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The Return of the Sorceress

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The Return of the Sorceress

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Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Subterranean Press, 2021

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Book Type: Novella
Genre: Fantasy
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Locus Award nominated novella.

Yalxi, the deposed Supreme Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers, is on a desperate mission. Her lover and confidant seized her throne and stole the precious diamond heart, the jewel that is the engine of her power. Yalxi sets out to regain her magic and find a weapon capable of destroying the usurper. But this will mean turning to unlikely allies and opening herself up to unpleasant memories that have been suppressed for many years. For Yalxi is no great hero, but a cunning sorceress who once forged her path in blood--and must reckon with the consequences.


The Yellow House

Only the moon spied on the woman from behind a cloud as she stumbled across the narrow and twisted alleyways, one hand brushing against a wall, trying to remain upright. Her other hand was pressed against her side, blood seeping from the wound, blood on her fingertips.

In the dark the buildings had no color. The yellow house, three stories high, was rendered very much like any other house. All of these buildings could have been the abode where she first lodged when she arrived in this neighbourhood, seventeen and as bright as a newly-minted coin. She'd been a callow girl from the provinces, gone to the city to seek her fortune with the heedless optimism of youth. Now she crawled back to her beginnings, dirt and muck clinging to her clothes, her bones paining her.

She'd been wandering in the alleys, in the dark, for what seemed a small eternity and she feared that she'd never find it, that the house was an illusion that she'd fabricated. But she tightened the clumsy bandage she'd tied and kept pressing against the wound, shuffling on.

I refuse to die, she thought and though her body screeched and begged for her to give in, she would not let it, ordering a foot to slide forward, ordering a hand to cling to a wall. The high forms of sorcery all require tools and careful processes. Glyphs, knives, words. At its most rudimentary form, however, magic is willpower and though she no longer had much magic left, inside of her there was still her colossal willpower.

This itself was a form of sorcery, survival singing through her nerves and forcing tendons to bend, flesh to press forward, tired bones be damned.

At last the moon unveiled itself and its light drifted down, illuminating the street and allowing the woman to catch a glimpse of the faded yellow paint and the familiar shutters. She walked up the three steps to the back door and took a breath, feeling beneath the wood, touching the warding spells she'd cast upon this place. Nothing terribly fancy, mostly a sense of malaise that would drive thieves away and a poison spell or two, just in case. Besides, the house was in a rundown quarter of little importance and it was crawling with rats--such vermin was not native to the city, but it had adapted well enough to the canals--and had nothing worth stealing. At least, nothing most people would think worth stealing.

She unlocked the door, tracing an old sigil in the air, and walked in, going up to the third floor. Though she had bought the yellow house, she did not visit it. ?Why would she? The yellow house had been part of a previous life.

She found her old room, bare now, covered with dust and quiet. It had never been this quiet. Ten students had lodged in this house, all under the tutelage of a minor sorcerer. One of these students had been Xellah, handsome and astute and only six months older than her. It was Xellah, imbued with the bravado of youth, who had suggested that they attempt to find themselves a better Master, for if they were to be apprentices shouldn't they aim for the best? Should they not look towards the grand pyramid at the center of the city? Should they not seek to learn under the Master of the House of Sorcery, under Teotah, owner of the Diamond Heart?

He'd said it half in jest but Yalxi had latched onto the idea with all seriousness and when he hesitated, it was she who ultimately pulled him forward: Xellah was always one for grandiose plans and few results. Yet that time, dragged by the force of her willpower, they accomplished that dream they'd first spun one lazy afternoon. They had been accepted as apprentices to that sorcerer of sorcerers, Master Teotah. And in time the young apprentice, the hardy girl from the provinces with the quick and ferocious mind, had become Mistress Yalxi. Decked in jewels, swathed in silks, sitting atop the pyramid. Mistress Yalxi.

Now Yalxi had a gash on her head, a wound on her belly and a foot that throbbed. She was covered in sweat and filth, stinking of her own piss. So much for her grandiose plans and dreams.

Her palm slid against the wall and she winced. One, two, three paces and then she pulled at a stone and revealed a tiny, hollowed out space and inside of it a piece of cloth. She unwrapped the cloth and beheld the ring.

It was silver, with a modest pearl, and felt cold against her skin. She detected nothing, not the slightest intimation of life. Perhaps it was gone, the spirit had departed. It could have seeped into the stone and trickled down into the canal and again into the world.

If this was so, then she was truly finished.

Copyright © 2021 by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


The Return of the Sorceress

- Lett


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