Night of the storm an ep.., p.6
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       Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.6

           K.N. Lee
 
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  They soared to the ground, graceful, agile, and beautiful even with such sharp teeth and long talons that were the size of Lilae’s arm.

  “I've never seen anything like that before,” Lilae said, captivated.

  “This is only the beginning,” Delia said. “This is Nostfar territory that we are entering.”

  Liam took Lilae's hand. “I'll help you up,” he said, leading her to the black wyvern with the long green tail.

  Lilae didn't protest, allowing herself to be led forward. When Liam put his hands around her waist to lift her, she sucked in a breath and avoided looking at him. The strength and warmth of his hands on her sent shivers through her body.

  “Thank you,” she breathed.

  Under black lashes, his bright blue eyes looked up at her. “Anytime.”

  While he went to help Delia onto her wyvern, Rowe pulled himself onto one with an orange tail.

  The moon lit their way as they ascended into the night sky.

  “Hold on to the reigns, and let the wyverns do the rest,” Oksana said, as she flew beside Lilae on a black wyvern with white talons and white eyes.

  “Follow me,” Pretica said. “The wyverns know the way.”

  Lilae held onto the neck of her new ride and looked ahead. Flying was something Lilae never imagined herself doing, but as they soared like birds, she couldn't help but smile.

  Stars littered the sky above Nostfar. Such a land with rumors of being a desolate, dangerous place confounded her.

  From what she’d seen, Nostfar was dark yet beautiful. She realized that not all Shadow Elves would be like Dragnor, and an entire realm was more than rumor and folklore.

  The wings of the wyvern flapped gently as they flew higher and higher. Lights ahead caught Lilae's attention. She sat up a little taller, holding tight to the neck of the wyvern.

  “Do not worry,” the wyvern said. “I will not let you fall.”

  Lilae's eyes widened in surprise at hearing the wyvern's soft male voice.

  “Thank you. I am Lilae. What are you called?”

  “Triste.”

  “I like that name, Triste.”

  “Thank you. My first master named me Boris. I like Triste much better. Please, don't change it again.”

  “You don’t have to worry about that.”

  “Good. I thank you, Lilae.” She smiled. What a peculiar creature. She'd never spoken to an animal before. The thought had never crossed her mind, and to find such an intelligent creature speak to her was oddly enchanting.

  “Are we going to a safe place?” She kept her voice low, glancing at Ely, who flew close beside her.

  Ely had black hair that was cut short and long legs that led Lilae to believe that the Shadow Elf woman was, at least, seven feet tall. She looked away.

  “Yes,” Triste said. “Pretica is a good chief. She won't harm you. And neither will the village-folk.”

  “Why do they need us?”

  “Pretica’s youngest sister and cousin were stolen.”

  “Oh my,” Lilae said. “That’s horrible.”

  “Almost there,” Triste said.

  Lilae nodded. His voice reminded her of an old man's, deep and wise.

  She braced herself as they flew to a clearing just before a white path that led to a black mountain much like the one Lilae and Liam had met on. She rubbed her cold ears as they landed. She paused, watching Liam jump off his wyvern and come to assist her.

  “Thank you, Liam. I can get down by myself.”

  He ran his hands through his hair. “Of course, you can,” he said, looking away. “My mistake.”

  When she jumped to the ground, her bare feet sank into the black mud. She groaned. Maybe she should have accepted his help. Now her feet were a few inches deep in the thick, cold substance.

  Lilae left Triste to join Pretica and the other Shadow Elves onto the white path that was lit by tall torches stuck into the dirt. White dust that made up the path stuck to her mud-covered feet.

  “This way, friends,” Pretica said, leading the way to the mouth of a massive cavern that jutted out from the base of a gray mountain.

  Keeping close to Delia, Lilae followed Pretica, who stood almost taller than she with a body that was slim and toned.

  On either side of the torch lit path awaited a thick, dark forest. The buzz of insect life filled the silence as they headed to Gollush

  Lilae paused at seeing the four Shadow Elves guarding the black door that protected Gollush. The elves wore the same green armor that seemed to mimic tree moss. Lilae imagined it would help them blend into the surrounding woods.

  “We are honored by your presence,” Pretica said as she approached the guards.

  “I am pleased to hear it,” Liam said. “Just hours ago, my companions and I were attacked by Shadow Elves just within The Barrier to Kyril.”

  Pretica glanced back at Lilae and Liam. A frown creased her forehead. “I apologize. Not all Shadow Elves share the same beliefs. I assure you, we are friends. You’d be surprised by all that I know about the two of you.”

  Each guard bowed their heads and made way for her. A latch was released, and the door lowered into the ground by a mechanical device.

  It was intriguing to see a door open that way.

  Lilae looked down at the top of the door, now secure between two plates of iron. She stepped over it and noticed the inside of the cavern gave way to a ceiling that stretched hundreds, maybe thousands of feet high.

  “What made you study us?” She eyed the Shadow Elves that emerged from the adjoining hallways, eager for a glimpse of the human, Tryan, and fairy.

  Lilae doubted they knew Delia to be anything but what she appeared to be. If they expected her to be the Elder she was, they’d all hide and pray her blue eyes never rested on them.

  “You become enthralled in legend, prophecy, and history when it affects you personally.”

  Liam entered and stood beside Lilae. He folded his arms, a stern look on his handsome face. “How is that?”

  Sadness filled Pretica’s brown eyes as she froze before them. She sighed and clenched her jaw. “Because my sister is the Seer. She was stolen by Bellens.”

  THE INSIDE OF THE CAVERN OF GOLLUSH was remarkably pristine.

  Once they made their way from the sliding door, and through the main hall, Lilae and the others were led to an opening that made her take pause and behold its beauty.

  The floors were a smooth dark stone that covered the entire dome-shaped citadel. Gollush’s citadel was bigger than Lowen’s Edge, the last town Lilae had lived in before her capture. The stairs were wide, stretching across the entire dome, with halls and towers leading to the center.

  Lilae’s eyes followed the towers upward to the dark ceiling that was too far away to clearly make out.

  A bustling place, thousands of Shadow Elves went about their daily business.

  “Don’t you all sleep?” Lilae watched them go on as if the sun had just arisen.

  “We do. During what you consider daytime. Shadow Elves like the dark,” Pretica said.

  Caty and Ely nodded. “This is our waking mid-day. When the sun sets, we awaken,” Caty said.

  Caty and Ely both had short black hair that barely brushed the tips of their pointed ears. But, Caty’s smile was kind, and she had even kinder chestnut brown eyes that were thin as slits. The two gruesome scars that trailed from the bottom of her eyes to her chin, however, were distracting.

  Ely had a stern look about her as if a smile was foreign and abhorred. She looked down her nose at Lilae, her muscular arms folded across her small chest.

  “Interesting,” Lilae replied, looking away. Weariness started to take over, and she yawned.

  Maybe she’d actually be able to sleep after being up for what felt like days. Just yesterday, she had locked in a box in the Emperor’s bedchamber, fearing that Dragnor or the leader of the Bellen’s, Sister Eloni, would finally come to kill her.

  “Thank you again,” Oksana said, her father standing
beside her. “We must report to our leader and prepare for our next mission.”

  Lilae smiled at her. “Of course. Be safe on your next mission.”

  “Yeah,” Rowe grunted. “Try not to get caught.”

  Oksana looked up at him. “Once out of sixty-two isn’t so bad.”

  “Maybe. But getting killed won’t make your record any prettier.”

  With that, Oksana kept her mouth closed, a pert smile on her lips as she bowed to Rowe. “Well said. Be well, Rowe.”

  Lilae and the others watched Oksana and Vadim leave the group to head into the city.

  Pretica stopped at the edge of the stairs. “You all must be exhausted. Come, you can meet the council members tomorrow. I think rest is what you all need right now. Your weapons will be prepared when you awaken.”

  “We can’t thank you enough,” Liam said.

  “I can imagine how you must feel to be without your weapons,” Pretica said. “As a warrior, I know I’d feel quite naked without my spear and daggers.”

  Delia stood beside Lilae, looking just as tired as Lilae felt. Dark circles were forming under her eyes, and she leaned on her staff for support.

  “What is this council you speak of?”

  “Vaugner has organized it. The council makes up the Shadow Elves that resist Wexcyn and Inora. It’s unfortunate that our god has chosen the side of treachery. But, not all of us are in agreement about the fate of Nostfar,” Pretica said.

  She put her hands in the pockets of her black pants and stared at a crack in the stone floor. “The elves here do not want to be a part of the extermination of the other races. I hope you can believe that. Though we’ve been separated for so long, a world without the other races seems unnatural,” Pretica said. She pursed her lips. “We may be creatures of the night, but we are not monsters.

  “No race is completely evil.”

  “Thank you, Elder.” Pretica folded her hands and led the way from the platform down the stairs.

  They stepped down to the main level.

  The Shadow Elves started to take notice, pausing at merchant stands stacked high with exotic materials, fabrics, scrolls, and vases stuffed with long twigs that burned and emitted various scents into the air. Vendors sold delicious looking meats that turned on spits over open fires, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables that Lilae had never seen.

  “Are any of you hungry? My cook makes the best soup dumplings in all of Gollush. I could get her to steam a few baskets for you all.”

  “I’m exhausted,” Rowe said. “But I’d never turn down a meal.”

  Liam chuckled. “I’m with you. The rabbit Nani cooked for supper was good, but I’m starting to feel a bit hungry myself. What about you, Lilae?”

  Lilae smiled with a nod. “I’d like to try the dumplings as well. Then, I’m afraid I need rest.”

  “Of course,” Pretica said. “Caty, run along and tell Eiko to make enough dumplings for our guests.”

  Caty nodded and darted into the crowd like the wind. She vanished just as quickly as she’d taken off.

  More glances from the elves were cast their way. Lilae was used to being stared at. She just wished she had her cloak to cover her hair and hide her face.

  The presence of apparent social classes intrigued Lilae. The wealthy wore jewels and long, elaborate dresses that seemed to glide across the floor. They differed from humans in dress, with more skin revealed than Lilae was used to. The people of Lowen’s Edge would have blushed at seeing such exposed flesh.

  Their bosoms were partially exposed by plunging necklines and slits that came as high as their hips.

  So much smooth and dark skin surrounded them. That wasn’t what surprised Lilae though. After only having Dragnor as her representation of what Shadow Elves looked like, the beauty of the men and women before her mystified Lilae.

  Such delicate features made her stare at the women, who seemed to glide across the floor with each fluid step. It was like a dance, with elves bowing to each other when they came together, touching shoulders in greeting and stepping back on a pivot when saying goodbye.

  Even the men were much better looking than Lilae remembered Dragnor being. To her, Dragnor was the epitome of evil, with his long black hair and a scowl on his slender face. But these men were tall, fit, and nice to look at.

  “Tell us about your sister,” Liam said. “When did the Bellens take her?”

  “Nasty women,” Rowe added. “They’ve been taking our girls for centuries.”

  “Nothing more than witches,” Liam said with a nod.

  Lilae kept her thoughts to herself. She’d felt the power of a Bellen before: once to heal her, and another time in an attempt to kill her. Eyeing Delia’s staff gave her comfort. Sister Eloni’s soul lingered in that staff, waiting for Delia to return her to the Underworld.

  Before Delia had rescued her, Kavien had stood up to Sister Eloni, knowing the consequences of defying her.

  She sighed memories of Kavien’s dead body on his bed. Was it wrong that she missed him so dearly?

  “She’s been missing for two weeks now. It wasn’t common knowledge that Ayoki was the Seer. She’s mute and so many denied any claims of her being one of the Chosen Class. So, we trained her in secret. But, someone must have shared the truth of her abilities.”

  “Have you looked for her?”

  Pretica turned on Rowe, her brows furrowing, her lips tight. “Of course. She is my only blood relative since our parents died when we were children. I searched for days without food or sleep.”

  “I didn’t mean to offend you,” Rowe apologized, bowing his head. “Trust me. I know the feeling of loss. My brother was killed in a raid when I was a young man. My wife and child may be dead for all I know.”

  Pretica put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

  Lilae was sorry as well. Wife and child? She’d never have guessed that Rowe was a married man.

  “But I am not worried,” Pretica said, leading them through an alleyway between two slate gray towers full of light and conversation as voices wafted from the open archways of dozens of levels. “Ayoki can protect herself. And Vaugner has sent one of his greatest assassins to help her escape.”

  “I look forward to meeting Vaugner,” Lilae said.

  “You will,” Delia said. “We are to meet him in the Goblin City before we go to Auroria.”

  Goblin City?

  Lilae stepped closer to Liam so that their arms almost touched.

  When he took her hand into his, she couldn’t suppress the smile that followed.

  She felt good. Safe. Having Liam take her hand only assured her even more.

  Something was going to go wrong.

  Lilae just knew it.

  THE SHADOW ELF GIRL skipped across the stones that floated on the surface of the green water. Her white tattoos glowed under the light of the blood-sucking fireflies that nested in the hanging leaves of the trees.

  The underwater temple was the quietest place to be before dawn, and she could relax without the constant scrutiny of the Bellens that had captured her.

  Ayoki knew exactly what she was to them.

  A war prisoner.

  An experiment.

  Yet Ayoki did nothing to stop them.

  She sighed, letting out a long breath. Just the thought of using her power—even to save herself and her friend was enough to make her shudder.

  “Ayoki!”

  Ayoki jumped to another white stone and paused on one foot as she looked back.

  Mai’s voice startled Ayoki, but she kept her balance above the still lake. She frowned as the fine hairs on her body stood on end.

  The amount of freedom given to her was minimal. The Bellens had her watched at all times as she explored the small plot of land that was encircled by a stone wall.

  She was lucky to have any shred of freedom, but even the Bellens were afraid of her, even if they tried to hide it. They gave her space. For now. Until their new master arrived.

  T
he name—Sister Eloni—kept coming up, but apparently there was a new leader, one that made the Bellens speak her name in only hushed tones.

  They didn’t call her sister like everyone else.

  Mother.

  Ayoki never thought that simple word would cause such fear in women who tortured young girls and used their blood and souls to fuel their own beauty and ability to live longer than the typical mortal.

  The sound of the screaming erupted from just beyond the path that led back to the village the Bellens had built in the middle of Jiran.

  A loud explosion knocked Ayoki from her place on the stone. Her long white hair blew as a gust of wind pushed her down. She hit her chin on the rock, sinking into the dark water. The taste of blood filled her mouth as Ayoki fought the desire to close her eyes.

  Mai jumped in after her.

  Ayoki glanced up and saw that she had just missed the fire that extended over the lake.

  They dove deep into the water as the fire consumed everything surrounding the lake.

  Ayoki’s eyes opened to the darkness beneath. An eerie feeling crept into her as she spun around in the clear water, lit by the fire on the surface. A white mist curled up from the bottom of the lake, as if reaching out to her.

  Mai glanced back at her and waved.

  Hesitant, Ayoki followed Mai as she swam toward the temple. It sat deep at the floor of the lake, surrounded by the white mist and trees that stretched from the bottom to the surface.

  The stone temple stood there almost as if it weren’t submerged in water.

  Quiet.

  Abandoned.

  They swam at speeds that rivaled the fastest fish in the sea. The fire hovered above the water’s surface, keeping them from the air their lungs needed. Something told Ayoki that the temple would provide solace. It called to them, promising safety, and the young women rushed toward it.

  Mai fought the water to reach the large silver doors. She pushed with all of her might, and finally crashed into the inner corridor of the temple. The water would not enter. It remained formed to the entryway, unable to spill inside.

  Mai stood tall, her gray dress soaked and clinging to her strong frame as they stepped farther inside. The door slammed shut behind them, making both young women jump.

 
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