Nicodemus gave the construct his most haggard look. “It’s worse than you know. I’ve still got an anatomy text to review and two spelling drills to complete before morning class.”

The gargoyle laughed. “You want empathy from a primary construct? Ha! You might be a cacographer, but you can still think freely.”

Nicodemus closed his eyes and realized that they stung from lack of sleep. Half an hour had already passed since midnight, and he had to wake with the dawn bell.

He looked at the gargoyle. “If you let me rejuvenate your energetic prose tonight, I’ll find you a modification scroll tomorrow. Then you can change yourself however you like-wings, claws, whatever.”

The textual construct began to climb back toward the table. “Wonderful, wings from a cacographer. What good would a scroll written by a retarded-”

“No, you pile of cliched prose!” Nicodemus snapped. “I didn’t say ‘write.’ I said ‘find,’ which means ‘steal.’”

“Ho ho, the boy has some spirit after all.” The gargoyle chuckled. She stopped climbing to look back at him. “Steal a scroll from whom?”

Nicodemus pulled a lock of black hair away from his face. Bribing constructs was an illegal but common practice in Starhaven. He disliked it, but he disliked the idea of another sleepless night even more. “I am Magister Shannon’s apprentice,” he said.

“Magister Agwu Shannon, the famous linguist?” the gargoyle asked excitedly. “The expert on textual intelligence?”

“The same.”

A slow stone smile spread across the gargoyle’s face. “Then you’re the boy who failed to live up to prophecy? The one they thought was the Halcyon until he turned out to be retarded?”

“Do we have a deal or not?” Nicodemus retorted hotly, his hands clenched.

Still smiling, the gargoyle climbed onto the table. “Are the rumors about Shannon true?”

“I wouldn’t know; I don’t listen to hearsay,” Nicodemus growled. “And if you speak one word against Magister, heaven help me but I’ll knock you into sentence fragments.”

The gargoyle snickered. “Such a loyal apprentice, considering you’re offering to steal one of Shannon ’s scrolls.”

Nicodemus clenched his jaw and reminded himself that, at some point, virtually all apprentices bribed constructs with their mentor’s work. “Gargoyle, what do you want?”

She answered instantly: “Two stone more weight, so the medium-weight gargoyles can’t push me off my sleeping perch. And quaternary cognition.”

Nicodemus resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Don’t be ignorant; most humans can’t reach quaternary cognition.”

The gargoyle frowned and attached a book to her tail. “Tertiary, then.”

Nicodemus shook his head. “With your executive text, we can’t do better than secondary cognition.”

She crossed her arms. “Tertiary.”

“You might as well bargain for the white moon. You’re asking for something I can’t give.”

“And you’re asking me to be edited by a cacographer. Aren’t cacographers incapable of concentrating long enough to finish a spell?”

“No,” he said curtly. “Some of us have that problem, but I don’t. The only thing that defines a cacographer is a tendency to misspell a complex text when touching it. And I wouldn’t have to touch you.”

The stone monkey folded her arms. “But you’re asking me to deliberately violate library rules.”

This time Nicodemus did roll his eyes. “You can’t violate library rules, gargoyle; you’ve only got primary cognition. Your rules only forbid my touching you. All I need do tonight is add more energetic language to your body. I can do that without touching you. I’ve done this before and the gargoyle didn’t lose a single rune.”

The spell leaned forward and searched his face with blank stone eyes. “Two stone more weight and secondary cognition.”

“Deal,” Nicodemus grunted. “Now turn around.”

The gargoyle’s tail was still attached to a large spellbook. But rather than unfasten it, she stepped on top of the codex and turned to present her back.

Nicodemus’s black apprentice robes had slits sewn into the top of the sleeves, near the shoulder. He slipped his arms out of these and looked down at his right elbow.

Magical runes were made not with pen and paper, but within muscle. Nicodemus, like all spellwrights, had been born with the ability to transform his physical strength into runes made of pure magical energy.

By tensing his bicep, he forged several runes within his arm. He could see the silvery language shine through skin and sinew. Tensing his bicep again, he joined the letters into a sentence, which he let spill into his forearm.

With a wrist flick, he cast the simple spell into the air, where it twisted like a tendril of glittering smoke. He extended his arm and cast the sentence onto the nape of the monkey’s neck.

The spell contained a disassemble command; therefore, where it touched the construct, she began to shine with a silver glow. Nicodemus wrote a second sentence with his left arm and cast it next to his first. A seam of light ran down to the gargoyle’s tail, and the two sides of her back swung open as if on hinges.

A coiling profusion of incandescent prose shone before him.

Different magical languages had different properties, and this gargoyle was made of two: Magnus, a robust silvery language that affected the physical world, and Numinous, an elegant golden language that altered light and other magical text. The gargoyle thought with her Numinous passages, moved with her Magnus.

Nicodemus’s task was to add more energetic Magnus sentences. Fortunately, the structure of these energetic sentences was so simple that even a cacographer could compose them without error.

Careful not to touch the gargoyle, Nicodemus began to forge runes in his biceps and cast them into the gargoyle. Soon the Magnus sentences appeared as a thick rope of silvery light that coursed from his arms into the construct.

Though Nicodemus was a horrible speller, he could write faster than many grand wizards. Therefore he decided to provide the gargoyle with extra energetic text now; she might not submit to another edit later.

After moving his hands closer, Nicodemus tensed every muscle in his arms, from the tiny lumbricals between his hand bones to the rounded deltoid atop his shoulder. Within moments, he produced a dazzling flood of spells that flowed into the gargoyle’s back.

The blaze grew so bright that he began to worry about bringing unwanted attention to the library. He was standing yards away from the nearest window, but a wizard working late might walk past the Stacks and see the glow. If caught, he would be expelled, perhaps even censored permanently.

Just then a loud thud sounded to Nicodemus’s left. Terrified, he stopped writing and turned, expecting to find an enraged librarian bearing down on him.

But he saw only darkened bookshelves and scrollracks. Beyond those was a row of narrow, moonlit windows.

A second thud made Nicodemus jump. It sounded as if it were coming from the library’s roof.

He looked up but saw only ceiling. Then the darkness was filled by a repetitive clomping, as if someone were running. The footsteps passed directly over him and then sped away to the opposite side of the library.

Nicodemus turned to follow the sound with his eyes. When the footsteps reached the roof’s edge, they ceased. A moon-shadow flickered across two of the paper screens.

Then came a low muttering beside him: “Ba, ball, balloon, ballistic.” Something snickered. “Symbolic ballistics. Ha! Symbolic, diabolic. Diabolic, symbolic. Sym… bolic is the opposite of dia… bolic. Ha ha.”

Nicodemus looked down and, to his horror, saw his hand enmeshed in the silver and gold coils of the gargoyle’s text. His cacographic touch was causing the once stable sentences to misspell. He must have accidentally laid his hand on the construct when startled by the footsteps.

“Oh, hell!” he whispered, pulling his hand back.

When his fingers left the gargoyle, the two sides of her back snapped shut. Instantly, she was on her feet and staring at him with one eye that blazed golden and another that throbbed with silver light. “Vertex, vortex, university,” she muttered and laughed in a way that showed her sharp primate teeth. “Invert, extravert. Ha ha! Aversion, aveeeeersion.”

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