THE house had been built into the crest of a hill covered in rolling, green grass. Sheep grazed in the surrounding fields, and a lone shepherd walked among them with a wooly dog at his side. In the distance stood the ethereal peaks of the Sylamor Mountains, but the peaceful scene was lost on Tyg as she approached the quaint home. She lowered the hood of her elk cloak and knocked on the door. Behind her stood three Yewolyn mages, still in their elk forms.
On the second knock, the door burst open. An elderly thachwing stared up at her, his eyes watery and sunken. “It’s about time,” he said, voice gruff. He opened the door wider. “Have a look. They took everything they could carry.”
The house was barren. A few dried bundles of herbs hung from the ceiling, a broom leaned in one corner, and a wood table and five chairs were tucked beneath the window. A thachwing woman and her young son, maybe six or seven years old, sat on a rug before the fire. In truth, Tyg could not tell if they had been raided or if it was the simple homestead of a herding family.
“No injuries?” she asked.
“My husband,” said the thachwing woman without turning to them. Her voice had a ghostly, distant quality, and her next words sounded strained. “Shot through with silver.”
“I’m sorry we could not be here sooner.” The Yewolyn Magus stepped to the side. “Can we speak more privately?”
The old man shuffled outside, his body heavy and slow. Then, he closed the door behind him. “We are glad you came.”
“We wasted no time. I understand you caught one,” Tyg said. “Where is she?”
“The barn, of course. Don’t want her anywhere near us.” He pointed out across the field to a small, weathered barn that leaned from years of neglect. “Over there. Just a simple trapping enchantment.”
“Simple but effective. Well done.” She presented a small purse of coins. “Consider this a token of gratitude. I am sorry it cannot be more. You have served Mysanhal well.”
“Thank you,” he said, his gnarled fingers curling around the pouch.
Tyg nodded to her Yewolyns, and they walked through the soft waves of grass toward the barn. When she had presented the sylvn device to Callum and Gallant Myrdah, she lied about the scout’s report. They would not have agreed to go after one sylv. It had to seem like a greater threat. But they did not understand. The one could lead to many. For months, she had been paying for leads in secret. Most rumors turned out to be dead ends, but now, she finally had a promising one.
When they reached the doors, Tyg broke the enchantment with a spell, and they filed inside. Sunlight dappled the muddy ground and straw below. The wind made the beams creak and moan.
She signaled for her Yewolyns to begin searching. As they lowered their cloaks, she called out, “You are under arrest by order of High Queen Innes. Come peacefully and no harm will come to you.”
A voice rang out from behind her. “Magus Tyg Marigen, I’ve heard so much about you.”
Tyg turned, already lifting her hands to cast a spell. But as her eyes fell on the sylv, she froze. This was no starving outlier. Silhouetted in the opening of the barn stood a sylvn girl with one hand held delicately before her as if prepared to thread a needle. The sun shone bright behind her and lit up her fine, white-gold hair. Tyg could not quite make out her face, but she could make out the three dart-like pieces of silver that floated just inches from the sylv’s hand.
“Lower your hands, or I will let them loose,” said the sylv. “All of you.”
Without looking, Tyg sensed her mages’ uncertainty. Still, she let her hands fall to her sides and nodded for them to follow. “There are four of us,” she said. “If you manage to kill three of us, what then?”
“Then we’re evenly matched.”
“You were trapped in a barn by herding thachwings, and you think we’re evenly matched?” Tyg took a step toward her. “There is no scenario where this ends well for you.”
“I’ll take my chances.” The girl flicked her hand. The metal darts shot toward them.
Tyg shouted a deflection spell. The darts dropped to the earth before they could pierce any of the Yewolyns, but the sylvn girl had vanished.
“Magus Marigen, look!” The nearest mage pointed to the fallen darts. Each had unfurled four narrow wings, which appeared to be made of glistening, metal threads. They buzzed into the air and flitted toward the entry.
“Follow them,” Tyg said.
The devices zipped around the barn. The Yewolyns chased after them and spotted the girl running toward the woods in the distance. They lifted their hoods. As cliff elk, they were swifter. They sped past the winged darts just as the girl reached the tree line.
They had only sprinted a few yards into the woods when they found the girl standing atop a stone outcrop. She held her hand out before her, claw-like and shaking. Tyg lowered her hood, a spell already on her tongue. The force of the casting knocked the sylv from the rocks, but Tyg heard three more dull thuds. She turned to find her mages rigid on the ground, the silver darts protruding from the backs of their necks.
Fury gripping her heart, Tyg stormed to the other side of the outcrop. The girl was pulling herself through the damp leaves. Blood spilled from her crooked calf where bone had broken through the skin. With a sneer, Tyg stepped toward her and pressed her boot into the hideous wound. The sylv howled in pain, her scream splintering the otherwise still air.
“Stop!” she cried. “I beg of you! Stop!”
“You have killed three Yewolyn mages.” Tyg’s voice shook with rage, and she dug her boot in harder. “You deserve every bit of pain that you are about to experience.”
When the girl’s cries faded to strained sobs, Tyg dragged her to a nearby tree. She tied the sylv’s wrists and flung the rope over a branch. Then, she pulled the girl to her feet, causing her to shriek in pain once again.
“Where did you get the silver?” Tyg asked as she tied the other end of the rope around the trunk.
The sylv let her head fall back and stared at her wrists. She mumbled something. Her fingers twitched.
“Answer clearly or I will—”
But before Tyg could finish her sentence, a silver dart hissed past her ear. It lodged into a nearby tree. The damn sylv was casting a spell. Furious, she drove her fist into the girl’s stomach, and her jaw gaped open in a desperate gasp for air. The Yewolyn Magus waited until the girl could breathe again.
“That’s it, catch your breath,” she crooned. “I still need answers.”
The girl spoke, her voice gravelly. “There are more.”
“What? More darts?” Tyg scoffed. “Go ahead, you sylvn swine. Let’s see if your aim is any better.”
“No. There are more sylv.”
“Yes, and you will tell me where they are.”
“Don’t worry, Magus Marigen. They will find you.”
In a swift movement, Tyg drew her knife and pressed it against the sylvn girl’s stomach. “Or you could save us all time and tell me where they’re hiding.”
A breathless, shaky laugh trickled out from between the girl’s lips. “To think, all of this over a child’s toy.”
“That little necklace.”
Only then did the realization sink in. The girl had baited her. It had been staged. The captured sylv, the barn, the chase. It all started with the little copper ball brought back by her scout.
“You wanted me to come here,” Tyg said. “Why?”
“To kill you, of course.”
Furious that she had been drawn into a trap, Tyg slid the blade into the girl’s gut. “It seems you have failed,” she said as she withdrew the knife. The girl gasped and looked down at the blood flooding from the wound.
Tyg turned away from the dying sylv. The thachwing traitors would pay for helping the sylvn girl. She raised the hood of her cloak and flew back across the rolling green fields. Once she reached the herders’ door, she flung it open.
As soon as she stepped inside, something felt off. The house was quiet and cool. The fire had been snuffed out. Dust swam in the sunlight. As for the thachwing family, the woman and child were slumped by the hearth. The old man had collapsed on the floor.
Tyg stepped toward the thachwing man and nudged him with her boot. It made a soft rustle. The body collapsed, turning to clods of clay. The clothes hung over it, lumpy and damp. Only then did she realize what it was. A golem.
It had been at least a dozen years since she encountered one, longer since she came across one so convincing. The girl could not have created these. She was too young to have mastered sylvn alchemy. And who would have taught her? All the old sylvn masters had been hunted down and killed under Odharan.
But who else could it have been? The magic had faded with the sylvn girl’s life, leaving behind three lifeless bodies of clay.
Skin crawling, Tyg stepped around what was left of the golem and opened the only door in the house. It led to a small bedroom, but it was empty and smelled of stale earth. The house had probably been abandoned for years.
She drew her knife and returned to the pile of clay and clothes. There, she crouched down and cut through the fabric. With great care, she parted the earthen clods until she found a foul-smelling bundle wrapped in linen. She sliced through the cloth and dissected it piece by piece. The contents did not surprise her—a tongue, an eye, an ear, and a braided cord of hair. She shivered, wondering what poor souls had been butchered to create the golems. The knife scraped against metal. The heart. She used the tip of her knife to knock the smooth, silver ball from the mess. It was no wider than her thumbnail, and she could just make out the steam rising from the surface. It was still hot.
Feeling numb and tired, Tyg sat down at the table. Such magic could not be allowed to return to the fae realm, but even if she went to Innes with the silver hearts, she doubted any action would be taken over one rogue sylv. Innes would call these golems incidental, then continue insisting to the fae of Mysanhal that there was nothing to fear, that these tragedies sometimes happened—it was no different from the occasional thief or murderous outlaw.
Before she left the cottage, Tyg gathered the three metal hearts. The brush of silver against her skin left red, burning welts. She hissed through her teeth and dropped each into a small silk pouch. “Damn the sylv and their alchemy,” she growled.
If Innes did not see reason when she returned with the silver and news of three dead Yewolyn mages, she would hunt down the sylv on her own. Her mages would follow. They trusted her above all else. They understood the threat of magic that could give voice to mud and coax metals into living weapons. War could be waged in secret, and next time, she would not be taken off guard.