We arrived at our eighth session with the sage slightly ahead of schedule. We’d had no duties with Irina that morning, and had grown sick of waiting in my chambers.
Andiya paused with her hand on the door. “It’s the princess.” She leaned her ear to the wood. “Can you hear?”
“Give me some magic. I can’t make it out properly.”
“I’m not giving you magic to spy on the princess.”
Andiya shot me a spiteful look and slammed open the door.
Irina and Jawahir halted shouting. They stood like warriors in an arena, ready to strike should the other move.
“Enjoy your training, Kain,” Irina said tactfully. “And don’t forget, Turan. I expect a report in the morning.”
Andiya and I bowed as Irina departed. We joined the sage at a new writing desk set with pens and blank sheet music.
“What did the princess want?” asked Andiya.
Jawahir’s brow rose. Andiya so rarely spoke during our sessions. “I am not at liberty to say,” replied the sage. He leaned in conspiratorially. “But I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Who do I have to tell?”
“Then we can speak of Irina later,” declared the sage. “For now, I thought we might try composing. Can you read music, Andiya?”
“Not like this.”
“Then we shall learn today.”
As Jawahir lectured to a silent Andiya about bars and times, I watched her. Though she seemed to offer just as many words as she had in our first session, there was a small change. She sat straighter, more attentive. Perhaps she didn’t want to speak with Jawahir. But she felt the same effect that his gentle manner had once had on me—it was difficult to stay angry when he did not give you reason. He did not fight, did not argue. There was nothing to fuel the flame, and so it eventually went out. How long would it take Jawahir to wear Andiya down, as he had me?
Today’s session seemed to be no different than the others, until the sage set down his pen.
“Forgive me, Andiya. But your bruises have not healed since the day we met. And that cut on your forearm seems to be worse.”
“I have not been given any magic to heal. My master does not trust me with it.”
“Ah. Rozin, release her magic.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “No. The last time Andiya had full access to her magic, she murdered the archon. I can’t allow the risk.”
“I see. Andiya, if Rozin were to release your magic, what would you do?”
Andiya fixed me with a furious glare. “Nothing more. Rozin will surely see to that.”
“So there we have it. Rozin, her magic.”
“Did you not hear me? She murdered the archon. She is more powerful than anything we’ve ever encountered. And—and I don’t trust her! Not as you seem to. If I set Andiya loose she could burn the Korongorod right out of the sky.”
The easy expression on Jawahir’s face vanished. “Trust is earned, Rozin. How is Andiya meant to do that, when you treat her as you do? Like a dog that you have beaten and now fear it biting your hand.”
“I haven’t touched her!”
“Yet you allow her to live in pain because of your own prejudices. You watch her wince as she walks and tell yourself that because it was not by your hand, you are absolved of the guilt. But you are worse than them. Andiya is your responsibility, and you have failed her.”
My eyes hit the floor.
“Forgive me, sage.”
“It is not my forgiveness you need.”
I could feel Andiya’s scepticism through the bond. She was right. I was never going to ask her for that.
“How do I release the magic, sage,” I forced through my teeth.
He sighed lengthily. “Close your eyes.”
The room went dark.
“Your fear is a clenched fist,” said the sage’s lulling tone. “I want you to imagine loosening it.”
I tried. I really did. But I’d pulled the bond so tight I’d forgotten what it had felt like to free it.
“Trust, Rozin,” said Jawahir.
I gripped the bond and heaved. Andiya gasped, and I heard her palms hit the floor.
“Rozin. Rozin, you’re choking her.”
I knew that. I couldn’t breathe either.
Andiya was coughing. The bond tightened again until it felt like an overdrawn bowstring. Something had to break. And it wasn’t going to be me.
“Damn you!” came Andiya’s throttled voice. “You bitch—”
The curse crashed into me, dragging forth a memory I could never seem to be rid of. A burning village. Ash in my mouth. Kamala, screaming as black teeth sank into her father's neck.
My grip on the bond slipped, and I felt magic rush into Andiya like the crash of a tidal wave.
I opened my eyes to see her staring at her own hands. Her bruises faded and vanished. She sat tall. Her ruby eyes lit with a life I’d forgotten they had. And she suddenly seemed real, as if the Andiya I’d seen all this time was this woman’s shadow. Her skin was more vibrant, her outline more in tune with the world around her. She took a heavy breath.
“Andiya,” said Jawahir. “How do you feel?”
“Like … me,” she breathed. “It’s all here.”
She opened a palm before her eyes, and a ball of pale orange flame coalesced from thin air.
I snatched the magic back. The flame went out. Andiya slumped.
“Rozin!” said the sage. “She did nothing—”
“No,” Andiya cut in. “I said I would only heal. Fire was not in the bargain. I … forgot myself.”
Jawahir frowned, but he didn’t fight her. Andiya stretched her arms like a cat in the sun. Free from ache for the first time in a long while.
The sage brought out his sheet music pages. “Now, for some relaxing composition—”
“What did the princess want?” demanded Andiya. With the pain gone, her voice was sharp as a lash.
Jawahir blinked in surprise. “You’d rather talk politics?”
“I’d rather do more than listen to you speak of composers and cadence. I appreciate your efforts, sage, and I shall not forget the kindness you have shown me this past week—but by now I think we can discuss the real game you've been playing. In the time we’ve been meeting you’ve done nothing to train Rozin and everything to befriend a High Order. Why?”
The sage seemed thrown by Andiya’s outburst. I forced down my smirk. He’d wanted her healed, and he got it.
“And so I’ve been caught,” he said. “Something any other bonded would not have been able to do.”
“You were testing my intelligence.”
“No, Andiya! Your life. Your wit, passion, incredulity. Your ability to question and be questioned. I wanted to speak to a High Order with the same candour that I might any human being.”
“Discovery. I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of higher knowledge. As far as I know, a human and a High Order have never shared tea, nor played together, nor discussed fine silks. We have an opportunity to learn from each other that no one else does.”
Andiya crossed her arms over her chest, tapping her fingers. “Very well, Turan Jawahir. I can’t fault a scholar for pursuing his studies. If you wish to continue our ‘sessions,’ as you have named them, I am open to it. Now. What did the princess want? I won’t ask again.”
Andiya and I went still.
“The princess fears invasion like ink fears water. In her eyes, Andiya is the key to shielding the Canavar lands from foreign powers. Our time here was meant for Rozin to learn to wield a High Order. The princess demands to know what progress I’ve made.”
“You’ve made none,” I said. “We’ve done nothing.”
“Nothing to help you wield Andiya, that is true. But these sessions have confirmed my suspicions. That the task the princess asks of me is, undoubtedly, impossible.”
I leaned in. “What you mean is that I will never be able to control Andiya?”
“In my opinion, no.”
Andiya shot me such a satisfied grin that I had the urge to pour a bucket of ice water over her head.
“Andiya,” said Jawahir. “Are you aware of what a human-daemon bond actually is?”
“No. Without magic, I don’t understand how humans can even produce these fetters.”
“The principle is not unlike the magic of your Subjugators. A daemon Subjugator is one that hunts by immobilizing its prey, whether by chain or cage or trap. They use their magic to bind the magic of another daemon so that it cannot fight back. Their methods are only effective if the subject’s strength is less than theirs—which is why the less powerful of them tend to hunt in packs. Together, they can overpower their prey. A human bonder uses this method—but as we lack magic, we use the life force of our bodies.”
“But a human is not more powerful than a daemon.”
“No, it is not. But what does a human possess that a daemon does not—what it now seems a High Order does?”
“I have no idea.”
“A soul,” I said.
“You are saying,” ground out Andiya, “that daemons don’t possess souls.”
“The lesser orders, no. But let’s think about what that means. Andiya’s mental faculties are equal—if not superior—to our own. After the bond, she has retained her sense of self, her individuality, her morals. Sentience. The bond only works by forcing part of a human’s soul into a daemon shell—thereby splitting the soul into two bodies. But this only works if there is no soul to overpower. It seems that Andiya does, in fact, have a soul to match ours. Rather than replacing a soul, it seems you have blended yours together.”
The bond writhed uncomfortably between us. Neither of us much liked the idea of that.
“Because of this blend, Andiya is fully present. Rozin can control the flow of her magic, as it is now a part of you as well as her, and I expect that the bond grants some physical connection as well …”
“Like feeling when they tortured me,” said Andiya quietly.
“Ah. Yes. But with a competing soul in Rozin’s way, the bond is less of a puppet string and more of a prison shackle. Thus, there is no true control.”
“And you told the princess this?” prompted Andiya.
“No. Our argument was because I have not told her anything. I did not want to endanger you or Rozin by revealing what I know. There is no telling what Irina will do when she realises that Andiya cannot be the weapon she wanted. Irina has demanded a demonstration of Rozin’s training, and I told her you were not ready. I don’t know how much longer I can stall.”
“But you said yourself it will never be possible,” I said. “So all you’ve done is drag out your hours studying Andiya before she sends you away. Irina wanted you to weaponize her High Order, and you treated it to tea.”
“Is that criticism, Rozin?”
“No. I’m grateful for what you’ve done, I really am. But if you don’t produce results, Irina will send you back to Ardila Vos. She doesn’t seem the patient type.”
“Irina has already threatened to remove me several times. My replacement is to be a man she and her father trust—Seylas.”
Suddenly I was on my feet. “You have to change her mind.”
“Who is this Seylas?” asked Andiya. “You mentioned him before.”
“He’s the archon’s interrogator. I’ve met the man only once. After—” My throat stuck. “After a daemon attack in Azherbal. I can’t … I can’t let him take you. I wouldn’t wish Seylas on my worst enemy.”
I couldn’t reign in the fear in my tone. I didn’t even try. There was something I couldn’t say. That if Andiya’s choice became Seylas or the guillotine, I would cut the rope myself.
“So …” Andiya said. “If Irina wants results, we give her some. How soon can we arrange a demonstration?”
“I could call one for the morning, if the princess accepted it.”
Andiya stretched her lips to a wolfish grin, and I saw hesitation fill Jawahir’s eyes.
“Then it’s time we showed the princess what her weapon looks like.”
“Question for you,” Andiya said as I pulled a blanket onto my couch to sleep.
“Will it take long?” I flopped down and sank into the cushions. Almost as good as a real bed.
“You said you don’t want me in Seylas’s hands.”
“Trust me. I’ve seen what happens to those he thinks are withholding information. He only gives up when there’s nothing left to interrogate.”
“And I believe you. I felt the truth of that in the bond. But you didn’t want me with Seylas. You didn’t say anything about yourself.”
I thought back. That fear hadn’t been for me at all, I realized. I hadn’t even remembered that I’d feel Andiya’s pain. That concern had been entirely for her.
Andiya didn’t wait for my reply. She could feel my conflict through the bond.
“Until tomorrow, Rozin,” Andiya said in a kinder voice than I’d thought her capable of.
It wasn’t until I closed my eyes and began to drift off that I realised she’d used my name.
Hello there! I'm Carlyn, an amateur writer currently publishing free-to-read fantasy stories. I write diverse worlds featuring LGBT+ characters and romances, because I believe that we need those stories too (even if they are about magic and demons and brave sword-lesbians). I want to create worlds that are free of homophobia and sexism, so that everyone can enjoy the ride without feeling like they don't belong.
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