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Gathering of Shadows

Gathering of Shadows

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Book 4 of the Hundred Halls series

This year at the Hundred Halls, the Arcanium stands defenseless as its Patron, Semyon Grey, recovers from a torn soul, leaving students unable to practice magic amid threats from the Cabal and faez madness. The Silverthorne sisters face a dire challenge to accelerate Semyon's healing to save the university, leading them to a perilous choice that could cost them their lives.


Every fall the city of Invictus bustles with new students, and the classrooms reek of spent faez. This year it's true of every hall except one—Arcanium.

While Semyon Grey, the Patron of Arcanium, slowly heals from his soul being torn, no one in the Hall can practice their craft, leaving them defenseless against the Cabal and faez madness. The Silverthorne sisters must find a way to speed up the healing, or the Hundred Halls won't survive the year. But everything they try only makes things worse, until they're left with an impossible decision that may cost the sisters their lives.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One

The city of Invictus melted beneath the punishing August sun. It'd been fourteen days in a row above 105 degrees, with nary a cloud for comfort or rain. Only the gondolas reserved for the fourth and fifth years dared the pale blue, endless sky, windows winking across the heavens.
For mages of the Hundred Halls, the fourth year was a time of exponential growth. The basics of spell work were mastered, so more freedom was given by the professors as students poured their time and efforts into a specialty. Fourth years were effervescent. During that year, the checkout girl at the Save'n Spend, or the waiter at Applebee's, might call them by the honorific Mage due to their confidence, even though they had not yet earned it.
The group of fourth years that Pi traveled with—her sister included—could have been mistaken for a group of prisoners on their way to hard labor. They'd been holed up in Arcanium all summer, clawing at the walls like vampires in a locked coffin.
No one wore clothing related to the Hundred Halls or Arcanium, nothing to give away that they were mages. Deshawn and Isabella were holding hands, heads huddled close as they whispered to each other. Xi, Tristen, and Daniel brought up the rear, necks craning for an attack, flinching whenever a car passed them.
"Come on, guys," said Pi, hands jammed into the pockets of her leather jacket. "A trip to Freeport Games is supposed to be fun. I swear everything will be okay. Lighten up, you look like kindergarteners about to tour John Wayne Gacy's house."
Aurie gave her that look, the one that was two parts sisterly love with just enough exasperation not to be condescending.
"It's brutal out here," said Deshawn, taking a handkerchief to his forehead. "Does Freeport have a shower in the back? Cause I'm gonna need it after we get there."
"The city smells like hot garbage," said Xi, pinching his nose with his forefinger and thumb.
There were nods from the others. They were wilted.
She kept forgetting that they feared to use magic while the patron of Arcanium, Semyon Gray, was in his soul-torn coma. Spells that provided comfort in extreme elements were some of the first ones new hall mages learned, but Arcanium students couldn't even cast Arianna's Comfort Skin. And the spells provided by others wouldn't stick. It was like they were allergic to magic.
Semyon's soul had been torn in the battle with the soul thief at the end of their third year. The only known cure was time, but no one knew how long it was going to take, and until he was healed, if the mages connected to him used too much magic, he could die, and those that couldn't handle it would go mad.
"Where's Hannah? I thought she was supposed to meet us outside of Arcanium?" asked Aurie, forehead knotted with concern.
"She was running late, said she'd meet us at the train station," said Pi, rereading the last text from Hannah to make sure she'd read it right.
The background voices in her head rose in crescendo for a moment, before settling down, like a crowd before a concert. She'd gotten used to having the fragments of twelve other people inside her head, especially since she heard them directly less and less. At first it'd been hard to compete with the sheer number of voices, but over the summer they'd assimilated to the point that when she experienced their memories, it was hard to remember that they weren't hers.
"We should go back," said Deshawn, squeezing Isabella to his side. "It was a mistake to come out. It's not safe for us."
"I'm here to protect you," said Pi, winking.
She caught a few of them looking away. Though they didn't know about the additional souls, everyone knew she wasn't technically part of Arcanium, though not the reason why. So there was an uneasiness as if they knew in their guts she wasn't like them.
Aurie stared at Pi. A little frown hung on the corners of her lips. She'd been warning Pi to stop reminding people that she wasn't in Arcanium any longer.
Her phone buzzed against her leg.
"Shit," said Pi. "Hannah says a group of Protectors got off the train and are headed our way."
They were only half a block from the station. The train rumbled away, squelching as it banked out of a turn, headed deeper into the city. A group of grade school aged boys filtered out of the nearby Spell 'O Mart, laughing and spitting water at each other.
"Maybe it's a coincidence and they're not here for us," said Tristen, who clearly didn't believe his words even as they came out of his mouth.
Pi checked the message again. The time stamp on the text was a minute old. A knot formed in her sternum.
"Aurie, take them back to Arcanium. I'll run interference."
Her sister had barely nodded her head when the group of Protectors came around a brick building at a jog, implied violence in their predator-like focus. There were four guys and two girls. Fourth or fifth year mages.
Her friends turned to run, but a Voice of Command nailed their feet to the sidewalk. They tugged on their legs, trying to pry them loose as if the concrete had turned to glue.
"Aurelia Maximus Silverthorne!"
The truth magic from Aurie's lips blasted towards the Protectors, knocking them off their feet and bringing a grin of pride to Pi's lips. Her sister was formidable, even without access to the majority of her magic.
"It's her!" said the leader of the Protectors, a rail-thin girl with a braid of black hair hanging over her shoulder. She looked like the kind of girl that would snitch on her parents for slow-rolling a stop sign.
The six Protectors raised twin fists in unison, bringing them down as if they were banging on a table, trying to flip it over. The blast wave that rolled their way, sending up a cloud of dust and debris, was meant for controlling riots.
Pi leapt into its path, calling forth a spell from the Daring Maids—a hall dedicated to protecting women around the world. She intended to deflect the spell, but seeing that it would hit the boys loitering in front of the Spell 'O Mart, she had to let the full force hit her square in the chest, throwing her into a brick wall.
The silver amulet on her wrist disintegrated. The impact was rerouted into it, saving Pi from being turned into mush. She'd hoped they wouldn't run into trouble, but had prepared herself accordingly. She'd have purple-blue bruises across her body, but it was better than a concussion and multiple broken bones.
The Protectors rushed forward. The lead girl had spell dampening manacles in her hands.
Pi was climbing to her feet when Hannah came rollerblading around the corner. Hannah was sporting a blue Mohawk and a fresh sleeve of colorful tattoos. She lobbed a handful of metal balls at the Protectors. As they hit the concrete, they exploded into a web of sticky white goo, freezing the Protectors into place.
Using the opportunity, Pi raced to her friends and countered the charm so they could continue their escape. Aurie started to linger, but Pi pushed her after the others.
"Stay with them, there could be others," said Pi.
Braid Girl snapped the sticky webbing into dust, her dark eyebrows forming an angry V. "Brad. Sunil. After them."
Two Protectors broke off, curling away. Before Pi said anything, Hannah charged after them. "On it!"
"Armor up," said Braid Girl.
Fully enchanted body armor snapped into place across the Protectors' limbs, glowing with eldritch runes. A high-pitched whine emanated from them. Another time, Pi might have enjoyed their display of magic because they reminded her of a childhood watching Japanese anime and tokusatsu, but having it arrayed against her brought a healthy dose of doubt.
Pi's mouth went dry at the realization that she'd misjudged the trip. The Halls that formed the Cabal had been testing Arcanium during the summer, trying to get the students to use magic and injure Semyon, but they hadn't resorted to direct attacks.
As if to highlight the unusualness of a wizard showdown in the middle of Invictus, a maroon SUV slammed on its breaks at the other end of the street, its wheels burning out as it reversed in a wobbly fishtail.
"All this for little ol' me?" asked Pi, taking a tentative step backwards.
Braid Girl gave signs to spread out. They expanded into an arc. "No quarter."
"No quarter. What the hell does that—"
The words were barely out of Pi's mouth when the Protectors moved as one. Four force bolts shimmered through the air like invisible fists.
Pi threw herself out of the way. Two of the bolts connected, spinning her down the street. She landed in a tangled heap, sight blurry.
"I think I chipped a tooth," she muttered, rubbing her jaw as she slowly climbed to her feet as the Protectors advanced.
A spell called itself to her mind from the Aura Healer soul. It was a mild anesthetic that would dampen the pain, though it carried risks if she pushed herself too far.
Pi quickly cast it. The searing ache dulled until it was a low throb.
She eyed her surroundings. A head-to-head fight was suicidal with four armored Protectors, and she needed time.
Pi avoided a second volley of force bolts with a spell-aided jump, and kept running, veering down the street the SUV had traveled.
A vial of chalky blue liquid from her leather jacket went down her throat with a little choking and gagging, but as soon as it hit her stomach, a surge of energy filled her limbs. Her senses brightened as if the world had been turned up to eleven.
The Protectors followed, enhanced by their armor. Pi had to dodge more force bolts, zigging and zagging across the street. An attempt at a force shield was blown apart by the impact of four bolts.
She threw herself down an alleyway and pushed herself into a burst of speed. She'd pay for the strain on her limbs later. Already the anesthetic spell was fraying at the edges, bringing needlelike aches to her neck and knees, but she had no room to rest, and she doubled her efforts until she came out the other side.
The street was filled with cross-traffic. The sidewalk teemed with pedestrians craning their necks at the gondolas traveling overhead.
The Protectors charged down the alleyway. Pi was looking for a place to hide when the mathmagics soul gave her an idea.
Pi stepped back into the alleyway and cupped her hands around her mouth.
"How many times were you dropped on your head as a baby to qualify to be in Protectors?"
As expected, they slowed long enough to launch another volley of force bolts, oblivious to the people on the street. Pi threw up a force wall, but this time shaped it into a parabola-like structure. When the bolts hit, they zipped around and headed right back at the Protectors, knocking them from their feet.
"Math is useful," said Pi as she ran away, feeling a warm satisfaction inside her mind.
Pi circled back towards Arcanium, noting that she'd heard no sirens or helicopters. There was no way that a full-out mage battle hadn't been reported, which meant it was being suppressed at Police HQ. This was worrisome for many reasons, none she cared to contemplate while they were chasing her.
Three blocks from the alley, Pi cut through a parking garage under construction. Orange cones and tarps blocked the entrance, and far above, the harmonies of stone singers bent stone to their will. Stone singer magic had a primal, gut feel to it, and the reverberations in the concrete tickled her hearing.
Running across the yellow lines that demarcated parking spots, Pi didn't think much of the strand of wire lying on the concrete. It looped around her ankle as she leapt over, dragging her back to the ground in a hip-twisting yank.
Pi made a slashing gesture to sever the cord, but Protector Sunil stepped from behind a concrete pillar and hit her with Voice of Command from point-blank range, freezing her limbs and giving the cord a chance to coil around her like a constrictor.
He flicked a wad of bubblegum-like substance from his fingertips, and it landed on her hands, gluing them together. Pi thrashed around like a wolverine in a cage.
"Stop moving," said Sunil, eyes dark with purpose as he pulled a cell phone from his pocket. "You'll only get hurt."
"Go fuck yourself."
"Bannon will be so pleased with me," he said, smirking. "I caught both Silverthorne sisters singlehandedly. Maybe he'll even let me keep one of you."
On the other side of the wall, Pi saw her sister lying unconscious, a dreadful cut across her forehead leaking blood into her right eye.
"I'm going to shove that cell phone up your ass if you don't let me go so I can tend to my sister."
Sunil flicked his wrist, which made the substance around her hands squeeze tighter until her fingers were bright red. The circulation was being cut off.
Pi raged against her bindings, straining and pushing. She hated seeing her sister in pain. She started thinking of the many things she would do to Sunil if she got loose before deciding to conserve her energy and focus on the actual act of freeing herself.

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