From the author: For many years, the snowcat Jiro has been the companion of Korrinth, the emerald mage, but now the mage has begun to forget even simple spells. As they journey to the mages' council, Jiro must struggle to keep his friend safe... and his own secrets hidden.
We snowcats may be born for swirling blizzards and icy cliffs, but for myself, I'll take a cozy cottage hearth any day. A bellyful of roast rabbit, a fire of crimson embers, the old rug covered with layer on layer of my gray-and-white fur--that's comfort.
I was stretched out on that rug, dreaming of yellow butterflies, when the explosion woke me. There was no question where it had come from, and in a matter of seconds I'd already raced across the one-room cottage, shouldered open the door, and headed for Korrinth's workroom. It was actually larger than the cottage, with the same rough shutters and thatched roof. All looked well outside, and there was no smoke pouring out from anywhere, so I hoped those were good signs.
Inside, Korrinth's chair was knocked over and his worktable covered with shards of pottery, but the oil lamp was still upright, and thankfully so was the mage himself. His complexion looked a little gray, but then I realized it was just the powdery ash of whatever he'd been mixing. His curly white beard was singed and his eyebrows were gone, but otherwise he looked all right.
"Korrinth--are you hurt?"
His cloudy green eyes focused on me. "Hurt? Why would I... No, my boy, I'm perfectly fine. Just..." He looked at the shambles on the worktable as if someone else had put the mess there. "Something... didn't work right."
I took the back of his chair in my teeth and managed to get it upright. "Here. Sit down and rest a minute."
It was hard to tell if anything else in the room had been damaged. I remembered the days when everything was neatly labeled and stored away on the shelves and in the cupboards. Now half the clay jars had faded labels, bundles of herbs were lying around in piles, and stacks of books teetered next to stale bread crusts and teacups with dried leaves stuck inside.
I couldn't help wondering if the wizard's mind now looked much the same way.
I turned back to Korrinth. "I was thinking... It looks like it might rain tomorrow. Maybe we should send a message to the council and stay home this year. It's such a long journey for bad weather."
"Stay home? Nonsense! We have to be there."
"Oh, now, you said yourself last year it was just an excuse for all the high mages to get together and show off and bicker about nothing."
"Did I? Well. It's still important. I'm the emerald mage, after all. Can't have any empty chairs." His eyes lit suddenly. "Oh--I almost forgot. I have to make the tonic for Myomé's companion." He stood. "Now... Where did I put the flameroot..."
So that's what he'd been doing. As he rummaged through the cupboards, I sniffed the remains of the bowl. Sparkweed instead of flameroot. No wonder it had gone up. We were lucky it hadn't taken the roof off. Or his head.
It was my fault, really, dozing at the fire instead of keeping an eye on him, knowing his mind wandered too much anymore for him to be safe working alone. I looked through his recipe book, as he called it, until I found the right one, and we gathered the ingredients together.
Korrinth picked up a jar, squinted at the label, put it back, and picked up another. The clay lids rattled as his hands shook. "Oh--"
I glanced up just in time to see the jar fall. Before it hit the packed floor, I seized the jar with my mind, slowed its descent, and righted it so that it came to rest without breaking.
Korrinth gazed at it a moment, obviously puzzled, then picked it up and went on. I turned back to the recipe book, trying not to pant with the sudden exertion, the pads of my paws slick with sweat. He wouldn't put it together. Maybe he'd think he did it himself by instinct. I hated keeping secrets from him, but like so many things these days, it was for his own good.
I'd been the emerald mage's companion since he'd found me as a starving cub, lost or abandoned in the northlands. I had more memories of snuggling against his green wool cloak than I did of my mother's fur. He'd been a waywalker in those days, no settled hearth of his own, and he'd thought a fierce male snowcat would make for good protection. He named me Jiro, after a silver flower that grew in those mountains, the only one that bloomed in winter. By the time I was grown, my head came to just above his waist, he'd spelled me to speak and taught me to read, and though I saved his life a time or two in the mountains, fighting off frost-wolves and keeping him warm at night when we couldn't risk a fire, I did it not from duty or command, but out of friendship. Out of love.
Once the tonic was finished and poured into its blue glass bottle, we went back into the cottage. Korrinth sat in his chair by the fire, intending to read, but he was asleep in moments. Grateful I could use magic now instead of my teeth, I took the book from him and placed it on the side-table, drew a blanket gently over him, and went outside to finish the day's chores. A pair of leather gardening gloves, roused with a few whispered words, became my hands, and I drew water from the well, brought in a few more sticks for the fire, and milked Penelope, our goat. It had taken a little while for her to get used to me, and a good while longer to get used to being milked by a pair of enchanted gloves instead of warm human hands, but now she stood placidly by until I was done.
All through the chores, I worried. Some days he was fine, others not. It was two days' journey to the hall where the mages' council was held--would those be good days or bad? And the council itself... When we were alone, I could help him without him noticing, but the other mages wouldn't be so easily fooled.
I put the gloves away. By now, they felt like they were made of stone, and my head ached. I wasn't born for magic, and I'd never meant to learn it, but something had had to be done. Even though it was forbidden for a mage's companion to learn, I'd had no choice--or so I told myself. I tried to ignore the fact that, tired as I was now from the chores, I was proud of how much I could do, and satisfied by how well I did it. I liked doing magic, but that, above all, was what I could admit to no one. Not even myself.
Dawn came rosy and fair, and we set out, Korrinth with his walking stick in one hand and the other resting between my shoulders. It looked to be a good day in more than just the weather. I'd double-checked his pack and found our supplies in good order, he hadn't forgotten the tonic, and now he was even humming an old road-song from his waywalker days. I joined in with the chorus as we walked, and he laughed and rumpled the thick fur at my nape. "Like old times, isn't it?" he said, smiling, and happily I agreed that it was.
The second day grew cloudy. A sudden shower in the early afternoon forced us to shelter in a grove of pines. Korrinth and I gathered dry branches, but when he tried to get a fire going, he couldn't recall the name of fire and instead kept repeating variations on a word used to snuff candles, getting more and more frustrated. Finally I muttered the right word under my breath, and the flames sprang up and blazed.
"There." Korrinth crossed his arms and settled back against a log. "Must have been a bit damp."
He dozed a bit, and I relaxed, enjoying the snap of the fire and the patter of rain. Just as I was drifting off, though, Korrinth stood, looking around.
I stretched. "What is it?"
"We have to get home. It's getting late." He picked up his walking stick and looked around for his pack.
"No, it's all right. We're going to the council, remember? We'll be there tomorrow morning."
"The council." His eyes went unfocused a moment. "But Penelope--"
"Sadie has her. Sadie Cross-Creek? She's keeping her for us. She's going to make you some of that cheese you like from the milk. The kind with the herbs in it?"
"Oh." Korrinth sat back down on the log, slowly. "Yes. I suppose." He still clutched his walking stick, looking down at his hands like he wasn't sure they were his. I wondered if he expected them to look younger, stronger, the way he remembered them--the way I remembered him.
The shower passed, and we came out of the pine grove into a rainwashed meadow. Back on the road, I felt better, though I was already vowing that, one way or another, this was going to be our last council. We had walked perhaps half a mile when Korrinth slowed and stopped, leaning on his stick.
"Should we rest a bit?" I asked brightly.
Korrinth shook his head. He gazed at the horizon a moment, frowned, turned to the right, and stopped again.
He looked back at me, and I ached at the sadness in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Jiro. I'm... not quite certain where we are. We should be near the second marker by now, but I don't..." He looked back at the horizon. He sounded tired. "I'm afraid I don't remember."
"Hush." I nudged his hand. "All these stupid fields look alike anyway, you know that. We can't be too far off."
"We'll be late." He looked down at the road. "We'll be late, and it'll be my fault."
I pressed against him, purring. "Then they'll just have to wait for the emerald mage. It'll be good for them."
As I spoke, I tried to push aside fear and worry and sorrow to clear my mind enough to search for the second marker. The first one the day before had been a chunk of amethyst crystal wedged high up in a tree to mark the path, so suffused with magic it practically hummed. Here I felt nothing, but it was hard to clear my mind when all I could feel was Korrinth's frail hand on my back, gripping my thick fur as if it kept him from being blown away like dandelion fluff. I buried my nose in his cloak, smelling pinesmoke and a leaf of sage caught in the wool from home.
Scent. That was it. Strong, concentrated magic like the markers had its own scent, something like a cross between rosemary and the air after a storm. I whispered a spell I'd learned the week before, to increase my sense of smell tenfold, and hoped it would work.
It was as if all the colors around me brightened as every scent grew sharper. I sneezed twice, then sniffed the next breeze. Yes--there. It was faint, but I could follow.
"Come on." I tugged gently at Korrinth's cloak. "Let's try this way." Thankfully, he followed without question, and I mock-wandered a bit, moving toward the marker's scent. I didn't know how long the spell would last, or if it would work a second time. Some seemed to be single-use only, though for some maddening reason they never told you that in the books. Maybe they didn't work the same way in nonhumans.
Finally, just as the spell seemed to be fading, Korrinth jerked a bit, as if woken up. "There it is! Clear as a bell--and there's the path." He smiled down at me. "Maybe I'm not so worn out after all."
In the old days, I might have nipped his hand playfully, but his skin was too thin for that now, so I brushed it with my whiskers instead. "You're just fine."
The council hall was actually a castle--or at least what remained of one, high on a green hill. It had been a place of ancient magic and storied battle ages ago, and now only its great hall still stood, surrounded by weathered gray stones with weeds and ivy growing between. Inside, though, the hall itself appeared untouched by time. Tapestries covered the walls, the rushes on the floor were strewn with fresh mint, and a great table of dark, gleaming wood nearly filled the room. Around that table, Korrinth and the other four mages of the council took their places.
Myomé, the crimson mage and the highest among them, took her place first. She was nearing her three hundredth year, but her dark brown skin remained unlined, though she had grandsons now who were waywalkers themselves. Her companion, a little red dragon named Reza, had already staked out a spot at the massive hearth, and when she saw me, she puffed out twin curls of smoke in greeting.
Beside her sat Sterlan, the indigo mage, with ice-blue eyes under sharp brows and glossy black hair. His companion, a silver falcon, perched on his forearm, as if they were out hunting. I'd never felt comfortable under that bird's gaze, and now that I carried my secret, I shivered a little when the falcon's dark eyes locked on mine.
Brant, the blond-haired yellow mage, was the youngest of the group in both age and appearance. His chair was empty at the moment because he was, as always, chasing after his companion, which was apparently some sort of cross between a lemur and a demon. It had already eaten half the mint out of the rushes, upset all the chalices on the table, and was now clawing its way up the largest tapestry, defecating copiously as it went. Brant's magic lay in song, and I hoped before things got started he'd take up his lute and spell the thing to sleep for the duration of the council. Or preferably forever.
The last of the company was Neely, the Beige. He was pleasant enough but had a way of fading into the background, and had he been absent, I doubt anyone would have noticed. His companion was a small rodent of some sort from its scent, though all we ever saw of it was him apparently feeding sunflower seeds to his sleeve.
Korrinth took his seat, and I settled down next to Reza by the hearth. I was glad she was there; it was good to have someone to talk to. (Technically, Brant's thing could talk, but its vocabulary was limited mostly to the words "give," "mine," and "hungry.")
"You look awful," she said, but she said it kindly.
I stretched out all the way, spreading my toes, and sighed, feeling the warmth of the fire seep through my fur. "It was a long journey. He gets tired a lot sooner now."
"And you're exhausted yourself."
"Just need a nap. I'll be fine." I could tell she wanted to say something else, but whatever it was, she let it go and curled up next to me. We rarely saw each other outside of the councils, but whenever we met, it was as if we picked up right where we'd left off.
I drifted in and out of sleep until Myomé rapped her staff against the stones to call the council to order. Brant had managed to subdue his companion enough to have it sitting on his shoulder gnawing an apple. I hoped he had a whole bushel with him.
"Ever wonder what that thing would taste like?" Reza murmured. "Stuff it with apples, roast it nice and slow..."
I chuckled despite my worry. Maybe things would be all right. The castle's magic was deep and strong; maybe it would strengthen Korrinth somehow. Maybe it really would be like old times.
Myomé's voice rang through the hall. "I call upon each mage to bind their word to the will of this council. Sterlan, the Indigo."
"I am thus bound."
"Brant, the Yellow."
"I am--ow! you stupid little--"
Myomé's expression looked carved into her face, though there was a hint of mirth in her eyes. "Brant, the Yellow?"
The young mage turned red enough to have been called Brant the Scarlet. "I am thus bound."
"Neely, the Beige."
Neely coughed politely. "Madame Crimson, if you please--"
"What color is it really this time, Neely?"
"I rather think it tends more toward ecru, you see, because--"
"Very well. Neely, the Ecru."
"I am thus bound."
"Korrinth, the Emerald."
"I am thus bound."
I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath until I released it.
"As am I, Myomé, the Crimson. So we proceed."
The first order of business was from Neely, a question about whether some sort of magic hedge had grown too tall and exactly who was responsible for pruning it. I rested my cheek against the warm stones by the hearth and sank gratefully into sleep.
"Jiro." Reza's voice, low and insistent. "Wake up."
"Mm?" I yawned. "Was I snoring?"
I turned my attention back to the table. Things had apparently gotten a bit livelier than magic horticulture while I'd been asleep. Sterlan was leaning forward, obviously irritated; Brant was frowning (at least his lemur-thing was asleep now); and Neely looked worried (though, to be fair, Neely always looked worried). Myomé was calm, but that too was no surprise; she was like the eye of a storm given human shape. But Korrinth was pale, and I didn't like that anxious look in his eyes. I growled softly and padded over to the table to sit by his chair.
"Those wards have been getting weaker by the day," Sterlan said. "Your border might as well be unwarded--any shade with more strength than a butterfly could get through by now."
The wards. My stomach lurched. I couldn't help Korrinth maintain them; only the true emerald mage could weave and hold that magic. I'd reminded him about them a few times, but apparently he either hadn't kept them up or hadn't the strength to do it as well as before.
Korrinth's gaze hardened. "I know how to protect my own border."
"Then do it. If you can."
A snarl welled in my throat. Korrinth put a hand on my head, lightly, but I felt no reassurance from it. "You have some concern regarding my abilities?"
"I have some concern," Sterlan said, "about this whole council. Have we all forgotten that we're guardians? That our wards keep this land safe? If any of us neglects that work"--he eyed Korrinth--"or no longer has the capacity to do it properly, we leave all our lands open to shadow. Have we forgotten the war my father fought in--was lost in--battling those forces?"
"We have not." Myomé spoke quietly, but her voice still seemed to come from the very stones of the hall. "And some of us lost as much. Or more."
I wondered if Sterlan remembered that Myomé's husband had also been lost in the Shadow War. It seemed he didn't, because he barreled on.
"These are not merely titles; these are not amusing tricks we do. Lives depend on us, and we cannot risk failing them."
"If you have a point," Myomé said, "this would be an excellent time to present it."
There was no hesitation. "I charge Korrinth the emerald mage to prove potency by ordeal."
The hall went still as ice. Only apprentices had to prove their powers; as far as I knew, it had never been asked of any mage, let alone a high mage of the council. But now it had, and if Myomé allowed it--and if he wasn't strong enough--
I couldn't bear to finish the thought, couldn't bear to think of him so defeated. I wished I could will him some of my strength, some of my new magic's power, but that was in the realm of magical healing, and far beyond the meager skills I had.
"This is a serious charge," Myomé said. "Are you certain you wish to pursue it?"
I imagined what his bone might feel like against my teeth.
"Maybe we should take a break," Brant said. "Have some time to rest."
"Oh, of course," Sterlan said sweetly, "because when the shadow forces creep across the border, they'll allow him some time to rest up before they attack, won't they?" He seemed to be speaking more to his falcon than to anyone else in particular. "Of course it doesn't matter that one of our high mages of fading--why, we've got minstrel boy the monkey trainer and Fruitcake the Taupe to keep us safe--"
"Ecru," Neely muttered to his sleeve.
"You've made your point," Myomé said. "Speak further, and you'll certainly dull it." She paused, and I saw pain flicker across her face before she composed herself again. "Reza, bring the testing-stone."
The little dragon gave me a sympathetic glance, then slipped out of the hall and returned a few moments later with the stone. It looked like nothing more than a cabochon of clear glass the size of my paw, set in a silver frame, but from my secret reading I knew it was a type of stone rarer and clearer than diamond, one of only seven in the world, worthless to average humans but precious to mages for its ability to perfectly reflect power without amplifying it.
Reza placed the stone on the table before Korrinth.
"A waste of valuable time," Korrinth said, "but if I must..."
"Please," Myomé said.
All grew quiet again. Korrinth focused on the stone. Threads of pale green light danced through it, quivering, entwining. Gradually the color deepened, and the light grew brighter.
I stared at the stone as if doing so would somehow help him, as if by sheer will I could force it brighter. By now it glowed faint green throughout with deeper sparks flashing within. It would have been an impressive show for an apprentice. For a mage...
The glow intensified, as if a green flame had been lit inside the stone. Then it grew brighter still. Hope set my heart pounding. A little more, just a little more, and that would shut Sterlan's mouth and everything would be all right.
I glanced at Korrinth. His face was a blank slate, but I saw strain in the muscles around his eyes. His hands were in his lap, and from where I sat next to him, I could see them trembling. The emerald light in the testing-stone was steady, but it wasn't enough. I saw a sudden desperation in Korrinth's eyes, saw him struggling to hold even the light that was there. I couldn't bear it, couldn't bear that pain, couldn't bear to watch him on the verge of humiliation, of defeat, when he was as good as any of them had ever been--
Something jolted through me, searing my chest like a spear of fire. The testing-stone blazed, too bright to look at directly, and sent an emerald beam straight up to the ceiling, clear and sharp and true.
Korrinth sat back heavily, sweat shining in the lines on his pale forehead. The stone went dark.
"I hope," Korrinth said, his breaths short and wheezing, "that was enough for your satisfaction."
I stared at the rushes on the floor, heart racing. That hadn't been Korrinth at the end. Somehow that had been me. Had anyone guessed? I scanned their faces and saw no suspicion--except for Sterlan, who was in a cold fury now, fists clenched as if he were determined to fight someone but wasn't sure who. Then he snatched up his silver chalice, still half full of red wine, and threw it directly at Korrinth's head.
Korrinth put his hands up to block it but didn't have the strength to divert the object instantly and harmlessly, as any other mage would have. The chalice struck him on the temple, and I heard him cry out in pain.
I felt the roar in my chest before I heard it from my lungs, and in my rage I seized the chalice with my mind and flung it back hard at the indigo mage. He deflected it without even wincing--as simple a reflex for a mage as someone putting up their hands--and it clattered to the stone floor.
I turned back to Korrinth, purring hard, sniffing for blood, pressed against his chest, trying to climb into his lap as if I were a cub again. I wasn't sure whether I was comforting him or looking for reassurance myself. A hard welt was rising above Korrinth's eye, but that wasn't the worst. He'd passed the ordeal of the testing-stone but failed this simpler test. He knew it. They all knew it. The emerald mage sat crumpled in his chair, hand to his head, tears on his sunken cheeks. For the first time since I had known him, he looked like nothing more than an old man.
It wasn't until Myomé inspected and healed Korrinth's wound that I started to worry whether anyone knew I'd been the one to throw the chalice back at Sterlan. Certainly they wouldn't connect it to me. It could have been any of them, and it wasn't like Sterlan had been hurt. I glanced nervously at Sterlan's falcon, but it was paying no attention to me. I took a slow, deep breath and tried to relax.
And then I looked to Reza, sitting back by the hearth, and her eyes met mine, and I knew she'd seen everything.
Myomé halted the council until the next morning and went to speak with Sterlan in private, and the other mages went to the various shelters and tents they'd set up among the ruins. Myomé gave Korrinth a draught from a gold flask she carried, and only when I was sure he was sleeping soundly did I finally leave his side and look for Reza.
She was sitting at the edge of the ruins, perched on a crumbling wall of wide stones. In her claws she held the blue glass bottle of tonic we'd brought her, and when I climbed up next to her I saw it was still full. Before us, sunset glowed pink and gold in the clouds, reminding me too much of the testing-stone.
"Is Korrinth all right?" she asked.
I nodded. "He's sleeping."
"I'm sorry about..." She didn't seem to know how to finish, but I knew what she meant. Sorry your mage isn't going to be a mage anymore, whatever that would mean. I didn't know who the new emerald mage would be or how any of it worked, but I didn't care. All I wanted was to go back home with Korrinth, and take care of him, and never mind what he was or wasn't, except the closest friend I'd ever had.
"Reza..." I wasn't sure where to start. What if she really hadn't seen anything? "Back there..."
She smiled, but her eyes were sad. "How long?"
"Months. Just to help things along, that's all. I didn't mean to..." But of course I had. You didn't stay up nights reading spellbooks in secret just to help things along.
"But why can't we?" I asked. "If it can be taught, why can't we learn?"
She looked down at the bottle, tipping it gently back and forth, watching the liquid swirl inside. "Magic's for humans."
"But why? There has to be some good reason."
She shrugged, still gazing at the bottle.
"Reza..." A vague suspicion teased at the edges of my mind. "What does that tonic do?"
It was a long time before she answered, and when she did, her voice was quiet and flat. "Dragons are magic. We're born with it. This... keeps things under control."
"Keeps you from being able to use magic."
She wouldn't look at me. "Yes."
"That you were born with."
"And if you didn't take it?"
She was silent. Then she turned to face me, and her pale gold eyes held mine. A door opened in her mind, and for an instant I was able to look through it.
I gasped. I felt like I was falling, though I knew it had nothing to do with my physical body. The magic in her was a landscape, a vista of towering red cliffs, a power from within the very earth that simmered in her veins. Just trying to grasp the scope of it was overwhelming.
She closed the door. A shudder ran through me from nose to tail. If she didn't drink that tonic, she could be the crimson mage herself. Or something even greater.
"Reza..." I had no idea how to convince her. I couldn't believe she'd kept so much power pent within her for so long, hidden from everyone, maybe even from herself.
Again she gave me a sorrowful smile. "I'm not as brave as you are, Jiro."
There was nothing else to say, and it was getting dark. As I left her, I heard the soft pop of the cork being pulled.
I lay awake most of that night, exhausted but unable to sleep. When I did doze off, I dreamt of wandering the landscape I'd seen in Reza's mind, red cliffs and deep caves and tendrils of lava, with shades chasing me at every turn, creatures I could feel but never see. Dawn was a mercy, though I had no idea how I was going to get through the day. I helped Korrinth wash and dress; he was wandering badly, probably from the strain of the day before. I hated Sterlan all over again, even if what was happening to Korrinth wasn't really the indigo mage's fault.
I was taking a currant bun from our pack for Korrinth's breakfast when he spoke.
I dropped the bun and went to him. He held my face in his hands a moment, then stroked my head.
"I wanted to thank you, for what you've done. What you tried to do."
It took a moment for me to realize what he meant. I'd never wanted him to know I was helping. I didn't want him hurt that way.
"It's all right. I'm not angry. You would have made a good apprentice." He smiled. "And you have marvelous aim."
I tried to laugh, but the sound choked in my throat. I rested my chin on his shoulder, and he stroked my fur like he had when I was little, humming the old road-song again, the words all coming back to him safe and true, and we sang it softly, for the new road, together.
When I saw Myomé's face at the council later that morning, I knew Reza had told her everything. I felt like I should be angry, or at least afraid, but all I could manage was a kind of numb resignation. I didn't know what the penalty was for companions practicing magic, but my only concern was who would look after Korrinth if I were jailed or executed. What happened to me didn't matter.
Myomé rapped her staff against the stones. "Jiro, come forward."
I went to her side. She took something from a bag on the table and laid it on the floor before me.
I looked up at her, trying to read her expression, but she was as impassive as the stone itself. I looked at Reza, but she seemed to have become a dragon statue.
I thought of the landscapes in Reza's mind, and then I saw something different. Snowy mountains. Icy crags. All the vistas in myself I longed to explore.
Whatever the cost, I wasn't going to lock them away.
I looked back at Korrinth. He smiled, and then he nodded.
I closed my eyes and cleared my mind. I could smell the snow in the air, could feel the sharp wind ruffling my fur.
I opened my eyes and focused on the stone. It glowed, then flared, then burst into a green so bright it blinded me. When my vision cleared, the beam was still there, a beacon in the stone hall, lighting the way to the path inside myself.
Myomé smiled slow and wide. "Well proven. Take your place, Jiro."
I stared at her. "Take...?" I looked back at Korrinth. He was standing behind his chair now, and though there were tears in his eyes, he was smiling, too.
I padded over to the chair and jumped up, my claws scraping the wood as I found my balance. Brant grinned at me. Neely smiled uncertainly but waved. Sterlan wouldn't look at me, but I was perfectly fine with that.
Myomé's staff struck the stones. "I call upon each mage to bind their word to the will of this council. Sterlan, the Indigo."
"I am thus bound."
"Brant, the Yellow."
"I am thus bound." The lemur-thing chittered at me. I hissed at it, and it shut up.
"Neely, the--yes, I know--Ecru."
"I am thus bound."
"Jiro, the Emerald."
I tried to speak, but nothing came out. Myomé's gaze softened, and she spoke again, slowly, kindly.
"Jiro, the Emerald."
I sat up straighter. "I am thus bound."
"As am I," Myomé said, and the council proceeded.
That evening, with my head still buzzing from a combination of magic, giddy disbelief, and sheer shock, I met Reza at the wall again. The bottle of tonic sat beside her, and when I came closer, she uncorked it and poured the contents into the weeds.
"I thought you--"
"I did take a sip," she confessed. "Just to keep it all from being so... big."
I could understand that. The world hadn't felt this huge and scary and wondrous since I was a cub.
Reza set the empty bottle aside. "Myomé says it might be hard for me to control at first, but she's going to help me."
"You must have told her a lot."
She nodded. "We talked a long time last night. Almost all night. And argued. And cried. And laughed." She sighed, sending wisps of smoke into the twilight. "And so I'm an apprentice now." She laughed. "Can you believe it?"
We sat and watched the stars come out, all the new worlds glimmering over our heads. "Actually," I said, "I can."
And now it's been almost a year since my first day as the emerald mage. I'll go to the council hall alone this year, and Sadie Cross-Creek will come to look after Korrinth as well as Penelope. Sometimes Korrinth thinks he's still the emerald mage, and I've finally had to lock the workroom door with a spell to keep him from wandering in.
There are still good days and bad days on this road, and I know soon enough the bad ones will outnumber the good. But like all the other journeys we've taken, we'll reach the end together, and as I lie before the fire in our hearth, Korrinth stroking my fur, the landscape in my mind is calm and quiet, and snow falls gently, and all is well.
This story originally appeared in Hero's Best Friend.