a novel of the Collegia Magica
The Soul Mirror
  by Carol Berg
Extract: Letter #1 (beginning page 17)

Jan 2011

    Dear Ani,
    I believe I've discovered some things to make you believe in sorcery at last. I'm posting them secretly, as the mages are so very strict about students working on enchantments that are "beyond one's level." Certainly they must consider almost everything of interest to be beyond my level as yet, and seem determined to keep it so. They forever find reasons to refuse me the examinations for adept's rank, though I've mastered work well beyond most third- and second-rank adepts already.
    But their pig-headedness shall not prevail. A few days ago, I was researching an essay, and the library hound, Adept Nidallo, refused as always to admit me to the vault where they keep all the oldest books. So I returned after hours and let myself in.
     Hush your scolding, elder sister! Were it not for picklock magic, I'd have learned nothing these six years! Everything of interest is kept in the vault.
    Someone had been there before me and left a book open on the worktable. It was one of an odd collection usually stuffed in a corner because no one has been able to read them since the Blood Wars - not even Dullfish Duplais when he was librarian. Though the bindings are worn and the books are spellbound, they bear no titles, and all their pages are blank. Seeing one left open pricked my curiosity. If someone else at Seravain had learned to make something of them, I could too. So I absconded with one from the stack.
    Over the next few days, I dabbled with some encryption spells Adept Guerin and I had been working on - and there it was, A Discourse on Gautieri Personal Protections. After a few days, I traded that book for another and then another. Ani, these books are a revelation!
    The Gautieri methods seem to rely more upon innate power than exact balancing of the divine elements, and on reasoning and desired results instead of the specific formulas and endless memorizing that pass for learning here. One book called The Gautieri Invariants of Dimensional Mind and Spirit describes enchantments I've never heard of anywhere.
    I've used these books to make three marvels especially for you, because I do want you to understand why I stay here instead of coming home to be with you. If I learn enough, I might be able to help Mama or set Ambrose free of the blighted Spindle. I know the power is in me.
    So. Your gifts. The silver bead in the ring is a courret, a wardstone. It will glow blue if you're in danger from spellwork, red if you're threatened by fire, and black if poison is within arm's reach. The book lists many more variations of the ward, but they are devilish complicated, and I just didn't have time. It's unlikely a volcano is going to pop up at Montclaire any time soon! You're not likely to be poisoned either, but the poison ward was the easiest to work and the easiest to test.
    I am not going to tell you exactly what the powder in the case will do, but only say that you could run naked through Vernase, snatch a chocolate comfit from the little box beside Mistress Constanza's couch, and no one would ever know! Shocking, yes? Mix a pinch of the powder in two spoonfuls of wine. Make sure you're alone, and taste it only in the smallest amounts. Each drop prolongs the effects for about a quarter hour. The keyword is aventura.
    The pendants are the most amazing. They're called nireals or soul mirrors. One is mine, a gift to you, and one is for you to bind and send back. Hold mine tight in your hand, speak the keyword, soror deliria, and you'll see what it does. To complete your own for me, you must focus all your mind and spirit on it, then think of all the things you love best in the world - and only those. Once you feel the magic open to you—and you certainly will - say the word you wish to key the spell - in Aljyssian, remember! Send me your pendant along with the keyword you’ve chosen.
     You have always been the strongest of us, Ani, and the cleverest, and the wisest - the rock that will hold while the rest of us wander. But you mustn't hide yourself away at Montclaire forever. Perhaps my little gifts will make you bold enough to venture out.
    All my love,

    She had stuffed the red leather packet with scraps of old linen. Nestled in the soft folds was a gold ring, fashioned in the likeness of a falcon’s head. A silver bead had been fitted as the bird's eye. The packet’s weight derived from a palm-sized round case made of ivory, filled with a coarse gray powder. The nireals must be the two thumb-sized oval pendants of untarnished silver. Pretty trinkets. It was only the thought of magic working that left me queasy. Smoke and mirrors and lies.
    The letter revealed no hint of the anxiety her wizardly instructor had described. I read on into the second page, a jumble of snippets scrawled in different inks.

    I've had no occasion to post this, as Mage Bourrier has stuck me on the restriction list again for demonstrating that his "talking door" could be made wholly inarticulate by applying a rasp to the hinges, and silenced altogether with a healthy dollop of grease. As usual, I am named insolent and self aggrandizing. Ah, but not stupid at least!
    Last night, I sneaked into the vault to exchange the Invariants book and, to my horror, charged straight into Chancellor Kajetan, who had chosen that particular night to wholly rearrange the vault collection. Of course he threatened to dismiss me from Seravain for lock-picking and being where I wasn't supposed to be in the middle of the night. But I convinced him that Librarian Nidallo detests me and has spitefully refused to allow me into the vault to research my essay. I took the occasion to explain how frustrated I am with my tutors' excuses, and how I am determined to sit for my adept's examinations this season. I knocked over a stack of books, and in all the distraction, managed to return the Gautieri volume without him noticing.
    The old crock is very kind, and whenever he speaks on the subjects of sorcery and history and destiny, I go all gooseflesh. He touches a kindred part of my soul, the same that drives me to all this trouble. I do so wish you could speak with him. Perhaps then you would understand my determination.
     Anyway, Kajetan promised to instruct Nidallo to supervise my work in the vault, which, of course, is not at all what I want. To spite them both, I pilfered another book from the "Gautieri stack," the last one I've not read, and smuggled it out in my shift. This one has visible script. Unfortunately its wickedly complicated encryption has resisted my best efforts. I'm thinking it isn't from the same collection after all.

    Today Chancellor Kajetan stopped me in the yard. He has banished Bourrier the Toad! Master Charlot, the new vice-chancellor, whose head is perfectly round, by the way, is to be my principal tutor, and he is ordered to schedule my third level examinations. Huzzah! Now I'm off for one more joust with this useless book, then return it before Charlot the Prig finds an excuse to hold me back. A wizardly kind friend has agreed to post this letter for me.

    Do not breathe a word about these books! For your life, Ani! Do not trust ANYONE. I've set events in motion. Heed both mind and heart to understand.


Copyright © Carol Berg, 2011

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