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City of Sorcery

City of Sorcery

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Book 5 of the Hundred Halls series

As the Hundred Halls teeters on the brink of civil war, Aurie and Pi trace dangerous clues about the disappearance of Invictus, discovering their family's deep ties with the university's past. Facing truths that could alter their identities, the sisters must decide if uncovering the ultimate secrets is worth the risk of saving the world.


As the Hundred Halls heads towards civil war, the fate of the city—and possibly the world—depends on Aurie and Pi finding the truth about Invictus' disappearance. Following a trail of dangerous clues, the sisters delve deeper into the head patron's past, finding their family's history entwined with the university. As they get closer to the final answer, they must decide if saving the world is worth shattering the ideas of who they think they really are.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One

The choking jungle air stunk of rotting vegetation and fresh blood. Panting and out of breath, Mags desperately wanted to take a break after escaping the two-headed constrictor, but there was no time for fear if she wanted her choice of Halls. It was a top score or nothing for Mags.
Thankfully, the claustrophobic jungle was behind her, and she hadn't yet used any of the items they'd given her for the first phase of the Proving Grounds. Mags pulled her rune-covered arm across her forehead, wiping away the sweat and grime from tumbling down the hill.
After a short jog across a spongy peat bog, she reached a doorway that led to a square room covered in silvery tiles with a single rune on each. Reflexively, she rubbed the rune-tattoos on her arm as she studied the challenge. Certainly, she had to get past the area and reach the doorway on other side, but what was the puzzle?
There were thirty-eight different common runic languages that were suggested studying material for passing the Trials, but at a glance, Mags saw examples of the more obscure pictographs, which indicated there was more to the puzzle than memorization.
Mags checked her palm for the time. She'd put a modified rainbow-skin spell on her hand, which would slowly transform the color of her pale skin over the course of an hour. The center of her palm, up to the calluses, was purple and blue, which meant she'd been in the Proving Grounds for twenty minutes. The top time so far was twenty-three minutes. Dealing with the snake had cost her time, but if she could avoid using her items, she'd get bonuses, which would put her in the lead going into day two. Assuming, of course, she could finish the trial within the next ten minutes.
"Come on, Mags. What's the solution?"
The room was forty feet long and twenty feet wide, with each tile at a square foot. Examples of at least ten of the common runic languages were displayed on the tiles. The tiles were a metallic silver, which put a stone in Mags' gut, for reasons she couldn't quite qualify.
She checked her palm again, annoyed by the way the blue was turning green at the base of her fingers.
"Why these languages and not the others?" she asked as she scanned the board for clues. "There's the first five symbols for the Astral runes, there's the Sumerian ones...wait, they're in order."
Mags tried to find a series that led across the room, but it was hard to see the runes further out due to the angle. She really needed to step onto the board to see, but if she took the wrong path, would she be punished for a misstep?
In the end, Mags picked the Mongolian rune set because it reached the farthest across. As she stepped onto the first rune, Horse-Man, she nearly fell due to the mud caked onto the soles of her sneakers. Mags ripped them off, then her socks, and wiped her feet on her thighs, using the yoga tree pose. Once they were clean, she hopped over three tiles to land on Moon-Harvest, but skidded forward until her toes crossed the threshold onto an Astral rune: Doorway.
A painful shock slammed into her toes, cramping her foot, making her stumble towards the rune behind her. She barely managed to keep her balance.
After teetering for a bit, she spotted the third rune and made the short jump, landing cleanly in the center. She paused, remembering the jar of ointment that they'd given her in the beginning. It had the property of turning into a hard shell when spread on a surface. Her journey across the room would be much easier if she used it, but that felt like a trap to her. The Proving Grounds were meant to reward creativity and knowledge, not blindly accepting what was already there, so she decided not to use the ointment.
Mags was readying to move to the fourth tile when the room started to tilt. She made the jump, but landing was already becoming difficult. With her arms wheeling for balance, she found the fifth, Arrow-Arrow, and made the jump successfully, trying to spot the sixth as she flew through the air. Landing, her feet lost traction for a moment, but she gripped with her toes and managed to hold on.
The next jump wasn't as clear cut, as she spotted two runes that looked similar to the seventh, Spirit-Breath. With no time to waste, she made the leap, realizing she'd chosen the wrong rune as she flew through the air.
The shocking impact knocked her off her feet, and as she slid down the slope towards a chute at the end, she was shocked again and again, until she felt like popcorn on a hot plate. Mags barely registered the slide through the metal chute, but eventually she was deposited on a little island surrounded by a massive chasm.
Every muscle ached. It felt like she'd been hit by a wrench about two dozen times across her body. Some of the shocks had hit hard enough to scorch her arms, creating a lingering burnt-hair smell.
Lying on her side, Mags punched the hard stone. "Fuck!"
At twenty-five minutes, she had no chance to get a top score, and now she risked going into day two with a dangerously low score, and possibly not even finishing the course, which would knock her out of the Trials.
As she checked her surroundings, she realized it was even worse than she thought. The chute had left her near the beginning of the jungle. It was a decent jump across a gap to reach the edge, but doable with the rubber ball, which would give her extra spring if she swallowed it.
Mags doubly cursed herself for not taking extra time at the puzzle. If she'd only found a way to scout the whole floor, she could have made her way across in rapid time, avoiding the extreme floor tilt. Her impatience had cost her.
And now she had to go through the jungle again, a prospect that was less than inviting. She knew there were at least three other two-headed snakes in trees. She'd been lucky that she'd only had to battle one. She wouldn't be lucky a second time.
The chasm behind her was at least one hundred feet across, but it looked like it reached the area near the end of the Proving Grounds. The whole setup was U-shaped. It was possible to get caught back up, if she could make the jump.
Suddenly, the idea of finishing at the top was back on her mind.
"If I can get across, I won't be last."
But when she looked over the edge, the vast emptiness was imposing. She couldn't see a bottom and didn't want to waste time dropping something. The island was only ten feet across, not enough for much of a running start.
Mags eyed the runes on her arms. She knew a way to suppress them, but it would be dangerous, and she didn't know if it would be enough to get her across.
"I've got to finish at the top." She stared at the tantalizing cliff edge across the gap. "Fuck. Why am I even thinking about this?"
The blue-green on her palm was turning yellow. Time was running out.
Mags moved towards the jungle on her little island, backing up until her heels hung over the edge. The spell to suppress the runes wouldn't last long. She wasn't even supposed to know about it, but it was hard for the doctors to hide it from her when she had to go back to the hospital for semiannual checkups.
For a moment, she considered not using the rubber ball, but decided her impatience had cost her at the last obstacle. Better to make sure she crossed the gap than be filled with fatal regrets.
The rubber ball tasted a little like vomit, which made swallowing it difficult, but once it was past her esophagus, it dissolved and she could breathe again.
Mags gave the jungle one last longing look before suppressing her protective runes with a simple spell that was only three words and two gestures. Her body tingled with faez, indicating it'd taken effect, and she felt buoyant, but vulnerable.
"I hate snakes, anyway," she said, before sprinting towards the far cliff, slamming her foot down to leap across at the last moment.
She flew through the air, and realized that she might not make it across. Mags cast the suppression spell a second time, which seemed to lift her higher in the air. She floated like a feather on a breeze. She hit the rocky soil on the other side, tumbling into a messy roll that left her dizzy when she came to a stop. It took a few moments to notice that she'd broken her left arm, a couple of fingers, and at least three ribs. The protective runes had snapped back into place around the time she'd hit, but not fast enough to keep her from injury.
"At least it wasn't my legs," she muttered as she climbed to her feet, grimacing as the broken ribs put a spear into her side.
Mags found a path and followed it down a slope to a darkened archway. Getting past the final challenge was going to be extremely difficult with broken bones, and she didn't know any healing spells. She stepped through the threshold to be startled by a triumphant gong.
She was back in the entry room. Exhausted and injured, but elated, Mags limped into the main area, and as she did, her name went up near the top of the list at #8. Margaret Dubois.
There was brief scattered applause, but it died quickly. Mostly she received glares from those lowest on the board who were further at risk of not making it past the trials due to her score. Mags was going to find a healer when she noticed one of the fifth years working the far side of the room, handing out toiletry packets for the night in the dormitory.
With her broken arm held against her side, Mags made her way over, blurting out as soon as she reached her, "Awesome Aurie!"
Aurelia Silverthorne was standing behind a table in her formal dark robes. Her shoulder-length black hair had been straightened, the bangs cut across the front. She looked different to Mags than she remembered, harder, wiser, as if Aurie had been tempered in hot flame. There was something that suggested danger, the same feeling Mags got when she saw a patron up close, but there was also kindness and warmth in her gaze.
Aurie's mouth worked the air, but no sound came out. She glanced at the board, then back to Mags. "Elegant Emily?"
Mags limped away from the table, feeling something akin to a sunbeam trying to burst out of her chest. Aurie joined her. "I'm not supposed to go by that anymore. Margaret's my middle name, and Dubois is my mother's maiden name, but you can call me Mags."

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  • Magical Academy
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