Cassia's whole body ached. A curious tingling stretched from her right shoulder all the way down to her thigh, as if she had been sleeping in a strange position all night and her limbs were just waking up. As her thoughts rose murkily from sleep, the tingling turned into quick stabs of pain.
She groaned, but just at that moment, something cool and soothing washed out from a point between her shoulder blades and dulled the pain. Cassia parted her cracked lips — her eyes didn’t seem to want to open yet — and drew more deeply on her mote's power to forestall the pain. It felt comfortable and deeply familiar, like the feeling that had run through her when Mithrinde took her hand in the dream. And of course it did, it was her mote after all, and —
She meant Tilana’s mote, of course. Though it didn’t feel like Tilana’s mote.
And… hadn’t she given Tilana’s mote to Fyn? Still half in sleep-fog, Cassia struggled to make sense of it.
She felt a gossamer something brush up against her that was not quite words, but more a whisper of a pleased smile.
Then she knew that somehow, Mithrinde had given her a mote all her own.
The shock of this was so great that Cassia gasped and finally wrenched her eyes open.
She was home. Her own lilac-painted ceiling stared back at her, complete with the pattern of stars and the full moon with a smiley face in it she’d begged the palace painter to paint when she was six.
Everything else seemed a million miles away — Fyn, the Treatise, Iona and the Seekers. Could it have been a dream? Cassia clung to that glorious possibility for one moment.
Then Tilana had launched herself from the chair beside Cassia’s bed in a completely undignified fashion. “Cass!” she cried, but she stopped just short of throwing her arms around Cassia and settled for clasping her left, uninjured hand.
Her sister looked more unkempt than Cassia had ever seen her before. Her hair was not only down but scraggly, and Cassia thought she saw a tea-stain on her dress just above her thigh.
Cassia pushed herself to a half-sitting position and saw now that her whole right arm and shoulder was in bandages, her arm tied close to her in a sling. “Hi, Ti.”
She grinned at her sister. With her new mote washing pulses of calm through her, it was hard to feel anything but vaguely content, despite her aching… everything. She could not even quite bring herself to wonder too much exactly how she had gained her own mote.
“How do you feel?” Tilana said. Her eyes were flitting over Cassia’s face, categorizing every twitch — she was still the problem-solver.
“Better than I thought I’d feel,” Cassia laughed. “Look what I can do, Ti!”
She raised her good hand and painted a star of light in the air. It hung there, from her perspective just another one of the stars on her ceiling. But this one twinkled in a way the painted ones never could.
“I know,” Tilana said, though she wasn’t smiling. “It saved you. That drake got you here before infection set in, but you were already far too dehydrated when the healers reached you. Without that mote pumping strength through you…”
Cassia hadn’t really heard anything beyond “that drake.”
“Fyn!” she cried, with a strange leap in her stomach. He had dived in front of her. He had chosen her. “He got me here? Where is he?”
“Cassia, he’s… delirious,” Tilana finally said. “We don’t know what’s wrong with him. He passed out right when you arrived and only woke up long enough to shrink to his human form. He’s burning up from the inside. It’s like his body is tearing itself apart.”
This at last sent a spike of alarm through Cassia’s calm. She couldn’t lose Fyn now. Not after everything they’d been through, not here at the end where he was away from Selachen and she had a mote of her own and everything was going to be okay at last. She kicked back her quilt with her good leg and tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed.
“Wait, Cass, stop,” Tilana began, clutching her arm and trying to push her back onto the bed. “The healers said—”
“I don’t care what the healers said,” Cassia said recklessly, the mote in her chest still pulsing and powerful. “It’s his motes — they’re tearing him apart — Selach is angry at him because he saved me. I have to see him—”
Tilana at last relented, but she insisted on Cassia getting into a wheeled chair and being pushed instead of walking, despite Cassia’s protests that she felt fine.
“No one can feel fine three days after they’ve had half their body roasted off,” Tilana snapped at last. “And you’re going in the chair, or not at all.”
Cassia subsided, partially because she wasn’t quite sure her legs would support her weight, and partially because… “Three days?”
Tilana only gave a curt nod as she wheeled the chair down the hall. They went far, past the infirmary and the guest bedrooms all the way to a tiny chamber at the very end of the living quarters. Two guards were standing in front of the door, and as they drew up, the door opened and none other than Raphel exited, wiping his hands with a handkerchief.
“Grand Mage Cassia!” he exclaimed. “You should not be here.”
“I’ve got to see Fyn,” Cassia insisted.
Raphel looked desperately at Tilana, who just shook her head. “She says she can help.”
Raphel opened his mouth and closed it again, wringing the cloth between his hands. “His situation is certainly not good, and with the whole Council breathing down my neck to wake him up and get that mote out…” he muttered almost inaudibly.
He bent over Cassia and inspected her shoulder and her wrappings, asking questions about her pain and ignoring Cassia’s impatient responses. At last he straightened up. “Fine. The damage is already done by her getting out of bed. She can see him, but be careful.”
This last he directed sternly at Cassia. “He keeps snorting flames in his dreams.”
He helped wheel Cassia into the room. Cassia sat back heavily in her chair at the sight.
The room had been completely stripped bare of all comfort. Rugs, pillows, paintings, chairs — the only thing left was the sturdy bed frame and a thin sheet of polished metal on top. Fyn lay on his back on the metal, head lolling and mouth open. Tilana’s wings were splayed out at an awkward angle away from his body. The wings were shriveled, with many feathers missing and many other feathers charred. Fyn’s chest rose and fell with rapid, shallow breaths. A sturdy cuff connected his left arm and leg to the bed frame.
Cassia could hardly speak. “You’re keeping him chained up in — in a cell? He saved my life!”
Before they could stop her, she heaved herself out of the chair, steadying herself against it, and went to Fyn, bending over his unmoving form. His skin was so hot she could feel the heat of it six inches above his face. It seemed to have charred his shirt away around his stomach, exposing his red scales.
“He was setting things on fire!” Raphel protested, pointing to the flame licking around Fyn’s legs. “And if he wakes up, he could be highly erratic!”
Cassia wasn’t really listening to him anymore. She cupped Fyn’s cheek with her good hand, flinching away a few seconds later when she couldn’t stand the heat. She pressed her hand against his chest and found his skin was strangely cool there, though his heart was beating rapidly. Even though Tilana’s mote was lodged just behind his spine, Cassia could feel just by touching his chest its power rippling out with each beat of his heart, cooling the fever raging inside him. But it only just reached to his heart and his lungs, and with each wave it cooled a little bit less, the heat radiating from his stomach burning further up his chest.
“No,” Cassia forced out, grabbing his hand and pressing it to her chest, intertwining her fingers with his. She reached out with her power, desperately trying to push the same coolness pulsing through her into Fyn’s body, but whether because he was a drake or just because she had never been trained in healing, the magic could not break through his skin.
“You don’t get to save my life and then up and die on me!” she said through blurring eyes.
Just days ago she would have scoffed at the idea that Fyn would save her life the way she’d saved his in Haven. Every time she’d thought she was getting through to him, he had pushed her away or done something cruel to some poor human. But now, after their afternoon in Lhening and their talk in the cave… Cassia had almost begged him to come back to Mithrinde with her, not just to free him from Selach, but because she couldn’t imagine never seeing him again.
And now Fyn had saved her life and Selach was killing him for it. The only reason Fyn wasn’t already dead was Tilana’s mote of Mithrinde. But Selach was too strong, and Fyn was a drake and not an angel. How could he ever be free when he carried that horrible power inside him?
Cassia’s tears dried up in a single stroke of understanding. It was so simple. Fyn didn’t have to carry that power.
She could carry it for him.
Somehow, through some inspiration of Mithrinde, Cassia knew exactly what to do. She moved her hands up to Fyn’s face, cupping her hands under his head and calling her power forward, making it surge against his skin. Though it could not break through, she hoped the touch would rose him, call him back from his fevered dreams…
“Fyn, Fyn, I’m here,” she whispered. “Please give it to me.”
For the first time since she had entered the room, Fyn stirred. His eyes did not open, but they fluttered beneath his heavy lids. A muscle in his cheek moved, and then his lips parted, hot steam rising as his breath.
Cassia waited a second more to be sure. Then she lowered her head and touched her lips to Fyn’s.
They tasted not like ash or burning flame, but like the woody scent of the hearth on a winter’s morning, and though they burned hot and dry and cold all at once, Cassia refused to pull away. She kissed him deeper, drawing his breath into her lungs and ignoring how it scalded.
And even though Fyn was fighting the battle of his life, and exhausted, and nearly beaten, some part of his mind must have known what to do, because as she kissed him his lips responded, latching onto hers in a desperate plea.
A burning ember rose in his throat. Cassia felt the heat long before it touched her skin. She reached out and helped Fyn pull, drawing the mote into her own body the same way Fyn had accepted Tilana’s wings.
The burning ember leapt down Cassia’s throat.
Cassia broke the kiss in shock. The ember pushed down her esophagus, burning and nearly choking her as it went. She stumbled back, spluttering, and forced herself not to puke.
The mote kindled in her stomach, a strange, unfamiliar burning that grew to a blaze as it settled. The raw power startled her, but the burning… she bit her lip and nearly cried out in pain.
Then Mithrinde’s cooling power surged over it, snuffing the fire back to a single ember and washing away the pain.
Cassia’s chest heaved. So she had been right. She could fight Selach with her new mote, and take the burden from Fyn.
But she could already feel the perpetual trickle of power it took to keep the burning back. How long could her strength last?
Seeing the effect the removal of Selach’s mote had on Fyn, however, made Cassia determined to bear it as long as she could. Immediately, his skin began to cool and his face’s coloration shifted from an unhealthy pale pink to a deeper red, and he breathed deeper and more steady. His head turned, though his eyes didn’t open. Cassia could feel Tilana’s mote working its healing.
She settled back into the wheelchair to watch. Tilana didn’t say anything, but she pulled a chair from the other room and sat beside her in silence. Cassia knew there were things her sister was bursting to tell her, important things probably, like where Micah was and what had happened to the Treatise, which must have been renewed by now — but Cassia didn’t care. It could all wait.
Raphel hurried forward, pulling out some metal instruments from his bag, and seemed to be examining Fyn’s temperature and the dilation of his pupils. When he was finished, he looked back and forth from Fyn to Cassia.
“I… need to go now. There’s nothing more I can do here. When he wakes, be sure to give him plenty of fluids and something simple to eat.”
Cassia didn’t respond, but Tilana nodded mutely.
On his way out, Raphel leaned in and whispered to Cassia. “Whatever you did, it saved his life. But absolutely no exertion from here on out.”
Then he was gone. Cassia waited. Fyn was moving more now, his head and limbs twitching as if he was dreaming, or slowly waking up.
His eyes opened for the first time some minutes later.
“Uuuuunnnnngh,” he groaned, a continuous, complaining moan that was almost a growl. “Don’t tell me I fell off another cliff.”
“Fyn!” Cassia exclaimed. She launched herself up from her wheelchair and flung herself at him, using her new wings to help her half stand, half-hover over him. “How do you feel?”
He grunted again and shook his head, then raised a hand and rubbed it across his eyes. Tilana hurried out of the room and returned a moment later with a pillow to cushion his head, now that he had stopped smoking.
“Better than I have since the blood moon. Selach…”
“Can’t hurt you now,” Cassia said firmly, pushing the foreign mote down with a deliberate surge from her own mote.
“I can feel that, but how…” Then the memory became clear on his face. He pushed himself up on his elbows in alarm. “Cassia, give it back!”
“No!” Cassia exclaimed. “Of course not. You have to get well.”
“But he’s too strong, he’ll take you! You said it yourself, Cass. Selach is stronger than Mithrinde because he isn’t bound by the Treatise. You can’t fight him and win!”
“So?” Cassia said. “I’ll last as long as I can.”
Then what? Would Fyn be able to take it back and keep fighting? Would they forever be passing it back and forth like some horrible game of pass-the-parcel?
“Ahem,” Tilana cleared her throat. “Cassia, about that… there’s something you should know. Quite a lot, actually.”
Dread crept through Cassia at her sister’s bleak tone. She sensed Tilana had been carrying this weight ever since Cassia had woken up, but dreaded telling her. “What happened while we were out?” she demanded.
“Cass…,” Tilana said with a grimace. “You… didn’t make it back in time. The Treatise broke right when you arrived.”
“What?” Cassia could not have heard her correctly. All her plans, every future seemed to crumble before her eyes. She had been ready, prepared to hear that the Treatise was renewed in her absence. That she could deal with — tell Tilana the truth, confront Micah, work with her sister to propose releasing their gods at the next year’s Renewal. If people knew what the Treatise really was, there was no way they’d stand for it without change. It had all been a trick of Selach anyway — surely the other Orders didn’t live in so much fear of the drakes that they couldn’t figure out a way to fix this. And as for the human gods… Cassia just needed to talk to them.
But if the Treatise was broken, and the gods released without mediation….
“It’s bad, Cass,” Tilana said, confirming her worst fears. “Worse than any of us thought, even Dad. I don’t know where to start… the Treatise wasn’t what we thought it was. It never was.”
“I know all that,” Cassia said impatiently. “Dad’s been lying to us our whole lives. Where is he? Start with that.”
“Under siege in Promise,” Tilana said flatly.
“What!” Cassia shouted.
“Mithrinde made him go,” Tilana continued, as if every word out of her mouth was not more ludicrous than the one before. “The gods all sent their Archpriests — except Selach, of course — to plan strategy, I suppose. Except now the whole city’s being besieged by the Seekers and half the humans are in rebellion now that their gods are loose too. Not that they don’t have a right to be angry, but something’s strange with their magic, Cassia. They shouldn’t be very good at it, or very experienced. Micah said it used to take years to understand a human god’s magic well enough to use it.”
Cassia nodded. She was still far from mastering even the lesser form of human magic — drawing magic from objects rather than directly from a deity.
“Well, they either trained people without them actually being able to access magic, or they somehow skipped all that. Two humans wielding Death magic have been sieging the city practically single-handedly, and of course there’s still Iona and her half-dozen Change mages to boot.”
“Just two?” Cassia said, bewildered. Human magic wasn’t supposed to be stronger than godformed. Wasn’t that the whole reason the human gods were angry at the godformed, for being more powerful?
“Yeah,” Tilana said. “Death was always powerful, but yeah, this is unlike anything Micah says he’s ever seen, even in the original wars. This is something new. One of the Death witches took out an entire formation of puppeteered thunderbeasts by herself.”
The word caught Cassia oddly. “Puppeteered?”
Tilana gave a broken, half-sarcastic laugh. “Were you angry at Micah for going along with our gods’ imprisonment? So was I. Until he told us why.
“While their mote beats within our bodies, and they are free, they can control us. Completely and totally. Just poof—” she snapped her fingers — “and you’re trapped in your own body, except you agree with every decision they make for you.”
Cassia’s mote suddenly felt cold and distant, like a heavy stone instead of a soothing pool. “No. That can’t be right.”
Mithrinde would have told me.
“It’s true,” Tilana said. Fyn had heard something of Tilana from Cassia, but he wasn’t expecting all the ways she was different from her sister. It went beyond her black hair and stout build against Cassia’s blonde hair and more rounded frame. Where Cassia was exuberant, Tilana was reserved, but every time Tilana looked at Cassia a smile the twin of her sister’s grin flitted behind her eyes. Fyn’s hatchmates had certainly never looked at him with such care.
But Tilana wasn’t smiling now. Her mouth was thin and hard. “I’ve seen it, and the aftermath. It commands much of the gods’ attention, but when the puppeteered fight, their strength is unmatched. Except by these Death witches.”
“So the gods are helping us fight by intervening directly,” Cassia said.
Fyn thought he heard a strain of relief in her voice. Of course - she wanted her gods to be their allies, not their masters. Not like Selach.
“And deciding tactics, and whether to fight in the first place, and everything else,” Tilana said sharply. “Dad didn’t go to Promise by choice, Cass. The gods are back, and now it’s like it used to be. They’re in control.”
Fyn wished he could have felt a modicum of surprise upon hearing that their gods, all this time, had really been their overlords, but he couldn’t. It had already been obvious, with Selach. At last he understood how he had struggled to save Cassia, and why his mote had raged so strong, and slowed him on his way to Mithrinden. If it had not been for Cassia’s mote fighting against Selach’s influence, he would not have had any choice in any of it.
Fyn had no doubt that without Selach holding him back, he would have made it to Mithrinden faster. A thought struck him — what if Selach had intentionally slowed him, slowed him just enough to ensure the Treatise broke on their arrival? Had Selach wanted the Treatise broken all along? Had that been why he sent Fyn, not even an Initiate, on what should have been by far the most important hunt of the year? Had that been why Zhiron had ordered Fyn to bring the Treatise to him directly, rather than taking it back to Promise with Cassia?
Had that been why Selach ordered Cassia’s death?
He couldn’t know. But hearing Selach’s cold voice, feeling his fury… everything Fyn knew about his god told him that Selach had wanted the Treatise to break, and the gods to go to war, while he watched and laughed.
He sat stunned while this revelation reverberated through his brain and soon found he had lost track of the conversation.
“…Mithrinde charged me to break it,” Cassia said. Her eyes were wide and bloodshot and her voice desperate. “Like… I was supposed to help her and it would fix everything, like this had been some big mistake all these years. She said I could talk to the human gods and make peace… that I could have my own mote…”
Tilana’s face spasmed, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she moved to stand behind Cassia and started preening Cassia’s wings, stroking them with a soft finger and a practiced hand in what was clearly a gesture of comfort.
Cassia’s chest only heaved harder. She seemed to have forgotten Fyn was there, caught up in her own private grief that Fyn could not quite understand. It sounded like… Mithrinde had lied to her?
A new fire kindled in Fyn’s stomach, an anger all his own. If that was true, if the real Mithrinde was not everything Cassia had loved and respected and followed, everything in that gentle coolness that had called to Fyn, then what was even the point of gods but to force servants down their narrow paths?
Throughout all of this, Fyn had been completely silent. He had used the pillow to prop himself to a seated position and just listening, absorbing the reality that he really was here, in Mithrinden, but still nothing was fixed, nothing was settled.
Now he got up, slowly and carefully. His muscles ached, but that was a far cry from actual pain.The only real injury he’d sustained in the whole fiasco with Zhiron were a few cuts on his shoulder, and those were shallow and already scabbing over. Cassia had borne the brunt of his failure.
Fyn slid off the bed and crouched down in front of Cassia, brushing her hair back so he could see her face.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, guilt twisting in his stomach. “I’m sorry. I should have guessed Zhiron would have been looking for me. I should have gone to him, tried to lead him away from you.”
Then Cassia would have been able to reach the cavern and complete the ritual. The Treatise wouldn’t be broken. She never would have gotten hurt.
Cassia shook her head and rubbed a hand across her eyes, though she didn’t raise her head. “It wasn’t your fault it broke. Selach was messing with your mind. I saw what he was doing to you. And it wouldn’t have worked anyway. There’s no way I could get the gods to make peace. Not when they all just want control and power. I was being stupid.”
Fyn closed his eyes. Mithrinde’s mote, now the only one inside him, pulsed steady, lulling and calm. She had helped him fight Selach. Though he was not hers, though his folly had hurt one of hers over and over again. Had it all been so she could control him, too?
Fyn could not quite bring himself to believe it. Her power, the things that Cassia had taught him about love, and worship, were all so different from the way the drakes were forced to serve Selach that he could not believe it was the same ugly trick underneath.
Sasha’s voice rang through his head. They tell us what to do and what to think every waking second of our lives. They never give us a chance to decide for ourselves what matters, but that doesn’t mean it’s not our choice.
What matters, Fyn? What do you want?
He wanted to help Cassia. He had made that choice already. But now, kneeling there, watching Cassia quietly weep, Fyn found he finally had an answer that went beyond his own safety or even Cassia’s.
He wanted to fix this. He wanted to stop the war between the gods.
Cassia had taught him this fear, this hatred, was not how things had to be. There was something better out there.
Now they had to show everyone else, too.
“Hey,” he said, taking Cassia’s uninjured hand in his. “Hey. Don’t talk like that. You were trying to make things better. Because that’s what you always do. Because that’s what you did for me. You wanted to make peace between the gods, and you almost did it. You can’t tell me you’re going to give up now.”
Cassia raised her head and looked at him incredulously. “Fyn, it was a lie. Mithrinde tricked me.”
“You once told me that Mithrinde wanted her followers to always do what they thought was right. To decide for yourself, not to let her or anyone else tell you what to do. Maybe Mithrinde isn’t who you thought she was. But she’s not what makes you good, Cassia. That’s all you.”
She almost smiled, glancing down in embarrassment, but Fyn didn’t care. Every word of what he said had been true.
And it worked. Slowly, piece by piece, Fyn watched the Cassia he knew surface, with a determined glint in her eye and the inability to take no for an answer. “You still think I can fix this?”
“I think we can fix this,” Fyn said.
Her eyes brightened, but then she shook her head. “Fyn, we can’t. What on earth are we supposed to do? We’re just kids.”
Fyn was startled to find that an answer rose easily to his lips. It seemed like all this time it had only been the Treatise holding the other Order’s gods back from being the tyrant Selach had been for the last hundred years. As for the human gods… Iona was crazy. That much had been obvious from his talks with Sasha. But if it was true that the human gods wanted the godformed exterminated, then the human gods weren’t any better than the godformed’s gods. All of them needed their hands bound, so all of humanity could be free.
“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Fyn said. “The gods don't deserve all this power. We need to make another Treatise.”