Water's Wrath Page 1

Author: Elise Kova

Series: Air Awakens #4

Genres: Fantasy

NO MATTER HOW far she ran or how many people she met, an invisible hand pulled Vhalla back to the crown prince of the Solaris Empire.

She couldn’t escape him. Even when she slumbered while half a continent away, her mind joined with his. Mixing, mingling, torturing her with the worst and most beautiful pain she’d ever known.

It wasn’t the first time she’d dreamt of him since the war in Shaldan ended, but in all the previous memories she’d witnessed, he’d been a boy or young man. Now she invaded the memory of an adult prince, a prince she knew well enough that her fingers could point to every scar that marred his alabaster flesh under the tight buttons of his military regalia.

In this dream, Aldrik’s clothing had been washed as best as could be expected on a warfront. But his shoulders sagged as though he could no longer fill out the mantle of his station. Eyes that usually shone like onyx, illuminated by an undying inner flame, had dulled to coal and sat in dark, sunken wells. His raven hair was disheveled, falling limply around his face; it was in need of brushing. Dark stubble shadowed his chin and cheeks, accentuating an eternal scowl.

He looked every one of his twenty-five years, plus twenty-five more.

In stark contrast, the golden prince stood next to his elder brother. Baldair glanced often at his sibling from the corners of his eyes, a large palm resting on the hilt of the broadsword strapped to his hip. His face rotated between genuine sympathy and the very real concern that he may have to subdue the fearsome sorcerer known as the Fire Lord—again.

They waited before a giant fortress. Tall trees peeked over the perfect, magically created walls. It housed the Head Clan of a nation once called Shaldan, now reduced to the Solaris Empire’s “North”. Shaldan’s capital, Soricium, was mostly leveled, save for the stronghold before her. Vhalla knew its walls and passages well. She’d been an executioner in this fortress. She’d helped deliver the final death blow to this former nation.

A large stone drawbridge groaned to life and lowered slowly, revealing four sorcerers—Groundbreakers—on either side. Behind them stood another group of three people surrounded by even more warriors. They all had tanned skin and curled hair, features of the North. A proud and beautiful people Vhalla had been forced to help bring to their knees.

The Head Chieftain was tall and lean, and two women flanked her. One was an archer known as Za, a warrior who’d tried to kill Vhalla. The other was a young girl, pretty with soft curves already budding on her hips and bosom. She’d be a fine woman when she grew into the promises her body was beginning to make.

The Emperor Solaris strode forward, meeting the Head Clan at the end of the drawbridge. He engaged in a brief exchange with the Chieftain, but Vhalla couldn’t hear the words. The man whose memory she occupied let them become muffled, as though he was submerged underneath a great lake. Aldrik stood as rigid as a sword. He narrowed his eyes at the silken-clad girl standing at the Chieftain’s right.

The child who was to be his future wife.

Vhalla awoke in a cold sweat. The dreams were never easy, and shrugging him out of her mind afterward continued to be a challenge. She panted softly and listened. The air was still and silent, telling her that she hadn’t cried out in her sleep or thrashed violently enough to shake her small cot; she hadn’t disturbed the woman whose home she occupied.

Her fingers ghosted over the chain she wore about her neck, resting on a small watch. The sun and wing engraved on the watch’s front embedded itself into Vhalla’s clutched palm. It ticked away the early morning, the light changing the colors of the curtain over the glass-less window that dominated her bedside wall.

It had been nearly two months since she had last seen the prince of her dreams, the man who had promised his future to her with the token she clung to. But no amount of time or distance could dull the Bond that they shared. It was a magical connection that only a once-in-a-lifetime magical event could form, and it was enough to make Vhalla want to scream in frustration at the oppressive silence that dared to surround her body when her mind and heart were full of his emotions. It meant that, until the end of her days, she could be haunted by his visage, his memories, his dreams.

No matter how far she ran, her phantom would be there.

Knowing she wouldn’t sleep again, Vhalla dressed. A loose linen split-skirt was held in place by a belt around the waist. Overtop, she buttoned a long jacket made of the same breathable fabric. Her last adornment was a wide scarf looped around her head and neck.

Everything she’d ever read about Western fashions held true. Keeping the sun off bare skin was the most sensible way to survive the oppressive summer heat, and the fabric readily breathed in the constant winds. Cutting her hair again would also keep her cooler and would trim away the last of the faded dye that lingered around her frayed ends. But Vhalla was intent on growing it long once more and had yet to allow someone to take sheers to it.

In the corner of her tiny room, Vhalla pulled open a trapdoor. She put her feet to the rungs of a narrow ladder before taking a breath. Clenching her fists, Vhalla opened her magic Channel. Gripping the opening, she slowly pulled her feet from the rungs so she was only hanging by her hands. And then let go.

Rather than falling quickly, Vhalla eased down like a feather. Her hands hovered, ready to catch herself should the descent go awry, but that precaution proved unnecessary. Today was slower than yesterday, three times slower than a week ago. Her magic was becoming stronger—or Vhalla was better at managing it. Keeping the same pockets of air around her feet like boots made of wind, she padded across the small living space, not allowing any footfalls.

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