Is it really the same day
Kai’s eye was the whole backend of the rainbow by the time Yechiel soaked a compress to put on it. He was laying out on a couch checker-boarded with various fabric scraps.
I hadn’t bothered to show them my wrist, which was now throbbing and flushed. I would wrap it on my own later. For now, I was content to monitor the room from the edge where one of the house’s massive support beams kept the light out of my eyes, which were itching toward a migraine.
“You’re sure there’s anything more you can do about my face?” Kai asked.
“No,” said the hostess, “Nor for your feelings, so I’m going to attend to my work while you mope.”
“It’s okay, Kai. Some of us are just born ugly,” Tobin needled his partner as the hostess left toward the stairs.
I followed her, still berating myself for the close call. How stupid was I? Yechiel had warned me all but an hour ago not to let the mages touch my imperium. What if Kai had taken it off? And now he was demanding an explanation. . .
Ahead of me, Yechiel passed through the tower doors, letting them close behind her. I knew better this time, so I knocked with my good hand and waited, even as the door once again drifted open for me.
The hostess came to the entrance, saying, “I swear I—” she saw me— “Oh. You. What do you want? Tell me quick. I have things to do.”
Why? I rested a hand on my imperium.
Her slow blink in response all but uttered the phrase, Do we have to talk about this now? But all Yechiel said was, “You really like to get right to the point, don’t you Asha?” She moved to the side. “Come in, I guess.”
We headed toward the alcove I was originally brought to, where I noticed a ring of metal, etched with runes, that was set into the floor around the space. What purpose did it serve? I made a mental note to ask later.
Yechiel sighed, leaning against her desk. “I apologize for the drama earlier, it was just… surprising. Many years ago, that stone was my master’s. She would be the one who would know everything about it.”
Your master? Where is she now? I looked over at Yechiel’s desk as if this mysterious woman might be hiding under it. This must have been the she Daedalus referred to, who could help cure me.
The hostess looked away. “Gone. She’s been gone for a while now. It was… unexpected. I knew she was old, and I’m talking really old. Older than Society, but to anyone who didn’t know she probably looked my age. Not that I can remember her face anymore.”
I did the math. Your master was over five hundred years old? I had heard of some mages living double life spans, but never to that extent. I knew Daedalus was over one-hundred. The thought struck me. How old are you? I asked. She didn’t appear to be older than thirty-five.
“My age is not impressive. I’m not that much older than I look. But I like to keep people guessing.”
What about the S-I-P-H-O-N? Why shouldn’t I give it to a mage? It was a lot to sign one-handed, but it seemed the Wayfinder had no trouble interpreting my meaning.
Yechiel sighed. “Do you know anything about magic? How it works?”
A little. Mages can change the flow of energy in and out of imperiums and into other things, like healing or force. But I don’t know how that works. What that feels like.
“Accurate, in a general sense, but there is more to it than that. Mages use what are called powers of will, which require raw energy from the user or a wellspring to translate into other forms. Imperiums are necessary because an individual does not possess enough dispensable raw energy to cast most spells.”
She gestured around the library, her generator-lights receding into the endless spiraled space. “This place does not use the same type of magic that the mages downstairs do. The Wayfinder is crafted from the powers that be. Old, old magic that other beings—those made of the world, rather than from it—used to engrave their will on reality itself.”
That much power was almost… god-like. I didn’t like the way that thought set. There was only the Great One who created the world and everything in it.
But what does this have to do with my necklace?
“Siphons are a remnant of the powers that be. One my master attempted to hide from the mages of Society. Unlike imperiums, which form naturally in the right conditions, siphons have to be made. And thousands of years ago, many were.”
But what is so bad about being able to make them?
Yechiel frowned, her lips pinched together, likely as she debated how much to say. “Imperiums have a crystalline structure that allows them to store energy, to various capacities. Siphons are created when you combine the powers of will and the powers that be to use the life source of another for energy. When you create a siphon, it gives the user absolute power over whatever is connected, and there are no limits to how much energy you can take or what you can force them to do. That is too much power for any individual to possess.”
So how did I end up with your master’s stone? Did she give it to Daedalus?
She sighed deeply as if forcing all the air from her lungs would take her problems with it. “Give might be a strong word. I can’t imagine any reason why she would hand over something so powerful, even if she trusted him. A full siphon can accomplish some pretty incredible feats of magic-- or terrible.”
Why didn’t she destroy this one then? If it was so dangerous?
“It was before my time, but if I had to guess, she was afraid of hurting whatever or whomever it was connected to.”
So you are saying…
“Something’s on the other end of that Siphon, Asha. And whatever it is will not be happy if you pull on your end.”
I left Yechiel to her work, pulling linen bandages from the closet and seeking shelter in my room. I didn’t bother to turn on the light when I entered, welcoming the darkness as a relief to the pressing headache that had formed behind my eyes. My wrist was a mess, swelling turned over to a black mottled bruise.
Hopefully, it wasn’t broken.
“Nasty things, bones are.” I jumped at the deep voice that purred from the far side of my bed. Thana opened one groggy silver eye after the other. In the shadows, they glowed like twin moons.
I shrugged, focusing on binding my wrist. For better or worse, pain was something I only felt at a distance— yet another medical mystery in my life. I had once walked around on a broken ankle for a week before Daedalus saw and healed it, yelling enough to rouse the dead.
The cat stretched out, languid as he tracked my practiced movements. “Not even awake for a day, and already picking fights. How do you deal with your bones, Asha? One wrong move, and snap, you are vulnerable… easy pickings for whatever finds you in that great world out there.”
In his voice was an undertone of warning, as if he wasn’t just musing about my weaknesses.
I don’t know. Do you ever worry about your bones?
Thana stared into space behind me, ignoring my question. “All that forest and the owner never came looking.”
My breathing hitched as I remembered the thing I had run into. The owner? Could Thana be referring to what, or who, my siphon was connected to?
I glanced back to find him reading my face, unnervingly intent. “Or did they?”
But I didn’t want to talk about this now. Or think. Shadows chased my heels as I left the house at a sprint, regardless of my shoeless state, trying to drown out my own thoughts.
I stayed outside for most of the afternoon, running a rut into the perimeter of the property until hunger drove me back to the house. At the back door, I paused at the sound of loud voices before easing my way inside.
“Lost your taste for flesh?” Kai’s blonde hair was plastered sickly to his forehead as he prodded Morag, who was mothering a pot of potato soup, birthed from the vegetables I helped prepare that morning.
“Lost your sense of dignity?” the enki returned, “I would think you’d be happy I’m coming around to other forms of protein, given how much like a tenderized piece of meat you look like right now.” Morag bared a smile at the mage.
Kai reddened, but he didn’t notice me standing at the door as he paced around the kitchen, muttering, “If it was up to me, you wouldn’t be anywhere near the food. Or this compound. How am I supposed to know you won’t decide it would be amusing to poison us all one day? Or smother us all in our sleep?”
I didn’t think it was possible for a creature with fur to blush, but Morag’s inner-ears turned scarlet as he stirred the simmering pot. “And what promise do I have that you, who are four times my size, will not snap my neck in anger? I have honor, mage. Where is yours?” This was quickly escalating. Should I step in?
“You know what they say. Blood is thicker than water. Nature always wins out,” Kai spat, moving into the enki’s personal space. What if Morag lashed out?
“The old phrase was: the blood of the Covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. Yechiel is my family. I choose to be here.” Morag ignored the mage behind him, gritting his teeth as he ladled the soup into four bowls before hopping off his stool. He brushed past me, saying, “Help yourselves. If you are brave enough.”
I wished I could have called out to him as he wandered out to his rosebeds. I realized with embarrassment that I had been worried about Morag hurting someone, not Kai pushing his boundaries. But the Enki had suffered through it to finish his soup.
What are you doing, K-A-I?
The mage nearly snarled at me. “What am I doing? Keeping my eyes open wide! She lets that little monster touch our food. I thought you understood, Asha.”
I did and I didn’t. It was one thing to be uneasy or cautious, as I was— who wouldn’t be with all the horror stories out there? But it was another to come into Morag’s home and tell him he didn’t deserve to be there because of something he couldn’t control. I understood what that felt like.
Anger was making my hands clench, rendering me speechless, so I grabbed a bowl of soup without bothering to respond.
Tobin entered the room just as I finished, glancing between the silent forms of Kai and myself as if he could read the residue of the argument.
Yechiel, however, ignored the atmosphere entirely and announced, “Come on pigeons, it’s storytime.” Before swiping her bowl of soup and walking away.
“Pigeons?” Kai asked.