YES. I drew the bird.
* * * *
A dull thud shuddered through through my study and the pigeons that had been sunning themselves on the window ledge took to wing in an explosion of feathers. I paused, pen in hand. What in all the gods’ names could cause such a disturbance? There’d been the time when one of the first-years in the Department of Alchemical Engineering had mixed dragon’s breath with salt-of-Byr, “just to see what would happen,” as he’d put it, but the resultant detonation had been mild compared to this.
I’d felt this deep in my collarbone. Not quite alarmed just yet, I rose and approached my window. Not that I’d be able to see much, because I looked directly into the roofs of the Greater Library. Theoretically, my window faced in a northwesterly direction, toward the harbour. All I saw were terracotta tiles with most of the green glazing worn off by the decades.
A thick pillar of black smoke rose into the clear, late-summer sky.
I stared stupidly for a moment until it registered that whatever burned must be large, possibly one of the warehouses by the docks. The positioning was about right. This time of year there’d still be large quantities of marine oil in stock, not to mention the first harvests.
A tap sounded at my door.
“Come in,” I called.
Big blond Isha shouldered in. “You might want to come take a look at this.”
“C’mon.” She gestured once then ducked out again.
Whatever it was must relate to the explosion and I was torn between returning to the translation with which I’d been busy and following my colleague. After all, it wasn’t as if Uitenbach was immune to its troubles. Nowadays there always was some sort of trouble.
I sighed and hurried after Isha. I’d been sitting at my desk for the past three hours. I needed a break and my stomach growled in a way that told me I’d probably skipped lunch.
Isha waited for me on the corner, and I fell in at her side.
“You walk too fast,” I muttered.
“You spend too much time at your desk.” She flashed me one of her irresistible grins.
I liked Isha. The Ouertian woman was everything I was not—tall, commanding and well-muscled. Then again, a woman needed confidence and brawn by the cartload if she wished to claim the title of maga in the Faculty of Alchemical Engineering.
We made an odd couple, but then again magas were in short supply here at the academy. We stuck together when and where we could. And the gods knew, these days I needed all the support I could.
The Greater Library had a terrace with an actual sea view, and that’s where we headed, and we were not the only ones with the same idea. An assortment of faculty members and students trailed along, fish caught in a current.
“It’s a container of grain that spontaneously combusted,” someone muttered. “Safety regulations have been slipping.”
“Arson,” Head Librarian Matthias, said under his breath as we passed his desk.
He shot us all filthy looks as we traipsed into the hallowed grounds of his domain, as we were no more than lowly first years without the correct documentation.
I blinked in the sunlight and the dry heat of late afternoon. I’d definitely missed lunch. About a dozen or so staff leant over the railings and shaded their eyes against the glare, and Isha and I elbowed our way into a space of our own. The bay was redolent in its usual azure dropping off into cobalt farther out in the ocean, but where the big warehouses of the Fadari family stood was an inferno. We could see the bright orange tongues in great detail and thick black smoke roiled into the sky like some living thing..
Isha gave a low whistle. “Those flames must be at least eighty feet.”
“Not much work going to get done today,” I said, and pointed to the people crowding the rooftops below us.
My companion gave a low grunt.
Alarm bells added their bronzed voices to the muted roar of the blaze, and we watched as some of the engineering magisters rallied their students in the Ruby Square below. This was bad enough that the academy was sending in support. They wouldn’t expect academic staff to pitch in, but the first-years would definitely be expected to “volunteer”.
“Glad that’s not us,” I said to Isha.
“We should go help,” she mused.
“You maybe. What can I do?”
She laughed. “You’d get caught in an updraft and turned into a cinder.”
Our colleagues muttered among themselves. By all rights we should be more alarmed, but after the riots these three winters past, I was certain none of us could dig deep enough to worry more than we already did. This was yet another symptom that all was not well in Uitenland.