THE Marigen house had fallen silent at last. Ora stood before the door in the spare room. Fear amplified every small sound. The phantom popping and cracking of the house. Faint voices somewhere outside. Her own breath. It all made her heart go wild. She reached out to turn the knob. It clicked. She waited. When nothing stirred, she swung the door open.
The dark hallway felt endless. Each step stirred a new doubt, a new reason to turn back. If Tyg found her, would she be angry? Would she believe one of the handful of lies Ora had prepared? That she was thirsty. That she needed to pee. That she heard something in the parlor. Still, the Yewolyn’s threats stalked her like a hungry beast, always at the edge of her awareness. She reached the parlor and lingered next to the banister. Embers still pulsed in the fireplace, and the full moon shone bright through the window.
She had intended to find a knife, a tool, a weapon. Whatever it took. Perhaps she could wedge open the window in the spare room without the enchantment searing her hands. If that didn’t work, there was Renna. Even though she liked him well enough, she imagined the amiable dren would be easy to threaten with nothing more than a dinner knife or shard of glass.
But, before she could reach the kitchen, the bookcase made her take pause. The letters were still in fae, foreign to the Norrish alphabet, but the words along the spines leapt out at her. She could read them. Stunned, she lifted the pendant up and studied the crystal. It had to be the Elder’s enchantment.
She ignored the prickling at the back of her neck and stood before the countless volumes of fae history, military tactics, and poetry. She skimmed past them all. Tyg was a respected mage. She had to have books on magic.
Finally, her eyes fell on a row of promising titles. Her lips silently formed each word: The Fundamentals of Conjuring Flame, Burraus Fygin’s Contemplations on Arcane Battle, The Mage’s Companion to Subjective Reality, An Expanded Appendix to Torsyn’s Encyclopedia of Spells, The Transformative Arts and … Reversals.
She slid it from the shelf. A rush of energy shot up her arm, and she remembered the book she had hidden beneath the mattress. Careful not to make a sound, she snuck back to the spare room and opened the curtain to let the moonlight in. Then, she lifted the mattress to retrieve the other book.
“An Introduction to Spellcasting,” Ora whispered as she tilted the cover toward the light.
She set aside The Transformative Arts and sat beneath the window to open the spellcasting book. The crisp, old paper cracked as if it had gone untouched for countless years. She thumbed through the pages, looking for anything related to enchanted doors or travel between worlds. When nothing jumped out at her, she returned to the beginning.
Spellcraft is an ancient art that requires many years to master. A new mage must learn certain fundamentals before attempting even the most basic of spells, lest they should suffer the grave consequences of a failed casting. One must also be patient when beginning their studies. Some spells and schools of magic take years to master.
Ora lowered the book into her lap. How could she escape and help Hademar if it took years to master magic? Fighting back a wave of hopelessness, she gently closed the book and picked up The Transformative Arts and Reversals. The introduction contained a similar warning, as well as a terrifyingly detailed story of a transformation gone wrong. The last line filled her with dismay.
The poor mage became a half-beast and was exiled to the mountains, where he is said to stalk the old forests in eternal suffering.
The first chapter contained strange illustrations of transformations with detailed anatomical descriptions. Despite her best efforts, she could not pronounce or understand many of the words, even with the help of the enchanted amulet. It was dizzying to think that Tyg had mastered the art well enough to change Hademar. She wondered how easily her brother could have been made into a creature much worse than a brush pig.
Frustrated and even more frightened of Tyg, she snapped the book shut. Even if she could learn the simplest of spells, it still might not be enough to help her escape. She had no idea how to get back to Nor. If she did, and if she could find Hademar in the Hy Borea, she doubted that she stood a chance of changing him back. Would she have to care for her brother as a brush pig for all his years? What would she tell their mother?
Determined to press on, she returned to An Introduction to Spellcasting. Soon, she realized the book contained no spells at all. It went on at length about breathing correctly and the importance of pronunciation and intent. She found herself rereading the same lines again and again.
As Ora’s eyelids grew heavy, she became more fascinated by the sensation of energy that spread through the pages to her fingertips than the contents of the book itself. It felt the same as the crystal pendant or the warmth that blossomed in her palm when she tried to cast light.
Had it been her imagination? Magic had no place in the human realm beyond myth and stories. The idea that she, a Nor, could summon anything with a single word frightened her, especially after reading such grave cautionary tales. If the warmth meant something, if she could use magic, then why had the spell failed? If it was a failed spell, why had no harm come to her?
With a hundred new questions and the book still open in her lap, Ora at last fell asleep, and her dream formed as it always did.
First, a sky glittering with thousands of stars, then a land of hard earth and hidden spaces. Ora sat on the edge of a cliff, looking out over the quiet nightscape. She let herself forget that she was sleeping, content to pretend she had always been part of the dark land.
She could have sat there for hours, but in the distance, a faint, reddish glow ignited. Entranced, she lowered herself over the edge of the cliff and climbed down the rocky face. When she reached the bottom, she began to walk.
Time and distance did not seem to matter. She might have wandered for days or mere minutes. The flame remained a constant beacon, guiding her across the hard desert like a sailor’s polestar. Something waited for her there, and she longed to reach it.
Not until she drew close enough to see the source did she understand. The light before her was not a camp or a pyre but a living thing, a falcon made of flames rather than feathers. This was the symbol of Farig, the wise hunter and god of Nors. It perched atop a rock, watching her with a tilted head as she approached.
“Farig, why you have come to me in a dream?” she asked.
The falcon stretched its wings, a brilliant display of flickering light. It pushed itself off of the stone. Its burning form rose into the air, but then, it snagged. A chain extended from one leg to an anchor in the rock. It was trapped.
Uncertain of its meaning, she watched the bird fight against the chain. Perhaps she had been wrong to assume it was Farig. A god would not be tethered to a rock.
The falcon let out a loud cry. The sound hung in the air, desperate and forlorn. She knew then that she must free it.
Ora pulled herself onto the top of the rock and reached out toward the falcon. Furious, it beat its wings harder. Determined to help, she took hold of the chain and gently pulled the falcon toward her. She expected to feel the heat of flames but instead the cool rush of wind stirred by its flight washed over her.
She lifted a shaking hand to catch hold of one leg. It twisted against her, and its talons dug into her skin. She cried out in pain but did not let go. The unexpected strength of the bird made her blood surge. In the struggle, Ora lost her footing and tumbled from the rock. She maintained her grip on the falcon, dragging it to the earth with her. Quick to gain control, she pushed its sharp beak back with her arm and began to work at the chain link attached to its leg. She dug her nails into the metal joint, grinding her teeth as she tried to pull it apart.
“Come on,” she growled when it did not budge. The falcon fought against her, its talons scratching at her hand and its beak tearing at her sleeve. Frustrated and angry, she at last shouted, “Just open!”
At her words, the chain gave and crumbled apart in her hands. Before she could make sense of what had happened, a great force knocked her back. The falcon shot up into the night. Panting and covered in blood, she stood and watched as its form streaked against the night sky. At first, her heart soared with it, but then it dove toward her, a blur of light as quick as a shooting star.
She shielded her face with her arms. As the falcon struck, she fell. The certainty of earth rose up to meet her. The flames and the talons pierced her chest. She gasped, and her eyes flew open.
Bright light clouded Ora’s vision. Had she woken? Was it morning? She sat up straighter, having forgotten where she fell asleep. The book slid off her lap, making a soft thud against the wood floor. But the sound was not what made her breath catch.
Above her floated a glowing, white orb. Pulse drumming in her ears, she reached up to touch it. Just as her fingers were about to brush the orb, the floorboards creaked.
One of the Marigens was awake.
In a panic, she kicked the books under the bed. Then, she tried to grab hold of the orb. It drifted just out of reach and bumped against the ceiling. The stairs awoke, snapping and cracking beneath heavy steps.
“Come on,” she muttered and climbed on top of the bed. Each time she stretched her hand out toward the orb, it floated away as if her touch repelled it. Frantic, she whispered to the light, “How do I get rid of you?”
The footsteps had reached the hallway. Ora picked up the pillow and flung it at the orb. The light snuffed out. There came a soft knock. She turned, cold fear spreading through her veins.
“Ora, let’s go,” said Callum.
Confused, she glanced out the window. The sky had turned a deep shade of blue, the first light of dawn. “I’m coming,” she said and leapt down from the bed. Before she left, she tucked the books back beneath the mattress.