Air Awakens Page 2

Master Mohned motioned to the floor, and Vhalla took her place between Roan and Sareem. The library staff ignored all rules and decorum as they grabbed from a communal pile of quills, ink pots, and parchment in the middle of their circle.

Vhalla pulled the first book into her lap. “Master.” She raised her head, turning away from the pages sandwiched between her trembling fingers. The sage looked at her through his spectacles. “Who’s sick?”

“The prince.”

Those two words were all the master needed to speak for Vhalla’s throat to feel drier than the Western Waste. She wished she had been wrong.

He was in the palace, somewhere beyond her reach. He needed help, and she was no one. Vhalla was barely above the servants who swept the halls and mucked the toilets as punishment for petty crimes. But maybe her years of reading could pay off and she could actually do something.

Vhalla grabbed another piece of parchment. Her quill roughly marred its blank surface with streaks of ink. This was all she could do. It was all she was ever good at. She could read and perhaps pass on some knowledge to a cleric who would save a man she hardly even knew.

Snapping a quill, Vhalla cursed and threw the broken tool aside before reaching for another. Sareem shot a curious look towards her, but the brown-haired girl was a world away. The more Vhalla wrote, the calmer she felt. The pen was like an extension of her being and she forged the ink to her will as if she were under the spell of the words.

Slowly, the books began to grow in a new stack. Each had a note behind the cover, listing information she had found that she thought may be helpful. Vhalla hardly noticed her vertical workload diminishing as soldiers began to carry books out armfuls at a time. She also did not turn to say goodbye as her friends wearily departed throughout the night.

Though her energy was fading, the more books that left the room, the more she was compelled to read. Gradually, warmth budded within her. Slowly at first, then growing with each passing hour until it flourished into a blazing heat.

The sound of the last book closing woke her from her trance. Vhalla blinked at her empty ink-stained hands. In the sunlight, she turned her eyes toward the heavens, and she stared tiredly at the magnificent rainbow of colored glass that ran the length of the ceiling. Dawn had arrived, and she could not even remember the night. Two hands clasped themselves tightly around her swaying shoulders.

Blinking the haze from her eyes, Vhalla looked at the man who appeared suddenly before her. An unfamiliar face stared back. He was a Southern man with icy blue eyes, goatee, and short blonde hair. While he wasn’t menacing, she was certain that he was no one she had ever seen.

“This is the one?” He spoke to someone else, though his eyes were fixed on her.

“It is, minister,” another unfamiliar voice replied.

“Thank you. You are dismissed,” the Southern man ordered. Footsteps faded away with the sound of clinking armor.

“Who are you?” Vhalla’s tongue found life again, the daze of feverish heat fading. She tried to make sense of who this man was and why he was touching her. Her eyes settled upon a crisp black jacket. It contrasted starkly to the morning light. No one in the palace wore black.

She felt dizzy. Almost no one wore black. “Wait, you’re a—”

“No questions here.” A large hand, clammy and cold, clasped over her mouth. “Don’t be afraid; I’m here to help you. But you need to come with me.”

Vhalla looked up at the man with wide eyes. She breathed sharply through her nose and shook her head in protest against the silencing palm.

“I must speak with you privately, but the Master of Tome will return soon. So, come with me.” He slowly peeled his hand from her face.

“No.” She almost fell backwards. “I won’t go with you! You shouldn’t be here, I won’t go there.” Her mind was jumbled from panic heightened by the night’s exertion.

The man grabbed her once more with an annoyed look and a glance over his shoulder.

Vhalla opened her mouth to call out for help, but all she inhaled was a strong herbal scent from the cloth that was suddenly pressed against her face. Right before she lost her struggle with consciousness, Vhalla saw the symbol embroidered on the man’s jacket as he leaned forward to pick her up. Stitched over his left breast was a silver moon with a dragon curling around its center; split in two, each half was off-set from the other. She had never seen it with her own eyes, but she knew what that ominous image meant: a sorcerer.

IT FELT AS though someone had taken an axe to the back of her head, split it open, and allowed her brain to leak out upon the unfamiliar pillow. Vhalla groaned and cracked her eyes. Her face felt hot, and not from the sunlight that streamed through—in Vhalla’s opinion—an enormous window.

The previous day came back to her in a rush. She sat and grabbed her temples as a chill raced through her. The prince’s return, finding every book she could think of, practically passing out while reading, and the man and his strange black jacket—it all came back with sickening speed.

Vhalla looked around the room cautiously, as though a specter may lurk in any shadow. The walls were the palace’s stonework, fitted and mortared. A decorative edge ran around the top of the room, unlike her own unadorned chambers. Sculpted dragons danced around moons.

Her eyes finally settled upon a small glass jar hanging from an iron hook bolted into the wall. Flickering within was a tongue of fire. There was no oil or wax to fuel it, no source for the flame. It simply hovered within its container.

She scrambled to her feet, bolting for the door. Her hands closed around the metal handle, and she tugged vigorously. The sound of iron on iron filled the room as the lock engaged and the door refused to budge. It was louder than the panicked scream stuck in her throat. The memory of the black-coated man flashed before her eyes; Vhalla blinked it away.

Taking a step back from the locked door, she frantically looked around the room. There was a bed, a small table, and a chamber pot. She ran to the window, throwing open the glass and looking downward. It was a dizzyingly straight drop to the ground far below.

The sound of the door latch disengaging brought her attention back within the room, and Vhalla plastered herself against the far wall. A sorcerer had taken her, and she did not want to believe where. The door swung open and a vaguely familiar pair of icy eyes met hers.

“Good to see you’re awake,” the man smiled cordially. “How do you feel?”

“Who are you?” Vhalla plastered herself to the wall, so close that it would be impossible to fit even a piece of parchment between her back and the stone. She eyed the man warily. He wore different clothes today; long robes atop a tunic and trousers. Over his left breast was a patch that reaffirmed her panic: a black swatch with a broken moon.

“Do not be afraid.” The man raised his hands unthreateningly. “No one will hurt you.”

“Who are you?” Vhalla repeated. She knew by his floor-length robes and belled sleeves that the man was of higher rank than her, as almost everyone in the palace was. Vhalla struggled to keep her voice as calm and respectful as possible. She failed.

“Wouldn’t you like to sit down?” He continued to ignore her question.

“I’d like to know who you are,” Vhalla repeated slowly, her eyes glued to his left breast. A nail chipped as she dug her fingers into the stone. “Why did you take me?”

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