The Thirteenth by Parvathi Ramkumar

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Narvi scanned the woodlands, and the shimmering water in the pool before him. Beyond the pool he could see the ruins of an ancient temple. The rooftop and walls had crumbled like soft cookies. Nevertheless, it looked imposing as a shaft of golden sunlight struck, illumining the sandstone. The pool reflected the temple as only a polished mirror could. He saw his own face, the sharp features and clear eyes.

Narvi brought out a piece of stale cake from his shoulder bag and put it into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed, ignoring the slightly rancid taste. He knew nearly a hundred people stood behind him, ready to urge him on.

Cynical as always, he thought them pathetic.

‘You hesitating?' somebody asked. Narvi scowled and shook his head. The question only affirmed what he already knew; it was too late to retreat. He couldn't, anyway. He had been chosen by the ancestor spirits to attempt what no other could. He was born under the magical star Tan, and he was a sorcerer. Only one in many thousand was born under Tan, and every individual born under it would be a sorcerer. He was one. There were twelve more in the world of Imin, and Narvi knew they were not among the people of the two free clans.

He had been, in his childhood, a hopeless student. None respected him, and none foresaw what he was destined to become. Not even the ancestor spirits the people of Imin worshipped. Narvi was a strange child, scornful and hostile.

But by the time he was sixteen, everything had changed. His inactive mind had sprung to action, and the latent magic began to manifest itself. An eccentric genius, some said he was. Narvi became, in three years, the most powerful sorcerer the two free clans had ever seen. His understanding of the nuances of the arcane was profound. The ancestor spirits, who interacted with the priests of the clans on occasion, were quick to act. Narvi was, to nobody's surprise, chosen to retrieve the necromantic scepter from Imin's king.

Narvi climbed into the canoe moored on the banks and took up the paddle.

****

There was a hush as the king of Imin entered the ceremony hall. His courtiers made way for him, heads lowered, and led him to the twelve sorcerers of Imin.

They stood in a semicircle, waiting, looking at the floor, waiting for their king to address them so they might move. Emblazoned on their mauve silk cloaks were gold tigers, the royal symbol. Their eyes wandered to the silver scepter in the king's hand.

King Arivi was the fourth king of Imin after the great rebellion of the eight clans. Long ago Imin had no king, but when Wil, the legendary leader of clan Ur, united the clans against the menace of the evil ancestor spirit Vae and defeated him, he was instantly crowned the first monarch. A palace was built for Wil in Ur.

The second king of Imin, Arivi's grandfather, was born under the star Tan. He was the youngest of four, and before long he learned that his magical abilities were limited. His siblings jeered at him and laughed at his fruitless efforts to cast complicated spells.

The young prince was devastated, until a strange apparition began to haunt his dreams.

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