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Waters wrath air awakens.., p.11
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       Water's Wrath (Air Awakens Series Book 4), p.11

           Elise Kova
slower 1  faster

  “Isn’t it nice to be Vhalla Yarl?” Roan’s words cut deep.

  “It’s not.”

  The other woman snorted and rolled her eyes. “The world revolves around you and what you want, doesn’t it? The great Windwalker decides for the rest of us what we can know and when we can know it.”

  “It wasn’t that, Roan. You know it wasn’t.”

  “I thought you were my friend.” There it was—the deepest wound that still seeped blood. “I thought you were my friend, and you didn’t trust me.”

  Roan couldn’t have known the depth of pain that her words caused. For all Vhalla had angrily faulted Aldrik for keeping her in the dark, she had done the same to Roan and Sareem. She knew that feeling of being shut out by someone she loved, and there was no heavier guilt than that feeling.

  “I’m sorry. I’m really, truly sorry. If I could do it again and fix it I would,” Vhalla said honestly.

  “You don’t get that luxury.” Roan frowned. “And you don’t get my forgiveness either.”

  “Roan, please—” Vhalla tried to stop the other woman as she began to head back to the desk.

  “No, Vhalla Yarl, I don’t want anything to do with you. You made your choice. Go back to your Tower.” Roan looked over Vhalla’s robes. She shook her head and continued away.

  Vhalla buried her face in her palms. But she didn’t cry. She allowed the air she breathed to echo through the hollow that ballooned in her chest.

  This was her true punishment for the Night of Fire and Wind.

  On the march, Vhalla had gained Larel and Fritz and Daniel and the rest of the guard. She’d learned the love of a prince. At war, she’d become betrothed. She’d paid the cost with her humanity, and that seemed enough to satiate the Senate.

  But this—this was the final ember of the Night of Fire and Wind finally flickering out. It was extinguishing the last light of her life from before she had become the Vhalla Yarl. There was no beacon back to the past, no warmth to keep her lingering. There was only forward now.

  Roan ignored her again at the desk.

  “Master.” Vhalla wasn’t about to let her trip be a total failure.

  “Yes?”

  “Before I left, you had me bind some books from the East. I was wondering if I might read them?”

  “You didn’t before?” The master was honestly surprised.

  “No . . .” Vhalla had been far too distracted with other things at that point.

  “I expected you had.” Mohned stroked his scraggly beard in thought. “No trouble. Come.”

  He took the library’s keyring from its hook behind the desk and began the slow shuffle toward the archives. Vhalla followed silently, adjusting the sleeves on her robes in thought.

  “Roan took it very hard,” the master stated the obvious. “Sareem’s death, your magic, you leaving.” Mohned sighed. “I was worried for her recovery.”

  “I’m sorry.” Vhalla felt like her apologies would soon mean nothing if she kept offering them left and right.

  “Sorry will neither change nor help now.” Mohned’s weathered voice was as soft as flipping pages. “Be patient, instead. Be kind in spite of her outward hostility. She still has a place for you in her heart.”

  Vhalla shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

  “She asked about you. To every person who even breathed a word with a messenger from the North. She hung on Court gossip. She began to read books on magic.”

  She couldn’t believe the same person the master was describing was the icy woman whom Vhalla had just faced.

  “But presented with you, in the flesh . . . I think some wounds are still too fresh.”

  “I know how that is,” Vhalla sighed.

  “So give her time.”

  “How long?”

  “It could be weeks, months, even years. You’ll know when it begins to feel right again. When her pain has been softened by love once more.” The master paused at the door to the archives. He gave Vhalla another long look. “I am glad, truly, to see you well.”

  “‘Well’ may be a matter of perspective,” Vhalla muttered. She felt thin and empty, filled with ghosts and specters.

  “From my perspective, a girl I watched grow up is finally coming into her own.” Mohned smiled tiredly. “And your hair is shorter.”

  “Oh.” Vhalla’s hand went up to the ends of her hair, caught off-guard by the sudden change in conversation. The master hadn’t seen her since she’d cut it. “It used to be a lot shorter.” It now was back almost to her shoulder blades.

  “I prefer it long, if you’ll permit this old man’s opinion,” Mohned offered with a chuckle.

  “As do I.” Vhalla smiled as Mohned unlocked the door to the archives.

  She followed him down the center iron staircase to where she remembered the books to be, helping him draw back curtains for light.

  “I had given you this task so that you would read,” Mohned explained as Vhalla pulled the books carefully from the shelf. “You mean to tell me the one time I intended for you to give into the distraction of reading, you were actually working?”

  “It seems so.” Vhalla’s hands paused on the large tome. She remembered what Aldrik had said on the last day of her trial. “Aldrik went to you, when he knew I was a sorcerer.”

  Mohned paused, and Vhalla inwardly cringed, realizing she forgot the prince’s title. The master let it slide. “He did.” Mohned nodded. “I’ve known the crown prince since he was a boy. His obsession with books is not unlike your own. He quickly devoured the contents of the Tower’s library from an early age, discovering the manuscript I penned on the Windwalkers.”

  “He suspected I was a Windwalker before he’d met me.” She’d dreamt countless times of meeting the prince in the library, only to learn later that she was Projecting in her sleep.

  “He did, and I confirmed.”

  “What?” Vhalla’s hand slipped from the table in shock.

  “Vhalla,” Mohned sighed and adjusted his spectacles. “You remember when you fell off the rolling ladder getting me a cartography book?”

  “No . . .” She shook her head. “I fell so many times that—”

  “Exactly,” the master interrupted gently.

  Vhalla’s eyes went wide.

  “And you were never hurt.” Mohned rested his hand on the book. “I had begun to suspect the possibility long ago. You manifested gracefully, so subtle and small that no one would know unless they knew what to look for. But I did. Knowing you came from two Eastern parents, it was all too much to just be chance.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” Vhalla sunk into a chair. She’d had the same thoughts about that possibility when she rode with the Knights. But to hear it from the man who’d been like her father. “Master, why didn’t you put me in the Tower?”

  “Because I wanted to protect you. Vhalla, I was a boy when I first learned of the atrocities committed against Windwalkers. I knew if you were found, you would be hunted.” The master sighed heavily. “I am loathe to say that I was proven right. I thought you would be safer here, hidden in the library, kept in the palace.”

  Vhalla stared at nothing, trying to piece it together. The childhood she’d thought she known was a shadow play.

  “Does my father know?” Vhalla whispered.

  “If he does, it is not because I told him.” Mohned rested a hand on her shoulder. “Vhalla, forgive me?”

  “For what?”

  “For keeping this from you.”

  Vhalla raised a hand, gripping the Master’s for a brief moment. “You were only doing what you thought was best.”

  She was wounded. But unlike Roan, she was used to secrets. Vhalla had grown accustomed to the forces lurking behind corners that pulled at the threads of fate, tying together the world and moving her without her knowing.

  “Come to me, if you need.” The master withdrew, starting up the stairs.

  “I will,” Vhalla called after him, “and thank you.”

  Silence w
as her reply.

  Vhalla stared at the motes of dust floating through the beams of sunlight that pierced the windows. She ran her fingers over the manuscript before her, remembering vividly the last time she’d touched it. She’d been disappointed then, when Sareem’s boots had appeared on the stairs instead of Aldrik’s. Now she’d give anything to see those soles stepping down the stairs again.

  With a sigh, Vhalla flipped open to the first page.

  The work was an old collection of stories from Cyven. From short rhymes that Vhalla knew well, to long tales that she’d never heard. It was easy to read, and Vhalla found the pages slipping by one after the next. She allowed them to lull her into a quiet comfort by reminding her of the smell of wheat or of rain on her family’s fields.

  It was such a subtle trance that she’d fallen into that Vhalla didn’t notice the one thing that began appearing in every other story—more frequently in older ones. The word suddenly lit up on every page. Vhalla stood slowly, flipping the pages quickly. The next random page the word was on. Again on the one after.

  It was there in the story of harvesting the first grain. It was there in the story of a farmer defending his land from raiders. It was there in the tale where a man used it to scare away the clouds themselves.

  Vhalla closed the book and returned it to the shelf as quickly and carefully as possible. She sprinted out of the archives and thanked the master with a panting breath before she was out of the library.

  VHALLA!” GRAHM CALLED out.

  She skidded to a stop. The man must be part psychic and part hawk to pick her out when she was nothing more than a blur up the Tower.

  “Vhalla, do you have a moment?” He emerged from the Tower library where he had been sitting with Fritz before stepping into the main hall.

  “I was actually on my way to see the minister . . .” Vhalla glanced upward. What she needed to talk about would keep. She knew it would, so she didn’t need to avoid taking time for Grahm. But the Eastern book had lit a fire under her, and now Vhalla had a lot of questions that she just wanted answered.

  “Is it urgent?” Grahm asked, as if reading her mind. “I needed to speak to you about vessels.”

  “Oh, well, if it’s that, could we do it another time?”

  “I suppose.” Grahm rubbed the back of his neck. “It was something Larel asked.”

  “Something Larel asked?” Vhalla repeated. That was the last thing she’d been expecting.

  “What does this have to do with Larel?” Fritz joined them in the hall.

  “This was something she asked me to do if . . .” The Easterner looked between them, a sorrowful expression overcame him. “If she didn’t make it back.”

  “What is it?” One hand sought out the comfort of the watch under her tunic, the other gripped Fritz’s tightly.

  “She came to me with a bracelet she had made for you. Do you still have it?” Vhalla nodded at Grahm. “She wanted to make a vessel of it, a vessel of words. She said she knew Fritz and I were close and she could trust me with this, as a friend of a friend.”

  “Larel did?” Fritz jumped in.

  Larel had seen it, Vhalla realized. She had seen Fritz’s affection for the other man. She had known Fritz would go back to this person and trusted him with her message. Because those were the kinds of things Larel had been able to see—the inner mechanics of other people’s hearts.

  “Do you have the bracelet?” Grahm asked.

  “I do,” Vhalla answered eagerly, thinking of the beautiful metal cuff Larel had given Vhalla for her birthday.

  Her heart raced as they started for her room. Vhalla wanted to break out into an all-out run. The world was moving far too slowly for her liking. Larel, her mentor, her guiding hand, her sister and confidant—she had something more to give. Vhalla’s feet picked up speed, and the men silently followed.

  The bracelet was exactly where Vhalla had left it when she had marched to war. Vhalla wondered when Larel had taken the time to spirit it away to Grahm, but Vhalla hadn’t been paying attention to much of anything in the days leading up to the march.

  Retrieving it, Grahm led them down into a center workroom. Along the perimeter were a handful of small doors. A couple of men and women worked at stations littered with books, focused on the magic that sparkled around the tokens they were focused intently on.

  “This is where Waterrunners learn about vessels,” Fritz explained upon seeing Vhalla’s confused expression, keeping close to Grahm as he led them to one of the doors along the outside.

  Grahm flipped a disk hanging by the door, from black to silver. “You know what to do, Fritz.”

  “You won’t come in?” Fritz blinked.

  “No,” Grahm shook his head. “I think it’s better if it’s just the both of you.”

  Vhalla’s curiosity silenced her confused questions.

  “But, I always—” Fritz began uncertainly.

  “You will be fine.” Grahm rested a palm on Fritz’s shoulder. “You have a problem recording to the vessel still, yes, but you should have no problem drawing out the words that are recorded within the magic.”

  “I’d feel better if you were there,” Fritz insisted.

  “Larel would have wanted you to do it on your own,” Grahm countered. There were no more arguments that could be put forward. “I’ll be out here when you’re finished.”

  Grahm opened the door, and Vhalla followed Fritz into a small chamber.

  There was a single flame bulb overhead, casting the room in light shadow. It was little more than a closet, barely large enough for two people to stand around a center pedestal. Fritz squeezed around to the far side, and Vhalla stood opposite with the door to her back. Square in shape, the pedestal had a shallow indent in the center that was filled with water. It looked almost like a birdbath.

  “Place it in the center of the water,” Fritz instructed.

  Vhalla did as she was told, gingerly putting down her precious possession with two hands.

  “Fritz,” she whispered.

  “Yeah?” His eyes were glued onto the bracelet.

  “What’s going to happen?”

  “Oh, right.” Fritz shook his head. “I forget you’re still technically new to the Tower. Vessels can store magic. But with a skilled Waterrunner—like Grahm—they can also hold words.”

  “Words?” Vhalla stared at the unassuming piece of jewelry.

  Fritz nodded and lifted his hands, placing his fingertips into the edge of the water. Her friend took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Vhalla watched as his magic pulsed outward, generating shimmering ripples in the water. At first, the ripples bounced away from the bracelet in small waves, as they would any normal object. But the pulsing changed, and eventually the ripples hit the bracelet, stopping as though they were absorbed.

  Vhalla waited expectantly, clutching the watch around her neck tightly. Larel had been Aldrik’s friend, too . . . Should he hear what was about to be said as well?

  The water hummed from the speech of a speaker who wasn’t there, silencing all Vhalla’s thoughts.

  “Vhalla, Fritz.” It was Larel’s voice. Vhalla’s hand flew up to her mouth. She took an unsteady breath at the sound of her dead friend’s voice once more filling her ears, as though Larel stood with them once more. “I know what it means if you are listening to this. It means I walk the Father’s halls.”

  Vhalla looked at her friend. Fritz’s expression was equal parts pain and joy. She was certain hers matched.

  “It’s all right. I want you to know it’s all right.”

  Vhalla wanted to scream at Larel that it wasn’t. That it was Vhalla’s fault Larel had been on the march in the first place. Vhalla had been given a gift in Larel, and she had never fully appreciated it before it was lost.

  “I knew before I left what it may mean for me. And, if you are listening now, then it means one or both of you, and I so pray for the latter, survived me. That alone brings me joy.

  “I hope no one is doing anything
silly like blaming themselves for my death. It doesn’t matter how it came to pass. Please don’t waste your thoughts on such nonsense.” Larel’s voice was as gentle and kind as it always had been. “My life was borrowed from the moment Prince Aldrik found me. My existence was given an extension, a chance to really live. And live I did. It was simply my time to return what the Mother gave me.”

  Vhalla closed her eyes and breathed, absorbing every word.

  “I wanted to tell you both not to worry. I wanted to make sure you both knew.” There was a wavering pause that nearly stopped Vhalla’s heart altogether. “Fritz, it was always us, wasn’t it? When the prince disappeared from my life for a time, you were the first one to be there for me.

  “All the rest of them told me it was about time I was no longer the prince’s favorite. You never seemed to care. You were there when I needed you most, and I never forgot. I love you, my friend. I would gladly die for you—and if I did, I know I am content that I could give my life for my brother.”

  Fritz hung his head, and Vhalla bit her lip. It was not this well-loved friend who had taken their dear Larel from them. It was Vhalla who bore that curse.

  “Vhalla.” She looked at the bracelet at the mention of her name. “I have only known you for a few months, and then not entirely intimately. I don’t know what will happen on this long march—what has happened—where we will be. But if I want to leave you with one thing . . . It is that I am, and have always been, honored to be your mentor.

  “You are strong. You are a chick that has burst from its shell, and you are already struggling to fly long before you should ever be pushed from the nest.” Vhalla heard the touch of sorrow in Larel’s voice. “I want you to know that I have always helped and protected you because I wanted to. Not because Prince Aldrik asked me to.”

  Vhalla laughed softly, shaking her head at all that had transpired. There was no question in her mind.

  “You will do great things. Call it my Firebearer’s intuition. But never lose faith, never lose your beautiful heart. Don’t let them win, those wicked men and women who would do anything to cage you or kill you.” Larel’s voice was strong and Vhalla let out a small hiccup, struggling to keep the tears under control. The day had already been emotionally taxing.

 
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