Eirik followed Baltasar out of the main hall, and they walked in silence until they reached the compound’s outer wall. They turned to walk along the path that ran in its shadow, and only then did Baltasar speak. “The letter I sent may have been a little… well, misleading.”
Suspiciously, Eirik asked, “How?”
“It doesn’t look like they’re going to try to pin anything on you.”
Eirik spun to face him. “What was all that about unhappy circumstances, then?” he demanded, waving an arm toward the main hall.
“General Assemblies are never happy,” said Baltasar, “pitting us against ourselves like they do. Twelve’s breath, you should see what they do to friendships. I’ve already had to tell three of my acquaintances we’re not on speaking terms anymore, and all over a question of admissions—”
“Admissions?” Eirik shouted, smoldering with barely-controlled anger. “I’ve spent the past month worrying myself out of my mind about how to defend myself against all sorts of charges and now you tell me that the whole Assembly’s only been called because we can’t decide whether to give some little boy—”
“—the chance of a lifetime? It’s…” He trailed off, frowning.
“—she’s not as young as you were, even,” Baltasar finished. He raised an eyebrow, and Eirik was beginning to get the uncomfortable feeling that Baltasar, ever the teacher, was waiting for him to come to some conclusion.
He stalled for time. “Why,” he asked, “can’t we decide?” It was a reasonable question. There were few enough good prospects that deciding where they went was probably the biggest source of inter-guild tension.
“A reasonable question,” Baltasar said, smiling. “She spent about a tenday dead earlier this year.”
That would indeed disqualify a great number of candidates. Spending a few days dead, spirit untethered from the body and vulnerable to all the horrors of the magical side of reality, was perhaps the quickest way of changing one’s way of looking at the world. Those who came back usually ended up with an understandably nervous outlook when it came to magic and spirits, and training such an outlook away was rarely worth the effort it took.
Eirik had a sinking feeling as the realization hit. “The girl from the west.” He searched his memory for the name. “Grevdarsdottir,” he came up with.
Baltasar nodded. “Anja,” he said, “and you shouldn’t have needed the hint.”
“So I am involved,” Eirik said glumly.
“Peripherally, at least.” Baltasar walked on. “A friend of hers sent us a letter three months ago. We drafted a few replies. Our first was perhaps too hasty, and our second too inviting. Others objected to the third. It was all handled very poorly, and it came out that some proxies had gone against the wishes of their principals. There were declarations of no confidence, things descended into ugliness, and we didn’t have a choice but to call the Assembly.”
“Have we found out who?”
“It hardly matters at this point,” said Baltasar, “and we’ll all find out soon enough anyway. I’ve only come across all this in the last tenday. I would have sent another letter if I’d known earlier.”
It was the closest thing to an apology that Eirik could hope for. “No use getting angry about it now,” he allowed. “Where do you stand?”
It was Baltasar’s turn to round on Eirik. “The girl’s been dead, but more than that she’s been under the influence of a draug.”
“You don’t see it? She fought back and won. She clearly has a great deal of natural talent, but as far as I’ve been told nobody knows quite how she did it. I can take a guess, though—she watched what it did to her, then went and did it right back.” Eirik frowned. “You see it now, then. It’s magic of the mind—she’s not a prospect, she’s a danger to herself and everyone around her.”