Chapter 1 – Blood and Sand
Magdelana raised her left hand above an altar laid with twisted herbs and burned bones. Her athamé plunged into her finger and drops of blood plopped onto the bones with a sickening splat.
Flynn did not realize her gasp had been heard.
Magdelana waved the coven to silence and her eyes flashed over the cave.
Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. Flynn had crept too far from the tunnel. She had left herself completely exposed.
Magdelana bounded across the cave in three supernatural strides. “I see your treachery, heir. And my revenge will be your last memory.”
The voice sent blades of ice down Flynn’s spine.
Magdelana raised her bloody athamé.
The blade came down.
Four hundred heartbeats had passed back at the cottage in Moa Bend.
Kahu stood and pulled Flynn to her chest—willing her back.
Magdelana’s blade gouged the cave wall. Her scream shattered the stone altar.
The echo of that scream followed Flynn back through the astral plane.
Magdelana’s vehement scream echoed down the tunnels and bounced off the rough-hewn rock in the Caves of Matamoe. The wretched sound brought the rest of the Shadow Coven to her side. Three of the members bore bloody wounds from the flying shrapnel of the shattered altar. None dared to speak. (BUY the book)
The High Priestess of the Shadow Coven of Southeil pressed her forehead against the limestone wall of the cave and gripped her bloody athamé in her left hand, unwilling to face her coven without a plan. She could not believe the child of prophecy had once again escaped her grasp. This moment could not be acknowledged as another defeat. She would quiet her mind and search the shadow for a solution.
Rowan Katipo stepped forward, one hand on his sword, and the coven parted to let the warrior pass. “The Goddess has granted your request, sister.”
Magdelana’s deathly white hair sliced through the air as she spun around with fury boiling in her liquid gold eyes. “Do you mean to make a mockery of my suffering, brother?”
“If I am not mistaken, Priestess, I see more than just your own blood on that athamé.” Rowan gestured to the bloody knife in his sister’s hand.
The Shadow Witch blinked twice and slowly raised the ancient blade for closer inspection. “Bring me a torch, fools,” she shouted to the silent coven.
Kyteler, Mistress of Destruction, answered the call. She retrieved a torch from the iron bracket on the opposite cave wall and moved toward the sorceress, her back straight, her copper hair pulled severely into a knot at the base of her skull.
Magdelana inspected the blade and saw the bright red blood of the child of prophecy layered over her own violet-black fluids. A snarl curled her pinched mouth and her breathing returned to its normal shallow rasp. “Baphomet, bring me the Chalice of Orota,” she whispered. “And cleanse your hands before you touch it,” she barked at his departing frame.
“As you command,” replied the Master of Shadow Ritual. Baphomet’s small stature and youthful visage belied the powerful witch lurking under his ornate robes. He was second in command to Magdelana and the spells he wove reigned terror over the inhabitants of Southeil.
“May I take Agnes to assist in collecting the implements from your interrupted ritual, sister?” Rowan did not mention the source of the interruption or the months of preparation wasted by his sister’s rash decision to disrupt the ceremony and attack the intruder. Even his unusually casual manner seemed to have its limits with the High Priestess.
“Yes, and Isobel too. She must ascertain the effects of the broken circle and the damaged magickal items.” Magdelana dismissed her brother with a flick of her wrist. “Make haste, Rowan. I will need a new altar as soon as I finish collecting ingredients.”
“As you command,” replied Rowan.
“I must consult the Book of Shadow. Notify me when the work is complete.” Magdelana carried the bloody knife like a newborn babe and strode off toward the secret chamber housing her sacred tome.
Kyteler remained in the pool of shadow between two torches, surreptitiously observing the proceedings. Despite her exclusion from the High Priestess’ orders, she would not leave matters solely in Rowan’s hands. (BUY the book)
Agnes, Mistress of Elixirs, and Isobel, the Dark Seer, silently followed the younger brother of the High Priestess. Rowan was forbidden to touch the ritual items because he lacked magick. If he had not been born a Watcher he would have held the place of Master of Shadow Ritual and ruled beside his sister, but he never let his lack of magick interfere with his service to the coven. He began training with weapons before his fifth solar return and no one in the whole of Southeil could best him in hand-to-hand combat. He served as Head of the High Priestess’ personal guard and chief strategist in the rare trade dealings with outsiders.
Agnes collected the ochre-red ancestral bones, the twisted bits of herbs, and the dented metal bowl. She stood nearly a head taller than Rowan and her short black hair angled severely toward her thin red lips. She may have been beautiful, once, but the taint of the shadow had aged her beyond her years and drained all feeling from her granite-hued eyes.
Rowan secured his curly brown hair with a length of leather and set about cleaning up the things he had permission to touch. His thick arms flexed and his tunic strained across his powerful back as he picked up the fragments of stone that once stood as the altar and stacked them against the wall, well outside the area reserved for ritual. He would see his eighteenth solar return before the next full moon and would be allowed to choose a mate from Barrington Bluffs. He could have his pick of the downtrodden girls scraping out an existence in Southeil’s only remaining village. Men like Rowan were a rarity in a population decimated by plague and famine. He held a position of power, he had the High Priestess’ favor, and he was handsome by any standard.
Isobel passed her cadaverous hands over the items that Agnes had collected and shook her head. “The bowl and the herbs must be destroyed. Place the bones in Master Baphomet’s quarters. He will see to their cleansing.”
“What of the circle, Seer?” asked Rowan.
She walked toward the circle where the coven had been gathered moments earlier, when Magdelana broke through the magickal barrier and rushed toward the Aotearoan heir, Flynn. Isobel closed her jet black eyes and used her sight-beyond-sight to follow the pulse of the ritual’s energy.
Each time she stopped and pointed her long, dagger-like finger, Rowan scratched a small star in the dirt of the cave floor.
Once she had traced each broken piece of the circle she twisted her pure white hair into a knot and stabbed her thin obsidian wand through the mound to hold it back while she worked. Isobel lifted her richly embroidered skirts and knelt down beside the first star on the ground. She pressed the tips of her first and second fingers together with great precision and completed the triangle by touching the tips of her thumbs. Through this three-pointed opening she sucked in her breath. The cave floor shook and the star symbol rose from the dust, glowed blue-white, and hovered.
Rowan stood to the side with his hand on his sword—strong fingers clenched the hilt and his knuckles whitened.
She moved to the next marking and repeated her process. By the time Isobel reached the fourth marking, without incident, Rowan had relaxed his grip. She made the triangle, sucked in the Air—
He slid to his knees, rolled onto his side and expertly sliced his sword between Mistress Isobel’s hands and the black rope of energy reaching toward her from the cave floor.
She screamed and fell backward. (BUY the book)
Kyteler disintegrated the thin vine of black burrowing into Isobel’s left hand and scorched the earth where the stump still writhed. Her steel-blue eyes glanced sidelong at Rowan and the sinewy muscles in her jaw tightened. “That will be all, Rowan,” she said through clenched teeth. “Are you able to continue, Mistress Isobel?”
Isobel passed her right hand over the bleeding wound on her left hand and cauterized her own flesh. “I am,” she replied.
Kyteler nodded and planted both feet firmly on the smooth cave floor. She slipped her clear quartz wand from the holster strapped to her thigh and focused her undivided attention on the Dark Seer.
Isobel completed her repair work without any further intrusion of untamed shadow magick. “Send word to the High Priestess—the circle that was broken has been repaired and released.”
Rowan raced off to find his sister and returned moments later, a few paces behind the eager priestess.
Magdelana rushed toward the center of the ritual area and motioned for Baphomet to place the Chalice of Orota on the ground at her feet. “This will have to do. There’s no time to build another altar.” She scanned the cave for Rowan. “Guard the door. Make sure we are not disturbed.”
“Do you require the full coven, sister?” asked Rowan.
“If I required the full coven, I would command it. Leave the magick to me, little brother.”
The look in Rowan’s winter-grey eyes turned to ice, but he made no response to his sister’s insult. He moved his powerful body in front of the narrow entrance to the ceremonial chamber and stood guard.
The High Priestess of the Shadow Coven of Southeil kneeled in front of the chalice and poised her bloody athamé above the cup. “Baphomet, Isobel, Kyteler and Abramel take the corners.”
The members of the coven each moved to one of the four directions: North, South, East, and West.
“The Master of Shadow Ritual will cast the circle and each of you will bend an Element to your will.” Magdelana lifted the chalice. “In this cup I have placed the soil from the cave floor that contained the footprints of the Hawthorn heir. Her mana, her true strength, rested in that earth. On this blade I have the lifeblood of the bothersome upstart, and in turn we know my blood now courses through her veins. I can use this link to cast the Uruhi spell and compel Flynn Hawthorn to embrace the shadow. We will turn their savior into their destroyer!” (BUY the book)
“As you command,” they replied in unison.
“Begin,” called Magdelana.
Baphomet drew the ceremonial sword and walked clockwise around the gathered coven members. He placed the tip of the steel on the earth. The hilt reached far above his waist, and as the blade scratched the cave floor a fiery blue line rose up in its wake. He returned to his place at the South and intoned, “Whenua, Earth, I command you to serve this rite.”
In the West, Kyteler followed. “Wai, Water, I command you to serve this rite.”
Isobel held the North. “Angi, Air, I command you to serve this rite.”
Abramel, the ancient Guardian of the Book of Shadow, anchored the East. He leaned heavily on his oak staff and his thin, crackling voice spoke as though it had already passed beyond the veil. “Ahi, Fire, I command you to serve this rite.”
“The Fire ushers in life and the Fire extinguishes life,” they chanted in unison.
“Mahuika, we call forth your transforming fire.” Magdelana’s gaze penetrated the cave floor and a crack opened in the stone. Molten lava bubbled forth and the air sparked with power. “The child known as Flynn Hawthorn will be reborn in Mahuika’s fiery pit.” The High Priestess slowly lowered the blade toward the chalice. “My blood, her blood—our blood. The Shadow calls to her.” Magdelana plunged the bloody blade into the collected earth in the cup. The blade quivered in her hand.
“The Fire ushers in life and the Fire extinguishes life,” they all chanted.
Magdelana rose from her kneeling position and poured the bloody sand into the bubbling magma in the center of the ritual circle. Black smoke swirled toward the cave ceiling. “Wairua, Spirit, I command you to serve this rite. Bend the heir to the Shadow. Bring the heir to me.”
“The Fire ushers in life and the Fire extinguishes life,” they all chanted.
“Release the Elements,” commanded Magdelana.
Her coven obeyed and the lava receded into the earth as the crack in the stone sealed itself.
“I release this circle into the ether, to do my bidding and follow my will.” The High Priestess raised her arms wide overhead, one hand holding the Chalice of Orota and the other her athamé. “As I command,” she shouted.
“As you command,” they echoed.
The flickering blue circle snapped out of the physical realm and Magdelana collapsed onto the stone.
Rowan came to her side before anyone else could react. “I will take her to her quarters. Find the Mistress of Elixirs and ask her for a restorative tincture.” He scooped up the crumpled body from the floor and hurried to his sister’s rooms.