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Rynlee stumbled as she whirled to face her opponent. The first-year student she was sparring with shot another blast of magic that sent her to the ground.
“Sorry!” Lora ran over to give Rynlee an arm up. Once she was standing, red cloak dusty, Rynlee clapped her student on the back.
“You did well.” She gave Lora a small smile and walked over to the tent to catch her breath. She’d been losing her touch. A first year student shouldn’t be able to so easily overtake her. Even though she was going easy on them, she still wasn’t performing as she knew she should.
Biding their time for a demon to show itself was her least favorite part of being a Purator. They’d been waiting here for a day already, and Rynlee had begun to think it was a false alarm. Her students were getting restless.
There was evidence enough; big splashes of black blood across the plains to the north and several crushed buildings in the city of Bhize itself. Rynlee’s arms and face were still pale despite so many hours training out in the late summer sun.
Yesterday one of the new boys—almost too new to be here at all—nearly fell into a deep gash in the earth. This demon had to have monstrous claws to make these burial-pit sized slices.
One such slice was visible through the open flap of her tent. Rynlee watched as a few of the girls practiced their skills with a dagger. As her clenched muscles relaxed from sitting on her blankets, Rynlee started to notice a foul stench coming from the east. She saw now that the birds had stopped calling out their songs some time ago. Her head reeled with the somber silence until a sound permeated her thoughts.
“Rynlee!” someone was calling.
Rynlee dashed out of the tent and looked about her for the voice. She squinted through the dust that had risen from the earth to curdle in the air, during only the few minutes she’d been inside. It made the sky turn a gross greenish-grey, as if some huge animal had become sick. It smelt just as bad, and left a sticky sheen over her skin.
A moment later, Rynlee caught the glimpse of a person running toward her, a dark shadow in the dawning light. She immediately felt lighter, as though the mere presence of one of her fellow Purators made this situation less painful.
As she came closer, Rynlee recognized the flouncing curls and violet robe to be her friend Iselin. The dust in the air had turned Iselin’s blond hair almost to black in parts. Rynlee guessed her own straight brown hair looked the same uneven shade.
“Rynlee,” Iselin said, gasping for breath. She must have run all the way from the heart of the village. “The High Purator is asking for you. This one is too much for the juniors. We’ve already lost Darielle.”
Rynlee ducked her head. She did not know many of the second-year students by name, but they were still her sisters and brothers in magic. Losing a student in battle was never easy. She swallowed, hard.
Rynlee and Iselin pressed the back of their left hands against each other’s collarbones and bowed their heads. It was the Purators’ way of respecting the sister who gave her life.
Rynlee drew away from the clamminess of Iselin’s skin once they gave a moment of silence for the dead girl.
“And so it has come to this,” Rynlee’s voice wavered as she said it. The second-years must be having a hard time inside the city if Drelralya had sent for her already. She usually only participated when the demon became too much for the younger students. Her first years were not ready for this.
From where he crouched, Sariel could see Noctair through the keyhole. He couldn’t believe what he’d just heard: Noctair had a wife and daughter.
All the time he’d known the mage, Sariel had thought no one could ever love such an evil man. Now he was seeing this woman for himself. Only a plain dress and the silhouette of a face deep in shadows were visible.
Sariel ran a hand through his short black hair and strained to hear more. He felt embarrassed, even knowing they were unaware of his presence.
“You’re taking a huge risk,” the woman said.
Noctair stepped forward and took both of her hands in his. “I had to see you.” He whispered.
Sariel noticed her fingers weren’t quite solid. They seemed to go right through Noctair’s hands, like a ghost.
“If our daughter is safe, then Ragas must be following your plan. That’s good to hear.” The woman’s voice was happy, but laced with obvious pain.
Sariel stood to stretch his legs as silently as possible. They’d grown numb and started to tingle from squatting. He kept one ear close to the crack of the door.
“I’m sorry we do not have more time than this, my dear.” Noctair said. “If only —”
“Shh. I love you.”
After trying so hard to hold it in, Sariel sneezed, the sound echoing all along the hall and the entire world seeming to hold its breath with him. He stood up immediately, banging his head on a shelf, and ran down the hall, not worrying about each heavy footstep falling onto the stone floor. They must have heard that, as there were no other noises to mask his clumsy getaway. His heart pounded as he turned into the library. He pulled down a book and pretended he was in there all along. His panic lessened as the minutes went by, but he still felt self-conscious; a child caught with his hand in the candy jar.
A few more minutes passed. Sariel was almost going to go back to look when he heard Noctair come in. The mage leaned against a bookshelf and looked right at him. Noctair’s expression was unreadable; Sariel couldn’t tell if he was about to yell or cry.
“How much…did you hear?”
The softness of the man’s voice surprised Sariel. Could this be someone else? The man before him did have Noctair’s smooth black hair and green eyes.
“Uh, I was just in here finding that book you wanted.” He mumbled.
Noctair’s expression turned to a glare. “Don’t lie to me.”
Sariel bit his lip. He felt how guilty he looked. He might as well go back to his brother now. “I, I didn’t mean to be there. I just heard voices and…”
Noctair surprised him again. The mage stepped forward and handed Sariel a piece of paper.
“I have another mission for you.” He said. “Leave tonight and you’ll get there in a few days.”
With that, the mage left. Sariel stood stunned for a moment before reading his instructions.
Rynlee released a small amount of magic with her mind from the center of her being and let it flood her veins. Its cold, blue-green glow was comforting. She began to shape it inside herself, until it touched every inch of her body. Then she stood next to Drelralya, just outside the cathedral the demon had claimed as its home. She had just travelled a few miles of land in a single second. Already, the effect of such a spell was tiring her. If time wasn’t of the essence, she would not have dared used it.
A blast of air from within the cathedral whipped open Rynlee’s red cloak. It revealed the pale yellow dress she wore underneath it. The rush of air ran its sweaty fingers across her face and through her long almond-colored hair. When the air had become still once more, Drelralya turned to Rynlee.
“The third- and fourth-year students will be unable to take part,” the older Purator began. “Even with their transportation spells they would arrive far too late. I’ve sent the second-years to hold it back until you could come. They’ll only be able to keep it contained a few more minutes without more loss of life.” The High Purator sighed. Rynlee noticed a flyaway gray hair she hadn’t seen before in Drelralya’s long, black locks. “It seems to me this one is a Genus Locais—a demon from the age of the Drakans. It won’t be going down easy.”
Rynlee nodded. The Drakans were a species that lived over 5000 years ago, before humans had ever come to the country of Jersha. No one ever sees the demons that roamed the continent so long ago. Until now. The mages who summoned the demons during the war were powerful indeed, she thought.
In the next moment, a few second-year Purators streamed out of the cathedral, green cloaks billowing. Behind them, the Genius Locais—a mass of darkness in the form of a shadowy wolf—loomed. It was about the size of the cathedral itself. The sheer presence of the demon seemed to weigh down on the atmosphere as its shadow cast over the fleeing students.
Rynlee spread her magic through her veins once more and transported herself a few feet into the midst of the second-year students. The Genius Locais waited, startled by her sudden appearance. The great demon fixed its glittering red eyes on her green ones, hatred like no other reflected there. She stared back with the same intensity, as if willing it to feel the anger that she felt. This monster had taken one of her own.
Just as Rynlee raised her arm with a layer of magic to shield herself, the demon threw a spark of pure power toward her. Its energy collided with her magic, a blazing red in contrast to her soft blue-green. The way it sparkled might have been pretty, if the beast wasn’t trying to kill her.
She could only hold it for so long until the weak shield gave way and she stepped aside to avoid the rest of the demon’s powerful strike. It stumbled closer, awkward with its thick, shadowy legs that thrust deep prints into the ground. Rynlee was far ahead, and matched its magic once again, this time using more of her strength.
As each of their magics pushed against the others’, it cracked and sizzled like lightning. The contact threw sparks through the air, a firework display of red and green.
Before its power could overwhelm her, Rynlee transported herself behind the demon. Raising the bulk of her magic into her throat, she began to sing.
Her voice rung out high and pure above the commotion: the combination of notes filled the empty space the birds had left. The essence of her magic flowed out with the music, piercing into the demon’s body. The great creature’s eyes seemed to swell and dim, as if drowsy, although demons don’t sleep.
The next moment, Rynlee’s mind went blank and she faltered. She felt off balance, as though the weary ground beneath her feet was tipping, threatening to drop her. The dusty stench of the demon left her nostrils in a moment of breathlessness. Her voice broke off and her magic left the demon. It returned to its full fury all at once and turned toward Rynlee again. A picture flashed through her head of a faceless woman with silver curled hair holding a baby girl. The same image had been plaguing her mind in her dreams, and now it seemed, during the day as well.
There was no time to ponder over it now. Rynlee thrust her arms out to find some sense of balance. A little nausea threatened to overwhelm her battle instincts.
Then the Genius Locais charged, mouth open to reveal smoky fangs each as long as she was tall. As incorporeal as they looked, Rynlee knew otherwise. A bright red sphere of magic started to glow within its throat, sparkling and sizzling. Rynlee backed up, still trying to recover from her mind’s falter.
Then the magic exploded from its throat, sending a fork of power crackling through the air. Rynlee didn’t have time to shield herself against its attack. The force of it flung her backward against the wall of the cathedral. There was a sickening sound as she hit the ancient stone base and fell to the roof. Her head was clear now but her right arm throbbed something awful. She bit her lip against the pain as she struggled to stand, readying her magic. The demon was readying another attack, too. Rynlee watched with horror, as it fired not at her, but her young students who had gathered around its feet.
Despite her worry, she didn’t get to see if the demon had hurt any of them. She had to distract it. The demon roared in fury at her disappearance and swung its massive head to look for her.
Its steps shook the earth, adding the pounding rhythm to her headache. Rynlee almost lost her balance again on the peak of the roof. The hem of her dress snagged on a splinter in the beam she stood on, and tore when she tried to right herself. The end of the demon’s tail and its deadly claws glowed red now like its eyes. Rynlee stared in shock. She had never seen such a thing in all her years of training.
The library was dark. Jeynen waited in the doorway for the old man to find his book. He had only just arrived in Nover, but he hadn’t bothered to even eat yet. Time wouldn’t wait for him.
Jeynen looked around the tiny historian’s house. The main floor entry room was full of worthless trinkets, statues, and ornaments of every kind. Then he noticed an ancient mirror on one wall, ornate brass braids decorating its edge. He caught a glimpse of his reflection. His eyes went to the fading mark on his cheek. The cut was almost healed. In a few days, it would be gone completely, although his long red-brown bangs covered it anyway.
Impatient, Jeynen turned away from the mirror and sighed. “Did you get lost in there?” he called.
A muffled voice replied, but Jeynen couldn’t make out the words. He took a cautious step into the shadows and felt for the nearest bookshelf. He picked up the first book his fingers touched and brought it out into the light.
Before he had even opened its cover, the book was snatched out of his hands.
“Don’t touch that.” The old man wheezed. His long white hair was now holding clumps of dust and cobweb.
Jeynen held up his hands in surrender. “What took you so long?”
“The young are always impatient.” The old man complained. He had a stack of books in his arms. The one Jeynen had tried to open wasn’t one of them. “Here are a few that might mention it.”
The man put the books down on a nearby table. Jeynen grabbed the first one. He opened it and started to skim the first few pages.
“Impatient,” He thought he heard the historian mumble.
The old man left Jeynen alone, retreating up the stairs to his living quarters. Once the man had gone, Jeynen turned to the second book, then the third. None of them talked about the last priestess that Alika had chosen. It has to be in one of these.
When Jeynen reached for the last book and opened it, a small orange flame blossomed from the binding. He slammed the book shut. The flames grew. They consumed all the pages in mere seconds. He dropped the empty cover. It too, was disintegrating.
Jeynen swore. He’d come all this way only to be caught up in such an amateur spell. He watched as the last of the leather and paper burned to ash at his feet.
In his anger, Jeynen picked up the other books and threw them into the library. It was too dark to see where they’d landed, but he heard a satisfying crash.
The old man was back in a flash.
“What have you done to my books!” He stood with his hands on his hips, a rather comical sight.
“The one I wanted was spelled.” Jeynen countered. He was too frustrated to worry about the consequences of ruining the old man’s library.
“Well you don’t have to destroy the rest of them too,” The historian hobbled past Jeynen into the darkness to pick up the books.
Then a voice came into his mind.
It is not your fault.
Jeynen clenched his fist and tried to push her away. The Immortal’s voice just sounded louder in his head. You are too strong to give up now, she said.
He sighed. I know that. He thought back to her. I can’t believe I didn’t check for spells first. I’m getting too overconfident.
Jeynen broke his connection with the Immortal he served and walked out of the historian’s house.
With that copy gone, he’d just have to see if another library might have one. It wasn’t likely. It had taken him long enough just to locate this one, and it was one of the last. There was no clue where he should go next—south to Shanroe or east to the library in Bhize.
Jeynen took a coin from his money pouch and flipped it. East it was.
He located a tavern to pay for a quick meal. After eating, he left the city towards the southeast.
It wasn’t long until he heard the screaming. He could feel his magic rising inside him, as though the distress were his own. There, just on the outskirts of the capital city was a terrified woman with two children huddling behind her. It took Jeynen a moment to recognize what was scaring them. It was a demon, an ancient spirit from the Netherworld. This demon had taken the form of a person, with shadowy arms and legs.
Before it could get any closer to them, Jeynen jumped up on his horse. He rode his stallion Monarch between the demon and its targets.
He only had a moment to shield himself before the demon attacked. The force of it almost knocked him from the saddle.
“Go!” Jeynen yelled over his shoulder to the woman. “Get into the city walls.”
He didn’t look back to see if they had entered the city. He could just hold up against this creature. With a single burst of his own magic, Jeynen froze the demon where it stood. Its hand reached out towards him. The yellow glow of his magic flashed over its unmoving form.
Jeynen let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. At least that should slow it down until help could come. He kicked Monarch into a gallop southwest, knowing he’d have to abandon his search for the book for now. It was Jershan law that demons had to be reported to a Purator school. He knew the closest one was on the southeastern coast in Sträuslin. Perhaps their library would hold something useful.
Copyright (c) Stephanie Jones 2015