Night of the storm an ep.., p.12
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.12

           K.N. Lee
 
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  “No, thank you.” Lilae eyed the garment, almost tempted to touch it. She did miss nice clothing. Growing up as a nomad didn’t afford her with pretty dresses or anything of the sort. She and her family lived a simple life, but as a slave, she’d worn only the best dresses and garbs.

  “Come now, try it on,” the shopkeeper insisted.

  Lilae smiled and shook her head. She kept close to Liam as they traveled along a narrow road between two rows of shops that housed what had to be hundreds of families. She noticed that many of the elves were trying to get a better look at the foreigners: she wished they could hurry to their destination.

  Having people so close that they could touch made Lilae uncomfortable.

  After being in Avia’Torena for nearly a year, Lilae had seen heavily populated areas, but this was different. Gollush was built upward while Kavien’s empire was sprawled over an expansive space.

  “We have to show her the river,” Liam said to Rowe as they stopped at a dead end.

  Lilae stood back as they came upon a fork in the road that stretched outward from a fountain with a giant statue of a wyvern in the center, its wings outstretched as if it were about to take flight.

  On either side were more roads, shops, and Shadow Elves camped out wherever there was space, chatting and eating from long skewers stacked with delicious smelling meats and vegetables.

  “Grand idea,” Rowe said. “They say it's good luck to make a wish at the river.”

  “There’s a river inside the cavern?”

  “Yes.” Liam nodded at her, smiling like an excited child, joy at sharing something with her in his eyes. “It is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

  Lilae put her hands on her hips. A coy smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “How do you know what I’ve seen? I’ve been from one end of Eura to the other.”

  “We’ll see then.” Liam took her hand, pulling her into his body. In front of everyone, he placed both hands on either side of Lilae’s face, fingers laced in her hair, and kissed her.

  Lilae’s eyes closed as she breathed him in, the kiss sending a flood of cold into her body.

  Every kiss from Liam was pure magic.

  Liam pulled back and smiled at her, a sparkle in his crystalline blue eyes as his thumb caressed her cheek. For a moment, no one else existed.

  “Shall we?” Liam looked at Rowe as he hooked his thumb in his belt.

  Lilae blushed as the world returned around her. The sounds, smells, sights had vanished during her magical kiss.

  There was no hiding it. Liam was not ashamed of whatever had developed between the two.

  Sucking in a breath, Lilae glanced at Rowe.

  A smirk was on his face. “This way, you two,” he said, leading them down the white stone walkway to the left of the fountain.

  Lilae could be lead to a cliff, and she wouldn’t have noticed. She floated through the city, a smile fixed on her lips, her cheeks flushed with a deep pink, and a flutter in her belly and heart.

  This—what she shared with Liam could never fade. She’d fight for it until her last dying breath.

  Her stomach ached then, with fear that something would rip the small glow of happiness from her.

  As it always did.

  Her face morphed into one of sadness, so much that she almost shed a tear for the prospect of something or someone taking Liam away from her.

  LILAE TOOK OFF HER SHOES and dipped her feet into the river.

  “It’s cold,” she said, yet her smile grew.

  Liam sat beside her on the rocks, watching the rushing green water create foam against the large stones that peeked through the surface.

  Moonlight spilled into the cavern from a two large holes that resembled nostrils in the low ceiling above. There were several holes like that, all over Gollush that let in just enough moon and sunlight to always light the city, even when the torchlights that littered the streets and window were put out during sleeping hours.

  Some days Liam would walk the deserted streets during the day when Shadow Elves were fast asleep in their homes. It was another world during those times. Quiet and serene.

  He watched Lilae play in the water, like a child, her wild red hair bouncing as she kicked and splashed.

  “What would you wish for? If you believed in that sort of thing?”

  Lilae glanced at him. She sighed, shrugging. “I don’t know. The only thing I want is my family. I’d wish to bring them back.”

  Liam nodded. “That is a good wish. I’d wish for Wexcyn to be punished in the land of the gods, once and for all. They say the Goddess of Law is strict, with enough power to destroy even the most powerful gods.”

  “Do they?” Lilae splashed water with her feet. “Delia never told me much about the land where all of the gods come from. It does sound exciting.”

  “I caught one!”

  Lilae and Liam turned to Rowe. His pants were rolled up as he stood knee-deep in the river, a sparkling redfish in his large hands.

  Lilae giggled as a group of young Shadow Elf women rose from the riverbank and clapped their hands at Rowe. They whistled and laughed, making eyes at the Tryan that towered over their men.

  “You did. Looks like we have our dinner,” Liam said, clapping his hands.

  “And Rowe has some admirers,” Lilae added.

  Rowe nodded, a grin on his face as he held the fish up into the air. He winked at the group of women dressed in white bathing dresses.

  “I’ll get the cook at the tavern to fry it up for us. With butter,” Rowe said, stalking out of the rushing water. “Lots of butter.”

  Lilae pulled her feet out of the river. “Sounds good. My stomach is starting to grumble.”

  “Yes.” Liam scratched his chin. “We should get going. We don’t want to stay out too late. We have an early start tomorrow.”

  “Gollush is a beautiful place,” Lilae said, turning to him. She sat on a smooth surface and reached for her boots. “But I look forward to reaching Vaugner. He taught Delia. He must be incredible. We can learn so much from him.”

  “I agree. How many get to meet the original Gatekeeper?”

  He stood, and waited for her to put her shoes back on, and extended a hand down to help Lilae to her feet.

  She smiled up at him, sprinkles of water on the bridge of her small nose, and reached up to take his hand.

  There was something special in her eyes, something Sona never had. The memory of Sona’s betrayal made Liam clench his jaw.

  It hurt. Even though Sona had merely used him, and never loved him, Liam had loved her. For many years. That fact remained, and yet he didn’t care anymore.

  Liam would do everything he could to keep that loving look Lilae gave him as she accepted his hand and allowed him to pull her to the rocks.

  “Thank you for showing this to me,” she said, motioning to the river. “I used to swim every morning when I was in Sabron with my family. It was much colder, but not nearly as magical as this water.”

  “I told you,” Liam said.

  “Yes, you did.” She glanced back at the water, watching red fish rushing through the water, their glittering scales making the water look enchanted.

  Rowe approached, dripping with water onto the gray rocks as he held the dead fish with both hands.

  “Ready, you two?”

  “This way,” Liam said. “The Red Room Tavern is close.”

  He paused when two of the cheering women approached them, covering their giggles behind their hands. They had to be in their early twenties, one with an auburn ponytail that reached the back of her neck, the other with long black hair braided into thin braids that wrapped around a bun on the top of her narrow head.

  “My friend,” the one with the braids said in between giggles. “Would like to touch your muscles.”

  Liam snorted. “You hear that, Rowe? Your muscles are more famed here than any title Lilae and I have.”

  Rowe’s face turned red. He lowered his voice as he spoke to the young Shadow E
lf women. “You can touch, miss. But that is all. I’m a taken man.”

  “Oh bother,” the shorter one said. “He’s taken.”

  She didn’t hesitate, wrapping both hands around his bicep. Her green eyes widened.

  “It’s hard,” she exclaimed, and in a tirade of giggles, they ran back to their friends, delighted to have touched the giant Tryan man’s muscles.

  Rowe looked ahead as Liam chuckled. “Not another word out of you, Liam.”

  THE RED ROOM TAVERN was busy and much bigger than Lilae anticipated. Her heart thumped in her chest as she looked at the dozens of Shadow Elves that were packed inside.

  Chandeliers hung above, casting a warm light onto the large room. Young and old elves stood in groups or filled the long bench seats on either side of thick wooden tables covered in mugs of cold ale. Attractive women dressed in short belted tunics scrambled to remove tables of empty glasses and refill the mugs of boisterous men and women.

  “Table’s free at the back,” one of the barmaids shouted over the commotion. “I’ll swing by in just a bit to tell ‘ya the specials of the day.”

  She sucked in a breath as Rowe and Liam walked in without a care. She was reminded of her first time in The Blind Pig with Anic, the blacksmith’s son.

  As they crossed the room to one of the only empty tables, Lilae breathed in the smell of roasted chickens and fresh flatbread mixed with the odor of burning red candles as tall as men, standing in pots like flowers.

  Beneath the wooden table, Liam put his hand on Lilae’s knee and gave it a gentle squeeze.

  All sounds seemed to fade as heat rose to her ears.

  Lilae tensed, not expecting such a touch. She held her breath as her eyes flickered up to his. Color filled her cheeks as she tried to avoid thoughts of his hands touching more of her, under her clothing. Lilae licked her bottom lip, words evading her.

  She tilted her head as their eyes met. The blue of Liam’s eyes never ceased to stun her. Such magic should be outlawed, for they always left her weak and conscious of her appearance.

  She ran her hand through the tangles of her red hair, missing the ladies that used to groom her in the palace.

  The life of a slave wasn’t always awful.

  “Thank you for joining us,” he said, withdrawing his hand to pick up his drink. “We’ve missed your company while you’ve been recovering.”

  Lilae hid her smile with her mug. Rowe had no idea Liam had been joining her in her bed most nights. Just having him near was enough to chase away the evil that threatened to creep upon her each night.

  She nodded and took a hearty gulp of her drink. The bitter ale filled her mouth as she drank. She’d made the mistake of drinking too quickly once before.

  Now, she took smaller sips, not wanting to lose her senses. She couldn’t make a fool of herself in front of Liam, not while he drank cider.

  Rowe slammed his mug down and called for the barmaid.

  “Another round,” he said. His eyes went to Lilae. “Drink up now,” Rowe told her, nodding to her almost full mug.

  Lilae peered into the amber-colored liquid, the smell strong and acrid.

  “I’ll try,” she said. She couldn’t understand why anyone enjoyed the flavor; although she enjoyed the way it relaxed her frazzled nerves. From the smiles and laughter from the other patrons, they seemed to enjoy its effects as well.

  “I believe in you, Lilae. You can do it. Just pour it in,” Rowe advised with a chuckle. “I’ll make a pro out of you.”

  Lilae shook her head with a smirk. “I’m not sure if that’s something I want to be a pro at.”

  She watched two young elves, maybe slightly older than she, drink from tiny cups. They slammed their cups onto the long wooden tables once they were empty. The young men erupted into laughter.

  With all of the ale going around, the Shadow Elves barely glanced at Lilae, Liam, and Rowe. They seemed to be in their own world.

  “Cammie will survive,” Rowe sputtered, downing his third mug. “I just know it. She’s a strong one, you know?”

  Liam drank water. He nodded.

  “She is, Rowe. She’s one of the strongest women I know.”

  “I’m sure she and the baby made it out,” Rowe added. He looked down into his mug, his brows furrowing, deepening the lines in his forehead. “I would very much like to meet my son or daughter. If I could hold it just once, I’d be a happy man.”

  Rowe has a baby? Lilae hoped he was right. She never imagined having children herself, but the thought of losing one saddened her.

  “You will,” Liam said.

  Lilae nodded. “I hope I get to meet your baby too.”

  Rowe raised his mug. “Come on,” he said. “Raise your mug to my child. Someone to pass my Legacy power to when I die.”

  Lilae grinned. “I’ll raise my mug to that.”

  “Here, here,” Liam said, lifting his water cup.

  “No,” Rowe said, shaking his head. He called for the closest barmaid. “You are not celebrating my child with water. You will have a man’s drink.”

  Liam chuckled and set his water down on the slick wooden tabletop. “Fine. Just this once.”

  “Another round of ale,” Rowe said to the young barmaid. “And one for my friend here as well.”

  She nodded with a quick bow and entered the crowd to make her way to the bar.

  Lilae smiled. She couldn’t imagine what Liam would be like after a drink of Gollush’s potent ale. Musicians played their drums loudly. Lilae tapped her toes to the festive beat.

  Tomorrow, they would leave this beautiful place, and reenter dangerous territory. She would enjoy this night and worry about their journey ahead later.

  The barmaid returned with three more mugs.

  Lilae groaned. She didn’t know how she would finish both mugs. Her mind already started to blur a bit. Her shoulders and arms felt warm and weak. Ale was like a toxin, one that relaxed and made her anxious at the same time.

  “All right,” Liam said, lifting his mug. “To your healthy and happy little one.”

  Lilae grinned. “To Little Rowe,” she giggled.

  Rowe winked at her, and they all clashed their mugs together before drinking the ice-cold liquid.

  Lilae wiped the foam from her mouth and laughed. “I am sure your wife has some good stories about you, Rowe.”

  “I have some stories about Rowe here,” Liam said with a grin. “But I doubt he’d let me tell them.”

  Rowe finished his first mug of ale. He nodded. “That’s right. Not if you don’t want a knot on your head.’

  Liam chuckled and took another drink. “You’re the bigger man, but I have the lightning.”

  “You can’t summon any blasted lightning if you’re knocked out with one of these,” Rowe said, lifting his giant clenched fists.

  Lilae covered her mouth as a loud laugh erupted from her throat. She spoke between hysterics. “But you’d have to take on both of us,” Lilae said. “And you wouldn’t hit a girl, would you?”

  “Is that what you are? A girl? I thought you were a bit more than that.”

  Lilae began to retort when a Shadow Elf man sat beside her at their table. The table went silent.

  She and Liam shared a look, smiles fading.

  The tavern was packed; perhaps he simply needed a seat.

  But when he turned to Lilae, she knew that wasn’t the case.

  “Are you really The Flame?”

  Rowe and Liam quieted at the young man’s question.

  Liam’s expression darkened.

  “Who are you?”

  “Kenichi,” he said.

  Lilae licked her lips. He was starting to blur before her. “Hello, Kenichi. Yes, I am The Flame.”

  He leaned close to her, his voice a low whisper.

  “Where is Ayoki? Are you guys going to do anything to save her?”

  Lilae sat up, although her body felt heavy. She cleared her throat. “You’re the first person to express any concern about Ayoki, besid
es Pretica.”

  He pursed his lips. “Because she means more to me than even her sister.”

  “Were you close?”

  He nodded, his eyes flickering down to the table. “I was the father of her unborn child.” He bowed his head.

  “Child?” Liam’s eyes narrowed. “No one mentioned a child.”

  Kenichi’s head shot up, his eyes blazing with fury. He spoke through clenched teeth. “Because no one knew about our child. How could they? Pretica locked her away once it was known. She killed our child.” His voice broke.

  Horror flashed in Lilae’s eyes. “What?”

  “With her poisons,” he added. “She killed our child. And I am not going to let her get away with it.”

  Lilae covered her mouth. No. They’d been tricked. Warnings filled her entire being.

  Kenichi took Lilae’s hand. His eyes were full of worry and pain. This was the truth, and she scolded herself for not seeing the lies within Pretica’s eyes.

  “Please,” he said. “Come with me to rescue her. Before Pretica kills you as well.”

  Lilae nodded, biting her lip. “Let’s go.”

  She stood, Liam and Rowe following suit.

  The tavern went from loud and boisterous, to a hush, as Pretica, Master Soh, and Chief Keiko stepped through the doors.

  There was nothing friendly about their faces as they met the eyes of Lilae, Rowe, and Liam.

  They were all armed, Pretica with daggers, Master Soh with his red sword, and Chief Keiko in light armor that fit her curvaceous body. Her hands were held out, encased in a weapon that Lilae had never seen before. Wires were wrapped around her fingers and around her hand, with spikes and curved steel set with sharp blades.

  Chief Keiko looked ready for a fight, a grin on her pouty mouth. Cocky and sure of herself, she lead the group, her eyes fixed on Lilae.

  The tavern quickly began to grow quieter as everyone started to leave.

  Kenichi gave Lilae’s hand a squeeze. “We are too late.”

  Something warm trailed down her chin. Not taking her eyes from Pretica, Lilae took her hand from Kenichi’s and wiped her mouth.

 
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