RAIN. She could hear rain. For a brief, careless moment, Tyg thought she lay in her own bed. Then, the pain rippled through her. Every fiber of her body felt as if it had been set on fire. Head throbbing, she flung off the covers and tried to sit up. Her body failed her. She crumbled back into the sheets, recalling the sting of magic that had crawled up her arms, spread through her chest, and sent her flying into the ferns. The girl’s eyes had flashed silver.
But it couldn’t have been Ora. Had the pukha attacked her? She could hardly remember. There had been a streak of black fur. No, that happened after the girl—she groaned and sat up again, this time more slowly. The room she lay in was dark, so she lifted her hand and uttered the spell for light.
An orb flickered to life above her palm. Its bluish glow filled the small room for only a breath before fading in a wisp no brighter than the first light of dawn. Something was wrong. Tyg stretched her fingers, and a pulsing, twitching pain coursed through her hand. Crying out, she caught hold of her afflicted hand and tried to steady the shaking.
The door swung open and lamplight flooded the room with its cool glow. Tyg looked up to see a pallid thachwing in a plain, gray healer’s smock holding up a lamp in one hand. He had glossy, black wings and smelled of dried herbs.
She had been taken to the healing wards. This brought her some comfort. They did not know the truth about Callum, or she would have woken in a prison cell.
“You’re awake, Magus Marigen,” he said. “We were beginning to worry. Nothing we did could rouse you.”
“What do you mean nothing?” Tyg asked as she slid her shaking hands beneath the covers.
“There’s no question that you suffered a curse, but none of the usual reversals worked. We even called on Elder Eslyn,” the healer said. “But she could not wake you either.”
“Elder Eslyn?” she echoed. The master of curses and hexes only ventured down from her mountain home with the promise of novelty. “Well, whatever it was, I’m awake now.”
“Yes, I can see that,” he said, setting the lamp on the table beside her bed. “Do you feel any lingering effects?”
“Just a bit sore,” she lied.
“We have elixirs that may help.”
“Keep your elixirs. All Yewolyns are taught to welcome pain.”
“Taught to, yes,” he said as if he had slipped such remedies to Yewolyns many times before. With a small smirk, he dipped out of the room and left the lamp behind.
Irritated by the healer’s snide response, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and pressed her feet against the cold stone. She refused to stay in the ward any longer than she had to. She found her elk cloak folded atop a chest at the end of the bed, but her shoes were nowhere to be found.
“Fine,” she grumbled, limping toward the door. “Bare feet it is.”
Tyg’s body protested against each movement, but she ignored the searing pain. None of the healers stopped her as she left the ward and stepped into the rain. There was a chill in the air. She wrapped the elk cloak tighter around her shoulders and descended the steps.
By the time she reached her home, the rain had soaked through the cloak and gown. She fought back the cold biting at her skin and drifted across the parlor to stack logs in the fireplace. With a deep breath, she held her palm over the wood and cast the spell for flames.
A few sparks hopped across the logs. The scent of smoke filled her nose. Tyg gritted her teeth and cast the spell again. Pain sliced through her hand. Furious, she coiled back from the hearth.
“Only lingering effects,” she told herself. “It will pass.”
She made tinder from a crumpled piece of paper and cast the same spell, this time ignoring the pain. A spark caught, and she nursed it with her breath until the flames began to grow.
Before the fire, she shed her wet clothes. It was only as she let the silk gown fall from her hand that she noticed the scarring. Thin tendrils snaked up her arms and spread across her chest. It was unlike anything she had seen before.
“What in Cree’s name?” She sank down onto the carpet before the hearth. For the first time, she wondered if Innes had been right. Perhaps Callum had brought a new creature among the fae.
“Tyg, wake up.” Cyn’s urgent voice roused her. He touched her shoulder just as her eyes opened. “You’re freezing.”
Confused, she pushed his hand away and sat up. She had fallen asleep on the floor, still naked. A chill crawled up her spine despite the warm sunlight that streamed in from the south-facing window beside the bookshelves. Had she slept through the morning?
Cyn lifted up her elk cloak, which she had left to dry by the fire, and draped it over her shoulders. “What are you doing on the floor?”
She pulled the cloak tightly around her. “I fell asleep,” she said as he sat down beside her. She smelled ale on his breath. “Are you drunk?”
“I had a drink with Alish is all,” he said.
“How did you get in?”
“The door was open.”
She looked past him with wide eyes. Had she truly forgotten to close the door behind her? She shook her head. The previous night felt distant. “You must think me foolish.”
“No,” he said. “You suffered a terrible loss.”
At first, she did not know what to make of his words. Did he truly not suspect her? She grasped for a lie, but he spoke before she had to fill the silence.
“Tyg, those scars—what attacked you?”
She met his gaze, and the girl’s name came readily to her lips, though she still hardly believed it to be true. “Ora.”
Cyn ran a hand through his hair and nodded. “She was at the crossing with a pukha. It injured most of our Yewolyns, killed two. And you, you just barely survived.”
This news struck her like a stone. One pukha had taken down nearly a dozen Yewolyns. It sounded impossible. “What happened to the girl?” she asked.
“She’s gone, along with the pukha.”
They stood but did not speak for some time. A breeze swept into the room and rustled the corner of a map spread across the table. With it came the cool scent of mountain forests and snowy peaks. Tyg gazed out the door and felt out of place within the walls of her own home. The world without her husband, the great Valor Marigen, was a new one.
“I will leave you be,” Cyn said, turning toward the door.
“Have Callum’s rites been performed?” she asked as he reached the threshold.
He nodded but did not face her as he answered. “We didn’t know if you would wake.”
“I will go to the temple then.”
After Cyn left, she raised her palm and attempted the spell for light once again. She only managed a brief flash. With a cry of dismay, she snatched up a book and tossed it across the room. It hit the wall with a loud thud.
If she went to the temple, it would not be to perform rites for her husband. After all, he had died by her hand. Her prayers would mean nothing. No. She would go to offer her blood and ask Cree for guidance. All curses had a cure. She only needed a little help to find it.
Tyg waited until nightfall to go to the temple. She did not want eyes following her as she limped along the cobbled streets with the help of a staff. It took nearly an hour to reach the temple steps. Few fae visited the temple so late, and she walked between the columns alone.
High Priestess Aygriel was ceremoniously tending to the hundreds of candles that filled the main hall. She looked up as Tyg approached her, the wooden staff clicking against the marble floors. “I’m surprised to see you here,” she said. “You look to be in poor condition.”
Without slowing her uneasy gait, Tyg said, “I’ve come to perform rites for Callum.” She drove her staff even harder against the marble as she passed the high priestess.
When Tyg came to the altar, she set the staff aside and got to her knees.
A drop of blood would not suffice. This time, she wanted to gain the god’s attention. She gritted her teeth and slit her wrist with the ceremonial knife, a thin golden blade. She let the blood flow into the offering bowl. “Cree,” she said, looking up at his marble statue. “My blood and—” She swallowed hard. “The magic that flows through it is yours. Please, I beg of you, guide me in this troublesome time.”
The god, at first, did not respond. Not even the faintest wind rose up to lick the candle flames. But then, she felt a sensation like cold water wash over her. All at once, the candles went out. The smell of smoke filled her nose. She breathed deeply, and her eyes closed. Cree had heard her.
When her eyes opened, she found herself before the oracle. Her skin was the color of sage leaves and eyes the color of bright, green moss. Her white hair was braided and hung down to her waist. The gown she wore was made of such a delicate fabric that her figure showed through as a faint shadow. She ran a finger along the rim of the offering bowl and regarded Tyg without an ounce of emotion. She rarely made an appearance, and she spoke even less. Rumor had it that she spent months in prayer without sleeping or eating.
Tyg bowed her head. “Basirah, it’s an honor.”
“Well met, Tyg Marigen.” The oracle had a voice that held all the clarity of a perfectly tuned bell, but she spoke as if from a distance, her voice coming from a ghostly place. “You have asked for guidance.”
“I have—I …” But she could not bring herself to say it, not even before the oracle. It filled her with shame to be without magic.
“Be still. Your blessings have only begun to manifest.”
“Blessings?” Tyg could not hide the resentment in her voice.
The oracle stepped around the altar, took Tyg’s chin into her hand and pressed her other hand against the dren’s eyes. “Look.”
The vision filled Tyg’s mind at once. She saw a wreath of jimsonweed that wrapped around an ornate golden crown. She knew right away that she would take the throne. This knowledge spread through her veins like wildfire. Cree surely recognized that she would make a fierce queen, one who would ensure his will was carried out no matter the cost.
But then, the crown faded, leaving behind another image that wrapped itself like a dark shadow around her heart. It was a knife held by a hand with only four fingers.
Basirah withdrew. Though her face remained unreadable, Tyg sensed the slightest hint of apprehension in the oracle’s voice. “Few plants carry such dark warnings as jimsonweed, with its foul-smelling trumpets and thorns. But that is not what troubles you, is it?”
Eyes alight with anger, Tyg rose to her feet. “That is none of your concern.”
“Perhaps not, but it would be wise of you to heed the warning.” Basirah gently took hold of Tyg’s arm and drew her fingers over the bleeding cut on her wrist, suturing the skin with a powerful spell.
The dren’s resentful gaze did not falter as she pulled her wrist away and snatched up her staff. “It’s only a vision. It means nothing,” she said.
Basirah donned the faintest of smiles. “The hand belongs to that human girl of yours, does it not?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Cree sends me many visions.” Basirah drifted toward her. “Magic is returning to Himil, the human realm, for the first time since their fall. Innes has weakened Mysanhal with her foolishness, and now, Cree has chosen you for your strength. His warning is meant to guide you, not threaten you.”
Tyg leaned heavily on her walking stick as she took in Basirah’s words. “And what does Ora have to do with it?”
“She is the harbinger of a new era and a threat to Mysanhal.”
The oracle’s words did not move Tyg. She frowned. “I did not come here for a fanciful vision, Basirah. I have been cursed and—”
The oracle cut her off. “It is not a curse that afflicts you. It is something else. A new sort of magic.”
Tyg’s heart began to beat wildly in her chest. “The girl, she—she did this.”
“And she must be stopped.” Though Basirah’s voice remained soft, her words were resolute. “You will possess greater power than you did before. Cree will reveal your path when the time is right.”