A Shadowed Spirit — Chapter One

Shadowed-Spirit-coverSiyan called the wind. Above her, the branches of a towering oak began to sway, rustling in the breeze like a hoarse whisper. She smiled, enjoying the cool spring air against her cheeks. Then her smile faded and pleasure turned to determination. She focused her attention and willed the wind to be something more—to cause the branches to lash with storm-like fury. But even as the thought entered her mind, the focus faded and slipped from her grasp, and the breeze stilled and died. Siyan clenched her jaw.

It was the same every time.

She studied the branches, now still against the clear morning sky. Control of her ability continued to elude her. Her power came easily enough with simple things—calling a gentle wind, turning a faded leaf green—but she was capable of so much more.

Siyan could control the weather and change the earth beneath her feet. Heal wounded flesh. She had done all of these things, but they had been during frantic moments of fighting for her life that had, at the time, seemed as simple as anything. Now, when she tried to repeat such feats, she couldn’t do it. She didn’t understand why, and that troubled her.

She toed a narrow edge by remaining near a city where so many Magisters lived. Magisters had taken her mother and tortured her until they broke her mind. They might have done the same to Siyan had she not escaped their grasp. Even though it lay several leagues away, the tall spiraling stone Magister Tower seemed to cast a heavy shadow.

The morning had grown late, so Siyan turned her back on the tree and walked through the grassy field as she returned to the Falconry Guild. It was a drab place with russet-colored stone buildings and hard-packed earthen grounds. Plant life seemed to shun it, keeping to the surrounding fields and giving the Guild a wide berth. It looked out of place in such green surroundings, like someone had dropped it there and then forgotten it.

Siyan crossed the expansive courtyard, surrounded by tall towers echoing with the calls of falcons and hawks. A couple of men traversed the grounds, each carrying a falcon on a gloved fist. She stayed clear of them, weaving between wooden posts and poles as she made her way to the other end of the compound, taking care to nudge the occasional stuffed leather decoy out of her path with her foot.

When she saw Master Sorrel speaking with a visitor, Siyan turned and hurried away. He was undoubtedly boasting of the prowess of his trained birds. Men from Roelith would often visit the Guild, touring the grounds as Master Sorrel regaled his birds’ capabilities, which he promised would make any man into a superior hunter. But only if they joined the Guild, whose yearly fees were, of course, a modest investment that any serious huntsman would be pleased to pay. She edged along the courtyard, hoping to remain unnoticed.

“Siyan!” Master Sorrel cried and waved her over.

Siyan closed her eyes and let out a breath. Why couldn’t he call over one of the men? She wasn’t in the mood for this particular little performance.

As she approached, Master Sorrel said, “I was just telling Mr. Jash—”

“Please,” the man said. “It’s just Jash.” He had copper-colored hair that had been pulled back in a short tail. A rapier hung from his belt at one hip, and a flintlock pistol at the other.

“Ah, yes,” Master Sorrel said. “I was just telling Jash here that falconry is extraordinarily simple. Be a dear and demonstrate just how simple it is.”

Siyan tightened her jaw, wondering what Master Sorrel would do if she told him no. Yet he was still her employer and, despite these embarrassing demonstrations he insisted upon, a good man. He had given her a job when she had needed one, and he paid her well—better than some of the men in his employ. Glancing at Jash, Siyan then looked to the sky and whistled.

From the roof of the tallest tower, a falcon took flight. Siyan put out a leather-clad arm, and the falcon circled ever downwards, perching at last upon her limb.

Master Sorrel laughed and brought his hands together in a thunderous clap. “You see?” he said, turning to Jash. “Falconry is so easy that even a woman can do it!”

Siyan bit the inside of her cheek. She wished for the day Master Sorrel would stop parading her around like a prized pony.

Jash looped a thumb in his belt and smiled, his gaze lingering on Siyan. “Clearly. And where did you find such a woman?”

Siyan shifted her feet, uncomfortable under his gaze.

Master Sorrel waved a hand. “Before me, she was nothing. A pathetic vagabond. Now she is a mighty huntress! All because I taught her everything she needs to know of falconry.”

That was all false, of course. Master Sorrel hadn’t taught her a thing of falconry, other than how to put on the leather sleeve that protected her skin from sharp talons. The falcon resting on her arm was wild and had never—much to Master Sorrel’s distress—seen the inside of his aerie. Siyan had saved the bird from a trap two years ago, and he had been following her ever since. Fal—that was what she had taken to calling him—seemed tame around her, but he was still a wild animal that largely came and went as he pleased. The fact that Siyan was able to use her power to interact with him didn’t really diminish that. She certainly didn’t compel him to return to her—nor did she truly understand why the bird obeyed her commands. That he did any of these things only made Siyan all the more grateful for his presence. She only wished Master Sorrel wasn’t so eager to exploit her and the bird.

“Impressive,” Jash said.

Master Sorrel drew himself up and pointed at the flintlock pistol hanging at Jash’s hip. “Far more impressive than hunting with one of those things. Abominable creations. More likely to kill you from misfire than hit your mark. You’d be better off using it as a paperweight and leave the hunting to my birds.”

“And such fine birds you have,” Jash said. His gaze lingered on Siyan, pushing her discomfort to the edge of alarm. Why was he looking at her like that, with that half-smile as if he were privy to some secret? She wanted to leave.

“The finest!” Master Sorrel said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find better.”

“I agree completely,” Jash said, “and see no need to continue the search.”

“Wonderful!” Master Sorrel said. “I can draw up the papers today, officially marking your enrollment in the guild, which will give you access to our birds and to training. I . . . uh . . . assume you’ll prefer to pay the enrollment fees at once, correct?”

Jash pulled his gaze from Siyan to look at him. “Of course,” he said, causing Master Sorrel’s face to light up. “Once I speak to my patron, that is.” He glanced at the Magister Tower and then winked at Siyan.

She froze as her stomach clenched into a knot of ice. Had he something to do with the Magi?

“Oh, I see,” Master Sorrel said. His voice sounded distant, difficult to hear over the thundering of Siyan’s heart. He mentioned something about drawing up the papers and having them ready for Jash’s return, and Siyan felt sick at the thought of seeing him again, his patron in tow.

Siyan stared at the man. Had he been searching for her? She wracked her mind, trying to remember an encounter, a strange look that suggested she had been recognized, but nothing stood out. Jash smiled at her. He bowed low, keeping his gaze locked with hers.

“Have you gone daft, girl?” Master Sorrel’s sharp voice pulled her out of her thoughts. He waved his arms at her. “I said off with you now. Shoo!”

Siyan cast another glance at Jash and then lifted her arm and Fal took flight. Keeping her back rigid, she turned and hurried away. Siyan resisted the urge to look back, feeling as though Jash’s gaze was on her until she opened the door to the servants’ quarters and stepped inside.

She leaned against the door as she took a deep breath in an effort to calm her racing heart. Jash had recognized her. She didn’t know how or where—all she knew was that his glances were more than passing admiration. And the fact he seemed to know Magisters just made everything so much worse. Why was he here? What would he do when he left?

Siyan peeked out the door, but Jash had gone. She stepped outside, looking around, but saw only Master Sorrel.

“Didn’t I tell you to get to work?” he said. “Why are you standing there gawping like that?”

“That man, Jash. Is he still here?”

Master Sorrel pulled the waist of his pants up over his protruding gut. “No. Said he needed to go find his patron. I told him I’d take that pistol of his as collateral for the dues, but he wouldn’t have it. And I was being generous, too. Those things are all but worthless. Everyone knows that.”

Siyan’s gaze moved over the field and to the road that led towards Roelith, but Jash was nowhere in sight.

“I have an errand I need to run,” Siyan said as she headed towards the road.

“Errand? I don’t pay you for errands, girl!” Master Sorrel called after her.

“I won’t be long!” Siyan called back. She rustled through the grassy field until she reached the main road and there, further down the way, walked a copper-haired man. Siyan swallowed as Jash rounded a bend and fell out of sight. Part of her wanted to let him go; she shouldn’t be following a man potentially in league with the Magi. But she couldn’t leave. She needed to know. So she followed him.

A sinking dread settled in Siyan’s gut as she drew closer to Roelith. Why had she stayed here so long? She hadn’t really intended to. It was only supposed to be temporary—she’d intended to stay long enough to earn some money to buy some supplies before she headed back into the forest to find her mother’s people. But then nearly two years had passed and she still hadn’t left.

She told herself it was the comfort of routine, the security of steady work and decent wages. The others at the Guild even seemed to hold a measure of respect for her and—having once felt invisible when she had worked as a housemaid—that meant something to Siyan.

But there was more to it than that. She was afraid of what she might find should she go searching in the forests. She knew what she wanted it to be. She wanted to find her mother’s family—a clan of forest folk that lived somewhere out in the wilds. She wanted to find love and acceptance, a place to call home. She wanted to understand herself and this power that eluded her. But she knew from past experience that what she hoped to find was not always what came to pass, and she was afraid of going out there and having her heart broken all over again.

Siyan quickened her step, trying to ignore another deeper, uncomfortable truth that continually nagged at her mind.

She felt drawn to the Magister Tower.

There was an energy about it—a tingling on her skin and a humming in her ears. She had felt the same energy when she had approached her mother’s Tower, and she felt it now. It was faint, given the distance to Roelith’s Tower, but it was there. It pulled at her in a way she couldn’t explain. Almost like an intense curiosity, though she knew better than to go anywhere near it.

She lost sight of Jash once he reached Roelith and passed through the gates. Siyan hurried after him and, once in the town proper, she stopped and looked around.

Massive stone houses with tall arched windows and wrought iron balconies loomed overhead. People bustled up and down the streets, while fountains bubbled from one of the many gardens that followed the city wall. Jash was nowhere in sight. She scanned the roads, hoping to find his distinctive coppery hair, but saw nothing.

Her heart sinking, Siyan turned off the road and followed narrow alleys and side-streets until she got to the well-maintained, though primarily empty, road that led to the Magister Tower on the outskirts of town. She had hoped she’d been wrong—that she was just imagining Jash having recognized her. Yet when she passed through Roelith’s eastern gates and saw a coppery-haired man on the road ahead of her, Siyan’s stomach clenched into a hot little ball. Her palms began to sweat and she wiped them on her breeches. She shouldn’t be so close to the Tower. She needed to turn around and head back to the Guild.

And yet she kept on walking. Why was Jash going the Magister Tower? Who was he going to meet? What would they discuss? The pull from the Tower seemed to intensify along with the prickling on her skin. Siyan had never come this close before. She’d thought about it and all the things she’d like to say or do when she got there, but she’d never dared.

What would she find if she did? In Fallow, Magisters had taken the forest people into their Tower where they were never seen again. Would she find forest people here, locked up and forgotten by the outside world? Maybe that’s why it had been so difficult for her to leave. Maybe, deep down, she thought she should be locked up with them.

Siyan bumped into someone and staggered back.

“I’m sorry,” she said and then noticed the man was wearing a Magister’s robe.

“Quite all right,” he said.

Siyan froze, unable to breathe. When had the air suddenly become so stifling?

“Are you well?” he said and reached towards her.

Siyan’s entire body tensed as she staggered back another step. Overhead, the clear sky clouded over.

“Do you need help?” he said as he took her arm.

Siyan yanked her arm away and lightning flashed in the darkened sky.

The Magister looked up just as rain started to fall. Her heart racing, Siyan turned and ran.