Lilyth, Omen's little sister, goes looking for a cat, and finds trouble instead.
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Lilyth's Hunt takes place right after the events of Autumn King and follows the exploits of Omen's little sister. Omen, Tormy, Templar and all the rest are there too, joining in the fun.
Lilyth wants nothing more than her very own talking cat. Since she's forbidden to venture beyond the city of Melia, or even her own house, she devises a subtler course of action. And when things go sideways, the trouble she anticipated is nothing compared to the trouble that's coming.
Scroll down to read Chapter 1!
Chapter 1: Summoning
"Magic isn't hard. It's just slippery." Lilyth tilted the borrowed scroll a quarter turn and checked the stylized knots decorating the yellowed vellum. The young girl eyed the sweeping letters she'd painstakingly copied over the last two hours and bit her bottom lip. My penmanship is nicer than the original.
She studied the pattern she'd drawn alongside the letters. The tangled knot was the most complicated symbol she'd ever tried. You're supposed to memorize it first! she started to scold herself. It's mostly memorized, she argued back. I copied it down barely without looking at the original.
"But it's also supposed to be internalized." Lily chewed the inside of her cheek. Internalized, her magic became the physical sensation of movement — like the steps of a dance or the flutter of wind. But this new spell continued to feel foreign and unwieldy as if she were attempting to juggle massive boulders. This clunkiness was one of the reasons she'd copied the pattern down instead of relying on holding it in her mind.
"That's pretty close." She was pleased with her work but had erroneously hoped to finish well before midnight. I better not get caught now. Not after the hardest part is done.
Her canvas, a full-length mirror she had arduously placed flat on the manor's attic floor, shimmered in the diffused candlelight.
The night breeze rattled the wooden shutters softly and slipped between the thick yarn loops of her cozy cable-knit arm warmers. Lilyth gathered her nightdress more tightly around her, lifting the hem from where it had been touching the floor. Bits of dust twirled through the air in a fey dance and mingled with specks of the azurite she'd used for the required blue paint. The particles tickled her nostrils, and she tried to stifle a sneeze.
Lilyth had spent days preparing the mineral pigment in secret, grinding lump azurite into a fine powder to produce the desired delicate blue and mixing it with water and honey. She'd tended to the paint containers like a mother hen caring for her clutch of eggs, returning to her room every half hour to pour the solution into new vessels, examining the sediment until it looked clean of impurities.
"If I can't go get a cat, then I'll just have a cat come to me." She checked the spell scroll again. "Arratair imalt purrat undescaramous." She took in a sharp breath. "Un-des-car-a-mus," she corrected herself, hoping that Scaalian spells weren't too exacting. Scaalian witches are rare, she reasoned. I bet there's a lot of leeway. Anyway, it's all about the want, not the pronunciation.
She recalled her mother's instruction on the importance of the will of the caster. The want.
Lily tried to clear her mind, fearing that her careless recollection could carry an echo back to her mother. She imagined the transgressions her mother would list: Larceny. Secrecy. Casting spells without permission. Sneaking around the attic in the middle of the night. "But what am I supposed to do when they won't let me have a cat?" she murmured crossly. "Omen always gets everything."
You don't ask permission to cast cleaning cantrips, do you? The thought was fleeting but she latched onto it, following the logic. And technically since I learned that cantrip on my own, I learned it in secret — Mother was pleased. So how is this any different? And Mother never really said I couldn't go into the attic in the middle of the night. She dismissed the idea that she was shoring up arguments for when she actually did get caught. I'll have a cat by then, so it won't matter!
Lilyth lit the last candle, an amber and oakmoss pillar, and visualized the cat she wanted.
"A little cat, black as night. A cat who talks and charms and knows a lot of things. I want a city cat, a cat who can get around and tell me all sorts of secrets."
Carefully opening one eye, she peeked at the pilfered Scaalian scroll again. The summoning sentence was long and convoluted, so convoluted in fact that she'd made small notations on the vellum to remind herself how to bring meaning to the complicated structure. She had — brilliantly she thought — even scratched out the name of the creature the spell originally summoned and replaced the long appellation with the word cat.
"That way, I can't make any mistakes. Cat is a noun and a name just like—" She could barely make out the many consonants of the word she had scribbled over. "Whatever is a noun and a name. So, it should all fit grammatically."
Lilyth nearly squealed with joy. By breakfast, she thought, she'd be holding her new little black talking cat on her lap, and her mother wouldn't be able to do anything about it. No way would she make a cat go away. And even if she tried, Tormy and Tyrin would surely have something to say about it. Lilyth felt quite pleased with her foolproof plan.
She let out a deep breath, the anticipation swelling inside her. Here we go! She tried to put the pattern in the forefront of her mind. It thudded heavily through her body, ungainly and alien. Use the pattern on the mirror — that's what it's for!
The girl fixed both eyes on the swirling pattern and letters of the complicated spell and firmly and clearly spoke the words. Her heart stuttered with the heavy, lumbering swath of energy that pushed through her limbs.
The last syllable had barely left her lips when a gust of wind whipped around the attic and blew out each of her candles. The amber and oakmoss scent lingered, but the area, crowded with stacked crates and dusty items from faraway places, was plunged into darkness for a breath-taking second. Then the attic walls sparked as the web of her mother's protective sigils, which decorated every panel, came to life. The abundant but usually unobtrusive patterns brightened with a steadily pulsing light. Lilyth even thought she heard a low hiss coming from the intricate hex marks.
That can't be good. She jumped up, leaving her scroll, paintbrush, and ritual gear in place. "Where is my cat?" she managed to spit out. "If I'm going to be in heaps of trouble, I better have summoned my cat!" But she was alone in the attic, no feline companion having manifested.
The sight and sound of the sigils did not diminish, but rather seemed to grow by the second. Worry gnawed at her. It will wake everyone in the manor if it gets any louder! Do something! Mother must have a counterspell in one of her books!
She rushed to the attic door, which she had closed and locked before starting her preparation. Lily grabbed at the door handle with one hand and struggled to turn the key with the other. The key heated up as she closed her fingers around the bow and stem, and she turned it hurriedly to avoid being burned. Throwing the door open wide, she rushed to escape the attic and the sigils whose very glimmering seemed to scold her for her misdeed.
"I'll counter the spell and come back in the morning to clean up the attic," she sputtered as she fled down the hall. They'll never know what I did.
But to her alarm, the hex marks covering the walls of the long hallway shimmered and hissed as well. It's not just the attic! As she ran, the sea of glowing marks spread out before her like an unwelcome beacon announcing her passage.
What do I do? I can't hide this!
Lilyth veered down the hall, taking the backstairs to avoid being discovered. Please everyone, stay asleep. Flickering sigils fanned out before her in sparkling rays. Her slippered feet hit the long, thick rugs of the main floor, and — panicked — she dashed toward the giant double doors of her mother's office. The walls and imposing doors blazed with tangled hex marks.
Without pausing to knock, Lilyth pushed the great doors open, her mind fixed on reaching the spellbooks kept safely locked in the cabinet by the window.
Crushed into her dark leather wingback chair, stone-faced, sat her mother, hands clutching the top of her great desk, knuckles white.
She's really mad. Lily's heart seemed to do several backflips.
"Lilyth," Avarice's voice was low and deliberate. "What did you do?"