This piece of fiction is very raw. You’ll probably notice typos and shifts in tone. As I write it, I’m also bringing finished pieces to my weekly writing group, which will further influence the text as it grows. As usual, the final, edited, polished copy will be available for ebook download.
Please feel free to leave your comments and thoughts. what captured your imagination? What fell flat? Did you get lost? Which character is your favorite so far?
When the study fell into ominous semi-darkness, Irily lit a ball of light in her palm automatically. The impulse went deeper than instinct, it was a pure survival reflex. The darkness contained horrors and demons while light meant safety. Light meant life.
Light meant she was delaying scholar Victor’s experiment. The influential man eyed her from across the small room, berating her with his silent gaze. Irily’s heart choked her throat, but she closed her hand on the ball of light and let the ley running through her fingers disperse. Without the energy to sustain it, the light winked out and the study fell into deeper shadow.
The darkness crawled up Irily’s spine with dexterous, clawed fingers. Her skin itched and she had to shake off the feeling of being watched. She pressed her back against the bookshelf behind her, as if that sturdy wood and stone could keep the monsters at bay. They were coming. Something skittered loudly across the stone tiles. Irily jumped. She flicked her attention around the room, seeking out the source, finding nothing out of the ordinary.
Victor stood with his arms crossed beside the heavy block of his desk, apparently unconcerned. His eyes panned around the room in calm contrast to the fluttering panic beating in Irily’s chest. The huge windows at Victor’s back, normally open to the three suns’ eternal light, were draped in layers of dark cloth. It was unnatural to hide from the light, and their looming dark shapes gave Irily the jitters long before the lights had gone out.
Rowiben was the only other scholar in the room. She had built herself a small cage of books and crates, lit dimly on the inside in order to take notes. The flickering oil lamp was now their only protection against the encroaching darkness. A weak savior when the demons started to rise.
Ley suddenly moved through the empty center of the room. Irily felt it like a weight in the fabric of the world. A heavy dip. Victor sensed it too. He readied both hands to weave his trap.
Fighting the urge to throw blinding light in all directions, Irily took a steadying breath. She was a powerful bright, and so was Victor. They were only a few layers of cloth away from the safety of the triple suns. This was a controlled environment meant to summon a low-level demon for study. She had volunteered to assist. Now it was time to prove she deserved this scholar position. There were few brights that were willing to try experiments with the demons, and even fewer that Victor trusted to work with him. Irily wasn’t going to let the opportunity to learn more about ley slip away. She needed to remain calm.
Irily felt anything but calm.
The weighty ley gathered in the middle of the rug, pressing down down the triple sun motif like it might break through the stone floor into the library below. But while the power condensed, a demon didn’t rise.
”Rowiben,” Victor said into the darkness. ”Put out that light.”
Irily clenched her fists. Victor’s assistant only hesitated for a second. She was probably used to this kind of thing by now. The oil lamp winked out.
A demon rose instantly in the consuming darkness. The ley slipped from etheral power into physical form, small at first. A class-one demon no larger than a cat, though with too many limbs to be considered cat-like. It turned on the rug, scratching with too many claws as its deep, glowing, blind eyes assessed its new home. It was black. A consuming darkness that seemed to absorb the dim, failing light that the curtains allowed through the edges of the windows. There wasn’t any texture to it, just a void, a little whispy at the edges as the ley manifested out of the air.
Irily’s throat closed on her breath. She dug her fingernails into her palms, fighting the screaming urge to light the studio and save them all. In a moment the creature would realize three people stood around it, just waiting to be devoured.
”Steady…” Victor said, perhaps sensing Irily’s urges.
She didn’t understand how his voice could be so calm. There was a monster in their midst, a demon of pure magic!
The class-one stretched upward on too-many legs. They thinned out, allowing the creature to stand taller than the desk. Taller than Irily. Then it dropped a second body segment out of itself and the weight of ley Irily could sense became abruptly larger. Some of the legs became arm-limbs with deadly claws at the ends. The number of purple-glowing almost-eyes multiplied and flowed down the creature’s upright back. Two mouths, one on each body segment, gaped wide enough to show off sharp, wet teeth. Class-two.
”Easy,” he said, voice urgent. ”Let it grow. It’s almost ready.”
Irily was almost ready to run screaming from the room. There hadn’t been a class-two within the city wall in years, let alone in the heart of the Citadel. Not since the public lighting system kept the entire city lit throughout the day and night. Between the triple suns and lighting lamps, the Citadel had become a small oasis, a literal beacon of safety in the dark. That Victor had invited this demon into the core of that light set Irily’s teeth on edge.
The class-two was far more agile than it’s previous incarnation. This new demon inspected the room around it with delicate touches of each limb. It discovered the reading chair and explored the shape, tearing into the fabric with the points of its claws. The purple-set eyes couldn’t see, not yet. The seraphs said they could probably detect motion, but Irily didn’t think it mattered. If someone was close enough to a demon to test their vision, they were probably dead.
While the creature moved from the reading chair to the low coffee table, it continued to absorb the ley around it, gaining further weight and power. Some of the purple eyes spread across the chest-segment and the limb orientation shifted again. A third body segment inflated with large, gill-like protrusions. A sense of smell. The legs grew sparse, sensitive hairs for detecting the world around it. The accumulation of senses denoted it had grown to class-three.
The demon crawled, like an insect, from the top of the table back to the reading chair, breathing deeply through its gills. It seemed to orient toward Rowiben, and reached several limbs to inspect her barrier of books and crates. The claws tap-tapped along. Rowiben made a small sound, soft and distressed. The demon didn’t seem to respond to it.
”Irily, light Rowiben’s lamp.”
She did so easily. Irily sent the smallest spark of ley into the mechanism. The lamp was turned to its lowest setting, but the sudden burst of light startled everyone. The demon darted away, some of its claws clicking aggressively against each other. It couldn’t see, but the light burned, and it instinctively protected itself.
As the creature crossed the room, Victor wove his ley into the air. It manifested as a net of the faintest twilight, a web that captured the demon and formed a protective cage. The holes in the net shimmered with darkness and for a moment Irily lost sight of the monster.
”Light the room,” Victor said.
Irily let her ley burst into life, an exhalation of relief. Every lamp in the study blazed and a further collection of ley-powered points banished each and every shadow from the room. Irily didn’t need the triple suns to save her. She had plenty of power to draw from the very air around her. Irily took a deep breath and shook the jitters out of her muscles. Victor had caged the demon in a box of twilight and the simple existence of the light around them would keep it contained.
She watched the demon test its new cage with a single clawed appendage. The bright light burned instantly and it snatched the limb back inside protective darkness, leaving on a wisp of smoky ley behind. Irily’s nerves settled a little more.
Behind her book-and-crate blind, Rowiben cleared her throat and began scratching notes onto parchment. Irily admired the scholar for her nerve. Rowiben had no ley affinity, nothing to protect her from the darkness but an oil lamp and the trust she held in her mentor, Victor. Irily knew she couldn’t leave herself in someone else’s hands. Not even her sister’s. Demons were simply too big of a threat to risk it. She only considered this assignment because she knew she could light herself up at any time and save herself. Without that assurance… well. Irily tried not to think about life without ley affinity. It was terrifying.
With the monster safely confined in the twilight box, Irily moved to Victor’s desk to review their list of experiments. The work had been getting progressively more interesting in the past weeks. The darkness gave rise to demons more easily, and Victor was more and more convinced that they were manifested naturally from the ley of the world. But if that was true, it raised more questions. Why didn’t light demons maniftest? Why were there earth and water sprites but not demons?
And a question that kept Irily up at night: did the demons mean ley was inherently evil?
What did that make her, a bright who pulled ley from the very air to manifest light and fire? Would she eventually turn to darkness? There were a lot of theories, and even more myths.
Irily rubbed her fingers of one hand, letting ley spark gently between them. The power always gave her a rush of energy, and it didn’t feel evil. But Victor was always reminding her that conclusions had to be drawn from tests and observable results. Feelings and emotions could be tricked. Wasn’t the first thing a bright learned to contain their strongest emotions?
Victor interrupted her musing with a handful of empty, capped syringes. The scholar then set a full syringe on the desk next to his parchment list of experiments. The vessel swirled with dark ley, a glittering black and purple substance that moved like a fluid, but never seemed to settle. He must have drawn it from the demon just now. The needle still smoked, evidence of dark ley burning away in the light. He said, ”Fill each of those with ten units.”
Thankfully unlike the demons, Irily wasn’t made of ley. She didn’t have to stick herself with six needles in the name of science. Instead she unscrewed each cap, pressed her fingertip to the open vessel, and delicately fed sparks of light inside. They bounced around the syringe and each other until there were so many motes that they could only vibrate in place. Irily kept pushing. The light inside resisted, overfull. Then all at once, the motes collapsed into a shimmering, golden liquid of pure ley.
Capping the magic was another issue. Given the chance, ley would burst out of any confinement and spread far and wide until the natural pull of the world channeled it along rivers and eddies. So with her finger still holding the fluid inside, Irily carefully slid a new needle into place and screwed it shut. A small burst of light dripped over her fingers, but all-in-all she was getting better at keeping it contained.
Irily set the syringe on the desk, opposite the dark ley, and watched in fascination as the two different magics synchronized their whirling motions. She and Victor suspected that all ley types germinated from a common source, a mother magic that could shift into whatever form was most useful. They wanted to find that source, or perhaps ley could be reverted. There was so much they didn’t know.
Six syringes, each filled with a specific volume of light, hardly phased Irily’s power. Ley was a volatile energy, eager to exhaust any host that used it, and Irily had felt its effects more than once. She was nowhere near that limit now. Even so, the magic was deceptive. It gave a user energetic ambition right to the very end. A bright could and had happily wear themselves to the point of dehydration and coma.
”Rowiban note one hundred units of dark ley taken over three minutes. No visible change to the class-three.” Victor tapped his chin with one of the full syringes. ”How long did it take to shift from class-two to class-three?” he asked.
Irily heard Rowiban shuffle parchment. ”One minute twenty seconds.”
”Hmmm. Does that mean further volume is necessary?” he mused to himself. ”Or is it somehow absorbing more to replace what I take?”
Irily cocked her head. ”Even when surrounded by light?”
Victor gestured to the corners of his twilight box. ”It’s not a perfect container. There are edges and corners full of darkness it can draw from.”
”But not enough to shift to class-four.”
”Not that I’ve ever seen.”
Irily circled the box curiously. It sat on the rug in the middle of the room, a hazy greyish rectangle strapped with bands of twilight. It kept the light out, which protected the demon, but it was only ley. They could walk right through it if they wanted. A rather ephemeral cage.
”Is it generating new ley? Or using what is available around it?”
”Another good question.”
Rowiban’s quill on the parchment paused. ”If it’s using a finite volume around it, eventually it would run out… right?” Her voice was low.
Victor tipped his syringe in her direction. ”An excellent hypothesis. Note that for a future study.” He considered the demon. ”I doubt I have enough syringes to drain one entirely.” He clicked his tongue and added the syringe to the desk, bringing the dark vials up to four. All ten of them swirled in sync.
The demon tested its prison again, reaching a single clawed appendage beyond the edge of the twilight box. Irily shied away from the gesture, even though the creature retreated immediately. ”I wonder if it takes more ley to shift from two to three than it does one to two.”
”Yes…” Victor mused. ”And does that volume increase geometically or exponentially? Or is there no pattern to it?” He walked the length of his study, tapping his chin. ”Do higher classes take ley in faster? Does a demon gain the ability to manifest its own ley at some point? How powerful can they grow if given unlimited ley?”
Rowiban took rapid notes with each of these questions, her quill scratching swiftly as Victor fell into an entire theme of questions. His voice rose with excitement, the ideas flowing faster.
Irily turned back to the syringes on the desk. While Victor’s line of thinking was curious, Irily wasn’t nearly as invested in learning about the demons themselves. She wanted to know about ley. She picked up a dark ley syringe and noticed that its swirling pattern broke away from the group when she held it. After a moment it matched her internal flow of power instead. The heartbeat of her energy. How close was dark ley to light? Could she use the dark energy like she did light? Would it transform into light when she manipulated it?
”Irily,” Victor snapped.
”A light syringe.” He made a give it here gesture.
She passed the vessel in question. Victor approached the twilight box, watching the shadow of the demon shift inside. Due to the constraints of its cage, it couldn’t move much. The light was a very effective deterrent. Still, with a single slice, those claws could do some serious damage. Victor chose a position near the back of the beast and drifted both hands into the darkness. Irily could see the shape of his hands inside the box, nearing the demon. When Victor made contact, the creature rumbled threateningly and its body arched. Victor plunged the light syringe in and squeezed its entire contents. He threw himself backward.
Despite the burning light, the class-three whirled on Victor, bellowing. Claws sliced the air where his head had been only a moment before. Then the beast contracted inside the safety of the twilight box, grumbling. Dark ley smoked in the study, leaving a haze behind.
”One dose of ten units light applied at… four-seventeen, Rowiban. Specimen tolerated full light exposure to react. Accurate attack despite lacking true eyes.” Victor looked at his empty syringe as he caught his breath. ”Vocal complaints continue through four-eighteen, but no longer risking light exposure.”
Irily watched the demon shudder and snap. What was the ley doing to the insides of that creature? They knew light would burn away dark ley, boiling it to smoke in a measurable, consistent pace. No doubt Victor wanted to test if demons were generated from pure ley, as suspected, or if they contained some core of matter, like earth and water sprites. Demons gathered ley the longer they wandered in the world, and grew in power as a result. Earth and water sprites were limited by their matter core, never growing, and only shrinking or splitting if their core was damaged.
But if injecting pure light ley into a demon could hurt it, or even reduce its class… everything would change. Irily peered closer at the demon, eager to find evidence of damage. If light could be weaponized, maybe they just might stand a chance.
After ten minutes of close observation, the demon settled down. And after twenty, no further upset seemed to occur. Victor took another vial of light in hand, and nodded in Rowiban’s direction. ”Applying vial number two, ten units of light.” He plunged the contents in, dodging out of the way in the same manner as before.
The demon roared as it turned on Victor, leg and arm segments smoking in the light. Irily saw a patch of light glowing inside of the demon, like a lamp under too many blankets. Then it hid inside the twilight box and whined.
”Did you hear that?” Irily asked.
”They can make a range of noises, it means nothing,” Victor said, eyeing the box.
”No, that was a whine, like a dog. A sign of pain. The creature feels pain.” Irily was surprised to find herself empathizing. She’d spent nearly her whole life training to be a bright specifically to ward off the demons in the night. ”We have to reconsider this, Victor.”
He glared at her over the twilight box. ”I am not stopping this mid-project.”
Irily clenched her fists. ”You can’t torture it!”
”Should I release it then?” His hand hovered over one netted corner. ”When I do, it will eat all of us alive. It’ll suck the ley out of our very bodies and then swallow us whole. It is a demon, Irily. A monster.”
”Is it?” Victor challenged. ”We know they can manifest out of pure ley with nothing more than a lack of light for a mother, no living creature I know of simply creates itself into existence. If it’s alive so is my rug. And that is what we are here to learn. What makes it go. What makes it stop. Why does it mimic living beings? Is it really alive or just an imitation?” He turned away from her to the box. ”We have so many questions and true night is five days away. We need to learn as much as we can as fast as we can.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. ”Gods help us all.”
Victor glanced back at Irily. ”So it feels pain,” he gestured at Rowiben to take notes, ”so do fish. I eat them anyway. Pain does not make it intelligent nor valuable.”
Irily bowed her head and retreated from the box, conflict churning in her chest. She wasn’t in the habit of advocating for demons, not when they’d killed more people than lived in the city. She didn’t know a single person untouched. Brothers, fathers, cousins. Everyone knew someone killed by a demon, often several people. Hell, Irily had been raised by her sister after their parents were killed, she was hardly a sheltered citizen herself. But that whimpering cry cut so easily to her soul, like the broken sound of a puppy seeking its mother. She couldn’t help but wince.
When Victor selected his next syringe, though, Irily schooled her expression. She may not agree with his methods, but Victor was an influential man who could remove her from this position at any time. And she needed to be here. She needed to learn every detail. True night was coming for the first time in generations and no one knew how the demons would react. When the third sun fell below the horizon, the scholars said the entire sky would go dark. Blackness all around. Irily trusted the scholars knew what they were talking about, but the very idea was keeping her up at night.
Dark ley and its demons assaulting the city from every direction, even above… Unless she could find a way to make a weapon out of light, rather than just a defensive wall, she was sure they would all perish.
Because Victor was right. If the demons became so powerful during true night that they could tolerate standing in the light… nothing would stop them.
Irily met Victor’s eyes and nodded. He didn’t need or care about her permission, but Irily wouldn’t fight him on the subject again. They simply couldn’t afford the moral dilemma in the face of certain death.
One by one Irily watched Victor inject the light into their captured demon and recite his observations for Rowiben to note. With each vial, the demon tried to defend itself, and failing that, curled into tighter and tighter balls. Now and then it whined, its body visibly smaller than they started.
”Interesting,” Victor mused. ”I would still classify this as a three, but it’s definitely smaller than your average two. Perhaps they can’t revert.”
After a moment, Irily piped up. ”Could the light you’ve injected be preventing any shift? Up or down?”
”Another possibility,” he admitted, tapping his chin with the last empty vial. Then he grunted and paced back to his desk. ”There are simply too many questions to draw sizable conclusions from our data so far. We will need to test further.”
”You mean additional demons?”
”Yes.” Victor pulled a pressed paper from his desk drawer and scrawled a note across at an angle. Irily tried not to tense at such disregard for an expensive and labor-intensive product. Victor folded the sheet, waxed it, stamped it, and handed it to Irily. ”Deliver that to your sister.”
”Now?” Irily took the paper note–what was so important that he had to waste a paper to write it out?–and blinked at Victor.
”Yes. We’re done here for the day.”
”What about…” Irily gesured at the twilight box.
”I’ll dispose of it. That”–he pointed at the paper–”is more important.” Victor flicked his fingers and that was the end of the conversation.
Irily pursed her lips. It seemed to her there was so much more they could learn from this demon, even if it was already compromised with light. At the very least she felt the need to stop the pain it must be feeling. But she wasn’t in charge of this study and further argument wouldn’t endear her to Victor any further. It was hard enough to get on his good side as it was. If he had a good side. Irily turned toward the door, unsettled and concerned, but not sure exactly what about. She gave Rowiben a final glance at the study door, but Victor’s assistant was deeply involved in her paperwork and didn’t look up. Irily quietly closed the door behind her.
The Citadel was a tower of white stone directly in the center of the city. It could be seen from anywhere, and the light that burst from its windows every night helped keep the city safe. Travelers used it as a beacon for miles around, knowing security was near at hand. Offices and housing for several city officials filled the rooms of the tower, which kept traffic toward the city center at a bustling pace. Victor’s study was nestled into a corner of the second floor, which meant Irily descended the stairs into the library proper. The shelves and open cabinets here were stuffed full of scrolls and parchment. More recently, paper bindings had started slipping into the collection. While pricey and labor-intense, paper had proven to be more compact and much less maintenance for the library to keep. With luck, much of the collection could be copied to paper and the bulky parchments would give way to the future.
Irily hesitated in a towering aisle of musty records. A ley light descended at her presence, dismissing even the faintest of shadows. She knew this particular aisle well. It was stuffed full of observations and records of demons from the city seraphs stretching back hundreds of years. There were few parchments here Irily hadn’t read. They covered the gamut of topics from identifying classes of demon to the most effective defense when faced with a horde. And yet nothing was recorded about true night or fighting back with light ley.
According to the scholars, true night had happened before, long long ago. The third sun had set and thanks to an untimely eclipse of the second sun, true night had reigned for several weeks. But there were no records of that time, and Irily feared much of humanity had perished. She didn’t even know if the power of light ley had been discovered yet. Without that history, they were marching blind, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Irily ducked her head and hurried out of the library. She couldn’t waste time wishing for a better situation when she had the power to change it. There had to be a way to weaponize light. And by the time true night came, she was going to know how. Victor’s continued study of the demons was critical for the entire city, even if she disagreed with his methods. She couldn’t stand in the way of that knowledge if it meant they all might be saved.
And come true night, Irily was determined to ensure a record was kept this time. Preserved for the future.
With renewed purpose, Irily made her way from the city center to a cobble road just off the main street. It was quieter here, and she was less likely to stumble through a pile of horse droppings. Ley lights brightened as she approached, retreating again as she passed, silently reassuring each and every citizen that there were no demons hiding in these corridors. It was the job of some fledgling bright to recharge these lights every afternoon. A boring job, Irily knew from experience, but one that paid well when there wasn’t anything else a new bright knew how to do with ley. Out of control magic wasn’t the most in-demand commodity.
She spotted carts and travelers on the main road, snapshots of the bustling city between brightly lit alleyways. It hadn’t always been this way, but Irily hardly remembered a time before the public lighting secured every inch of the city within its walls. Her older sister remembered more.
Irily considered the letter scholar Victor had given her, intended for Janetta. She didn’t think the scholar was so close to her sister that an entire piece of paper was warranted, but perhaps Victor intended to get into her good graces. He clearly didn’t understand Janetta if that was the case. She was far less impressed by shows of wealth than she was by competence. Victor was surprisingly dim for how observant he was.
Irily shook her head as she turned down an ally toward the main road. A white stone building here bulged like a growth on the outer wall, pocked with doors on both the bottom and upper levels. The on-duty seraph nodded her in and Irily slipped by a clog of citizens waiting for their turn to petition for an escort beyond the city walls. It was safe enough during the day, the triple suns banished all shadows, but fear was a powerful force.
There were no fewer people inside the guardhouse as outside, but these were all gilded and ranked seraphs. Trained warriors with ley-touched blades and hammers. Strong and armored, each of them, and winged like their namesake. Most wore the wings as embossing on the back of their chest plates, but Irily spotted a few winged helms and some with sweeping pauldrons. The motif dominated one of the white stone walls, a pair of wings circled up around the seraph crest, illuminated by a dedicated ley light.
Irily squeezed between seraphs prepping for the night’s shift, noting several brights in attendance. They touched up weapons, gave a glow to armor and chain, and quietly reassured their warriors before the eternal battle. Nightfall wasn’t exactly dark with the triple suns. The first sun fell every night and rose every morning, dictating the days and calendar. But the second sun only set every week or so, and the third sun always remained low on the horizon. Rarely, the first and second suns set on the same night, leaving the dull reddish glow of the third to illuminate the world. Those were the nights people feared. The third sun was weak, and her light wasn’t always enough to keep the demons at bay. On twilight nights, the city locked its gates and many of the citizens who farmed and lived outside the walls were left to fend for themselves.
It was a harsh but necessary truth. The city simply couldn’t hold everyone. Brights, serephs, and anyone who could afford to live within the walls were protected. Everyone else… well, Irily insisted on studying ley to give everyone a fighting chance. Not just the lucky few.
And in a few days, even the third sun would dip below the horizon and true night would be upon them.
Irily shook her head as she scaled the stairs and located her sister’s office. As one of the senior seraphs, and favored for captain, Janetta had more responsibilities than the average seraph. She handled squad assignments for several shifts, spending her own days off on wall repairs rather than at home. Between the two of them, the family house was rarely occupied. Workaholics, the both of them. Their mother would be proud. Their father would have pranked them into taking days off. If either of them had lived, Irily wasn’t sure life would be far different. Not with the kind of headstrong daughters their parents had raised.
A low grumbling growl met Irily at the doorway of Janetta’s office. She knocked anyway.
”Come in,” Janetta said, her tone indicating she was only half paying attention.
Sure enough, her head was bowed over parchments and lists when Irily pushed the door open. Leodin, a giant, dark-colored dog, greeted Irily instead. She was the source of the huffing. On all fours, Leodin’s block head nearly reached Irily’s chest, and Irily didn’t think she was all that short. The dog made for an intimidating and effective guard. When she wasn’t rolling onto her back and lolling her tongue out, that was. Irily crouched to give her a hearty belly rub and grabbed the dog’s massive plate-sized paws. Each claw was two inches long, every toe as long as Irily’s fingers. She wiggled Leodin’s legs so her paws flopped and laughed when the dog tried to lean up and lick her. ”You giant softy,” she crooned. ”Who’s a good demon-hunter? You are. Yes, you are.”
”Keep doing that and she’ll think you’re going to take her on a w‑a-l‑k.”
Leodin’s jaw snapped shut and she sat up on one shoulder, blunt ears perked at Janetta.
Irily laughed. ”I think she can spell.”
Janetta snorted deep in her chest as she set her parchment aside. ”That’s just what I need. A giant magic dog that can spell. Next you’ll tell me she can read, too.”
”Hey, that wouldn’t be so bad. She could find her own shift assignment.”
Janetta smiled. She leaned her cheek into one hand, elbow perched on the desk. ”I think she misses being out there. Ever since I started this”–she gestured to the desk and office–”she hasn’t had a chance to really stretch her muscles.”
Irily gave Leodin another pat and stood. She slouched into one of the hard chairs positioned in front of Janetta’s desk. ”Here,” she said, handing over Victor’s letter. ”Maybe you’ll appreciate this, then.”
”Is this paper?”
Irily rolled her eyes and let her sister hang. She wasn’t going to try and explain the scholar. He was eclectic even for a bright. Janetta broke the seal and read.
”Oh, no. Nope. Absolutely not.”
Irily sat up in the hard chair. ”What? What does it say?”
”Victor wants me to take you beyond the wall tonight to capture a class five. That is not happening. No.” Janetta put the paper down on her desk, squinting like she couldn’t believe the words.
”A class five?” Irily frowned. ”We had a class three in the study today.”
”What?” Janetta jerked her head up. ”There was a demon behind the walls? Was anyone hurt?”
”Yes–no, no one was hurt. We doused the lights–”
”Janetta, calm down. Nothing happened and no one was hurt. We need to study these things–”
Janetta stood behind her desk, looming in as much authority as Irily had ever seen. ”Not if you’re going to bring them behind the walls.”
Irily craned her neck up at her sister and slumped back in the chair. ”Look, you’re afraid of them, I get it. We’re all afraid of them. I wasn’t exactly on board when Victor suggested the idea, but he said he’d done it before and–”
”Gods above, protect us,” Janetta sighed reflexively. She closed her eyes and shook her head, then hung it low. ”So you doused the lights and let one manifest in the study. Right in the heart of the city–”
”They feel pain, Janetta.” Irily interjected, harshly. She was tolerant when Victor tried to roll over her with his opinions, but Janetta was her sister, not her guardian.
Janetta leaned back. When she stood straight she was less the future captain of the seraphs and more Irily’s blood. ”What?”
”We injected it with light ley, right in the haunch. It freaked out, of course. But it whimpered, too. They feel pain. They’re alive. We burned it down to the size of a two, but it kept it’s class three features. It was even willing to test the light to get to Victor. It knew Victor had hurt it. There wasn’t just random attacks. They can think and reason.”
Janetta sat down slowly and Irily knew she finally had her attention.
”I think there’s a way to weaponize light ley to fight them.”
Janetta glanced at the parchments across her desk, but Irily could tell she wasn’t really seeing them. ”This doesn’t make sense. They can’t be alive, they’re not born.” She shook her head. ”They don’t breed they just… consume.” Janetta met Irily’s eyes. ”What if they’re just imitating?”
”None of us in that room whimpered. What would it have imitated? But if it did, that means they’re smart enough to recognize a behavior and then recreate it. Isn’t that how every creature learns? And what does it mean if they’re not imitating? How did it learn? When did it learn? If they’re made of ley like we think, does that mean the ley itself is smart?” Irily suddenly recalled the way both her light ley and the captured dark ley had synced their flow in the vials on Victors desk. ”Can it communicate with itself?” She asked quietly. Irily sparked ley between her fingers. ”Is it alive before it becomes a demon?”
”Oh, Gods,” Janetta groaned. She put her head in both hands, elbows splayed on the desk. ”I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t want to know.”
”That’s just fear talking and you know it.” Irily stood, still thoughtfully sparking light in her hands, brow furrowed. ”You don’t have to take me outside the wall. I’ll find a seraph on tonight’s shift.”
”Irily…” Janetta pleaded.
Irily stopped at the doorway. ”What do you think is going to happen during true night?” she asked without malice. ”The third sun falls and… then what? Dark ley is going to sweep through the valley so fast, it’ll turn the fields for us. If I can capture a class five tonight, what is going to come out of the woods in a week? A class seven? An army of class sevens?”
”Worse,” Janetta said softly.
Irily dropped her ley abruptly. ”I’m sorry?”
Janetta palmed a stack of parchments across the desk until she isolated one. She tapped it. ”I’m starting to get reports of class tens at the edge of the forest at the deepest time of night.”
”Class ten…” Irily wracked her brain for the details. Fives could see. Sevens could mimic human voices. But tens… ”They look like people, don’t they?”
Janetta nodded. ”I’ve lost three seraphs already. Everyone on a shift knows to stay wary but we’re trying to keep a lid on it. If people knew…”
”The city would be flooded with panicked evacuees. We’d be overwhelmed.”
”And then the accusations would start,” Janetta agreed. ”If the demons look like people, anyone could be a demon.”
Janetta made an agreeable grunt.
”I’m going out tonight,” Irily said. ”I have to. If there’s even a chance of learning something useful…”
Janetta eyed her. ”Don’t ask me to like it.”
Irily smiled. ”I won’t. Keep the lights on for me.”