Chapter 1: His Hand . . .

The sun rose on the Port, shining over the newly-remodeled city. Ever since the fall of Argelin and Ingeld, peace had been kept by a treaty sighed by the rulers of the eight islands. Mirany smiled behind the mask of the Speaker-to-the-God, breathing in the fresh morning air. She and the other eight girls stood in the temple, performing their usual morning ritual. Tethys, Chryse, Callia, and Ixaca were busy attending the God's statue.

Ever since Hermia's death, everyone had been promoted to a higher title. Rhetia was the luckiest of all, for she went from being the Cupbearer to the Bearer-of-the-God, a promotion rarely seen. Once the Taster, Washer, Cupbearer and Anointer-of-the God were finished, the Nine bowed their heads in silent prayer before the gong rang for breakfast.

As the girls moved into the dining hall, Mirany slipped away, making her way to the Ziggurat that held the mouth of the God. She slowly removed her mask, smiling at the now cleared hole in the center of the roof. "You truly ARE the Bright Lord. Ever since the war and treachery ended, the sun shines a little brighter every day." "As do the spirits of all those who live here." At first, Mirany believed the voice she heard was the God, but she soon realized that the dark velvety voice belonged to another. She turned, smiling at the sight of the familiar tomb thief now dressed as a common Lord.

"Jackal! I didn't hear you come up." He slowly moved closer, wearing his familiar smirk. "Well, a thief has to be light on his feet, Lady. And I thought I told you to call me Osarkon?" Mirany laughed lightly. "Forgive me, I'm just so used to—" Jackal placed his pointer finger on her lips lightly. "I was simply joking, Lady." He gave her a sincere smile, a surprise becoming more common.

Usually, the laws of the Island forbid men from ever stepping foot here. However, when Jackal and Seth had helped save the Oracle from Ingeld's invasion, some exceptions had been made. Mirany put the hand that didn't hold the mask on her hip. "Well, Lord Osarkon," she started sarcastically. "If I can call you Jackal, then you can call me Mirany."

Jackal raised an eyebrow then bowed dramatically. "I dare not, Priestess, for fear of insulting the God." Mirany laughed again, placing her mask on the ground and taking his shoulders, forcing him to straighten. "Please, Jackal, we're friends now, and I want no formalities between us." Jackal smiled again, nodding and taking hold of her hand. "Very well, Mirany. If that is what you wish." He brought her hand to his lips, kissing it and causing Mirany to flush red.

An annoying giggle from behind them caught Jackal's attention, and without turning, he glared. "It appears a two-faced cat is among us." Mirany watched Chryse walk closer, still giggling her fake air-headed laugh. "Oh, Jackal, I thought WE were friends too?" Jackal stiffened, continuing to glare at the treacherous girl. "We have never been and will never be friends. And its Lord Osarkon to you." Chryse pouted, playing with the mask in her hands.

"Well, maybe you might change your mind? I've changed you know." She batted her pretty eyelashes at him, with no effect. Jackal folded his arms. "You're just like your Aunt, Manto. Once a deceitful little witch, always one." Mirany shuddered at the mention of Manto's name. The woman had been captured once the Emperor had stopped the war. She had heard rumors that she was being held in Argelin's old prison cells. However, she had never actually checked, or had the desire to for that matter.

Chryse stamped her foot. "Oh! Don't compare me to her! I never liked her anyway!" Just before Chryse turned to leave, she smiled coyly and pointed at Jackal and Mirany. "Oh, and Mirany, you and you're boyfriend are welcome to join us at breakfast." She giggled and turned, skipping down the steps. It was at that moment that Mirany realized what the giggling girl had been pointing at. Jackal still held her hand. Jackal must have come to the same realization, for her released her hand quickly, and looked away, out over the sea. Mirany went red once more, looking at her hand. "Mirany," she looked up at the sound of his voice. "Yes?" "Come, you should eat. You need your strength for today's ceremony."

Mirany was surprised when he took hold of her hand once more, walking with her down the steps of the ziggurat and towards the dining hall. "J—Jackal? What about what Chryse said? We don't want people thinking—" "And why should I care about what CHRYSE of all people says? If I recall Rhetia's words correctly, she's nothing more than a 'scheming, treacherous, empty-headed little bitch.' Mirany was shocked by his comment, but couldn't hold back that snicker making it's way out from her mouth. She closed her fingers around Jackal's hand, allowing him to lead her inside.