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Web of Lies

Web of Lies

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Book 2 of the Hundred Halls series

Aurelia "Aurie" Silverthorne's second year at the magical Hundred Halls University spirals into chaos as she unleashes a deadly plague and faces lethal challenges in the Grand Contest.

Synopsis

Whoever controls the Hundred Halls, controls the world. Aurelia "Aurie" Silverthorne has high hopes for her second year in the Hundred Halls, the world's only magical university, but her expectations are destroyed when she accidentally unleashes a plague of faez-eating thralls and spends week after week getting killed in the Grand Contest. But none of this matters when Aurie learns that the Cabal searches for a powerful magic that will help them get control of the Hundred Halls. If Aurie can't stop them, then passing her classes will be the least of her worries.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One

Sometimes keys opened portals into other worlds. Other times, they had the mark of secrecy, locking away things that should never be seen. Keys could do all sorts of things, but the one thing they couldn't do was lie about what they were used for.
The key in Aurelia Silverthorne's hand cleaved to the high-grade lock on the old building in the Enochian District like a long-lost friend. The door was solid, not rattly like the one in Aurie's old apartment in the thirteenth ward. The former historical district had deep bones in the city, good brick walls, and doors that couldn't be picked with a coat hanger.
The shelves and counters inside were covered in dust, and water stains covered the back wall, but a quick inspection revealed no rat droppings, which was a relief. When Aurie had purchased it at the property auction, she was prepared to fix things, but she didn't want any rats, or spiders. The building had other features she couldn't quite understand, like a row of large cubbies along the west wall and a pile of mannequins in the back room.
A deeper inspection revealed that she'd gotten lucky. The price had been virtually free—the city wanted the property off their records and back to earning taxes. She hadn't entirely planned on purchasing a property, but a freak storm had kept attendance at the auction to a minimum, and she was able to purchase it with the money she had in her purse. The only reason no one had outbid her was because the only other person in the room had stepped out for a cigarette, and he'd already bought two dozen properties.
The clerk had asked why a smart-looking young woman wanted a building in their area, but Aurie had just smiled and ignored him. While she didn't know any non-humans, she wasn't going to judge them en masse, and what was the point of opening a clinic if it wasn't in the area that people needed it the most?
Aurie had also checked into the legality of the clinic, but found nothing keeping her from the idea. The city of Invictus had loose laws surrounding magic, assuming you were not violating norms by committing crimes like murder, or assault. The only reason she couldn't practice magic at Golden Willow was due to hospital rules. While she loved interacting with the kids and helping out on the floor, she didn't feel as useful as she thought she should be.
Opening her own clinic seemed kind of crazy—she hadn't even told her sister Pi about it—but once she'd seen the property auction on a flyer at the Supermagic Market, she couldn't shake the idea.
Once she'd surveyed the property, Aurie carried the box of cleaning supplies from the light blue Corolla she'd borrowed from Xi into the building. Then she drove the car back to Arcanium, and came back to the eleventh ward on the Red Line.
When she returned, a man in a baggy lime green sweater approached from the row of brownstones across the street past the empty dragon fountain in the middle of the square. A woman holding a toddler by the hand stood at their front door, watching.
"You can't be here," said the man in a squeaky voice before he'd reached her. His frayed corduroy pants whisked together as he walked. He was shorter and smaller than her, with a shaggy head of hair and an elongated nose indicating he was a non-human. The loose-fitting clothes seemed to be hiding other differences.
"I bought this place," Aurie said, jabbing her thumb at the building behind her.
His nose wriggled with what she could only assume was disgust.
"I'm Aurie," she said, holding out her hand in greeting.
After giving the air a testing sniff, he scooted forward until he barely touched her fingertips with his hand, then backed away as if she might be contagious. "Nezumi," he said, eventually.
"It's nice to meet you, Nezumi. Is that your wife and child over there?" she asked.
Nezumi's black eyes rounded with excitement. "Yes. Best wife. Best child. Now we have good house. Warm bed. Happy family."
"Congratulations," she said. "I'm happy for you."
He eyed her carefully as if he didn't believe her, but she was happy, even if it came with a twinge of jealousy. Would that ever get better? Would that ever change? Or would she always look at families and wonder how hers might have been?
"Not many live here," she said, trying to make small talk.
"Maybe good. House cheap, so Nezumi can afford. Otherwise, live under bridge or in Undercity," he said.
He kept glancing around as if he expected an ambush at any moment. Life in the Undercity had probably engrained that. She could tell he had a gentle soul.
"What do you do, Nezumi?" she asked.
He puffed up his chest. "I am assistant librarian. Head librarian lets me sniff books, find the mold, so we can keep the books safe. Lets me read when no books to sniff. Maybe someday I will be a regular librarian and get to work counter."
"I love books, too! I want to help you," said Aurie, a bubbling joy forming in her chest. To help someone like him carve out a little more civilization within the crowded city was exactly why she'd come to the district. She knew in her mind that she had unreasonable expectations of how quickly she could accomplish it, but that wasn't going to stop her.
"You do?" asked Nezumi suspiciously.
He kneaded his hands together. His jacket was threadbare. She could tell he was barely keeping things together.
"I'm opening a clinic," she said, trying to sound confident, yet to her ears she felt like a child telling their parents they wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman.
"Clique? We don't need clique here, whatever that is," he said, nose twitching furiously. He glanced at his wife anxiously as if they were late for an appointment.
"No. A clin-ic. I'm a mage. I can help people," she said.
He recoiled from her as if slime had poured from her nose and ears. He scurried to her side and started pushing her.
"No-no-no. No mages. You can't be here," he said. "Nezumi say go."
"What's wrong with mages?" she asked, genuinely curious.
"Mages okay, but not here," he said, nearly to tears. "Big problems."
She outweighed him considerably, but didn't want to hurt him, so she let him push, even though he wasn't budging her. "I'm not leaving. I came here to help. This place needs public services."
"We okay on own," squeaked Nezumi. "Magic brings the wakers from the darkness. Gives them life. So you must go. No mages. Always trouble. Trouble they are. Shoo, mage, shoo."
She sighed and gently removed his hands from her, pushing him towards his wife and child on the other side of the street.
"It'll be fine," said Aurie. "I know what I'm doing."
He turned away, but the last look on his face said otherwise. It was disappointed, and worried, and almost to tears.
Once he was out of hearing range, she added, "I hope," and went into her building. The first thing Aurie did was remove the boards on the front windows, letting in the afternoon light, and revealing the previous shop name: Enchanting Apparel. The name explained the cubbies and mannequins.
She didn't know any spells to remove sign lettering from windows, so she used a variation of truth magic, whispering to the letters that they really didn't want to stick to the glass. After a few pokes with a scraper, the letters fell off.
Next, she spent a few hours sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, and generally sanitizing the room. She could have removed the grime with a spell, but she knew from her work at the hospital that it was more satisfying to do it by hand.
As daylight faded, Aurie turned on the portable lamp she'd brought, since the electricity hadn't been turned back on, and kept cleaning. On previous visits to the Enochian District, she'd made herself scarce at night, but she decided that if she was going to serve the community, she needed to get over her fears.
Aurie was cleaning a counter when she saw movement outside the window, felt eyes watching her. She didn't think it was Nezumi, since the figure was much larger. Despite her heartbeat doubling, she kept cleaning as if nothing was wrong.
A single thump of a fist against the window made her drop the soapy sponge back into the bucket. Nezumi's words about wakers in the darkness trickled back into her mind.
Magic brings the wakers from the darkness. Gives them life.
Aurie moved to the window and pressed her face against it to see past the glare. No one was out there, at least that she could see. Probably some kids pulling a prank. She knew they wouldn't want her here at first.
She kept cleaning, and after a while, she forgot about what had made the noise. Then something hit the door hard enough to rattle the bell.
When she couldn't see anyone in the immediate vicinity, she unlocked the door and slipped outside.
"Hello?"
The night swallowed her greeting. The street lights in the Enochian District had been knocked out, except for a pair further down the street.
Aurie was prepared to go back inside when a figure moved to the edge of the light from her clinic.
"Hello, friend," she said.
The person stood awkwardly, one shoulder lower than the other. On a scale of zero to creepy he was somewhere around vaguely nightmarish.
"You shouldn't stand like that. Bad for posture," she joked, hoping to break the mood if it was just some kid trying to get a rise out of her. There was no response, not even a twitch.
Aurie was aware he was only a few strides away, and could be on her before she could muster a single spell, but she didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with a resident of the district.
Aurie stood her ground and said in as calm a voice as she could muster, "I'm opening a clinic to help those in need. You can pay what you can afford. I'll be here Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Sunday afternoons."
The last part she'd made up on the spot. She hoped that would work with her classes, since they started in a week, but she didn't think it'd be a problem.
When he didn't respond, Aurie decided to get a closer look. She touched her earrings to summon the light that was contained within. The figure recoiled from the lumination and, rather than return to its nearly comatose state, started pawing at the air as if it were waking. She'd caught a brief glimpse of the man; he looked like a mindless drug addict, or a well-dressed zombie without the rotting flesh.
On the far end of the street near the dragon fountain, Aurie detected more movement, a couple of shapes milling around. A tangy metallic scent filled the air, making her nose itch.
"Goodbye," she said, then dispelled the light and returned inside. She checked the lock twice before resuming her cleaning.
A minute later something heavy hit the window like a rock or a balled fist. The lantern reflected against the window, making seeing outside impossible, so she switched it off. After her eyes adjusted, she saw a figure slumped against the glass. Probably the same guy who wouldn't leave her alone.
The urge to run out the back and abandon the clinic for another night nearly overwhelmed her, but she knew if she left now, she'd never come back. Sure, the Enochian district was filled with non-humans, but they were essentially people, mostly.
But also like people, some of them had less than savory motives. Annoyed by the constant attempts to turn her cleaning into a horror movie, Aurie moved outside, this time ready to use magical force if necessary.
The person was leaning against the glass at what appeared to be a painful angle, almost as if they didn't have a working spine.
"You need to leave now," she said.
The person pulled away from the glass in a grotesque undulation, then took a shambling step towards her. She didn't like the way the creature held its arms, a little too grabby for her tastes.
"If you don't say something, make me a little less nervous about you, I'm going to knock you on your ass," she said.
The figure lurched towards her, arms rising. The distant streetlights revealed a slack expression, which could mean any number of creatures, none of them promising.
When it made a grab for her, she knocked it back with a force bolt. This only incensed the creature, and as soon as it regained its feet, it doubled the effort.
"Get back," she said, hitting it again.
After the second force bolt, interested grunts from the other side of the square moved in her direction. Not wanting to further enrage it, she slipped back into the building and locked the door.
The creature, acting like a zombie minus the rotting flesh, pressed against the glass, banging his fist. Aurie backed into the middle of the room, regretting taking the wooden boards off the front. Shapes moved towards the shop, while the creature rattled her door.
A half dozen of the creatures milled about the front. Some of them pressed against the window as if they could sense her, while the one at the door continued trying to turn the handle. A good rock and they would overrun the front.
Then something attracted their attention. They moved away like a school of fish. Aurie silently cheered until she realized they could be going after someone else.
She slipped out the front door. The creatures were headed directly across the street towards a house with faint illumination peeking through a gap in the curtains. It was the brownstone that she'd seen Nezumi and his family enter.
Magic brings the wakers from the darkness. Gives them life.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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Brian Amerson
Web of Lies is fantastic

As a reader of cozy paranormal books the Web of Lies really delivered. It does have a “happy ever after” ending but with so many twists and turns to get there it was hard to put down. Recommend this book as a must read.