Chapter 18

"And to think, I was under the impression that we were in something of a hurry.”

Jowy looked down at the Star Dragon Sword and glared. Of course, the fact that the sword was right made it difficult for him to be overly angry with it.

No, the one he was angry with was himself.

He had to conclude his business in Greenhill. He had to be on his way. There was no more excuse to wait here. His plans were complete, his preparations made.

So why did he find it so difficult to sheath the sword and be on his way?

It should not be overly difficult now. He had gained far more concrete knowledge of the Academy’s library than he’d ever expected. Now, he even had a key. The wards around the True Runes would not protect them from him. The Star Dragon Sword insisted on its ability to break any barrier, but Jowy doubted he’d even need its power for that.

But when he had those Runes, he could not remain in Greenhill.

He was the Bearer.

He had a duty.

“I will not fail my sworn duty,” he said.

Mercifully, the Star Dragon Sword did not have a retort. Jowy slid it into its sheath and opened the door. He woke no one leaving the inn, even the innkeeper’s guard dog curled up by the entrance.

No one saw him as he made his way to the library. It was a new moon, and even in the last sunlight of early evening he was indistinguishable from the shadows through which he moved. By concentrating on what he was doing at the moment, he did not have to think about what he would have to leave in the past.

Soon, he was standing across from the library. At night, it was left locked, and protected by strong magical wards. While waiting for Jillia to arrive one early morning, he’d also sensed a magical creature, probably a simulacrum, watching the building. It had left with the dawn.

But he was not going to wait for dawn.

He drew the Star Dragon Sword from its scabbard. “Rune of the Night, I need your power,” he said.

“I take it you want to enter that building undetected and undeterred?” it asked, leaving his hand and floating in front of him. “Bearer, you really should provide me with a greater challenge. I’m beginning to feel like quite the underachiever.”

Jowy nodded.

The sword said, “Spread the cloak, please. It will make this easier.”

He did so, stretching out his arms. The Star Dragon Sword seemed to absorb what little light there was into itself. “Done,” it said after a few seconds. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to actually use some of my powers.”

Jowy looked down at himself, but saw nothing more than a shadow. He stepped out from under the trees, into the full starlight. Still, all that was visible was a faint shadow on the ground.

“Pity that I can’t come with you,” said the sword. “But I am somewhat obtrusive, since that power doesn’t extend to myself. Good luck.”

“My thanks,” Jowy said. He strode across the street. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the duplicate of Jillia’s key which he’d made. Its creation had been a justified excuse for several days, although he hadn’t truly needed it to enter.

The door opened noiselessly, and Jowy entered.

At night, the same book smell was prevalent. But there was also the acrid odor of magic in the air. He hadn’t realized just how much power had been focused on the library. Which meant that power was very well hidden indeed.

He abandoned his physical senses entirely, probing ahead of him with aura sight alone. If he hadn’t... some of the enchantments he perceived had not been woven with any Rune he knew of. He didn’t like to contemplate their effects.

The wards around the True Runes themselves were active all day. He had made himself as familiar as possible with them - another excuse, of course.

No more excuses.

He raised his hand and removed the leather glove from it. He could sense the power radiating from the five Runes. The wards unraveled at his touch.

But...

Something was wrong.

He jerked his hand back before he absorbed the first of the Runes. They were powerful, yes, but it was not the right kind of power.

He probed the Rune before him, cautiously. The subtle difference between the aura of a True Rune and that of... whatever this was... might have escaped even an experienced runecaster. Jowy’s practical knowledge of Runic magic, and the five True Runes he bore, were the only things which had alerted him.

It was a trap.

There were no True Runes in the library.

But he suspected he knew where they were. With Mr. Ghaleon Dyne.

Jowy did not go back for the Star Dragon Sword. He might still be able to retrieve the five Runes without revealing his presence, without a fight. The invisibility conferred on him by the sword masked his magical aura as well as his physical appearance.

Jowy walked past the false Runes to one of the back windows. The latch was stuck, so he heated it until he could pop the window open. He glanced outside. If any of the watchers he could sense there had spotted him, they gave no sign.

It was yet early. If he was quick, he might still catch his quarry in the open. From what he’d seen so far, he would prefer to avoid a confrontation on hostile ground, and there was no ground more hostile than an enemy’s lair.

The main offices of the Academy were only a few buildings down from the library. Jowy covered the distance easily, and disappeared into the long shadows cast by the larger structure. He leapt onto a low windowsill and slipped into the building.

The room he had entered was small and dark. Clearly, the typical inhabitant was not in the habit of working into the evening. He could only hope that his target would be more diligent.

He opened the door and stepped into the main hall. The receptionist was still on duty, which was a good sign. There had to be someone still at work - someone important enough to warrant the woman’s presence.

Jowy was still invisible even in the bright lantern-light which filled the hall. He probed the area with his magical senses. One of the rooms, third floor, second on the right, seemed to have an unusual aura. There was some kind of powerful magical field there, but it was heavily masked.

Perfect.

It was no good going in through the door, though. The wards on it could not be removed without alerting whoever was inside. The window would no doubt be the same. It would be impossible for anyone to enter that room without triggering some sort of alarm.

Fortunately, it was not impossible for anything.

Jowy had more than five years of practice with his Black Sword Rune. In those years, he had learned that one of the most powerful features of any given True Rune was that it was not just stronger, but also more versatile than a standard Rune.

He touched his chest, where the True Water Rune had made its mark. He shaped the Rune’s power to his will, focusing it upon himself.

A moment later, a trickle of water seeped under the heavily warded door, soaking through the carpeting.

“My, my,” said the room’s inhabitant, “that is a clever trick.”

Jowy quickly reformed and faced the man - Mr. Ghaleon Dyne, no doubt.

“Unfortunately, it leaves a rather noticeable mark on the floor. When magic won’t do, you see, the eyes have it.” Dyne motioned to the chair across from his desk. “By all means, my would-be assailant, take your seat. I’m very curious about you.”

Jowy started to protest, but something compelled him to do as he was told. His eyes widened. What magic was this? And why hadn’t Dyne’s aura changed when he used a Rune? Jowy dropped into the chair.

Dyne was... humming? Yes, and his speech was matched to the melody. “I take it that you are the famed rune thief who has been veritably terrorizing the land, hmmm? You must be very good indeed, to have detected my false Runes. No one else in Greenhill has.”

Dyne continued to hum as he walked around the desk.

Could music have such power? Jowy raised his magical defenses, but they did no good. Whatever was affecting him was no magic he’d ever faced.

“Of course, it really isn’t fair of me to do this to you, is it? You simply have no idea what you are dealing with.” Dyne laughed. He waved his hands in a strange pattern. His expression turned to a frown. “Drop your barriers, please,” he said.

Jowy relaxed the magical shield. Why was he obeying? No... why was he resisting? It was... such a... beautiful... song...

“My thanks. It would have been tedious to break through them, and it is really quite late. Let us see who you are, without that mask of night.” Dyne waved his hands again, muttering something without losing the melody.

Jowy could feel the Star Dragon Sword’s power leaving his body.

Dyne sighed. “A physical disguise as well?” he asked. His long fingers pushed back Jowy’s hood and unfastened the mask he wore.

Jowy tensed. He had to resist! No matter how much he wanted to lose himself in the music, he could not allow this man to see his face.

Dyne cocked his head. “You do look familiar, my larcenous friend. I shall have plenty of time to study you later, though. For now... give me your Runes. According to my research, you will find it far less painful than having them taken from you.”

Jowy marshaled all of his resolve. He would not submit. Whatever Dyne was doing, it could not be fought with magic. Perhaps it could be fought with will.

“Give me your runes,” Dyne said again, leaning forward.

Jowy spat in his face.

Without missing a beat of his humming, Dyne slapped Jowy. The impact hurt far worse than Jowy would have thought possible, considering the man’s build.

“You leave me little choice,” Dyne said. “I did not want to do this, but...”

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Jowy recognized the voice of one of the Greenhill rabble-rousers who had helped Teresa escape - Nina, wasn’t it? “Ghaleon, I know you haven’t left yet! I’ve got something I need to go over with you.”

Dyne looked up, his concentration broken. He glared first at the door, then at Jowy.

Jowy saw his chance. He slammed Dyne back against the desk and ran to the window. He threw it open and leapt out, third floor or no.

He hit the ground hard, but on his feet. A glance back at the window showed him that Dyne was not following, nor sending anything after him.

After what had just happened, Jowy found little comfort in that.