“We’re gonna get in so much trouble,” Cyleena mumbled, barely loud enough for Arkh to hear. “Just being in this part of the library is enough to get us kicked out of the Guild.”
Arkh reached into his pocket, not bothering to look away from the book he had open, balanced in his other hand. “That’s why…” he said, fumbling in the pocket, “we have…this!” He pulled a slightly crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and held it up for Cyleena to inspect.
Cyleena snatched the paper from his hands, and immediately began smoothing it out on a table nearby. “How’d you get authorization?” she asked, studying the page in the dim candle-light.
“I… acquired it.” Arkh replied, still not looking up.
Cyleena eyed him briefly, then looked back at the paper in front of her. “Wait a second, this authorization is for Senior Cartographer Gyarr.”
“He was done with it,” Arkh shrugged. “I figured I’d put it to better use than taking up space in a wastebasket.”
Cyleena dropped her voice to an angry whisper and lowered her head, despite them being almost completely alone. “This isn’t gonna get us out of trouble!”
“Well, not like that, no.” To that, Cyleena tilted her head, confused. Arkh continued, “I need you to change it, so that it has my name on it, instead.”
Cyleena pulled her head back, and let her eyes widen a bit. “Oh, do you?”
Arkh finally looked up from his book. “I got a package from the Abbey a few days ago. Among the assorted goodies in it, there were a couple of sprouting plants.”
Cyleena’s anger quickly turned into curiosity. “What kind of plants?”
Arkh shrugged. “I don’t know, that’s not my specialty. I was gonna give them to you, in thanks for helping me out tonight.”
Cyleena slouched a bit, sighing as she did. “Okay, fine,” she said, after a moment, “I’ll doctor the stupid paper.”
“And you said those Cinderfell Documentation classes were worthless. You’ll make a fine thief yet, milady,” Arkh said, tauntingly.
“Watch it there,” Cyleena warned. “This is still a favor.”
“As you wish, milady.” Arkh responded. “I’m gonna go grab a few more books. Let me know if anyone gets curious.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Cyleena waved him off, already focusing on the document. “Go get your books.”
“Apparently, it all goes back to a woman named Vasha,” Arkh said, flipping through his notes. “She was the daughter of a Dragon and a Mortal, and the fact that she even existed broke a lot of rules.”
“So… the magic just came from her?” Cyleena asked. She was laying on her stomach, looking over Arkh’s shoulder, who was on the ground at the foot of the bed.
Arkh shrugged a bit. “Not quite. She had certain advantages, but everything I could find made it sound more like the magic was something she came up with later on.”
“So you’re her descendant?”
“Probably not,” Arkh offered, a little unsure. “At one point, she used her magic to create a sentient being: a woman named Daesei. Daesei was the one that figured out how to pass the magic from parent to child, and I think Vasha died before she could learn the secret.”
“So you’re her descendant.”
“Probably,” Arkh nodded. “At the end of the Second Age, Blood Mages were hunted down pretty zealously. Daesei and Vasha had caused a lot of trouble for folks, and most people weren’t interested in letting any other Sorcerers do the same. I’d guess that my grandparent, or great-grandparent, or whatever, must have survived the witch hunts.”
“Okay…” Cyleena said. “Then what?”
“Then, it disappears completely. No one uses it, no one has it, no one can even trace their lineage to one of the two original Sorceresses. For almost a century, it just doesn’t exist.”
“And then you?”
“No,” Arkh shook his head. “Then Jarl.”
“Jarl Eagleface? The guy from the Dawn Patrol?”
“The same.” Arkh flipped a page. “Apparently he started showing that he had it some time around the Battle of Thrones. Accounts of what he actually did are pretty varied, but they all agree that no one had any idea, up to that point.”
“What’s even weirder is that no one really reacted. No one else in the Dawn Patrol seemed to care much, and people at the time just kind of shrugged. Like it was the logical course of events, or something.”
“You’re right,” Cyleena agreed. “That is weirder.” They sat in silence for a moment, while Cyleena pondered everything he’d said up to that point. After a minute or so, she spoke again. “But that’s all history. What else did you find?”
Arkh deflated visibly as he sighed out his nose. “Well, I found out why it’s so illegal.”
Cyleena’s ebony ears literally perked up at this. Not that she was excited, but Arkh’s tone indicated that he was very unhappy about something he’d found, and she didn’t want to miss a detail. She didn’t want to make him repeat himself later.
Arkh flipped a few more pages, then drew in a breath to speak. “The magic itself is very powerful, rivaling Dragon and Demon in terms of raw destructive capacity. But, if blood is spilled in service of the magic, it gets exponentially more impressive. The more horrific and painful the ‘blood price,’ as the books called it, the more powerful the Sorcerer becomes. There are stories of Sorcerers leveling entire towns by themselves, with nothing but a dagger and a few helpless victims.”
Cyleena took a moment to digest what he’d said, then responded. “Okay…” she said. “That’s pretty bad, but so far I’m not hearing anything that Pact can’t do. It’s just better at the bad stuff.”
“Well, there’s more,” Arkh said, his voice heavy with regret. “The magic itself is… aggressive. It corrupts those that use it, over time. It teaches the Sorcerer to become more and more dependent on it, and it breaks down their resistance to doing certain things, like burning down villages.”
Cyleena frowned at that, and chewed on her lip pensively. “But you’re not like that, Archie,” she said, after a moment. “You’re a physician, you care about people. Magic isn’t going to make you evil.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, Leena,” Arkh said. “From everything I’ve read, the magic doesn’t like it’s Sorcerers trying to play the good guy. It comes at them sideways, and plays nasty tricks on them, to break them down. Tricks like undermining their confidence, or making them feel useless. It plays on fear and doubt, and it is, apparently, pretty relentless.” Arkh fell silent, at that.
Cyleena reached a hand out towards Arkh, and rested it on his shoulder. “You’re scared,” she said. “You’re scared of the magic.”
Arkh nodded, wordlessly. He set down his stack of notes, and took her hand in his. “I’m scared of what it’ll do to me.”
They remained like that, in silence, for a long time. Hand in hand, their minds both went to what it would mean if Arkh ever fell victim to the magic—not only if he ever got caught using it in Cinderfell, but what it would do to him, personally. Without speaking on it, they both reached the conclusion that such an outcome would, both figuratively and literally, be a one-way journey for Arkh, from which he could never recover, or return.
“Well,” Cyleena said, after a long while. “While all of that may be true, you’ve got two advantages over the magic.”
Arkh turned to face her, at that, slightly confused at her remark. “And what are those?”
“Well, for starters, you’ve got the prettiest Dren to ever walk Vulcanica on your side.”
Arkh chuckled for a moment, and let the smile linger on his face. “And the second?”
“You don’t want the magic. You want to be a good man, a good doctor—a good Cartographer—and you don’t need the magic’s help for any of that. You’re gonna do just fine on your own.”
Arkh closed his eyes, and nodded softly. “You’re right, Leena.” After a moment, he opened his eys. “Thanks, for that.”
Cyleena nodded, and pulled her hand back. “Of course.” She sat up, and straightened her robes. “Now, I believe you owe me some plants?”