Illusions of Grandeur: Part Five
I paused in my reading of a thick book detailing the factors that determined how far a mage could be from their illusion, flicked a hand, and murmured a few words, calling an image of my home into the air.
With a twitch of my fingers, I pulled the model in front of me and looked it over with a critical eye. It seemed accurate to the necessary degree. A thought later, the fountain where the illusion of my father had appeared shone gold. Around that point, the maximum distance the mage could have been from it received an overlay of red.
I looked back at the book and frowned. Unless the mage casting this illusion was more skilled than I expected – I was basing my assumptions on that this mage was breaking the laws of magic – he had to be much closer. A whisper later, a purple glaze encompassed my guess of the mage’s limits.
The purple covered far more of the gardens than I liked, but at least it didn’t extend into the manor anymore. I glanced back at the equations and nodded. This was a close enough approximation. I set the book on a table where I had already accumulated quite a pile. Now relatively distraction-free, I focused on the illusion and my memory of last evening. There may have been a servant or two within the magic-radius, but the only people who I knew had been within it were myself, Mother, and likely Cecilia.
I grimaced as I thought further. Lord Peregrine may have been within the area as well, and I didn’t like the feel of that at all.
Of the options, I knew that I hadn’t cast any illusions, and that Mother barely knew anything about magic. Cecilia likely had the capability to learn magic, but there would have been talk of it if she had. Unless that was what—
I bit back a curse and dispelled the illusion. As I buried my head in my hands, I tried to find any other logical reason for Cecilia’s nighttime escapade. I couldn’t. Peregrine’s name had been in the Ark’s records, though only for a short time; he had the skill, if not the training, for magic.
I had to talk to someone who knew him better. Katrina came to mind, but I couldn’t talk to her until after the ball, for as soon as I returned home, Mother would sweep me into her preparations with a scolding for having left at all. Never mind that she had agreed that I could go to the Ark – I should never have wanted to come here. Never mind that I had found what I thought was key to this mystery – she would not forgive me for leaving.
I sighed and straightened myself. There would be time, I promised myself, time to talk to Katrina, to Cecilia and perhaps even Lord Peregrine. And, once I was sure, to Mother. No matter what perspective I tried to show to her, she would not accept it without overwhelming proof.
I left the books where they were as I rose. It was too much trouble to reshelve them, and there were always students interested to see what people left out. I had once been one of those students, almost living in the library when I was between classes, but now I walked through the rows of bookshelves absently, paying little attention to the multitude of titles. I listened as I walked, waiting for sign of other people in the library, but I didn’t find any until I began descending the spiraling stairs.
As I descended, I heard laughter and shushing voices coming from one of the side rooms. As I passed by, I glanced inside. Three students sat there teasing a blushing fourth, a young purple Shoyru. She was the only to see me, and rose and followed me, letting her friends continue their conversation. I searched my memory for anyone who had looked like her when I’d been at the Ark. I couldn’t think of anyone, but when the Shoyru spoke I placed her in my mind. “Sir Serefini?” she said, her voice light and quiet. “My father speaks of you often.”
I stopped on the stairs and turned to face her. “Kath, isn’t it? Kathleen Cavanaugh?” I smiled. “Your father speaks well of your studies.”
“Father says you’re a wonderful friend.” Kath dipped her head. “If you have time, he’d like to see you. He’s teaching now.”
I laughed. “What’s he teaching? Conjuration?”
Kath smiled, dimpling her cheeks. “The philosophy of magic. Your subject, he said.”
“Doug teaches philosophy?” I ran a hand through my hair, barely believing it. Dougal Cavanaugh had always loved fire, explosions, and other dangerous magics. Even in his sporadic letters to me, Doug usually spoke only of his experiments with explosive properties and the like, with a few mentions of his family or the Ark’s politics. “If he’s got a class going now, I doubt he’ll mind if I just came inside and start listening in. Would you mind leading the way?”
“Not at all.” Kath grinned, then leapt off the open staircase. I shook my head and continued walking down. She had wings, she was young; she deserved to have some fun.
When I reached the bottom of the steps, I bowed to the librarians before following Kath into the Ark’s green. She didn’t talk much as we walked, and what she did say related to changes that had been made to the Ark between when I’d been a student and now. I mostly paid attention, but my mind was elsewhere, in the world of illusions that I had been trying to leave behind. I think Kath noticed, because about halfway to Doug’s classroom she fell silent as well. The rest of the walk passed quickly, and I laughed when I saw the building Doug was teaching in. “The Castle? Really?”
Kath smiled demurely. “He’s one of the more important members of the Ark, sir.”
“Please, call me Giovanni.” I opened the door and allowed Kath to precede me into the Castle, the Ark’s most distinctive building. She led me through the quiet halls to one of the largest classrooms, and even in the hall I could hear Doug’s words, the cadence of his speech that had hypnotized those around him even when he was a student. I smiled and bowed to Kath. “Thank you.”
She curtseyed and left, presumably returning to her studies. I slipped inside the classroom and stepped to the back of the hall. Only when I stood there did I turn my attention to Doug. The blue Lupe’s fur had silvered since last I’d seen him, but he was otherwise unchanged. As his voice rose and fell, I glanced at the students; most of them seemed half-asleep.
I grinned and snapped my fingers, whispering a few words. A brilliant bloom of illusory fire sprang up from my fingers, and I released it to play upon the wall, creating the image of a twisting tree. Doug stopped speaking at the appearance of fire, and I could see glee light his face as soon as he saw me.
“Come up here!” he called, waving at the podium. “Tell these nit-wits about one of your theories of illusion.”
“You sure?” I dismissed the illusion with a wave of my hand, placed my hands in the pockets of my coat, and began walking up to the front of the room. I kept my voice light, not trying to project as Doug did; the students would listen. “Last time I did, students began trying to play tricks on me.”
Doug shrugged. “Do you really think they can play those sorts of tricks on me?”
I laughed. “They succeeded, sometimes.”
“Oh.” He quieted for a moment. “Still, speak for a time? Our current topic is suited to you quite nicely.”
“Illusions. Yes, I heard.” I stepped up next to the Lupe and grinned at my friend. “Any time limit?”
He placed an arm around my shoulders and pulled me to his side. “Not for you.”
I heard the class groan and glanced at Doug. “You wanted to talk to me, I want to talk to you, and Mother insists that I return before supper.” The ripple of laughter, quickly stifled, brought a smile back to my face. “You get as much as I can think of before they – or I – get bored.”
Doug didn’t move, nor did I ask him to. I leaned on the podium, trusting it would hold my weight and not caring if I crumpled Doug’s notes. “You’re talking about illusions, I know. I don’t know what you’re talking about and what you’ve already covered, so bear with me if I repeat something.” I tapped my fingers on the wood. “As he didn’t introduce me, I suppose I shall begin there.
“My name is Giovanni Serefini, de facto Lord Serefini. I grew up on the Meridell-Brightvale border and went to school here, specializing in illusions and the philosophy of magic, though Doug convinced me to try some of the labs.” I smiled. “He’s thus the one responsible for what I now look like.”
“Hey, that’s not fair,” Doug said in mock outrage. “I wasn’t even in the area when that happened.”
I glanced at him, and he quieted. “I suppose this relates to illusions, because I used to be a normal green Kougra, even one considered handsome, and now I seem mutated. My mother, and most of the non-magical community I was a part of, asked me why I didn’t ‘magic myself better’. Have you gotten far enough to explain to me why I couldn’t?”
Silence met my words, as I expected. I waited, likely longer than Doug would ever have managed. I could feel the Lupe shift his weight, trying not to look or act impatient. Eventually, I saw a tentative hand raise. I smiled and nodded at the student, a silver Pteri. The student spoke slowly and careful, as if unsure. “Because the rules don’t let you because you could make yourself look like someone else entirely?”
“Exactly.” I grinned and waved a hand, willing colors to form as my hand passed through the air. My face appeared there as it once had been, proud and spring-green with navy stripes and the same dark eyes. As I twitched my fingers, the colors slowly shifted to olive-green and gray-blue, the colors of my mutated self. “I could wear my own face, but is it truly my own now that I have changed?” I snapped my fingers, dispelling the illusion. “Think upon that as I talk to Doug.” I stepped back, ducking out from Doug’s arm and walking towards the teachers’ exit.
Behind me, I heard the rustle of paper and the too-loud scrapes of chairs rising over the slowly growing chatter of the students. Doug’s footsteps were quieter, though his shoes clicked upon the polished wooden floor. I exited and waited for Doug to catch up and begin leading me to his office. As I expected, he shut the door and began silently guiding me through the twisting back corridors of the Castle with a hand on my shoulder. I waited, knowing he couldn’t stay quiet for long.
“You should visit more,” Doug said. “I’ve missed you.”
I shook my head with a smile. “I have obligations too. You should come to the Woods for once.”
Doug didn’t say anything.
I dropped my eyes to the ground, watching our synchronized footsteps as the silence stretched on. “I miss him too,” I finally said. “Doug, I know you two were closer. I left. You stayed. But...”
“It’s not Cael,” the Lupe snarled, stepping away from me. “At least, not entirely.” His breathing came fast and harsh, and I could see his clenched hands. “Do you know what’s been happening around here?”
“Consider where I live and how little information you choose to trust to couriers,” I said dryly. “I don’t receive very much information from this region.”
“Illusions, ghosts, rumors of necromancy—” Doug slashed a hand through the air, flickers of fire trailing behind his fingers. “Gianni, this is your specialty. How can you not know what’s going on?”
I stepped forward and grabbed his hands, heedless of the fire. “Doug, shut up and calm down. I don’t get news from outside the Woods anymore because I’m a teacher and not a hunter. Siobhan and I left that behind because we were growing too old to easily deal with the travel and the strain of binding or banishing ghosts.”
“You should still know this.” Doug smiled, his ears flicking back. “The rumors are centered upon the houses of Serefini and Peregrine.” His fingers bit into mine. “Do you know what that means?”
I closed my eyes. “I... I am aware of what is happening at the Serefini mansion.” My tail was lashing nervously, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. “Mother asked me to come because of it. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on; that’s why I came here.”
Doug relaxed his grip. “Anything you ask for is yours. Get to the bottom of this before the Ark gets in trouble.”
I managed a smile, and nodded.
To be continued...