In Lagos, Princess Amari sits through a stuffy meal with gossipy nobility as her mother criticizes her every move. A servant warns Amari that Binta, a divîner servant and Amari’s only friend, was escorted to Amari’s father, King Saran.
Amari’s day-to-day existence is confined to her responsibilities to her family. She lives in fear of her parents, who seem to demand her absolute loyalty and obedience.
Amari’s mother compliments Samara, a young, rich girl who is betrothed to Amari’s brother, Inan. Amari knows that what her mother values is Samara’s lighter skin, which is seen as a mark of nobility. In fact, in the past, she subjected Amari to painful beauty regimens aimed at lightening her skin.
The cast system in Orïsha, which places darker-skinned, white-haired maji on the bottom rung of society, leads to obsession with appearance and discrimination against those who possess certain attributes.
Worried that Binta may be in trouble with her father, King Saran, Amari excuses herself from the room and sneaks into a hiding spot in her father’s throne room. Surprisingly, she sees the king lecturing Admiral Ebele and Commander Kaea. She overhears as Kaea explains that some artifacts—a scroll and a sunstone—washed ashore in a village and activated the powers of some local divîners, turning them into maji.
Amari’s fear of her father further shows how her parents have kept her under their control. Amari is so afraid of disobeying and getting in trouble that she has a regular hiding spot she can use to keep out of her father’s sight. The unexpected appearance of artifacts challenges Saran’s strategy of wiping out divîner culture, which is one way of keeping them from building communities and gaining strength against him.
Horrified, Amari watches as Binta is dragged into the room by guards. When Kaea forces her to hold the scroll, brilliant multi-colored light pours over the room from her hand. Although she has been warned that magic is evil, Amari thinks it looks beautiful.
Saran has no qualms about treating Binta harshly. Since Binta is a divîner, Saran sees her as inferior. Amari has been taught that magic is wicked and dangerous because such beliefs help to dehumanize the divîners and justify violence against them.
Suddenly, King Saran stabs Binta in the chest with his sword, killing her instantly. Amari runs out of the room and throws up. Then, she steals into Kaea’s room, where a guard has deposited the scroll. King Saran’s cloak is also there. She takes both.
Due to his firmly held belief in the inferiority of divîners, Saran doesn’t hesitate to kill Binta, even though she is his daughter’s only friend. Witnessing this horrific act immediately causes Amari to feel disgusted and disconnected from her father. She literally cannot stomach this act of gratuitous violence.