Merrida had never imagined Gar Metchin would really turn the city dark. She thought he would come to his senses at the last minute. Or maybe the complexity of the spell would frustrate him and he’d give up. She had only stood by — even assisted him — because she wanted this obsession out of his system.
What had occurred was quite different from her expectation:
“Hold the book open,” Gar instructed. His voice came out pinched and stressed. A vial of gray liquid released crackling steam when he pulled out its cork stopper.
“What is that?” Merrida asked. The look he flashed her was supposed to be a warning, but she wasn’t afraid. Nothing could shake her conviction that his heart was good. Sure enough, his words were softer than his eyes. “It is Bitter Darkening.” He set the vial on the worktable and opened a blue glass bottle next to it. “I shall mix it with a wind swirl and speak a forever spell as it disperses over Rennis City. Light will die. I shall emerge as the leader.”
“You ask too many questions.”
“That is how I learned, master. How will darkness make you the leader of Rennis City?”
“Unlike others here, I am prepared for the darkness.” Gar widened his stance and raised both arms. “I shall allow the people to see!” A glint of madness in his grin kept Merrida from asking, “Why not simply leave the light, so they can see?” Instead she asked, “How will you let them see?”
“The book, the book!”
Merrida held the little green spell book open to an illuminated page.
“You shall be amazed at my magic,” said Gar. “I shall make sight without light. Is that not astonishing? Breathtaking?” He looked at her with glistening eyes, like a dog hoping to be told it was a good boy.
Merrida said nothing and turned her eyes away. She thought of warning him that people might die. But she knew such words would hurt him, which she could not bear. “Do you need flame to read the spell by?” She was aware of the irony of her question, but Gar only nodded. She pulled a candle closer.
He poured the Bitter Darkening into an agate bowl. Into its swirling steam he dripped a drop of Wind Swirl, viscous, almost black. When the pops and cracks died down, Gar said the spell: “Beams of phosphorescence, tides of effervescence, succumb, succumb! Light of the bringers’ hearts, begone!” A low rumble from every direction grew slowly to a growl, as if the gods were furious.
Gar arched his back, arms straight out. “Generous enabler of sight, succumb! One who changes night to day, begone!”
The magical mixture bubbled so furiously that the agate bowl cracked. Merrida ran to safety behind a large trunk, letting her candle fall to the floor and sputter out. The room was lit only by the swirling purple-black glow of the spreading puddle of goo.
“Comforter of children, succumb! Banisher of nightmares, begone!” The moment Gar called the word “nightmare,” a rivulet of the mixture reached his left sandal. Each second it pooled there, the louder his shouts became.
Desperate to help him, Merrida took two steps from her hiding place, but tripped in the thick mists of magic. The only thing visible in the room was the lower part of Gar’s legs and the oozing compound. The atmospheric growl turned into a roar. Merrida wondered if the whole building would split, like the little agate bowl.
“I… I…” The mixture on the floor barely lit Gar’s face as he bent over it. “I… I…”
“What do you need, Gar?” It was the first time she had ever left off the “Master.” But he wasn’t a master now. Merrida crawled toward him. “Are you sick? Injured? What can I do?”
“I… I am…”
“You are what?”
Gar took a reedy breath. “I am sorry.”
“I know. I forgive you. Can you stop the spell?”
He shook his head slowly, then drop his face to the floor. Merrida had no choice but to leave him there and seek help. She felt her way to the door, trying to ignore the burning, vibrating air and the crying heavens. The one she sought had more power than anyone else in Rennis City. And was barely more than a child.
“How long has it been?” Kindra asked her sisters. “I can’t tell day from night. I can’t see. I need to see!”
“Hush, hush.” Bedra took her left hand. “Try to stay calm, dearest.” Lemmia took her right hand. The sisters had not made it home after the darkening, but huddled with strangers in some building. Bedra thought it was a tailor’s shop because they were leaning on what felt like bolts of cloth.
Kendra couldn’t care less what type of shop it was. Painful tremors wracked her body. Her hands, which should have poured forth light, sputtered uselessly like candle flames drowning in wax. Nausea rose in waves at the unnatural sensation.
Voices of the many citizens huddled on the floor tumbled together in confusion when the shop’s bell clanged. “It’s me,” said a baritone voice. “I found some bread. Follis is behind me with a jug of water.”
“Here I am,” said Follis, a woman who had braved the darkness to get supplies several times already. “Let the Lightbringers eat and drink first.”
“No, no,” said Lemmia.
“Yes, indeed,” said an old man near them. “Your lives and our city’s light are one. We must keep you strong, so you can fight the evil darkness.”
“Eat, Kindra,” Bedra urge. Kindra felt a hunk of bread pressed into her hand. With concentration that nearly split her skull, she made that hand pulse out a weak light. Then it went dark again. “I can’t eat now.” Her sense of uselessness stunned her. When the shop door opened again, she hoped it was Death.
“Kindra? Is Kindra here?” The strange woman’s voice was surprisingly gentle.
“I’m here,” Kindra replied, ignoring her sisters’ urgent shushing.
The woman who crawled towards her smelled of patchouli and bitterness. She wasn’t death — she was a sorceress. “Away from me!” Kindra cried. “Are you the bringer of darkness? I see magic and guilt hanging around you like fog.”
The stranger did not resist when several citizens grabbed her arms. Kindra sensed a softening in her. And a great sadness. “Wait. Speak your mind, sorceress.”
“Thank you, Lightbringer. I mean you no harm.”
“Did you bring about this darkness?” Lemmia asked, holding her hand near the visitor’s face. A faint glow showed goodness and tears in her eyes. “Are you holding light for ransom? Do you have demands?”
“Not at all.” Her voice was breathy. “I am Merrida, amanuensis of master sorcerer Gar Metchin. My master…” Merida lowered her head. Her black, kinked hair absorbed Lemmia’s poor light. “Gar Metchin, my friend ― he wants to rule the city. He wants the High Council to beg him for guidance.”
“Lies,” Bedra said. “Why is Sorcerer Gar not out among us? Why is he not trumpeting his power and proclaiming that he is our leader? Why does he merely send his servant, and why does she come before the Lightbringers, whom he has crippled?”
Merrida sobbed so hard she could not speak. Laying her hand on the sorceress’ bowed head, Kindra understood her pain. “You want the light, in defiance of your master.”
“Yes!” Merrida gasped. Words gushed from her like bats from a cave at twilight. “Master Gar, my Gar, he doesn’t want to lead the city. And he doesn’t want darkness. Not really. Only, there is so much darkness shadowing his heart, confusing him.”
“He loves you,” Kindra said. “You love him.”
“Yes.” Merrida said the word as if it were weightless. “But he can’t see it through his fear. I think he hopes his own darkness will frighten him less if you remove the lights all around him.”
“And he hopes you will notice.”
Merrid’s tears reflected what little luminescence the sisters’ hands still provided. “You are wise for one so young. I knew you would be. That’s why I came here.”
“What can I do?” Kindra asked.
“Beware of her,” said Lemmia. “Remember, she’s a sorceress,” said Bedra.
But Kindra sensed the light of truth burning in Merrida. She repeated, “What can I do?”
“Help me undo the spell. Gar mixed Bitter Darkening and Wind Swirl and spoke the verses of light-banishment.
“We are not sorceresses.”
“But I know how bright your light is, how strong your power. I know you can overcome this artificial night.”
Other people gathered closer in the shop. “Can you help us, Lightbringers?” “Can you undo the curse on our city?” “The youngest one is the strongest.”
With a protective arm around Kindra’s chest, Lemmia said, “We don’t know how to help. Leave her alone. Her lightsource may be strong, but she has never fought the force of darkness. She might die, or lose her light forever.”
Kindra gently pushed her sister’s arm away and struggled to her feet. “Love is light, and this curse in steeped in love. If I can help, I will.”
“Oh, blessings on you. Come back to the Central Naval with me,” said Merrida.
The sisters moved to join them, but Kindra said, “I feel this is my duty alone.”
“This will help you stay calm while you wait for your little sister.” From the sleeve of her robe, Merrida pulled a ball of wishing putty. Holding it to her forehead, she muttered, “Light and peaceful scent.”
The putty glowed silver-green, painting eerie highlights on Bedra’s and Lemmia’s faces. The whole shop filled with the smell of cinnamon and lavender.
“You look even more magical than usual,” said Kindra, hoping they could see her smile. “I’ll be back soon. Watch the skies and pray for light.” Kindra heard the Songbringers’ morning chant in her mind. Already her fingers itched to release their pent-up rays.
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