Emmet and Koen struck as different paths as brothers could. There were ten years between them, making Emmet the dark-haired, bronze-eyed son of a man who had died too young, heir to everything his mother commanded, and Koen the blonde-haired son of a man still alive, captain, conqueror, and blunter weapon. Emmet’s keimon stood in his halls with him, guardians and entertainers under glittering lights. Koen’s stood at ship rails, face into the wind, and learned nothing better than how to burn, how to buy glory with ash.
Bryn had known that long before she chose where to apprentice. As young as they had been, she knew her twin, Riya had understood as well. And neither of them had hesitated to split ways, jump on a ship, train for the halls. Different was something magical to two ten-year-olds who had spent their whole lives as walking mirrors of each other.
She was sixteen before she realized the magic that other people saw, walking into the practice court, seeing herself behind a pillar of liquid flame in twisting shades of blue and gray and white that she had no idea how to create. She hadn’t heard that Koen’s ship was back in port. She hadn’t imagined that hands could hold that kind of heat.
Riya dropped her hands after a moment. She snuffed out the fire between her palms. It was not quite a careless gesture, but it held no awe, as if she had controlled a hundred infernos before, and expected a thousand more even as she tamped this one down to nothing.
Riya shook out her hands, her arms, her shoulders, loosening the ache from heavy effort, then clapped her practice partner on the shoulder. When she finally turned to survey the room, saw Bryn, she broke into a familiar grin and wound her way through the massive hall to find her.
They hugged each other, tight.
“You’re up early,” Bryn said, pulling back again.
Riya shrugged. “These days I’m starting to think that the sun wakes up late.”
Bryn raised her eyebrows, stared, and Riya laughed.
“I saw you last night,” Riya said. “You looked busy.”
Bryn tried to imagine where Riya might have been in the packed dinner hall where she and her teacher had entertained the night before. Quickly, she realized there would have been a thousand places, between the tables and chairs and chandeliers, the hundred guests, the music that seemed to swell the air. Her own attention had been on her work for most of the evening, turning most of the hall into a hiding place.
“I’m sorry,” Bryn said.
“No, no,” Riya said. Her grin widened. “It was neat. I liked it.”
“You liked my school of shiny fish?” It was hard to keep the doubt out of her voice.
“Shiny fire fish swimming in the air,” Riya said. “I’ve been trying to figure out how you did it.” She lifted one hand, let blue-white fire burst out of her palm and held it still in front of her. Another moment, and the outer edges turned to something like glass, humming in the air. Bryn could feel it jittering on her skin, and it felt a little wrong, this energy hanging in front of her that felt like hers, but wasn’t hers.
Riya slid her other hand down the body of the flame, molding it, letting fins of smoke curl up between her fingers in very specific places, until it looked as if she was gripping a fish by the tail. The body was too heavy in places, too thin in places. She started over, pulled her hand over the fire in a longer stroke, smoothing it down. At the end, she twisted her fingers to twirl out two long tail fins. Then she froze, barely breathed, as if afraid she might break it, drop it, shatter it.
Then she took hold of the fish herself, twitched its tail and watched Riya’s eyes widen in surprise. She sent it swimming down past Riya’s knee, behind her back, up over her shoulder. Riya twisted to follow it. Its body waved back and forth, like it was swimming, and if Riya noticed that it was a hair too slow for the speed with which it scuttled through the air, it didn’t stop her from spinning back to Bryn, perched on the edge of laughter.
“It has been a very long time since someone could do that to me,” Riya said.
Bryn shrugged. “Once a twin, always a twin.”
“Yeah, well, like always, stop touching my stuff,” she said. Riya snatched the fish back with one hand, bursting it into flame that curled up around her fingers, and cracked a smile toward Bryn. Bryn wondered when she had last controlled energy without actually feeling the heat against her palms.
“Teach me?” Riya asked.
Bryn nodded without a thought. “It’s just about focus,” she said. “You have to see everything in a dozen different parts, not just one piece…”