Night of the storm an ep.., p.14
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.14

           K.N. Lee
 
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  “Bring some meat, cheese, and bread,” he told her.

  Faira’s nose scrunched for a moment as she mulled over Dragnor’s question. “Why?”

  Dragnor leaned over the table, his dark eyes narrowing. “Just answer the question.”

  “Vol’Mavi,” she answered flatly, fixing long wavy black hair that hung over her right shoulder.

  “Ah, yes. Most of the harem girls come from surrounding cities. Besides your beauty, why did Kavien choose you?”

  She shot a look at him before looking down at her hands.

  “Yes. I know that you all inherit a special ability. No need to fear Kavien’s punishment when he awakens,” Dragnor said. “Just tell me what your ability is?”

  Faira took a deep breath and met his eyes straight on. “I can sense the powers of others.”

  “Remarkable,” he said. “I can certainly use you then. Can you detect a Bellen from a crowd of humans or Mithrani?”

  She nodded. “I can.”

  “Good,” he said. “Perhaps you aren’t so useless after all. Maybe at pouring wine, but you’re much more valuable than such menial tasks.”

  She huffed. “I could have told you that.”

  “Let’s not become insolent,” he said. “I respect your power, but you will not forget that I am your master until Kavien awakens.”

  Hope filled her eyes at hearing of Kavien awakening.

  “When will that be?”

  “You will know when the time comes. What do you know of Lilae?”

  Faira watched the attendant return with the food Dragnor requested. He saw her swallow and avoid his pointed gaze.

  “Kavien loves her. That’s all I know and all I need to know.”

  This love word vexed him. He’d never loved anything or anyone in his entire life. How could anyone be so ruled by such a simple emotion that did nothing but cloud the judgement of both involved?

  Not even his mother had taught him love. Dragnor had been sent to the temples as a baby, where he’d been trained as a soldier and a sorcerer.

  Where was love back then, when Dragnor was left to sleep in the cold and rain every night since childhood?

  Dragnor discovered that hate was much more powerful than any delusion of love. When he’d risen as High Cleric of the Temples of Bain, he’d made sure every elf felt the effects of his hate.

  “Did she bewitch him somehow?”

  “No,” Faira said, her brows furrowing. “She was different. Men like different.”

  He was wrong about Faira. She was useless after all.

  “Come now,” he said, wrapping meat and cheese into a piece of fresh baked flat bread. “I’m sure you know more about her than you let on. Tell me more.”

  She shrugged. “Nothing to tell. She’s a plain Northerner with a strange accent, and my Master chose her over me.”

  “Oh. I detect a little jealousy there.”

  “I’ve never been jealous of anyone.”

  “Until Lilae stole the Emperor from you?” Dragnor chewed his food and watched the array of emotions play out in her eyes. That was a soft spot for her.

  “No. She was my friend.”

  Dragnor rolled his eyes. “Friends? No such thing. There are those that pretend to care for you—that will betray you to protect themselves, and there are those that let you know their intentions up front. There is no in between.”

  She pursed her lips and kept silent.

  “She left you, Faira. Her friend. Am I right? Wouldn’t a friend at least take you with her when she escapes?”

  Faira frowned. “You’re wrong. I had no reason to escape.”

  “You’re telling me the harem girls enjoy being Kavien’s toys?”

  Faira nodded. “Yes. Now, can I go?”

  “No,” Dragnor barked, slamming his fist into the table. “You will go when I dismiss you. And that will not happen until you tell me everything you know of Lilae. Everything.”

  She shivered and leaned away from him. “I don’t know anything.”

  “You’d better give me something before I send that sister of yours to my torture chamber,” he snarled. “I hope that jolts your memory.”

  Faira raised the hands to him. “No. Please! Leave Rahki out of this.”

  She got on her knees, her gray eyes widening. “I don’t know much at all. I just know that she was awfully saddened by the loss of her family. She spoke of her father and sisters often. She didn’t reveal much more of her past to us,” she said quickly, her brows raised as she pleaded. “Please. Don’t hurt my sister.”

  Dragnor nodded, his memory jolted by the day he’d killed Lilae’s father. A smirk came to his face. How could he have forgotten the other portion of that day?

  The twins.

  They just might be the key to unlocking Lilae’s mysteries.

  “LET ME DO IT,” Risa whispered into her twin sister’s ear as they crouched low to the smooth granite floor.

  Jaiza looked over her shoulder at the torch-lit hallway that led back to the main house on the Duke of Avia’Torena’s grounds. A soft breeze drifted in through the archways that looked out over the tall grass surrounding the compound and briefly diminished the heat of the outer corridor.

  Fluorescent cicada’s buzzed outside. The noise the glittering insects made seemed too loud when their mission required silence.

  Jaiza suppressed the urge to cringe at the purple bruise that encircled Risa’s left eye. The swelling had begun to go down, but it didn’t lessen Jaiza’s anger.

  Their master promised to never bruise their faces.

  The Duke was a liar.

  “Come now, Jaiza. Let me kill him,” Risa said as she clenched her fists.

  Risa had as much as a claim to the Duke’s life as any of the other slave girls, but Jaiza had made up her mind at the beginning of this scheme. Risa’s black eye was punishment for speaking her mind and for trying to protect her sister.

  Kelsi, a girl from the village where they were captured from nearly a year ago, wrung her hands in worry. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one had followed them. The halls were clear.

  When she looked back at Jaiza, sweat dripped from her forehead.

  “No one is coming,” Kelsi whispered.

  With a nod, Jaiza turned her attention back to the Duke’s corridor.

  “Be careful,” Kelsi said.

  Jaiza didn’t look back at her. This would not be the first man that either twin had killed.

  Their father, Pirin, had trained them since childhood. Even though he’d only agreed to teach and protect the heir to their human god’s throne, he spent an equal amount of time preparing Risa and Jaiza for battle.

  Lilae.

  They both missed her. Not a day went by that Jaiza didn’t think of her.

  Jaiza peeked around the corner once more. She had to force herself to get up and make the walk to the Duke’s private quarters. She felt exposed as she rose to her feet.

  The archways within the corridor looked directly out into the duke’s private gardens. The guards were passed out on the ground.

  Yuvorias, a small exotic purple stemmed tree with great blooming yellow flowers, were planted in intricately embellished clay pots. They lined the walls, secreting fragrant opium-like aromas that altered the senses once inhaled.

  “Risa,” Jaiza murmured. “You couldn’t sneak up on anyone if your life depended on it, and this time, it does.” She twisted her blonde hair into a bun at the top of her head and tied it.

  The large stone doorway at the end of the hall was open as Jaiza stood made her way down the corridor. Sheer curtains floated into the hallway as the open windows let a gentle breeze into the manor.

  Sweat dripped between Jaiza’s breasts as she drew in a deep breath and looked back to see that Risa and Kelsi watching her in anticipation.

  The Duke of Avia’Torena was a cruel master and from the darkness, Jaiza glared at him, wishing she could exert the same punishment on him that he’d used on them on him.

/>   Jaiza slid the dagger from her sleeve and stalked into the spacious room decorated with nothing more than the Duke’s bed and two tall torches. Not a floorboard creaked, nor was a footstep heard.

  They had chosen the perfect night. The entire compound’s staff was drunk on whatever concoction the cook put into their soup.

  The cook’s part in this mission was irreversible. She’d already set the other slaves free.

  Everything hinged on this moment. Rumors about a slave—one with red hair and enough power to kill dozens of soldiers traveled quickly throughout Avia’Torena.

  Jaiza and Risa were now certain that Lilae was alive.

  There was hope.

  Their destiny was not to live as slaves for the rest of their lives. They were to be at Lilae’s side, saving the world.

  Without a sound or hesitation, Jaiza clamped her hand over the Duke’s mouth and slit his throat. She watched his eyes pop open, and the blood began to gush from his neck, soaking into his bed.

  A gurgling sound came from beneath her hand as the Duke struggled. He deserved every moment of agony for what drudgery and perversion he’d put his slaves through.

  When the light faded from his eyes, she turned and left his sleeping quarters without a sound.

  It was done.

  Jaiza hurried back to her sister and Kelsi and motioned for them to follow. Down the long, labyrinth-like, hallways they went.

  Each elaborate room they’d been forced to clean and serve the Duke’s friends and family in could burn for all they cared.

  Outside the kitchen, the cook waited, a look of worry creasing her forehead as she watched them approach.

  “Is he dead?” Emirra’s gray hair was pulled into a messy ponytail, and her face was smeared with soot from cleaning the hearth.

  “Yes,” Jaiza answered. “We told you we could do it.”

  “Good, we better get moving.” Emirra grabbed her sack from behind the kitchen’s heavy wooden door.

  The other girls went to the cupboards and pulled their own bags from the shelves. They had already packed essentials: food and a change of clothes from the Duke’s wife’s wardrobe.

  Risa and Jaiza stood ready. They were used to such nights when everything was left behind. Never had they been more willing to leave a place.

  “This way,” Emirra motioned for them to follow her, and down the dark hallway they went.

  Jaiza’s heart thumped in her chest. The fear of getting caught plagued her. That only meant that she and Risa would have to kill more people for their freedom.

  Nearly a year ago, Jaiza had thought she’d seen Lilae at the port. The girls had been on separate ships but once they reached Avia’Torena, Jaiza was sure she’d seen Lilae. Her red hair had captured the light.

  Jaiza had cried out for Lilae, praying that she would look their way and know that they had all made it out of Lowen’s Edge alive.

  She’d suffered a swollen lip in return. Life would never be the same.

  She began to wonder if any men left in the world had a shred of compassion or empathy. Brison, the man she was meant to marry, had faded from her memory a long time ago.

  Those days all seemed like such a blur. She could barely remember happiness. The days of a slave were all the same, dark and full of suffering.

  The memory of being summoned to the Duke’s bedchamber made her clench her fists. Those nights alone with him, she would bury so deep that she prayed she would forget, forever.

  Once outside, the air was just as hot and thick as inside. They all held their breath once they stepped foot outdoors. The sleeping guards were armed.

  The twins were wary. There was a lingering fear if Emirra’s concoction was strong enough to keep those men asleep long enough to escape.

  Risa knelt down before one of the guards. His chest heaved up and down with his steady breaths. She watched him, focusing on his closed eyes as she gently pulled his sword free from his scabbard.

  The steel scrapped against the brass scabbard. Risa held her breath. Her eyes widened as he stirred. Worry filled her eyes as Risa glanced at Jaiza. When she looked back at him, his small, dark eyes stared back at her.

  Risa yanked the sword free and stabbed him in the chest. The tip of the sword slid through his body and stopped at the clay molded wall on which he leaned. He began to shout, and she quickly clamped his mouth with her hand.

  She shook, hoping the other men wouldn’t awaken as well. They would have an all-out battle on their hands if those men saw them trying to escape. And they knew they would lose the moment they called for the Duke’s own private sector of soldiers who weren’t too far away.

  He reached for Risa and grabbed her neck with his rough, callused hand and held tight. She held her breath, hoping she could outlast him. Sweat dripped from her forehead as she waited for him to die.

  Jaiza reached an arm across Risa and slit his throat with one sawing motion, ending all struggle.

  Risa took his sword and together they ran from the other sleeping guards.

  The tall yellow grass reached to their waists and scratched them on their exposed legs. Once the manor was out of sight, they all took a breath of relief.

  “You just couldn’t resist, could you?” Jaiza scowled at her sister.

  “We needed this,” Risa said with a shrug, her hair brushing her shoulders.

  Jaiza let out a harsh breath and shook her head.

  “Ok girls,” Emirra began. “We must separate now.”

  Kelsi hugged Jaiza tight to her chest, sniffling. Risa was next for an embrace. The three girls had been through so much together. Before the massacre in Lowen’s Edge, Kelsi had been a different person—snobbish and full of spite.

  Nearly a year of slavery had changed her.

  “Go with Emirra,” Jaiza said.

  Tears trailed down Kelsi’s freckle-splattered face, and Jaiza wiped them away with her thumb.

  “Don’t cry. Emirra will take good care of you. You’re free now.”

  Kelsi would have a difficult time blending in with the people of Avia’Torena. Her auburn curls were hard to tame, very different from the raven-haired women native to the land.

  Jaiza and Risa would have to keep their blond hair cloaked.

  “Why can’t I go with you?” Kelsi wrung her hands. “I saw what you girls did that day the soldiers came. I’ve never seen anyone fight that way before. I would feel safer with you.”

  Risa put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s too dangerous, Kelsi. You have to go where it’s safe. Flee Avia’Torena and start a new life.”

  Kelsi tilted her head as her eyes went from Risa to Jaiza. “You’re going to find Lilae?”

  They nodded.

  Kelsi stepped away toward Emirra. “I hope you find her well.”

  Jaiza kissed her cheek. “Thank you. Take care of yourself.”

  “I’ll do my best.”

  “Girls, don’t forget,” Emirra said. “Vaugner is a great friend to anyone in need. He makes potions that heal people, and he has always been charitable to those who seek him with a pure heart. Only those who are evil shall fear him.”

  “We won’t forget,” Risa rolled up her dress’ sleeves.

  Emirra nodded. “May the Ancients guide and protect you.”

  Jaiza took her sister's hand as they watched Emirra and Kelsi head down the opposite path toward the thick jungle that led toward the north of the empire.

  “We did it,” Risa said, a smile forming on her full lips.

  “I won’t feel safe until we are far from this place.”

  “Do you think the Ancients know we are out here? Do they even care about us?”

  Jaiza shrugged, and together they looked at the night sky as a warm breeze blew strands of their blonde hair.

  The Ancients had never guided them before. It was Delia that spoke to them.

  “I really don’t know.”

  The twins would be on their own, yet they were confident that nothing would keep them from reuniting with their
sister.

  A goblin city awaited.

  “We are coming, Lilae,” Jaiza whispered.

  THE RAIN OVER OREN BEGAN to lessen for the first time in weeks since that horrifying night Queen Aria’s palace was sent crashing to the ground.

  The fog, a mixture of green and gray, was thick as ever and smothered Oren like a blanket.

  Queen Aria tightened her hood, and still, her face got wet from the soft droplets of rain on that cool evening. Her leather boots splashed in puddles no matter how careful she was to avoid them.

  A troop of armed Tryan guards followed at her sides and behind as she walked the streets that were in danger of becoming flooded.

  The series of winding stone roads and alleyways were abandoned. The sun hadn’t shone in days.

  Horrible deaths, mysterious illnesses, crime, starvation were all that seemed to fill Oren as of late. The cheery city was nothing more than a shell of its former glory.

  News of a plague had drawn Aria from the palace. Against her advisor’s judgment, she wanted to see for herself. She was tired of reports. Aria needed to help her citizens, not sit in her comfy palace hoping someone else would do something.

  If only she had someone there that could guide her. Her parents would have known what to do.

  From their windows, Tryans watched her walk by, some brave enough to step out into the heavy rain to get a better look of their Queen.

  Aria offered a reassuring smile, knowing that she was lost as to what she would actually do to keep the Orenians alive.

  “Watch your step, my Queen,” one of the soldiers warned.

  Aria paused. Her eyes went to the crack in the road. She’d discovered that many of the roads had been damaged by the quakes.

  Cottages and shops had been toppled and even though Aria had teams of men sent out to repair those homes, the people were still on edge.

  It was apparent that Oren was under attack.

  It was just one that no one seemed to know how to fight.

  When they reached the home of the latest infected family, she paused before the door. She looked back at her men, who she knew were fearful of contagion.

  Sucking in a deep breath, Aria knocked on the door.

 
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