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On Wings of Fire: Chapter 22

by Mea


“We’re going to have to be fast,” Cassia said as she climbed the stairs to her tower with Fyn assisting her by holding her good arm. When she didn’t move, Mithrinde’s mote kept the pain in her right arm and thigh completely at bay. But every time she took a step, the raw, healing skin stretched and protested. It didn’t matter. They didn’t have time for her to rest in bed.

“Tilana, you should go to Promise first. You can persuade Micah and the other Archpriests to agree to make the new Treatise while Fyn and I go back to the Hive and get the shards. I’ll send you there, and then I’ll teleport me and Fyn.”

Tilana shook her head. “No. You shouldn’t be teleporting twice in a row. I’ll use one of the Couriers. Do you really think you’ll be up to—”

Cassia silenced Tilana with a look. They didn’t have a choice. The Hive was far, and teleporting to it would be difficult. They couldn’t ask someone who had never even seen the place to try.

Besides, she was the Grand Mage. It was time she started living up to the title.

They reached the top of the tower and Cassia paused, leaning against the doorframe to rest for a moment. Then she turned the handle. It was locked.

Tilana handed over a key without a word. It was a spare; the original was with Cassia’s things somewhere deep in the cave system of the Hive. Cassia felt naked without her pouch hanging at her waist. Would they be able to spare the time to find it?

Cassia unlocked the room and pushed the door open.

She shouldn’t have been startled to find it exactly as she had left it: the sun streaming through the window where she hadn’t closed the curtain, the papers scattered all over the desk, and the tapestry draped over the old gold-trimmed chest.

A hundred emotions crashed over her, but she kept moving. She would not die like her mother had, vanishing into thin air and never coming back. She knew where she was going, and by all reports Iona had completely moved her forces to siege Promise — though Cassia couldn’t imagine where she had gotten all the foci — so there would almost certainly be no one to challenge them.

With Fyn’s help, she pulled the heavy tapestry off the chest and let it crumple to the floor, discharging a distinct cloud of dust. The key was in the lock, where Mother had left it.

Cassia drew in a breath. Then she turned the key and opened Mother’s collection of teleportation foci.

The chest was separated into a dozen compartments, each holding a handful of knickknacks — dried plant clippings, small clay figurines, rare polished stones — and each labeled with her neat handwriting.

Cassia found the compartment labeled Home, ran a finger along the lettering, hoped that Fyn and Tilana did not notice how blurry her eyes had become. Then, with a grim sense of irony, she plucked a dried leaf she recognized as from one of the trees surrounding the Giving Pool.

“Let’s go,” she said to Fyn.

His eyes widened as if taken aback by her fervor. But the longer they waited, the more people died in the siege at Promise.

She moved to the center of the room and sat in the protective circle emblazoned on the floor, the same place she had tested so many spells. She gestured for Fyn to stand across from her and for Tilana to stand back.

Then she opened her injured hand.

In it, she held a single pottery shard, one piece of the jug that held Mithrinde’s power. Their plan was simple: bring what remained of the vast power that was gathered in those jugs to Promise, so Micah and the others could do again what they had done so many decades ago — seal away the gods, and free humanity. Fyn had provided the key — he had apparently pressed this shard into Cassia’s hand so she could draw on more of Mithrinde’s power and live long enough to make it back to Promise.

Now, the shard’s magic was nearly spent. But though these jugs had been specially imbued with elemental power, they were still objects, shaped and imbued with meaning by humans. In the long years those jugs had sat in the cave, they had not been collecting only one type of power.

They had each collected two.

And it was that other power Cassia drew upon now, an Endurance innate in the shard that represented its connection to the grandiose cavern it had lain undisturbed in for so long. She.whispered the chant under her breath, the timing and rhythm helping her focus on the task at hand.

Teleportation was tricky because just drawing the magic out of the object did not work. Teleportation was of Change, Endurance’s opposite, and so there was a twist in there, reversing the magic’s nature. Cassia had never known how to articulate that difference before, but there it was, and now that she knew how even this magic came from gods—

It clicked. Cassia locked eyes with Tilana, but did not have time to even mouth a word to her sister before the magic flared and whisked her and Fyn into darkness.

They spilled a moment later from darkness into a different kind of darkness, not the choking crush of teleportation but a cool, open air with a hint of dampness. Cassia’s feet slammed into hard stone ground and she heard Fyn thud beside her.

She lifted a hand and called forth her magic. A strong beam of light issued forth from her palm and formed itself into a sphere floating just above her hand. It was marbled gray and white like the moon overhead.

Fyn lifted his hand to touch it, but his hand passed right through. “It’s beautiful,” he said.

Cassia shrugged. She hadn’t meant to make it look like the moon It had just sort of happened. She looked around at the familiar chamber and her heart sank.

They were standing right at the edge of the pit where the raised dais and the jugs had once been. Fyn glanced sideways at her, then raised his own palm and jumped when a more focused stream of light issued forth. Tilana’s wings bristled on his back, but he looked pleased with himself.

They scanned the pit carefully, but there wasn’t a single shard of pottery in sight.

Fyn muttered something under his breath that Cassia couldn’t quite catch, but she could tell from the tone it was less than polite. “They took them all,” he growled. “I should have guessed. I saw Sasha collecting them—”

His voice broke off and his whole body went rigid. Cassia whirled around, scanning the room for a threat, but she saw nothing.

When she turned back to Fyn, his eyes had gone blank white.

Startled, Cassia shrieked and lunged forward, shaking Fyn by the shoulder. “Fyn? Fyn? Snap out of it!”

His wings were spread wide like a warning, but he wasn’t moving. A strange pearly glow radiated from beneath his skin. Then the tension broke and his frame relaxed, but his eyes were still blank and wrong. When he spoke, it was Fyn’s voice, but not his words.

“Oh, Cassia, what noble thing are you trying to do now?”

Cassia stumbled back several steps from Fyn and stared at her possessed friend. Tilana was right. She knew it when she saw it.

“Leave him alone, Mithrinde!” she shouted. “He’s not yours.”

Fyn’s body stepped toward Cassia, lifting his arms pleadingly. “Cassia, I’m sorry. You’re not asleep, so this was the easiest way we could carry a conversation.”

“I don’t want to hear anything you’ve got to say,” Cassia said, entrenching herself in her fury so that Mithrinde would not see her pain. “You lied to me.”

“I told you the truth!”

Mithrinde’s voice wasn’t the calm silver Cassia had heard before. It was forceful and pleading and… human. “I told you we were imprisoned and that I needed your help to free us. I told you why you never got my gift, how I could give it to you once I was free. And I did.” Fyn’s arms gestured wildly at Cassia’s new wings.

Cassia ruffled every feather in those wings. “And you think I’d trade a pair of wings so the rest of you gods can all act like Selach? So you can destroy from the inside out anyone who doesn’t agree with you? Gods, no wonder the human gods think you’re too powerful.”

She was building into a frenzy. “Why would you even want that power? What kind of god needs to be able to mind control their followers to keep them—”

“CASSIANDRA,” Mithrinde shouted in a voice that wasn’t Fyn’s, a resonant voice that built in the air and slammed into Cassia like the pull of the tides. It startled her to silence, abruptly reminding her that she was shouting at a goddess who could more likely than not vaporize her with a look.

Mithrinde seized the moment of silence. “Cassia, I agree with you. Why do you think I’m here? I’m trying to help. I know where the shards are.”

Cassia could only blink befuddled at her, the bubble of anger deflating slightly in her chest. Whatever answer she had expected, it wasn’t that.

Mithrinde rushed on. “When we first gave of our power to your ancestors, did you think we knew what we were doing? We were experimenting, Cassia, and our experiments turned out more successful than we could have imagined. But yes, mortals linking themselves to beings so much more powerful than themselves turned out to have side effects. You influence us, create us, and we give you paths to follow in return. Linking ourselves to you through our motes magnified that connection a hundredfold. Hence… this.”

Fyn’s arms gestured at himself. “I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just what is.”

Cassia folded her arms. “You didn’t have a problem using it when you forced Micah to Promise.”

“I—” Mithrinde closed her mouth as if restraining herself from shouting. “I know. I’ve only ever meant to use it to guide my people. But when you gave Fyn one of my motes, and I had to fight for him…”

She threw up Fyn’s hands. “Selach has long since gone too far. Until now, my anger blinded me from seeing that the rest of us have, too. What’s the point of being a deity when you have to force people to follow you? What Micah taught you about me… that is the goddess I was. It’s the goddess I’d like to be again. The gods need boundaries, Cassia. I’d like to help you make the new Treatise.”

Mithrinde dropped Fyn’s arms and stood quite still, watching Cassia through Fyn’s eyes. All Cassia could see when looking at him was how he had looked on the stripped bed in Mithrinden, his skin horribly pale and his body burning with fever from his tyrant god. Cassia bit her lip, biting back a dozen retorts. Mithrinde wasn’t Selach. This, more than anything, showed that. But she could not shake the image of her friend burning for the hubris of the gods.

“I am the All-Seeing, Cassia. Even imprisoned, I have watched you more than you know,” Mithrinde added quietly. “You have always lived what he taught you. Not to win my favor, not to earn a mote, but because you believed it was right. I have failed to be what he taught. But that doesn’t mean that your heart is wrong.”

Cassia’s nails dug into the palm of her hand. And what had Micah taught her?

To try her best.

And to let others do the same.

Finger by finger, Cassia unclenched her fists.

“Okay,” she said to her goddess, the ice in her chest cracking open. “Okay. Where exactly are the shards?”

And where the light of worship had waned in her heart, a crescent moon of faith began to glow.


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Mon Sep 06, 2021 5:04 pm
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SpiritedWolfe wrote a review...



Hi Mea! Let's get into it ^^ I'll start with the line comments, and then give some more of my impressions of the chapter.

She would not die like her mother had, vanishing into thin air and never coming back.


When I first read this, I was just like "wait, what?" On the one hand, it's a really good way of casually dropping in how Cassia's mother had died (if she actually died...? plot point maybe??), but on the other hand, it's really casual. I do like that hints of this have been sprinkled throughout the novel, such as Cassia's aversion to teleportation, but Cassia's mother has always been such a huge unknown in the novel, and it clearly still affects her since she's tearing up as she looks through her mom's old stuff. I would've liked some more development for Cassia's mother, maybe? If it fits, of course, since I feel like she's in this weird spot of kind of important, but barely mentioned.

Then she opened her injured hand.


Bit of a nitpick, but was Cassia holding this shard the whole time? Like literally since she came back? There wasn't any mention of her going back to get it/any mention of it before? Maybe it's not very important but, if the hand is bandaged, you would think someone would have taken it from her xD

“Oh, Cassia, what noble thing are you trying to do now?”


This is super sinister. If Mithrinde is trying to come across like she has changed, this is such a terrible way to do it. Like, later in the chapter she says that she is all knowing and likely heard her make a plan with Fyn and Tilana, so what's the purpose of asking this? I get the feeling that Mithrinde has actually changed her mind in a way, but this doesn't do a good job of portraying her that way <.<

Mithrinde’s voice wasn’t the calm silver Cassia had heard before.


This confused me for a moment, because before it was specified that it was Fyn who was speaking in Fyn's voice, so saying Mithrinde's voice made me wonder if it shifted and started sounding like her. Maybe something like tone would be better, since that's what Cassia can discern as coming from Mithrinde?

Why do you think I’m here?


This is, once again, not very obvious xD If I were in Cassia's shoes, I would assume that Mithrinde had come to stop her. And why did she wait until they had already reached the cave to step in and say something? Especially if she already knew they weren't there?

“I—” Mithrinde closed her mouth as if restraining herself from shouting. “I know. I’ve only ever meant to use it to guide my people. But when you gave Fyn one of my motes, and I had to fight for him…”


I'm a little confused what Mithrinde is getting at here. Is she saying that when she had to fight for Fyn she decided that it was okay to control people? Or is she saying that she realized how awful being controlled is when she had to fight for Fyn? This felt a bit vague to me.

Okay! I did enjoy this chapter. I think other reviewers mentioned this too, but I love the approach that you have to writing these deities. It ties back well to the fact that Mithrinde literally told Cassia that she was once human, so it feels natural that Mithrinde comes across as a human here. She is apologetic and can admit that she has made a mistake. But at the same time, I'm still weary of her. As I pointed out in some of the line above, she still says a few things that put me off weirdly, but probably more from poor wording than bad intentions. And I also think it's natural for us, as the reader, to mistrust her a bit, but have some faith since she did fight so valiantly to save Fyn.

Also, I liked seeing Cassia tapping into the magic of the object in order to teleport them. I thought that was a really neat explanation of human magic, and I think your magic system is really clever. It's super interesting to read, and I love that everything has some amount of meaning to it, either the meaning that people give the objects -- which creates the magic -- or the natural magic in the world channeled through people. It's very cool and rounds out the world nicely! :)

We also love to see redemption arcs.

Though, one question that I had is if Mithrinde acting more human had to do with if she is bound or not? I mean, when Cassia first spoke directly to her, she seemed more stereotypically "goddess" like, more regal and wise in a sense, but now she's almost pleading. Is this because she's realizing the extent of her power and wants to make amends? Or is this because she's more in touch with her human roots now that she has her full power again? Not that this is really that important, but it's an interesting observation to me ^^

Anyway! I've read ahead a bit again <.< But I'm still on the edge of my seat :3 Let me know if you have any questions ^^

Happy writing!
~ Wolfe




Mea says...


Ooh, I love reading your thoughts about how the gods and their relationships with their followers work. It's definitely a big theme in this novel but I'm still working on exact logistics and how to communicate them to the reader. I'm honestly not sure how much of all this I want to explain, because I kind of want to leave some of the aspects of the relationship a bit more mystical? Like I think one of the themes I'd like to lean into is how people don't often really understand or expect the profound effects they have on each other, and with the gods this is happening on a really large scale. Curious to hear your insights there. c:



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Thu Jul 29, 2021 4:10 pm
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...



Hi Mea,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

I see with the new part, the style of the plot has also changed a little. I like how you try new things and I think the pacing in this chapter was right to bring the tension to that point where it should be at the end of the chapter.

Unlike your previous chapters where even the most suspenseful moments or fights were described in a serene tone to stay true to the text, I felt like this chapter was done in a fast-paced tone. I found it odd at the beginning that the pacing had changed, but also found it fitting for the situation Cassia and Fan are currently in.

I liked the chapter. I liked how Cassia proved herself strongly in this one and also laid on the first moments against Mithrinde. This shows since the last "visit" from her that Cassia has changed significantly and wants to take fate into her own hands. I also liked that the focus here was clearly reflected in the plot, and some things fell more into the background as a result.

You portrayed Mithrinde well. I also like the way she sounds as if she has made a mistake and regrets it, but at the same time she would like to repeat something. I had the impression that Cassia was not talking to a deity, but more to a human being. A little stubborn but helpful. I liked the way you portrayed Mithrinde. I think that's always a point where some either struggle or make it easy when it comes to gods and how you portray them.

I honestly didn't really notice that for this chapter Fyn had a bit less screentime than in the last ones, but think because he's already made his moves to get to the point where he's changed that Cassia is now in the foreground.

The events have been coming thick and fast in the last parts and I like that you still keep a focus and work through the points one by one. That was also what I meant at the beginning, with the pacing. Otherwise your chapters had a string that was pulled back and forth, where new building sites were opened or expanded, and now the string has been pulled straight and pulls itself forward.

I am also curious to see how you will work on the next chapters and how the plot will expand. I would only advise that you still take the time to describe some things that should catch the reader's eye. Maybe you can work that into your new pace so that it seems more flexible.

One thing I noticed while reading:

She.whispered the chant under her breath, the timing and rhythm helping her focus on the task at hand.

A small typo of a full stop here after “She”.

This review was a bit shorter because I couldn't say much about the new events. It feels like a new beginning, with the same characters, so characterisation is out. I definitely liked your new style and also that Cassia sounded more grown up if a bit panicky. :D

Have fun writing!

Mailice




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Thu Jul 29, 2021 2:32 pm
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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Ohoho! What a great chapter!! I think the further exploration of Mithrinde's allegiances and such was very interesting (though her possessing Fyn was less fun-- like, ma'am please get out of him). I also liked how you used her character to further the plot along what with her knowing where the shards were.

Honestly, your handling of Mithrinde's character has been really great overall. I think it can sometimes be hard to write gods and immortals since they've existed for a realllllly long time, but Mithrinde's character proves that even the oldest beings can still make mistakes. I think your describing of her voice as "pleading and human" at that one part was very impactful and poetic. Before, when we saw Mithrinde, she was all calm and collected like a deity should be, but here we see her facade starting to slip. She's got this mini character arc, but it's still really well done, so good job on that!!

Specifics

She hadn’t meant to make it look like the moon It had just sort of happened.


Tiny thing here: you forgot a period between "moon" and "It."

Mithrinde seized the moment of silence. “Cassia, I agree with you. Why do you think I’m here? I’m trying to help. I know where the shards are.”


Mithrinde really needs to pick a side, tbh. Props to you for creating such a complex character, too! I really enjoy seeing her from all these different perspectives.

Cassia’s nails dug into the palm of her hand. And what had Micah taught her?

To try her best.

And to let others do the same.

Finger by finger, Cassia unclenched her fists.


I love how you use page spacing to convey her flow of thoughts. It's the subtle things, like paragraphing, that can really make or break a scene, and you've really utilized it super well here.

And where the light of worship had waned in her heart, a crescent moon of faith began to glow.


This was a really beautiful piece of imagery and it felt like just the right note to end the chapter on. Nice work!!

Overall: great job!! Even though this chapter was just a conversation, it still carried a lot of weight and I can tell it'll have a big impact on the story as a whole. Looking forward to seeing what other roles Mithrinde might play later on. Until next time!!




Mea says...


Oh I'm glad you like Mithrinde's character! I've been worried she might seem inconsistent with how her relationship with Cassia is changing. Good to know it's working well.




Pain is filtered in a poem so that it becomes finally, in the end, pleasure.
— Mark Strand