The grand wizard stopped him by nodding to the gargoyle. “Who else knows?”

“No one. I was reshelving in the Stacks alone. I was just going to edit her.”

Shannon grunted and then looked in Nicodemus’s direction. “She shouldn’t have let you touch her. What was your bribe?”

Nicodemus felt as if he were breathing through a reed. “Two stone more weight and secondary cognition.”

The grand wizard walked to the gargoyle and squatted beside her. “She already has secondary cognition.”

“But that’s impossible; I never used a modification scroll on her.”

“Look at this frontal cortex.” The grand wizard pointed.

Nicodemus went to Shannon ’s side, but lacking his teacher’s vision, he saw only the monkey’s stone forehead.

“There’s some inappropriate fusion, but…” Shannon muttered. Using only the muscles in his right hand, the grand wizard produced a tiny storm of golden sentences. Faster than Nicodemus could follow, the spell split the gargoyle’s head and began to rearrange her executive subspells.

Nicodemus pursed his lips. “She said she was primary, and the librarians assigned her to reshelving; they only use primary gargoyles for that.”

Shannon brought his left hand up to assist his manipulation of the gargoyle’s Numinous passages. “How long did you touch her?”

“No more than a few moments,” Nicodemus insisted. He was about to say more when Shannon clapped the monkey’s head together and pulled the Numinous lattice from her head as if it were a tablecloth.

The gargoyle sank to all fours and looked up at Shannon. Her blank stone eyes searched his face. “I could have a name now,” she said in a quick, childlike voice.

Shannon ’s nod sent his white dreadlocks swaying. “But I wouldn’t pick one just yet. Get used to your new thoughts first.”

She smiled and then, dreamily, nodded.

Shannon stood and looked toward Nicodemus. “What was it you wrapped her in?”

“A tapestry,” Nicodemus said weakly. “From the Stacks.”

Shannon sighed and turned back to the gargoyle. “Please re-hang that tapestry and finish reshelving. Use the rest of the night to name yourself.”

The energized gargoyle nodded eagerly then scooped up the tapestry and scampered out the door.

“Magister, I-” Nicodemus stopped as Shannon turned to face him.

The old man was dressed in the billowing black robes of a grand wizard. Even in the dim moonlight, the lining of his large hood shone white, indicating that he was a linguist. Silver and gold buttons ran down his sleeves, signifying his fluency in Numinous and Magnus.

Shannon ’s blind gaze was turned slightly away, but when he spoke, Nicodemus felt as if the old man was staring through his body to his soul.

“My boy, you surprise me. As a younger spellwright, I bribed a few constructs, even got into hot water with overly ambitious texts. But your disability places a special burden on us both. I keenly want you to earn a lesser hood, but if another wizard had seen that misspelled gargoyle… well, it would have ended your hopes of escaping apprenticeship and made life harder for the other cacographers.”

“Yes, Magister.”

Shannon sighed. “I will continue fighting for your hood, but only if there won’t be a repetition of such… carelessness.”

Nicodemus looked at his boots. “There won’t be, Magister.”

The old man began to walk back to his desk. “And why in the Creator’s name did you touch the gargoyle?”

“I didn’t mean to. I was editing text into her when there was a crash. Then it sounded like someone was running on the roof. It made me accidentally touch the gargoyle.”

Shannon stopped. “When was this?”

“Maybe half an hour ago.”

The grand wizard turned to face him. “Tell me everything.”

As Nicodemus described the strange sounds, Shannon ’s lips again pressed into a thin line. “Magister, is something wrong?”

Shannon went to his desk. “Light two of my candles; leave one here, take one yourself. Then run up to Magister Smallwood’s study. He always works late. Ask him to join me.”

Nicodemus started for the candle drawer.

“Then you’re to go straight back to the Drum Tower -no detours, no dillydally.” Shannon sat down behind his desk. “I will send Azure to your quarters with a message. Am I clear?”

“Yes, Magister.” Nicodemus set up and lit the candles.

Shannon began sorting through the manuscripts on his desk. “You’ll spend tomorrow with me. I’ve received permission to begin casting a primary research spell and will need your assistance. And then there’s my new composition class to teach. I’ll have you excused from apprentice duty.”

“Truly?” Nicodemus smiled in surprise. “Might I teach? I’ve practiced the introductory lecture.”

“Perhaps,” Shannon said without looking up from the manuscript he was reading. “Now run up to Magister Smallwood and then straight to the Drum Tower, nowhere else.”

“Yes, Magister.” Nicodemus eagerly picked up a candle and made his way to the door.

But when he put his hand on the latch, an idea stopped him. “Magister,” he asked slowly, “did that gargoyle have secondary cognition all along?”

Shannon paused and then put down his manuscript. “My boy, I don’t want to raise false expectations again.”

Nicodemus frowned. “Expectations about what?”

“The gargoyle had primary cognition until you misspelled her.”

“But how is that possible?”

“It shouldn’t be,” Shannon said before rubbing his eyes. “Nicodemus, for this convocation we are hosting delegates from the North: Astrophell wizards, some of my former colleagues. Some of them belong to the counter- prophecy faction and so will distrust cacographers even more than other Northerners do. It would be exceedingly dangerous if they learned that your touch both misspelled a gargoyle and elevated her freedom of thought.”

“Dangerous because they would want me censored?”

Shannon shook his head. “Dangerous because they would want you killed.”


On the way to Magister Smallwood’s study, Nicodemus looked at his candle. It was quavering in time to his hand’s fine tremble.

He had never known Shannon to betray even a hint of anxiety. But when the old man had mentioned the Astrophell delegates, his tone had been strained, his words clipped. The danger the Northerners posed must be real indeed.

Worse had been Shannon ’s statement about not raising “false expectations.” Nicodemus shivered; the old man could only have been referring to Nicodemus’s lost hope of fulfilling the Erasmine Prophecy.

“Fiery heaven, don’t think on it,” Nicodemus muttered to himself, as he had done countless times before.

A row of arched windows, all filled with ornate tracery, ran along the hallway. Nicodemus stopped to peer between the flowing stone beams to the starry sky beyond. He slowed his breathing and tried to soothe his frayed nerves.

But his hands still trembled, and it wasn’t Northern delegates or unfulfilled prophecies that made them do so.

It was the memory of Shannon ’s face when the old man had stepped into the moonlight-his white eyebrows knitting together in disapproval, his lips narrowing in disappointment.

The memory made Nicodemus feel as if something were tightening around his heart. “I’ll make it up to the old man,” he whispered. “I will.”

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