Night of the storm an ep.., p.19
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.19

           K.N. Lee
 
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  “I am so glad you dropped that horrid disguise,” Delia said to Vaugner once they broke their embrace. She rubbed his cheeks, and touched his hair. “You looked as if you’d fall apart. This form is much more becoming.”

  There was a tenderness to the Elder’s voice that Lilae was unused to. Though Delia was like a mother to Lilae, she couldn’t recall hearing such a relaxed tone directed at anyone but her.

  “I know,” he said with a chuckle. “I use it during my travels. I admit I prefer the anonymity of it. No one thinks twice about a decrepit man. Still, it did give that Shadow Elf, Dragnor quite a scare though. Kept him from poking around in our affairs.”

  “I’m glad you gave him a scare. He deserves much worse.”

  “Oh, don’t worry,” Vaugner said. “He will get exactly that.” He looked Delia up and down. “You’ve changed forms again as well.”

  “Yes. The Avia’Torenan woman’s form wasn’t as strong as the one I use now,” Delia said, running her hands through her long black hair, pulling out tangles. She beamed, and hugged him once again. “How I’ve missed you, Vaugner.”

  “You flatter me. It’s only been weeks since we’ve seen each other.” His eyes twinkled with mischief. “You’ll have the children thinking there’s something romantic going on here,” he teased with a wink.

  Delia cleared her throat, her face flushing. “Now, that’s enough jest, Vaugner.”

  Vaugner nodded. “Of course, dear.” He turned to Lilae and Liam and clasped his hands together. “Now, look at you two. More perfect than The Ancients even anticipated. What a pair.”

  Lilae glanced at Liam.

  “Nice to meet you, Elder,” Liam said with a bow of his head.

  “We’ve met before, Liam. You just don’t remember it,” Vaugner said, but didn’t elaborate before turning his gaze to Lilae. “I have a surprise for you. One that cannot wait.”

  When he reached his hand out to Lilae, she hesitated before accepting.

  “Come, dear,” Vaugner said, his green eyes nearly hypnotizing her as the friendly smile on his face widened.

  Lilae placed her hand within Vaugner’s, feeling a strange buzz of energy as their flesh met. The sensation was unnerving, but her body acquiesced, telling her that it was okay to trust him.

  Vaugner gave a quick bow to the others, his hair falling into his eyes. He raked it back with his wiry fingers and motioned to an archway to the right of the main entrance.

  “Make yourselves comfortable in the sitting room. Lilae and I will return shortly.”

  Vaugner then guided Lilae from the entryway and down a narrow stairway that led to a large open space set in the center of six other sets of stairs. The levels of the Keep were astounding. Chandeliers hung above the wide room that connected all of the staircases, yet above them were more balconies, and floors blocked off by stones and doorways.

  Fires blazed in large copper pots that stood before the openings and archways of the different rooms that branched off from the main floor.

  Once they left the Keep—the innermost structure of the castle, she found the ancient building to be more of a maze than a home for the original rulers of Torgrid. With confusing halls and corridors that seemed to go on forever, the castle wrapped around the entire back of the city.

  As Lilae explored her surroundings, she realized that much of what she saw didn’t make sense as some of the stairways led to nothing but stone walls or open windows with bars. It was much like a confusing maze, and she was fortunate to have Vaugner leading the way.

  “Where are we going?” The air tasted stale as they reached the center floor and turned to descend down yet another staircase that led into darkness.

  “Patience,” Vaugner said, his voice echoing. He gave the back of her hand a pat. “Soon, all will be revealed. Just know that you will be quite pleased.”

  Lilae pursed her lips and trusted him. Her heart raced as she tried to imagine what surprise he had for her.

  Unless it was Dragnor’s severed head, she wasn’t sure what else it could be that would bring her any joy.

  “What do you remember of your father, Lilae?”

  The question caught her off guard.

  “Pirin?”

  “Yes, he was your real father. I was led to believe that you knew that.”

  Lilae licked her lips. “Yes. He told me the day he died. He was a remarkable father, even when I was unaware that he was more than my protector and trainer. He treated me as well as he treated his other daughters.”

  “Did he? I am happy to hear that.” He paused for a moment as they turned a corner and walked up a new staircase. “We never intended to deprive you of the love of a family, Lilae. Delia made it her mission to make it so that you didn’t lack the love and care of family. You know she loves you like a daughter, right?”

  Lilae nodded. Delia was the only mother she’d ever known. “I do.”

  “And that she didn’t rescue you from the palace until times were truly dire?”

  Frowning, Lilae stopped walking. She looked up at Vaugner in the dim light. “I don’t understand that. Not one bit. Why did she let Dragnor hurt me?”

  Flashes of being whipped by Dragnor nearly took her breath away. She swallowed and crossed her arms over her chest.

  Vaugner tugged on the high collar of his shirt and looked to the ceiling. He spoke under his breath. “So, she hasn’t told you everything.”

  Lilae’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? What is everything?”

  “Perhaps its not the right time.”

  “Tell me now,” Lilae demanded. She clasped her hand over her forearm and softened her voice. “Please.”

  Vaugner’s eyes lowered to hers, his face more serious than she’d seen it in the short time they’d known each other.

  “You were meant to be captured as a means to infiltrate the enemy compound.” He leaned down and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Only you could break Emperor Kavien’s curse.”

  Lilae’s eyes widened.

  Vaugner stood to his full height, which was a few inches taller than Lilae. “And we believe you did break his curse. But it counts for nothing since Dragnor and the blasted Bellens gave him yet another curse to cover their mistakes.”

  Lilae rubbed her temples. “Is that the surprise? Because I am not pleased. Not at all.”

  Vaugner cracked a grin. “No, ma’am. That was merely valuable information I believe will clear your mind and distrust you felt for Delia.”

  “But—”

  He lifted a finger. “No. You can’t hide anything from me, Lilae. I saw it in your eyes. Forgive her. She holds your best interest above everything. When she escaped the Wexcyn’s takeover of the Underworld, she went directly to you. To protect you.”

  Lilae sighed. He was right, and she hadn’t even noticed it. It had been weeks since she’d escaped with Delia, and she hadn’t made an effort to discuss the questions swimming in her mind. She nodded, and chewed her lip. She hadn’t even realized just how much trust she’d lost in Delia.

  “Come now, no need to fret. You can talk to her later. There is still a surprise to present.”

  Lilae clutched her arm as she followed Vaugner to a door at the end of the hall.

  “Here we are,” he said, and opened a door with a gentle push. “Go on.”

  Lilae let out a breath before stepping inside.

  What she saw inside sent her to her knees as her hand clasped her mouth.

  Inside, the room was light with furnishings that reminded her of their home in Lowen’s Edge. Such warmth filled her as her eyes stared at the two blonde girls that waited inside, smiles on their beautiful faces—faces Lilae never thought she’d see again.

  “Holy Elahe,” she breathed in shock as Risa and Jaiza rushed and tackled her with hugs and kisses.

  All sounds were muted by the confusion in her head. Her stomach churned. Her heart thumped against her ribcage.

  These girls—they looked like Risa and Jaiza—but her sisters were dea
d.

  A dream.

  It had to be.

  Stunned, Lilae knelt there as they hugged her, crying, unsure if any of it was real. The tears came then, from the deepest depths of her soul as she poured out all of her sorrow and pain.

  Dream or not.

  She clutched them both and squeezed her eyes shut.

  Lilae would never let them go.

  “IS SHE THE ONE?” An unfamiliar voice whispered from nearby.

  Lilae tensed. As she opened her eyes, they widened at the sight of two Shadow Elf women. For a moment she doubted that anything she saw was real.

  “Yes, Mai,” Risa said, pulling Lilae to her feet by the hands. She kissed both of her cheeks. “This is our dear sister that we told you about.”

  “Lilae,” Jaiza said, smoothing down Lilae’s unruly hair. “I can’t believe you are here. We have missed you dearly.”

  “I missed you too,” Lilae said, her eyes fixed on the Shadow Elf girls. “I thought you were dead.” Her voice caught in her throat as she faced Jaiza and cupped her face in her hands, before she turned to do the same to Risa. “Dear Elahe. I am dreaming.”

  “No,” Jaiza said. “We are here. We traveled a long way to find you.”

  Lilae’s beaming smile faded as the elves drew closer, their white tattoos glowing in the pale light from the fire in the back of the circular stone room.

  “Lilae,” Risa said, pulling her forward to the elves. “This is Ayoki and Mai.”

  Lilae’s brows lifted.

  It couldn’t be.

  “Ayoki? From Gollush?”

  The shorter Shadow Elf nodded, her eyes widening at Lilae’s question. She looked from Mai and back to Lilae, yet didn’t say a word.

  “Ayoki is mute,” Mai said. “But, how did you know who she was?” She kept close to Ayoki as her eyes narrowed at Lilae.

  “Pretica told us about you two—that you were taken by Bellens,” Lilae said. “But we found out the truth.”

  Mai nodded. “She betrayed us. Her own blood.”

  Vaugner stepped into the room. “Come, ladies. Let us celebrate this joyous reunion.”

  Lilae nodded, and as her eyes met with Ayoki’s, she noticed a glint of something within them. A fear. Perhaps even a shred of grief.

  Lilae knew that look and feeling all too well. Though they didn’t speak, she and Ayoki shared something with that brief look. Pulled along by Risa, Lilae smiled again and headed out of the room and back through the Keep.

  AS THE HUMAN GIRLS WERE LED to the dining hall, Vaugner turned to Ayoki and reached a hand out to her.

  She looked down at his pale hand and back to his eyes, shrugging.

  He took her hand into his and gave it a pat.

  “Come with me,” he said, leading her away from the dining hall where the Elder, humans, and the Tryan men prepared for a late meal.

  Ayoki didn’t feel as though she fit in. Even Mai seemed comfortable in these new surrounding that felt so foreign to Ayoki. How could she relate to anyone that knew nothing of what it was like to not have a voice?

  “Good question,” Vaugner said.

  Ayoki stopped walking and pulled her hand away. She raised her brows as she looked at Vaugner.

  “Yes. I can read your thoughts,” he said. “It isn’t an uncommon ability for an Elder. Especially someone as old as me, who has learned a vast amount of skills. Please, don’t be afraid.”

  Afraid? Ayoki folded her arms across her chest. I know the fear in everyone else’s eyes.

  “I know you do,” Vaugner said, sitting down on a bench draped with a green knitted blanket in the corridor outside of the dining hall. “I know that you have suffered and have seen a great many things. Why don’t you tell me about it?”

  Ayoki didn’t sit down. She frowned as she looked at Vaugner. I didn’t ask for this power. I never wanted it. I want my voice, and a life free of the darkness inside of me.

  He nodded. “That is understandable. All of The Chosen wish to have normal lives at times.”

  Do they? She couldn’t imagine such a thing. Their power couldn’t be as plagued by evil as hers.

  “Each of you has a strength that The Ancients recognized would complement one another.”

  My power complements nothing. It simply destroys. It has destroyed me. She wiped tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.

  Vaugner stood and came to her. He took her hands into his own. “What if I told you that you were more powerful than them all? That you are the strongest, and this is why The Ancients gave you the most difficult of abilities.”

  Ayoki’s eyes widened. Such a thing had never occurred to her, and still, she couldn’t believe it.

  “What I tell you is the truth,” Vaugner said. “And I have a great deal more truths to reveal to you, if you are ready to listen.”

  Ayoki licked her lips, looking back to the dining hall.

  She nodded. Yes. Tell me.

  THE REUNION BETWEEN SISTERS was better than anything Lilae could have imagined. She’d wanted nothing she more in the world than to have her family back, and somehow that wish had been granted. Even if it was only her sisters, and not her father or her stepmother, she was grateful.

  Lilae never thought she’d would see Risa and Jaiza again. Yet, there they were, seated at a long table eating and drinking with her new friends.

  She was surprised that she even had the desire to drink again, after being poisoned. However, she and the others trusted Vaugner’s supply, and it was the best cause for a celebration that Lilae could think of.

  Lilae couldn’t stop smiling. The tears of joy had finally ceased, but her heart swelled with such emotion that she was sure they’d return at any moment.

  Goblin servants tended to them and made sure their glasses were always full with water or wine. Risa and Jaiza both fawned over Lilae, playing with her hair and reminiscing. They couldn’t stop hugging. It was as if they were afraid to let go, lest they be ripped apart again.

  “We missed you so much, Lilae,” Risa said in between sips of wine. “I know I keep saying it, but I am still in awe that we are actually together again. Jaiza and I dreamed about this day.”

  “I didn’t even know it was possible,” Lilae said. “But yes, I dreamed of it as well. For a while, dreams were the only place that I felt anything more than sorrow.”

  She glanced at Liam, who sat beside her. He gave her knee a squeeze under the table.

  Life couldn’t be more perfect then at that moment. Her sisters were there. The man she loved was there.

  What could go wrong?

  “When we were separated in Lowen’s Edge, we thought we’d never see you again. The soldiers took us and a few other women to their ships.”

  Jaiza nodded, her eyes red from crying. “But I saw you leave on a different ship once we docked in Avia’Torena, and I knew we would find our way to one another somehow.”

  Lilae eyes welled up again. Her heart was full of joy, but sadness filled her throat whenever she looked at Risa and Jaiza’s many scars. Like Lilae, their scars tattooed them now. All over their arms and legs were small cuts and welts.

  Their arms were branded with a seal much like Lilae’s crescent seal that meant she belonged to Kavien. The twin’s brands were of two stars, the seal of the Duke of Avia’Torena.

  Lilae didn’t ask, for she knew what they suffered. The harem girls had warned her about the Duke. He was cousin to Kavien, and she was his pet. The Duke had been denied Lilae’s company. Kavien had protected her in more ways than one.

  There was one thing she did want to know.

  “Tell me,” Lilae began. She rubbed the rim of her cup of wine with her fingertip and lowered her eyes. “I watched Pirin die that day,” she said before pausing. “But what of Anic?”

  She looked up at the both of them, afraid of the answer, but desperate for the truth.

  She could feel Liam’s eyes on her, practically reading her thoughts and anticipating her emotions. He took her hand into his, and she
was grateful.

  For too long she had obsessed over her guilt of letting the twins die; she had suffered from false information. Hope filled her that Anic might be out there somewhere, enslaved or forced into Kavien’s army, but alive.

  Jaiza looked at Risa. Her shoulders slumped and she shook her head. Her eyes had the answer and Lilae didn’t want to hear more.

  “Oh,” Lilae said. “Thank you.”

  “To Anic,” Risa said, raising her glass. “A brave and kind young man.”

  Everyone nodded and joined her.

  “To Anic,” they said in unison, joined glasses, and took a drink.

  Silence filled the room after everyone drank from their glasses.

  Lilae looked at Ayoki, who like Liam drank water. Their eyes met again, and Lilae found herself drawn in by her eyes. She wished they could speak to one another. She was The Seer, and there was so much they could share about their powers.

  “So,” Jaiza said, turning her attention to Delia, who sat at the opposite end of the table, across from Vaugner. “What is next, Delia?”

  “How soon can we leave?” Delia asked Vaugner.

  “Give me a few days to prepare everything. I want to give Ayoki something before you leave.”

  “Good,” Delia said. “In a few days we are off to Auroria. There, we will prepare the Northern armies. Avia’Torena is ready for war; so we must also be ready.”

  “Great,” Risa said, sighing. “It’s going to take forever to travel back to Auroria.”

  “How far is it?” Liam asked, taking a bite from a sweet roll with white frosting.

  Jaiza laughed as she and Risa shared a look. “It only took us eighteen years to travel from Auroria to Lowen’s Edge. Granted, we stopped in different villages and lived and worked for a while, I think that might cut our journey in half.”

  “Great,” Lilae grumbled.

  “Honestly, I’m not looking forward to it. But, it is our birth home,” Risa said.

  “I can’t say that I remember much of it. Snow. Lots of snow,” Jaiza said. “So high that you’d get stuck inside your house some days because the snow would trap you.”

 
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