The Antithesis Spell
Stazia, an unorthodox witch, is appointed Dean of Charms at a magical school, and clashes with the very traditional Dean of Ritual about her methods.
Despite their opposing ideologies, it is Mortimer the Black who becomes her surprising ally and defender when a plot to murder Stazia comes to light.
Together, the two try to ferret out the villain and save Stazia's life...and their blooming passion in the process.
It was the Antithesis Spell that had won her the appointment. Stazia’s invention had earned her even more prestige, perhaps, than she’d really wanted. For all her pride in its discovery, the unorthodox charm had gotten her into this mess, and she felt the potential of it twitching through her fingers even now. Perhaps she could use it to transform her nervousness into cool serenity as well.
“Are you coming, child?” The crinkly voice of her mentor broke her concentration before she could give the idea a try. Fontaine the Formidable, wisest and oldest of the school Deans, stood in his finest robes on the steps of the administers’ temple. He squinted down at her.
“Yes. Sorry.” Stazia felt like his student again. One disapproving look from Master Fontaine could do that. His frowns had centuries behind them. She hiked up the hem of her own robes and scurried to join him.
She would be the youngest Dean in University history. The spell had done that for her. It had convinced the committee that she was as qualified as Fontaine asserted. The Antithesis had won her seat, and today Stazia the Unorthodox would be inducted as the head of Charms and Charming.
Her fingers flicked against the material at her sides. She should try it now. If Fontaine would let her slip away to the restroom.
“Hurry.” He didn’t flinch. “The council does not approve of tardiness, and I think you know, we need all the approval we can get from them.”
“How many voted against me?”
“Four.” He’d told her twice already, but the number still burned her cheeks and tightened the set of her jaw. “You must tread gingerly, Stazia.”
“But—” She stopped herself. Her tongue wanted to snap that they could use a little challenging, that the crust growing around the University traditions was far more dangerous than one inventive witch, but Fontaine was on her side. She wanted to keep him there. “Fine.”
“Stazia, Stazia.” He turned and leveled that frown on her again. “You must not let that rebellious streak rule your actions. This day is an honor to us both. Your appointment reflects on my teachings.”
“Yes, Master.” She felt the guilt bubble, but her defiance shrugged it off. The spell was brilliant. She deserved this seat. More than that, her other methods, the ones that had earned her four votes against and more than one senior staff observation, were clever as well. The things she’d done during her stint as a graduate here had moved magic forward—way forward. Deep down she thought that was what bothered the council members. No matter what they claimed.
Maybe Antithesis could turn them all into renaissance men.
“Come.” Fontaine moved up the stairs so smoothly she watched his hem to see if he had any magical assistance. The temple occupied the center of the University gardens, toward the south end of campus and a good fifteen minute flight from the Charms tower. She’d moved in the night before, had been introduced to her staff, her office and her chambers, but none of it was officially hers until the ceremony terminated today.
She could wait a few hours, could behave for a little while. Once they’d handed her that scroll, however, all bets were off. Stazia would remain herself, and that self wanted to experiment. She had ideas that could revolutionize the way spells was created, and she damn sure intended to leverage her new position and do just that.
The temple doors had been propped open, and the scent of incense met them at the entrance. The long sanctuary stretched toward the far dais, and all along that gauntlet, the seats of the Deans waited. Stazia thrust back her shoulders and lifted her chin. She strode forward at her mentor’s elbow, beside the man they all respected, who in turn respected her enough to petition for her inclusion.
Her eyes fixed ahead, on the ancient altar and the nearly ancient Head of Deans waiting behind it. Stazia snuck peeks to either side and did her best to catalogue the men and women seated on chairs that might as well have been thrones. She’d have to sit amongst them soon, and if four had voted outright against her, she knew even more had concerns about her worthiness.
She had a long way to go.
“Not too bad,” Fontaine whispered. “All but one showed.”
“Hmm.” They’d made the halfway mark, and the only empty chair she’d noted was the one reserved for her. “Who is missing?”
“Mortimer the Black.”
“Do I know him?”
“I suspect you will soon.”
Stazia met the gaze of the Head Dean and offered her a friendly smile. The woman’s furrows deepened in response. Fantastic. One no-show and a whole room full of chilly wizards.
“He’s the Dean of Rituals and Ceremonial Magics,” Fontaine whispered, and his cheek twitched in amusement. “I doubt you’d have had his classes.”
Definitely not. Ceremonial Magic gave her a case of the prickles. It had far too many rules and restrictions, times and phases and correspondences that had to be obeyed. She could see, then, why this Dean had voted in opposition to her appointment. She probably gave him the prickles as well. Just the idea of the Antithesis spell had invoked a full-scale investigation of her methodology.
“You would do well to avoid, Mortimer,” Fontaine added. He marched beside her, the only one fully beside her she supposed, and just before they reached the altar he offered a final word of advice. “I suggest giving the man a wide berth.”
Fontaine knew her too well. He knew she had something to prove, and he’d cautioned against it more than once. He supported her, but he didn’t love waves any more than the rest of them...and Stazia could make waves like nobody’s business.
She’d shown them easily enough. Her secret. The thing they should have been excited about. When it came down to it, you didn’t need methodology. You didn’t need anything but an iron will and a vivid imagination. Stazia reached the altar and dipped respectfully to the school Head. You didn’t need any of it, and she bet that made people like Mortimer the Black more than suspicious. It made them afraid for their own futures. Stazia the Unorthodox terrified the shit out of them.
“Sir, are you certain you won’t be attending?”
“Give it a rest, Vince.” Mortimer the Black stared out of his tower and pressed his lips together so tightly the blood rushed from them to friendlier parts of his face. “I’m not going.”
“Even Syvus has left for the ceremony.”
“Syvus has no spine.” He spun on his steward, and Vince stumbled back through the alcove into the relative safety of the tower interior. “He’ll vote for what’s right, but only if he doesn’t have to do it alone. And he won’t stand up for it. No, that would be expecting far too much from a Sorcerer.”
“Shall I get tea then?”
“N—Yes. Tea would be nice.”
“Are you suggesting I make excuses for my absence?”
“It is the traditional protocol.”
Damn.Vince knew him far too well. Perhaps it was time to change staff. He advanced with a snarl and chased the man further into the room. His office was cluttered. He noted it now, as he glared around for something to throw over the balcony. Protocol demanded an explanation, didn’t it?
Didn’t it also demand competence amongst the staff?
This woman the council meant to give a tower to, Fontaine’s pet, was dangerous. She played fast and loose with the rules of magic and no good could come of it. She threatened the whole system, the fabric they’d spent generations weaving. When it came unraveled, he would laugh at them. When she brought down her tower, when the others teetered after it, Mortimer would remind them that he’d seen the risk and warned them, heavily, against it.
“Bring my stationary too,” he conceded. He’d write his note for protocol’s sake, but he drew the line at pretending to like it.
Vince shuffled out, leaving him alone with his ire. She ignored all the damn rules. So what if the council swooned over her fancy spell? Antithesis. He snorted and circled his desk at a sharp clip that sent his dark robes billowing. A simple charm with a flashy name. It might have blinded the council enough to allow Fontaine a moment of glory to bask in. But Mortimer knew Fontaine’s ego was at play. The man should know better than to toss aside the rules.
Fontaine had to see how dangerous his favorite student was. But instead of doing his job, instead of teaching her a little responsibility, the old man had used her ingenuity to launch himself into the spotlight once again.
Vince appeared in the doorway, bringing paper, quill and the sweet scent of lemon tea. Mortimer waved the steward forward. Someone had to tell her the truth, and it seemed that someone would have to be him. Mortimer smiled and tilted his head to the side. Vince froze mid-step. Protocol demanded he write a letter, after all. His fingers twitched to be at the quill. Nothing said he couldn’t enjoy the process.