The Fire Opal [Secure]
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by Catherine Asaro
Description: Deep in the sun-drenched desert, priestess Ginger-Sun carries the power of shape mages. And whispers abound: Is she descended from the beloved Sunset Goddess, or are her nighttime rituals filled with wickedness? Ginger herself is uncertain, until a stranger is left for dead at her feet. Thence her magic begins to burn. Fate makes Ginger the stranger's wife and therefore a target for those who would murder this man to crown another--and force her magic into twisted ferocity. For unless Ginger masters her dark powers, violence will rein in Taka Mal--and in her soul.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/LUNA, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: September 2007
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [451 KB]
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A Final Sunset
Ginger-Sun feared her own power.
She was alone inside the RayLight Chamber, a circular room two paces across with stained-glass walls. Afternoon sun hit skylights in the roof far above her, and mirrors reflected the light down to where she stood. She craved the radiance that bathed her body, for as long as it shone, she was safe from her inner darkness.
She served as a priestess for the Dragon-Sun, who blazed in the sky and lit the world. Her people worshipped the day. Her duties in the village of Sky Flames were concerned with offering comfort to her people and carrying out ceremonies in praise of the sun. She could do no magic now. She knew this to be true—for it was the middle of the day.
Her spells worked only at night.
Ginger opened her hand and stared at the fire opal on her palm. Such a dangerous gem. Her grandfather had given her the four-sided pyramid on her fifth birthday. Years ago, she had discovered it allowed her to create spells of heat and light. She had never heard of anyone with such abilities. No one knew about her power; she guarded that secret as she would her own life. It would be dangerous enough if her people suspected she could do spells; if they realized she could do them only at night, gods only knew how they would deal with that trespass against her calling to the dragon.
"Ginger-Sun?" a man called, using the honorific that named her as a priestess. "Come quick!"
His urgent tone jolted her. Whoever called couldn't enter here; this chamber was forbidden to all but the priestess. As she opened the door, the rumble of men talking rolled over her. The presence of so many rough voices unsettled Ginger. She felt suddenly conscious of her vulnerability; this building was a ten-minute walk from the village and she lived alone.
Ginger entered the main temple, a large room with a roof of inverted terraces high above her head. A fountain bubbled nearby, fed from the village irrigation system, and a statue of the dragon stood within it, his wings spread. Instead of fire, he breathed water. It rose into the air from his upturned head and cascaded down his body into the square basin.
Across the room, five men had gathered by the wall. They wore coarse trousers, shirts and boots encrusted with sand. The sun had weathered their faces, and heavy muscles corded their arms. Tools hung from their belts. They had shovels strapped to their backs—and massive axes.
Ginger's pulse leapt. Why did they want her? She took a breath, steeling herself. Her calling required she tend anyone who came to the temple, no matter how threatening. She walked toward them, seeking to appear calm, though sweat dampened her palms. Her bare feet made no sound on the floor. She wore the traditional garb of a priestess, a gold silk wrap that fit her snugly from neck to ankle and constrained the size of her steps.
As she reached the group, a stocky man with gnarled muscles spun around and grasped the handle of the axe sticking up over his shoulder. Ginger gulped, her gaze fixed on the blade as he pulled it above his shoulder.
Then he paused, and the clenched set of his face eased. With a start, she recognized him as Harjan, who had been a friend of her parents before they passed away. Now that she could see the others better, she realized they were miners who worked the ore flats outside the village. They kept watch over the temple, too, for her protection. The relief that washed over her was so intense, it felt visceral.
Harjan lowered his arm. "My apology for disturbing your evening, Priestess."
"Are you all right, Jan?" she asked. His pallor worried her. Behind the miners, someone was lying on a stone ledge that jutted out from the wall. A makeshift litter lay on the floor, and blood stained the men's clothes. The miners averted their gazes more than usual when she looked at them.
"Has there been an accident?" she asked.
"Not an accident," Harjan said. "This man was stabbed."
"We didn't want to bring him here, Priestess," another man said with a look of apology. "But only you can do the rites."
Ah, no. They wouldn't have come to her if the man lived; the village had another healer who treated the men. But only Ginger could give the Sunset Rites to a person whose spirit had left his body to walk among the dead.
Afraid of what she would find, she walked forward, and the miners moved aside. A large man lay on the shelf. She sat next to the body and pulled a knot of black hair off his face. The man looked in his midthirties, with a square chin and strong nose, but that was all she could see. Bruises covered his face, and deep gashes had gored his torso, his arms, even his legs. Blood soaked his clothes. She pulled away scraps of his shirt and winced as coagulated blood smeared her hand. The ragged pattern of his wounds told a gruesome tale, that he had fought hard against his assailants—and lost the battle.
"Gods," someone muttered. "Why would anyone do this?"
A tear ran down Ginger's face. "Only the Dragon-Sun can answer that." She couldn't imagine how he could burn in the sky while such a monstrous crime took place below him. "Do any of you know this man?"
"Never seen the poor bastard," another man answered. "We don't know what happened."
"I'm sorry we had to show you this," Harjan said.
Copyright © 2007 by Catherine Asaro.