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Authors: Robert Priest

Second Kiss

BOOK: Second Kiss

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied

By a chance bond together


The river flowed both ways. The current moved from north to south, but the wind usually came from the south, rippling the bronze-green water in the opposite direction.

— Margaret Laurence

For Marsha Kirzner, Ananda Lebo, Eli and Daniel Kirzner-Priest,

my parents Betty and Ted Priest, Eitan and

Erez Lebo, and William Broome and Pearl Priest


The following is a brief recap of Book 1 of the Spell Crossed series:

For fifty years the people of the Phaer Isle have been subjugated by the crystal-faced Pathans who live in the underearth. In order to prevent a resurgence of spellcraft, which they believe is rooted in text, the Pathans have destroyed all the literature of the Phaer people and executed all of the mages. Reading and writing and even singing are now forbidden and two generations have passed with the Phaer people living in slavery, hardly even aware of their great literary tradition and proud history.

Seventeen-year-old Xemion has been raised in an isolated, mountainous part of the island by a woman named Anya. Since he was young, she taught him to read from a collection of tiny books stored in a small locket. The collection contains, among other classics, the Phaer Tales — epic stories from the island's legendary past. Reading these stories has given Xemion romantic ideals and convinced him that he will one day be a great warrior.

This desire only increases after he rescues a teenage girl named Saheli from a raging mountain river. There is a tradition in the Phaer Tales that two warriors who join forces in a fated love bond can gain even greater power together. Xemion is convinced that Saheli is his warrior beloved, but he keeps these thoughts to himself.

Saheli's physical wounds heal, leaving only a diagonal scar over her left eyebrow, but she still cannot remember anything about where she came from or what happened before she met Xemion. All she knows is that she has a deep fear of magic.

After the sudden death of Anya, Xemion begins to recite the stories to Saheli and to other children from Sho, the local fishing village. Two of these children are a boy named Torgee, who has feelings for Saheli, and his younger and very headstrong sister, Tharfen, whose feelings for Xemion are deep and troubled. Despite the Pathan strictures against the use of any kinds of weapons, the four also take to games of swordplay using sticks, though Tharfen uses a sling and stones, with which she has excellent aim.

Then one day Xemion discovers a stick that is so like the blade of a sword he can't resist putting a copper point on it and covering it in silver luminous paint to give it the look of a real sword. When he performs a sword dance with it, his performance is witnessed by a man named Vallaine who, strangely, has one red hand. He tells Xemion and Saheli that the Pathans are currently so embroiled in civil war that they've had to withdraw all their own troops from the Phaer Isle. Vallaine invites Xemion and Saheli to come with him on his ship to the city of Ulde where a rebellion against the kwislings — traitorous Phaer Islanders who the Pathans have chosen to rule in their absence — is about to begin. Xemion is tempted to go but Saheli is mistrustful of Vallaine. Besides, they are bound by previous vows and tell him they cannot go.

That evening when they return to the tower hidden inside a tree where they live, Xemion reads a new story from the collection in the library, but this time when he finishes it the locket poses a riddle: “Who'll be gouged and who'll be gored by the sword inside the sword. Will its power be ignored O who will wield the paper sword?”

Meanwhile, in Sho, a sadistic examiner — a Kwisling official in charge of weeding out children in the populace who may be spellbinders — shows up and catches Tharfen. He beats her until she provides him with information about the two teenagers who he has heard live alone in the forest. When he gets to the tower tree, he tries to kill their spell-crossed pet, Chiricoru, which is part swan, part rooster. Xemion thwarts him by using the painted sword, but in the aftermath of the fight their forest home burns to the ground and they are forced to flee. They decide to head toward Ulde and the rebellion.

The two are unexpectedly joined by Torgee and Tharfen, who warn them that the examiner is pursuing them with a pack of vicious Pathan dogs. Together the four stay overnight in the woods, close to an old hunting lodge. In the middle of the night, Saheli begins to be plagued by a strange melody that runs over and over in her mind. When the morning comes, they discover inside the lodge a large spell kone and, fastened to the ceiling, an old, long-haired, howling madman. They all flee in terror, but soon discover that the examiner and the dogs are closing in.

When the four travellers are trapped in a mountain pass haunted by ghouls, Xemion and Saheli are forced to drink water from one of the two magic wells in order to pass through the gates. Xemion drinks the water of memory and Saheli, despite the protests of a ghoul who turns out to be her mother, drinks the waters of forgetfulness. When the examiner arrives and attempts to follow them through the gate, Tharfen launches a stone with her sling that breaks the bottle he is drinking from. She has her revenge on him as he is attacked by a mob of ghouls, who take him into their fold.

As they continue on their journey, Xemion comes face-to-face with a dragon. Just as he fears it is about to kill him, it turns and kills the last of the Pathan dogs instead, and Xemion believes that the dragon deliberately saved him. Later, in the town of Shissilill (which due to spell crossing now has no friction), Xemion and Tharfen collide at great speed. Somehow they pass right through each other, but each retains a small piece of the other. Later Xemion is pained to discover that Saheli and Torgee have collided in the same way and now also share a piece of each other.

During their time in Shissilill, Xemion and Saheli get separated from Torgee and Tharfen. They continue on together into the deeply spell-crossed eastern side of the city of Ulde, where they again run into Vallaine, the mysterious man with the red hand. He warns Xemion to get rid of the painted sword as soon as possible and shakes hands with Xemion and Saheli before sending them on their way. Since, as he has implied to Xemion, he is a middle mage, the shaking of the hands activates the properties of the waters of memory and forgetfulness in the two. Xemion and Saheli take the path recommended by Vallaine, which passes right by the Great Kone, thought to be the origin of all textual magic on the Phaer Isle. To gain courage in this passage, Saheli, who has grown increasingly frightened of magic, for the first time takes Xemion's hand, and when they get safely by she kisses him on the lips, much to Xemion's surprise. Although Vallaine warned him not to read any of the exposed lettering on the Great Kone, as Saheli kisses him, Xemion's eyes alight on one letter — an

Xemion and Saheli cross over into the western side of the city, where youth from all over the island are gathering at an ancient stadium known as the Panthemium in order to join the rebellion and the new military academy. As they wait in line with the others, a young man named Brothlem Montither assaults someone. Saheli intervenes. Enraged, Montither turns on her with his weapon in hand, but Xemion uses the painted sword to subdue him. The incident ends with the arrival of the legendary Tiri Lighthammer, hero of the Battle of Phaer Bay, fought fifty years earlier.

Soon after, inside the Panthemium, the assembly is interrupted by a troop of kwisling soldiers led by the departing Pathan governor. In the uproar that follows, the governor is wounded and humiliated by Tiri Lighthammer and is forced to leave. But in all the confusion, Xemion and Saheli are separated.

Xemion searches frantically through the crowd, but just when he thinks he sees her, the leader of the rebellion, Veneetha Azucena, brings everything to a halt. She announces that all in attendance must immediately take the official vow of the rebellion's new military academy. This ritual involves all participants crossing their arms in front of them and grasping the hands of the two people on either side. When Xemion does this he finds himself wedged uncomfortably between a bitter and vengeful Tharfen, who has appeared out of nowhere, and the bully, Montither, whose hatred for Xemion is obvious. With these two contentious comrades he must take the vow of friendship and alliance.

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