Samira, it turned out, was very interested in the owl that had attacked Tag. “You're sure it was the exact spot?” she asked. Tag was sure. “But it didn't stay more than a few seconds?” It hadn't. “And you're not hurt?” She wasn't. “But it did see you?”
“Yes, it did, why...”
“What kind of owl was it?”
“Um, the gray kind. Not the kind with the sticking-up ears. It had big yellow eyes. Bigger than my head, but not a lot. The owl, not the eyes.”
“I don't recognize it,” Samira muttered, and started to pace.
Tag ventured, “Why...?”
“Wells don't bring animals to them like that. The well magic needs other magic to pull on. The owl is a familiar, but not of anyone I know.”
“An unfamiliar familiar, then?”
Samira gave a snort of a laugh. “Yes, I suppose so. All right. Wait a moment.” She stepped around the shelves to a clear section, where she set her hands on the wall and leaned her forehead against it.
The wall glowed where she touched it, and Tag peered closer. Samira hadn't said the glow spell out loud, or any spell at all, and anyway Tag could feel when the glow spell was cast now and this wasn't it...
Samira straightened and the glow blinked out. “The owl must have been taking magic if it wasn't losing it. We're going to start hurrying.” She scooped together the half-prepared Keepers and herbs. “There will be time to sort the magic out later, after we've emptied the well. Bring Kirchai, will you?”
Tag crouched by the skunk's sleeping nook and gathered him into her arms. He snuffled a little but didn't wake. “It's not really bad. Even if the owl takes some magic, there's a lot. We don't need every little drop. You're not even doing that much with it.”
“Maybe not.” Samira led the way out of the tree. “But magic is powerful. You like to follow animals, Tag?”
“Yes. And watch them.” More than almost anything else, except learning magic.
“If you see the owl again, don't follow it. Its witch might be a perfectly charming person who wants to clear away dangerous loose magic and whose familiar is a little cranky. Or they might be dangerous themselves, they might be someone who wants to use magic in such a way that it would make me... annoyed... with them. If you see the owl again, come straight to me and tell me about it.”
Tag wasn't sure if she was more alarmed at the idea of an unknown dangerous witch, or Samira becoming annoyed. She swallowed. “All right.”
“Good. What we're going to do now is drain the well as fast as possible. Before, I was taking time to prepare individual Keepers so the magic would be in usable chunks that I could carry around and that would last for years. But we can do that later. For now, most of the magic goes in the tree.”
“In the tree.” Her eyes grew wide. “You mean it's like one big Keeper?”
“I've used enough magic in it, over time, that it's close enough.”
“You're going to live in a magic tree.”
“I already live in a magic tree,” said the witch with amusement. “It's bringing the magic there that will be challenging. It needs to travel in a Keeper, and the most efficient Keepers to use are me and Kirch.”
“I guess you can carry more at one time than a rock can.”
“That, and we're already prepared as Keepers, but most of all, it's easier to move magic in and out of living things than it is dead stone. You saw that it hardly took any time to empty my current store, or most of it, before we left.”
“So that's what that was.”
“Yes. It won't be that easy every time; we'll get worn out and have to slow down. But it's still better than stones.”
Tag glanced at Kirchai, who was starting to stir in her arms, and back at Samira. “Could... could I be a Keeper, then? It doesn't sound hard.”
Samira walked in silence for a moment. “Maybe,” she said at last. “It's more than simply being a living thing. Kirchai and I are used to it, we have channels inside us that we've trained the magic to flow through, in a manner of speaking. It's hard to keep hold of the magic when you haven't shaped those channels yet, and this isn't the best time to experiment. But later, I can show you how to practice. Maybe even with the well magic.”
More waiting. Tag sighed. “All right.”
At the well, she set Kirchai down with a huff of relief and looked around. Nothing seemed changed from when she'd left.
“No owls in sight,” said Samira.
“Good.” Tag was out of pebbles to throw. She found a stick and pulled it from the bushes, just in case.
“Most likely,” said Samira, and started drawing magic from the well.
To be continued...