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The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:22

When Ava woke, she felt rested for the first time in weeks. Her head was clear. The tension that seemed to burn under her skin was gone. She felt fresh. Renewed. So renewed she didn’t even scowl when she heard the knock on the door. By the time she was up and presentable, Damien had already let the visitor in. It was the woman she’d met the previous afternoon.

“Good morning,” the visitor said with a smile. “I hope you slept well. My name is Astrid.”

She was definitely the most welcoming woman Ava had met so far. Without the heavy clothes and aura of magic, Astrid looked like a teacher or a doctor. Smart and friendly, she exuded calm welcome. Sari and Mala hadn’t made the greatest impression the day before, and Ava had gone to bed with second thoughts about the remote enclave where Damien had brought her. Astrid’s appearance put her at ease.

“So, what’s up?” She looked between Damien and Astrid.

“Sari and Damien thought it would be good for you to tour the retreat today and get a feel for where things are since you’ll be here for some time.”

Ava asked Damien, “How long?”

He shrugged. “As long as you want.”

“As long as it takes,” Astrid said, “for you to be able to control your magic. Letting you roam the world untrained would be too dangerous.”

Ava bristled. “I’ve managed for a few years on my own.”

“The Grigori hunt you. The humans do not understand you. And Damien says you mated with an Irin scribe who bonded with you and lent you his power. Your magic will be stronger now.”

“I have it under control.”

Barely. The voices pressed on her. Damien’s presence might have been soothing, but it did nothing to dull the soul voices as Malachi had done. They crept up on her. She had no shield from them. And worse, she seemed to have tapped into other voices, voices that were unlike the others. Dark and twisted, they haunted her dreams. At times Ava thought she was losing it.

Astrid’s eyes were narrowed in suspicion. “Remember, you might not even realize you’ve worked magic. Without training, you’d have no idea. Here, you will be protected, and so will the rest of the world.”

“You’re acting like I’m some loaded gun.”

“In a sense, you are. I started learning to control my magic as soon as I could talk. My mother guided me until I went into formal training at thirteen. For scribes”—she nodded toward Damien—“the act of working magic is far more deliberate. No child is born writing. It is learned. But for Irina, our magic comes like breathing. It is our first language. The fact that you’ve been able to exist without hurting those around you is somewhat astonishing.”

The steady woman’s voice grated on her, killing the peace she’d woken with. “I would never hurt any—”

“You need our help. You burst Damien’s eardrums when your mate was killed.” Astrid’s voice was no longer soothing. She stepped closer to Ava, and though the woman was even shorter than Ava, Astrid’s presence dwarfed her. “You hurt yourself, three Irin, and countless Grigori—”

“You’re worried about the Grigori now?”

“I’d kill every one of them if I could,” Astrid said calmly. “But that is not the issue.”

Maybe Astrid wasn’t so unlike Sari after all.

“Maybe it is,” Ava said. “Maybe I don’t want to hide in a village somewhere and lick my wounds. Maybe I want to fight with the scribes instead of—”

“You have no idea what we do here.”

“And maybe I don’t want to!”

She stopped shouting when Damien put a hand on her shoulder.

“Sister,” he said quietly, brushing a hand down her arm.

Ava felt the calm immediately. She took a deep breath and tried to focus on the peace she’d felt that morning, but it was wrapped up in dreams of Malachi and it hurt as much as it helped.

Astrid had backed down, too.

“Stay, Ava. We can’t force you, but we can help you. I promise.”

She said nothing, but relaxed when she saw Astrid smile a little.

“So, you want to kill Grigori?” the woman asked.

“They killed my mate.”

“And how do you know we don’t kill Grigori?”

Ava frowned. “But the scribes said—”

“Irin scribes say many things, hidden away in their scribe houses or lecturing in council meetings.” Astrid glanced at Damien and winked. “But they can be frightfully blind when it comes to reading things other than books.”

Ava hadn’t considered it, but it was true. Most of the scribes she’d met had admitted to not seeing an Irina in two hundred years. Why on earth was she taking their word for anything?

“So, what you’re saying is—?”

“Have you seen how the scribes fight?” Astrid asked, stepping closer.