Schooled in Magic

Cordelia Cooper: Book Two

Cordelia Cooper, wizard in training, has to break off her studies to return to Pango Island. The overseers she’d left in charge during her absence have been abusing the sea elves and lizard men she’d left their care. The overseers, especially the Governor, need to be schooled in magic—and she’s just the person to do it.

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With two years left to go at the College of Wizardry in the University of Kronisburg, Cordelia Cooper is called back to Pango Island. The people she left in charge of her case have proved less than trustworthy and the sea elves and the lizardmen were not being treated fairly.

Interrupting her studies to go around the world to get back to Pango Island wasn’t something she wanted to do but she didn’t have a lot of choice. She had an obligation to the sea elves and the lizardmen. To make things worse, the arrogant and self-righteous Intercessor of Noron, Miguel Cordoba, has decided that it’s his duty to accompany her on her “noble quest.”

From Kronisburg to the Kingdom Isles, from the Kingdom Isles to adventures in Amonrai—and all that’s before they even get to Pango Island and find out what’s happened to the sea elves. What’s happened isn’t good and Cordelia and Miguel are honor bound to do something about it.

The Governor of Pango Island is about to be Schooled in Magic.

Chapter 1

Location: The Quad, University of Kronisburg
Date: 14  Banth, 772 AR (After Rime)

“That’s fine, Cordelia. Now lock it in,” Wizard Herlict said.

Cordelia locked it in. It was the last step in crafting the spell Adreana’s Gossamer Wings, commonly known as the wings spell or just Wings. When invoked it would create a pair of ethereal wings. Since the wings weren’t made of normal stuff but were actually made of magic, they passed through her clothing without tearing it, but they did push against the air because that was what they were designed to do.

“So, Cordelia, why did you use that particular variation in the third section?”

Cordelia blushed. She wasn’t comfortable with her looks. About the only good feature she thought she had was long, straight black hair which did very much what she wanted it to. Still, getting any sort of fabrication past the Wizard Agnesse Herlict wasn’t going to happen. “I, well, I wanted the feathers to match my hair,” she got out in a rush.

“Perfectly reasonable choice,” Wizard Herlict agreed with a grin. “One does want to look one’s best when flying after all. Speaking of which, let’s step out into the yard and test them out.” The Yard was a green space in the university surrounded by five buildings and not all that visible to outsiders.

Cordelia had chosen this spell because it was among the most basic of spells that allowed you to fly. She was a skilled enough wizard to learn Coranith’s Direct Flight, which allowed you to fly without wings, but Coranith’s didn’t last as long as Wings and required considerably more power to work. Now she was reconsidering that decision. She had known that she would have to learn to use the wings as well as create them. But now, as she followed Wizard Herlict out into the Yard, the prospect of learning to fly was becoming a great deal more daunting.

✽✽✽

“All right, Cordelia. Invoke Wings and let’s have a look at them.”

Cordelia made a small gesture with her left hand accompanied by a mental image of complex shapes and colors, and a pair of translucent black wings suddenly appeared on her back. They went up almost five feet over her head before they folded and went back down to almost touch the ground. And she could feel them, sort of like her arms or legs. She felt the air as it caressed her wings. Even folded there was pressure on them and she felt their position. She knew they were folded because she could feel them.

Wizard Herlict nodded as she walked around Cordelia. “They seem well formed and of a good size. All right, now spread your wings.”

Cordelia tried. Her left wing, where her mind happened to be focused, shot out like she was punching someone, but her right wing only opened about half way—in sympathy, the way your other fingers will copy part of the motion of a finger you try to curl. And now she could really feel the air. Even as light as the breeze was here in the Yard, surrounded by three- and four-story buildings, the breeze pushed against her wings in a noticeable way. She tried to stretch her right wing to match the position of her left, and it reached full extension, sliding through the air and pushing her to her left. She tried flapping and it worked all together too well. She was standing upright, and as her wings pushed forward her body was pushed backwards, and Cordelia landed on her rump.

“Well, that’s the first thing almost everyone does, Wanderer Cooper. Birds, though they have only two legs, don’t have an upright posture. They hold their bodies parallel to the ground, or at least not perpendicular to it. So when they flap the force is downward. If you stand upright and flap, the force is backwards. Let us try it again.”

Cordelia wondered who “us” was, since she hardly thought Wizard Herlict’s bottom was sore from landing on it. But she climbed back to her feet, or tried to.

Wings, as it happens, get in the way. They sprouted from her back, going from shoulder to waist.  They were ethereal, so they didn’t—for the most part—bang into things like the ground. But they did push against whatever they were moving through, and it was really hard to fold them when sitting down, and it was difficult to move with what amounted to sails attached to your back.

Herlict had had Cordelia craft an exceedingly weak version of Wings for her first try, so it only lasted fifteen minutes. Fully powered to the greatest level she could attain, it would last almost eight hours. But Cordelia didn’t even manage the fifteen minutes. She dismissed her wings after ten minutes. Flying didn’t appear to be something that came naturally to her. It did to some, she understood.

Wizard Herlict, for example, often flew for the sheer joy of it.

 


Location:  Kronisburg

Date: 11  Zagrod, 772 AR (After Rime)

 

Cordelia Cooper ran down the street, her white wizard’s robe with its silver and orange embroidery flapping around in the wind of her passage. I really need to learn that flying spell, or practice more with Wings. The reason she was running was because she was late to a lecture on spell research. It was one of her favorite subjects, in spite of the fact that she was a natural wizard. Cordelia rounded a corner and almost ran into a fruit-seller’s cart. She skidded on the cobbles and flung up a hand, pushing against a wall that was ten feet away from her outflung hand and managed barely to avoid the cart.

“Sorry!” she shouted as she dashed past the cart and the surprised fruit seller. Actually, by now she was more Book Wizard than Natural, but she did have the natural affinity for magic and to a lot of wizards that talent defined her. A lot of the professors thought natural magic and magical research were like oil and water— things that didn’t mix well. Unfortunately, Professor Sinjay was one of them. And being late would simply confirm his belief that Natural Wizards were flighty and undisciplined.

She had been talking to Bertie and Meggie at Das Vizart’s Dank, and time had gotten away from her. The inn was owned by Meggie’s family, and Cordelia rented a room there. Bertie was a fellow student and, well, good friends, good talk, and time slips away. She had passed her silver in book wizardry a month ago but was still only an orange in natural wizardry. Hence the interwoven orange and silver embroidery of her robes.

She whipped around another corner, deftly avoiding another accident and finally arrived at the lecture hall.  She slipped through the door and stopped, as every head turned to look at her.

“Ah, Cordelia Cooper has deigned to join us,” Professor Sinjay said, with a bit of a sneer. Cordelia thought it odd that Professor Sinjay thought so poorly of natural wizardry since he had studied magic at the University of Drakan, the most advanced college of wizardry in the world. “I realize that natural wizards think they can get by on talent alone. However, even a dragon’s talent will not let you calculate the structure of a spell component.”

Cordelia, with difficulty, refrained from entering into an argument with the professor. Professor Sinjay had a habit of baiting the natural wizards. Not that there were that many. The overwhelming majority of students at the wizard’s college of the University of Kronisburg were Book Wizards.  The most irritating thing was that, in a lot of ways, she agreed with him. She agreed that Book Wizardry was more flexible, and—in the long run—more powerful. That it led to a greater understanding of magic and how it worked.  But Professor Sinjay always picked a point of disagreement. For understanding the structure of a spell component, the feel that a natural wizard had for the magic did help, though that feel wouldn’t define the structure by itself. Wizard Sinjay didn’t see it that way. He was trying to understand how magic worked. Trying, in fact, to turn magic into mathematical calculations. Which Cordelia thought was a great thing—if it could be done. She couldn’t begin to follow the Topological Calculus he was working to develop as he tried to mathematically describe the internal structure of a spell. And she wasn’t at all sure that it would yield up a better understanding than seeing magic since birth provided her. Cordelia generally had a feeling if a spell was going to do what she wanted. However, that feeling could be wrong and had been more than once. And she was all too aware of what could happen when feel wasn’t enough. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry I’m late.”

“Humph,” Wizard Sinjay said, then went back to his lecture. “As I was saying, if you examine the component parts of the servant spell, you will see the purple coil has a slightly diminishing cross-section in its tube. This reflects the compressing of the magic and the complementary increase in intensity . . .”

And the lecture continued. It had been an amazing journey for Cordelia in the last two years. In some ways, university was more frightening than the time she had spent in the Patty Orc caves. Granted, no one—no one at the college itself—had tried to sacrifice her. At least not physically.  She sometimes felt that her brain was going to explode from all the knowledge they were trying to shove into it. Or that she might kill herself by making a mistake and botching a spell.

Yet she loved this. The professors, the other students, talking in the market place about how this spell was crafted and how it might be modified to do this or that thing. And trying to understand why this structure of magic did something and another structure, almost the same, did nothing at all. Or at least nothing that she was aware of. Some of the professors insisted that every spell did something; that every magical structure, even those created by an utterly unaware person thinking about fish then frogs, had some effect on the real world in some way.

Cordelia pulled her mind back to the subject and listened to the lecture, trying to follow the wizard’s math.

✽✽✽

Chapter 2

Location:  Classroom, University of Kronisburg
Date: 17  Barra, 772 AR

Back in classes, Law this time, the legal differences between the Kingdom Isles and Doichry, where Kronisburg was located. “Doichry has a more dwarven law system because the Empire only ever reached one of the four main Kingdom Islands,” Professor Dolin said. Dolin was the Dwarvish word for “strong arms.” Professor Dolin, in fact, didn’t have particularly strong arms, at least not for a dwarf. A fact he had pointed out on the first day of class. “I teach here,” he had told them, “because it’s the only place I can go where my family name is not a lie.” Then he’d laughed, sounding like grinding rocks, and continued, “Besides, I don’t find humans as revolting as most of my fellows do.”

Dwarves as a group didn’t care much for the other races, considering only dragons to be their social equals, and all the other races as lesser races. Humans were the least hated of the other races, but even humans were considered to be nothing more than jumped-up slaves. Honestly, Professor Dolin wasn’t like most dwarves in that respect. He treated all his students pretty much the same and Cordelia had seen nothing of real prejudice in him, though he loved to make jokes about it.

“The Kingdom laws came mostly out of their traditions, with the Empire’s main effect being to codify the laws they already had.”

“Is their law more primitive then?” asked a student.

“That’s a somewhat prejudicial way of putting it,” Professor Dolin said. “Kingdom commercial law has imported quite a bit of dwarven law, but their criminal law is in many ways superior to dwarven custom, focusing as it does more on individual responsibility and less on clan responsibility. For instance, the Dwarven Empire never developed the Kingdom’s Charter of Human Rights. A charter that in the Kingdom itself, anyway, has now been extended to the other races.”

“Or so they claim,” Miguel Cordoba pronounced. “They don’t follow their own laws in the Orclands, and Amonrai has actual chattel slavery of elves, at least in the southern provinces.”

Cordelia kept her mouth shut. Miguel was a theology student and Junior Intercessor of Noron. He was also a young man who despised the Kingdom, and Amonrai even more than the Kingdom itself. The trade wars between the Nasine Empire and the Kingdom Isles had become real fighting wars several times over the last century and a lot of people on both sides thought of the other side as their natural enemy. Doichry had had considerable input into the formation of the Amonrai kingdom, but Nasine had been frozen out of the entire continent of Amonrai. There were a few Nasine colonists in Amonrai, but the nobility only included those from Doichry and the Kingdom Isles.

✽✽✽

Cordelia got back to Das Vizart’s Dank and found yet another note from the Chancellery.  Still wondering just why they hadn’t sent the letter to her lodgings instead of a note, she shook her head and headed for the Chancellery.

Cordelia showed the clerk the note. “A letter for me?” she asked.

The clerk smiled.  “Yes, dear. Just let me get it for you.”

No one had called Cordelia “dear” in years. But the middle-aged clerk was a nice woman, so she just smiled in response. “Thank you.”

The clerk soon delivered the letter and Cordelia took it back to her lodgings to read it in privacy.  If it was from her family again, she didn’t want to be in anyone’s view when she read it.

It wasn’t from her family. There had been three letters over the last two years about the prize money from the smuggler she, the sea elves and the lizardmen had taken into custody on Pango Island. This one informed her that the case had been settled, and that all of the funds awarded had gone either to the legal fees or to the fees paid her factor for handling the matter. No accounting of what was spent on what was included.  Cordelia wasn’t able to interpret the legalese so she decided to take it over to the college of law.

 

Location: College of Law, University of  Kronisburg
Date: 18  Barra, 772 AR

“Who can interpret a letter from a lawyer for me?” she asked the lad at the desk. He looked to be perhaps fourteen, with a curl of blond hair falling down the center of his forehead and a curly blond cowlick in back.

He grinned. “A demon or other infernal power might manage it.”

Cordelia laughed. “Do you happen to know anyone with infernal powers?”

“I’m afraid not,” he said. “They’re all afraid of coming to the college of law.”

“Well, then . . . perhaps a law student?”

“You’d be safer with an infernal power, but all right.  I’ll have a look.”

“Um . . . no offense,” Cordelia said, eyeing his youth. “But what year are you?”

“Third, actually.”  He grinned again.  “Looking younger is my abiding curse. No one sees the evil that lurks inside. Bwahahahahah!”

Laughing, Cordelia handed over the letter.

He read it over and his smile died. He looked at her and suddenly looked a great deal more serious and at least two years older. “You were involved in the taking of a pirate off the island of Pango?” he asked.

“Well, it was actually a smuggler, but yes,” Cordelia said.

“And you were in command?”

“Pretty much, yes.”

“This is essentially a letter to inform you that you have been . . . ah . . . cut out of the loot, as it were. All the monies that the prize court eventually granted were divided between the lawyers and your factor. Was there someone you left to manage the affair for you when you came here?”

“Yes.  Mrs. Amelia Tomson. The smuggler was coming into the little bay where they lived when we took it. It was me, a bunch of sea elves and some lizardmen. Her husband was deeply involved with the smugglers and there were enough questions  that the governor of the island, Andrew Hopkins, delayed things until I had to leave. I would have put the whole matter in the charge of the sea elves, but, unfortunately, the regulations of the Kingdom Orcland Trading Company, at least as they’re interpreted on Pango, effectively prohibit that.

“Did the sea elves and the lizardmen at least get their share?”

“I doubt it,” he said. “The way this reads is strongly suggestive that you stay away from Pango Island for the rest of your life. Because, according to this, not only was all the prize money used up, you are considerably in debt to the factor you appointed.”

Cordelia just looked at him. Honestly, by the end of last year she hadn’t expected to ever see anything of the prize money. But this . . . this was too much. She didn’t mind losing the money and she didn’t need it, really.  But to be warned off that ragged little island, and told she was in debt to enforce that edict? That was outrageous. More importantly, she had promised the sea elves and the lizardmen that they would get their share. That they would be freed. And now it looked like they weren’t.  She couldn’t be absolutely sure of that, not from Doichry. But it didn’t look good. And now she was forsworn, as far as she knew.

“Thank you,” Cordelia said, retrieving her letter. “I’m going to have to think about this.”

✽✽✽

Chapter 3

Location: Sanctum of Zagrod, College of Theology, University of Kronisburg
Date: 30  Barra, 772 AR

“Well, sir,” Cordelia said to High Intercessor Sawnell, “it’s because I have to go. In all honesty, I don’t really want to leave school at this time. I wanted . . .” She paused and looked out the window at the university where she’d been so busy and happy. “. . . I wanted to finish my studies. And I will!” Cordelia added fiercely. “Somehow I’ll come back and learn enough to wear the purple of a full wizard.” Then she sighed. “But they risked their lives on my say-so, and if they aren’t getting what’s due them, I have to fix it.”

High Intercessor Sawnell was as close to a mentor as Cordelia had, due to his relationship with the Brooks family she had met in the Orclands. He nodded at her explanation. “I understand, Cordelia, indeed I do. But High Intercessor Alvarez is having fits and asked for this meeting.”

“It wasn’t my idea for Miguel to go along,” Cordelia said. “If High Intercessor Alvarez can talk him out of it, that’s fine with me. He says that receiving spells after he decided that he should go along means that Noron approves but I’m not sure I believe that. The truth is, I don’t really understand signs and portents.”

“I’m not sure anyone really does,” High Intercessor Sawnell admitted, while leading her down the hall.  “It’s a bit like walking a ridge pole on a tall building, high in the air. When things work out right, you’re safe.  But one small slip and you can face a heck of a fall. Meanwhile, let’s just go see them and perhaps things can be worked out.”

“I suppose.” Cordelia’s face creased in concern. “When I go, it would be good to have Miguel. I’ll probably need him. Someone will get hurt, because someone always does. An intercessor with healing spells might keep someone from dying.”

“Part of it is simply that Miguel is quite young and it’s even rarer for intercessors to receive spells that young. That makes him valuable.”

They turned a corner and walked through a door to a cosy room with a table and a half-dozen comfortable chairs. Miguel and an older, sharp-faced man with dark hair and a black goatee and mustache waited for them.

“Welcome, High Intercessor Sawnell,” he said with a pronounced Nasine accent. He looked Cordelia up and down like she was getting ready to steal his innocent child for sacrifice.

“Hello, Ramon,” High Intercessor Sawnell said. “Go ahead and have a seat, Cordelia. This isn’t formal.”

Cordelia guessed by High Intercessor Alvarez’s expression that he would have much preferred to keep things formal. But Intercessor Sawnell wasn’t having it. She grinned and took a seat.

“The question at issue is whether Miguel has received a true sign or been distracted by a pretty face,” Ramon Alvarez said. He looked over at Cordelia and seemed to reconsider.

Which actually didn’t come as much of a shock to Cordelia. She was a bit on the short and stocky side, with black hair and a round face. Her face could be pleasant enough, but it would never launch a thousand ships. Not even a raft.

“Or the chance for glory,” Alvarez corrected.

“His chastity is safe with me,” Cordelia said and Miguel blushed. “For that matter, it wasn’t my idea to have him along, though I will admit that if trouble happens, having an intercessor’s healing spells handy wouldn’t hurt. I don’t know if he’d be any good in a fight, though.”

“I am of the Nasine gentry,” Miguel said, sounding offended. “We learn to use the sword before we learn to walk!”

“Overconfidence is not going to help you,” Cordelia pointed out. “A black lion can get past a sword, Miguel. I’ve seen it happen. And a skeleton doesn’t care if you stab him in the chest, since it doesn’t have flesh or blood.”

Intercessor Alvarez was smiling, apparently in the hope that Cordelia would persuade Miguel that he didn’t want to go after all. His hopes, however, were soon dashed.

“Noron wishes me to accompany you,” Miguel said. “I will be careful.”

Intercessor Alvarez’s face fell. “It is not a true sign,” he insisted.

“How do you know?” asked High Intercessor Sawnell.

“Because it cannot be! He’s only seventeen!”

“He’s old enough to receive the spells,” Sawnell pointed out. “And you know as well as I do that we’re guessing about what is and isn’t a sign.”

“We’re not guessing,” Alvarez said. “We’re hearing the gods whisper to us!”

“If Noron ever actually whispered to you, Ramon, it would turn you into a dribbling idiot. You have to be as stubborn as a mule to deal with a god.”

“Now it makes sense,” Cordelia said.

And High Intercessor Sawnell laughed out loud. “What those who don’t have the experience of being touched by a god don’t understand is that it takes a very strong will to come through the experience whole. I was putting it poorly when I said you have to be stubborn as a mule. But not that poorly. It takes a very strong sense of self and most children, in spite of how stubborn they sometimes seem, don’t have that strong a sense of self. Hard and brittle, not strong. That’s why it’s so rare that even young adults are touched by the gods.”

“What about the Intercessors of Koteck?” Cordelia asked. “Honestly, they didn’t strike me as . . . having that strong a character?”

“Two things, I think, probably explain the matter. First, they were probably quite insane by the time you met them. Dealing directly with gods doesn’t turn everyone catatonic. Many simply lose all sense of empathy, all awareness of anyone else’s feelings, because the god and the god’s will become all that matters. So the priestess didn’t see you or the orcs that she sacrificed to Koteck as people at all, just things that her god wanted. The second thing is that the sacrifices themselves took the brunt of Koteck’s contact. And most of the magic was delivered in the creation of magical items so the priestess was less affected. As to the lich, it was, by the time you met it, little more than a toy to its god, having very little will left to do anything but what Balrak wanted.”

Cordelia nodded and Intercessor Alvarez was looking at her in apparent surprise. “You’re the one who went to old Hoctbatch?”

“One of them,” Cordelia acknowledged.

“Well, sanctifying the place to Justain was well enough done, I admit, though the whole adventure was poorly planned.”

Cordelia held her peace. Intercessor Alvarez was right in a way. There were a number of things that, in hindsight, should have been done differently. But Cordelia was coming to believe that there were always things that should have been done differently in hindsight. She almost pointed that out, but decided that it wouldn’t make any difference.

“In fact, you seem inclined toward poorly planned adventures. The taking of the Conquistador was hardly well thought out.”

“Actually, sir, the taking of the ship was quite well thought out and accomplished with very little in the way of casualties on either side,” Cordelia said “Even Mr. Tomson died only because he attacked me in a situation where even had he succeeded he would have gained little by it.”

“Then why do you feel the need to go back?” he looked down his nose at her.

“Because after she left, things wandered away from the path she had set them on. Which can hardly be laid at Cordelia’s feet.” High Intercessor Sawnell came to Cordelia’s rescue.

It was becoming fairly clear to Cordelia that High Intercessor Alvarez hadn’t brought her here for a talk but for an inquisition. Something that the intercessors of Noron in the Nasine Empire were becoming known for. Well, if she was to be put to the question she had some of her own to put.

“High Intercessor Alvarez, why is it that the gods don’t just tone it down a bit so that they can talk to ordinary mortals? Is it that they just don’t care about ordinary people enough to limit their voices to something we can deal with?” It wasn’t a question that she had ever put to High Intercessor Sawnell because it was the sort of question that often offended intercessors and she didn’t want to offend Intercessor Sawnell.

High Intercessor Alverez looked to be clouding up, but it was Intercessor Sawnell who answered her question. “We aren’t entirely sure. We are fairly confident that there is some sort of agreement between the gods, or some kind of rule imposed on them, that precludes them simply telling us what they want. It doesn’t affect other forms of interactions. There are well-documented cases of gods taking on the form of people and animals. But it’s equally true that while they are in lesser form they are limited, and even they don’t understand the complexities they deal with in their natural state. It’s also quite risky, for if a god becomes mortal it can be killed. That’s what mortal means, after all.”

“All of which makes it very hard for the gods to talk to people in a way that we can understand . . . which brings us back to the signs and portents,” Miguel said.

“How do you determine what the signs and portents mean?” Cordelia wondered.

“We guess,” High Intercessor Sawnell said. “As I said before. There are rules that we follow to guide our guesses, but basically we guess based on our experience and understanding of the gods.”

“And Miguel is guessing that Noron wants him to go along because he got his first spells just after he had decided he should go with me?” Cordelia asked. “I’ve got to say that seems pretty thin to me.”

“I quite agree, young woman,” High Intercessor Alvarez said. “Especially considering that Noron is not overly fond of the Kingdom Orcland Trading Company in whose name you acted.”

“That’s something I wonder about,” Cordelia said.  “Just how is it you know that Noron isn’t overly fond of the KOTC if he doesn’t speak to you directly? How do I know that it’s not your government who’s not overly fond of the KOTC?”

High Intercessor Sawnell coughed and High Intercessor Alvarez shot him a look. “Through the same signs and portents we’ve been discussing, young woman, delivered with considerable consistency over the last hundred and fifty years. It isn’t that the company exists that bothers Noron, but that it fancies itself a government. He, and for that matter, Justain, are also less than pleased at the way the KOTC treats the orcs and other races that come under their sway.”

“Honestly, High Intercessor, neither am I. Though I speak as one who knows when I say that at least some of the orc tribes treat orcs much worse than the KOTC does.”

“Do you think the fact that others are worse makes the KOTC good?” Alvarez asked, sounding truly interested for the first time in the interview.

“No, I don’t. But I was forced to learn that just condemning their actions without offering a workable alternative doesn’t do a lot of good.”

The High Intercessor nodded.

“And as it happens, the reason Cordelia is going back to the island is because of her obligations to sea elves and lizardmen. Which is another reason that I am convinced that she is doing Noron’s and Justain’s work,” Miguel said.

“Really?” It was clear from High Intercessor Alvarez’s tone that he didn’t believe that Cordelia was concerned over the sea elves or the lizardmen. “And what do you imagine that you will be able to do for them?”

“I have no idea. We are too far away. I can’t tell what they got or what they didn’t get. I don’t know what I’ll be able to do for them. I don’t even know that I’ll be able to do anything for them. But they are friends who risked their lives on my say-so, so I have to at least go and see what the situation is.”

“Tell me now,” Miguel said in an irritatingly smug tone, “that this is a quest Noron would disapprove of.”

✽✽✽

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