his face looked with his hair cropped so short and some of his teeth missing, his body reminded me of a classical statue. His clothes had to have been custom sewn, and even then, they barely fit.

"Well, you didn't attach your firing range scores either," I added, changing the subject.

"I'm not authorized to carry a gun." He replied.

"I can't approve you if you're not authorized to carry a gun!" I argued. "The Old World is a dangerous place, you know. Can you call the God's Fire then?"

"No." Brother William-Lawrence sighed and stood up. "And please, enough of these games! No, I do not receive vaccinations. You do not need a copy of my medical record. No, I am not authorized to carry a gun. I can fire one if you throw one at me, but I'm just as liable to break it as I am to hit anything. And no, I cannot call the God's Fire. I am not authorized to drive or to go out after dark. I am not authorized to stand guard or do anything without supervision. In fact, you will have to watch my every move. But you will want me on your Mission."

"I fail to see why." I replied with a smirk. Brother William-Lawrence twitched. I'd pushed him into a corner and he knew it. "You sound like a liability to me."

"I'm a Translator." He replied stiffly.

"So am I." I replied. "But I'm also authorized to drive, go out after dark, and shoot things."

"I know languages that you don't." He informed me, still dodging the confession I was trying to draw out from him.

"Try me," I folded my arms and waited for his response.

"Archaic Elvish."

"Ai il til mei Ilenen meir el," I replied effortlessly.

"Ah!" He smiled slightly. "You're good! Better than I expected. Pre-Kelasshin Draconic?"

"Da, da! Un shieh ssvaet va uil."

"Excellent!" He exclaimed. "Golden Age Common. No, no! Valfaren! Bahk ma caul um mer?" He asked.

"Tahg am meluk," It was about the only thing I knew in that obscure language… but fortunately it was the right response for the question he'd asked.

"You're impossible!" He laughed. It was a genuine laugh too, and I smiled despite myself. "You do know that, don't you?"

"It's one of the things I pride myself on," I admitted.

"I'm going to lose this, aren't I?" He sighed.

"Ki neh'baht su udo no'amu un met'tha," I replied in Ekbahte.

What that means was - "I never said I wouldn't take you with me."

He stared. A short little breath almost like a gasp of pain escaped him. "You speak Ekbahte?"

"It's a beautiful language, isn't it?" I continued. "Now I'm very partial to Mage Tongue myself because of all of the fun little double meanings… but there's a sort of elegance to it, don't you think?" I smiled slightly.

"But how did you learn it?" He asked. I noticed that he replied in Common, almost apprehensively... as if he didn't want to admit that he understood me perfectly.

"Well, I have a knack. A magical knack," I admitted. "The White Cross won't admit it, but that's what it is. When I take my suppressants, I can't get any work done at all."

"You know, don't you?" He pressed. He didn't have to say more than that.

"I am a Missionary. And I've been working in this basement for years." I added. "Yes. I know who you are."

"Were," He corrected. He came very close to me. He tried not to make it obvious what he was doing, but I heard him breath in as his nose almost brushed my neck.

"You… you can smell it, can't you?" I asked.

"That you're a Mage." He nodded. "Yes."

"What do Mages smell like?" I asked. "I've always wondered."

"Very good. I can't describe it," He admitted. "Most people… well, to me they smell a little bit like… a dog or a horse. Not intolerable. Elves I can't abide by. You smell like perfume."

"I'm not wearing any perfume," I laughed.

"All the same, that's how you smell." He replied. "And you do look like a Mage. Quite a lot, actually."

"The huge nose? Is that it?" I smirked. "Or is it… the hair? The High Priest wanted me to do something about it. A little more… conventional, he said. I quoted St. Evelyn at him. Wear no adornments. Do not paint your face. Let nothing distract from your Nature as the God has shaped it." I recited.

He laughed slightly. For the first time then, I really saw him. Before he could evade my gaze, our eyes met. His eyes were so… old. They were the color of the night sky with deep, catlike pupils that didn't seem to reflect any light.

I was reminded immediately of the Old World. I tried not to focus too much my still-painful memories of that one night in Kalyzar... but I could tell that Arduh knew. He knew exactly what it was like to love something that you couldn't have, something that was long gone and forgotten.

"What… what made you do it?" I blurted out.

"It was the right thing to do." He paused, clearly uncomfortable. "Sister…"

"Kamrilla." I cut him off. "Please, just call me Kamrilla."

"And a Mage name too." He observed, smiling slightly. "I knew a Kamrilla once, centuries ago. Deadly woman. Smart, too. And lovely, of course."

"Don't try to flatter me!" I warned, not wanting to admit how I'd started to feel a little shaky just being so close to him. And whenever he smiled or laughed, I'd begun to understand why all the stories said that he was… well, irresistable!

"It isn't flattery if it's true." He replied, completely unapologetic. "And I never lie. Deception was my father's preserve. It isn't something I'm partial to myself."

"You deceive everyone here." I replied, a little more coldly than I'd intended to.

"It's necessary." He shook his head. "Truthfully, would it ever have been possible for me to learn of Arion's Law if everyone in this Temple knew who I was? You know the White Cross, every Priest, Priestess and Novice. Are they really that forgiving?"

I buried my head in my hands for a moment, not saying a word. When I found the strength to look up, I knew my eyes were red with tears. Ardain had found the copy of the High Priest's orders on my desk and was staring at the paper gravely, obviously no happier with the word "demon" being used to describe him than I had been with having the term "heretic" applied to me. "But… how can you stand it?" I demanded.

"I've experienced far worse pain," His fingertips drifted towards his shoulder and he kneaded a spot that his shirt barely covered. When he pulled his hand away, I saw that it was a deep, old scar. "Some things hurt more than you could possibly imagine."

The sight of that scar reminded me of who I was really talking to… of what he'd once been. It was so easy to talk to him and not even consider that "Brother William-Lawrence" was really Lord Arduh Ithraedol, a demon, not to mention one of the greatest kings and most-feared sorcerers ever to have lived.

"Do you ever regret joining the Order?" I pressed.

"Of course not. To serve the God is to give oneself wholly to the greatest possibly good." He recited, stiffening suddenly. "It is the very highest calling in all of creation."

"That sounds like a textbook," I laughed, knowing exactly where he'd gotten his line from… my brother Byron's Elementary Theology class. "Bullshit." I added.

He stared at me in surprise.

"I'm not supposed to talk like that." I admitted. "Makes a poor impression on the Novices." I shook my head heavily. "But I learned how to cuss from a Spellcraft mechanic and sometimes I simply can't help myself. Sometimes I just want to say… to hell with the whole goddamned bloody fucked world! I look at all of this, everything I've worked for all of these years… and it seems like I've done nothing at all."

"I know that feeling." He nodded slightly. "But if you hate it so much, why haven't you left?"

"It's complicated. When I was fifteen I started a fire that burned down half of this building. They rushed me to the hospital, and that's where I learned that I was… an emotive pyrokinetic." I explained. "My mother and father were both followers of the White Cross. It would be kind to say that they… discouraged me."

"I see." He nodded.

"The Temple prescribed me suppressants. But I could never shake the feeling that I was killing a part of myself by taking them." I paused. "I went through a rebellious phase. I started teaching myself magic. And it consumed me from the very first time I breathed on a candle and… lit it." I leaned in towards the candle on my desk, closed my eyes and with a single breath rekindled the flame.

"It's been so many years." I admitted, turning back to Arduh. "And I still can't let it go. I need it too much." I ran my fingertips through the fire.

"One cannot help but love sorcery," Arduh admitted, a little more emotion in his voice than I guessed he had intended. "The danger of the serpent is that its beauty is more readily apparent than its poison." He recited, quoting St. Lionel.

"I know I shouldn't be saying this." I sighed. "But not all snakes are venomous."

"The enemies of the God makes exceptions to every Law." Arduh replied, quoting St. Lionel again.

"The Gods themselves are bound, and Laws form their shackles." I countered him.

He grinned very broadly as he realized what I was quoting. "You've read The Book of Esruh!" He exclaimed. It was one of the most famous texts of the I'Eloshir, written by the mad shapechanger who had helped to found Aeteh's kingdom, the legendary "Queen of Tigers". "That's positively heretical!"

"Brother Stephan said the same thing when he learned that I was translating it." I admitted. "But we found a copy and I couldn't help myself. And I absolutely love some of those little… proverbs of hers. Believe in what you have seen, believe in what you have not seen, believe in what you are…"

"And believe in what you may yet be." He finished. "What else have you worked on?"

"Oh, more than I want to admit!" I laughed. "It's my second love, really... after fire, that is. Banned books."

"Have you read anything of mine?" He asked. Something about him had changed, I could tell in an instant. He wasn't trying to fool me anymore.

"Volumes." I admitted. "Everything I could get my hands on. Tactics. Most of what you wrote on the Mage Wars, 'The Lady's Shadow'… a few other stories and some of your poetry. 'The Field' is my favorite. "Eam si i'esu edu, sutta baht si… aeh'yaheh su irah."

"Worthless smut," He snorted, trying to seem unimpressed… but the faint smile on his face said otherwise. Obviously I'd touched on something.

'What happened to her?" I wondered. "Your muse? The woman you always wrote about?"

"Time. It drew us apart." He shook his heavily.

"That seems impossible." I admitted.

"It does, doesn't it?" He nodded. "Here. Let me show you something."

He reached for something around his neck and as he touched it, a gold chain phased into visibility.

"Is that an Advanced Flexible Chameleon Guise chained with an Arkharzi's Misdirection and aGreater Lucasian Warding?" I observed. "Nicely done!"

"It's nothing," he tried to underplay what he'd just demonstrated, a very sophisticated bit of Kalyzar magic. I'd betrayed my own considerable knowledge of the Art by correctly identifying the components what would nominally be termed a "Masterwork" Enchantment... but I didn't care.

"I promised her centuries ago that I would always wear this close to my heart. And I've never taken it off." Arduh replied. He held up the amulet so that I could see it in my candlelight. It was a little gold diamond-shaped clasp with two small feathers held inside it… one flame-colored and the other a rich, dark brown with a silver vein.

"I have many things to atone for." He paused. "But love is not one of them."

"What if the High Priest…" I began.

"They've taken everything from me! I won't let them have this!" He snarled.

That is to say… he actually snarled like a wild animal. I almost flipped my chair over and stared at him in disbelief. Immediately he collapsed to his knees, clutching his throat.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that!" I protested. "I've just been caught working magic before and I…"

"Stop it! Don't say anything!" He warned, pointing a shaking finger at me. I was still staring at him… I couldn't help myself. "You're… you're ruining me!"

"What?" I blinked.

"I can't go on your mission." He sighed in defeat and buried his head in his hands. "I can't be anywhere near you!"

"Why?" I asked.

"Why don't you hate me?" He whispered. "What have I done to deserve your sympathy?"

His faint accent had become noticeably more pronounced. At first I thought he was crying… and then I saw that it was more than that. Some of his missing teeth had suddenly and inexplicably grown back. They were all sharply pointed.

"You're torturing yourself! Still?" I whispered. "Why? I know how long you've been in the White Cross. Over three-hundred years! Whatever you're punishing yourself for… it can't be worth that! Don't you think you've suffered long enough?"

"Would you rather I go back to being what I was?" He demanded.

I hesitated. If I lied, he would know for certain, and so I had to mean whatever I said. "Yes." I replied.

"Idiot!" He snapped at me. "You can't mean that! You…"

"Don't call me an idiot! You know what I've spent the last ten years doing? I study the Old World… in particular, the very beginnings of the Common Era. Do you know why all of the historians reset the calendar? Because of you!Because the first thing you said when you came to the throne was that things were going to change. And they did! The world got better! Sure, the Elves hated you, but they hated everyone!" I sighed heavily. "Calixtra of Enessa. She writes, and I quote

"The new High King is judicious and wise. Patient, and well-worth respecting. He has most of the obscene habits of his kindred, but he is neither arbitrary nor cruel. If he rules as long as his predecessor, we shall be fortunate and blessed."

"I…" He fell silent and then suddenly collapsed to the floor like a rag doll. I pushed out my chair and ran over to him before I even considered that it might be a dangerous thing to do.

For a moment he didn't seem to be breathing. He was damned heavy but I managed to roll him over anyway. "Are you okay?" I pressed, reflexively lapsing into first-aid mode. "Can you respond?"

"I'm… I'm all right." He whispered uneasily, pushing himself to his knees and brushing me away. He looked about ready to fall again and I steadied him, sitting down on the floor.

"Don't try to get up." I advised. "Just rest for a moment. If you pass out again, I'm going to call for help."

He leaned against me and sighed heavily in defeat. "I should hate you for this." He said.

"Hate me all you like." I replied.

It was a long while before either of us spoke.

"I've decided I'm leaving the temple." I said. "Soon. Maybe tomorrow morning."

"I know. I heard you talking to Arion." He admitted, smiling slightly.

"I thought you might have." I sighed heavily.

"I should be glad, knowing that." He paused.

"And you're not?" I observed.

"I'd be spending too much time down here if you stayed." He replied.

I didn't respond. It was too strange how safe I felt sitting there on the floor with his head resting against my shoulder. Even having read The Trials of Sister Anna, I still felt at a loss. I'd always believed that there was more to the world than the White Cross said there was. I'd been accused on more than one occasion of being overly-sympathetic towards Elves, dragons and of course… heretics.

I should have been afraid of him, knowing what I knew… but all I could think was how right Byron had been, how alike the two of us were. "What do you miss the most?" I asked.

"About the Old World? The sky. I used to love watching the stars." He said. "What about you?"

"I've lived most of my life inside this temple," I admitted. "But there are a few things."

"Such as?" He pressed.

"Spellcraft racing! It's never on television for more than two minutes before someone turns it off around here!" I sighed heavily. "I had to find out about last year's Kingstown Classic by reading a piece of newspaper that was used to line a gerbil cage!"

Arduh laughed slightly. "Oh, what a tragedy!"

"You're not a true fan, are you?" I hesitated for a moment and then decided that I might as well admit the truth. "To be honest, I miss my father. He died on a Mission ten years ago. I was never sure whether he wanted me to stay here or whether he wanted me to… go. I'd meant to ask him but I never got the chance. And I miss Kalyzar."

"You're far too young to remember Kalyzar!" Arduh laughed.

"Yes, but I've been to the ruins. There's something about that place. It feels like home to me." I admitted.

"It was my home once. A long, long time ago. Of course there was no city there in those days!" He sighed heavily.

"So you were a Mage?" I observed.

"Before there were Mages." Arduh replied.

"But how did you…" I couldn't think of a way to express what I wanted to say.

"I don't know. It happened one day. I've never understood," he admitted.

"It… must have been terrifying." I paused.

"Trying to become human again was far worse." He admitted.

"I couldn't have done it." I admitted. "I can't even stop lighting candles and that's a… nothing by comparison."

"It's not nothing if it means that much to you." He replied, brushing my hair out of my face. Before I considered what I was doing, I hugged him. He seemed surprised at first and then relaxed, slowly putting his arms around me.

"I should go." He said, but he didn't release me.

I didn't want him to. If he left, I'd be alone again and the thought of that was unbearable. He started to stand up and as he did, I tried to stop him. I would up knocking him over. We were nose to nose for a moment… and then I kissed him.

I don't know why I did it, and I'm not sure which of us pulled away first. We both stared at one another in silence for a moment, trying to sort out what had just happened.

"I'm sorry." It was all I could think to say, and it didn't really excuse what I'd done. "You smell like the desert." I laughed slightly.

"I've bathed since I last set foot on those sands." He replied. "Kamrilla?"

I turned back to face him but didn't get a chance to speak.

He kissed me back. I didn't try to think about what was right about it or what was so wrong. As he pulled away I gingerly touching my slightly bloodied lip.

"Don't… tempt me to disobey Arion's Law!" He ordered, sounding a little breathless as he spoke. He stood up and straightened himself out, trying to make it look like he hadn't done anything improper.

"You've taken a vow of celibacy?" I wondered, still sitting on the floor. It was veryuncommon in the priesthood but not unheard of.

"Do you have some kind of uncontrollable lust for danger?" He demanded.

"Oh, absolutely!" I replied. "I play with fire, remember?"

"You know who I am." He paused. "What I am!"

"I don't care." I replied. I put my lips together and blew a little tongue of fire. "I was destined for damnation a long time ago." Sighing heavily, I laid down and looked up at him. "It's three o' clock in the morning. No one will be down here."

"Not for… hours, at least." He laughed. I could feel his breath on my neck as he knelt down and I closed my eyes.

"Heretic," he whispered, running his fingers through my hair.

He didn't even have to touch me. If I'd been dizzy before, I was absolutely intoxicated then. It was like nothing I'd ever felt before. It sounds idiotic to say that there was something magical about him… a ten-thousand year old immortal, but there was.

When I did look up at him, I felt my heart skip a beat.

His hair had somehow grown long and it no longer hid his eyes. I'd seen his teeth change before, so that didn't surprise me… but somehow his ears had also healed. If he'd looked a little strange and awkward before, he didn't then.

He was at once beautiful and absolutely terrifying.

"Oh God," I stared.

"Don't take the God's name in vain, Priestess." He warned, tapping my chin with… a claw.

"Fuck Arion." I whispered. "He can watch if he bloody well wants to."

That was when he froze. He touched his own face, felt his ears and stared at the claws on his hands, realizing all at once that he'd changed.

"No!" He shuddered and buried his head in his hands. "No!"

"What?" I wondered uneasily. I wasn't sure that I understood his reaction.

"I can't. It's wrong, it's all wrong!" He shook his head, sighed and gestured to himself. "I'm changing! It should be impossible, but…"

"Nothing is impossible." I replied. "You just have to believe in it enough."

"I can't go back! This is my chance to undo everything that's gone wrong." He argued. "I'll be thrown out of the temple if I…" He trailed off into silence. "I cut them off once, I could not do it again." He whispered, suddenly sounding very fragile.

"Then don't go back! Go forward! Let's get out of here, let's go to Kalyzar! We could live out of camping backpacks and sleep in ruins! Who'd stop us? You can change the world if you want to!"

"Shouldn't you be condemning me for that?" He paused.

"Maybe this world needs some changing." I decided.

"You have no idea what you're proposing." He argued.

"Oh, I have a pretty good idea! I did read the first four chapters of Tactics Five."

"Inconceivable! There's only one copy!" He protested.

"But I thought you stole it from me." I felt a sudden chill.

"I would have, had I known that it was here! You can't believe that insanity! My father was completely mad!" He argued.

"Not completely," I argued, reading the expression on his face. "You do know that, don't you?"

"Gods, you've got to get out of this Temple!" He rolled his eyes and gazed skyward. "Inapsupetra wants you, Kamrilla. She's marked you for her own."

I think I might have smiled as he said that, because that was the impression I'd gotten from reading Tactics. Among other things, Inapsupetra was a goddess of magic, and my ancestors had revered her just as the demons did.

"What about you?" I pressed.

"I have to do what's right." He replied.

"What is right?" I scoffed. "Do you even know?"

"I will not pretend to be a God!" He snapped. "The Gods are pawns!"

"Then what kind of man are you, if you're obey them? What kind of king takes orders from a slave?" I demanded.

"I'm no king." He closed his eyes, turning away.

"You're not a man either," I closed the door behind him as he walked out. "You're a ghost."

I stole six boxes from the mail room and packed up all of my research. I marked them to go to Alexandria Library with Agnes's stamp. I didn't have anything else that I cared about, except for my little copy of Theories of Protective Spells, and the focus stone my grandmother had sent to me.

I took the emerald out of the fabric it was wrapped in and held it up so that it reflected the first rays of the morning sun. It felt warm as I slipped it around my neck.

I didn't want to think about the consequences of what I'd done or what I was about to do. All I knew was that I was finally moving on… and that was a good thing.

Looking at my bus pass, I realized that it had expired months ago. I hadn't really considered how I would get anywhere without money, and I didn't have anything to sell. I suspected the emerald around my neck was worth a small fortune, but parting with that was entirely out of the question. I knew I was going to need it.

And so I did something very reckless.

I picked up the phone and dialed the Knights.

"Hello?" I asked. The line was sort of fuzzy, so I couldn't tell if anyone had picked up.

"Yes, this is Knight Station 4, Central Zenith. Knight Gerald Foss speaking. How can I help you?" The voice on the other end of the line asked.

"Gerald, I need someone to come get me," I said. "Can you take me downtown and throw me in jail, at least for tonight?"

"You can't call to get yourself arrested!" the Knight laughed.

"No, you don't understand. I'm in the basement of the White Cross Temple, and I need someone to pick me up. I can't stay here a minute longer, and I don't have any money or anywhere to go," I replied.

"Look, lady. We can't arrest you if you haven't done anything illegal!" the Knight sighed.

"Illegal?" I paused. A solution had just occurred to me. "So if I do something illegal, you'll come arrest me? How illegal does it have to be for me to get a night in jail?"

I suspected I could call Dainor Academy and someone would come to help me, but it would take them at least six hours to fly into Zenith, and it was the middle of the night.

"Lady, I don't think..." the Knight protested.

"Look out your window," I said, and hung up.

As fast as I could, I ran up the stairs to the Temple bell tower. I looked out over the city and took a deep breath. For the past four years since my hurricane summer, I'd had one spell always in the back of my mind, the ultimate Invocation. I'd never tried to cast it before, but I knew the words by heart, and if I wanted to get myself arrested, I had to do something visible enough that the Knights would recognize how dangerous it was from their station two blocks away.

"Ythad ey aracos," The spell started with a simple ball of fire. I didn't need a long form invocation to work an Amun Kai, but there was something definitive about what I was doing and I felt that it should be as grand and theatrical as I could possibly make it.

The next step was similar to a Kiradi Circle. I pulled the fire I had invoked into a sphere around me and invoked more air into it with an Il Mel until it was burning blue-white. I got a nice big Tamarin Repetition swirling the currents around me, but I still needed enough energy to push the walls of the circle outward, which was accomplished with Arkhazi's Wall of Repulsion chained to a Telekinetic Lure. Six spells at once wasn't the most I'd ever juggled, but two of the spells I was working with were huge by themselves, and I'd invoked a lot more fire than I probably needed to.

Of course, I wasn't trying to meticulously build something stable that would be able to withstand a magical attack.

I was working a spell that was meant to explode.

"Vey Narinma!" I threw my arms down, and the circle of fire and wind I'd summoned up exploded out in all directions.

The force of the spell didn't just break windows, it actually tore the huge bronze bell clear out of the tower. The bell landed in the middle of the Temple lawn, breaking St. Lionel's sword off at the hilt and nearly beheading St. Mercy. Glass shattered in buildings across the street and every car alarm for five blocks went off simultaneously.

I smiled slightly as I heard the sirens wailing.

The next morning, the Knights informed me that I was free to go. Apparently, Tau Giovanni had gotten my message, and paid my bail. He was also getting on a ship, and he would meet me at Alexandria Library some time after noon. The Knights dropped me outside of the library after making me promise repeatedly not to blow it up.

A poster for the Kingstown Classic wafted past my feet. I snatched it up and checked the dates. If I caught a ship right away, I could make it down to the islands in time. I hadn't really considered where I would go or what I would do with my newfound freedom, but the moment I saw that flier I was decided on one thing… I was definitely going to that race.

I rapped on the circulation desk with my fist.

"Excuse me. I sent six boxes here which are filled with translations of ancient manuscripts which I guarantee you've never seen before. I'm homeless right now. You wouldn't happen to have space to store them for me, would you?"

The librarian went into the back. He returned with my first box, opened it, and blinked in surprised at all of the loose photocopy pages marked with red tags and stamped "Classified".

"Sorry, I was in a hurry last night. It's a bit out-of-order," I admitted.

"May I?" The librarian asked.

"Go ahead," I nodded.

He put on his glasses and flipped through the first few pages. "This is absolutely impossible!"

"Nothing is impossible. Now are you interested in all this junk or not?" I pressed.

"Are you making a donation?" He wondered.

"Yes. Yes I am. As long as I can still come here to continue fuddling with it, you can keep all of my work." I decided.

"I'll have to go get my supervisor. Wait here," he nodded politely in my direction and then, as soon as he thought I couldn't see him, he took off running down the hall.

A few minutes later the librarian returned with at least five people following him. From the looks of things, they were all master wizards. Most of them were drinking cups of tea or coffee and one put out his cigarette as he stepped inside the library from the balcony outside.

"You said she's been translating Tactics?" A woman's voice wondered.

"She's got boxes of research. Six of them!" The librarian replied.

"Heh. Let's see if this genius is legit," A man laughed. His voice sounded very familiar.

"Ma'am, this is my supervisor, Mistress Tarsha Windwing. She's in charge of Section M." The librarian introduced a woman dressed in very official-looking purple robe with initials "AT" embroidered on it in gold. "And we have some… visitors today. They're candidates for Imperial appointment."

The woman nodded. "Allow me to introduce Tau Darius Ilhoyan. Mistress Maureen Welk, Master Elwin Shiul, and Master Lloyd Callindel."

"Lloyd!" I gasped.

"Kamrilla?" He stared in disbelief.

He looked older of course… it'd been almost five years since I'd seen him last… but I recognized him anyway. His hair was longer and he had a sort of scruffy beard and he wore glasses… the exact same, utilitarian ones that I wore myself, made of black plastic with squarish frames that were virtually indestructible. His robes made him stand out even amongst the other wizards… they were bright blue line with black with twelve gold bars down his sleeves and the badge of the School of Elemental Invocation pinned to his collar.

"So, Lloyd. Is she "legit"?" The wizard introduced as Darius Ilhoyan laughed. He looked like a Mage himself… maybe a little younger than fifty, or a lot older than that if he actually had lineage. His robes were green and the circular design embroidered on his shoulder showed that he was from the School of Enchantment.

"What are you doing here? Not that I'm not happy to see you, but…" Lloyd demanded, not answering the question he'd been asked.

"I quit," I replied.

"You what?" He raised an eyebrow skeptically in my direction.

"I finally did it. I l left the Temple. Took me long enough." I admitted. "But I suppose I did get sort of… sidetracked." I gestured to my stack of boxes.

"Hold on. You're serious? You left? For good?" He grinned slightly.

"Walked out this morning. Didn't even ask for a letter of dismissal," I admitted. "I'll be excommunicated when they see my office anyway. I did a little… housekeeping."

"Housekeeping?"

"With fire," I smirked.

"You torched the White Cross Temple? Are the Knights looking for you?" Lloyd blinked in disbelief.

"No. Actually, I called them to get a ride here." I gestured to my boxes. "I told them I'd been trespassing on White Cross property and wanted to turn myself in. They wouldn't arrest me at first, so I gave them a reason to. Vey Narinma." I took a deep breath and snapped my fingers in demonstration, a little tongue of fire leaping from my thumb to my pinky. "Five ninety-two."

There was a murmur of disbelief amongst the wizards. Lloyd didn't even look surprised.

"You went insane," he observed.

"No, I've been insane!" I shook my head. "And now I think I'm finally getting better."

The lady who'd been introduced as Mistress Welk swore. She was dressed in a stark combination of both black and white, an Influence Arts specialist and Mender. I wasn't surprised that she was the first to recognize what I'd been working on. "Is this really what it looks like?"

"Tactics?" I observed, recognizing the binding of the translation he held up. "Yes, yes it is."

"Number… ten?" She observed. "Number seven. Number nine. Number… five? Five!" She gasped.

"That one's… incomplete," I admitted.

"What's this?" The last wizard, Master Shiul asked. His robe was also black but lined with gold and marked with the insignia of the School of Bardic Magic. He held up the last little book that my grandmother had sent me, pointing to the big black burn mark on the front cover. Still stuck to it was her little note "I found the book I was telling you about – Love, Grandmother".

"Matriarch Irene. "Theories of Protective Spells." I smiled slightly. "The original copy."

Everyone immediately crowded around him. They oohed and aahed over several of the really interesting section and then stared in disbelief at the diagram at the beginning of the third chapter.

"This is about the Kalyzar Ward!" Mistress Welk gasped. "Lloyd, look at this! I'll be damned. It's…"

"A 1,024 step Kiradi Circle!" I interrupted with a grin.

"Ooh. Looks like you got some competition, Darius!" Lloyd smirked.

"You can't build one of those!" He snorted. "The structure is too unstable!"

"Well, that's why you support it from the inside with a five-hundred and twelve step circle. And inside that one, a two hundred and fifty-six step… and so on and so forth… all the way down to your basic sixteen." I explained.

"That's impossible!" The Mage protested, though the expression on his face made it obvious that he knew I was onto something.

"Everyone likes to use that word! Impossible! I'm sick of hearing it!" I snorted. "Honestly! Haven't you ever heard of a little something called… an Ardran Lock? Four of those under a thirty-two step circle will give you all of the force you need to push that circle out. If you left your enchantments fixed on the cardinal directions, you'll bleed energy everywhere. But put them in a Tamarin Repition and chain them to your sixteen step circle and…"

His jaw dropped as he considered what I had just said. "I concede. You are a genius," Darius observed, a smile breaking across his face. "What's your name?"

"Remember that crazy summer I told you about, Darius?" Lloyd laughed slightly. "This is Kamrilla," he gestured to me.

"Why, the elusive Kamrilla Ayud!" Darius grinned broadly. "You don't say! I can't believe I didn't recognize you straightaway, why you've even got Dama's nose! I think the problem is, you're not sticking it up enough."

"Dama?" I blinked in surprised.

"Dama Elysa, of course! You look just like her. Dear, we're cousins, you and I! My grandmother was your father's elder sister Lucretzia." He clarified. "Ey bey, everyone's been looking for you for years!"

"Everyone?" I wondered uneasily.

"Oh yes! Greatest scandal in the family. You should have been there at the reading of Dama's will!" Darius laughed. "When she passed away, the old bitch left you a substantial part of her fortune. A good deal more than any of the rest of us got. Aunt Mela was pissed, she was! What's she going to do with it, she said… give it to the bloody Temple? Nayas, that'd been rich! Dama's whole great horde of gold in the hands of the White Cross?"

"She left me her gold?" I stared in disbelief.

"Mm. Yes, all of it. And her little summer house, the one she was living in when you met her." Darius explained. "Of course, you'll probably have to evict second-cousin Lorelei."

"But I have family? I mean… more family?"

"Of course you do! Great-grandmother Theodoradid have twelve daughters, and most all of them inherited their mother's love for… ahem, certain "amusements", shall we say?" Darius put his arm around me. "There's myself, my brother Quincy and second-cousin Lorelei, of course. And Lorelei's brother, second-cousin Cedric. He's the Duke of Orienca and his mother was dear old Dama Tasha, that fire-breathing hellion.

Aunt Mela, now… that's Queen Melisende of Ardra, her mother was Tai Atlanta, the older sister of your grandmother. Now she's not actually my aunt or yours… but you'll find that everyone calls her "Aunt" anyway… she is a few hundred years older than most of the rest of us. And of course Gio Narras is her younger brother and he's the Headmaster of Dainor Academy.

Gio's has two daughters, Rose and Camilla, and a son, Jahn, named after your father. Jahn Narras lives here in Zenith, right around the corner from you. He runs a bar called McIzzie's. The place reeks of Spellcraft fuel… let me tell you, it's absolutely intolerable!

And as for Jahmed, you know, Mela's son - I think, and I may be wrong on this… but you and he have not only the same great-grandmother that we all do, but the same great-grandfather also, Sebastian Dayor… which actually puts you ahead of Loreleiin the succession. Ooh, she's going to hate that! See, Jahmed's has only one daughter, Hazel, and if she won't take the Jewel after him, which she absolutely won't… there's going to be a terrible catfight! Of course, Jahmed does have five boys who could technically inherit… but most of them aren't Gifted and I'll be damned if I can remember any of their names.

Except for… Robin, that pretentious little shit. He's in my Basic Enchantment class this year and by the Goddess-of-All-Things, I do believe I shall murder him. Or maybe I'll turn him into a toad instead."

"I had no idea," I admitted, laughing slightly. "I… I don't even think I can remember so many names!"

"Oh, you'll get used to it! You're an Ardran, dear! You've got more family than you can kill in five-hundred years! Which is somewhat problematic, because these days most of us are only living to be about four-hundred and sixty."

"I've got to tell my brother. He might not want to hear it, but… he should at least know."

I called Byron right away.

"Rilla?" He wondered. He sounded groggy as he picked up the phone, and I guessed that was because the chaos I'd caused had kept him up most of the night. "Where are you? What happened last night?"

"I'm on a pay phone and I'm down to my last quarter, so just let me talk!" I interrupted him. "Byron, I did what I had to do, and I'm not sorry. I hope you'll still talk to me. Also, I'm going to send you some of my money. Don't tell me not to, and don't give it away. I want you to have it in case you ever need it."

"You have... money?" Byron wondered.

"Yes, more than I could ever spend. I inherited it from our grandmother, the one you never met. Byron… we've got a huge family. I had no idea. Cousins and aunts and uncles and… well, they're all heretics and they'd probably make you crazy, but the point is… I'm not alone." I finished breathlessly. I was running out of time on my last coin.

"You never were," Byron replied. "But I understand what you mean. I'm glad to hear you're doing okay. I was kind of afraid that you were going to work yourself to death like Mother did."

"I know," I admitted. "Look, Byron… if you see Brother William, tell him thank you for me. He'll know why."

"So you're going to be happy on the outside?" He asked.

"Happier than I've ever been," I promised.

"That's good," Byron laughed. "Because the High Priest is about to walk into your office."

"Oh. Well... tell me how that goes," I sighed heavily.

"I'll call you," Byron promised. "There's actually something I'd like to ask you about. I have a student who's rather… unconventional. I think he's using magic to pass his exams. And I'm also beginning to suspect that he has no real interest in the Temple at all and is only here because of… well, a boy."

"Oh dear!" I laughed. "Well then, perhaps I'd better have a talk with your little deviant. Send him over to Alexandria Library when you get a chance. I'll probably be living here for awhile."

"Why am I not surprised?" Byron sighed heavily. "Take care of yourself, Rilla."

"You too, little brother."

The call ended with a click.

Lloyd was standing in front of the circulation desk with his arms crossed and a slight smile on his face. "I should be pissed at you," he said. "I was, for a long time," he admitted.

"And I should apologize," I admitted. "I just... after my father died, I couldn't leave my mother."

"You could have told me that," he replied, and I sighed heavily.

"I could have, yeah. I really am sorry," I paused.

"You've got a lot of catching up to do," he informed me. "You've missed at least three incredible bands, my twentieth birthday, and Indri and Milo's wedding."

"Indri and Milo?" I gaped at him. "What happened to Indri and Vaniel?"

"Like I said, you've got lots of catching up to do," he winked. "Did you see last year's Kingstown Classic?" He asked.

"Missed it," I admitted.

"We placed sixth. Again," he sighed heavily. "We've come in sixth every year since you flew with us. I'm starting to think it's a curse."

"I can't believe The Hurricane's still flying," I admitted, laughing slightly.

"Well, these days The Hurricane is mostly towing and hauling parts. We finally finished rebuilding that Da Vinci my dad let me buy, and she's our racer now. And as a matter of fact..." he dangled his keys. "She's outside."

I followed Lloyd to the public docks outside the library and stared in awe at the Spellcraft. She was a work of art, a sleek mahogany ship with scarlet sails and the distinctive bronze figurehead of a winged mermaid.

"She's beautiful," I ran my fingers along the side of the ship. "Is she fast?"

"Yes, and I've got the tickets to prove it," he admitted, smiling slightly.

"Ouch," I laughed slightly. "So what's she called?"

"You didn't see her name?" Lloyd laughed slightly. "I thought for sure you would have noticed." He tapped the bronze plate.

The Heretic.

"After you," he explained.

"Really?"

"Well, it was Jerry's idea," Lloyd admitted. "The first time we flew her… she pitched a burn jar and set him on fire. But I think it suits, you know? A lot of personality in this old boat."

At that moment, a plank shot off the deck of the ship and slid under the railing, making a perfect bridge for us to cross.

What it felt like was magic… but I couldn't see anything and I hadn't heard Lloyd speak a single word. Of course, I expected that he'd gotten a lot better at reflexive invocations, but even still, moving a piece of wood like that without so much as a spark of visible energy was a fairly impressive feat.

"Lloyd?" I turned to him. "Did you do that?"

"Nope," he replied with a grin, ushering me aboard. "Like I said… a lot of personality."

The End