Cogs twitched as Enchantment Studies Adjunct Kirkwin Millstone placed the sword inside the machine. The lenses convulsed before he had a chance to run a current through the apparatus.
“Peculiar,” Kirkwin said. “It must be carrying a very dense thaumaturgical charge.”
Oboe leaned inside the contraption to watch as mirrors rotated into place. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He means the sword is overfilled with magic,” Theodore said. “Some of it is bleeding off.” He helped Kirkwin attach the heavy fuel canister to the scrying spectrometer. The device lit up like a starry night. Kirkwin shuttered the laboratory windows and dimmed the lantern. The sword’s reflection in the mirrors was bright, rippling with color.
Kirkwin fiddled with levers. “I don’t know if I can read this spell aura. It’s too complex. Let me apply a filter.” One of the mirrors shifted. The sword’s reflection turned a deep black, a silhouette cut through the world. It stood out against the dark as if it were beyond black. A void. Oboe covered her eyes.
“This is the bottom,” Kirkwin said. “It’s a vorpal enchantment. A death curse!” He rubbed his eyes, and laughed. “I never imagined I’d see one in person. They’re next to impossible to make. You need dragon’s blood and worse to make it work.”
Theodore found it hard to tear his eyes away from it. If anyone was capable of getting ahold of dragon’s blood, it was his father. “What does it do, exactly?”
“Well, it’s not well studied, but the leading theory is it neutralizes the thaum vibrations inside a body. Harmless to any human that isn’t actively casting a spell, but the smallest cut from this thing would be a death sentence for a creature born of magic. I could write a whole doctorate thesis on this if it weren’t outlawed!”
“It hurts!” Oboe said. “Make it stop! Turn it off!”
“Let’s change the filters.” Kirkwin adjusted the dials, and the reflection shifted to a noise of random colors. “Better?”
“This part I don’t understand,” Kirkwin said. “On top of the vorpal spell is just… gibberish. Layers and layers of just nonsense aura hues clumped together.” He scribbled down notes. “It’s like a thousand-page book of scrambled letters and numbers. It doesn’t make any sense. The death curse can’t work when it’s buried under all this garbage.”
“Why would anyone do this?” Theodore said.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Kirkwin said. “It’s too much magic to be an accident, but it’s not stable either. It’s all leaking off where the tip is broken.”
A few more clicks and switch pulls, and the machine hummed down to silence. Oboe rushed to throw the windows open and let the light in again. “Can we go home now?” She said.
Theodore ignored her. “I found the sword stabbed through a fairy,” he said. “How would this combination of spells affect them?”
“Found?” Kirkwin blinked. “They were impaled with it? For how long?”
“Years,” Theodore said.
Kirkwin dropped his quill, shaken. “No. That… The junk magic would stop the vorpal spell from working fully, but not completely. It would account for how they could survive, but every moment would be torture. Just killing the victim would be far more humane.”
Theodore had never imagined his father was so cruel. It made his blood boil. “I need you to write a formal report detailing what you found. People need to know Lance Grayweather did this.”
“Is that wise, Deputy?” Kirkwin said. “This is troubling, to say the least, but the Hero Champion is a national icon. A hero! This will sour the people’s memory of your father.”
Theodore narrowed his eyes. “There’s no excuse for this. Being a hero means he should be accountable for his actions! I can’t just ignore this.”
Oboe covered the sword in canvas again. “Theo, I don’t like this. He’s your dad! Maybe he just made a mistake. You should forgive him.”
Theodore shook his head. “Have you been listening? This weapon is monstrous! My father probably didn’t even care how that nymph suffered.” He marched up to the window and looked out toward the Bureaucracy Dome, the Laien flag billowing in the wind on its tip. “It’s not right that we celebrate a man like that. We need to tell the governor about this.”