Night of the storm an ep.., p.18
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.18

           K.N. Lee
 
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  Speechless, Aria watched him leave the room.

  Yoska flew to her. “What are you thinking?”

  “I don’t know,” Aria said, her shoulders slumping as she looked out to the garden as Cyden walked along the path to his disciples congregated outside.

  “We go home,” Aria said. She turned to Yoska. “I cannot let my people down. No matter how bad things get.”

  SOON, THE EMPEROR WOULD be awakened, and a sliver of fear hid inside Dragnor’s mind. His jaw tightened as he thought of what would happen the moment Kavien’s eyes opened.

  Dragnor had cursed him yet again, and now Sister Eloni was dead.

  Time for a new ally.

  Faira’s revelations about Lilae had led him to a dead end. The twins had escaped, and it brought up the same anger he’d felt each time he’d catch up to Lilae just to have her slip through his fingers.

  He’d find them. The cook he’d captured would speak, eventually.

  Dragnor stood at the open window, looking out onto the city as the sun bathed the creams and beiges of the tall buildings it in its orange light. Avia’Torena was too bright for his tastes, but even he could appreciate its beauty. The sandy dunes in the distance however, should be flattened and covered with the black trees from his home.

  “Where are you taking me?” A young woman with dangling bracelets piled onto her arms yelled as she struggled against two guards.

  The men dragged her into the center of the small conference room with chairs set in rows that faced a hanging map of Eura.

  “I’m talking to you!”

  Dragnor shot her an icy glare that made her swallow her protests. She was forced to her knees and stared at him in horror.

  “It’s you. The Shadow Elf. What do you want with me?”

  Dragnor ignored her question and circled her, noting her brown skin and ethereal hazel eyes. Her hair was long, and black, reaching her ankles. She hid it with a red scarf that shimmered in the rays of the sun. Red silk was wrapped around her body and draped over her shoulders like the customary dress of the Avia’Torenan nobility.

  They were at least making an effort to blend.

  He smiled as her large eyes met his. She swallowed and looked away. Yet, he could feel the power radiating from her. She was perfect.

  “What is it you want?”

  Her voice was a little calmer now.

  “You know exactly what I want. You can stop pretending now.” Dragnor waved the guards away and she waited silently until the room was cleared.

  She rose to her feet and pulled out a small brown rod from her satchel. She yanked the rod forward and it clicked, lengthening into a staff.

  She no longer looked at Dragnor with fear.

  Dragnor stood there regarding her with a look of respect. She had hidden so well.

  “You have one minute to speak your business with me. I am a busy woman, and I do not appreciate being taken against my will.”

  Dragnor shook his head and met her eyes. “You have this meeting all wrong. I have nothing but great respect for you. But, I also know that you don’t want your cover blown.”

  She didn’t flinch. “What do you want, Dragnor? We are tired of your empty promises and lies. Unless Wexcyn came to ask for our aid, we no longer have any business with you.”

  He grinned—something rare for him, yet he was truly pleased. The Bellens were the key to many things. They were what he needed to gain an edge over The Chosen.

  This woman might be the key to finding those that posed a threat to Wexcyn and their plan for a new world.

  “I want to make you an ally, Eyshe.”

  “Really?” She put a hand on her hip and squinted her eyes. “After what you allowed to happy to Sister Eloni, I am not sure I trust you. My sisters and I no longer want to be a part of your scheme.”

  “But think of all of the souls you can have. The immortality that comes with those souls…and the young recruits we would give you.”

  “We don’t need your help. We’ve been claiming souls since the beginning of time, and never needed a Shadow Elf’s help.”

  Dragnor sat down in a chair, and crossed his legs. He wrapped his hands around his knees. “But your leader. Tell me she doesn’t want to make a Bellen of The Flame.”

  Eyshe’s eyes widened for a second, and then her face became a blank canvas once again.

  “Our leader will not be beguiled by your false promises.” She turned to leave. “You cannot offer such a thing. The Flame slipped from your fingers. And now no one knows where she is. Sorry, Dragnor. It was a valiant effort.”

  “But, I do, Eyshe,” Dragnor said. “I know where she is going.”

  Eyshe glanced back at him, a brow raised. “And how do you know where she is going?”

  Dragnor grinned. “I found the cook that helped her sisters escape.”

  She pursed her lips, but turned back around. “Go on.”

  “They are heading for Torgrid, the Goblin City,” Dragnor said. He raised a long finger. “The Elder will lead Lilae there, right to us. If we can make a deal. Come now. You know you want to…and that your leader dreams of an opportunity such as this.”

  “How do you know she will go to Torgrid?”

  “Vaugner rules Torgrid. I am certain that the Elder is leading The Flame and The Storm to the Goblin City.”

  Eyshe’s eyes brightened. “Two Gatekeepers. In one place. Holy Elahe, Dragnor. Imagine the power.”

  “Yes,” Dragnor said, nodding. “You know where I am going with this.”

  “I do. Two Gatekeepers can Gate more than we ever could.” She sat down in a chair, wrapping her legs with her long skirts.”

  Dragnor’s grin widened. “Exactly. Forget using the soul of one poor girl to travel to the different realms. They can Gate an army.”

  “But,” Eyshe said. “As much as I want to invade Auroria, I have a better idea that can accomplish two goals at once.”

  Dragnor leaned forward in his seat. “What is that?”

  “Oh,” she purred, her eyes widening. “I think it will please both of our masters.”

  “Tell me. Don’t be coy,” Dragnor said.

  Eyshe smiled. “I know how we can free Wexcyn. If we free him, we won’t even need the Elders to Gate us anywhere. We can stride into every territory we choose.”

  Dragnor drew in a breath. Yes. This is it.

  He nodded. “I’m listening.”

  THE GOBLIN CITY OF TORGRID was a stronghold of darkness. Bleak stone structures and metal made up the city, and black gates and a towering wall protected it from outsiders.

  Lilae held tight to Triste’s reigns as they emerged from the clouds and flew over the city. Her eyes roamed over the landscape. It was hidden by the thick forest, miles from any other towns or villages. A river stretched across the right side, feeding a distant ocean.

  “Follow me down to the clearing,” Neru said, leading his wyvern to the black stone path before the gates.

  Lilae swallowed. She leaned forward, her chest pressed to Triste’s neck as she spoke to him. “Follow Neru to that smooth clearing.”

  “Yes,” Triste said. “Thank you for not making me land inside. The goblins frighten me.”

  Lilae smoothed the scales on his neck. “They scare me too,” she said, although she’d never seen a goblin, and still didn’t see a trace of any as the moon cast a hazy light on the sleeping city.

  Once they landed, everyone dismounted and summoned their wyverns back to their eggs.

  “Keep them,” Neru said. “They will be loyal to you forever if you treat them right.”

  Lilae smiled, despite her fear of standing before the mysterious Goblin City in the dark. To have her own wyvern was like a dream. She’d never been given such an amazing gift.

  Delia approached the gate and two goblin guards faced her from behind the thick black bars.

  Wearing armor that covered their small bodies and faces, they looked over the group of foreigners with cool disdain.

  “What
s yer business?”

  “Vaugner,” Delia said, her staff’s tip glowing. “We have been invited by your leader.”

  The guards watched the glow of her staff, taking a step back.

  “Elder,” one said. “We didn’t know it was you.”

  “It’s fine. Please, just let Vaugner know we are here.”

  “‘Course,” he said and went to unlock the gate. “Come right in.”

  The other held the gate open as Lilae and the others filed in.

  “We’ve had so many strangers come to us of late. Not too long ago we ‘ad an intruder fly right in on one of those flying lizard things you came in on. Very suspect, I’d say. But, he had his comeuppance.”

  “An intruder?” Neru asked.

  “Yes,” the goblin said. He scratched his fuzzy chin, his eyes squinting as he looked down at Neru. “And he looked much like you, old fella.”

  “Dragnor,” Lilae whispered.

  “Don’t know ‘is name. But Master Vaugner gave him quite a fright. He ran from here as if ‘is arse was set ablaze,” he said with a chuckle. “We don’t get much visitin’ round here. Most know betta.”

  “What did he want?” Delia asked, exchanging a look with Lilae.

  The goblin shrugged as the other closed the gate and locked it.

  “Dunno. Ask Vaugner. He knows everythin’, doesn’t tell Wick or Frew anythin’ but what ta do.”

  “Right,” Delia said. “Take us to him, please.”

  “I can’t leave me post, miss. But, lemme call someone that can.”

  The goblin whistled and a goblin riding a brown horse came trotting over from down the road that led through the city of towering buildings that were nearly as tall as those in Gollush.

  “So,” Liam said, folding his arms across his chest. “This is the lost race.”

  “Lost race?”

  He nodded. “I read about them in my studies as a young boy. Goblins, fairies, and mermaids don’t have Ancients like we do. They are neutral.”

  “Well,” Rowe said. “The fairies do have an Ancient now.”

  Liam nodded, his eyes darkening at the memory of Nani. “True. That does change things a bit.”

  “What happened to their god?” Lilae asked, her eyes watching the horseman as he leaned down to the goblin guard. He nodded, his eyes scanning them, and turned to deliver the message.

  “They died, left, or sacrificed themselves to sustain their race.”

  Delia turned to Liam. “I am impressed by your knowledge, Liam.”

  He shrugged, yet his cheeks flushed. “It’s nothing. I only spent half my life devoting my days to reading, memorizing, and studying the ancient texts.”

  “All of Oren doubted he existed for the longest time. We never saw his face without it being glued to a book,” Rowe joked, clasping a hand onto Liam’s shoulder. “He knows more than anyone I’ve ever known.”

  “That’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Delia said. “A scholar is always of value.”

  Liam smiled, and Lilae wrapped her arm around his waist. “You’ll have to teach me some of what you’ve learned someday.”

  He looked down at her and nodded. His eyes locked with hers, and he unfolded his arms to pull her into a brief embrace. “Of course. I’ll teach you everything I know.”

  Lilae’s grin faded at the way Delia looked at her. Something in her eyes seemed troubled, but the Elder said nothing of it. She simply turned the other way and whispered something to Neru. She nodded, and they stepped away from the group and continued their hushed conversation.

  Lilae chewed her lip. She wished she could hear what was being said.

  “You didn’t lie about an adventure, Liam,” Rowe said. “I may need to write all of this down when we return to Oren. Better yet. I’ll let you write it for me.”

  “I’d be honored,” Liam said. “You’ll have to wait until I’ve bathed in the palace bath house and eaten as much roasted pork as I can manage. I truly miss the palace cook’s food.”

  “No,” Rowe said, shaking his head. “You’ve never had Cammie’s cooking. You’re coming to dinner at my house, and I guarantee you’ll never want to eat that pompous palace food ever again. Country cooking. That’s what you need.”

  Liam chuckled with a half shrug. “Whatever you say.”

  Lilae smiled, but somehow the thought of Liam returning to Oren worried her. Where would she go once everything was over? That was assuming they won and peace would follow whatever war Wexcyn waged on Ellowen.

  She twirled the ends of her red hair around her finger. “I wonder where I will go once everything is over.”

  Liam and Rowe looked at her.

  “I don’t have a home,” she said, softly, her brows furrowing at the center. “I never have.”

  Liam reached for her hand. “You’ll come home with us. I already told you that you needed to meet my mother. You’re welcome in my home, Lilae.”

  She smiled up at him, and he leaned down to kiss her lips.

  What Liam said made her happier than she’d been in a long time. She realized then that he was the source of all of her happiness since her escape from the Avia’Torenan palace.

  That realization made her hold onto his hand a little tighter. Fear struck her heart.

  No.

  Not again.

  Everyone she’d ever loved had been ripped away from her in the most brutal and devastating ways. How could she go on if she lost Liam?

  She sucked in a breath.

  “Thank you,” she said, but her heart ached for a loss that hadn’t even occurred yet. She hated that feeling. Why couldn’t she just live in the moment and enjoy him while she had him?

  She knew why.

  She loved Liam. More than anyone.

  That made the stakes higher. She clenched her jaw.

  She’d fight to protect him with her dying breath if she had to.

  No one was going to take him away from her.

  “I’d go anywhere with you,” she whispered.

  “You mean that?” Liam asked.

  She nodded, on the verge of tears.

  He leaned down to whisper to her. “We will never part, Lilae. I promise you that.” He kissed her again and stood tall to look ahead as the horseman returned.

  She beamed. It was as if he had read her thoughts, felt her insecurities, and squashed them with just a few words and a tender kiss.

  “Vaugner invites you to come to the Keep. He’s been waiting for your arrival,” the horseman said, his small rubbery green face taken over by a friendly smile.

  “Thank you,” Delia said. “We will follow you.”

  “Perfect. I’m Dunstan,” the goblin horseman said.

  “Nice to meet you, Dunstan. I am Delia and this is Lilae, Liam, Rowe, and Neru,” Delia replied. “Thank you for your kind welcome.”

  “Same. Truly,” Dunstan said, and turned the horse to walk at a steady pace down the stone slab road lit with short lamps set on either side. “The goblin population is asleep, but tomorrow, the city will be energized after hearing of your arrival. We’ve been anxiously awaiting The Chosen since Vaugner told us of the alliance.”

  “Goblins,” Rowe said. “Can’t say that I’ve ever heard of you. But there’s a lot I’ve never heard of that I’ve recently encountered.”

  “Right,” Dunstan said. “We like being mysterious. Keeps us out of trouble. But, we’ve certainly heard of Tryans. Wait until my people see you and your glowing skin. And you’re so tall. I fear I’d probably only come up to your waist,” he said with a laugh.

  “But most Tryans aren’t as tall as Rowe either,” Liam said.

  “Aye,” Rowe replied with a nod.

  The quiet streets were shrouded by a thick fog that seemed to come from the stones of the street, like water dripping on a hot surface, causing steam. Still, Lilae was transfixed by the odd design of the buildings. It looked like each building had hundreds of indentations with metal doors, much like the flats of Gollush, yet she was sure that
each flat was smaller, perhaps only housing one or two goblins at a time.

  Her suspicions were validated when she noticed that some of the metal doors were left open, revealing two cots secured to the wall, where two goblins slept; one chest and a squat table were opposite their beds.

  It seemed that the goblins lived simple lives, where all they needed were beds, somewhere to store their belongings, and somewhere to eat.

  Not every goblin slept at that hour. An older goblin with a long pipe stood on the steps of one of the buildings, purple smoke wafting from his nostrils as he watched them with small, beady black eyes.

  He blinked, but his eyes watched them until they passed by.

  Once they reached the center of the city, they stood before a tall black tower.

  The Keep.

  Dunstan hopped from his horse and tied it to a tether on the street. He motioned them to follow.

  He was right. He was barely as tall as their waists, with heavy boots, woolen pants, and gray cloak that covered his head and revealed a tiny sword at his hip.

  Something told her that despite his size, he knew how to wield that sword. The door was flush with the ground, unlike the other buildings, which had steps leading to the doors.

  It was open, and they walked inside, where a tall, thin young man stood in the shadows of the entryway, his hands folded behind him, a smile on his handsome face.

  Lilae stared at him and his wavy blond hair that reached the tops of his ears and just above golden brows. Green eyes met hers, and his smile widened.

  “Dear me,” he said. “The rumors weren’t untrue.”

  Lilae didn’t know what that meant, but she kept quiet as Delia approached him.

  “Vaugner,” Delia said, her face brightening.

  Lilae’s brow lifted as she watched Delia. There was something new in her eyes—an adoration she’d never seen her show for a man. Ever.

  Vaugner opened his arms and wrapped them around Delia.

  “My dear, Delia,” he said, closing his eyes as they held onto each other. “It is so good to see you again.”

  THE KEEP WAS DARK AND EERIE, but Delia’s sudden excitement intrigued Lilae more than the mystery that surrounded them.

 
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