Seeking the Salamander

A Codex Arcanum Case Study

by Euphemia Whitmore with Matt Harry

A NOTE TO READERS:

While this is a standalone story, it is best read after the first book in the Codex Arcanum series, Sorcery for Beginners, and before the second book in the series, Cryptozoology for Beginners. Like those books, these case files are intended to teach young spell casters about the arcane arts by presenting the absolutely true tales of other magicians-in-training. To make the lessons more engaging, factual occurrences have been adapted into an exciting narrative format.  

By reading onward, you are agreeing to protect the information contained herein. To fight for the continued existence of sorcery and any related arcane matters. To keep all magical artifacts, creatures, and locations out of the hands of our enemies. If you are not ready for such responsibility, please read no further.

Still here?

Then let us proceed to our first case file.

CHAPTER ONE – THE LADY AND THE LAKE

This’ll be so easy, the candidate thought to herself.

She stood in a copse of snow-dusted pine trees, looking down upon a frozen lake. Its teal-colored surface was mottled by icy white cracks and ringed by more frosted pines. The western shore was protected by two mountain peaks forming a V-shaped pass, while the eastern end was crowned with an expensive resort hotel. From her research, the candidate knew the entire surface area of the lake was just under a full kilometer. As it was 6 o’clock on an evening in late January, the sky was pitch black. The only illumination came from the lights of the hotel reflecting off the ice. By any measure, Lake Louise was a serene example of Earth’s natural beauty. 

The candidate lifted a battered pair of military-beige Steiner binoculars to her eyes, scanning the dimly lit frozen lake. She was sixteen years of age and uncommonly attractive, with skin the color of a burnished acorn and shiny hair of ebony. One side of her scalp was shaved, giving her a tough aspect that matched her demeanor. She wore a scuffed black leather jacket with a First Nations eagle crest painted on the back and well-worn black leather pants. An olive green canvas messenger bag was slung over one shoulder. She lowered the binoculars, revealing her most striking feature — pale gray irises encircled by a ring of dark blue.

Coincidentally, this was also her name — Jacinda Greyeyes. The surname was First Nations Flying Dust Cree, but her given name had come from a girl whom Jacinda’s mother had known in high school, and thought was particularly beautiful. Jacinda hated her forename, instructing anyone she met to call her Jace.

She again scanned the lake. It appeared to be devoid of any traps or protective enchantments. But after the experiences she’d had over the last two months, Jacinda had learned not to trust appearances. She was confident she had lost the mercenaries that had trailed her from Meadow Lake, but they could still be surveilling her by drone or even satellite. She also knew what was supposedly hidden beneath the lake’s frozen surface, which made her doubly suspicious of the quiet setting. Better to be safe than seen, she told herself.

Jacinda scooped a handful of fresh snow off the ground and stuffed it into her mouth. The shock of cold was startling, but she let it melt on her tongue. Then she took off her leather gloves and moved her hands and fingers in a complicated fashion. She spun her body once and spit the melted snow on to her bare palms. Then she clapped her hands over her head and spoke a single word in Icelandic: 

Osýnileika.

The young woman winked out of sight. Her bootprints could still be seen in the snow as she made her way down the shore and out on to the frozen lake, as could her disembodied gloves, but at least her enchantment prevented her from being spotted by some nighttime cross-country skiing enthusiast or worse, a Euclidean. 

Once she was in the middle of the lake, Jacinda removed a silver lighter from her jacket pocket. She clicked it open and the little flame appeared, dancing in mid-air like a will o’ the wisp. The candidate murmured a few words in Latvian then blew gently on the flame. 

A golden sphere of light expanded outward, passing through the frozen surface of Lake Louise, traveling through the trees lining the shore, and even entering the resort hotel at the far eastern end. None of the guests noticed its presence as it passed through their bodies, and indeed the only result of her spell was that two items began to glow with a golden light. One was a paperback book jutting from her messenger bag, which Jacinda had expected. The other was a thin, one-and-a-half meter long object buried about twenty-five meters beneath the surface of the frozen lake. 

Casting off her invisibility spell, the candidate ran to the spot above the glowing object, reaching it just as the golden light faded from it and the book she carried. Jacinda dropped to her knees, brushing loose snow from the icy lake until she had cleared a space about three meters round. She fumbled a stack of notebook papers from her bag, again checking her surroundings to make sure she wasn’t being watched. 

Spreading her papers across the ice, the candidate began mumbling words in Norwegian. She did this over and over, attempting to get her pronunciation to be the same every time. She clicked open a wood-handled Canadian Army folding knife, using its sharpened tip to carve a series of runes into the ice. She frequently referred back to the notebook papers as she did so. 

When finished, she clicked the knife closed and stood. There was no use in trying to hide any longer. If someone was watching her or if anyone happened to be facing the lake, they wouldn’t miss what occurred next. Once the spell was completed, Jacinda would have to move quickly.

She exhaled, then stretched her gloved hands over the frozen lake. Then she spoke calmly and clearly in Norwegian: “Jeg ønsker ydmyk inngang, tak.”

Nothing happened. The candidate repeated her spell twice more, trying to capture the musical accent she’d heard the native Norwegian speakers use in the Internet videos she’d watched. She also spoke louder, in case the object was too deep to hear her. Which was silly, since the thing she sought didn’t have ears. But during her brief exposure to sorcery, Jacinda had learned that it never hurt for a spell caster to cover her bases. 

Still, there was no response. She was about to check her pronunciation online when the rune marks she’d carved into the ice began to glow blue. There was a deep rumbling beneath her and the surface of the lake cracked.

Carved columns of teal-colored ice rose from the frozen water, forming a glittering structure that rose several stories above her. It had the general shape of a thousand-year-old stave church, only this was constructed from translucent ice instead of wood. The ends of the roof beams were carved into a variety of snarling animal heads — boar, dragon, troll, and several others Jacinda couldn’t place. They all looked fairly menacing. 

Finally the great cathedral of ice came to a stop. Its detailed front doors, adorned with finely-carved runes and interwoven vine patterns, swung silently inward. 

It wanted her to enter.

Even easier than expected, the candidate thought smugly. She took a flashlight from her messenger bag and clicked it on. Then she stepped inside. 

The moment she crossed the threshold, all the background sounds she’d heard on the lake ceased. Gone was the gusting of wind across the frozen ice, the rustling of pine tree branches, the complaints of the occasional crow. All that remained was the blanket of quiet such a sacred, magical building demanded. Even her own breathing sounded loud and disrespectful. But when Jacinda saw the centerpiece of the ice cathedral, her breath stopped altogether. 

A carved statue of ice at least ten meters high loomed above her. The statue depicted a snarling misshapen giant, its left hand outstretched as if to snatch anyone who came too close. Within its chest gleamed the only object in the cathedral not made of ice — a silver broadsword. A channel of ruby was inlaid down the center of the blade and it was fitted with a hilt and pommel of blue ice. The name ‘Jokulsnaut’ was etched on the blade in runes. One only had to look at the sword to realize it was magical. 

Jacinda spotted a raised block at the base of the statue and bent to inspect it. There was a runic inscription carved into ice, which she quickly translated with the help of an app on her mobile phone. It read:

Here lies Jokulsnaut. With it I slew the giant Geirröd. Here let it rest until a worthy hand may wield it. Illugi, brother of Grettir the Strong.

Jokulsnaut. The sword inside the ice statue was indeed the magical item she’d come nearly 900 kilometers to seek. Now there was only the question of how to get it free. It was possible there were defensive spells laid around it, but Jacinda doubted it. For one, they’d have been visible when she cast her Spell to Detect Magic. For another, all the research she’d done on the sword had convinced her it had plenty of its own built-in protection.

And so she removed her leather gloves and formed a few rune-shapes with her fingers. “Ignis,” she commanded. Two purple fireballs blossomed in each of her palms. She pressed her hands to the statue of the ice giant, breathing a sigh of relief when it began to melt without releasing any poison gases or springing to life. 

Within moments she had melted down half of the statue, exposing the ruby-inlaid broadsword. She cast off the magic fire spell and reached her right hand toward Jokulsnaut’s icy hilt. Then she thought better of it and switched to her left hand. If she was going to lose a limb, she preferred it to be her less dominant one. Wincing, she tapped the sword with her index finger. It was cold, but that was all. She grabbed it with her hand and easily pulled it free. 

There were no explosions, no ice spells, no lightning bolts from the sky. Apparently she was worthy enough to claim the magic weapon after all.

“Good job, kid,” spoke a metallic voice from outside the ice cathedral. “Now turn around slowly and drop the sword.”

Euclideans, Jacinda thought, cursing at herself in Cree. I should have cast a Spell of Protection before coming in here. 

She turned, more out of a desire to see her opponents rather than follow their orders. The sword remained clutched in her left hand, perfectly balanced and lightweight despite its size. Three mercenaries stood just inside the entrance of the ice cathedral, wearing black military fatigues and holding M5 assault rifles. Each of them sported some sort of technological body enhancement. One had a bionic right hand, while another stood on carbon-fiber prosthetic blades. But the man in front was the most striking, as his entire lower jaw was composed of high-tech stainless steel. The replacement part stood out in bright contrast to his dark brown skin and shaved head.

“You guys made it all the way across Alberta today?” Jacinda said in faux appreciation. “Musta been a long drive, eh?”

“We have a helicopter,” the steel-jawed Euclidean said, his words sounding as if they were issuing from a tin can. “Now no more chit-chat. Give us the sword and you can go.”

The other two mercenaries clicked off the safeties on their guns, the sound almost as loud in the quiet cathedral as if they’d pulled the trigger. Jacinda’s heart rate increased, but she tried to keep her voice steady: “What are a bunch a cyborgs gonna do with some old sword? Looks like you’re already covered in the weapons department.”

“We both know Jokulsnaut is more than just an ‘old sword,’” said Steeljaw. His flawless pronunciation of the Norwegian word indicated years of research on the subject. “Now set it down and back away.”    

“Okay, chief,” Jacinda replied. “But you should know it’s not nice to steal.” She plunged the tip of the broadsword into the ice and stepped back toward the melted statue. 

Steeljaw nodded toward his colleague with the bionic arm. The Euclidean transferred her rifle to her left hand and walked forward. Her prosthetic hand gripped the sword handle and she pulled it from the ice. She turned to give her leader a triumphant smile —

And Jokulsnaut burst into flames.    

Orange and red tongues of fire erupted from the blade, curling up the Euclidean’s bionic arm and setting her clothes ablaze. She tried to drop the sword but it seemed glued to her hand. The mercenary with the prosthetic legs ran over, trying to knock Jokulsnaut free with the butt of his gun, but the flames merely began to wrap around him as well. 

Only Steeljaw kept his wits. He plunged his hands into the curling tongues of fire, detaching his comrade’s prosthetic arm and letting it fall to the ice. As soon as the sword hit the surface of the frozen lake, the magical fire went out. 

The same was not true of the Euclideans’ smoldering clothes. The three of them rolled on the ice, scooping up snow and patting it all over themselves to put out the flames. Jacinda used this time to form a few rune shapes with her hands and step over the magical sword. 

“Sorry about that,” she said. “But I did warn you not to steal.”

She brought her hands together in a single clap. 

A massive crack of thunder erupted in the ice cathedral, smashing the walls of the structure outward and splintering the surface of the lake into a thousand shards. The Euclideans went flying backwards, their weapons spinning from their hands. They landed twenty meters away, struggling to find purchase on the slippery blocks of ice that now bobbed in the lake. 

Jacinda picked up Jokulsnaut, plucking off the bionic prosthesis as if it were nothing more than an errant leaf. She dropped the arm into the waters of Lake Louise, holstered the sword through her belt, and walked calmly back to shore. It would take her over eight hours to get home to the reserve, but after tonight’s victory she was thinking of treating herself to a night in a motel. 

“Top marks,” came a voice from the trees. The words had a refined, musical quality, like an ancient but well-maintained church bell. A woman stepped from the shadow of the pine trees. Her hair was silver and pinned above her head, but her age was difficult to determine. She carried herself with the poise and surety that came with decades of wisdom, but her sapphire blue eyes danced with youthful mischief behind her silver spectacles. Her clothes were similarly difficult to place — she wore an old-fashioned gray wool coat and ankle-length navy skirt, but on her the combination looked somehow timeless, even hip. 

Euphemia Whitmore smiled. “Your handling of the Euclidean interlopers was remarkably efficient. Would that all my candidates were so precise on their final examinations.”

“What can I say? You recruited the best.” 

The librarian arched an eyebrow. “Careful, Ms Greyeyes — pride, as they say, goeth before the fall.”

“Not if the prideful knows a Spell for Flight.” Jacinda replied. She pulled Jokulsnaut from her belt and ran a hand down the blade. “One magical artifact, as requested. So … all I have to do is hand this over and I’m a full-fledged sorcerer?”

“That is correct,” said Whitmore, holding out a well-manicured hand.

But something made Jacinda hesitate. “Two months I’ve been studying that book you gave me. I learned all the spells, avoided those Euclidean idiots, found the hidden ice cathedral, and now all I gotta do is hand over a sword?”

“I could simply take it if I chose to,” the librarian said, her voice suddenly as cold as the icy lake behind them.  

“Bring it on, then,” Jacinda said, tucking the broadsword back into her belt. “‘Cause it’s that or let me make sure you put it someplace safe.”

Whitmore’s eyes narrowed. Her elegant fingers sliced through the air, forming a blur of runes and glowing with purple energy. Jacinda responded with movements of her own. The older woman extended a glowing hand to attack —

But when Jacinda held her ground, Whitmore let the spell dissipate. The older woman broke into a genuine smile. “Again, top marks. Never trust easily, even when one appears to be on your side. It would appear your pride is slightly warranted, Ms. Greyeyes. Would you like to join me for tea in the Codex Arcanum? We have much to discuss.”

CHAPTER TWO – A LOAD OF CRAP

Jacinda plunged her shovel into the mound of caribou dung. She should have been used to the smell by now— she’d been working with the stuff all day, for Kisemanito’s sake — but every time she disturbed the manure pile in the back of her uncle Maskwa’s blue Chevy pickup, her nose wrinkled again. She tried to breathe through her mouth as she shoveled feces onto the neighbor’s lawn, but it wasn’t helping. 

Finally, when she’d measured out a pyramid of poop a meter high, she leaned on her shovel to take a breather. The sun was nearly touching the western tree line of the Flying Dust reserve. Both the rolling ground and the pines were coated in a fresh layer of snow. Even though it was late March, more snow could be expected all the way through May. Jacinda could see about a dozen clapboard farmhouses and Quonset huts amongst the snow-dusted pines, and she knew there were about a hundred more scattered around the area’s three small lakes. This particular First Nations reserve didn’t have a main street to speak of, but it had a community center, an elementary school, a bank, a radio station, and a gas station that doubled as a bar on weekends. Only around five hundred tribe members lived on the reserve, and nearly all of them worked in the nearby town of Meadow Lake. As her uncle often said, it might not be much, but at least it was theirs.

Jacinda had spent most of her life on this small patch of land. She’d gone on trips, of course, most notably to Calgary for her fourteenth birthday, but she didn’t particularly like big cities. They felt unnatural to her, like poorly-done, dirty imitations of forests and mountains. Electric neon lights blinked in place of the evening’s tapestry of stars. Exhaust-spewing cars choked the roadways instead of roaming caribou. No, she was Flying Dust First Nations, and she belonged with the land. She had expected to live out her life within fifty kilometers of her uncle’s caribou farm.

But a chance encounter after school last fall had changed all that. Jacinda had been driving since she was thirteen, and last year for her sixteenth birthday her Uncle Maskwa gave her a broken-down 1970 Triumph Bonneville T120 motorcycle. She’d spent five months fixing it up herself, but on the first day she’d ridden it to school, there had been problems. A white boy named Brad in Grade 11 had been pushing around some younger kids. When she intervened he challenged her to a race — her Triumph against his Pontiac firebird. 

Being Jacinda, she couldn’t say no. They set off east down the 55, hugging Meadow Lake and pushing their vehicles to 150 and then 160 kilometers per hour. Brad got impatient and tried to side-swipe her but she cut the throttle, sending Brad and his Firebird into a ditch beside the road. He was fine, but his axle was bent and had to call a tow truck. Jacinda was about to head back to town and celebrate when she spotted a strange ten-story building in a forest clearing up ahead. 

She went inside to discover it was some sort of library called the Codex Arcanum. The proprietor, Euphemia Whitmore, told her that magic was real but it was disappearing from the world. This was due to the efforts of some anti-magic crusaders called Euclideans. Whitmore told Jacinda they needed new sorcerers to join the fight and gave her a spell book called Sorcery for Beginners. Naturally, the young woman thought this all was some kind of prank, but a few demonstrations of the librarian’s spell-casting abilities soon convinced her.

The book gave Jacinda a purpose she didn’t realize she had been missing. She began memorizing the spells, quickly mastering the Twelve Basic Incantations and moving on to more difficult intermediate enchantments. She also began learning about the history of magic, particularly that of magical artifacts. Nearly all of them had been destroyed, but there were still a few left in North America. One — the enchanted broadsword Jokulsnaut — had been brought to Canada by Norsemen over a thousand years ago and hidden in a lake. 

Whitmore had informed Jacinda that to become a Level One Sorcerer, she must locate and retrieve the sword. The Euclideans learned of her mission and sent a handful of mercenaries to stop her. But as we saw in the last chapter, she dispatched of them and passed her Final Examination with ease.

That was nine weeks ago now. During their tea, Whitmore had told Jacinda to keep practicing her sorcery (in secret, of course) and she would call upon the young woman when she was needed. But over two months later, there had been no word from her recruiter. Jacinda was beginning to question if such a day would ever come. Mundane tasks like going to school, doing homework, and helping with farm chores all seemed pretty pointless when there was a war to control magic happening somewhere in the world, and she was stuck shoveling poop in Saskatchewan. 

Jacinda tossed the shovel into the bed of the pickup and waved goodbye to her neighbor. She drove back on the slushy dirt road to her uncle Maskwa’s farm. His cozy two-story home stood beside a large red barn and a round wooden corral that could hold up to thirty caribou. Her uncle raised the animals, selling their meat, hide, and antlers to local businesses.  

Jacinda had come to live with him when she was eight years old, after her parents died in a boating accident. Maskwa was her only living relative on the reserve. Some distant cousins in Saskatoon had offered to take her in, but Jacinda hadn’t known any life outside her First Nations band and wanted to stay with the people she knew.

Still, it had taken awhile to grow used to life with her uncle. Maskwa was the strong, silent type — he’d served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the first Gulf War and was awarded a Wound Stripe after being injured by an improvised explosive device. He never talked about his service, or much else for that matter. But he didn’t treat Jacinda like a little kid, which she appreciated. She did not appreciate that he expected her to help with the farm work from the moment she moved in. The first time she’d helped him butcher a caribou was shocking, but in the eight years since she’d grown quite adept at the work. Now, it felt more respectful to honor the animal as they broke it down than to ignore where the meat on their dinner plates came from, like so many off the reserve did. 

Jacinda parked the blue Chevy outside the farmhouse. Her uncle was bent over the corral, fixing a broken line of barbed wire. The herd of caribou were still out grazing, but it was one of her many jobs to round them up before dinner. Since she’d learned magic the task had grown considerably easier. 

Good afternoon, uncle,” she called out in Cree. Maskwa insisted they speak the native tongue of their tribe as much as possible so it wouldn’t be forgotten. 

He stood, revealing his broad, stern face and round belly. Two plaits of jet-black hair hung down his mud-speckled overalls. “Almost good evening, you mean. Did you deliver all the mulch we promised?”

“It’s poop,” she said in English. “And of course I did.”

“I ain’t tryin’ to backseat drive you, kekwahâkes.” The Cree word meant ‘little wolverine’ and had long been Maskwa’s nickname for her. Jacinda would never admit it aloud, but she liked it. “But you have been distracted the last couple months.”

“I told you, it’s nothing.” While they never talked about their feelings, even her uncle could tell something about her had changed. Whitmore had forbidden her to mention the existence of sorcery, though, and Jacinda was running out of excuses. “Just school stuff.”

“Hmmm,” he grunted, awkwardly rising to his feet. His left knee had been replaced after his wartime injury, and the prosthetic made farm work awkward, especially during the cold winter months. But she had never heard her uncle complain. “And have you given any more thought to visiting colleges this summer?” 

“I don’t need college,” she said. Next year was Jacinda’s final year in high school, and Maskwa was pushing her to attend some fancy four-year program so she could have a career off the rez. She had always thought she’d go to vocational school and become a mechanic, but now that she knew sorcery, any kind of extra schooling felt unnecessary. She was a foot soldier in a secret war, and soldiers needed to go out and fight. 

But to do that, she needed some marching orders. For the ten thousandth time in nine weeks, the young woman wondered why she hadn’t heard anything from Whitmore.

Realizing her uncle was still looking at her expectantly, Jacinda shrugged. “Maybe I’ll go check out some vocational schools in Llyodminster or Edmonton later in the summer.”

“Vocational?” He switched back to speaking in Cree: “You know you can do better than that. You know your mother and father wanted more than this life for you.”

“They’ve been dead for nearly ten years; we don’t know what they’d want,” she replied coolly. “And I don’t need some fancy school degree to get an education.

Uncle Maskwa gave her a rueful grin. “You’re smart, little wolverine, but everyone can learn something. Forget that at your peril.”

Jacinda grit her teeth. How could she explain to her uncle that with a few finger movements, she could fend off an entire army if she wished? Yeah, well—I like it here on the rez,” she said in English.

“So do I. But things won’t get better here if everyone stayed at home.” He nodded toward the pine trees past the corral. “Go bring in the herd. We’ll talk more over dinner.

The young woman nodded, grabbing a lariat off a corral post and heading into the woods.

The caribou were spread out in groups of two and three, nosing aside the snow to get at the green grass underneath. They were big animals, and it usually took around forty-five minutes and a lot of cajoling to get all of them rounded up. But recently Jacinda had discovered a more efficient method.

Doing a quick scan of the forest to make sure her uncle hadn’t followed her, Jacinda formed a few runes with her fingers. “Fulgur venire,” she whispered in Latin. A band of electricity appeared between her hands, crackling with magical energy. 

She moved toward the nearest caribou. As soon as she was within two meters it lifted its head and grunted suspiciously. Jacinda had realized almost as soon as she began casting spells that animals were especially unnerved by magical energy. The mere whiff of enchantment disturbed them, as evidenced by the scratches she’d received from her cat Arsenic any time she practiced sorcery around him. 

But this sensitivity also had its advantages. By casting a small spell, Jacinda was able to herd the caribou back to the farm much more quickly than before. She had corralled about half the animals in this manner when a familiar, elegant voice broke the quiet of the pine forest:

“Do you recall my warning about using magic in public?”

Jacinda dropped her hands and the Spell to Conjure Lightning dissipated. “Ms. Whitmore?” She scanned the trees, but the only movement came from the caribou she’d been herding, which was chewing grass about three meters away. Was the librarian invisible? “I was only using it to round up my uncle’s caribou. No one can see us out —”

“Our enemies have multiple methods of detecting magic usage,” interrupted Whitmore. “Line of sight is merely their most primitive.” Her voice sounded muddled, as if she had marbles or a wad of paper in her mouth. Still, Jacinda couldn’t see where her voice was coming from.

“I know. But it’s been nine weeks, and I don’t even know what I’m practicing for. What’s the point to knowing all this sorcery if I can’t use it?”

There came the sound of spitting. Jacinda turned back toward the caribou, but the forest around it was still empty. “The point is to protect it,” said Whitmore, making more muffled sounds. “Oh, leave off, you plodding quadruped!”

At first, Jacinda thought the librarian was talking to her. But before she could respond, the caribou lifted its antlered head from the grass. Its dark eyes locked on to Jacinda, and it spoke with Whitmore’s voice: “There we are. Now please—allow me to explain why I commandeered this animal before it eats another mouthful of grass?”

“What kind of enchantment is that?” asked Jacinda, looking over the caribou in awe. 

“A Spell to Possess Beasts from Afar, and it’s quite difficult to maintain,” replied the animal with the librarian’s voice. “Especially when the creature … in question … keeps chewing … grass.” The caribou spit more cud onto the snow.

“Much better,” continued Whitmore with relief. “Now listen, please. It’s come to the attention of the Council Arcanum that the Euclideans have located a cryptid in South America. A salamander.”

“Like … a teeny lizard?” asked Jacinda.

“This salamander is magical. One of the world’s last living fire elementals. We are not sure what they want with it, but one can assume it is nothing good. The creature must be protected, and I am currently … indisposed. Will you help us?”

Jacinda didn’t hesitate. “Of course, finally. What do I need to do?”

The caribou shook its head and bleated. Its call was piercing, almost electronic-sounding, but Whitmore got it back under control. “You’ll be partnering with another new recruit who … knows the area. You can meet him outside … outside …” she broke off as the caribou bared its teeth and brayed again. 

“Whoa, a partner?” said Jacinda. “I told you when you gave me the book, I work better alone.”

“No one … works alone,” said Whitmore, struggling to maintain control over the increasingly agitated beast. “You’re a soldier, and you will … ugh. You will follow —” The caribou reared back on its hind legs, bleating again.

“Follow what?” Jacinda called to the caribou, trying to surpass the animal’s volume. Finally, it dropped its hooves back to the snowy ground.

“Orders,” Whitmore gasped. “You will meet your partner outside the New York City Public Library on 5th Avenue this Saturday at four … four … p.m.!” She broke off and the caribou dropped its head, continuing to eat grass as if nothing had happened.

“Ms. Whitmore?” Jacinda said, stooping to peer in the animal’s eyes. “That’s in two days, how am I gonna get down to New York City by then? How will I know who my partner is?”

The caribou didn’t respond. The intelligent glimmer in its eyes had been replaced by a dull glassy sheen. It seemed the recruiter’s spell had been broken. Jacinda sighed, looking back toward the glowing windows of Maskwa’s farmhouse. If she was going to follow her marching orders, it looked like she’d have to lie to her uncle again.

CHAPTER THREE – A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

New York City stank.

Jacinda had seen the metropolis in movies and television programs before, naturally, and she knew the real place couldn’t possibly be as romantic and sophisticated as it seemed. But she wasn’t prepared for the smell — a stench-fueled tapestry of sewer fumes, bus exhaust, stale body odor, and wet garbage. The caribou poop she’d been shoveling two days prior was positively fragrant by comparison.

The lack of privacy was annoying as well. Everywhere she turned, there were people — bumping into her on the subway, jostling her on the sidewalks, standing in their underwear at seemingly every window. Jacinda didn’t suffer from claustrophobia, but five minutes in the city and she was longing to be back in the quiet, crisp air of the Flying Dust reserve’s forest.

Her attitude wasn’t helped by the journey she’d undertaken to get here. She knew she couldn’t ride her Triumph all the way to New York in March weather, and her uncle’s ancient pickup would never make the trip. She had to fly, but the tickets were over seven hundred dollars Canadian. To get the money, she’d been forced to sell her beloved motorcycle — to Brad, of all people. She hoped to get it back somehow when her mission was over.

As for Uncle Maskwa, Jacinda told him she was visiting colleges in Edmonton for the weekend. She had Brad drive her to the airport in Llyodminster, then spent the next twenty-two hours flying to Toronto, dozing in the airport while waiting for her delayed flight to New York City, and finally boarding the ninety minute flight only to end up in Newark, New Jersey because of sleet. She didn’t have a passport, but an invisibility spell got her past Customs. From there she took a train to Penn Station, and then the subway to 5th Avenue and 40th Street. 

She exited the subway station less than a block from the New York Public Library. A backpack was slung over her shoulder with a couple changes of clothes, a variety of spell components, and her copy of Sorcery for Beginners. It was cold, but not so frigid that she needed more than her trusty leather jacket and scuffed jeans. 

With all the travel and delays, she had only thirty minutes to spare before she was to meet her partner. She used the time to scout the area. The library itself was only a few stories high, but it was surrounded by massive skyscrapers that blocked out the sun. It had snowed the previous evening, but now the sky was bright and clear. The buildings were still frosted in a thin layer of white, reminding Jacinda of oversized cakes. Too bad they don’t smell like cakes as well, she thought as she went inside to check out the library.

The interior was lovely and old and vast, with a central reading room that boasted high beaux-arts ceilings adorned with painted murals, massive lead-lined windows, and dark wood bookshelves on the walls. There were dozens of carved oak tables running down the middle of the room, with dark gold shaded lamps set atop them. Jacinda wasn’t a passionate reader (preferring instruction manuals and motorcycles magazines) but she spent the next fifteen minutes wandering the building, trailing her fingers across the leather-bound book spines and enjoying the blissful quiet she’d been denied during her incredibly long travel day.

When the library clock chimed four, she stepped out on to the slushy front steps of the building to meet the partner Whitmore had saddled her with. Two marble lions (dubbed ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude’) looked out over the bustling crowds on 5th Avenue. She wondered again how she was meant to find this person among so many people, when she spied a young man enthusiastically waving at her.

Jacinda glanced back at the library, but seeing no one else, she grudgingly went down the steps to the young man. He wore a brand-new ‘I Love NY’ hooded sweatshirt, drawstring jogging pants, and a colorful wool hat with an actual pom-pom on the top of it. Curly dark brown hair poked out of the cap, and his brown face was split by a big smile. Every part of him seemed to be round — round face, round belly, even his sneakered feet seemed more circular than angled. She pegged his age at around fifteen years.

“Guh …” he said, his broad smile freezing upon seeing her.

Jacinda sighed. Ever since she’d entered puberty, men of all ages uttered some variance of this syllable upon first meeting her. She’d tried dressing down, adopting unfriendly facial expressions, and even forgoing showers, but none of it seemed to dull her attractiveness to the opposite sex. By now she had learned to move past it as quickly as possible. 

“What?” she said, placing her hands on her hips.

“Nothing. You must be Hacinda,” he said brightly, thrusting out his hand. His South American accent turned the ‘J’ of her name into an ‘H’.

She hesitantly shook his hand, which was as soft and round as a marshmallow. A city boy, she thought to herself. Probably never worked a day outside in his life. “Call me Jace.”

“Hace, of course. Oof, nice grip. I am Selestino José Alvarez. But you may call me Tino; everyone does.” He stretched out his arms to indicated the looming city around them. “So? The Big Apple, yes? I must say, I am already liking this mission. I want to wake up,” he began singing in a horribly earnest, off-key pitch, “In the city that never —”

“No,” Jacinda said. “Whitmore might have paired us up, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to…whatever that was.”

“Apologies, but I am just so excited.” And he was, like a hamster who’d just eaten a full-sized candy bar. “To be here, in Manhattan, where they shot Home Alone 2! You know, it is my first time out of Peru. Have you eaten a bacon-wrapped hot dog yet? They are — what is the phrase? ‘Off the chains!’”

Jacinda began walking briskly south on 5th Avenue. The pudgy boy struggled to catch up.   She thought if she kept him out of breath he might talk less, but no such luck.

“So how are you thinking we should begin our mission? Should we be making weapons? Preparing travel arrangements? Devising a method to protect the salamander?”

Jacinda stopped at a crosswalk. Other people massed around them, waiting for the light, but she supposed the odds of a Euclidean being in the group were small. “Actually, I was thinking we should research this creature we’re supposed to be protecting first.” 

“But I have already done so. Did Ms. Whitmore not give you a copy of Cryptozoology for Beginners?”

The crosswalk light turned green, and people began to stream across the intersection. Jacinda and Selestino joined them. “Our conversation was a bit…weird.”

“Ah.” The Peruvian boy took out a paperback from his backpack and flipped to a marked page, showing a picture of a tiny red lizard with six legs. A jet of flame issued from its mouth. “Well, the salamander is a fire elemental — meaning it can draw upon the powers of that element. They usually live inside volcanoes, and were one of the main inspirations for dragons.”

“Wait, so dragons aren’t real?” 

“Unfortunately, no.”

“Bummer.”

Si, claro.” Selestino tapped the paperback in his hand. “According to Crypto, there are not many salamanders left in the world. It will be very bad if the Euclideans capture this one.”

“Duh. But how do we find it?”

“I … she did not tell me that.”

“Maybe she doesn’t know.” Jacinda stopped, taking in the people and cars and buildings surrounding them. Of all places, why had Whitmore sent them to New York? She’d known the librarian long enough to know she never did anything without purpose. “Maybe … maybe its location is somewhere in this city.”

Selestino frowned. “As far as I know, there are no volcanoes in New York.”

“Not physically here, idiot.” The Peruvian boy blinked. “Sorry. I just mean, the information on where it is might be here. And who would know something like that?”

Understanding dawned in his warm brown eyes. “The Euclideans.”

“Exactly. So we grab one of ‘em, force ‘em to tell us where our guy is, and then we get there first.”

Selestino grinned, but then grew sober. “But … how will we find a Euclidean? Their whole existence is a secret from the world.”

“Haven’t you ever gone fishing, Tino?” Unsurprisingly, the Peruvian boy shook his head. “Well, you can catch anything, so long as you have the right bait. We just need something the Euclideans will bite on.”

Selestino furrowed his brow, then lifted a finger in triumph. “Magic!”

Jacinda nodded, scanning the buildings above. “And once you have the perfect bait, you need to make sure the fish can see it.” She pointed a finger to the tallest structure in the skyline, a tiered Art Deco tower lit gold by the low western sun. 

The Empire State building.

Four hours later, over a dozen calls were made to the New York City police department about ‘strange lights’ and a ‘laser show’ that was taking place on the 102nd floor observation deck of the Empire State building. The reports were flagged and within minutes, a memo was disbursed to every precinct via email. It was signed by the deputy police commissioner himself and stated there was no need to send any officers to the landmark building. The observation deck was closed for a permitted ‘private multimedia event’ and would be over shortly. Any further concerned callers were to be given this explanation and all reports related to the incident were ordered to be deleted.

Meanwhile, a Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche attack helicopter flew across the nighttime skyline of New York City. Inside were three armed mercenaries and a pilot. All of them wore black fatigues and the latest in battle gear technology, including night vision goggles. Each them sported a tattoo of a cross bisected by a sword and a torch on some part of their body. As they drew closer to the top of the iconic building, their night vision revealed two teenage-sized figures on the observation deck. They appeared to be attacking each other with spells.

“Get us above the observation deck,” the lead mercenary called to the pilot. 

She nodded, bringing in the helicopter to hover about thirty meters above the open-air deck that surrounded the building. Below them, the two teenagers could be heard yelling.

“I told you this was a dumb idea!” the boy yelled, flinging a lightning bolt at a dark-haired teenage girl. She blocked it with a quickly-conjured golden shield.

“Then you shouldn’t have agreed to it!” the girl roared back, hurling a magical purple fireball in his direction.

“Some kind of sorcerer disagreement,” the lead mercenary assessed. “Tranquilize them and bring them both back to the Center for questioning.”

The three mercenaries quickly hooked on to black nylon lines and descended, but they weren’t quick enough. The teenage sorcerers saw them approaching and ran into the shadows as the Euclideans touched down. 

“Go to infrared,” the lead mercenary whispered, each word a small puff of vapor in the cold night air. They turned a dial on their goggles, making the green-grey night vision become blobs of purple and blue (cold spots) interrupted by explosions of orange and red (warmer areas). 

The Euclideans spread out, quickly moving around both sides of the observation deck. They reconnected on the other side of the building, having seen no trace of either spell caster. 

“Did they go invisible?” asked one of the mercenaries, lifting her goggles.

The lead mercenary shook his head. “We still would have caught them on infrared.”

The helicopter pilot’s voice crackled in their headsets. “Hey, how’d you get back there? Mayday, may —” Then the transmission went dead.

As one, the mercenaries ran back to the other side of the observation deck. They reached it just as the three black nylon ropes fell to the concrete. They had been severed by fire, their tips still glowing orange. The Euclideans pointed their weapons up at the helicopter, only to see the Peruvian boy make a few hand gestures.

Purple runes and a complicated diagram glowed at their feet. Before they could respond, a beam of violet energy rose all around them, blocking out the Manhattan skyline —

And the three Euclideans suddenly found themselves standing on a hill above the city of Trujillo, Peru. It was still night, but instead of cold and crisp the weather was warm and spring-like. This did nothing to make the mercenaries feel better, however, as the sudden location displacement made each of them struggle to keep their dinners inside their stomachs. Only the leader was successful. The other two bent double, dimly wondering where New York City had gone and how they would get back to it.

Back at the Empire State building, a hundred and twelve stories above the streets, Jacinda and Selestino each kept their hands trained on the helicopter pilot. A bolt of lightning crackled in the palm of Jacinda’s right hand, while Selestino cupped a bright purple fireball.

“Did you … are they dead?” the pilot asked, her voice trembling with terror. She was in her thirties, with a closed-cropped blonde haircut and slightly upturned nose. 

“Of course not,” said the Peruvian boy, insulted. “I just sent them through a one-way portal to my hometown. They will be fine, once they find their way back.”

“You gotta teach me that spell when this is all over,” said Jacinda appreciatively. Then she turned to the pilot. “But first, you’re gonna show us how to access the Euclidean database. And before you think of trying anything shady like crashing the helicopter or contacting your buddies, just remember that we can fly. You can’t.” She pointed a finger, making the Euclidean pilot flinch. “Now take us to your super villain lair.”

CHAPTER FOUR – MAKING AN ENTRANCE

The Manhattan Center for Euclidean Studies was located in a five-story Victorian-era mansion on the Upper West Side. The structure took up half a city block, with room for a greenhouse, a covered pool, and a groomed croquet lawn. It was surrounded by a seven-foot marble wall choked with ivy, which was patrolled by four armed guards. Cameras monitored every entrance and exit. There were smaller, less ostentatious centers in Brooklyn and Tribeca, but the mansion was New York City’s flagship Euclidean gathering place, the building where they hosted foreign dignitaries and prominent events. Its mere presence conveyed money, history, and power. The only detail that indicated the mansion’s true purpose was gold plaque affixed to the front door, inscribed with the Euclidean logo. 

The Comanche helicopter touched down on the roof just as Jacinda and Selestino finished casting transformation glamours on themselves. To the outside human eye, Jacinda became a haughty white-haired woman in her fifties, while Selestino was a short but menacing bald man. Their magical ruse wouldn’t fool any cameras, but hopefully they could reach the Euclidean file room before they were spotted. 

As the helicopter rotors spun down, a Euclidean guard in military fatigues approached the vehicle. “Remember,” Jacinda said to the pilot, “Any tricks, and it’s —” She pointed to the sky and whistled. The poor Euclidean nodded.

“414-Charlie, why weren’t you responding to your comms?” the guard said as they exited the helicopter. He was a muscular blond man in his twenties, and puffed up with the confidence of his office. “Where’s the rest of your team? Who are they?”

“I shall answer that, young man,” Jacinda said in a voice that she hoped sounded like a fifty-year-old. She pulled down her left sleeve to reveal a magically-created Euclidean tattoo on her wrist. Selestino did the same. “We are from the centers in Toronto and … ah …”

“Peru,” finished Selestino.

“We are here to meet with your superiors,” Jacinda added in what she hoped was a threatening manner.

But the guard was not intimidated. “I didn’t see anything on the arrival manifest,” he said, pulling out a tablet computer.

Jacinda placed a hand over the screen. “That’s because …” She couldn’t think of a reason. 

“It’s classified,” Selestino suggested. 

“That’s right,” Jacinda said, relieved. “Classified. Can’t have the sorcerers tracking the movements of V.I.P.s such as ourselves, can we?”

The guard’s eyes narrowed. “I still have to log all entrances and exits. What are your call signs?”

“Our call signs?” huffed Jacinda, looking to Selestino for help again. He stared back like a caribou on a cliff edge. “You want our call signs. Well, we want … your call sign, young man. How about that?”

“It’s 575-Epsilon,” said the guard immediately. 

“Ahh. That was very quick. Very, very quick. As it should be. Well done.” 

“So yours are ..?” pressed the guard. 

“Of course,” said Jacinda. “Now that we’re here, there’s no need to keep them a secret. I am … one, two … four … Tango … Cash.” It was ridiculous, but she forced a confident look on to her face.

“Tango … Cash,” Cliff repeated as he typed it into the tablet. He lifted his head to Selestino. “Must be a Canadian designation. And yours, sir?”

The Peruvian boy placed a hand on the guard’s chest. “Immobiles.” 

Purple energy shimmered over 575-Epsilon’s body. His limbs and jaw locked together, and he toppled backward like a stiff board. Jacinda rushed forward to catch him. 

“What are you doing?” she hissed. “We were nearly inside!”

Selestino held up the tablet. “He was writing an email. Once he hit send, everyone in the building would know we were here, Tango Cash.”

“Oh. Well, help me hide him, then. And you,” she said to the pilot, “Don’t move.”

They quickly dragged the guard behind the stairwell exit. The guard’s eyes moved back and forth frantically, but every other part of his body was frozen. Still, they cast an invisibility spell on him in case anyone else came up to the roof.

“Perhaps we should reconsider our approach,” said Selestino. “We only have about twenty minutes until those spells wear off.” 

“Which means we better hurry,” Jacinda replied. She took the pilot by the arm. “Take us to the server room.”

As the pilot had explained on the trip over, all Euclidean files were kept on closed system servers in each center. They could only be accessed on site, and what could be accessed depended on one’s security clearance. This worried Selestino, but Jacinda told him they’d figure it out once they were inside the room.

The pilot led them through the mansion, nervously nodding to the Euclideans they passed. The teenagers had been told how wealthy and numerous their enemy was, but seeing it firsthand was another matter. They passed glass-walled labs in which robotic machines analyzed magical artifacts, armories in which 3-D printers churned out weapons, and conference rooms in which worldwide missions were being planned. There was also a large dormitory, a gym in which twenty Euclideans were sparring like seasoned warriors, and a cafeteria that looked nicer than most expensive restaurants. This was only one center of three in a single American city, and it far exceeded any operation by the Council Arcanum. 

Thankfully, they made it to server room in the basement without being stopped by anyone. What did stop them was the door to the server room itself — it required a microchip for entry, and the pilot’s security clearance wasn’t high enough.

“Anyone wanting access needs to clear it with I.T.,” she explained, fearful that the teenagers might zap her out of frustration. 

“I got this,” said Jacinda. She cast off the old woman glamour, formed a few finger runes, then placed her hand on the lock. “Fulgur venire.”

A bolt of electricity jolted the electronic lock and the door clicked open. Jacinda held it open for Selestino and the pilot. They stepped inside the freezing room to see five rows of eight-foot shelving, holding dozens of noisily whirring hard drives. Against one wall were three work stations, in front of which sat a young I.T. technician in a scarf and heavy jacket. 

“Hey. How did you —” she began, but Jacinda formed a few runes and touched the technician with her finger. “Immboiles.” The young Euclidean went rigid and fell to the floor like a plank of wood.

Selestino closed the door and magically sealed it. Jacinda hustled the pilot over to a work station and sat her in front of the keyboard. “Log in.”

She hesitated. “I told you, I don’t have clearance.”

Jacinda quickly formed a few runes, stretching a band of electricity between her palms. “You have clearance to something. Log in.”

Trembling, the pilot did as asked. A home screen came up and the teenagers bent over the screen. There were sub-pages for timecards, email, news, itineraries, and a search engine. Jacinda pointed to the latter, and Selestino took over the keyboard. He typed ‘Salamander,’ but received the message: ACCESS DENIED. LEVEL 5 SECURITY CLEARANCE REQUIRED.

“You see?” said the pilot. “They don’t trust us lower level types with any information. It’s just ‘go here, tranq that, and forget everything you saw or else.’”

“Sounds like a great place to work,” said Jacinda sarcastically. “They give you health insurance, too?”

Selestino tried a few more search queries, but each came up with the same ‘ACCESS DENIED’ message. “There must be another way to figure out where is this creature,” he said, his English becoming more broken with his growing frustration. 

Suddenly, both teens felt a vibration in the floor. They looked to the door to see it was shaking as if being assailed by a battering ram on the other side. Selestino’s enchantment muffled what must have been a deafening sound. 

“Do not be worried,” he assured Jacinda. “The locking spell, it could withstand a missile blast.”

The Euclideans on the other side of the door seemed to realized this, as well, because the wall beside the door began to vibrate instead. Cracks appeared in the plaster, and the thumps from the other side now sounded unnervingly close.

Their enemy had found a way around their defenses.

“Find the salamander!” Jacinda commanded her partner. “I’ll hold them off.”

She went to stand before the widening hole in the wall. They were using a sledgehammer, or several sledgehammers, to break in. Jacinda began preparing a spell, but she was unable to cast it before a steel hammer head burst through the plaster. It retreated and a tranquilizer dart shot into the room.

Jacinda quickly stretched out her hands, a glowing oval of golden mesh appearing between her fingers. The dart bounced off the magical shield and clattered on the tile floor. The teenager quickly followed up with another spell, extending her hands toward the hole in the wall and speaking in Latin: “Frysta maxima!”

Ice filled in the hole and covered a large portion of the wall as well. Jacinda had maybe bought them a few more minutes. She turned to the work station to see Selestino and the pilot were watching her in awe. “What are you doing?” she bawled at them. “Get to work!”

“Sorry,” said the Peruvian boy. He scanned the other options on the home screen. “What’s this?” he said, pointing to the sub-menu labeled ‘Transpo Itineraries.’

“Just a record of where our vehicles are at a given moment,” the Euclidean replied. “Only the pilots and drivers have access to it, in case there are maintenance or fueling issues.”

“So we if we cross-reference those locations with their proximity to volcanoes …” he turned to the pilot expectantly, but she folded her arms.

“You expect me to help?” she asked. “I’m only here because you took me hostage.”

Selestino shrugged. “This is a fair point.” He pulled up a Google map of the world’s volcanoes on his smart phone and began comparing it to the Euclidean vehicle list. As there were currently around fifty missions underway across the globe, it took a few minutes. 

The pounding had resumed at several other points on the wall, forcing Jacinda to create more ice barricades. She could see a glowing flicker through the several feet of ice she had conjured: a flamethrower. No matter how many ice walls she conjured, the Euclideans would melt through them soon enough. She racked her mind for more defensive spells, but none came to mind that she could cast in less than ninety seconds.

Flames licked at the other side of the ice barrier, making the walls drip. Water pooled around her Doc Martens. “How we doing?” she called to Selestino.

“Almost … there …” he responded, running his finger down the list of locations. He jotted down some GPS coordinates. “It’s kind of an educated guess, since we don’t know exactly where the salamander is, but —”

“Too late, we’re out of time,” said Jacinda. She yanked Selestino back from the computer and pulled a two minute sand hourglass timer from her pocket. “Thanks for all your help,” she said to the pilot, and turned the timer upside down.

Time froze all around them just as a spout of flame burst through the ice barricade. It hung in the air like an abstract sculpture. The loud whirring of servers was gone, replaced by the familiar atonal hum of frozen time. The pilot was as still as a statue, caught right before her clearly sarcastic response to Jacinda. The teenagers could see the outlines of a whole platoon of mercenaries in the hall outside the server room. It would take them far longer than two minutes to climb over them and escape the building. 

“Plan B,” said Jacinda. “Can you do your thing in under two minutes?”

“Help me,” said Selestino, shoving his backpack at her. 

While he began looking up information on his smart phone, she pulled a large piece of paper from his backpack and gently unfolded it. It was about a meter square and covered in a complicated spell diagram the Peruvian boy had prepared before their demonstration on top of the Empire State building. He had left two key spots blank — spots he now had less than ninety seconds to fill in. 

Referring to his phone, he calmly jotted numbers and runes into the diagram. Jacinda tapped her foot, trying not to look at the quickly dwindling grains of sand in the hourglass. She didn’t want to distract him, as he’d explained that getting these calculations wrong could result in them suffocating in outer space or becoming imbedded in the Earth’s crust. But she also knew he wasn’t going to finish in time. 

“Keep working,” she said, dragging him and the paper to the very back of the server room. As he continued filling in the diagram, she began forming runes for a spell. 

The last grains of sand in the hourglass fell. 

Time resumed, and several things happened at once. The ice barricade shattered, a half dozen tranquilizer dart shot into the room, and the Euclidean pilot said “You’re not welcome.”

Jacinda brought her hands together, sending a massive thunderclap reverberating through the close room. It knocked over racks of servers, toppled Euclideans, and destroyed the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. It also managed to halt the progress of the tranquilizer darts.

Selestino and Jacinda groaned, their ears ringing from the booming spell. “You call that helping?” he said.

“Work,” she told him. “We’ve only got a few more seconds before they recover.”

The Peruvian boy tapped his phone, the light illuminating his face in the dark room. He muttered to himself, jotting a few last figures into his diagram. “Okay,” he said. “We should really double-check the math, but —”

“Just activate it!” Jacinda said, conjuring another shield spell. Four more tranquilizer darts bounced off it and hit the floor.

Selestino closed his eyes, muttering a few words under his breath. Then he stretched his hands out over the paper diagram and spoke a single word in Latin: “Ignis.”

The marks of the diagram glowed purple. Jacinda looked back to the front of the server room to see black-garbed mercenaries streaming toward them. She wrapped her arms around Selestino, pushing him on to the portal diagram. Purple energy shot up all around them, blocking out the room —

Then the teenagers vanished, leaving behind only a large blank piece of paper.CHAPTER FIVE

The ground rumbled underneath Jacinda’s hands. 

Through her fog of nausea, she worried for a moment that the portal spell had not worked. But the ground beneath her was made of dirt and pebbles, and the darkness surrounding them was more natural than the artificial blackness of the server room. They were outdoors, somewhere cool, with a dim canopy of stars overhead and no Euclideans in sight.

Gradually, her nausea subsided. She lay on her side, grateful to not have vomited in front of Selestino. “Where are we?”

Cotopaxi, Ecuador,” he said. “About 2,500 meters above sea level.” He looked down at her. “Sorry about your sickness, but it cannot be helped when you travel by portal. You grow used to it.” 

“Ugh, I hope not,” she groaned, pushing herself to her knees. “But thanks. You got us out of there, that’s what counts.”

“I barely got us out,” he corrected her. He peered off into the distance at a volcanic mountain peak. Its pinnacle was capped in snow, and a plume of dark smoke billowed from the summit. The area at the base of the volcano was covered in scrubby brown-green grass, boulders, and not much else. Jacinda was relieved to be away from New York City’s claustrophobic skyline, until the ground beneath her rumbled again. 

“Is that … the volcano?” she asked.

Her partner nodded. “I am not at all sure Cotopaxi is the home of the salamander, but a Euclidean team came for some reason. However — if we are to complete our mission, we cannot keep rushing forward in this unplanned manner of yours.”

“Mine? Look, amigo.” Jacinda forced herself to stand, even though her legs still felt a bit wobbly. “We don’t have time to screw around and second-guess ourselves. If anything gets really messed up, we’ll just fix it with magic.”

“Not all things can be fixed that way,” he countered. His usually bright face was darkened by a worried scowl. “We have the power to cast spells, yes, but that does make us immortal. In fact, it puts us in more danger.”

“Haven’t you been paying attention? We just broke into a Euclidean compound, hacked their servers, and escaped without a scratch. We’re superheroes, man.”

Selestino shook his head. “Sorcery is not a superpower. It is a responsibility.”

Jacinda scoffed. “Can we argue philosophy later? The bad guys are already here somewhere, and it’s our job to stop ‘em from killing this cryptid.”

She scanned the mountain, but the Peruvian boy folded his arms. “I will not proceed until we agree to complete our task with caution and —”

“Found ‘em!” Jacinda said, pointing to a cluster of lights about a third of the way up the active volcano. “You stay here if you want, but I’m gonna go rescue the salamander.”

She began jogging toward the Euclidean encampment. Selestino opened his mouth to call after her, then gave up and followed. 

Thirty minutes later they were both puffing and sweaty, but the teenage sorcerers had arrived at the location of the makeshift Euclidean base. A dozen white plastic tents and two command trailers were set on a flat platform of earth that had been carved out of the side of Cotopaxi. Six high-powered klieg lights illuminated the encampment, powered by diesel-spewing generators. Two armed guards were stationed at a perfectly round hole five meters wide that led inside the volcano. The entire area was cordoned off by official-looking yellow caution tape. 

Jacinda and Selestino peered up at the white tents from behind a boulder the size of Uncle Maskwa’s pickup. It looked as if there were about twenty people milling around the encampment, and all of them were armed in some fashion. Even worse, there were cameras positioned at every corner, which were no doubt being watched by someone. 

“Piece of cake,” Jacinda said.

“Are you nuts? I think we need at least a day’s preparation before we do anything,” Selestino said. “We need to research spells of protection, enchant defensive items, and come up with some way to locate the salamander. And that leaves out how you plan to walk inside an active volcano.”

“You know we don’t have time for any of that!” hissed Jacinda. “They’re way ahead of us up there, if they haven’t already sent people to capture the salamander. I say we make ourselves invisible, then head inside that tunnel and figure out the rest along the way.”

“Do you wish for death? Because I do not. My wish is to return home, see my family, and eat my abuela’s delicious picarones.”

“The two of us, we’re stronger than all those Euclideans put together,” she whispered back. “But if we don’t use our power, they’re going to find the salamander first and do horrible experiments on it. Probably they’ll kill it. You wanna go home, do it. Just know that your laziness is causing a magical creature’s death.”

Selestino turned red and seemed ready to argue, but then sighed. “At least let us take some precautions.”

“Fine, whatevs. Let’s just do this quickly.”

They busied themselves with emptying their backpacks and preparing what few enchantments they could. Their only timepiece had been left behind in the Euclidean server room, but Jacinda imbued a handful of loose change with frost spells, while Selestino drew diagrams of protection on their jackets with Sharpies. 

He wanted to add more to their pants and gloves, but when Jacinda saw a group of Euclideans unpacking silver flame retardant suits she knew they were out of time. They pulled on their enchanted coats, made sure the spelled items were within easy reach, and turned themselves invisible.   

Slowly, they made their way up to the Euclidean encampment. As the invisibility spells only prevented them from being seen but not heard, they were careful not to dislodge any large rocks on their ascent. Crouching behind a tent, they saw a thin man with hollow cheeks and white blond hair addressing a team of five people. His name was Samson Kiraz — a name that will be familiar to readers of Sorcery for Beginners, but held no meaning for Selestino or Jacinda. All they could see was that he was in charge, and not the sort who would sit down for a friendly chat about cryptid rights. 

So they made their way around the encampment and toward the hole bored into Cotopaxi. It was perfectly round, most likely created by the same machine that had carved out and flattened the campsite. Taking care to be as quiet as possible, Jacinda and Selestino snuck past the guards and continued on into the volcano.

 After only a dozen meters or so the manmade tunnel broke into a wider corridor made of black volcanic rock and carved stone frescoes. There were open grooves on either side of the corridor, inside of which flowed a thin stream of molten lava that illuminated the interior with an oppressive red light. It was much warmer in here than it was outside, but the teenagers refrained from taking off their protection-spelled jackets. 

Selestino stepped to the wall, running a hand over the intricate obsidian carvings. They depicted lines of people bowing and bringing gifts to a large six-legged lizard creature — a salamander, no doubt — that was surrounded by a mountain of flames. 

“These are Inca,” the Peruvian boy said. “I recognize them from my history books. The carvings suggest Cotopaxi was once a secret temple, devoted to worship of the salamander.” 

“Inca,” said Jacinda. “Those were the guys who built Machu Picchu?”

“And many other great temples,” said Selestino. “Their capital was in Cusco, Peru and they were thought to be quite powerful.”

“Well, yeah. If they had access to magical stuff like Machu Picchu and the salamander, they could have kicked a lot of colonizer butt.”

“Still, in the end, Pizarro beat them,” said Selestino a bit sadly. “Even sorcery was no match for Spanish steel.”

“Same with my people,” Jacinda replied, laying a hand on the wall mural. The stone was warm to the touch.

After a moment of melancholy respect for their conquered ancestors, the two teenagers roused themselves. “You think we should block off the tunnel and delay those guys?” Jacinda asked.

Selestino frowned. “I’m not sure it is wise to alert them to our presence. And we may not wish to trap ourselves in here.”

“Good point,” she said, and the mountain rumbled in agreement.

They walked deeper into the volcano temple, trying to ignore the steadily increasing temperature. The spells of protection on their jackets kept the heat off their torsos, but that left their heads and legs to receive the full brunt of it. 

About ten minutes later the corridor opened into a large domed room, easily the size of modern sports arena. At its center was a hundred-meter-wide lake of molten lava, frothing and bubbling like a hellish stew. The poisonous fumes from the liquid rock would have overcome them instantly, were it not for the open mouth of the volcano far above them. It was hard to believe that the area far above them was covered in snow, while down here it was easily a hundred degrees. 

Jacinda pointed to a smaller island in the center of the lava lake. A carved temple-like structure sat atop it, surrounded by wide moat of molten rock. At the top of the temple was a ten-meter-high statue of a lizard. “Looks like you brought us to the right place after all,” she grinned.

“Yes, but there is no way across,” he pointed out.

Jacinda rolled her eyes. “Don’t be such a downer, man. We’re sorcerers.”

She dug into her pocket, removing her small handful of enchanted coins. She murmured an activation word over the currency and traced a rune onto each of the coins in turn. One by one, she threw them into the lake of lava. As each coin landed, it froze the molten rock around it, creating a basalt pedestal about five meters square. Once four coins had been tossed out in this manner, the teens had a makeshift bridge that could take them to salamander’s temple. 

They hopped from one rock pedestal to the next, shielding their faces from the waves of heat that issued from the bubbling lake beneath them. The air was so hot, it felt like a thick blanket squeezing them from all sides. Thankfully, they reached the temple quickly and looked around. The island’s only structure was the size of three-or-four-story house, with multiple window vents. Ominous black fumes trickled from every opening. At Selestino’s suggestion, the teenagers wet two extra T-shirts with water from their canteens and tied them around their mouths and noses. 

Thus protected, they stepped inside the Temple of the Salamander. It was carved much like the corridor they’d come down, but at the center of the open structure was an ornate fountain of black lava-glass, inside which bubbled a glowing pool of red molten rock.

“What do we do?” said Jacinda. “There’s no doorbell or anything.”

“Perhaps we give it an offering,” suggested Selestino. “Like in the carvings.”

They each shrugged off their backpacks, pulling out anything that might appeal to a magical creature that enjoyed the comforts of lava. They sorted their supplies into spell casting components, paper products, and snack foods. 

“What about these?” Jacinda said, picking up the moonstones required for certain enchantments. “They cost me around fifty bucks Canadian.”

“Why would a fire elemental need money?” asked Selestino disapprovingly. 

“Okay, then. How about some nice, burnable paper? Nom, nom, nom.”

“One breath from this creature can melt steel. It requires an offering of respect for its power.”

Jacinda wiped sweat from her forehead. “Well, what’s your great idea, then?” 

Selestino bent over the pile of items. He selected a chocolate bar Jacinda had brought as an emergency snack. “A candy bar?” she said in disbelief.

“The cacao bean was greatly revered by the Mayans,” he explained. “They sometimes even used it for money. But the Inca did not have it, so a delicacy such as this would have been rare in Ecuador.”

“We’re on your home turf,” Jacinda said with a shrug. “I say go for it. Quickly, though. Who knows when our silver spacesuit buddies are gonna join us.”

Selestino unwrapped the chocolate, setting it reverently on the side of the lava glass fountain and saying in another language, “Please sir, accept this humble gift from us. Please.”

Jacinda looked at him with new-found respect. “Nice. What is that, Portuguese?”

He blushed. “Quechuan. It is still taught in some Peruvian schools. I thought the salamander might appreciate speaking in its original language. That is, if it talks.” 

Before they could debate the matter further, there was movement within the lava fountain. An adorable white-hot lizard, no bigger Jacinda’s hand, wriggled out of the molten rock. It had six legs and big black eyes. The cryptid sniffed the chocolate bar, puffed a small gout of flame onto it, and slurped up the melted candy. Then it looked at them expectantly. 

CHAPTER SIX – SALAMANDER GREETING

“Hey there, little guy,” said Jacinda. She crouched down to look the small cryptid in the eye. By now it had cooled to a bright orange, but the heat rolling off its skin was still enough to dry the sweat on her forehead. “You like chocolate?”

“Careful,” said Selestino. 

“He’s not gonna hurt me. Are you? You’re just a little ittle.” The salamander blinked its black eyes at her curiously. “Yes you are. You’re the one everyone’s making a great big fuss over, aren’t —” 

WHOOM. The cryptid gave the tiniest burp, and a fireball the size of a bowling ball hit Jacinda in the chest. She went tumbling back across the temple, but the protective enchantment on her leather jacket prevented her from being burned alive. Still, the force of the impact was enough to leave her dazed.

“I take it back,” she groaned. “I see now why they want you.”

Please, sir,” Selestino said in halting Quechuan, “You are in evil. Will you walk with us for happy times?” He turned to Jacinda apologetically.My Quechuan is not so good.”

“I don’t think it’s a talking lizard,” she said, getting gingerly to her feet. Her face felt hot and a large portion of her eyebrows fluttered down, smelling of burnt hair. “I say we grab the thing and portal out of here.”

“Grab it? With what?” he asked. “We didn’t take the time to enchant a pet carrier.”

She looked over their paltry pile of supplies, then up at her partner. The hand drawn runes on his sweatshirt glowed, showing the enchantment was working to keep the heat off. “We could wrap him up in your hoodie,” she suggested. “The protective spell should keep him from burning through it.”

“Should?” he complained. “And what am I to do in all this heat?”

“I told you, we’ll portal out right after. We can’t use my jacket; the little guy’s fireball burp burnt off the runes.” It was true — most of the diagram and the First Nations eagle had been scorched away by the salamander’s burp, leaving behind smoking leather.

“All right, all right,” he said, already pulling off the ‘I Love NY’ sweatshirt. “But you must buy me a replacement!” 

Once Selestino had untangled himself from his garment, he held it wide and began slowly walking toward the six-legged cryptid. Jacinda stepped alongside him, speaking soothingly.

“It’s okay, little dude. We’re not gonna hurt you. We just wanna — PROTECT YOU!”

As she shouted the last two words, Selestino dove forward with the sweatshirt. He managed to cover the salamander, but due to the proximity of the lava fountain, the sleeve of his undershirt caught fire. Jacinda quickly formed a few runes, putting out the flames with a Spell to Conjure Ice. 

“Okay, now tie him up,” she said. “Like a bundle.”

Selestino flipped the sweatshirt over and pulled the four ends together, quickly knotting them tight. The garment glowed from the heat of the animal inside, but the protective enchantment held. The salamander was safe. Jacinda and her partner sank to the floor of the temple, exhaling in relief. 

“Very good,” spoke a metallic voice behind them. 

The teenagers whipped their heads around to see five Euclideans in the doorway of the lava rock temple. They all wore silver heat resistant suits, and the face in the closest one was lit with a delighted, almost rapturous, grin.

“I was hoping you’d take care of the hard parts for us,” said Samson Kiraz, his voice filtered through his heat suit’s helmet. “And you have not disappointed. Now step away from the animal and don’t move.”

Jacinda and Selestino remained still. 

The Euclidean pulled a tranquilizer pistol from his belt holster. “It was not a request.”

“Okay, but you just said don’t move,” Jacinda reminded him. “I can step away or I can not move, but I can’t do both. That’s just physically impossible. Right?” she said to Selestino.

Her partner picked up on what she was trying to do. “It’s true. You did say that,” he said.

Kiraz slowly closed and opened his eyes in frustration. “I want you both to step away from the fountain. Now.” 

“See, that’s still kind of confusing,” said Jacinda.

“Yes, you said ‘fountain’ and not ‘animal’ this time,” Selestino pointed out.

“Exactly,” Jacinda said. “Like, do you want us to take the creature with us, or just move away?”

“And which way should we go? There is the north, the south, the south-by-southwest —”

“Quiet!” Kiraz shouted. “Step toward me … without the animal … now.”

“Finally, some clarity,” said Jacinda, getting to her feet and subtly forming a few runes with her hand. “Just one more thing.” She quickly drew a circle around the enchanted sweatshirt with her index fingers and swiped her hand through it. “Annullare.

The protective spell on the sweatshirt vanished, and a river of fire ripped through the temple. 

The teenagers dropped to the floor, curling into a ball and protecting their heads. The standing Euclideans were not so lucky. Ribbons of flame slammed into three of them. Two went into the lake of lava where they were quickly consumed. The third collided with the temple wall and lay still. 

Kiraz and the fifth Euclidean managed to roll across the temple floor. They both looked up to see the tiny salamander shake itself free from the ashes of Selestino’s sweatshirt. The fifth Euclidean, a gray-haired woman in her fifties, aimed her tranquilizer gun at the cryptid with trembling hands.

“No, wait!” Kiraz shouted, but he was too late.

The gray-haired Euclidean fired a tranquilizer at the salamander. But the heat around the fiery animal was so intense, as soon as the plastic and metal dart drew close, it melted in midair. The salamander turned its head toward the attacker.

“I’m sorry,” said the Euclidean, but either the cryptid didn’t understand or it didn’t care. Its tongue shot out from its mouth, at least three meters long and glowing white with heat. It tapped the gray-haired Euclidean on her heat-resistant suit and then retreated with a slurp. The woman looked down at the glowing circle on her chest. She raised a hand toward the small area, curious —

And then her body burst into flames. 

Jacinda never forget the sound of her screams. The Euclidean flailed her arms, trying to brush off the fire, but it was as if the substance was attached to her. The flames ate through her suit and her skin, consuming her with unnatural speed. Selestino began casting the Spell to Conjure Ice, but the salamander’s fire moved too quickly. Before he could say the activation word the Euclidean fell to the floor, crumbling into a pile of black ash. 

The cryptid turned to the remaining three humans, no longer looking so cute and cuddly. Kiraz and the teenagers instinctively pressed together. 

“Easy now,” Jacinda said. “We’re not with these guys.”

“So you would have it murder me, too?” Kiraz said shrilly. 

The salamander opened its mouth and they all winced. “Please sir,” Selestino said in his halting Quechuan. “We have made … to bring you … the chocolate gift. Please permit us to be … leaving?”

The cryptid slowly blinked. The teenagers’ hearts thudded in their chests. It seemed like the fiery animal might let them leave — 

But then Kiraz ran for the temple door.

The salamander’s mouth opened wider than seemed possible, and red-hot lava spewed across the room. A ribbon of it struck Kiraz, immediately burning through the left side of his suit and melting the helmet onto his face. 

The salamander spat again and more lava lanced across the temple. Selestino tackled Jacinda to the floor, but he wasn’t quick enough. A gobbet of it landed on his back, which was now unprotected since he had removed his enchanted sweatshirt. 

He screamed in pain, and would have tried to claw the lava off had Jacinda not restrained him. She quickly formed runes and blasted him with an ice spell. The molten rock cooled, but it remained stuck to her partner’s back.

She glanced back at the salamander in shock. The tiny creature didn’t even seem to realize what it had done. It merely blinked and wriggled its way back into the fountain. As soon as it was gone the black glass cracked, and red-hot lava began to fill the temple, eating through the obsidian floors like acid. 

“Come on, we have to go,” Jacinda said. She hauled Selestino to his feet, forcing him to walk toward the temple exit in spite of his moans of pain.

“Wait,” Kiraz called to her, his voice cracking in agony. He lifted his half-ruined face to meet her eyes. “Don’t … leave me to die.”

For a moment, Jacinda considered doing just that. Then Selestino spoke, his words barely a whisper: “We cannot … be like them.”

Jacinda groaned in frustration, but she quickly formed the runes for A Spell of Attraction and cast it at Kiraz. His body slid across the temple floor and stuck to her foot. With her partner supported by her arm and the Euclidean dragging behind her, Jacinda slowly made her way from the collapsing temple. 

They reached the first rock pillar just as more Euclideans in silver suits ran into the vast room. Boulders were falling from the ceiling and the lake of lava was beginning to spill over its edges. The temple behind them had sunk almost entirely into the molten rock. Within minutes, everything around them would be consumed by the volcano.

“You’re on your own from here,” Jacinda said to Kiraz, casting off the Spell of Attraction. She quickly formed more runes, keenly aware that the Euclideans across the lake of lava were aiming their tranquilizer weapons.

Hedfan,” she said, pointing her hands at herself and Selestino. 

The teenagers lifted off the basalt pillar, and not a moment too soon. Tranquilizer darts clattered off the rock where they had just stood. Jacinda crooked a finger and they flew upward, heading for the opening of the caldera. Below them, the Euclideans ran to assist their burned leader. Within moments the scene was gone, obscured by lava-lit smoke.

Jacinda and Selestino exited Cotopaxi, flying through the black plume of ash and circling high above the erupting volcano. She could no longer see the temple, but she felt confident the salamander would be safe in its natural habitat. She had seen firsthand that the cryptid could protect itself better than they ever could.

She angled them toward a glinting, empty lake at the base of the mountain. Her ears popped as they descended. They touched down on the edge of the water and Jacinda cast off the flying spell. The ground beneath continued to rumble and the sky was occasionally lit up by gouts of fire, but for the moment they would be safe.  

Gently, she rolled her partner on his side so she could examine his back. Her ice spell had frozen the outer layer of lava, but the edges of it were still glowing. Was it eating its way through his body? Did magical lava have different properties than regular lava? Certainly the salamander’s fire attacks certainly didn’t seem to obey the laws of thermodynamics. 

Selestino shivered as a spasm of pain moved through his body. His eyes fluttered open, seeing a crescent moon beginning to rise over the horizon. “La luna,” he whispered. “The salamander … is it safe?”

Jacinda nodded, trying to ignore the sudden lump in her throat. “The whole temple got swallowed by the volcano. Ain’t no way the Euclideans will find it now.”

“Good,” he smiled, then shuddered again as if chilled. “Then we … accomplished … our mission.” His eyes closed again.

“Wait,” she said, gently shaking his shoulder. “You have to stay awake. We have to fix you. I don’t — I don’t know any healing spells, but we can portal to a hospital. Just show me how to draw the diagram.”

“It is too late,” he whispered, his eyes still closed. “I can feel the lava … going through me.”

“Then we have to stop it,” she said, already forming the runes for the Spell to Conjure Ice. “We’re sorcerers, we can fix anything!”

She stretched a hand toward him, but he shook his head. “Sorcery cannot… fix this.” 

Her vision blurred as water filled her eyes. “But it has to. You can’t … it’s my fault this happened. If we had prepared more, if I’d listened to you —”

“It is all right, Jace. I knew … the risk.” His face was nearly drained of color. His voice, no more than a breath. “I only wish … I could taste my abuela’s … picarones …”

Then his body went still. 

Selestino José Alvarez was gone. 

Jacinda stared down at him for a long time. No matter what he’d said, she knew the truth. A bright, funny, excited young man had been taken out of the world, and she was to blame. Her impatience, her ego, her refusal to heed his warnings had all contributed to this. Selestino was gone, and no spell or enchantment could bring him back. 

So instead, she did the only thing she could — she sat on the dark shore of the mountain lake, cradled her friend’s head in her hands, and wept. 

EPILOGUE – ONE WEEK LATER

A funeral procession of around thirty people wound its way through the six-story mausoleum walls of the Trujillo graveyard. At the front of the line, balanced on the shoulders of four somber men, was a polished wood casket. They came to an empty spot in the massive wall and gently set down the coffin. A priest began the service in Spanish.

High above the funeral, on the roof of the opposite mausoleum, a dark figure in a black leather jacket and sunglasses watched the proceedings. In her hand was a fried delicacy, what the locals called a picarone. It was uneaten. 

“Truly, a terrible loss.”

Jacinda turned. Euphemia Whitmore stood behind her, wearing an elegant black dress and mourning veil. Her sapphire eyes, normally twinkling with mystery, were dull with grief behind her silver spectacles. 

“Yeah?” said Jacinda angrily, her fingers itching to cast a spell. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been so terrible if you’d given us more help!”

The librarian blinked. “I may be a sorcerer, but I cannot be everywhere in the world at once. I was stuck on an urgent matter in Qatar, hence my message to you via caribou.”

Jacinda pointed down at the undersized casket far below. “So this is your solution? Send underage kids out on missions that can lead to their death??”

Whitmore sighed heavily. “I wish there were another way to protect sorcery from extinction. I wish I didn’t have to keep sending children into danger. But adults, as you know, cannot learn magic. And I warn all my recruits that this may be the outcome.” She looked down at the huddle of mourners. “You are soldiers in a secret war. And sometimes soldiers die.”

Jacinda stared. “‘Soldiers die?’ Maybe that’s true in a real army, but we’re sorcerers. Can’t you raise him from the dead, or roll back time, or create a magical clone?”

“I could do all of those things, but they would all be a pale imitation of the young man you knew. An illusion. We sorcerers can perform many feats of wonder, but the human soul — that is something beyond the bounds of magic. Once it is gone, it cannot be recreated. I am sorry.”

The last ember of Jacinda’s hope died in her chest. “So that’s it, then.”

“On the contrary,” said Whitmore. “The enemies of Codex Arcanum still live. The Euclideans now have proof that magical creatures still exist. They will stop at nothing to locate more, and we must stand ready to protect them.”

“I just … I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” said Jacinda. “I can’t be responsible for hurting anyone else.” 

The librarian laid a firm hand on her shoulder. “Such a feeling is precisely what makes you responsible. But of course, I cannot force you to continue in the fight for our cause. I would only ask that you ponder the best way to honor Selestino’s memory — by staying at home and forgetting all you know about sorcery, or by standing up to the Euclideans who cost him his life.”

Jacinda didn’t have to ponder. She knew the answer as soon as Whitmore posed the question. But that didn’t make her any more eager to return to battle.

“Take heart,” said the librarian gently. “I and the other members of the Council Arcanum will do all we can to assist you. Ours may not be the easy path, but we can provide some handrails.”

She held out a thin, golden tome to Jacinda. It was bordered by runes and complicated diagrams. The title was Spells for Level Two Sorcerers.  

“Level Two?” the young woman asked. “But I only passed my Level One exam ten weeks ago.”

“You also faced one of the world’s most dangerous cryptids and survived. I’d say that counts for something.” She tapped the cover of the book. “There are some excellent enchantments for both healing and portal travel inside. No need to keep spending money on plane tickets.” 

Jacinda absently placed the book in her backpack. Below, Selestino’s coffin was gently pushed into its permanent home in the mausoleum wall. “Just tell me something,” she said, not taking her eyes from her friend’s resting place, “Is all this worth it?”

“That, you must answer for yourself,” said Whitmore. “For my part, I know that I would be unable to live if I did nothing to stand against the darkness. But you must discover your own reasons for fighting. When you do, I trust you’ll contact me.”

The recruiter stepped over to where a spell diagram still glowed in the roof of the mausoleum. “Take heart,” she called. “Every month, more sorcerers join our ranks. Whatever we face in the future, we will not do so alone.”

Jacinda looked back to see the ageless woman give her a nod of farewell. Then purple energy rose all around her, obscuring the librarian’s body. When the beam died down a moment later, Euphemia Whitmore was gone. And Jacinda Greyeyes knew what she must do.