As an impulsive young man, Rieuk Mordiern accidentally freed Azilis, a guardian spirit charged with keeping the balance between the kingdoms of the living and the dead. Now Rieuk’s sole purpose is to bring Azilis back—only she doesn’t want to return. Instead she has attached herself to a very talented mortal, the renowned singer Celestine—becoming, as Celestine believes, her personal guardian.
Celestine has never needed a guardian more. Her desire for revenge against the people who consigned her magician father to the flames is leading her down a dangerous path. And chaos is growing. Seven daemons from another realm are now threatening to lay siege to the mortal world. Now both Rieuk and Celestine must discover what it means to truly be a hero.
About the Author
Sarah Ash is the author of six fantasy novels: Children of the Serpent Gate, Lord of Snow and Shadows, Prisoner of the Iron Tower, Moths to a Flame, Songspinners, and The Lost Child. She also runs the library in a local primary school. Ash has two grown sons and lives in Beckenham, Kent, with her husband and their mad cat, Molly.
Read an Excerpt
Rieuk Mordiern's damaged eye leaked a constant trickle of black blood that ran down his cheek, searing his skin as if laced with acid. And the young magus's good eye leaked salty fluid, as if weeping in sympathy with its ruined twin. He could see little more than a blur of images. Sunlight was a torment, making him seek the shadows.
And scored across his mind's vision was the blinding image of Azilis, her beautiful face superimposed over Celestine's, distorted with rage and loss. He could still hear her cry, harsh enough to lacerate his ears.
"What children would keep their mother imprisoned against her will?"
In his delirium, he relived again and again the moment when Azilis had attacked him, half-blinding him with a single burst of aethyrial energy, whiter than lightning.
I failed. I found Azilis, and she rejected me. After all these years of searching for her. The feeling of failure was almost as painful as the physical mutilation she had inflicted upon him. For many centuries, Azilis's spirit had kept the balance between the mortal world and the Ways Beyond. But since, as an inexperienced apprentice, he had inadvertently set her free, not knowing who or what she was, the boundaries between the two had begun to break down. And after that his life had become an arduous, unsuccessful quest to bring her back. Bound to protect Celestine de Joyeuse, Azilis seemed to have forgotten her role as the guardian of the gateway between life and death.
"Rieuk, I'm cold . . . "
Rieuk slowly turns around. There, in the gloom behind him, stands Imri . . . or a semblance of Imri, his black hair loose about his shoulders, his face half-veiled in shadow.
"Imri? Is it really you?" He has longed to see him so much . . . yet this feels terribly wrong. "What have they done to you?" Even as he reaches out to the revenant, it begins to fade, leaving him clutching empty air.
As Rieuk burned in fever, he sometimes thought he caught the distant sound of music in the night. Someone was pensively plucking old, sad melodies on an aludh or a dombra, each note falling on Rieuk's consciousness like a drop of cooling rain. Once he called out, "Who's there?" and the music ceased. Perhaps it was a dream . . .
Someone was gently sponging his damaged face with a soft, damp cloth. It felt unexpectedly, blissfully soothing, as if the water contained some healing balm that was drawing out the infection and lowering his fever.
A shadowy form was bending low over him, turning away from time to time to rinse out the cloth. Rieuk tried to focus with his one good eye to identify who was tending him. A subtle scent arose from the water: cleansing and refreshing, reminding Rieuk of the astringent smell of cucumbers and watercress.
"Where . . . am I?" Rieuk managed to whisper.
"You're awake!" The voice, a young man's, was soft and dark-toned, slightly spiced with a trace of a foreign accent; familiar, yet Rieuk could not identify the speaker. "I must tell Aqil."
"Wait." Rieuk heard his own voice, hoarse and urgent, as if from far away. He reached out blindly, catching hold of his carer's robe, pulling him closer.
"Don't you recognize me, Emissary Mordiern?" The blur loomed closer until Rieuk could make out a bespectacled face gazing curiously into his. Dark olive skin, framed by long, curling locks of crow-black hair, one side braided with crimson thread, Djihari-fashion. The young man removed his spectacles and Rieuk caught the unmistakable glimmer of mage eyes, liquid obsidian, flecked with the scarlet veins of the earth's fires. "I'm Oranir."
"But you were just a boy when we last . . . " How long had he been sick?
"I'm nearly eighteen," Oranir said stiffly, with the slightest hint of offended pride. "Old enough to become an Emissary."
The age I was when I first met Imri. Only then did the realization strike him-that he was almost double Oranir's age and had spent most the young mage's lifetime traveling alone, forced to act as the Arkhan's Emissary, to protect dead Imri's immortal soul.
"Let me see my face." His fingertips tentatively moved upward over his right cheekbone. Oranir hesitated. "Show me." The skin felt puckered and tender; even touching it made Rieuk squeamish. He had to see for himself. He had to know the worst. Teeth gritted with the effort of pushing himself up from the pillows, he took the little round mirror Oranir gave him and forced himself to look at his reflection.
They had skillfully sewn the eyelids together to cover the void behind, leaving a jagged scar where his eye had been. The burned skin was still an angry shade of red.
"Magister Aqil says that the scarring will slowly fade, but never disappear." Oranir spoke without expression.
"My eye . . . " The words came out on a whispered sob; Rieuk had known that his sight was impaired, but not until that moment just how serious the wound had been.
"Magister Aqil tried to save it. But it had become infected and the infection was poisoning your body. If he hadn't operated, you would have died."
Rieuk said nothing. The knowledge that he was disfigured and half-blind was difficult enough to assimilate, but there was another deeper concern.
If one eye is gone, then have half my mage powers gone too?
"Ormas?" Rieuk called to his shadow hawk. Ormas had fallen into a deep trance after Azilis's attack and Rieuk had begun to fear that he would never recover.
"Master . . .?" For the first time in many weeks he heard a faint answer to his call. His heart swelled with fresh hope.
"How is it with you, Ormas?" His voice shook. Ormas had been his only companion in his long years of wandering, and the last weeks of silence had proved almost too great a burden to endure.
"I'm sorry, Master. I failed you."
Rieuk placed one hand over his breast where Ormas's image was tattooed, seeking for the beating of the hawk's heart. "Let there be no talk of failure." There it was, a thrumming, weak but steady-a confirmation of Ormas's presence. "She was too strong for us."
He felt a sudden convulsive shiver within his body and Ormas emerged, fluttering down to perch on his outstretched arm. The smoke hawk lowered his head, swiveling it to one side to regard him with one bright amber eye. But Rieuk saw with shame that Ormas's other eye was burned away. His beautiful Emissary was maimed and half-blind too.
Rieuk woke in the night to the sound of music-the same sweet, plaintive air he had heard before in his fevered dreams, plucked from the darkly deep, resonant strings of an aludh. He sat up. The dry, sweet scent of the desert night perfumed the air. His turret room was silvered with fragile moonlight; out on the balcony he could see a man seated, his back against the parapet wall, his head tilted to one side as he leaned over the instrument, placing each note with infinite care.
Rieuk swung his legs over the side of the bed and attempted a few shaky steps toward him. The player stopped and looked around. It was Oranir.
"I'm not very good." Was there a hint of a blush in Oranir's words?
"It sounded fine to my ears." Rieuk reached the balcony and eased himself down to sit beside Oranir.
"I've heard you playing that song before, haven't I?"
"I didn't mean to disturb you."
"So it was you." Rieuk was touched. "You were watching over me while I was ill."
Oranir laid the aludh down. "I-I've been watching over you for a long time." He turned suddenly to Rieuk. "Make me your apprentice. Please, Magister." His voice was low and urgent. "I'll do anything you want. Anything. I'll-"
"Stop. You don't want to get involved with me." Rieuk pushed Oranir away, holding him at arm's length. "I'm an assassin. I've blood on my hands."
"Do you think I'm not aware of that?" Oranir's eyes burned into his. "I'm not a child. Why don't you let me make up my own mind? Or do you think I'm not worthy?"
"I'm bad luck, Oranir." Rieuk forced a laugh. "I seem to bring misfortune on all those I care about. Why do you think I've worked alone for all these years?"
"It's him, isn't it? You're still in thrall to your dead master, Imri Boldiszar. He must have been a remarkable man for you still to be in love with him after so many years."
"Imri?" Rieuk's hands dropped to his sides. He tried to speak and found that the words were choked in his throat.
"I heard you calling his name when you were feverish."
"I was dreaming about him, that was all . . . Wait!" But Oranir got to his feet and pushed past him, hurrying away before Rieuk could stop him.
I've been watching over you for a long time. Had there been an unspoken confession in Oranir's words? There was no denying the fact that Rieuk felt attracted to the young magus. If he had not checked Oranir then, there was no telling where things might have led.
Rieuk drew in a shuddering breath. So many years. Of course it seemed an eternity to Oranir; Imri had died before he was born. Rieuk gazed up at the blue brilliance of the stars overhead.
"I have to move on. And I can't move on unless I know that you're at peace, Imri," he said softly to the night. I've been alone too long.
"I've altered the lenses in your spectacles to improve the acuity of your remaining eye." Aqil leaned forward to adjust the fit and Rieuk tried his best not to shy away. He still could not bear anyone's touching his face. His instincts had become so sensitive since he was injured that even the slightest movement close by made him flinch.
"Is there nothing else you can do?" He had lain awake night after night, unable to sleep for the constant pain, obsessed with one thought: Surely the Magi of Ondhessar will be able to heal me. Yet not until now had he dared to ask the question. Perhaps he didn't want to know the answer. Perhaps he didn't want the dream that had first brought him to Ondhessar at seventeen to be shattered.
"We did what we could. But by the time you reached us, it was too late," Aqil said bluntly. "The infection was so advanced that it was all I could do to save your life."
Rieuk gazed at his reflection. It was a face to frighten children. The spectacles did nothing to hide the scar. If anything they made it look more grotesque.
"What's the point?" he said aloud, tearing them off and hurling them to the floor. "Wearing a blank lens on the right side, when everyone can see that I'm disfigured?" He sat down on the bed and covered his face in his hands. He was shaking with rage. Why had he been so confident that Aqil could restore his sight?
He heard someone enter the room and raised his head to see Oranir picking up his discarded spectacles. He turned his face away, not wanting Oranir to know how volatile his feelings were. Oranir came closer, holding out the spectacles.
Rieuk pushed his hand away. "It won't make any difference. I'm disfigured. Damaged goods."
"Do you think you're the only one who's damaged?" Oranir's voice burned, low and furious. "What gives you the right to tell me how it feels?" He tore open his loose shirt, baring his lean upper body. Beneath the dark, delicate-feathered tattoo of his Emissary, Zophas, Rieuk saw the seams of old scars marring the smooth sheen of his olive skin.
"Turn around," Rieuk ordered.
Mutely, Oranir obeyed. More scars, like serrated stripes, were flayed into his back.
"Who did this to you?" The words caught at the back of Rieuk's throat.
Still Oranir said nothing. But his defiant stance, the stiffness of his shoulders, the shoulder blades, told Rieuk more than any explanation.
Before Rieuk was fully aware of what he was doing, he had reached out and drifted his fingertips down Oranir's back, parting the long locks of glossy black hair to trace the seamed skin. He half expected Oranir to flinch at his touch, to strike his hand away. But Oranir just stood there unmoving.
"The mage blood is a hard burden to be born with."Rieuk was still angry, but no longer just at his own disfigurement. He could not bear to think that Oranir had suffered so much pain and rejection when he was a child. Yet as his fingertips grazed Oranir's skin, he felt a slow, dark heat begin to burn within him.
What was he doing? His hand had come to a halt over the small of Oranir's back. What was this feeling? It was as fierce and intense as anger, and it had come to him as swiftly. But it was not anger. It was desire. And, unlike anger, he was not so sure that he could control it. Or even that he wanted to.
"Rieuk." Oranir turned to gaze at him, his face so much closer, a look at once vulnerable yet provocative smoldering in his eyes. So close that if Rieuk exerted the slightest pressure through the hand that rested on Oranir's back, their bodies would touch and their mouths would meet. Even as an ache of longing swept through him, Rieuk let his hand drop away and took a step back. This was all happening too quickly. His body had reacted before his mind had had time to assess the risks involved.
"Rieuk," said Oranir again, his voice low, urgent. "Rieuk. . . " It was as if he were conjuring a spell of binding, saying his name hypnotically again and again, and Rieuk could feel his willpower weakening.
"No," he heard himself saying. Another step back. I can't do this to him. Or to myself. I can't afford to get involved with anyone again. Especially someone as vulnerable as Oranir . . . He could see the look of blank incomprehension in Oranir's eyes. "I-I'm sorry, Oranir. Forgive me." And he turned and fled.
"So you're up and about at last, Rieuk." Lord Estael nodded to him absently. He seemed preoccupied, scarcely glancing up from the ancient document he was studying. "You're stronger than you look; we feared at first that you might be past saving."
"But my right eye is gone. I'm half-blind." Rieuk leaned on Estael's desk. "Tell me the truth, my lord. Does this mean that I've lost half my powers as well?"
"The eyes are merely the outward manifestation of a magus's gifts." Estael gazed calmly back at him.
"I have no way of telling if your innate powers have been affected as well. It seems, though, that you're well enough to resume your duties as the Arkhan's Emissary."
Rieuk drew back. That was not what he wanted to hear at all. "What use am I to the Arkhan in this condition?" The thought of having to carry out any more of Sardion's missions sickened him.
"He still has Imri's soul glass," said Estael bluntly. "How much do you care about saving Imri's immortal soul?"
Rieuk brought his fist crashing down on Estael's desk. "How can you let that madman take control of such a precious thing? Your own apprentice's soul? Don't you care about anything anymore, Lord Estael?"
Estael shrugged. "He is the Arkhan."
"Perhaps he's been Arkhan too long," said Rieuk darkly.
"Treasonable words, Rieuk." Estael's head was bent over the manuscript again. "It's lucky for you that only I heard them."
"I'd hoped for more from you, my lord." Rieuk could see that Estael was not prepared to give him even the slightest support. As he left Estael's study, he knew that he would have to act alone. "I'm coming to pay you a visit, Lord Arkhan," he said under his breath. "But not quite in the way that you're expecting."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When the Kingdom of Francia's chief Inquisitor Alois Visant executed the entire College of Thaumaturgy for violating the taboo of practicing magic; "alchymist" Linnaius and his apprentice Rieuk Mordiern are the only survivors of the fiery massacre. Rieuk went underground to survive, but after escaping more harrowing scenarios (see TRACING THE SHADOW) he inadvertently frees the critical guardian spirit Azilis who maintains order between the living and the dead.
Although he wishes for the days of being a bored housekeeper, Rieuk learned one thing from his master; fulfill one¿s duty. He must return Azilis to her position as guardian. However, time is running out as the Seven Dark Angels of Destruction are on the march and Azilis has no interest to go back to her tedious role as guardian spirit. Instead she prefers being personal guardian to highly regarded singer Celestine de Joyeusse; although her inhuman talent has Visant and his Inquisition agents looking closely at her for signs of magic; a skill they found in her father before burning him to death.
Located in the Tears of Artamon realm just after the events of the CHILDREN OF THE SERPENT GATE, the conclusion to the two-book Alchymist¿s Legacy saga is a superb entry that showcases how Francia¿s enemies see their rivalry and the overall world. The exhilarating story line is fast-paced answering the too many major threads left dangling from the first story. Fans will relish the escapades of the reluctant champion, the hesitant heroine, and the guardian who brings them together as daemons invade, but fans should read TRACING THE SHADOW first as FLIGHT INTO DARKNESS is a direct sequel.