“I hear the call of the Aspects Above, but if I answer, whither will They lead me? I fear it is a path I alone travel. Not even my Beloved for a companion. I, alone.”
—The Codex of Jasal the Great
The fragile mica sheets of the pendant glowed in Mirana Pinal’s hand.
She had to warn her parents—all of Kinderra—that Trine Tetric Garis was a traitor. Thousands of miles lay between them though, an endless ocean of land. Would her father even acknowledge her call after she had left him? She had told them, her father and mother both, that she never wanted to see them again.
Tetric would expect her to call her father. No, she needed to call someone else.
Mirana opened herself to her Aspects as best she could. Without a true amulet to focus her powers, it would be difficult, but maybe Teague’s pendant would be strong enough.
Her Aspects wrapped themselves around the crystalline sheets. The delicate necklace would not be able to bear the full strength of her powers the way the flawless gemstone of a real amulet would, but it was all she had.
She searched for a living essence with her Aspects. Once, she had existed as only life’s music, when she was a babe unborn within her mother’s womb. Her mother was the melody, and she was the harmony. Her mother was the first life she had ever known. Separate, yet together as one. The same life music, in one, in both. Like her Trine Aspects.
She opened her heart to the world before her, heartbeats, the music of life. One of those notes was from her mother. She sought to deepen the connection, as she had contacted her father to warn him of the grynwen ambush. He had heard her.
But so had the Dark Trine.
Mirana abruptly dropped the connection to her mother.
A humid breeze drifted across the dry grass of Rün-Taran’s coastal headlands and tugged at her hair. It carried the exotic, heavy, almost cloying odor of humus and leaf decay. The jungles of Jad-Anüna province loomed to the northeast.
With that seemingly miraculous warning call to her father, she had unwittingly given away his location and that of the men and women of the elite strike force of the il’Kin. The Dark Trine had indeed found her father, but the wolf had arrived in the guise of a lamb, with her father none the wiser. If she reached her mother now, Tetric would do the same, only this time the wolf might show his fangs. Thousands of them.
She screamed at the sky with fury and unrequited grief. “Damn you, Tetric Garis! Damn you to the Underworld for all eternity!”
She had trusted him as the continent’s healer. Her healer. In the end, he had healed nothing. He had convinced her of the noble nature of the Power from Without. And she used that power to kill an innocent man. He had used her powers to murder two people. He had lied to her, corrupted her, betrayed her.
And she allowed it. All of it.
Her former patrua mentor had indeed guided her closer to her destiny. Only it was the one she had worked so hard to avoid. She had meant to save the ship on which they had traveled and its sailors from crashing into jagged shoals. Instead, she listened to her patrua’s lies and took the life force of a man in a fatal irony meant to save him. The Power from Without was not a different gift—no different lineage flowed in her veins to convey its bond. The Power from Without was a choice. A horrific, ruinous, addictive, murderous choice.
Instead of healing her from her fate of darkness, Tetric Garis had sealed it. She had allowed his beliefs to turn her treasonous against her own convictions. And so, her destiny of destroying all that she held dear was now that much closer.
Mirana knelt and covered her face with her hands. She could not cry. The hurt was too deep.
“You were supposed to save us. You were supposed to save me.”
Tetric knew her mind, her presence, her Aspects. He could find her anywhere. If she tried to warn anyone of who he truly was, he might kill her. Or the person she was trying to warn.
She could ride west; she could go home to Deren and warn her parents and the Fal’kin directly. She could leave this quest, with its harrowing keep writings portending suicide and its utter betrayal, behind. She could go home!
But if she did, Tetric would win.
Her former mentor would find some way of locating the last keep passage himself. He would gain control of the keep in Deren and its power. He would end the war, not by the cessation of hostilities, but by subjugating those he could. And those he couldn’t, he would kill. People like Teague.
Mirana held the pendant close to her heart. Three tiny, now-faded peda blossoms lay between whisper-thin sheets of mica encircled by a crude setting of tarnished gold. It was simply, beautifully made, so perfectly imperfect. It had been Teague’s pledge to her, his commitment to join his life to hers. A commitment she had broken. Irrevocably. To save his life.
Teague would have followed her on the quest to find the missing journal entries regarding the construction of Jasal’s Keep. But if he remained at her side, at some point, the Dark Trine would kill him. She had seen her beloved die in her recurring vision of Jasal’s Keep exploding in white light. A vision she knew to be as true and real as the air she breathed. A vision Teague had never believed.
To drive him from her, she had told him his lack of the magical and miraculous powers of the Aspects meant he no longer had a place in her life. She had shattered him, killing his love for her. Once something died, calling it back was impossible. Asking for both Teague’s love and Kinderra’s peace was asking too much.
Mirana stroked her horse’s coppery coat. Ashtar stood seventeen hands if he was an inch. His heart was the only thing greater than his strength. How long had she and Ashtar ridden after leaving Tetric? She could not recall the days.
She reached for the waterskin and poured water into the horse’s mouth.
“Here, you beautiful beast.”
The big chestnut eagerly lapped it up. She would drink after he had some. He couldn’t shut away his needs the way she could.
“I swear to you, Ashtar, get me to Caladazh ahead of Tetric, and you will have an entire lake of sweet water to yourself.”
When she found the last passage hidden somewhere in Trak-Calan, she would know what the keep was and how it saved Deren. She would know just what Jasal Pinal had done at his watchtower to stop the Ken’nar armies of Ilrik the Black. Tetric would not have to continue with his destructive plans. She could show him the way back to the Light from Within, to life.
She curled her hands into fists, dropping the waterskin. He didn’t deserve such kindness from her. His evil and deception had no bounds. He’d taken her own life forces to fuel his Power from Without, murdering Seer Prime Eshe Pashcot of Rün-Taran and her Defender Second Syne Develan. He had the blood of thousands on his hands. Those he had not killed outright, he took from them their capacity to direct their own lives with the Soul Harvest. Did such evil deserve redemption?
Mirana bent down and picked up the waterskin, studying it in her hands.
Was not the blood of more than one thousand Ken’nar lives on her own hands when she destroyed the bridges of Two Rivers Ford? Did she not drain a man’s life from him so thoroughly with the Power from Without that she killed him? Had she not forsaken her mother and father for a tyrant?
If the Dark Trine Tetric Garis was beyond hope of salvation, was she?
No. She could not go home. Not yet. She had to continue to find the last keep passage hidden somewhere in the mountain-locked learning hall of Caladazh far to the north.
She rummaged in a saddle bag for something to eat but found nothing.
“Oh, that’s not good.”
Mirana took out the precious alabaster cylinder with Jasal’s journal writings to search the bag further when it rattled in her hand.
“What?” She had been so overwhelmed by the revelations of Jasal’s writings that she hadn’t noticed there was something else in the container. She reached inside and felt a chain. She gasped. “It can’t be.” She pulled out the object.
The chain links, made of a lustrous metal purer than silver, gleamed in the fading daylight. Platinum? “No. Is this—?” The setting embraced half of a brilliant, colorless gem. A diamond.
“By the Light.”
This was the amulet from her unceasing keep vision. It was beautiful, stunning in fact. And possibly the deadliest object on the continent. Would she somehow wreak destruction on Kinderra by connecting to white light through the amulet?
Lightning flickered, flaring in the full bellies of the clouds, raising the question of a growing storm. Thunder answered, loud. She flinched. Her mount sputtered at the sound.
The oval diamond had been split in half, the setting clearly made to encircle a much larger gem. How could such a thing happen? Why?
The diamond’s facets glinted in the flashing storm. All other amulets she had ever touched cried out to her, demanded from her, forced themselves upon her. This one was different. Its call to her was tender. Gentle. Loving.
The amulet began to glow, warm and soothing in her hand. Not exactly a presence but a sense, a knowing, gently caressing her. The diamond.
It spoke to her. Only her.
She closed her eyes. The natural essence of the gem surrounded her, embraced her. Its essence was somehow both unique to the crystal yet mirrored hers. She opened her Aspects to the amulet. A sense of profound and utter peace surrounded her. The diamond’s life sense was now no longer a mere reflection of her life but was melding with her, merging with her.
“Wha-What is happening?”
She had chosen. She was chosen. Her Aspect connected, completed her soul, making her whole. At last.
She once told Teague—Was it only months ago? It seemed like lifetimes past—she was alone, alone in her Trine Aspects, alone in the dilemma of how to use them safely, alone in desiring and abhorring the choosing of an amulet. But this amulet—this amulet!—was hers. Jasal Pinal may have worn the diamond twelve hundred summers ago, but it now belonged to her. It told her so through a sense of conviction that defied explanation. She was no longer alone. The amulet was a part of her now, inseparable from her. And inseparable from the torturous knowledge she had gained by killing with the Power from Without. Never again would there be an amulet—or an Aspected—making choices for her.
“Ashtar, I might live or die by my decisions, but from now on, I will make my decisions to do the most good with all that I am. My Aspects. And my amulet.”
Mirana’s hands shook, her body both exhausted and exhilarated. And hungry.
Her stomach growled.
She laughed at the absurdity of the situation. “The most indescribable moment of my entire life, and what comes into my brain? The thought of Quartermaster Lasen’s beef stew. Maybe my next decision should be to find food? Saving the continent can come after—”
Like a wave speeding toward the shore, a reflection of Jasal’s presence broke over her. The world around her disappeared abruptly, drowning her in a remembrance.
She still held the amulet, but now it rested in another’s hands. What was happening? Desperation and determination consumed her, the emotions not hers.
This was the amulet of Jasal Pinal. His amulet was the only one known to be made of diamond and platinum, the rarest of substances in Kinderra.
She saw herself laying the amulet on a stone table. The table inside the Quorum chamber within Jasal’s Keep itself. Beyond the room, she heard screams, the clang of swords.
This was a memory, a memory seen through Jasal’s own eyes.
In one hand that was not her own, she held a sharp chisel, pressing its beveled tip against the diamond. She gripped a hammer in the other.
No. Aspects Above, no. Jasal was destroying his amulet.
The hammer came crashing down on the chisel. Agony exploded in her chest as if someone had driven a sword through her heart. Her knees buckled, her hip hitting the stones that covered the chamber’s floor. She pushed herself up, staggering to her feet. Again, she struck the amulet, crying out in anguish. Again. Again. Again!
She collapsed, the body that was not hers convulsing in pain. In her hand lay the bent setting of the amulet. It now held only half of the diamond. She tried to stand, but her legs would not allow it. She had to get up. She was running out of time. Once more, she hauled herself to her feet. The other half of the diamond lay on the stone table, torchlight shifting in its fractured facets. With Jasal’s hands, she grabbed the diamond shard and the amulet and staggered out of the chamber.
The sweet coastal grass snapped back into reality. Mirana lay on the ground, rain falling on her face. She clutched Jasal’s amulet in her hand.
He had shattered his amulet.
Each hammer stroke had felt as though he plunged a knife into his chest. Why in the name of the Aspects Above would he have done such a thing? Had he, too, seen destruction from his hands mediated by this very diamond? As she had, so very many times?
Slowly, she sat up and wiped the sweat and rain from her face. Was he trying to prevent himself from using his Aspects outside of himself? It wouldn’t have mattered if he’d destroyed his amulet. He was a Trine. He could have used any amulet.
Rank terror, cold and hard as steel, sliced through her again.
“What have I done?”
An amulet was supposed to be a wondrous, miraculous relic. The crystal allowed the living presence of the Light of the Aspects Above within the Fal’kin to be made manifest outside of themselves, a testament to their commitment to protect Kinderra. Every Choosing Ceremony for millennia, primes recited those words from the sacred book of the Ora Fal’kinnen.
In her hands, however, an amulet would spell doom. She had seen it in her vision of white light at Jasal’s Keep. She would wear an amulet, and Tetric would try to take it from her. To stop him, she would destroy him and everything else in an explosion of blinding light—including herself.
She gripped the chain to remove the amulet but paused.
She knew she would die at Jasal’s Keep; she had never seen anything beyond the white light. But maybe that sense of glorious finality had been reserved only for her. Maybe she hadn’t engulfed Kinderra in an otherworldly pyre of radiance. Maybe she would destroy only herself and the amulet, preventing Tetric from having it, and thus save Kinderra. But she would never know until she found the last of the Codex writings.
Mirana threw herself over her saddle.
“Ashtar, we must get to Caladazh. We’re running out of time.”