Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
The moment Thessa has departed and the door is once more closed, the darkness in Isaac’s room seems to grow deeper, heavier, and in the back of Isaac’s mind, a familiar voice speaks, heavy with disapproval. This is absurd.
“Yes, I’ve noticed.” Isaac remarks drily.
“Have you?” The words resonate through the room, a low baritone, as Isaac’s guardian speaks aloud; the darkness that fills the room seems to shift, giving way to a deeper darkness still as the guardian shows itself. “Have you?” it repeats.
“Well, I certainly thought I had—” Isaac begins, but he never finishes; the shadow slashes a hand violently through the darkness, making it seem to billow and ripple around them in entirely unnatural ways. “Spare me your airs and witticisms!” the guardian snarls. “Save them for one more deserving of your scorn. Your welfare is mine as well, Isaac.”
Isaac is silent for a moment. “You’re right, of course,” he says at last. “I apologize.”
“Then hear my counsel, Isaac. That woman, Inkless; mark her well. She has her eye on you; she is playing with you, and I cannot read her intent. Twice now, she has challenged you; the first occasion was more subtle, but this time she has tipped her hand more strongly… and what’s more, has left this ‘artifact’ of unknown providence buried beneath your floor. She has a subtle hand; you saw how she tried to stall the assassin. That she has taken an interest in you is all but certain.”
Isaac frowns, his eyes growing distant as he considers his guardian’s words. “So. You think she’s fencing with me, then.”
Isaac smiles grimly. “As it happens… I do. The first occasion I passed off as idle conversation, but she was a bit more insistent this time, wasn’t she? Once may be happenstance, but twice… I distrust coincidence.”
Isaac’s guardian nods approvingly. “As well you should. You plan to play her game, then?”
Isaac laughs. “Of course. I have some paperwork to turn in, but beyond that, I have the day free; it should be simple enough to do a bit of research.”
“Very well, then. But let me warn you once more—tread carefully. This place is not one where you can afford to be incautious.”
“Yes, you’ve mentioned it before,” Isaac says, managing to repress a sigh.
“If I repeat myself, it is because what I say bears repeating! It is when you relax your guard that you are most likely to err. You are at a disadvantage here that you have never faced before: you cannot rely on preconceptions to shield your hand to the extent you do elsewhere. You suffer another disadvantage, as well: they know something of your abilities, and what’s more, they know of me. Recall the invitation.”
Isaac frowns again. “That… is true,” he concedes. “Even so, they can’t know too much. We’ve always been discreet. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if either of us thought it might be overheard.”
“Yes… but they do know something. What’s more, they will be both far more able to act on what they already know, and far more able to learn from what they see. Remember that.”
The guardian begins to fade, resuming its usual place in Isaac’s shadow, and the darkness in the room becomes a mere absence of light once more… but as the guardian fades, its words echo once more in the back of Isaac’s mind.
Remember, Isaac. You may not have a last pawn to fall back on here…and you will certainly not be able to do so twice.
Isaac stands still and silent for a moment after that; when he finally speaks, his voice has a venomous edge to it. “Yes, thank you,” he says coldly. There is no reply this time, though; the guardian has said its piece. Isaac stands still a moment longer, than takes a deep breath… and then his faintly sardonic smile is back in place again. He strides to his desk, flips through the pile of paperwork there, and applies a few finishing touches… then gathers it and heads for the door.