“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.