Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

Azhure reflected on his words, her smile losing some of its brilliance. Over the past few nights vaguely troubling dreams with even more troubling voices had disturbed her rest, but she could never remember the details when she woke. Were they a manifestation of her newly freed power bubbling uncontrolled to the surface? Perhaps she ought to talk to Axis about them – but all thoughts of dreams were forgotten with her husband’s next words.

“And,” Axis continued, “our unborn children may also be causing a block.”

Three days ago Axis, according to the right and duty of every Icarii father, had awoken her twin babies. When he had done this for Caelum, calling the baby to awareness within her womb, it had been a joyous affair, but this awakening – the whole pregnancy – had been so different. The babes had witnessed what she and Axis had seen when he had forced Azhure to remember her mother’s death and her subsequent physical and emotional torture at Hagen’s hands. As she and Axis had endured the pain and the horror, so had her two unborn babies. Faraday had said that she thought the babies would be affected by the experience, although she did not know how. Now, both Azhure and Axis knew.

The awakening had been successful as the babies were now fully aware and active. But during the awakening, and in the days since, it had become painfully obvious that the twin babes distrusted and disliked their father. Azhure and Axis could feel their resentment every time Axis touched their mother; even now, cuddled together on the couch, both could feel the rising hostility from the twins. It made anything more intimate an impossibility; both Azhure’s weak state and the twins’ antagonism meant Axis and Azhure had yet to consummate their marriage. Axis had tried to harm the woman who carried them and, unlike Caelum, the twins were not prepared to forgive him. Yet even Azhure did not enjoy their affection; she sensed total disinterest seeping into her from the babies. They existed only for each other, their parents either untrusted or inconsequential.

Axis had not realised Azhure was pregnant for so long because he’d never felt the tug of the growing babies’ blood. Even before the trauma of four days ago, he mused, the twins had been so self-absorbed that their SunSoar blood had not reached out beyond each other.

It made him wonder what kind of children he’d fathered.

The twins, as would be natural for children conceived of such powerful parents, would be Enchanters in their own right – even now they demonstrated their awakening powers in the womb. Azhure sighed. Since their awakening the twins had refused to listen to Axis on the five occasions he’d tried to teach them.

Were they somehow blocking Azhure’s powers now?

Axis and Azhure glanced at each other, then at StarDrifter, letting him share their thoughts. They had told him of the problems with the twins and, unbelievably, when he had tried, StarDrifter actually had more success communicating with the babies than Axis did. Azhure had not let StarDrifter touch her when she was pregnant with Caelum, but she knew that StarDrifter would undoubtedly be the Enchanter who conducted the majority of the twins’ training while they were in the womb.

Now StarDrifter shook his head. “No, I don’t think they would do that. Powerful as they might be, they aren’t yet that powerful. And why would they want to block your power, in any case? No, Azhure. Unless you slip naturally into your powers, ease into them as time goes by, the only person who can teach you is WolfStar.”

3 The Sentinels (#ulink_cb03ae31-943f-56af-996b-1212d88f1d02)

Several floors below, the Sentinels sat in a circle, holding hands. They were silent as they remembered.

It had been a fine night, some three thousand years ago, when the Charonites had massed in the chamber below the well that led to the cave on the banks of the Nordra River.

The races of the Charonites and Icarii, both descended from the original Enchantress, had separated some twelve thousand years previously. As the Icarii loved the open sky and worshipped the stars, so they developed wings to give vent to their longings. But the Charonites were far more introspective, preferring the depths to the heights. Eventually they discovered and developed the UnderWorld and the waterways. They still studied the stars – and their very waterways reflected the music of the Star Dance – but they became increasingly reclusive, until even most of the Icarii doubted their existence.

Every few score years the Charonites gave vent to their urge to see once again the star-lit night, to feel the soft wind of the OverWorld in their faces, to smell the scent of flowers and of the damp leaves that lined the floor of the forest, and to sail the lively waters of the Nordra, so different from the still waterways.

On this night, scores of Charonites sang and danced as they climbed the well leading to the OverWorld; the Charonites loved to dance and the figures carved about the walls of the well inspired them to ever more joyous efforts.

Once in the cave they lifted the flat-bottomed boats from their storage racks and, still laughing and singing, cast them into the water of the inlet that led to the Nordra as it flowed through the Avarinheim. The Avarinheim of three thousand years past was a much greater and more magical Avarinheim than the one that stood now; then the axes of the Seneschal had not wielded their destruction.

Five Charonites, lagging behind the others, seized the last and smallest boat and, singing, launched it into the water. They leapt in and worked their magic, and the boat glided effortlessly along the inlet, then slipped into the Nordra. The five were ecstatic with the feel of the soft night air and the immensity of the sky above them, and their singing increased in joy and reverence as their boat sailed further down the Nordra.

Every so often a dark face peered at them from the forest that lined the Nordra – the Avar, woken from their slumber by the sounds of the Charonite merriment, crept from their sleeping skins to watch in awe as the Charonites slid past.

As the Charonites were wont to do, the five eventually moored their boat to a spotted willow that, heavy with age, drooped its branches deep into the water. Then they slipped ashore, planning to dance unrestrained along the corridors of the Avarinheim.

But sitting on the banks of the Nordra was a strange man – Icarii-featured but wingless – with a dismal face.

The five stopped to ask what was wrong, for although the Charonites preferred to keep their distance from other races, they were not an unkind people, and this man obviously needed their comfort.

The man sighed and spoke, and what he related wiped the joy from their faces. The man, this strange man, spoke of a time in the future.

“Tencendor will already wear the terrible legacy of a millennium of hatreds, but the Destroyer’s one purpose will be to grind what is left of Tencendor into the dust. He hates, and his one desire is to give vent to his hate. To destroy.”

The five, all thought of dance and song gone from their minds, asked the man how he knew these dreadful tidings.

“The burden of prophecy weighs heavily on my soul and it consumes my days and my nights,” he said, and he stood up. “Soon I shall retire to solitude and commit what I have seen into words of power and magic.”

The five stared solemnly at the Prophet, awed by the responsibility he had taken upon his shoulders.

The Prophet sighed again, and the five could see how much care and pain he laboured under. They respected him deeply, although they did not envy him, for they of all races perhaps best understood the power and compulsions of prophesying.

“Listen,” he said, and then he intoned the Prophecy of the Destroyer.

The five moaned as they heard him speak, and leaned on each other’s shoulders, and wept. They were accustomed to lives and thoughts of introspection and beauty and great mystery, but the Prophet’s words destroyed the peace and harmony of their minds. How would they be able to resume their carefree existence after this? The words of the Prophecy would never leave them.

“The burden of a prophecy is a hard one to carry,” one of the five said, and he took his wife’s hand for comfort.

“That is so,” the Prophet agreed.

Another of the five, one of two brothers, spoke. “And prophecies are terribly fragile. They prophesy only what might be, not what is certain.”

“They can be easily bent out of shape,” his brother added.

The youngest of the Charonites, a sensual and beautiful woman, now spoke. “And while the Prophecy indicates that this StarMan will reunite Tencendor, recreate its beauty despite the Destroyer’s hate, his victory is not certain.”

The Prophet waited.

Slowly the five spoke in turn.

“A prophecy is like …”

“A garden …”

“That is full of the promise of beauty …”

“And dreams never-ending …”

“But that can, if neglected …”

“Or left unattended …”

“Fall into barrenness …”

“And sorrow …”

“And despair …”

“And death.”

The Prophet took a deep breath, and the younger woman realised for the first time what a handsome face he had.

The most experienced of the Charonites noted the Prophet’s easy way with power, and thought he might not be all that he appeared, or that he might be more than he appeared. But he held his peace and, later, it would be he who would share most of the Prophet’s secrets.

But for now the Prophet expelled his breath and spoke. “I need a gardener. Someone who is prepared to serve the Prophecy, and see to its needs. Someone who will wait for he who is to appear, and guide and guard his steps.”