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  • Rebekah Olson

Spell Caster Chapter 4

He left the kitchens and went straight to the vat chamber. There, about half a dozen men worked winches, pulleys, and buckets to bring up water from the canal chamber directly below. They kept full two wooden containers, each the size of a small room, that people could draw water from simply by working a spigot at the bottom. One of the men drank from a large mug. His head and shirt were soaking wet. His face dripped. He drained the mug and refilled it from the spigot. Jerryck snatched the mug before the man could drink. “Let me see that!” “I need it.” The man panted while he spoke. “I’m burning up. I can’t stop sweating.” “Something might be wrong with the water,” Jerryck said. All the men paused their work, instantly focused on him. He took the parchment with the magicked sugar and dropped a pinch into the mug. He got the same result as the wet cloth in the kitchens, even the gradual fading effect of the colors that weren’t supposed to be there. He hadn’t gotten the particle of the contaminant this time either. Just the tainted aura. Navy blue was the right color for some of the covering magic he knew. If it was the kind that took on the appearance and attributes of whatever it was in, concealing what it covered, that would explain why he hadn’t been able to find it earlier. He could run further tests later to verify. For now, he needed to catch a particle of the actual taint. And whatever that was, lay in the vats. How could it and have gotten there? Each vat stood twice as tall as the average man, and just as wide. Open at the top, the length was twice that. A narrow, wooden walkway surrounded the tops for maintenance, accessible by a single ladder built into the wall. Jerryck pointed to the tops. “Has anyone been up there recently?” “Not since the last weekly maintenance and inspection a few days ago,” one of the men said. A string of buckets on a vertical rope made a pillar in the narrow space between the vats. Down below, the gurgle of water echoed up from the canal where water was channeled underground from the river, then back out again. Was the contaminant diluted enough that it could be in the river itself? Jerryck dumped the water in the mug. He cast one regretful glance at the vertical shaft. If he’d known he’d need water directly from the canal, he’d have gone down there. Instead, he climbed the ladder and navigated the narrow walkway to the string of buckets. He refilled the mug directly from one of them. He took it back down to the floor and repeated the sugar test. This time, the colors of the contaminant didn’t fade. They stayed strong and constant. In fact, they radiated outward, pushing, contaminating everything around them. He’d caught a piece of it. “Well?” Heston’s deep voice growled from behind him. “Oh!” Jerryck spun around, nearly spilling the water in the mug. “I didn’t see you come in.” “Obviously.” Heston crossed his thick arms. “What did you find?” Jerryck lifted the mug, still glowing. Heston shook his head. “I don’t know what that means. Just tell me whether or not the water is drinkable.” “I wouldn’t drink it.” Jerryck looked into the mug. He pointed at the colors. “See this—” Heston held up a hand. “Not here. We take this to the king.” Jerryck folded the sugar back into the parchment and stuffed it in his pocket. King Terrance ended court at noon. He should have finished lunch along with everyone else. There were no group meetings scheduled for today, so he was likely in his office meeting face-to-face with whoever was on his schedule. “Don’t let anyone draw from the vats,” Heston said to the workers. “For how long?” one of them asked. “Until you’re told otherwise a member of the core staff,” Heston said. “Get the hoses ready in case we have to drain them.” He and Jerryck went to the reception outside the king’s office. By the time they got there, the magic had worn off the water in the mug. The glow disappeared. They crossed the floor between the chairs and benches of waiting people to where the king’s aide was now arguing with Head Medic Kellos. “I don’t make the rules,” the aide said. He stood between his chair and his desk, nose to nose with Kellos. “What about his next appointment?” Kellos tapped the schedule book. “That can be delayed.” “That’s someone who came in three days ago.” The aide moved Kellos’ finger off the book. “He’s already been delayed. More than once. I already told you. Write a note, I’ll take it to him in between.” Heston slapped his hands down on the book, interrupting them. “Who’s in there with him now?” “Chamberlain Malk and Priad Lalven,” the aide said. Heston took his hands off the book. “Perfect. Summon the rest of the core staff, and send them through as soon as they get here.” Heston barged into the office. Jerryck hung back, not quite so bold. Kellos started in. The aide held up a hand to stop him. “You’re not part of the core staff.” “We need him,” Jerryck said. Since Jerryck was one of the five men on the core staff, the aide couldn’t really argue with that. Jerryck and Kellos both went in. Stacks of papers still littered Terrance’s busy desk. In two arm chairs before it sat Lalven and Malk. Terrance stood by them, and looked up at the entry. “We have an emergency?” “People are sick,” Kellos said. “Sick people?” Lalven scowled. He sat slumped in his seat, his soft paunch sticking out, one hand absently rubbing the center of his chest. “We’re making plans for when the Shontese delegation arrives and you interrupt because a few people are sick?” “Is your heartburn bothering you again?” Kellos asked. Lalven jerked his hand away from himself. “Something I ate for lunch is bothering me, that’s all. What difference does that make?” “So far,” Kellos said, “every person affected by this ailment is experiencing heat in some way or another.” Lalven sat up straighter. “I’m not sick!” “Jerryck,” Heston said. “Show them what you found.” “Whatever’s causing this is in the river.” Jerryck set the mug on the king’s desk. He snagged another pinch of the magic sugar and dropped it in. Except for Heston, everyone leaned in to the mug. Terrance asked, “What are we looking at here?” Jerryck waved a hand through the glowing colors. “This is the aura of the water in the mug. I made it so you can see it — temporarily.” “I thought pure water was supposed to be just blue,” Kellos said. “What magic did you use to get this effect?” “Just a little trick Old Heldavio taught me a long time ago.” Jerryck stretched the truth. Heldavio, the previous court magician, and Jerryck’s mentor, hadn’t taught him to link to an object that would melt, leaving an open end for the magic to latch onto something else. “What’s this thin layer of black?” Kellos ran his finger through it. “That’s what’s making people sick,” Jerryck said. “I haven’t yet identified exactly what it is. I’m fairly sure it’s elemental, fire probably. I do know that’s our contaminant.” “Magic might explain the variety of symptoms.” Kellos withdrew his hand from the mug. “Everyone is reacting to this differently.” Terrance stood straight. “You said they’re all experiencing heat?” Kellos nodded. “In varying forms. Hot tempers, heat rashes, searing headaches. Lalven isn’t the only one with heartburn. A lot of people are feverish, and more are sweating and flushed.” Lalven drew in breath and opened his mouth. Before he could speak, Terrance said, “How would something like this get in the river? Could there have been some sort of accident?” “You see this?” Jerryck stuck his finger in the navy blue layer. “That’s a concealing manipulation spell. Again, I’d have to run more tests, but it’s likely what we call a chameleon. It appears to take on the aura of whatever it’s in, to cover what it’s hiding.” “Not an accident,” Heston said. “I’ll collect information from upstream, find out if this was put directly into the main body, or if it’s feeding and from a tributary river.” Lalven sank into his chair and went back to rubbing his chest. “We need to get the rest of the core staff in here and plan damage control.” “I already sent for them,” Heston said. “We can’t have this here when the Shontese delegation arrives.” Chamberlain Malk leaned back from the desk and drummed of the arm of his chair with his fingertips. “Jerryck, how long before you can clear it out?” “I don’t think I can,” Jerryck said. “I haven’t definitively identified it. I can barely even isolate it. We’ll have to wait it out.” “We can’t wait it out.” Malk stopped drumming and gripped his chair. “This delegation is headed up by the grandnephew of their prince. If word gets back to them, if they even think he could be in any kind of danger from this…” “He’s still a couple weeks away,” Terrance said. “We’ll deal with that situation if and when it becomes a problem.” “I’d worry more about the local populace and the Brendish nobles.” Lalven stood and paced. “We’ll need a cover story. If anyone thinks this is some form of sabotage, they’ll cry for blood before asking who’s guilty. Also, you may need to put tight controls on all consumable liquids to prevent merchants from price gouging.” “Heston, get your searches started,” Terrance said. “Then come back as soon as you can. We’ll need you for planning control. Malk, start coming up with contingency plans regarding the Shontese delegation. Jerryck, if you can’t clear the water, I want it monitored. Test it three times daily until it’s clear. Kellos, do you need Jerryck’s help caring for the ill?” “We’re overwhelmed,” Kellos said. “At least half the patients prefer a magician over a medic, since one’s available.” “Then, Jerryck, you’re dismissed to assist him, just remember — everyone remember,” he may have addressed everyone, but he stared right at Jerryck. “Outside this room, we put up a good appearance. Act as if everything is under control. Go about your daily activities and routines as best as the situation allows. No one says anything about magic tainting the water.”

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