Chapter I

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Arabia, 788 B.C.

QIEL WATCHED AS THE city of Ke'elei sank forever down, swallowed whole by the hungry earth. He didn't believe in Sheol, but he was beginning to reconsider as his eyes saw things which they protested, stubbornly, were not real. Wave upon wave clapped together, capping in peaks of white foam rendered pink by blood and sucking down into the crater, drowning most of the Brotherhood army along with every inhabitant of the city.

The sea was no respecter of allegiances. All flesh tasted the bitterness of death in its swirling, icy grip.

Lying in Piankhy's tent, Anael lived on, laboring to breathe, the general of the Brotherhood armies stooped low over his face, straining to hear his last words. Piankhy spoke in a hush with Anael, whispers Qiel could not hear as he looked on from the other side of the general's tent. His mind raced searching for ways to escape his doom—it was his mother's life or his. All of his considerable powers were impotent now. How could he save his mother if he didn't know the first thing about how to find her? The best he could do was hold on and see where this game would spit him out.

Piankhy stood. "Anael is dead," he said as if the news should have made someone sorry.

"Good," Qiel said. "May he burn in hell for a thousand eternities." Qiel spat and watched as it soaked into the Persian rug on which they stood. "It's the least he deserves."

"And what of you, Qiel? What is it you deserve?"

Qiel didn't want to say. "Tell me what he told you."

The general walked to a nearby table and took up a pomegranate, polishing it against his sash. "Surely you don't really want to know."

"What deal did you broker with the old wretch? Tell me. I want just one thing now. I can certainly sweeten the deal for you."

Piankhy laughed. "Really? That is indeed surprising. I did not know you had . . . shall we say . . . eternal authority."

Qiel paused. The old traitor must have more power than I imagined. Thoughts crashed together in his head like waves, and in the wake of it he wondered if Anael lived on, if he had somehow become Seer forever, if he had, like a seed, gone dormant, awaiting the most opportune time. What if he is inside the Stone? Qiel could taste malevolence in the tent, hovering near.

"What say you?" The general turned loose of the pomegranate and slipped a hand beneath his sash. "Would you like to be the next recipient of this?" He withdrew his hand, producing a heavy iron chain, and from the end of it swung a stone so red it was almost black.

Qiel found himself holding his breath. He watched as the stone began to glow, as it began to swing like a pendulum ever closer to him, moving at last in defiance of all gravity, hovering at the limit of its leash, the chain stretched taut and horizontal from the hand of the Brotherhood general across the tent, the stone straining at its bonds, trying to get to Qiel.

"Mmm. It wants you, but do you want it?"

Qiel considered. "My mother—she lives?"

Piankhy shrugged. "I suppose so."

"Deliver her to me. Then I will take up the Bloodstone. I will be your Seer."

"Anael was crafty," he said, teasing the chain now only by finger and thumb. The stone hummed louder, pulsing, its red rich and decadent. "That was what he proposed to me, I must admit."

Qiel doubted this, but as the stone grew louder in his ears, his doubts began to fade.

"I could not have planned a better solution to our problem. I am gladdened that you came to a reasonable conclusion so fast."

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