Chapter 1

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“Haiyah!” yelled dozens of Chonda Clan warriors. Their wooden practice swords clacked together, thudded against metal shields, and clattered against the interlocking rings of their mail armor. “Haiyah!” Clack, thud, clatter.

The noise rose to the topmost level of an elegant granite tower—the home of Lord Kahenan, High Wizard of the Chonda. There, in his workshop, his fifteen-year-old grandson Turesobei chanted ancient words of power and in his mind pictured the runes for darkest night and relentless fire. Sparks danced about in the amber channeling stone that hung from his neck.

Slowly, as Turesobei concentrated, a ball of dark-fire formed over his sweating palm. Around the orb’s black center crackled purple flames that burned hotter than any natural fire. But as long as Turesobei maintained his focus, the fire couldn't hurt him.

“Haiyah!” Clack, thud, clatter.

Beads of sweat popped out onto his face. His hands shook. His whole body trembled beneath his steel-gray outer robes. Across from him sat High Wizard Kahenan, bobbing his bald head and tugging at his braided white beard. 

“Excellent,” he said in a smooth, lilting voice. “Go on.”

“Haiyah!” Clack, thud, clatter!

Turesobei tried to shut out the noise that blared through the open windows. He lifted his opposite hand and willed the ball of dark-fire to fly across the space between them. The orb rose and began to move.

“Haiyah!” Clack, thud, clatter!

Halfway, the orb began to bounce and weave. He couldn’t control it much longer. Turesobei rushed the orb. But he overdid it. The orb struck his opposite palm so fast that he lost control and the dark-fire seared his skin.

“Kaiwen Earth-Mother!” 

He drew his hand away, letting the spell drop entirely. The dark-fire orb sputtered and disappeared as it fell toward the floor.

Lord Kahenan scowled and offered no sympathy.

“Haiyah!” Clack, thud, clatter!

Tears welled in Turesobei's eyes. “By the gods, Grandfather! Tell them to practice somewhere else. The orchard isn’t a training field. Kilono should know better.” 

He wouldn't have dared to address any other adult that way, but Kahenan insisted that he always speak freely. Kahenan thought such behavior befitting of a prince of the Chonda.

“But Sobei,” he said, calling him by his familiar name. “I asked them to practice there. For your benefit.”

Turesobei clutched his wrist as a giant, puckered blister rose on his palm. “What?!” he said through gritted teeth. “Why would you do that?”

“Because the world does not know you need peace and quiet. And magic, I am afraid, must be worked in the world.”

“Arrrgh! I give up. I don't even want to be a wizard.”

Kahenan laughed. “What nonsense! Of course you do.”

“No, I don't. No one ever asked me.”

“No one asked me either, Sobei. But it is what you were born for, to succeed me as the High Wizard of the Chonda.”

Turesobei blew on his burned palm. He could have soothed it with a minor healing spell, but he was too upset to even think of the proper words. 

“You never tortured my father with all this training.”

“He could not even summon a normal flame, much less dark-fire. That’s why he’s a knight of the clan. Now come, let me heal your hand so you can try again.”

Turesobei stood. “I refuse.”

“To have your palm healed?”

“No!” Turesobei stretched out his hand. “I refuse to try the spell again.”

Kahenan grabbed Turesobei's forearm and studied the burn. “Ah, then you should have said so. A wizard should always say exactly and only what he means.”

“You know what? You're an infuriating old man!”

Unmoved by Turesobei’s insolence, Kahenan laughed and replied: “Old people are supposed to infuriate the young.”

“Well then, you're the worst of them all.”

With a twinkle in his eye, Kahenan replied, “That is because I am also your teacher. A good teacher always infuriates his students.”

After his dramatic sigh turned into a wince of pain Turesobei said, “Please, Grandfather, this is starting to hurt really bad.”

Kahenan turned serious. His eyes fell into creased slits. With a voice that always reminded Turesobei of rushing water, Kahenan chanted. A tiny golden cloud condensed from the air and drifted down onto Turesobei's palm. The cloud felt like cool, dense fog on an autumn morning. Kahenan's tongue licked at the corner of his mouth as he focused the healing energies. 

The blister disappeared and the skin healed. The pain faded to a dull ache, like a bruise. And it would feel like that for several days.

Kahenan stood and belted Yomifano, his legendary sword, to his waist. His emerald robe billowed out, and he drew his hands into its voluminous sleeves. “You may go now, but I expect you back early this evening.”

“I already told you: I’m quitting.”

“Yes, but I neglected to tell you that you cannot quit. I will never allow it, your parents will never allow it, and the King will never allow it. The clan's future depends on you.”

“I’m not the only one here who can do magic,” Turesobei said. There were other apprentices and four more wizards, too. But Kahenan spent very little time with them. All his efforts focused on Turesobei.

“None of them have even half your talent, Sobei. You know that. Besides, I have invested nine years of intensive training in you. I will be lucky if I live that many more. I cannot start over.” Kahenan smiled warmly at Turesobei. “And I would also like for my grandson to succeed me, just as I followed my grandfather.”

Turesobei muttered curses at his fate as Kahenan nodded toward the door. “Now, go. I have important rituals to conduct.”

Turesobei became interested in his apprenticeship again. “Um … Perhaps I could stay, after all … You may need my help.”

“Well, I had intended for you to stay. However, I think your punishment for impudence—this time—will be to go away and leave me in peace.”

Turesobei bowed sullenly then stalked toward the door. Outside, the soldiers continued to practice. “Haiyah!” Clack, thud, clatter!

“Oh, by the way, could you tell Arms Instructor Kilono to move elsewhere? All that noise is very distracting.”

Turesobei clenched his fists, restrained a yell, and began to storm out of the tower. 

“Sobei,” Kahenan called.

He spun around. “What!?”

“You are forgetting your books.”

When he’d arrived for his studies, Turesobei had placed his spell books on a table beneath the open east window. He stomped over, swept the books into his arms, and rushed out. But without realizing it, he took one book too many, a book that wasn’t supposed to be there, a book that hadn’t been there until a few moments ago. It was, in fact, a book unknown to Lord Kahenan or any other living wizard.

Awake for the first time in centuries, the arcane runes embossed on the cover shimmered beneath Turesobei’s touch, and if not for his anger, he might have felt this subtle pulse of magic.


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