In the millennium before the dark ages of man, the lands of the earth were connected, rich with the ethereal forces of the universe.
Mystics and magic coexisted with man, until human greed, coveting power and fearing the unknown, begat persecution and hate.
Threatened to extinction, the children of magic fled, the most powerful of them ripping great holes in the universe to hide their brethren throughout space—the one true bloodline, forever charged with their partners in protection of the great portals between worlds.
To mankind, the exodus passed without event, without notice, without remembrance, the existence of magic…mere fables.
But the tides have turned, and the darkest of magic conspires to come home.
The bloodline of the Makir will be waiting.
Dimension of Tir Thar—Isle of Iverna:
Briallen dug her fingers into the chiseled rosettes of the stone lattice, pressed her lips tight and peered into the courtyard below. Guards, prisoners, and smoldering piles of refuse obscured the garden pathways, the sparkle and vibration from the enchanted flowerbeds crushed beneath heavy boots. Pulling back, her shirt snagged on the rough stone, and she bit back a curse.
The risk of visibility from below was unlikely. The secret stairway provided perfect camouflage. However, the vaulted ceilings echoed even the smallest of sounds. One slip of noise and she’d be detected by Owain’s leather-winged sentries, circling above the castle’s watchtowers.
Her hand clenched over the six-inch-square shape buried deep in the heavy folds of her skirt, reassured by the touch that the only journal she’d found of her mother’s spells was still in her possession. With no time to fume over her failure to find more, she made her way down the stairwell. Nestled between the thick exterior walls of the courtyard and the interior ones of the Great Chamber, only her family would know to look for her in the passage.
The unobstructed view through the shimmering magical door at the bottom revealed a clear path. She closed her eyes, swallowed hard, and leaned back against the cold stone. Piles of broken pottery, shredded tapestries, and shattered wooden furniture at the end of the breezeway were only a small sample of the destruction of her home and people.
Harsh to see but now wasn’t the time for emotion.
She straightened her shoulders and pressed a stone in the wall, her fingers finding the latch inside. Soundlessly, the fissure opened to the corridor. She slid out and pressed the invisible doorway back into place.
Her quiet tread and nimble movements would have made her father proud. A small bit of comfort, though she held to the thought as she crouched behind a pile of rubble at the edge of the courtyard. Thick and cracked, the remains of her father’s hand-carved desk barely offered enough coverage for concealment, but she crawled closer.
The bark of the sorcerer’s soldiers, Owain’s hand of justice, rang in the air. They prodded women and children—what was left of the people who’d lived and worked beside her family—toward the open arches of the courtyard’s gates. Cries of fear fused with the clamor of shattering glass and breaking furniture. Howls from giddy looters reverberated along the bare patches of stone on the ivy-spotted walls.
Bri blinked back useless tears and forced the stench of burned flesh and smoky tar drifting from the charred remains of the stables to harden the shell of anger around her emotions. Owain’s sorcery had laid bare her parents’ home, and his troops now reveled in their destruction. While her heart ached for the losses of this day, she seethed with fury, the need to save her brothers beating back the vengeance that percolated in her veins.
A makeshift platform covered the courtyard’s singing fountain, Fae melodies silent since Owain’s horde had breached Iverna’s shores.
The guards obscured a full view of the platform. However, the tall, dark hood of Owain’s minion, overseeing the destruction, stood a head above all others. A bout of bickering shifted the distribution of guards enough for a quick, clear view of the four stakes raised in the center of the platform.
Her chest tightened as air locked painfully in her lungs. Wrists bound and tethered to a rung at the top of the first stake, Nicholai slumped, his dark head down, his chin unmoving against a rust colored blotch stark against his white shirt.
“Please don’t be dead,” she whispered at the sight of her older brother.
She’d have to act quickly. If she failed, death would be a kinder fate than what Owain planned for them. He wouldn’t settle for their deaths. He’d extract their souls, twist and drain them to feed his power, leaving only the vile carcass of their current selves—like the minion on guard, swaying before her brothers.
Christoph, Nicholai’s twin, was tethered alive at the next stake. Blood, thick and black, colored his white blond hair. But even bound and gagged, he glared defiantly at the guards around him.
Ten guards, six of them bore the insignia of black flame—symbol of the sorcerer’s special protectorate—and one minion guarded her brothers. The collection and number a visible testament to the difficulty of her brothers’ capture and their perceived threat. Their strong levels of magical ability coupled with their years of training should have awarded them the edge in battle.
Yet they’d fallen.
Owain’s powers had reached far indeed. Bri murmured a silent prayer that her brothers’ capture had at least inflicted damage on the powerful sorcerer. This breadth and scope of power wasn’t impervious. She didn’t understand what had driven the sorcerer’s attack, but she understood clearly the ramifications. Her father defeated, her brothers held captive, her mother missing, and her people enslaved.
Iverna’s defense shield, their first line against invasion, had fallen to the boiling clouds of black magic that had rolled in from the sea. The oily mist neutralized the protective sigils and wards of the lookout beacons and rings of prayer that dotted the isle’s hillside. Her father’s fleet and the isle’s guard, the second line, stood little chance against ten thousand live kraken-like vessels bearing legions of Owain’s troops and jackal scouts. In the port and the village’s edge, men fell like brittle twigs beneath the onslaught of the hordes, while minions breached the magical safeguards of the castle.
The isle’s people fled to the dense regions of woods inland. Her brothers, with their guards, had held that line of defense. They’d been the third and last line of resistance.
That had succumbed as well.
No location on the island was safe from Owain’s eye. His minions, scouts, and sentries had hunted the people like rabbits, tracked them despite the seasoned skill of her father’s finest warriors. She’d escaped detection in her mother’s secret chamber and watched the destruction in the large scrying chalice that dominated the room as she tossed aside bits and pieces of useless items in search of a spell or enchantment to stop the tragedy.
Her presence wouldn’t remain hidden for long. Owain’s creatures were thorough. Fortunately, she didn’t need seclusion. With Iverna smoldering in ruins, it was now up to her.
She swallowed the bitterness at her lack of skill. Not allowed to develop her magical powers to the levels of her brothers, she’d accumulated what little she knew covertly with occasional stolen glances in her mother’s grimoire, in defiance of her mother’s warnings.
Her target hovered next to the platform. Gray wisps of devil’s fyre wafted from beneath his hood. The minion, his glowing knife slung from the belt around his cloak, kept guard at the outskirts of the other soldiers.
Taking a breath, she straightened her shoulders, loosened a pearl button then two from the front of her blouse, and pushed her neckline to the edge of one shoulder. A few steps along the courtyard’s edge, she shifted from hiding and knocked a battered brass pitcher with her foot. The noise caught the attention of the nearest soldier, a large, meaty man with more holes in his mouth than teeth.
One hand gripped her arm fast and hard, the other grabbed her chin, the fingers digging into her skin. The man’s black eyes receded beneath dark furrowed brows and leered at her with disgusting interest. Nausea threatened as the sour stench of the man’s breath and body odor invaded her nasal passages.
“A pretty package. A nice bonus to ease my boredom.”
Bri pulled back and stumbled, her fall stopped by the man’s brutal grip on her arm.
“The hunters have found the last one, Captain.”
The call came from the far end of the courtyard. It took a second for the comment to register. She yanked at her captor’s hold and scanned beyond the captain, several yards away in his black and red uniform, to catch a glimpse of the newest captives.
Goddess, be merciful.
Her youngest brother was marshaled toward the platform, his mouth gagged and his eyes covered, as if the six-year-old would cause true danger to these hardened mercenaries with mere words or vision. His arms also bound, jerked at the awkward pulls and prods.
Bri sought out Daniel’s mind. Are you hurt?
Close enough to notice the tear streaks marked through the dirt and soot on his face, she winced at the initial anger and fear he fed back to her. But he gave her a tense shake of his head. His emotional flood of anxiety radiated for her, for his brothers, and their parents, not for himself.
She bit back a curse. Daniel was a child, too young to be held accountable for any vendetta. Her parents’ illusion of a peaceful path to their destinies had led them all to ruin. Her mother could have stopped this—should have stopped this. She had the power. Perhaps they all did, but instead they’d been left defenseless, vulnerable. Trained only in what her mother had considered appropriate for their future.
Bri yanked again at the hand restraining her and dug the heel of her boot into the oaf’s foot.
“Bring the girl here with the others.”
Finally, her struggles had attracted an officer’s attention, a momentary godsend against the thick fingers pawing at her blouse and skirts.
Reluctant to release his prize, her guard pulled her back. “She’s only one of the help.”
Sweet Goddess, what an imbecile.
The officer moved closer. She turned away. He grabbed her jaw to get a good look at her face. “That’s no servant. She’s the daughter. Secure her next to the runt.”
The guard still held her firm. “What harm would there be to try her before they’re finished?”
A hand delivered a quick slap to the guard’s forehead followed by the sharp point and gleam of a blade. “Follow orders or you will join them.” The officer stepped back and shot a glance at his captain.
“The whelps will be enough lure for their traitorous mother, Lieutenant. Secure the girl separately. We’ve orders to return her to the sorcerer.” The captain gestured to the minion with his sword arm. “Prepare the crystals, but hold for my command.”
“A damn shame.” The guard’s gaze swept over her, a film of unclean lingered where his eyes lit on her hair and body. His hands were rough as he secured a crystalline braid around her wrists in front of her body, the magical tether numbing her powers and movements.
Silent, she averted her eyes from the other guard’s gaze. But she couldn’t avoid the captain’s dark, hate-filled look. His smile, slow to curve, held no warmth, leaving his eyes hard and cold.
“The idiot is right. You carry your mother’s beauty well.” He walked around her in assessment and leaned close to whisper in her ear from behind. “No inducement of looks would entice me to risk Owain’s displeasure.”
A shiver of cold rippled unbidden through Bri’s body. Her entire life she’d been surrounded by those who loved her. Never had she felt so much hate directed toward her—and by total strangers.
The captain backed away and motioned the guard to position Bri by the minion at the foot of the platform. A dozen or more crystals now circled on the ground around the platform, a pale wash of yellow signaled their activation.
The crystals vibrated, rising in the air, the yellow deepening, strengthened with striations of orange and red.
Daniel let forth a guttural sound from behind his gag, startling the lieutenant, who moved between Bri and her guard to reach up to the platform and smack the boy about the head. The crystals emitted a shrill cry. The colors wavered to orange and yellow.
A chance. At last.
Bri bent her head and began the chant as quietly as possible. “Might, will, power and fire.”
She knocked against the guard and pivoted toward the minion, her hands brushing its cloak. The pain of the crystalline braid seared her wrists. She ignored the acid-like fire on her skin as her fingers found and curled around the hard, icy handle of the minion’s blade.
Opening her mouth for the next phrase, her voice choked. No sound issued forth. Yet the words continued.
Powers of the universe grant me a boon.
Mother? Bri glanced around and up, but no sign of her mother’s black hair, porcelain skin, or even the magical vibration of her essence revealed itself.
The guards widened their circle around the crystals and avoided the hazardous touch as erratic flashes of fire swirled into the crowd.
With a quick pivot, Bri slid the blade from the minion’s sheath and plunged it into the stomach of the guard. Stunned, he looked at the blood pooling from his belly. She turned to the guard between herself and Daniel.
Sustain my will that my progeny may flee this danger to fulfill their destiny.
Grant them power through time and space to refuge clear.
Bri gasped as the words continued. Pain spiked, not from her wrists but along her shoulder. Dull and hot, the pain radiated outward from her birthing mark.
She forced back the deep, throbbing ache and lunged to the side to avoid the next guard’s hands, slicing at his neck. If she leapt, she could make the platform and cut Daniel’s bonds.
His head shook in denial, reading her thoughts.
Spite those who hinder their freedom. Offer bonds eternal to guide them home.
A burst of light, wind, and cold ripped apart the pain. Sharp pinpoints of fire pierced her skin and blistered along her body as Bri’s surroundings faded from view. Daniel faded. The platform and the courtyard disappeared.
My essence is given of free will.
My being offered in protection of all and held by none.
By the grace of the Goddess and the Heavens, accept my plea.
No, not yet. She hadn’t reached her brothers. She needed more time.
Behind her eyes, the pain sharpened and exploded in a starburst. The light flashed in a kaleidoscope of swirling colors. The wind sucked at her body, lifted her and dragged her toward a widening center of white. Her stomach spasmed, rippled, and turned inside out in retaliation to the force of the portal consuming her.
This wasn’t going like she’d planned!
Briallen, control is your fate. Not power.
Your gift lies in the heart, the nexus, within not without. You are the strength.
The words hung in the air as she lost consciousness.