The dream found her again.
It always looked like drifting ash or falling snow; impossible sparkling flecks of gold and silver, falling from the ceiling. They caught the light at just the right angle. Malisyn moved forward without moving, drifting along in her dream like a leaf across a sluggish pond.
As always, the elaborate coffin was still there, waiting for her. This time a new carving waited. It looked fresh, the wood unpolished, the cut marks still rough. Curls of wood chips and splinters piled on the ground. She thought she could smell the sweet, sleepy scent of cedar.
It was just a dream. There were no smells, she wasn’t even there.
She knelt down in front of the coffin and reached out to touch the wood. She didn’t feel anything. Her fingers ran along the edges of the carving, anxiously expecting a splinter for her trespassing, but nothing happened. The carving was the shape of a teardrop, or a drop of blood, tapered at the top and bulging at the bottom. A shape stood inside the tear with arms wide open. Malisyn placed her hand against the tear.
The wood trembled beneath her touch, and this time, she could feel it. She could feel the heat of the sun overhead, feel the wind against her skin and the wood beneath her hand. Suddenly she could smell the cedar, smell the scent of Isaru wine and the tepid water that had rested far too long. The screaming sound of raging wind filled her ears with a deafening roar. She wanted to turn away, to flee the coffin, to make the sound and feeling stop.
She pulled her hand away from the carving the sound halted abruptly. The carving came alive: the teardrop shimmered and filled with red liquid. It became an outline, a gateway. Beyond was darkness and silence. The figure standing within the gate was afraid. She could feel his sweat upon her skin, smell the wine he had drank just moments before. He turned and looked at her.
And she woke up.
“Of all the Blood Mages, and Transcenders, all the teachers in the Citadel, and you want to send her with him?”
“I know the risks, Kellea.”
“The risks,” Kellea threw up her hands. She paced in front of Av’niel’s desk, her dark eyes watching the calm pool of water to avoid turning her glare towards the Grand Master. “You know the risks of sending an un-bled Bloodmage on her Apprenticeship Journey, I mean the risks of a young woman and this man–”
“You can’t protect her forever.”
The words always made Kellea weak. She took a deep breath, bit her tongue, and sunk heavily in to the chair across from Av’niel’s desk.
“I understand what you’re worried about. Dawn will be there, I won’t let them be alone long enough for anything to happen.”
“It doesn’t take more than a glance with that one,” Kellea muttered. Av’niel raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth but also decided to close it.
“Jadae is an attractive man, but a glance? Hardly. I remember how she used to look at–”
“She was a child. She’s still a child. Her Apprenticeship Journey is going to be hard enough without making her question her heart. I wish you’d send someone else.”
“Malisyn’s safety is my main priority and sending anyone else but Jadae with her, would only endanger her further.”
“Jad’ae…” Kellea’s eyebrows knitted together as she tried to remember. There were hundreds of teachers, Blood Mages and Transcenders in the Citadel and marching across the world. Across the Shard Sea, the Endless Sands, the forbidden walls of San’dara and the sweltering islands of Isaru. She had met him, of course, but his name was common enough. He was a favorite story for the First Year students to tell: the tall, dark-eyed Isaru teacher of few words with a terrible secret.
“He’s the one with the–”
“Scars. Yes.” Av’niel finished. He stood from his desk and moved to the edge of the pool of water. He stared in to the depths and watched.
“From his own encounter with demons, well before he came to the Citadel. Jadae may be one of the few people who can help Malisyn block them out. And if it comes to a fight, he’s the best damn Shadow Mage I’ve ever met.”
“It won’t come to a fight.” Kellea’s hands were tightened in to white-knuckled fists. She was so tense that her hands were beginning to shake. “If you’d just let me follow them, at a safe distance. I’d never be seen, just let me–”
“Then send someone else, another teacher, maybe Master Caenis. She’s not interested in him in the slightest, he’s a good blood mage, trustworthy.”
“You want to risk Malisyn to the protection of a ‘good’ blood mage?” Av’niel asked. His white-hazel eyes narrowed. He turned away from the water to stare at Kellea.
“I don’t want to risk her at all. Maybe I could cut him, scar his face, just a little. He’s just too…” Kellea sighed. “Of all the demons I’ve faced, all the horrors I seen, I’ve never been so afraid of a good looking man. I must be getting old.”
Av’niel paced along the edge of the pond.
“I can’t let you follow. Malisyn must find her own way. No one else can keep her demons at bay but herself. You cannot teach her any more than I can. But Jadae has a chance to help her, at whatever the cost. If it breaks her heart and spares her life? If I risk sending someone else, and the girl dies?”
“Life with a broken heart–no, I understand. I just worry, you cannot expect me to do anything else. I promise I will not follow. I cannot promise I won’t want to.”
“If you don’t hurry up, we’re going to be late! Are you packing the entire Citadel?” Dawn’s voice called from outside Malisyn’s door. Inside her room, Malisyn pushed as hard as she could to cram the last of her clothes in her backpack. When they wouldn’t fit, she threw the bag over her shoulder, ran a hand through her hair and picked up the other two bags on her bed. She dragged them to the door, breathless.
Dawn opened the door as Malisyn approached.
“…You did pack the entire Citadel. I’m sure the Grand Master wants his office back. You can’t take it with you.”
“It’s just clothes. And snacks. And my sketch book.”
“And half of your bedroom, and mine, by the looks of it.” Malisyn rolled her eyes and shoved one of her bags towards Dawn, who took it without complaint.
Malisyn noticed Dawn carried nothing with her except her usual: at her hips hung two dull metal practice blades. She wasn’t allowed to carry anything but practice weapons, but she carried them with pride.
“Didn’t the Grand Master tell you how long I’d be gone?” Malisyn asked with a frown. Dawn shook her head.
“No, he didn’t. No one ever knows. That’s part of the test of the Apprenticeship Journey. The Journey ends when your teacher decides you’re ready. Or you’re eaten by a demon, or stoned by villagers, I suppose.”
“That doesn’t happen.” Malisyn said with an irritated snap. She was half afraid it was true; how could she argue? She’d never been outside of Tor’vic until she went to the Citadel. For all that Dawn made her laugh, she couldn’t say for certain what was true and what wasn’t.
“If all the students who went on their Apprenticeship Journey were eaten, stoned or otherwise–we wouldn’t have any mages. I just wish you were coming with me–then I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Are you sure the Grand Master didn’t tell you anything else?”
Dawn turned back towards the door.
“We’re late already. I think you’ve forgotten how crowded this place has become. The Summer Moon Festival, and then you’re leaving. Remember?”
Malisyn did remember. She was always in such a hurry to leave, to rush out in to the world of blood magic and adventure, and now the time was nearly here. She started to feel sick.
I feel like I’m just starting to find a friend again, and I have to leave her. Why does this always happen? Malisyn was startled from her thoughts as she followed Dawn out in to the hallway. How she hadn’t noticed the buzzing of voices outside her door, she wasn’t certain. The hallway was full of people: students, teachers, Blood Mages and Transcenders that had returned for the Festival. They wandered the hallways, laughing and catching up. The last class had just let out and tonight was the Festival. The entire Citadel was overflowing and full of excitement.
Malisyn couldn’t feel any of it. She followed Dawn as they pushed their way through the crowd. A group of Jan’caran students were hanging up banners of gold ribbon, while older students were doing their best to tear it down and hang their own. Master Caenis guided a group of younger students to their final class.
The familiar sound of Hannah cropped up somewhere in the crowd, just enough to make Malisyn cringe and keep walking. Dawn reached back and squeezed her hand, and the gesture was enough to summon tears to her eyes. Malisyn was thankful when Dawn turned away and couldn’t see her.
“This is as far as I go,” Dawn indicated the set of double doors. “I wasn’t invited, remember?”
“No, I don’t remember. Come with me.” Malisyn said. She looked inside the doorway. “Hannah’s in there. You can’t send me in there alone, she’ll eat me.”
Dawn tried to hide a smile.
“I don’t know, the Grand Master only said I was supposed to make sure you got here on time.”
“And to carry my bags. Come on, I have to go in there and my bags have to follow me.” Malisyn dropped her backpacks on the ground. “I can’t go in there without them…”
Dawn rolled her eyes, leaned down and picked up Malisyn’s bags, and followed her inside.
“I still can’t believe you packed half the Citadel for this trip. You’re never going to be able to carry all this without me there.” Malisyn and Dawn nudged their way carefully through the crowd. Their path led them straight in to Hannah’s line of view.
“You’re not the only one going on your Apprenticeship Journey early, bloodless.” The venom was no thinner than usual. Malisyn could nearly taste it on Hannah’s breath. She shrugged and tried to ignore it. The room was too crowded for Hannah to do anything direct, but she wasn’t above whispering.
“Shut your mouth,” Dawn snapped, shouldering her way to Malisyn’s side. The gesture made Hannah stumble back a bit quicker than she had intended. She nearly fell over Rin in her hasty escape. Dawn did not miss the near-collision, and smiled.
The room was full, students of various years and ages filling up every empty space available. The afternoon before the Summer Moon Festival was the time that a few selected mages were assigned their Apprenticeship Journey early. The Citadel had gone from being nearly empty during the winter, to every room and classroom full during the summer months. Many of the Journeys had ended and after the Trials of Blood, Av’niel had called most of the mages to return to the Citadel. There was rarely a quiet moment, now.
Malisyn had been given the impression that she was special; that somehow, being sent on her Apprenticeship Journey was unique. By the number of young Mages and Guardians in the room, she didn’t feel very unique. Except she alone–and Dawn–were forced to stand within spitting distance of the one person she could call an enemy.
The room quieted down as the massive double-doors swung open. The Grand Master stepped through, flanked by Nightwalker Kellea and Master Caenis. Hannah took her last opportunity to spit towards Malisyn during the confusion. Dawn ran her hand down Malisyn’s hair and put herself squarely between the two of them. Malisyn fought back tears.
“Restless, aren’t you all?” Av’niel said with a smile. The room was buzzing with questions just barely contained. The Grand Master walked to the center of the room. Students parted before him like a river. “I need Guardians on one side of the room, and Blood Mages on the other. Go.” Hannah was already pushing her way across the room even before the Grand Master finished his instructions. Chairs slid back and desks were pushed to the side as young men and women scrambled to one side of the room or the other.
Av’niel watched closely; the advantage of his white eyes was that many students still assumed he was blind. Hannah tripped one of the Guardians on her way over. Rin was still limping. Malisyn was on the verge of tears, and Dawn looked like she was ready to scream. A Jan’caran boy had been staring at Dawn the entire time he’d been standing against the wall, and no one noticed that one Guardian was missing. Not yet.
Kellea did, however. She had personally intercepted one of the Guardians–a friend of Hannah’s–before they arrived at the meeting. One less Guardian meant one less Blood Mage was going to be assigned their Apprenticeship Journey tonight.
“I want everyone to pair up. One Mage and one Guardian.”
Malisyn looked across the room and found Dawn’s knowing smile; they started moving towards each other as the room dissolved in to a frenzy. Hannah whipped her head around, searching for her friend. Rin limped in to the middle of the room and found a tall Tala’rican boy to be his Guardian. Hannah kept searching, her brows furrowing closer together as her options became thinner and thinner.
One by one, the students paired in to groups and settled to one side of the room or the other. Malisyn and Dawn moved closer to the Grand Master, just in case Hannah lost it. It didn’t take long. She turned and looked at both sides of the room full of partnered students. When she realized there was no one left, she turned to Rin.
“Give me your Guardian–whats-his-name,” she pointed to the pale Tala’rican boy who stood beside Rin. The Guardian, though taller and bigger than Hannah, shrunk away from her voice. He shook his head, and Rin stood in front of him with arms crossed.
“He doesn’t want to be your partner Hannah. You belong with the boy who was too afraid to show up today.”
Hannah’s mouth fell open and she began to curse, then turned towards Malisyn and suddenly found her voice again.
“You did this! You tricked me! You have always been his pet! I won’t let you do this!”
The Grand Master took a step froward.
“Hannah, the girl did nothing. We made a mistake when we decided to send you on your Apprenticeship Journey. It’s become very apparent… you are not ready.”
The longer the Grand Master talked, the redder Hannah’s face became.
“Not ready? What lies did you tell him?”
Her hands shook and all she could do was stare at Malisyn. Tears brimmed her eyes. She rubbed a trembling hand across her upper lip and faced the door. She gave a wooden bow to the Grand Master and wandered out the door. Dawn had a hand on Malisyn’s shoulder and her other on the handle of her training blade.
“Did you know that was going to happen?” Malisyn breathed.
“They told me to stay close to you, just in case.” Dawn said. “It’s over now. She won’t be bothering us again.”
“I’m sure she’ll manage, somehow.”
The Grand Master waited until Hannah had left and slammed the door behind her. He looked to Kellea and nodded; the Nightwalker swept from the room after the girl.
“An early Apprenticeship Journey is not for everyone,” Av’niel began. “and I’m sorry that we had to dismiss Hannah in such a manner. Her emotions would only endanger her and her Guardian, so I hope everyone understands why I had to display them.”
The groups nodded and whispered. Rin said something in Jan’caran that only one other student laughed at–and the Grand Master. Rin’s face drained to white. The Grand Master gave a small smile and moved to lean against the front of a wooden desk, facing the groups.
“And now, I’m going to re-arrange a few of you–and you’re going to meet the Blood Mage who will be accompanying you on your journey.” Av’niel drifted among the crowd and observed each group. He moved Rin away from his Tala’rican Guardian and swapped him with another group. Rin didn’t seem overly excited but he knew better than to argue. His Tala’rican friend was too busy blushing over his new female partner. Av’niel approached Malisyn and Dawn.
“Thank you,” he nodded to Dawn and turned to Malisyn. “I would have paired you two together, you know.”
“I know–did Dawn know?” Malisyn turned and looked at her friend. Dawn looked as innocent as she could, which was surprisingly convincing. Until she snorted with a laugh.
“Did you really think I was just here to escort you to your journey? I told the Grand Master you couldn’t leave without me.”
Av’niel wandered off to the next few groups as the girls continued their argument. As the Grand Master assessed the chosen groups, the double doors re-opened. Kellea returned, along with a dozen other Blood Mages and Transcenders. They filed in and stood beside Master Caenis. Old Man Odhran was there, and he stood beside Caenis. The ages and faces varied; some stricken and strained faces, others young and inexperienced. Most were fair-skinned, dark-haired Tala’ricans, with one Jan’caran man and a young San’daran woman. Malisyn didn’t recognize any of them except for Old Man Odhran. She really hoped she wouldn’t have to accompany the old man. No doubt, he would ask about her brother…
Dawn elbowed Malisyn and pointed to a tall Isaran man. His skin was powdered white and black feathers dangled from his hair. Ash lined his impossibly blue eyes. Beneath the powder, Malisyn spotted scars that covered his neck and jaw. It didn’t appear to hinder his appearance at all, and only made him appear more exotic.
“I wonder what lucky young mage gets him,” Dawn whispered. Malisyn felt herself blush. The teacher turned and looked directly at Dawn, then to Malisyn.
“Blood and rain, Dawn, shut up.” Malisyn hissed and turned away.
The Grand Master began to speak.
“For your group, I regret that there is no Summer Moon Festival. You’ll be leaving for your Apprenticeship Journey within the hour.”
The crowd was a mix of disappointed sighs and angry curses, but no one went so far as to question the Grand Master. Malisyn’s thoughts returned to the red dress she had hanging in her closet, made by Matron Hawk. Her mask, along with Allyn’s feathered mask, hung beside it. She wasn’t sure if the dress still fit, or if she could even stand to wear it. But she had kept it, and was prepared to wear it tonight–but now it wasn’t a problem. She wouldn’t be here, she wouldn’t have to worry about smiling or making conversation or pretending she was OK.
Tonight, she’d be leaving the Citadel and she couldn’t be happier. Well, maybe if she had a sweet roll, just for the trip.
“Let me introduce you to your teachers, and then we’ll all head to the Library.”
Malisyn turned to Dawn and frowned.
“The Library? Why would be stopping by the library before we leave? Do we have more work to do?”
“It’s not that library, Malisyn. Have you been paying attention..?”
“You mean THE Library?” Malisyn’s stomach began to ache. She was a second year student; she’d called the Citadel home for two summers and two winters. There was the library near her room that was available to the students. And then there was the side of the Citadel that no one was allowed to enter, and didn’t even talk about. A door guarded by the scariest man Malisyn had ever seen. Once, she may have approached and tried to sneak in. Allyn would have wanted to know what was behind the doors; but Malisyn had lost her need to know the unknown. She no longer wanted to seek out the strange door, or the scary man, or approach the hallway that lead to it. She no longer cared what hid behind the door.
Malisyn was lost in her thoughts and Dawn busied herself by swinging around her practice blades. It gave the girls enough space, everyone moved away from the brooding mage and her new Guardian.
“Malisyn, Dawn,” the girls had nearly forgotten their reasons for being in the room by the time their names were called. Everyone else had left; the two girls remained behind, accompanied by the Grand Master, Nightwalker Kellea and the curious Isaran man. Av’niel repeated their names, and both girls snapped to attention.
“This is Master Ja’dae. He will accompany the two of you on your Apprenticeship Journey.”
Malisyn’s stomach began to ache. Ja’dae’s blue eyes made her sweat. Nightwalker Kellea took a step forward.
“And, against the Grand Master’s wishes, I too will be accompanying you.”
“At a distance, now–let’s get the formalities out of the way.” Av’niel nodded to Ja’dae.
“I am Ja’dae Drake, of the Ashlands of Isaru.” Ja’dae fell to one knee in front of Malisyn and Dawn with his head lowered. His hair spilled over his shoulders and on to the ground. Black as pitch, with hundreds of black bird feathers braided in to his hair until it looked as if he had sprouted the feathers himself. Malisyn just wanted to reach out and run her hands through his hair. Just as she thought about reaching, Ja’dae stood from kneeling.
“Ja’dae is a Shadow Mage, Malisyn. He has dealt with the kind of demons, that haunt you.” Av’niel spoke softly as he looked from Ja’dae to Malisyn. “Do not tell me that they do not; I’ve seen the truth in your eyes.”
Malisyn opened her mouth to argue but Av’niel’s gaze left no room for argument. She closed her mouth.
“The Blood Citadel trains our students to wield their strengths, be it blood magic or muscle, Mage or Guardian. Sometimes, that training is through years in a class room or a battlefield. For some,” Av’niel indicated the girls, “your power is apparent, and needs to be dealt with in a different manner.”
Kellea stepped forward and continued.
“Malisyn cannot control her power, not yet. The demons of Transcendence can feel that, and she puts herself and everyone around her at risk. She needs to learn to control her powers, and fast. Our only option is an early Apprenticeship Journey. The Journey is meant to help you learn quickly, and through terrible circumstances. You’re going to see the best, and worst, that the world has to offer a blood mage.
The Journey is whatever Ja’dae decides is best for you and Dawn. You must listen to him, and trust him. Do you understand?”
The girls nodded in unison. The Grand Master continued.
“I paired the two of you together, not because of your strengths–but because of your friendship. Malisyn’s demons are very powerful, and love may be the only thing that saves her.”
Malisyn coughed and turned red.
Dawn raised an eyebrow. “No pressure there.”
“Now, we’re off to the Library. I see you’ve packed all of your things, and most of Dawn’s. You’ll learn soon enough.”
“Do we really have to go through the Library?” Malisyn asked. Dawn walked beside her and together they quietly followed the Grand Master, Nightwalker Kellea and Master Ja’dae. The rest of the group wandered ahead, guided by a dozen other teachers with Master Caenis nearly pulling out his hair to keep them all in line. It was slow progress moving through the Summer Moon Festival crowd; but the students parted to let them pass, envious of the “early” Mages and Guardians.
We’re not Blood Mages or Guardians yet. Malisyn reminded herself.
“Yes, we really have to approach the door. And the scary man.” Dawn said. Malisyn gave her a sharp look and was certain she caught a hint of a smile.
“You’re making fun of me–”
“You’re afraid of a man and a door. Yes, I am.”
Malisyn sighed. She shrugged and hefted her backpack a little higher over her shoulder. She watched the festivities around her with a twinge of regret. Somewhere, a group of girls were playing a set of pipes and a boy beat on a leather drum. Laughter and muffled voices blended together and it sounded like happiness. For a night, no one was thinking about blood magic, or demons or work. It was music, and food and drink and a giant fire pit in the center of the training grounds.
She didn’t think she’d actually miss the Festival, given what she was about to do, but as she watched everyone laughing and being so relaxed… she wished she could stay. Her Festival last year had been a disaster. The entire thing had reminded her of Tor’vic and Allyn, and she had spent most of her time in her room crying. That was before she had met Dawn, and when she could still elude the Grand Master’s watchers. She had been so alone a year ago.
“Malisyn,” the Grand Master called. His voice pulled her from the fog of her memories and she realized she had stopped walking. She moved to catch up and she nearly fell over Taelor in her rush. The red-headed girl cursed and moved out of her way. The cold shoulder hurt more than anything else, and Malisyn was suddenly glad to not have to spend her night avoiding her old friend.
Av’niel stood just inside a quiet hallway. Dawn, Kellea and Master Ja’dae stood beside him. The rest of the students had gone ahead, following their teachers. The hallway was dark and the curtains had been pulled over all the windows that overlooked the training grounds. They waited for Malisyn to approach before stepping in to the hallway. The stone hallway gave way to a gradual set of stairs that led deeper in to the floor, well below the windows. They walked until the windows disappeared above them and the walls were lined with torches. Malisyn felt as if she had walked the entire length of the Citadel, going down. The Library was deep beneath the Citadel.
Malisyn stayed close to Dawn. Master Ja’dae and Kellea spoke softly ahead of them, and the Grand Master led the group as if he were going for a simple walk among the gardens. That he was walking deeper and deeper beneath the Citadel didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest. The stairs began to curve at a sharper angle until they began a spiral. Malisyn was thankful that the torches were well lit and, as the ceiling became lower, the darkness did not overwhelm her. The long hallway slowly smothered the music from the party above them. She took a moment to study the walls, they were stone and carved wood, separated by rows of torches. Malisyn saw intricate carvings along the wood that reminded her of the doors to the orphanage.
At the base of the impossibly long stairs waited two black double-doors. Between Malisyn and the door was a desk. Black as the doors, it made the entire hallway feel cold. But it was nothing like the man who sat behind it.
A Librarian, he was called. He didn’t have a name; at least, not a polite one, used by students. His head was clean-shaven, his skin was alabaster from years away from the sun. Just below his left eye was a symbol, or a word, Malisyn wasn’t sure. It was red ink and she had trouble reading it, but it was probably because she had trouble looking at him. His eyes were milky white-blue like a dead fish.
The Librarians were a mystery to Malisyn and most of the students at the Blood Citadel, but Malisyn was a good listener: she knew what they used to be. This man had committed a crime, and had been taken by the Citadel to serve the purpose of protecting the Library. He had been gifted, and had been sentenced to death by some King or another. The Citadel found him first, paid his Blood Price, and put him to work. Malisyn knew of few crimes that men died for: and she didn’t like any of them.
The Librarian stood slowly from behind his desk. He wore worn leather pants and boots, a dark gray shirt that hid the dust on his sleeves. He didn’t look like a prisoner at all. At his belt hung a long sword in a sheathe. The metal glowed and shimmered like a blood dagger. He bowed directly to the Grand Master.
“Greetings, Librarian,” Av’niel said with a bow. The Grand Master spoke again, in a different language, and spoke at length. He indicated Malisyn, and Dawn, then the Nightwalker and Transcender. The Librarian focused on each of them with his watery eyes. Malisyn made eye contact as best she could but she kept staring at the mark beneath his eye. The Librarian nodded and approached the door. There were no visible handles, just two impressions on either door.
“Malisyn, approach the door.” The Grand Master instructed. Malisyn took an unsteady step forward. The Librarian stood beside her and placed a hand in the recess of the door.
“The Library holds many dangerous secrets. Books on the demonic alphabet, the memories of Transcenders, blood relics, weapons. This man is a Librarian. His life is dedicated to keeping the Library safe. If you ever must enter the Library, you’ll need a blood mage—and a Librarian. Place your hand on the door.”
Malisyn stared at the recess of the door. She knew it was going to hurt, she could see the delicate sharp edges that waited for her in the shadows. She bit her lip and pressed her hand against the door. It stung as it drew her blood. The door felt warm beneath her touch. The Librarian did the same and, somewhere deep inside the door, she heard it begin to move. The massive black doors retreated from the hallway like a snake. Malisyn wiped her bloodied palm on her leggings. The Librarian took a step back and bowed to the Grand Master. He drew the sword at his belt and Malisyn saw the man’s muscles ripple beneath his loose shirt; the Librarian’s eyes changed color to a dark green.
“I’ll hold the door. Be swift.” The Librarian spoke again and his eyes were clear and bright for the briefest of moments. Malisyn saw the green fading as she passed, and the marking on his cheek began to glow. The Grand Master motioned for everyone to move through the doorway and Malisyn pulled her eyes away from the Librarian. He both terrified and confused her, and she had so many questions.
They’ll have to wait for Jad’ae. I hope he’s not boring like Master Caenis. Her thoughts stopped short the moment she walked beneath the door. Her skin felt warm, noticeably different from the chill of the hallway just a few feet behind her. They continued down a hallway with fewer torches lining the wall. Malisyn noticed doors, just as black and large as the one they had entered, lined the walls between gaps of light. Somewhere deep down the hallway, a young boy’s scream echoed. Malisyn’s head snapped towards the noise.
“A bad memory, child. Nothing more,” Kellea replied to Malisyn’s unspoken question.
“What do you mean?” Malisyn knew the voice. Her throat went dry.
“There is great magic here, within the Library. Magic, and memories. You heard something you’ve heard before. It will happen again. You must not listen.”
Malisyn felt a tear roll down her cheek. Nightwalker Kellea turned to Master Ja’dae.
“She is your student now. Teach her.” Kellea walked ahead to the Grand Master. The quiet Isaran man slowed his pace until he walked beside Malisyn and Dawn.
“Take your Guardian’s hand, blood mage.” His voice was quiet, barely a whisper. It made Malisyn shiver, despite the heat of the hallway. She looked over to Dawn and held out her hand. The moment they touched, the sound of the hallway deafened. The world went silent.
“What?” Malisyn dropped Dawn’s hand. The scream came again, and she reached for Dawn’s hand and held it tight until the sound faded away.
“Do not let go until we’ve reached the next doorway.” Master Jad’ae’s voice was clear in the silence. It was the only thing she could hear. Malisyn and Dawn nodded. Nightwalker Kellea turned back to check on them and nodded.
They passed black doors as big as the first, and a door made of white stone that stuck out in the darkness. The door was carved from a giant slab of stone and there were no handles, just a hole meant for a skeleton key. Master Jad’ae pointed to the doorway.
“The Mausoleum, where the Transcenders are buried after their Final Death.” His voice sounded right beside her ear. She couldn’t focus on the blurred carvings of the door as they passed. A Librarian slowly swept the hallway outside of the Mausoleum. Malisyn stole a glance at the Librarian’s cheek–this one was a woman, and her marking was blue. A few more doors and passageways down the hallway and a red-painted door stood closed. The door frame itself was stitched in to the stone with hundreds of leather cords. Malisyn didn’t want to know the name of that room.
They came to the end of the hallway. This door was guarded by four Librarians, different from the others Malisyn had seen. They wore plain white robes over a set of metal armor. Malisyn couldn’t hear them as they straightened their shoulders and stances as the Grand Master approached, but she could see the glint of metal near their necks. Each Librarian had two swords, one on each hip, strapped to a heavy belt around their waist. Sweat beaded on four shaved foreheads; they bowed as one and approached the door. This time, it only took the Librarian’s blood to open the door, for which Malisyn was grateful. As they passed through the second door, Malisyn felt a hand on her shoulder.
“You can let go now,” Ja’dae said. Malisyn dropped Dawn’s hand hesitantly. She didn’t want to hear the voice again. Not like that. Not ever again.
The sound of footsteps seemed louder, the scratching of a broom against an empty stone floor was like nails against a chalkboard. She considered briefly taking Dawn’s hand again until she saw that the Grand Master and Nightwalker Kellea had stopped. Malisyn craned her neck around to see what they were stopping for.
A door waited for them. Malisyn felt like it waited for her. It was the oldest door of all the ones she had passed in the long hallway, and was also the last. The Grand Master reached inside the front of his robes and removed a key darker than night itself. His hands shook as he placed the key in the door. His jaw was tight, as if opening the door was somehow painful. She wanted to ask, but the Grand Master spoke before she could.
“Dawn, you and Nightwalker Kellea will be joining Malisyn and Master Jad’ae later. However, as a future Guardian, and her friend–we wanted you to see this.” Dawn nodded and turned to look at Malisyn. Malisyn shrugged and shook her head. Neither of the girls knew what rested behind this door, so very deep within the Library.
As the Grand Master turned the key in the lock and the door swung open–a deafening noise filled the wide hallway. It took Malisyn a moment to understand the sound. It echoed off the walls and she could feel it pressing her backwards. Water. They walked through the narrow doorway and in to darkness. Malisyn paused in the doorway. The sound was overwhelming. She could feel the water rushing past her and could see it in the darkness, reflecting the light from the doorway. She could nearly reach out and touch it.
The stairs that faced her were old and carved directly in to stone. She saw light ahead that was blotted out by the Grand Master’s slow-moving figure. A flickering, purple glow like the Glass Plains. She felt a hand on her shoulder and nearly jumped.
“Move forward, brace yourself against the wall if you need to.” Jad’ae’s voice was loud, he had to yell over the sound of the water to be heard. His grip on her shoulder was strong enough to push her forward enough to surpass her fear. He put his free hand against the wall and she followed his lead. She stepped on to the stairs and her heart began to pound in her chest. She felt her foot slip beneath the water that had splashed across the stairs. The stairs spiraled down and the walls were lined with glowing purple shards that bathed the walls and water in a cold light. The water itself must have been frigid as it blew away any warmth in the room. Malisyn knew she’d be soaked by the time she reached the bottom. If she didn’t fall.
The walk down was a blur. More than once, she had to stop to lean her head against the wall and keep from vomiting. She hugged the wall and put one foot in front of the other. Her foot slipped once and Jad’ae caught her, but not before she twisted her ankle sharply against the stone. The staircase spiraled down around a huge waterfall. The noise was deafening and the Malisyn couldn’t tell how long she had walked before she reached the bottom of the stairs. At some point, the stone walls had given way to the smooth glass of the Glass Plains. The waterfall ended in a pool of water that was interrupted by hundreds of glass shards, caught in an explosion.
The water hit the shards and sprayed in every direction, churning and spreading across the ground. Malisyn recognized the smell of the water: it was the ocean. They had reached the bottom of the cliff and deep into the earth beneath the Citadel. All the way to the ocean below, where the Glass Plains spread beneath the ground. The stairs straightened from their spiral and lead to a flat stretch–of earth. The only bare dirt with tufts of brittle grass. Everything else was covered in glass.
Resting against the earth was an archway that shouldn’t be able to stand. It was taller than any man, wide enough for two to walk through, and shaped like a tear drop. The base was rounded and yet it stood without moving.
“Wait, I’ve seen this before–” Malisyn began. The Grand Master turned from facing the archway.
“I believe you’ve seen one before, yes, but not this one.”
Malisyn studied the archway. She limped off the base of the stairs and was thankful to be away from the water and be able to hear again. She nudged the dirt with her boot.
“Why doesn’t it fall over?” Malisyn turned her head to the side and tried to see if there was something holding it up.
“Do you remember the… ghosts of the Glass Plains? The ones Captain Nox showed you?” Kellea hesitated at bringing up the Captain, but she couldn’t think of another example. Malisyn nodded.
“The creatures from the Glass Plains, the ones that weren’t really here. Is this a ghost, too?”
“Not exactly, no, but it doesn’t exist here and so it doesn’t… follow our rules.”
“Where are we?” Dawn asked as she craned her neck to stare up at the staircase above.
“Deep beneath the Citadel, near the ocean. At the beginning of the Glass Plains. This is where it all began.” Master Jad’ae answered. Malisyn was still trying to adjust to his strange accent.
“All began..?” Malisyn asked. She turned slowly to look back at the bridge and saw a group of Librarians approaching. Their white robes were soaked. Their hands rested on the hilts of their swords.
“Malisyn, come here.” Av’niel spoke, and motioned for everyone to move towards the archway. Kellea took Dawn and they stood to the side, near Av’niel. Master Ja’dae guided Malisyn in front of the archway. The Librarians surrounded the archway and drew their glittering swords.
“What’s going on, Grand Master?” Malisyn asked. Her voice trembled.
“This is a BloodGate, child. When we send someone through it–something else likes to come through in return. The line on the other side is quite long, I’m afraid. The Librarians are here in case too much comes through. Kellea, take Dawn to the bridge.”
Malisyn was suddenly afraid. She wanted to protest, to beg for Dawn to stay, but Kellea turned the young Guardian away and walked towards the bridge. The Librarians surrounded the gateway, pointing their drawn swords inwards towards the gate and Blood Mages. The Librarians stood silently with their swords poised and ready to strike. Malisyn didn’t want to turn her back to them. The Grand Master turned to face Malisyn and rested his hands on her shoulders. He knelt down slowly.
“Any other student, and I’d have sent the two of you alone. This is a BloodGate,” Av’niel indicated the gateway. “And it is special to you. Your father…” The Grand Master’s voice trailed off. “The gate will react differently for you. I need to make sure you’re safe.”
“What about my father?” Malisyn asked. She grabbed at the Grand Master’s hood. “Did you know him?”
“Malisyn,” this time, the voice was Jad’ae’s. “This isn’t the time.”
“This is the only time.” She closed her eyes. She felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time. It wasn’t loneliness, or anger, or fear. It wasn’t a sense of sadness or loss, she had given up on chasing the dream of her parents. She had let the dream die with her brother. She just felt open, as if she had picked open an old scab. It hurt, and she was angry it hurt.
He doesn’t have any right to mention him. No one does. Allyn was the one that wanted him back, not me.
The realization made her hands tremble and lose their strength. She dropped her grip on the Grand Master’s hood. She felt a fire burning inside her chest, waiting to scream and spit and sputter until she was too exhausted to fight anymore. When she opened her eyes, she saw the Librarians were all looking at her.
“The Librarians aren’t just here to kill the demons, are they?” Her voice didn’t tremble this time.
“No. They’ll kill us all, if they suspect we’ve succumbed to demons.” The Grand Master stood up slowly. “You will follow Master Jad’ae’s instructions. If he says run, you run. If he says fight, you fight. Do you understand?”
Malisyn nodded sharply. She felt tears brimming her eyes but refused to cry. Her lip trembled from the effort.
Av’niel leaned in close to her ear.
“Malisyn, if you do not learn to control these demons–they will kill you. If that happens, I can never tell you about your family. So come back safely. That is an order.” He wiped a tear that had slipped down her cheek and stood up without another word. He moved to stand in the circle between the Librarians.
It was Master Jad’ae’s turn to stand in front of her. It was the first time she had really stopped to look at him. His blue eyes stared right in to her. She couldn’t see much else around the beating of her heart and the anger she had been left with. The pain in her ankle was an afterthought until she tried to move.
“Are you afraid?” Ja’dae asked. His voice was quiet, as if he didn’t want the others to hear.
“Yes.” She knew better than to lie.
“Good. Arrogance will only get you killed younger.”
He approached the gateway and Malisyn got her first real look at it. The archway touched the ground and rested there. Built in to the base was a set of three, long flat stairs that attached at the back of the gate. It looked like a platform and was wide enough for two to walk. Whatever the gateway was built out of, Malisyn didn’t recognize it. It was a smooth black surface with no signs of construction.
Something about the BloodGate made her believe it wasn’t built by human hands. It was too beautiful, too precise, too confusing. Intricate carvings covered the black surface. Along the outside of the BloodGate and along the stairs were hundreds of small, sparkling blood relics of every color. Together, they looked like a colorful, glittering piece of the night sky. She thought it was beautiful and yet the strangest thing she had ever seen. It was just an archway; it didn’t lead to anywhere. Ja’dae guided her slowly, careful not to stress her ankle, through the gateway and up to the last stair. As she walked beneath the arch, she half-expected her hair to catch fire. She was just thankful to be a little further away from the Librarians.
“Here,” Jad’ae reached to his belt and opened a leather satchel. Inside, he pulled out a black silk cloth. “I’m going to cover your eyes. I’m going to tie it tight. If it falls off, and you see what is inside the gate–you’ll never come back.” Malisyn didn’t believe she could be any more afraid. Until Jad’ae covered her eyes. The cloth blotted out any light; she couldn’t see the Grand Master, or the Librarians, or the BloodGate. Ja’dae gripped her shoulder and moved her to face away from the BloodGate. He stood behind her.
Ja’dae reached out and ran his hand along the archway of the BloodGate. His skin caught against one of the sharpened blood relics and a speck of blood drifted in to the carvings. His blood expanded and spread across the gate until all of the carvings were full of red; then his blood disappeared in to the BloodGate. The archway began to shimmer and the night sky spread from the gate to fill the archway. Darkness reached out and grasped at Malisyn and Ja’dae.
Master Jad’ae wrapped his arms around Malisyn’s shoulders–and fell backwards off the stairs. A pair of clawed hands reached from the darkness of the gate, too, and grabbed at Malisyn. Just before they fell backwards through the gate, they were pulled apart. Malisyn screamed. Ja’dae cursed. A demon burst through the BloodGate just as Malisyn and Ja’dae disappeared in to the depths of the BloodGate.
“Malisyn!” The Grand Master yelled. He took a step towards the BloodGate.
Another demon appeared inside the gate. And another. They turned their glowing white eyes towards Av’niel.
The Grand Master reached over and took one of the Librarians’ extra swords.