Night of the storm an ep.., p.7
Night of the Storm: An Epic Fantasy Novel (The Eura Chronicles Book 2), p.7K.N. Lee
A burning in Ayoki’s throat sent her into a coughing fit. She settled onto the stone floor, choking on water that had once been enchanted. It was stale and tasted salty and warm. Her choking ceased when she saw a light emerge from the dark depths of the corridor.
Ayoki would have screamed if she had been born with a voice. So many things in her life would have been different.
If only she had a voice.
Ayoki scrambled to her feet and slipped backward until her back was against the doorway. The light became brighter and filled the room.
Mai stood and shielded her eyes.
“Ayoki, stay there,” Mai whispered.
Ayoki watched the light. It shrunk into a small ball that hovered in the air and began to trail down the hallway. The women looked at each other and then back at the ball of light.
“Come on. Let’s see where it goes.”
Ayoki took Mai’s hand and peered at the light. She was unsure if it would take them to salvation or certain death.
“Maybe it’s a sign?”
Ayoki clutched her hand. They dripped water along the slippery polished floors as they crept down the halls. Mirrored ceilings looked down at them. Ayoki avoided glancing back up at them.
She didn’t like seeing her reflection.
“Hurry now. No time to waste,” a voice called from far down the hallway.
They both stopped.
Ayoki wanted to turn and run back the other way.
“Calm down, Ayoki,” Mai said as her eyes strained to see past the light.
Their cat-like eyes were better accustomed to darkness than such bright light.
“I see a figure moving down there,” Mai whispered. “Who’s there?”
“Are you hard of hearing?” A male voice echoed through the corridor as he slid toward them.
Ayoki’s eyes widened, stunned by the sudden appearance of a goblin. He was as short as a child, with the face of an elderly man, beady black eyes, and gray skin.
The goblin’s bushy eyebrows rose as he examined them. He threw his hands up. “Fine. You want to die? I’ll leave you alone.” He turned to go back the other way. “I was going to show you a path to Eura. Vaugner told me you were worth rescuing, but if you’d rather stay here, it makes me no difference.”
Mai and Ayoki looked at each other then back to the goblin.
“Come on, Gilly,” he said to the light as it followed him.
It began to dim, and they saw that it was a small pixie. She was too tiny to make out her features, but they could tell that she was watching them.
“I said come on. They want to be left alone.”
The pixie buzzed off like a bubblebee, barely any bigger than one and without a second thought, Ayoki and Mai ran after them.
He paused and looked over his shoulder.
“Wait for us. We want to come too,” Mai said.
He snorted. “Of course, you do.” He peered at them with those black eyes as they made their way beside him. “So, you’re a bit slow but not completely daft. That’s a relief.”
Gilly giggled, and they finally got a good look at her. She sounded like a bell when she laughed. Though her blue eyes were too big for her face, she was pretty with short bright blonde hair and pointy ears and chin.
“Let’s get a move on then. The fire will spread. We don’t want to wait and see if any of those Bellens survived my bombs.”
Ayoki’s brow lifted. He was rescuing them.
He turned a corner at the end of the hall and began to run. He paused. “I’m Hartwig.”
“Mai. This is Ayoki.”
He nodded, his eyes lingering on Ayoki’s face. Without warning, he turned and ran. Ayoki didn’t know why, but she almost felt safe. Mai took her hand, and they followed behind as quickly as they could, surprised at how fast the goblin was.
“Come on, slowpokes!”
Mai glanced at Ayoki. “We are Shadow Elves.”
“And as slow as my grandmother,” Hartwig replied.
Gilly giggled again, her small voice carrying down the empty hallways.
“We could outrun you,” Mai said. “If we knew where we were going.”
“Sure. That’s what they all say.”
Ayoki smiled. The fear and tension dissipated. She liked Hartwig. Perhaps there was hope they would survive after all.
Ayoki needed to.
Despite her fear and doubts, the world needed her.
After all these years, maybe she’d finally gotten some good luck.
THE AIR FELT SCARCE AS AYOKI and the others went deeper underground into smothering darkness.
Used to living underground, her eyes adjusted, dimly lighting the area around her. They came to a dead end where a stone wall stood before them.
She touched the walls, feeling for any signs of life other than Ayoki and her companions.
A breath of relief escaped her lips. They were safe.
Ayoki hoped Hartwig would take them somewhere safe from the Bellens and their dark magic.
Ayoki rested her hand on belly. She bit her lip at the flutter beneath her hand. For once in her life, she had more than herself to think of.
Pretica still didn’t know. Maybe she was better off being as far from home as possible. Ayoki had already let her down. She’d let the world down.
But then, she’d never see Kenichi again.
Tears stung her eyes. She wiped them away before anyone noticed.
Hartwig tapped on the stone wall, and clicking sounds were heard. Ayoki’s eyes examined the stone wall curiously, but the goblin pushed the adjacent wall instead, revealing a secret door.
The stones shifted and twisted until the pattern changed and the stones separated.
Gilly entered the small room, filling it with light. A ladder that stretched high above was nailed to the wall.
Hartwig began climbing up the ladder with Gilly lighting the way. Gilly’s light made the slick walls shine, and Ayoki realized the entryway led to a cavern much smaller than her home in Gollush. She missed her home, even if there were a few dark memories she wished she could forget.
Mai looked around. “We must have gone quite deep underground.”
“Seventy-five feet,” Hartwig replied as he lurched himself up the final steps of the ladder.
He reached for Mai. She shook her head and darted up the ladder. She had a self-satisfied smile on her face when she saw Hartwig flinch when she appeared beside him.
Ayoki didn’t like drawing attention to herself, so she climbed up and accepted Hartwig’s hand. He helped her up and sealed the door to the temple closed.
Crystals clung to the ceilings of the cavern and red orbs the size of Ayoki’s fist protruded from the stone floor like flowers. They held light inside that flickered and moved slowly from side to side.
Ayoki bent down and watched the light inside. Something small writhed and spun.
“Better not stare,” Hartwig said and waved his hands before her eyes, breaking her gaze. Ayoki frowned up at him, but he simply began down the left path.
“How much farther?”
They had been walking for hours, and their clothing was still damp and clinging to them.
Hartwig’s brows rose. “In a hurry, are we?”
“Why, yes. You do know she is the Seer. She has to help the other chosen to save the world.”
“Oh, yes. That.” Hartwig didn’t continue then, and both of the girls looked at each other. His mind seemed to be elsewhere. Ayoki’s ears perked up; it sounded as if he was counting to himself.
“You are taking us home, right?”
Hartwig glanced over his shoulder. “Home? No miss. We are heading to the Goblin City.”
Mai skidded to a stop. “What?”
Hartwig shook his head. “Why are you stopping? We have no time to waste. You speak of the other chosen. Vaugner knows of all of this. You will meet in the Goblin City.”
“Well,” Mai said with disappointment. “I wanted to go home.”
Hartwig nodded back the other way. “You know the way back.”
Mai wrung her hands. “I’m not going back alone.”
“It’s settled then. You’re coming with us to the Goblin City,” he clapped his hands. “Now, show me some of that speed you keep gloating about. Hustle!”
THEY WALKED FOR MILES until Hartwig began to slow as the ceiling went from low to much higher above them.
Gilly lit the way to a fork in the cavern. The walls were full of jewels and precious stones. One could travel three ways. Either they could go straight, to the left, which was too dark to navigate, or right, which looked like it dropped into another lower cavern.
The young women waited for Hartwig to direct them.
Ayoki felt the hairs stand on the back of her neck as they looked into the darkness. Their eyes had adjusted, but still she saw nothing. A man emerged from the mouth of the path that led to the left.
“Aye,” Luc answered. He walked ahead, and the girls saw that he was a Shadow Elf like them. “This is the Seer?”
Hartwig hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and stood straight like he always did. “Aye.”
Luc’s bright blue eyes examined Ayoki from top to bottom. He looked as if he could be both of their fathers, with thin wrinkles set into his forehead like he worried too much. His hair was braided long and neat. He wore simple travel attire, leather pants, boots, and a belted green tunic.
“Vaugner has patrols set up all along the path from the fallen barrier to the Goblin City.”
“Goblin City?” Mai’s eyes widened. She glanced back at Ayoki. “I don’t know about this.”
Ayoki took her hand and gave it a squeeze. She nodded, meeting Mai’s eyes.
“You want to go to the Goblin City?”
Ayoki smiled and nodded. Vaugner would know what’s best. If Pretica trusted him, then she would as well.
Hartwig handed Luc a few of the jewels he had mined from the caverns. The Shadow Elf examined them, closed his fingers over them, and dropped them in his side purse. Luc finally looked satisfied.
“Nothing to worry yourselves with. Just don’t be seen by the people native to Eura. The humans don’t like the other races, and they really don’t like Shadow Elves. But Luc will take care of you.”
“But where are you going?” Mai asked, disappointed; they had already gotten used to him.
“Going to see a man about a dog,” he replied with a straight face.
Mai stared at him, her face twisted. “What?”
“Most of what he says is nonsense.” Luc scowled. “Isn’t that right little Wig?”
Hartwig chuckled to himself. “More people to save. Very little time. We will meet again, my friends.”
Mai and Ayoki nodded. They’d just met him. He’d saved their lives and would now be leaving them with another stranger.
“Do not worry. You are going to my home. The Goblin City is not a place to fear, I assure you. You just be ready. I will show you a real race,” he winked at Mai.
“We are always ready,” Mai smiled, exchanging a grin with Ayoki.
DARK THOUGHTS FILLED DRAGNOR’S mind.
He had searched the human realm for eighteen years for The Flame. Each year the Lilae had alluded him. After finally catching her, she’d managed to slip through his fingers once again.
In his pocket was a single strand of her ruby-red hair. He kept it with him at all times. Now, he pulled it from his pocket and stroked the iridescent red strand. The colors changed in waves from gold to red. He smelled it, his eyes closing as her scent sent shivers along his ash-colored skin.
How she’d managed to cloud Emperor Kavien’s judgment was a mystery. All he knew was that he wanted her back.
Her death would buy him more time.
The sound of boots plodding hurriedly down the dungeon stairs ripped him from his thoughts.
“Master Dragnor,” the guard called. The smell coming from the torture chamber kept him back, as did Dragnor’s dark glare.
“What is it?”
Even over the stench of blood and rotting guts, Dragnor could smell sweat and dirt on the guard and realized that it was daytime.
The guard bowed. “The men you summoned, sir. They have arrived.”
A pleased smile came to Dragnor’s thin lips.
Dragnor turned and disappeared up the stairs faster than the man’s eyes could see.
It took only seconds to reach the top. Straightening his clothing, Dragnor made his way to the entrance at the back of the castle that led to the main courtyard.
Weeks of waiting had finally come to an end.
The castle was dark, just as he had ordered. The palace finally felt like home. All torches and candles had been left unlit.
The dark soothed Dragnor. It reminded him of his prior life in Nostfar and even more of his afterlife in the Underworld.
Darkness was his friend and ally. It allowed him to walk unseen, yet he could see anyone in his path with perfect vision. Servants stumbled to complete their duties, using only the occasional flicker of natural light that spilled through open windows and drapes. He would very much like this darker new world.
Once he stepped into the light that flooded the room from a sky light at the very top of the palace he folded his hands before him. His eyes shone with pride at what he saw.
Standing in the wide entryway was the Maloji Tribe. They were in three sets of twelve and all bowed when Dragnor stood before them. Each man had his hair pulled straight back. Their faces were all tattooed with the intricate white symbols of their clan.
“Brothers,” Dragnor said, and they all nodded in respect.
No one spoke, but they all stood to their full height. The palace staff all scrambled around, staring at the Shadow Elves, but trying not to be seen. They were even more intimidating than Dragnor. The Maloji were a specialized sect of Nostfar warriors.
Taken as boys to the underground temples, they were trained to fight with every weapon conceivable and forced to live in the most extreme conditions so that they would learn how to truly survive any situation.
These were the men responsible for the infiltration of the other realms. They led the Shadow Elf armies and trained the soldiers. These men were the reason the Avia’Torenan army would be made nearly indestructible.
Back in the ancient days before The Barriers, the fraud Garion had tried to teach a system of fighting to the other races to prepare them for the devastation a Maloji warrior could cause.
Dragnor grimaced at the memory of seeing Garion in the palace weeks ago. His reputation truly preceded him, and he was made even more frightening after being risen from the dead. He knew how to stop him, though. Kill Elder Delia, and you kill the puppet Garion.
“The work has begun, Master Dragnor,” Parvos spoke for his troop. They all wore crimson light armor. It fit sleek onto their slim, toned, bodies.
“We will destroy Kyril.”
“And Alfheim,” Hitari added. His troop wore black. They simply had to aid what Wexcyn had already started. Plagues, widespread fires, floods, and creatures of the Underworld had been set loose.
The Maloji entered palaces where no one else could penetrate, and killed entire families, making sure no heir survived. To leave a lone heir of any clan would be a terrible mistake. The power passed down to a Legacy would be almost as strong as that of an Ancient.
Dragnor’s eyes scanned the assembled warriors.
“What of Nostfar?”
This would be the test to see if they truly were loyal. He didn’t doubt any of them. None had families that they remembered. But still, there could be a shred of loyalty to one’s race.
Dragnor had given that loyalty up long ago. Wexcyn promised them immortality, the chance to be rulers in this new world while all other Shadow Elves would be t
Nomavi gave a single nod. His troops were all garbed in green.
“There was one problem,” Parvos admitted. “We entered the Raeden palace. We killed everyone, however, the Alden heir lives. Our brothers found him in Tolrinia, and he escaped.”
Dragnor’s grin faded as he watched Parvo’s expressionless face. None of those men feared him. They were bred without fear. If it came down to a fight, Dragnor would lose, but his power made him stronger then all of those men.
His jaw clenched. He tried to keep his composure, but Dragnor hated bad news.
“Which one? Was it Daveed, the eldest?” Dragnor could only imagine how powerful that Tryan would be with all of his ancestor’s power passed down.
“No, the youngest,” Parvos said.
“Yes. He lives. The Storm, Prince Liam, rescued him.”
Dragnor stared at Parvos then he looked over the other Maloji.
Dragnor laughed. “But the boy cannot be a day over ten years old.”
Parvos nodded. “And yet we should never underestimate a Legacy, even one that is a child. Children grow into men. Men that seek revenge for the deaths of loved ones.”
Dragnor’s laughter was extinguished. “Very well, Parvos. If he is still alive in Kyril, the beasts should kill most of the Tryans as they try and reach Eura.”
“He has a dragon.”
Dragnor’s eyes widened. It took a lot to surprise him. Dragons were rare. They were the most powerful creatures in the world. The vision of a Legacy, commanding a dragon changed things.
“Nomavi,” Dragnor turned to the elf.
Nomavi stood still and ready to be commanded.
“Find the Alden Legacy. Kill him.”
Nomavi nodded, and he turned to his men. They didn’t need orders; their duty was understood. They filed behind their leader and exited the palace.
“All right, brothers,” Dragnor clasped his hands before him. His gaze darkened as he thought of the many tasks that needed to be carried out. “Now let’s get a move on before the emperor is awakened.”
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