In the world of this book, magic is performed with music, both vocal and instrumental. Sarangell, the protagonist, is a particularly talented young wizard faced with the ultimate choice--banish the older wizard he's been told is evil, or take into himself power beyond what any wizard has ever previously imagined possible.
The tower stood in a dark jumble of broken stones, ragged in the moonlight. And it was screaming.
Sarangell’s hand closed on nothing. For weeks, while he and the old wizard had planned, the screaming had haunted the edges of his dreams, howling into his heartbeat. On impulse, he touched the black rock that made up the tower’s outside wall. It lay cold and still under his fingers.
To his left a door grated open, and a boy put his head out. Sarangell jerked toward him, snatching his hand away from the stone.
“What do you want?” the boy asked. One side of his face drooped, making his words slur.
At the abrupt, disrespectful demand, Sarangell fought the urge to lash out, with magic or otherwise. This was only a boy, after all, and a broken one at that. “I wish to see your master.” His soft, careful voice moved like clean water.
The boy’s eyebrows rose at the sound of that voice, and he took a sharp step backward. “Wait here.” The door closed.
Sarangell eased his harp case off his shoulder and laid it down. The cold night air whipped through the folds of his white shirt. Sarangell shivered, then hummed warmth back into the air around him. It was a simple enough spell, one of the first the old wizard had taught him. A yellow glow rose from his feet, sending the biting wind into steam. Sarangell hummed a Sustaining pitch and smiled. With the harp, and the sixth octave the old wizard had given him last night, he could have filled the courtyard with flames.
The door grated back open, and the boy reappeared. He stared at Sarangell’s yellow aura then collected himself.
“My master will see you. Follow me.”
Sarangell had expected as much. His Natural voice had gotten him easily into other wizards’ towers. All he had to do was say “hello,” and he was ushered into the inner sanctums. It had been that way twelve years ago when he’d fallen at the old wizard’s doorstep, nearly dead from the wrath of his father. It should be no different here. Inside it was dark but warm. Sarangell hummed a Counterpitch, shedding his warmth, and sang up a light. The boy gaped at him yet again.
“Your voice… It’s Natural, isn’t it?”
The boy shook his head, eyes still wide. Sarangell smiled.
The corridor twisted between black, broken walls. At one time, the tower had been a single piece of obsidian stone, constructed with magic no one but its lord understood. Now there were chips, holes, and cracks that ran down the walls to the floor. The damage, Sarangell knew, was the remnants of the old wizard’s last assault on the tower. Afterward the tower had been silent for years.
Then the screaming had begun.
They reached a staircase that took them to a landing lit by magical wisps and mundane torches. The boy opened a door.
Sarangell stepped forward, tempted to sing a note that would lead him right where he wanted to go without needing to depend upon the wavering lights and the boy’s dubious guidance. It would have been rude though, and he didn’t want to offend the master of the tower. Not yet. Certainly he’d be offended later, when Sarangell killed him.
Beyond the door, a short, dim corridor led to a large room. A desk sat in the middle, next to it a tall standing harp of honeywood. Book-laden shelves lined the walls.
He crossed the room, eyes on the harp. It was a beautiful instrument, its curves perfect, the strings fairly humming with the movement of the air in the room. Sarangell looked toward the bookshelves. They held standard wizard texts where he had hoped for rare tomes of eccentric power. His mouth twisted with disappointment.
“I’ve always thought it was a rather pleasant room.”
Sarangell spun. The voice was a wizard’s, a bit deeper than training usually aimed for, but with the clarity of Natural intonations. Its owner stood in the shadow behind the desk, where Sarangell should have seen him and yet hadn’t, his tall, slim body draped in purple. A neat beard darkened his craggy face. His eyes were pale green, and he looked thirty years younger than he should have.
“It is a pleasant room,” Sarangell said. “A bit dark though.”
The wizard stepped forward and touched the harp. The lights brightened. Sarangell’s hands shifted on his own harp case as the wizard’s eyes found the gold-rimmed insignia on Sarangell’s left breast.
“You bear the mark of Kandrell,” the wizard said.
Sarangell nodded to the wizard’s own black and purple badge. “And you bear the mark of Menesh.”
Teeth flashed ivory in the dark beard. “I am Menesh.”
Menesh nodded, the smile still playing across his lips. “You have a Natural voice. I didn’t believe the boy when he told me, but he was right. He’s tone deaf and simple, or I wouldn’t keep him here, but he can hear the grit in the Trained voices. How many of your octaves are natural?”
“Three. A little over.”
“Do you have the eighth octave?”
“No. Only six.”
Menesh rounded the desk and perched on the edge of it. “May I see your harp?”
Sarangell hesitated, then handed the instrument over. Menesh opened the case. The light in the room seemed to catch fire in the brilliant red wood. Menesh’s blunt hands touched the strings gently, playing harmless notes, music rather than magic. After a time, he handed it back.
“It’s a good harp. Why don’t you sit down?”
Sarangell obediently sat in the chair next to the desk. The desk had papers on it, most filled with music. Some were outlines of spells Sarangell recognized, but with minor changes here and there. Others appeared to be pieces of more complex magic, while still others Sarangell recognized as simply music. The notations ran through ten octaves, with harp augmentation up to eight. Sarangell passed a neutral glance over them.
“What’s your name?” Menesh asked.
“You’ve been studying with Kandrell for how long?”
“And before that?”
“My voice disappeared when I was thirteen. When it came back after two weeks, I couldn’t say hello without breaking crockery or setting the walls on fire. So my father beat me, and I found my way to Kandrell.” It wasn’t the whole story, of course, but it was more than Menesh needed to know.
Menesh nodded, eyes narrowing. It wasn’t so unusual a story, Sarangell knew. Magic was not only feared but despised in the towns, which was why the wizards congregated in towers in the rugged countryside. Which was also why Sarangell’s father had crushed his wife’s magic-laden hands into uselessness, finally managing to kill her in her thirteenth trip to childbed. These days Natural voices were practically nonexistent, with the wizards searching more and more for apprentices in the southern countries. There older gods reigned, wizardry was still considered an honored profession, and children with borderline voices were often sent to towers with their parents’ blessings to be trained.
So Sarangell understood the gleam in Menesh’s eyes as he considered Sarangell’s potential. “And you’ve augmented three times since then?”
“Yes. And I want more. I’ve been to tower after tower, and the wizards are all the same—slow and careful. They won’t teach me what I want to know. Maybe you will.”
Menesh toyed with his beard. “Kandrell tried to kill me once, you know.”
Sarangell knew perfectly well. And Sarangell’s arrival here was Kandrell’s second attempt. “No, I didn’t.”
Menesh made a wide gesture. “You’ve seen the broken walls. Kandrell did that. He destroyed a great deal of important work.”
“What has that to do with me?”
Menesh’s robe rustled as he slid down from the desk. “Possibly nothing. But if I find that you maintain loyalty to him, I’ll kill you.”
Sarangell tried to match the other wizard’s quiet gaze, but couldn’t. “My Lord,” he murmured. Menesh smiled. His hand touched the golden harpstrings, and he disappeared.