In an unraveling world, three women begin their quests: Ember, to understand the magic growing within her; Kayla, to rise above the caste oppressing her family; C'Tan, for freedom from her evil master. One will discover she is the first white mage born in three millennia, another will become guardian to a keystone, the sapphire flute, and through it all the third will try to destroy them both.
Jarin smoothed the final rope of stone decorating the altar. The orange magic of Bendanatu flowed through him in a circle of energy that allowed him to mold the cold stone with his hands. There was no dust to blow away, no chisel marks to scar the perfection of the glossy black surface. The heat of his hand alone sculpted the pictures and polished them as smooth as onyx until they reflected the candlelight by which he worked. He sat back on his heels and inspected his creation.
The flat panels on the top and sides depicted the seven Guardians of Rasann creating the world, each holding a keystone that rooted magic to the land. C’Tan had been adamant that the altar remain untainted by color, leaving only the dark of the onyx she brought him.
If he’d had his way, the altar would burst with color, from the sapphire of Klii’kunn’s flute to the deep amethyst of Hwalan’s handheld eye. Jarin sighed with a small ache of regret, but still he was pleased. The interwoven vines running along the upper edge had turned out particularly well, roping in and out in endless knots that were the best he’d ever done, but then, there was reason for that. This was not just any commission he’d taken. This was for his sister, C’Tan—or Celena Tan, as she’d been called as a child.
He rubbed his hand over the top one last time, his fingers catching slightly on the raised image of S’Kotos holding a heartshaped gem. Why C’Tan had wanted The Destroyer on the altar’s top, he didn’t understand. She’d given him some kind of convoluted explanation, but it had made no sense.
Jarin shook his head and stood. He separated the fine chains hanging about his neck and placed a finger on the stone that hung at his throat. It warmed at his touch, suddenly alive and listening, prepared to transmit every word he spoke into his sister’s waiting ear. No matter how often he used the stone, it always amazed him that he could speak to C’Tan as if she stood before him, whether she was in the kitchen or riding her dragons in a neighboring county. He could hardly wait to share his news. The altar was done! Nearly a year of work, and it was complete.
The spell activated instantly, catching C’Tan mid-sentence as she spoke. “. . . don’t want any excuses. The master requires the child’s soul in order to negate the prophecy.”
Jarin froze in shock, holding himself completely still as he listened to the unfolding conversation, expecting any moment for C’Tan to laugh at the joke she was playing at his expense.
“Yes, I have a rather full understanding of that, Mistress,” Kardon, C’Tan’s servant, said, “but I am not sure you are aware that she is not the only child of the prophecy. The keystones must each be held by a balanced one in order for Him to be sealed. She will be drawn to the stones, so why not use her to find them? Why waste this resource when it is so close?” His voice gave Jarin the chills, as it always did.
It was as cold as a midwinter freeze and just as dead. “She is only one link in the chain.”
“Yes, but she is a link within our grasp here and now, and the Master wants her sealed. Besides, have you forgotten she is the link to them all? She is The Chosen One! The Binder! Distasteful as it may be, she must be soulbound to that stone.” Her voice was different than Jarin remembered, full of bitter anger and razor scorn.
“I have no qualms binding the babe to the stone, Mistress. I only question your motives in following S’Kotos’ directions.”