A hunted child. A rebellion that threatens to topple the very fabric of the universe.
When Layela Delamores gives birth to her first child, the ether immediately rejects what should be its only heir. A wave of destruction sweeps the ether races and sparks Solaria's ire and rebellion on Mirial.
A new heir rises to take the throne of Mirial, one who wields tainted ether.
Unable to access the flow of ether, Layela is left with little choice but to flee Mirial, seeking answers that may no longer exist, prepared to sacrifice everything to free herself and her daughter from the clutches of the First Star.
"Marie Bilodeau knocks my socks off. She's got an amazing eye for detail and a sumptuous narrative voice. Destiny's Blood is a winner — another home run from one of Canada's best new authors."– Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of HOMINIDS
"This story is filled with action, suspense, and adventure. It is well written, with worlds and details all very alluring and well developed. The attention to detail is impressive, with a plot deep enough to submerse yourself in completely."– Desert Rose Reviews
""Destiny's Blood" is a fast paced sci-fi adventure of love, politics and betrayal - with a little magic mixed in. The characters help draw the reader into their world, through the many twists and turns of the plot."– Dellani Oakes
"Marie Bilodeau's book, Destiny's Blood, is a fantastic adventure that never lets down the pace. This Aurora Award Nominee (2011) is fast paced as we are introduced to Yoma and Layela, twins who have had a sordid past. It is Layela who wishes to settle down to a nice quiet life as a florist while her sister continues the thieves' lifestyle. The twins are searched for by both evil and friendly forces to bring back life to the First Star. Throughout their adventures they are knocked down and rise up over and over to fulfill their destiny to ensure life continues in the universe. A great read, I can't wait to see what Marie has planned next."– Karen Dales, Award Winning Author, "The Chosen Chronicles"
The child's first cries pierced the night and Mirial, First Star and mother of all ether, quivered in response.
Layela Delamores leaned back, exhausted, fighting the nausea of hours of labour and biting back the tears. The ether around her danced with joy, responding to her first daughter's screams in ways it never had for Layela herself. Ardin leaned down and kissed her forehead, his lips energizing her weary body, wisps of his auburn hair escaping his ponytail and brushing her face.
The child screamed again, and Layela tried to shift, to see her more clearly. She already knew, without seeing her, that one of her eyes would be sea green and the other twilight blue. Just like hers, except that Layela had lost a sister to gain that mark.
Her daughter came into this world already courted by a strong Mirial, a strength cultivated by Layela's care over the last few years. Years of hard work, of mastering what little she understood of the ether, years of sacrificing her own dreams and trying to see Mirial as her home, regardless of how she felt. But her daughter was already reaping more with her pure cries than Layela ever could in a lifetime.
A whole being.
Layela stifled a sob and shifted, trying to get more comfortable in the dirty bedding, her gown clinging to her. She needed to change and go announce the birth of a daughter to the awaiting court. She needed to tell them of a secured succession – that Mirial would be tended to. That they were safe.
But her daughter's screams crashed and echoed in her mind, triggering the ether within her, visions gripping the edges of her sight. Mists danced around the room, half-formed visions wisped to life as the mists caressed and coated individuals in the room, allowing Layela a glimpse of their final moments, or at least an impression. In her vision, her captain of the royal guards, Loran, screamed, collapsing on the ground. Her court advisor first turned white, then coarse black. She dared not look at Ardin, having long ago heard the bells tolling, announcing his final moments...
"Are you all right?" Ardin asked, leaning in, concern lining his brown eyes.
She tried to smile, but closed her eyes for a moment instead, concentrating on pushing back the ether that had triggered her visions. She opened her eyes, the ether seeming to dance around her before settling. Layela smiled. Ardice would court the ether much more strongly than she ever had. But Layela would need to be vigilant until her daughter proved strong enough to control her own connection with Mirial.
Ardin smiled back at her. "She has good lungs!"
The tolling of the bells resonated in the far edges of her mind. It is a faraway future, she repeated over and over again as she looked into Ardin's eyes.
Please don't leave me.
"You're right," she said, forcing a small laugh. "She does have good lungs."
Gresko Listan, Court Advisor, stepped up, clearing his throat. Ardin rolled his eyes for only Layela to see, and she fought back a laugh. Ardin stood. Gresko was as tall as Ardin, but was a stick, his dark royal robes barely held up by his thin, bony shoulders. His face was gaunt and pale. When Layela had first met him, she had assumed his features were due to lack of sunlight and good food, as most Mirialers had suffered during the Great Darkness, but five years had passed and still he remained the same. Beside him, Ardin's shoulders seemed broader. If he stepped up and flicked a finger at Gresko, he would probably break him. Layela had to look down to stop from laughing. The laughter vanished in an aching desire to be alone, with only Ardin and their daughter at her side.
"The daughter should be presented to the court, as per tradition."
Ardin rolled his eyes again and Layela steeled herself. She looked at Gresko imploringly. "It has been a long, a long..." she turned to one of the midwives.
"Thirty-six hours," she quickly said. She looked just as exhausted as Layela.
"Thirty-six hours," Layela repeated. "Is it necessary to put on a show now for the court? Can they not be satisfied to know that it is a girl and their lineage is safe?"
He shook his head, raising an eyebrow. "Surely my lady understands the necessity of the court's demands. After all, my lady did refuse to reveal the gender of the child beforehand."
Layela sighed. Of course, she hadn't wanted the gender of the child to be known. She herself only knew because of the ether, and hadn't allowed any scanners or imaging devices to be used on her child. Had it been a boy, they would have callously shipped him off, as per the generations of women before her. But she had refused to give them that power. Just as she refused to pretend Ardin didn't exist, that he wasn't the father of her child.
"How long will this 'show' take, Gresko?" She spoke harsher than intended. She looked down at the baby, her beautiful face still red and wrinkled, her eyes closed. She was perfection. Fragile, helpless perfection.
"Just a few moments. You simply need to introduce her to the court. Quite a few have gathered, waiting."
Ardin raised an eyebrow. "They've been here for the entire labour?"
The Court Advisor managed to look down at Ardin, despite their similar height.
"The birth of Layela's daughter ensures the safety of Mirial. It is the single most important event that will occur until her daughter's daughter is born. Mirialers understand this," he added with disdain.
Layela's daughter. She could see Ardin's muscles stiffen, and she spoke quickly to avoid any altercations.
"Then let's do it." She struggled to sit up, Ardin stepping in to help. "I'll change and we'll go introduce her, quickly." She stood and held the advisor's eyes with hers. "Both Ardin and I will introduce our child."
He looked about to protest but, seeing the steel in her eyes, quickly backed down.
"Can you take her, please?" Layela whispered to Ardin. His look of annoyance melted away as he took his daughter, holding her as though she were made of the finest glass. Layela smiled and told everyone else to leave so she could clean and change.
And then she would step out before her throne, to follow a path laid at her feet long before she was even born, a path gilded with tradition and belief that she was something more than just an exhausted new mother who wanted little more than to curl up in bed with Ardin and her baby.
Her sole consolation was the controversy she was about to create with the name of her child.
The silk of her dress danced around her swollen ankles as she walked towards the court, Ardin behind her, the little girl quiet in her arms. She cradled her close, the visions in her mind as quiet as the child now, the ether dancing around them, content.
Maybe the ether always freaks out that way at first, Layela thought, pushing against the fatigue to force a smile upon her face. She took a deep breath and pushed through the curtains that lead her into the court.
So hushed was the court that the only sound Layela could hear was the silk of her skirt.
They all looked at her with joy and curiosity. In truth, they didn't know what she would spring on them. The child, swaddled in white, betrayed nothing of its gender to onlookers.
Ardin stayed close to her, gathering more than a few disapproving glances. As though the fathers were no more than mere donors. She still had no idea who her father was, and for all she knew he stood in this room at this very moment. She never would know, this she was certain of, but in her heart of hearts she now accepted it had been Captain Zortan Mistolta, who had died protecting her.
She wished she had asked him while he still lived.
The faces of the court were turning from curious to impatient. Layela waited a moment longer, standing before the great lavish throne. A few of the Berganda had gathered as well, already adults at the tender age of five, some already seeding children of their own.
Layela smiled a large, expansive smile.
"It's a girl," she simply said, and the court broke out into cheers, all but the Berganda who were as taken aback as her by the display. Sun was streaming in. Layela had no idea the sun had risen, or what time it was. The smell of incense and booze tackled her still overly sensitive nose, mixing with the scents of her own blood.
"These people need something else to occupy their time," Ardin whispered as he came close, protective of the two of them.
Layela kept her smile plastered on, the court thankfully celebrating amongst themselves and not imposing any closeness on her. She was exhausted, her arms trembling under the little girl.
She turned to Ardin. "Can you take her for a bit? I'm tired, for some reason."
He grinned at her and carefully took the swaddling, his arms still and uncomfortable, his face set in deep concentration. Layela hid a smile, wishing Avienne were here – she would find her usually confident brother's hesitation with the baby hilarious.
She carefully made sure the head was well supported before removing her own arms. Ardin glowed with pride, gently holding his daughter.
"What is the new Keeper's name?" someone shouted, and the room grew quiet again. Layela noted a few pointed looks shot at Ardin, who was carefully holding the baby, barely acknowledging onlookers. Layela stayed near him.
"Her name is Ardice." She paused. She gauged reactions. Gresko had informed her that the child had to be named of Old Mirial, just as Layela's name meant 'night' and Yoma's had meant 'day.' She continued with the formal introduction, certain no one had missed the resemblance to Ardin's name. Let them try and deny him now.
"The new Keeper's name is of Old Mirial, meaning 'flowering field.' May she bring new growth to Mirial, as the sun's rays bring back the rich wonders to grace our landscapes once more."
The Berganda were smiling widely, their green skin and hair shining with pleasure. Basically plants themselves, they seemed to appreciate the idea of more and more vegetation on the once-lush planet. A few others looked happy, as well, but most seemed to be trying to swallow the slight Layela had paid them. She hoped she wasn't blushing.
These were her people, or so she had been told. She should trust them implicitly and only try to do what was best for them. But she wasn't convinced all of these limiting traditions were working out for them, either.
Ardice coughed and then began to scream and cry, her shrill voice bouncing off the walls of the court, reaching every far corner. White mists assaulted Layela's thoughts, clinging to her sight, bells tolling in the far reaches of her mind. She looked up, Ardin's eyes wide and frightened, and the world around her swayed. Ether bounced off the side of the court. The Berganda, more sensitive to it than the Mirialers, screamed and clutched their heads as the ether pounded against their telepathic minds.
Layela took a step forward and grabbed the child from Ardin's arms. She tried to coddle her with small chants, to bounce her up and down, but the screaming only intensified.
"We have to stop her," Ardin came near, shouting in Layela's ear. The whole room echoed Ardice's screams and many of the assembled had fallen to the ground, clutching their heads. Some of the Berganda were no longer moving.
Layela forced herself to concentrate, to soothe Ardice with ether. It seemed to Layela's untrained eyes that the ether was at counter-measure to Ardice, like small sparks striking her daughter. And Ardice fought back the only way she knew, by crying. But her cries were twisting that same ether and it lashed out around her.
Layela cooed and concentrated, commanding all of the ether away from her daughter, forming a protective bubble around her. Ardice, not realizing Layela was trying to help, was fighting back and pulling the ether closer like a protective blanket. Layela kissed Ardice's cheek, the skin-to-skin contact comforting Ardice, and she let go of the ether. Layela quickly closed the protective bubble, her back covered with sweat at the exertion.
Calmer, Ardice settled and stopped screaming, her face red from the outburst. Layela soothed the ether around her, sending gentle urges to the Berganda who were recovering, and softly singing to her daughter.
The bells stopped tolling.
She took a deep breath and the room stopped swaying. She looked up at Ardin, her heart catching in her throat at the worry and fear in his eyes.
"She's just tired." Layela whispered. "We're both tired."
She gave him an encouraging smile and he nodded, though the worry in his eyes didn't lessen.
She turned to the court. The fallen were stirring, the others still in shock.
"I'll take care of this. You go rest," Ardin said. Layela wanted to voice an objection, but she was so exhausted she could only nod. She turned around and walked back through the curtains, hearing Ardin say a few comforting words, some gentle jokes about newborns, and encouraging the tired to rest up. That it had been a big day, and the celebrations were just beginning.
She walked further into the palace, where she herself had been born almost twenty-five years ago and immediately whisked away, where her sister had been born and died nearby, and where now her daughter was born.
And, perhaps if Layela understood more of Mirial and its need for a Keeper, her daughter could choose to leave, to visit the stars and grow her own family amongst them, away from the clutches of the ancient, silent star.
Murl Clacent still stood on shaky legs, but made certain not to show it. She brushed her short sandy hair from her face and inspected herself. Her uniform had been damaged with her fall. She fussed with a rip in her sleeve, embarrassed. A soldier of Mirial, especially one of its captains, should always look her best. She straightened and looked around at the gathered, some fallen, some wounded, some laughing, others crying.
Ardin, son of the great Captain Malavant, was going around trying to make light of the fact that the Keeper and her new daughter had almost killed them. Bile splashed in her throat. He had no idea about this planet. He was a full-blood, but as useless as any off-worlder. The last time such a thing had happened at a birthing, Mirial had been cast into twenty years of darkness and fear. And he was trying to make light of it, acting like a new proud father ready to hand out fine grade cigars.
Murl turned her back to him, looking at the fallen around her. She helped a Mirialer up, an old man she remembered from the base camp of Mirial, years ago. He had survived the calamity that had almost destroyed their planet and had swept away most of its people. The Great Darkness.
"I'm all right," he said, giving her a weak smile. She smiled at him and spoke gently.
"There are so few of us left, we cannot risk losing you because you are too stubborn to admit you are in pain."
The old man nodded and she led him to a chair, staying with him until a healer came by and took him under her care.
She turned to leave, but the old man clutched her wrist. "Thank you, Murl." He loosened his grip, looking tired. "Your parents would be proud of you."
Murl swallowed the tears and nodded, offering him a weak smile before walking out, past the ether creatures that shouldn't even live on Mirial, past the off-worlders who paraded as full Mirialers, even if they had no idea how to be a proper one. Exiting into the fresh air of day. She was assaulted by the smell of thousands of blooms which lay about the palace grounds and surrounding areas.
If there was one compliment she could pay the new Keeper, it was that she was good with plants. Mirial was starting to flourish again under her care. But mostly around the castle. Other areas, like her home village, would still be without food if not for other help.
But that hardly mattered now. A new Keeper was born, and it was already obvious that the ether did not intend to be soothed or calmed by this daughter of Mirial.
Mirial had been broken once too many times. She rebelled against her off-world Keeper, against the lack of respect for her history. There was no way to re-instil the peace that had always prevailed on Mirial without first dealing with a few issues.
If the Keeper couldn't protect them, Murl knew someone else who could.
She glanced back, caught the eyes of her brother. He grinned and she smiled back, the smile not fading as the earth began to shake. Murl ran back into the hall to help the old man and the healers escape. She ignored the Berganda, who were writhing in agony. The angry ether was tearing them and their powers apart.
The old stones of the palace cracked, echoed by screams of terror. A moment of complete silence followed before another crack and more screams. Nobles and servants began pouring from the throne room, the air crackling with their fear. A red-dressed elderly woman managed to grab a child before the frenzied crowd trampled him. A roar exploded from within the palace, thickening the air and smothering Murl's senses. Everyone around her fell to the ground, trying to cover their loved ones or making themselves as small as they could. Murl remained standing by her brother and she listened beyond the roar. She could clearly hear the sound of a crying child riding the waves of the ether.
Mirial could be, would be, strong again.