A light knock sounded on Malisyn’s door. She mumbled and rolled back over in her bed, burying her head in her blankets.
“You slept through first-morning class,” Dawn’s voice spoke outside her door. Somehow, Malisyn knew the young woman had her hands on her hips. “I told your teacher you were sick. So get up, sound sick, and don’t make a liar out of me. I’ve got your lunch and a spare shirt.”
Malisyn cracked open her door.
“You do look sick. Maybe try not to look so convincing…” Dawn smiled. She handed a sapphire blue shirt through the door. Malisyn took it without a word and closed the door. A few minutes later, she appeared again—wearing the blue shirt and wrinkled leggings with one knee-high leather boot partially unlaced. She shrugged her backpack on to her shoulder.
“You didn’t have to do this—”
“I know. I did it anyways. Today’s important.”
“What’s today?” Malisyn asked as she stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. Dawn shook her head and started walking down the hallway.
“I guess it wasn’t that important if you forgot.” Dawn glanced at Malisyn from the corner of her eye. Malisyn had her eyes closed as she walked. “I’ll give you a hint: Hannah will be there.”
“Hannah is everywhere I want to be. Give me another.” Malisyn cracked an eye open as the hallways began to fill with students on their way to second-morning classes. Dawn tried to hide the concern in her eyes. Malisyn had started to lose interest in even their basic classes, was eating less—and forgetting more. The Apprenticeship journey had once been the only thing Malisyn talked about: getting out of the Citadel, getting to cast some real magic. Now, she barely remembered it was approaching.
“The Summer Moon Festival is at the end of the month, so that means—”
“The Apprenticeship journey!” Malisyn seemed to recover from some dream, as she turned her crystal blue eyes on Dawn. “I’m sorry, how could I forget? I just, these dreams, and not sleeping… It takes me a little while to catch up.”
“Like an entire first-morning class? Are you good now?” Dawn asked with a laugh.
“Yeah, I’m good. I even finished my mask a few nights ago. I…” Her voice trailed off as a group of students passed her. “Dawn, I know you’re new here, and I’m sure you’ve noticed how students—how they look at me.”
“I noticed. Didn’t bother me.”
“The Summer Moon Festival brings back some memories. Some not good memories. So if I’m a little quieter, I guess, that’s why.”
“Who are you kidding? You don’t shut up, even when you are sad.” Dawn smiled, and that small gesture seemed to bring the young blood mage to her senses.
“Well, thank you. Thank you for not asking—and for getting lost and letting me take you to orientation. And then letting me follow you around the Citadel. You’re the closest thing I’ve had to a friend since I got here.”
“That sounded a little—”
“Yeah. Let’s just get to class.”
Malisyn’s classes usually finished before Dawn and, as a result, she often found herself wandering down to the training grounds to watch the Guardians. Although Malisyn was rubbish with a sword—she still enjoyed watching. There was a beauty and grace to it that she couldn’t find yet in her own classes. It also gave her a break from Master Caenis’ constant questioning after class.
The training grounds were a large expanse of stone and dirt, scoured clean by generations of students. Dense trees had been planted and carefully maintained, as well as boxes of colorful flowers around the edges of the building. On one far end stood walls made of wood with rope ladders, a deep pool of crystal clear water with large stones that acted like steps—and on the other end were areas marked off by waist-high fences. They were individual sparring areas meant for the Guardians to fight in. The expanse was spotted with caches of practice weapons, spare armor, food supplies—anything the students could possibly need to train at all hours of the day and night. Along the outside of the training grounds ran a worn dirt path for horses, with an entrance to the stables at the far south.
The entire area was surrounded by the Citadel windows and was visible from the inside. Malisyn wanted to hear the training and so she always chose to go outside instead of sit in a chair and watch from one of the windows. She crossed the horse path which was damp from the rain, passed her favorite tree—already claimed by a young boy and his book—and picked her second favorite spot against a tall mossy rock.
Lianca was there, which made Malisyn smile. The old Captain of the Guard had appeared shortly after Malisyn arrived at the Citadel, complaining that the ocean ”made her bones ache.” She carried a letter of recommendation from Captain Nox and had been put to work training the new Guardians. She tossed a long blonde braid over her shoulder and nodded when she watched Malisyn scramble up the side of the rock.
Lianca was testing the weight of a wooden practice sword before handing it off to a lanky boy with pale skin. His skinny arms didn’t look like they could support the weight of a twig, let along the wooden sword she had handed him. He wore the dark gray colors of a second-year student with an orange sash at his waist: marking him as being San’daran.
He dragged the sword away through the mud as Lianca yelled after him. She sighed and shook her head before another student approached. Malisyn watched as Lianca and a few other teachers distributed an entire armory of wooden weapons and paired students up together. Malisyn could see Dawn from her vantage point atop the rock. She sat with her legs over the edge, watching as Dawn was partnered with the weak San’daran boy.
Malisyn had watched Dawn for the past few weeks; once she had discovered that her last class was in the center of the Citadel, she hadn’t missed a practice session. Dawn was usually the best the group and Malisyn never tired of watching her friend slap someone to the ground with a wooden sword. She frowned at the thought: When did I start thinking of her as a ‘friend?’
“When are you going to jump in the ring?” Lianca asked. The woman leaned against the rock near Malisyn’s dangling feet.
“Oh… wait, can I? That’s a Guardian class.”
“It’s still a fighting class. And from what I’ve heard—you may not be cut out to be a blood mage.” Lianca turned her head to the side to look up at Malisyn. The young blood mage frowned.
“Is there anyone in this place that doesn’t know I have problems?”
“It’s not easy. Losing someone, you know. People expect you to just keep going—they don’t know the fear that comes along with it.”
Malisyn stared down at the woman’s kind eyes. Lianca nodded slowly and went back to watching the students.
“How do you do it? Keep going, I mean.” Malisyn’s voice was nearly a whisper. “How can I become a blood mage, if all I see is his face whenever I see my blood. I can’t sleep at night. All I think about is… dying.” Lianca was quiet for a long time. She flipped her braid over her shoulder and ran her hands along it, running her fingers along the silver-streaks. Her hands were dry and calloused.
“Not everyone has that same fear. Some people have faith, instead.” She dropped her braid. “Some of us, like you and I, we lost our ability to believe when we lost someone we love. So we have to replace that fear with something else, or we risk never sleeping again. Or never casting a spell.”
“What can I replace it with?”
Lianca pointed to training ground.
“I can’t say for certain, love. I can tell you that you start small, and it gets better from there.” She put her hand against her heart and smiled a tired, crooked smile. “Eventually, you’ll be able to relax enough to sleep. You’ll be able to reach your magic without seeing your brother. You’ll be able to call fire from the air, and you’ll know he’s proud of you. And you’ll be proud of yourself. And someday, you’ll know that you don’t have to be afraid.” Lianca turned then, as if she had said nothing at all, and began barking instructions at a pair of students who were rolling in the dirt. Malisyn was left staring at the training grounds, watching as Dawn beat the poor lanky boy to the ground.
Dawn reached out a hand and helped the boy up. She was laughing and helped brush off his shoulders, but he seemed too afraid of her to accept her help. He limped off the training grounds and left her alone.
“So they let anyone train now?” Hannah’s voice sounded behind Malisyn. “I could pick up a flimsy wooden sword and fight anyone I wanted? That’s what I heard the old woman say.”
“You won’t step a single foot on my training ground until your attitude improves, Miss Hannah.” Lianca pushed herself away from the wall. “I expect you to be gone by the time I return.”
Hannah smiled—a thin, slight twitch of her lips—and watched as Lianca walked back to the nearest group of students. As soon as Lianca had her back facing her, Hannah turned to Malisyn.
“I overheard you and Lianca talking.”
Malisyn’s stomach felt cold. She hadn’t meant for anyone else to hear, let alone a snake like Hannah. She still couldn’t believe she had even talked to Lianca the way she had.
The older girl smiled again but this time it was broad. Purposeful. Like she was exactly where she wanted to be.
“Do you know what happens to little boys when they die?” Hannah whispered. “To bloodless little boys?” She took a step towards Malisyn. “I’ll tell you—“
Malisyn pulled back her fist and punched Hannah.
It happened so quickly that Malisyn wasn’t sure what had happened. One moment, all she could hear was Hannah talking about her brother—then all she could see was Allyn. His soft brown eyes and lonely smile sent her in to a fit of anger. She couldn’t hear Hannah anymore. All she could do was react. The words. They hurt, they clawed at her heart like a needle and she had to make them stop before they sewed it shut. She did the only thing she could think of: she hurt back. She hit Hannah while the girl was still surprised. It sent the older blood mage stumbling backwards with a curse. Before she could recover, Malisyn’s training kicked in. She rushed after her and tackled Hannah to the ground.
The impact knocked the wind out of Hannah and halted her laughing. It didn’t stop her from swinging her leg around and tripping Malisyn. She fell to the ground on her back. She hit the dirt hard. The back of her head slammed against the ground and she saw bright white light in her vision. She closed her eyes and tried to stand up.
Hannah wiped blood from her nose and stood up first. In the distance, Malisyn could see blurred movement, but her focus was on the girl standing in front of her with death in her eyes—she wasn’t going to let Malisyn get away. Hannah spat on the ground.
“Bloodless, you couldn’t cast blood magic if I drew the blood from you myself—” Hannah pulled her blood dagger from her belt. “You’re a waste of magic. So was your brother.” She brandished the blade so it caught the fading sunlight. Malisyn didn’t dare let the dagger out of her sight.
“Why do you hate me so much?” Malisyn asked as she took a cautious step backwards. She had to buy some time. The girl laughed. A bitter, short laugh.
“You think you’re better than everyone else. You and your brother. I’m tired of my Citadel being overrun by people who can’t even cast blood magic—”
Malisyn blinked. Hannah was crying; hot, angry tears spilled down her face. She wiped them away with her fist.
“You. Your blood magic is weak… and you’re jealous. You always have been.” Malisyn whispered. The realization just fell out of her mouth. Hannah screamed.
“Lie, that’s all you know how to do! My blood magic is perfect.” Hannah’s hands were shaking she was so angry. She nearly dropped her dagger. “My parents paid good money to get me here—”
I know how to deal with this. Breathe. Disarm her. Her head hurt and edges of her vision was still blurry.
The thought of getting hurt made Malisyn’s stomach tremble. She took a deep breath just as Hannah lunged for her. No time to dodge; no time to knock the dagger from Hannah’s hand. The girl screamed something incoherent that sounded somewhere between rage and shame. Malisyn spun to the side and gasped as Hannah’s blade grazed her shirt—but the older girl had over-estimated. Malisyn used the girl’s speed and threw out her leg—Hannah tripped and flew forward. The dagger snagged on Malisyn’s shoulder and Hannah dropped it as she tumbled forward.
Malisyn didn’t wait to see if Hannah was going to get back up. She just ran.
The sun was beginning to set and classes would still be in session for another hour. She had to go somewhere, anywhere. The opposite end of the training grounds was empty so she ran and didn’t look back. Her shoulder stung where the blade had bit her but she was lucky and it didn’t feel deep. She ran past her mossy rock and a shady tree before clamoring over a small hill to the middle of the horse path. It was empty and she ran south. She hid in the shadows of another tree while she caught her breath.
A drop of blood rolled down her cheek like a tear. Malisyn hadn’t noticed that Hannah had managed to claw at her face on the way down. She stood, leaned against the tree and gasped for breath. Her arms shook and her stomach hurt.
I have to keep moving. When the Grand Master finds out what I did… She pushed herself away from the tree and stumbled down the horse path. Blood oozed from her ripped shirt and left a delicate trail in the dirt.
She didn’t have any right to bring Allyn in to this. Stupid, mean girl. Malisyn didn’t think she could hate anyone more than she hated Hannah. Except, perhaps, the demon responsible for taking Allyn away to begin with. But as far as the living, breathing were concerned: Hannah was at the top of her list. A warm, single tear mingled with the blood on her cheek. Her tears made her angry; she didn’t want to be caught crying. She was tired of crying, tired of being tired—of not being able to sleep, of looking over her shoulder, afraid something might come for her next.
She stumbled down the horse path, beneath a cluster of trees and fell to her knees at the bank of a pond. The surface of the pond was calm, sheltered from the evening breeze. Cold air resonated from the depths of the water. Her legs were immediately dampened by the mud and grass but she didn’t care. She plunged her hands in to the water and washed her face. As soon as she felt the chill of the water—she began to cry. She sucked in a painful breath and coughed until her lungs hurt.
When she lowered her hands—a demon was waiting for her beneath the surface of the pond. A blank, featureless face stared up at her with wet stitches for eyes. A long line of stitches ran across the top of its head and held a pair of spiraling horns on either side like a crown. Long, glistening red wings spread to each edge of the pond. She hadn’t heard it move; no shift in the water, no splashing against the bank. She saw mud shift beneath the surface and saw its footprints disappear beneath the bridge that separated the two ponds. It was the largest demon she had ever seen: and it was watching her.
Malisyn. The demon didn’t move. It’s wings fluttered restlessly beneath the water. A wide, tooth-filled mouth broke in to a smile that covered most of it’s blank face. Skin stretched and bones cracked to make room for the grin. Malisyn swallowed hard. Its teeth were covered in blood. The voice in her head felt like a knife jabbed against her temple. She wasn’t even sure she could respond. It laughed through a cracked smile and sent bubbles rushing to the surface of the pond. The water began to boil. Malisyn slowly backed away.
The demon rose from the boiling depths and unfurled its wings. Water slid like oil down its skin and hissed as it touched the ground. The water burned as it sprinkled across Malisyn like rain. Her skin began to itch and felt like it was on fire. She couldn’t breathe.
We need you. The demon’s mouth didn’t move. It just kept smiling, mouth held in place by two stitches at the corners. The demon was the color of an emerald trapped at the bottom of the ocean. Dark viridian green and blue that sparkled beneath the water. Malisyn thought, distantly, it was a strange kind of beauty. It both frightened and drew her closer to the water. It’s face was angular with a strong chin like a handsome man and a muscular chest. It has long, double-jointed arms that ended in long claws and strong legs that ended with the hooves of a goat.
The demon rose from the pond. His wings floated in the air like leaves but didn’t move. The demon simply floated above the pond and continued to smile at her. Malisyn was pressed hard against the muddy bank of the pond. She was soaked and shivering but too afraid to move.
As the pond water ran off the demon, Malisyn noticed a shape was sewn in to the front of the demon’s chest—a skeleton key, formed from hundreds of thick stitches.
If I could just… reach my magic. Her thoughts were loud in her head; she was afraid the demon might hear her. Her blood dagger was at her hip, but she couldn’t reach it. The demon moved forward in a blink without a sound. It reached towards her and pressed one sharp, black claw against her chest. The claw pierced her skin—just above her heart. It ripped through her shirt as if it were paper. Malisyn stared down at the claw as it pulled itself across her chest and down the middle of her right arm.
She watched in disbelief as the demon drew her blood—and simply waited. It pulled back its claw and watched as her blood soaked the surface of her shirt and skin. Malisyn let out a breath. She felt light headed, and began to speak.
“How can you need me? I’m just a girl.” Her voice sounded dull. She felt herself fall back against the bank. The demon moved and floated over her. “I can’t even… I’m just rambling. I don’t feel so good.” Blood pooled around her shoulder and fell from her chest in delicate lines.
“I’m nothing special.” She closed her eyes. Her blood floated through the air like smoke towards the demon.
We need you. The demon’s voice sounded again and Malisyn couldn’t open her eyes.
Come to us. She felt so tired.
Malisyn’s arm caught fire—black and red flames burst from her blood and sprayed out like ink in water. The smoke snapped to the deadly shape of a long, delicate sword made of deep red glass. Flames licked along her forearm and melted to form a series of silver chains that wrapped around her arm and attached to the handle of the sword. Sparkling rubies danced within the metal handle and the base of the blade. It looked like it would break at any moment. It was the most beautiful thing Malisyn had ever seen—and she had no idea what it was.
I’ve seen … something like this happen before. The sword tightened around her wrist and she screamed.
The demon lunged from the water with claws outstretched. It nearly landed on Malisyn—but a hot, roaring line of fire knocked it to the side. Master Caenis stood on the horse path with blood running down his shoulder. His robe sleeve was ripped and he held his blood dagger in his free hand. He was sweating. His curled blonde hair was pressed against his forehead.
“Malisyn, move away from the pond.” His voice broke. Eyes wide, she scrambled backwards in the mud. She dragged the brittle sword behind her and half-crawled, half-ran up the bank. Her foot slipped and she hit the ground hard. In the distance she heard the demon struggle and spray pebbles everywhere as it thrashed on the ground trying to right itself. A thin but strong grip grabbed Malisyn’s wrist and hauled her to her feet. The demon stood at the same time she did.
“Put that away,” Master Caenis hissed as his trembling hands carved a symbol for protection across his shoulder. Malisyn struggled to lift the sword that refused to release her wrist. The chains bound her wrist and made movement difficult. The sword itself was lighter than she’d ever felt, as if it were made of wood but the chains wrapped around her skin and cut like tiny knives. She knew she was bleeding but couldn’t stop it.
“I don’t even know where it came from! I can’t—” she began but was interrupted when the demon let out a shriek. It swiveled its blue-green face to stare directly at Malisyn with wet stitches. Master Caenis stood in front of her, shielding her from seeing the demon. She closed her eyes.
“Master Caenis!” Lianca yelled from the top of the hill. She held her sword and clutched a hand against her heart. She had run all the way across the training grounds. “Watch out!” Lianca yelled breathlessly just as the demon swiped a clawed hand across Master Caenis’ chest and threw him towards the pond. His body flew like a wet rag and landed hard against the muddied beach. His blood dagger flew and was swallowed by the pond.
We are coming for you. The demon stood right in front of her without moving at all. He smiled so broadly that the stitches at the corner of his mouth snapped. Red, greasy blood splattered Malisyn’s face. She had blinked, her heart had beat once—and he was there. She could feel the warmth of his skin as he leaned in close to her face. Hot breath that smelled of wine caressed her skin. She was reminded of someone but the fear pushed the memory away. She couldn’t breathe.
You must learn to control it. His voice made her legs move and she took a lurching step forward. The demon wrapped his clawed arms around her shoulders and lifted her to his chest. Gently. She was surprised by his gentleness. His skin was cold as ice. There was no doubt that he was a man, at least some part of his was human and she could feel it against her stomach. She thought she saw a hint of a bloodied blue eye beneath his stitches as he looked down at her.
She heard the fire before she felt it: crackling, popping in the air. It sounded like kindling burning to life, weak and hopeful. She felt the flames impact the demon from behind and it shrieked again, loosening his grip just enough to drop Malisyn to the ground. She landed on her feet and stumbled back a step. The demon’s wing caught on fire and it flapped a crimson wing to extinguish the flame. Master Caenis lowered his hand and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. Lianca ran down the bank, sword ready and yelled at the top of her lungs. The demon turned to her and slammed his wing against her shoulder. The old woman crumpled upon impact.
Malisyn was left standing. The sword lifted itself in her hand. Red and black smoke rose from the ethereal blade. The demon turned back towards her. He reached for her again—and she slashed out with her sword. She wasn’t sure if she moved, or the sword did. The strength caught her off guard. The glass blade moved right through the demon. It never touched his skin. It slid through him like a shadow. And a shadow is exactly what she saw: the demon’s body fell to the ground like a discarded skin and melted like candle wax. But a shape remained, like a glittering shadow, that stepped backwards towards the pond. It wasn’t the same shape as a demon—but she knew it was him. It looked more like a human shadow as it faded in to the depths of the pond.
You passed. Learn to draw that blade. You’re going to need it.
The color drained from her face. The sword disappeared before she crashed to the ground.
Hannah laid on the ground until she heard the bloodless girl run off. Malisyn’s words stung her more than the fall had. She closed her eyes and let a few angry, hot tears slide down her face.
“Are you going to lay there all day?” A girl asked. Hannah’s head snapped to the side, searching. She hadn’t heard Taelor’s voice in a long time.
“What do you want? Did you come out here to rescue your bloodless friend?” Hannah pushed herself up from the ground and brushed dirt from her clothes.
“I’m not friends with Malisyn or you–” Taelor began. She took a step closer. There was something about Taelor’s eyes that made Hannah suck in a breath.
“What’s wrong with you?” Hannah asked. Her voice cracked; fear had stolen the bitterness from her voice.
“It’s nothing,” Taelor said as she scrubbed at a line of black running from her eyes. She blinked it away and took another step. “I heard what Malisyn said. About your blood magic.”
“You didn’t hear anything, and if you did—you heard wrong.” Hannah’s hand curled in to a fist with her words. Taelor was close to her now, and blackness still seeped from the corner of her eyes. Hannah couldn’t seem to look away.
“Malisyn took something from me, too.” Taelor’s hand touched her wrist, fingers running across a delicate silver chain bracelet with purple blood relics. A thin layer of dust clouded the surface of the relics.
“She said that my blood magic was weak. How could she know?” Hannah asked. The words seem to fall from her lips without effort. She felt weak and Taelor reached out a hand to steady her.
“I can give you what you seek but you must give me something in return.”
Taelor’s eyes were black now, and Hannah couldn’t look away. She felt frozen in place by Taelor’s gaze—and her words.
“What?” Hannah asked, as the fear in her voice rose again. “What do I have to give you in return?”
“Everything.” The word sounded strange, and Hannah could no longer focus. Taelor blurred in her vision and she felt herself falling.
That last word was all it took—Hannah’s eyes rolled to the back of her head and she fell forward. Taelor caught the other girl with ease. Taelor looked around and made sure they were still alone. Far across the Training Grounds, she could hear Master Caenis shouting and another voice—a woman—Taelor thought the voice sounded familiar. Malisyn was there, too. Taelor had watched her run in that direction after escaping from Hannah. If only she could just talk to her—
Hurry. A voice whispered in Taelor’s mind and she pulled attention back to the girl in her arms.
She felt herself move against her will, dragging Hannah’s limp body out of sight. She moved towards a cluster of trees, slipping from shadow to shadow until she approached a door against the outside wall. She hadn’t ever noticed the door before, as though her eyes saw it and then looked away.
She felt tears streaming down her cheeks but couldn’t move her hands enough to wipe them away. He was there, no, and she had no choice but to obey.
You’re certain no one followed you? The voice asked; Taelor nodded and grunted with the effort of leaning Hannah against the wall. The door shuttered and opened slowly. Taelor dragged Hannah inside and the door was closed quickly behind her.
When Hannah awoke, her head was pounding like she’d stolen too much wine from Master Eskaro’s kitchen cabinet. Her neck was sore, and she moved to touch her shoulder and found that her hands were bound. She was sitting in an uncomfortable wooden chair and her muscles ached as if she had been there for hours. Her head whipped around from side to side, eyes searching for the person who was going to be punished for such behavior.,
The last thing she could remember was Taelor, and then a set of bright, shining eyes filling her vision. She thought she had fallen.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness; she began to see the blurred gray outline of walls, and a sturdy stone floor in front of her. A dark recess in the middle looked to be a drain of some kind. And sitting over top of the drain was a heavy, dark colored wooden table. She saw the remains of shackles pounded in to the four corners. It seemed familiar, like an old class room, forgotten by the Citadel.
“Who tied me up? How dare you, I’ll have you beaten and thrown out of the Citadel by the Grand Master himself–”
A shape like liquid darkness rolled forward, bringing with it a chill that forced Hannah’s mouth closed. Her teeth clacked together loudly and her words evaporated from her lips.
I would like to see him try. A voice sounded near Hannah’s ear. The strange darkness didn’t move, but suddenly it was inches away from her face, leaning forward. Inky blackness seemed to drip around and boil and hiss upon the ground. The cold dug deep beneath Hannah’s skin. She turned her face away.
“What is this, one of Malisyn’s tricks? Casting magic to scare me? Isn’t it bad enough that you can, and I can’t?” Hannah laughed, a mix of hysteria and anger. Her hands balled in to angry fists. If it was Malisyn playing a trick on her, she’d beat the girl until even the Grand Master couldn’t recognize her.
“I wouldn’t call him a trick. I think you might make him angry.” Taelor’s voice sounded from a darkened corner of the room. As she stepped forward, the black figure seemed to step back as if giving her the floor. Hannah turned her head back and looked at Taelor.
“Did you tie me up then?” She asked, moving her wrists to emphasis her situation. She regretted it; the ropes rubbed against her skin and itched.
“No—well, yes. I tied you up, but he made me.” Taelor seemed to frown at her words as if she had a headache. Hannah didn’t think she wanted to know who “he” was. The patch of darkness seemed to slither back in to the corner of the room. All she could see now were the beginnings of faint outlines where two eyes would be.
“Can’t you just untie me?” Hannah asked, careful not to move her arms with the question. The ropes were already going to leave a mark she didn’t want to have to explain.
“No, I don’t think so.” Taelor turned to look sideways at the figure standing in the corner. “He has some questions for you. I can’t—I can’t help you until you answer them.”
“Do you want to help me?” Hannah asked without thinking. The look in Taelor’s face said she wanted to say something—but remained silent.
“I lost something, and he’s promised to get it back for me. In exchange for my help.” Taelor gave a nervous glance behind her, indicating the shadow. Hannah sucked in a breath, remembering suddenly to breathe.
“And you have lost something, or been denied something–”
“My blood magic,” Hannah interrupted. “I had it. I know I had it. And then Malisyn took it away somehow.” Her chin lifted with the words, as if daring Taelor to challenge her. Taelor had seen the gesture enough times to know better than to argue or ask questions. She simply nodded—or he nodded for her. She still wasn’t sure where she ended and he began.
“Your blood magic. My friend,” Taelor’s mouth felt bitter as she spoke the word; she tried saying something else but he wouldn’t let her. She tried again. “My friend says he can give you back your blood magic—if you do something for him, first.”
Hannah considered Taelor’s words. She also considered that she was tied up, and what would happen to her or Taelor if she refused. But why would she refuse? Of course she wanted her blood magic back. And she wanted to make Malisyn pay for exposing her in the first place. Taelor didn’t seem to be in any danger from this thing, whatever it was. Some weak, powerless demon that latched on to a weak blood mage. Nothing to be afraid of. What could it hurt to agree?
“What do I need to do?” Hannah would have crossed her arms but settled for a skeptical eyebrow arch instead. Taelor’s mouth split in to a satisfactory, and involuntary, smile.
“He wants you to bring him Malisyn.” Taelor paused, then added, “Alive. But you can—take your time punishing her for taking away your magic.”
“Bring Malisyn to him? And hurt her—but not kill her.” Hannah considered the agreement; it seemed simple enough. Malisyn wasn’t exactly hard to find in the Citadel. And it would be easy enough to find a dark corner to extract just enough punishment before dragging her back to—wherever they were.
“What is he going to do with her?” Hannah asked. The question even surprised herself.
Taelor’s smile faded. Her jaw tightened and her once sparkling eyes faded to black. Somehow, Hannah knew that he no longer stood as a shadow in the corner, but was somehow within Taelor.
“Questions are not part of the agreement,” Taelor’s mouth moved but the voice was deep like a man’s. It gurgled slightly, as if underwater or from somewhere down a hallway. Taelor’s head twisted to the side curiously. “Malisyn belongs to me, and she must be given to me alive. If she dies while in your protection—you’ll suffer, a fate worse than death. Do not tempt me.”
The man’s words gave Hannah a stomach ache. She felt cold and sick at the same time, and knew better than to ask for details. She nodded.
“I’ll bring her to you—should be easy enough, they’ve chosen the bloodless to go on an early Apprenticeship Journey. Tomorrow, I’ll get her alone, and bring her to you. After I’ve had my time with her, of course.”
Taelor’s eyes faded from black; when he released his hold on her, she looked extremely tired. Her skin looked pale, and Hannah noticed for the first time that Taelor was much thinner than she remembered. The girls were not friends; not even close—but their mutual dislike for Malisyn did give them something in common. Hannah wondered if it was sadness, or the demon, that was sucking away at the other girl’s physical health.
Taelor reached to her belt and unsheathed a dagger. It was a blood dagger—but not one of the practice blades that all the other students carried. The blade was pitch black, as if the metal had been tainted somehow. Dried blood coated the surface of the blade and made it look dull. Taelor didn’t seem to notice. She took a step towards Hannah and lifted the blade—and cut the ropes away.
“It’s time to wake up, sleepy head. It seems like all you ever do these days is sleep.”
Malisyn opened one blue eye. Dawn was sitting next to her bed, reading a book.
“Sleep, and get in to trouble.” Malisyn groaned. Dawn closed her book and uncurled herself from the chair she was sitting in. The motion reminded Malisyn of a cat. A fluffy, sun-bathing cat. Only this cat had blonde hair, freckles and a mean punch.
“The Grand Master wanted me to tell him when you were awake.”
“Of course he did. I’m sure he already knows. Did he have you pack my things, too?”
“Your things? What are you talking about?”
“I hit Hannah and ran away. And then called a demon.”
Dawn put her hands on her hips.
“Malisyn Ry’one,” she used her full name, which Malisyn wasn’t even certain how she knew it to begin with, “from what I heard, you punched Hannah for a good reason. And,” she shook a ringed finger, “don’t be so arrogant to believe that you called a demon. You can’t even cast blood magic yet, how are you supposed to call a demon? Don’t be stupid.” Her voice was harsh but her accent made Malisyn laugh. Dawn’s green eyes narrowed and she took a deep breath, ready to start chastising her for something else.
“No, no,” Malisyn held up her hands in mock surrender. “I’m not laughing at you, it’s your accent. I can’t take you seriously—” She couldn’t help but snort. Dawn shook her head and turned towards the door. “I’m just glad to know that if I ever start to develop an ego, you’ll be there to smash it before it gets out of hand.”
Dawn smiled over her shoulder and reached to open the door. A knock sounded and she paused.
“I told you he knew. Open it.” Malisyn said and laid her head back on her pillow.
The Grand Master stood in the doorway. He had a quiet conversation with Dawn before she came back, gathered her book and left. Malisyn pretended to be asleep. Av’niel settled down in to the chair that Dawn had claimed previously.
“Tell me about the demon.” His voice didn’t leave room for argument. It wasn’t angry, exactly, but more of a dangerous curiosity that she hadn’t ever heard from her teacher before. She opened her eyes and sat up in bed.
“It talked to me. To me, specifically. That’s only happened once before.”
“Just once?” Av’niel arched a white eyebrow. Malisyn shrugged.
“Once recently. The rest was before—“ She waved a hand towards Tor’vic, indicating her brother.
“What did it say?”
Something about his question made Malisyn look at him. Really look. His white-hazel eyes were tired, but he wasn’t looking at her—he was staring out the window.
“Nothing that made sense. It… it wanted me to come with it. He said he needed me.”
“Well, I mean, it looked like a he. It sounded like all sorts of voices at once. He said ‘you need to control it.’ And then that sword came back. I didn’t even know demons knew how to say anything that wasn’t mean.”
“They usually don’t.” Av’niel spoke with the ghost of a smile across his face. He looked away from the window and the ghost faded, replaced by a tired mask.
“Why aren’t we talking about Hannah? Isn’t that more important than that—that demon?”
“Hannah deserved what she got. Lianca saw what happened. There is nothing to discuss. But a demon following one of my most gifted students, now, that concerns me.”
“Most gifted? I can’t even—“
“Stop.” Av’niel stood from his chair and pulled himself to his full height. He had gone from concerned mentor to the Grand Master of the Blood Citadel. His white-hazel eyes were suddenly frightening as they looked right through her.
“You are gifted. You can, and you will, cast blood magic. Fear itself is a demon that lives within us all, Malisyn. Fear of the dark, fear of the unknown. You have so much good in you, you cannot let others suffer because you’re afraid. You need to use the magic you’ve been given, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Even Hannah.”
Malisyn’s nose wrinkled at the thought. Av’niel gave the slightest of smiles and continued.
“You just need time to think. You’ve had a lot happen to you in your short life. More than most girls your age. I’ve made up my mind. I’m sending you on your Apprenticeship Journey early.”
“What? I’m not ready. What if that demon come back—”
“I need to get you out of here. You’re too close to the source of your pain. Too close to your memories. It’s your fear that attracts those demons to you. You need time to think, time to learn to draw your blood, or time to give up. I fear, Malisyn… if you give up, they will find you, and they will kill you.”
“I’ll go, as long as you don’t partner me up with Hannah.”
The Grand Master cast her a side-ways glance.
“I had considered it. I figured one of you wouldn’t return. No, I have someone else in mind for you.”