The last thing Malisyn remembered was Ja’dae wrapping his arms around her; the warmth of it seemed to drown out everything else. Her stomach trembled and she was thankful for the blindfold as it hid the heat from her cheeks. Ja’dae said something to her but she couldn’t hear him. Her ears were burning. And then, they had fallen–straight back off the platform, through the strange gateway.
Something went wrong.
She felt Ja’dae tighten his grip on her and then–his grip was gone. It all happened so fast, Malisyn didn’t know what to do. She heard Ja’dae curse, and felt someone grab on to her arm. Sharp, burning pain shot up her to her shoulder. Something tugged at her blindfold.
And then it was quiet.
She wasn’t sure when she stopped moving, or when she stopped hearing Master Ja’dae. The silence was so loud.
He told me not to take off my blindfold. Am I in Transcendence? She tried to move her arms and they felt heavy. She was surprised she could hear herself think. Then came the pain. Her head began to ring and a sharp pain arched from her back to her neck. She felt her back arc against her will and she cried out. She felt blood move sluggishly down one arm.
“Malisyn!” A voice called but it sounded distant. She clenched her teeth tight. She heard the sound of running water, and felt the ground beneath her. She heard the unmistakable sound of someone crashing through bushes. And then falling.
“It hurts,” she mumbled, as the pain started to subside.
“Not as much as my pride. You can take your blindfold off.” She was relieved when it was Master Ja’dae’s voice.
“We’re not in Transcendence? Is it safe?” Malisyn asked as she began to feel the ground beneath her. It didn’t feel very magical. In fact, it felt very ordinary. And damp.
“No, little bird. We’re not in Transcendence. Far from it, in fact. Take off your blindfold.”
Malisyn didn’t hesitate, but she did struggle with the knot. She ended up having to slip off the blindfold over her eyes without untying it. She wore it around her neck like a scarf. Light filled her vision and she put up her hand to block it out. Ja’dae sat on the ground beside her; his feathered hair was full of shrubbery and thorns.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to land in the grass,” Ja’dae said as he pointed to his robes. His hair made Malisyn laugh–just moments before, his hair had been perfect. Each feather aligned with strips of midnight black hair. And now, he needed a bath. The laughter made her sides hurt and she tried to stop before Master Ja’dae got upset. He didn’t seem to mind, he just picked out pieces of leaves and thorns as she caught her breath.
“The Grand Master told me this very morning that you had demons following you–and what do I do? Let one nearly drag you in to Transcendence the first chance they got. I am a Transcender, more importantly, I am your teacher. I’m sorry I let you down. I apologize, little bird, that your first impression was not the best.”
“Is it so common, demons? To be followed by them? The Grand Master was never surprised… but no one else I know has these problems.”
“For most people, it is not common. Most people do not survive their first encounter with a demon.” Master Ja’dae sat up and held out his hand. “We are not most people.”
Malisyn took his hand and pulled herself up. Even the briefest touch made her warm–she really hoped she wouldn’t be spending too much time alone with her teacher.
Why did it have to be him? Those Isaran men… she stopped herself, suddenly reminded of a certain Captain of the Blood Citadel that always seemed able to read her thoughts. And so she smiled to herself, and looked anywhere but at Master Ja’dae.
“I’ve seen demons before. What happened this time?” Malisyn’s chin rose slightly.
“One of them tried to grab you. It nearly did–but I stopped it. Unfortunately, traveling through a BloodGate isn’t like anything else. We could be anywhere. Or anywhen.”
“What do you mean anywhen?”
Master Ja’dae spread his arms, indicating their surroundings.
“Was it morning when we left?”
Malisyn blinked. She looked around for the first real-time. She stood in a clearing covered in yellow and dying grass. Weeds as tall as her knees blew in a soft, cold wind. A creek was hidden, running somewhere behind a group of brown and orange bushes. Judging by Master Ja’dae’s hair–the same bushes he had fallen in to. They weren’t any bushes Malisyn had ever seen by the shores near Tor’vic. And the air seemed harder to breathe.
“Are you sure we’re not in Transcendence?”
This time, it was Master Ja’dae’s turn to laugh.
“Oh, little bird. Whatever do they teach you in that giant castle? You should come to the Isaru Islands, we’d give you a real education.” He paused then, and coughed. “No, we’re not in Transcendence. I’m guessing we’re–”
“What is that?” Malisyn jumped and ran behind Master Ja’dae. A chirping sound came from behind a shrub.
“Well, I can tell you for certain, it’s not a demon.” Ja’dae smiled. He knelt slowly.
“Don’t get too close–” Malisyn said. The chirping sounded again.
“This little creature is going to tell us exactly where we are,” Ja’dae held out his hand.
“It can’t talk, don’t be silly.” Malisyn shook her head and crossed her arms. “Talking animals, I’m not that…”
The bushes rustled. Master Ja’dae didn’t move, he kept holding out his hand. The chirping was joined by another, and another. The bush trembled until leaves fell off. Something scurried out of the brush. Three somethings. They were round, covered in sand-colored fur, with large round brown eyes. All three pairs were staring at Master Ja’dae. Long, skinny tails curled upwards as they walked forward on four legs. Sharp, pinned ears laid back against their head like a cat.
“Are they going to talk?” Malisyn asked, poking her head around Ja’dae’s shoulder.
“No, they won’t talk. But what they will tell me is what part of the world we landed in. These are minkies. Grassland minkies, by the looks of them. See the color? And they’re only on about half of the Tala’rican continent. The southern half.”
“A minky?” Malisyn smiled just saying the word. The creatures blinked slowly, sniffed Ja’dae’s hand, and lost interest. “So, Southern Tala’rico. We’re not that far from Tor’vic, then.”
“Little bird, have you ever been outside of Tor’vic?” Master Ja’dae reached in to his robe pocket. He flicked off a few thorns before he pulled out a cloth map.
“I’ve been across the Glass Plains, and to the Blood Citadel. And to Saz’lai a few times.”
Master Ja’dae unfolded his map. And then again. Until he had to hold it with both hands.
“Find Tor’vic on the map,” he jutted his chin towards the cloth. Malisyn reached under his arm and pointed to the north west corner of the map, then to the top to the Blood Citadel.
“Now, look down. That entire piece of land is Tala’rico, and we’re somewhere near the bottom.”
“Near the bottom…” Malisyn studied the map. “But, that means we’re hundreds of miles away from the Blood Citadel! How are Dawn and Nightwalker Kellea supposed to find us?”
“They won’t. The Grand Master never intended them to accompany you, little bird. You would only endanger them.” The words stung more than the realization of how far away from the Citadel she was. Malisyn felt tears burning her eyes. She turned away from him as the map blurred from her vision.
Is that all I do? Endanger people? She sniffed and wiped her nose with her sleeve.
“Then the demons that tried to take me–”
“That part wasn’t planned, no. I imagine the Grand Master has his hands full at the moment. Something didn’t want you to enter that BloodGate. The demon tried to pull you in to Transcendence. They’re getting more and more aggressive, which is why–you’re here, and we need to help you learn how to control your magic. Until you learn to control it, yes, you will keep endangering the people you love.”
“What if I can’t control it?”
“Then there will be no one left for you to love.”
A bottle of ink smashed against the glass window and sent black liquid spiraling down the surface. A book followed close behind, and landed pages-down against the sticky ink. Ruined. Av’niel only hoped the window wasn’t cracked–but he had no time to worry, as another book flew by his head.
“How dare you lie to me–” Kellea kicked at his desk and swiped her arms across the surface, knocking all his paperwork and ink wells to the floor. She was crying, and screaming, and had been for the last few minutes. Av’niel had no choice but to let her blow herself out and try not to get hit in the head with anything.
“Kellea, you’re a grown woman. Blood and rain, you’re a grown old woman, stop this nonsense–”
He was answered with a book in his face. He clenched his fists and was ready to put the woman in to a chair–but Kellea beat him to it. She mumbled something else before dissolving in to a weepy mess on the chair across from his desk. She sat right in a puddle of ink. Av’niel began to warn her, but one look from the Nightwalker and his mouth shut tight. Av’niel wanted to start picking up papers, to wipe the ink and sand off his letters. He had reports from hundreds of Blood Mages across the ocean and sands, and they could be ruined. They’d have to wait. The Librarians would have made copies of his letters before he received them, anyways.
The Bloodied Tongue always knew what he was doing before he knew what he was doing. Asking him to lie was part of his requirements as the Grand Master. If he didn’t do it, they’d find someone else who would.
“You know I didn’t have a choice.” Av’niel’s voice was low. Even across his vast office, he often believed the Bloodied Tongue could hear him from the doorway. “I couldn’t have told you–you’d never have agreed to let her go.”
“Of course I wouldn’t have agreed. You’ve all but killed her yourself.”
“Do not over-react. She’s a young woman, she’s a new blood mage, but she’s not a child. She has Master Ja’dae with her. She’s hardly alone.”
“She is a child, and one man isn’t enough. You should have sent me with her.”
“They wouldn’t let me. Kellea, I’m sorry. My orders are clear: Malisyn does this alone.”
Kellea sat up straighter in her chair.
“And if I leave? To go and find her? I assume you know where they ended up. Did you know the demons would be waiting for her, too?”
“I do know where she’s at. No, I did not anticipate the demons that grabbed her or the ones that came through after.” Av’niel gave up on worrying about his paperwork. He winced at the pain in his side; his wounds healed slower these days. He slumped down in to his chair. His white-hazel eyes studied the Nightwalker he had known for half a century.
“I don’t have to tell you what would happen if you defied a direct order from the Bloodied Tongue. You’d lose more than your title.”
“You’d have to kill me yourself. You seem awfully proficient at sending people to their deaths, these days.”
Av’niel could not argue. The Nightwalker was as honest as she’d ever been–and Malisyn’s blood might as well have been on his hands. He didn’t agree with only Master Ja’dae accompanying the young girl, but he had no choice.
“Please. Don’t do this. We have to trust that they’ve made the right decision, and that she’ll return to the Citadel safely–and without demons haunting her.”
“She’s all I have left, Av’niel.” Kellea sighed and pushed herself up in her chair. “I need to go and see Dawn, and explain to the poor girl that her friend isn’t lost in Transcendence, and that we won’t be joining her wherever she is. I’ll skip the part where you never intended to send us along.”
“I would appreciate that. I can only handle so many people hating me at once.”
“Tomorrow is another day. There’s always people waiting, Av’niel.” Kellea turned from the chair and began her walk across the still waters of the Grand Master’s office. “You really should have told me.”
“Where are we going?” Malisyn asked, as she looked over her shoulder. “Those—minkies, they’re still following us.”
“That’s because they know where we’re going, little bird. You had a bag with you, didn’t you? And you don’t have it anymore. It must be somewhere close by.” Ja’dae led them through a clearing in the bushes and stepped over a creek.
Malisyn looked down. In all the movement and confusion, she didn’t even realize her backpack was missing. A cold sweat dripped down her neck. She reached in her pocket to make sure she still had her wooden dagger.
She heard a chirping noise and looked up. Up ahead, on the clearing, was a pile of wriggling, chirping minkies. They were piled atop something, and fighting over it. A big, black-furred minky was pushing the others out of its way and fighting to get to the middle of the pile. Malisyn saw a flash of gray and red, and realized they were fighting over her clothes.
“No! Get them off–” She ran forward and waved her arms. The minkies chirped and continued to crawl over her shirts. One burrowed inside a sleeve, another nibbled on the threads at the bottom. The black minkie found what he was looking for, and nestled beneath her sketchbook which was overturned at the bottom. It casually chewed on her charcoal stick and made a happy chirp. Malisyn waved her arms again and shouted. She was close enough to nudge one of the creatures with her boot. It looked at her boot, then to her, then went back to rummaging.
Master Ja’dae shook his head, wandered off to the creek and found a stick that had fallen from a bush. He handed it to Malisyn.
“Your first lesson. How to defeat the–” he couldn’t finish the sentence without laughing. He waved her towards the minkies.
Malisyn charged, swinging the stick every-which-way, careful not to actually hit the creatures, but enough to scare them. To her relief, they scattered.
And took her belongings with them.
“Wait, no! Come back!”
They spent the better half of the morning recovering Malisyn’s items from bushes and half-dug holes. She found her sketchbook mostly unscathed, and her favorite red shirt. The rest of her clothes ended up covered in thorns, dead leaves or fur. Her satchel, a gift from Matron Hawk, had a hole in the bottom of it, fresh chewed. She stuffed what she could in the bag and tried to calm her anger. She’d never harm an animal, but she was certainly considering it. She thought about just nudging one in to the creek…
“Are all the creatures in Southern Tala’rico like this? Scavengers?” She hefted her backpack a little higher on her shoulder and was careful not to let anything fall out.
“No, thankfully, they are not. Minkies are—unique.”
“I’ll agree with that. Uniquely irritating.”
They finally left the clearing and the dying grass when the sun was at it’s highest point in the sky. Miles around on all sides—no signs of villages. No daunting Blood Citadel atop the hill, no purple glass shards jutting up through the ground. Lots of trees on either side, with a creek that seemed to cut across the land forever. She could hear the chirping of the minkies and cursed their little dirt hovels.
“Where are we doing now?” Malisyn asked. As far she could see—nothing but dead and dying grass and red and orange trees.
“We need to pray.”
“Pray? Master Ja’dae, I don’t believe in any spirits–”
“Good, and you shouldn’t. There aren’t any good ones left. But you should still pray.”
Malisyn frowned but followed Master Ja’dae as he began his descent down the hill. She busied herself with looking around; there were dying flowers and trees and leaves she had never seen before. Even the water sounded different. She imagined it tasted sweet and fresh, and that the minkies would stay far from it. The longer they walked, the more questions she wanted to ask, but Master Ja’dae wasn’t saying anything.
“For a teacher, you’re not very—teachy. Shouldn’t you be telling me about the area?”
“And for someone in unfamiliar territory, followed by demons, you’re awfully loud.”
Malisyn closed her mouth. Her hand drifted to the knife at her belt. Not her blood dagger—she couldn’t do anything with that yet, aside from shake so hard she’d drop it. She’d never actually used her knife for anything but eating, but the motion made her feel safe. She hadn’t seen Master Ja’dae brandish any kind of weapon or sharp, pointy object. She wondered how the people of the Isaru Islands defended themselves. Or if they just charmed their way out of every fight.
They spent the rest of the afternoon in silence, walking where the ground was most level. Malisyn pushed to keep up; the past two years at the Blood Citadel, she hadn’t been able to sneak outside and run around. The only exercise she had really gotten was the training provided, and it wasn’t nearly as—rigorous. She did not miss Master Caenis’ classes in the slightest, and reminded herself that’s exactly where she’d be if she didn’t pass whatever challenge Master Ja’dae had in mind for her. She was given the opportunity early; she didn’t want to lose it.
It was a brisk afternoon and she ended up slipping in to an extra shirt to keep warm. Her boots crunched against dead and crinkled leaves, and she saw frost in the shade of the trees. Ja’dae never showed any signs of being cold or tired. When her teeth began to chatter, she clenched her mouth shut and forced herself to keep going. They wandered through a valley, alongside a slow-moving river, and finally came to something that may have been considered a road. Once they came to the area where the land was worn down by traffic, Master Ja’dae finally stopped.
“What have you learned so far, little bird?” Ja’dae asked as he leaned against the trunk of a red-leaved tree.
“What have I learned..?” Malisyn asked, taking the opportunity to catch her breath. “I learned that you’re in much better shape, and that I need new boots. And I’m hungry. And I hate minkies.”
“Hate them enough you’d eat one for dinner?”
Malisyn felt her stomach rebel at the thought.
“We’re not really going to—but, they’re so tiny and—“
“No, we’re not. I only save that for the students who have been exceptionally difficult.” Master Ja’dae smiled and pushed himself away from the tree. “And even then, I only tell them it’s minky. The truth is, they’re far too skinny and bony under all that fur. I usually catch rabbit instead. No, little bird, I have something more elaborate in mind for you.”
“Elaborate? That sounds comfortable. Lead the way.”
“We’ll eat after we pray. The shrine won’t be far ahead.”
“How can you tell?”
“Look at the trees, little bird. Your first lesson.”
Malisyn stepped out in to the pathway, little more than well-trod yellowed grass lined with tall, withering trees. The pathway cut through a forest, wide enough for a cart and two large horses to pass—but little more. The path was barren. No flowers, no people, no animals scurrying across the frosty dirt. The shade from the trees made the entire path dark and cold. She had no desire to step foot in to the forest, let alone walk all the way through it.
Something did stand out to her—far along the path, where her eyes couldn’t see clearly.
“What is that? I see something. Red, I think.”
“Yes, that’s right. And that is the way we shall walk. Our dinner, and sleep, awaits. We’ll want to be there before we’re too tired, and before nightfall. That is lesson number two.”
Master Ja’dae began to walk down the path without waiting for her.
“Eat and sleep before nightfall? Now you sound like Matron Hawk.”
“To find shelter, and safe food, before nightfall. Enemies will often wait until you’re tired and hungry, at your weakest point, to attack. Never give them the chance.”
Malisyn was thankful her stomach didn’t growl and betray her hunger at that exact moment. She reached to her belt and realized her water-skin was missing. She knew she had packed it.
“Those—those minkies stole my water-skin.”
Ja’dae reached to his own belt and unhooked a water-skin. He wore two; one belonged to Malisyn. He unstopped it and took a long drink.
“They did. I found it. I was waiting for you to notice. That’s another lesson for you, I hope you’re keeping track. Never lose your belongings to minkies.”
“That’s not an actual lesson—I shouldn’t have to deal with thieving rodents! I’d rather deal with demons! At least they don’t steal my stuff.”
Ja’dae laughed and handed Malisyn back her water-skin, half empty. They walked until the shadows swallowed them, until the trees became barren and little more than tall sticks in the ground. Winter would be arriving to Southern Tala’rico soon and the trees had already lost their will to fight. Malisyn rubbed her arms to stay warm and kept her eyes out for thieving rodents or other threats.
“There’s no one out here.” Her voice seemed booming in the empty forest.
“What were you expecting?”
“People, villages? Children asking for help? Frightened families trapped by demons? Other blood mages, maybe?” Malisyn frowned. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure what she had expected. But she hadn’t expected to be alone. Was all of the world so desolate and lonely? It was no wonder that they all crowded in to Tor’vic and the Blood Citadel—for warmth, and company.
She was finally able to see what had caused the redness in her distant vision. Among the lonely trees were survivors. Some that still held all their leaves against the cold, with stark white bark and shining black leaves. Wrapped around the trunks of the trees, high among the branches, were strips of red cloth. She counted four of them, two on each side of the pathway. They stood vigilant and strong against the winter wind. As they approached, Malisyn saw the first real sign of a pathway. Smooth, flat stones had been placed upon the dirt that led away from the desolate path and forest. Master Ja’dae checked both sides of the path then disappeared in to the forest.
Back in Tor’vic, one of Malisyn’s despised chores had been making candles for the Chandler House. The smell was awful, the work was boring and the worst part was—she never got to see where the candles went. It hadn’t been until she’d arrived at the Blood Citadel and seen her first shrine, that she got to see where her hard work had gone to. Master Ja’dae had said they needed to pray. It only made sense that the path would lead to a shrine, out in the middle of nowhere. A wooden archway stood over the path with a set of bells tied to the top. They rustled gently in the wind. A row of tallow candles lined the top of the archway, half-burned with wax running down the wood. Master Ja’dae fell to one knee before he walked beneath the archway, and Malisyn followed his lead.
There were jugs and boxes piled around the archway, but nothing appeared on the other side. She could smell incense and – food, old food, coming from the boxes.
“What is that?” Malisyn said as she pointed to one wooden box that was damp from whatever was inside.
“Offerings, gifts, supplies from travelers to the Blood Mages. Some of it is poison; probably the one with the incense. That box was something to eat—but it doesn’t look like this shrine has had any visitors for quite some time.”
“Did you say poison?”
Master Ja’dae stood and brushed off the leaves from his robes. He picked another thorn from his hair.
“Another lesson for you, little bird. Do not eat anything, do not drink anything, do not accept anything that is left as a gift at a Blood Mage shrine. Do you understand?”
Malisyn frowned and nodded. Some of the boxes looked very nice, with faded ribbon and some had coins spilling out on the ground. One jug was cracked and had leaked a putrid yellow liquid all over the ground. It smelled of rot and old carrots.
Beneath the leaves, Malisyn saw signs of glittering blood relics. They expanded in a large circle of empty ground. Wherever the archway led, Malisyn didn’t see any signs of a shrine.
“Good, then let’s go and pray.”
Together they walked beneath the archway. Malisyn felt her skin prickle, like a spiderweb had touched her shoulder—and the clearing changed. Her vision rippled like water, and in the clearing appeared a shrine. There was a shrine at the Citadel, but she had never visited before. Her teachers often told her to visit, as though it would help her memories—but she was fine with her memories, fine with her pain. She didn’t want to get better.
There was a certain sense of dread as she approached the building, but she didn’t let it stop her. The wooden building was painted red, with a curved and shingled rooftop. It was on stilts that kept it above the ground, with stone stairs that lead up to a fenced off porch that circled the building. A stone pathway led from the archway to the stairs and was lined with candles, unlit and melted against the stone. The porch was covered in dead, blackened leaves and dust. Master Ja’dae was right, it didn’t look like anyone had been there in a long time.
“Can anyone else see the shrine?” Malisyn asked as they stopped at the base of the stairs. A stone basin rested beside the stairs and was empty except for a wooden ladle. Master Ja’dae poured the last of his water-skin in to the basin and used the ladle to pour the water over his hands. Malisyn followed his lead and washed her hands.
“The shrine can be seen now, yes, that blood mages have crossed the boundary of blood relics.”
“I saw those—the circle around the edges? Is that what hides the shrine?”
“So many questions. You’re making me hungry. And tired. But yes, you’re right.” Master Ja’dae walked up the stone stairs and to the front doors of the shrine. The doors were unlocked and opened after a tired creak. Leaves blew in through the open doors. The walls were lined with windows that let in the gray sunlight outside. In the center of the room was another stone basin meant for cooking, and two short walls on either side to designate sleeping areas. Room for two, and not for very long. Malisyn chose the partitioned area to the right and set her broken bag on the floor. Master Ja’dae found a broom just inside the doorway and returned outside. He swept the leaves off the front porch while Malisyn looked around the shrine.
“It doesn’t look full of spirits,” she whispered. Against the far back wall, behind the cooking basin—was a blunt wooden table. Instead of chains, this table had leather straps with metal buckles. Malisyn’s breath caught in her throat. She recognized the table from her time with Porteur and Wren, and the same, awful table that had been in the demon’s lair beneath Tor’vic. Meant to aid Transcenders in their journey to Transcendence, she had learned at the Citadel, but they only reminded Malisyn of lives lost. She turned away from the table and went out to the porch to ask Master Ja’dae more questions. She wiped her eyes before she stepped out on to the porch.
“I was here when they built this tavern. The Grand Master at the time did not want it so close to the students. I’m so happy he changed his mind.”
“He had a little help changing his mind.” Kellea took a drink of her dark ale. “I didn’t know you had spent time at the Citadel?”
“Oh, I did, as a troubled youth. I fancied myself a blood mage—not a drop of magic in these veins. Then I tried for Guardian, and that’s when I was injured.” Lianca used her free hand to pat her numb thigh. The two women spoke until the small, smoke-filled tavern was empty and the serving boy went to stir a large pot of stew over the fire.
“Now, what did you call me here for, Nightwalker?” Lianca wasted no time once solitude was on their side.
“Lianca, she’s all I have left. The Grand Master—no—The Bloodied Tongue, sent her away. I can’t go after her myself. I can’t send anyone from the Citadel—it’s against the Laws of Blood.”
Lianca took a long swig of her ale until her wooden mug was empty. She stared in to the greasy depths as if the answers might reveal themselves.
“She’s all I have left–”
“I heard you the first time, Nightwalker.” Lianca felt the bitterness rise in her throat. “You’re a mother, you chose this life, and you chose to bring a child in to it. You knew this was the reality.”
Kellea nodded. She had already had this conversation with Lianca before, and with Av’niel, and the handful of people who knew Kellea was a mother. It was a tireless argument, and one she would never stop making.
“Yes, I chose this life, and I chose to keep my child alive rather than throw her—and her brother—over the cliffs in to the Shard Sea, like so many other mages. I chose to give her up. And I chose to step away so that she would be safe. But she isn’t safe anymore, and distance isn’t going to fix that. I can’t fix the mistakes I’ve made. I don’t want to be her mother. I want to keep her safe.”
Lianca let the Nightwalker’s words seep in. Lianca herself never had children. It wasn’t that she never met the right person—it was just never a priority in her life. She felt the world was too dangerous, too unforgiving. It was enough that she could teach them to defend themselves now; she didn’t need someone she could talk to, or cry to. She was too old to cry, now.
“I may not agree with what you’ve done, Nightwalker—but understand this: if I do this, I’m doing it for her, not for you. I never did care for the Laws of Blood.” Lianca slid her mug forward, signaling for the server boy to run back to her.
“It’s a good thing I’m just a volunteer, Nightwalker. As of this morning, I’ve resigned.” The older woman winked at the serving boy as he filled up her mug.
“She needs more than one woman, Nightwalker. Who else do you propose I bring along?”
“It can’t be a blood mage—the Bloodied Tongue would know your every step.”
“Well, I’m not a blood mage,” Dawn’s voice sounded from the tavern door. “And I’m just as concerned about Malisyn as anyone else. She’s alone, out there with some—some man. Some good looking man.” The young Guardian stepped inside the doorway. The Nightwalker raised an eyebrow towards Lianca. The old woman smiled.
“There are few reasons you’d call upon me to ”chat,” lady Nightwalker. I had my guesses. You said whomever went after the girl couldn’t be a blood mage, and Dawn most certainly is not.”
Kellea sighed and wished her mug of ale wasn’t empty. If and old woman and a child could unravel her plan so easily, it was no doubt Av’niel was already two steps ahead of her. She wondered if the server boy worked for the Bloodied Tongue. It was too late to stop now. All she could was run forward blindly and hope she could get them away from the Citadel in time.
“Did the Grand Master give you Malisyn’s whereabouts?” Lianca asked.
“No, not exactly—“ Kellea reached in to a satchel that was hidden beneath the table. She pulled out a parchment covered in ink. “But he didn’t hide them very well, either. I’m certain he did that part on his own.”
Kellea patted the seat next to her and Dawn sprung from the doorway to the seat. The Nightwalker handed the young girl the stained parchment and waited for the serving boy to wander off again. The fire, or the guilt, made Kellea sweat in the confines of the tavern. She wanted to be gone from it, and soon. Dawn had a satchel stuffed to the brim.
“I cannot send you the same way the students are sent. That requires blood magic. I’m afraid you’ll have to go to old fashioned way—with horse and time.”
“I can feel these old bones aching already. When do we leave?”
It hadn’t been difficult to follow the old woman, the Nightwalker and the would-be Guardian. Hannah was big but she was quiet, and knew the Citadel grounds better than even the teachers. She had known something was wrong when Dawn returned alone without her bloodless friend. Both of the girls had been sent on their Apprenticeship Journey early; something must have happened. News traveled fast in the Citadel among the young students. Malisyn had been sent with just her teacher–no Guardian. Dawn had been snubbed and forgotten, and had been sullen ever since.
Hannah couldn’t stand to look at the girl who had stolen her rightful spot in the early Apprenticeship Journey. Hannah, not Malisyn, should be out traveling the world and getting one step closer to become a real blood mage. Instead, that stupid bloodless girl was getting all the attention and traveling time. Hannah was determined to correct the problem and get a few good swings in as well.
Wherever Malisyn was, Dawn wouldn’t be far behind. Hannah knew all she had to do was bide her time, and the Guardian would whine and moan until someone told her where her friend went. It had been less than a day and already the Citadel was buzzing with rumors. Some students thought Malisyn was banished from the Citadel, one stupid San’daran boy said she was on a secret assignment for the Bloodied Tongue. None of them had any idea what had happened, only that Dawn didn’t leave when she was supposed to and that a fight had broken out that ended up with the Grand Master himself drawing a sword. Hannah had a friend who knew one of the Librarians and heard the entire story. She knew Malisyn had cried like a little girl, that she’d hidden behind her teacher and didn’t deserve to go on her journey. However that bloodless girl had convinced the Grand Master she was deserving–Hannah was going to convince him otherwise.
Hannah was going to follow Dawn until she found out where Malisyn was, and then she was going after Malisyn–she had some serious revenge to extract, and she planned on doing it slowly. Malisyn may have thought her words were harmless, but Hannah had lost her chance to take her Apprenticeship Journey early, she had lost the money her parents were sending her, and had lost the chance of becoming a blood mage early. All because the bloodless couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She needed to be taught a lesson, and Hannah planned on being the one to do it. She’d show Malisyn exactly how much blood magic she had.
“Are we really going to follow her?” Rin asked, as they watched Dawn and the old trainer leave the tavern. It was getting dark, and the Nightwalker would be leaving the Citadel to attend to Tor’vic and Saz’lai’s dead. She wouldn’t be a problem.
“How hard can an old woman, and a girl be to follow? Afraid you’ll lose them?”
“What? I’m not afraid of anything. That old woman can’t travel very fast or her bones will break. She’ll be easy, and I can handle that girl with my hands tied behind my back.” The Jan’caran boy’s eyes glittered dangerously. Rin still limped from his injury at the Trials of Blood a few summers past. He was looking just as forward as Hannah was to seeing Malisyn again. Alone, and without teachers. Once they found her, that was. It would be easy enough to lure the bloodless away from her teachers, away from the people she had protecting her. Then she’d belong to Hannah and Rin, and they’d make sure it was a trip she’d never forget.
“Hurry up. We have our own Apprenticeship Journey to start.”
“I thought we were going to pray?” Malisyn asked as Ja’dae unfolded a blanket from his bag and handed it to her. He waved towards the opposite divider.
“Go and make your bed. I’ll light a fire, and then–we pray.”
Malisyn didn’t argue. The approaching winter weather made the shrine cold. The wooden floor felt as if it was covered in a thin layer of ice already. She hadn’t thought to pack a blanket. Even if she had, she was certain the minkies would have ran off with it for their nest. Or hole, or throne. Whatever the irritating creatures slept in. She imagined it was some kind of homemade pile of stolen valuables. And right at the top, the warmest blanket she could imagine. Which certainly wasn’t the one she was about to use to sleep beneath.
She used her backpack as a pillow and her spare shirts–what few had survived the trip–as extra blankets. When she was done, she joined Master Ja’dae by the stone basin in the middle of the room. He had wandered outside and returned with scraps of wood. He motioned for her to sit, and she did, while he lit a fire.
“We’re going to make your first blood relic. It’s tradition. The first shrine, the first night: the first blood lost on your journey.” Master Ja’dae spoke quietly as he sat across from her at the table. She could feel the heat resonating from beneath the table and the chill in her body seemed to melt away. Her heart was beating a little faster after each word her teacher spoke.
“There’s no Transcending, is there? Is that why there’s a table here?” Malisyn spoke without looking at the table that sat directly behind her. Master Ja’dae shook his head.
“No, little bird. You are many years—if not a lifetime away—from Transcending. If you have the power at all. The table is there for other journeys, not ours.” A tightness in her chest relaxed and she nodded.
“Now, place your arm on the table.”
“Which arm?” Malisyn placed both, hands-down. Ja’dae reached out and took her wrists. He turned them upwards. He ran his thumbs across the thin veins of her wrists. His touch made her tense.
“Whichever arm you don’t mind having your first scar. Consider it. It will be a constant reminder.”
Malisyn stared at her arms. She pulled away from his grip and rolled up her long sleeves to her elbows. She used her right hand for most things, and she wouldn’t be ashamed of a scar. In fact, she’d embrace it, show it off, wave it right in Hannah’s face. Maybe slap her with it.
“My right arm.”
Ja’dae nodded and drew a slender, sharp knife from his belt. The handle was smooth white and shone like a sea shell. The blade looked unused. There was a pearl embedded in to the handle. From his bag beside the table he removed a metal cup with a wick sticking up over the side. Malisyn recognized it from her time making candles. The wax was a few inches from the surface.
He took her wrist in one hand and pulled her arm a little closer to him. He moved her arm over the cup and held the blade just below her elbow. The blade was cold against her skin. Her heart started to pound in her ears.
He didn’t ask if she was ready. He didn’t even look at her. Without warning, without asking, he pressed the blade against her skin. She felt the sharp sting of blood and the rise of panic that always followed. She tightened her left fist and bit her lip. All she could do to keep from crying was stare at the blood as it trickled down her arm in to the cup of wax. She didn’t know what shapes Ja’dae was drawing and it hurt too much to ask. Just as tears rolled down her face—from fear and pain—he stopped. He released her wrist and handed her a cloth. Malisyn wiped her eyes and back of her nose with her sleeve.
Her arm still burned, but she felt nothing for the pain. No magic, no warmth, no comfort. It was just blood. Was she supposed to feel different, somehow? Master Ja’dae used a glass bottle from his backpack and poured a clear liquid over his blade. The liquid sizzled and popped, and her blood disappeared in smoke.
When the swelling had gone down, Malisyn was finally able to see what Ja’dae had carved in to her arm. It was, appropriately, a tiny bird, sitting on a branch. It was no bigger than a coin but the detail was clear. A little bird stared up at her.
“A little bird,” Malisyn said. “Do all of your students have the same scar?” Malisyn rubbed her skin.
“No. All of my students are special in my heart. You are my little bird, and now, you will remember.” He smiled for the first time, it was a small, sly curve of his lips that made her skin tingle. She was thankful it didn’t last very long.
“Now, take that cup. Careful, do not spill any of it. Place it within the fire until the wax melts. Mix your blood, then pour the cup out in the fire. We will pray, and see what appears for you from the ashes.”
Malisyn did as she was told. Her arm was still sore but she didn’t complain. She sat in front of the fire and set the cup in the burning embers. She watched as the wax twisted and churned from the heat. The smell made her stomach want to spill out on to the floor. She looked around for something to stir the wax with; Master Ja’dae sat beside her and handed her the same dagger he had just used to mark her. She stirred the wax until her blood was lost and the wax was a bloodied orange color. Then she picked up the cup—it burned her fingers—and she dumped it over the fire.
The wax popped and hissed and the embers bought to stay alive. Her trembling hands lowered and she set the cup and knife aside. She’d have blisters from the heat, but the pain seemed like a distant concern. She was staring at the wax.
“What’s it doing?” Malisyn asked.
“The magic in your blood is mixing with the wax. Changing it. The blood relic that will appear in the morning will be from your blood, your memories, your magic. You should tell the magic what you want.”
“Is that what you call ‘praying’? Asking for something?”
“Isn’t that what it is?” Master Ja’dae shrugged. “Praying, asking, telling—however you want to handle magic, you handle it. Your blood is a part of you, your magic reflects you. There will be a part of you in the fire in the morning. Spend the night figuring out what you want. Make a wish—but don’t wish for anything you can pay the price for, little bird.”
Master Ja’dae stood up then and walked to Malisyn’s side of the partition; he picked up her scratchy blanket and backpack and brought it to her. He laid the blanket over her shoulders and set her backpack beside her. She nodded in thanks and went back to staring at the wax. It was already beginning to change color from a muddied orange to a shade of pink.
“What if I wish for—someone?” Malisyn asked. The thought of her brother was never far from the surface of her thoughts.
Master Ja’dae returned and sat across from her with his own blanket over his shoulders. His dark eyes glittered dangerous across the fire.
“You will get your memory of them, forever in the blood relic. When you use it, you will remember. As clearly as the day it happened. For good, or for worse, it will never leave you. If that’s what you want, little bird.”
“I want to remember.”