The Council for Exploration Into Worlds Unseen believed there was more to the world and its history than the empire had taught them. Treating ancient legends as history, they came a little too close to the truth. Betrayed by one of their own, the Council was torn apart before they could finish their work.
Forty years later, Maggie Sheffield just wants to leave the past behind. Memories of the Orphan House where she grew up are fading; memories of her guardians' murder are harder to shake. When a dying friend shows up on her doorstep bearing the truth about the Seventh World-in the form of a written covenant with evil-Maggie is sent on a journey that will change her forever. Along with the Gifted gypsy Nicolas Fisher, who hears things no one else can, Maggie joins with the last surviving members of the Council and a group of eastern rebels led by a ploughman and a princess to discover the truth.
The house was full of the little noises of life. A bright fire crackled in the hearth, and over it the contents of a small iron pot hissed and bubbled. Mary's rocking chair creaked as her deft fingers wove a world in cross-stitch, visions of sunset and starlight. A mourning dove, tucked away in a nest in the corner of the stone window ledge, cooed softly.
Mary did not look up when a shadow fell across the picture in her hand. Through her eyelashes she saw a tall, dark-cloaked form with a gleaming knife in its hand. For a tenth of a second Mary's fingers faltered; she regained herself, and continued to sew. She bent her head closer to the cross- stitch and her chestnut hair fell over her shoulder.
"So you've come," she said, her voice perfectly level.
The cloaked figure's voice dripped with venom. "You expected me?"
The creak of the rocking chair filled the momentary silence, and the fire crackled. The pot was near to boiling over.
"I knew you would keep your promise," Mary said. "Though you have been much longer than I expected. And even now you are waiting."
The tall figure sneered. "Where is your fool of a husband?"
Mary said faintly, "He is coming."
Outside, the cooing of the dove had ceased. A man was
whistling as he came up the path to the cottage. His tune died out, choked by sudden fear, and his footsteps hastened to an urgent pace.
The cloaked figure raised the knife in the air. Mary lifted her head suddenly, and her blue eyes pierced through the black cloak to the woman beneath it, momentarily halting the hate- filled advance.
"Take care, woman," Mary said, "lest the power you seek to control someday overpower you."
The door of the house opened with the striking of wood against stone as John Davies rushed into the danger he sensed all around him.
The pot boiled over.
* * *
The cloaked woman hurried down the hill. She turned to look at the cottage once more, watching as the flames reduced even the stones to ash. She laughed wildly, her laughter swirling into the smoke-filled wind. The green hills around seemed to mourn as the heat and smoke blurred their ancient sides into wavering, uncertain mirages. High in the hills, a hawk cried.
The woman turned and strode along the path that led to the town. In the distance she heard a sheepdog barking, and her eyes narrowed as she pictured the small figure who was even now making her way to the ruined house.
It would be so easy to kill her, too. The woman's fingers clenched the handle of the knife, slippery with blood, that was now hidden beneath the black folds of her cloak. But no. The master would be angry. The girl was nothing and he did not want needless killing. It was not wise--it was better to let the ignorant live in fear. So he said.
She spat. Master Skraetock was a fool. True, at times she sounded just like him, speaking of wisdom for the sake of the future. Only now, with the stench of the kill hidden under her cloak and the wind carrying ashes up to the heavens, with the power of the Covenant Flame running wild in her veins, she did not care about wisdom.
She could hear the girl's footsteps on the hard earth, as the dog barked around her heels. Her fingers gripped the knife tighter... and relaxed. The rush of the Covenant Flame was beginning to die. She felt it slip away. She wished to kill if only to bring it back; but wisdom came with the going of it. She would obey. The girl would live.