The Healing Church of Analyn was a small, modest building in the heart of the quiet village bearing the same name. It had stood the test of time for hundreds of years, run only by a handful of skilled alchemists and physicians deemed worthy of the task. However, there wasn’t a person alive that could remember the last time the church had housed a user of the arcane.
Lynx Anjali perched on a stool beside a girl of barely nine, holding her hand and singing a lullaby Lynx’s parents had saved exclusively for nights riddled with nightmares. Even if Lynx couldn’t see her face, she understood that Saara’s pain was severe. It emanated through her small body and consumed every nerve, lashing back at every attempt Lynx made to subdue it. They’d spent nearly a fortnight together in the farthest room of the church, trying every tincture, herb, and magical remedy Lynx held at her disposal. Very little seemed to ease the young girl’s pain. Though, to Lynx’s surprise, Saara hid it well.
“Lynx?” Saara called meekly.
“Yes, love?” Tiny beads of sweat framed Lynx’s violet hairline from hours of magical expenditure. Her body ached in protest at the constant use of energy, threatening to give way at any moment. But Lynx wasn’t ready to give up. Not yet.
“Can you tell me a story?”
Lynx smiled. She’d had to ask the other healers in the church and her family for new stories to tell Saara after running out of her own in the first seven days. She’d remained by the child day and night, even going so far as to sleep on the floor of her room at Saara’s request for three days. When Saara’s parents caught wind of Lynx’s strained sleeping arrangements, they purchased a small cot and had it delivered the fourth morning. Much to Lynx’s overwhelming gratitude.
“What kind of story shall I tell you?” Lynx asked.
“A love story!”
“Hmm.” That was a difficult subject. Memories of Kaelin swept behind blind eyes more powerfully than they’d been in a long time. Thoughts of his laugh, his lips. Thoughts of a time when the intervention of the gods wasn’t necessary. Lynx attributed the potency of her recollection to the fitful sleep she’d managed as of late.
But change was a part of living. The world continued to turn mercilessly without him. And Saara’s life depended on her.
“Do you have someone you love?” Saara asked.
“I have many people that I love,” Lynx replied quickly.
Saara laughed. “You know what I mean. Someone special.”
Lynx hesitated. “Well, I—”
“Miss Anjali. Please pardon the intrusion. But we have a… visitor.” Lynx’s explanation was spared by another physician’s announcement.
“Did they request me specifically?” Lynx was worried about leaving Saara on her own for any length of time. At least by her side, she could keep her discomfort as stable as possible. Too many nights, Lynx had awoken to the sound of Saara’s desperate pleas for the pain to stop.
“No. But…I think you’ll want to speak with them. Saara’s parents are also here to see her.”
That was a comfort—at least if things took a turn for the worst, Saara’s mother would call for her immediately. “Very well,” Lynx relented. “Give me just a moment.”
“Of course, my lady.” The physician bowed out of habit, realized the futility, and quickly took her leave.
“Will you be gone for long?” Saara’s shaking voice ripped into Lynx’s heart.
“No, sweet. I won’t be gone for long,” Lynx assured her. “Tell your parents if you need something from me, and I’ll be in right away, alright?”
“Alright,” Saara whimpered.
Lynx forced a smile and exited the room by memory. One step left from the bed, four steps to the door. A gentle hand rested on Lynx’s shoulder, and she paused.
“Miss Anjali, how can we thank you?” Saara’s mother, Naomi, murmured quietly.
Lynx lay her hand over Naomi’s. “Seeing her heal would be the greatest of gifts, my lady. Please, should you need me at all, hail a physician, and they will fetch me.”
“You are truly a blessing,” Marcus, Saara’s father, stated.
Lynx smiled. “I simply do what any of us would.”
“If only that were true,” Marcus replied solemnly before moving to greet Saara.
“Please, forgive him for his curt manner. This has been difficult on us all,” Naomi said.
“Of course, my lady. I understand.” Lynx dropped her hand. “Now, if you will, please excuse me. I will return in a moment.”
“Yes, thank you.”
Lynx drifted her fingertips against the wall of the hallway, taking another ten confident steps until she reached the room they used for ceremonial preparations. As there were only three healers working that afternoon and no ceremonies to be given, avoiding her colleagues was an easy task. More crowded days taught her to take slower steps and allow a greater amount of time for others to pass her.
A basin of clean water was set in the far-right corner of the room alongside soft towels and scented oils. Lynx washed her hands before splashing the cool water on her face. She leaned forward and rested over the basin, allowing the droplets to trail from her face and fall back into their pool. It was the first moment she’d had alone in over a week.
“You’re wasting your time and precious magic on her.”
She’d nearly forgotten what his voice sounded like. Orlando. The god of death. Despite remaining invisible to anyone else, he’d learned long ago that to talk to her in front of others was a futile effort—she’d mastered the art of tuning him out. Something she would never have dreamed of doing to anyone until his constant heckling had driven her to it.
“Haven’t you taken enough people from me this season? Come now, surely you can let one go.”
“You forget yourself, Orlando,” Lynx replied.
“Do you understand how the other gods taunt me? ‘You’re out of a job, Orlando,’ they say. ‘A human girl keeps you from working.’”
“That is not my concern.” Lynx felt for the towel beside the basin.
Orlando lifted one and handed it to her.
“Thank you.” She buried her face deep in the warm fabric.
“Aren’t you tired? You look exhausted.”
“I will not give up on Saara.”
Orlando audibly sighed. “Do you even know what’s wrong with her?”
“No. But I will find a cure.” Lynx danced her fingers across the towels until she reached a bottle of oil. She dabbed it on her wrist and neck before running her fingers through her hair.
“Here.” Orlando gingerly pulled the errant strands of her purple hair behind her ears and rearranged her bangs. “Now you look less like you’ve slept on the floor.”
Lynx paused. The warm touch surprised her. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.”
She folded the towel and set it to the other side of the basin before leaving the room and heading for the church’s nave. Two voices echoed against the halls; one Lynx recognized and one she did not. The familiar voice belonged to Isla, one of Analyn’s most prestigious alchemists and healers. The other was a male, about Lynx’s age—perhaps just a bit older—and speaking in a language she’d never heard before. When Lynx rounded the corner, the discussion stopped.
“Lady Anjali! F-forgive me. I was the one who called for you,” Isla stammered.
Lynx shook her head. “Please, Isla. It’s no trouble at all. How can I help you both?”
“Well, this young man here. It seems he has many questions for us, but… I can’t understand him,” Isla explained. There was an edge to her voice—exasperation? “A-and seeing as you are a pursuer of magical arts…”
Lynx nodded, though there was not much she could say to soothe the situation. For some reason, it seemed many inhabitants of Analyn assumed that magic was an answer to all conflicts. Perhaps because it hadn’t been utilized in centuries. But Lynx had tried learning the foreign languages of the few travelers to pass through their village without luck. Without sight to aid her, it wasn’t clear what she could do to assist their unfamiliar visitor, but the fatigue in Isla’s words and the hurried summons were enough of a reason to try.
Descending the dais, Lynx held her palms open to her sides and wore a warm smile despite her exhaustion. Isla lay a tender hand on her lower back when she was beside her, a welcome signal that she could stop walking.
“How can I be of assistance?” Lynx asked.
The young man was at least a head taller than she, his voice a low, soothing timbre. But, as Isla had said, his words were not of a tongue she’d ever heard before. His tone was urgent and sure, and she could feel the shifts in the air as he moved his hands animatedly to aid in his explanation, but it did little to assist in her understanding.
“He’s not of this world.” Orlando’s presence was suddenly beside her. “This man is an anomaly.”
The stranger’s explanation came to a halt, and silence filled the room.
“Shit, he can see me,” Orlando grumbled.
“Is he alright?” Isla asked as if Lynx could possibly know.
“I do not know,” Lynx answered honestly. She was torn. She wanted to ask Orlando a dozen questions but knew it would only add more tension to the situation. But she couldn’t see the stranger’s face or body language, making it difficult to assess how to proceed. Perhaps she could pull his attentions from Orlando, at the very least.
“Orlando, leave,” Lynx whispered.
“What?” Isla asked.
“Good call,” Orlando replied and vanished.
“You may leave us, Isla,” Lynx said as if repeating her statement. “Thank you.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.”
Lynx ignored the stunned silence from the visitor and the strained confusion wafting from Isla as she departed. She chanced a step forward—his chest was warm against hers. His breathing came in quick, nervous inhalations, and his heart beat loud and strong against his breast. She lifted her hands in the direction she’d heard his voice, fingertips brushing his cheeks.
The sensation that jolted through every fiber of her being was impossible to describe. As if a current of lightning had struck where she’d touched him and rushed to her toes, leaving a curious tingling on her tongue.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Lynx faltered, her sudden understanding of his language jarring. “I-I am Lynx. Lynx Anjali. Well met.”
After a moment of awkward silence, he chuckled. Lynx’s heart sped. What was this reaction? Fatigue, it had to be. She dropped her hands to her sides, hoping the unexpected understanding of his language would last beyond her touch.
“And you are?” Lynx asked slowly, rolling the unfamiliar syllables on her tongue. It was strange; she knew she was speaking a different language, but she recited the words as easily as if she’d known them her entire life.
“So, you can understand me.”
“Yes.” She was suddenly very conscious of how near he was to her. She stepped back, her balance wavering with the stiff movement. He caught her hand, and she gasped. What she read about him from his touch was just as Orlando had said—he was an anomaly.
“My name’s Ryock Vermat. And you have to listen to what I’m about to tell you. Please.”