THE storms lasted through the night and into the next morning. When Ora made it to Renna’s kitchen, she was soaked and shivering. The small courtyard outside the kitchen had turned into a giant puddle. Thunder made the earthenware pots shutter on the shelves.
He did not mention sweeping all morning. Instead, he put her to work with dishes, chopping vegetables, and scrubbing the kitchen floor. She grew impatient. Had Renna forgotten? Or worse, had he changed his mind?
She ground the scrub brush against the floor, angry with herself for trusting a fae. Renna had no intention of helping her. And why would he? They had only met days ago, and though sympathetic about her brother, he made it clear that aiding her escape was too great a risk. The least he could do was stay out of her way, but even then, she could not seem to find a moment alone. No matter where she went in the lodge, there was always a Yewolyn or two nearby.
Arms aching, she stopped and sat back on her knees to wipe sweat from her forehead. “Have you ever scrubbed this floor, Renna?” she asked.
But no answer came.
She twisted around. The kitchen was empty.
Ora stood and crept to the open doors. The rain had stopped, but heavy clouds still loomed overhead. Most of the water in the courtyard had drained. She stepped outside to peer along the passage leading toward the main hall. It too was empty.
Had Renna meant for her to take this chance?
She could hear shouting and the clash of metal. The Yewolyns were sparring. To reach the main hall, she would have to pass by the training yard. But, if she appeared busy, who would stop her? They all believed her name to be bound. Still, her heart fluttered in her chest as she snatched up the broom and began to make her way toward the main hall.
The sounds of combat swelled as she walked along the training yard. The scent of blood and sweat soured the humid air. She spotted Callum on the other side, watching his Yewolyns. Ever since the day before, he had been pensive. Even now, he stood stoic and rigid with his arms firmly crossed.
Ora had sensed a change in mood among the Yewolyns as well. The golem, whatever it was, had made them tense. They spoke in hushed voices and slid wary glances between each other. More than once, she caught the Magus’s name tinged with fear and speculation.
The Valor’s golden eyes flitted toward her. She pretended not to see him and quickened her pace up the steps and through the doors.
For once, the main hall was empty.
Relieved, she set aside the broom. Just as she did so, the front doors opened.
“Ah, little twig!” Berengar strode lightly toward Ora. His cheerful greeting was jarring, and she gazed at him as if he had appeared from thin air. “What? Didn’t think we’d meet again so soon?”
Determined not to miss her chance, she balled up her fists and stormed past him. When he tried to catch hold of her arm, she wrenched away. “I don’t have time for you,” she growled.
“I think you’ll find that you do, Ora.”
“Funny, I’m simply not convinced.”
Berengar’s lips parted as if he might speak, but he shook his head in disbelief instead. With a wicked grin, she pressed on to the front doors.
“Wait, wait, wait,” he said, rushing to catch up with her. “You’re not bound?”
By then, she had her hand against the door. “If you try to stop me, I will reveal your secret to Magus Marigen.”
“And then I will reveal yours.”
“She already knows about my name.”
“What of your magic?”
“Why would she listen to a dren imposter?” She watched as his expression darkened and knew she had gained the upper hand. When he did not budge right away, she pressed him. “Well, is it worth the trouble?”
At an impasse, Berengar stepped back. “You’ve made your point.”
As she cracked the door open, she paused. Why not cause some trouble for the Marigens before she left? She lowered her voice. “Last night, the Valor delivered news to the queen. There was a sylvn golem among the Yewolyns.”
“Is that all?”
“No. Callum and Tyg do not see eye to eye, and Innes does not seem to trust her either. As for Callum, he was captivated by the queen and too easily swayed by her words. I don’t know what to make of that, but maybe you do.”
“I will have to ponder this. It’s a shame I won’t have you around.” He smirked. “You’re hoping to find a wayfarer, aren’t you?”
“You’ll find one at Fyntolomah’s.”
“I don’t know the place.”
“You do. It’s where we first crossed paths. Ask for Esi. Tell her Berengar sent you.”
Ora held back a smile and thanked him. As the door closed behind her, she looked down on Tirnan. The rain made the city damp and dark, a sharp contrast to the shining grandeur she first experienced. It seemed far more fitting. She descended the steps and forced herself not to glance over her shoulder. A lie rested on her tongue should she be stopped, but as she set off along the cobbled street, she soon realized the fae cared little about a stray human.
Any time she reached a plaza, her pulse quickened. With so many fae swirling about, it was difficult to tell if she recognized any of them. She kept to the edges and moved as quickly as she dared. Unable to recall the exact route to Fyntolomah’s yellow door, she followed a series of staircases and pathways that sparked familiarity.
As she navigated the city, she realized just how little she paid attention to where the Marigens led her. She wandered for well over an hour before she found the market district, and then, she walked down several narrow side streets before finding the yellow door.
Inside, the tavern was less lively than the night Callum brought her along. A thachwing stood behind the bar, red hair flowing over her shoulders in feathery wisps. Her eyes found Ora straight away.
“You, human girl,” she said, leaning over the bar. “Come here.”
As Ora approached the barkeep, she felt the patrons’ eyes following her across the room. Was it possible that one would recognize her from the night Callum brought her along? Did it matter?
The fae woman had a warm voice, and when she spoke, it put Ora at ease. “What brought you here?”
She donned a clueless expression and said, “I was told to find someone called Esi.”
“She’s right over there. Is everything alright?”
It was not the question Ora expected, and she became flustered. “Yes, I—I think so?”
“Well, whoever sent you must be desperate. It’s none of my business though.” The barkeep slid back from the counter as she spoke.
“Thank you,” Ora muttered and turned toward the table she had been directed to.
The wayfarer’s back was turned, so all Ora saw at first was a pale, bald head. No, not just bald. Entirely hairless. Blue lantern light shone against her smooth scalp. The fae woman wore a black dress with a simple gold waistband and sipped a mug of steaming liquid.
As Ora sat down, she saw that the fae’s eyes were entirely black, without the faintest hint of white around her irises. It was like staring into the space between stars.
“Berengar sent me,” Ora said when the wayfarer did not acknowledge her presence.
“Berengar is a good friend.” Esi smiled, revealing sharp little teeth. “What did you bring me?”
“I only own one thing.” She reached down into her smock and tugged out the yellow handkerchief. “It is the last thing my mother gave to me.”
“A piece of cloth from Nor, is it?”
Esi snatched up the yellow handkerchief, pressed it against her snub nose, and breathed in the scent. “I can almost smell the old trees. The pines.”
“Will it be enough?”
“You have nothing else?”
“I have no patience for lies, little Nor. Give me the thing you wish so desperately to keep, and I will provide passage.”
Feeling nauseous, she reached into her smock a second time. The pages she stole from The Transformative Arts had become wrinkled and soft beneath her belt. She smoothed them out against the table. “Isn’t there something else you want?”
The fae woman shook her head. “Do you know how one becomes a wayfarer?”
“No,” said Ora, her eyes fastened to the pages as the wayfarer lowered her hand down on top of them.
“It is not by choice. It is a curse, a punishment for using forbidden magic.” She dug her nails into the paper and dragged it toward her. “The Ether is consuming. It hollows you out. One must feed it with … meaning, I suppose.”
Page by page, Esi wadded up The Transformative Arts and stuffed the paper into her mouth. Ora watched in bitter silence as the wayfarer grinned and took the handkerchief. “This too,” she said. “Because you lied to me.”
The yellow square of cloth disappeared between her sharp, gnashing teeth.
“Will that be enough?” Ora asked again.
“Hm.” Esi licked her lips. “My, my, that was important to you, wasn’t it?”
“I have nothing else,” she said, words clipped with anger.
“Good. I will meet you at the crossing.”
“Where is it?”
The wayfarer hunched over the table. Then, she took hold of Ora’s hand, dug her nail into her wrist, and muttered a spell. A map, or was it a memory, imprinted itself in Ora’s mind. Every turn, every fountain, every shopfront. It was as if she had always known the route.
“I will be there within the hour,” Esi whispered.
Ora wasted no time in leaving the tavern. Her encounter with the wayfarer left her shaken and anxious. She tried to remind herself that the pages were useless without help from a practiced mage. At least she could return to the Hy Borea and ensure Hademar’s safety.
She turned up a staircase that led to a crowded plaza and walked along the southern edge, which looked out over the mountains. Had she been allowed to explore on her own terms, she might have found Mysanhal’s terraced farmland, waterfalls, and misty cliffsides wondrous. She would have been joyful at the idea of bringing back stories about running water, lamps lit by magic, and impossible architecture. Instead, thoughts of her brother and escape dulled the splendor. She spat on the stone beneath her feet. Good riddance, she thought.
She closed her eyes. The way to the crossing filled her mind. She was close.
The brush of fingertips against her shoulder made her flinch. Ora whirled around. A sting of panic shot through her heart. But it was only a dren in a layered silk dress. The woman withdrew her hand, a dozen gold bracelets tinkling against her thin arm.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. Aren’t you the Marigens’ human?” asked the dren.
Ora glared and flatly answered, “Yes.”
“Are you lost?”
The lie she had readied when leaving the lodge flowed from her lips. “Valor Marigen sent me on an errand. He forgot something at home.”
She sensed the dren’s suspicion and swiftly gave a nod. “Yes, I’m on my way now.”
“And you stopped to enjoy the view?”
“I …” She glanced out at the mountains and clouds, unable to find the right words.
The dren shrugged. “Tirnan is lovely, isn’t it? Perhaps I can walk with you. I’ve been wanting to meet you.”
“You have?” Ora fought the urge to run. You’re close, you’re close, you’re close, she chanted to herself.
“Oh, yes. I’m a dear old friend of the Marigens, you see. You can call me Alish.”
“A friend of the Marigens?” Ora repeated, but she was already scanning the plaza for an escape route. She doubted Alish could outrun her in such a ridiculous dress.
“You must have tea with me.” The dren looped her arm through Ora’s. “Callum won’t mind if you’re a little late.”
“He will,” said Ora, slipping away before she could be led into the crowd. “He asked me to hurry.”
“Just one cup of tea. It won’t take—”
A treacherous power charged the air. Ora felt the blood drain from her cheeks. Bound or not, the voice gripped her, made her freeze in place.
“Well met, Magus,” said Alish.
Tyg’s hand curled around the back of Ora’s neck. “You may go, Alish.”
“You may go.”
The Magus’s voice was pure venom. Alish took a step back, and then, with a parting nod, disappeared into the throng of fae.
“What are you doing here?” Tyg asked, turning the girl to face her.
Ora stared at the Magus. She thought of the lie she told Alish; she almost said it again. But something in Tyg’s eyes glittered. Something predaceous. Something dark.
So, Ora ran.
As she shoved her way between fae, she did not bother looking to see if Tyg pursued her. That would mean slowing down. Stairways, plazas, markets, shopfronts, tea stalls—she hardly noticed a thing that blurred past. Though the fleeing human girl certainly raised brows and drew out a few annoyed curses, no one tried to stop her.
She descended deeper and deeper into the city without any awareness of the streets she chose. Her feet pounded hard against the cobbled road, and her breath came in painful, needle-sharp bursts. She did not think she could run anymore and at last stole a glance over her shoulder. When she didn’t see Tyg, she ducked into an alleyway and pressed herself against the wall. She could feel her pulse in her ears, and her legs felt tight. She leaned her head back and tried to steady her breath.
“You have to keep going,” she whispered to herself.
Having lost the Yewolyn, Ora became more cautious. At every turn, she peeked out before stepping into the open, and she slowed her pace to avoid attracting attention. The map the wayfarer had etched into her memory shifted and guided her toward the crossing.
It led her down a staircase alongside one of Tirnan’s falls. Farther down the path, a bridge crossed the river, and beyond that, she could see another plaza with a stone circle in the center. She had made it.
Throat dry with thirst, she paused to crouch beside the rushing water and scooped some into her palm. After she drank, she splashed some of the freezing water against her face and neck.
The soft, almost inaudible scuff of a boot made her flinch away from the river’s edge.
“Go ahead,” said Tyg as Ora rose to her feet and stumbled back. “Make a run for it. I can assure you the outcome will be painful.”
The temptation to flee overwhelmed Ora. How far could she make it? She glanced at the river and wondered where the rapids might carry her if she were to jump in.
Tyg sneered. “What use would you be to your brother dead?”
The words rang true. The tumbling water would drown her, or her head would be broken against the rocks. Ora shivered.
“Do you think I don’t know what drives you? What makes you so defiant?” The dren drew closer as she spoke. “You can’t even change him back. He’s lost to you, Ora.”
“You’re wrong,” she said.
“Don’t be foolish.”
She had to try. The crossing was just over the bridge. Ora turned to run. Almost immediately, her ears filled with buzzing. The faint sound was familiar, but before she could place it, she felt a force strike her side. With a strained cry, she crumbled on the shore. Spots danced in her vision, and pain coursed through her, making her claw at the earth.
“I warned you.” Tyg’s voice was just loud enough to hear over the roaring water. The dren crouched beside her, watching her writhe for a few long seconds before lifting the spell.
Relieved, Ora drew in a shaky breath and squeezed her eyes shut. It was the same spell Callum had struck her with in the Hy Borea, but his casting had not been as powerful. Pain still burned her skin and lingered in her veins. Tyg took hold of her arm, forcing her to sit up.
The Yewolyn leaned in to whisper against her ear. “If you try running from me again, I will toss you into the falls and claim that you slipped. Do you understand?” Ora did not answer, and Tyg tightened her grip. “I asked you a question, you idiot girl.”
Ora’s black eyes rose to meet hers. “The falls don’t sound so bad.”
“Get up.” But Tyg did not wait for her to stand. She yanked the girl to her feet. For a heartbeat, Ora was sure the Magus had decided to toss her into the waters, but she was pushed toward the stairs instead.
The walk back to the Marigen household was a long one. Tyg’s hand rested against Ora’s neck, guiding her along the streets. Even if she wanted to try running again, she could not. Despair consumed her. She had been so close, and now, she had nothing to bargain with.
As they passed through the Marigens’ front door, Tyg shoved her inside. “What did you have planned? Did you think you could find a wayfarer? You have nothing to offer.”
Ora backed into the table. “I’m sorry,” she said, not knowing what else to say.
Perhaps if Ora had not been handed over to a Yewolyn, a sorry might have sufficed. But Tyg hardly tolerated apologies from her subordinates. A human girl stood little chance against her wrath. The dren grabbed hold of her wrist and slammed her hand down onto the table. Realizing what the Magus intended, Ora pulled away at once.
“Please don’t,” she begged, taking a step back and holding her hand close to her chest.
“Place your hand there,” Tyg said.
“Place your hand there, Ora. Do as I say. Or would you rather it be two fingers? One for trying to run off and one for not doing as told.”
Shaking, Ora lowered her hand to the table. She met Tyg’s cold gaze and wondered if the dren could be bluffing. Maybe it was only meant to scare her. But then, Tyg drew her knife.
“I sharpen this blade every day. It can slice even a hair,” she said and turned it so that it would catch the light. “Elves made it. They’re so clever with metals.” She brought it down in a flash. Ora’s eyes flew shut at once. So sharp was the blade that she did not at first feel the pain or cry out, though Tyg would have cherished the sound.
Breathing heavy, Ora opened her eyes and looked tearfully down at her severed pinky. Blood spilled onto the wood. With a sneer, the dren lifted her pitiful, trembling hand and cast a spell that turned the blade red-hot. Tyg cauterized the wound without warning. This drew out a scream. She held Ora’s wrist tight until her agonized cry faded into a whimper.
“Clean this up,” Tyg said and left her to it.