Mystic: Chapter Two

For hundreds of years, high-born nobles have competed for the chance to learn of the Myst. Powerful, revered, and often reclusive, Mystics have the unique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society. Such has always been the tradition—until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, low-born teenager, as a candidate.

Commoners have never been welcomed among the select few given the opportunity to rise beyond even the highest nobility. So when Pomella chooses to accept the summons and journey to Kelt Apar, she knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship. Breaking both law and tradition, Pomella undergoes three trials against the other candidates to prove her worthiness. As the trials unfold, Pomella navigates a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal, unaware that ruthless conspirators intend to make her suffer for having the audacity to seek to unravel the secrets of the Myst.

Available November 3rd from Tor Books, Mystic is the start of an enchanting new epic fantasy series from Jason Denzel! Read chapter two below, or head back to the beginning with our excerpt of chapter one.

 

 

Two
The Book of Songs

 

Silence gripped the village green. Pomella gaped. Her mind wobbled as she tried to understand what had just been said. The Green Man had spoken her name, as clear as spring rain.

Pomella AnDone.

Across the green, the blood drained from her fathir’s face. The villagers looked around, whispering, trying to find her in the crowd. She picked a fingernail to steady her hands from shaking.

Lady Elona’s mouth moved as if she were trying in vain to find words.

The Watcherman drew himself up and dusted off his sleeve. “What does the High Mystic need from Goodmiss AnDone?”

A hand settled on Pomella’s arm, startling her. Gabor stood there, his normally mischievous eyes rounded with concern.

Pomella had no idea what the message for her could be, but she hated the scared look on her brother’s face. Maybe the Green Man spoke the wrong name. Surely he meant to call Elona’s. Why would the High Mystic summon a lowborn commoner?

“Mistress Yarina seeks an apprentice,” the Green Man intoned. “Goodmiss AnDone has been invited to attend the Trials as a candidate.”

Pomella’s skin pebbled. The High Mystic lived deep within the Mystwood to the south. Grandmhathir had frequently spoken of the previous High Mystic, although nobody from the village had seen him in living memory.

Pomella’s heart thundered. She didn’t understand. Didn’t dare hope. Her earliest memories were of Grandmhathir speaking of the Myst, whispering to Pomella at night how it was the source of all life and energy. They sang songs about it, played simple games about it, and years later, even recently, Pomella tried, while alone in the Mystwood, to sense and control the Myst as Grandmhathir said was possible. Pomella never succeeded, but she daydreamed of one day meeting a Mystic who would teach her.

Elona, who looked as stunned as Pomella felt, finally found her courage. “Green Man! You surely announced the wrong name. She invited me, did she not?”

The Green Man bowed to the young noblewoman. “I’m sorry, Lady AnBroke, but it is Goodmiss AnDone whom I was instructed to summon. Will you call her forth?”

Pomella reassured Gabor with a pat on the hand, although she didn’t know if it was for herself or him. Pulling away from her brother, she stepped out of the crowd to stand beside the Watcherman. She curtsied to Lady Elona as was proper, and hoped the young noblewoman didn’t become angry. Pomella dared not meet Elona’s gaze, and instead turned to the Green Man. She also ignored her fathir, who was surely frowning at her.

She steadied her voice. “I am Pomella.”

The whole village seemed to lean in.

The Green Man turned his massive body to face her. He towered over her like an ancient oak. “Pomella AnDone. You are hereby invited by the High Mystic of Moth to call upon her at Kelt Apar within the Mystwood and apply for the position of her apprentice.”

Pomella’s hands shook. Bethy stared wide-eyed. Sim twisted his mask in his hands.

Questions roared through Pomella’s mind, mixing fear and doubt. She opened her mouth to ask why she’d been chosen, or to insist that there’d been some mistake. But the song in her heart that she heard when she tiptoed through the forest, or looked across the land from nearby hills, refused to be silent. Hardly believing what was happening, she found her voice.

“I accept.”

The crowd rumbled with chatter.

The Green Man nodded. “That is well. I will leave you to your celebrations.” He held out his hand, and a small, marbled stone emerged from the center of his palm. It lifted into the air like a butterfly fluttering off a branch and drifted toward Pomella.

“When you set out, toss the stone onto the road before you,” said the Green Man. “It will lead you through the Mystwood to the meeting place. A ranger will meet you in two days at the northwest border of Sentry. From there he will take you out of your barony to Kelt Apar. Do not be late.”

The Green Man dipped his head in farewell, then collapsed into the ground. Dirt and stone tumbled into place, rolling and churning back to where it had been, with the grass becoming a gentle blanket over it all once again. For a hushed moment, nothing stirred except a gentle wind over the now-perfect green.

Pomella inhaled the fresh scent of the soil. A tenuous smile lifted her lips.

“Yer not a noble!” old Goodman AnMere hollered from the crowd. Angry stares from some of the villagers pelted him, while others nodded in agreement. Pomella’s smile vanished.

“Aye, a commoner’s place is in her barony, not skivering up ’n’ down the countryside,” said Goodness Ilise AnCutler, her round face wrinkling in the torchlight. She’d recently inherited her fathir’s farms, which were accounted as the oldest in the barony.

“But the High Mystic personally invited her!” said Lathwin AnClure, Bethy and Sim’s fathir. His wife, Cana, pulled at his arm, her eyes pleading with him to shush.

“Only the nobility can become Mystics,” Goodman AnMere argued. “Yeh can’t just become something yer not! Even this Mistress Yarina can’t change tradition like that. Mean’n’ no disrespect, but she’s only been High Mystic a few months!”

“’Tain’t disrespect to say it like that,” said Goodness AnCutler, her gray hair shaking with her fist. “The barons and highborns are bred for that Myst-learn’n’. Our place is here, working the land. You ain’t a special butterfly, girl. Lady Elona should go. As the baron’s daughter, she represents our village.”

Elona beamed and nodded.

Goodman AnMere nodded furiously. “There’s an order to things, and we wouldn’t want to insult the baron. Wouldn’t yeh say, Watcherman?”

The round Watcherman stepped forward. Behind him, Bethy barely held tears back. Sim stared blankly at Pomella, his face pale.

Before Watcherman AnGent could respond, a familiar voice cut in with a hard tone. “This is a family matter. My daughter and I will speak.” Firelight danced across the dark features of her fathir’s bearded face. He seemed to avoid looking at Pomella.

A sickening feeling swirled in Pomella’s stomach. Why did Fathir always have to decide things for her? She opened her mouth to protest, but seeing the chiseled expression on his face, she snapped it shut.

“No.” Elona’s soft voice cut like a shearing knife. She slipped off her faerie wings. “You are all mistaken if you think this is a matter for a commoner family. It is a matter for mine. The girl is not allowed to leave my fathir’s barony.”

Nobody in the village seemed to breathe. The Watcherman cleared his throat. “Lady AnBroke, you understand the High Mystic directly summoned Pomella and—”

“I understand perfectly, AnGent,” Elona said, picking a piece of dirt off her lacy sleeve. “If the High Mystic feels wronged, she can petition my fathir at a later time. But she should know better than to pilfer commoners from him.”

Pomella looked to the Watcherman for help and then back to Elona. The young noblewoman most likely realized that the High Mystic’s summons would supersede the baron’s, or any other noble’s. But a sickening fear wormed through Pomella as she realized Lady AnBroke could still make her life miserable if she wanted to.

Elona stared at Pomella, anger storming behind her eyes. “I do not give the girl permission to put a single grubby toe outside the barony. Let it be known that if she leaves the barony and returns without becoming a Mystic, my fathir will declare her Unclaimed.”

Somebody in the crowd gasped. Anxiety roared in Pomella’s chest. Unclaimed! She might as well be dead!

Watcherman AnGent flexed his hands and steadied his voice. “Lady AnBroke, I don’t think it’s fair to punish Pomella for—”

“You are incapable of determining what is fair, commoner. That is why you are cared for by your betters. Ready my horse and escort. I must report this atrocity to my fathir at once.”

Watcherman AnGent bowed his head. Nothing else could be said. Pomella and the rest of the village curtsied or bowed, as was appropriate. Elona turned her back and stormed off the stage, dropping her faerie wings onto the grass.

Trying to salvage something of the festival, the Watcherman urged Bethy back onto the green to try to continue the Toweren. But one by one the villagers shook their heads, slipping back to their homes, where they locked their doors for the first time in memory. At least one voice mumbled, “Spoiled child,” from the darkness.

Hoping to disappear unseen, Pomella slipped away and leaned against the hidden side of a nearby home. Her eyes burned as she struggled to find her breath.

Unclaimed.

By the Saints, what would she do now?

As she began to walk home, she caught sight of Sim coming over to her. It was too much. She couldn’t deal with him, too, right now. She broke into a run, and fled.

*  *  *

Fathir scratched his beard. “You can’t go.”

Pomella slouched in her chair, mindlessly picking the embroidery on her dress. Her clothes basket still sat on top of the table. Her fathir paced their small living space while one of his calloused carpenter hands rubbed his temple.

Maybe he was right. Maybe it was foolish to leave the barony. But by the Saints, she wanted to go! She wished again for Bethy’s confidence.

“Fathir, I already—”

“No, Pomella!” he snapped. “I won’t even consider it. You could become Unclaimed!”

“But—”

“The baron’s soldiers will look for you on the road. If you’re outside Oakspring tomorrow, they’ll cut you down.”

Pomella shook her head. “N-no. The baron wouldn’t do that. I have the little stone from the Green Man.”

Fathir pushed off from the mantel and loomed over her. She shrank back. “You’re blind, girl. You think a rock will protect you from those soldiers? You’re in danger. And even if you made it to Kelt Apar, you’ll be Unclaimed when you return home. You cannot fathom what it’s like to be Unclaimed! Living without even a name on broken roads, eating insects, gathering disease. Nobody will touch you or even hand you a scrap of moldy bread. Animals live better than the Unclaimed!”

Pomella clutched her fingers. “But I’m of age now. I’m old enough to make this decision for myself.”

“What decision is there to make? Whatever shred of a life you have will be ruined.”

Pomella tried to find the words that would make him understand. She could feel, down to her bones, that the Myst called to her.

“But I won’t be Unclaimed if I become the High Mystic’s apprentice,” she said.

“You’ll never become a Mystic!” her fathir roared. She started, her heart pounding. “You’re a blathering dunder if you think otherwise! I don’t know what schemes this, this… Yarina has, but by all the Saints, you’ll just be a pawn in some game. Becoming a Mystic is best left to the nobility, who have nothing better to do with their lives. Why would you risk your life for something like that?”

She trembled beneath his anger. Despite the fear, she forced herself forward, reckless. “What’s so terrible about the Myst? Grandmhathir said it’s something we all can feel and learn to use!”

“And it chaps me that she did!” he flared.

Silence drifted in the air like the motes of dust.

“Your grandmhathir did more than just talk about it, Pomella,” he said at last. “She dabbled in it. I don’t know how she got exposed to it. She never explained. But I know she meddled without supervision, and it… it killed your grandfathir.”

Pomella’s nails bit into her skin. “What do you mean? I thought Grandfathir died from—”

“No!” he snapped. “She killed him.”

Pomella shook her head. “No. No, you’re lying!”

“Don’t call me a liar under my roof, girl!” he snarled. “You don’t know a clip’s worth about your grandmhathir like you think you do. It was an accident. I’m not calling her a murderer. But by my unsainted life, I saw my fathir die because of her meddling. The Myst is for those better than us, Pomella. You and me? We’re barely good enough for this shite village. We don’t own this land. We live here at the whim of the baron. I know you don’t like to hear it, but, like you said, you’re old enough to know how it is in the world.”

Pomella narrowed her eyes. Her nails dug deeper as she tried to balance the pain inside with something she could control. “Then why did the High Mystic invite me? Did it have something to do with Grandmhathir? Was she a Mystic?”

Fathir scoffed. “No, she was definitely not a Mystic. She fancied herself something like one, but it was just blather in her mind. She was a foreigner, as obvious as her black skin. She brought foreign ideas to Moth along with fanciful dreams.” He looked into the cold fireplace. “I once believed all her stories. I even went to find a Mystic once. I left home, just like you’re thinking of doing. I traveled all through the barony, following the rumor of a wandering Mystic. I found him. I groveled at the hem of his torn robes and begged him to take me as his apprentice.”

She blinked, not believing what she heard. Could he be lying? She’d learned long ago to weigh his words carefully. But these had a note of honesty about them. “Wh-what did he say?”

“He kicked me as I knelt in the dirt. He spit snot on me and told me to lick the ground. Said that if I ever spoke to him again, he would strip me of my name and brand me Unclaimed.”

Pomella’s breath froze in her chest.

Fathir turned to her and held her gaze. “That is how Mystics think, Pomella. That is their world. The happy love and Mystical power your grandmhathir spoke of is a dream. It’s time to wake up.”

He left her and she sat in silence until midnight passed, bringing Springrise at last.

*  *  *

Hours later, in the deep silence of the night when even shadows sleep, Pomella sat awake on the floor of her small room, staring at the wall. A trail of old tears stained her cheeks. They’d come at first when she barred herself in her room, but she refused to let them dominate her tonight, or any night.

A thick tome rested in her lap. It had belonged to Grandmhathir, who quietly passed it to Pomella in her final days. The Book of Songs, she’d called it.

A symbol of a tree, woven like a Mothic knot, decorated its leather cover. Running her fingers over it, Pomella traced the embossed shape. Unfamiliar letter-runes were stamped into the leather. The shapes were from the script reserved only for the merchant-scholar caste and above.

She opened the book to a random page in the middle. The leather spine creaked, and her grandmhathir’s scent danced around the room. The first time she’d opened it, Pomella had been surprised to see the book wasn’t a collection of songs. She didn’t know what it was. Grandmhathir had only managed to indicate it related to the Myst and therefore Pomella had to keep it hidden.

Pomella flipped through the pages, trying again to understand their contents. A hundred illustrations accompanied the book’s hand-printed text, creating a mesmerizing collection of pages. Colorful star diagrams, cross sections of plants, strange letter charts, a trail map of an unknown mountain, and depictions of hand gestures fought for room against the hand-printed letterrunes.

In the center of the book an elaborate drawing sprawled across two facing pages. The runes above it read, in the common script, The Mystical Hierarchy, and showed stylized rankings of water, flesh, stone, iron, blood, fire, and other essences Pomella did not recognize.

Most wondrous of all, though, was her grandmhathir’s familiar thin handwriting, scrawled throughout every page in rose-colored ink. Most of Grandmhathir’s notes related to music. Bars and musical notation, along with lyrics and poems, filled the open spaces of each page. Pomella didn’t understand what the original text was meant for, but could plainly see her grandmhathir was leaving behind songs.

“I wish you were here,” Pomella said aloud.

She studied page after page as the night deepened. The notes bewildered her, but she recognized many of the songs scribbled inside, including “A Sail to Pull the Moon” and “Into Mystic Skies.” She hummed some of them aloud, tasting their familiar sounds. Clearing her throat, she tried again, this time with her whispered voice rather than a hum.

“Turn my heart to rain
And I will illuminate
I will illuminate
The sky”

As far back as she could remember, Grandmhathir had always encouraged Pomella to sing. She recalled games they’d played together, where Grandmhathir taught her how to run scales and find melody. In recent years, singing had become her safe place. Nobody could take that from her, not even her fathir.

A gentle tap sounded at her window, startling her. She froze, wondering if she’d imagined it.

The tapping came again.

“Pomella?” came the barest hint of a whisper.

Pomella closed the book and stashed it under her mattress. She cracked open the window and peered out. “Bethy? What are you doing?”

“Let me in! It’s freezing out here!”

Pomella opened the window all the way and stood back as Bethy climbed through, her green Brigid cloak covering her nightdress. Bethy landed on her feet as Pomella closed the window behind her. “Were you asleep?” Bethy asked.

“Yah,” Pomella lied.

“You’ve been crying.”

“It’s been a long night.”

Bethy frowned and moved to hug her, but Pomella shied away.

“What did he say?” Bethy asked.

Pomella’s face hardened. She sank down to her knees, and stared back into the darkness.

Bethy settled beside her and draped her cloak over Pomella’s shoulders. Pomella wished Bethy would just go away, but she found herself unable to say that. They remained on the floor for what felt like the life of the stars.

“Tell me, Pom. What did he say?”

Anger and despair flooded Pomella’s veins. “That I would be foolish to go. That the Mystics don’t care about me. That nobody cares about me. That I’ll be Unclaimed, and—”

Bethy reached out tentatively to find Pomella’s hand. “Pom. Hush. Your fathir doesn’t know anything. The Green Man came for you! Pomella! The Green Man came for you!”

Pomella snatched her hand back. “He should’ve come for Elona. At least she already knows how to use the Myst. I can’t go. I’ll just fail. There’ll be others who want to be the apprentice. They’re all noble and better than me.”

“Shite and blather on them,” Bethy said. “I don’t care if every firstborn from Moth and the Continent show up. The High Mystic invited you, and she sits above anyone. You have a chance to rise beyond our caste, Pom! You’re special; I just know it. And look, so do others.”

She unwound a long, emerald string from her wrist and handed it to Pomella. Pomella recognized it immediately. It was a Common Cord, filled with intricate knots. At least twenty families had woven their unique style of knot into the rope in a show of solidarity.

Pomella accepted the Cord. She imagined each Goodness lovingly tying her family’s knot into it and passing it to the next woman.

“Don’t you see?” Bethy said. “You represent something to us. You’re not just a commoner. You’re a commoner with a chance.”

“I wish I hadn’t been invited. I should just stay home.”

Bethy sighed. “And what would happen if you did?”

Pomella fingered each family’s knot in the Common Cord. Not everyone from Oakspring had tied one, but many had. She traced the AnClure knot from Bethy’s family. The AnKellys’. AnGents’. Others. None of these families had bad lives. Pomella’s own might be a blathering mess, but what would really happen if she declined the invitation?

“Nothing,” she said, and realized what that meant. If she stayed, she would not only be rejecting the High Mystic; she’d also be dismissing an opportunity the families of Oakspring would never have. She’d be letting down her village and her grandmhathir. And Pomella would be denying herself the one deep desire she’d always had.

To learn to use the Myst.

If she turned away from this opportunity, the thin strand holding her otherwise dull life together would break, and so would she. She would wilt as surely as a flower without rain.

“I know nothing of the Myst,” she said.

“Yah, neither do I, but I suspect it is far more than waving hands and glowing flowers. They say Mystics are always surrounded by light and music, and there’s music in your heart like I’ve never seen. Think about how you lift people up with your singing! If you hold on to that, then the Myst will flow on its own.”

Pomella thought of her garden. She tended to it each day, and made smart choices when it came to planting, pruning, and harvesting. But in her heart, she knew it thrived from more than her careful attention. She’d never told anybody else, but she sang to the plants. And when she did, she sometimes saw silvery fog wafting through the leaves, or across the ground. It was always in the corner of her vision, and when she turned to face it, it vanished like mist on a sunny day. Just last week she saw a silvery bumblebee floating between flowers before vanishing after a few heartbeats.

“I want to go,” Pomella said, “but I’m afraid, Bethy. I’m afraid of going and being made into a fool. And I’m also afraid of staying and being a bigger one.”

Bethy smiled, as gentle as a mhathir with a wee tyke. “I’ll support whatever you decide. But I know you’ll regret it if you don’t try. You’re strong and brave, Pom.”

Pomella scoffed a laugh at that, but quickly silenced herself. “I’m none of those things, and you know it.”

“Buggerish!” said Bethy. “You’ve always been strong! We were, what, four years old when your mhathir passed away? Just kneehigh tykes! Sim and I also lost Dane to the Coughing Plague at the same time. I cried every day for a year. But not you. You helped your grandmhathir, who I think should be a Saint by the way, and helped with wee Gabor. Not a day goes by where I don’t admire your strength! I’d wager everything I have against the luckiest gambler on Moth that the High Mystic recognizes those traits in you somehow.”

“How would she know?”

Bethy smiled. “Go ask her yourself.”

Pomella’s heart swelled with emotion. Thank you, she mouthed, unable to make sound come out.

Bethy hugged her, and this time Pomella let her.

As Pomella wiped her cheeks with her sleeve, Bethy opened a rough canvas sack Pomella hadn’t noticed. “I packed some rations and a waterskin for you,” Bethy said. “The Green Man said it would take two days to get to Sentry, so watch how much you gobble.”

“You… packed for me?”

“You’re on your way to become a Mystic,” Bethy said with a wink. “I’m just a lowly commoner. I suppose it’s my duty.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“ ‘Thank you’ is sufficient. Oh, and, keep the cloak. That’s my real parting gift. You’re going on a real adventure, just like Saint Brigid. You might not have her red hair, but I think the cloak looks beautiful on you regardless.”

With a mischievous smile, Bethy opened the window and began to climb out. Pomella stopped her. “Thank you,” Pomella said, as sincerely as she could manage.

Bethy smiled. “Make us proud. You’ll find the Myst. I just know it!”

“Will you take care of Gabor? Ask your mhathir and fathir to give him… affection?” Pomella choked on the last word.

Bethy nodded and squeezed Pomella’s hand before slipping out the window and ducking her way through the night toward her house. Pomella closed the window, her hands shaking. She took a deep breath. Dark fears of becoming Unclaimed threatened to invade once more.

“No,” she said aloud to them. “Leave me be. I’m doing this.”

Quick as a skivering luck’n, she emptied her drawers of clothing. She hastened out of her nightdress, and threw on her best work dress. She packed two others into the canvas bag holding her food. After only a moment of consideration, she packed her Springrise dress, too.

She counted out her meager nugs and clips, tossing the small pouch she had into the larger canvas one. She fetched The Book of Songs, and tucked it away, too. With nothing else of value, she slipped out of her bedroom.

She considered waiting until morning, but sunrise was surely only a few hours away at this point, and she didn’t want to deal with her fathir. She peeked into Gabor’s room. He lay sprawled across his bed, mouth open and hand stuffed in his too-short pants. A lump formed in her throat. “Good-bye, twerper.”

She tiptoed into the main room of the house and slipped toward the door. She paused at the threshold and glanced across the room, fearful that her fathir lurked there, ready to trap her. But the room was empty and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Outside, she whispered a farewell to her garden, silently hoping somebody would harvest the vegetables and water the rest. Not looking back, she found the road leading south, and set out. Grandmhathir always said a traveler needed a tune, so Pomella recalled the one she’d come up with earlier and sang the final stanza of the Toweren. It wasn’t a very good melody yet, but it would suit the road well enough.

“Come fall with me
My Brigid free
Her heart now cold
And all foretold
Of accomplished quest
And purpose begotten
A scorned master crossed
Mother and child forgotten
In death’s dark Tower, lost”

Pomella strode away from Oakspring, and her old life. She stretched her legs and let the wind catch Bethy’s cloak. The road rose before Pomella, and she met it with an eagerness as fresh as the promise of the new day. It wasn’t until the sun’s first rays touched the eastern horizon that she recalled with sudden guilt that she’d forgotten to meet with Sim.

Excerpted from Mystic © Jason Denzel, 2015

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