Night of the storm an ep.., p.20
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.20

           K.N. Lee
 
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Lilae remembered nothing of her birthplace. Delia had taken her from her parents the night she was born, and never looked back. Still, she’d dreamt about it often, especially after she’d met her brother, the new King of Auroria.

  Still, her mother awaited. Her real mother. The thought of meeting her turned Lilae’s stomach sour. She simply hoped the woman would measure up to how she imagined her to be.

  Kind and loving. Not like her stepmother, Lhana.

  “Yes,” Vaugner said, nodding his head as he tapped his fingertips on the wooden tabletop. “It is far indeed. But…” his eyes lifted, a mischievous glint within them. “It will take us minutes to arrive.”

  Everyone turned to him.

  “What?” Liam asked. “How is that possible?”

  “Don’t question the man, Liam,” Rowe said, downing his second cup of ale. Wine wasn’t his drink of choice. “I’m sure the Elder has some tricks up his sleeves.”

  Vaugner chuckled. “How right you are, Rowe.” He nodded at Delia. “But what you have in this very room are two Elders.”

  “Not just any Elders,” Delia said, a small smile on her lips as her eyes locked with Vaugner’s from across the long table. The candles, placed in beautiful golden holders set on the table, cast an eerie glow on her pale face.

  “We are both Gatekeepers,” she said, her smile widening.

  “And what do Gatekeepers do?” Vaugner asked them, leaning back in his chair.

  Lilae’s brows knitted in the center. “You take the dead to the Underworld.”

  “Yes,” Vaugner said. “And how do we do that?”

  “You open a Gate, right?” Mai asked, her dark eyes looking from Delia to Vaugner as she leaned over her half-eaten plate of grapes and cheese.

  “Of a sort. There isn’t a physical gate. What Gatekeepers do is take the dead to the Underworld. We Gate them.”

  “We can travel anywhere in the entire world of Ellowen, as long as there is another Gatekeeper to allow us to reach the next point.”

  “Is that like what I did when we escaped the palace?” Lilae asked, remembering the rush of vanishing with Delia and Garion and reappearing at The Barrier.

  “Similar,” Delia said, nodding. “What you did is part of your power, but it is limited. You can take yourself and one other, maybe two.”

  “But Delia and I can Gate as many as we want, as long as we know the other is coming, or where they are going,” Vaugner said.

  “Amazing,” Liam said, his eyes widening.

  “See,” Rowe said. “I told you. Tricks.”

  Vaugner’s chuckle lowered into an almost haunting laugh. “You have no idea just how tricky we can be,” he said, his eyes casting a flicker of a glow as he lifted his gaze to Delia’s.

  DESPITE THE FOREST COVER, it was a hot day, and Aria sweated inside her carriage. She fanned herself and shook the front of her dress to let air in.

  Soon, she would be inside her Kingdom once again, and the work to ruin Sona would begin. Such thoughts turned her stomach as she remembered that she also had to save her people from the devastating plague that ravaged her home.

  Yoska had flown ahead to make sure everything in the palace had kept up without her. She hoped that all was well. Yoska was loyal and had been for as long as she could remember.

  She sighed deeply and glanced out the window at her right.

  She sat up straight at what she saw. Elders waited outside the gates of Oren as Aria approached.

  Their black forms sent chills along Aria’s arms. She rubbed the gooseflesh and stared at them as they started to take a different form.

  Her heart raced as one of the Elders took on the form of a woman with long gray hair, a thin body, and big blue eyes that made Aria clamp her mouth with her shaking hand.

  Mother?

  It couldn’t be. Her mother had been dead for more than forty years. Did some of the dead become Elders?

  Aria shot up from her seat and stuck her head out of the window. “Stop the carriage,” she shouted, her breath quickening as she watched the beautiful woman that had raised her walk to the front of the other Elders.

  Once the carriage was stopped, Aria turned the door’s latch and pushed it open. The warm air hit her as she hopped down to the leaves below.

  “Aria,” her mother, Annisa, said with a faint smile on her face.

  “Mother?” Aria asked. “Is that really you?” It couldn’t be. How was this possible?

  Annisa nodded. “Come to me. Let me look at you. It’s been so long.”

  Baffled, Aria lost her words as she ran to her mother like a little girl having found their way home after being lost.

  Tears stung her eyes as she choked on sobs. “It cannot be.”

  The moment Aria was close enough to touch her mother, she fell into her outstretched arms.

  “Dear Elahe,” she said, breathless as she breathed in her mother’s scent. She pulled away. It wasn’t the scent she remembered, but more like coal and wet dirt.

  “Listen to me, Aria,” Annisa said, her eyes narrowing as she held Aria out at arm’s length. “I only came to tell you something—something that will soothe your troubled mind.”

  Aria searched her eyes. They were different, filled with wisdom and knowledge that Aria could never comprehend. “How did you become an Elder?”

  Shaking her head, Annisa stroked Aria’s hair. “That is unimportant. I came here to tell you that Liam is alive. The woman that tried to kill him did not succeed. He was blessed by the fairy Mother Tree.”

  Aria’s jaw dropped. She quickly snapped her mouth closed as a surge of joy and relief filled her veins.

  “That is the best news you could have ever delivered.”

  “That is not all. He is in great danger, as are you. You must turn and leave this place, Aria. Right now.”

  “You know that I cannot abandon my people. Would you have abandoned them if you were in my position?”

  Annisa looked to the other Elders, who had taken on forms of various common folk.

  “That’s enough,” one of the male Elders said.

  Aria’s eyes widened. She knew his face. “Drefen?”

  He nodded. “This one has never heeded sound advice. I was to be her son’s Elder, and she declined so she could train him herself.”

  “You cannot disagree that I did a good job, can you?”

  Drefen, tall and thin, with shoulder-length black hair shook his head. “I cannot, but you must listen to Annisa this time. Oren is doomed.”

  Aria took her mother’s hand. “Come with me. Surely, you could lend some assistance. Together, we can help the people of Oren. It doesn’t have to end this way.”

  “Your optimism is refreshing,” Drefen said. “But, The Charmer has other plans in store for this place, and for you above all.”

  Aria began to reply when the Elders vanished.

  She awoke up with a start, her heart pounding. Sweat beaded on her face, arms, and between her breasts as she caught her breath and sat up on the plush carriage seat. She hurried to look out the window.

  The Elders were gone.

  What was all of that?

  A warning?

  Perplexed, Aria sat back down, disappointed that the encounter with her mother hadn’t been real. She settled back against the seat’s back and sighed.

  “Approaching Oren, Queen Aria,” the footman announced.

  Aria sighed, fanning herself against the smothering heat. “Thank you. Proceed to the palace.”

  Inside, Oren was a desolate place. Once, the streets had been packed with commerce and interaction. As Queen Aria rode through the gates and down the main road that led from the forests to the palace, they surveyed the odd emptiness of it all.

  Queen Aria stepped from her carriage before the main staircase of her palace.

  Her eyes rose to the sky. The green aura still clung to her Kingdom, casting a hazy fog over the streets. Mist beaded on her face, like a spray from the sea that stood in the distance behind the palace.


  Something was off. The guards watched her, and yet they did not bow.

  “Aria! Wait,” Lord Franco called, as he hurried down the white stairs. “Your trip was taken at the worst possible time. I did warn you.”

  Aria folded her hands before her and watched him reach the ground, his long blue robes dragging along the stone as he carried his staff along with him.

  Lord Franco’s bushy white brows rose as he stood before Queen Aria. There was a fear within them that made Aria’s body tense. “What is it, Franco?”

  He put his hand on her shoulder and led her back to the carriage. “You must leave, immediately,” he whispered, handing her a bronze box. “Lady Sona has taken the palace. Hurry, before her guards see you.”

  Aria’s cheeks reddened. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Sona was smart. And quick…quicker than Aria had anticipated.

  “Where is she?”

  Franco nodded to the palace. “Inside.”

  “No. This cannot be. She has Charmed my people.” She glanced at her palace, resisting being led back to her carriage. “Tell me what happened, Franco.”

  “Charm or not, they have made her Queen and believe she can end the plague.” Franco tried to turn her around. “Come now, Aria. We can talk as soon as we are far from the city. She has a bounty on your head, and I refuse to watch you be beheaded.”

  “Of course she can end the blasted plague,” Aria said. “She is responsible for it!”

  “There is no way to prove such a thing,” Franco said, shaking his head. “There is only one option, and you must leave. Now.”

  “No,” a voice called from the top of the stairs. “Stop her!”

  Aria looked up to see Sona standing there in a flowing white corseted gown.

  Wearing Aria’s gold circlet.

  Aria seethed, her hands curling into fists. The time for being proper and cool had ended. She envisioned ripping Sona’s throat out.

  Before she could react, the soldiers rushed to her. She gasped at their roughness as they yanked her from the carriage by her arms.

  “I am your Queen,” she growled. “You pledged an oath to me. Not this blasted imposter.” She tried to wrench free from their tight grasp, her heart pounding when they didn’t budge. “Come to your senses, men. This is treason!”

  Lord Franco was apprehended as well.

  “Send them both to the dungeons for sentencing,” Sona said with a devious grin that turned Aria’s blood cold.

  AFTER THEIR LATE SUPPER, Lilae and Liam headed outside to the dark garden of plants and bushes absent of colorful flowers. Their blooms were of black and white, with the occasional yellow buds of a flower Lilae had seen in Avia’Torena.

  Holding hands, he led her to a fountain that had statue of the Ancient, Telryd—the human god.

  “We finally made it,” he said. “After everything in Gollush, I was worried things would have taken a darker turn.”

  “Me too,” Lilae said. “Dragnor hasn’t tried to torment me in a few days. I just hope he’s given up. Though, I doubt he ever will.”

  “I’m sorry you have to go through that,” he said, standing before her. He titled her chin up and kissed her lips. “But, as long as I am around, nothing will ever hurt you again,” he whispered against her lips.

  Lilae smiled and closed her eyes, the effects of the wine warming her body from the shoulders down. She felt good, free, relaxed, and her desire for Liam was intensified. She let her hands slip into his hair as he held her by the waist.

  “I know. I’ll never let anyone hurt you either,” she said. “Somehow, I think Telryd and the other Ancients approve of what we have.”

  “Why else would they let us heal one another?”

  Lilae nodded. “Exactly. They must have known we’d be so close.”

  Liam stroked her cheek, the buzz of insects their ambient background noise.

  “How do you feel about being apart tonight?” he asked.

  She sighed. “Well, I haven’t seen my sisters in over a year. As much as I will miss having you in my bed, I can’t help not wanting to let them out of my sights again.”

  “I understand. I think you should keep them close. I’ve never seen you so happy.”

  She looked up at him, the blue of his eyes almost glowing. “I’ve never been so happy,” she said. “With you, with having them back, with the Elders having a solid plan to put this world back together. I almost feel like there is hope—that together we can do this.”

  “I agree. I feel it too,” he said.

  Lilae’s heart pattered in her chest as Liam kissed her again. She let out a moan as his tongue caressed her lips and found entry into her mouth. She closed her eyes and tasted the sweet honey from their dessert on his tongue.

  Laughter came from the castle as Risa and Jaiza ran into the garden. Rowe chased them.

  They stopped when they saw Lilae and Liam, covering their giggles.

  “What’s this?” Risa said as Lilae pulled away and wiped her mouth.

  Lilae glanced at Liam, blushing.

  He kissed her again. “Sleep well,” he whispered and turned to Rowe. “We should turn in. Don’t you think?”

  Rowe looked from Lilae to Liam and nodded. “If you have something…more important to do,” he said, clearing his throat. “I won’t get in your way.”

  Liam put a hand on Rowe’s shoulder, turning him around. “Bedtime,” he said.

  Rowe winked at Lilae. “Good night, ladies.”

  Lilae watched Rowe and Liam leave, avoiding the questioning looks from her sisters.

  Once the men were gone, their grins widened.

  “Oh, little sister. You’re back to breaking hearts again, aren’t you?”

  Lilae rolled her eyes and headed back to the castle.

  She’d never hear the end of it. They’d done the same when they’d believed something romantic going on with her and Anic. It had embarrassed Lilae so much that she’d considered breaking things off with the poor blacksmith’s son.

  She smiled to herself. This time she didn’t care who knew.

  THIN SLIVERS OF SUNLIGHT spilled through the window of her room inside Torgrid Castle. All throughout the night, faint creaks and what sounded like whispers kept Lilae awake.

  Loud chatter and activity urged her to finally get up and face another day. She was exhausted, having barely slept.

  Lilae’s head thumped with pain, and her stomach was unsettled.

  Too much wine, she thought, and groaned as she sat up on her pillow.

  As she crawled onto her knees to look out the window, Jaiza also woke up with a yawn.

  Rise still snored under the covers they shared.

  To Lilae’s surprise, goblins were awake and swarming the streets with their daily tasks. Short and dressed in similar hues of blue and gray, they looked like children to Lilae.

  “I hope there is something for breakfast,” Jaiza said, sitting up from her space in the bed between Risa and Lilae. “I’m craving bacon.” She pulled the covers over her legs and rested her back on the stone wall while Lilae continued to look out the keyhole-shaped window.

  “Me too,” Lilae said, her stomach grumbling. She hadn’t had anything as delicious as fresh cooked bacon in ages. “That sounds good.”

  “Bacon?” Risa called, pulling the covers from over her head. She stretched her arms above her and turned onto her side to face Lilae and Jaiza. “Lies,” she said with a yawn. “I don’t smell any bacon.”

  Jaiza cracked a grin. “I never promised any, Risa. I just said I craved it. How about you get up and go make some?”

  “No, ma’am. You were always better in the kitchen.”

  Lilae turned to them, smiling. “How about we all go down and cook for everyone?”

  Jaiza nodded “Good idea, Lilae. It’s the least we could do for Vaugner and for Ayoki especially.”

  “You said that she saved your lives,” Lilae said as she pulled her nightgown over her head.

  “Yes,” Jaiza said, b
ut her eyes narrowed as she walked to Lilae. She reached out and touched Lilae’s tattoos. “Goodness, Lilae. What is this? What happened here?”

  Lilae’s smile faded. She tensed under Jaiza’s touch and stepped away. Embarrassed, she quickly snatched her shirt off the bedpost and put it on. If only she could hide her tainted skin forever. But, the ink ran deep. She feared she’d never be rid of it, or the memories that came along with it.

  “Dragnor did it to me. It’s a curse.”

  Jaiza’s brows furrowed as she watched Lilae get dressed. “What kind of curse?”

  Shrugging, Lilae buckled her belt and knelt down to put on her shoes. “It makes me ill. That’s all. Liam and I found a way to fight it.”

  “You did?” Risa asked. She and Jaiza shared a look. “Tell me about this method you and Liam discovered.”

  Lilae turned away, her cheeks growing bright red by the knowing tone in Risa’s voice.

  “It’s nothing,” she muttered. “He and I can heal each other. Now, tell me what happened with Ayoki. How did she save you?”

  Risa grinned and pointed to Lilae. “Changing the subject. Don’t think I didn’t notice. I knew there was something going on between you two. We weren’t too drunk to notice your kiss.”

  Jaiza waved a hand at Risa, shushing her. “Hush, Risa. It’s none of your business what Lilae and Liam do to heal each other,” she said with a grin that matched her twin.

  Sighing, Lilae stood tall and crossed her arms across her chest. “Are you going to tell me what The Seer can do or not?”

  Lilae hoped her cheeks weren’t still red, but could still feel the heat within them.

  Risa’s shoulders rose to her ears. “She ripped the skin off a bunch of soldiers.”

  “And kept ripping them apart until they were nothing but dust. It was horrifying,” Jaiza said.

  “I wasn’t horrified,” Risa said. “I was jealous.”

  Jaiza rolled her eyes. “You were scared too.”

  “Not really.” Risa shook her head, her eyes widened. “Seriously, Lilae. It was amazing. I just wish I had a power like that.”

  “She’s lying,” Jaiza said, turning back to Lilae. “I have never seen anything like it.” Her brows rose. “Except that day in Lowen’s Edge. When you made the sky turn red and spit fire onto everything. I can’t decide which of you has the scariest power.”

 
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