Chapter 2

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Malisyn was dreaming. She was relieved—if she was dreaming, it meant she had finally fallen asleep. The colors were washed out and blurred around the edges. It was the same dream she’d had nearly every night for the last year. It always began the same: gently falling dust. Tiny, golden and silver flakes that caught the light. It trickled through the air, slow and steady with no wind to disturb it. The floor was covered in dust and shadows. Dust was falling from the ceiling from some unknown movement overhead. She moved forward, in to the darkness as she always did.

A long, dark wooden box appeared like a figure from the fog. A coffin. She remembered the one that Allyn had laid in at his funeral. Allyn didn’t have a coffin now. His body had been burned in the traditional funeral of a Guardian. This coffin was much different from the plain one Allyn had been in. The dark stained wood was covered in hundreds of intricate carvings. Some were better than others, as if the artist had improved over time. The shapes and carvings always seemed different. It was the one part of her dream that changed.

Some of the images she recognized: the jagged Glass Plains, a poorly drawn horse, a bottle of wine. There were faces of people she didn’t recognize, weapons she had never seen before and words that seemed to shift in her vision and eventually disappear. Without moving, her vision floated around in the darkness. She wanted to reach out and run her hand along the carvings.

Just as she came to the front of the coffin and began to read the name—she woke up.

It was still dark when Malisyn opened her eyes. She was laying on her side, curled up and facing the wall. She reached out and placed a hand on the cold wooden surface and sighed. As she sat up in bed and pushed off the heavy blankets, sweat trickled down her neck. She checked the candle that was burning slowly by her bedside table. From where the wax had burned down, she knew she had slept for at least four hours. An average night.

“Malisyn, are you awake?” A voice called, muffled by her bedroom door.

“Of course.” Malisyn replied, wrapping her blanket around her shoulders as she stepped on to the ice-cold wooden floor. Her door opened slightly and torchlight spilled across the floor. Kellea stood with a glass of water, a notebook and a bundle of clothes beneath one arm.

“Did you get any sleep at all?” She asked as she handed Malisyn the glass and opened her book. Malisyn shook her head and took a drink.

“No, and the dream wasn’t any different. I don’t know why the Grand Master keeps making you check. It’s just a silly dream.”

“Was it still the coffin?” Kellea asked as she scratched her pen across the notebook. Malisyn couldn’t imagine what she was noticing that she had to write down.

“Yes. I still didn’t see the name.” Malisyn finished her glass of water and set it down on her nightstand. She licked her fingers and extinguished the candle flame.

“Do you think—” Kellea began but stopped when Malisyn’s dark blue eyes focused on her. The glimmer of pain and loneliness was still there. The desperate need still remained—just below the surface. Kellea knew today was not the day to ask. Instead, she changed the subject.

“Are you ready to meet the newest students?” Kellea asked. “I picked you up a fresh shirt and leggings. You know how the bloodstains scare the new children.” The Nightwalker’s thin lips twitched at the memory. Malisyn herself had fainted the first time she was introduced to the students—but, in her defense, one of the teachers had been covered in blood.

“You’re not trying to find me a roommate again, are you?” Malisyn asked as she accepted the folded clothes Kellea handed to her. The Nightwalker spoke over her shoulder as Malisyn began to wriggle out of her nightclothes.

“You’d sleep better if you had someone here with you, Malisyn. You never sleep well alone…”

“You sound like my mother.” Malisyn sighed: well, she sounded like a mother.. “I’ve been alone for nearly three years. I’m used to not sleeping well.” Her voice became muffled as she pulled a dark red shirt over her head. Her answer was the same as it was yesterday, and the day before, and the months before that. Every time a new group of children or young adults arrived, the Grand Master would send someone to try to convince Malisyn she needed a roommate. A few months ago it had been Taelor—they had assumed, incorrectly, that the girls were once again on speaking terms. It did not well. Malisyn still found broken glass on her floorboards.

“This newest group, I think you’ll find fascinating.” Kellea continued to talk as Malisyn dressed. She spoke casually and carefully prodded the edges of Malisyn’s patience. “There is a young boy recently rescued from Jan’caro, a set of twins from the mountains of Tala’rico, a young woman from–”

“Would you let me have a Jan’caran boy as a roommate?” Malisyn asked with a smile. Kellea’s mouth closed to a tight line.

“Of course not. But one of the twin girls, or the young woman–” Kellea continued to chatter on, detailing the newest students, knowing full-well Malisyn was no longer listening.

Malisyn smoothed down the fabric of her shirt and tossed her sweat-soaked one at the edge of her bed. She sat down on the bed and slipped in to her leggings and it put her directly where she didn’t want to be: staring across the emptiness that was the second part of the room. There was another bed, a matching nightstand and a candle that hadn’t been lit since she moved in. There was space enough for another young woman to sleep and keep her belongings. If Malisyn would let someone. She had refused from the very beginning and was one of the few students in the entire Citadel who didn’t share her room with anyone else. You’re being selfish. Her thoughts intruded as she laced up her leather boots. She ignored them. I’m not being selfish. She answered, turning her head to look back at Kellea. I just want to be alone. She knew it was a lie; she also knew the only person she wanted to share her time with was gone.

“Allyn’s not coming back,” Malisyn whispered and felt her face become warm.

“What did you say?” Kellea asked.

“I said—I don’t want a roommate.”

#

A deep, hollow bell rang within the Blood Mage Citadel. The sound resonated within the thick stone and wooden walls until it shook its way to Malisyn’s doorway. She watched as Kellea disappeared down the hallway. Malisyn stepped out in to the hall and went the opposite direction. Her first lesson of the morning would start soon but she never took a direct path. The Grand Master always seemed to have people watching her, and this morning, she wanted to be alone with her thoughts.

Her bedroom—whether coincidental or by the Grand Master’s orders—was at the end of the hallway. The room next to hers was empty, and the room after that was filled with two older sisters from Tala’rico. She had met the other girls and young boy that slept in the same Wing, but cared little to remember their names. She had spent more time walking the hall away from them, towards the small library meant for the younger students. At this hour, just before morning classes, she knew the hall would be empty. Unless the Grand Master had planned ahead, in which case there would be someone waiting for her.

Three years. In just a few days, after the Summer Moon Festival… he’ll have been gone three years. The memory of her younger brother crept in to her thoughts. She didn’t mind remembering him: it just hurt afterwords. Every time she found herself walking an empty hallway, she wished he was walking with her. He was a ghost, just on the edge of her memory and thoughts, every waking moment. She was surprised, honestly, that she didn’t dream about him. She had, for the first few weeks after his funeral, but her dreams—just like Allyn—had eventually left her, too. The sharp memory she had of his face, his big brown eyes, of his messy mud-colored hair: they were becoming faded around the edges, just like her dreams.

She held his memory for as long as she could. She felt empty and cold. Lost. Then the demons found her.

Malisyn stumbled and leaned against the smooth carved wall. The polished rock was flat and most importantly: cold. Her head was pounding. Sweat dripped down her forehead. She raised a hand to feel her skin and it felt clammy. Not again. Her thoughts were distant, lost in the swirling sense of pain that began at the base of her skull and worked its way down. In the distance she could see the large door to the library as it began to waver like smoke in her vision. She slumped to her knees and leaned her head against the wall.

Malisyn. A voice called, followed by a hundred, screaming and whispering her name. They forced her eyes open against the pain. She knew what she would see, and fear sent a tear running down her cheek. In the shadows on the floor, directly in front of her, a pair of white-hot eyes stared back. Deeper within the shadows, she knew the eyes were not alone. If she stared long enough, there would be dozens more.

As she watched, liquid black oozed from the shadows and stretched clawed fingers towards her. They beckoned her to let go; to give up, to close her eyes forever. They offered her a silent embrace that would end the loneliness. They promised her Allyn.

“No,” she whispered, and though it was barely more than a breath against their howling, the voices hesitated. She used the silence to pull herself back up. She propped her shoulder against the wall and stared down at the shadows. The white-hot eyes narrowed slightly. The clawed fingers became more solid and began to grasp numbly at the floor. They left a slick, greasy stain as they fumbled for a grip on her world.

“No,” she said, louder this time. Her head began to clear. The eyes blinked in a mockery of surprise, and just as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone. All that remained was a faint, wet outline on the floorboards. It looked like a burn mark.

Malisyn’s right palm was aching. She looked down and saw she had curled her hand to a fist so hard, her fingernails had cut in to her skin. A few drops of blood had dripped down to her fingertips. It looked as if her hand was smoking but the smoke was the wrong color: a soft mix of purple and black tendrils. She sucked in a breath and wiped the blood away on the long sleeve of her shirt.

“Are you alright?” It was Taelor’s voice. Warm and distant. Like summer rain, hiding behind sun-filled clouds. “Malisyn?” A little closer, and little more irritated.

“What?” Malisyn blinked.

“Were you even listening?” Taelor snapped and turned back down the hallway. “You’re going to be late for training. Again.” Taelor didn’t wait for a response. She carried an armful of books she had found from the library and brushed past Malisyn.

“I’ll be right there,” Malisyn called after, knowing Taelor wouldn’t stop and wait. She took one last look at the floor and the strange burn mark was gone. She pressed her fingers against the cuts in her palm. When she didn’t see the smoke anymore, she pushed aside an uneasy feeling in her stomach and turned to follow Taelor.

We are coming for you. A voice whispered in Malisyn’s thoughts. She fought back the urge to panic and walked a little faster.

#

“And you’re certain you saw her bleeding?” The Grand Master asked as he settled in to his chair. Behind him, the sun was just beginning to rise over the Glass Plains. Hints of purple and red glistened on the horizon.

“That’s not the important part, Av’niel. I saw her fall—then the demons appeared. They’re getting closer to her, and if she doesn’t learn to control her magic: they’re going to find her, and kill her.” Kellea’s voice was strained. She felt tired.

“She is safe here. Why can’t she control her magic? She has potential–”

“And fear. I’ve seen her. Every time she picks up a dagger, her hands tremble. She’s too young to handle the kind of power she has. The last time she was asked to try and cut her forearm, she shook so hard she dropped her dagger. She can’t do it. Not without help.”

“Why is she so afraid?” Av’niel’s white-and-hazel eyes looked away as he asked.

“Is your memory so terrible? Have you already forgotten?”

“I did not forget. I just don’t understand: it was her brother that died, not her. She shouldn’t be so afraid.”

“She’s afraid to die.” Kellea’s voice was a whisper, then, a little louder: “If she was your daughter, you’d be more understanding–”

“Kellea. Enough.”

Av’niel shuffled the papers on his desk until he found a piece of a crumpled letter. He smoothed out the edges and added another tally mark to the list. Twice in the past fortnight; this made the third time Malisyn had seen or been seen by demons. Av’niel never allowed Kellea or anyone else to intervene. The demons had to believe they had the young girl at an advantage. To the demon world, Malisyn was like an open wound, festering and screaming for their attention.

Even Av’niel, when he looked upon her, could see the strange, turbulent magic that raged through her veins. Kellea was right: if Malisyn didn’t learn to control her magic, then the demons really would find her. If that happened, he wasn’t certain he could protect her. He did know of one man who could, but he was months away across an ocean and a desert. They might not have that much time.

“Any news from The Burning City?” Kellea asked as she took a seat across from Av’niel at his desk. The Grand Master pushed the paper away, glad to turn his attention elsewhere.

“The last time I spoke with Nox, he had a lead from a vegetable merchant.”

“What is Old Man Odhran doing in Jan’caro?” Kellea laughed as she spoke, and her dark brown eyes crinkled at the edges. Av’niel shook his head.

“I asked Nox the same thing. He was Transcending from some place very dark and loud, so I couldn’t be certain he wasn’t talking about Odhran.” Av’niel leaned back in his chair and his bones creaked with the movement. “Nox still hasn’t made contact. He’s been very careful, and his identity has remained a secret. He’s been searching everywhere, and Jaq Lo’ren is still a ghost.”

“He doesn’t want to be found.” Kellea said with an arched eyebrow.

“And if he knew his daughter was in danger?”

“I’m certain he knows.”

Av’niel shifted in his chair and pushed it to face the sunrise. The tall windows that lined the back of his office were bursting with bright, cold morning sunlight.

“We need to find Jaq. He can lead us to Ubel Gale, and when he’s done there, he can fix this mess with Malisyn.”

“What makes you so sure?” Kellea asked. Av’niel watched the sunrise for a moment before answering.

“Because he’s the only one who can.”

#

Malisyn followed behind Taelor, careful to keep enough distance between them. Her head was still throbbing but it had subsided to a distant ache. She tried to push it aside—just like she had the too-familiar voice as she walked away. They were alone in the hallway, the last two students on their way to first-morning class. Sunrise, every morning, the two walked to class without acknowledging each other. It had been the same routine since Taelor had arrived six months ago. Malisyn had been able to ignore the dull pain of losing her best friend after the loss of her brother—at least, while Taelor still lived in Tor’vic.

Having to pass her in the hallways, or sit next to her in a class room—and the pain became much harder to ignore. Malisyn’s stomach ached over words she wanted to say, but couldn’t.

Taelor swore she would never forgive Malisyn for not protecting Allyn. Malisyn wasn’t certain she could ever forgive herself. Taelor was a constant reminder of the emptiness Allyn had left. An emptiness that could never be—

“Ah, excuse me—” A female voice asked in a strange accent. Blinking out of the fog her memories had pulled over her, she turned around. Taelor continued forward, unaware of—or possibly ignoring—the fact that Malisyn had stopped in the hallway.

A young, stout woman stood with her hands clasped in front of her. She wore a loose-fitting gray tunic with a wide belt around her waist that complimented her curves, with knee-high leather boots made of the same cozy gray. She blew a short, curled blonde hair from her eyes. A thin scar that ran along the front of her toned right arm. She stood the exact height as Malisyn.

Please don’t ask about my brother. It seemed every student in the Citadel recognized Malisyn, and knew the story of her brother’s death. And every student, at some point, asked about it. Apologized for it. Reminded her of it. She held her breath, waiting for the girl to speak again.

“Yes, thank you for stopping. I tried to ask the other girl but she kept walking. Everyone in this place is so helpful.” The girl said with a smile that made the freckles across her nose crinkle. Malisyn couldn’t help but smile in return; the girl would find no help from Taelor, or many of the other students. Her voice had a strange accent that Malisyn had never heard before; and that made her different. It was hard enough making friends when you were from the same small town. This girl didn’t stand a chance.

“Did you need something?” Malisyn asked as she looked the girl over. She guessed the girl was a year or two older and her skin was just a little darker. Not dark enough to be Jan’caran, but enough to make her freckles look like cinnamon. Her eyes were the color of wet summer grass.

“Are you a student here?” The girl asked as she adjusted a satchel across one shoulder nervously.

“Yes, I’m a student. Second year.” Pride made Malisyn’s chin rise slightly. She was barely a second year student, but she clung to the title whenever she could. Some days, it was all she had.

“I’m looking for orientation? The room where they introduce all the new students?” She raised her pale eyebrows hopefully.

The final morning bell chimed through the hallway, announcing to both girls that class was beginning. Malisyn watched as Taelor entered their morning classroom and closed the door at the very last bellow. She looked down the hall where she knew Kellea had gone to lead orientation.

I don’t even know this girl. She thought, waiting for the bell to subside. Heavy footstep echoed down the hall, running from orientation. Hannah was late for class, as usual, and slid around the corner followed by an impossibly tall Jan’caran boy. He opened the door for her and she shoved past him. She paused in the doorway to narrow her eyes at the blonde girl.

“Oh, it’s that wretched girl. I made the mistake of asking her and her friend for directions.” The girl turned her back to Hannah. Malisyn heard the class room door slam shut.

“If Hannah doesn’t like you, then I like you already. I’m Malisyn, from the village of Tor’vic—down by the beach.” She said, as she began to walk past her closed classroom door.

“I’m Dawn,” the blonde girl smiled again. She had a nervous twitch that made her smile a little lopsided. “I’m from a village, far to the west. You probably haven’t heard of it.”

“Probably not,” Malisyn agreed with a nod. “I haven’t really left Tor’vic or the Citadel before. I’ll show you to orientation, it’s on the other side of the East Wing.”

“I don’t even know where we are now,” Dawn said with a laugh.

“West Wing. Well, North West Wing. I think. Maybe.” Malisyn shrugged.

“Are you sure you’re not going to get me lost?”

“…Nope.”

Malisyn made her decision. She skipped class for the first time in two years.

#

“Malisyn,” a voice destroyed her nap. She cracked one eye open cautiously and regretted it. Kellea stood over her with her arms crossed against her chest. She was suddenly reminded of Matron Hawk. She heard a few snickers and whispers behind the Nightwalker. Malisyn pushed herself up from the wall where she had sat to listen in to orientation—and had, apparently, fallen back asleep.

“When I asked you to come to orientation, I did not intend for you to sleep through it. You’ve missed meeting all of the new students.” Kellea shook her head.

“Lady Kellea,” Dawn began, her accent making her words sound more like a song, “she helped me to find this orientation. We spent some time wandering the halls. Perhaps she became—tired? It was my fault?” Dawn shrugged her shoulders and sat back down as Kellea turned her dark brown eyes to study the new girl. Malisyn smiled.

“No, it’s alright. I… didn’t sleep well. It was my fault.” She walked over and sat down in an empty chair next to Dawn. The rest of the students were already trailing out of orientation. Malisyn caught a glimpse of the Jan’caran boy and noticed why Kellea wouldn’t allow him to be her roommate—just the look at him made Malisyn blush. Kellea noticed her gaze and cleared her throat.

“I think, perhaps, you should return to class.” Kellea arched an eyebrow. “What is your second-morning class?”

Malisyn closed her eyes and tried to remember. She was so tired.

“Candle making,” Malisyn’s nose wrinkled at the memory. The wax wasn’t made of tallow like it had been at the orphanage but just the smell of warm wax made her stomach turn. “When am I going to get a real class? All I do is make candles and polish daggers and roll in the dirt.”

“Roll in the dirt? Is that what you think it is?” Kellea nearly threw her arms up in exasperation. She shook her head and clicked her tongue—and then she really did sound like Matron Hawk. “Malisyn Ry’one,” she continued, “until you can cut your forearm without passing out, you will keep rolling in the dirt until Master Caenis says otherwise. You’re rolling in the dirt to learn how to avoid being stabbed. It’s an important life skill.”

“Master Caenis doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Malisyn muttered. Kellea stopped in her tracks.

“And who else would you have teach you? Old Man Odhran? The Grand Master himself?” Her eyebrows raised a little more with each sentence.

“Captain Nox. He was a good teacher.”

Kellea stood for a long moment and carefully considered her response. The Grand Master had warned against mentioning Nox, or Tor’vic, or anything that would remind Malisyn of her time before the Blood Citadel. The memories seemed to draw the attention of the demons, and they already had enough trouble as it was. While Master Caenis was young and inexperienced, most of their seasoned blood mages and Transcenders were away from the Citadel and wouldn’t return until after the Summer Moon Festival. Caenis was all they had for their younger students, and he was far from Kellea’s first pick. The rest were either dead, or away on assignment.

“Yes. He was.” She sighed. “And I’ll admit that Master Caenis is better suited to making candles than teaching young girls how to avoid a sword stroke. At least he teaches both. Nox was terrible at candle making.”

She turned to Dawn.

“Please have Malisyn show you to Master Caenis’ class. I don’t trust that I wouldn’t strangle her if I had to take her myself.” She gave a tight-lipped smile but her dark brown eyes sparkled. She sighed again and waved the girls away as she heard the second bell ring. Kellea began walking towards a group of students that had gathered outside of the orientation room.

“Why do you have to learn how to make candles? Don’t you just learn how to use swords and daggers?” Dawn asked.

“Well, we start with just regular candles. Later, we get to turn them in to blood relics. If we pass our Apprenticeship journey. And if … if I stop passing out.”

“When is your Apprenticeship journey?”

“When? Well, the first one is usually after the Summer Moon Festival. The new mages are paired with a new Guardian, and they all get sent out on an assignment together. With a teacher, of course. Didn’t they explain that in orientation?”

“I’m not here to be a blood mage,” Dawn said, as she pointed to the scar across her arm. “That’s from a sword, not a dagger. I’m a Guardian. I don’t make candles. I cut them.”

“Do they—really? A Guardian?” Malisyn asked. Now it was her turn to raise her eyebrows.

“What, you don’t believe me?” Dawn said, rolling her shoulders.

“I just… well, I thought only boys were Guardians.”

Dawn cracked her knuckles.

“Do I look like a boy to you?” Her voice was deadly serious but Malisyn waited long enough for the girl to smile.

“Maybe a pretty one.” Malisyn smiled in return. “Wait, you’re in a second-year class. But you just got here? Why would they let you do that?”

“You slept through that part, too.” Dawn poked a finger against Malisyn’s shoulder and she winced; the gesture reminded her of Allyn. “I’ve been training at a Guardian school in Western Tala’rico. The school was attacked, and now I’m here.”

“Attacked by..?” Malisyn asked as they began to walk towards their candle making class. It felt good to just talk. Dawn lowered her voice and leaned over to whisper.

“Demons. Big ones. Most of the other students were killed. I had to fight my way out.”

“Really?”

“No. But I did train for about four years before they sent me here.”

Malisyn rolled her eyes.

“Did you see that Jan’caran boy?” Dawn asked with the sliest of smiles.

“How could I miss him? I wonder if he’s in the same class. I wouldn’t mind if I had to roll in the dirt with him.” The two girls snorted with laughter as they left the orientation room. Malisyn couldn’t remember laughing in such a long time. It sounded unfamiliar and put pressure in her chest that she hadn’t felt since she arrived at the Citadel. It felt like she was holding back tears and a smile at the same time.

#

Malisyn was sore, every muscle ached and she felt bruises in places she didn’t know she could bruise. After her candle class with Dawn—during which she nearly fell asleep again—they had gone their separate ways. Malisyn was left to wander in to Master Caenis’ next class tired and irritable at best. She was certain that Kellea had talked to Master Caenis, because her combat training class had been brutal. She didn’t get her usual break or her favorite spot in the class room (far away from Master Caneis). Instead, the only spot left had been in the very back of the room.

The Jan’caran boy she had seen earlier was not in her combat class; but Hannah and her Jan’caran friend were. Caution was the only thing that kept Malisyn awake in between sparring sessions. She didn’t want either of them getting too close—the last thing she wanted was a bruised rib or spit in her hair. Just to make it worse, she was partnered with Hannah’s Jan’caran friend and knew he was responsible for most of the extra bruises.

The Jan’caran boy—Rin, she thought his name was—walked with a limp ever since he had broken his leg at the last Trials of Blood. He had blamed Malisyn for his tumble from the stage and his leg had never fully healed. He seemed to extract that grudge each time they met in a practice spar, or “accidentally” spilled wax on her in candle class.

Wooden sword or not—it still hurt when you rolled in to them. Or got slapped flat on the back when the teacher wasn’t looking. Rin was very efficient at “accidents.” Malisyn, by comparison, appeared very clumsy. She would run out of breath if she told her teachers every time Rin or Hannah did something unpleasant to her. She had hoped, when she first joined the Blood Citadel, that their orphanage tactics would fade with time. If nothing else, they only seemed to get worse as they spent more time together.

She fumbled with the laces of her leather boots and slipped them off just before falling in to her bed. She didn’t remember being so tired. She had skipped her evening meal and went straight to her room. Maybe, just maybe, she’d be able to fall asleep tonight. Maybe the dream would let her sleep through the night…

A knock sounded at her door. Malisyn spoke with her head face-down in the pillow. Her voice was muffled.

“Have you come to tuck me in?” She waited for Kellea to reply.

“I think you’re a bit old for that.” The Grand Master’s voice sounded from her bedroom door. He wore plain, crimson robes that fell around his bony shoulders. His white-handled blood dagger rested against his hip. Malisyn snapped her head to the side, exhaustion making her anxious. She blinked twice to clear the sleep from her eyes.

“Grand Master, I’m sorry, I didn’t–”

“You’re fine, child.” He leaned heavily against her doorway and studied her with his ageless eyes. “Will you be able to sleep tonight?”

Malisyn closed her eyes and nodded.

“Class was… really hard, today.” She stifled a yawn. “Master Caenis wouldn’t let me take a break. I’m bruised.” Her voice trailed off to a gentle snore. Av’niel remained in the doorway, blotting out the light from the hallway.

“Did Hannah give you any trouble in class?”

“Of course. And her pet. Rin. Run. Terrible name. Terrible boy.” She was rambling, fueled by exhaustion and beyond a point of return.

“I have some good news for you. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve had any good news.” He said and watched as she shifted and yawned. “You’ll be taking your Apprenticeship Journey early. Just after the Summer Moon Festival.”

“Mmm. About time.” She rolled over and faced her back to the door and the Grand Master. Her blanket slid from her shoulder and betrayed the fact that she was sleeping in her school clothes.

“It will be dangerous.”

“Good.” She mumbled. Av’niel paused.

“And there will be chickens.”

“Good.”

“Dangerous chickens.”

Malisyn snorted and muttered something incoherent. She had fallen asleep.

Master Caenis leaned his head in to the doorway.

“I see she’s as excited as I expected,” the young mage said with a sigh.

“She’s exhausted, Caenis. Thank you. I think she may actually be able to sleep tonight.” The Grand Master closed Malisyn’s door as quietly as he could.

“She was very tired in class. And Kellea tells me she’s still not able to draw her own blood.”

“And refuses help.” Av’niel added with a nod.

“Why is she going on her Apprenticeship Journey, if she cannot even perform her basic skills as a Blood Mage?” Caenis asked. He brushed a stringy blond hair from his eyes and didn’t bother to hide his frown.

“Malisyn is a… unique student.” Av’niel said quietly.

“I’ve heard the rumors, yes. Unique or not, she still can’t cast blood magic without blood.”

“No, but a little of her blood goes a lot farther than most. It makes ours look like water.”

Master Caenis raised his skinny eyebrows. He hadn’t heard that rumor before.

“It’s a shame that she has so much potential, and so much fear.” Caenis shook his head.

“A shame, or a blessing for her. Controlling it will not be easy, but she has to reach it first. I fear that, within the walls of the Citadel, she’s reminded too much of her loss. The memories choke her, the ghosts linger in her dreams. They distract her, and then the fear sets in. She needs something different, and I believe her Apprenticeship Journey could be just that.”

“And if her blood magic is as powerful as you believe—what’s to keep her from letting it get out of control?”

“Now, that is where our conversation ends, Master Caenis. I have to keep some of my secrets, after all.”

The Grand Master turned to face Malisyn’s doorway. He drew a long, white-handled blood dagger from his belt. Caenis watched as Av’niel carved a circular pattern in the palm of his hand with slow and steady precision. The wound glowed soft yellow and made the pattern look like double suns. Blood welled to the surface of his skin and pooled like a gem in his palm. He pressed his hand against the outside of Malisyn’s door.

The glowing light spread like ink from his hand and embraced her doorway, then faded as quickly as it had appeared. It happened so quickly that Caenis questioned his own vision.

“Let her dream of the desert. Just this once.” The Grand Master whispered, then walked away with Caenis at his heels.

Malisyn fell asleep, dreaming of strange hills made of pale dirt that blew in the wind. She felt sunlight warm her face and shoulders, and listened to the howling wind blow across the ground. It calmed her, and warmed her, and she stared across the endless hills in wonder. It was unlike anything she had ever seen in Tor’vic, or the Glass Plains, or from high atop the Blood Citadel. The winds carried her to a peaceful sleep.

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