Water's Wrath Page 2

She relaxed her magic when she had descended most of the way down a side stairway into the dim bookshop below. Vhalla ran her fingers along the spines in the narrow bookshelf walkways. Some of the books were tall, some short, some old, and some new, but every book carried its own story, and she’d already devoured most of what the small shop had to impart.

Throwing back the shutters allowed the dim morning’s light to filter into the narrow space. After her first two weeks in the shop, her duties had become engrained. Now at nearly six weeks, she went about the shop-keeping with little thought. First came pushing back the shutters, then wedging the door open so the store didn’t become an oven. The wind wasn’t optional to surviving the day. But it carried in sand that settled on the books, horrifying Vhalla, and she set to dusting first thing every morning.

Her hands rested on one of the manuscripts on the end of the tallest shelf in the back corner, and her dust rag was quickly forgotten. Sliding it out, she ran her fingertips over the embossed cover, Kishn’si Coth. It was written entirely in the old language of Mhashan, and Vhalla had overlooked it for weeks as a result. It wasn’t until she’d devoured most of the books in Southern Common that she turned to language study, which finally allowed her to translate the title of this particular work.

“That one again?” a portly woman asked with a yawn, standing in the stairway.

Vhalla nearly jumped off her stool. Gianna wasn’t a Windwalker, but she knew her home and shop well enough not to make a sound coming down the stairs.

“I think I can almost read it.” Vhalla tried to shrug nonchalantly, slipping it back into its place on the bookshelf.

“Yae, tokshi,” the woman chuckled.

Vhalla wasn’t about to take “not yet” as an answer. “Vah da.”

Her careful pronunciation put a wide smile on the woman’s features. “What is your obsession with The Knights’ Code? I can’t even pay someone to take it off my hands.”

“Curiosity.” It was the truth, in part. A small part.

She’d come west, to the Crossroads, to escape everything—to go to a place where she could be no one and nothing. But when she came across mention of the Knights of Jadar in a manuscript on Western history, she’d set out to devour as much information about the group as possible.

Vhalla had only known the broad facts about them before, that they were a mysterious and unquestioned force founded by King Jadar in old Mhashan during the genocide of Windwalkers—the Burning Times—with the purpose of executing the king’s will. She hadn’t given the Knights much thought before the war against Shaldan, when she’d learned the Western zealots had been working with the Northerners against the Empire. Thanks to her reading, she was finally filling in more of the blanks, which was yielding some answers about why the group seemed to be bent on hunting her down.

“Breakfast?” the woman asked.

“Not hungry,” Vhalla replied, true to form. After the first week together, Gianna had given up trying to make her eat. Vhalla never felt hungry first thing in the morning. There was too much to think about, too many things to get started for the day.

Vhalla already held a wet quill when Gianna left the room. With diligent accuracy, the sorcerer recounted the dream she’d had the night prior. Perhaps with too much accuracy, Vhalla furiously scratched out the portion of writing about Aldrik’s hair, the gauntness of his face, and pallor of his skin.

The prince was a memory. Her hand clasped the watch. He was a remnant of another period of her life, and she had to learn to leave him there. Though, such a thing seemed more impossible by the day.

With a shake of her head, Vhalla dislodged the memories, returning to her work. The days in the bookshop had done more than remind her how much she loved the smell of parchment or the feeling of bound leather. They had given her time. Time begot thought. And thinking for herself was something she hadn’t had time for in far too long.

It was after her first dream that she started her journal, the record of her dreams of Aldrik. Originally, it had been out of a sense of obligation because she had promised to tell him when she dreamt of him. With time, she began writing all the dreams she’d ever had of him and expanded from there. She filled pages upon pages that culminated to the sum record of the memories he told her, the ones she’d witnessed when she slept, and the total of her knowledge on the history of the Empire.

With it all, she began to notice connections.

Her gray quill circled new words as she flipped through the pages, marred passages with arrows and circles and lines and more notes. Vhalla was connecting dots that she wasn’t sure she hadn’t invented. But a picture was taking shape, too easily to be chance.

Prince Aldrik Ci’Dan Solaris—born to Fiera Ci’Dan and the Emperor Tiberus Solaris, a prince of two worlds, the man known as the Fire Lord to his enemies and an aloof, off-putting royal to his allies—had much to hide.

Vhalla knew he’d tried to kill himself before he became a man. She knew he’d killed for the first time when he was fourteen—he’d told her that much. She knew the man she hated most in the world—the Head of Senate, Egmun—had been behind the first blood on the prince’s hands. Her quill rested on a date.

Standing, Vhalla walked over to the small section where they kept books on history. It was mostly Western, but there was a single general story she’d been relying on. Back at the desk, Vhalla flipped open the book and thumbed through the pages. The War of the Crystal Caverns, her fingers paused by the year the war started.

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