After pitched battle, The White—the avatars of the Five Gods—have briefly turned back the vicious invaders. And now, the priestess Auraya is sent on an urgent mission to reconcile with the powerful, outcast Dreamweavers, for their magical healing abilities may be the key to saving the land. But as a deadly plague devastates their allies and old adversaries resurface, a dreadful surprise may ruin the chance for peace. For Auraya's terrible discovery will force her into a desperate choice—one whose consequences will change the world forever.
The man standing near the window all but reeked of fear. He hovered a few steps away from the panes, challenging himself to overcome his dread of heights and step closer, to look down from the Tower window at the ground far below.
Danjin did this every day. Auraya didn't like to stop him. It took a lot of courage for him to confront his fear. The trouble was, being able to read his mind meant that she felt his anxiety and was distracted from whatever she was trying to concentrate on—at the moment a long and boring letter from a trader asking for the White to enact a law that would make him the only man able to trade with the Siyee legally.
Turning away from the window, Danjin found her looking at him and frowned.
"No, you didn't miss something I said," she replied.
He smiled, relieved. Reading minds was a habit for her now. The thoughts of others were so easily detectable that she had to concentrate in order not to hear them. The normal flow of conversation felt frustratingly slow as a result. She knew what somebody was going to say before they said it and had to hold back from replying until the words were spoken. To answer a question before a speaker had the chance to ask it was rude. It made her feel like an actor, anticipating and delivering lines.
With Danjin, however, she was able to relax. Her adviser accepted her mind-reading as part of what she was and did not take offense if she reacted to his thoughts as if he had spoken them aloud. For that she was grateful.
Danjin moved to a chair and sat down. He looked at the letter in her hands.
"Have you finished?" he asked.
"No." She looked down and forced herself to continue reading. When she had finished she looked up at Danjin again. His gaze was distant and she smiled as she saw the direction his thoughts had taken.
I can't believe it's been a year already, he mused. A year since I became an Adviser to the White. As he noticed her watching him his eyes brightened. "How will you be celebrating the end of your first year as White tomorrow?" he asked.
"I suppose we'll get together for dinner," Auraya replied. "And we will be meeting in the Altar, too."
His eyebrows rose. "Perhaps the gods will congratulate you in person."
She shrugged. "Perhaps. Perhaps it will just be us White." She leaned back in her chair. "Juran will probably want to review the year's events."
"Then he has a lot to review."
"Yes," she agreed. "I hope not every year of my life as a White is that exciting. First the Somreyan alliance, then living in Si, then the war. I wouldn't mind visiting other lands, or returning to Somrey and Si, but I would prefer it if I never had to go to war again."
He grimaced in agreement. "I wish I could say with certainty that it was unlikely in my lifetime." But I can't, he finished silently.
She nodded. "So do I." We can only trust that the gods had good reason to order us to let the Pentadrian sorcerers live. With their strongest sorcerer dead, the Pentadrians are weaker than the Circlian forces—for now. They have only to find another to replace him to become a threat to Northern Ithania again.
Once she would have been unconcerned. Sorcerers as powerful as the leaders of the Pentadrians were not born often—perhaps once every hundred years. That five had risen to power in Southern Ithania in the same generation was extraordinary. The White couldn't risk hoping that another hundred years would pass before the Pentadrians found a sorcerer strong enough to replace Kuar.
We should have killed the four that survived, Auraya thought. But the battle was over. It would have seemed like murder. I have to admit, I would rather we White were known for our compassion than for ruthlessness. Perhaps that is the gods' intention, too.
She looked down at the ring on her hand. Through it the gods heightened her natural magical strength and gave her Gifts that few sorcerers had ever possessed. It was a plain white band—nothing extraordinary—and her hand looked just as it had the year before. Many years would pass before it became apparent that she hadn't aged a day since she had put it on.
Her fellow White had lived far longer. Juran had been the first to be chosen over a hundred years before. He had seen everyone he had known before his Choosing grow old and die. She could not imagine what that must be like.
Dyara had been next, then Mairae and Rian, each chosen at twenty-five-year intervals. Even Rian had been immortal long enough that people who remembered him from before his Choosing must notice that he had not aged a day since. "I have heard rumors that the Sennon emperor tore up the alliance he signed with the Pentadrians within hours of their defeat," Danjin said. "Do you know if it is true?"
Auraya looked up at him and chuckled. "So the rumor is spreading. We're not sure if it is true yet. The emperor sent all of our priests and priestesses out of Sennon after signing it, so none were there to witness if he tore it up." "Apparently a Dreamweaver was," Danjin said. "Have you spoken to Dreamweaver Adviser Raeli lately?"
"Not since we returned." Since the war, she felt like someone had touched a healing wound whenever anyone mentioned Dreamweavers. Thinking of them always turned her mind to Leiard.
She looked away as a flood of memories overwhelmed her. Some were of the white-haired and bearded man who had lived in the forest near her home village—the man who had taught her so much of cures, the world and magic. Some memories were more recent, and were of the man she had made her adviser in Dreamweaver matters, defying the general prejudice of Circlians against those who followed the cult.