Read an Excerpt From Jason Denzel’s Mystic Skies

The world is Changed…

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Mystic Skies, the third volume of Jason Denzel’s Mystic Trilogy, out from Tor Books on October 11.

The world is Changed.

Fifty-four years have passed since Crow Tallin, the catastrophic celestial event that merged Fayün and the human world. One devastating result of that cataclysm is that most human babies are born fused with fay spirits. The Mystics of Kelt Apar, once beloved, are blamed for this worldwide phenomenon.

On the island of Moth, the Barons have declared the Myst illegal and imprisoned all Mystics under house arrest. Under the watchful eyes of deadly Hunters, a much-older Pomella AnDone now lives as a prisoner at Kelt Apar with her granddaughter and apprentice Mia, as well as the rapidly declining High Mystic of Moth, Yarina Sineese.

When the time comes to conduct the ceremony intended to pass the title of High Mystic from Yarina to her successor Vivianna, something goes horribly wrong, leaving the lineage of Mystics in doubt.

With new rivals seeking to claim Moth for their own, Pomella must undergo a dangerous dreamwalk into the mind-bending and heart-wrenching Mystic Skies in order to learn the mystical name of the island itself.


 

 

ONE

The Gardener’s Daughters

On the island of Moth, beneath a gray-clouded sky, Pomella AnDone strolled through her garden with the High Mystic. Despite the early autumn season, the roses were in full bloom, growing beside a dizzying assortment of other flowers. Kelt Apar’s garden flourished year-round under Pomella’s care, a point she took particular pride in.

High Mystic Yarina sat in her wheeled chair with her hands folded on her lap, while Pomella pushed her along the winding pebbled path. Pomella paused every couple of steps to examine or prune a flower.

“I have high hopes for the lilies this year,” Pomella said, making idle chitchat. Yarina, as usual, did not respond. The High Mystic nodded sleepily in her chair, likely not hearing what Pomella said. Yarina’s long white hair hung loose, covering her shoulders and the pale blue shawl that hung over her black robes. A thick blanket covered her lap to keep the chill away.

Thunder rumbled overhead, startling Pomella. She caught her thumb on a thorn. “Shite,” she muttered, pressing the dab of blood into her own night-black robes.

“I think we’re going to have a creek poured on us soon,” she said, looking at the roiling clouds. “You can count on Mothic rain like the moon phasing.”

The High Mystic moaned, the sound emanated not much more than a wheezing breath. Her eyes remained closed.

“Mistress?” Pomella said, leaning close.

“P-mel,” Yarina breathed.

“I’m here,” Pomella replied, her voice full of concern. It was the most she’d heard the High Mystic speak in days.

“Is… it raining?” Yarina murmured.

“Not yet,” Pomella said. “Soon, though. I’ll take you inside.”

The High Mystic’s hand lifted and fell on top of Pomella’s. “Stay,” she said. Her eyes opened, revealing unfocused, clouded pupils. More than sixty years had passed since their first meeting, but the High Mystic’s eyes still saw beyond this world into a deeper reality than what other people perceived.

A sudden tension knotted in Pomella’s back as if she’d spent a full afternoon shouldering a heavy load. She had hoped to have a nice stroll, but now a flood of other concerns settled upon her.

Pomella peered over the edge of the garden to examine the wide grass lawn surrounding Kelt Apar’s central tower. A pair of black-robed Mystics walked along one of the pebbled paths, while Vlenar chopped wood near the Wall. There were no Hunters in sight, thank the Saints.

Shifting her robes, Pomella knelt beside the High Mystic’s rolling chair. She winced. Her knees had long ago ceased to be what they once were, but she still managed to find a reasonably comfortable position.

Yarina reached a bony hand to touch Pomella’s hair. Later this fall would mark the High Mystic’s one hundred and second year. Pomella sat with as much patience as she could muster as the older woman twirled the deep white strands.

“Still a girl,” Yarina said.

Pomella forced a smile, and darted her gaze again toward Oxillian’s Wall. Named for its creator, the enormous hedge Wall that surrounded Kelt Apar had stood since Crow Tallin, fifty-four years ago. In more recent years, since the Mystic Accord and the coming of the Hunters, the Wall had been fortified with supplemental walkways and watchtowers.

A pair of leather-clad Hunters walked atop its parapet, their attention focused inward toward the lawn. Even at a distance, the iron tips of their glaives sent a chill down Pomella’s spine.

Many of the Hunters stationed at Kelt Apar were out on one of their so-called patrols, but Carn and his cohorts would likely be back soon. Pomella focused again on the High Mystic, trying not to let the Hunters consume her mind.

“Oh, Mistress,” she said, “I stopped being a girl a long time ago.”

“No,” Yarina said. She swallowed, and Pomella saw moisture well at the corners of her eyes. “No titles. We’re sisters.”

A lump of emotion welled in Pomella’s throat. In all their years together, Yarina had never said anything like that.

“The gardener’s daughters,” Yarina continued. “Remember?”

It seemed like the life of the stars, but Pomella understood what Yarina meant. “Yes,” she said. “Lal.” They’d shared the same master, and while many years had separated their tutelage with him, in the long view of decades they’d both been his students in their youth. They had both been like his daughters.

“Viv—Vivi—” Yarina tried.

“Vivianna isn’t here right now,” Pomella said.

“It’s time.”

The last word trailed off in a breathless whisper, and real fear gripped Pomella. One hundred and two years stretched the potential life-span of all but the most wondrous Mystics. Yarina’s eyes moved in slow motion as though she were witnessing a beautiful, wide landscape. Perhaps she was. Pomella recognized what this was and had been long prepared for it. But like many significant moments of life, now that it was here, she felt the challenge of the moment gather before her like an oncoming storm.

“Yarina?” Pomella prompted.

The High Mystic exhaled a tiny breath. Her mouth moved as though she spoke slowly and silently to somebody Pomella could not see.

Wincing slightly at a pain in her creaky knees, Pomella stood. She had to get the High Mystic back to the central tower.

Pomella closed her eyes and Unveiled the Myst. A swirling sensation of life, energy, and supreme awareness filled her. If the world was a painting, then the Myst was both the canvas and the paint, the painter and the brush, as well as the very inspiration for the art. The Myst was the energy of the universe, the breath that coursed through all existence. When Pomella reached out toward the Myst, she really reached for a part of herself. When it blossomed around her, it reaffirmed the truth of their inseparable natures.

“Ena,” Pomella whispered, and a heartbeat later her hummingbird gleamed from the sky and alighted onto her outstretched palm. The little fay bird’s partially corporeal feet were like twigs of cool water on her skin.

“Tell Mia, Dronas, and Master Kambay to meet us in the tower immediately. Have them prepare the anointment ceremony, including the paintings. Avoid the Hunters and be discreet.”

Ena radiated worry but buzzed away, young as ever, over the tall garden flowers toward the cabins where the Mystics lived.

Next, Pomella tapped the air, letting the familiar sound of a silver bell ting through the garden.

The ground rumbled and rose beside her. Dirt and stone lifted upward, forming the shape of a towering, bearded man. Roses and sunflowers from the surrounding garden pulled together along with other flowers to dot his body. Polished stones formed his eyes and fallen flower petals made his beard.

“Mistress Pomella,” the Green Man, Oxillian, intoned with his familiar, rumbling voice.

His face sank when he saw Yarina sitting peacefully in her rolling chair. “Oh my,” he said. “Her heart beats faintly.”

“She’s dying, Ox.”

Oxillian eased himself to one knee and reached a soil-and-stone finger to brush aside a stray strand of hair from the High Mystic’s face. “So it has always been, across all the centuries, here in Kelt Apar. What of the ceremony?”

“We’ll conduct it shortly. But I need something else from you. Go to the arranged location and prepare what we spoke of,” Pomella said. “I will summon you again when it’s time.”

“Of course, Mistress.” He faced Yarina again and bowed low, then took a long step backward. As his foot touched the ground, he merged back into the soil like a swimmer into water. The pebbled walkway restored itself, leaving the garden as it previously appeared. No trace of Oxillian’s presence remained.

Pomella allowed herself a brief moment longer to hold Yarina’s hand. A lifetime of love and admiration washed over her. The High Mystic had drifted off to sleep again, her chest rising and falling almost imperceptibly.

Light footsteps approached the garden, and if Pomella hadn’t been quietly pondering at that moment she would’ve missed them. For a moment she worried it could be a Hunter, but these footsteps belonged to Vlenar, the old laghart gardener.

The former ranger hobbled forward on his wooden cane, which he carried not because of his crooked back, but because an old injury had rendered his left foot severely twisted. Like all lagharts, Vlenar’s scales swirled in thumb-sized repeating triangular patterns across his entire body. His coloring had lightened over the years, having dulled from a deep forest emerald to a paler, stone-washed green. He wore a wide-brimmed straw sun hat that he’d woven to fit his spike-crested head.

His long tongue flicked out repeatedly, tasting the air, when he saw Yarina. Lagharts could sense the world differently than humans.

Vlenar’s slitted pupils fixed upon Pomella. “Ssshe isss almost gone,” he hissed.

“Yes,” Pomella said. “We need to get her into the tower in order to ensure a smooth transition to Vivianna.” She eyed the Wall again. One of the Hunters on patrol nudged his companion as he took notice of Pomella and Vlenar standing beside the High Mystic.

“Let’s go,” she said.

They left the garden together, Pomella wheeling the High Mystic toward the tower. As they walked, motes of glowing light swirled all around them. A swarm of fay geese flew overhead, and silver and gold plants turned to face them.

Above it all, more thunder sounded, and with it came the rain.

 

They crossed the wide lawn toward the central tower. The torrential rain drenched them, and drummed loudly on the roofs of the nearby cabins. Pomella Unveiled a small barrier above Yarina to keep the High Mystic dry, and extended it to cover herself as well. But with the wind blowing erratically, some rain still fell upon her. She generally didn’t mind the feeling of rain on her skin. It kept her alert, present, and connected to the land.

Halfway across the lawn, with her feet frozen, her robes soaked, and her hair streaming with water, Pomella admitted to herself that maybe she’d had enough connection to the rain for now. She wished she’d brought her Mystic staff with her, but it had been impractical to carry it and push Yarina’s chair at the same time.

It also put the Hunters on edge when the Mystics carried their staves. Although the Mystic Accord did not forbid Mystics from carrying them while they were within Kelt Apar, it had been argued that most Mystics would have no need to carry them if they were simply going about their daily routines.

The rain didn’t seem to bother Vlenar, who limped along with his cane as if it were a summer afternoon. His eyes were far away, though, lost in thought.

Motes of silver and golden dust hovered above the grass like fireflies. Long, wispy ribbons of light raced through raindrops, chasing one another and playing to avoid being hit by the falling water. One of those wisps zoomed past Pomella, leaving echoes of faint giggling in its wake. Pomella hardly noticed. The fay were as common as clouds in Kelt Apar.

Without warning, the fay scattered. Some flew back toward the garden while others squiggled into the ground or fled toward the Wall, leaving the rain to fall undisturbed.

Pomella’s chest tightened. The commotion had been caused by an approaching trio of leather-clad Hunters. Two were young men in their mid-to late twenties, while the third appeared hardly old enough to shave. The latter had the light skin and blond hair common to people from Moth. The leader, who walked in the middle of the bunch, was also from Moth, at least judging by his flame-red hair that was pulled back in a short tail. The third man had light skin but otherwise-dark features that made Pomella suspect he came from Djain. All three men carried their glaives like walking sticks in perverse mockery of a Mystic staff, only with a curved blade as long as Pomella’s forearm sitting atop them. With the men standing this close, a cold and heavy emptiness radiated from the iron across Pomella’s senses.

The red-haired Hunter halted Pomella and Vlenar with a raised hand.

“Something wrong, goodmen?” Pomella asked, trying to keep the disdain from her voice.

The dark-haired Hunter, a lanky fellow with a stony expression, circled around Pomella. “What’s wrong with her?” he said, nodding toward Yarina.

The red-haired Hunter followed his companion’s motion. “She dead or something?”

The teenage Hunter snorted a laugh.

Vlenar’s tongue flicked out repeatedly in an agitated fashion. Pomella knew he was experienced enough to not take their bait. If he lashed out, the whole compound of Hunters would swoop down on them faster than a gang of luck’ns. The Mystics of Moth were free to go about their private business on Kelt Apar’s grounds, but any assault on the Hunters—their so-called guardians—was a violation of the Accord.

Her cool glance silenced the boy. “Is it funny seeing a hundred-year-old woman out in the rain? What’s your name?”

Blood drained from his face. To Pomella, this boy and indeed all the Hunters were driven by fear in their hearts, beginning with their leader Carn, all the way down to this misguided young man. It was a fear born of living in a changing world. Fear that arose due to a lack of empathetic leadership from the barons, who clung to archaic prejudices. As angry as the Hunters made Pomella, as horrible as they’d been, she knew that they were the result of a world that was floundering after the Change.

A world that she’d created.

“Don’t speak to her,” growled Red-hair.

Pomella drew herself up taller. “Does the Accord forbid that as well?” She fixed her attention on the young Hunter. “Speak up, boy. Be quick about it. Your name.”

So much for keeping her cool. The skulking Hunters always flamed her temper.

“I—um,” stammered the young Hunter. He darted his attention between Pomella and his superior. “It’s Bandin. Bandin AnStipe.”

Pomella’s heart wrenched. Her old friend Bethy had married an AnStipe. This boy could be her grandson. Which meant he was also related to Sim.

As always, the thought of her long-lost friend threatened to yank Pomella’s heart from her chest. The years had softened the pain to an extent, but some wounds struck too deeply. Some losses could not be forgotten. A hollow in her heart existed now where once there’d only been Sim.

“Bandin. I’m Pomella,” she said, tucking those emotions away like she always did. “This woman you skivered at is Mistress Yarina Sineese, High Mystic of Moth.”

Finding some spine, Bandin replied, “I know who she is, you old—”

“Furthermore,” Pomella interrupted, “she is very much alive and I guarantee that your fathir, mhathir, and grandparents all prayed for her health and blessings.”

“They didn’t ask her to Change the world,” said the red-haired Hunter. “She and the rest of you Mystics meddled too much at Crow Tallin an’ now nearly every child is a deformed monster.”

Pomella kept her expression neutral. The Change had touched the whole world, beginning with the Mystwood, then spreading across Moth, to the Continent and beyond until the entire world had shifted, merging with Fayün, the land of the fay, its mirror twin. That union had brought together two landscapes, two worlds, countless lives—human, laghart, plant, animal, and a wide assortment of fay, as well as their respective cultures. Naturally, it had brought tremendous conflict, and the Accord was just one of the eventual outcomes of those troubles.

It was likely this Hunter’s parents hadn’t been born when Crow Tallin occurred and the Change began. Carn, as well as his enablers and followers, knew nothing of how the Change truly occurred. Devoid of truth, they spewed the conspiracies that now consumed the island.

“Even if you no longer respect her position,” Pomella said, gesturing to the High Mystic, “you can show some decency for an old woman.” She addressed the teenage boy directly. “You will assist me immediately, Bandin. Vlenar here will escort you to the tower.”

Red-hair stepped forward, angling his glaive in the most menacing way possible. “No jagged way he’s going with you, hetch,” he said, emphasizing the vulgar term.

“What are you afraid of, Hunter?” Pomella said. “You’re keeping two elders and a limping gardener out in the rain. I require Bandin’s assistance and there’s no law saying I cannot do that. Now you can glare at me until we’re swimming in rain, or you can take your iron sticks and finish your patrol.”

The red-haired Hunter glared at her. “We’ll report this to Carn.”

“I’m certain you will.” Pomella glowered, and resumed pushing Yarina toward the tower. “Come along, Bandin, keep up.”

As they passed, the dark-haired Hunter shoved a foot out and tripped Vlenar. Agile as ever, Vlenar nearly caught his fall, but his injured foot twisted wrong and he fell into the mud. The two remaining Hunters chuckled and walked away, hardly bothering to look back. Seeing Pomella’s glare, Bandin thought better of laughing. He gulped once and lowered his eyes.

Vlenar found his feet before Pomella could offer to help, although she wondered if she would’ve had the strength by herself to lift him.

“Are you well?” Pomella asked.

The gardener wiped the mud from his coat and replaced his wide-brimmed hat. He nodded in reply but glanced menacingly toward the retreating Hunters.

“What’sss he fffor?” Vlenar said, peering at the young Hunter. His long forked tongue licked the air, tasting the boy’s scent.

“We need him for the anointment. Not that any of those dunders considered the possibility,” Pomella said with a nod toward the now-distant Hunters. “Bandin here will suffice.”

“No way,” Bandin said. “I won’t be part of your profane rituals!”

“You’ll witness history,” Pomella said, her tone still sharp. “Take detailed notes because I’m certain Carn will have questions for you afterward. Now hurry up or I’ll let Vlenar drag you. Even with his poor foot I doubt he’d have any trouble bundling you over his shoulder.”

The boy wilted and grudgingly let Vlenar lead him toward the tower. As they left, two more figures hurried across the lawn toward them. Dronas and Mia were as soaked as Pomella. Mia carried Pomella’s staff as well as her own in one hand, and a hooded cloak bundled in the other.

Dronas ran the last handful of steps. The rain splattered on his receding hairline. “We received your message,” he said. “Master Kambay is preparing the upper chamber now.” He took the cloak from Mia’s arms and wrapped it around Pomella. Mia remained half a step behind, silent as ever.

Pomella accepted the cloak, grateful for its thick wool that warmed her chilly bones. It had been a gift from Baroness Elona many years ago, although now Pomella could only wear it atop her black robes. “And the paintings?” she said.

“Ready,” he replied.

Dronas was a good man, patient and caring when it came to the older Mystics he tended to, though Pomella often grumbled about being treated as one of those. What he lacked in skill with the Myst he made up for in his kindness and attentiveness. Being an apprentice Mystic, especially in his mid-thirties, was about more than Unveiling the Myst.

“Let’s go inside. You’re as wet as a fish,” Dronas said. He turned toward Yarina. His eyes widened when he saw her sitting peacefully in her chair.

Mia, standing behind Dronas, let out a tiny gasp and placed her fingers over her mouth. Pomella saw realization dawn in her granddaughter’s face. Mia had a knack for knowing things before she was told.

Dronas leaned toward Yarina. “Is she—?”

“No,” Pomella said. She gently took her Mystic staff from Mia, then placed her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder in thanks. Her granddaughter’s skin was several shades lighter than her own. The girl’s strong Qina heritage stood out prominently with her round face and dark eyes. She’d inherited her mhathir’s curly hair, which frizzed in the rain.

“Take the High Mystic into the tower,” Pomella said. “I need to speak to Vivianna. Where is she?”

 

At Dronas’s direction, Pomella found her friend in the nearby monument grove. Vivianna stood beside the monument itself in the middle of the circular tree clearing, clutching an old wooden lantern in her hand and using it to peer closely at the names etched into the gray-white surface. The lantern was unlit, yielding no assistance to Vivianna that Pomella could see. Kirane, Vivianna’s assistant and companion, stood beside her, holding a parasol over the older woman’s head to keep her dry. The grove was better sheltered from the storm than the open lawn, but rainfall still made its way in. Both women wore the thick black robes that the Mystics of Kelt Apar were required to wear by the Accord.

Kirane bowed to Pomella when she saw her but still managed to keep the parasol above Vivianna. “Mistress Pomella,” she said. Vivianna continued her examination of the monument, seemingly oblivious to Pomella’s arrival.

“Hello, Kirane,” Pomella said. “I need to speak to Vivianna in private.”

“Is everything all right?”

Pomella sighed. Kirane was a short and humble young woman, not much older than Mia. She’d come to Kelt Apar from a noble family but because of the harsh provisions of the Accord had no master to formally teach her. So instead she’d become a clerical and personal assistant. Her formal upbringing proved to be a boon when it came to handling many of the day-to-day tasks at Kelt Apar, a job that had for many years been Vivianna’s.

“I’ll explain later,” Pomella said. “Wait for us outside the grove. We’ll only be a moment.”

Yes, of course, Mistress,” she said. “Um… could you…?” She held the parasol out to Pomella.

Pomella walked forward with her staff and accepted the parasol with her free hand.

“Thank you,” Kirane said, and with another quick bow hustled from the grove, leaving Pomella alone with her lifelong friend.

“Hello, Viv,” Pomella began. It had taken Vivianna nearly two decades to warm to that shorter version of her name.

Vivianna turned at last, but it took a moment for recognition to dawn on her face. Her skin was remarkably smooth, despite her age. She’d always been beautiful by anybody’s standards. Pomella recognized Kirane’s handiwork in Vivianna’s nicely up-woven hair. But Vivianna’s makeup was ragged and a little smeared. She had always insisted on applying it herself. Like Pomella, she was only a handful of years away from her eightieth year.

“Pomella,” Vivianna said. “Where’d you come from? You were as quiet as a flower! Where did Kirane go? She was right here.”

“She’s waiting nearby,” Pomella said. “We’ll return to the tower with her in a moment.” She gathered herself and silently prayed to the Saints for strength. “We need to talk, Viv. It’s about Yarina.”

Vivianna straightened her back. “Mistress Yarina is fine.”

Pomella hadn’t expected that response. “How—What do you mean?”

“You’ve come to tell me that she’s dead. That’s why you look so somber. Well, she’s not gone. Look at the pillar,” Vivianna said, gesturing with the unlit lantern toward the monument. Pomella wondered where her friend had found the rickety lamp. It looked to be at least a decade or two old, its whitewashed wood flaking and its thin glass yellowed with age. Pomella sighed inwardly at the idea of Vivianna using it to apparently try to illuminate the script on the monument.

She peered where Vivianna indicated. The names of the past masters of Kelt Apar were engraved in a neat, tidy script upon the monument’s surface. Lal’s name was there, along with Joycean, Ghaina, and all those who had come before them.

“I don’t see anything different,” Pomella said, keeping her voice soft. “And you’re right; Yarina isn’t gone. Not yet.”

“Somebody is spreading rumors then,” Vivianna said, her voice full of bitterness. “I think it was Harmona. She’s always had a grudge.”

At the mention of her estranged daughter, Pomella kept her breathing even. “Harmona’s been gone for twenty-five years, Viv. Come, sit down.”

With hardly a thought, Pomella Unveiled the Myst to lift a mound of dirt and grass. As it rose, the ground reshaped itself into a small couch wide enough for both of them. Another thought, and the moisture wiped itself away, leaving a dry surface for them to sit on. Pomella seated herself, gently pulling Viviana’s hand to encourage her to join her.

Once Vivianna settled and set the lantern aside, Pomella looked her in the eyes. “I’m sorry to burden you with this, but Mistress Yarina is dying. We have to conduct the anointment ceremony today, right now. We may not have much time.”

Vivianna stared at her. At first, Pomella could not read her blank expression, but soon her face wilted. “I know,” Vivianna whispered. Tears welled at her eyes, and it was that, even more than Yarina’s impending passing, that broke Pomella’s heart.

“It’s time for us to be strong again,” Pomella said. “She wants you to do this. Kelt Apar needs you to become High Mystic.”

Vivianna looked from her folded hands in her lap to the monument of past masters. “I can feel her,” she said. “She’s fading, and somehow… somehow she’s calling me. That’s why I’m here, at the monument, isn’t it?”

“Perhaps,” Pomella replied. “You have a better connection with Yarina than anybody else. I don’t doubt that you are feeling a profound stirring of the Myst. It’s time to honor your teacher by inheriting the lineage she’s passing to you.”

They stayed that way for a long minute. The rain tapped on the parasol and ribbons of fay dancers zoomed around them. Vivianna stared at her feet. Finally, she lifted her chin. “OK, then let’s go do this. Do the others know?”

“Some of them, yes,” Pomella said, carefully. “Mia, Dronas, and Kambay are preparing the ceremony.”

Vivianna nodded, looking for a moment like her old, focused self. “What about Tibron?”

At the mention of her husband, a lump formed in Pomella’s throat. Sweet Saints, show mercy, she prayed silently.

“Viv, Tibron’s been dead for twenty years. Remember?” Only confusion played across Vivianna’s face. “Remember?” Pomella repeated in a whisper that softly carried her desperation. She felt guilty trying to correct Vivianna because it could further confuse and add to her distress. But when it came to talking about Tibron and Harmona, Pomella needed her to remember.

Vivianna was one of the few people she had left from her earlier life, her closest friend. After Sim vanished during Crow Tallin, and when Harmona left, and then Tibron died, there’d been hardly anybody else left who knew her. But she knew in her heart that in some ways, she’d now lost Viv, too.

It had started nearly three years ago, shortly after the Accord was signed and around the time Mia and Dronas came to Kelt Apar. When Pomella took her granddaughter as an apprentice, Yarina suggested Vivianna take a new one as well. Neither of them had ever taken apprentices before, except for the disaster with Harmona. Thankfully, Mia had been a dream, but Dronas hadn’t been as compatible with Vivianna, especially given his lack of natural affinity for the Myst. Perhaps it was Vivianna’s perception that she’d failed twice at being a master Mystic, or perhaps it had nothing to do with anything else. But after that, her once incredibly sharp mind began to slip. She forgot to complete daily tasks she’d done for fifty years. She addressed people by the wrong names, or obsessed over the most obscure subjects, such as spending nearly an hour finding the precise weight of leaves to add to Yarina’s tea.

A fresh wave of sadness contorted Vivianna’s face, but she managed to gather herself, as though that grounded part of her was still there, crawling for control, seeking to bring lucidity to an otherwise-muddled mind.

“Yes, of course,” Vivianna said, sniffing back her sorrow. “I’m sorry. My mind slips sometimes these days.”

Pomella smiled, but only to mask a deeper sadness. “It’s OK. Come.”

They stood, and Pomella let the grass-and-dirt couch roll back into the ground. They left the grove, arm in arm. Vivianna’s tears had dried up, a distant expression settled upon her face. Pomella wondered what she saw, and what, if anything, she experienced as Yarina approached her death.

“Just a moment,” Vivianna suddenly said, turning back toward the monument. “I forgot something.”

Pomella opened her mouth to protest, but her friend shuffled back into the grove and retrieved her lantern. She hooked it onto a nearby tree branch.

“There,” Vivianna said, and returned her arm to Pomella’s.

It wasn’t until they were well away from the grove, escorted by Kirane, that it occurred to Pomella that the lantern had been lit when they walked away. She looked back, but other trees blocked her view.

Her curiosity regarding the lantern passed like a dispersing cloud, though. Her greater fear was that Vivianna had most likely already forgotten about the all-important task they were about to undertake.

Excerpted from Mystic Skies, copyright © 2022 by Jason Denzel.

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