Daybreak. Roween lifted her head, saw Conley, a different
Conley, the Conley she'd first met on a wet Summer's day in Svala. Hair
sun-bright blonde, her face colours rich, subdued - and those eyes, those
"What do you think, Ro?" she asked. "If I'm going to destroy
magic, I want to be at my best while I do it."
Roween just gazed. "I'd forgotten how, how you looked..."
"My little vanity, last time, promise." She smiled; it didn't
seem to fit the old conceit of the makeover image.
Roween sat up, awkward. "You know that your poor eyesight
will return, don't you? You won't ever be able to correct it."
"I'll manage," she replied, cheerful. "Just won't have to look at
anything more than a couple of paces away, that's all."
* * *
Porett determined that he was standing directly above the
nearest copy of his thesis. He'd noticed earlier that there were bottle-glass
windows and iron ventilation gratings built into the cobbled streets; so, the
library was in a vault. But where was its entrance? He could use his blow
shots to try blast a way in, but that would be prohibitively noisy...
Maybe he should snatch an Elet, use truth shots; show a book,
ask directions with a few hand signals, might work. He'd keep that as an
option, next Elet he saw.
He walked over to where he'd tied his horse. What artefacts did
he still have with him that might be of use? The com-3, his sound-set, a
flash thrower, various shots. Ah. See-through lenses. If he put two in one
eye, that might extend the range so he could see the passageways
underground, follow them to the entrance. It'd hurt, but not intolerably.
He allowed himself a smile, stroked his chin. No beard, he'd
had to shave it off.
* * *
"So how long will this take?" Conley was nervous, couldn't
hide it. Excited?
"Hard to say, this few books. No more than a couple of hours,
"You mean I have to stay in there alone for two hours?"
Roween took her arm, led her towards the bound-book room.
"I'll only be down the corridor outside, we can talk. You must lock the
door, though, slide the key underneath. The scent of the books will become
unbearable, has to or your reflex won't cut. You'll want to escape, to leave
the room, to get away somehow even if just for a moment, but it's essential
you stay, force your reflex to emerge."
"Two hours, locked in a stifling room..."
"Well, make a few last calls on a comsphere, then - or you
could always read a book!" Jest, lighten her up.
Conley looked at her right hand. "I'm shaking too much to read
anything... Hot, I wish I had an Evergreen, calm me down."
"You probably wouldn't like the smell now, they're none too
pleasant." She stopped walking. "I can't go any closer than this."
Conley blew, hesitated. "Can I wait here for a minute or so, get
used to the idea?"
"If it helps."
She considered a moment longer, grinned. "No, may as well
get it over with. Wish me luck!" She turned, strode slowly to the door.
"Good luck, Con." And forgive me.
* * *
The entrance was blocked. Tables, benches, bookshelves, lying
where they'd been dragged, pushed. Amateurish work, though. Might take
a man a few hours to clear on his own, but Porett was a man with a horse.
* * *
Roween could feel the books and comspheres lingering at the
edge of her perception. She sifted through the multitude of scents,
sharpening her sense of magic, exercising it. She had to be able to
concentrate, had to prepare herself, be ready for the moment when
Conley's reflex burst through.
"Hot, I see what you mean, these books sort of niggle at you,"
echoed a voice down the corridor.
"Oh, it gets much worse than that, you wait," shouted back.
"But when it happens, when you drive out all local magic, it's so joyous, so
profound, you won't have experienced anything like it..."
"I'll throw a few light-primes, I think, steady my hand up. I
don't want to make any mistakes when I finally use true magic."
"Good idea." If it keeps you quiet.
* * *
Porett found his thesis in a room full of other works on magic.
No sign of Conley or her pal, though. He listened intently, his sound-set
amplifying every noise that whispered through the dungeon. Footsteps,
distant, and - what was that? He felt a surge of glee. Voices: women's
* * *
Roween was leaning crouched against the wall now, holding her
knees, head down. All her attention was directed to the detection of magic,
to absorbing the sickly headiness that came from the bound-book room,
waiting, agonised, for that flash of elation that would change the world
forever. Ten, fifteen minutes longer? She had to keep calm, be ready...
Another source! She became aware of it suddenly, like it tugged
for recognition. Hard to tell its nature, but it was approaching, slow,
cautious. Her first thoughts concerned her reflex - if it fired from here,
she'd blank everything in with Conley. She had to move, get far enough
away for safety!
Rolling to her feet, she looked back once at the door of the
bound-book room, warily. Then, she set off down the corridor, towards the
Round the corner was an Eletic woman. Roween halted, heart
pounding painfully in her chest. Protocol, she's probably looking for
something. "Laegiala laeRoa-iin."
She smiled, shook her head.
"Hua caigiala na?"
The other woman kept on walking. "So you're Roween.
Where's Conley?" A man's voice.
"Is - Porett?" My god! "Stay where you are. You know what I
"Oh, I know exactly what you can do," grim, "I've suffered
unimaginable torment because of it! You can undo magic. But that isn't
going to help you here, is it? Because frankly, Roween, I'm bigger than
you, stronger than you, faster than you, and better armed than you." He
rested his hand on the hilt of the Eletic sword slung from his belt. "Now
take me to Conley."
Roween shrank back. "No - it's too late, you can't stop her."
Porett grabbed her arm before she could react, pulled her
towards him, then pushed her full force against the wall. There was a
strange-sounding click as the back of her head struck the granite; he let go,
watched her crumple to the floor.
Down the passage, he could hear moaning; Conley, it had to be!
He set off, running, turned the bend and saw a lamp-lit door at the end. So
that's where she -
"Porett!" boomed a voice.
He stumbled to a halt, turned, looked back round the corner,
saw a figure approaching. "I ought to check tags more often," grinned.
"So: are you with me or against me?"
"I'm going to kill you."
Porett laughed as Sennary stepped closer. "Followed me, did
you?" He began gesturing.
"No, too many roads to search for tracks. I made for the hill,
figured it and the library both had to be central; found a horse, entrance,
bookshelves, knew this was the place." He continued to advance, past the
rags that were Roween, eyes on Porett's hand.
"Suppose you do kill me? I'll still live on! The com-3 is
indestructible: you can't crush it, splinter it, even a diamond-tipped drill
wouldn't - "
"Hell!" Sennary flicked a knife from his wristband, slit the
buttons on his point armour, ripped it off his back an instant before it
splashed into flames.
Porett shrugged. "You know your spells... But now you have
no armour, whereas I'm still wearing mine." He reached inside his coat.
Sennary advanced, about four paces away.
Down the corridor, Conley was whimpering, sobbing.
Sennary's eyes narrowed. "You didn't just give me point
armour..." He drew his sword, the breaking sword, leapt forward, swung it
round, fast, low. Porett froze with the desperate realisation of what it was,
what it would do, tried to jump back, too slow, it clipped his leg.
Nine discharges: one death.
Sennary stood over the body, turned it face-up. There was a
small vial its right hand, death-gripped tight: Porett could have dropped it
open, deliberately hadn't?
Sennary left it, sheathed his sword.
Behind, he heard movement, whining, like someone brought to
consciousness with smelling salts. He turned.
"Well," she said, lurching to her feet, "you've found us. What
are you going to do?"
His eyes widened at the horror of her. "Roween? Are you
alright? I thought he'd..."
There was blood on her hand, more running down her neck.
"What do you care? You've succeeded, haven't you? Conley doesn't know
what the life she's doing; you've saved magic."
"What? No, Roween, you've got it wrong, I want magic to go
as much as you do!"
She limped towards him, holding the back of her head. "Do you
mean that?" For a moment, she looked hopeful, then it dropped. "Liar!
You're Justan's man! You've killed Porett, now you're going to kill me,
take Conley back to Ansle."
"Ansle's dead, Nolley did for him. Hot, Roween, you're hurt
real bad..." He stepped towards her.
"Keep away!" she screamed.
He faltered at her sudden intensity. "But if you don't get that
stitched - "
"Stay where you are!" She winced, touched her wound. "If
you're true, you'll let me pass, go away someplace, far, just out of here."
"You're in no state to - "
"There isn't time! Conley's nearly - get back!"
He'd taken another step forward. "Here, let me look at that
"Please, no, not now, not now!"
"Don't be so - "
She drove her dagger into his chest. There was a brief moment
when he stared at it, like it was someone else she'd stabbed, then he fell to
his knees, swaying.
"Why?" croaked through searing pain.
"Because you love Conley," bitter, untrue.
Sennary twisted a smile. "You silly..." He lurched to one side,
slumped against the wall.
Moments later, the corridor began to shudder. Roween sank
beside Sennary, knees squelching in his blood, as the sudden, sickening
stench of sorcery hit her mind. A wallshaker? But who? And the timing?
So hard to think, so dizzy, can't let it kick my... But she could
still feel another source, immense, powerful, close by. Porett's com-3! She
crawled to his body, grimacing with the effort of holding onto her reflex,
head awhirl with distorted impressions, redness, pain, a convulsing world,
The sphere was in a pouch, she didn't have to search, could feel
it burning her senses near to ignition. She loosened the laces, scooped it
out, but was clashed onto her face as the shaker quaked to a higher degree.
The image in the comsphere was speaking to her. "Do it, damn
you! Before he brings down the walls and dooms me here forever!"
"Wh-who?" She tried to move as the library thundered about
her, tasted blood in her mouth, a lip gash, swelling,
"Giqus! We figured everything, in seconds this shaker will
force you to cut your anti, wash out the kit you've stashed to spark
Conley. I'll be killed, but I'm killed already, and -"
Con! She staggered up, hurled the com-3 away down the
corridor, lessened the squeeze on her mind.
Conley was crying, beating at the door. Roween's swirling
thoughts suddenly focused. Gods, she's about to get it! She ran towards the
pitiful wails, fearful, the rumbling masonry, injuries, love, murder
forgotten. She'll pulse, I have to be ready, have to prepare, have to be
She stopped, out of breath, felt the oppression of the sealed
spellbooks. Not yet, I have to be ready, ready with the spell, ready with the
The world seemed to stop. Roween's mind filled with terrible
images - of flimsy dams bursting death, of buildings tumbling, of limbs
withering to meat, of a million light-sets turning as one to darkness. For
love, what am I about to do?
Conley screamed in torment.
The wash of counter-magic buoyed Roween with the most
glorious sensation she'd ever felt...
Magic ceased to be.
* * *
Roween awoke, unsure how long she'd been out. The lump at
the back of her head was raging throbs, and she felt so weak, so sick.
Conley was wailing from inside the bound-book room.
"Con, are you alright?" She stood, wobbly, made her way
towards the door.
"Ro? Oh Ro, let me out, please, Ro..."
She swallowed. "Sorry, Con, I can't do that."
Did she hear? "I'm dizzy, real dizzy, I don't feel well. There
was this rush of pleasure, beauteous, but it was too much, I passed out."
She sobbed. "I failed you, Ro, I'm sorry. I must have dreamed..."
"Con, I want you to understand, I - " Damn! I can't just leave
her in there! "Wait, I'll get the key." She picked it up from where Conley
had pushed it, turned it in the lock.
Conley was lying on the floor, the good Conley, the decent one,
not the spoilt, arrogant Conley who she'd plotted to use, to humble, to
"I'm sorry, Ro, I muffed it." She pulled herself to her knees.
"It was too strong, the reflex, I couldn't ride it." She peered at Roween,
fuzzily. "Hot, Ro, what happened to you?"
"Don't worry, Con," said through tears, "you did enough. I
cast the final spell myself, magic's gone forever."
"You cast it, Ro? But I thought you..?" She felt so giddy.
"I was always going to cast it, Con, it's what I planned for. I
spent four years working up to it, thinking about it, gearing myself for it. I
didn't know the kind of person you'd turn out to be, Con, I thought you'd
be, well, like you were at first. I had to cast it myself, don't you see? I
couldn't trust it to you, I had to be sure, had to cast it myself, had to."
Conley tried to stand, fell back onto her hands. "Gods, I feel so
"The true magic spell, the one to end it all, I couldn't know
how it would smell, so I had to pick a trigger that would definitely be
good, lessen the effect if the other was bad, my own reflex might kill it. So
I chose as my trigger the best smell I knew, a wipe reflex."
Conley didn't say anything, just tried to stand.
Roween offered her a hand, hauled her up. "Only I needn't
have worried: when I did cast the final spell it was divine, so clear, pure,
but strong, too strong to bear, it stunned us. It wasn't your reflex did that,
it was my spell."
Conley had difficulty standing. "I wanted to keep my promise,
Ro, I wanted to fix your eyes. I was going to, when I had the power,
before I cast out magic, but I was exhausted, I couldn't do it, I just fainted,
and now magic's gone and I've let you down..."
"Con, Con, you did all you had to. I set you up, I didn't have
any choice, do you understand? I needed to scent antimagic, a first use,
unfettered, maximum strength. Anyone's would have done, but I wanted to
use yours, because" life, it sounds so hollow, "you stole my ideas." She
knuckled a tearful eye. "Please, Con, forgive me, I had to do it, there was
no other way..."
Conley's eyes flared, wild, then suddenly lost all emotion,
immediate, like how Chenii-Imor did it. "What happened," she said, calm,
rational, "is that although the intensity of my reflex knocked me out, I still
obtained the power to use true magic. I applied it to destroy itself from
within a dream, while unconscious."
Roween felt strangely afraid, relaxed her supportive hold on
The one-time mage nodded, walked unsteadily down the