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The underlying principle of all mancy is called the Conservation of Coincidence, postulated and proven by theoretical aquamancer Jouster Wanseni around the founding of the Thorn Empire, when the bayside city of Blinst was little more than a trading outpost for Toman raiders. Mc. Wanseni hypothesized that mancers manipulated chance in their favor but paid for that manipulation by increasing the risk of their own natural demise. The elderly aquamancer posed the theory that with the use of rare materials-such as the blood of an albino polar bear or crushed hollow pearls, possessing themselves an incredible amount of coincidence-a mancer could decrease the risk to him- or herself. So adept was this idea, that all four main branches of mancy adopted it, and in the centuries since, taught their students this manner of assisted mancy. Pure mancy--or unaided mancy, as it became known--though inherently simpler and more powerful, became frowned upon as too dangerous, too volatile. Spells, written down in books and kept in the libraries, became valuable, some kept behind lock and key.

Bunny, an unlicensed and disgraced mancer, had just finished scribbling one such incantation down in his personal journal (an act forbidden by library rules, federal law and good conscience), when the porters found him and carried him bodily through the gilded lobby of the Aquamancers’ Guild, Blinst chapter. The more accomplished masters and experienced secretaries barely lifted an eyebrow, but the handful of student mancers, none much younger than Bunny himself, goggled after him. The heavy wooden doors, taller than two stacked Bunnys and bounded with steel, swung open, and the large men tossed him out and down the stone steps toward the street. He rolled, twin braids like spokes, until he came to a painful stop against a rusted iron lamppost. His purse, stuffed with his journals, notes, potions and expensive ingredients, burst open, spilling its contents onto the sidewalk, where passersby muttered as they walked around this new, mild inconvenience. Drawing his aching body into a sitting position, Bunny cursed as he scooped up his belongings and took stock of his life.

The Aquamancers’ Guild was the last to accept his expired, invalid infernomancer membership card and flimsy excuses. He had been forbidden to visit the library at his own former guild, and the geomancers insisted on a valid license. The aeromancers had followed up on his name, discovered his expulsion and had given his photo to the clerks. As had, apparently, the aquamancers’ guild.

“Hell,” he muttered, blowing out his mustaches and scooping up his papers on Hobb’s drago theory. The wet pavement turned his valuable notes into so much smeared ink. He could probably find information at the free library, but he’d have to pay to have the papers from the guild libraries borrowed. And that was money he didn’t have. The rest he’d have to verify experimentally--a dangerous game.

Two years. He’d been an unlicensed, unaccredited mancer working for criminals and liars for two years, just so he could save up for readmittance. The application fee was paltry, but the donation he’d have to make to amend for his mistakes--that was considerable. At this rate, he’d have to save up for a decade before he was even close.

“Cigarette?” asked someone above him.

Bunny looked up, ready to unleash some frustration on a bayside beggar. “What? Of course, I don’t have a damned …” He found himself looking at an opened box of cigarettes. The man holding it was in his late 30s or early 40s. The orange smear of the evening gaslight made it hard to tell. He had a full head of stiff brown hair and a thin, trimmed beard covered his whole chin and jaw. He wore a nice tan suit with crimson trim that appeared almost black. He did not show any teeth in his smile.

“Oh, no, thank you. I don’t smoke.”

“An infernomancer what don’t smoke. Push me over with a feather.” The man pocketed the tin and helped Bunny to his feet. “How--how did you know I was … well …” Technically, Bunny wasn’t an infernomancer. Infernomancers had guild-issued licenses to practice.

“Your cuffs, partly.”

Bunny looked down at his robe. Originally black, it had faded to a dull gray. The embroidered red and yellow flames on his cuffs were sooty and stained and frayed. “Ah.”

“Truth be told … but don’t go telling anyone I ever told anything more than a half-truth at best … I was out here, waiting on you, Jae-sang.”

No one had called him that in years. Quietly, Bunny asked, “How did you know my name?” Entering a guild without permission was technically illegal, as illegal as trespassing, but no one ever pressed charges. They just expelled you bodily and threatened to turn you into a small pile of ash, dirt, dust, or in the aquamancers’ case, a puddle. “Are you a constable?”

“Constable?” The man crossed himself and grinned again, showing no teeth. “I think not.”

Bunny visibly sagged with relief. Constables were not unknown in the guild district, being on the cusp of wealthier, classier neighborhoods like Norton, Whitehaven and Los Arcangeles.

“My name is Flint Andares. The truth is that I knew your father, may his rest be peaceful, and I heard from a little birdy that you had fallen on hard times. Got booted from the Infernomancers’ Guild. Been working for the likes of the Lannigans and the Salt Boys.” The man’s face drew into a sneer. “I’m putting together a little … team, but for a big job. And I need a reliable mancer.”

Inside, Bunny felt a little piece of himself die. Another criminal. As much as he wanted to decline the invitation, he just couldn’t afford to. “How much?” he asked.

It was Flint’s turn to look surprised. “‘How much?’ Ain’t you gonna ask me what the job is? Why I need a mancer? Risks involved? Where’s that inquisitive spirit I’ve heard tell of?”

Bunny had learned, through threats and black eyes and two broken fingers, not to ask these kinds of questions of the criminal element. He shook his head. His braids rolled apathetically.

“Walk with me, son. Let’s get a beer and some fried fish, my treat. And to answer your question …”

The number Flint said couldn’t have been correct. “I’m sorry. How much?”

The man repeated it, and despite the sun going for a swim in the bay, the world was suddenly a lot brighter. Bunny even smiled. “What’s the job? Why do you need a mancer?”

Flint’s laughter bounced off the cobblestones and tall brick buildings. “And the risks?”

Bunny, answering in all honesty, “I’m a mancer. Nothing riskier than that.”

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