Smoke rising from the Mystic Isle’s highest peak dimmed the glow of the quarter moon, casting a foreboding shadow over the drooping leaves of the tropical jungle at the mountain’s foot.
Undeterred by the prophetic gloom, Ian Olympus gripped his six-foot-tall oak staff with both hands and adjusted his breathing until he reached the center where his soul resided. As the island of Aelynn’s only Sky Rider, he was attempting his visionary journey once more in an effort to subdue the abnormal weather that was crippling his home and his people. Previous efforts had failed, but perhaps this time…
He swung the staff over his head with practiced hands. As the staff spun faster and faster, he gazed into the starlit bowl of the heavens, searching for answers. The tropical night was humid, and beads of moisture formed upon his brow.
His torso stripped bare, he strained for greater swiftness, compelled by the urgency of the situation. The staff became little more than a blur of motion against the sky as images poured through him.
Sweat glistened on bronzed shoulders and arms bulging with muscle. His abdomen was taut from years of practicing this exercise. Standing half-naked on a rocky hillside above the lush forest of his island home, he was as much a part of the natural world as the trees below — a human windmill catching the energy of the skies.
Electricity danced along his fingertips like a thousand fireflies. As the staff spun faster, sparks flew from its ends.
Ian took no notice of sparks or speed. His inner eye fixed on the familiar image rising in the stars, a womanly vision fine and fair, caught in a cacophony of stormy music. Thunderous deep bass notes joined in symphony with the high-pitched melodies of woodwinds. He didn’t understand the significance of the music, but the chorus of screams in the distance, the background of blood and soldiers… Those he interpreted from reports he had received. Revolution.
The woman had entered his visions before, capturing his imagination. Cylindrical blond curls framed high cheekbones flushed with pink. Skin like ivory silk, a high intelligent brow, and thick gold lashes provided a perfect setting for crystalline blue eyes. Her music pulsed through Ian’s veins, filling an emptiness inside him.
Women had told Ian that he had a hollow heart, and he’d acknowledged the truth of the accusation. He’d never loved, never known passion. He’d hoped someday that might change, but it didn’t seem reasonable at this late date. He was what he was, and his detachment had made his days exceedingly efficient. Until now…
He’d never known such stirring music, or been so thoroughly aroused by the sensual promise in a woman’s winsome smile. His lonely soul awakened and craved life.
Why do the stars continue to summon this vision?
He caught his breath as the image unexpectedly sharpened at his question. There, just past her round, bare shoulder, hovered the sacred Chalice of Plenty. Its disappearance two years ago had marked the start of the deteriorating conditions on the island. The chalice, with a woman not of his world. Did this mean…?
Ian had given up all hope of ever finding his physical and spiritual equal, the rare amacara only a fortunate few were granted. If he read the stars correctly, he’d found them both — his mate and his duty — in a woman who was caught in a storm of violence.
He rarely saw himself in his visions, but he recognized his staff in a man’s hand reaching out to the woman and the chalice. And there, beyond the chalice — Murdoch. In a soldier’s uniform. The vision exploded in a painful swirl of red and the thunder of drums, striking him with a blow as effective as if it had come from a club.
Gasping at this psychic attack on his senses, Ian slowed the motion of the oak staff until it became visible. Staggering, he steadied himself. He couldn’t stop now while the vision filled his head. He needed to puzzle out its meaning.
Slowly, he worked out the kinks in his extended arm muscles by lowering the pole to the height of his shoulders. He crossed his arms to grasp the top and bottom of his staff and spun it from hand to hand in looping figure eights while he pondered.
What did the blood in the vision signify? His own death? Or that of the woman who was his destiny? And how did Murdoch, a banished renegade, fit into the image?
That he himself should die anywhere other than on Aelynn was unthinkable. Who would lead their people into the future? His sister? Like him, she had no mate. If neither brother nor sister produced an heir, Aelynn would eventually be left leaderless. In a time of upheaval such as this, that could spell disaster for their gifted, ancient people.
He sought other meanings.
The people of Aelynn had been assigned the duty of protecting the chalice, and they had failed. The fate of his world could rest upon his recovering the sacred object — and finding the woman.
As it had more than once before, the conflict between the fate of his line and that of the chalice kept him twirling his staff, until this time he saw resolution. Only after he began cooling exercises did the visitor waiting at the bottom of the hill dare to approach him.
“Ian,” Kiernan the Finder shouted, reducing the regal family name of Iason to the more familiar one that Ian preferred.
Kiernan’s presence had not intruded earlier. Now, Ian resented returning to mundane matters after the vision of golden curls. But he had been taught since birth that his responsibilities came first, and the Finder’s arrival was important. Several months ago, Kiernan had been sent to retrieve the chalice and the woman in Ian’s recurring vision, but he did not appear to have returned with either of them.
“I assume you have Seen the news I have come to tell you,” Kiernan said.
“She is lovely,” Ian agreed obliquely. “The chalice recognizes her, but if she has gifts, they are too common for her to be aware of them.” He seldom spoke of all he’d Seen in his visions, but he hoped Kiernan might be prompted to provide more insight into the woman.
“You see more than I,” Kiernan replied, to Ian’s disappointment.
The Finder looked weary as he came closer, Ian noted. The youthful humor that had once defined his friend’s smile had worn away these past few years into the harsh angles of an adult who had seen more than he liked. Ian was sorry that he’d had to ask so much of him.
“I See differently,” Ian corrected. “I know nothing of the Outside World except what others report. The woman appears foreign and exotic to me. I simply recognize the chalice. I possess just a small portion of your skill and can guess only her direction.”
Kiernan did not have visions, but he could locate any object once he’d been told of its existence. “The woman is in Paris,” he stated bluntly. “The city is a maelstrom of discord, misdirecting my insight with the smoke of anger and hatred. The chalice lies in the center of it.”
With great patience, Ian waited for the Finder to explain why he had not returned with either prize — the chalice or Ian’s mate — as he’d been instructed to do.
Kiernan shoved a callused hand through his long, ragged hair. “I went to Paris,” he stated with a rough edge to his voice. “But the chalice is not a…” He hesitated, apparently searching for a means to explain. “It is not an inanimate object.”