Lytha had cared for many mangled bodies during her years as a healer, but had never acted as a patient herself before now. She drifted in and out of consciousness, unwilling to look into a mirror to see how bad her burns were. Her labored breathing relaxed on the first day, and the constant pain diminished as her condition stabilized. When she finally ventured to touch the skin around her face and neck, she felt the unfortunately familiar sensation of burned flesh.
The sea had always hated Garyl, and he hated it right back. Yet he still came back to it time and again, because it always seemed to have something that he needed. Unfortunately, this time seemed to act as an exception to that rule.
“Once upon a time, there was the greatest evil the world had ever known. Then it died, and everybody lived happily ever after.”
Garyl didn’t realize that the words had come from him until after he spoke him. He opened his eyes and saw a blue-gray ceiling above him. A cool, damp cloth on his forehead and the quality of the mattress on which he lay told him that he had awoken in the infirmary.
“I like the story,” Lytha said from a stool near his bed. “It’s short, simple, and has a happy ending. Too bad the real tale doesn’t end the same way.”
Garyl and Lytha smelled the smoke before they saw the fire. Their conversation trailed off, they looked each other in the eyes, and then they both ran toward the blaze.
A handful of students and one instructor had already stepped out of the academy’s main building by the time they backtracked to the hedge maze. The fire had spread quickly, creating a thick gray smoke as it consumed the leaves and foliage within the maze. Without thinking, Garyl began to weave an enchantment to put out the fire, just as he had months ago in Falden’s shack. Confident that Garyl could keep the blaze under control, Lytha moved on, ushering the students back inside.
The idea that she would face no punishment for her journey beneath the sea had never crossed Tiane’s mind. However, when Lytha simply scowled and told her to find something to do, she seized upon the opportunity. Fleeing into the depths of the Lorinthian Magic Academy, she left her two would-be instructors to debate what she needed. Lytha, she was sure, would argue that she needed more structure. As for Garyl, she wasn’t sure if he had any intention of teaching her or if he was just showing off.
Lytha had never turned one of her students into a toad before, but she seriously considered making an exception.
“Then again,” she told herself, “I might need something more immobile to keep Tiane on task. A chair or a stone might do.”
Now you have to start all over again.
A cloud of purple ink exploded around her before she could utter the profanities that came to mind. It dispersed quickly, but left a twenty-foot-wide stain along the wall, floor, and tables in the area…not to mention her own face and clothes.
Garyl had spent a long time contemplating what death felt like. He always imagined a sensation of bitter coldness, which is why he smiled when he woke to find himself immersed in water from the waist down.
Unfortunately, when he opened his eyes he saw not Kajeel’s smiling face, but the toothy grin of a sea monster.
The creature before him had dark green hair which moved on its own accord and was more than a dozen feet long. Several of the long, oily tresses looped around Garyl’s arms and legs, binding him and suspending his body upright in the freezing temperatures of the Greyflow River. Its androgynous torso sat above the churning water, sitting atop a huge serpentine body that coiled several times around on the base of the riverbed. The human visage vanished at the creature’s face, which looked like a hungry eel and regarded its prisoner carefully through lidless eyes.
“Ugh,” she said. Her voice sounded deeper than it used to, but still had a feminine tone. “I’m decaying.”
“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.”