I run into Saiyana on my way to meet Karisa. It’s amazing how we all lived together for years and could manage to go without seeing each other for days at a time, and suddenly now I can’t walk down a hallway without a sister popping up for a conversation.
I love it.
Though in this case Saiyana doesn’t slow down. “Some of us are still as busy as ever,” my sister tells me. “What with a magical taskforce the likes of which the world has never seen to organize. Thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome,” I say, and I’m not even joking, really. The imminent danger has passed, and my sister can sleep again—though judging from the strain around her eyes there’s still a lot for her to catch up on. “I don’t know why you’re complaining. I’ve given you the gift of the greatest logistical project of our lifetimes, a rare occasion that will actually give you scope for your copious talents.”
“Oh, I’m hurt,” Saiyana says with mock-sincerity. “I thought you’d ask me to plan your wedding.”
I roll my eyes. “If such a thing occurs—” Saiyana snorts, which I suppose is fair, given the way things between Deniel and me are going, and I’m traditional enough to want a ceremony of some kind. “—it will be a small, private affair.”
My sister looks at me sidelong. “Mhmm. And I’m sure once word gets out, you will definitely be able to fend off the many people in your beloved community who will be devastated if they can’t contribute to your celebration of happiness.”
I pause; blink. Horror begins to dawn.
Oh spirits, she’s right.
Saiyana veritably cackles, claps me on the shoulder, and waves on her way out without another word.
This round goes to her.
I suppose that means she’ll be okay after all, given time.
“Miyara? Everything okay?” Karisa asks from behind me.
I start to nod, then shake my head. “Yes. No. Saiyana’s just terrorizing me with prospects of my future.”
“Yeah, about that,” Karisa says.
My lips quirk. “Well that’s quick work, which doesn’t exactly detract from my argument. I take it you heard what I proposed?”
She leads me down the stairs where Lady Kireva had held the old arcanist; the spy teens have been remaking the space, physically and magically, into their own temporary base.
It’s a mess. Shelves partially built, piles of sticks and rocks and other magecraft materials, paper and cloth arranged in patterns that I assume are Glynis’ work.
The arrangement of chairs and couches, and the table in the center with the tea set, though, reminds me of Deniel’s and my home. That would warm my heart already—that we have been home enough for all of them that it serves as their model—but I also see an altar to the spirits, and my breath catches.
“We’ll have nothing to hide from them,” Karisa says. “From other people, yes. But not the spirits. As you might expect, everyone’s been so focused on stripping out the magic embedded in this place and redoing it that we have some work left to do, but I got them to help me set this up at least. Check it out—I’m going to make you tea for once.”
My eyebrows lift. Karisa may not be a tea master, but she received the same formal tea training I did in the palace. “I’m honored.”
Karisa claps, and my gut twists, and then I can smell the aroma of tea suddenly coming from the teapot. She winks at me, and I laugh as she pours me her magic-made tea.
“And what have you been doing, while they’ve all been busy with magic?” I ask.
“Arranging furniture,” my sister answers blandly, making me laugh again. I don’t doubt she could pick up a couch if there were a sneaky purpose to it.
“You’ve been thinking about what you want to do,” I say.
“Oh, no, I knew I wanted to lead the delegation to Nakrab,” Karisa says. “I just didn’t expect to be able to convince anyone that I should. Special bonus of having a tea master in my corner, I suppose.”
“No one knows quite what to do with you yet,” I agree. “Which means, of course—”
“That I have a window to decide. Yes.” Karisa sips her tea. “I feel like we’ve traded futures, in a way. I always thought I would be the ambassador—everyone would want to get rid of me, so I’d travel and would be so dramatic no one would be able to tell what I really thought about anything and I could keep them all on their toes. While you would be quietly maneuvering pieces from the background.”
“And instead we have a peaceful ambassador sister, and you will be maneuvering loudly and yet no one will ever know what you’re doing,” I say. “Which is what you’ve always done. And you also were aware our grandmother had tapped me to serve as spymaster long before I was.”
“I’m like her, I think,” Karisa says. “I’m not afraid to be divisive, and I want to be involved in everything. I suppose I’ll have to watch out for that, to make sure I don’t become too like her. Especially if she does decide to train me more actively.”
I nod my agreement, drinking my tea. “I do see what you mean though. In a way, despite your… flair for dramatics—”
“—I’m the one who’s ended up with the more dramatic role. My victories build slowly but are decided in big, decisive moments. For you, everything you do will be ongoing and incremental. There will rarely be such blatant, public victories as a spymaster.”
She shrugs. “On the other hand, I’m the one who had a long-term plan with no projected end to find ever-increasing ways to get under everyone’s skin, so, we might have expected.”
I laugh again. “True. If anyone can figure out how to twist absolutely everyone into behaving how she wants even if they don’t like it, it’s you.”
“And you’re the one who opened the door to make my work possible,” Karisa says. “To make sure this never, ever happens again.”
In so many ways. Making sure of the Cataclysm, first, but also our family—let us never be so stupidly divided by ourselves again.
“You really do believe we can do it, don’t you?” Karisa asks suddenly, her gaze intent on mine. “You think a group of teenagers can figure out how to fix everything.”
What form amends should take, whether Nakrabi magic can be fixed, how to best handle freeing their trapped spirits and restore our world, and what changes that will require from all of us.
Karisa, Taseino, Elowyn, Glynis, Ari, Tamak. All immensely gifted and capable; all who still need to decide who they want to be in our world.
“Not just any group: yours specifically,” I say, meeting her gaze and letting her read the certainty there. “But yes. I know it’s a huge undertaking and will be the work of years of effort. And I absolutely believe you are capable of it.”
Karisa glances down, her fingers tightening on her cup for just a moment with emotion.
No one believed she could do anything that mattered for too long.
When she looks back up, her emotion is contained behind a mask. “In that case, I had some thoughts I wanted to run by you.”
I raise my teacup in salute. “I am here for you.”
I enter Talmeri’s Teas and Tisanes from the front door for once. I raise my eyebrows when I catch sight of Taseino, who didn’t welcome an entrant as a matter of course.
He smiles slightly as I approach the counter. “I knew it was you.”
Of course he did. “I assume you know what I’ve been up to today, too. Do you want to talk about it?”
He considers. Taseino, ever thoughtful. “Maybe later,” he finally says, “when I’ve had a chance to think of better questions. But off the top of my head, no. I can do this.”
I smile. “I know you can. I can’t think of anyone more capable.”
Taseino shrugs a demurral. “It’s only because you created the space and gave me the opportunities to.”
“I didn’t make you watch and listen and learn,” I say. “Don’t think I’ll stand here and let you give me credit without taking any yourself.”
Taseino smiles slightly. It’s always so rare on his face, I count each one as a victory. “If you insist,” he says.
“I do,” I say, smiling in return. “You know where to find me if you need anything. But you have everything covered now?”
Taseino surveys around us, glances back up at me. “Yep. I have everything covered. You can move on.”
I smile more widely, bow, and do.
In the back, Elowyn and Tamak are rolling tea leaves together, shoulder to shoulder. They both wave at me as I come in and return to their work, unconcerned by anyone seeing their companionship.
They haven’t magically moved any farther forward yet, but they’ve stabilized with each other again. I’m not sure of this because they talked to me about it explicitly, but because they came over to Deniel’s and my home for dinner.
Elowyn has learned to speak up for herself, but she’s still a girl of few words. After letting us all watch and interact with each other for a few hours, Elowyn directed her piercing gaze at me as if to say, “Well? What do you think?”
It was a challenge and question at once; a request for approval, and an outside opinion to check whether she is, in fact, okay.
As if I am such an expert on relationships. But I do know both of them, separately and together, extremely well.
I smiled, and inclined my head, and then deposited Talsion in a startled Tamak’s lap as Elowyn laughed aloud.
Joining the delegation to Nakrab will give her a chance to choose what sides of her talents she wants to pursue—the shadows or the light. She may never decide to become a tea master formally, but that doesn’t change the fact that the gift is there. She knows without my having to say anything that I trust her, and them, to sort themselves out, and I will support them always.
So today all we do is wave, and I leave them to their quiet conversation as I corner Lorwyn.
“So,” I say.
“I hear you’ve been busy.”
Lorwyn snorts. “Yeah, you could say that. Ari and I have been talking for a while, since I got my head out of my butt and realized why Ostario was so bent on helping me.”
Oddly, Ari is the one I heard this from first—I suspect because I’m the one who let them know other pronouns were possible.
As an open and powerful witch, Lorwyn has the ability to magically alter physicality—like she did with my hair so many weeks ago. Now with Ostario’s training and with greater control, that means she can alter more than that as well.
Ostario, alone and primarily a mage, could never become a resource for others besides himself who need their bodies changed.
But Lorwyn, as a powerful and trained witch, can. As a publicly known with, no less—and she can become the start of witches, as a group, taking this on.
“We’re starting with just a couple small things,” Ari had told me.
I’d nodded. “See how those fit and how comfortable you are with them first?”
They nodded. “Yeah. Lorwyn can always do more later or change things back. So I don’t have to make any permanent decisions right away. I… want more time to understand what my gender is, if that makes sense.”
“Yes. And if your understanding changes, that’s fine too.”
But with Lorwyn now, I’m not here to talk about Ari’s business; that’s between them. “I’m glad you found something you actually want to do with your witchcraft that no one is forcing you into,” I tell her.
“There you go, ruining a perfectly comfortable moment with earnestness,” Lorwyn says.
“I’m building up your tolerance.”
“That’s better. But it… did occur to me that to do this for more than Ari, I probably need my own space.”
My eyebrows lift. That I hadn’t expected. “I admit I was planning on running an idea by you of using the tea shop as a front to train potential spies, but this is even better.”
“You want to set up your own business? Your own shop?”
Lorwyn points a knife at me. “Don’t think I’m going to forget about that comment. But, yeah. I was thinking maybe just like. ‘Lorwyn’s Witch Services’ or something? I don’t know. I don’t want to just help people be comfortable in their bodies. I mean, eventually I assume I’d miss not having an excuse to set weird Cataclysm ingredients on fire—”
“That’s perfect,” I tell her. “Talmeri’s will be your first customer, paying you for your blends. I’ll make sure of it. But you’d better be planning on raising your prices.”
“You think so? I mean, I know I’d have other costs, but—spirits, Miyara, the main reason I got you hired was so I didn’t have to do all the business stuff. I want to do this, and I think I need to, but, you know me. You really think I can?”
I gesture around. “I assume you don’t need me to tell you that plenty of people own businesses they need help to operate.”
“I mean, point, but who would do that for me?”
It’s amazing she’s come as far as she has—to be able to allow herself to want something, to want more for herself, and to actually admit it out loud.
It will take longer before she’s willing to believe people will actually believe she’s worthwhile—both valuable in her own right and not someone to be shunned as a witch. That they will pay her for what she’s worth, or want to work with her, and take her seriously—and, Lorwyn being Lorwyn, be willing and able to deal with her. Because she will always have a cavernous chip on her shoulder.
I jerk my head back towards Elowyn and Tamak. “Someday, either or both of those two, for one. But for now, you should hire Meristo. He’s ready to be done here anyway.”
Lorwyn blinks, like she’s stunned by the thought. Meristo is an inveterate charmer, hiding a core decency and competence beneath—and an ability to handle Lorwyn at her worst.
She shakes her head. “That won’t do at all. How could I hire someone who doesn’t properly respect that I can burn him to a crisp?”
“You do seem to be accumulating those in your life,” I say. “It must be dreadful for you.”
Lorwyn grins, shark-like. “Speaking of, maybe Entero would be willing to threaten Meristo for me.”
“It won’t work. Meristo worked with Entero and knows him too well.”
“Exactly. The threats where I don’t actually risk making him feel bad are the best kind.”
Wonders never ceased.
“I can’t wait to see Entero’s face when I tell him I’m considering hiring Meristo,” Lorwyn snickers.
“You two are better, then?”
“Oh. Yeah. I think we’re going to move in together.”
I comedically drag her over to a chair and command, “Tell me everything.”
Lorwyn winces. “I guess you’ll find out anyway. Basically Entero and I were fighting at the apartment—oh, did I tell you he decided he doesn’t need to cultivate relationships with the police after all, and that what he needs is better resources? So that was good, but anyway, Sa Nikuran apparently had enough of our bullshit and burst out of Risteri’s room—naked, in fact, so there’s images that I can never unsee—and told us that if we were both so terrified of being a danger to others maybe we should just live with other dangerous people.
“And that… derailed the argument then, but then we both kept thinking about it, and then you kept sending people over to bunk with the Te Muraka for their own good and eventually our brains started working like functional adults’. So we’re going to try living in the Te Muraka compound together and see how it goes.”
They’ll have both privacy and a community that actually supports them in their work. It’s perfect. “And Risteri and Sa Nikuran?”
“Still splitting time between the compound and the apartment. But they’re probably both going to move into the compound fulltime too and keep the apartment as a… private sanctuary for now, in case any of us need time, since, you know, none of us actually has any idea how to do serious relationships. And then later if we don’t need it Risteri was thinking it could be like a starter apartment for Te Muraka who want to move out of the compound. But only once we’re all comfortable giving it up.”
“I’m glad,” I tell her from the bottom of my heart.
“I am too,” Lorwyn admits, “though you’re going to have to wait to grill me any further.”
Entero chooses that moment to enter from the back door. “That sounds like my cue. Are you ready to go?”
“You’re the worst,” I tell him.
He shrugs. “There are only so many ways to practically protect someone like Lorwyn. I’ll take what I can get.”
That makes me laugh. “You two are perfect.”
Slyly, Entero bows, and I laugh harder. He is who he is—and he is coming more into himself every day.
“See, you don’t always have to do everything,” Lorwyn tells me. “Sometimes someone else will yell at us in your stead.”
I’m still laughing when they invite me to walk with them to the Te Muraka compound, where Sa Rangim has promised to show them some open spaces. I take one last glance around to confirm everyone is working in harmony and notice Lorwyn’s tea pet that Deniel repaired so long ago at my request, gleaming down from above us. I smile, and we all move on together.
Continue to Chapter 40