Keira rubbed her thumb along the stone, frowning. Eyes closed, she searched for the soft smoke of her magic that once coursed through her body in excess. Gone. The girl, nearly a woman, tossed the rune in disgust. Her eyes mirrored the pond before her, the same shade of smoky grey and just as still. Short, coppery hair tickled her forehead, making her dusky eyes water in frustration.
A year ago, the rune would have ignited, a flame hovering in suspension over the perpetually cool surface. An elementary trick she had learned even before she attended the Healer's Academy, but one she would never perform again.
A year ago, the Pyre, the world's most ancient magic, had disappeared. Stripped of both her passion and livelihood, Keira was still waiting for her life to begin. She had lost ten years training at the Academy—all for an extinct magic that abandoned her without warning or cause.
Keira gave a start, her grey skirts and cream apron quivering in the wind. She was late. Scooping up a pitcher of water from the nearby well, Keira hurried back into Demp Manor. A hideously decadent building, it announced to the whole city of Den that the family she served was among the Smudges—the growing class of industrialists, made newly wealthy by the growth of the railway.
Though the Pyre had vanished from these woods, Keira kept her tools stashed among the trinkets in her room—the runes, her healing elixirs, and an old emerald ring. The silver band inlaid with cloudy emerald had once heightened her power in casting. But ever since the magic had left, it was just an ornament on her finger. A constant reminder of what she had lost—and a promise to one day discover why.
But first, she must get out of this industrial town and out of the Bain household.
The head housekeeper crept up on Keira as she poured the water into a fine porcelain pitcher.
"You'll be waiting on Mr, ah, Lord Demp and his guest tonight for dinner".
Keira simply nodded and set about getting Cook out from underneath the stairwell, where a fireplace and whisky kept her warm despite the frigid autumn.
That night, dinner was served burnt. Cook had failed to watch the roasting chicken, and Keira received the brunt of Demp's scolding. She only managed to keep calm by visualizing the plump Smudge roasting over a hearty fire.
Pouring the wine, Keira turned for the first time to the visitor, whose rough face and dark hair were surprisingly handsome, though weathered.
Lord Demp let out a gruff sigh. "Haven't you learned, servants don't wear jewelry?" He jerked a finger at her ring.
"Forgive me, sir."
"My Lord," He corrected, having recently purchased his title and being utterly determined to get his money's worth.
"Yes, my lord." Keira slipped the ring into an apron pocket, avoiding Demp's eyes. She had learned months ago to curb his anger by displaying obedience—something he never deserved but always required.
"You're a healer?" The dark visitor's eyebrows peaked as he recognized the ring.
"I do what I can now the magic's lost, my lord." Her heart ached to say it. "The Pyre's left me, just like everyone else."
He merely nodded, though as Keira left the room she heard him ask, "When did she come into your service, Lord Demp?"
The master of the house replied, "Nearly a year ago—my wife found her wandering the street, and picked her up before the little thing spread her legs and turned sour."
Keira made a face as she entered the kitchen. Wandering home was more like it: after the Academy had closed down, she meant to return north to Waven. And to discover why her mother had stopped sending the gold for her schooling fees.
After several hours spent cleaning up after Demp and his new friend, Keira climbed the staircase to her room and tumbled into bed…
Only to be woken by a frantic Mrs. Tate. "He's asked Mr. Demp to let him bring you South, to the capital!"
"No, girl, stop thinking on your errands. Lord Roan!"
The visitor from the night before. "But why?"
"Mayhaps he needs a healer," Tates shrugged, "though no one in this town seems to."
Keira nodded, gingery hair falling over her eyes. South to the capitol. Back to her forgotten Academy and the city where she had earned the right to call herself a Healer.
"Hurry up, and pack your things! Unless you plan on staying?"
Keira shook her head fiercely. "You know I've been saving up to leave this town."
Tates nodded slowly. "He'll be waiting at the gate." The housekeeper paused at the doorway. "And Keira, you'll find a way to get by without the Pyre. Magic can't solve everything."
No, but it certainly does help.
Keira approached the dark traveler—Lord Roan—cautiously. She didn't know what kind of man he could be, but it seemed her only means of escape from a life in servitude of the Demps.
Roan turned and smiled at her. "Good morning, Miss." She started at that—most lords addressed maids as "girl" at best. "Do you ride?" He nodded at the stables.
She felt somewhat offended at that—she was once the Academy's most prized pupil and had received more education than most young lords and ladies. "Yes, my lord."
His smile widened and he lead over a beautiful chestnut mare. He handed her the reins, softly brushing back a lock of her cropped hair. "You have my permission to grow it out. It always seemed a tasteless custom that maids must wear the hair short. And call me Roan—you won't be a servant in my house."
"Then what will I be?", She asked haltingly, dreading what Lord Roan might expect from her. She had heard tell of servant girls unwittingly selling themselves into prostitution with a new master.
He smiled softly. "Someone has stolen the land's magic, and we will take it back."