(Eighteen years ago)

          Not many newborns could claim the distinction that Kiala Draconis could. Not only was she the daughter of heroes, but she was also personally delivered into life by the second Kaiten Star himself. And from the moment she took her first breath, everyone in the delivery room knew that her father, Ewan, had gotten his just desserts. The tiny, impossibly beautiful baby girl started screaming her head off with pure wrath.

          Exhausted but wildly happy, her mother, Lena, leaned against Ewan and turned her face into his broad shoulder. "Oh Ewan," she said softly, tears in her voice. "She's so perfect."

          "Yeah," he agreed roughly.

          Rihou Begineng grinned as he turned the baby over to his wife, Elissa, to be washed up. "Well, as perfect as she can be, considering she's Ewan's kid." With expert hands, he tended to Lena to make her more comfortable as healing magic spread from the Pure Shield Relic etched into the back of his right hand. A Miraclist by nature, he was also a doctor by choice, and he wore a white coat casually over his combat wear.

          When Elissa brought Kiala over to Lena, the bard smiled as she handed off the baby girl. "She has your looks, Lena. Ewan's going to have to go through with his promise to teach her to use a sword so she can beat off potential mates."

          Hands shaking, Ewan tenderly touched the cap of golden brown hair on his daughter's head. It seemed impossible that he had helped create this perfect little girl. She suddenly opened her eyes and looked up at him, and his heart clenched with a fierce surge of overwhelming love. "She has my eyes," he whispered.

          Indeed, Kiala's eyes were nearly the same color as her father's eyes, but where his eyes had more gold, hers were the pure shimmering yellow color of the sun. She nursed contentedly at Lena's breast, her ire over her birth giving way to an obvious thirst for life. She looked at everyone and everything, almost uncannily aware though only minutes old.

          The other two people present in the room were Kyle and Maeve Bleurai. Kyle was Ewan's oldest friend, and the two had always been as close as brothers. They even lived on farms that butted up against each other. They were certainly dissimilar in appearance, though. Kyle was fair haired and handsome, and he looked like the knight he was. Ewan was rough and yet attractive, and he was exceptionally large over all. He stood just over at six and a half feet, and his shoulders were broad. It was because of that that Maeve said to Lena, "You are very lucky you had a girl."

          "I have been saying that from the beginning," Lena admitted wryly. It was her shocking beauty that had been passed on to her daughter, though she had dark hair and pale brown eyes. "I'd have never survived carrying a boy if he had Ewan's size."

          "I'd have handled it," Rihou promised her. He stepped over to tickle the cheek of the dark haired baby in Maeve's arms. "I handled Tian, didn't I?"

          Tian Bleurai, though only just about a year old, had his father's beauty and his mother's pitch-black hair and eyes. He also had his mother's temperament, and he had been just as unhappy as Kiala about the whole 'birth' process.

          "Yes, but Tian was only a little bit big," Kyle noted dryly. He sighed and wrapped an arm around Maeve's shoulders. "Damn, Ewan. Who'd have thought you could make such a cute baby?"

          Ewan was too enchanted with his daughter to take offense. "Lena did the work." When Lena offered Kiala, he lifted her reverently into his arms. She seemed even smaller against his size, but he was a man who knew every inch of his strength. He would never hurt his baby girl even accidentally.

          Rihou studied them all for a moment and then he and Elissa left the room to give them some privacy. They made a striking couple; Rihou had brown hair and chocolate brown eyes, and Elissa had a mane of blonde curls and green eyes. She, too, wore a Pure Relic: the Piercing Relic. She was the Kentei Star for Rihou, and that meant she was not only his destined lover, but also his fiercest defender.

          They stepped outside into the quiet night, and they found two people waiting for them. Both male and female had black hair, but Tyrian Donaldson had intense green eyes and his wife, Cassie, had black eyes flecked with blue. Tyrian was the first Kaiten Star, and Cassie was his Kentei. Tyrian bore the Pure Devourer Relic, and Cassie possessed the Pure Shrieking Relic.

          The four of them stood together for a moment and then all four looked at the night sky. There, glowing brilliantly, was a familiar star. It glowed so brightly as to draw in others, and it shone with a radiance that would never dim. It had only shined four times before. On both Tyrian and Rihou's births, and then again on the eve when each had been thrust into their destiny. It was the star known as the Kaiten, and it only shined on the birth of a hero. It was shining on Kiala.

          Softly, Cassie murmured, "We were wrong, weren't we? Well, half wrong."

          A wry smile touched Rihou's lips. "Ewan's daughter. Who'd have thought?"

 

(Thirteen years ago)

          Kiala was missing. Exasperated, Lena stood in the doorway of her daughter's room and stared at the open window. Not only had Kiala opened the window, but she had also climbed out of it and then she had climbed down the tree outside as well! "Ewan!" she shouted as she went downstairs. "Your child is on the loose!"

          He dropped his head on the table with a sigh. His little angel was far from angelic. She was wild-spirited, hot tempered, terrifyingly smart and skilled, and she simply could not be caged in any fashion. She had started walking at sixth months, and she hadn't stopped moving since. "Damn it."

          Lena leaned in the doorway and smiled wryly. "You wanted her to have your temperament and my brains."

          "I must have been out of my mind." He got to his feet and left the dining room. Hanging next to the front door was his sword, but it was no ordinary sword. It was a sword made from a Pure Relic that made up one half of the Pure Relic of Eternity. The legendary Midnight Moon Sword, only wieldable by Ewan . . . and Kiala. Whatever made Ewan into the Midnight Moon Warrior had been passed to his daughter. "Okay, Night," he said, "where is she now? And when the hell are you going to tell me how you can track her?"

          The Midnight Moon Relic—Night for short—was wholly sentient, and he hesitated before answering. "Eventually I won't have to," he finally said. "It's complicated. But as to her current location . . . hmm. I sense her about a mile north."

          A mile north put her further into the trees on the mountains where they lived. The mountains formed the border between Ariya and Melodina, and they were the perfect blend of comfortable weather and arable land. Both Ewan and Kyle raised and trained horses, though they did produce a fair share of crops.

          It also put Kiala in a very dangerous patch of land. Even though she was already learning to use weapons—her specialty seemed to be daggers though she swung a mean sword—she was not yet seven, and until she was seven, she was not able to enter combat safely due to simply not having grown enough to reach her first plateau in strength. Whether it from the monsters that plagued the land or even bandits, she was in danger.

          Ewan immediately set out to find her, and Kyle caught up with him partway. His blue eyes looked unusually grim. "Tian took off," he said. "Let me guess: Kiala ran off."

          "Yeah." Ewan was not surprised by Tian's reaction. Tian had been insanely protective and possessive of Kiala right from the beginning. She rebelled against it when her stubbornness showed its head, but when she was upset, it was to Tian she went first. Ewan let out a little breath. "You get the feeling that maybe Rihou and Tyrian didn't tell us something?"

          Kyle's hands tightened around the reins. "I can't help but think it," he countered softly. "She . . . god, Ewan. It's easy to say we're so protective of her because she's your daughter, but that's not entirely it. We don't act nearly the same for Tian, not even me. And when I look at her . . ."

          ". . . It's like looking at Tyrian or Rihou," Ewan finished roughly. Already his heart was breaking. His baby. His baby would endure what his two closest friends had. Rihou and Tyrian were his brothers in his heart. If Kiala was the destined third, he wasn't sure he would be able to handle it.

          Night suddenly cursed softly. "Ewan, hurry!"

          Ewan paled even as Kyle did. Both kicked their horses into a run and began racing toward where Night could sense Kiala.

          Kiala had no idea she was in danger. She just didn't like staying in one place. And she wasn't even sure why her parents and her uncle and aunt were always panicking if she so much as stubbed her toe. Tian was even worse, too! She wrinkled her nose as she picked up a pinecone. Tian was her favorite person, but he never let her do anything by herself. Didn't seem fair when she was as good with a sword as he was.

          At the sound of rustling in the bushes, she began to back up cautiously. She reached for the small dagger she wore, but she was not fast enough. The snake lunged out of the foliage and sank its fangs into her leg.

          Even as the poison swiftly spread, her indomitable will rose to match it. Magic crackled around her though she did not possess a relic. She stabbed the snake repeatedly, her yellow eyes burning as she struggled for the right to live. Tian came out of nowhere and his small sword cut the snake in half.

          She fell to the ground and stared at him for long moments. Then, somehow, she smiled. "You're late." She slumped over onto the dirt and blood spilled quickly from the gaping wound on her leg.

          Terrified, he scrambled over to her and closed his hands around the bite marks, desperately trying to stem the bleeding. She was losing color in her skin, and a greenish tint had begun to color her lips.

          Ewan and Kyle came crashing through the trees, and Ewan cursed violently as he saw the scene. He dropped to his knees and ripped the bottom of his tunic to get enough material to bind the wound. "Kiala!" he said sharply.

          Her lashes fluttered and then lifted slightly. Though murky with pain, her gaze was crystal clear and fierce. Her strength of will was nearly palpable, and for the first time, he could actually feel the boiling magic capacity inside her body. It was more powerful than Tyrian and Rihou put together, and, strangely, it felt as if it was wholly developed. Ewan was magically stupid—he couldn't use relics—but that didn't mean he couldn't feel the capacity in others if it was great enough.

          Magical capacity was born inside a person and was what gave them the strength to use relics. It developed at the age of thirteen regardless of race, though sometimes sooner in early bloomers and never at all in those who were magically stupid. It would continue to grow until the owner reached their final max capacity, which happened no younger than three decades of life. Kiala, at five, resonated a power that fully-grown Pure Relic users could only dream of owning. It just laid more evidence at the feet of what Kyle and Ewan suspected.

          They rushed back out of the mountains and toward the small town at the base. Everyone there knew them. Kiala's best friend, a little boy named Ritran Shutar, lived there as well. The doctor's office was open, and Ewan took the stairs two at a time. "Emergency!" he barked.

          The doctor took charge, and Ewan was forced to pace in the confines of the front office. Minutes ticked by. When the inner door opened, he turned sharply. He expected to see the doctor, but what he saw instead was his little girl. She was on her feet and looked frighteningly healthy for someone who had been so close to death.

          He fell to his knees and she leapt into his arms. "I'm okay, Daddy," she told him. She kissed his cheek and snuggled close. When Kyle walked closer with Tian in his arms, she reached out her right hand. Tian took it with his left and their fingers laced together. As if that was all she needed, she closed her eyes and fell asleep with the ease of childhood.

          The doctor stepped into the room and blew out a hard breath. "Sir Ewan, your daughter is . . . gifted. Her body was already forcefully expelling the poison by the time you brought her here. That is the good news. The bad news is that, for whatever reason, antidotes don't work on her. She's alive only because of her will to live. I've never seen such a fierce spirit before."

          Ewan took a long breath. "I used to say her stubbornness would get her killed. I guess it's more like the opposite." He got to his feet with Kiala held safely in his arms. "Thank you," he said softly.

          "Don't thank me. I didn't do anything. Bring her by for a checkup soon, and I'll make sure there are no lingering traces left behind." He hesitated and then added, "Her body is . . . brimming with magic. My Medicine Relic burned just being near her. She's going to be a Thaumoturge. I'm sure of it."

          A mage was anyone who used a relic. Kyle, who wore a Lightning Relic, was a mage though he was also a swordsman. A Magician was someone who specialized in attacking magic. A Healer specialized in, obviously, healing magic. A Miraclist, like Rihou, was a Healer of exceptional power. A sorcerer was a mage of above-average strength. Tyrian, Elissa, and Cassie were sorcerers because they had Pure Relics. And a Thaumoturge was a Magician of exceptional power.

          In a way, neither Ewan nor Kyle found the news shocking. They left the office in silence, and Kyle held Kiala long enough for Ewan to get on his horse. It was only as they had left town and were on their way home that Kyle said softly, "A Thaumoturge. And yet . . ."

          "And yet," Ewan said just as softly, "she's showing signs of being as good as I am with a sword. She's a Thaumoturge Warrior, Kyle." He let out a long breath. "I think we need to write to Laia and Caede, don't you?"

          Laia Mitakel and her 'cousin', Caede, were both friends and former Destined Stars that Kyle and Ewan had fought alongside. They were also . . . not wholly normal. Laia was a Thaumoturge Warrior herself, and Caede was one of the most powerful Thaumoturges in the world. Both possessed special, strange gifts . . . and Kiala was beginning to display them as well.

          Kyle looked at him in surprise. "There's no way she's related to them. It would mean you or Lena were. If you were, you'd have shown signs. And considering what Laia and Caede can do, and the fact that you're magically stupid, it just doesn't make sense."

          "None of this makes sense!" Ewan said in frustration. Kiala stirred and he immediately cuddled her closer. Agony tore at his heart. "What the hell are we going to do, Kyle?"

          "I don't know," his friend said sadly. "I just don't."

©S. J. Garrett. All rights reserved. Do not reprint/publish without permission.