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Authors: Sarah Prineas

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BOOK: Home
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D
EDICATION

T
O
C
HARLES
C
OLEMAN
F
INLAY
.
W
ITHOUT YOUR MENTORSHIP,
SUPPORT, AND FRIENDSHIP
,
I
WOULD NOT BE A WRITER
.
T
HANKS,
C
HARLIE
.

C
HAPTER

1

A
thief is nothing like a fine gentleman.

A wizard isn't, either.

“I know who I am, Ro,” I said. “And I'm not somebody who goes to meetings.”

But there I was in a meeting room, even though I didn't want to be. At least it was mostly empty, just Rowan and me. The room had shiny marble floors, tree-shaped pillars against the walls, and high, arched windows. One of the windows had a stained-glass tree built into it, and when the light from outside came through it, the room turned green. Sitting at the end of the table, with the green light shining over her and making her look a little green herself, was Rowan, my best friend, who happened to be the duchess of our city, Wellmet. She wore a green velvet dress and had her red hair in a braid down her back; she also had on her gold spectacles and an impatient look.

“I know you know who you are,” Rowan said crossly. “You are the same Conn you ever were. And,” she went on, “I need you to attend this meeting. It's important.” She got to her feet and came over to me, where I stood by the door. “All right?”

Before I could say no, a polite little knock interrupted us.

“What is it?” Rowan called.

The door opened and a tall, paper-thin woman edged into the room. She had on a green dress like Rowan's, but with neat white cuffs and collar, and had her gray hair scraped back into a tight bun. Her mouth was scraped into a tight smile. “Duchess,” she said in a scrapy voice, “I am so
exceedingly
sorry to intrude, but it is past time for the meeting to begin. You know how important it is to be punctual.”

Rowan sighed. “Yes, all right, I know.” She nodded at the woman. “Conn, this is Miss Dimity, my new secretary.” She pointed at me. “Miss Dimity, Conn is . . . um . . . a rather special wizard.”

Miss Dimity looked me up and down, and her eyes bulged, as if she didn't like what she was seeing. She sniffed and turned to Rowan. “Duchess? May I show them in?”

Rowan said yes, and her councilors and advisors—and a couple of magisters—trooped in. Most of them frowned when they saw me and went to settle in their places at the long table.

“Hello, cousin,” said Embre, the Underlord who ran the Twilight part of the city, as he rolled past me in his wheeled chair. He was a thin young man a bit older than Rowan, dressed in black trousers and coat that matched his black hair.

Rowan, looking duchessly, went to sit at the head of the table.

The chair at her right was empty. She pointed at it—my seat.

Kerrn, the captain of the palace guards, was taking her place at the other end of the table, and she gave me a sharp glance with her ice-chip blue-gray eyes. I knew what she was thinking:
I have got my eye on you, thief.

Nevery had come in, too, and was smiling and pulling on the end of his beard.

“Won't you sit down?” Rowan said, watching me carefully.

“Ro—” I started.

“Conn,” Rowan hissed through gritted teeth. “Sit
down
.”

Oh, all right. I walked 'round the table to the empty chair. Whispers followed me.
Why has the duchess invited him? The gutterboy? What's Nevery's cursed apprentice doing here?

“Well, boy?” Nevery whispered to me as I slid into my chair.

“Why does she want me here?” I whispered back.

“Hmm,” he said, no answer. “You ought to have your locus magicalicus with you. Where is it?”

Pip, he meant. I shrugged. The dragon Pip was about the size of a kitten, but much more fierce. Its true name was Tallennar, but when I wasn't doing magic I called it Pip for a nickname. When I had found my second locus magicalicus stone, Pip had swallowed it, and the stone was still inside it—so now I needed Pip with me if I wanted to do any magic. It was probably off hunting pigeons. It liked to eat them whole, spitting out the feathers.

Beside me, Rowan cleared her throat. “I have called this meeting today for two reasons. One is because, as we are all aware, we now have two magics—magical beings, I should say—settled in our city, a change that I am certain will affect us all in some way. As Magister Brumbee has informed me, there is no precedent for such a thing. Isn't that right, Brumbee?”

“Ah, yes.” Brumbee, a plump wizard sitting down the table from me, nodded. “The two, ah, magics. We do not know yet
how
they will work together, or indeed, even
if
they will. A concern, indeed.”

On the other side of the table, Magister Trammel leaned forward, scowling. “The two magics are converging over the hospital on the medicos island, and our healing spells are effecting in unexpected ways. Look at this.” He pointed at the man sitting next to him. An old, mournful-faced man, wearing a tall black hat. “Just this morning we treated this man for a headache, and look!” Trammel reached over and took off the man's hat. Where his hair should have been, a crop of flowers sprang up, bright yellow and white. The old man nodded sadly, and the flowers bobbed on their long stems.

“Daisies!” Trammel complained. “Sprouting from his head! It's terrible!” He shot me an angry glance.

Another magister, the bat-faced, bat-eared Nimble, spoke up in his whiny voice. “We all know who to blame, too, don't we?”

I slouched lower in my seat. The city had two magics because I was the one who had given the Arhionvar magic a place here, instead of banishing it forever. The magisters blamed me for the upset that occurred when Arhionvar had first arrived: There had been whirlwinds and flaming rocks raining down from the sky, and parts of the Twilight had been burned down or blown away, and the magics still hadn't worked themselves out. They were two huge creatures yoked together, but they were pulling in different directions. I could feel how upset they were—any wizard could feel it if he or she paid attention. It was like an uneasiness in the air, like that moment right before lightning strikes in the middle of a towering thunderstorm.

Was
this
why Ro wanted me at the meeting? So I could listen to the magisters growling about the problem of having two magics in Wellmet?

Brumbee nodded. “The magics are entangled in some way over the academicos, too. Or perhaps
entangled
is not the right word. Overlapping? Linked in some way?” He leaned over to glance at Trammel, down at the other end of the table. “What do you think, Trammel?”

“Completely and incomprehensibly ruined, I should say,” Trammel answered sharply.

“Oh, dear,” Brumbee said. “
Ruined
is too strong a word, I think. Yet I cannot quite know what to expect whenever I take out my locus magicalicus to do a spell. The apprentice students find it most alarming.”

I nodded.

Rowan saw. “You have something to add, Conn?”

Not really. “No,” I said. But I'd start working to figure it out as soon as I could. The magisters were sort of right. I'd given the Arhionvar magic a place here, with the old Wellmet magic, and so the two-magic problem
was
my responsibility. But the two magics were very different from each other. The Wellmet magic was much older, and it felt warm and comforting, but it was weak, too. The Arhionvar magic wasn't evil, it was just much stronger; it felt like a mountain, cold and stony, but it could be like a solid, protecting wall, too. It'd been alone for a long time, searching for a city so it wouldn't be alone anymore. I wasn't sure what I'd have to do to get them both settled here in Wellmet.

Nevery gave me one of his keen-gleam looks.

I know, Nevery. But if I said anything, the magisters would just get angry—angrier—and that wouldn't help anything.

Rowan sighed. “I repeat. I am sure you know more about the magics than anyone here, Conn. You have something to add?”

I sat up straighter. All right. “You know that the magics aren't just”—I shrugged—“not just clouds of magic floating around. They're beings that were once dragons.”

“Not everyone agrees with that radical notion,” Nimble whiningly interrupted.

“It doesn't matter if you agree with it or not,” I shot back. “That's what they are. The magics are huge and powerful. They're drawn to the city because there are people here, and it means they're not alone, and they do want what's best for us, but they can't understand us. We're tiny to them, so tiny they can hardly perceive us individually. Only a wizard with a locus stone can speak to them so that they'll hear.” I looked around the table. Most of them were staring and it was clear as clear that they weren't really understanding.

Nevery, though, was nodding. “Go on, Connwaer,” he ordered.

“Right, well, we can't control them. I don't know what it means that we have two magics now. They might be twice as powerful. They might work together, or they might not. Everything about the magics could stay the same, or it could change.”

Nimble whined about that, and Trammel banged his fist, and Brumbee said, “Oh, dear,” and then they argued about the magic problem for a long time, with nothing decided except to form a committee to talk about it some more, and two subcommittees for what they called
related issues
.

This was why I didn't go to meetings.

“And now,” said Rowan at last, “the second reason I called today's meeting.” She smiled brightly, but she wasn't fooling me. She was nervous. “I'm pleased to inform you all that I am hereby naming Connwaer”—she pointed at me—“the new ducal magister.”

I sat up straight in my chair.
What?

“What!” shouted Trammel, leaping to his feet. “That gutterboy?”

“Unthinkable!” shouted Nimble from across the table, and the councilors and advisors exclaimed and shook their heads.

“Oh, dear.” Magister Brumbee wrung his hands and looked worriedly 'round the table. “Oh, dear me.”

My cousin Embre was grinning across at me, his black eyes sparkling. Rowan sat there looking duchessly, waiting for the bubbling and boiling to die down.

Beside me, Nevery was smiling.

“You knew she was going to do this,” I accused.

His smile broadened. “It's a very great honor, boy,” he said, speaking loudly to be heard over the noise.

A very great
honor
, he called it? Not likely. The ducal magister was the most powerful wizard in the city. That wasn't so bad, but the ducal magister had to wear fancy clothes and go to lots of boring meetings, and he had to live in gold-encrusted rooms in the Dawn Palace instead of at home where he belonged.

If I was the ducal magister, the other wizards would
always
look at me funny; they'd never trust me—as far as they were concerned, I was either a gutterboy thief or I was the dangerously radical wizard they blamed for the two-magic problem.

At the head of the table, Rowan raised her hand, and after a few moments the people around the table quieted down. “I can see there is some concern—” she began, and the hubbub boiled up again.

Right at that moment, I heard a
tap-tap-tap
at one of the tall windows. Pip, back from hunting pigeons, wanting to come in out of the rain.

I got up and opened the window. In a whirl of golden wings and emerald-green scales, Pip tumbled into the room, shedding raindrops. Catching the air with its wings, it flapped to the table and landed in the middle of it, lashing its tail.

All of the magisters and councilors and advisors stopped talking and stared.

Then, its claws leaving scratches on the shiny tabletop, Pip crawled over to my place. It fixed me with an ember-bright red eye, opened its mouth, and dropped something on the table in front of me.

A shiny black shard of rock on a golden chain.

“Is that—” Brumbee said, craning his neck to look.

“A locus stone!” exclaimed Trammel.

Brumbee peered more closely at it. “My goodness! That's the locus stone of my apprentice, Keeston. It went missing last night!”

I recognized it, too. Without thinking, I reached out and picked it up.

The other wizards at the table gasped; Brumbee ducked behind his raised arms. Beside me, Nevery snatched up his cane and leaped to his feet.

The stone and its length of chain lay in my hand. I felt a buzz from it, a tingling that ran up my finger bones and itched in the bones of my arm.

I shouldn't have been able to touch someone else's stone at all. True, I'd stolen Nevery's locus stone when I'd been a pickpocket gutterboy, and the stone hadn't killed me, but that'd been strange enough that he'd taken me on as his apprentice afterward. Anybody else in the city would die if they touched a wizard's locus magicalicus. Even a wizard would die if he or she touched another wizard's locus stone.

That meant if this stone had gone missing, only one person in the city could have taken it.

The other magisters knew this. They were all staring at me, and Captain Kerrn at the other end of the table was glaring, and it was clear as clear what they were thinking.

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