Dorothy's stomach twists with hunger, but she grits her teeth and pushes it to the back of her mind, concentrating instead on maintaining the glimmering ball of light that hangs, suspended, between her and the ivy-draped wall that's been constructed in the middle of the courtyard.
The ivy is blackened in places, scorch marks staining the bricks, and the ground around the wall is blitzed clear of grass and foliage. It had been a pretty garden before they'd arrived – tiny pink and white flowers carpeting the ground, a wrought-iron bench under the shade of a drooping tree. The tree's still there.
It looks like one of the photos of the London Blitz that she remembers from her school textbooks, and the idea that she could be an instrument of war – as deadly and damaging as a bomb – is equal parts sobering and exhilarating.
She feels a trickle of sweat inch down her spine and ignores it. Her skin is itching and she ignores that too, feeding more power into the orb.
Glinda is a tall white presence at the corner of her eye. Dorothy's not stupid enough to turn her back on the witch entirely, and while most of her attention is on feeding the gauntlets' power into the ball, there's a just little bit of her consciousness set aside, watching, waiting. Just in case the other woman decides to break this uneasy truce between them and make her move.
Not that she's shown any inclination that she's likely to do so, Dorothy admits grudgingly. Glinda has spent the better part of the day flinging vitriolic barbs at Dorothy, chastising her for every fumbled spell and lapse in attention, but she's honouring her promise to Ozma, and Dorothy's beginning to understand why the witches are sent to her for training and not to West.
She's good. Very good.
Dorothy feels the moment the magic flowing out of her reaches critical mass a heartbeat before Glinda opens her mouth to say, "strike," and she's already drawing it tight, binding it closer until the orb is almost to bright to look at.
It doesn't feel like a wild thing anymore. It feels like a part of her, as easy to control as her own fist. She knows how to bend it to her will; how to shape it and direct it. The orb floats lazily in the air in front of her, and she admires it for a moment, this gorgeous, deadly manifestation of her power. Fastening her gaze on the garden wall, she brings back her arm and with a twist of her wrist she sends her magic ricocheting into the brickwork.
For a moment it seems like the world is holding its breath, then, as she watches, the wall implodes, crumbling into rubble and dust.
It's spectacular. She thinks it's one of the most beautiful things she thinks she's ever seen: this slow-motion obliteration of something solid and standing with nothing more than her will.
The power coursing through her veins is singing with triumph. It feels good. Better than good, and she's already summoning another surge of magic, casting her eye around the courtyard for the next target into which she can unleash the destructive potential she carries.
Glinda's smile looks more like a snarl and her voice is cold when she says, "Casting your weapon at a brick wall is one thing, but the Beast Forever is a living creature."
Dorothy is still trying to unravel the meaning behind the witch's words when Glinda twists her fingers in the air and a pocket of the world that didn't exist a moment before unfolds to reveal a small figure dressed in white.
She's older than Dorothy saw her last, taller, and the childish softness in her face is just beginning to melt away, revealing the young woman she'll become. Her eyes are huge, but she doesn't seem perturbed to find herself snatched from wherever she was to find herself in this courtyard garden. She looks first towards Glinda, then when the witch says nothing she transfers her gaze to Dorothy. There's a crease between her brows that smoothes into something that looks like recognition, and her lips curl up into a shy smile.
"Hello, Dorothy," she says, and her voice is high and sweet.
The last time she'd laid eyes on the little girl she'd been pale and stained with her own blood. Struck down by a bullet from a weapon Dorothy herself had brought into the world. Seeing her now – whole and unharmed – is almost too much, and Dorothy can feel her knees buckling under her.
Sylvie takes a step towards her, but hesitates when Glinda snaps at her, a word that Dorothy doesn't recognise.
"Strike," says Glinda.
Dorothy stares at her. "Excuse me?" She glances at Sylvie standing uncertainly amongst the rubbled remains of the garden wall, then back at Glinda.
The witch's expression is placid, but her eyes are burning as she waves a languid hand towards Sylvie. "Strike."
Dorothy's breath is coming faster, and she can feel her agitation feeding into the ball of power. It's already larger than before, shuddering in time with her hammering heart. "I don't think so."
"The beast wears the skin of a man," snaps Glinda. "Living, breathing. You want to prove that you can do this, then you'll need to unleash your power on something more than stone and mortar."
She's losing her grasp on the magic, it's grown almost too big for her to control. She can feel it tugging at her, the almost irresistible urge to release it. She fights it. "It'll kill her!"
Glinda eyes flash with triumph, and her slow-spreading smile fills Dorothy with the sinking feeling that she's somehow played straight into the other woman's hands.
"Surely not," Glinda says mildly. "Only a witch can kill a witch, isn't that what you said? You were very certain that your stolen magic posed no danger to my sisters or myself."
"I don't–" Dorothy stammers.
"Did you murder my sister?"
Dorothy recoils, remembering the way the gunshot reverberated around the bare hills, the spray of blood, the open and accusing eyes. "No!"
Dorothy looks at Sylvie, and she can see the fear in her eyes as clearly as she can see the smug satisfaction in Glinda's. "I'm not going to hurt you," she promises, trying to force her voice to be low and calm.
It comes back to her then, the moment in the cold halls of Calcedon when she was flung into that white, barren cell. It's OK, she'd said, though she was reeling under Lucas' inaction. Everything's going to be fine.
Sylvie had shrieked her name, panicking as the guards had pried her fingers off the sleeve of Dorothy's jacket, but she's silent now.
"Stop wasting time," snaps Glinda.
Dorothy rounds on her, suddenly incandescent with rage. "Fuck you," she snarls, and that's it, that's all it takes. The thin thread of control she's retained over herself is severed, and she sends her power hurtling towards Glinda, her mind a white hot mess of exultation and fury and kill her kill her kill her.
Glinda's face is drawn tight with anger, but she doesn't flinch. One moment the power is close enough to illuminate the sharp planes of her face then the next it simply winks out of existence and Dorothy finds herself suspended three feet off the ground, choking as an implacable force holds her there by her throat.
Glinda stalks closer, lowering Dorothy until her thrashing toes are brushing the ground and their faces are level. "You little fool," she hisses, and the throttling pressure on Dorothy's throat increases. "You could train for the rest of your miserable life, and I'd still snuff you out like a candle."
Distantly Dorothy can hear Sylvie crying, but it's almost drowned out by the sound of her pulse thundering in her ears. She thinks about twisted silk, white sheets looped around that long, pale neck, and Lucas' rough voice saying you'll have to kill me first and jolting her out of her maddened state.
Glinda smiles like she knows where Dorothy's mind has gone. "You surprised me that night," she says. "You won't surprise me again."
Dorothy's vision is greying around the edges, and she can feel her consciousness slipping when a firm voice says, "That's enough," and she's crumpling to the ground, blinking black spots from her eyes.
He's suspected it for a while, but it's not until he sees the fluttering edge of a black cloak disappearing between the walls of a narrow alley that Jack is certain. Someone in the palace is having him followed.
It's not difficult to sneak out – Tip's regular excursions into the slums around Jane's old workshop prove that – but it's harder when you're not able-bodied, and instead of creeping down the crumbling stairs that wind their way down to the outskirts of the city you're dependent on the discretion of the guard who operates the trolley that carves a path up the steep rise of the palace hill.
He wonders if it's Ozma or West who's responsible for the owner of that tattered cloak. West, he assumes. Ozma would send one of Ev's gaudily-dressed guards, West would send a witch.
He straightens his aching shoulders against the dragging weight of his prosthetic arm and debates turning back to confront the spy. Decides not to.
He's not doing anything wrong. No-one told him he couldn't leave the palace, and the location of Jane's workshop isn't exactly a secret. He could be returning to collect supplies, for all they know, tools to help him repair his legs.
Ozma maintains a careful silence regarding his mechanical limbs, averting her eyes uncomfortably if his cuff slips or his knees lock up, she wouldn't dream of upsetting the careful balance between them by addressing his injuries.
West, on the other hand. She looks at him with a combination of fascination and revulsion that Jack suspects has less to do with him, and more to do with the hungry way she watches Ozma when she thinks no-one is paying attention.
He supposes if he were in her shoes he would have himself followed, too.
The door to Jane's workshop is stiff, and he shoves it hard with his shoulder, registering with resignation the dull thunk his arm makes against the wood.
Sometimes if it's very early or very late, or if he's three tankards into a good sulk he can feel his missing limbs twitching. Dorothy says it's normal, but he thinks there's nothing normal about him.
Takes one to know one.
"Hi," he calls out when he gets inside. He doesn't think she can hear him, doesn't even know if there's enough of her left to hear, but he talks to her anyway because it makes him feel less alone.
He pushes open the great double doors to Jane's workshop. "Sorry I've been gone," he says. "I've been staying at the palace."
It's cold in the workshop. Colder still where she is, and he shivers even though he knows he can't feel the frost that's riming the glass over her beautiful, damaged face.
He settles painfully into the chair that he's set up next to the bulky cylinder and smooths his palm over the metal. If he concentrates he can just feel the machinery humming.
Jane has put her in it before she'd gone to confront the Wizard. Cry. Cry-o-something she'd called it. To preserve what was left of her.
He'd been distraught, half-hysterical, and he thinks the only reason he remembers 'cry' was because at the time he'd thought it was cruelly apt since that was all that he had felt capable of doing.
He wishes now that he'd paid better attention. Imagines saying to Dorothy 'She's in the cry-o-whatsit', and having her nod in understanding. Imagines her saying 'I can help her' in that low voice of hers, and imagines seeing those cool blue eyes opening again. Imagines Languidere alive (or at least a close approximation of it).
That's where the imagining ends however, because her kingdom is at war. The whole world is. And Languidere might not have a heart, but she loves her people and she would never abandon them, which means she'll ride into battle alongside the cardinal witches, and Ozma, and Dorothy, and Dorothy's love struck knight, and they'll all die because it's the Beast Forever, not the Beast for a Little While.
No. Best to keep her in the cry-o machine, and maybe after the dust settles the sky will bring another visitor to wake her up.
Casting his gaze around the organised chaos of the workshop he realises with pleasure that there's still a canister left of Jane's carefully filtered oil on the shelf with all the delicate tools she used to fine tune Languidere's masks. For the past few weeks he's been using the stuff Ev's engineers make for him, but it's murky with sediment and his limbs have been seizing up with greater regularity.
His knee squeals alarmingly when he gets to his feet and ambles over to the shelf, so he allows himself the smallest dribble to help get him home without incident.
It's by sheer force of will that he doesn't spill the rest of the precious oil on the scarred bench top when he hears it. Sudden loud pops, discernible even through the thick walls of the workshop. A sound he's been hearing in his nightmares for months, and one he doubts he'll ever forget.
There's a certain steely grace to the way both Glinda and Mother South hold themselves – a self-contained stillness that makes them seem immovable, and somehow taller than they actually are.
That's where the similarities end.
Where Glinda is pale, South is dark; and where Glinda is slim, South is plump. The Mother Witch has a warmth in her eyes that puts Dorothy at ease and a honeyed voice that makes her think, incongruously, of bedtime stories. She wants to lean her head against her cushioned shoulder and let the exhaustion take her away, but instead she stands straighter and offers Glinda her most poisonous stare.
"You were ever a slave to your temper," says South, but her voice is affectionate. "I think you owe Dorothy an apology, daughter."
Glinda doesn't even bother to look at her. "She is a thief," she tells South mulishly. "I don't owe her a thing."
Dorothy can see the anger simmering under South's steady gaze, and she seems suddenly less comforting, and much, much more dangerous when she says, "You forget yourself, Mistress North."
The honorific gives Glinda pause, but then she glances at Dorothy and her eyes harden. "She murdered a cardinal witch, wielded her stolen magic against me, twice, abused my hospitality, and kidnapped my–"
Here she breaks off, and Dorothy is fascinated to see an ugly flush spread blotchily over her cheeks.
My husband is what she meant to say, Dorothy is sure of it; and she's just as certain that South knows it too when her jaw tightens and she says, "Go on," in a voice that brooks no argument.
But, "She's a thief," Glinda repeats, and falls silent.
South looks at her assessingly for a moment then sighs. "Either Dorothy is a witch, in which case she is afforded the same respect as any of your sisters; or she is a mortal, and therefore cannot possibly be held responsible for Mistress East's death. She can't be both, my child."
Glinda opens her mouth to respond, but South cuts her off with a gesture. "I think you've both trained long enough for today." Turning her back on Glinda she offers Dorothy her arm. "Come walk with me. I would like the opportunity to get to know the new custodian of the Elements better."
Glinda is glaring at her with a murderous look on her face, but Dorothy's eyes are drawn to the bewildered little girl standing amongst the rubble. "Sylvie," she tells South. "I'm not going anywhere without Sylvie."
"Leith belongs to me," Glinda says coldly.
When South doesn't disagree, Dorothy says hotly to the both of them, "She's not a thing to be used and thrown away."
"She has nothing to fear from me," says Glinda stubbornly.
"Excuse me if I don't believe that for a moment," says Dorothy, her voice rising. "You sent her into a battle–"
"She's a soldier."
"You let her get shot–"
"You put that weapon into the wizard's hands yourself."
"She's a child!"
"She is a witch." South's voice is quiet and calm, but it cuts effortlessly through escalating tension. "Our law dictates that for the period of her training Leith falls under the responsibility of the Cardinal Witch of the North." Dorothy opens her mouth to argue, and South gives her a quelling look. "However. In times of war we recognise that sometimes we must be flexible."
She pinches her lips together, clearly frustrated and fed-up, but when she turns to Sylvie her expression is gentle. "I left for Ev in great haste, and without my usual retinue. I'll require an assistant while I am here, and had thought to ask the Queen to provide one. Now that I think on it, it seems to be the kind of position that would better suit a young witch. Is it a role you would be prepared to perform?"
Sylvie is mute, and her conflicted gaze swings from Dorothy to Glinda like she seems uncertain where to direct her questioning eyes.
"It's likely to be tedious work," South adds regretfully, drawing Sylvie's attention again. "Perhaps you would rather be escorted home to Calcedon to resume to your training. It will have to be one or the other, I'm afraid. There's no place here for idle hands."
"I want to work," says Sylvie in a voice so quiet that Dorothy can barely hear her. She risks a glance at Glinda, then squares her little shoulders and says it again, louder. "I want to work, please Mother South"
A look of grim satisfaction passes over South's face. "Well, that's settled then." She gives Glinda a look that suggests that she'll accept no arguments, but Glinda has none to offer, abruptly turning her back on the three of them and leaving without another word.
South sighs wearily. In the waning afternoon light she looks old and tired, and Dorothy feels a sudden pang of pity for her. She doesn't understand the relationship between the witches – whether it's a bond created by blood, or magic, or something else – but she recognises convoluted familial dynamics when she sees them. "Thank you," she says vehemently, hoping that it's enough, then she crosses the rubbled ground in a few swift steps and sweeps Sylvie into a hug.
Sylvie submits to it for a moment, pressing her face hard into the curve of Dorothy's shoulder, and Dorothy feels a little shudder run through her skinny body. Then she pushes Dorothy away firmly, and looks guiltily at South like she's embarrassed by the show of emotion. "Lucas said you went home," she says.
There's no censure in Sylvie's voice, but Dorothy feels the guilt keenly anyway. "I did. I'm sorry."
"He said you wouldn't come back."
Dorothy wants to cry. Swallows hard past the lump in her throat. "I didn't know that I could."
Sylvie's eyes fall to the gauntlets, and Dorothy resists the urge to put her hands behind her back like a disobedient child. "If I'd known..." she says. "I would have come back for you. If I'd known that I could." She offers Sylvie a watery smile. "I'm not very good at using these yet," she admits, "maybe you could help teach me?"
She presents her jewelled fingers, the gauntlets still glittering brightly despite the fading light, and Sylvie recoils. "We don't use those," she says primly, her lip curling with distaste. "The use of Elements is a crutch for the weak, and my Mistress will have them outlawed when she comes into power."
Dorothy shoots South a startled look and finds the older woman staring speculatively at Sylvie with her mouth drawn tight.
One of Ev's red-coated soldiers is standing hesitantly in the archway. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but the situation in the city has escalated." He peters out as he takes in the destruction of the courtyard, and South has to gesture impatiently for him to continue. "There was a clash between the Queensguard and the rioters, and someone had one of those new weapons. Uh, guns." He mimics the action of cocking a rifle, and Dorothy feels a chill race over her skin.
"I thought the queen had them all destroyed," South says sternly.
The soldier flushes. "Uh. Some of the lads thought it was a shame to destroy them, and smuggled them out of the armoury before the witches came to claim them. They're very effective," he adds weakly, "and war is war Ma'am. Mistress."
"Was someone shot?" Dorothy cuts in urgently. There's a sinking feeling at the pit of her stomach. She'd sent a yawning Micah away with strict instructions to rest, assuming that Lucas would find her when he returned, but that was hours ago and there's no sign of him. He wouldn't leave her alone with Glinda, she knows. Wherever his loyalties lie, after what had happened in Calcedon he wouldn't trust either of them with the other.
The soldier looks at her warily. "The captain, Miss. The rioters caught someone they thought was a Beast's spy. Just a boy, one of the refugees. They'd strung him up in the square, and when the captain went to cut him down they shot him." He turns back to South, "We got him back to the infirmary, but the medic can't stop the bleeding."
"Did they remove the bullet?" Dorothy asks.
"The bullet...?" the solider says hesitantly, then the realisation dawns on his face and his eyes narrow. "It's you." His hand drops to the pommel of his sword. "You're the girl who tore the sky and brought the Beast."
"Nonsense," South says angrily. She steps forward, putting herself between Dorothy and the soldier. "The girl died in the battle for Ev. Mistress North witnessed it, and Mistress East identified the girl's body." She waves her hand in Dorothy's direction. "This girl is an apprentice, a healer, and a particular friend of the Queen, and if you want to keep your head you'll do well not to repeat ridiculous rumours."
The man's face flushes white then red, but he draws his lips into a thin line and nods tightly, directing his words somewhere over Dorothy's left shoulder. "Please accept my apologies, Mistress."
It's all Dorothy can do to nod her own head in return and try to swallow the anxiety that's bubbling up in her chest. "Maybe I can help your captain," she says.
The soldier doesn't look particularly like he trusts her, but South claps her hands together in agreement. "What a sensible idea," she says. She reaches out to Sylvie, and with a palm on her back gives her a firm push towards the soldier. "If you'll please escort young Leith to my quarters, Dorothy and I will make our own way to the infirmary."
It's obvious that he doesn't want to obey but seems to know better than to refuse a cardinal witch, and after he's gone Dorothy turns to South, "What–?"
"There'll be time for questions later, child. First, we have work to do."
She wraps a surprisingly firm hand around Dorothy's wrist, and a moment later they're gone