“I don’t want her around here,” Lytha said. “She has the reek of an adventurer about her. Trust me, no school of wizardry benefits from a headstrong child who fancies herself an adventurer.”
Garyl slumped and rapped his knuckles impatiently on the arm of his wooden chair. “I didn’t know you were such a fan of leaving a job undone.”
Lytha walked around her oak desk and toward the far wall of her office. She straightened a picture of one of the academy’s old headmistresses before continuing the conversation.
“While I have extended you an offer to serve as a professor in the past, you never took it,” she said. “As such, you are not a member of the Lorinthian Academy of Magic in any way, shape, or form. And if I were to hire you, it certainly wouldn’t be to serve as a recruiter. All you ever do is bring trouble to my doorstep.”
Garyl chuckled. “You run a school. How can you be so wrong? You did hire me, remember? Moreover, you hired me specifically to cause trouble in the area.”
Lytha continued a slow pace around the room, pausing every now and then to wipe some dust off a bookshelf, adjust the position of a bust, or examine one of the tapestries that hung from her wall. She treated her office as a foreign location—it held history and testimony from the previous leaders of the academy, but very little in terms of her own personal touches.
“Hired you. Huh.” She snorted indignantly. “I asked you to do me a favor, and I offered you a little bit of compensation in return.”
“And that doesn’t count as hiring me because…?”
“Because none of it was academy business. I came to you as a concerned citizen of Lorinth. I offered you money from my own pocket to deal with a monster in our midst. In return, you wasted several days and now come back to me with a girl whom you insist I enroll.”
“Not enroll,” Garyl objected. “Watch. Provide her with some private tutoring. She’s got magic in her that would put your best students to shame. But she mostly needs somebody to guide her in other matters.”
“This isn’t a finishing school. If you’re so concerned with her behavior, tutor her yourself.”
“That’s all very clever, but if you leave me alone with her, one of us is going to wind up dead.”
“And why is that?”
Garyl thought back to Tiane’s outburst by the campfire. She had all the anger she needed to kill him, but the power that had been so apparent earlier in the evening seemed to have vanished. “A part of her wants to kill me. And sometimes she has the power to make that happen.”
Lytha arched her eyebrows. “Oh, well that’s especially wonderful. You have a magic-powered murderer with you, and you’d prefer me to put her in a busy school. As if I don’t have enough trouble breaking up spell duels in my halls.”
“Yes, yes, I get it. You’re a headmistress. But you also have the potential to be a heroine.”
“And what do you mean by that?”
“The girl…Tiane…” Garyl paused and almost laughed as he considered what he was about to say. It seemed so important in his head, but felt silly to say out loud. “She has dragon blood in her.”
“Dragon blood?” Lytha glared at Garyl skeptically. “You do realize that dragons and humans aren’t exactly…compatible?”
“Yes, I’m well aware of that fact,” Garyl replied. “And thank you for that ungodly mental image, by the way. I know it’s physically impossible—that’s why I need to do some more research on the matter.”
“Why not just use the academy’s library? You’ve had no problem barging onto campus to do it before.”
“I do love books,” Garyl admitted. “But they don’t contain everything. Some things require field research. And some field research is too dangerous for myself, let alone a girl I would like to keep alive long enough to see adulthood.”
Lytha sat at her desk and rubbed her hands together. “We only accept twenty students per year, and all of this year’s slots have already been spoken for. The academy doesn’t have any room for her.”
“But you do have extra beds on campus. You’ve already offered temporary housing to the rest of Falden’s slaves. Give her the same opportunity that you’ve offered others like her. Once you see her potential, you’ll want to keep her around. You can provide some private tutoring until she comes of age, and then you can send her on her way.”
“And when it comes time for me to provide my reports to the Lorinthian assembly? They already don’t like the fact that I order crates of bat guano and sulfur. How should I explain housing for somebody who is neither staff nor student?”
“Keep the blood money you offered me as a down payment. I’ll provide compensation on a quarterly basis if I have to. And…” Garyl paused and reconsidered some of Lytha’s words. “Wait…bat guano? What in all of Niiran do you need bat guano for?”
Lytha rolled her eyes. “You really were useless when it came to potion brewing, weren’t you?”
* * *
Garyl had brought Tiane to a public bath before arriving at the academy, and as a result she felt cleaner and calmer than ever before. While the two spellslingers argued behind closed doors, she rubbed a hand up and down her light brown arm, marveling at the softness of her own skin. While the conversation between the two lingered on, she leaned back in her sitting room chair and closed her eyes, allowing her mind to wander.
She viewed the world of Niiran from on high, somewhere just beneath the clouds. She could see tiny farmhouses and wide stretches of road with ant-like travelers along them. The sun shined above her, and her shadow fell across the land beneath her. In her vision, her shadow didn’t seem small—it looked like the silhouette of a giant against the landscape.
Her eyes snapped open as the door to Lytha’s office creaked. Garyl stepped out and bowed to the girl, gesturing toward the headmistress’ chambers as though it should be inviting.
“This is so stupid,” Tiane said as she stood up. “I really can’t believe I let you talk me into wasting my time like this.”
“I’ll miss that sunny disposition when it’s gone,” Garyl replied.
Rolling her eyes, Tiane walked through the door to face the headmistress. She didn’t realize she was entering alone until Garyl shut the door behind her without entering himself.
The matronly Lytha sat at her desk, scribbling something on parchment with a wooden stylus. Her hand moved furiously as she wrote, but the rest of her remained still. Tiane’s eyes wandered across the wrinkles of the old woman’s cheeks. She tried to imagine herself at that age, but simply couldn’t.
Lytha finished her writing, set the pen down, and then looked into Tiane’s eyes. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, as though the eye contact made her nervous. Tiane felt a rush of excitement within her and wondered if the powers she had shown yesterday had returned to her.
“You are Tiane,” Lytha said. “I’m happy to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you, but we haven’t had a chance to talk, you and I.”
“Why would we ever have a reason to talk?” Tiane asked. “You live in this…this palace in the city, and I scrape together what meals I can from other people’s trash.”
“Or you steal them,” Lytha added. “Isn’t that what Falden had you do? Wander through the city or bump into some travelers on the road, steal what you could or hock his snake oil, then come back to him with the profits?”
“Yes, but I didn’t always work for Falden. Only for the past couple of years or so. I always warned him I’d be the one to finish him off.”
Tiane grinned and felt her face flush with excitement as she realized that she had done exactly that. Garyl’s magic had technically finished the old man off, but she had put everything in place—and punished the guards who thought they could hit her without any comeuppance.
The lines on Lytha’s face deepened as she studied Tiane’s expression. After a moment, she smiled slightly, but it seemed as though she had to exert a great deal of effort to turn the edges of her cracked lips upward.
“Garyl is probably eavesdropping at the door right now,” Lytha said. “He’s tried to convince me to let you stay here at the academy. We have some spare rooms, so we could keep you as a boarder. You wouldn’t be able to attend classes, but I’ve heard that you have quite the magical aptitude. If you’re interested and you show the talent that Garyl suggested, I would be willing to provide you with some private tutoring.”
“Yes!” Tiane spoke without even thinking about the offer. The image of her as an adult, clad in violet robes and manipulating the elements themselves with a word and some gestures, lashed through her mind. “I mean…yes, I would consider that. Uh, I mean, the offer is flattering…yes, I accept.”
“And why do you accept?”
“Who wouldn’t want to learn magic? The power I see you sorcerers wield…imagine what my life could have been like with that!”
“I can tell you right now that your reasoning is enough for me to change my mind right now. Despite what a certain show-off might have demonstrated, true sorcery takes time and effort. Most likely, you’ll spend three years learning magical theory before you so much as levitate a teacup.”
“But I’ve already done it!” Tiane exclaimed. “I breathed fire. I made people run just by looking them in the eye. Except…” she sighed and tired to draw some of that power out of her, but only broke out in a sweat from the effort. “Except it’s all gone now. For about a week I had this amazing power, and then once it did what I wanted, it’s all gone.”
“You might have to accept that it’s gone for good,” Lytha said softly. “Sometimes, these things come in flashes and then fade away. That’s why I refuse to offer any student promises of great deeds. If you learn from me, you do it for the love of a good mystery and a respect for the magical forces that bind this world together. My faculty graduate twenty students per year as official wizards, but most of them never use more than a few basic illusions. Fortunately, talking to animals or changing you hair different colors is enough to satisfy the masses. Does this interest you?”
Tiane responded more slowly this time, turning the ideas over in her mind. The image of the mighty enchantress who could make her enemies cower before her melted away, replaced by an old bookish crone in a library. Still… “Yes,” she said. “I want to learn. The more I know, the more control I have over my life. And that’s not something I’ve had before.”
“Fair enough. Now then, since I’m sure you’ve got one ear to the door, why don’t you come in, Garyl?”
There was no response. Lytha rose from her seat and spoke louder. “Garyl?”
Still no response. The headmistress spoke a word and waved her hand. The door flew open, but nobody stood on the other side.
Tiane left Lytha’s office and stepped into the sitting room, looking for the person who had brought her here. She found his shield, propped up against the wall, but nothing else. Garyl was gone.