The interview complete, Alaric found himself quick marched to a different suite, as promised. As best he could tell, it was far from his former rooms. Probably in case he had left any other waiting spells. Which he probably should have done.
Hindsight and all that.
Aside from not having a hole in the bath wall and having two statues flanking the inside of the door, the suite was almost identical to his old one. Though it looked like his captors not only took the pens and sharp things, but most of the furnishings as well. Where the other suite was the epitome of understated opulence, this set was the poster child for extreme minimalism.
For the next six meals, which he took to be three days, Alaric tried to appear resigned to his captivity. Inside, though, he studied the wards and other spells woven around the rooms as best he could. Most were done in the unfamiliar silver, but a few blue strands of energy wove through the rest.
Magic—whether wizardry, sorcery, or this dragon-priest—was about more than sources of power, though. It relied heavily on patterns, and while the specific pattern for every spell was unique, they did all hold a base framework depending on the type of spell. Unraveling, or finding a soft spot in, an unknown spell could be done by beginning with the foundational framework the caster hung it on. The masters at the Green Tower, the tower of earth sorcerers on the Island, taught that the frameworks were integral to all magic, transcending culture, era, type of sorcery, or ideology.
If that was the case, then Alaric felt he should be able to figure out how many spells, and of what type, were in place around the suite.
By his fourth meal, he believed he had distinguished around a dozen different spells in place. Most, he tentatively classified as containment wards, meant to prevent his escape or outside communication. The rest were ones he was more confident to identify as detection and knowledge based. The frameworks were, at their core, identical to the patterns he had internalized as a student and regularly used without conscious thought. The details on both sets were tangled and strange, but he felt he could at least begin looking for cracks and mistakes.
Shortly after his sixth incarcerated meal, Alaric thought he had a good handle on what the detection spells were supposed to do. The details were a bit different, but enough was familiar to get the gist of the spell, like, he thought, knowing Spanish and hearing someone speak Portuguese. The trick would be to keep from falling for the false cognates, the things that seemed to same but were not.
Exhausted, he collapsed on the expansive mattress that night with a sense of mingled accomplishment, hope, and caution.
He woke the next morning to find a young woman in the ivory priests’ robes sampling his simple breakfast in the sitting room.
Her bob of silvery hair shimmered in the room’s ambient light as she turned at the sound of his door.
Alaric felt that he was more concerned than she was by his half-dressed state. Since he hadn’t seen a servant or priest in days, he had intended to stroll across the sitting room to the bath. Instead, he made a rapid u-turn and tossed on his, slightly stale, shirt.
Once he returned to the main room, he saw the young priest sitting composed and, apparently fully engrossed in watching a wall.
“Nica, sorry,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting . . . well, anyone. Uh, to what do I, er, owe the pleasure?”
“The Agrum wished you to know that he has decided to extend your stay indefinitely,” she gave a perfunctory nod, instead of a bow. “He says you cannot be trusted to be allowed to leave before the Great Ones awaken. And he has decided not to awaken the Great Ones until the scouts he sent out yesterday return with enough news and information.”
She rose to leave, without looking at him.
“Nica, wait. Look, I’m sorry things didn’t go as expected.”
“No. You are not.”
“You’re right. I’m not, really. Because if things went to the expectations of Jdal, there’d be another Great War all over again. My people have millennia of stories, they’d never accept dragon overlords again. And the dragons you keep, serve, would try to take over again and set humanity back more than six thousand years.”
“You let Agrum Jdal, and me, think you were one of our kin and that the Great Ones left.”
“True enough. Admittedly, given my current situation . . . it seems like that was a good idea at the time.”
“You do not know that there would be another war. It could be different.”
“My people have millennia of stories and legends revolving around tyrannical, evil dragon overlords. They would never trust your dragons. And if Jdal wakes your dragons, what will they expect? They’ll expect the world to be just like it was, or they’ll try to make it that way. Too much has changed for that. And if anything in our tales of the Great War is true, I doubt they’d accept being equals or second to humans or sorcerers. I mean, they built temples to their own divinity to control humans before.”
Nica paused, her hand on the door.
As it faded, she shook her head and walked out.
The door rematerialized in her wake mere heartbeats later.