Rashied gasped, his jaw falling open and refusing to close again. He knew her. She’d been his goddess, the one every one of his whispered prayers were intended for since he was five. She was the goddess of luck, both good and ill. Her temple in Tornston was gilded and beautiful. He’d been running away from his parents, mad at them for some long forgotten fight, when he stumbled inside and was instantly overwhelmed by her glory. His parents never let him return, afraid of their son becoming a thief or gambler like most of Nissiana’s worshipers. It didn’t matter; the damage was done. As he looked around in wonder at the men and women, some laughing over cards and dice, others weeping at the feet of the stunning golden statue that looked down on them with a mischievous smirk, he knew he belonged there.
She laughed again and lifted a hand to his cheek. “That’s right. You saw me that day, and I saw you. My fearless, fickle, fool of a boy. You pledged your heart to me that night in your room. You didn’t hear it, but I gave you mine in return. And then I told Zwi to watch over you until you were ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“You gave me your heart,” Nissiana murmured. “Will you give me everything else? Will you be mine?”
His brows knit. “I don’t understand. What do I have that you can’t take?”
She brushed her lips over his forehead in a kiss that burned as if she’d pressed hot iron to it. He cried out and pressed a hand to the spot as she backed away.
“I am not one of the ten who rule the Plateau of the Gods. But hard days are coming, and even us who are not invited to the great table are at risk. I’m not the sort to sit back and watch the game unfold without me. I’ve never had a Guardian before, but times are changing. I would make you my first. If you will allow it.”
Rashied was proud of his ability to accept all the world threw at him with a face that showed nothing. It was a skill he learned in the years before Arturas, when taking bad news with a smile was the only thing that saved his and Chetana’s lives. But there was no rolling with this. He was just a lowborn boy from Tornston. He ran away so long ago, he wasn’t even sure he would recognize his parents if they stood before him. He didn’t have a gold piece to his name, and that name wasn’t known to any but the sailors on the Fortune.
His jaw hung somewhere near the floor of the nest. He tried to close it, to pull out some word from the whirlwind in his head, but both were as beyond him as what she offered.
She took his hand and squeezed, glancing out to the ropes where Chetana was frozen. “I will never lie to you, Rashied, no matter what answer you give. If you say yes, you will have the power to save your friend. But the Fortune’s Promise is lost. It’s not your fault, though the storm you called has sped it along. It was doomed the moment your captain decided to leave Rokvor. Centuries ago a powerful man built a barrier to separate it from the rest of Elysium. I could tell you why, but that is a long story that has no bearing on the events today. This barrier has been the death of so many ships I’ve lost count. Now it’s claimed yours.”
“Can’t you…” The words were slow in coming and felt odd on his tongue. “You can save it.”
“I have the ability,” Nissiana confessed. “But I cannot. There are forces that led you all to this place, forces that would not approve of my interference. I’m not strong enough to stand against them. But I can save you.” She smiled.
Clarity glimmered through the storm of confusion. There was only one thing he needed to know. “And I can save Chetana.”
Nissiana squeezed his hand again. “I’m sorry I can’t give you more.”
He smiled. “It’s enough.”