Fire Falling Page 1

Author: Elise Kova

Series: Air Awakens #2

Genres: Fantasy


THE WORLD WAS was an inferno.

Thick smoke. Ash. Blistering heat.

Vhalla dashed between shadowed figures. Faster and faster, she ran through the night, from one horrific scene to the next, as though she was running toward the end of the world itself. The dark, faceless people began to close in around her, hindering her, smothering her.

Tears already stained her cheeks when she reached out a hand to push away the first. The apparition gave a blood-curdling scream before being ripped apart, dissolving into wind-like smoke. Her fingertips rested upon the next—another scream. She didn’t want to go farther, but her heart drummed out a single word—faster, faster, faster.

So Vhalla ran. She ran, and each shadowed apparition she came into contact with dissolved into the darkness that slowly encroached upon her. Nothing could hinder the dying cries of the shadow people, cries echoing to her very soul—not the palms pressed over her ears, not even her own screams.

And suddenly, silence.

Vhalla lowered her hands slowly, peeling one eye open, and then the next. There was nothing behind her, nothing beside her; the path before her was illuminated by one last glittering flame, consuming a building that had collapsed in on itself. Pulled by an invisible force, her feet dragged one inch, then the next, toward the rubble. She was already too late. She was too late every time, every night.

Vhalla began pulling the rubble aside, one large block at a time. The flames licked around her hands, but they didn’t burn her. They didn’t even feel hot. He was at the bottom, waiting for her, and Vhalla took the battered and bloody body of her dead friend into her arms, weeping until her throat was raw.

“Sareem,” she sobbed into his gory shoulder. “I promise, next time, I’ll be faster. Please, don’t wait for me.”

His hands sprung to life, gripping her arms. With sudden force the man reversed their positions, slamming her down against the ground, his carcass pressing her to the cobblestone street. Half of his face was nothing more than a gory pulp that dripped blood onto her shoulder.

“Vhalla,” he hissed. Part of his jaw was gone and the remaining bone moved at an awkward slant. “Why didn’t you come?”

“I tried!” she cried, begging. “I’m sorry, Sareem, I’m sorry!”

“You weren’t there.” The corpse of her friend leaned forward, nearly touching her face. “You weren’t there, and I died because of you.”

“I’m sorry!” Vhalla screamed.

“You were with him.” His grip cut off the blood to her arms, and Vhalla’s fingers went numb. “You were with him!” He shook her. “Where is he now? Where is he now?” her childhood friend demanded, shaking her body like a ragdoll, her head slamming on the ground.

Vhalla struggled against the arms holding her as they shook her again.

“No, no! I tried to save you!” she sobbed.

“Vhalla, wake up!” A different voice commanded, and Vhalla’s eyes shot open.

Larel’s palms ran up and down Vhalla’s arms. Her dark Western eyes were rife with concern. Vhalla blinked up at her, removing the image of her dead friend. The memory of Sareem sent her stomach heaving, and Vhalla rolled to the side of the bed, vomiting into a carefully placed bedpan.

“This is the third night in a row,” said a voice from the door. The same voice she’d heard the past two nights.

Vhalla looked up, wiping spittle from her chin. A sorcerer stood there, and he didn’t exactly look pleased.

“Cut her some slack.” Larel was not amused.

“Cut me some slack.” The person yawned, but heeded the warning tones in Larel’s voice with one pointed glare back in Vhalla’s direction. A slamming of the door punctuated his departure.

Vhalla coughed a final time, her mental and physical stability returning the longer she was out of the dream. Pulling herself into a seated position, Vhalla rubbed her palms against her eyes and blinked away the last remnants of the vision.

“Vhalla,” Larel whispered softly, placing her palm on the crown of Vhalla’s head. The other woman sat on the bed and pulled Vhalla into her arms.

“I’m okay. I’m fine, I’m fine,” Vhalla murmured into the soft comfort of her friend.

“I’ll stay.”

“No, you can’t stay every night.” Vhalla shook her head, but didn’t shrug off the soothing palm stroking her tangled mess of brown hair.

“Who says?” The woman assumed her position between Vhalla and the wall. It was cramped with the two of them, but Vhalla was too exhausted to object.

They lay facing each other, hands held tightly. Vhalla squinted in the darkness, using the faint light of the moon to make out Larel’s face. The other woman stared back. As a Firebearer, Larel could summon a flame with a thought and give them light, but she didn’t.

“Larel,” Vhalla whimpered softly.

“You should get some sleep.” Larel knew of Vhalla’s imminent collapse just by the tone of her voice.

“Tomorrow’s the last day.” After the dream, her emotions were like an avalanche rushing toward the edge of a cliff. Vhalla was hopeless to do anything other than ride it out. She’d been hopeless at everything since her trial five days ago.

“It is, and Major Reale will only work you harder.” Larel’s voice was an extension of her resolve, as immovable as a mountain. She was the only grounding rock Vhalla had left.

“What’s the point?” Vhalla whispered through quivering lips. “I’m dead the moment we see real combat.” Originally, Vhalla had fantasized about what she would meet in the North—the war-torn land where she was commanded to march as a conscripted soldier of the Empire. But dreams and guilt had worn at her resolve until only a husk remained.

“You are not,” Larel insisted.

“I can barely do anything!” Her voice was pathetic, even to her own ears. But Vhalla was beyond caring. She’d summoned a false strength to make it through her trial, but it was gone now.

“Hush,” Larel ordered. The matter was no longer up for discussion. “You must sleep.”

Vhalla pressed her lips together. “Will you wake me?” she asked finally.

“I will,” Larel responded, as she did every night.

“I don’t know how I’ll sleep without you on the march,” Vhalla murmured softly.

“Don’t worry about that now, just rest.”

Larel kissed Vhalla’s knuckles softly, and Vhalla finally relented, closing her eyes.

Sleep was short, but it happened. Larel only woke Vhalla once more. It was an improvement from the previous four nights.

In the daylight Larel had the courtesy not to say anything about Vhalla’s night terrors. With the arrival of dawn, she departed Vhalla’s room quietly, leaving the Eastern woman to dress and prepare for the day.

Vhalla’s whole body felt stiff and sore, which made dressing take twice as long as normal. She rolled her shoulders and tilted her head from side to side as she shrugged on her black robe. Her reflection caught her attention: dark brown eyes flecked with gold were set upon a gaunt face and accentuated by dark circles. Even the usual yellowish, Eastern tan of her skin had turned ashen. Vhalla raised a hand to her short hair, remembering the afternoon following her verdict when she’d cut it all off.

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