Aria is faced with her first truly bratty child, one-year-old Starene, who is afraid of everything.
She is heart-heavy for Keir even years after his death, and guilty for not being more understanding with her daughter. Jace and Laniar are trying everything they know to make her happy, but Aria still feels as if her life is falling apart around her.
When Jasta is hit with a rare but deadly planet-wide storm called Ging’s fire, Aria and her men are plagued by death and tyranny. Aria finds herself trapped between impossible choices, threatening both her life and her love.
When her ex-lover and best friend Bolt tells her that his destiny has arrived, it serves to deepen her depression. His final request of her has ramifications that neither of them can imagine. Can she win the battle with the dark magic that has been cast upon her, or will she lose everything and follow the call of her heart to join Keir behind the barrier of death?
Aria lay in a lounging chair, trying to get through the spell manual that Mistery had asked her to inspect for possible flaws. It had been drawn up by one of the students as a project to enhance her writing skills, and the text was often confusing and vague. The spells themselves were a simple compilation of herbs and words that had been passed down through families of the gifted over the years. Most of them were harmless and quite safe to use, but a few of them had been worded so badly that inhabitants could easily hurt themselves trying to cast the spell. She sighed, using her pen to put an asterisk next to a phrase and then writing on her note sheet. This should read, use extreme care when measuring out tarkus root. The substance is highly poisonous and even a slight bit too much can be deadly. As a matter of point, there are far safer potions and spells that can be used for an instant treatment of slither bites. I would rather not see this one in this manual.
“Aria,” Jace said, peering around the corner of his painting to look at her. “I do not want to paint you with such a sour expression on your face. Could you at least attempt to smile once in a while?”
“I’m sorry, Jace. This text is such a mess. I should give it back to Mistery to have the woman start over and check her facts. She has so many things miswritten.”
“If I remember correctly, the reason Mistery gave it to you was because there were a lot of mistakes. You know she is already pulling her hair out with tasks. With your father gone, she is helping out Mardane with the finer points of running the second school, as well as running the first school herself. She is also trying to arrange the festival to bring in some trade for the students whose families can’t help out.”
“I know, Jace,” she replied, feeling her brief smile instantly fade. “Laniar, what are you doing?”
He looked up guiltily and shrugged. “I am looking for the hopper that I saw a moment ago.”
“For what purpose?”
“So I can show it to Starene. She needs to learn which creatures are and aren’t dangerous.”
Aria sighed, knowing that Starene wouldn’t go near a hopper even if it had a sack of sweet fruit on its back. She was a squeamish child, with no interest in any kind of creatures that weren’t small, cute, and furry.
Starene began to scream, her one-year-old voice shrill and grating. She dropped to the ground, thrashing and howling as if she were being tortured or stung. Aria sighed, touching Jace’s mind. Please remind me why we had another child.
Laniar scooped Starene up. Aria knew that he was scanning her just to make sure that she wasn’t injured as he carried her across the open courtyard. She beat at him, her hands and feet flailing violently. Laniar hung her upside down, causing her childish anger to flame higher, her shrieks reaching ear-piercing levels.
Aria snapped the book shut, glaring at him. “Laniar, why do you insist on doing that to her? All it serves to do is make her angrier. Starene, what is your problem? Stop screaming!”
The irritation in Aria’s voice made the air around her waver as if it were trying to escape her tone. Starene instantly clapped her mouth closed and Laniar flipped her to her feet. The child turned and stomped away, silent, but too ornery to reply. Aria leaped to her feet, racing after her daughter and spinning her around to face her. “I asked you what was wrong, Starene? After the tantrum you just threw, I expect an answer.”
The child stared at her, her nostrils flaring.
“Well?” Aria asked, raising her eyebrows to accent her intolerance of Starene’s behavior.
“Addy Lar ease E.”
“Laniar was not teasing you. What do you think he was doing?”
“I know that you don’t like hoppers, but Daddy didn’t have a hopper, he was only looking for it. You know that he would never hurt you even if he found one. It is good for you to learn which creatures are good hoppers that eat stingers, and which are bad ones that are poison. I wish I knew why you were so afraid of slithers and hoppers.”
“I know that you think they are icky, but they are also good. They eat flyers and stingers to keep them from hurting us.”
“Ick!” she replied, stomping her foot as she pointed and began to scream again.
Aria could feel Laniar standing behind her, his energy tinged with humor, and she was sure had a hopper in his hands.