After an hour of winding through staircases
and dark, unused passages, my shoulders and
back ached from carrying the satchel of Brack’s
oversized history volumes. I began to fear that
I would never find my way to the inhabited
areas of the citadel, and worse, that no one
would find my corpse for a century.
At last I reached the galleries, where
Tamarice waited for me. The vast stone halls
could have housed giants. As it was, colorful
tapestries and paintings stretched the length
of the walls, and endless rows of glass cases
held ancient artifacts. The grand entranceway
opened to the main courtyard, where a small
crowd milled about at the market.
The galleries were empty, however, and
my footsteps echoed as I approached Tam-
arice. She stood before a battle mural so large
that its many subjects matched her in size. Her
thick brown hair was no longer wild, but in
a sleek plait, allowing me a full view of her
She gestured grandly. “The last battle of
the Elicrin War.”
I transferred my gaze to the painting, realiz-
ing that the vivid reds and greens I had noticed at a glance depicted blood spilled across grassy hills. Bodies littered the
lush landscape, so lifelike I wanted to look away. White feral
cats and black wolves prowled the battlefield, a macabre dance
of ghosts and shadows. Enormous birds with hooked claws and
feathers black as pitch circled overhead. A glistening black serpent with four legs and rows upon rows of long, pointed teeth
lay lifeless, its dead yellow eyes open, its belly slit from throat to tail. I knew from legends that these were not ordinary animals. They were creatures from Galgeth— the land in the west
that only the dead or immortal could reach.
“The Battle of the Lairn Hills,” I said, my voice graver than
I wished it to sound. I reminded myself that it was distant his-
tory, and that these warriors were long dead, their suffering
Tamarice eyed the heavy satchel drooping from my shoul-
der. “What do you know about the Elicrin War?”
“Some elicromancers wanted to use their power to become
tyrants over mortals instead of peacekeepers. The good elicro-
mancers challenged them and the conflict culminated in a final
battle”—I gestured at the mural—“in which the two leaders
killed each other. The good side won.” I slid the bag off my
shoulder and dropped it heedlessly on the floor, wishing there
were somewhere to sit down.
“If only war were as simple as its summation,” Tamarice
“What do you mean?”
She turned to face me directly, her tawny eyes earnest.
“History likes to call one side good and the other evil. But is
it bad to want to use your power to bring clean order to the
b 37 c
“No, I don’t suppose enforcing peace is a bad thing.”
“The books you have there, the ones that Brack gave you,
will tell you that the revolutionary elicromancers wreaked
havoc on Nissera. But it was the traditional ones who began
the fighting. They refused to take their natural roles as lead-
ers.” She took a deep breath, and the sharp passion in her voice softened. “I’m not saying the revolutionaries were right. I’m
not saying they went about things well. I just want you to learn that not everything is as clearly defined as Brack— and those
books, written by men like Brack— would like to think. I want
you to have an open mind.”
“All right,” I said. “I’ve lived a simple life, but I understand that not everything is simple.”
Tamarice smiled and pulled a small, clinking bundle from
her tunic. She reached inside carefully and her slender fingers
emerged holding an elicrin stone by the chain. The metal of
the pendant was so tarnished, I couldn’t tell whether it was
bronze or gold, only that it was old. She lifted it into a shaft of light falling from a high window, examining the colorless,
foggy surface of the stone. “Your elicrin stone is the most pre-
cious friend you will ever have. It is your lover, your servant, your superior. You are so intertwined with it, in fact, that if
you were to die or to give it up, it would lose all but a wisp of its power. And if you lost it, the same would be true of you.
You need one another. Which is why this is such a strange
“Most abandoned elicrin stones have only a trace of magic
b 38 c
left, like the one that guards the gates to the Water. That one belonged to Cassian, the leader of the ‘good side,’ as you called them. It helped him heal any injury within seconds. The last
generation of elicromancers put it on the entrance to protect
the unworthy. It stops those who are likely to die from ever
entering. There is so little power left in renounced stones that royalty have bought them up and wear them like ordinary
jewels. But this one . . .” She lifted her other hand and slowly closed it over the pendant.
She let out a cry of pain that made me jump. She pulled
her hand back to show me a raw, red burn on her palm. “It
burns to the touch. Only elicrin stones with living masters do
“So you think there’s another elicromancer out there?”
“I don’t know.”
Soft steps brought us both to attention. I recognized Kim-
ber’s long shadow against the light of the courtyard.
“Bristal,” she said, approaching us. “Drell said your sword-
play lessons have been promising.”
I chuckled. “I interpreted her critique quite differently.”
“You’re just who we needed to see,” Tamarice interrupted,
holding out the relic. “I’m hoping to determine to whom this
once belonged. Isn’t there an index of elicrin stones some-
where? A record of their descriptions and owners?”
Kimber’s eyes widened in alarm. “Where did you find
“Brack took it out of the vault in the library for one of
Bristal’s lessons.” I sensed that Tamarice had found it when
rummaging through the vault without permission, but I said
nothing. “Do you know whose it was or what it did?”
b 39 c
“This has been dragged through the shadows of black elicromancy,” Kimber said in a low voice. “Whatever its original purpose, it’s long lost now.”
Tamarice raised a shapely brow. Tall as the elder was, the
elicromancer stood nearly eye-to-eye with her. She took a step
closer. “You know, don’t you?”
Kimber’s tone was final. “Please put it back where you
found it and do not desecrate the memorial halls of our ances-
“You are so committed to revering your dead ancestors,
yet you hardly care to treat their living likenesses with any
dignity.” Tamarice gestured between herself and me. I held my
Kimber maintained a look of cold poise and gave no
response. Replacing the pendant in the sack, Tamarice brushed
past her. Since I had walked all the way to the galleries for a
lesson with Tamarice, I picked up my book bag, bowed my
head to Kimber and trailed the elicromancer from the hall.
“She lets that crude little girl do whatever she wills, and I’m
not even permitted to archive an historical artifact,” Tamarice
spat as we left the empty galleries and emerged into the busy
marketplace. “I remember when Kimber was a young woman.
I should have stepped in before Brack recommended her to the
council of elders.”
This served as an astonishing reminder of my own ageless-
ness. I stopped short in front of a vegetable vendor’s stall. “You knew her when she was young?”
Tamarice had seen a child grow old and gray. How many
centuries would pass with so few people for enduring com-
pany? Would I have to choose to give up the source of my
b 40 c
Raking in breaths, I bent double and nearly lost my break-
fast. Tamarice rubbed my back and spoke soothingly. A few
people slowed down and stared at us— stared at the elicrin
stone around my neck. Already, word that a young kitchen
maid from Popplewell had survived the Water to become an
elicromancer would be trickling through the realm, gaining
momentum as it went.
“It’s all right,” she said, removing the satchel of books from
my shoulder. “I had a moment like this. It’s odd, at first, to
think of your life in centuries rather than years.” She laid a
gentle hand on my elbow and steered me forward. “Come.”
By the time we reached the open city gates, I had mostly
collected myself— just in time to realize the bridge leading
away from Darmeska stood over an immense ravine that swal-
lowed the bottom of gray cliffs in shadow far below. We began
crossing it, and I focused on taking steady steps even though
ten men could have walked abreast.
“You’re going to break your back lugging this around,”
Tamarice said, shifting the weight of my bag.
“I thought I might need materials for our lesson.”
“Brack has rather archaic ways of going about things, but
my lessons will be different.” Though she had noted its heavi-
ness, the satchel appeared light hanging off her arm.
“What do you have in mind?”
She stopped and cocked her head. “Iron must endure fire
to be made deadly.” She placed her hands on my shoulders. “I
trust you not to burn.”
She drove me backwards with surprising physical power.
b 41 c
I thought I knew how it felt to be utterly out of control: to
drown, to bleed, to be dragged through the woods at the whim
of violent men. But this was true helplessness. Rocks would
break my fall and my body.
I screamed until the wind caught underneath me, just
barely at first, like a breeze brushing an autumn leaf sideways
as it twirls to the ground. The sides of the ravine slid by more and more slowly. Feeling hollow, yet strong, I gorged my lungs
on cold air. A current under my arms lifted me, and I used my
outstretched limbs to get another, more forceful push upward.
I labored desperately to reach the light above me, and the
narrow stripe of gray that was the bridge from which I’d fallen
only a second before.
As soon as I drew level with it, I flung myself forward, land-
ing with a smack on the hard stones. My knees and forearms
took most of the impact. I groaned and rolled over, relieved to
be alive but in fierce pain nonetheless.
Tamarice knelt beside me. Her elicrin stone lit up and a
little of the pain faded from my stinging cuts and already ten-
der bruises. She grinned and placed a soft hand on my face.
“Barely a second with wings and you looked as if you were born
with them. You shifted so gracefully.”
“Why did you do that?” I growled.
She helped me up. “Our first lesson: don’t dabble in your
power like a coward. Test the limits before you learn to fear
them. Do you trust yourself more than you did a moment ago?”
Now that I was recovering, I could begrudgingly nod my
b 42 c
Tamarice beckoned me forward. I limped after her and we reached the end of the bridge, where a stone staircase wound
down a hill into the white-shrouded woods.
“Do you know what elicrin means?” she asked, pausing at the top step and turning to face me.
“Peacekeeper?” I guessed.
“It’s Old Nisseran for god on earth.” She faced the woods and waved her hand before her as if wiping frost from a window. A section of icy evergreens burst with fresh green and
bright flowers blossomed. The shock of color snaked off into
the distance like a pathway, beckoning us forward.
The last trace of my anger faded. Tamarice gestured for me
to go down the steps before her and we crossed into the shade of the trees, following the path of fresh growing things in the midst of the winter wood. We reached a flowing stream, where a small
boat was nestled by the icy riverbank. She grabbed a handful of
briarberries from the thorns before heaving the boat into the
water. Stepping in dexterously, she motioned for me to follow.
We floated quickly downstream, paddling along and eating
berries until we reached an arcade of trees. It formed a sort of house with flower-speckled leaf canopies that acted as walls.
Tamarice stepped out and tugged the boat to shore so I could
Once on the banks, I parted a section of the tree canopy
and entered the house. A curtain of white flowers covered
a four-poster bed. Rather than chairs, hammocks of woven
leaves hung from the branches high above. The shelter’s most
ordinary features included a table with wide stumps for chairs,
a freestanding kitchen cupboard holding pots and wooden
bowls and a filigree mirror.
b 43 c
I caught a glimpse of our faces in the glass. As I had guessed before, we looked nearly the same age. Both of us had dark hair
and round features. But next to her I looked less grand, more
mortal than elicromancer. Maybe it was an air that came with
time and experience— or perhaps it was simply her.
“I see why you chose to live outside the citadel,” I said,
turning in a full circle.
Tamarice smiled as she set down my satchel and the sack
with the colorless elicrin stone. She straightened an impressive stack of books on the table and sank into one of the hammocks.
“Our second lesson: enjoy the unique pleasures your gift
I perched on one of the smooth stumps, delighting in the
freedom of leather breeches as opposed to a dress. “Being a
Terrene must be magnificent.”
Tamarice leaned toward me, emphasizing every other
word. “The Clandestine’s gift is one of the most coveted and
rare forms of elicrin magic. Surely you see how one might do
practically anything she chooses with such a talent?”
“I hardly know anything about it yet.”
She leaned back. “Once you endure enough of Brack telling
you precisely what to do, you will begin to believe your gift has very strict limitations. You will not press boundaries if you are stuck on rudimentary assignments. What did he have you do
“I turned my boots to silk slippers. And I tried to turn a
teacup into a teapot.”
“What do you suggest instead? Please don’t say jump off an
even higher cliff.”
b 44 c
Tamarice shook her head, looking past me. “No. It is much easier and yet much more complicated than that.”
She got up from her relaxed position and pulled one of the
green curtains aside. Darmeska looked imposing in the near
distance, the cliffs behind it even more impressive. “Don’t
think me self-important for saying that under the right cir-
cumstances, I could bring those cliffs crumbling down.” Her
honey brown eyes transferred to my face, and she tapped two
fingers on my breastbone. “The heart is even more powerful
than elicrin magic. Have you ever been so angry, so torn, that
you felt everything and nothing all at once?”
I shook my head. “Only frightened before I touched the
Water. And the arrow wound . . . feeling so much life slip out
of me was like nothing I’ve ever known.”
She gripped my shoulders, forced me to stand up straight
and corrected the slightly off-kilter hang of my pendant so that it touched directly between my ribs. “I want you to close your
I narrowed them. We may not have been on the edge of a
precipice, but I was no fool.
“I will do nothing but speak to you,” Tamarice assured me,
raising her hand as though pledging fealty. I sighed and obeyed
her. “Feel that fear again. Pretend you are once more at the
Even though only days had passed since my kidnapping, I
felt I had become someone else entirely. But a thin wind hissed
between tightly woven branches, and suddenly I recalled with
disturbing detail the rough hands on my nape, the cold that bit
at my fingers and toes and sank into my soul. The helplessness
paralyzed me like a poison.
b 45 c
It must have shown, because Tamarice said, “Whatever you feel, let it melt to anger. Those common cowards were willing
to toss you out like rubbish for nothing but a few gold aurions.”
My fists clenched. I thought of Gilroy’s disgusting teeth,
the evil glint in Hagan’s eyes and Trumble’s threat to kill me
himself if I didn’t go into the Water.
My ragged breaths sounded far away. I grew lightheaded,
but noticed the tingling in my skin, an itching for something
to happen. I could hear my blood rushing like streams of fire
in my ears. My mind was loud, deafening and yet somehow
“Beautiful,” Tamarice whispered. “Beautiful, Bristal.”
Without warning, I collapsed against the writing desk,
tossing a book spine-up onto the soft grass. Breathing as if I’d just run up and down every staircase in the citadel, I opened
Tamarice gripped my elbow and helped me up, grinning
in disbelief. She put her hands on my cheeks and exclaimed,
“Your face changed dozens of times in the space of a minute!
You changed forms so smoothly, took on each disguise so com-
pletely. It was a wonder to watch.” She laughed in glee and
yanked me back outside and toward the citadel.
“We have to tell Brack,” she said, releasing me and pick-
ing up the pace. “We have to show him! You can get close
to anyone, anyone at all— the most important people in Nis-
sera! Why waste time turning boots into slippers? We’ll have
to teach you court manners, of course, not that I’m an expert
in those matters.” She walked faster as she talked, until I was
jogging to match her long strides.
“Think about it,” she continued. “Posing as the right person,
b 46 c
you might have the power to give a command to anyone and see it carried out. Of course, we’ll have to teach you to materialize, as well. No need to waste time traveling when you have
much more important things to do. Together we can reclaim
the glory that elicromancers once had.”
I sprang forward and caught up to her. She continued to
innumerate the possibilities, her golden brown eyes glittering
By the time we reached Brack’s homestead at the top
of the fortress, it was clear to me that I was in poor shape.
“Brack,” Tamarice said, bursting into the library, causing the
older elicromancer to glance up from the documents he scru-
pulously studied. “Stop frowning over maps and assigning this
poor girl hundreds of chapters to read. She should embrace
Brack’s features did not mirror her enthusiasm. In fact, his
frown deepened, forging paths of wrinkles across his forehead.
“What do you mean?”
“She let go of her reservations.” She circled his desk so that
they were facing one another. “She changed from woman to
man, young to old, beautiful to plain to ugly. She took on the
appearances of her kidnappers, you and me, among so many
others, all in the span of a moment.”
Brack appeared weary as he turned to me. “That’s
extremely promising, Bristal,” he said. “I look forward to see-
ing for myself what you’re capable of. But you’ve had a long day of lessons, and you ought to rest. Tamarice and I need to have
While he spoke, Tamarice’s joy turned to mild surprise
before darkening to irritation.
b 47 c
“Yes, of course,” I agreed, unable to hide my disappointment. I bowed my head and turned to go, shuffling slowly
down the first few steps so that I could catch the beginning of
“I’m surprised I have to remind you of the danger of unbri-
dled emotions,” Brack said.
“It’s unfair of you to bring that up. It was a century ago. I
was a child.”
“And Bristal is only a child as far as elicromancy is con-
cerned. She has not yet had a chance to develop control, just
as you hadn’t.”
“This is nothing like that.”
“It could have been.”
As I continued reluctantly down the stairs, their arguing
I bumped into Drell on the bottom step and gave an “oof.”
Drell shushed me and spoke a phrase of gibberish in an exag-
“What?” I demanded.
“Seter inoden,” she repeated, tugging on my pendant. “Old Nisseran. It’s a concealing spell. Say it. But grab my hand first.”
I did as she asked. My elicrin stone lit up, but nothing
seemed to change.
“Don’t touch anything,” she said in full voice. “And don’t
let go or they will see and hear me. Come on.”
She jerked me up the stairs. I hesitated before we stepped
onto the stone landing at the top, but Drell tiptoed into the
room, gripping my hand like an iron vice.
Neither Brack nor Tamarice so much as twitched in our
direction. Having half-expected the spell not to work, I froze,
b 48 c
feeling naked and so very strange. I looked at Drell, whom I could still see, as she pressed herself against the wall and
stood completely still. She squeezed my hand reassuringly
and I posted up next to her, trying to believe that the flesh I
could still feel and see was invisible to other eyes.
“Before the day I found you at the Water, your power had
made your life a tragedy.” Brack both looked and sounded so
tired, so worn.
Tamarice gestured fiercely at him. “And you have grown
ever more tragic since I met you. You’ve taken on burdens you
don’t need to bear and become a weary old man, worrying about
whether generations of kings are getting along. You’ve exhausted yourself trying to hold back your power, in the name of ‘honor.’ ”
She seemed to suddenly realize her tone had intensified
to a yell. She fell silent, smoothing back the fallen hairs that obscured her face, and sighed deeply. Her eyes closed for a long moment. When she opened them, she looked at Brack with
Rounding the desk that separated them, she knelt before
his chair and took his hand in hers. “I’m sorry. I just wish you would stop hiding behind lectures on responsibility and a head
of gray hair. Let go, Brack. Allow yourself to simply be. What
you can do, who you are, is magnificent and— ”
“It’s dangerous, Tamarice.” He stroked her hand, but then
peeled it off of his with a tormented expression. “Desire is
Drell and I looked at one another. She pursed her lips and
shrugged to show she was as baffled as I.
Tamarice bowed her head, chest heaving. When she looked
up, her features were a hard mask.
b 49 c
“I refuse to lie to her. I refuse to pretend that my will can be bent to the needs of selfish humans. You may have been a
ruler in your time, but I was treated like a misbehaving dog
before I could even speak in my own defense.”
Brack stood up to put distance between them, face drawn.
“I would never have let that happen if I had been there. You
know my heart aches for what you endured— enough not to
scold your begrudging attitude every time we go to help those
in need, even enough to let you call them ‘humans’ as though
you are something better. But we are responsible for another
of our kind now, and I will not stand by while you contaminate
her values. Instruct Bristal according to tradition, or do not
instruct her at all.”
Tamarice had risen to her feet and squared her shoulders.
“What if I refuse? What will you do? Challenge me to a fight?”
Brack’s defiant expression wavered, fading again to wea-
riness. He said nothing. His silence seemed less a gesture of
surrender than a realization that they could argue for days and
forever be in discord.
“You would prefer I had nothing to do with her, wouldn’t
you? Our training days are long over yet you still treat me like a wayward child.”
Brack said nothing in reply. Tamarice tore from the room
so abruptly that the whoosh of her cloak stirred the hairs
around my face.
As I stood frozen, watching Brack sink back into his chair,
questions whirled through my mind.
According to him, elicromancers existed to promote peace.
I had promised to seek the good of Nissera, and something
about that vow felt right and fitting. Brack’s humility somehow
b 50 c
made him seem worthy of my trust. But he did not seem to live by his statement that we were all equals.
If Tamarice had known great pain in her life, who was I to
judge how she felt about mortals? If they had harmed her, what
argument did I have against her hatred?
Drell led me downstairs and released my hand at the door.
“Repeat the incantation,” she said.
“It’s a good thing we listened in,” she said. “So you could
“That Tamarice— ”
Drell paused at the sound of a sniffle. I opened the door
slowly, finding Tamarice sitting on the doorstep, staring across the plateau at the streaks of orange the sunset painted across
She turned and glanced from me to Drell with swollen
eyes. “I suppose you both heard all that,” she muttered, turn-
ing away from us again.
Tentatively, I sat on the step next to her. “What happened
to you when you were a mortal?”
Tamarice looked back at Drell, who crossed her arms. I
realized the elicromancer wasn’t going to share any secrets
while she was here. Drell realized it too, and shook her head
before stalking off across the plateau.
Once Drell had entered the passage that led into the for-
tress, Tamarice spoke.
“I was born in Volarre, like you. I lived in a poor farming
village. The man who fathered me . . . I would have thought
tankards of ale grew in our yard, if I hadn’t watched him spend
b 51 c
every thesar we had on them. He was so violent and stupid that my mother ran away and didn’t even bother to take me
with her. Those few early years are just a fog of pain and anger in my memory. I had no idea how to manage such strong emotions, and my Terrene gift had a will of its own. I often caused earthquakes or landslides by accident. My village turned on
me, which made the disasters worse. One earthquake was
fierce enough to claim innocent victims— children.”
Tamarice wiped her eyes. “I went to live in the outskirts of
the Forest of the West Fringe. I knew I would be happier there,
and that people wouldn’t have anything to fear from me. But
three foolish boys came to hunt down the ‘monster’ for a thrill.
I was only a little girl. They would have killed me if I hadn’t
used my power to protect myself.
“I had heard of the Water, of how it either killed people
or increased their power. I wanted the ability to master my
gift rather than let it master me. So I set out to become an
“You went looking for the Water?”
“Not all of us are lucky enough to live comfortable lives as
kitchen maids,” she said. “I went in, received an elicrin stone
and then saw Brack waiting on the shore. He brought me back
here and made me his protégée.”
Eyes dry now, she placed a hand on my wrist and said,
“Tomorrow, I will actually teach you something or other about
history, all right?”
I offered her a half smile. “All right.”
The elicromancer stood, looking imposing once more
against the backdrop of a darkening sky. Then she disappeared.
I hiked back across the snowy plateau to the citadel, not
b 52 c
realizing it had grown bitterly cold until I stepped into the shelter of the corridor. From the hallway I could see that my
room was warm with firelight, and I walked in to find Drell sit-
ting cross-legged by the hearth, stirring a pot of stew. Kimber
sat reading in a chair.
“What did she tell you?” Drell asked skeptically.
“She told me why she chose to go to the Water.”
“What did she teach you today?”
“Drell!” Kimber scolded.
“She taught me how to embrace my gift. She didn’t do
“Strike flint and tinder just to see a spark and someday
you’ll start a fire,” Drell said.
“What do you know about it? If you want to be an elicro-
mancer, go jump in the Water.”
Drell set her chin. Kimber looked at me as if she hoped
she’d heard me wrong. Sickening regret immediately rose up
in my throat like bile.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted, flattening my palm against my fore-
head. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I said such a thing.”
“I do,” Drell said, hopping to her feet and bowing sardoni-
cally. “You’ve already chosen whose student you want to be.
See if I offer to help you again, Your All-Powerful-ness.” She
strutted from the room.
Kimber stood and approached me. I braced myself for her
wrath, which I much deserved, but she patted my hair in a
“I thought I could learn from both of them,” I said.
“You can try, but your very presence has heightened their
discord. It seems you may soon have to make up your mind.
b 53 c
But no matter what you choose, remember this: Don’t play with darkness. Don’t even touch it, because someday soon this
world will need you. I can see through your eyes to your heart,
and I know you are the type of person— the type of elicroman-
cer— to rise to the occasion.”
The elderly woman surprised me by pulling me into an
embrace. I laid my head on her shoulder, noticing that she
smelled like rose leaves. “I hope I am.”