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Ties That Bind

An early chapter from my upcoming fantasy novel, 'A Draw Of Dust And Blood'


Whereas the Cavern of Futures was most often met with reverent silence, the din of fervent rumor filled it now.

Vensia Calaveras stood at attention, gaze fixed on the tiered dais. The back of her neck prickled, knowing the eyes of her fellow Kethari sisters and those of the brethren archivists bored into the back of her skull. She couldn’t blame them. After all, it wasn’t every day that one’s Master turned traitor and apostate to the Order.

The pale green light of a chrysolite gem swelled above the chamber doors overhead, and they opened, the council of Kethar descending the staircase. The oldest of the Kethari sisterhood and most ancient of the Loristal brethern. At the fore strode the Prioress and the Princeps, their skins both different shades of blue, a sign of those who have bathed in the divine pools--marked by radessence. Their robes of gold and white glittered as the flowed around them and came to a halt at their seats on the dais.

“The council of Kethar will be called to order.” The voice of the Prioress rang out strong and stark in the rough-shorn cavern, the strata of rock shimmering with teal, yellow, and orange in the torchlight.

A palpable tension filled the air as the Prioress looked over the hushed room, her dark eyebrows raised beneath the glowing citrine gem set upon her forehead, casting shadows upon her cheekbones that melded with the azure hue of her skin. "High Sister Carine Galadian has been charged with stealing a sacred arkstone from the Loristal and breaking the oaths of the Kethari. She is also accused of harming an archivist brother."

Vensia’s gaze shifted to the right side of the council seats, where Brother Aban sat, eyes downcast and sullen, a bandaged stub where his left hand used to be. Her Master’s doing. The woman who had adhered to the letter of the oaths with more stringency than any other, and yet on a whim and without warning, she turned against her own. The last words her Master had said to her rang in Vensia’s mind:

“One day soon, you will need to finish an important work. I only hope I’ve taught you well enough.”

For years, Vensia had eagerly awaited the day when she would finally become High Sister and take on an apprentice. For years she had devoted herself to the Fold of Kethar, honing her skills through rigorous training and dedication. She felt more than ready for the honor and responsibility being a high sister of the Order entailed. Vensia never thought it would begin like this. Her Master's betrayal had shattered her trust and left her questioning everything she believed in. Now, if she wished to be made a high sister, she had to right those wrongs.

Her mind flashed back to her earliest days under Carine’s tutelage. Stern and unforgiving, yet kind in her way, she had guided Vensia through the sacred rites of the Loristal, teaching her to read the prophetic echoes within the arkstones. Countless hours spent in the Hall of Reflections flitted through her thoughts in a breath span, where the ancient murals depicted the Order's long history of guarding the realm against emerging nihilspawn. It was Carine who had first shown Vensia the hidden intricacies of vahlsteel, the sacred metal bonded to their souls, and the ancient ardors, the channelled energies of the chosen stones that set the Kethari apart from all others.

The Princeps, head of all the archival brethren, stood. “This is a dark day indeed, for all our Order. With this arkstone taken by a high sister who is clearly out of her rightful mind, all is at risk. If this falls into the wrong hands, all we have fought for generation after generation could crumble. The foretold futures must be protected. At all costs.”

Vensia swallowed against the weight of it all. The Prioress nodded in seeming agreement with the Princeps. Though as of late it seemed to Vensia there was little they could agree upon.

“Sister Vensia Calaveras,” said the Prioress.

Vensia crossed her right arm over her chest and bowed down on her left knee. “My mind and soul.”

“It is no simple or easy thing we ask of you now. You must seek after your Master, letting your soulbond guide you to her. Once you find her—”

“I know what I must do,” Vensia said, glancing up at the Prioress. She fought with every fiber of her being to harden against the pain of what was to come. She felt her vahlsteel blade burning with the invisible blue fire of radessence, an icy sort of heat at her side, her apprehension and dread triggering the mental bond of protection between her and the metal itself.

“Very well,” said the Prioress, her dark, severe brows unwavering. “Then you must go now. There is no time to lose.”

“The arkstone must be brought back to us,” said the Princeps, his archival robes of red and gold blustering as he pointed his finger at Vensia. “Any who see the vision within must be pruned. Do you understand?”

Vensia nodded and stood, crossing her arm once more.

As she turned to leave, the faces of the crowd behind her set her heart racing. For the first time, she saw the fullness of the gathered throng behind her that had swelled into the room. On her right, the collective of Kethari sisters, and on the left, the archival brethren.

The two arms of the Order: protectors and collectors of lore, and the stewards and keepers of it, respectively.

Vensia set off now to find her Master. High Sister Carine, one of the oldest of the Sisterhood, and most adept at wielding vahlsteel and the sacred ardors.

Her master. Her teacher. Her friend.

And now, the woman she must kill.

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