Fingers touching an oval of steel, Callimachus winced.
Shays broke off his hurried discussion with his thugs. “I have a potential instability in the local field office and my most reliable agent hasn’t reported in. Whatever you’ve found had better be worth it.”
“Worth is always a relative thing,” Callimachus reflected. “It is, at least, interesting.” He lifted his hand from Seal-marked steel. “Kill Ryans, and this becomes nothing more than a very odd paperweight. Or, possibly, vanishes into the ether. I’m not entirely sure which.”
“Make sense.” Shays’ eyes narrowed. “Kill the young idiot, and modern steel vanishes? It’s a Tool.”
“No, it’s not,” Callimachus said soberly. “Not as you and I know them. The steel may be modern, but the curse on it is unthinkably ancient. It’s keyed to one specific, living magoi. Without that power….” The alchemist eyed the Seal, looking past the physical world. “I doubt the elemental would perish. But it would go dormant, never to wake again unless someone just happened to fulfill all of the curse’s specific conditions. The ones I’ve been able to pin down so far include life-threatening peril and some kind of… loyalty clause?” Callimachus shook his head. “Whatever else might be required, I would venture to guess that it is very, very rare. You’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning than finding another compatible host.”
“Curse?” Shays and Smith said as one. The business-mage was frowning; the thug’s face had the faintest flicker of unease.
Laughing, Phaenomena knew, would completely ruin the effect. She kept her face straight and solemn, as if she were at a funeral.
“The boy is bound to something inhuman for the rest of his life,” Callimachus shrugged. “People watch that silly film of the mermaid, and forget that in the original tale, every dainty step she took felt like walking on knives.” He never glanced at the monitor. “To be bound to this… object… is to take every breath edged in fire. If you really mean to torture him, you might consider giving it back.”
For a long moment, Shays was silent.
Eep. Magister, you may have overplayed your hand – we’re going to have to move fast-
A thin smile engraved itself on Shays’ face. “The rumors never said you had a sense of humor.”