Day 98 – 960 words (49,104 total)

(WOOOO 50K WOOOOOO)

[chapter 9 continued]

When Mira awoke again, she turned over to find Olivier sprawled in a sofa chair beside the bed, sound asleep with his mouth slack. Someone had started an IV line in her arm while she slept, and the tubing snaked away from her forearm to the bag hooked onto the bedpost. She examined it for a moment, blinking until the lines of medical text came into focus, not that she could make any sense of them. Her head felt significantly better—whatever they were dripping into her bloodstream seemed to be having the proper effect.

She lay back and let her eyes drift closed again, the steady rhythm of Olivier’s breathing lulling her into a calm approaching sleep. For the first time in a long while, she could sleep without desperately grasping at the threads of things from the day that she needed to remember—spells, patrol mission plans, people’s names, anything and everything. She resisted the impulse to run through the last things Quentin had told her during demolition training. Just relax, she told herself.

Sleep had almost overtaken her again when she heard the door open and Etienne’s voice cut through the quiet.

“Olivier!” he called.

Mira heard the door click shut behind him as he called Olivier’s name again. She pushed herself a little more upright and said, “He’s sleeping.”

Etienne heard her just as he rounded the corner of the short hallway that led to the main bedroom. “Mira,” he said, almost sighing. “You’re awake.”

She nodded, brushing the hair from her face. “Yes, and that’s more than I can say for this one,” she said with a nod towards Olivier.

Smiling, he came over to her bedside and placed a gentle hand on her forehead. “How are you feeling?”

“Much better,” she replied, but something about his expression made her hesitate instead of elaborating. His gaze was distant, and even when he glanced down to look at her, she could tell he had to fight some more pressing concern in order to focus on her. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Hmm?” he murmured, occupied now by the IV bag hanging from the bedpost.

“The IV is fine, Etienne. What’s wrong?”

He looked down at her solemnly. “Something’s happened.” Before she could ask anything else, he turned to the sofa chair where Olivier was sleeping and shook him awake. It took two firm shakes before Olivier jerked awake with a phlegm-filled sound resembling a toad crossed with a sick cat.

“I’m awake,” he declared, disoriented. His eyes met Etienne’s, and his face lit up. “Etienne! I’m awake.” He wiped a trail of drool from his cheek and noticed Mira sitting propped up slightly in bed. “Oh, Mira’s awake as well! Hello, Mira.”

“Hi,” she said, lifting just her hand from its place resting on top of the covers and giving him a small wave. She looked back to Etienne. “Etienne, what’s going on?”

Olivier caught the line of her gaze and saw the seriousness of his friend’s expression. “Etienne, what is it?”

Etienne paced the narrow aisle between them and finally stopped with his hands on his waist, trench coat pulled back by the motion. “It’s Jean-Pierre. He didn’t return with his patrol.”

No one said anything for a moment. Mira couldn’t find a place to begin understanding the gravity of Etienne’s words. “What—what do you mean he didn’t return with his patrol?”

“The other mage who was with him said they were spotted by secret police,” answered Etienne.

“How?” Olivier demanded. “He’s on an afternoon patrol—we’ve never had problems for routine patrols before curfew.”

“I don’t know,” sighed Etienne. “The other mage said he and Jean-Pierre spotted the police and followed protocol—basic evasion. Before they knew it, it was a full out chase. They split up and Jean-Pierre never made the patrol rendezvous. The patrol got back almost an hour ago, and still no sign of Jean-Pierre.”

Olivier dropped his head back until it touched the sofa back then bobbed up, squinting hard to fully wake himself up. “Get me Julien,” he said as he rocked to his feet.

Nodding, Etienne stepped out of his way. “I’m calling the board together. I want to know what the hell is going on.” He turned to Mira and frowned. “Mira, back to sleep.”

Mira opened her mouth to protest, but she was speechless. “I—Sleep?” she finally managed to stutter. “You can’t expect me to sleep after hearing this kind of news. And miss the board meeting?”

Etienne let out a deep breath and knelt next to the bed. “Mira,” he said softly. “You need rest. I’ve been pushing you too hard these past few weeks.”

I’ve been pushing myself too hard,” she argued. “It’s not your fault. But I refuse to sleep through this.”

“Mira,” he sighed, his head hanging as he searched the carpet for patience.

But Olivier came over and stood behind Etienne. “I’ll come by when we’re done and let you know what’s going on,” he offered gently. “But Etienne’s right. In the meantime, you need to sleep.”

Mira set her jaw, fighting the urge to push the issue further. “Thank you, Olivier,” she said finally.

Etienne checked his watch. “You’re due for new antibiotics in an hour. I’ll make sure you get something to eat, and we should have news by then.”

She looked from Etienne to Olivier and back again. “All right,” she sighed, slouching down under the covers. “Go.”

Etienne straightened, pausing to smooth the covers before he and Olivier turned out the lights and slipped out. Mira sank her head down into the pillow. With each breath in and out, she tried not to think of Jean-Pierre. But every time she succeeded, her thoughts turned to Lucas.

Day 50, 84, 92 – 1,898 words (48,144 total)

(Note: after/while writing this scene, I decided that it’s extraneous and will either get cut or heavily edited. Namely it briefly brings to the forefront a background character who’s not that important. But whatever, Americans need company around here.

Also, inching closer to 50K, if you include future scenes! Trying to write the last few hundred words tonight… But yes, the story goes further than that.)

[chapter 9 continued]

Mira slowly came awake to the soft strains of choral music. Her eyes fluttered open, and she took stock of her surroundings. Nothing alarming, just her bedroom in the Jade League headquarters. She wouldn’t have been able to distinguish it from any other room except she saw her scarf hanging in the closet—the dark blue one she’d stolen from Lucas on a cold night last winter. Her room was otherwise rather nondescript; she’d arrived in Paris with no possessions save the clothes she wore, and her time since then had been consumed with training. Her room was a place to sleep and shower, and everything else she did elsewhere in headquarters.

An unfamiliar man was seated with his back to her at the little-used desk in the corner of the room. The music drifted over from his open laptop, but his head was bent over a legal pad as he wrote diligently. From behind, Mira could only tell that he had dark brown hair, cut short like Olivier’s, and the lean build that was a familiar sight in the Jade League, with everyone shaped by the same training regime.

Mira shifted slightly in the bed, and the sound made the man turn towards her. He set down his pen as he smiled, his olive-tanned skin cast with angular shadows from the desk lamp light coming in sideways.

“Oh good, you’re awake,” he said, his accent refreshingly American. He stood and picked up his chair, moving it over to the bedside. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

Mira blinked twice, her brow furrowed. “Fine,” she answered. “Am I supposed to feel anything besides that?”

He shrugged and handed her a glass of water. She tried to sit up to drink, but as she straightened, a lurching dizziness struck her and forced her to lie back down.

“Okay, I feel less fine now,” she said.

He laughed gently. “I thought that might happen. We think you’ve got a bad sinus infection—I got them all the time when I was little. Charlotte’s tracking down some antibiotics, and you should be up and running again in no time. I’m impressed you showed up for practice in that state.”

“What?” she asked. He was talking about something she felt like she ought to remember, but couldn’t. Not immediately anyway, but what he was saying did explain why she was waking up in her room disoriented with a stranger at her desk.

“You collapsed in the training room,” he said, leaning forward with concern written over his face. “You don’t remember?”

She squinted for a moment, forcing herself to think. Vague recollections of Quentin’s demolition lesson started drifting back. “No, I remember now,” she said. “I didn’t feel that bad. Just a little under the weather.”

He rubbed his forehead absently with one hand. “Well you definitely made it worse, but let’s get some fluids in you and you’ll start feeling better.” He dropped a straw into the glass of water and bent it to her mouth to let her sip. The cool water soothed her dry mouth and throat.

“Thanks,” she said once she drank her fill.

He just nodded in reply and sat back. “You’ve got interesting timing. Etienne has been here since he brought you back from the training grounds, and you picked the single hour he had to leave to wake up.”

Laughing softly, she pulled a hand from under the covers to brush her bangs out of her eyes. “How long have I been out?” she asked.

He checked his watch. “About ten hours,” he answered.

“And Etienne was here that whole time?” she asked, surprised.

“He was worried about you. Worried enough that when he had to go, he stuck you with me,” he said, grinning.

Mira smiled and leaned her head back on the pillow. She squinted to try to relieve the pressure in her forehead, but nothing helped. “You’re American,” she said slowly, waiting for him to respond or refute it. When he didn’t say anything, she turned her head just enough so she could see him clearly. “You must be Josh,” she said, realization dawning on her.

He nodded. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Mira. The board has told me a lot about you.”

She flushed. “Only good things, I hope,” she laughed.

“Only good things,” he assured her.

Josh was the largely absent member of the Jade League board. He had known Charlotte since childhood, and on occasion he had played soccer with Olivier in the informal leagues in London. But Mira had known of Josh before coming to France, though it took her a while to make the connection since joining the league. Josh was the Josh Englehart, heir to the multinational corporation Englehart Enterprises. Mira had yet to meet someone who hadn’t at least heard of Englehart Enterprises, though no one really understood what exactly they did besides dabble in everything. But despite his high profile, Josh had managed to remain simply a name—he had avoided the tabloids, he didn’t do interviews, and he hadn’t made a public appearance in years. That wasn’t to say he had no part in his father’s company. From the Jade League alone, Mira could tell that he had forged and maintained valuable connections, business associates over whom he held sway. With his help, the Jade League had reach that extended beyond Paris—though Josh’s association with the mage resistance was as much a secret as the his other activities.

“So what brings you to Paris?” she asked. “I had the impression you were running things from outside of France.”

He smiled and shifted to rest his ankle on his knee. “Business,” he answered. “It brings me through Paris from time to time, and it gives me a good excuse to check in on things here.”

“But then Etienne has you babysitting me?” she asked.

He laughed. “I volunteered,” he assured her. “I had work to do; Etienne was worried; I wanted to finally meet you. It all fit together.” He paused to hand her the glass of water again. “What brought you to Paris?”

“Hm?” she asked around the straw.

“You asked why I’m in Paris. What about you? Most Americans fled Europe once the crisis started, especially the mages. What are you doing here?”

Mira sighed, letting her head sink into the pillow. “I’ve been thinking about nothing but the Jade League for, well, however long it’s been, that I almost forget sometimes. My best friend and I came to Paris looking for our parents. Mine were executed, and we’re not sure about Lucas’s.”

He tilted his head to the side, watching her with his brow furrowed. “Ah yes,” he said. “Lucas, the mystery of Favreau’s regime. Now I remember Olivier telling me about him.”

She closed her eyes and tried not to wince. “I’m sure he doesn’t come across well in that description.”

“Not really,” he replied. “But he’s your best friend?”

She paused. The phrase in her mind was more closely associated with Esther, whom she’d known since they were seven—but over the course of high school, especially as Mage Society got more serious, she and Lucas had grown closer until he had taken over the role of best friend in everything but title. It wasn’t until Paris that she actually referred to him as her best friend, and it didn’t feel right at first. But that’s what he was. “Yes,” she answered.

“Would you trust him with your life?” asked Josh.

This answer came easily. “Absolutely,” she said, cracking an eye open to look at him.

“Why?”

Mira inhaled deeply. The question wasn’t accusatory; his tone instead was genuinely curious. Why would she trust Lucas with her life? Well for one thing she had before, in partnered fights in Mage Society battles—but that wasn’t really life or death. He was just… Lucas. Loyal. Dependable. And just silly enough to annoy you, but sweet enough to make up for it.

“He’s just,” she began, but had to start again. “I’ve known him for so long. I know him. He’s probably one of the best people I’ve ever met. Everyone loves him—he’s just… he’s the kind of person who energizes a room. And he’s the friend I could always count on.”

Josh rubbed at his forehead and considered her for a moment. “So what do you think he’s doing working for Favreau?”

She frowned. “I—”

“Gut answer.”

Her eyes met his. “I think he found Isabelle and somehow got dragged in deeper than he could dig himself out,” she said in a rush.

He just stared out in the vague direction of the wall following her answer. He seemed to be thinking, processing what she’d said.

“Josh,” she said softly, making him look at her. “I think if he had a choice, he would be on our side.”

Nodding slowly, he folded his hands over his stomach as he slouched lower in his chair. “That’s good to know. But it doesn’t do us much good at the moment.”

“Not really,” she said, letting her eyes drift closed again. Sometimes she wished Lucas were here with her in the Jade League—but if she let herself get into wishful thinking, she might as well be wishing her parents were still alive, or that Favreau never came to power. Wishing along those lines never got her anywhere productive. She thought instead of the here and now, of things she knew for certain.

The chair creaked as Josh straightened. “You should get some more sleep,” he told her.

She opened her eyes and turned to look at him where he was standing with his hand resting on the back of the chair. “Josh, can I ask you kind of a random question?”

“Sure.”

“How did you know you could trust Etienne?” she asked. They all accosted her with questions of why she trusted Lucas, but even in their paranoia they had taken her in easily. Trust was a peculiar currency in the Jade League—not that she thought it had been poorly allocated. She just wondered how easily these working relationships in the league had been formed.

“What do you mean?” asked Josh.

“What made you willing to bring your resources to the Jade League?” she asked.

He leaned down and rested his elbows on the back of the chair.  “It was the right thing to do,” he said quietly. “The mage executions were genocide, even if most of the world won’t put that name to it. I couldn’t stand idly by. Even if I hadn’t already been friends with Charlotte and Olivier, I couldn’t not help the Jade League.”

“But Etienne was a college drop-out. Young. Inexperienced. Why did you trust him?”

“Why did you go train when you were so sick?” he countered. When she threw him a puzzled look, he continued. “It’s the same question. Because experienced or not, Etienne is doing something we believe in—and we want to help him, to make him succeed. And we don’t want to let him down.”

“That’s not why I went to train,” she protested.

“Isn’t it?” he asked with a hint of a smile. He straightened, picking up the chair to bring back to the desk. “Get some rest,” he said. “Etienne will kill me if you’re sicker when he gets back than when he left.”

Day 71, 74, 76, 80, 82 – 2,847 words (46,245 total)

[[9]] Clarté

From the tunnels that led to the mages’ training grounds, Etienne had no way of telling if the sun had set yet. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d consciously noticed the sunset—not that you could really see it with all the fog. Sunset these days was just a shift from light to dark. He’d spent so much time in windowless rooms, and even when he was working in his own bedroom, the creeping darkness only came to his attention when he could no longer see what he was doing and he had to switch on a light. It bothered him—there must be some fundamental human need for sunlight, something about diurnal cycles, not that he could remember specifically learning anything about it. After all, since when did he worry about getting enough sunlight? At Kingham he spent his early mornings and his afternoons basking in sun of the outdoor training grounds.

Mira had a point. He had been cooped up too long, isolated from day-to-day interactions that alleviated the stress of constantly thinking about Jade League operations. Over the past few days, he and the other board members had rejoined the crowds in the mess hall. Just yesterday he’d met a refugee, an elderly old woman, who recognized him from his days waiting tables at his father’s café. They reminisced about the street artist who stood at the edge of the café’s property as he tried to sell his paintings to the café patrons. They ended up in a heated argument over whether or not Etienne’s father had charged fair prices—an argument that lasted nearly an hour and tangentially wandered into discussions of economic theory—until Julien finally came by to ask Etienne if it was time for the intelligence briefing. He had forgotten how comfortable such conversations could be, unburdened by the weight of responsibility he carried as the Jade League’s leader.

The warehouse lobby was empty and quiet as usual, but Etienne noted the subtle signs that his mages had opened up the practice room for the evening. Quentin always righted the small crystal dolphin statue on the receptionist’s desk when he ran demolition training downstairs—it was his way of warning the latecomers to watch out for flying debris when they entered the warehouse. But the other signs weren’t as clearly advertised. A turned desk chair for Julien. A pen on the counter instead of in the cup for Charlotte. Small details, little fidgeting motions while they gathered in the lobby, others missed but Etienne saw. He found a strange sense of comfort from these signs, some sort of reassurance that he wouldn’t be alone.

Downstairs, Etienne slipped into the soundproofed room in the midst of the thundering aftermath of an explosion. The plume of dust and pulverized cement rose from the far side of the warehouse, but he could just make out Quentin’s broad-shouldered figure silhouetted next to Mira’s slighter one as they watched the building crumble. Etienne was too far from them to hear their words, and he could only watch as Quentin pointed where the building once stood and critiqued Mira’s chosen plan of attack. She was listening carefully, nodding or stopping to ask him to clarify something.

Mira was a wonder. He could still see traces of the hesitant, shy girl he’d found in the Notre Dame, but he couldn’t imagine using those words to describe her now. The past few months had changed her, in the best of ways, different aspects of her personality surfacing as time went on. From the start, she had always been incredibly kind and humble, with a good-natured smile that put people at ease. People simply gravitated towards her, drawn in by her teasing sense of humor and the genuineness she brought to everything. He knew there were things she kept to herself, parts of her past and of her self that she didn’t volunteer readily, but she never gave the impression that she had anything to hide. She had an aura of such sweetness and naïveté that it always startled him when she executed sharp, powerful spells without batting an eye.

Etienne came level with Mira and Quentin as they and the other mages with them began shifting down the fake block to a different building. They had exhausted this city mockup for patrol training, and it was easier to build a new one from scratch than try to modify the existing setup, so Quentin used the old ones to teach spellcasting on buildings. Etienne greeted the others and continued a little further down to watch from the other side. He saw Briand, the Kingham mage who led patrols, slip in through the front doors and disappear from view as the heavy wooden doors creaked shut behind him.

Etienne turned to one recruit who had followed him. “What’s he doing?” he asked her, jerking his head in the direction Briand had gone.

She rolled her eyes. “He called it ‘evasive tactics,’” she replied. “Using spells to shape the blast so that he can escape.”

He shook his head slowly. “Always pushing things,” he sighed. Briand had graduated from Kingham a few years ahead of Olivier and well before Etienne’s time, but they had grown close in the early days of the Jade League. He was a strong, capable, and audaciously daring mage—who else would be bold enough to organize the patrols straight through secret police territory? Etienne suspected he lived for the thrill of danger, and stunts like this only confirmed that thought.

Back down the street, Mira consulted with Quentin on one last detail, hand raised to point out the plaster molding along the front of the structure. Etienne couldn’t hear them, but Quentin said something and nodded, then stepped back to let Mira cast her spell.

A demolition spell only resembles an ordinary explosion in its final stages. Quentin trained the recruits to exploit weaknesses in a building’s structure rather than throw overwhelming amounts of energy at the entire edifice. This way, a building fell under a carefully engineered collapse instead of expending a mage’s energy in a single blast. As Mira’s spell began its work, the entire building groaned, straining under the particular forces her spell applied. Etienne watched as the structure seemed to bow inward—the steel beams were meant to withstand the downward pressure of gravity, of force perpendicular to the ground, and it took significantly less exertion to break a building by pushing it sideways.

The iron railing on a second floor balcony gave way first, flying loose from its anchoring as the outer cement layer crumbled under the stretch and shrink of Mira’s spell. These outer structures began to crumble, and before long, with a loud, aching groan, the main support on the corner closest to Mira toppled over toward the center of the building, pulling crumbling walls inward with it. Now the process began to look more like an ordinary demolition, the windows shattering outward with the sudden change in pressure inside the building, the roof caving in as easily as if it were made of cardboard, and the falling rubble knocking its way through the lower floors. Cement and plaster, reduced to dust, filled the air and rushed into the streets and alleyways. Etienne threw up his arm to cover his nose and mouth, with his eyes squeezed shut to protect against the sudden onslaught of flying debris.

He would have stayed there, shielded from the dust until it settled, but he felt a jolt go to his hand—Briand. He deftly cast a spell to push back the dust from his face, but before he could call out to Quentin, he heard Quentin’s voice shouting his name from elsewhere in the cloud of dust.

“Etienne, Briand needs help!”

“I know,” he shouted back. He turned to the mages around him who were still shielding themselves against the debris and tapped a few on the shoulder. “Try to clear the air,” he instructed them. “We need to see where we’re going.”

One of the mages nodded and began directing the others. Etienne meanwhile began forging his way toward the still crumbling building. Mira had no doubt ended her spell, but she could only do so much to stop the momentum of the falling building.

The cloud of dust began to thin with the efforts of the mages behind him, but the tumbling rubble continued to throw up more dust. Frustrated, he shrugged off his trench coat and used it to beat out a clearer path before him, calling Briand’s name as he went. He could feel a faint push of magical energy emanating from one corner of the building’s foundations, the corner opposite where Mira and Quentin had stood. The energy likely came from Briand’s efforts to dig himself out.

Quentin and a few others soon joined him, scrabbling over the mountains of settling rubble toward the corner where Etienne had started digging with magic and bare hands. He could feel the steel crossbeam shifting under his hands, first with his push, then against it. Briand was on the other end and wiggling it back and forth. Etienne scraped away the loose gravel and wedges of sheetrock that were piled up around the beam. When he tested the beam again, it swung further.

“Briand,” he yelled. “Can you hear me?” He could only hear a muffled reply. “I can’t hear you, but I’m going to keep digging down this beam, alright? Zap me if there’s a problem.”

He stepped back and fanned his shirt to get some cool air going through. The exertion of digging was making him sweat like midsummer, and the hot, sticky dampness around his neck made him squirm. He undid the top button and the cuffs of his shirt before stopping to tug at the fabric again to keep air flowing. His tie had been getting in the way, so he loosened it and tossed it aside with his discarded coat. Feeling much better ventilated now, he turned back to the excavation and considered the particular arrangement of heavy slabs of debris. Quentin had taken his place by the beam, and with the other mages, they had managed to clear out a deep indentation in the rubble. Mira came up next to him to set aside her coat, her face streaked with sweat and dust.

“How far under the surface do you think he is?” she asked him.

“I can’t be sure,” he answered, rolling up his sleeves. “He can’t be too far down—I could hear his voice from the surface, though I couldn’t make out any words.”

She frowned and wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. “Do you think he’s all right?”

He glanced at her, noting the crease of worry across her brow as she watched the other mages’ progress. She was blaming herself for trapping him in the building and putting his life at risk when really Briand himself was the only one to blame. He nudged her gently with his elbow so she’d look at him. “I’m sure he’s fine,” he told her. “He’s just trapped, but he can take care of himself down there.”

She nodded slowly. “I just—”

“It’s not your fault,” he said before she could finish.

She looked up at him, biting her lip. “But I let him go in…”

“He likes the thrill, Mira. It’s not your fault.”

When she didn’t reply, he looked back towards the mages digging at the rubble heap. His eyes traced the line of the steel beam, extrapolating down toward Briand. He guessed Briand would have shielded himself such that a pocket of space around him remained while the building debris collected around him. The beam would run tangent to that space, and if they could just clear out the debris around the beam to a certain depth, they would open up that pocket so that Briand could get out.

“Watch out,” Etienne called out in warning. His spell shifted the face of the heap, shearing away a section that tumbled down into what used to be the alley behind the building. In the wake of the spell, he and Mira rejoined the others digging their way towards Briand.

Ten minutes and two more spell assists later, Quentin let out a shout and grasped Briand’s hand through the small space between two sheetrock fragments. With the help of a few others, Quentin widened the opening until Briand wriggled his way out, hands scrabbling for purchase on the steel beam that had guided them down to him. He was laughing, brushing dust and gravel from his hair as he turned around to look at the demolition aftermath from the outside.

“Nice one, Mira,” he said, whistling low in appreciation.

She threw him an angry look—or at least, it would have been an angry look if his laugh hadn’t been so infectious. “You had us worried sick,” she told him, doing her best to keep her words biting.

Briand stretched his arms up toward the ceiling and grinned. “Oh I was fine down there,” he said. “Had to tamp down the dust a bit, but all in all, it was quite nice in there.”

Mira half-heartedly reached out a hand to try to swat him, but he danced up a thick pipe out of her reach and headed off to explore the rest of the rubble pile. Quentin and some of the other mages followed, fanning out over the new terrain, but Etienne was watching Mira. Her feet were planted on firm footing, but he thought he saw her swaying slightly.

“You all right?” he asked, reaching out to steady her.

Startled, she jerked back from his hand. “What?”

“Are you all right?” he asked again.

She seemed to understand his concern, rubbing at her eyes for a moment as if she hoped the tiredness that showed there could be wiped away. “I’m fine,” she said. “I just have a slight cold.”

He tried to put a hand to her forehead to check her temperature, but she gently pushed his hand aside.

“Really, Etienne. I’m fine.” She smiled and jerked her head toward the street. “Come on, I want to try one more building before we finish for the day.”

He watched her for a long moment, hoping she would read the worry in his expression, but at length he followed her back to the main street. Quentin pulled her off to examine the ruins and explain how to improve her next attempt. At this point, he was just being picky under the guise of being constructive. Etienne had rarely seen a demolition so thorough from any of the recruits, and even Quentin could only do this well about three-quarters of the time. Mira was a quick learner—and resourceful, too—and Etienne loved seeing her master the difficult training regiment they’d set out for her.

Etienne caught Briand before he could enter the next building they’d chosen for demolition. “Not this time,” he told the older mage. “You’ll worry Mira.”

Briand nodded, but he shot Etienne a lopsided, knowing grin. “Worry her, or worry you?” he asked. Etienne ignored him.

They passed Quentin and Mira, who were conferring on the details of the new building structure. They were wrapping up their discussion, so Etienne jogged quickly over to the other side of the mock apartment complex to get a better vantage point before Mira began.

No sooner had he reached the curb on the corner, Mira squared her stance and raised her hand to face the building and spoke her spell. This time, the effect was immediate. A chorus of horrendous snaps let loose as the woof frame of the low building bowed inward and splintered under the force. The entire structure collapsed away from the corner where Etienne stood, the neighboring buildings funneling the immense cloud of dusk upward along their sheer faces into a high column. Etienne watched with admiration—he wouldn’t have thought to use the surrounding buildings to control the aftermath of the demolition. By caving the outside corner first, Mira had directed the collapse inward, keeping the streets free of debris and maneuverable. Such attention to detail was what made Mira a great mage. Though this measure wasn’t necessarily something the Jade League needed, the practice in controlling the demolition process might become useful in some situation they had yet to foresee.

He looked over at Mira—the dust this time had been directed upward, so he still had a clear line of sight to her. She stood planted in a firm stance next to Quentin, who was watching as the lower floors crashed into the basement. But as Etienne watched, Mira’s eyes lost focus, and her whole body went slack.

“Mira!” he yelled, hoping Quentin or Briand or anyone closer to her would notice. Her knees crumpled beneath her, and she slumped to the ground as Etienne sprinted towards her as fast as his feet would carry him.

Day 46, 50, 55, 64-65 – 2,931 words (43,400 total)

(Yes, I wrote on Christmas day. Aren’t you proud? In other news, it seems we’ve been wandering around in the ether of “Chapter 8” for quite some time. I should probably fix that.)

[chapter 8 continued]

“Ouch!”

Theo looked up at Mira from bandaging her ribcage, his eyebrow cocked. “If you had come to me sooner, this wouldn’t hurt so much.”

Mira winced as he pulled the bandage snug. “I didn’t think it was that bad,” she said.

He just shook his head and rummaged through his supplies. The infirmary was quiet today, just two trainees chatting in the corner while they each iced a sprained joint. Mira had been here a few times before to pick up a hot or cold pack, but in the past the long, narrow hall of the makeshift Jade League infirmary had been filled with people. Although Theo was the only mage they had with significant skills in the healing arts, he had a few apprentices and now the help of a few non-mage doctors and nurses who had sought refuge with the Jade League. The non-mages easily handled the people who came in complaining of a sore throat and other everyday maladies, but only Theo and his apprentice mages could speed the healing of a deep cut, or properly set a broken bone without an x-ray first. Even then, the range of abilities for mage healers was narrow and crude at best; the Chinese mages had a better grasp of healing, and the Jade League had no one with that kind of expertise. But as it was, the facilities here were functional, even with hard tables lined against the walls as exam beds and only rudimentary supplies carefully sorted and stocked in carts throughout the room and inside the cabinets in the back corner. At worst there was nothing the mages could do, and modern medicine took over. What the doctors lacked in equipment, they made up for with ingenuity, and one of the board members had been able to maneuver access to an outside medical facility when necessary. And it helped too that the members of the Jade League had been extremely lucky thus far in the dangerous streets of Paris.

Theo had set a spell in place to mend Mira’s broken rib, but he couldn’t do much about the bruising that had blossomed around the break, or the peppering of half-healed bruises all over her torso from training. His only advice was to get better at blocking, to which Mira agreed sheepishly.

He tucked the loose end of the tied bandage under the knot to keep it from getting caught and bothering her. “This dressing is just to keep you from twisting around too much while the spell does its work,” he told her. “You should be able to take it off by tomorrow afternoon, but you can’t be sparring or terrain running in the meantime. Don’t worry if you feel a little tired all day; the spell draws its energy from you and the fatigue just means it’s working. But like I said, no strenuous training until that’s healed.”

“Okay,” she said. “Do I have to come to you, or can I take it off myself?”

Theo checked his watch and squinted at the ceiling for a moment while he calculated. “I’ll be down at the sparring ring when it’ll be ready to remove. You can find me there or just cut it yourself around three o’clock.” When she nodded, he picked up his medic pack and slung it over his shoulder. “But next time you take a hit like that, come see me immediately, all right? The longer you wait, the more your body takes over healing, and the harder it is for me to properly set the bone. So see me right away, understood?”

Mira nodded meekly. Once she had demonstrated that she couldn’t move far from neutral, Theo let her go. She hopped down from the exam table, pleased that her jarring landing didn’t cause pain to shoot up her side. After thanking Theo, she made her way out of the infirmary, weaving between the tables. Long curtains hung from the ceiling to create nooks of privacy, the bright colors of the fabric bringing life to the otherwise plain room. Mira ducked around them as best she could, the bandage pinching her sides each time she tried to turn. She picked up a heat pack by the door for a strain in her arm that was still healing from a few days before, then headed out into the hallway. She was occupied trying to wrap the heat pack around her arm and didn’t see Jean-Pierre rounding the corner, nearly bowling him over.

Pardon!” she exclaimed, catching him by the arm to help him regain his balance. “Desolé, j’étais occupée.

Jean-Pierre just laughed as he hopped up and down. His antsy excitement was almost contagious. “Mira, salut!” he greeted her. “Guess what just happened!”

She couldn’t help but grin. “I don’t know—what?”

“Briand and Etienne are moving me up to patrols!” he exclaimed, barely able to contain his excitement.

Felicitations!” she congratulated him. “I knew it was only a matter of time. I’ve seen you train—I always knew you belonged out with the patrols.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Of course. You’re young, but you’re as good as any of the other patrol mages.”

He rolled his eyes, trying to deflect her praise as exaggeration, but she meant it. It was a shame the Jade League didn’t seem to take him seriously because of his age. She knew Etienne trusted him to a certain extent, enough to let him train the refugees in self-defense, but until now he’d always been given a secondary task. But he had proved his worth, and she was glad to see him getting rewarded for it. Mira was sure she hadn’t been that strong at his age; in fact, at his age she hadn’t even started serious training with any mage society.

Besides, she liked Jean-Pierre. He was remarkably mature for his age, although Mira supposed the same could be said for Etienne, Olivier, Charlotte, and even herself. It was easy to forget that under normal circumstances, they would have all been living much less serious lives, in law school for Olivier, college for the rest of them. And Jean-Pierre would have soon been starting to figure himself out au lycée, enjoying his teens and chasing girls instead of hiding underground and training with the best mages in Paris in order to fight for his life on the streets of his home. Mira had never explicitly asked, but it seemed his parents were out of the equation; instead this intrepid, precocious boy forged his own path through the Jade League.

“Which patrol group did they put you in?” she asked.

“Regular evening patrols in the 15th arrondissement,” he said. “Not special operations like you.”

Mira smiled. “Yes, well not everyone gets to have that kind of fun.”

She could tell he was trying not to let his longing show on his face, but she saw anyway. “I wish I were as good as you,” he said. “You haven’t been here long, but already you’re on special operations…”

She put a hand to his arm. “Jean-Pierre, I trained for years before I came to France and joined the Jade League. Every step of the way to the top is going to be hard. Getting promoted to patrols is already a huge step—you should be proud.”

He smiled up at her, but she saw hesitation in his eyes. “I know, and I am. I just—” He paused, trying to pick the right words. “What if I’m not good enough? My distraction spells are still slow, and half the time I can’t get a misdirection spell to work.”

“The same goes for most of the mages when they first join the patrols. You’ll sharpen those skills quickly as you get more practice on the outside.” He still didn’t look entirely confident, so Mira gently pushed him in the shoulder. “Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll help you practice in the mages’ training room tonight. There are a couple things I’ve found that helped me—we can see if they work for you, too.”

Jean-Pierre was still eyeing her dubiously from the push she’d given him, but he started to smile. “Really? You’ll help me train?”

“Of course. I can’t battle you or anything—Theo’s forbidden it—but we can work on your misdirection spells.”

He grinned. “That would be excellent.” He hopped up again, some of the antsy excitement from before returning. “Mira, thank you. I better go find Racquelle,” he said, referring to his best friend who helped out in the kitchens. “She’ll kill me if she finds out from someone else.”

Mira waved him off with a laugh. “I’ll see you in the training room later,” she called after him. He nodded as he jogged out of sight, and she turned her attention back to wrapping the heat pack around her arm. Every time she got the two bandage ends in hand, they slipped free when she tried to knot them together.

“Here,” said Etienne’s voice from behind her. “You look like you could use some help.”

She started slightly at his presence but accepted his assistance. His hands were steady on her wrist as he placed her good hand on the pack to keep it in place while he tied off the ends in a neat knot. She hadn’t been alone with him in weeks—not since the resistance began. Since then he’d been lost among others, be it a crowd of advisers, a group of mage trainees, or drifting off into his own distracted thoughts. They had lost that unusual closeness from her first few weeks with the Jade League, the closeness she understood as circumstance and convenience, not true friendship. All the same, she worried about him as if he were a close friend. She doubted he noticed his own exhaustion anymore, the tiredness that etched lines across his brow and around his eyes and mouth.

“Thank you,” she said when he finished. She tucked in the loose tails of the knot, watching him as she did. “Everything all right?” she asked, jerking him from his blank gaze.

“Yes, sorry,” he said, blinking. “My mind was elsewhere.”

Mira examined his expression for a moment. Ever since the Jade League began fighting Favreau in earnest, Etienne had closed himself in tighter and tighter. The stress was getting to him, although she wasn’t entirely sure that anyone else noticed except maybe Charlotte and Olivier, both of whom had enough stress of their own to deal with. Mira hesitated—it wasn’t exactly her place to say anything, but if not her, who else?

“I don’t mean to tell you what to do,” she began, “but you need to get out around headquarters more.” That wasn’t the root problem, but she thought it might help.

He fixed her with a skeptical look, both eyebrows raised. “Do I?” he asked.

“Screw security,” she said. “You know how to drop anyone who’s threatening you. It’s not doing you any favors to stay cooped up in your office all day.”

He frowned slightly. “I go to the mages’ training grounds.”

“And then straight back to your room after that,” she pointed out. “Have you even been eating?”

At this, Etienne turned away from her to hide a small laugh. “You sound like Charlotte,” he sighed, shaking his head.

She laughed too, but forced her expression serious again. “You look tired, Etienne,” she told him softly. Then, to lighten his mood, she added, “And you need a haircut.”

His eyes jumped up to meet hers, as if puzzled but ever so slightly pleased by this comment. “I do not,” he protested as they started down the hall.

“Yes, you do,” she insisted. “You look shaggy.”

“Shaggy?” he repeated, his tone rising in disbelief.

She nodded as if breaking tragic news. “I can’t even see your ears.”

“What on earth do you need to see my ears for?” he demanded. He flattened his hair over his ears and frowned at her.

Mira was pleased to see him willingly get pulled into her teasing, although the ease with which he slipped into this mood made her think he might be repressing the urge to act like this more often. Favreau’s regime and leading the Jade League had forced him to grow up, but that didn’t change the fact that he was only twenty-one. So Mira let him have this moment, and somewhere in the back of her mind, she resolved to give him more.

“Well, if you’re hoping to start disguising yourself as a girl, it’s working,” she told him. “Keep this up and soon your hair will be longer than mine.”

Etienne set a hand on top of his head and mussed up his hair. He gripped a handful of hair in his fist and tugged at it, examining how it fell back over his forehead. “I suppose you’re right,” he sighed. “I’d better do something about this.”

Mira crossed her arms self-righteously and huffed. “I thought you Parisians were fashionable,” she muttered.

Upon hearing this, he laughed—a deep chuckle that came from his stomach—and a genuine smile spread across his face. “Some would argue that the amount of time I spent in England makes me more of an Englishman than a Parisian,” he said.

But Mira shook her head. “I bet Charlotte doesn’t agree.”

“No, she doesn’t,” he admitted.

They turned a corner in the empty hall, the still hush of headquarters pressing in around them in the wake of their conversation.

“I heard you talking with Jean-Pierre,” Etienne commented after a lull.

Mira nodded. “I’m glad you finally let him join patrols.”

Sighing, he rolled his neck and stretched his arms skyward. “Briand and I wanted to promote him months ago, but the board kept refusing. They just couldn’t see past his age—this after nearly a year of taking orders from Olivier and me.”

“Well, now he’s where he should be,” she said with pride. She glanced over at him and saw a slight smile pulling at his mouth.

“Thank you for helping him train,” he said quietly.

“Of course,” she said, shrugging. “It’s the least I can do.”

Etienne nodded. “And I appreciate that.” They paused for a moment at the junction of hallways. “You know,” he began, looking thoughtful. “When Jean-Pierre first joined us, he was an awful nuisance.”

“Really?”

“Well you know how curious and persistent he can be. He had a habit of getting underfoot, and I’m sure I snapped at him more than once when he first joined. But the moment we put him to work, it was like magic. His enthusiasm drove him to great lengths we never saw from others who were more experienced, and theoretically more capable. And now he’s become a valuable member of the Jade League.”

Mira smiled. “At age twelve, he’s not just valuable, he’s also an inspiration to the rest of us.”

“That he is,” Etienne murmured.

Mira tilted her head to scrutinize him, unafraid while his gaze drifted off into the empty hall behind her. “Etienne, I’m not sure if you know this already…” She let her voice trail off, unsure of whether or not she actually wanted to say what she had begun.

“Know what?” he asked.

She hesitated to put her thoughts into words, but she felt compelled to tell him. “You inspire greatness in people,” she said at last.

His eyebrows shot up at this, but he let her continue without interruption.

“What you said about Jean-Pierre going to great lengths—you gave him a chance, and he pushed himself to prove his worth to you. You make people want to do that. It’s not just Jean-Pierre. Olivier and Charlotte might not even be here if it weren’t for you—”

“They might argue that was coercion,” he interrupted. His words cut sharply, half joking and half tinted with serious argument. But his expression was gentle as he listened to her continue.

“The point is… people respect you. They see that you have the strength and wisdom for leadership.” She felt a little strange saying these kinds of words, but for once these abstract ideas felt laden with meaning. “I just—I don’t think you have to lead the Jade League from behind closed doors. There are people here who joined up before the ultimatum who would lay down their lives for you. They would march into the mouth of hell if you led them there.”

His eyes watching her were somber. “Then what?” he asked quietly. “I lead them to their deaths.”

“You lead them to greatness.”

He scoffed and started walking again. “Mira,” he sighed, “don’t put me on a pedestal like some god.”

But she stayed firm. “I’m not,” she countered, following him down the hall. “You’re turning yourself into some abstract concept of a leader by hiding away. Put paranoia aside, Etienne. Trust the people who have come to the Jade League, and help them dream of a just world in which Favreau no longer has a death grip on the city of Paris. And look, already he’s starting to slip. Make allies of these refugees. We can take back this city.”

He stopped then, facing her in the narrow hallway. His steady gaze searched her eyes for a long time. “Who made you so wise?” he asked softly, although he wasn’t really asking.

Mira shrugged. “You hungry? The mess hall is about to serve dinner.”

She watched him consider this option, this step out of the safety of his closed doors, until he finally nodded and smiled. “I’m starving.”

[end chapter 8]

(OH HAY I ENDED CHAPTER 8 YAY)

Day 64 – 1,897 words (40,467 total)

(I was writing a different scene until I realized that Mira hasn’t been out in Paris since joining the Jade League, and it’s about time she got promoted to patrols. So here she is out being badass before we return to our regularly scheduled indoor boredom in that scene I was writing before.)

[chapter 8 continued]

The night cradled Mira in fog and darkness as she adjusted the harness around her hips. In a few moments, the rest of her team would drop over the edge of this rooftop and set the charges along the windowsill of the corner office below. Meanwhile, Mira and Nicholas, the other strong mage on their team, would shatter the window below to comb through the office itself before it blew. She pulled on her gloves and tested the length of heavy-duty rope that would hold her from the rigging on the roof. All set. She glanced over at Nicholas, who tugged on his own harness and gave her a ready sign. They jokingly saluted their team leader and dropped over the edge.

For a moment the sickening sensation of free fall spiraled around her, followed by the sudden jolt of the cable catching her. Mira braced her feet against the sleek face of the building, careful to avoid the weak center of the huge window. Her weight likely couldn’t exert enough force to break the glass, but she didn’t want to risk it. Beside her, Nicholas poised on the wide pillar that separated the window from its neighbor. She rappelled down to the bottom of the window, her shoes struggling for purchase on the narrow ledge. It took her a moment to lock in the rope and free up her hands. She stripped the glove off her right hand and set it against the window. Her sweat steamed the glass under her hand, and she imagined her fingerprints emblazoned on the smooth surface. In another place, another time, that detail would incriminate her, sentencing her to a life in prison for what they were about to do—but not here. Just try and catch me, she thought, the challenge sending a thrill down her spine. At the same time, she knew her involvement in this crime hardly mattered. Ultimately, only the Jade League would be at fault.

She whistled three notes, low high low, and waited for the response. Their team leader whistled back in reply, high high low. Go. Mira took a slow, deep breath and spread her hand on the cold glass.

Dirrumpo,” she whispered, her mind shaping the magic energy that flowed from her body to her fingers and into the glass. At first, nothing happened. Then, with the slow, aching momentum of an avalanche, the window shattered inward, shards of glass tumbling downward in a tinkling, almost musical cascade to the floor. Mira stood poised on the ledge, untouched by the shower of glass. When everything settled, she signaled to Nicholas, and together they gingerly dropped to the floor inside. Mira had controlled the damage to fall in a narrow strip along the edge of the room once occupied by the window, leaving the carpet beyond clear for them. Nicholas motioned for her to take care of this office while he slipped out into the hall and dealt with the others.

Outside, Mira could hear the others in their team rappelling down to the adjacent window ledges to put the charges in position. Nicholas had primed them himself before they left headquarters so they wouldn’t blow until the entire team was well away from the building. Mira ignored the pattering of their feet hitting the thick glass windows, and instead turned to scan the office. The desk computer was easy enough to handle; the power had already been shut off, so she went straight to dismantling the case and pulled out the hard drive. A quick but complex spell created a dummy duplicate that she installed in the empty slot. This way the aftermath of the coming explosion would contain hard drive shards as if nothing had been taken.

A search of the office’s drawers and cabinets turned up a laptop, two external hard drives, and an old desktop computer that had already been stripped of all useful parts. Mira paused to take apart the laptops and take those hard drives before using the same spell to make dummy drives to leave behind. She didn’t envy the load of work Olivier would soon have when they brought back the originals, but this office kept records of government finances which, when examined in the proper fashion, would help the Jade League identify targets for further disrupting government function. It was an important mission, and only Mira’s second time working out in the city, but Etienne had insisted that she start gaining experience on the outside. Besides, she had grown up around computers and knew her way around the guts of a disassembled desktop machine.

Partway through replacing the last laptop hard drive, she heard a long, low whistle from Nicholas. Before she could go looking for him, he stole back into the room.

“The security system activated,” he told her, taking the hard drives from her and stowing them in his pack. “We need to go.”

Mira nodded and whistled a signal to their team leader above. They had taken great pains to ensure the office was empty before this operation; any bystander casualty was unacceptable, even if that bystander worked for the government. With the security system activated, a response team would soon arrive to investigate, which left little time for the team to blow the office and still escape without trouble. Mira followed suit as Nicholas clipped his rope back onto his harness and leapt back up to the window ledge. She felt a tug on her rope and tugged back twice. Instantly the slack pulled taught, and she was lifted off her feet. She spun slowly, suspended in open space with nothing to control her torque until she came level with the upper sill of the window. She and Nicholas scrabbled for purchase on the edge until their teammates pulled them over the parapet and onto the roof.

The moment their feet hit steady ground, they tore off the harnesses, looping them with the rope and undoing the safety rigging on the rooftop fixtures. Their teammates were already dismantled their own equipment, and within minutes the team was packed and moving out. Mira kept scanning the dark streets as they shimmied down the fire escape of an adjacent building. The sound of a car approaching roared in the still night, and as if the headlights cutting through the fog weren’t enough to announce the squad car’s arrival, its sirens blared angrily.

“Now,” she told Nicholas, “blow it now.”

But he shook his head. “The team isn’t clear.”

“We’re on the opposite side—if you wait any longer, the police will be inside the building.”

Nicholas looked ahead to their team leader, but he didn’t notice Mira and Nicholas arguing on the landing of the fire escape.

“Do it now,” ordered Mira. “Blame it on me if you like, but blow it now.”

He stared at her, panicked. “But the blast—”

She gripped his hands and tried to shake sense into him. If it weren’t for the priming on the charges, she would have blown the office herself; but Nicholas was the only one who could. “The explosion will blind the police and give us a better chance of escape. The longer you hesitate, the more you risk taking a life.”

At this, he closed his eyes and muttered the trigger word. Mira felt the rush of energy through his hands, and from overhead and behind them she heard the roar of the explosion. She added her own spells to direct the blast and redistribute the debris from the shattered glass window. Around her, the other members of her team shielded their eyes from the bright glow of the explosion above. As if by some prior agreement, though really just their training kicking in, they all scattered.

Mira hit the ground harder than she intended and let her knees buckle under her to absorb the landing. Nicholas landed lighter beside her, having taken a few more rungs down the fire escape before dropping to the sidewalk. He took off down the first dark alleyway, but Mira hesitated. She knew she ought to err on the conservative side rather than risk herself, but some part of her felt a responsibility to use her skills to help the entire team evade the police. With everyone scattered, the best strategy would stall the police in some way to keep them from immediately taking off in pursuit, but she knew it was too risky to stay behind. At the moment, Nicholas, with his pack full of hard drives, was the most important person to protect. She had to trust the rest of the team to figure out their own ways to safety. This decided, she cast a short illusion of a secondary blast to keep the police down and followed Nicholas down the alley in a full out sprint.

At last her training felt real. This headlong sprint into the dark recesses of Paris remapped itself to the structures of the training room during terrain running. Nicholas now was the one to tag, while simultaneously the secret police who would soon be behind her were other terrain runners seeking to catch her. Except now the punishment for getting caught was not a tagging slap on the arm, but a bullet to her brain.

She understood now how Etienne had navigated the streets and alleys on that first night she’d met him. After weeks of training, her eyes too saw the irregular paths through the city, paths that led over unsteady piles of crates, shaky scaffolding over soon-to-be painted storefronts, rusted fire escapes, and over bushes and benches that would hide the deviation from the straight and obvious path. As Mira ran, she pushed obstructions over the ground she’d just covered, casting spells to muffle the noise as heavy boxes slammed to the sidewalk and piles of discarded furniture splintered across the cement floor of the alleyway. She was lucky Nicholas wasn’t doing the same ahead of her. She knew any teammate following the same path would have a rough time navigating the debris she left behind, but she was relatively sure that they had all disappeared into the dark while she had paused to cast the illusion.

Nicholas’s path began to wander too far east. In desperation to steer him back, she took a sharp inhale of breath and whistled long and low, praying he would hear. A few moments later, he grabbed her and swung her down into a crouch in a dark alcove. His expression begged his question.

“Head more west,” she whispered.

He paused to think about their position then nodded in agreement. “Are we being followed?” he breathed.

Mira shook her head. “Don’t think so, but I can’t be sure. Take five more minutes at full speed, then we’ll creep the rest of the way back.”

“Switch packs,” he whispered. “Mine’s lighter than the gear. You’re better at running and won’t damage them.”

They swapped, Mira handing off the backpack of climbing equipment to him. She cinched the precious hard drive laden pack tight against her back and tested it by twisting from side to side. She felt the tender spot on her ribcage twinge, but otherwise everything was compact and ready for another headlong run. She and Nicholas exchanged glances, and they took off into the night again, weaving roughly parallel paths through the city towards the safety of headquarters.

Day 27.2, 43-45 – 1,720 words (38,569 total)

[chapter 8 continued]

Mira jogged upstairs to Olivier’s room, holding her ribs as each step jarred the tender spot where she’d been kicked in her last sparring match. She’d tried sparring above her level again, an eight this time now that she was holding up at a seven. As a result she had a new collection of bruises, and that blow to the ribs was causing enough pain that she thought she might have broken something. She made a mental note to see Theo after checking in with Olivier.

When she reached his room, the door was shut—a common sight these days. She knocked twice, and he let her in, closing the door behind her.

“We got another message from Lucas,” Olivier told her by way of greeting. He picked it up from his desk and handed it to her. “It’s a long one, but still using the plum theme.”

“A plum tart recipe?” she asked disbelievingly. “Wow, Lucas. Wow.”

Olivier shrugged. “I’m guessing he needed to send a longer message than the past ones allowed.”

Mira frowned. “Usually he’d just doodle something in the corner if it were a longer message than the cipher text.”

“That was when he knew he was handing the cipher to you. Right now he doesn’t, so he’s keeping up the plum theme.” Olivier sank back into his chair, resting his interlaced hands on top of his head. “Though with the Jade League out in the open now, we might as well let him know you’re with us.”

Mira glanced up at him from the message. “Is it all right with Etienne?” she asked.

“I’ll ask him, but I don’t see why not,” said Olivier, leaning back in his chair until his knuckles grazed the wall. “You’re strong enough that the city isn’t a threat to you, and it might tell us something to see what Lucas does next.”

She helped herself to a pen and a blank pad of paper from his desk. “What do you think he’ll do next?” she asked, bending over the recipe and pad as she deciphered Lucas’s message.

Olivier made a vague grunt of a response. “What do you think he’ll do next?” he asked. “You’re the one who knows him.”

Mira took a deep breath and set down the pen in her hand. She looked at Olivier thoughtfully, her arms crossed at her chest while she considered his words. “The Lucas I knew would have joined the Jade League the moment he knew it existed,” she said slowly. “But the Lucas I knew also wouldn’t abandon his sister either, assuming he found Isabelle before he knew about the Jade League.” She sighed, shaking her head. “I don’t know, Olivier. There’s something keeping him there—keeping both of them there with the government—something that I can’t understand. Lucas is,” she paused, searching for the right words. “He’s fiercely loyal. In high school, if anyone so much as made a mean gesture at me, he’d jump to defend me whether I needed his help or not.” She smiled to remember the time they’d both been dragged to the principal’s office for fighting in the halls, but her thoughts returned to the present. “But here… he’s standing by his family, he’s standing by Isabelle, but I never dreamed he’d turn his back on his fellow mages.”

Olivier was quiet for a time, thinking about what she had said. Mira bent over the desk again to decipher Lucas’s message. As usual, the discussion brought clouded, confused questions to her mind, but she pushed them aside to focus on the task at hand. Perhaps one day one of these messages might answer all their questions.

After a while, Olivier rubbed his eyes and sat forward. “Do you think it changes anything that you’re with us?” he asked.

Mira turned to him, brow furrowed. “I really don’t know,” she said. “At the very least I hope it’ll give him some assurance that I’m all right. Like he won’t have to worry about me, you know?”

“Then what?”

“Who knows,” she said, shrugging. “Maybe that’s enough for him to abandon Favreau and join us.”

Olivier shook his head. “And leave Isabelle?”

Frowning, Mira tapped her pen against the thumb of her other hand. “Try to bring her with him, if he can?”

But Olivier sighed. “Look, Mira, I know Lucas is important to you, but you’d be hard pressed to find a mage in Paris who would welcome Isabelle Brunet.”

Mira acknowledged his point with a weary nod. “There’s more to this situation,” she sighed. “I just don’t know what.”

Standing from his chair, Olivier reached up and stretched. “Well, let’s tell him you’re here. Then we’ll see what happens.” He crossed the room and toppled onto his bed without bothering to straighten out the covers.

The sight made Mira smile, although in the back of her mind she knew he, like many others in the Jade League, were working to the point of exhaustion. It was a different kind of paranoid fear that drove Etienne, Olivier, and the other high-ranking mages in the league, a brand of panic painted by the fact that hundreds now relied on them for protection and livelihood. They worked in a desperate sprint to stay ahead of the government—it was no wonder that Etienne barely slept. The worries of the entire city weighed on his conscience.

With Olivier sprawled out on the bed making frustrated noises at the ceiling, Mira took over his desk chair and went back to translating the cipher. The process was tedious—she and Lucas rarely traded messages this long back at school. Usually they were short, pointed, and gossipy: Check calc hw b4 practice? Sarah-Dan broke up… again. Coach broke arm sparring yesterday. The only time in recent memory they’d sent a note this long was when she gave him their friends’ orders the last time he snuck off campus to the closest In-N-Out Burger during the lunch break. The food was always soggy by the time they could eat it in the safety of the Mage Society office, but the thrill made it worth the trouble.

Mira almost laughed aloud—her entire perspective on what was considered risky had shifted so far from those clandestine lunch runs ever since she’d left home for Paris. For the first time, it truly struck her how much she’d grown since parting ways with Lucas. Would he recognize her now? With her hair cropped short, her muscles taught from sparring with hardened adults, and her mind employed in strategizing for the Jade League—would he know her the way he had when they’d left? Or had she changed so much that she was as much a mystery to him now as he was to her?

She let herself keep drifting through these thoughts as she continued deciphering. After a while, she checked back over her translation so far. Something wasn’t right. The message wasn’t stinted abbreviations and jumbled letters anymore. Full words emerged, clear as mountain air.

“Olivier,” she said slowly. “Are you sure this message hasn’t been altered or anything?”

He sat up on the bed, alarmed. “It hasn’t been changed by anyone with us,” he said. “The only person to even see it was the patrol mage who brought it directly to me.” He rubbed his head, mussing up his short hair so that it stood at conflicting angles. “Why? What’s wrong?”

Mira rechecked a random letter, and it came back correct again. “It’s just—the plaintext is almost completely straightforward.” She tossed the pad over to him.

He caught it deftly. “You’re sure you’re using the right cipher?” he asked.

She nodded. “Lucas is good, but he’s not so good that the wrong cipher would return plaintext clearer than the right one.” She went over to the bed and peered over his shoulder as he read her handwriting.

After a moment, Olivier scratched his head and turned the pad sideways, hoping for an epiphany. “It’s straightforward,” he said slowly, “as in there are full words, but I can’t tell what it means.”

She frowned at the pad of paper. “Maybe that’s why he didn’t bother to obscure it,” she offered. “It’s already just a jumble of nonsense.”

He rubbed his eyes and flattened his hair on the top of his head. “What is he doing?” he demanded, his words grinding in his throat out of frustration.

Mira sighed and took the pad back to the desk, where she slumped in Olivier’s desk chair. “I think we’d all like the answer to that.” She finished off the last few lines of cipher text and threw the pad back at Olivier, who was sprawled out on the bed again and didn’t bother to catch it this time but let it slide across the covers until it came to rest against his elbow.

“Done?” he asked without moving. He had closed his eyes, but Mira could tell he was still alert.

“Done,” she said. “You know, I wrote up these ciphers for you so you wouldn’t need to wait for me every time there’s a new one.”

He made a vague waving gesture with one hand. “I know, but you’re still faster at translating them.” His eyes fluttered open, and he bent his neck up just enough to smile at her before letting his head drop back to the comfort of the bed. “I’ll talk to Etienne about telling Lucas you’re safe with us.”

“Here,” she said, tossing him a folded note she’d written on a blank scrap of paper.

With effort, Olivier retrieved it and unfolded the sheet, holding it over his head to read it. “‘Package arrived late October, no plums damaged.’ Clever.” He examined the page for a moment. “No cipher text?” he asked, noting the lack of marks on the page.

“I’ll let you and Etienne decide that,” replied Mira. “If it were up to me, I’d just say, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ but I think Etienne might have something more elegant to convey.”

Olivier chuckled. “Perhaps.” He glanced at the clock on the bedside table and groaned. “You’d better grab lunch before the rush starts. I’m going to attempt to take a nap.”

Smiling, Mira wished him luck and let herself out, careful to close the door behind her.

Day 26.2 + 27.1 – 2,340 words (36,848 total)

[chapter 8 continued]

Julien’s booming laugh echoed through the mages’ underground training room while Olivier helped Mira dig herself out from under an avalanche of rock and broken cement blocks.

“I’m fine, thanks for asking,” called Mira as she wiggled through the small opening toward freedom.

Julien kept on laughing, bent over now in glee. “No, it’s just—” He paused for breath, sucking in a long, deep inhale. He instantly burst out laughing again.

Mira turned to Olivier. “Can I please, please, please blast him with a spell?”

Olivier smiled and rocked back on his heels. “I’m tempted too, but you’d best save your energy. Etienne wants you to run through some more drills.”

She made a face upon hearing this news and squirmed the rest of her way out of the rockslide. Meanwhile Julien managed to calm himself down and stop laughing, coming over to shake Mira’s hand.

“Sorry,” he said, his smile threatening to dissolve into laughter. “It’s just, your expression when you saw the rocks falling—priceless. Then your last spell, that attempt to divert the avalanche…” He bit back another laugh. “It just came off like a sneeze of gravel.”

Mira shook his hand and took advantage of the close proximity to hit him on the side of the head, just hard enough to make him sober up. “I was this close to getting permission from Olivier to blast you post-battle,” she warned him.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said. “No, you held up surprisingly well. Olivier and Etienne were selling you short.”

She threw a scrutinizing glance at Olivier. “You told him about me?”

“I told him he had to step it up from most other Jade League mage battles,” explained Olivier, “but not up to full strength. So he wanted to know how much less than full strength, and it just kind of went from there…”

Mira smiled, and turned back to Julien. “So I did well?”

He nodded, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Those fire blasts might have singed me,” he complained.

Olivier straightened and beat the dust out of his clothes. “Either you were holding back against Etienne, or you’ve really improved a lot since that battle,” he said to Mira, helping her onto her feet.

“A little bit of both,” she said, taking his hand and letting him pull her to her feet. “I wasn’t going full strength against Etienne, but the Latin study has helped a lot. I didn’t really realize it until this battle.”

“I still won,” Julien pointed out. “Don’t forget that.”

She laughed. “What’s the old proverb? It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. I like to think I learned from how that battle played out, even if I lost.”

Julien sighed. “Yes, and meanwhile I won, yet I didn’t stretch my limits.” He elbowed Olivier in the ribs. “Maybe if I had a worthy opponent, someone at my level, you know?”

Olivier swatted him aside. “I’d level you with a single spell,” he said. He glanced over at the entrance and saw Etienne there talking with Jean-Pierre. “Come on,” he told Mira. “Time for drills.”

She thanked Julien for a battle well fought and followed Olivier toward the entrance. It was strange being away from all the new non-mage additions to the Jade League. In the two weeks since the first refugees came to headquarters, they’d been joined by dozens and dozens of other Parisians seeking shelter from the tough crackdown outside. The government attitude toward its people reminded Mira strongly of McCarthyism, and she knew the Communist witch-hunt in the States was hardly the first or the last in history. At the very least, she was glad that the Jade League existed to give some Parisians safety in the city. But it felt strange, seeing all these changes to the Jade League. The ability to recall the mess hall before its current level of crowding, or to remember the days when board members would be sighted in the halls mixing with the regular recruits—these moments brought the pre-ultimatum recruits closer together, and made Mira feel like a veteran despite the fact she’d only been with the Jade League for a little over a month.

Mira met Etienne by the door, and they headed off to an open space to work on spell drills, leaving Olivier talking with Jean-Pierre. Etienne had been working with Mira on low-energy spells, drilling the Latin words over and over again and forcing her to cast them with minimal expenditure of magical power. The spells were usually aimed at dazzling an opponent—things that looked impressive or intimidating but couldn’t actually do any damage. Though not exactly illusions and easy for a mage to ignore, they could still startle an opponent if used deftly in battle.

They started in the same way they usually did, with Etienne asking her to repeat the Latin words while he paced around her, correcting her when she stumbled over a phrase. They picked up speed as she went through the complex spell incantations, faster and faster until her words spilled from her mouth in a blur. Once he was satisfied with her pronunciation and repetition, the spell casting began. Over and over again, always in the same sequence she cast the flashes of light, the exploding sounds, the shaking reverberations. The spells were so specific that she barely needed to think as she cast them, her energy dipping by such a miniscule amount that sometimes she felt like she was still just repeating the words.

Through her tenth round of casting the same rotation of spells, Mira put up with the exercise. In some ways, she appreciated the lack of energy depletion—before she had always done these drills at full energy, and they really felt like a waste then. Now, after the long battle with Julien, she could actually feel the slight cost of each spell. But she was getting bored of the drill, just like she had grown bored of running laps in the training room at headquarters.

Etienne finally stopped her. “Your pronunciation’s getting sloppy,” he said, frowning as he stood with his hands in his pants pockets, fixing her with a critical eye.

Mira searched the ceiling of the training room for patience, taking a deep breath. “Sorry,” she said. “After the sixth time through I wasn’t really thinking about the spells anymore.”

“You have to maintain your focus—that’s why we do these drills.” He returned to his pacing path around her. “Again.”

“What’s the point?” she asked instead of casting again. She couldn’t go through another round of this monotony without knowing why she was spending her time like this.

He stopped, eyeing her with a fixed expression of solemnity. “What?”

“What’s the point of this exercise?” she asked. “You know I can cast the spells, and you know I can do it without completely draining my energy. So what’s the point?”

He considered her for a moment. “These need to be second nature to you. You need to be able to flawlessly execute these spells under time pressure and when you’re low on energy.”

“Why?” she asked.

His posture didn’t change, but something in his expression lent more intensity to his words. “Because the secret police will be shooting at you after a long chase through the city, and the only way you’ll have time to cast an actual, damaging spell is if you cast one of these to distract them. You won’t have time to think. You have to know these until they’re reflex.”

Mira sensed this wasn’t some made up scenario—this was something he, and likely Olivier, had experienced before, back in the early days of Favreau’s regime. Charlotte had mentioned before how the two of them had risked their lives again and again to understand the patrol routes of the secret police, and they must have found out first hand that mages could be shot on sight.

“Okay,” she said quietly, taking up a stance for spell casting again. “It would have been nice to know that when we started.”

Etienne sighed and stepped closer, a vague hand gesture telling her to pause the drill for the moment. “Every facet of your training has a rationale behind it,” he explained, crossing his arms at his chest while he talked. “I realize we don’t always explain that rationale, but now that you’ve been training for a while, I suppose it’s time I laid it out for you.” He held up three fingers. “There are three main parts to your training: physical combat, subterfuge, and mage attacks.”

Mira nodded, considering the activities she’d been put through in the last few weeks. They did indeed fall under these three categories, though she’d never thought of it that way.

“The first includes overall physical fitness,” continued Etienne, “with an emphasis on stamina and flexibility to keep you from injuring yourself under the demands of everything else. In terms of combat, I’m sure you already understand how hand-to-hand sparring is important. Charlotte has also started you on fighting multiple opponents, which is the more likely scenario outside the Jade League if you encounter secret police. You’ve also been terrain running, which hones your ability to read and leverage terrain while also working in a chase scenario. If you remember, it’s how you first arrived here with the Jade League from the Notre Dame.”

Nodding, Mira interrupted. “I understand the rationale for physical combat training,” she said. “And subterfuge I understand, too—all the spells Charlotte has had me working on for evading secret police. But all the focus on spell work seems a little off. How often will I be using spells out in the city?”

“Most of the time you won’t,” he explained, “with the exception of evasive spells. But we’re preparing you for large-scale operations and battles—not against other mages, as you’re used to in mage society battles, but against non-mages and secret police.”

Mira frowned. “I thought the point was to carry out the Jade League’s operations while minimizing our contact with the secret police.”

“It is right now,” answered Etienne. “But conflicts are inevitable, and we would be fools not to prepare for them.”

“But you said large-scale operations,” said Mira. “You actually plan on attacking the government?”

Etienne tilted his head to one side, watching her. “One day,” he said. “We’ll attack them directly when we’ve exhausted all other options. Technically we’re already attacking them in disrupting their operations, but there’s a limit to what we can do on this scale. The point is I want you prepared for all possibilities. We’re honing your mage abilities, broadening the range of your attacks through Latin study. You’re getting preparation in how to disarm and disable conventional, non-mage weapons. These drills here are for visually stunning or otherwise distracting non-mages. Meanwhile Quentin has been teaching you to cast spells on buildings, which will play a key role for any time we infiltrate a government office. All these are spells outside your normal mage society repertoire—we’ve modified the Kingham training to fit the needs of the mages in the Jade League. So we’re not developing your shielding or counter-spells, because with the exception of Lucas, you’re not likely to encounter a mage in Paris that isn’t working for us.”

Mira looked down at her shoe. “You trained to fight non-mages at Kingham?”

“Yes,” said Etienne quietly. “It wasn’t a large part of our training, but we developed those skills because we knew not everyone in the world was tolerant.”

Mira glanced up at him, and she registered a certain tone of sadness in his eyes. “That’s a possibility that American mages never think about,” she said.

“We don’t all live in the relative security of the United States.”

He didn’t say it like a criticism, but Mira felt the prejudice against American mages all the same. It stung, but she reminded herself that now she was here, in France—in Paris, the very den of anti-mage sentiment of the world right now.

She changed the subject. “I understand the rationale now, but I feel like I’m the only recruit who’s learning more than just the evasive techniques and physical combat.”

A hint of a smile touched Etienne’s mouth. “Not all recruits are trained like this. Most we prepare for self-defense, and the better ones we train for joining the patrols. The particularly strong we often don’t train much, and they lead the guard rotations. Only the exceptional mages, the ones we’ve identified as strong enough to work on par with Kingham graduates, only those are trained like this.”

Mira crossed her arms, feet set wide apart. “So how many other mages are exceptional?”

He shoved his hands back into his pants pockets. “Just you so far,” he said.

She laughed out of skepticism. “That can’t be true.”

“Why not?” asked Etienne.

“Because I can’t be the only mage here that’s capable of training in all this,” she answered, incredulous.

“There are six Kingham graduates in the Jade League,” he told her. “A few days after being plucked from starvation and exhaustion you held up decently against me. You’re the first mage we’ve recruited who can even begin to match a Kingham grad. A few weeks of training and already you’re capable of matching Julien pretty well.”

“He still won,” she said. “He’d want you to remember that.”

“Yes, he did,” admitted Etienne. “But you learn fast—imagine if we were training you in mage combat. You’d soon fight with the best of us.”

Mira smiled at the thought. “You really think I’m that good?” she asked quietly.

“You’re showing us you’re that good,” he said. “Now come on, five more rounds of these drills and we’ll be done for the day.”

Mira nodded, waiting until Etienne had backed far enough away before she took a deep breath and began casting the distraction spells again. With each one, she tried to focus on it without trying, turning each one into instinct.

Day 26 – 2,002 words (34,508 total)

(I would explain the word count numbers, but do you really care? Probably not.)

[[8]] La Formation

It was an unusually bright afternoon in the Jade League’s library. Mira was working on some Latin exercises from her textbook while Etienne sat across from her studiously writing up plans and notes in long hand in his folio. It was a pleasant way to work, the quiet of the library discouraging any distracting conversation, and Etienne occasionally assisted with Latin.

Mira had just showered after the day’s workout, and her wet hair stuck to the back of her neck and itched. She bent over the textbook, reminding herself to towel dry her hair more thoroughly next time. Meanwhile Etienne continued to write without pause, the slight rattling of his ballpoint pen marking out the passage of time as Mira read. He was surprisingly calm. The night before, when he returned to headquarters from delivering the ultimatum, he looked pale and clammy, his hands shaking as he drew Olivier and Charlotte into a close hug. He took the responsibility of standing up and protecting all mages and the innocent citizens of Paris and shouldered the burden, and Mira had seen fear in his eyes, the fear that he would let them down.

But the Etienne that sat across from her in the library was quiet and collected, back to the calm, almost distant man she’d grown accustomed to. He finished a note and looked up at her questioningly, for she had stopped reading and was instead watching him thoughtfully. She shook her head and returned to reading while Etienne went back to his notes.

Dirrumpo,” she muttered, testing out the Latin word.

“Let it roll off your tongue,” said Etienne, without looking up from what he was writing.

Dirrumpo,” she repeated. The double R fluttered in the roof of her mouth.

“Good,” said Etienne. He flipped back a few pages to check something, muttered a few numbers, then returned to his current page.

The quiet descended again, though the mewling of a stray cat in the courtyard outside the window occasionally interrupted the silence. Mira was about to get up and investigate the sound, but she was halfway out of her chair when pounding footsteps in the hallway caught their attention. The door to the library was thrown open, and Jean-Pierre came rushing in.

“Etienne!” he exclaimed, breathless. “Favreau’s response!”

Mira looked back at Etienne, who had sat up straight upon hearing this news.

“And?” he asked Jean-Pierre.

“Olivier says you should come to the conference room,” he replied.

They didn’t waste another moment, Etienne clapping his folio shut and following Jean-Pierre while Mira left her Latin textbook behind. They jogged down the hall and up the stairs to the conference room, where Olivier and the rest of the board were waiting.

“It’s here?” demanded Etienne.

Olivier nodded. “A public address broadcast by radio and television, not that it really reached many. The newspaper ran the announcement this morning but of course no one noticed it. We got word through a few of our business associates. Josh managed to obtain a recording.” Olivier turned to his laptop and started the broadcast, but he continued to talk over it. “It’s pretty dry—just Favreau spewing the usual anti-mage nonsense and saying something about a firm stance.”

Etienne absently ran a hand through his hair. “I take it he’s not stepping down?”

“No intention whatsoever,” said Olivier.

“But we expected that,” said Briand, the board member who organized the league’s patrols. “He has remained rather unaggressive towards the public. It is better than I expected.”

“He won’t stay that way once we start recruiting the citizens of Paris to our cause,” said Etienne. “Jean-Pierre, is the system in place?”

Jean-Pierre nodded, hands fumbling to unfold a flyer for the board to see. “From a distance, it looks like a normal anti-mage poster, but up close you can see the interspersed lines with a phone number. The last two digits are missing—we’ll spread those by word of mouth. When they call the number, they reach an answering machine that allows them to request an escort to join the Jade League. They also double for secure information drops. We can access the messages remotely. The messages aren’t stored on the machines; they’re redirected to our database. The phones are located in abandoned buildings throughout the city, and even if they are raided, we can replace them elsewhere.”

“And what happens if a government officer finds out the word of mouth numbers?” asked Charlotte. “What if they set up a trap for us?”

“Then we have to rely on the skill of our own,” answered Etienne. “They won’t be going in blind. We’ll do checks as best we can before we arrange an escort to the safe houses.”

“Do we really expect them to come rushing to us?” asked Mira warily. “I mean, what reason have we given the citizens of Paris to entrust their lives with us?”

Olivier leaned back in his chair. “The moment we start following through on our threats to disrupt and dismantle the government, the backlash from Favreau will be harsh. I’d expect people will begin coming to us then.”

“When it’s our fault that Favreau is punishing them?” asked Mira.

“We cannot back down on the threats we’ve already made,” said Julien from his vantage point against the wall. “Then we’ll only show that we are weak. We have to show our power.”

Nods throughout the room greeted his statement. The last words of Favreau’s broadcast message played low in the background, but none of them paid attention. Mira felt the tension in the room as they all looked to Etienne.

“I’ll make the response tonight,” he announced. “Briand, Astin, I want your teams in place tonight.” The two men nodded sharply. Etienne looked around at the board, a hint of the excitement and fear from the night before hiding behind his eyes. “Everyone else, the Jade League resistance has truly begun.”

***

Mira’s shoes pounded hard against the cement stairs in the training room, her breath growing ragged in her throat. She reveled at the power coiled in her muscles as she chased after the leader of their terrain running group. It felt good to be back in shape. Despite the past few weeks of exhaustion, both physical and mental, the training was paying off. She had regained a lot of weight, and she could finally feel muscle under her skin instead of bone. At last she could trust her body once again—push off with the right amount of force, land the way she wanted, and not tire after minimal exertion.

Charlotte had started her on terrain running a few days before, and it was a fast-paced, adrenaline-driven heaven compared to running laps. Back at the mage society at home, Mira had always preferred trail and street running to monotonous laps around the track, and here in the Jade League was no different. Mira could run faster and farther like this, and it kept her attention sharp, though she could no longer review her Latin lessons while running.

Ahead of her, the leader of their group cut left between a line of warehouse shelves, and swung up to the high second shelf by launching off a crate. Mira and the others followed, finding their own way up or cutting parallel along the ground level. The leader was fast—the leader always was, though the exhilaration of being the leader also helped—and hopped back down to the ground before most of the group even reached the second shelf. Mira used the low cement wall near the end of the shelf line to bounce her way back to the ground. Terrain running required speed, agility, and a constant awareness of one’s surroundings—that was exactly why Mira loved it. It gave her something to do, something to focus on while she ran. And realistically, this type of exercise was the kind of activity most of the Jade League used outside in the city.

Their training supervisor blew his whistle to signal the end of this particular round. Mira jogged up to their leader and thanked him, congratulating him on evading their group for the entirety of the round. She had yet to tag a leader in any of her terrain running groups so far, but she’d run with groups that had.

“You were all getting uncomfortably close,” he leader laughed, bent double trying to catch his breath. The others clapped him on the back in congratulations as well, and together the whole group headed over to the pile of discarded clothes and water bottles in the center of the room.

Mira was taking purposefully slow sips from her water bottle when a great shout rose up from the barracks entrance. The entire sparring ring collapsed on itself, and the rows of recruits running drills broke formation and rushed towards the entrance. Mira craned her neck, trying to see what the excitement was about, but couldn’t make out anything from the crowd.

“What’s happening?” she asked one of the other runners from her group.

Aucune idée,” he answered. No idea.

Mira glanced around and spotted the pyramid of shipping crates over by the shelves she’d just been running on. She jogged back to it, pushing her way past the other terrain runners heading towards the crowd. She hoped the elevation would help her make sense of the excitement.

By the time she reached it, she recognized Charlotte climbing onto the top crate and straightening to survey the room. She spotted Mira below and beckoned her up.

“What’s going on?” asked Mira as she hefted herself up the first crate.

“The first group of refugees just arrived,” answered Charlotte, a wide smile of pride pulling at her mouth. “If this welcome gets any louder, Favreau won’t have to look very hard to find us.”

Mira laughed, pulling herself up to the top crate and seating herself on the edge of it so that her legs dangled freely. “So Jean-Pierre’s system worked.”

“That or we just welcomed the first of Favreau’s spies into the Jade League,” said Charlotte. She stood next to Mira, arms crossed as she watched the haggard group make its way through the cheering crowd of recruits.

“You know Olivier’s better at background checks than that,” said Mira.

“He is now, but he can’t continue to check every refugee,” Charlotte sighed. “Of course, we won’t stop doing background checks entirely, but Olivier can’t be the one to do them all.”

Mira looked up at her. “It’s only particularly risky when we bring them here to headquarters. Otherwise it’s just the others at any particular safe house.”

“True,” murmured Charlotte. “And seeing this group makes me want to go out and bring every Parisian in myself.”

“Why?” asked Mira, squinting at the crowd and trying to make out the group of refugees.

“They’re a family, harassed by secret police for months for supposedly harboring mages. They got so tired of it, they finally decided to officially join our side.”

“Harassed?”

Charlotte nodded sadly. “They had their home inspected multiple times and practically torn apart, their food supplies were confiscated more than once, and the two oldest children were beaten in an attempt to get their parents to talk.”

Mira shuddered at this last deed, wrapping her arms around herself. “I’m glad they got out, then.” After a moment, she looked around at the perimeter of the room. “Where’s Etienne?” she asked. “He should really see this moment.”

“He’s upstairs,” answered Charlotte. “He’s laying low for security purposes, even though Olivier and I tried to convince him it didn’t matter. He got it into his head that he puts everyone else at risk for being around him.”

“Has he forgotten we all joined his resistance league?”

Charlotte smiled reluctantly. “Possibly. But nonetheless he’s reducing his visibility to anyone below patrol and guard level.”

Mira sighed and looked out on the enthusiastic welcome below. “I know it makes sense,” she said. “But I just wish he could see this.”

Day 24 – spoilers!!!

Day 24 consisted of planning and working out some dialogues for upcoming chapters. Some of these come waaaaay far down the line (as in, things that I might not even get around to writing in the month of November, regardless of whether or not I hit 50K this month). I’m counting them in my word count anyway, so I’ll post ’em here.

HOWEVER, if you don’t want to find out some of these things that will happen later, DON’T READ PAST THE CUT. Consider yourself warned.

 

Continue reading

Day 23 – 2,504 words (32,506 total)

Mira crouched in a dark alleyway, breathing hard. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, so loud and persistent that she was sure someone would hear. Carefully she slid over to the alley entrance, doing her best to stay in the shadows as she eyed the line of light coming from a nearby street lamp. The sidewalk was clear. Mira stole down to the next alleyway, casting a spell with a few muttered words to send the sound of her footsteps going in the other direction.

A few blocks back, Charlotte’s voice barked out an order—she and Quentin were tracking Mira and a few other recruits through the underground training room setup to teach them evasive techniques in preparation for patrol duties. Mira had only learned the spells two days before under Charlotte’s tutelage, but she was starting to get the hang of them. She chanced a peek around the corner of her hiding place and saw another recruit dodging for her next intended cover. It was Nathalie, one of her sparring partners from her first day in the sparring ring. Mira caught her eye, and they signaled to each other from opposite sides of the street. Pressed flat against the wall, Nathalie held up two fingers, then pointed back the way she’d come from, gesturing twice. Two blocks back. She touched her forehead, the Jade League sign language for police, and held up two fingers, turning them back and forth so that her palm and the back of her hand faced Mira in turns. Two police, coming fast.

Mira pointed to herself and made a flashing light bulb gesture over her shoulder then pointed up at a building behind them. Nathalie nodded, crouching into position. With one hand, she counted down from five; the other hand she used to direct her spell. She dropped the last finger and shot the spell at a third floor balcony on the building behind them. Nathalie sprinted off down the street while the door rattled open and shut. Mira quickly followed, angling for the space Nathalie had just vacated, but just before she reached it, Charlotte tackled her to the ground.

“Ha!” said Charlotte triumphantly. “You’re dead.”

Mira disentangled herself from Charlotte and groaning as she felt the bruises all over her body from the past few days. She gingerly got back to her feet and hopped up and down a few times to get her blood moving.

“That was a good attempt,” said Charlotte, brushing dirt off her coat. For once she wasn’t dressed in sweats because she’d come from yet another meeting with the board. But she’d anticipated this drill and came equipped with steel-toed boots that sounded like the footsteps of the secret police when she walked.

“Did it work?” asked Mira. “Did Nathalie get away?”

“Yes, but not the way you’d hoped.” Charlotte paused for a moment, listening to Quentin level another recruit elsewhere in the fake city street setup. “I heard the balcony door, but I also felt the spell coming from your location. The magic energy needs to originate from the place of action, not where you are. Non-mages, including the secret police, can feel the disturbance caused by the spell itself, regardless of where its final action goes. You have to draw from the energy as if you were actually in that other place.”

Mira frowned and brushed her bangs back from her face. “I know, I know. You said the same thing yesterday. It’s just—I’m not used to having to think about where the energy is coming from. It’s weird feeling out how someone else might perceive magic when I’ve taken it for granted my whole life.”

Sighing, Charlotte helped Mira brush the dirt off her clothes. “I know. It’s not intuitive. But you’re a quick learner, and you’ll soon master this like all the other mages we’ve trained for patrol duties. You’re already picking this up faster than most.”

Mira rolled her shoulders back. “So when I’m casting the spell,” she said, closing her eyes to envision it, “I use the energy in that location to power the movement.” She tried to imagine the space surrounding the balcony door from earlier. “Da ianuam motus.

They heard the door rattle, and this time Mira noticed a subtle absence of pressure around herself that she normally felt when she cast a spell. She’d never consciously connected it to her use of magic, but now that she’d used magic without feeling that pressure, she felt disoriented for just a moment.

“Better,” said Charlotte. “Much better. You’re still leveraging some energy from around you, though.”

“I didn’t even realize I could do that,” said Mira. “I thought the only way to hide my abilities was not to use them.”

Charlotte smiled a wan smile. “I thought the same thing for many years. But I grew up hiding my abilities from my father, and sooner or later the urge to use my magic won out.”

Mira cocked her head to one side. “Why did you have to hide from your father?” she asked.

A look of sorrow crossed Charlotte’s face, so slight that Mira almost didn’t notice it. She realized that this evasive skill of Charlotte’s was not something she’d come by easily.

“My father is a powerful public figure in England,” Charlotte explained softly. “But he’s not my real father. My birth father was a mage who had an affair with my mother while her husband was abroad on business. I’m not sure if his dislike of mages and magic stems from her affair, or if it ran deeper than that. In any case, the moment I started showing signs of being a mage, my mother forced me to hide my abilities.”

Mira bit her lip, unsure of how to answer. Charlotte looked off into the distance, down the street towards the ridge of another training terrain setup. Suddenly she shrugged and turned back to Mira.

“In any case,” Charlotte continued, “I learned early on to disguise my magic, at least until I moved in with my brother at the family house in London. Then I began training in a mage society, and I met Professor Bennett, the instructor for the mage society at Kingham.”

Mira opened her mouth to ask her more, but they were interrupted when someone shouted Charlotte’s name.

“Exercise complete!” she yelled for the recruits in the city setup. “Quentin?”

“Two made it through, and I’ve got the others,” he called back from a parallel street. “Theo says there’s a call for you on the main line.”

“Come on,” said Charlotte to Mira. “I’ll bet it’s the board.”

They jogged over to Theo, who was waiting at the phone by the entrance. “It’s Olivier,” he said, holding the phone out to them.

“Hey,” she said into the receiver, holding it so that Mira could hear as well. “I’ve got Mira with me.”

“Good,” Olivier replied. “It’s time. Have the patrol-level mages with you take the others back to headquarters. They should disperse somewhat, but tell them they can watch if they want.”

“I’ll let them know,” said Charlotte. She signaled to the others in the room to gather round. “Give us about ten minutes?”

“You’ve got five.”

Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Fine, we’ll make do. How’s Etienne holding up?”

They heard Olivier let out a single, barking laugh. “Calm as ever—you know how he is.”

“Best guess?”

“He’s nervous, but he’s ready for this,” he answered. “Are you two going to the roof?”

“Yes, if we can get there in time,” said Charlotte with a hint of annoyance.

“Don’t stay there long,” he cautioned. “It’s a full moon.”

“We won’t,” replied Charlotte. “Take care.”

“See you in a bit.”

She hung up the receiver and looked around at the mages who had gathered. “It’s time,” she told them. She took the higher-level mages to the side and explained Olivier’s instructions. They nodded and split off, each taking a contingent of trainees with them.

As they headed out, Mira helped Charlotte close down the room, storing away weapons and equipment they’d used. They shut off the lights behind them and made sure the door was sealed shut. In the stairwell, they heard the ground floor door swing shut as the last of the group slipped out. Mira and Charlotte climbed the stairs in silence, passing the ground floor and continuing on several flights higher to the roof access. Charlotte checked the exit first, making sure the open roof was clear. Once she had ensured the way was safe, they stepped out onto the blank expanse of rooftop.

Unlike the other buildings in the area, this one was nearly devoid of ventilation structures—the entire building below was a warehouse and had its own systems that vented out the sides of the building rather than tunneling to the roof. It must have made a great space for office parties, if this had been the kind of workplace to have office parties. Having seen the reception area, Mira doubted they had office parties, much less rooftop office parties.

It was already dark, though the sun had still been up when they left headquarters for the training room. They’d eaten here between drills, their dinner packaged up in restaurant to-go containers. A few hours still remained before curfew, but the city was quiet, only a few lights on in buildings around them as the streets filled with fog.

“What was Olivier talking about?” whispered Mira.

“Which part?”

“He said it was a full moon.”

Charlotte smiled faintly. “You’ll see.”

“With the fog, why does it even matter?” Mira asked.

But Charlotte just shook her head. “You’ll see,” she murmured again.

They waited in silence. Mira breathed in the fresh air of the night, glad to be outside again. She was beginning to hate the workouts in the training room, where the exhaled breath and vaporizing sweat of tens and tens of people mixed into a thick, stuffy atmosphere. She didn’t notice it as much during the sparring rounds, but running laps with nothing else to think about had become torture. All the same, Mira was glad for the exercise, and this morning she’d woken up without feeling like she wanted to die of soreness. Her bruises still hurt when she touched them, but she loved the sparring ring too much to care. She’d already learned a lot from watching the other matches, and she’d won today’s matches pretty easily. Soon she’d be moving up to sparring sevens—and possibly beating Julien again before he could completely destroy her in the battle room.

Suddenly the lights throughout Paris flickered for a moment—Mira and Charlotte could only see the lights around them, but they knew this was Olivier’s doing and that the flicker reached far across the city. When the lights returned to normal, Etienne’s voice echoed through the streets, magically magnified to reach every dark and hidden corner of the city.

Bon soir, Monsieur Favreau, Monsieur Dubois, mon cher Paris, et mes bons amis, les mages du Paris,” he greeted his audience. “Je m’appelle Etienne Laroche, et je viens d’une organisation qui protégé les mages et notre cher Paris contre l’injustice de notre gouvernement.

Mira listened to his words, spoken calmly in measured phrases. She loved the sound of his French, his throaty yet ever so slightly delicate Parisian accent—it reminded her of her father’s voice, a younger version of that reassuring, wise sound that filled her childhood. She took a deep breath and searched the overcast sky for strength. As she stared up at the endless fog, she realized that Charlotte was doing the same.

“He’s addressing the people,” Mira told her softly.

Charlotte inhaled deeply. “Good.”

“I can translate it for you,” offered Mira.

Charlotte shook her head. “It’s all right,” she sighed. “I’d be antsy either way. I’m being nervous on his behalf.”

Smiling, Mira looked back up the sky, half thinking about her father, half listening to Etienne’s words. He had written the address himself—beautiful, eloquent words that rose and fell in a moving entreaty to his people to stand up for their city. In clear terms he laid out the role of the government in encroaching on their rights, and explained that mages were not a menace but rather victims like themselves. He told the city that innocent people had nothing to fear from mages.

Then he addressed Favreau. He admonished him for impinging on the lives of Parisians, mage and non-mage alike. He reminded Favreau and the Parisian people of the massacres that had summarily executed hundreds of suspected mages, a sizeable percentage of which had not even been mages in the first place.

Alors, n’oubliez pas cette violence. Nous n’oublions jamais. N’oubliez jamais que vous avez menacé un peuple qui ne sommes pas impuissants.

“Never forget that you have threatened a people who are not powerless,” translated Mira for Charlotte’s benefit.

“Watch,” said Charlotte, a slight, almost vindictive smile turning up the corners of her mouth.

Regardez!” ordered Etienne. In that instant, the fog disappeared. The entire city suddenly revealed herself, the dark silhouette of the Eiffel Tower rising beside the Seine, a lighted region from the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs-Elysées to the Concorde, and the faint outline of Sacre Coeur high up on Montmartre in the distance to their left. High above, the full moon glowed in the clear sky, surrounded by the spray of stars twinkling in the inky black.

Voyez notre ciel—je vous donne. Et si tu, mon cher Favreau, ne démontes pas ton gouvernment et cesses tes activités violentes, nous les mages n’avons pas le choix que de le démonter pour toi. Tu as vingt-quatre heures pour démissioner.

“There it is,” said Mira softly. “The ultimatum. ‘Resign in twenty-four hours or we’ll dismantle the government for you.’”

“Good. Let’s get out of here,” said Charlotte. “I want to be waiting for him at headquarters when he returns.”

They slipped back down the stairwell in silence, suddenly aware of their shadows in the moonlight coming from the small windows. The lobby was eerily still and silent when the emerged from the stairwell on the ground floor. Mira wasn’t used to being here without a group of people, and suddenly the isolation of walking through the room with only Charlotte to accompany her—and Charlotte in boots that sounded like the secret police’s footsteps—made her feel very alone in this unfamiliar city. Seeing Mira hesitate, Charlotte put a hand on her arm to calm her.

“Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s get back to headquarters.”

Reassured by Charlotte’s presence and strength, Mira exhaled slowly and followed her towards the exit. But she paused for a moment before they left the relative safety of the building. “How did he do that to the fog?” she asked Charlotte.

Charlotte turned back to her, smiling vaguely. “The sage,” she answered simply.

Mira blinked. “Who?”

Charlotte just smiled and headed out into the moonlit night.