“Tyists make a great sacrifice to acquire their superhuman powers. At the end they wonder, was it worth it?”
With that, Sanie concluded her dissertation defense.
Not a single student or faculty from the Tyistry Department had deigned to show up. Sanie had readied herself for praise, disbelief, ridicule, and outrage. She had not expected indifference. She wondered whether she was a fool to come here to pretend she was one of the mortals, to play political refugee, to ingratiate herself within the Academy, to make a difference. She had lost track of what sort of difference she was supposed to make.
To be fair, the audience had been ebbing away since her best friend, Solynn, presented a controversial dissertation earlier in the day. The dozen scholars who stayed out of propriety were likely thinking about supper or taking a nap or having more children now that the war has ended.
No matter. The war was over, and her daughter Sorsei survived toddlerhood. In the past years, she had achieved friends, husband, and now her degree. From the prestigious Imperial Academy of the Great Centralian Empire, no less.
Something’s wrong. The absence of the entire Tyistry Department could not be the result of mere indifference. It had to be a uniform move to avoid her. The Tyists were ashamed of their payment to cross the boundary from mortal to Tyist, human to demi-human, children of gods to scions of demons. Likewise, the mortals didn’t want to touch that subject with a ten-foot pole. Her audience probably thought, who cares if Tyists are broken so long as they could win wars?
“No questions?” the proctor intoned.
Now the elderly scholar with the pretentious titles sitting in the front row was obliged to ask a question.
“You mention several types of these sacrifices. Nonessentials, as you call them. Do you choose the type? Does it correlate with one’s age, heritage, temper?”
Sanie admitted that this was, in fact, a fair question. She knew the answer from personal experience. It wasn’t so much choosing as forgetting that certain parts of you existed.
She noted the scholar’s hair falling out of its braid on the left side, his frayed cuffs, and the absence of a sash across his waist. At the Academy, this unpolished appearance usually correlated with integrity of scholarship.
Serious scholar or not, she wasn’t about to level with him and reveal that she was one of them—a Tyist. It was easy to lie to someone who could never understand the whole truth anyways. So she replied that according to her inquiries, Tyists have little recollection of how they came to be who they were. Much like how the guard who opened the village gates each day, the servants who collected rose petals for the Empress’s bath, and the proctor now glancing at the timepiece weren’t born to fill their molds.
Sanie thanked her audience, which finally woke them up. They acknowledged her with brief bows and filed out. She allowed herself a moment to trace the woodgrain on the desk.
Perhaps she was mildly peeved that none of the Tyists showed up. I’m a Tyist too, and a better one at that than any of you! She should have shed this secret. That would have gotten them to come.
She immediately regretted her wish. Yonasta from the Tyistry Department stood by the exit. The empty auditorium echoed around them. Still he stood there, so he was waiting for her. This delighted and annoyed her.
Sanie smiled easily and quieted the throb of her Core, the source of her Tyistry. If only it was as easy to satiate as lust. She could scale temples and kidnap kings, and still, Yonasta would rake her as frenzied as the young men and women dreaming of glory while their mothers and fathers persuaded them from battlefields of gore.
“You didn’t come to my defense,” she accused.
“We deserve a more personal farewell, given our fond history together,” replied Yonasta.
True to their dynamic, he was more formally dressed to say goodbye than she was to give her dissertation defense. She used to enjoy how his sash and vest and robes always matched, but how annoying it became to spend valuable minutes selecting them in the morning, and she could never tie his sash just right.
“We merely used each other for what we needed.”
“Is your union to that seaman as pure?” said Yonasta with a wry twist of his mouth.
He put a hand over her chest. Sanie is skilled at masking her source energy, but over her Core, one could feel its throb.
“Does he know what he married?” he murmured.
His absence during her presentation, their impending graduation, the time running out threatened to erupt from her the fantasy to engage him in a Tyistry duel. Surely she would win, but his ideas and idealisms would continue to unsettle her.
“That’s my heart, and don't say I don’t have one.” She tried to turn away, but his hands caged her. Slowly, as if handling an animal with sharp claws and fangs, Yonasta moved his hand from her chest to the top of her skull.
“What I would give to get inside your head,” he whispered. “Why would a Tyist from the Celestial Sect spend four years in the Imperial Academy?”
“Knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Isn’t that why all of us enrolled here?” She smirked. “Except for you. You’re here to meet others with grandiose visions of usurping the throne.”
Yonasta’s face was a thumb-span from hers. “Tomorrow is also the day we bring the Centralian Empire to its knees. As a Tyist, you should be there, not only to witness but also to catalyze the redemption of our kind in the new era.”
Sanie put her hand over Yonasta’s chest and shoved, using the meekest of Reverse Spiral Ties. She felt as though a vice had gripped her insides. She was wrong. The Tyists weren’t avoiding her. They were otherwise occupied. They were preparing a rebellion.
“Don’t” said Sanie. “It can’t end well. Keep your head down, and this time tomorrow, we will be graduates of the Imperial Academy of Centralia. Choose any of life’s open doors—and there are so many for you! Don't choose the locked doors with traps on the other side.”
She made to move away, but Yonasta took hold of her shoulders.
“There are things more important than you or me, more important than the Tyistry Department or even the Academy.” He grounded out these words.
“The Empire could use this to seek retribution from anyone within the Academy,” she said, matching the tension in his voice. “You’re fine if they hurt your colleagues, your teachers?”
“Actually, our support comes mainly from other departments,” he said. “The majority of the History and Political Sciences support a republic, along with a significant portion of Foreign Languages and Arts and a handful of Natural Sciences.”
“Great toe of Roren, you’ve gotten mortals involved! Anyhow, it doesn't matter how many you drag in. I’ll have nothing to do with this.”
Tendrils of ocean-blue source energy appeared from Yonasta’s fingertips, twisted themselves into a snake-like pattern, and wrapped themselves around Sanie’s neck, applying just the slightest of pressures.
“Hey, let the lady go!”
Sanie and Yonasta both turned to the doorway.
“Is he your boy?”
Sanie almost laughed at how Yonasta’s eyes darted back and forth between her and the boy by the door.
“Are you an idiot too, in addition to a fool?” she jibed.
“Then what is a boy doing in the Academy?” Yonasta lowered his voice. “And a Tyist, at that.”
“This is the problem with men. You think you know everything, but when something goes wrong, you blame the nearest woman.”
“He’s a Celestial, or at least part of him is. He’s on your side.”
“Why do you presume so? Do I look like a damsel in distress?”
“You must be a low rung on their ladder. They sent a mongrel—”
Then Yonasta was on the ground, clutching a broken nose. The boy’s Reverse Spiral Tie, which had acted as a fist here, still hung in the air.
“If it came down to it, who would the Celestial Sect choose?” asked Yonasta through bloody gurgles. “Us or them?”
Sanie looked out the window at the sun sinking over the walls of the Imperial City. How disappointing. She thought that he had figured out the truth about her stolen existence, but instead, he had accepted an easier lie.
The islands to the east of the Centralian Empire was home to several peoples with strong Tyistry traditions. These included the Sunland, a mortal nation, and the two oldest Tyistry Sects, Celestial and Shadow. They had been separate peoples for centuries, but others often could not tell them apart. As far as the people of the Centralian Empire and the other lands were concerned, the Sunlanders, Celestials and Shadows were lumped together into one dark stormy cloud of badness.
Sanie was one of the good ones rescued from the heap of savages because Sanie was a victim too—a refugee from the Sunland, or so thought everyone at the Imperial Academy. Yonasta had helped her create this lie. She had told Yonasta alone that she was no Sunlander, but in fact a Celestial. But he didn’t know the whole truth either. She was a Tyist but no Celestial. She was a Shadow.
She stood over Yonasta, told the boy to turn around, and snapped his right femur.
“Do me a favor,” said Sanie to his prone figure. “Don’t try to go to the rally tomorrow night, or I will find you, and I will ruin you permanently.”
She walked out quickly, away from his groans. She was a monster, but that didn’t mean she enjoyed it.