Chapter 2

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Galiana Calestis contemplated High Shin Jeremiah’s words. Seated at a window in the Mystera, she looked out onto the forests and plains steeped in white north of Eldanhill. Where clouds once scuttled across the sky, they now hung in sooty clumps. She squinted, imagining she could see the peaks shrouded to the northeast and beyond them to the Everlast Mountains and the towers erected there. The Sanctums of Shelter. Could those spires live up to their promise of sheltering the world? What if they aren’t as powerful as we hope? Then, all your plots, sacrifices, and actions over the centuries will have been for nothing.

Heat and a crackle rose from a nearby fireplace. Scented candles in glass holders around the well-furnished room carried sweet hints of jasmine. The hearth’s warmth did little for the chill in her body. Like the seasons themselves, the world was in flux. Nothing in her ancient bones said the change was for the better.

The recent odd behavior from the Greenleaf’s animals said as much; it wasn’t a coincidence. She did not believe in coincidences. The animals’ propensity for violence and Jillian’s impending trip to Torandil were why she’d summoned the woman here as part of the meeting with Jerem.

Dressed in a scout’s light leathers, Jillian sat with her back to the table facing the window through which Jerem stared. Jillian hadn’t said a word as he’d relayed the news.

 “Are you positive?” Although she knew what to expect, Galiana wished to hear another answer. One with promise. Misguided or not, hope was a virtue worth clinging to in times such as these and more so in those to come.

“Taeria does not lie. You must feel the shift in the world, how events have caught up to us too quickly.” Jerem’s gaze remained focused beyond the foggy glass.

The wispy web of his hair, the lines around his eyes, and the way his silver robes hung loose spoke of the same weakened state she experienced. Time eventually took its toll, even on them. She remembered when he was a younger man, spry, ready to leave his mark on the world, hair shiny obsidian. She wasn’t sure if this was what he had intended. It certainly was not what she envisioned.

“How long do you think we have?” Galiana kept her voice low as if whispering would give the words a different meaning. Sometimes she wished making a change for the better could be as simple as uttering words.

He shrugged, his shoulders making little to no impression in the robes. “Not long, I suppose. A Bloodline Affinity may be one of, if not the most difficult of Forges, but whether we believe someone mastered it or not, that man knew to take Thania. To me,” he touched his chest near his heart, “that is proof enough. It is only a matter of time before they come for Ancel. Besides, we could not hide him for much longer. Not after the way he announced himself to the world. If not for the protection offered by the Vallum and the Sanctums of Shelter, I am sure his actions would have drawn much more unwanted attention.”

Bloodline Affinity. Galiana mulled the words over, a chill running through her body. In her lifetime, she could think of no one who perfected the ability. It was similar in ways to the Forge the Pathfinders employed to trace the ancestral history of a Matus they hunted. By using blood from that family line, they had a chance to identify the other members. However, a strong enough Matus could negate the Pathfinders’ skill or make subtle, misleading changes. On the other hand, a perfected Affinity allowed the Forger to delve into a person’s mind, trace their roots, and supposedly, their possible future siblings. The power of the one under such a Forging was of no consequence. According to research, the Bloodline Affinity was infallible.

“Do you believe he is an Eztezian?” Galiana asked.

“I doubt it matters what we believe.”

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