Authors: Nikki McCormack
She turned to face him fully now, catching the brief flicker of disappointment in his expression as she went to sit across from him in a matching chair.
The chairs were soft ivory in color, the embroidery done in silver and blue; colors more suited to Lyran décor. Much of the room shared a similar palette. She had spent several lonely evenings using ascard to rework the traditional Caithin rich golds and reds into colors reminiscent of the Imperial palace in Yiroth. It was during her brief stay there, in fact, that she had studied the created crystal ceilings and windows to learn how to bind off a working so that she could make the changes permanent.
Not long ago, such frivolous use of ascard for purposes other than healing would have gotten her arrested by the Ascard Watchmen, the specially trained adepts who patrolled Caithin, alert for illegal use of ascard. She could mask her workings well enough now that they never knew. Theoretically, she was exempt from those restrictions as a member of the King’s Order, the secret organization of adepts and creators trained to do more than heal with ascard in service to the king. Until she spoke with Serivar, however, she wasn’t willing to assume that her immunity still stood. She had, after all, blackmailed and threatened him to get him to let her go to Lyra.
“If Lord Caplin felt the situation was that dangerious I’m sure it was. I appreciate him putting forth the effort to find this place for you and help you get out of that engagement, and you know I will support you in this. I would, however, like to discuss that little adventure of yours,” he remarked, latching on to the passing mention of her trip to Lyra, a subject she’d put some effort into drawing him away from earlier. “I really would prefer it if you at least consulted with me before running off to war again. Until you are wed, you are still my ward. I am responsible for you and I cannot ensure your safety if you don’t allow me to be involved in such significant decisions.”
Until I am wed
Shall I ever wed now that my heart belongs to a man I can never have?
She took several long sips of wine before responding. “I should have let you know, but nothing you could have said would have changed my mind about going.”
Theron rolled his gaze to the ceiling as though some great wisdom resided there that might help him manage this headstrong woman. “I’m painfully aware of that, Indigo. I’ve never been under any illusions of obedience from you. For a woman, you have proven to be rather…” he picked at some imaginary bit of dust on one sleeve, “… independent. You are your father’s child. No one could keep him from doing anything he felt strongly about either.”
That dark gaze considered her and she was reminded of her father’s eyes. On rare occasion, she could see the family resemblance. Those flickers of physical similarity were the only likenesses between Theron and his late brother. Where her father had possessed a vile temper, she had never heard Theron so much as raise his voice. Theron dedicated his life to the service of the king, most often acting as a royal emissary to handle delicate political situations. Her father had died trying to abolish the king’s slave trade with Lyra. They were so very different it was hard to believe they had grown up together.
Theron heaved a sigh and glanced down into his wine, ending the mutual silence. “Sometimes I wish you were my son.”
A feeling of warmth infused her at his words and she smiled to show her appreciation of the sentiment. From him, there probably was no greater compliment, especially considering that he had three sons, all of whom had followed whatever path in life proved easiest, seeking recognition through their father’s name rather than their own accomplishments. His remark betrayed his approval of her determination, despite frequent attempts to convince her to act in a manner more befitting a lady.
“Thank you,” she said.
He shrugged off her gratitude. “You will return to your schooling soon.”
It was a statement, not a question, and she understood that he would press her in that. It was one thing to endanger her social status with the dissolution of her engagement. There was little chance of him fighting that knowing Jayce had hurt her before and would do worse given the chance. Theron would not tolerate her falling down in her training as a healer, however, especially given how skilled she had proven to be. Status as an accomplished healer could earn her a stable place in society without marrying a man of rank, though she didn’t doubt he was already searching out new prospects for her.
She gave a slight nod, glancing with a spark of apprehension at the scroll sitting on the table beside her. It was a request from Headmaster Serivar for her to attend him at her earliest convenience in his offices at the Caithin Healers Academy. The missive had arrived three weeks ago. So far, it had not suited her to go see him. She convinced Master Healer Siddael, who had led the healers in the campaign to help Yiloch overthrow his father, to approve a leave of absence from her schooling for a month after their return from Lyra. It had been easy to do. He was so impressed with her healing skills during their time in Lyra that he allowed her the same time off for recovery that the more senior healers from the campaign received.
“You know more than many of your peers already,” Siddael had said. “If we hold you back a little, they may feel less threatened by you.”
There would be much catching up to do, but a smile touched her lips at the thought of Headmaster Serivar waiting on her convenience.
“Yes. I’m going to speak with the headmaster this afternoon.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” He set his empty goblet on the table and rose from the chair. “You’ve had your adventure. It’s time now for you to turn your attention back to your future. If I can be of assistance…”
She detected the smallest hint of discouragement behind the offer. He would provide her anything she needed, she knew, and he respected her more because she asked for almost nothing. The offer was given so that he could appreciate her refusal.
She stood to walk him out. “Thank you, Uncle, but I am fine.”
The satisfaction in his smile reinforced the correctness of her answer. “So you always are, dearest Indigo. You know how to reach me should that change.”
She nodded and he kissed her on the cheek before striding regally from the room, satisfied that he had done his duty as her guardian.
He should have been royalty
. She gave a small shake of her head as she watched him descend the stairs with a swift elegance that reminded her of Yiloch, though even her Uncle would pale in the power of his presence.
Leaning her head against the door, she gazed down the now empty stairwell for several quiet minutes. Memories came to her, haunting ones of people she had killed and helped kill with her power. Of blood and staring eyes devoid of life. She pushed those away, drawing upon good memories of the times she and Yiloch had made love, of sneaking moments to be together without the knowledge of her countrymen, of sitting on the steps beneath the throne in the imperial palace with his arms around her, gazing up through the created crystal ceiling at a star lit sky.
She shook herself from the reverie and went to retrieve a brightly colored shawl that matched her colorful summer dress. The outfit contrasted her mood, but donning a pretense of good cheer might set the headmaster off his guard.
The members of the King’s Order were supposed to be a clandestine group acting on the king’s orders in defense of the kingdom. Only a few days before her departure to Lyra, she had discovered that no one else knew of her training. Now she meant to find out why Serivar was keeping her training secret from everyone, even the king she supposedly served. She had used that information to blackmail the headmaster, offering to keep his secret and continue working with him only if he let her join the force of soldiers and healers going to Lyra. Because he had been resistant and she was the stronger adept by far, she had used ascard to intimidate him into going along with her decision. Whatever plans he had for her, she needed to make it understood that she didn’t intend to be his docile pawn. The training was important to her though, so she hoped her fear that there might be sinister intent behind his actions was unfounded.
She connected to her inner aspect and drew on ascard as she descended the stairs with a forced lightness of step. If she acted cheerful, perhaps she could persuade herself to begin feeling that way. Extending her ability, she used it to search the area for anyone she might want to avoid, feeling for the unique signature of the inner aspect within those individuals. She primarily wanted to avoid Jayce, but also Andrea and some of the other acquaintances they shared. Discovering Serivar’s intentions must be her only focus today. She needed no distractions.
With much practice, she had increased the range of her reach and could now pinpoint Serivar’s location within the academy administration building well ahead of her arrival. Interestingly, he was in the hidden training room behind his office where she had done most of her Order training so far, and he wasn’t alone. She didn’t recognize the inner aspect signature of the individual with him. Perhaps he was training another adept for the Order like herself.
The prospect kindled curiosity. When she agreed to become an adept of the King’s Order, Serivar told her she would probably never meet any of the others. It was tempting to dig deeper into the skill of the stranger and learn more about them.
After a moment of vacillating on the edge of morality, she drew back her ability, respecting the stranger’s privacy, and waited until she was almost to the headmaster’s office, then she reached out once more and touched Serivar, using ascard to alert him to her arrival. There was a pleasing start of surprise from him. She’d never done such a thing with him before and the skill was one she had worked out on her own. Tracking his movement with ascard, she waited outside the office door until she sensed him within. Whoever was with him had also come out to the office.
After giving him a moment to compose himself, she knocked.
She opened the door and stepped into the familiar room, shutting the door behind her before he could ask her to, and seated herself across from him without awaiting the offer. Her gaze skimmed over the narrow, youthful features of the headmaster and came to rest upon the room’s other occupant.
The individual, standing off to one side feigning interest in a book, was a young, bronze-skinned Caithin man with a strong jaw and well-balanced features. His mid-length hair was a dark, dingy brown color that detracted a little from an otherwise attractive countenance. His dark eyes, when he glanced her way, held a keen alertness that belied his casual stance.
She drew on ascard, masking her ability as she probed deeper into the stranger. His ascard connection was strong, but not extraordinary. Still, his eyes, when they flickered over to her again, were familiar somehow. For now, she gave up her uninvited exploration and faced the headmaster.
“You wished to see me, Lord Serivar,” she stated, indicating with her tone that she hadn’t forgotten her upset with him. Time hadn’t diluted the distress caused by his lies and she wouldn’t let its passage soften this encounter.
There was a flash of irritation in Serivar’s eyes as he considered her, lips pressed together in a tight line. The obvious frustration pleased her. “Your time away seems to have numbed your sense of propriety. I suppose it must be the Lyran influence.”
She said nothing, beating down the burning desire to rise to the Lyran defense. There was no sense in rousing his curiosity on that front. She breathed in the familiar smells of the office, books, ink, and the ever-present decanter of wine. Strange how much she had missed that distinctive blend.
When her silence lengthened, he continued, “Indigo, this is Edan Lindis. He’s another adept in the King’s Order.”
She inclined her head in a gesture of respect, but didn’t rise to curtsy as would be expected in other settings. She was not in the mood to play the role of proper noble lady today. If this man was one of Caithin’s secretive force of adepts and creators, then he was an equal of sorts, and she would treat him thusly.
Edan faced her, a sparkle of amusement rising in his eyes when they met hers, and she again had that unsettling sense that she knew him from somewhere.
“A pleasure to meet you, Lord Edan.” She added the title based on his rich attire and the hint of refinement in his bearing though Serivar had offered none.
He inclined his head, reserved but respectful. “Likewise, my lady.”
She looked at him a moment longer, trying once more to place him before giving up and turning back to Serivar. “I didn’t think we were allowed to meet others of the Order.”
“Edan is part of something more exclusive than our normal membership. Like you,” he added pointedly.
She raised her eyebrows in inquiry, but held her silence, curious to see where this was leading and unwilling to offer him anything until she had her answers. This was the first she had heard of some more exclusive group.
“Before we move on to business, why don’t you have some wine and tell me of your experiences in Lyra.” Serivar gestured to the three goblets waiting on his desk.
Edan walked over to sit in the chair next to her, angling it so that he faced her as well as the headmaster. He took one of the goblets and reclined in the seat, swirling the wine before taking a sip. Serivar took another goblet and she claimed the third, inspecting it with ascard on a whim.
Should she mistrust Serivar enough to be wary of poison? Had he earned that level of suspicion, or was she being paranoid?
To be fair to herself, the Headmaster hadn’t explained his actions and she was still on edge after her time in Lyra. Myac haunted her thoughts often enough to perpetuate a sense of dreadful anticipation in her. She saw him in her nightmares, always standing in the street below her residence and staring up at the window, somehow seeing through her workings to where she waited within.
When she was confident that the wine was only wine, she took a sip and swallowed it along with the sense of dread that accompanied thoughts of Myac.