Tales from the front air.., p.1
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       Tales from the Front (Air Awakens Bonus #1), p.1

           Elise Kova
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Tales from the Front (Air Awakens Bonus #1)


  ELISE KOVA

  INTRODUCTION

  Tales from the Front was originally a blog series I orchestrated following Fire Falling and leading up to the release of Earth’s End. I knew the cliffhanger ending of Fire Falling would be unbearable for many, and I thought that Tales from the Front would be an exciting and engaging way for people to theorize about how Earth’s End would start. My excitement to try something like Tales from the Front for my readers was actually one of the reasons I decided to take the risk on the cliffhanger. That, and because ending Fire Falling where I did helped create a beautiful symmetry in Earth’s End with how the third book of Air Awakens starts and finishes.

  As a result, Tales from the Front contains spoilers! If you have not read the first and second Air Awakens books and are sensitive to spoilers do not read this. It is meant to be supplemental material for between Fire Falling and Earth’s End.

  The content in this bonus is meant to function as an opportunity to gain more insights into the characters and the world. When read in conjunction with Fire Falling and Earth’s End, it helps create a richer picture. It’s not meant to stand on its own. It is also in a rougher state than what is published – you will find errors in here! Usually, my work goes through multiple rounds of editing and proofreading across multiple eyes. Tales from the Front has only been read by me. So consider this like having an author’s raw manuscript in your pocket.

  But, disclaimers aside about what this is, isn’t, and how to consume it, I hope Tales from the front is an opportunity for my readers to engage further with the Air Awakens world. This bonus is longer than what was originally published on blogs during the Tales from the Front blog tour. The ordering of the points of view presented here is chronological to the story. It begins just before the end of Fire Falling and continues past the beginning of Earth’s End.

  Happy Reading!

  Elise Kova

  ALTERNATE Points of View

  FRITZ

  ALDRIK

  ELECIA

  ALDRIK

  FRITZ

  Reale

  EMPEROR SOLARIS

  JAX

  DANIEL

  BALDAIR

  TIM

  ERION

  FRITZ

  Every morning, Fritz woke up and told himself he wouldn’t cry. Every morning, Fritz lied to himself.

  Larel was dead and Vhalla was gone. Well, Vhalla wasn’t gone. He knew she was somewhere close. She was still owned by the crown and there was no way the Emperor would let her out of his sight. And, if not the Emperor, Fritz knew that the crown prince certainly wouldn’t.

  Then again, it seemed Aldrik already had. Which only confused and upset Fritz all the more.

  He walked up to the crown prince’s tent immediately following the day’s march with determination. Fritz had finally managed to catch the eyes of the woman who rode under the black hood at the crown prince’s side and it was certainly not Vhalla. Fritz rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, taking a deep breath.

  “Prince Aldrik,” he announced from the doorway. The man’s eyes darted up from the short table at which he sat in momentary surprise. Eyes that Fritz had been raised to fear and respect narrowed at him. “I request a moment.”

  “You?” The prince’s mouth pressed into a thin line.

  “Yes.” Fritz was terrified. But he wouldn’t be ignored, not when it came to his Vhal. He boldly entered without invitation. “I have questions.”

  Aldrik leaned back and straightened. Somehow, even sitting, the man could command a presence as though he was twice Fritz’s height. “You think you can make demands of me?”

  “No,” Fritz wavered. “No. Yes. Yes I can. I am. I will. I want to know where Vhal is.”

  “I owe you nothing.” Fritz was actually surprised that he hadn’t burst into flames with the way the prince was looking at him.

  “I can help you.” He tried a different approach that quickly failed.

  “You?” Aldrik scoffed, telling Fritz exactly where he stood in the prince’s eyes.

  “Then. . . Then tell me where Vhal is or I’ll tell everyone that the girl at your side isn’t her.”

  The prince considered this for a long moment before speaking slowly, “Let us say, I do not tell you. You leave here and tell the men that their suspicion of the girl at my side being the Windwalker is not true. And, let us say, they believe you.” The prince finally stood, as if unfurling himself like a sailcloth made of shadow. He folded his hands at the small of his back, staring down at Fritz. “What would that achieve other than endangering the woman who you claim to be so fond of?”

  Fritz opened and closed his mouth. The boldness that had possessed him vanished before the Fire Lord and he struggled to summon again the strength that had consumed him enough to put him in the tent in the first place.

  “Fritznangle.” The prince crossed the distance between them, staring down his nose at him. For all Fritz loved Vhalla, he struggled to see what the woman saw in the overbearing and ruthless man. “To threaten me is idiotic.” His voice dropped to an ominous whisper. “To threaten, no, to even suggest something that would harm her, in my presence, is suicidal.”

  Fritz swallowed his discomfort and shifted his thinking. The crown prince no longer seemed to loom above him or stand apart. Suddenly, he was a man, a man not unlike Fritz himself. They no longer stood on opposite sides of a ring as opponents, but were on the same team. The tightness in his shoulders that Fritz had seen as agitation, could also be interpreted as fear. Passion and anger sparked a similar tension.

  “What can I do to protect her?” Fritz whispered.

  Aldrik’s eyes raked over him, as if searching every corner of Fritz’s soul, corners that Fritz didn’t even know existed.

  “Let me help you, Aldrik.”

  The prince’s eye twitched at Fritz’s bold lack of title. But it felt right. This was the man Vhal had chosen and Fritz loved Vhalla like he would one of his sisters. If Vhalla had chosen the prince, then Fritz would as well.

  Aldrik opened his mouth to give what promised to be a verbal thrashing, judging by his expression, when his attention shifted. In the tent’s entry stood one of the two women in question – the doppelganger. The girl’s eyes shone a bright cerulean, not unlike Fritz’s own. She looked like a doll, primed into beauty rather than the unpolished lovely nature of Vhalla.

  “You summoned me, my lord?” The doppelganger shifted slightly in a way the real Vhalla never would around Aldrik.

  Fritz sighed softly and his mouth resigned itself to a smile. He’d been hurting, and pain had bred selfishness. But the woman before him was clearly struggling as well. She was wrapped in the guise of another, unable to associate with anyone she once had. If she was to be Vhalla Yarl, then she needed Vhalla Yarl’s friends.

  He crossed the room to the woman, resting a palm on her shoulder. “Don’t be so nervous, Vhalla. The crown prince is your ally.”

  Fritz patted her twice and left her in the care of the Fire Lord. He vowed to ride with the girl the next day. It would only further the illusion that they were crafting. He would show the crown prince they stood together.

  ALDRIK

  Aldrik pulled his chainmail over his head with a soft hiss. His shoulder rejected the movement, protesting angrily. He pulled at the collar of his shirt, looking at the deep purple bruise that was already threatening to consume the skin between his neck and arm. It was going to make riding painful and now was not the time to be anything less than his best. Aldrik turned his attention to the mail with a sigh. It was dented, and fixing the links was an utterly loathsome process. It was a process he
d deal with later. For now, he was more determined to close his eyes for a blessed few minutes.

  He never expected to actually sleep. Sleeping would mean he’d be able to ease the tightness in his muscles and trust the buffoons under his command enough to do their jobs on lookout. The hollow underground, framed by a skeleton of tree roots, was a safe enough place to hole up in – his favorite on the march, if he was choosing between things he hated and things he loathed – but Aldrik was keenly aware that the one entrance made it both easy to defend and to be trapped within.

  Footfalls, muffled by soft earth, pried his tired eyes open. He’d pinned a square of canvas to the ground on his right and earthen wall at his left for a modicum of privacy – the benefits of being a prince. So, he didn’t see her until she was crouched down at the opening opposite the corner he was leaned against. She stared at him uncertainly from underneath her dark hood and Aldrik peered back through narrowed slits.

  He could still intimidate the girl, that was good. She should be intimidated. She should need to gather her confidence before initiating conversation with him. She should want to be kept at arm’s length. Things were better that way, and they always had been. The only times he’d slipped up had been Inad and Vhalla; and, given how his relationship had ended with the former and was shaping up with the later, it was not exactly a great track record.

  “My prince,” she whispered, mindful to keep her words low enough that they fell underneath the talking of soldiers enjoying their small reprieve around a tiny fire not far off.

  Aldrik imagined he were dissecting her piece by piece. He imagined starting with her heart and carving out her chest. He watched her squirm as if she could read his mind. It was a game he played, to see how far he could get mentally breaking down people bit by bit until they gave in and ran. Those who were foolish enough not to run were usually met with his ire and that was a fate that would usually send the bravest of men scrambling, much to Aldrik’s satisfaction.

  At least, it had been his satisfaction, until her. Until Vhalla Yarl, the library apprentice whose naïve trust sparked a dangerous flame of hope in his chest. Until she had stood up to him. Until she had made it his mission to regain that trust. The woman had ruined the fragile and lonely world he’d created for himself well and truly, that much was more evident by the day.

  The woman had saved him.

  “I brought you something, for bruising.”

  Aldrik studied her eyes, rather than imagining gouging them out. He had no idea how this creature, so beautifully soft and textbook feminine, had passed for the unorthodox variety of stunning that his Vhalla was. The girl’s eyes were nothing like his Vhalla’s.

  She produced a vial, placing it between them like a peace offering. Aldrik focused on it for a moment before returning his attention to her. Passing swift and harsh judgment on her meager token.

  “Why did you save me?”

  Well, he certainly hadn’t expected that. “Why, indeed?” he drawled, resting the back of his head against the wall of dirt behind him. “I could be sleeping now were it not for your intrusion on my privacy.”

  “It was stupid.” She frowned.

  There was a time where he would’ve lashed out at her with such ferocity that she would’ve wished he’d taken a physical whip to her. But, for as annoying as the girl was, for all the ways she was wrong and not his Vhalla, she did have one similarity with the woman she was masquerading as. She’d somehow wormed her way under his skin and into a place that wasn’t easily removed. Likely only as a result of the illusion they’d been keeping for weeks. After all, he was the Fire Lord, the dark prince, and he didn’t make friends.

  “I shall overlook that comment.” He needed her to be aware that while she’d managed some special status it wasn’t to be tried or tested. It stilled her and she finally lowered her eyes, humbled. Aldrik hadn’t realized until he’d been interacting with the girl how much he’d enjoyed his Vhalla and how she was finally keeping her eyes upward when speaking to him.

  “Thank you, my prince.” She mumbled.

  Aldrik watched as she withdrew, pulling herself away mentally before she began to move physically. In the back of his mind he heard Vhalla’s voice encouraging him, more like demanding of him.

  “Timanthia.” The girl cringed at her name. Aldrik couldn’t indulge her on everything and saying her full name was one way that he’d show he would not bend to her wishes. He was still her prince. “Thank you, for the potion.”

  Timanthia stilled and had the audacity to give him a small smile. Aldrik returned it with a scowl.

  “You’re welcome, my lord. I hope you have the pleasant variety of dreams today.”

  Aldrik watched her as she finally retreated. It had been a mistake, telling her anything of his dreams. It had been a dangerous calculation on his part, taking her into his tent on the march. He loathed it still, bringing another woman into the sanctity that had become something he’d viewed only for him and Vhalla. But his love’s life depended on everyone else’s belief that she still was at his side and Aldrik would do what needed to be done for that illusion to remain. Even if it meant showing false favor to the girl.

  False favor, however, quickly stirred the murky waters of his dark and dusty heart – a heart he’d kept so carefully closed since Vhalla had forced it open. The girl paled against his lady. Tim was mentally simple and boringly beautiful. She could never be someone he’d consider for a lover. But she was kind in the face of his ferocity and that reminded him just enough of the woman he pined for that he could not completely hate the girl. It had encouraged his lips to speak yes, instead of no, when she offered to drink alongside him on the march.

  But the dreams, those were things he should’ve never uttered. Timanthia borderline knew too much and that was not a feeling he was ever fond of.

  ELECIA

  Elecia tightened the muscles in her back, sitting as straight as possible. Despite doing so, she was still a good hand shorter than Aldrik and seemed to slump in comparison. Even sweaty, filthy, and exhausted, her cousin was the paragon of noble grace and poise. Just by waking in the morning he was everything she strove to be.

  “Our scouts report signs of Northern activity along the western side of the Pass.” Major Schnurr pointed along the map rolled out on the bare ground in the center of the small collection of majors. “I recommend we continue as planned and tackle that side.”

  “You want us to knowingly walk into a potential attack?” Major Kavas stole the words from Elecia’s mind. “And forego the opportunity to meet with the Emperor and strengthen our forces before?”

  “We know where the enemy is now.” Major Schnurr’s dark mustache bounced atop his lips as he spoke. “They are clearly yet regrouping. We should attack them head on when they least expect it, weed them out before they can flank us on the other end of the Pass or launch a greater attack later. If we stall they might know something is amiss.”

  Major Schnurr was never afraid to say the unpopular opinion if it was what he believed. It was an admirable trait, but that was the only thing Elecia found admirable about him. Those opinions had created a number of rifts in the Western Court over the years and, while it was never enough to prompt any kind of real or public action against the man, it was enough to give her grandfather trouble. That was something Elecia generally did not forgive.

  “That is one way to look at it…” Kavas conceded. “But I maintain that we should rejoin before the Pass. However much strength they can scrape together will pale in comparison to two thirds of the Empire’s finest fresh recruits.”

  “Don’t underestimate the ability of the Northerners to use the terrain to their advantage.” Major Vensum interjected. “In the jungle, every one Northerner is worth two, or even three, of our men.”

  “You think I don’t know that?” Kavas was only on his second trip to the warfront and his inexperience showed compared to the more seasoned majors. Elecia was on her first trip, but she’
d learned magic from her mother in jungles much like this and knew what it was capable of. Though, those jungles were much thinner on the Western coast of Shaldan where she had first practiced.

  “Your opinion would suggest otherwise, actually.” Schnurr didn’t miss the opportunity to make himself look better by putting someone else down.

  “You’ve already made your point known, Schnurr.” Kavas glared.

  “A point that is grounded in fact and experience.” The Western major twisted the proverbial knife.

  “Enough.” Aldrik pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. “If I desired to hear imbecilic ramblings I would sit around campfires.”

  The majors were silenced.

  “Do any of you actually have anything useful to further contribute?”

  More silence.

  “Then be gone with you and argue somewhere that you are not disturbing my thoughts.” Aldrik turned toward the map as the majors shifted to leave the tree trunk they had made their temporary council room within. “And if I hear word that the men see any rifts between their leadership I will personally and publically remove the causes.”

  Her cousin was as sharp and precise as a surgeon’s knife. He was unrelenting and ever calculating. People hated him because he was never wrong and perpetually perfect. It was for those same things that Elecia both loved and admired him.

  She remained in place as the rest of the majors left, an unquestioned presence at Aldrik’s right hand. If she had been born to any other notable family in the West she would have been Empress, she knew it. But, she was born a Ci’Dan, noble and proud. And for it she had worked to become the best council Aldrik could ever have. She would succeed her grandfather as the Lady of the West and rule half the world at Aldrik’s side, in her own way.

  Elecia watched as Aldrik’s eyes studied the map, seeing invisible forces moving across it like ants. She waited quietly, patiently, trying to think like he was.

 
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