WHEN Tyg arrived at the lodge, the Yewolyns had been eating their evening meal. After a day of training, they were covered in dust. Some were blood-stained and bruised. Others were triumphant and boasting. The banter faded as one by one they became aware of the Magus. A grim hush weighed upon them.
“As you were,” she said, her voice booming and fierce in the stillness.
The Yewolyns bent their heads, returning to their conversations and meals. Several of her mages raised their fists to their hearts in a somber show of respect. They did not know of their dead companions yet, and it pained her to think of delivering the news.
As Tyg strode through the main hall, she saw Gallant Myrdah stand. His heavy footsteps followed after her, but she did not bother slowing her pace until she passed into the portico outside. There, she waited beside one of the columns and gazed up at the sky. The sunset had deepened into a copper glow.
The doors opened, and Myrdah joined her, leaning on the other side of the column. “The Valor requested our audience as soon as you returned.”
“Of course,” she said.
“I take it you know the girl is missing.”
“Not missing anymore. I found her,” she said as they began to walk side by side toward Callum’s quarters. “We will be needing a new kitchen master.”
“His brother also caused some trouble while you were away.”
“Yes, but I will let your husband recount that story. I was hoping I could speak candidly with you before we meet with the Valor.”
They halted and faced each other. Tyg gave a sharp nod.
“A sylv sent a golem here, to the lodge. I cannot ignore such a bold move. They are regaining their power. You were right. But I do not believe Queen Innes intends on taking action, and Valor Marigen will stand by her.” The giant dren rested his palm against the top of his sword’s hilt. “Where do you stand, Magus?”
“I stand for Mysanhal. I did not endure the mage’s trials to watch our strength crumble at the hands of a weak ruler. The sylv will be dealt with, Myrdah.”
“Then we are allies in this.” He held up a hand, and she clasped it in agreement. “I will not doubt you a second time.”
“Thank you, Gallant.” Pride swelled in her chest. Myrdah did not admit his wrong easily, and she was pleased to have his support. Callum would have no choice but to see reason.
They went to the Valor’s quarters. Callum wore a stony expression and regarded them both with a frown. “Tyg,” he began, but she already knew the words on his tongue.
“I found the girl wandering the market district. It is taken care of.” She traced a line of road on the map before him. “Let us discuss the sylv.”
“There is nothing to discuss. I have spoken to Queen Innes. She desires peace, not war. You are not to provoke the sylv, Magus Marigen,” said Callum.
Tyg lifted her chin. “A sylv killed three of our mages yesterday, and there were three more golems. She was young, too young to have learned such magic without a teacher. Innes does not understand the threat.”
Myrdah turned to her. Only his gaze revealed his surprise. “You returned alone,” he said as if he had just realized it.
“Yes.” She tugged a pouch free of her belt and loosened the tie. Then, she dumped the three silver hearts onto the table. She watched their expressions shift between shock and horror. “Such alchemy cannot be allowed to exist in Mysanhal. It is dangerous, dark.”
The news appeared to weigh heaviest on her husband. He sat down in his chair and fell silent.
This time, Myrdah spoke. “Valor, our queen is wise, but this is—an unexpected development. We must look into it.”
“It was one sylv, and she is dead now. We will continue to be vigilant, but we must not overreact.” Callum’s voice was flat and empty of conviction.
Tyg seized her chance. “Vigilant? It was my scout who reported—”
The Valor slammed his fist against the table. “Your scout is probably dead. A golem was sent in her place. None of this would have happened had you left the sylv alone.”
“So, we wait until there’s another attack? Another spy?” said Myrdah.
“We will wait until our queen sees it fit to take action.”
“When did you become so weak-willed, husband?” Tyg growled.
Callum’s gaze became flinty, his voice low. “Do not forget your place, Magus.”
A stream of vicious spells flooded Tyg’s mind. Her fingers curled at her sides. She wanted to strike him with a curse, to remind him of her strength. Instead, she spat on the floor and stormed from the room.
Anger burned in her chest. She hardly saw the faces that turned toward her as she swept back through the main hall. To quell the rising energy, she shot her hand out and shouted a spell. The doors to the lodge burst open violently, thudding against the walls. A stunned silence followed her down the steps.
She could not easily forgive Callum, and her fury threatened to consume her. Thinking an offering would clear her mind, she set off toward the temple. Perhaps Cree would send guidance as he had when Odharan sought to destroy the sylv.
Aside from the palace, the temple was the largest building in the royal city. Its sweeping architecture and colored glass windows looked marvelous by day. By night, the stained glass shone out to the world, and the halls felt otherworldly.
Incense and candle smoke spiced the air. Mosaics lined archways and swirled beneath her feet in rich blues, greens, reds, purples, and golds. Even Innes’s palace could not compare to the temple’s jewel-like wonder.
In vivid detail, master painters had created scenes telling the story of Cree, their horned god. From his conception in the darkness of Ether to the war against his sisters and brothers, his saga stretched across the ceiling. His strength when he fought the mountain god, Eldrys, and silenced the volcanic Mount Lenali. His cunning when he trapped Kadypha, the sly goddess of the unknown, and gave the fae of Rioc magic. His conquering of Pylis, the spirit realm, where he created a kingdom for the dead. She knew the stories by heart. Her mother told them to her when she was a girl.
The altar was a magnificent tree made of gold. Its bark and leaves were so finely detailed that it almost appeared to be alive. In the flickering candlelight, its branches and leaves seemed to shift as if touched by a gentle breeze. No one quite knew how it came to be. No living artisan could match such craftsmanship, even with magic.
Beneath the tree stood a marble statue of Cree. He held a stone orb in one hand and from his head sprouted two elegant antlers. At his feet were dozens of small, shallow bowls made of copper. It was there that his worshipers knelt and made their offerings.
Tyg stepped up to the altar and pressed the tip of her knife against her finger. Then, she squeezed a drop into one of the bowls. She asked for a vision, an omen, a guide. But when she closed her eyes, all she saw were the dull, orange shadows of flames.
She prayed for victory instead.
Time crawled, and her thoughts began to wander. At last, she rose and made her way back toward the entrance.
As she began to descend the steps outside, she spotted the dren from Innes’s dinner party. He stood in the middle of the steps with a book open in one hand. Just as jovial as the night they met, he snapped the book shut when he saw her.
“Magus Tyg Marigen! A pleasure to see you a second time. You look …” Beneath her glare, his merriment faded, but only a little. “Troubled.”
Her frown deepened. “What are you doing here?”
“I am … close to Cree,” he said with a puckish smile. “May I walk with you, Magus?”
“If you’d like to keep your tongue, then no.”
“A pity. I was told you are a master transformationist. I would love to hear your perspective on Casyan and Auldymere.”
“Perhaps I could demonstrate.”
Book still in one hand, he held his arms out. “Well, if you must, but I’m already an ugly, old goat.”
A smile flitted so quickly through Tyg’s expression that Maol might have missed it had he blinked. She brushed past him. “Have you read Casyan and Auldymere then?”
“Yes,” he said, bounding to her side. “Several times, in fact. They had their differences, but I am an admirer of both.”
“Yes, but Auldymere revolutionized the art.”
“He was a romantic, though. I don’t think you would have liked him much.”
“You talk as if you knew him.”
“We met a few times.”
“That would make you—”
“Quite old, yes.”
Tyg stopped. “Who did you say you were?”
“Maol Becanan. A merchant by trade.”
She studied him more carefully than before and then began to descend the steps again. He kept pace beside her.
“You must be pissing glamour to look like that,” she said.
“It is second nature by now.”
“You probably are an ugly, old goat.”
Steadfast in his good humor, he gestured like a thespian as he spoke. “Wasn’t it Auldymere who said glamour is the reimagining of one’s soul? An exploration of both self-expression and the discipline of self-control.”
Though impressed by his knowledge, Tyg did not spare him so much as a glance as she said, “You’re right. Too much of a romantic.”
After that, they fell into easy conversation and wandered the streets of Tirnan. Tyg lost track of time as they discussed the subtleties of Casyan’s philosophy on visualization, Auldymere’s extensive experiments, and the work of other mages who had left impressions upon them.
Maol spoke eloquently but not without the bubbling energy that had captivated Innes and her dinner guests. He drifted into tales of travel. As a merchant, he made most of his wealth by acquiring and selling rare artifacts and magical objects. He claimed to have a knack for stumbling upon such curiosities.
“You are a surprising character,” Tyg said and cast her gaze up at the moon. It was waning but still bright in the crisp, night air.
“What do you mean?” he asked with an amused little chuckle.
“You are well read and well-traveled. I would not have guessed it after our first meeting.”
“Ah, I’m relieved that it’s a compliment. You do not seem to give those generously.”
“I do not.” She turned to him, a determined gleam in her eyes. “Have you spent much time traversing the Wastelands?”
“Of course. Did you know there’s quite the population of impkins? Their teeth are useful to enchanters, but they’re not easy to get. Of course, that just means enchanters are willing to pay more.”
“Have you encountered any sylvn clans?”
He gave a thoughtful nod and scratched at his chin. “Yes, I’m afraid so. They give merchants plenty of trouble. Of course, that has been good for business in a way. Raise the stakes, raise the price.”
“What sort of trouble?”
“If you’re going to interrogate me, Magus, I insist we do this over drinks.”
“Answer my question,” she said, her voice a low warning.
“Magus Marigen, there’s no need to intimidate me into further conversation.” He pointed to a tea stand on the nearby corner. “Walk with me, and I will tell you about the sylv I have encountered.”
Before Tyg could argue, he strolled toward the teamonger. She caught up to him in a few swift strides. “You are infuriating,” she hissed.
“I am thirsty. Would you like some tea?” He opened his coin purse and fished out a copper piece.
The teamonger was already pouring two cups of the creamy tea with a ladle. He eyed the Yewolyn warily as he held out a steaming cup. She glowered but took it all the same.
Once Maol paid, they found a place to sit along one of the benches beside the stall. The warm, spiced scent of the tea filled Tyg’s nose. She set the small cup beside her.
“How many sylv are left?” she asked.
“How should I know? I’ve only ever seen a few at a time.” With his first sip, he sucked in his breath and grumbled that it was too hot. “I wouldn’t worry about them too much, Magus. They’re nothing but scavengers, looking for food and supplies.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“But you don’t believe it?”
She could not tell him about the sylvn alchemist or how she had found the golems. She chose her words carefully. “There are other rumors.”
“Ah, so you’ve heard about the seid.”
“A seid?” Her eyes narrowed. “There’s no such thing.”
Maol shrugged. “Stranger, darker things have come out of the Ether before. At least a seid was once fae.”
“Such spellcraft is only theory. No mage has been foolish enough to try it.”
As Maol began to speak, a scream pierced the night air. They both leapt to their feet. Tyg watched as fae surged toward the plaza where the crossing lay. Forgetting about the merchant and the tea, she made her way to the crowd and began to push through them.
“You will stand back!” she bellowed.
An eerie hush settled over the throng of nervous fae. Their eyes dropped, and as they parted, she understood their panic.
It was her scout, a young, swift dren called Ayla. If not for the Yewolyn markings tattooed along her arms, Tyg would not have recognized her. Her elk cloak had been stripped away. Dark bruises and cuts covered her skin. Chunks of hair had been ripped from her head. But that was not what summoned the frightened scream.
The Yewolyn scout’s eyes had been carved from her head, her ears cut off, and her tongue slashed from her mouth. She was crawling across the stone circle, her hands searching ahead of her.
“Get a healer!” Tyg shouted as she stepped onto the circle. She dropped to her knees beside Ayla and gently touched her shoulder. “You’re in Tirnan. You’re safe. Can you hear me?”
But the injured Yewolyn seemed unaware of Tyg’s presence. She made no sound. Not when Tyg tried to speak to her. Not when the healer arrived. Not when they helped her to her feet and guided her through the lamplit streets. Her body felt cold and lighter than it should have.
The city became a blur of concerned faces and low whispers. Though none knew how the scout had come to be so disfigured, Tyg felt a crushing sense of guilt for what had become of Ayla. The young mage had volunteered eagerly to investigate the sylv. She had been talented and would have risen through the ranks faster than many of her peers. If Tyg had known Ayla would be facing alchemists, she would have sent a more practiced mage.
Once they reached the healing ward, a few thachwings took over. Though none of them said it, Tyg knew Ayla would not last the night. Not because she would die but because she had already died. She was nothing more than the reanimated shell of a fae that would fade before the light of dawn. Tyg was certain the corpse had been a message, one meant for her.
As she left the healing ward, the sylvn girl’s words returned to her. Don’t worry, Magus Marigen. They will find you.
“Magus?” Maol stood outside, his hands folded behind his back and concern written across his features.
“I—” Words evaded her, and she shook her head. “I didn’t realize you followed.”
“I thought it best to stay out of the way.” His gaze flickered to the healing ward’s doors, and he let out a long, sad sigh. “I know the work of an alchemist when I see it.”
“As do I,” she said, her voice distant and soft.
“I am sorry to hear it, Magus Marigen. You must be devastated.”
“Devastated?” Tyg scoffed. “I am furious, Maol. Mysanhal’s greatest enemy is regaining power, and our queen will do nothing about it.”
It was more than she had meant to say, and to her great irritation, Maol’s lips spread into a gentle smile. “It seems Mysanhal is in good hands.”
“Good hands? You think Innes—”
He cut her off. “I was referring to you, Tyg Marigen. You do not strike me as the sort to sit idly by when there is a threat. This is why you were asking me about the sylv, is it not?”
In answer, she gave a short nod.
A mischievous look glittered in his eyes as he spoke. “I have little to tell myself, but I have many friends. I will ask around, Magus.” Then, he gave a slight bow and left her standing in front of the healing ward before she could say anything else.
Tyg almost called after him, but she thought better of it when she saw a few bystanders gossiping nearby. At least Tirnan had seen some measure of truth that night. Let them talk, she thought. Innes would not be able to ignore her people forever.