Celestial Song

Chapter 1

A light flickered in the gemstone. It twirled like a gentle ripple, except almost playful, swirling inside of the walnut-sized crystal. It moved more like liquid than solid mineral.

The stone sat in an intricately sculpted metal cuff on the wrist of a person sitting across from Evren on the metro. Even as it was partially covered by the hem of the person’s sleeve, thick with the geometrical red and gold vines of traditional embroidery that was still common even on a modern business suit, Evren could still see the light in the stone. Even though it wasn’t active, the light was still there, glowing and moving around, like sunlight on the ocean.

Evren gazed at it, wondering what sort of magic this person did. His cousin, Kayir would probably know. Kayir knew so much about magic, and had even taught Evren some things. Kayir might even know exactly what amulet it was – maybe it was famous. Evren only knew a few of the most notable ones, but Kayir might…

The person turned towards Evren, and he quickly looked away, embarrassed. He probably seemed like a little kid, didn’t he?

The car was mostly empty – it was a slow time of the day. He ran the purple and gold embroidered strap of his instrument case through his fingers, absent-mindedly.

He gazed out of the window, watching the sunset reflect off of the buildings, both new and old.

If he had chosen to study magic… would it have been worth it? Would he have been able to develop to the point of being chosen to receive a magic amulet? With the exception of a small few amulets that were tied to family lines, amulet holders chose their successors out of their top pupils or assistants. Once an amulet is granted, if it accepts its holder, it becomes attached to that person for life. Most professional magicians would never get to have one. Evren pushed his rectangular-framed glasses up by the bridge. He hadn’t know how he would feel if he gave everything, studied for years, pushed himself that far… only to never reach that point. He mentally chided himself for it. It was selfish to not just be satisfied with getting to some role in magic rituals. Being the center of attention, the star of the show, isn’t everything. He should be satisfied even if he could not get an amulet, but the idea still felt empty to him.

He had joined a semi-professional musical troupe, and they’d had a surprising amount of success since then. So then… why didn’t he feel satisfied?

Though the style of music they played was based on magic, historically, most musicians didn’t think of it as a substitute for magic… but was Evren’s interest that pure? Maybe he was looking for something that the music couldn’t give him.

He watched as the royal palace and its gardens came into view from the window.

Or maybe he was overthinking things. Or maybe that was an excuse to ignore a legitimate concern in his life.

In any case, it was his stop.

As he tapped his card and walked out of the metro station, he looked up and saw the palace ahead of him, a magnificent white and gold building across a large garden, on the other side of an ornate fence that was beautiful even by itself. He walked across the sidewalk and stood closer to the fence, looking up at the building across the green. He could only imagine the history someone might feel inside that building.

“Hey, Evren!”

He turned around. His aunt Melisse ran towards him from direction of the train station.

“Did you wait long?” she asked as she got to him.

“No, I just got here,” Evren replied. She kept walking and gestured for him to follow. He looked at her. She wore a formal suit with a long jacket and skirt, with traditional style embroidery around the hem of both. He wondered if he should have dressed up – he should have known, if she asked him to meet him so close to the palace. Though, if that were the case, she should have given him more notice.

“Ah-,” he started. She stopped and turned to look at him. “Where are we going, anyway?” he asked.

She gave him a smile – was she excited? – And just replied, “Hmm… you’ll see.”

They got to the palace gate, and she stopped, and spoke to a guard. It took Evren a moment to understand, then the guard opened the gate.

“We’re… going inside?” he asked.

“Mm-hmm,” she replied. Evren just stood and blinked.

“We’re – we’re actually going in?”

He got ahold of himself and followed her through the gate, and into the long path that led to the entrance to the palace. Evren gasped, stunned, when the large palace doors opened for them. An attendant approached, and Melisse stepped forward to speak with her.

“We’re here for a meeting with Lord Calius,” she said. That name sounded familiar, but Evren couldn’t place where. The attendant looked at him for a moment, failing to hide her confusion, and a bit of disapproval. Evren looked away from her, down at his grey sweater, black jeans, and casual boots. His long, black hair was in the same sort of ponytail he always wore, and it wasn’t as if he ever wore contacts instead of his black-framed glasses, but even so, he wished his aunt could have given him more notice, so he could have figured out something better. Getting to go into the royal palace, and he looked like…

Still, though. The royal palace. And not the areas they let tour groups into, either. These were the halls where so many important figures had lived, the rooms where they came up with their brilliant thoughts, night after night, for centuries. The country had a proud history of philosopher kings and queens, many of whom were noteworthy contributors to plenty of fields besides politics – particularly magic and Cantrile music. Queen Alindora had lived here – a famous composer of Cantrile music, including some of Evren’s favorites. He felt his excitement build as he looked around, wondering if, by chance, she might have been standing right here when she came up with one of those wonderful songs –

“Evren,” his aunt called, and he looked up to see her standing with a man in long, elaborately embroidered white and purple robes that Evren recognized. A high priest, Evren thought. That must be Lord Calius. He was surprisingly young for a high priest, though – barely older than Evren. His long white hair gave him a more mature appearance. But it wasn’t just that – his tense posture made him look rigorously exact, even for one of the high priests, the twelve guardians of the most important magical rituals.

“We’re going to meet in his office for a bit. Wait here, okay?” his aunt said.

Evren blinked. Lord Calius was looking at him, and his sharp gaze and clenched hands didn’t lead Evren to wonder whether or not he approved. But why did Evren matter to the priest, anyway? What am I even doing here? he wondered.

Calius and his aunt went into the other room, leaving Evren alone in the hall. Now that no one could see, he didn’t try to hide his excitement. He went over to a painting on the wall. He stood back taking it in, then leaned forward to see some of the details. It was a portrait of several royals, from centuries ago, in the palace. This very palace! He could only imagine –

His thoughts broke as he heard a soft cough from down the hall. He froze, embarrassed. He wasn’t quite alone – an attendant, a different one, but in the same dark blue uniform, stood about twenty feet down the hall, next to a large door. She didn’t seem to give him much notice. He sighed, relieved, sitting down on a couch in the hall, perched on the edge of the seat, hands self-consciously by his sides. He still didn’t want to be too obvious about what a nerd he was for these things. His eyes continued to roam.

Here were gathered so many things – anything of monumental historical significance would, he knew, be preserved in a display case, not left lying on a table. But any of these things might have some smaller, more personal significance. His mind drifted back to Queen Alindora and her music. A song of hers came into his head, and he started to sing a bit, under his breath.

“If the whistling breeze through the roses sends its sweetness through to you,”

He sat on the corner of the couch, near a side table of elegant lacquered wood, with a marble surface. A beautiful porcelain lamp sat on top of it, along with a small jar of the same style of porcelain, and a box.

“Even through the hills and mountains,”

Gently, Evren picked up the lid of the jar – nothing was in it, of course. He brought the lid up, to see it closer, as he continued to sing. He wouldn’t be in the palace long anyway, so he might as well have a look at what was here. The detailing on the lid of the jar was exquisite. He replaced it and casually moved his hand to the box. This one had a latch on it. Maybe he… eh, it couldn’t hurt, he thought.

“Even if the winds of -“

His hand paused. The box… wasn’t empty. Inside there was a bracelet – an elegant, elaborately crafted gold cuff, with a large gem set in the center. Even though the light hit it, the gem showed nothing, just shadow, but Evren knew that if it were held – if it had a magician to use it – it would glow in purple.

“The… Varinian Amulet?” he whispered.

No. It couldn’t be. There’s no way something that important would be here. He picked it up out of the box, holding it in his left hand. He held his hand in the center of the cuff, looking at the stone. It did look like a magic stone that wasn’t being used, but it couldn’t be that stone. It must be a replica or –

He heard a scream from the direction of the door the attendant stood at. He looked up, and saw the attendant looking through the door, stunned, then running towards whatever had happened, to help. Evren got up and went to look as well, the amulet still in his hand.

A small fire had started on a wooden chair. Evren watched as several attendants tried to put it out with the fire extinguisher, but it had no effect. Before Evren could think, he felt the amulet… pulse? Confused, he looked down at his hand. The bracelet seemed to be telling him to use it. Was that possible? As much as Evren’s instincts and knowledge told him that it wasn’t, the bracelet seemed to insist. Almost despite himself, Evren pulled it down onto his wrist – and it… glowed. And then it… did something.

Before Evren knew it, he was opening his eyes to see that the fire was out, in a blue glow, and he was standing firmly, with his left hand held out in front of him.

The cuff was on his wrist – the amulet – glowing – a magic amulet – The Varinian Amulet… no, it couldn’t be, because that –

“Evren?”

It was his aunt Melisse, who had come in the same way Evren had, along with the High Priest, Lord Calius. Evren opened his mouth to speak, but he had no idea what to say. “I… I didn’t…”