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The Soundtrack to Starborn

Lucy-Blog-TourSo this post is slightly embarrassing, as I’m about to reveal to you some of the music I enjoy listening to. There are lots of elements to cover in Starborn, from the grand destinies of individual characters to the relationships between them and the landscapes against which the story plays out. Generally my taste in music tends towards the seventies and eighties. I like folk and folk rock as well as classic rock and a few of the lighter bits of metal thrown in for good measure. The songs on the following playlist are fairly diverse and make for a strange compilation. The only thing that unites them is Starborn and the fact that I think they’re awesome. There are some I can’t talk about in detail without wandering into spoiler country, but hopefully they’ll still give you a flavour of the story. So without further ado:

The Mystic’s Dream – Loreena McKennitt. I have my colleague to thank for introducing me to McKennitt and she’s become one of my favourite artists. There’s a lot of fantasy, folk and fairy-tale in her music, which goes some way to explaining why I find her so inspiring, and therefore it’s no surprise that more than one of her songs appears here. This particular track is arguably her most popular and, for anyone who’s read Starborn, it always makes me think of Solinaris, the fortress of the sun in an age of power and peace long past. As the title suggests, it’s ethereal and dreamlike and there’s an element of nostalgia woven through the melody.

Knight Moves – Suzanne Vega. Another recommendation from my colleague, Vega’s music is quite different in tone, rawer and has a feeling of being less ‘produced’. This song is totally about character for me and I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that character is Brégenne.

Iris – Goo Goo Dolls. Obviously this one ties in with a romantic storyline right alongside…

Let Her Go – Passenger. Ok, I know it’s mushy, but I’m striving for honesty here. Anyone who’s finished the book will probably understand. Am beginning to suspect I’ll never live this post down.

All Souls Night – Loreena McKennit. It’s great when occasionally a line in a song seems to echo a character’s storyline. A few of the lyrics to All Souls Night belong with Kyndra (my protagonist) and I’ve even worked one of the song’s images into the text itself, if you can spot it. Hint: chapter 31. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RooTTuLCfNM

The Alchemist – Bruce Dickinson. Now for something completely different. There’s a few eerily appropriate lines in this song too, which earned it a place in the playlist. One of my characters, Medavle, has had a dark life, driven by vengeance and rage. I think this song embodies some of his hatred, his contempt and his unflagging pursuit of revenge.

Running Wild – Roxy Music. This has always been a song for Kait and Nediah and it’s one of my favourites. The lyrics are spot-on and the lonely saxophone solo is so evocative of a lost lo…I’m saying too much.

Night Ride Across The Caucasus – Loreena McKennitt. The next three tracks hint at Book 2, so here’s a song that conjures up images of a vast land steeped in blood and history. There’s magic in there and a whisper of destiny. And most definitely horses. This was one of the first Loreena tracks I listened to, and along with The Mystic’s Dream, it was the one I found most inspiring. It’s poetic and I think it manages to capture the essence of epic fantasy. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NrOR_9eqyI

C’Hoant Dimein – Cécile Corbel. I believe this song is sung in Breton, so lyrics don’t exactly play a part. It’s hard to put my finger on why I’ve included it here except that I once saw it used in a YouTube fan video of Ronja Rövardotter (Ronia the Robber’s Daughter), a 1984 Swedish fantasy film, which for me evokes innocence and adventure with just a hint of first love. Book 2 is shaping up to be darker than Starborn and perhaps this song and its association reminds me that comradeship can be fostered in adversity.

Through Glass – Stone Sour. So once you hear the chorus of this song, you’ll see how unsubtle I’m being. But the verse lyrics are intriguing too, a bit of an enigma, and in contrast to the song above, this one sums up the struggle and the pain that my characters are destined to suffer….muhahaha.

LucySo there you have it. Ten songs that helped inspire Starborn. I’m quite certain they’re not to everyone’s taste, but I hope you’ll give some a listen – here’s a Spotify playlist including most of them: here.

For those who’ve read the book, I’m intrigued to see whether you can spot the reasoning behind my choices, or whether you know of other songs that would suit better. I promise to check them out!

—-

Fantasy-Faction would like to congratulate our good friend Lucy Hounsom on the publication of her debut novel (which is AWESOME!) and thank her for the above guest post. Below you will information on Starboard and a very special exclusive extract for your reading pleasure! 🙂

starbornKyndra’s fate holds betrayal and salvation, but the journey starts in her small village. On the day she comes of age, she accidentally disrupts an ancient ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when an unnatural storm targets her superstitious community, Kyndra is blamed. She fears for her life until two strangers save her, by wielding powers not seen for an age – powers fuelled by the sun and the moon.

Together, they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions of the past, showing war and one man’s terrifying response. She’ll learn more in the city’s subterranean chambers, amongst fanatics and rebels. But first Kyndra will be brutally tested in a bid to unlock her own magic.

If she survives the ordeal, she’ll discover a force greater than she could ever have imagined. But could it create as well as destroy? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong?

Extract of Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

Note: If you struggle with the white on black text, click here to read the following with black on white.

1

When Kyndra awoke on the day of the Ceremony, she believed – for one dream-tangled instant – that it was her last.

She sat up, gasping. Beneath her shift, her heart hurtled through its beats, and she pressed a sweaty palm against her chest. She couldn’t remember the dream now. Only the vaguest sense remained; like a threat, urging her to flee.

I don’t run.

Kyndra rubbed the sleep from her eyes. As her blood cooled, so did the sweat on her body, and she pulled the woollen blanket back up. The Ceremony is my Inheritance, she reminded herself. It marked the start of her adult life. She had counted the years until this morning, savoured the ripening sense of anticipation.

But an hour later, returning home from a walk through Brenwym’s muddy streets, Kyndra realized it wasn’t just the cold that peppered her arms in gooseflesh. Each breath took her closer to the Ceremony, closer to her fate. She glanced up. The sky was a mass of dirty white clouds, and the rain flattened both her hair and spirits. She didn’t want to see her mother’s look of strained pride, the sad inflection in her voice that plainly said she was losing her child. Today Kyndra would become a woman and her town would put her to use.

As long as we don’t drown first. She grimaced. The spring blossom had brought only clouds and, two wet weeks later, petals fell to settle like snow on a town underwater. Kyndra thought of being dry with a wistful sigh. Her shirt stuck to her skin and her woollen trousers clung horribly. The rest of her clothes hung from a rafter in the attic at home and were only slightly less damp. She’d have to wear a dress for the Ceremony, she realized sourly. Even in this rain.

Kyndra brushed the wet hair off her forehead and wrinkled her nose. The town smelled of rotten green and people packed into a space too small to contain them. Brenwym provided the only haven within easy reach for families flooded out of their homes in the lower dales. And now of course the rest of the Valleys had arrived for this year’s Inheritance Ceremony.

Kyndra stopped short. Her chosen route home led through the main square, which had become a lake overnight. Its surface mimicked the bloated sky and around its edges, rubbish piled up against cottages and shops. She allowed herself one unenthusiastic sigh before shrugging and wading in. After a moment, the cold water came creeping across her toes and Kyndra gritted her teeth. Her boots would never dry by this afternoon’s Ceremony and she’d outgrown her mother’s. Maybe a walk to clear her head hadn’t been the best of ideas either. She shivered, catching her reflection in a window. The cheap glass blurred her face into a pale, disgruntled oval.

Teeth chattering, Kyndra increased her pace. Her mother’s inn would seem welcoming after this, even filled as it was with the stale smell of drink. The wind picked up, so that she heard the shutters of The Nomos before she saw them. Chinks of firelight spilled out into the street and she fought her way around the side of the building to the back door.

‘. . . Wish you’d make more of an effort, Jarand. Sometimes I don’t think you care.’ Kyndra’s mother, Reena, turned to throw out a sack and caught sight of Kyndra dripping on the step. ‘What are you doing?’ she gasped. Jarand winked at Kyndra over her shoulder.

‘I went for a walk.’

‘I thought you had gone—’ The sack slipped from Reena’s hand. She didn’t seem to notice.

‘Mother?’

Reena stared at her for a few, stunned moments, then swallowed and shook her head. ‘Never mind,’ she said. ‘I . . . I just thought you were upstairs getting ready.’

Kyndra frowned. ‘What’s the matter?’

But Reena stepped back inside and deftly took down a towel. ‘Boots off.’ She thrust the ragged cloth at Kyndra. ‘You’ll have to wear mine.’

Kyndra shook her head. ‘They don’t fit.’

‘I’m not having mud traipsed over everything.’ Reena’s voice hardened and chased some of the blood back into her face. ‘People are paying good money to stay here.’

Irritated, Kyndra rubbed the towel over her head. ‘Is it always about money? Even today?’

Reena tucked a curl of hair more red than Kyndra’s back under her kerchief. ‘You want to eat, don’t you?’

Kyndra didn’t reply, but broke the awkward silence by kicking her boots onto the mat. A thick swell of heat and smoke welcomed her into the hall, and she battled to close the door against the wind that blew through the backstreet.

‘It took the families from Caradan Hill a week to get here,’ Reena said, as she watched Kyndra’s struggle with the door.

‘Really,’ Kyndra said without interest. The door latched shut and she leaned against it. Jarand had disappeared. He always did when a foul mood puffed out Reena’s chest. Kyndra didn’t care. Her wet clothes chafed and all she wanted was to escape upstairs. ‘Why are you so worried about impressing visitors?’ she said. ‘They’ll never come back.’

Her mother’s face darkened. ‘You are about to become a woman of this town, Kyndra. Whatever future you’re shown, you will find it in Brenwym.’ Reena paused. ‘This is your home.’

She was right. Brenwym was her home. Kyndra had never been outside the Valleys. And I’m not likely to either, she thought despondently.

‘Go and clean yourself up,’ Reena sighed. ‘I managed to dry out some of your underclothes. They’re on the bed.’ To Kyndra’s trouser-clad legs, she added, ‘I’ve always thought that blue dress looks nice on you.’

The blue dress was ready and waiting. Kyndra scowled at it. Moving slowly, she filled a basin, peeled off her sodden clothes and scrubbed her skin clean. The water was cold and quickly turned brown. She shivered. The rain sounded more like hammers up here, a relentless pounding that threatened to split the rafters. She shared the garret with Reena and Jarand, her mother’s husband. A thin partition split the space in two.

Once she was dry, Kyndra wriggled reluctantly into the dress. Its tight sleeves stopped her from raising her arms and twice she tripped over the skirt whilst hunting for her mother’s boots. She tugged at it fiercely, but stopped when she remembered that Reena had paid for it. Flushed and ready at last, Kyndra dropped onto the bed and laid the backs of her hands against her cheeks.

What had her mother seen during her own Inheritance Ceremony? Kyndra assumed something to do with an inn, or Reena wouldn’t be here running The Nomos. Jarand was an outsider, from Dremaryn to the south, so he didn’t count. He had only become an innkeeper when he married Reena.

Kyndra let her feet carry her to a small mirror set in the corner of the room. ‘It will be fine,’ she told herself. An uncertain face looked back, framed by dark red hair that ended untidily just above her shoulders.

She picked up a comb and tapped it against her palm. The Inheritance lay at the heart of Valleys life. The first survivors of the Acrean wars to settle here had brought the Relic with them: an artefact that revealed a person’s true name and calling. The Inheritance Ceremony had taken place every year since, five centuries of young people looking into the Relic and seeing their future in its depths.

Kyndra dragged the comb through her hair and then twisted the damp strands into a knot. She had longed for this day as much as her friends had. Now she dreaded it. The full force of those centuries bore down upon her, thousands of lives lived as the Relic intended. Its power reached into your soul, people said. It showed you the truth of yourself. To stray from the calling it gave you was not only unheard of, but it was also a sin.

What if it gives me a future I don’t want?

Kyndra spun away from her reflection, threw open the door and stalked downstairs. Her fear clung as close as her own shadow.

The common room was packed with people and pipe smoke. Dark varnish coated the walls, obscuring the kind of stains an inn racked up over the years. Patrons crowded between tables, idly keeping an eye out for empty places. The spectre of rain hung over everything and Kyndra couldn’t suppress a smirk when she recalled her mother’s words about the floor. Mud smeared the usually spotless boards.

A finger jabbed painfully into Kyndra’s ribs. She flinched and looked down. The woman sitting there studied her crookedly, lips stretched in a leer. ‘So, girl, your day has arrived,’ Ashley Gigg said. ‘But bud or blossom, you’ll always be a chit to me.’

There were stifled guffaws and Kyndra’s face grew hot. Ashley’s rude to everyone, she reminded herself. And you did push that tinker’s weasel through her bedroom window. She probably hasn’t forgotten. Kyndra pressed her lips together. She hadn’t played that trick alone. Her best friend Jhren had been a willing accomplice.

‘Don’t you listen, Kyn.’ Hanna leaned over her bench. She was a plump, fair-haired woman with slightly large teeth. ‘We know how much you’ve looked forward to this day. Me an’ Havan have come up specially to see Jhren’s Inheritance.’ Her dimpled cheeks were flushed with the heat.

Kyndra grinned and muttered thanks. Jhren’s aunt and uncle were traders and Kyndra had sat up many a night, listening to tales of a world beyond Brenwym. Those candlelit evenings seemed far away now. Nodding to Havan, she slipped past, eager to get away.

She pushed through the crowd to an unshuttered window and cleared a patch of condensation with her sleeve. The rain continued to swell the streets into brown rivers. Idly, she drew a pattern on the glass; a star with only three points.

‘Blue suits you.’

She jumped, hearing him laugh softly. Jhren stood behind her, so close she could feel his breath on the exposed skin of her neck.

Kyndra spun and punched him lightly on the arm. ‘It doesn’t. And don’t creep up on me.’

‘Ow,’ Jhren protested. Then, seeing her frown deepen, he added, ‘All right, I take it back. You look awful in blue.’

‘Better.’

Jhren’s bright smile faded a little. ‘It is a nice dress though, Kyn. You should wear it more often.’

‘And what about my dress?’

Colta appeared beside Jhren, arms folded, lips pursed. She looked as lovely as ever. A red ribbon held back her curls and at the same time somehow sent them tumbling over her shoulder. They were dark, like her eyes.

Obediently, Jhren turned to look. Kyndra watched his gaze rake across Colta’s neckline and, despite her best efforts, felt a flash of annoyance. Colta’s dress hugged her form and fell in attractive folds to the floor. Pretty woven sandals peeped from beneath its hem.

A little smile curled Colta’s lips. She laughed. ‘I didn’t sleep a bit last night,’ she told them. ‘I’m just too excited.’

If that were true, Colta showed no sign of it. Her face had none of a sleepless night’s shadows, but was fresh and bright. A scent clung to her. Rose, Kyndra thought.

‘How do you like my outfit, Kyndra?’ Colta asked her. ‘Gerda made it especially for today. The shoes too.’ She eyed Kyndra’s dress with just a hint of disparagement. ‘You should have asked her to make yours.’

‘I know what Gerda charges,’ Kyndra said. ‘Why pay so much for something I’ll only wear once?’

‘She’s the best dressmaker in town.’ Colta stroked her skirt defensively. ‘She can charge whatever she wants.’ Giving up on Kyndra, she said to Jhren, ‘I really wanted the bodice cut lower. But you know Gerda.’ She rolled her eyes and smiled a dimpled smile. ‘She has such old-fashioned ideas.’

‘Shouldn’t you put some boots on?’ Kyndra said a touch more harshly than she’d intended. ‘It’s raining. You’ll spoil those shoes.’

‘I know it’s raining, Kyndra,’ Colta snapped. ‘But we all become adults today and I intend to look the part.’

‘There’s more to growing up than looking the part,’ Kyndra said before she could stop herself. She tried to stuff her hands in her pockets and then realized that she didn’t have any.

Colta gave her a pitying look that made Kyndra grind her teeth. ‘If you’d had some made yourself, you wouldn’t have to be jealous,’ the other girl said sweetly. She turned to Jhren. ‘See you later. I’ve still got lots to do.’ With a bat of her lashes, Colta swept off.

‘Don’t mind her,’ Jhren said. ‘She’s probably nervous.’

‘She really looked it.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

Kyndra waved a hand. ‘Forget it. I’m not in the mood to argue.’

‘Me neither.’ Jhren grinned at her and Kyndra felt her frown disappear.

They stood side by side at the window. Frequent gusts of cold air announced each new patron and lifted Jhren’s blond fringe. ‘Busy,’ Kyndra remarked.

Jhren glanced at her. ‘How many do you think are in town?’

‘I don’t know. Not everyone has come for the Ceremony.’

‘You mean the flood in the lower dales.’

Kyndra nodded. ‘There isn’t enough room here. They’ll have to go home eventually.’

‘It’s weird,’ Jhren said. ‘Aunt Hanna told us the weather’s only bad in the area around Brenwym.’

‘What do you think’s causing it?’ Kyndra watched the points of her star leak, tear-like, down the glass. ‘I can’t remember there ever being a spring this wet.’

Somewhere in the inn, a low bell chimed. ‘Is that the time?’ Jhren gasped, leaping away from the window. ‘I’m supposed to be home for lunch. Mother’s roasted a pig in my honour.’ He grinned. ‘See you on the green, I guess.’ Then his face grew serious. ‘I can’t believe it, Kyn. This is it.’

Kyndra tried to ignore the butterflies in her stomach. ‘I know.’ She watched her friend open the door, coat held over his head as a pathetic shield against the rain. Jhren winked once and then he was gone.

Wondering how Jhren could face lunch, Kyndra headed unobtrusively for her window seat. Hidden by the curtain, she settled herself on a long cushion that ran the length of the casement. It was here that she sat through dark, winter afternoons when Jarand was too preoccupied to find chores for her. She’d read for hours. Her favourite stories were about Acre, a lost world of Wielders and magic, dragon-riders, soaring cities full of people beyond counting.

Acre: Tales of the Lost World were really just that: tales. But, sandwiched between two pages, Kyndra had found a scrap of parchment, badly preserved and almost illegible. On it was an alphabet. And under each letter someone had faithfully transcribed its equivalent in Mariar’s common tongue. The find restored Kyndra’s hope: that once upon a time, Acre had existed.

Kyndra peered around the curtain. Her mother didn’t seem to have noticed her absence. She was probably too busy. Kyndra propped a cushion behind her head and leaned back. The Inheritance was not to begin for another two hours and perhaps she could snatch a few minutes of the rest this morning’s dreams had stolen. With a sigh, she closed her eyes and the clamour of the inn dimmed.

. . . A burning valley spreads at her feet, bloody earth bare of life. A light blazes at one end like noon sun on glass. She flies through the air, its dry pressure hot on her cheeks. Something takes shape within the light: a building, tall as a mountain. The shine she imagines is sun on glass is indeed that: glass so fine, she wonders how the wind doesn’t shatter it. Crystal towers spin dizzily into the sky.

And then she sees the man. Behind him, the glorious building crumbles and falls and all the light is gone. The man’s face beneath his white hood is strong-boned and harsh. His eyes are black like crows’ feathers. His mouth opens, lips start to frame a word: Kyndra . . .

‘Kyndra, wake up!’

Blearily, Kyndra opened her eyes, struggling out of sleep, but it clung to her, weighing her down.

‘Kyndra!’

She realized her eyes had closed again. Fighting the impulse to sleep, she tried to hold them open.

‘What’s wrong?’ Jarand asked, as he held the curtain back. His gaze was worried. ‘You look awful.’

‘I feel awful,’ Kyndra groaned. She raised a hand to her forehead, trying to relieve its throbbing. There was something she needed to remember, but the dream kept getting in the way. Just thinking about it made her eyelids heavy.

‘Kyndra!’

She frowned at Jarand, still massaging her forehead. ‘Stop shouting, Jarand. What is it?’

Jarand stared at her, mouth open. ‘What’s the matter with you? You were supposed to be at the green half an hour ago.’

For a long moment, Kyndra gazed at him. Then, ‘The Ceremony!’ she cried, springing to her feet.

‘Steady,’ Jarand said. He retrieved the cushion that Kyndra had kicked off in her haste. ‘They haven’t started yet. Reena thought you’d already left, but I spotted your coat upstairs.’

‘Thanks, Jarand.’ Kyndra took it and rushed for the door. The common room was all but empty now. How could she have forgotten?

‘Good luck!’

Kyndra waved and bolted outside. Forcing her arms into the coat’s sleeves proved impossible in her dress. She thrust it under her arm and scooped up her skirt to leap puddles and potholes, running as fast as she dared towards the green. She arrived out of breath, ankles spattered with mud.

It looked like everyone in the Valleys was present. Kyndra edged through the crowd and made what she hoped was an inconspicuous dash to the group in the centre. Miraculously the rain had stopped, although vast, murky pools swamped the area. The earth was so wet that water oozed over her cramped boot toes.

‘What kept you?’

Jhren appeared beside her, dressed in his formal clothes. ‘I overslept,’ Kyndra said shortly, ignoring her friend’s startled laugh. She took a quick glance around. The Inheritors’ families stood in a semi-circle surrounding their sons and daughters. There were probably a few curious spectators here too, Kyndra thought, come to witness a local custom. Everyone’s gaze was fixed on a high-peaked tent in the centre of the green. The Relic Keeper stood in front of it, speaking, hands clasped on the waist of his robes.

‘. . . We receive these young people in the Ceremony of Inheritance, gifted us by our most precious artefact, a wonder of the ancient world. In this we honour the Relic!’

Cheers rang out among the watching people, accompanied by clapping and the slushy stamping of children’s feet. As the Keeper hoisted up his sodden robes and disappeared inside the tent, Kyndra’s fellow Inheritors mumbled, ‘We honour the Relic, the illuminator of our paths. We are thankful for its guidance.’ Kyndra opened her mouth to speak the words along with them, but her throat was strangely dry and nothing came out.

A sturdy man, in garb more practical than the Keeper’s, organized the Inheritors into an alphabetical line. Then he stood back and consulted his parchment. ‘Jane Abthal,’ he called.

A nervous girl Kyndra didn’t know shuffled her way to the tent. The man greeted her solemnly. With a last look over her shoulder, she slipped inside. It was only a few minutes before she emerged, pale-faced but smiling. She waved at the crowd. They cheered her, and the girl went to stand with some people Kyndra supposed were her family. She looked relieved.

The Inheritance continued in much the same way. As she moved slowly up the line towards the tent, Kyndra wondered why she hadn’t spoken the devotion. Perhaps Reena had not been as zealous as some parents in her attempts to make her understand the Relic’s importance, but she’d still grown up here. She had watched past Ceremonies with a child’s trusting eyes, standing in the safety of the crowd. She had copied the mumbled devotion out on paper when Jarand had taught her the letters. So why now – on the day it mattered most – had she not been able to speak it?

Kyndra tried to distract herself by searching for Jhren, but the press of Inheritors blocked her view. Glancing over her shoulder, she spotted Colta a few people behind. The girl waved when she saw Kyndra looking, but as the Ceremony progressed, Kyndra noticed that she chewed on her lower lip and her hands trembled.

‘Jhren Farr.’

Kyndra started at Jhren’s name and squinted at the tent just in time to see the blond boy flash an exultant smile. She waited nervously for Jhren to return, twisting one of the buttons on her coat.

The button came away in her hand and Kyndra hastily shoved it in a pocket. The noise of the crowd lifted. She raised her head to see her friend emerging from the tent.

‘I am Huran!’

Jhren yelled out his true name, his eyes brighter than ever, and the crowd shouted their pleasure. Kyndra could see Hanna and Havan right in the front. They stretched out their arms and clasped their nephew’s hands. Jhren met Kyndra’s eyes and Kyndra found she couldn’t bear the look of triumph on her friend’s face. Why did it all feel so wrong? Hadn’t she wanted this as much as Jhren?

With only nerves for company, Kyndra resigned herself to waiting. The Ceremony and the dream fought for dominance in her mind. Her fear might influence the Relic. Dreams were odd creatures, Jarand said; they usually told you things you already knew. Would her mother insist she accept her calling? She looked for her in the crowd. Reena’s red hair stood out against the drab mass of coats, but her face was wan. She looked as worried as Kyndra felt. Her eyes lifted to find her daughter in the dwindling group of Inheritors. She smiled and Kyndra did her best to smile back.

‘Eram Tyler.’

Kyndra found herself at the front of the line and wiped her hands on her coat. There were only nine Inheritors left. She kept her eyes on the tent entrance into which the last boy had just vanished. When the boy returned several minutes later, wearing a rather sick smile, Kyndra tried to slow her thundering heart.

‘Kyndra Vale.’

Kyndra took a deep breath and walked towards the tent. She felt the stares collect on her back. When she reached the entrance, she turned to look over her shoulder. The faces of the crowd merged, until they became a blurred mass of watchers. A strange thrill coursed through her and she looked closer. There was one face that remained separate, one face in the whole crowd whose features were clear. The breath froze in her lungs. Dark, almost pupil-less eyes found hers, burning beneath the shadow of a white cowl. Kyndra stared, mesmerized. None of her limbs would move. The man from the dream smiled then, a surprised stretching of his lips. He nodded once and, between moments, was gone.

‘Girl?’

The Keeper’s assistant was speaking to her. The crowd gazed at her curiously. Kyndra tore her eyes away and stumbled into the tent. Her heart pounded. I must have imagined it, she thought, staring numbly at her surroundings. The tent’s canvas walls stretched up to a pointed dome, supported by poles at each corner. The Keeper sat behind a small table, which held only one object. Kyndra looked at the Relic.

It was a bowl – shallow and wide, as rumour alleged, but nothing like as wonderful. To Kyndra’s eyes, the Relic appeared distinctly ordinary, sitting there full of water.

‘Come, come.’ The Keeper gestured her to the stool in front of the Relic and Kyndra sat down. Sweat slicked her palms, but the tips of her fingers were cold.

‘As I said at the beginning of the Ceremony, I am Iljin, the current Relic Keeper. No doubt you have heard of me . . .?’

Kyndra nodded slowly, throat still too dry to speak.

‘When the Relic senses your approach, its appearance changes,’ the Keeper explained. ‘Through time spent in close proximity, I am able to witness this alteration.’A pompous light brightened his face. ‘The Relic has been thirty-five years in my keeping and I am considerably experienced in its use. You must place your hands on either side. Do not let go until I tell you. I shall interpret the water’s riddles.’

The Keeper looked from the grey bowl to Kyndra’s eyes. ‘Perhaps it’s a good omen that I have never seen the Relic adopt this likeness before.’

Kyndra frowned. Was that the truth? The dull bowl looked as grim to her as the leaden sky outside and a sense of foreboding arose, so strong that she began to believe she should not touch it. She drew back.

‘There is no need to be afraid,’ the Keeper assured her. ‘You will not be harmed.’ He clasped his weathered hands. There was nothing else to do. Kyndra reached out and took hold of the Relic.

It felt insubstantial and icy cold. She lifted it off the table without meaning to do so. A hum built in her ears, low at first, but growing higher and louder with every second. Was this supposed to happen? She saw the Keeper frown. The bowl darkened, becoming so unbearably cold that she let out a grunt of pain, but when she tried to drop it, she couldn’t pull her hands away. The water inside hissed and for a moment she saw a thousand pinpricks of light reflected in its depths. Then it hardened into crystals of steaming ice.

‘No!’ The Keeper threw himself forward, but it was too late. With a sharp crack, the great Relic shattered. Shards of ice ricocheted off the tent walls.

The pieces fell wetly from Kyndra’s stinging hands. Covered in chill fragments, she stared at them, unmoving. The silence that ensued, when the last reverberation of the hum had died away, stretched for endless moments. Then the old man gave a whimpering cry. His eyes shone with unshed tears.

‘What have you done?’ he wailed at Kyndra. ‘What have you done?’

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