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The school of the Eye was a twisting maze of a building that seemed far larger on the inside than it appeared from the outside. This was intentional. Eye wizards wanted visitors off-balance and confused.

Varajas was neither of those things. It would take more than some visual trickery and this windowless room to put him off his game. He was here for a purpose, and he would not be deterred.

The Archwizard was making him wait. Another game of power. Another tactic that wasn’t going to work. Varajas could be patient.

He sat quietly in one of the plush chairs in this overly-ornate waiting room. He didn’t fidget. He didn’t wander. With wizards, one never knew when they might be watching, so he made certain that what they saw would betray nothing of what was going on inside his head.

The door opened and a wizard came in. Not the Archwizard. This was a woman, pale and delicate, with a star sigil at her neck and midnight-blue robes covered in elaborate silver embroidery that must have cost a fortune.

Varajas stood, as was polite, but his tone was stern when he said, “I was waiting for Archwizard Innokent.”

“Innokent sends his apologies.” Her voice was smooth and cultured. “He is in the midst of a delicate experiment and cannot pull himself away. Please allow me to offer whatever assistance you may require. My name is Sidaine.”

Varajas wasn’t happy to be denied access to the Archwizard. It was, quite honestly, a sign of disrespect towards the church. But this was what he had to work with for the moment. “Are you a teacher here?”

She shook her head. “But Innokent and I are involved in cooperative research, and have worked together a great deal. There should be no question you might ask of him that I cannot answer.”

Varajas had dealt with hostile wizards. He’d dealt with fearful, fawning wizards. What he didn’t trust was wizards like Sidaine, with cheer in their voices and ice in their eyes. “What do you know about disappearing students?”

Sidaine’s laughed. Caught herself. “I’m sorry? Disappearing students? That sounds very dramatic.”

“Five of them.” Since they’d arrived back in Whitecliff, Varajas and Ruan had heard of two more than the original three. “There seems to be a pattern of one graduate a year going missing.”

Sidaine spread her hands, her face a perfect picture of innocent confusion. “Wizards wander. Graduates rarely stay here. They find teachers and apprentice and that’s often the last we hear of them. What has you convinced that anyone has disappeared?”

“We’ve talked to friends and family. These aren’t simply students moving on.”

“Really.” The concern in her voice was too exaggerated. Varajas couldn’t shake the sense that, on the inside, she was laughing at him. “Who told you this? Maybe if I talk to them, we can sort this confusion out.”

Varajas wasn’t about to tell this woman who he’d been talking to. “Do you work with new graduates, wizard Sidaine? Do you have any apprentices currently?”

She laughed again. “Oh heavens. Apprentices? More trouble than they’re worth. I work with Innokent, remember?” An edge of warning in her voice. “I have neither the time nor the patience for new graduates.”

Varajas wasn’t sure he had the time or the patience for her. “I would like a list from the Archwizard of every student who has graduated from this school over the past...let’s say ten years. I’d like their names, the orders they joined, and the wizards they apprenticed to.”

“Would you now?” A dangerous edge in her voice, that was gone again when she said, “I’m afraid the Archwizard doesn’t consider it his job to keep track of details like that. Wizards are free agents, and once they graduate with their sigils, there’s no reason for us to keep track of them.”

“Someone here has the information.”

“Perhaps.” Sidaine smiled again, the smile of a crocodile sizing up its prey. “I can certainly look into it for you, but I wouldn’t want to hold you from your duties while I try to dig things up. Perhaps I could simply prepare a report and send it on to Brother Eldred. He is your supervisor, yes, and overseeing this investigation?”

Varajas couldn’t believe that wasn’t a threat, although how this woman could know he and Ruan were here without approval… “I’m happy to remain in Whitecliff while you put together that list.” It wouldn’t do to show that her words had any affect. Best to simply ignore them. Any attempt at denial would only confirm she’d found a weak spot.

“Let me see what I can do.”

Varajas had no illusions that she was actually going to try to help. Still, he gave a polite smile and crossed his arms in salute. “I will appreciate whatever help you can offer.”

He walked out, feeling her gaze on him as he left, unable to escape the feeling he’d just poked a viper’s nest.

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Barbara J Webb

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