Tempest

Book two in La Sylphide.

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Things are heating up in the city…

After last month’s confrontation with a dragon, Allish Statia has fallen into an easy routine of rehabilitation and training. With her trusted friend and mentor, she’s started learning basic mage spells, elemental control, and the intricacies of mage society.

The peace ends when an assassin shows up in her husband’s office.

With her unique abilities, Allish is able to drive him off—but when footage of the fight leaks, it puts her in the cross-hairs of every powerful mage in the city. Soon, she is running for her life in a world of dark magic, science, and corruption, and it’s going to take every ounce of her new powers if she wants to stay alive.

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Chapter 1

So I won’t see you tonight?”

Rain pattered onto the studio’s glass, filling the open floor with a kind of drizzly gray light that Allish had long grown used to. It was the same type of rain that always fell in Mersetzdeitz: Strong, but gentle; firm.

Never-ending.

Allish leaned into the barre. Her muscles shook, a tired ache weighing them down as her body cooled. Ivern’s call had interrupted her workout, which meant that her bad leg throbbed more than usual. It should have been fully healed by now, but the pain remained constant.

She wondered if it would ever return to normal.

On the other end of the line, Ivern paused. She heard paper shuffle behind him—was he at his desk? He’d spent so much time there lately, dealing with the blips in his political radar. She hadn’t seen him for more than a week. Their apartment was beginning to feel as empty as the dance studio.

No,” he said. “Something’s come up. Sorry.”

His voice sounded rougher than usual. Had he been sleeping well? She held her breath, straining to listen for other clues.

Another death?” she asked. There’d been a loose string of them over the last year, punctuating the months like a splayed target. Some seemingly accidental or suicides, others not so much. In a big city like Mersetzdeitz, they might have gone unnoticed.

But these were elemental deaths, and some of them had not gone quietly.

Thankfully, no. We sent out an alert after the last one, but it’s been a few months. People lose vigilance over time. An assassin will know that.”

Assassin. The word filled Allish with an icy chill. A month ago, she’d have found it hard to believe that an assassin could be active in her city. But a lot of things had changed in that month, and the city wasn’t as well-lit as she’d once believed.

Is there anything I can do?”

She doubted it. She was a dancer, not a politician. Her magical abilities might have made her a part of his world—but that was all she was. A part. A very strong part, granted—especially since she’d linked herself with a wind spirit last month—but still a part.

And his world was made of nothing but magical people. He headed the Council that oversaw all of Mersetzdeitz’s mages, and the city-state had a lot of mages. More than any other place in the world.

This was where they’d evacuated to when their old world had collapsed.

Something brushed the microphone on his end, causing a rustle of static over the line.

No,” he said finally. “Sorry.”

That was the second “sorry” in as many minutes. It wasn’t like him—he knew her too well for that.

Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. Things will sort themselves out.” At least, she hoped they would. There were redundancies in place for things like this, right? “Hey, I’ve got an appointment with Cris in an hour. Maybe I’ll see you then?”

Another pause. “Maybe.”

By his tone, she suspected it would be unlikely. Whatever the political upheaval was, it certainly packed his schedule tight.

Even mages need breaks,” she said.

Someone tell that to Kjaran.” Ivern’s voice drifted away from the phone on the last word. She heard footsteps, and then a second person’s voice delivering a short, direct message. His secretary? One of the Mageguard? Again, something scraped his mouthpiece, muffling the conversation.

When he returned to her, she heard the wheels of his chair click across the floor. Clothing rustled—was he standing?

I have to go. Something’s come up. Love you.”

Love you too,” she said.

Then, he was gone.

The phone fell silent in her hand, its screen jet black and dormant. The studio was quiet around her, and the air had a kind of sacrosanct feeling she got from temples and churches. Rain slid down the window in slow sheets, making the cloud-covered light fluctuate over the dance floor’s sharp, clean-cut wood.

Sweat chilled her back and forehead, and open air pressed against the back of her knees and her bare thighs. Her muscles had cooled during the call, but there was still a modicum of warmth in them. If she hurried, she could still finish the workout, change, and make it to her appointment on time.

Allish plunked the phone back on top of her towel, then took a position back at the barre, evening herself in the mirrors. Her reflection, monochromatic in her black leotard, charcoal leg warmers, and black hair, stared back at her in the mirror, surrounded by the shadows and grayscale light of the studio. It angled over her skin, putting definition to muscles that, despite her long absence from the studio, appeared much more efficient than they felt. Her face was a cold, hard mask.

She looked menacing. Lethal.

Watching herself carefully, Allish did a demi-plié, bending her knees and ignoring the slight throb of her recovering shin. According to her therapist, it would hurt for a while. But dancers were accustomed to pushing past pain, and Allish had danced through far worse in her career.

She repeated the gesture twice, keeping time in her head, focusing on her balance and the movement.

On the third demi, a door opened and clicked shut in the downstairs corridor. Footsteps sounded on the stairs.

Allish frowned. No one should have been here. Unless Rene had cut his day job and come in early? No, those were heels clicking up the stairs.

The air thickened as she turned to the door, one hand gripping the barre. Whoever they are, they better not stomp those heels onto Rene’s floor.

A shadow moved in the doorway to the studio. Plastic rustled, and something—clothes?—thumped softly to the floor.

A second later, a woman walked into the studio, bent over the bags she had hooked around her wrist. Her stockinged feet were nearly silent against the finished wood.

She was of middling height, taller than Allish but shorter than Rene, with soft waves of strawberry brown hair that caught the light as she walked. A pastel-green blouse hung lightly from her shoulders, its airy translucence contrasting sharply with the thick, bold lines of a houndstooth skirt that dropped just below her knees. The thin material of her nylons gave her calves and ankles an oblique, airbrushed look.

Busy rummaging through one of the large shopping bags—full of clothes or costumes and other pieces of fabric, from what Allish saw silhouetted through the thin plastic—the woman made it halfway across the studio before she noticed Allish.

She stopped with a start, nyloned feet thumping softly on the floor as she backtracked a step.

H-hi.” Plastic crinkled as the woman shifted her grip, freeing a hand to give Allish a small wave. Thin lips, which had formed a surprised ‘o’ a second ago, faltered into a belated, uncertain smile.

Allish remembered the formidable form she’d made in the mirror. She made an effort to soften her face, and took her hand away from where it held the barre in a death grip.

Why was she so tense? A holdover from the last month’s adventures? Abductions were a bit hard to overcome.

But no. This felt deeper. Like some preternatural sense viewed the stranger as an enemy.

Eesh. Time to find her social skills.

Hi,” she said, mimicking the woman’s small wave, forcing her mouth to turn up at the corners. Her eyes dropped to the bag, where a fold of red cloth peeked out of the side, then returned to the woman’s face. She seemed familiar somehow, like Allish had seen her before. “Who are you?”

Okay, that had been blunt. She was still on edge, searching for whatever had put her there.

Joanne Walker. Rene’s niece. God—” The woman—Joanne—had turned to her fully, shoulders squared, back stiff, but she visibly deflated as she stuck out her hand to Allish. “—I’m sorry. You must be Allish. Rene did mention you’d be here, but I forgot like an idiot. I didn’t think anyone would be up here.”

At Rene’s name, Allish let out a breath. Her bare feet stuck to the floor as she crossed the distance, leaving traces of foggy footprints on the cold, finished wood. “No, I’m sorry. I was just standing here, in the dark, like some creep.” She made a vague gesture behind her, encompassing the barre, the mirrors, and the shadowy corners of the room with an undisciplined flick of her wrist.

After what you went through, I don’t blame you,” Joanne said quietly.

Allish froze.

Ah. Right. After last month’s showdown with a dragon in Windermere Park, it hadn’t taken the news outlets long to dig up her history. There wasn’t a damned person left in Mersetzdeitz who wouldn’t know her story. A largely edited story. CCTV had caught the kidnapping on tape, though. In the eyes of the media, she was an abused victim.

An abused victim with magical wind powers who just so happened to defeat a marauding dragon on live TV.

Sorry,” Joanne said. “I didn’t mean—shit, I’m such an idiot.”

No, no, it’s okay,” Allish said. “I’ve come to terms with it. Are those costumes?” She pointed to the bag.

Plastic crinkled as Joanne looked down. “Close. Fabric sale stuff. Rene’s working on some sort of tapestry.” She lowered her hand into the bag, the tips of her fingers fondling the corner of fabric that poked out of the top. A smile quirked her lips as she looked back at Allish. “Wanna see?”

Intrigued, Allish walked closer. Rene was known for his fabric artistry, especially when it came to pageantry—he’d designed the costumes for Allish’s last performance, his skillful hands co-creating the character of the Sylph in La Sylphide, wrapping her personality in a package of wild, artfully tattered blacks and whites.

She still had the dress, somewhere.

They bent over the bag as Joanne lifted the materials out. The red she’d seen before belonged to a lush cotton-rayon that appeared to tint purple when the light shifted. Underneath, an equally rich blue-purple leapt out at her from the bottom of the bag, startlingly brilliant.

For a moment, silence took the studio. Then, abruptly, she was aware of how close they were.

She took a step back.

Tapestry, you said? Is he planning to embroider?”

Joanne shrugged. “He called it a tapestry, but I get the feeling he meant quilt.” She gathered the bag up and continued to a door on the other side of the studio, the light catching like pale green gossamer in her blouse. “Perhaps ‘tapestry’ sounded more elegant than ‘hanging quilt’—you know how he is.”

Allish knew. A slip of air brushed across her bare neck, but she did not shiver. Tension returned to her shoulders as Joanne fumbled for the office keys. The Sylph’s spirit brushed the edge of her awareness, her feral mood locking into Allish’s stiff spine like a sword. The air stretched and thickened around them.

The lock scraped, and Allish almost felt the sound scratch against her skin.

She turned away and tried to shake the spirit from her limbs. What was wrong with her? Joanne wasn’t a threat, she was Rene’s niece—yet the Sylph’s wildness pushed through her skin like the claws of a feral cat. She wanted to strike out, to hit something, to scrape her nails into Joanne’s face and draw blood.

Allish stopped, rooted to the floor in the center of the studio. Her fingers tensed beside her, and the air pressed into her palms as sharp as switchblades.

She closed her eyes and forced one ragged breath in.

One, two, three.

She breathed out.

Four, five, six.

Breathed in.

Seven, eight, nine.

Breathed out.

Slowly, the tension eased from her tendons. Her muscles slackened, fingers falling limp at her side. Her spine relaxed, each vertebra shifting into the supple bend her dancing career had trained into her.

The Sylph left, dissipating from her thoughts like a kite lost to the wind.

Behind her, Joanne had returned. The lock scraped as she left the office. Allish heard the soft brush of her stockings on the wood floor as she walked back across the studio. She didn’t flinch as Rene’s niece drew level with her.

Are you okay?”

Allish opened her eyes. Joanne had paused, head turned as she’d passed. The gray light softened the gold from her hair, but didn’t steal its lightness. It framed her face, turning to waves towards the bottom. By the frizz, they looked rain-induced rather than caused by any kind of styling iron.

She drew a sharp, heady breath and forced a smile to cover her teeth. “Yes, I’m fine. Just felt dizzy for a sec.”

Joanne gave her a worried look. “You’re just coming back, right? Don’t push yourself—I know how competitive dance can be.”

Allish’s smile cemented in place. Rene’s niece or not, she doubted Joanne had any idea. Only outsiders gave that kind of advice. “I’ll try.”

She pulled herself together and took a step away, intending to finish her routine, but Joanne wasn’t done yet. The woman bent over her skirt, slipping a hand in a hidden pocket Allish hadn’t noticed before.

Joanne produced a business card.

Here,” she said, pressing it into Allish’s palm. “If you ever need help—or need to talk. I’ll see you around.”

Joanne turned away before Allish could respond. By the time Allish had flipped the card around to face her, she’d vanished down the hallway. Allish listened to her heels click down the stairs. The front door opened, then shut.

The card’s corner pricked her thumb. She tilted it to catch the light, and an eyebrow rose as she deciphered the fine text on the paper:

Joanne Walker, Senior Reporter

Capitol City Times

Allish pursed her lips. She’d met a lot of reporters in the last month, and few had left a good impression. Had Joanne’s visit been mere coincidence, or had she seen opportunity in Rene’s friendship with Allish? Few knew the details of Allish’s kidnapping, and even fewer knew the details of her magic. She hadn’t triggered any of Allish’s warning bells, but the Sylph sure as hell hadn’t liked her.

Her lip curled, and she fingered the card in her hand, absently flicking a nail across its edge. That was a problem. That rage she’d felt—the Sylph couldn’t just barge right in and take over her thoughts like that.

Allish tucked the card into her palm, shook the tension from her neck, and strode over to the towel she’d folded beneath the barre in the corner of the room.

She didn’t have time to finish her routine. She had a date with an earth mage.

Chapter 2

She did what?” Cris stood on the other side of the room, her figure somewhat lopsided by the air cast around her right leg and the crutch tucked under her arm. She stopped mid-hobble, a frown creasing her brow as she processed Allish’s words.

She’d been by Allish’s side during the kidnapping—had nearly managed to prevent the kidnapping—and the two had since formed a close bond. As one of Ivern’s most trusted friends, a mage, and a member of the Mageguard, Cris had proven immensely useful in learning the nitty-gritty details of the mages’ world—a world Allish had scarcely touched despite her marriage to its leader. As an elemental, someone whose magic was far weaker than a mage’s, she’d been on the peripheries before. No one had cared about her.

Allish’s pact with the Sylph, and her consequent on-air battle with a dragon, had changed that.

She took over, Cris. Filled me with rage and chaos—I could barely think.” Allish paced the wall, thumping her bag down as she hit the end of her circuit. They’d met in an empty classroom at Finnevar, the mages’ central headquarters. College-style desks stood against the outside wall, stacked two high. A line of windows cut through the wall above them, filled with a backdoor view of the Mersetzdeitz business district.

Had they been in the front of the building, they would’ve looked out over the manicured boulevard of the government causeway, perhaps seeing the rain-dark asphalt and concrete of the Kingsway overpass.

Instead, they saw the parking lot.

Took over as in possessed?” Cris’s brow further creased. “Like what Telemut did?”

Allish winced. Telemut, the dragon Allish had ‘defeated,’ had taken control of her body for a time. It wasn’t a pleasant memory.

No, not like what Telemut did. I still had control.”

The crutch creaked as Cris hobbled over, and the mage’s mouth turned into a tense, thin line—though whether that was because of her words or the crutch, Allish couldn’t be sure. After a month’s worth of slow rehab and awkward hobbling, Cris’s shoulder had to be feeling it. Air eddied between them, bringing the smell of dust and stale air to Allish’s nose. It wasn’t as still here as it had been in the studio—nor so vacuous. The building’s furnace coughed warm air through two vents in the ceiling, giving the room a sense of movement.

Cris parked her crutch in front of her, gripping its top supports like the hilt of a sword. “So, a partial possession, then?”

Allish raised an eyebrow. “This coming from those paranormal shows you used to watch?”

Maybe.” Cris grinned. “They gave me a good English vocabulary in certain areas. Lucky for you.”

Allish clicked her tongue. “Lucky for me. What do I do about it?”

Beyond looking for an exorcist? I don’t know. Not my field. Maybe you need to work it out, let go of some energy. We missed yesterday’s session. Ready to start?”

Two hula hoops lay on the cleared floor space behind Cris, three meters apart, and Allish felt the air shift as she inspected them. Before the event with the dragon, Allish had been a normal elemental with rudimentary elemental abilities—she had been able to move air, create a stiff breeze, and, twice, memorably, pull all the oxygen from a man’s lungs. She’d had no access to the spells that would tip her powers into that of a mage’s level.

The Sylph had changed that. Now linked with the spirit’s considerable power, Allish was a wild card on the magical spectrum.

While some mages might have resented that, Cris had chosen to mentor her. They’d spent the last few weeks testing her new abilities, figuring out just what, exactly, her limits were.

So far, they had found few.

What’s on the menu today?” Allish asked, spotting another three hoops leaning against the back wall. “Dance party?”

Teleportation,” Cris said.

Her element shivered. A clean, sharp breeze slipped through the crack under the door and poked through the knitted holes in her sweater like a happy pet.

They’d practiced shielding last week. Teleportation sounded much more fun.

Cris matched her grin. “I thought you might like it. Here, watch me first.” She hobbled over to the closest hoop, rolling up the sleeves of her evergreen hoodie as she turned back to Allish. The Mageguard’s coat of arms—a sword and arrow crossed over a shield—flashed in silver embroidery from her left breast.

As Cris held out her left arm, fluorescent green symbols, the color of a glowing lime peel, shivered to life on her skin. They radiated light, shifted in color and tone like the fractals of an emerald. Three sets of characters jittered down her arm, moving into a line along the mage’s knuckles.

First we build,” Cris said. “Then we target.”

Her face was calm as she turned to the second hoop. Focused. Energy rippled in the air. More symbols shifted over her, shivering into life on her arms, her face, her neck.

These were extraneous, Allish remembered. Symbols that came calling at the faintest hint of a spell, eager to be used. The main three quickened on Cris’s outstretched hand, their color brightening as Cris held on to the spell.

Energy drew towards the mage, funneling towards her as if the room were taking a big, deep breath. The atmosphere stretched and shrunk around her.

With a small pop of air currents, Cris vanished.

She reappeared in the second hula hoop, the spent symbols shooting from her skin and onto the floor. They faded from sight like ghostly green spiders.

Cris turned back to her, and a glint of humor reappeared in her eyes. “Your turn.”

Allish needed no encouragement. The air picked up around her as she stepped inside the first hoop, a grin plastered across her face.

Teleportation? Please. That had been the first thing she’d done with the Sylph.

She rocked onto her toes and took a breath, feeling the air shift and swirl around her as she called her element.

The room spun, tilted, blurred as she turned to the second hoop.

By the time she’d completed the turn, she stood in her final destination.

Cris caught her eye. “Showoff.”

Allish bowed with a smile.

Do it again, slower this time. I want to see.”

Allish triggered the teleport with a thought. It certainly wasn’t as difficult as Cris had made it out to be—in fact, Allish seemed to skip most of the steps. There was no build, no release. Allish simply willed herself into the second place.

It took more focus to slow down the process. She felt herself unravel, thin out. Her body seemed made more of air than flesh, her bones hollow, skin incorporeal. Parts of her existed in both places at once. Other parts wandered, her spirit slipping through the atmosphere like dandelion seeds in a breeze, following a curl of air towards the ceiling, smelling the fabric softener and rain from Cris’s hoodie, tasting the dust by the air ducts.

Briefly, she felt like a ghost.

The wind pieced her back together slowly. The soles of her runners pressed into the floor’s faded linoleum.

She straightened, meeting Cris’s frowning face. The earth mage’s smile was gone, replaced by the solid wall of concentration.

Again,” Cris said. “Take your shirt off this time. Show me your skin.”

Allish raised an eyebrow. “You know, Ivern usually buys me a drink first.”

At first, Allish worried that the innuendo had flown over Cris’s head. Her face remained stoic, the gears of her mind working hard behind the mask.

Then, she met Allish’s gaze. A spark of humor lit her eye.

I’m less subtle. Strip.”

Allish did so. This wasn’t the first time, either—Cris needed to see her skin in case any symbols showed up. Although mage spells required the symbols Cris had wielded, Allish’s skin had remained stubbornly empty during their trials.

Fortunately, full nudity was not required. A black camisole hugged her ribs and waist, its stretch-fit material a remnant of her dancing days. Air pricked across her bare shoulders.

She flung the sweater across the room. With a little help from her element, it slid across the first desk and crumpled against the wall in a loose bundle.

Magic rose inside her as she called her element, but no symbols marred her skin. She doubted they ever would. Mages were different from her, came from a different world. Their magic had evolved along with their race—but Allish’s magic was new.

And she’d never seen an elemental from her world use the symbols of the mages.

Of course, most local elementals had little to no power at all. Before she’d met the Sylph, her powers had been limited to knocking over lawn chairs and spinning pinwheels. Her single stint of offensive magic—when she’d stolen the air from the lungs of two men—had been a rarity.

Cris’s stare made her skin itch. She pushed herself into the teleport, feeling herself blur at the edges. The boundary between flesh and air felt more like a guideline than solid fact to her. Magic pulled at her seams, undoing them like fingers untying a knot. At once, she was a solid entity and she was a spirit.

She had more in common with the wind than she had with Cris’s grounded flesh-and-blood form.

Allish reappeared in the second hula hoop, pouring herself together like water into a glass. Gravity pulled on her as she solidified, and her weight pressed down as if she’d always been standing there.

She let out a long, slow breath and looked at Cris. “Anything?”

The earth mage shook her head. It wasn’t an unexpected result. In all their experimentation, they had yet to see even a line appear on Allish’s skin.

It feels nice,” Allish said. “I could do this indefinitely, I think.”

Teleportation is, historically, an air elemental spell,” Cris said. “It’s easier for you. The rest of us have to borrow. For earth mages like me, it is much harder. Earth is air’s contrast.”

Allish played with a passing current, watching it jump and roll in her mind. “So we should be enemies?”

Traditionally speaking, yes. But that was a long time ago. Back in tribal and clan times. Nowadays, the genes are so mixed now that it’s really a crapshoot. I’m earth, but my mom was fire and my grandpa was air. No one’s really ‘pure’ anymore. Especially now.”

Right. Especially now that their whole civilization had been wiped out. Ivern had said little about their apocalypse, but it weighed heavily on his mind every day. Allish had gotten a taste of it last month, when the dragon had attacked. It had been sick, dying from the same plague that had crippled their world. A magic-eating, mutated black crystal called Maanai.

She shivered, remembering how it had consumed the dragon, flesh, magic, and soul.

How fast can you go?” Cris asked. “Don’t push yourself, just…try.”

Allish slid her mind back into the present. The Sylph slid closer as she drew on their shared element, overlapping Allish’s control with a touch of her own.

She drew a breath. By the time she exhaled, she had slipped into the next hoop as easily as changing lanes. Her mind grew dizzy as she skipped back and forth between the two, but it felt more from focus and concentration than it did energy use. Power flooded into her, heavy as storm winds. She barely touched the ground, barely solidified, before she shifted again.

Cris hobbled over to the spare hoops against the wall and tossed a third one onto the floor. Allish skipped into it before it had finished landing.

She was a blur; she was a sprite. Giddiness rose into her, and the hoops rattled against the ground with her power. They were all hollow, full of air. Easy to lift, to shake.

Other things in the room were hollow, too—the cavity around the hot filament of the overhead lights, the round pocket on the inside of the doorknob, the little, minuscule pockets of air in the desks’ particleboard.

Paper rustled inside a desk. The sleeve of her sweater slumped further over. Wind rose in the room, a gentle current that rippled with her energy.

Allish raced through the hoops, barely pausing for breath.

That’s impressive,” Cris said. “I’ve never seen anyone do that.”

Allish laughed, reeling high on her senses. She felt light, more spirit than person. She poured more energy into the motion, flung herself into a clumsy, mad pirouette of a turn.

Then, laughing, she stepped out of the third hoop and grabbed a hold of Cris.

Come on,” she said. “I’ll show you.”

She pulled, using her power, feeling the wind wrap its fingers around the mage.

Cris’s arm went rigid.

Power slammed into her, knocking her back. Allish stumbled, catching her feet on the linoleum several meters away. The floor cracked where she’d been standing.

The look on Cris’s face sobered her instantly.

Green sigils glittered on the earth mage’s skin. Her arm was still outstretched, angled down to the floor from where Allish had grabbed it. A stone-cold face hid her emotion—but not before Allish saw the glint of fear in her eyes.

Belatedly, Allish realized that the earth mage was shielding herself from the dancer.

The wind died down. Silence filled its absence, thickening the space between them.

Cris said nothing for a while. Slowly, her shield dissipated. The energy on her skin dropped. The room settled around them.

Don’t ever do that,” Cris said. Her tone was low, serious, each word coming as if etched in stone. “Don’t ever do that.”

The Sylph had snuck in close to her skin, viewing Cris’s sudden defense as an attack. The spirit’s energy crackled through her mind like television static, wild and defensive. Allish frowned, struggling to wrap her head around the earth mage’s words. “Do what?”

Had she done something wrong?

You can’t teleport other people,” Cris explained. “Maybe a suitcase, or a lesser crystal—but never a person.”

Why not?”

Cris straightened. The mage’s frown deepened as she readjusted the crutch from her arm. “Bad things happen when you try.”

Silence sobered the room. Coldness settled into Allish’s limbs.

The mage didn’t elaborate on what the “bad things” were, but Allish’s imagination could fill in the gap. Suddenly, her mind was full of eviscerated limbs and lost souls, of people who had been lost to the ether she touched between a teleport’s beginning and end.

It had felt so easy, wrapping her element around Cris—as if she could have just held her hand.

Cris bent over and picked up the nearest hula hoop. The movement seemed exaggerated, lethargic, as if Cris needed the time to recover. Her shoes shuffled over the floor as she returned it to the spot against the wall.

When she turned back, some of the light had slipped back into her eyes.

It’s not your fault,” she told Allish. “You didn’t know. I should have realized that. I’d thought Ivern might have…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes lowered to the cracks she’d made in the floor.

We don’t talk about magic that much. At least—not until recently. He tried to keep his work separate…” Allish took a breath. “I’m sorry, Cris.”

That was something Allish regretted—that divide between her husband’s work and their home life. It had made sense at first. Their careers were such that they had needed the break. Their home had become a place where they could both shut out the world and come to terms with their work at their own pace, with their own methods of support.

Many considered Ivern the most powerful mage—Ivern himself had implied as much before—but he rarely showed that side to her. In truth, she had no idea what that entailed. What little she knew about the mages and their magic had come from snippets of conversation during their marriage and, largely, the crash course Cris had been teaching her over the past week.

A week was not long enough. Not by a long shot.

I should have realized,” Cris said again. “It’s my fault. Most of us—we know this stuff as kids. Parents don’t want to lose their children to idiocy, so the warnings are dealt out early on. That’s probably something we should fix, if there are going to be more like you around.”

Some of the humor had returned to her face as she spoke. Her skin looked warmer. Her eyes crinkled around the edges.

Allish returned the smile. “Think of me as a trial run. We can build the curriculum later.”

Precisely.” Cris eyed the cracks in the floor, scuffing the longest one with the toe of her work boot. “Well, I think we’ve abused the classroom enough today—and you seem to have gotten the hang of teleportation. What say you and I continue this with a discussion on magical theory over some hot chocolate?”

Allish nodded. “My treat.”

Excellent. Help me clean?” Cris stuck out her injured foot. The blue air cast looked big and bulky in comparison to her other leg. “I’m injured and feeble.”

Allish snorted. ‘Feeble’ was not a term she’d have used to describe Finnevar’s head of security. The cracks on the floor barely scratched the surface of Cris’s power.

She bent down and scooped up the first hoop. As she went for the second, the floor gave a low rumble.

Allish stumbled. Her fingers rammed into the tile.

She glanced up, lifting an eyebrow at Cris. “What?”

But the earth mage wasn’t looking at her. Instead, she’d turned her attention up, towards a corner of the ceiling. Runes swarmed her hands, bright and aggressive.

The mage frowned, eyes unfocused, reading the building through the senses of her earth element.

Attack,” she said. “There’s been an attack.”

Allish’s heart stopped as she realized where the mage was looking.

Ivern.

Wind snapped around her. The room tilted, twisted, blurred. Alarms screamed in the hallway, but Allish didn’t hear them. She didn’t think, didn’t plan, didn’t hesitate.

She just went.

A second later, she was in Ivern’s office.


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