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Chapter 1

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Light spilled over the threshold into the vast and barren hall, illuminating blue filaments in the marble flooring. It vanished when the doors shut with an ominous thud behind me.

I paused while my eyes adjusted to the moonlight filtering in through a series of tall, arched windows. Each one framed a unique snapshot of the surrounding nature reserve, lending the draughty hall the flattering impression of an art gallery. Reluctant to face the more sinister truth of the purpose of this room, I let my vision wander through the foggy panes and as far as the limitations of the environment allowed, all the way to the line of gumtrees heralding proper bushland in the distance. That distant canopy glowed with the ghostly light of the waxing moon. 

Sensing that I could delay no longer, I set forth along the path of least resistance to the head of the room, where the marble underfoot rose into broad steps that eventually levelled out into a dais. Atop the dais sat a striking mahogany throne, carved into the likeness of snarling wolves. Its most menacing feature, however, was the man who occupied it; power seemed to ooze from his pores, hovering about him like a dark miasma.

But I'd grown accustomed to my father's posturing over the years. My eyes skirted over him in favour of the unfamiliar figure by his side. The wall sconces hadn't been lit, indicating the unexpected nature of this social call. Our guest was someone of relative importance, then — and impudence. Already holding the mysterious stranger personally responsible for the reprehensible interruption of my sleep, I turned the most disapproving of looks I could muster on —

her. I blinked stupidly, genuinely surprised that I wasn't the only woman in the room. Most of the guests my father entertained were male, reflecting the frustrating distribution of power in our shadow society. She smiled at me, but the gesture was a little too earnest for my liking, especially considering we'd never met. I found my steps faltering, something deep within me urging caution, despite her approachable demeanour.

Seeking an explanation for my unease, I openly scrutinised her from head to toe. The woman's clothes would have been fitting for a smart-casual party, and she wore no makeup as far as I could tell. Her hair was fine and wispy, as compellingly dark as her complexion, and she'd somehow managed to twist it up in a knot that looked sophisticated rather than slovenly. The corner of my mouth twitched up ruefully; I'd never had the knack for that sort of thing, no doubt evidenced by the bird's nest atop my head even now.

But that is neither here nor there, I chided myself. Of more interest (and concern) was the crown of thorns atop the woman's brow, fashioned from gleaming white-gold. It was a beautiful piece, but a trickle of blood by her left temple implied it was more than just a pretty bauble. The points were undeniably sharp.

"Good evening, Chance," she addressed me, respectfully inclining her head. Her voice was deeper than I would have expected, given her petite stature. "I'm glad you could join us."

"It certainly took you long enough," Father grumbled, searching my form for any sign of grooming as he rose from the throne. He found none. I'd learned from experience not to test his patience when summoned, no matter how inconvenient the time of night might be.

"Actually, she's right on time," the visitor said wryly.

It took all of my willpower not to frown. Was she trying to aggravate him?

"Who are we entertaining this evening?" I pointedly asked my father, bypassing the presumptuous girl.

"Midna Everclear," he boomed in reply. "Prophet of the Council of Thirteen."

I raised an eyebrow; I'd never met a witch before. Though my father was polite towards the magical community in formal settings — like us, the Council of Thirteen owned a third of Melbourne City's infrastructure — he tried not to associate with them unnecessarily.

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