Lord Despeke stepped forward from the audience. He was elderly too, wearing a top hat and three-piece suit over a stiffly starched white shirt with wing-tipped collar. There was a glint of precious stone at his wrists as his cufflinks caught the light, and he was was carrying a brass fob watch whose chain fell gracefully down to a bar through a buttonhole of his waistcoat. He was also, Rafe noticed, sweating copiously.
Lord Despeke stood very still for a moment as though gathering his thoughts, and then threw the watch up into the air. As it reached the peak of its parabolic arc it froze, and though the audience stared at it expectantly, it hung there. “It is moved out of time,” said Lord Despeke, his voice gravelly as though it wasn’t used much. “It cannot fall, or be shifted by physical means. It is, effectively, an impervium.”
Rafe shivered. When Lord Despeke had cast his spell he’d felt it like a hooked net drawn over his skin. Back on his homeworld the man would have been skinned and pinned out under the sun for stealing magic like that from anything and everything around him. There had been no attempt to find the natural source of the power that he needed, or even to find and adapt another source. There was spill-over from the spell even now; Rafe could sense the drain of magic around the object that went into maintaining the spell because it had been lazily cast and not tied off, made self-contained. For him, it was ugly and inelegant.
He picked up the fire again because it was there, so close and tempting, and neatly severed the magic around the watch. He caught it as it fell, and handed it to the stunned-looking Lord Despeke. Before he could reprove him though, the white-haired woman spoke. She was now back on her feet, though the girls who had lifted her were still at her sides, supporting her.
“I am less interested in knowing if you can break a spell than I am in knowing if you are capable of similar spells,” she said. “Can you create an impervium, child?”
Calling him child annoyed him, so he nodded coolly rather than explain his actions. If all they wanted was effects then he would give them effects. Let them find out the hard way what the cost of their profligacy with their magic would be.
He reached out again, seeking the magic that Lord Despeke had used, and found a large source of it somewhere inside the halls that they were in. He marvelled to himself again that these people had access to such vast amounts of power and seemed to have no appreciation for it, and then he let the magic flow through him once more. He felt himself youthen as it did so, and he had to struggle not to let him just carry him back into genuine childhood. He halted it, and then pulled it together, and wrapped it around the air in the middle of the hall, and then tied it off. He opened his eyes, suddenly realising that he’d closed them, and looked at what he’d done.
A black sphere hovered in mid-air in the dead-centre of the room. Thin black lines radiated out from it dividing the room into sixteenths. Already some of the audience were touching the lines, pressing against them and even casting small, careless ugly spells at them. The spells were absorbed, blows were ignored, and nothing could shift the lines or the sphere.
“Solid impervium,” said a man with only a few wrinkles on his face. “Dear Gods, it’s solid impervium. This would make the most fantastic armour ever!”
“It’s a trick,” said Lord Despeke flatly, “It has to be. No-one knows impervium as well as I do, and he’s a savage. They don’t even have proper clothes where he comes from!”
“It doesn’t feel like anything,” said another woman. Her hand was sliding frictionlessly along a black line. “I can’t feel anything there, but I can’t get past it. It’s like there nothing at all there, and you can’t go past it because you’d have to fill up the nothing and there’s not enough of you.”
“Sounds dangerous,” said another man. “Still want to make armour out of it, Arthur?”
“Hells and Heavens, yes!” laughed the nearly-unwrinkled man. “Armour that can absorb the enemy! Amazing invention!”
“Impressive,” said the white-haired woman, ignoring Lord Despeke’s snort of contempt. “Is this something that was useful on your world?”
“It wasn’t something that could be created on my world,” said Rafe.