The story opens with an argument between Verne and her mother, Queen Ashaylah, about Typhon’s final tempest, a rogue storm that has escaped the bounds of the compass and threatens Longfield’s survival. Verne reveals she believes her mother is stealing her gift and admits she is willing to kill her.
We learn that the Queen’s insecurity about her position started with the return of her brother, Kratos, who won the people’s support preaching about the need to prepare an army to protect Tibuta for the arrival of the tempest.
Verne reminisces about a time when her family was happy. She remembers her father teaching her to calm her mind, her first encounter with a commoner and her mother’s jealousy which inevitably causes the disintegration of her family.
Verne is six when her mother has her tested by the high priestess, Maud Lias, who reveals Verne is the child of balance who will save Tibuta from the final tempest. Verne already has webbed feet as the prophesies predicted. She must await the arrival of a seabird and her gift which will prove she is the chosen one. Rather than being excited by this news Ashaylah seems annoyed and insists Verne lie about it to her father.
Verne’s mother bans her father from spending time with her. Verne begins combat training with Drayk, an immortal who has lived some thousand years and we learn that to become immortal, Drayk had to slay Nemea, a serpent, and take the stone from her heart. Each time he is killed he regenerates through the stone until his fortieth year when he dies and is reborn in a new form. Drayk reflects that it is man’s fate to have to relive the lives of those who have come before. He observes that in a perfect world, we would have collective knowledge.
Verne is nine and she sneaks out of the palace, joins a mob heading towards the temple and witnesses a soldier’s brutal and bloody initiation ceremony. During the ceremony there is an attack by the rebels, the Shark’s Teeth, and a group of commoners help Verne get safely back to the palace. Disturbed by what she has seen, she is critical of the current state of affairs and promises to change Tibuta for the good.
We are introduced to Hero, Verne’s cousin who is ungifted like Verne. After being shunned because they do not have their gifts, they hide in the roof cavity and witness their cousin, Chase, being tattooed to signify that he is a Talent. This is establishes them as outsiders.
Verne recalls meeting her best friend Harryet when her uncle King Jace Steele of Caspius comes to visit Tibuta. Verne speaks to the high priestess and reveals that her mother has threatened her with death should she reveal the result of her testing. This is the last time the high priestess is seen outside the temple and we suspect the growing animosity between the temple and the palace especially considering the queen has disbanded the council and taken ultimate power of the court.
Verne asks her mother if she can make Harryet her lady-in-waiting. In a mean twist of fate Verne’s mother agrees to give her the girl only to shock her with the news that she has sold her old nanny and had had her pet satryx put to death.
One day during winter, a seabird arrives unexpectedly which Verne, Harryet and Hero name Callirhoe. Harryet is certain the bird is proof that Verne is the chosen one. Verne isn’t so sure so she confronts her father and admits to him that her mother made her lie about the results of her testing all those years ago. She asks for her father’s help but her father will not confront Queen Ashaylah and cautions patience. Verne looses all respect for her father and calls him “spineless.”