Night of the storm an ep.., p.11
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.11

           K.N. Lee
 
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  Lilae tucked a chunk of red hair behind her ear, shaking her head.

  “I don’t know, exactly. From the first night, I could feel something…like an itch trying to get inside my head.”

  Liam folded his arms across his body. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

  Every night since her escape, Dragnor was there.

  Waiting.

  And each night, Liam was by her side.

  Protecting her—healing her the same way he did in their dreams.

  “I wasn’t sure what it was,” Lilae said with a shrug. She wiped her forehead of sweat. She fixed her eyes on her hands. “But, tonight was different.”

  Her eyes flickered up from her hands, past Delia to the dim light out in the hallway. “Dragnor was here. He hurt me. He threatened me, and it all felt real.”

  Delia and Liam shared a look.

  “What?” Lilae sensed something had transpired while she was recovering from the affects of the curse.

  Liam sighed as he rubbed his chin. “I’ll tell you all about it,” he said, turning to Delia. “Can I speak with you outside?”

  Lilae pursed her lips as Delia and Liam left her room.

  She stretched her legs, tired of being bedridden. It had only been a week, but she hated feeling so useless. Dragnor wanted her. She needed to find a way to free herself from his curse.

  “Lilae,” Liam called when he returned.

  “Where did Delia go?”

  “She went to bed,” he said, taking his shirt off.

  Lilae averted her eyes but didn’t say a word.

  “Delia and I went to a temple tonight. Dragnor’s temple.”

  Lilae’s eyes widened. “What?”

  “Yes,” he said, taking off his boots and setting them neatly beside the door.

  The only light came from a candle whose light was moments away from burning out. Liam’s sculpted body made it hard to think straight.

  Darkness.

  Curses.

  A handsome half-naked man is in my room.

  She wasn’t sure what vexed her more.

  “We were looking for his old spell book so that we could destroy it. But, he knew we were there, and destroyed the temple and everything inside.”

  The revelation was startling. The only hope for breaking Dragnor’s curse was probably nothing but ash.

  Liam crossed the small room and got into bed with her.

  Despite everything that had occurred in her dream, Liam’s presence alone made it all melt away. Lilae looked down at Liam as he rested on his elbow. His bright blue eyes were full of concern, and she wanted nothing more than to lie back down and cradle her head in his arms.

  She bit her lip, conflicted by having Liam in her bed while her heart broke for what Dragnor threatened to do to Kavien.

  “Delia knows we’ve been sharing a bed,” Liam said.

  Lilae nodded. “She knows everything. It’s fine. I should have told her. We aren’t doing anything wrong. I just feel safe with you. During all I went through, you were always there for me.”

  Liam reached for her, helping her back to the feather-filled pillow.

  “There is nothing he can do to hurt you, Lilae. He can try his best to scare you, but you are stronger than that. Don’t let him affect your waking hours.”

  Lilae sighed. “You’re right.”

  “Why did you say Kavien?”

  She tensed, avoiding his eyes.

  “When I came in, you whispered his name.”

  Could she tell Liam the truth? Was she naïve enough to think Liam felt anything for her beyond their predestined bond?

  He is in my bed. She met his eyes full on. He has to feel something.

  But was she certain of how she felt?

  “Dragnor threatened to kill him unless I came back to Avia’Torena.”

  After a moment of silence, Liam’s eyes narrowed.

  “Lilae.”

  “Yes?”

  “Do you care for Emperor Kavien?”

  She turned away from him, unable to face his question. Her eyes fixed on the flickering flame of the candle as it began to die. The question was so layered that she truly didn’t know what to say.

  Kavien was her first kiss.

  He was also the man who kept her in a chest beside his bed.

  The man who let Dragnor put the curse on her.

  The man she missed despite it all.

  “You’re not going to answer me?”

  “I do—I did. I don’t know,” she said, her words not making sense. Her stomach churned again, and she squeezed her eyes shut. “He was kind to me in the end. He wanted to leave the empire behind. With me.”

  She couldn’t look Liam in the eyes.

  “Lilae,” he said, taking her hand into his. “Look at me.”

  Trembling, Lilae looked at Liam. “Yes?”

  He stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I understand. Don’t be ashamed by what happened to you or your feelings. I thought I would spend the rest of my life with Sona. At least Kavien didn’t betray you and try to take your life. You are fortunate, and don’t ever apologize for it.”

  Lilae’s lips parted.

  Who was this man before her?

  Was it possible for anyone to be so good?

  She leaned down and pressed her forehead to his. She closed her eyes, and they remained like that for a moment, before Lilae took a chance and kissed Liam on the lips.

  Nothing mattered at that moment, just the feel of his lips against hers. And then he pulled her onto his body so that she straddled him.

  Liam’s arms wrapped around her in a tight embrace as their kiss deepened, erasing any doubts she had in her mind that Liam was the one her heart yearned for.

  Still, she cared for Kavien and wanted no harm to come to him. She loved him still, but this—what she felt for Liam—filled every crevice of her heart with joy, a joy she’d never feel ashamed to reveal.

  She moaned as he parted her lips with his tongue, tasting her mouth. Warm and wet, his tongue tasted of cinnamon and sugar from the pastries Valhorians were famed for baking.

  Heat raced up her body as he cradled her head in both hands. Places that had only been awakened once before ached with need. This ache was different. As Lilae’s most sacred spots pulsed—she enjoyed it.

  She craved more.

  Liam placed her on her back and rested on his elbow beside her, his face in his hand as he looked down at her.

  Lilae’s chest rose and fell with quick breaths.

  He smiled at her.

  “I wanted to do that the moment I saw you at The Barrier.”

  Lilae nodded, captivated by his eyes. “I did too.”

  He leaned down to kiss her again and then pulled her body into his.

  “We need to rest,” he said. “Tomorrow is our last day here.”

  A part of her wanted him to continue, to kiss her until dawn, but he was right.

  Lilae nodded, closing her eyes.

  Lilae’s body relaxed. She’d never felt so safe and sure in her life, even as a little warning in her gut threatened to wedge its way into her confidence.

  LIAM RESISTED THE URGE to hold Lilae’s hand and help her from her chair with wooden wheels.

  He watched her stand, tense and ready to come to her aid. But, she managed to come to her feet gracefully.

  “How are you feeling today?”

  Rowe asked the question that Liam had been thinking since Lilae decided she was ready to join the Council in Gollush’s meeting hall.

  “I’m fine,” she said, taking a deep breath as she took in the setting before her.

  The eyes of seven high-ranked Shadow Elves joined Liam in watching her stride from her chair at the entrance of the massive room to the circular stone table in the center.

  Liam pulled out a chair for her and sat back in the seat beside her.

  “Are you sure you’re okay to be up and about again?”

  “I am starting to feel like myself again, Liam. Thanks to you.”
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  Lilae’s smile reminded Liam of the moment he’d never forget. Simply lying in bed with her had been a true gift. The smell of her hair would be a welcome scent he would never forget.

  Rowe gave Liam a wink and a nudged him in the side of his ribcage.

  “We are pleased that The Flame is able to join us,” Pretica said. She remained standing after the other men and women sat around the large table. “Today, we have Chief Matsuharu, Chief Keiko, Grand Master Neru, Lord and Lady Song, Chief Altan, and Master Soh. Elder, Delia has brought together Liam: The Storm, Lilae: The Flame, and Rowe— a Tryan warrior.”

  Liam couldn’t help exchanging a smirk with Rowe.

  Tryan warrior, indeed.

  How elite Pretica made him sound.

  Liam shook his head. He knew better than most that Rowe was much more than just a warrior.

  “Please bow in a show of mutual respect.”

  Everyone bowed their heads. Then, they resumed sharing curious looks at one another from over full goblets of wine and water.

  Liam took each Shadow Elf in—watching their every move. He still wasn’t sure if Shadow Elves could be fully trusted. Any one of the assembled councilmen could be spies or assassins.

  “Elder, Delia has some news she’d like to share.”

  Delia stood and tapped her staff on the table.

  The eyes of the Shadow Elves widened when Delia’s staff sent a glow into the center of the table and opened into a flickering scene that looked much like a hazy dream.

  Liam leaned forward. His eyes narrowed.

  “Is that Oren?” Rowe’s question was laced with disbelief. The usual humor in his voice was gone. His face turned ashen as his eyes widened at the scene before them.

  Delia pursed her lips and nodded. “It is. Oren is just one of the many kingdoms under attack.”

  The blood drained from Liam’s face as he looked at the dead bodies strewn around the streets of his kingdom. Soldiers and citizens in brown uniforms worked to remove the bodies, tossing them into carts. He rose from his seat, leaning across the table for a better look.

  “Klimmerick’s Row.” Liam swallowed back a lump in his throat. “What is happening?”

  “What you see here is Wexcyn’s first stage of an attack on Ellowen,” Delia said, her voice grave. “A plague has been set free. Sickness will spread through all of the major kingdoms of our world. Until the weak are gone, and the strong are weakened. This is how he will reduce the number of those opposing his rule.”

  “We have to do something,” Liam said, his heart thumping in his chest. His people were dying. He looked away, his troubled eyes meeting Rowe’s. “We have to go back and help them.”

  Rowe nodded.

  “There is nothing you can do for them right now, Liam. The sickness will spread and do its job. What we must do is find an antidote that will cure those who suffer from this affliction.”

  Imagining his mother laying in her bed, ill with a deadly plague made him want turn, leave, and find a horse. Oren was an ocean and thousands of miles away and, yet he would find a way.

  Liam tried to keep his composure. “How?”

  “We were brought together for a reason. I left my mountain home and vow of solitude to stand against this evil,” Grand Master Neru said. His bushy white eyebrows rose. “I am willing to offer my fighting skills and potions to the cause.” He folded his hands on the table, his thin eyes narrowing to slits. “My knowledge of potions is only surpassed by Vaugner’s knowledge of curses.”

  “Exactly. Vaugner is proficient in the dark arts of the Underworld. We need a combination of both to stop the plague that threatens our entire world.”

  “We are lucky to have him on our side then,” Lilae said, everyone’s attention going to her and her soft voice. She looked down at the table, her long hair covering her face—shielding her.

  “That is correct,” Grand Master Neru said with a nod. “I believe we can make a stand against this threat with his help. When are you going to meet with him?”

  Delia took her seat next to Lilae. “We leave tomorrow, Grand Master Neru. I believe it is a few days time on foot. With Lilae strong enough for travel, we have much ground to cover to make up for lost time. Wexcyn and his agents certainly aren’t wasting a second while we organize.”

  He gave the table a single tap. “I’m going with you,” he said. “I know Nostfar quite well. I can guide you to where The Barriers used to stand, and together we can enter the Goblin City.”

  “We welcome you on our journey, Grand Master Neru,” Liam said.

  “Please, call me Neru.”

  “Very well.” Delia nodded. “We’d be honored to have you accompany us.”

  Lady Song leaned forward, her bosom pressed against the table. Regal and beautiful in her purple gown, she fixed her dark brown eyes on Delia, her gray skin flawless like porcelain.

  “How long before the plague reaches Nostfar? Do we have time to prepare for an outbreak?” Lady Song’s thin brows lifted as she looked from Delia to Lord Song, a white-haired elderly Shadow Elf. “We haven’t seen a widespread illness since the 2nd century when the dragons passed their fire disease to the Shadow Elves of Evorn.”

  Delia turned her indigo gaze to Lady Song and lowered her staff, ending the scene of Oren’s plight.

  “It’s already here.”

  LILAE FOLLOWED LIAM INTO THE crowd of Shadow Elves. Her stomach was twisted into knots at seeing the fate of Liam’s kingdom and the news of the plague.

  She had no allegiance to any kingdom. The wild was more her home than any particular place.

  “Liam,” Lilae called, hoping he would slow down so she wouldn’t have to run to keep up with him.

  Liam stopped but didn’t look back at her.

  “Wait,” Lilae said, ignoring the incessant burning in her legs.

  The Shadow Elves made a path for her as she stepped down the stairs that led from the meeting hall to the main level, which was alive with music and loud chatter. Lilae was well aware that the elves feared her. The tattoos on her skin were a sign of evil, even if it had been applied against her will.

  She clenched her jaw, used to ignoring judging looks.

  “Are you all right?”

  Liam’s shoulders slumped. “I just wish there was something I can do. What if my mother is one of the dead?”

  Lilae’s brows furrowed as she stood in front of him. She took his face in her hands, warmth filling her at their touch. Her heart broke at the sight of tears shimmering in his eyes.

  “You’d feel it,” she said. “You’d know if your mother was dead.”

  He lifted his chin and took her hands into his. “Do you really think so?”

  “I do. There is no use feeling grief for something you are uncertain of.”

  Lilae sighed and stepped even closer—so close that her chest was pressed to Liam’s. Her eyes sparked with determination as she looked up at him. “We will make things right. I swear it.”

  Liam’s forehead creased as he stared down at her.

  Lilae would give anything to know what went through his mind as he looked at her like that. The sounds of chatter at rushing water seemed to dull as they shared a look. She hadn’t realized just how close they stood to one another, close enough to feel and hear his soft breaths. Her hands were still within his, and she feared they’d start trembling at any moment.

  A flush crept up her face as she imagined him leaning down slightly and kissing her fully on the lips. How she wished, he would.

  “I need a drink,” Rowe’s voice boomed, breaking Lilae from her thoughts. “What do you say, Liam?”

  She stepped back and took a deep breath.

  “Enjoy, lads. I’m going to try to get some rest.”

  “Don’t go,” Liam said. He reached for her hand. “Come, you’ve been resting for days. We leave tomorrow. You should stretch your legs out a bit.”

  Lilae glanced down at his hand, a smile threatening to take over her face. “If you insist.”<
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  “Of course,” Liam said, and she slipped her hand into his.

  He held her firmly, and Rowe’s eyes lingered on their hands. He flickered a glance from Lilae to Liam, and his forehead creased.

  “Did I miss something?”

  Lilae chuckled, her cheeks reddening as Rowe stared at them, crossing his arms across his chest.

  “Where are we going?” Lilae cleared her throat, hoping to detract from Rowe’s quizzical look at her and Liam. “I admit this place is like a maze to me. I haven’t been out to explore.”

  Her eyes scanned the surroundings, feeling tiny amidst the tall buildings that stretched toward the ceiling, which had to be hundreds of feet high. Thousands of Shadow Elves dwelled in Gollush, and at that hour, many of them were out on the city streets, enjoying what were considered their evening hours.

  Without a shred of sunlight to be seen, it is hard to distinguish the time. Lilae and the others were beginning to adjust to this new schedule.

  Soon, however, they’d be out within the world once more, where danger lurked, and their journey was certain to be filled with peril.

  Lilae almost wished they could stay within the safety of Gollush’s walls just a bit longer.

  She never expected to feel safe around Shadow Elves.

  “There is a tavern on the third level, near the west gate,” Rowe said, stepping through the path the Shadow Elves made for him. Some elves were almost as tall as Rowe. Still, he towered over them as they passed by. “Just follow me. I’ll show you a good time.”

  Lilae smiled. The promise was alluring. With Liam by her side, there were no doubts that her evening would be better spent at the tavern than in her lonely bed.

  With the nightmares.

  THE INNER CITY OF Gollush bustled with energy. Shadow Elves crowded the streets. Venders were out, setting up shops and carts. Young Shadow Elves stayed together in packs, arms locked and smiles on their faces as they socialized with one another.

  Lilae realized that she might actually miss Gollush. She still wasn’t used to being stared at all of the time, but Shadow Elves were much friendlier than she’d ever anticipated.

  “Would you like a shawl, miss?” A tall shopkeeper in an evergreen dress called to Lilae, her hands outstretched to reveal a beautiful blue piece of fabric embellished with silver embroidery. Her wide smile seemed to take over her oval-shaped face.

 
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