Sorcery of Thorns(4)

By: Margaret Rogerson


“Why would they want to?” Elisabeth burst out, before she could stop herself. The answer was obvious. Sorcerers were evil by nature, corrupted by the demonic magic they wielded. If it weren’t for the Reforms, which had made it illegal for sorcerers to bind books with human parts, grimoires like the Book of Eyes wouldn’t be so exceptionally rare. No doubt sorcerers had attempted to replicate it over the years, but the spells couldn’t be written down using ordinary materials. The sorcery’s power would instantly reduce the ink and parchment to ashes.

To her surprise, the Director took her question seriously, though she was no longer looking at Elisabeth. Instead she focused on turning the pages, inspecting them for any damage they might have sustained during the journey. “There may come a time when spells like these are necessary, no matter how foul. We have a great responsibility to our kingdom, Scrivener. If this grimoire were destroyed, its spells would be lost forever. It’s the only one of its kind.”

“Yes, Director.” That, she understood. Wardens both protected grimoires from the world, and protected the world from them.

She braced herself as the Director paused, leaning down to examine a stain on one of the pages. Transferring high-class grimoires came at a risk, since any accidental damage could provoke their transformation into a Malefict. They needed to be inspected carefully before their interment in the vault. Elisabeth felt certain that several of the eyes, peering out from beneath the cover, were aimed directly at her—and that they glittered with cunning.

Somehow, she knew she shouldn’t meet their gaze. Hoping to distract herself, she glanced aside to the pages. Some of the sentences were written in Austermeerish or the Old Tongue. But others were scrawled in Enochian, the language of sorcerers, made up of strange, jagged runes that shimmered on the parchment like smoldering embers. It was a language one could only learn by consorting with demons. Merely looking at the runes made her temples throb.

“Apprentice . . .”

The whisper slithered against her mind, as alien and unexpected as the cold, slimy touch of a fish beneath the water of a pond. Elisabeth jerked and looked up. If the Director heard the voice, too, she showed no sign.

“Apprentice, I see you. . . .”

Elisabeth’s breath caught. She did as the Director had instructed and tried to ignore the voice, but it was impossible to concentrate on anything else with so many eyes watching her, agleam with sinister intelligence.

“Look at me . . . look . . .”

Slowly but surely, as if drawn by an invisible force, Elisabeth’s gaze began to travel downward.

“There,” said the Director. Her voice sounded dim and distorted, like she was speaking from underwater. “We are finished. Scrivener?”

When Elisabeth didn’t answer, the Director slammed the grimoire shut, cutting its voice off midwhisper. Elisabeth’s senses rushed back. She sucked in a breath, her face burning with humiliation. The eyes bulged furiously, darting between her and the Director.

“Well done,” the Director said. “You held out much longer than I expected.”

“It almost had me,” Elisabeth whispered. How could the Director congratulate her? A clammy sweat clung to her skin, and in the vault’s chill, she began to shiver.

“Yes. That was what I wished to show you tonight. You have a way with grimoires, an affinity for them that I have never seen in an apprentice before. But despite that, you still have much to learn. You want to become a warden, do you not?”

Spoken in front of the Director, witnessed by the angel statues lining the walls, Elisabeth’s soft reply possessed the quality of a confession. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Just remember that there are many paths open to you.” The scar’s distortion gave the Director’s mouth an almost rueful cast. “Be certain, before you choose, that the life of a warden is what you truly desire.”

Elisabeth nodded, not trusting herself to speak. If she had passed the test, she didn’t understand why the Director would advise her to consider forsaking her dream. Perhaps she had shown herself in some other way to be unready, unprepared. In that case, she would simply have to try harder. She had a year left before she turned seventeen and became eligible for training at the Collegium—time she could use to prove herself beyond a doubt, and earn the Director’s approval. She only hoped it would be enough.