Authors: Nikki McCormack
“Not when they put everything we have done here at risk,” Serivar shouted, a sudden flare of rage striking Myac’s extended ability with enough power to make him reel back. Indigo even flinched this time. “Not when you vowed yourself to secrecy. I would be within my rights to have you stripped of these memories and turned back into a simple healer.”
Her eyes widened a fraction, hands tightening on her skirt below Serivar’s line of sight. Myac didn’t need his ability to know how much she feared what the headmaster threatened.
Serivar was quiet for a few seconds, folding his hands on his desk and reclaiming his composure. His voice was calm, but held a lingering edge of warning when he continued. “While that may be what I should do, you’re far too valuable and you at least made some effort to hold to our bargain in a challenging situation. Be warned however, I can’t afford to let such behavior go unpunished a second time.”
Her shoulders rose and fell, taking a deep breath to refresh her courage. The movement of her collarbones drew Myac’s eyes to the soft hollow at the base of her throat, delicate, fragile flesh.
“I understand your position, Headmaster Serivar. I have no intention of putting you in this situation a second time.”
He marveled at the calm regard that she was able to give Serivar then as she sipped from her wine, the draping fabric of her sleeve sliding back to reveal a slender wrist. Her hands were steady, but a light touch of ascard told him how her pulse raced. She set the goblet back on the desk and he watched the dancing of delicate bones and muscles required for that simple action with a rush of unexpected desire. She rose from her chair, her bright dress clinging to her hips and falling in loose layers over her legs.
“Until tomorrow, Headmaster,” she nodded to Serivar then turned to Myac who composed himself to hide this new hunger she had sparked in him. “Lord Edan.” She offered him a nod as well.
Before he could question his own motives, he was on his feet offering her a slight bow. “Lady Indigo.”
The glimmer of appreciation in her eyes rewarded his effort and he watched her stride from the room with a walk that managed to be proud and yet still so feminine. When she pulled the door shut behind her, he sank into his seat again, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. It was no longer that hard to understand why Serivar coveted her the way he did and let her get away with so much.
“Charming and exasperating, isn’t she,” Serivar remarked, gazing into her empty chair with more of that irritating fondness softening his features.
“When she isn’t trying to kill me, she can be rather enchanting,” Myac mused.
Serivar turned on him, a sharp warning in his eyes.
Don’t want me playing with your toy?
Myac took a sip of wine to hide his amusement. The temptation to try seducing her appealed to him in so many ways. He wasn’t about to let the Caithin headmaster set the rules in this game. “She’s willful. That makes her dangerous, more so than I think you realize, but I believe we can bring her into hand. We just have to do it delicately.”
Serivar nodded, the warning fading. “Can you manipulate her?”
Myac shook his head. “Not with ascard. She has protections and maskings wrapped around her like an iron cocoon. She wisely distrusts you.” The comment earned him a scowl. “I’ll have to win her trust the slow way if I’m to make her believe it’s her decision to do what we need her to do.”
Serivar stared at the door, his scowl deepening. “That’s unfortunate, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Which brings me to the next order of business…” Myac felt the headmaster connect to ascard and take a few minutes to reinforce barriers that already surrounded the room to prevent eavesdropping of the traditional kind as well as from someone using ascard. “King Jerrin received a missive from Emperor Yiloch’s adept advisor yesterday. The Emperor has requested to send three of his Lyran adepts here to the academy to train in the healing arts. He wants to build up his own organized force of healers. I have approved the request, of course.”
Myac smiled. It was almost too good to be true. “With three Lyran adepts in the city, we’ll have three perfect candidates. The trio can be framed for the king’s assassination and there will be little doubt of Yiloch’s involvement since he sent them here. We won’t even need to use Indigo for that part, but Yiloch trusted her in that throne room, which will make her extremely useful when the time comes to make him pay for his crimes. When do the adepts arrive?”
“It could be anytime. You need to start working on Indigo right away, but I expect you to keep things professional,” he added in warning.
Myac regarded his old instructor. After watching his mother fall under Yiloch’s blade and barely escaping their burning home with his life, Myac had gone to his noble father, Lord Terral, only to be turned away. He found sanctuary in an unlikely place. Serivar, not yet headmaster, had been traveling in Lyra, a few years before the increasing slave trade made such travel ill advisable. He’d taken pity on the burn-scarred youth and brought him back to Caithin, where he taught him about healing while picking his mind about other uses of ascard. Because of Serivar, Myac learned how to heal the burn scars and had the opportunity to expand his knowledge enough that he was able to earn Emperor Rylan’s notice when he returned to Lyra.
How much consideration was all of that worth now?
Myac smirked. “And if I don’t keep it professional, Serivar, what will you do then?”
The headmaster’s eyes darkened with the anger that poured off him in thick waves; pointless, ineffectual anger. Myac took another sip of his wine and rolled it over his tongue, delighting in his advantage. He swallowed, then set the empty goblet down and stood. Without a word, he walked from the room, leaving Serivar to fume in silence.
In the end, the man with the most power made the rules, and Serivar was smart enough to recognize that he was not that man.
Myac stood by the table in the hidden training room the next morning, his gaze continuously drawn to the door in anticipation of Indigo’s arrival. This was his chance to work with her. To discover what she was capable of and, more importantly, what made her vulnerable.
What would it take to win her favor?
One finger traced the edge of the leather-bound book he held as though it were the cheek of a lover.
Why stop there. Why couldn’t he do more than that? Could he seduce her? Make her not only trust him, but want him as well.
So much power and beauty in one splendid creature. She seized his imagination. The fact that she almost sent him to his death before only added to her allure now that he was in a situation where the element of surprise was on his side. What a pleasure it would be to see Yiloch’s face if the same woman who helped put him on the throne returned to help take it away from him.
Long hours spent working with some of Serivar’s most skilled creators were starting to pay off. They were creating prisons that existed beyond the confines of space and time like the Serroc prison that Emperor Rylan had placed Yiloch in once before; only these new prisons wouldn’t share the flaws of the original. Yiloch would not escape this time. They would frame his adepts for the assassination of King Jerrin and his family, tracing the ultimate blame back to Emperor Yiloch himself. Then they would imprison and execute him for his crimes and, if all went right, the woman who stood at his side before would now stand by the side of his destroyers.
The king’s brother, Gavin, whom Serivar already had built up considerable influence with, would take the Caithin throne and Myac’s father, Lord Terral, would ascend to the Lyran throne and acknowledge Myac as his son. When all the pieces were in place, Myac would return home to Lyra as a prince, one with significant power in Caithin thanks to Serivar’s relationship with the king’s brother. They had to move fast if they were to take Emperor Yiloch down before Lyra had time to recover from Emperor Rylan’s destructive rule and the unrest caused by the war between him and Yiloch. Still, some tasks were too pleasant to rush overmuch.
So much power
Myac closed his eyes a moment, remembering the feel of Indigo’s ability clamped around his inner aspect, blocking him from interfering while Yiloch and his father faced off in the throne room. The surprise, the panic, and the swelling of molten resentment like a fire on the verge of bursting out of control. He could still see her vivid blue eyes focused on him, the way they widened with desperation when she felt her hold on him weakening. Those same blue eyes were exquisite with terror seconds later when she lay on the floor, injured and unable to do so much as breathe before his retaliation. Eyes so beautiful filled with the realization that she was about to die an excruciating death at his hands that he almost loved her in that moment.
She should have died.
Myac started, snapping from his reverie when Indigo entered the training room. Her masking was so perfect, betraying no hint of her remarkable ascard ability to his extended awareness, that he had no warning of her arrival until she stepped through the door. A spirit could have entered the room as far as his ability was concerned, but the alluring fragrance of her and the way the supple fabric of her saffron dress clung to every curve stirred senses he was far less accustomed to acknowledging.
Who’s going to be seducing whom?
He smiled to himself, annoyance fading with the irony of the situation. Was she oblivious to the potency of her physical presence, or would he be a fool to think anything she did was accidental?
He returned his attention to the book he held as though her presence was of minimal interest by comparison. With a bump of her heel, she shut the door, lighting the remainder of the candles around the perimeter of the room, about half of which he hadn’t bothered to light, with a quick touch of ascard. He felt her power as it swept through the room, the working unmasked for once, and shivered at the strength of it. Coupled with her very feminine presence, it brought about an awkward arousal that he countered with creative ascard use before she could notice anything.
How long had it been since someone elicited such a response from him? Had any woman ever enticed him so? As attractive as she was, physical beauty alone wouldn’t be enough to sway him, but when combined with her power it was almost more than he could resist.
“Lord Edan,” she greeted after a brief glance around the room during which she extended another bit of ascard to check upon the many wards that guarded that space.
He hesitated, caught up in a swell of resentment for the contrived personality he wore. Every moment he spent with her, she would be spending with someone else. Every smile he earned from her would be for someone who didn’t exist. The thought of her shock, the delicious spark of fear he knew would appear in her eyes if she saw him for who he really was, ignited his hunger far more than the clinging fabric of her dress and the light summery scent of her. His groin tightened in response and he immediately appreciated that she had turned to move around to the other side of the table. It took more effort this time to tame his physical response with ascard. There had to be a better way to manage the situation.
“Lady Indigo,” he looked up from the book with a show of deliberation, acting as if the contents of those brittle pages caused his delay, then he inclined his head to her. “I expected Lord Serivar would be joining us as well.” He glanced at the closed door. He had pushed Serivar to let him work with her alone, but the headmaster vehemently rejected the idea.
“I told him I didn’t see a reason for him to waste his time supervising us. I can get him, if you like, but we are both adults. Are we not?” She met his gaze, those striking blue eyes steady and unreadable.
He yearned once more for the ability to sense her emotions, still awed and disturbed by the effectiveness of her masking and the speed with which she had adapted it to hiding emotion in addition to her ascard connection. He could learn much from her if he could only convince her to open up to him. He wasn’t used to having to work for something like this. It was new and exciting somehow.
“We are adults,” he agreed with a rare, genuine smile. It felt strange, as if someone else had taken charge of his face. “I’m quite impressed by your masking, my lady. Perhaps, at some point, you would be willing to work with me to improve my skill in that area.”
She considered him for a minute. There was resistance in her eyes and the slightest back lean in her stance, a sudden distance that didn’t make much sense in response to such a simple request, but she eventually nodded.
“I would be happy to,” she said, though her tone didn’t quite reflect the sentiment.
So much reservation
. He caught himself extending his ability toward her and pulled it back before he could suffer the humiliating crash against her barriers that would alert her to his efforts.
What made her so reluctant to engage with him? His illusion and the barriers that kept her from knowing him for who he was were far too complex for that to be the problem. If her distance had nothing to do with who he was specifically then it must be something more personal. Serivar mentioned an engagement gone sour. Could that be at the root of her wary manner? It might be worth investigating as a potential point of vulnerability.
“Lord Serivar was rather harsh with you yesterday,” he commented, marking the page as though he had actually been reading it and closing the book.
She shrugged and sank into one of the chairs by the lone table. Even that movement somehow exuded a certain sense of distance and separation, as if she were alone even in his company.
“He was probably right to be. I shouldn’t have done the things I did in Lyra given our agreement and the risk of exposing the Order.”
“Why did you do them then?”
She gave him a sharp look, prickling with warning.
So much for building any rapport today
. If she didn’t trust Serivar enough to talk about it, she certainly wasn’t going to start spilling her secrets to a man she met the previous day. “I apologize. It isn’t my business.”