Of Signs and Secrets

by Charles Matthias

Yonson’s quarters managed to hold the manner of warm summers by the sea despite the cool early Spring air of the North. Turquoise tapestries filled the empty spaces of the walls, the radiant heraldry of the du Tournemire unicorn marked upon most. A wide archway opened out onto a balcony festooned with flowers and vines. But the view was not of a seaside port or an opulent shimmering city in the sun. Instead, it was upon the smokestacks and closely built cities of Metamor.

Jessica marvelled as she beheld the sight that the lemur who had remade his room so drastically had conjured. It was a wonder that Yonson had not frozen himself to death that winter, or that the snows had not filled his room as surely as they had the courtyards and avenues below. Yet she stood before that open archway, feeling only the warm breeze of a summer’s day.

It should not have come as a surprise to her the hawk realized after a moment’s reflection. For while Yonson may be the official ambassador of the du Tournemire house in Pyralis, he was also a mage himself, of the Southern order of Weathermongers. To keep his balcony warm and free from such northern nuisances as snow or sleet would be a simple dweomer for one such as he.

Nevertheless, it was an otherworldly charm that kept her attention rapt as she stood within his quarters. The lemur himself was dusting off some tome he claimed would interest her. In fact, for the first time in memory, her presence at the ambassador’s quarters was not to see her fellow hawk and love Weyden. Yonson himself had invited her, though for what reason she had not been able to imagine.

“Ah, here it is!” declared the lemur, his long striped tail swirling about in the air behind him where he hunched over his bookcase. It stood between two of his tapestries, fashioned from a bright wood and carved with sea figures at each corner. The rim of each shelf had been made to appear a row of small sea shells laced together like a link of armour.

Her host, brandishing a sullen tome in his paws, was dressed in the purple robes of his order that day. The bold lighting bolts that marked each sleeve glowed a fiery gold. The book he held was slim in width, and appeared to be more recently minted than most of the contents of Metamor’s library.

“What is it?” Jessica asked then, her eyes fixing it firmly. The runes upon the front were of the Southern tongue, and sadly unreadable.

“Why what I wished to give to you, stealer of my captain’s heart,” Yonson smiled even as he spoke, holding out the book for her in one paw. She was easily a foot or two taller than him, but he gazed at her unafraid.

At the mention of his captain, her Weyden, her wing tips fluttered in secret delight. Weyden had been standing post outside Yonson’s doorway when she’d first come, and they had brushed each other not so subtly in passing. But she lifted those wingtips to cradle as best she could the book. Leaning forward, she managed to turn the cover with her beak, revealing still white parchment. But the writing was in the same Southern scrawl, and she could not read it.

“But I cannot read this language,” she said, doing her best to frown.

Yonson for a brief moment appeared downcast. “Oh, I had not even thought of that. I would write down a translation for you, but I have little time for that. There are other southerners here who could help you though. But I know you will find that book valuable in your studies.”

“What is it?” Jessica asked, closing it back up once more. She still did not understand why the ambassador had decided to give her any gift at all, least of all one he thought might be advantageous to her study. And just how much did he know of her study anyway. Surely Weyden told him some of it, but he knew only what Jessica told him, and half of it she forbade him speak of to anyone else.

Yonson smiled then, clasping his paws before him, the sleeves of his purple robe slipping down to cover them a moment later. “Weyden has told me how you continue your studies, young journeyman. I thought perhaps you would enjoy reading through Stojowsk’s treatise on teleportation. Perhaps you might find some technique within it that would assist you in the pursuit of your studies.”

Jessica considered that for a moment, and then cracked her beak in an avian grin. This was indeed a gift that would come in very handy. After all, the notion of moving something from one place to another had been weighing on her mind for nearly two months now. Could this tome discuss the Pillars of Ahdyojiak, something that she could find no references to in the library of Metamor?

“But how will I read it?” Jessica asked again, glancing once more at the tome.

“Oh, take it to Habakkuk of the Writer’s Guild,” Yonson suggested, waving one paw dismissively. “He’ll be able to read it for you, or copy out translations if you wish.” The lemur stepped out from in front of her and stood with crossed arms at the archway, looking past the blue and yellow flowers that festooned his balcony. “He sold it to me many years ago.”

Her talons dug at the ground in surprise at that news. It had been some time since she had seen the kangaroo. When had the last been, the trial of Matthias? But it was not the trial that caused her to tremble uncertainly at the mention of the marsupial’s name. He had appeared in that final dream of her dead master’s, the one in which Jessica herself was to be a sacrifice, the one in which the conclusion to the dream had mercifully never been seen.

“Thank you for this gift, ambassador. It is most kind and unexpected. Is there anything I can do to repay your kindness?”

Yonson turned slightly, his long tail curling around his chest absently. “Anything you can do? Oh think nothing of it, a gift is a gift.” He paused then while a smile crept slowly up his muzzle. Large eyes considered her for a moment, and then he nodded to himself. “Perhaps there is something you could do. I am making a visit to the Belfry this afternoon that I might study the weather. I often need to cast minor magical artifices to gain a better understanding how the lines of the world intersect. I think you might enjoy assisting me in this. Perhaps I could teach you a few things as well.”

“In the Belfry?” Jessica asked, quite taken aback by his offer. But there was something entirely too unpleasant about the prospect of spending any time in the Belfry. She had thought to land there only a few days before while flying upon the air. But as she neared, a feeling of utter revulsion and horror overcame her that she’d almost plummeted to the earth. It was strange, but after she’d landed and recovered her senses, she hadn’t given any further thought to the Belfry. Only now that it was mentioned did that memory return to her.

“No,” she said at last, her sense of unease growing as that memory trickled back in through the doors of her mind. “I’d rather not do that.”

“Well, then think nothing of it, as I said.” Yonson waved one paw again, but did not turn away from her. “But it is the matter I must now attend to.”

“I understand,” Jessica said, her unease gone. Strangely enough, the memory of that flight near the Belfry began to fade like pain from an old wound would abate when no longer worried at. “Thank you once more for the gift. I shall take my leave of you now.”

At this, the lemur merely nodded, watching as she backed towards the main door. One of the guards opened it for her, and she excused herself from the ambassador’s presence. Turning to one side in the hallway, she found her love, Weyden, standing there waiting to embrace her. All of her anxiety rushed from her in that moment as she felt his wings circle her form.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to disturb you,” Jessica said, poking her beak and eyes through the writer’s doorway. Habakkuk was sitting at his desk in the Writer’s Guild, tapping a single sheet of parchment with one paw. Across from him was a man she did not know. The man was still human, meaning he was either a merchant or once a woman. He was quite sizable, with a long red beard twined into several braids. He appeared to have been born in Arabarb.

Habakkuk shook his head, long ears waggling slightly. “No, do please come in. Lindsey and I are nearly finished as it is.”

As she stepped through the doorway into the cluttered room, both Lindsey and Habakkuk rose to their feet. The kangaroo spread his paws before him wide. “I am sorry but I have no place to offer you to sit.”

“I prefer to perch. Any log will do.”

Before Habakkuk could move, the northern man took one from the small stack next to the hearth and set it before her. “If that won’t do, I’ll chop down a tree for you!” She was caught off guard by his bluster and his manners. The name he bore was a woman’s name though, doubly surprising her. Lindsey had been born female, but still adopted the gentlemanly courtesies towards women.

“Thank you,” Jessica said, doing her best to smile to the two. “Do you wish me to wait?” This last was directed at Habakkuk, who still stood behind his desk.

“It will not be more than another minute,” Habakkuk said warmly, smiling to her. “Let me attend to my business with Lindsey, and then we shall talk.” After Jessica nodded, the kangaroo and the northern man both say back down.

Lindsey took the parchment that had lain between them and studied what he saw upon it. The sheet was turned away from Jessica, so she could not read it. “Some of this will be difficult to manage without sizing everyone.”

Despite the warning, the kangaroo seemed unconcerned. “That is why I am asking for them now. You know most of it already, and certainly do for the two of us. One other you can see. That leaves but two to guess at.”

Lindsey wrapped one braid of his beard around a thick callused finger. He set the sheet down, and gazed for a moment at the hawk. Jessica wondered just what they were talking about, but was too polite to ask. Neither of them seemed inclined to explain themselves though.

“Well,” the northern man said after a moment’s contemplation, “I should be able to acquire everything you ask. Perhaps you can come by later tonight and we can discuss it over some wine.”

“I would not want to discuss it over anything else,” Habakkuk laughed then, his smile open and inviting. “I shall bring my money purse then as well so that you can get started right away.”

“Good. And you can buy me a new bottle of wine while you are at it!” Lindsey rose with laugh once more from his seat, folding the parchment within his thick fingers and slipping it within his tunic. Habakkuk rose once more to his large feet as well, and then the two men shook hands firmly. They held that grip for several moments, as if something other were passing between them than a simple farewell. And then, both broke the touch, and the northerner turned to the door.

“I shall see you this evening, Lindsey. I’ll bring two bottles.” Habakkuk called, a warm smile upon his face.

“Two?” Lindsey barked in some surprise. “I thought you were a man, Zhypar! Make it three!”

“Four, and you pay for the last one,” the kangaroo said with a laugh. Lindsey returned the laugh, a boisterous sound as broad as the man’s shoulders. He then opened the door, and stepped back out, still laughing even after her shut it tight.

But the kangaroo was no longer laughing, merely staring at the doorway with distant longing. For several moments, he did not seem to notice Jessica perched upon the log near the wall. And then his brown eyes slid across to her form, though they were no longer as expressive. “And to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

Jessica held out in her wingtips as best she could the tome that Yonson had presented her only an hour before. She had made the mistake of trying to find him at his quarters first, but there had been nobody there to answer the knock upon his door. However, at the Writer’s Guild she had found him, as well as many other guild members. In the main hall that a fox called Nahum had escorted her through she’d seen several Keepers furiously scribbling down whatever thoughts came to them.

“I was told that you could help me translate this,” she said as she offered the tome to the red-furred Keeper. Habakkuk rose form his seat and took the book in his paws, his long ears waggling behind him as he nodded. He then leaned back against his desk, long tail resting over the wood, dislodging a few stacks of parchment. A bit of string was tied about them, so they did not scatter when they fell to the stone floor.

One of his long feet was propped up in the air then, thick toes and claws on display for her as the kangaroo laughed to himself, flipping over the pages and nodding. “I remember this,” he said at last, glancing up to her with his soft brown eyes. “I sold this to Yonson many years ago. This is Stojowsk of Stuthgansk’s ‘Imbervand’ – in-between land. How did you come by this?”

Jessica cracked her beak in a slight grin. “Yonson gave it to me this morning. He thought it might be useful in my studies.”

Habakkuk closed the book and tapped the spine to his muzzle and nose. The short whiskers lining his snout twitched in thoughtful contemplation. He turned then and strode back around his desk, setting the book before him where the parchment he’d given to Lindsey had only moments before lay. The kangaroo then leaned forward, resting his paws against the oaken desktop.

“Are you studying teleportation at all?” Habakkuk asked then, no longer smiling, but intently curious.

Jessica shrugged her wings slightly. “I am using a weak form of teleportation to continue my studies. Misha’s sister is a mage from Marigund, and is helping me learn now. Misha has a gem that allows me to visit her in a sense.”

Habakkuk took a deep breath, and then exhaled it, blowing the air past his lips like a tea kettle hanging only a few moments upon a spit. His gaze moved over to the bundle of papers he’d knocked over in his earlier enthusiasm, and a moue crossed his features. Long ears hung low from his head, and the insistent tapping of toe claws upon stone could be heard.

“Well,” Habakkuk said, bending over to put the bundle of papers back upon his desk. “It would seem that you have been given a lovely gift.” He lifted the tome once more, and tapped the runes upon the front. “This is my handwriting, you see. Stojowsk of Stuthgansk died several hundred years ago. He lived at a time before the Ecclesia had come to that city, when magic was more freely practised there. I copied this book in my youth. It is only fifteen years old.”

“Oh my!” Jessica exclaimed in surprise. “Yonson told me that you had sold it to him, but not that you had copied it yourself.”

“Did he tell you to see me?” Habakkuk asked, stroking one finger across the southern runes upon the binding.

Jessica nodded. “He told me that you could translate it for me.”

“I can do better than that. I can tell you what this book contains without even lifting the cover.” He paused then, his face contemplative. “I am curious about one thing, if you do not mind indulging me.”

She shook her head. “I do not mind.”

Habakkuk smiled to her. “How is it that Yonson came to know of your at least passing interest in this subject?”

“Weyden told him how I meet with Elizabeth,” Jessica replied. “Weyden is one of the ambassador’s guards.”

One of the kangaroo’s ears lifted curiously. “And how did Weyden discover this?”

“I tell him many things of my studies.”

A soft warmth creased his face then as he slowly began to sink once more upon the stool behind his desk. “Are you and Weyden in love?”

Jessica cracked her beak in a grin, for any thought of her sweet hawk brought her delight. “Yes, we are.”

“And has he proposed to you?”

“Not yet,” Jessica said, her good cheer not in the least dented. “But he will.”

“Well my congratulations to you both.” Habakkuk openly smiled to her once more. “There are few things in this world as precious as the love between a man and a woman.” The kangaroo’s face lost its luster then as he fell silent. His eyes returned to the book, worrying at the cover like it was some trickster’s riddle.

“So, aside from your use of a gem to meet with Misha’s sister, what other interest do you have in the magic of teleportation?”

Jessica was loathe to tell the kangaroo of the Pillars themselves. After what Elizabeth had told her of them, how rare their usage was, to even suggest to any other that she had heard of them seemed risking death itself. Her old master Wessex had been murdered for delving too openly into the mysteries surrounding the Patriarch’s murderer. Just the thought of him made her chest sizzle like a pit of hot ashes sprinkled by snow.

“It is not an area that Wessex taught me much of,” Jessica admitted, and that certainly was true. The boy mage had been quite uninterested in such thaumaturgical paths as teleportation, and thus none of his apprentices ever learned much about it either. “But maybe a quick spell to move from one place to another could have saved his life. Or maybe it could hold some key to unlocking the mystery of his death.”

Habakkuk nodded slightly. “Maybe.”

“Well,” Jessica said, flapping her wing tips in agitation. “Can you tell me what Stojowsk has to say?”

Habakkuk leaned back on his stool, long tail pressing against the ground to support him. “I do not know what other mages have to say regarding the art of teleportation, so you will have to consider for the time being what this book says merely as Stojowsk’s own theories on the subject. I recall he spends a great deal of time discussing what he calls the Imbervand, which properly translated simply means in-between land, hence the title of the treatise. Roughly speaking, any mage or device that causes teleportation in whole or in part moves whatever is teleported through this in-between land.”

“What is this Imberwand?” Jessica asked, golden eyes focussing more firmly upon the kangaroo writer. Though he may have been in Wessex’s dream dancing about the sacrificial altar, so too had been her master Wessex. What that could mean, she did not know. But for the time, she would not be afraid of him.

Habakkuk shrugged. “Conceptually it is as I said, just where one has to go between places in this world when teleporting, at least that is what Stojowsk claims. I am not trained in the art itself, so cannot describe for you the actual physical reality, or verify for you whether this theory is correct.”

Jessica closed her beak for a moment. She had heard from others that Habakkuk was a man of slippery tongue. One never knew where a conversation would head if one gave the kangaroo the reins it was said. Was he merely dissembling now, or was his protested ignorance real? Could she ever know for certain? He seemed pleasant enough, and did know a great deal about the tome.

“Well, how is the tome organized?” Jessica asked finally, digging her talons within the log.

“By various techniques of passing through this in-between land. From simple spells to move across the room all the way to elaborate world spanning portals.” Habakkuk waved his paw over the closed tome. “He starts simple and works up to the complex, all the while discussing how each interacts with the Imbervand.”

“How long will you need to translate the book?”

“It will likely take me some time to translate the entire book, but I could translate specific sections for you if I knew which interested you the most. For the entire book you will need to wait at least a month, perhaps more. A matter of days if you only require a section or two. A few days more for each additional section I would wager.”

Jessica pondered that for a moment. She did wish to see if there was anything to be learned about the Pillars, but she did not wish any one to know of her pursuit. That is anyone she had not already told.

And then another thought struck her. Could she trust these secrets with the Headmaster of the Writer’s Guild? Zhypar Habakkuk seemed a discrete individual, using his tongue the way others used swords. But could she trust him? He had argued very persuasively at the trial in Matthias’s favour, even convincing her that Charles himself was free from blame. But did that mean that he would hold her secrets? She could not help but remember what she had read of that final dream of her master’s from his own hand. He had been confused and uncertain too.

“There is something you wish to say, but fear to?” Habakkuk ventured after several long moments of silence. At her surprised nod, the kangaroo offered a warm smile. “No secret ever escapes my lips. There is no confidence that I could betray, though it may pain me greater than the prick of a thousand blades. What rankles your mind?”

Strangely, this reassured her. Somehow, she knew that what Habakkuk spoke was the truth. He would never break a confidence given. Opening her beak, she felt the words cast forth from her as waters from a fountain. “In February, I learned from Elizabeth about something terrible that had happened a few weeks before. And it has set me to thinking and pondering what it could mean. I don’t even know if it has to do with Wessex’s death or the mysteries he was investigating, but I needed to know.

“I have been looking for an answer to my questions for some time now, but I can find nothing about this in the Keep’s own library. Now, Yonson offers me this gift on a subject related to what had me concerned, but in a language that I cannot read. So I must depend on you. And my quandary is this: I believe Wessex was killed for delving too openly into the affairs of dark powers in this world. They found out that Wessex was after them and murdered him. I do not want to leave myself open the same way. But in order to discover if this is a true path, I must reveal something to you.”

Habakkuk nodded slowly at that. “But you may trust in me. I will not repeat a word of this. What is it that concerns you that you think may be in this tome?”

Jessica cast her eyes down at the floor that his desk stood upon. While a tightly woven rug lay upon the floor before the desk, the desk itself stood upon the giant stone blocks pressed tightly together. Their faces were worn smooth both by tools and by boot heels. “Wessex said that you helped him before. You supplied him with a book of your own.”

“The Sudenhart Arcanum, yes,” Habakkuk nodded then. “A book on the Southern mage clans. His main interest was in the Sondeckis as you know.”

“As we all know,” Jessica added drily. “He also said that pages were missing form the volume, and that you would not tell him what they contained, only that they were unimportant to his research.”

The kangaroo nodded stiffly at that. “Yes, I did.” He appeared unsettled slightly, put off perhaps that she knew of the event. But her master Wessex had never told her of it. She had found it in his many notes, notes that she must have read twenty times over by now. “And I doubt that they will help you either.”

“Will you tell me anyway?” Jessica asked, looking back into his face with fierce golden eyes. A predator’s eyes were hers now, and she knew how to use them.

If they startled the kangaroo, he did not show it. “I see no reason why it would help or harm you, but I shall.” He rose from his stool, and crossed to the doorway. He slipped a metal latch into place, bolting the door shut. “They were the destroyed order of Vorick, and the Ebon Dragon. Vorick was destroyed sixteen years ago in a purge of the eastern continent of the Southlands.”

“The one south of Manzona?” Jessica asked, trying to remember Southlands geography.

Habakkuk blinked then and nodded, slipping past her once more to his stool. His long claws upon his feet clacked as they touched the stone. “Yes. The Ebon Dragon are a reclusive clan of mages vying for power in the Southlands. They were the ones responsible for Vorick’s destruction,” he paused here, muzzle set in a morose thin line, “amongst others.”

In that single moment, Jessica thought she could see through a carefully constructed veneer of affability to something much darker. There was a hidden malice that lurked beneath the pleasant scribe’s demeanour. Something within him was damaged, marred ages ago as if it were a wounding of the very earth that throbbed. Someday, she knew, all in the world would feel that wound set loose in a trembling of earth and sky.

But the moment did not last for long, and soon, Habakkuk smiled once more. “But, as I told Wessex, neither was important to the course of his studies. Vorick has gone into the grave, and of the Ebon Dragon, they do not venture far beyond their own demesnes. At present, they have no designs outside their own continent. Perhaps in another hundred years, but for now they create little mischief for the North. No, the real enemy that Wessex sought was amongst the Sondeckis. But you know this from Matthias’s trial.”

Jessica nodded then, taking a deep breath. She still felt the feathers upon her neck lifted in worry over that terrible agony she had seen. What could have wounded this man so grievously? But she had no time to ponder him, as her thoughts were all the more intent upon her own mystery. “Yes. Yes, I know. You were a help then to Wessex. Can you be a help to me now?”

“Of course,” Habakkuk said without hesitation. “I have already told you that you may confide in me safely.” He looked back down to the book, and lifted the cover open, the first few pages bending upwards as well as the binding turned. “What do you seek here, Jessica?” His words were comforting then, as if there never had been a moment of agony in him.

Steeling herself, she let fly the words that could end her life. “I wish to know about the Pillars of Ahdyojiak.”

He blinked once. And then he blinked again. His mouth opened, and then closed amidst another round of confused blinking. “The Pillars of Ahdyojiak? How could you possibly have even heard of them?” There was genuine surprise within his voice. If this was another part of his veneer, than she had seen no better actor in all her days.

“It is what Elizabeth told to me. It is what I have wondered about. Is it related to my master’s death, or at least to those who killed him? Can you tell me anything of it? Can this tome tell me anything of it?”

Habakkuk ran his claws gently along the edges of the pages, lifting them until he came to very near the end of the tome. “Stojowsk does indeed talk about the Pillars here at the very end of his work. I do not know how much will be useful to you. What do you know of them already?”

“I know that they are a creation of the Åelf long ago. They are built upon one of the greatest collection of magical lines in the world, in the very heart of the Isle of Manzona. I also know that they can be used to travel from any place in this world to any other place. To move something of great power, magical energy must be invested into each of the towers as well.” Jessica said, not yet wanting to tell him that the Pillars had been used recently.

“All true, and all spoken of by Stojowsk. What you may not have heard is that while the casting required to active them is lost to antiquity, or so far as we know it is, the casting itself requires nearly a full day to prepare, and can only be attempted at certain phases of the moon and sun. And where it is cast, the Pillars will not open until it is precisely midnight.”

Zhypar placed his paw upon the pages of the book once more, tracing his claws along the lines of script as he studied them. “And it says here that no other means of teleportation takes one so completely into the Imbervand. Time itself has no meaning there. When using the Pillars, you could spend what would seem years of your life there, but when you left, not even a second would have passed, nor would you have aged, felt hunger or thirst, or needed to sleep.

“But that is all that he says of the use of the Pillars. The rest he discusses their history, and when they have been used, and to what purpose.” Habakkuk leaned forward then, lacing his fingers together. “I said that the means of activating the Pillars has long been thought lost to antiquity. Lost to all but some I now believe. Why would you come seeking information about it, having heard it from Elizabeth, Misha’s sister in Marigund, unless she came to learn that it had been used, and recently?”

Jessica felt a lump form in her throat, and she fought it to go back down. “Yes, the world bell in Marigund rang so loud that they knew what it was.”

“I know only a little of the world bell, but yes, I have heard of it.” He steepled his fingers and rested his muzzle upon the claws gently. “If they are well read, as I know that they are, then the mages of Marigund should have been able to determine more than just what caused the bell to ring.”

“Elizabeth told me that death was used to power the Pillars. She also says that they believe the spell was cast in Ellcaran. She did not tell me how she knew that though.”

“Interesting,” Habakkuk mused, more to himself. “They must have more records of Carethedor than I had thought.” His gaze returned at last to the hawk. “Death you say? Then they must have moved something of great power.”

“Do you know what it could be?”

“I dare not even speculate,” Habakkuk said tersely. There was something in his tone that was not quite anger, but it had the feel of a smoldering cinder. “But I cannot help feeling that this may indeed be part of what Wessex was studying. You must continue to tread very carefully. I wish that I could say more now, but I have my own thoughts to sort out.” He placed one paw on the tome and nodded to her. “I will translate this chapter on the Pillars for you though. Give me a few days. Perhaps, if time allows, after you have read it yourself, we can discuss these matters again.”

Jessica nodded, stepping down from her perch. She was not satisfied with what she had heard, not in the least. Still, she knew almost nothing more than when she had set foot within his office. But at the very least, the scribe would translate the book for her. Perhaps she still would learn something of this later. “Thank you for your time, Headmaster Habakkuk.”

The kangaroo rose from his seat, and unbolted the door, opening it for her as well. “I am glad to have offered it for you. If you wish, you may thank ambassador Yonson for giving me a pleasant diversion from my duties. Perhaps I should visit him myself again.” He shook his head then. “I am rambling on. Keep your mind open, Jessica. Do not stop your search, but be wary. I believe you are right to be afraid. If they know you are searching heartily, they may kill you too.”

Dumbly, Jessica nodded, her beak shut tight. She stepped back through the doorway, her talons rapping the stonework beneath her. The door shutting behind her was barely noticeable. But the words that came through it, spoken in confused worry filled her ears. “Why in all the hells did he give her that book?” But she heard no more from him after that. As quietly as she could, Jessica made her way from the Writer’s Guild and back to the castle.

Her golden eyes turned up to the sky, staring up along the massive towers that stood high above the Keep itself. The shadows seemed to play strangely across the bell tower, above which clouds had gathered. A brief flash of something else entered her, and then vanished like a wisp of smoke on a windy day.

Shivering despite the warming air, Jessica took to wing. It had begun as such a pleasant day too.