Sheluna had an excellent view of the palace courtyard from her rooms, and all week had been watching the preparations for Lysander’s forthcoming trip back to Ulek. It made her a little homesick. Not for Ulek, of course. She could cheerfully go the rest of her life without returning to that place. But for her own castle in the south.
Between the war and the politics that had followed, it had been almost two years since Sheluna had been home for anything but the briefest visit. And now it looked like she was going to be stuck in Triome even longer, since the symbol of the Staff had gone suddenly dark in the inner chamber of the Council of Nine. The order had lost its leader, and none of the other archwizards knew how or why. No wizard of the staff had, as of yet, stepped forward to claim the title. Disorganized and scattered as the lot of them were, it was possible none of them even knew.
Except for the wizard who had killed him, of course.
Sheluna hadn’t asked Korin if he knew anything. If he wanted to talk, he would, and she didn’t want to test the limits of their developing friendship by forcing him to lie. Still, she had her suspicions. And more power to Korin if they were true.
Cír’s ears swiveled towards the door just a moment before the knock came, and Samir’s voice on the other side announced, “It’s me.”
Sheluna twitched her hand, sending a tiny burst of power to open the door. Samir came in, tilting his tall staff down to clear the door without dislodging little Krys. “You wanted to see me?” he asked, righting the flying fox’s perch and closing the door behind him.
“Before you left, yes.” Sheluna took in the young wizard standing before her. Poised and comfortable in her presence, healthy and handsome, he’d come a long way from the terrified, angry creature she’d first met.
He was going south with Lysander. And he was doing it for her. Sheluna knew how big a step he was taking, and that she didn’t have words enough to thank him. “I have a present for you.”
His eyes lit up and a bright smile turned his face into something truly divine. It had taken two years before Sheluna had first seen him smile. She never got tired of seeing it. “Is it what I think?”
Of course, he knew. He’d delivered the package to her three days ago, when the trader had come from Darkivel. It had been wrapped, but Samir had seen the note, had seen the name of the artist who sent it.
But still, his delight was genuine. And why Sheluna had gone through the trouble. “A new card, yes. I told Brialia I needed it quickly. I didn’t want you to go back down there without it.”
Without any further suspense, she pulled the card from the top drawer of her desk and handed it to him face-down.
He turned it over and gave a little sigh, which made Krys twist her upside-down head to chitter at him. That got Cír’s attention, and he lifted his head to consider the bat before lying back down. Krys noted Cír’s look and chittered louder, utterly unintimidated by the tiger.
Samir had ignored them both, taking in his gift. “Thank you. She always does such amazing work.”
Artists who worked on fate decks were rare. At least, artists who could create decks useful to wizards. There were plenty of decks in the world in the hands of those who used them for party games or meditations, and those could be drawn by anyone. But to create an object that magic would flow through in the proper fashion took not only an artistic eye, but years of study and a mind tuned to the rituals that were part of the creation process.
Which was why magic-worthy fate decks were expensive, and tended to be passed down, generation after generation, with cards replaced one at a time as needed, as the wizard could afford.
Sheluna could afford plenty, and it would have been worth ten times the price to make her apprentice happy.
This newest card was The Tower. It wasn’t a necessary replacement. There was nothing wrong with Samir’s current Tower card. But the one he had, had been part of the set passed down to him, a plain, traditional image, and held no particular resonance for him.
The Tower was a card of failed ambitions, of arrogance punished, of pride cast down. This new card, commissioned under very specific guidance from Sheluna, held a beautifully rendered painting of the ruined Castle Ulek.
Sheluna had no fate deck of her own. There were plenty of cards in storage back in Darkivel, but this wasn’t, and had never been, Wing magic. Still, it was fun helping Samir craft his own deck into something meaningful to them both.
For five years, she’d taken the best care of him that she could. And now she was sending him into danger. “You don’t have to go,” she said, not for the first time. “I wouldn’t think any less of you for staying.”
“Afraid you’ll miss me?”
She took his cue, kept her tone light. “Always.”
“You’ve got Korin to keep you company these days. You won’t even notice I’m gone.”
He was aiming for lighthearted, but Sheluna heard the edge beneath the words. “Samir, you’re not—tell me you’re not jealous of the time I’m spending with Korin.”
“I’m not.” That sounded honest. “Well, mostly not. But it’s good. It’s made me look at things. I realize…I can’t hide behind you forever.”
“You’ve never hidden behind me. And I wouldn’t have thought less of you if you had.”
“I know. You gave me back…everything. You put me back together when I would have…” He trailed off, reached his hand up to Krys, who butted against his fingers. “But it’s time for me to figure out who I am on my own. Time for me to walk back into the world without you standing behind me.”
“There are safer first time outings.”
“Probably.” His smile was faint, but present. “But this is something I can do for you. And after everything you’ve done for me—”
“You owe me nothing,” Sheluna said quickly.
“And you owed me nothing. But you helped me anyway.”
“Always. I’m always here for you.”
He slid the card carefully into a pocket inside his jacket. “I know. And I’ll be back before you know it.”
After that, there was nothing more to say, except, “Be careful. Come home safe.”
After he left, she returned to the window, and watched the packing in the courtyard for a very long time.