Authors: Lauren Amundson
Table of Contents
I fell backward in my chair, kicking over the desk and scattering notes and books across the room. For a few heartbeats, I lay on the ground, the wooden chair digging into my back. Mist, the tangible incarnation of magic, clung unnaturally to the walls of my dormitory room.
The flicker from the nubbin of the candle refracted against the Mist, casting an eerie glow. I had never seen the Mist so condensed. I swallowed, breathed deeply, and willed myself to stand up. The words from the Apparition echoed in my head. They were something a bard might chant, but beyond the realm of all possibility, I knew the Guardians, the children of our absent gods, had just sent me the first Mist Apparition in nearly a millennium. I repeated the warning, committing the words to memory.
“The land dies
Earth split and cracked
The Edge crumbles
Put the land together
Quench the rocks”
I righted the chair and desk and collected my books and papers, attempting to organize the chaos the tipsy desk had created. I’d been warned that over-zealous cramming in preparation for the final Initiation Exams could mess with my head, but, deep down, I knew that the words I’d just heard had not been from a stress-induced nightmare.
Tendrils of the Mist clawed toward me. Without being Woven, the Mist should be static, but the Apparition had hyper-charged it. I threw open my door. Mist oozed into the common room. The embers glowing in the fireplace reminded me of the melting rocks I had seen in the Apparition.
I hurried down the Apprentice Corridor toward the kitchen and away from the Mist. The corridor’s stone floor scratched against my bare feet, but there was no way that I was going back to my room, not even for shoes. Rounding a corner, I almost barreled into Lead Initiate Altis Acrovena, nephew of Queen Leona Mauzaca, second in line for the throne, and, as of three months ago, the new commander of all Mist Weavers.
“By the Guardians!” I swore in surprise. My hand fluttered to my mouth as if trying to unsay the words. I bobbed a hasty bow. “Lead Initiate, I apologize.”
Altis sighed. “Apprentice, what wakes you this night?”
“I had a weird dream. I apologize for the interruption,” I said, positive that he did not recognize me. Thankfully. The idea of a Mist Apparition sounded insane. No one would believe me, and I’d never recover from this if it turned to gossip. The Lead Initiate stroked his well-groomed beard and glared at me. I shifted uncomfortably, realizing exactly how under-dressed I was in my summer-light nightgown.
“You had a nightmare? That’s a feeble excuse for missing curfew.”
“It wasn’t a nightmare,” I mumbled. I shouldn’t have left my room. But perhaps a lost mind was better than accusations of slinking about the corridors. “I think I had a Mist Apparition. The Mist was bizarre, like it was stuck in my room, so I came out here. It… It scared me.”
“You want me to believe that you had a Mist Apparition?” He scoffed.
“It told me that The Edge of the World is crumbling.” I waited for him to laugh, but there was no humor in his wide eyes. His expression had morphed from disbelief to shock. I pushed on, my words tumbling over themselves. “But that’s crazy. Maybe I'm...” I shook my head, unable to think of how to finish my sentence.
The Lead Initiate shook his head slowly, frustration plastered on his face. “Did it say anything else?” He stood as if trying to stretch every nanometer of his height. Not that he needed to try. I barely came up to his shoulders.
I forced myself to not step back and recited the words that I had heard in my Apparition.
“You had a Mist Apparition.” He folded his arms across his chest and was quiet for a moment. Maybe he’d let me go back to my room. “Come see me tomorrow after lunch. I’ll make sure to excuse you from any classes, and we will talk more about this.”
“I don't have classes—besides the ones I teach. I am to sit for my Scholar Exams in eight days. Maybe it was a nightmare.” Gods and Guardians, please get me out of this.
“You are a Scholar?” He made a face that looked like he smelled something vile. “Your Exams? How old are you?” Surprise clung to his voice.
“Oh, yes. Lead Scholar Nazarie Troubade‘s niece. Hailey, right?” he said.
Damn. The Guardians stole all my luck. Altis stood a little taller and grimaced, but I suppose he was trying to smile. “Well then, Hailey, go to bed. Don't speak to anyone of your Apparition. Come see me right after lunch tomorrow.”
“I have to study in the afternoon—I teach all morning,” I protested.
“You are not studying tomorrow. You are meeting with me. I need to understand the details of what you saw. Anything, no matter how small, could help.”
I opened my mouth to protest again but realized that it wouldn't matter. I don’t think Altis Acrovena heard dissenting opinions often—or at least not ones that stuck.
I walked back to my room. I’d lost too much time to this. It would be fine if the Mist Apparition came nine days from now once my Exams were complete. Once I’d become the youngest Scholar in history—once the hours of poring over these books had paid off—the Guardians or even the gods themselves could pick whatever asinine path they wanted for me.
While none of the Mist remained in my room, I could feel an undercurrent of tension. Whatever sent the Apparition was angry with me. Fine, I was angry at it, too. “Nine days. Just nine days.” I shouted, hoping it heard me.
I tore the tattered green quilt from my bed and retreated to the common room. I nestled into the fluffiest sofa, the one tucked in the back nook, hoping to catch an hour or two of sleep before diving back into my studies. It felt like moments later when I opened my eyes. But the sunlight streaming through the window indicated otherwise. Luckily, the clock had been wound so I knew the time… a quarter to ten in the morning. Unluckily, I’d missed breakfast, and my first class started in a fifteen minutes.
The other apprentices who shared the common room with me had been careful not to disturb me. A thick pink quilt that belonged to Meena, my closest friend, had been tucked in around me. The silky fabric made my own quilt look old and threadbare. Meena must have coaxed the others to leave me to my rest. She meant it as a favor, I know. But, I didn’t have time to rest. I hurriedly changed into my day clothes. No time for a bath.
I folded up the blankets and placed mine at the foot of my bed and Meena’s outside her door. I snatched my folder of lesson plans and hustled toward the Classroom Corridor. I always reprimanded tardy students. I didn’t want to set a bad example.
The classroom was nearly full when I entered, but I wasn’t late. Most of us top-level apprentices tried to get out of teaching the lower years, but I adored it. Their amazement at the most mundane matters of Mist reminded me of when I had first come here. Now years older than any of them, I am equally amazed at all the wonders of the universe that the Mist might allow me to control. These children hadn’t even chosen their Tracks yet. They could be Scholars, like me, or Mystics, Warriors, Healers, Engineers—or a handful of other Tracks. For all of our differences, we all started out as students.
I stepped up in front of the class, and everyone, except for one boy, looked toward me. He had his fingers wrapped around Jussi’s blonde braid and was moving it dangerously close to the inkpot.
“Kevyn!” I hissed in my best teacher voice. Jussi shrieked and tried to stand up, but Kevyn still gripped her golden blonde hair. Her head jerked back, and the shock of it sent her tumbling out of her chair. Kevyn let go of her braid in time for her butt to smack the floor. The whole class erupted into laughter as she started to cry. Immediately, I Healed her bumped bottom. I’m no Healer, but all Tracks learn the basics.
I pointed to the corner, and Kevyn retreated to it—his corner, practically. He spent more class time sitting there than in his proper seat.
My mentor, Scholar Shezdon Lacour, entered the room and observed the commotion in silence. Shezdon was a tall, thin man with knowing eyes. His grey hairs out-numbered the black ones these days. His bushy brows wrinkled as he observed my class.
“Yes?” I asked; horrified at the mess in which he had found my classroom. I will be studying with him after passing my Exams. We both focused in languages and mathematics, an unusual but interesting combination. At least I think so.
“Meena said that you needed someone to cover for you today, but I’m glad to see that you are feeling better. The Lead Initiate will see you now,” he said.
The children leaned forward, eagerly trying to figure out why the Lead Initiate himself had summoned their teacher.
“Are you in trouble Apprentice Troubade?” Kevyn asked.
“She’s a Scholar. She’d go before Lead Scholar Nazarie Troubade if she were in trouble.” Shezdon told the children. “She has an important task to complete for the Lead Initiate.”
“But my class—”
“I’ll take over for today.”
Moans came from the children, and I shot them a fierce look.
I left them and walked to the Initiate Corridor. I knew it well. Aunt Nazarie had lived in her quarters since I had come to the Mist Weavers a decade ago. Her first act upon completing her own Scholar Exams had been to return home and collect me, the niece she had never met, taking me away from her cruel, provincial brother and sister-in-law.
That decision undoubtedly saved my life.
Nazarie had pointed out the Lead Initiate’s quarters before. Every time I walked by the mahogany door inlaid with the Weavers’ Crest, gaudy with gold and rubies, I wondered about the man who lived behind it. I closed my eyes and raised my hand to knock, but hesitated. If the world really was dying, how would I be able to do anything to stop it? It was some cosmic mistake. The Guardians had contacted the wrong Weaver.
“Come in,” Altis called, although I hadn't knocked.
I sighed and pushed the door open. The Lead Initiate’s chambers were much more unassuming than I’d envisioned them to be. A simple burgundy rug covered the stone floor, and only a single painting of a forest adorned the austere gray walls. The painting itself was easily twenty feet long and filled the wall upon which it hung, only serving to emphasize the lack of luxury in the rest of the room. The door probably cost more than all of Altis’s furnishings.
Altis did not look up from the maps that littered the top of his desk. “I assume you know geography.”
I nodded, but he wasn't looking at me so I mumbled an affirmative reply. He motioned to a seat on the other side of his desk. “We've known for a year that The Edge has been eating away at our country, but what you told me last night was the first confirmation that it extends beyond our borders.”
“With all due respect, are you really sure I had a Mist Apparition?” I asked. “No one has in a thousand years.”
“Last night, after we spoke, I told the queen about what you told me,” Altis continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “She agreed that we should intensify our study of the phenomenon. Currently, The Edge is affecting only a few small settlements. We agree that this might change. We also agree that for whatever the reason, there is a role you must play in this. Something you will do to help fix it. Your aunt has already given her permission.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “No, no... I can't do that. I thought all you wanted was my description of the Apparition?”
Altis glared at me. “I would have expected you to be honored. The queen herself has asked for your help.”
“But my Exams are in eight days. Once an Exam is set, it cannot be moved, it cannot be retaken. You either are a Scholar or you aren't. Surly Nazarie intended that I assist once those were completed.”
“We don’t have time.”
“What difference will eight days make?”
“Possibly a great deal. This is your chance to be a real Weaver.”
“Scholars are real Weavers, maybe the most real of all. Those Patterns you memorize were discovered by Scholars. The best ways to build a bridge or a tower or this very castle were designed by Scholars. The—”
“We aren’t here to discuss the finer points of Weaver Tracks,” he interrupted. “We are here to discuss what your queen has asked of you.”
“You don’t need a Scholar. You need a Mystic or another Warrior. I am going to get in the way.”
“At least we agree about one thing.” The ice in his voice betrayed his annoyance with the situation. If he didn’t want my help, why was he demanding it? “But the Guardians have their reasons, no matter how insane they may seem. I've an assignment for you, the details of which have been delivered to the library. I'm sure you know where it is.” I heard the ice again. “You're dismissed.”
There was nothing left for me to say. Everything I had worked toward since I was twelve was being torn from me. This man would not see me cry. I nodded curtly, and though I wanted to, I did not slam the door as I left.