Night of the storm an ep.., p.15
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.15

           K.N. Lee
 
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  Inside, she heard someone run loudly down the stairs. The door was ripped open and before her stood a tall young man that looked to be in his late twenties. He wore a tattered, blood-soaked tunic and wool pants. Glossy, red-rimmed blue eyes looked at her. Even his Tryan glow was dimmed.

  Oily, stringy black hair hung to his shoulders. From the smell of him, he hadn’t bathed in ages. Sweat beaded on his pale forehead, saturating his cheeks and neck as well.

  Aria’s throat went dry as she began to speak. “Mr. Triston?”

  Her eyes widened at seeing the blood that dripped from his hands. Aria was not a warrior monarch like her son would be; she had never seen a battle. The sight of blood turned her stomach.

  He wiped his hands on his already soiled tunic. “Aye, Queen Aria,” he replied, his voice quavering. “I ‘poligize for the mess.”

  Aria swallowed hard when he lowered his face. She could see the tears trailing down his cheeks. It was obvious that he’d tried to hide them from her.

  Mr. Triston wiped his chin on his shoulder and turned towards the stairs. “This way.” He motioned for her to follow.

  The darkness inside that door was intimidating, and Aria feared what she was about to walk into.

  Aria looked back at her men once more. “Stay here,” she ordered. Despite standing in the rain, she could tell they were grateful for her orders.

  Aria entered the small cottage. Her hand shot up to cover her nose and mouth when the putrid smell of decomposing flesh hit her. Her stomach churned, but she followed closely behind.

  “My ma and pa died first,” he explained in a whisper. He glanced over his shoulder as he headed up the old staircase. “My wife died this morning.”

  The old floorboards groaned beneath their weight. “I haven’t had a chance to clean out her room yet. I’ve been too busy caring for the girls.”

  She followed him up to a narrow hallway. There were two doors, and he went straight to the one on the right. Light shone from the uneven doorframe.

  The door creaked open. The horror Aria witnessed cut straight to her heart, nearly crippling her.

  Hot tears stung Aria’s eyes as she looked in to see two little girls laying in a bed that was low to the floor.

  Holy Elahe. Help us.

  The two little ones laid there with their eyes closed. Blood stained their pale white cheeks and the corners of their dry, crusted mouths. The smell was repugnant, but the sight was heart wrenching.

  “Carrie,” he called, and the girl on the left stirred. “Suessa,” he added, and they both opened their eyes and tried to sit up.

  Such a task was taken for granted as Aria realized that the two girl’s eyes were sealed shut, blood seeping from their tear ducts.

  “Oh my,” Aria croaked, covering her mouth. The line in her forehead deepened. “What has happened to them?”

  He shook his head. “Same as the other folk that died last week. Something’s got a hold of my entire family. I’m shocked that I’m still able to care for them,” he paused, his voice growing hoarse. “Something’s killing my babies, Queen Aria. It isn’t right for a man to bury his entire family. To bury his children who haven’t had a life of their own yet.”

  “Who’s that with you, Papa?” Carrie asked. Her bloody eyes tried to see. “Is it really the Queen?”

  “Yes, girls. The Queen has come all the way from the palace to see you two.”

  “Oh, Papa!” Suessa squealed before going into a fit of coughing that shook her entire body. He knelt down at her bedside with a cup of water from the side table. She wheezed and tried to catch her breath.

  Mr. Triston put the cup to her mouth, and she took a tiny sip. When the coughing fit finally ceased, she tried to speak again. He wiped her mouth with a dirty rag. “Is she wearing a pretty dress?”

  “Yes, Suessa.”

  “With gold trim? Like at the fair?” Carrie asked.

  Suessa’s bloodshot eyes sparkled. “And shiny gold shoes?”

  Mr. Triston looked at Aria in her muddy leather boots and plain black cloak. “Yes,” he answered, his tearful eyes not leaving Aria’s. “She is wearing a gold gown and gold shoes for you girls.”

  “Oh, Papa,” Carrie smiled. She tried to wipe her eyes with her sleeve. “Can we play with her?”

  “Please. Please. We feel all better.” Suessa went into another coughing fit. She nearly choked on the red phlegm that splattered onto the dull gray quilt.

  Aria’s jaw hung. Her eyes widened in horror.

  Enough.

  Her heart broke at seeing those girls in that state. She ran down the stairs and out of the house as though something chased her. She was grateful for the rain that poured once more. It washed away her tears as she faced her men.

  “Send for the palace physician, a healing fairy, and an herbalist.”

  Aria balled up her fist, her eyes fixed on the desolate city street before her.

  “Send for them all.”

  THE SOUND OF SOLDIERS woke Jaiza. Her eyes opened to the jungle canopy. It was dawn, and traces of sunlight beamed through a ceiling of thick leaves.

  Jaiza’s senses were heightened, so much so that the sound of the soldier’s boots broke her from her slumber. Her body tensed, the blood draining from her face.

  How close are they?

  She activated her Accuracy—a trait common to humans, but useful in situations such as this. Usually, Accuracy was used for making precise shots with her bow and arrows, but it had its other uses.

  The trees became a blur, as her sight extended far ahead. Tall soldiers, clad in Avia’Torenan armor of gold and bronze, patrolled the wide merchant road a few yards away from where she and Risa slept.

  Jaiza gave Risa a gentle push.

  “What?” Risa yawned and opened one eye to peak at Jaiza’s face. “It can’t be time to wake up yet.”

  The soldiers stopped near the sign stuck in the ground to have a drink.

  Turning her gaze to Risa, Jaiza’s brows furrowed.

  “Soldiers,” Jaiza whispered. “I can see them with my Accuracy.”

  Risa shot up from her spot on a bed of leaves, holding her breath. Her eyes widened.

  “Calm down. They aren’t that close, but close enough to make me uncomfortable. We better get moving.”

  “How many?”

  “Eight.”

  Risa let out a long breath and laid back down as if eight soldiers wasn’t much of a threat. “Maybe we should wait until they are farther away,” Risa suggested with a half shrug of her shoulder. “I was dreaming of Mother’s winter porridge. You know, the kind with chopped pork.”

  “No,” Jaiza said, her eyes glazed over as she used more energy to focus on the soldiers. “I want to keep to the Parthan River and put more distance between the soldiers and us. If we are quiet, we can avoid detection.”

  “Couldn’t we just sleep for a bit? That would also avoid detection,” Risa said as she picked long blades of grass out of her braided blonde hair.

  “What if one of them decides to come into the forest to relieve himself?”

  Sighing, Risa nodded. “Fine.”

  Risa pushed herself up to her feet and started gathering their scant supplies.

  The rushing waters of the Parthan River returned as Jaiza deactivated her Accuracy.

  “I’m tired of running.”

  “I am too,” Jaiza said as she stretched her arms. “But we can’t stop until we get there. I promise we can rest then.”

  “But we’ve been running all of our lives.”

  Jaiza noted the sound of fatigue in her sister’s voice. “We can’t afford to stop now. Lilae needs us, and we need her.”

  “I know. But, what if Lilae is dead?”

  “Don’t you ever say that again,” Jaiza said through clenched teeth.

  Risa waved her hands. “I’m just saying. What if she’s gone?”

  “She’s not.”

  “I’m sorry,” Risa said, sucking her teeth. “I’m just tired. I’m hungry
. My feet hurt. This stab wound still itches.”

  Risa scratched her belly through her clothes. The wound had healed, but Jaiza told her it was just in her mind, reminding her of her one moment of weakness. They shouldn’t have been taken that day in Lowen’s Edge.

  They should have protected Lilae.

  “Haven’t you learned anything? I’ll never complain again as long as I am free.”

  Risa wrapped her arms around Jaiza. “You’re right. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

  “You’re scared.”

  “I am. I don’t like feeling like this. I just miss Mother, Father, Lilae, and even Delia.”

  “I’m scared too. But we are strong. We can do this.” Jaiza stroked Risa’s cheek as they pulled free from their embrace. “You better not let that tear slip.”

  Risa bit her lip and sucked in a breath. She shook her head as if shaking off the sadness.

  “Are you kidding?” Risa forced a smile. “Risa, daughter of Pirin, does not cry.”

  Jaiza searched her wet eyes and nodded. “Good girl.” She picked up the stolen sword, missing her bow and arrows. They were lucky that their father, Pirin, taught them to fight with more than just their weapon of choice.

  “Let’s go. We’re close to the Goblin City. I just know it.”

  Risa nodded and pulled her pack on. They began their trek along the side of the river when a piercing scream filled the jungle.

  Jaiza put a hand on Risa’s, stopping her. Her blood ran cold.

  A woman in trouble.

  Risa’s eyes met hers. “It’s not our business—” She started to shake her head when the scream came again.

  Terrified.

  Desperate.

  Jaiza closed her eyes, sighing. She couldn’t turn her back on women in need. She rubbed her temples and took in a deep breath. As she opened her eyes a thought came to her.

  What would Lilae do?

  They both knew the answer and drew their swords.

  THE PATH WAS OVERGROWN WITH tree roots, old leaves, and sun-bleached weeds that reached their knees. Ayoki and Mai followed behind Luc, still mystified by this new world, yet worried that they took a route so out in the open.

  Eura was beautiful, bright, and full of light. The sky was so calm, with birds fluttering above, seemingly singing as they flew from tree to tree.

  As Ayoki wiped her face of sweat, she yearned for the safety the underground provided. The sun, with its intense rays of light, bothered her eyes, and its heat was almost intolerable. The cool comfort of a cave was still preferable to this bright world.

  “I hear you were taken by Bellens,” Luc said, breaking Ayoki from her thoughts.

  “We were,” Mai answered, giving Ayoki a sidelong glance.

  Ayoki was grateful for Mai’s discretion. She could have killed every Bellen within seconds, but fear kept her held in submission.

  Visions of being poked and prodded, tested and experimented on was not nearly as disturbing as the memories of her childhood.

  Pretica’s face kept trying to wedge itself into her mind, but Ayoki pushed it back. She didn’t want to remember, but one memory in particular, wouldn’t be silenced. It fought to return to her, and each time it appeared, she placed her hand on her belly, where comfort awaited, and the memory vanished into the dark recesses of her twisted mind.

  Everything would be better once her child was born. Ayoki was certain of it.

  Her jaw hardened. She simply prayed that her child wouldn’t be born with her power.

  Ayoki kept her eyes fixed on Luc’s back. She knew Mai was still upset with her for being a coward—for not fighting back when they were taken.

  She should be ashamed to call herself The Seer.

  “What was it like?”

  Mai glanced at Ayoki. “It wasn’t pleasant.”

  Luc turned to face them, walking backward with a quizzical look on his face. “They’ve been taking girls since before any of us were born. You two were lucky to have been rescued.”

  “Lucky?” Mai said with a smile. “I’d say so…Luc.”

  A grin crossed to Luc’s face, one that neither of the Shadow Elf girls had seen since Hartwig sent them off with him.

  It was a nice smile, warm, and perhaps a little shy.

  A whistling sound made Ayoki pause on the worn road.

  The blood drained from her face as an arrow shot into Luc’s shoulder and poked out the other side.

  Mai’s scream filled the entire forest, shrill, desperate, and laden with terror.

  Ayoki slapped a hand over Mai’s mouth, silencing her, and whipped her around to run. Mai recovered quickly, keeping up with Ayoki as they darted into the trees.

  Luc.

  They hadn’t the time to look back. Another new friend would be no more.

  Soldiers. The sounds of their boots haunted her as they ran into the forest.

  The underbrush was thick, making it a feat to run without getting caught by roots, vines, and fallen logs. Each step took them farther away from whoever shot that arrow.

  No other race was as fast as a Shadow Elf.

  Ayoki’s eyes widened when a man appeared before her, out of nowhere. He materialized at such a speed that his body was a blur.

  What trait was that?

  He was human. Tall, with a clean-shaven face, bright green eyes, and a wicked smile that turned her blood cold.

  Evasion? Is that what this power was? Ayoki was unsure, she hadn’t studied the humans as closely as Pretica. Now, she wished she had.

  They wouldn’t be able to run. Not from these soldiers. More materialized before Ayoki and Mai, all with smug smiles on their faces, seemingly pleased to have stunned the young Shadow Elf girls with the traits of their race.

  “What do you want from us? We have nothing,” Mai shouted, already in tears.

  The leader stepped forward. He grabbed Mai by her neck.

  Mai screamed again.

  Ayoki tensed. Her right eye twitched.

  This wasn’t going to go well.

  “Shadow Elves, Captain Marick,” a soldier said, folding his arms over his chest. He was a big man, with muscles that rivaled the statues of Wexcyn himself. No one in Gollush had muscles like that.

  Human men were all built bigger. Solid. Strong.

  Ayoki wondered if she could defeat them with just her physical strength.

  Two human girls with wispy yellow hair ran from the trees, swords ready, determination on their identical faces.

  Ayoki crouched low as an all-out battle ensued around her.

  She watched as the twin girls fought as fiercely as any warrior she’d seen in Gollush.

  The clash of steel against steel rang through the forest. Birds squawked and flew from the trees as the noises of battle grew louder. Ayoki wished she could drown it out.

  Too loud.

  But the girls fought for them. That was odd.

  Why would a human defend them?

  “Jaiza,” one of the girls called. “Use your Accuracy. They have Evasion.”

  Ayoki’s eyes narrowed as she tried to follow the standoff before her. Evasion against Evasion. It was a scene from a dream as one of the human girls went from soldier to soldier, her image flickering erratically as she shot from one end of the battle to another, clashing steel and flesh to fist and boot.

  Excitement filled Ayoki as she watched. Mai crawled over to her. “Let’s go,” she whispered, her eyes wide.

  Ayoki raised a finger. For a second she considered helping the human girls. From the looks of it, they could take care of themselves.

  Ayoki nodded and started for the forest while the soldiers were occupied.

  Again, the man they called Captain Marick appeared before her, his smug smile nowhere to be seen. He reached for Ayoki, grabbing her by the hair.

  No.

  This was not going to go well.

  A STARTLED GASP ESCAPED Ayoki’s lips as she found herself before the captain’s sun-scorched face.

  She slashe
d him across the cheek with her nails, drawing crimson blood.

  A punch to the jaw took Ayoki’s breath away, sending her gasping to her knees. Dirt and pebbles embedded into her flesh as she squeezed her eyes shut against the stinging pain.

  “Let her go!”

  Mai struggled against two men as they pinned her arms behind her back. The twin girls were captured as well. Disheveled and covered in blood, they didn’t look fearful.

  Anger seethed in their large blue eyes.

  The battle was quick once it was realized that all of the soldiers had special, human traits that would take more than two well-trained human girls.

  The soldiers that held Mai shoved her down until her face was pressed against the dirt.

  Mai’s face was ashen, her eyes wide as she looked at Ayoki for help.

  “Risa,” Jaiza said through ragged breaths as she was bound and forced to her knees. “Are you okay?”

  Risa didn’t reply. Calm, she bent to her knees and glared at the soldiers.

  Jaiza’s eyes met Ayoki’s, hard, yet filled with tears.

  Something stirred within Ayoki—an anger that she was unused to. Rage boiled in her belly, threatening to burst forth.

  They were going to die.

  All of them.

  “Bring the male over. We will make this quick,” Captain Marick said.

  Though bleeding from his mouth, the soldiers brought Luc to the lineup. Luc’s already ash-colored skin was paler than normal, his eyes sunken in as blood dripped from his wound and face.

  Still, he was stoic, unflinching in the face of death.

  Ayoki wished she could be that strong.

  She wiped fresh blood from her own mouth, not liking the salty taste or the sting of her wound. It would have been easy if the soldiers would have listened to Mai.

  Marick drew his dagger and forced Ayoki back up to her knees. She grunted as he placed the blade to her throat, the other soldiers following suit to each captive in the clearing.

  Her body shook.

  Not with fear for herself.

  But for them.

  Ayoki would have begged them to run far away if she had a voice.

  Go. Just go. I will forgive you if you run now.

  Her eyes clouded with tears.

  At the end of the line was Luc, yet he was first to meet his end.

 
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