“Ohhhhh hell,” a wide-eyed Nicodemus whispered, too shocked and frightened to move.

A sudden nauseating wave of guilt washed through him. He might have irreversibly damaged the gargoyle’s executive text.

Then the construct was off, dashing down the aisle. A spellbook was still hooked to her tail. Now, dragging behind her, the book opened and began to lose paragraphs written in several magical languages. Falling from the tortured pages, the paragraphs squirmed as if alive. Two exploded into small clouds of white runes; others slowly deconstructed into nothing.

“Wait!” Nicodemus yelled, sprinting after the misspelled gargoyle. “Gargoyle, stop!”

The construct either did not hear or did not care. She leaped up at a window and exploded through its paper screen.

Nicodemus reached the sill in time to watch her fall down ten stories into a dark courtyard filled with elm trees, grass, and ivy.

As the gargoyle dropped, stray paragraphs continued to fall from the spellbook attached to her tail. Radiant words of gold, green, silver, and white fluttered downward and in so doing formed a comet’s tail of radiant language.

“Please, heaven, please don’t let Magister Shannon find out about this,” Nicodemus prayed. “Please!”

The gargoyle hit the ground and scampered away, but the still-falling coruscation of paragraphs began to illuminate the stone spires, arches, and arcades of the surrounding buildings. Nicodemus turned to sprint after his mistake.

But as he did so, something caught his eye. What exactly, he couldn’t say. For when he looked back, it had disappeared, leaving only the vague impression that he had seen-standing atop an ornate stone buttress-a hooded figure cloaked entirely in white.


The creature, now crouching beside a stone chimney, watched the gargoyle scamper through the courtyard.

The construct’s speed implied excessive energetic language; its erratic course, a misspelled executive text. Only a powerful cacographer was likely to produce such a construct.

“Meaning my boy is in that library this very instant,” the creature muttered while glaring at the Stacks. He had glimpsed his quarry in the library window, but the rain of paragraphs loosed by the gargoyle had obscured everything but the boy’s silhouette.

Suddenly the night resounded with a sharp crack.

The creature turned and saw a silver spell shoot out from behind a stone spire. The spherical text was written in Magnus and so would have a powerful effect on the physical world. Indeed, its blazing sentences seemed designed to blast a human body into a cloud of bone fragments and vaporized blood.

More important, the spell was flying straight for the creature’s head.

He dove right, rolling down the slate roof. There was a crash and needles of pain flew down his back. No doubt the Magnus spell had shattered the chimney into stone splinters.

At the roof’s edge, the creature came out of its roll and crouched. A flying buttress to another building stood roughly ten feet away. He looked back but there was no sign of the guardian spell that must have cast the Magnus attack.

His body was not in danger; guardian spells were slow on rooftops. But they were lightning quick in courtyards and hallways and so could prevent him from retrieving the boy.

“So the guardians must be removed,” he grunted.

With a powerful leap the creature flew into the air, white robes billowing, and landed neatly on the arc of the flying buttress. With care, he ran up the arc to another roof; this one abutted one of the aqueducts that crisscrossed Starhaven. He scaled the aqueduct, and finding it dry, ran eastward.

All three moons were out, gibbous, and gloriously bright. They illuminated Starhaven’s many towers and bridges from three different angles, transforming the lower levels into a maze of overlapping shadows.

The wizards, in their arrogance, referred to Starhaven as one of their “academies.” In truth, the place was an ancient city, built by the Chthonic people long before any human had laid eyes on this continent. Though the wizards claimed the entirety of Starhaven, they occupied only the westernmost third of the city.

The creature’s course led him away from the inhabited buildings. Here stood dark towers, cracked domes, and cobbled streets pocked by weeds.

He waited until the abandoned building echoed with the heavy footfalls of the guardians. Then he raced up a tower’s spiral staircase and sprinted north on an upper-level walkway.

Once certain the guardians were far behind, the creature turned westward and focused his every bloody thought on hunting down the cacographic boy.

NICODEMUS PUSHED THE door latch with his elbow, the door itself with his backside. When it swung open, he stepped backward into Magister Shannon’s study and fell over sideways.

His arms encircled a tapestry wrapped into a ball and bound by twine. It writhed continuously and in a muffled voice blathered: “Corpulent, encouragement, incorporeal. Ha! Incorporeal encooooouragment!”

Nicodemus rolled away from the tapestry. “Celeste, goddess of the sky, please make her shut up. I’ll light a candle for you every night if you just make her shut up.”

Unimpressed, Celeste declined to intervene.

“Empathy, apathy, sympathy, hoo hoo!” said the bundled tapestry.

“Two candles?” Nicodemus offered the unseen sky.

“Euphony, cacophony, hoo hoo! Calligraphy, cacography, ha ha!” said the bundle.

Groaning, Nicodemus got to his feet. The study was dark, but both the blue and white moons shone through the open arched windows.

It was a rectangular room lined with oak bookshelves. A broad writing desk sat at one end, a huddle of chairs in the middle.

Nicodemus went to the nearest bookshelf and pulled out a large codex on gargoyle repair and maintenance. The needed spell was on the tenth page. He laid the open book on the desk, slipped his arms from his sleeves, and wrote a short Numinous spell in his right hand. Bending the golden sentence into a hook, he dipped it into the page and peeled off a tangle of Numinous paragraphs that folded into a rectangular crystalline lattice. Careful not to touch the text, he walked back to the squirming bundle and, with a sharp word, cut the twine cords.

The gargoyle sprang free with a joyful cry.

Nicodemus struck her over the head with the Numinous lattice. The crystalline spell locked around the gargoyle’s mind, causing her to freeze in an unlikely pose-one knee and one foot on the floor, both hands reaching skyward. She began to fall forward.

Uttering an oath, Nicodemus extemporized a simple Magnus sentence to catch her. With a few more sentences, he lifted her up and then leaned her against the bookshelf.

As far as he knew, no one had seen him chasing the gargoyle around the courtyard with a tapestry. For that, he said a prayer of thanks to the Creator.

Then he looked at the gargoyle and said in a voice that was soft and sincere, “You stupid, suffering construct. What have I done to you?”

“Fused her Numinous cortices,” a rumbling voice replied.

Nicodemus’s blood froze. “Magister!” he whispered as a figure moved out of a dark corner.

Grand Wizard Agwu Shannon stepped into a bar of blue moonlight. The glow illuminated white dreadlocks, a short beard and mustache, tawny skin. His nose was large and hooked, his thin lips pressed flat in disapproval.

However, Shannon ’s eyes commanded the most attention. They presented neither iris nor pupil but were everywhere pure white. These were eyes blind to the mundane world but extraordinarily perceptive of magical text.

Nicodemus sputtered. “Magister, I didn’t think you’d be working so late. I was just going-”

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