A Shadowed Spirit — Chapter Two
One more week to go until A Shadowed Spirit is published. I will remain calm. Yes. Calm. In the middle of all this calmness, here’s the second chapter. In case you missed it, you can find the first chapter here. Enjoy. I’ll be over here, you know, not hiding.
A Shadowed Spirit
Addigan sat in the Tower library as she wrote in her journal. The vast room was largely empty save for a pair of Magisters leafing through tomes and a group of young apprentices who were fetching books in accordance to whatever was written on their slips of paper. She pretended not to notice the glances they cast her way, or the seemingly innocuous rasp of their whispered voices. She knew they were talking about her. The others in the Tower always were.
“Silent,” they sometimes called her. “Mute.” The notion was absurd. She wasn’t silent or mute. Had anyone dared say it to her face, she’d tell him as much and half-again over. But she knew it wasn’t her ability to speak that they meant. No, they meant her ability with the Art. Or rather, the ability she had lost.
Addigan looked at her hand, her skin mottled with a bruise that refused to heal. It engulfed half of her body, stretching from the right side of her face down to her right foot. It was an ugly bruise—more so than usual—with purple veins that branched and snaked just below her skin. They reminded her of broken spider legs, scrambling across her body in a twining, tangled mass. It wasn’t painful, though, just slightly numb, as if her skin had grown a little too thick.
She continued writing in her journal, focusing on the scratching of her pen rather than the whispers. Her strokes were too forceful, and she tore the paper on which she wrote. Taking a breath, she ripped the ruined page from the binding and started again on a new leaf.
It is more than coincidence, the similarities between the different sites of the Towers. Trees of a certain power and their so-called And’estar keepers—they seem to have always been present where Towers have been built. What that may mean, however, I do not yet know. There is knowledge to be obtained and I mean to find it. The Grand Magister will be made to see, and he will be made to know that I am one with whom he must reckon.
Addigan lifted her pen and stared at the page, remembering her confrontation with the Grand Magister and his dismissal of her research. She wondered if his indifference towards her was because she was a woman or because she wasn’t a Magister. Maybe it was both.
She put down the pen and flexed her hand. Again and again, she made a fist and then relaxed it, enjoying feeling her muscles work, remembering the time when they hadn’t. She had come a long way, overcome more than anyone else in the Tower. She deserved to be there. She’d make them see that.
“Addi,” a hushed voice said from behind.
Addigan turned to find Malvin walking towards her. She turned back around and returned her pen to the paper.
“Addi, I’ve been looking for you.”
“Well, you found me. What do you want?”
He was quiet a moment. “Why must you always be like this?”
Addigan forced herself to face him, taking care not to look at the vibrant red Magister robe he wore. “I must be ‘like this’ because it is who I am. If you don’t like it, you are free to leave.” She turned back to her journal, not wanting to see the hurt expression in his eyes.
Addigan attempted to resume writing when Malvin said, “You have a visitor. He’s waiting in the garden.”
She thought about asking who it was, but decided against it. Addigan suspected she knew, and she’d rather not discuss such matters with Malvin. “Thank you.”
When he remained, Addigan raised her eyebrows at him.
“What are you doing, Addi?”
“I don’t know what you mean. I am writing in my journal. Surely that is not a grievous offense.”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
Addigan gazed at him, clenching her hand in an effort to keep her face calm. “My affairs are my own.”
“I know you feel like you have something to prove—that your failure in the Threshing doesn’t mean you’re worthless.”
She narrowed her eyes and said in a low voice, “You wouldn’t know anything about that.”
Malvin glowered at her. “You think everything that’s happened has happened to you alone? You almost died, Addi! You think that hasn’t affected me? You think that I don’t have a say in the matter, after everything we’ve been through?”
Malvin’s rising voice had carried, and the others in the library threw them questioning glances.
“Keep your voice down,” Addigan whispered.
He grabbed hold of her wrist and leaned in close. “I know you better than anyone here. I know you’re up to something and, knowing you, you’re likely to overlook the consequences of your actions in order to prove a point. I’ll not have anything happen to you, Addi. Not again.”
Addigan wrenched her wrist out of his grasp. “Don’t call me that. And what I do or don’t do is not for you to decide. You think you know me, but you don’t know anything about the world in which I live. That you keep pretending you do insults us both.” Taking her journal, Addigan rose and walked out.
Malvin. He meant well, but his good intentions often came across as overbearing. Especially now. He no longer had any right to comment on her affairs.
Addigan walked down the broad hallway, past tapestried walls and candelabra sconces. She came to a stairway and followed it down before traversing another hallway and descending another set of stairs. She passed sturdy wooden doors that led to quarters and to research rooms, and the occasional narrow, latticed window that looked out over the rolling hills surrounding Roelith. The way was winding, but she knew it well and eventually left the spiraling stone Tower and made her way to the garden.
The day was clear, though the air still held a sharpness reminiscent of winter. Malvin hadn’t said where in the garden the visitor would be waiting, but Addigan suspected she knew.
She turned off the pebbled path and headed towards a hedge maze. She wound through the labyrinthine twists and turns of the tall bushes, now pale green with the first leaves of spring. The maze was one of four massive runes that circled the Tower, all of which served to amplify the power of the Art. But at a glance, the hedges were deceptively mundane, and Addigan liked that.
When she heard a trickling of running water, Addigan rounded another corner and came to a marble fountain sculpted in the form of a naked woman. In one arm she held a baby who suckled at her breast. In the other she held an urn from which the water of the fountain poured into the basin below. Just as she expected, Jash stood there, gazing up at the sculpture.
As Addigan approached, he turned towards her and smiled. “I’ve always liked this statue. How does the water pour out of the urn like that?”
Addigan thinned her lips. She’d never liked the man. The less she had to speak to him, the better. “Why are you here? Have you learned something?”
Jash’s smile widened. “Perhaps. I suppose you’d like to know, just as I’d like to know how that fountain works.”
She frowned. “I pay you with money, not trivial information.”
Jash waved a hand as he turned back to the statue. “Money isn’t everything.”
Addigan snorted. “Said the banker to the beggar.”
“I’m not a beggar. Are you?”
Addigan thinned her lips again. Talking with Jash tended to be a frustratingly circular affair. It was usually best to just give him what he wanted, lest he babble on to the brink of driving one mad. Except . . .
Jash grinned. “You don’t know, do you?”
Addigan glowered at him. “Of course I know.”
He folded his arms. “Well then?”
Addigan tightened her jaw and flailed a hand towards the fountain. “Something about the water source some distance off being higher than the fountain here. It’s all very complicated and highly irrelevant.”
“But . . . is it magical?”
“The fountain. Have you Magi waggled your fingers the way that you do to get the water to spring forth?”
Addigan stared at him. “Of course not.”
Jash slumped a little. “Well, that’s disappointing.”
“Why are you here?”
Jash looked off in the distance and pointed. “The other mazes, do they have fountains as well?”
Addigan tightened her grip on her journal and took a breath. “No. The northern maze has a pair of statues, but they are not fountains.”
“Are they like this one? With a lady?”
“No. They are two shrouded men.”
“And the other mazes? What do they have?”
“Nothing, just hedges.”
“Huh.” He turned to her and grinned. “Guess we’re in the best one, then.”
Addigan glared at him, wondering if he was done with his incessant questions.
“Anyway, I found someone you were interested in,” Jash said. “A tree-keeper, or whatever you called them.”
“Yeah, that. I found her.”
Jash glanced to the side and shrugged. “Yes, her. Why? You expecting someone else?”
“No, I . . . I suppose I didn’t know what to expect.”
“She was at the Falconry Guild outside Roelith. Pretty little thing with bright blue eyes the color of the sky, just like you said.”
“That’s it? Just her eyes? She didn’t do anything?”
Jash shrugged again. “She demonstrated her falconry skills. Why? What should she have done?”
Addigan rubbed her temple. “I don’t know. Just . . . something. How can we be sure she is an And’estar? Maybe she just has very blue eyes.”
“Not my problem. You told me to find someone with eyes that reflect the color of the sky, and I did.”
Addigan doubted the man could find his way through an unstarched shirt, let alone find someone she had been unsure even existed. Still, this was what she had been waiting for, and what her research depended upon. She couldn’t let the opportunity pass, however unlikely its validity. “Take me to her, then.”
The following day, Jash and Addigan made the journey to Roelith’s Falconry Guild. She peered around the courtyard and at the unwashed men working there. What a disgusting place. How anyone could choose to live so closely with a throng of filthy animals, Addigan would never know.
The man in charge—Master Sorrel—scratched at his head, sending his disheveled hair into further disarray. He probably had lice. Addigan took a step back.
“I told you, she’s gone,” Master Sorrel said.
Addigan narrowed her eyes. “People don’t just disappear. If she left then that means she had to walk out of here to do it, and that means someone should have seen her.”
Master Sorrel chuckled and shook his head. “We’re not watch dogs. We don’t raise an alarm whenever someone comes or goes. The girl’s gone. Said she had an errand to run and never came back. She never even received the last of her wages. She’d not have given up her pay without good reason. Either she wanted to leave without being noticed, or something happened to her.” He eyed Addigan and Jash. “Maybe she knew you folks would come calling and didn’t care for the visit.”
Addigan unclenched her jaw and opened her mouth, intending to illuminate for the man just how unpleasant this visit would be, when Jash stepped forward.
“Thank you, Master Sorrel,” he said while giving Addigan a pointed look. “I’m sure we’ll find her, regardless.”
Master Sorrel glanced between Addigan and Jash and then grunted. Turning to Jash, he said, “If this is your patron, you let me know when you find a different one.” He turned and left.
Addigan frowned. “Well, he was useless.”
“You say that about everyone,” Jash said as he walked past her.
“Because it’s true.”
Jash kept on walking, making his way across the guild grounds to the surrounding field.
Addigan hurried after him. “Where are you going?”
He glanced back at her. “You want to find your tree lady, don’t you?”
“Yes, but we don’t know where she went.”
“These things can often be found out.”
“Found out? How?”
Jash kept on walking and said nothing.
She grabbed him by the arm. “You will answer me.”
Jash shrugged his arm out of her grasp. He looked down and kicked dirt onto her boots and the hem of her skirt. “Tracks, my overbearing lady. If you’d bring your nose out of the sky, you’d see that the ground is covered in them.”
She frowned, backing away from the dust he was kicking up. “Are you saying you’ll be able to follow her?”
“I might if you quit yapping and let me get on with it.”
Addigan swallowed her annoyance along with a sharp retort. She swatted at her skirt with a gloved hand, trying to get the dust out of the fabric, though it seemed to be a futile endeavor. She stood there, rigid and awkward and wishing she was back at the Tower.
Except that wasn’t true. Not really. She wanted to be at the Tower, but only when the Magisters learned to respect her. They never had and they never would, not unless she did something about it. She had to see this through, no matter how dirty or demeaning the task. Proving to them this connection between the Towers and the mysterious And’estar would be worth it, in the end.
Growing increasingly uncomfortable from the glances she was receiving from the men around the courtyard, Addigan followed Jash, though she stayed a good distance away, not wanting to intrude upon whatever he was doing. His gaze remained fixed upon the ground, and he stopped from time to time to touch a piece of grass or to put his hand to the dirt. Addigan didn’t know how he could possibly find the girl after she had already gone, but she remained quiet and let him get on with it.
The day waned as Jash plodded and poked around the grounds and into the surrounding field. Addigan began to fear they’d spend the night at that frightful place when Jash finally straightened and turned towards her.
“She went that way,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder towards a hill in the field.
“What? Are you sure?”
He looped his thumbs in his belt and straightened his back. “Of course. Single set of tracks lead through the field there. Small ones. A woman. Don’t know who else it’d be.”
Addigan licked her lips, growing excited. It was happening. She was tempted to head off right then, to see where the trail led. But that would be foolish. “We’ll need supplies,” she said, pacing back and forth as she thought. “Though not too much. We need to travel light. Haste is imperative if we are to catch up with her.”
“You’re over-thinking it,” Jash said. “All we need is some food, something to carry water, and a flint and steel. I know a guy. We can leave tomorrow.”
Addigan blinked at him. “Tomorrow?” It seemed both too soon and too far away.
From behind, a man said, “What is happening tomorrow?”
Addigan spun around, her mouth falling open as Malvin approached them. “What are you doing here?”
“What is happening tomorrow?” he repeated.
“You’ll answer my question.”
Malvin settled his sharp gaze on her. “You’ll answer mine.”
Addigan knew that look. Malvin was often an easy-going man, but when he had that look in his eyes she knew he would never budge, not even if the earth shifted below his feet. “I’ve found a lead on something that should prove interesting to the Grand Magister. I’m going to investigate it.”
“What lead? What are you doing?”
“I’d rather not say.”
Malvin glowered at her and set his jaw. “No. You’re coming back with me. I don’t know what you’re up to, but it’s likely foolish if not dangerous. I can’t let you do it.”
Addigan clenched her hands as she fought down her rising anger. How dare he come here, telling her what she could and couldn’t do, threatening to take her back like an unruly child? “You have no say on the matter.”
“I have more say than you’d like to admit.”
Addigan’s anger withered as if he had just punched her in the stomach. Suddenly the gap between them seemed very wide, the red robe he wore almost painful to look at.
It must have shown on her face, for Malvin’s grim look of determination faded, replaced by remorse. He took a step towards her. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . I worry about you.”
Unable to look at him, Addigan kept her gaze fixed past his shoulder. Then the anger again smoldered within her gut, hot and sickening. She’d not give him the satisfaction of seeing her defeated, and so she stifled her anger and fear and hurt, stifled it deep within her so that the sickness turned to numbness.
She looked him in the eyes. When she did, she no longer saw the man she had once cared about, the man that had once set her heart racing. She saw only a figure in a red robe with dark eyes and hair. He could have been anyone, and so she stared at him, as vacant and distant as if he were a stranger on the street.
Malvin put his palms to his face and rubbed his eyes and forehead. He looked tired, but Addigan didn’t care about that any more than she would have cared about a farmer exhausted from his daily toils.
At length, he said, “Fine. Just . . . let me speak with your man first, all right?”
Saying nothing, Addigan turned and walked away. She heard their murmured voices as Jash and Malvin spoke. She didn’t know what they were talking about. She didn’t care. She just needed to keep walking—away from Malvin, away from the Tower. She needed to get away from all of them before this empty, dead feeling that was inside her became the only feeling she would ever know.