Dawn found Tobias groaning on his camp bed as a stray beam of light found his closed eyes with laser-like precision. He had half a mind to roll over and avoid waking, but the knowledge that his tent had a gap would gnaw at his mind and hold sleep at bay.
Besides which, he heard the others moving around outside already. There were at least two, trying to be quiet.
With a final groan, Tobias rolled to a sitting position, memories of a restrained carouse coming back with a mild headache born of unaccustomed alcohol and the unfamiliar night noises to the woods. There’d been no excessive drinking, but he wasn’t used to much in the first place.
A simple piece of sorcery took care of the headache. Most students learned that one, unofficially, during their first term at the Tower.
Then he remembered that the tent lacked a shower. Fortunately, there were a couple other, simple, spells that had the same effect, even if they were less satisfying.
Clean, if not refreshed, and awake, if only in name, Tobias caught the mingled scents of tea and coffee drifting in with the sun. The allure of a hot drink and true wakefulness was too strong to resist.
He found both Coven witches and Gavin stirring around the fire. Apparently they’d decided to fully embrace “roughing it” for the time. Or maybe the Coven tents weren’t as well equipped as the Tower’s.
That thought stopped as Shannon emerged, looking as grumpy as he felt. She settled next to Gavin and accepted a cup. Tobias took his own place and filled a mottled blue and white metal mug with some of the tea. the steam rising into the brisk morning air promised alertness, or some facsimile thereof.
All passed in silence for a few minutes, at least until the cups were half empty. The n Gavin said something Tobias didn’t catch.
Shannon shook her head, “The Order enforced an early morning, strict regimen. Hated it, but old habits are hard to break.”
Tobias caught both young women glance her way, distrust suddenly clear in two pairs of eyes. It faded in a second, hidden, but that was the moment Tobias’s foggy brain needed for understanding. As the caffeine kicked in, he recalled the Coven and Order were philosophical opposites. They’d fought for centuries. He’d been cloistered long enough to almost forget what was otherwise common knowledge. At the Tower, there were no factions. Joining the faculty or staff meant severing all faction ties, though the early programming of youth obviously survived to some degree.
Silence prevailed as Oifa joined them and everyone dug into a quick breakfast.
Tobias nodded to Oifa as everyone wrapped up. She returned the gesture and took Cierra aside. they’d talked the previous night, and agreed Gavin should join the locals on their patrol. He decided Oifa would be better to ask them, given the Coven’s mostly female membership.
Once she was done, Tobias’s attention turned to Alyce.
“We’d like to have as little impact as possible,” he said. “If you’d like to continue your usual routine, we’ll try to stay out of the way.”
“We really don’t have much to do, just a daily hike around the perimeter,” Alyce said, “and reports to the elders of our coven. It’s, honestly, been really boring.”
Tobias let out a small chuckle, “I can imagine. Before I left for the Tower, my master had me spend weeks staring at two copies of a book, looking for minute differences. Nearly drove me mad. That might have been the point, come to think of it.”
When no response came, he figured it was a generational thing and turned back to the Tower people.
Oifa shrugged, “I don’t think alchemy’s going to be much use here, not without a forge or furnace, so I’ll be the theory person. I think some sorcery tests should help figure out a couple things.”
Tobias nodded, “I couldn’t see any obvious signs of cryptomancy, but there could be something near the center.”
“No obvious gems either,” Shannon said, “But it would be easy to bury some and still get the effect. A few things come to mind.”
“So figure out what, first,” he said, “Oifa’s on that. We can start drawing up some kind of containment plan. Gavin, see about a feel for the lay of the land, unless you have any other ideas.”
“I think it would be best to stick together,” Gavin opined, “at least until I’ve had time to assess the situation and possible threats.”
“Granted,” Tobias said, “But, I’d like to have something to report when, if, the Headmaster gets in touch so he doesn’t think we’re just messing around out here.”