Authors: Kelley Grant
jinn lay in the middle of the dusty track where he'd been all morning, forcing warriors of the One and stable hands to veer around him. The great cat gazed northeast, as though expecting something or someone to arrive. Heat waves shimmered in the late morning air around the
but he took no notice of the hot sun.
Sulis leaned lazily against Ashraf in the shade of a large
that housed the masters, watching Djinn's tail twitch. She anticipated the new arrivals just as impatiently as the great cat. She hoped that they had the answers to her fears, that they would carry with them the strength all of the Chosen needed to win the final battle.
Ava, sitting beside Sulis, drew patterns in the sand with a stick. She wore a blue scarf over her flaxen hair and around her neck and shoulders to protect her pale Northern skin from the brutal desert sun. Their teacher, the prophet Clay, had given them the morning off energy work. It was a rare moment of quiet time for their group.
“Why doesn't the One tell the
to leave?” Ava asked Sulis. “Without the
, the deities' acolytes can't channel their deities' powers, and the deities can't take over their human Voices. That would solve everything.”
After the battle at the Obsidian Temple, they'd followed Clay's vision and traveled here, to the Hasifel warehouses at the edge of the deeper desert. They had arrived two days ago and were trying to settle in. It had only been two ten-Âdays since warriors of the One had been
to attack the Chosen. Seeing warriors all around the warehouses had frightened Ava into silence. Sulis was glad Ava felt comfortable enough in her and Ashraf's company that she had come outside instead of cowering in the
“Hey, Djinn!” Sulis called.
He glanced over his shoulder at Sulis's call.
“Come here, boy,” Sulis said, holding out her hand. “Come into the shade with me. Here, boy.”
Djinn gazed at her a moment, wondering if she had food, and then flopped down on his side, tail twitching in irritation when he realized she didn't. Sulis grinned at Ava.
“There's your answer,” she said. “
don't listen to anyone.”
“But the One is their creator,” Ava said. “I thought they were companions to her.”
Ashraf shook his head. “The One also created four deities who plot to overthrow their creator. The
have as much free will as they do.”
Clay's voice interrupted them as he walked up to their group.
“The One promised he would not order the
away from humans after he cast the deities down five hundred years ago. They protect us,” he added, settling cross-Âlegged beside them. “He would never go back on his promise.”
Djinn sat up suddenly, looking north, and chirped the strange greeting call desert
used. Dust rose in the distanceâÂriders approached. Djinn rose and bounded off at a ground-Âeating pace. Sulis stood, admiring his speed. Her heart pounded in her chest. Sulis's twin, Kadar, was arriving, bringing with him two new Guardians to pair with the Chosen already here. Guardians Lasha and Dani were old friends of Sulis's from the Temple at Illian. Or at least, she hoped they were still friends. Sulis hadn't seen them in over a year, since the Pledging Ceremony where Luella, one of their pledge mates, had died.
Ashraf put an arm around her waist, feeling her distress through their bond. They'd been able to feel each other's moods more strongly since the Obsidian Temple attack. Sulis had fed energy to Ashraf, while he'd protected her with a shield, creating a deeper link between them.
Clay stepped up beside them. “The Weaver comes,” he said, deep satisfaction in his voice.
“This will be the first time all the most important Âpeople of the prophecy will come together,” Ashraf said, his voice teasing. “You've done plenty of damage separately; I wonder what kind of havoc you will wreak as a whole.”
Sulis elbowed him in the ribs and he chuckled.
Djinn raced back into town, another
a black shadow close on his heels. Djinn spun and jumped on the newcomer, who was twice his size, biting the black cat's neck and attempting to wrestle it to the ground. Ava gasped as the new cat dumped Djinn to the ground and pinned him.
Sulis laughed in delight as she recognized Lasha's
, Alta. Alta and Djinn used to wrestle like this when Sulis and Lasha were pledges together at the Temple at Illian. Both
looked up as Ava's half-Âgrown kitten, Nuisance, launched himself at Alta, squalling. Alta squashed the kitten under one big paw and washed his ears.
Sulis was relieved to hear Ava giggle. Ava's emotions were volatile since she had used forbidden blood energy during the attack at the Obsidian Temple. Her moods swung back and forth, and even the smallest things could unbalance her for the day. It was good to hear her laughing like a normal girl.
Sulis pulled her scarf over her nose and mouth as dust rose around the four horses and two pack mules trotting up to the main
. The riders and mounts were uniformly gray from desert riding. All wore scarves around their faces and hair. The slight form on the smaller pony must be the young Weaver, but the others were indistinguishable from one another.
They dismounted, knocking some of the dust off. Two of them wore golden robes. The third rider loosened his scarf and Sulis launched herself into his arms before he said a word. He staggered back.
She pressed her cheek briefly to her twin's. Kadar laughed as Djinn pushed his big head between them, shoving them apart so he could rub the length of his body against Kadar. Sulis searched his face, looking for some indication of his feelings. He'd lost the mother of his child over a ten-Âday ago, a woman of the Forsaken caste who died fighting for her Âpeople's freedom.
“I'm fine,” Kadar said softly. At her skeptical look, he laughed shortly. “No, really, I am. I'm angry more than sad.”
Sulis turned to the other three riders. Dani was helping the Weaver from her pony, his
, Pax, beside him. Lasha smiled as she watched the twins reunite, her scarf pooling around her shoulders. Alta sat beside her, glossy black fur a contrast to Lasha's pale golden robes. Sulis felt awkward, uncertain if she should hug her old friend. She pointed to Lasha's cloak.
“When did that happen?” she asked in the Northern tongue. “I thought you'd be in healer's green.”
Golden cloaks were reserved for Counselors of the One. Lasha had chosen to follow the deity Aryn in their Pledging Ceremony and had spent the past year training as a healer at an outpost of the Temple.
Lasha laughed. “That cat of Kadar's chose Dani and me,” she answered in heavily accented
, the Southern desert language. “The little monster jumped up on a table, wanting to be petted. We reached out and whamâÂit felt like something had lighted me up on the inside. Suddenly I knew why Alannah wouldn't talk about what happened when she pledged directly to the One. I thought Dani was going to pass out. He barely tolerated channeling Voras and this was way bigger than a mere deity.”
Lasha and Sulis grinned at each other and suddenly were hugging, Lasha pounding her on the back.
“Last I saw you, you were lying in a puddle of blood,” Lasha said into her shoulder. “I didn't think I'd ever see you again.”
“I'm really hard to kill,” Sulis said. “Ask Voras, he's tried twice. How did you learn
“Dani and I have been studying the past year. Aryn's healers showed me how to accelerate language learning by using healing techniques and it worked.”
“You need to teach me that,” Sulis said.
Sulis drew back first from the embrace, as Dani approached them, a big grin on his face.
A thin, high scream made Sulis jerk around. Ava stood behind them, pointing a trembling finger at Dani.
“You can't have me!” she cried shrilly, her face blanched white. “Get out of my head. I don't want you here.”
Ava spun and ran. Master Anchee came around the corner and Ava ran into him. He scooped her up and looked questioningly at Sulis as he tried to hold her still.
“I don't know what happened,” Sulis said. “She screamed and ran.”
Anchee grimaced and Ashraf helped him get Ava into the
, presumably to look for the healer.
Dani stood, staring between Sulis and the door, a horrified look on his face.
“I didn't do nothing,” he said in the Northern tongue. “I've never even seen her before. I'd never hurt a little girl.”
“She must feel the connection between you and Voras,” Sulis said, chagrined. “She was attacked by men
by Voras, and you were once his soldier.”
Sulis looked for Clay, hoping he could explain what to do next for Ava.
His weathered head was bent, listening to the Weaver, who was babbling incoherently. She was clutching a cream-Âcolored housecat with orange points that Sulis assumed was Amber, the cat that irritated Kadar so much.
Kadar stepped beside Sulis.
“That's Sanuri,” he said. “The one you call the Weaver.”
Clay looked around at Kadar, Dani, and Lasha, his brow furrowed. “Is she ill?” he asked. “She is delirious. Should I fetch the healer?”
“This is Clay,” Sulis said, introducing him to Kadar. “He's the teacher I told you about, the prophet.”
“She's not sick, or not in a way that can be healed,” Kadar told Clay. “She's always been like this, though she's been getting worse the past Âcouple ten-Âdays.”
“But what is she saying?” Clay asked urgently. “She isn't speaking coherent prophecies. She isn't making any sense.”
“We think she hears the deities,” Lasha piped up. “But you have to really listen close because it's all a mishmash of different speakers and voices. Nothing you can understand.”
Clay looked at them, hopelessness etched in the lines of his face.
“But the Weaver has to bring us all together,” he whispered. “She has to make us all whole or we're doomed.”
They all stared at Sanuri, who babbled softly to her cat. The cat looked around at all of them and purred.
“Why don't we get everyone inside?” Sulis's grandmother came up beside her. “This sun is hot enough to make anyone think it's the end of the world. There's cool juice, and water has been drawn so the travelers can wash the dust off. The hands will bring in your bags so you can change into lighter attire.”
For once Sulis was glad to be startled by her grandmother. This was not the happy reunion Sulis had pictured in her mind. It was, in fact, a bit of a disaster.
“This way,” Sulis said, wanting to seem in control as she led them to the
. She held open the curtained door.
Sulis smiled as she looked past the others filing in to see her tall, spare grandmother embracing Kadar, her white head close to his dark one.
“Ouch!” Sulis jerked her hand off the curtain as Amber reached out a claw from where she was nestled in Sanuri's arms, slashing at the dangling embroidered bracelet on Sulis's wrist. As Sulis followed everyone into the cool dimness, nursing her injury, she could hear the cat's purr.
onas's stomach roiled as he listened to the other Voices debate. There were only three Voices at this meeting, or Curia, but the table was crowded. The Herald of Aryn and the Templar of Voras were arguing across the table, the Herald coughing often into her hand. She was still recovering from a bout of lung sickness that had plagued her through the spring. Ivanha's Voice was absent. Ivanha had chosen a new Crone from a Northern Temple after the death of the aged Crone last month. The Mother Superior of Ivanha and an older maiden were representing Ivanha until she arrived. Parasu's Magistrate and an elderly scholar, who were serving as the Tribune for Parasu, flanked Jonas. They also served as Jonas's keepers because they deemed him too young and inexperienced to understand his deity's will.
Jonas had been shocked and horrified to feel something rummaging around in his thoughts when he awakened one morning in late winter. He'd slammed down his mental shields and called his
, Pollux, to him to help fight what he'd thought was a mental attack. When he'd placed his hand on his
's head, he'd learned the invader was his own deity, Parasu. When Jonas and his pledge mates had sidestepped the traditional Pledging Ceremony and used an ancient ritual where they chose a specific deity and pledged only to that one, it was, apparently, taken as an invitation to his god to come and go as he pleased. Parasu could share Jonas's body at will, using that invitation, as long as Pollux was in the same room. When the old Tribune died, Parasu had chosen Jonas as his Voice.
“What does Parasu say about our motion to detain the Southerners?” the Herald asked, turning to Jonas and his keepers.
Jonas opened his mouth, but the Magistrate was already answering.
“Parasu believes that if the Southerners were involved in the uprising of the Forsaken, then we must reconsider their presence in Illian,” he said. “The traitor Severin was killed when we hunted him down after the massacre of the children. But we captured the other conspirators, and they told us the identity of the Forsaken leader, who was killed when the Templar rescued the children. Her association with the Hasifel family raises suspicion. They should be brought in and questioned with a scholar present to record.”
The Templar looked pleased as the Herald frowned. A spike of anxiety speared Jonas's stomach.
That's Sulis's family!
He wanted to cry.
Her brother Kadar, the aunt and uncle she adored. You can't arrest them!