“I thrust my hand toward the sky as my voice begs the Elemental inside me to waken and rise. But it’s no use. The curse I’ve spent my entire life abhorring—the thing I trained so hard to control—no longer exists.”
Nym has saved Faelen only to discover that Draewulf stole everything she valued. Now he’s destroyed her Elemental storm-summoning ability as well.
When Nym sneaks off with a host of delegates to Bron, Lord Myles offers her the chance for a new kind of power and the whispered hope that it may do more than simply defeat the monster she loathes. But the secrets the Bron people have kept concealed, along with the horrors Draewulf has developed, may require more than simply harnessing a darker ability.
They may require who she is.
Set against the stark metallic backdrop of the Bron kingdom, Nym is faced with the chance to change the future.
I glare at the closed door, simultaneously holding my throat while cursing that illegitimate bolcrane offspring to come back.I can’t stop shaking. Exhale. Inhale. His scent is everywhere, piercing my nostrils, digging down my throat until I’m gagging on smoke and pulling myself up to scramble around the broken glass and ice. No no no no no! I lunge for the charred window and push my face out into the night air. The noise below is deafening— as if my erratic weather bursts only encouraged the people’s frenzy.
I concentrate on breathing. Another inhale to clear my burning throat.
My body sways heavily and shakes harder, and for a second I swear my veins seize up. I frown at my arms. What did he do to me?
“Focus on the atmosphere, Nym,” I can almost hear Eogan whisper. “It’s yours to control.”
I shut my eyes and lean in, yearning to feel him against my achy skin and chest cavity where, until a few minutes ago, my world existed. “I can’t focus,” I whisper. I don’t want to focus.
No! I can’t do this without you.
But the moment slows anyway. “Focus on the atmosphere.” I grit my teeth and open my eyes. Fine. I shove my hand toward the sky.
Not even a breath of wind stirs as the golden candle bulbs rise into the now-perfect, starry heavens. I try again. And again—this time with both hands. Then with my voice, begging the Elemental inside to waken and rise.
But it’s no use.
The curse I’ve spent my entire life abhorring—the thing I trained so hard to control with Eogan. No. Longer. Exists. Just as Eogan no longer exists.
“Are you jesting?” A scream rushes my lungs and explodes from my lips, but it’s hollow and heartless, with no thunder to back it up.
Like the voice of a powerless child, it drowns into the party noise below. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” I turn back to my room, pick up the largest glass shards with my good hand, and hurl them at the walls, the fireplace, the door. How this happened I don’t know—I scarcely looked away from Eogan as he fought Draewulf at the Keep. Only a matter of moments. And afterward—when he was talking to his generals . . .
His skin had looked sallow. Bruised. Bloody. With that incision behind his neck.
My stomach turns. The thought of Draewulf slicing him open while I stood feet away—of Eogan dying, his essence being absorbed
by the monster wearing him like a shell of flesh . . . I fling a thick glass spike into the door. Then another, and another. The last one thuds so hard it creates a crack across the overlay just as a knock sounds on the other side. “Miss?” a man’s clipped voice calls through.
“I’ve been asked to summon you to the banquet.”
What? I look around. Now? An awareness of what I’m supposed to be doing sinks in, as does the roomful of dissipating smoke and
broken glass and the blood covering my palms that are somehow sliced like ribbons.
Oh kracken. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do this. I bend over as my head spins, bringing bile up my throat. “Why didn’t you just kill me too?” I yell at Draewulf.
“To hulls with your blasted banquet,” I snap loud enough for the man to hear. But I go ahead and dab my hands on my dress and
step over to the washbasin to dunk them in case he barges in.
The cold water burns like litches. It scalds and sears the smoke from my head—enough to register the fact that not only am I supposed
to be at the banquet, but Draewulf left me functioning enough to attend it. I steady my trembling arms. Bite my lip. Whatever he’s
planning, he kept me alive to watch.
“Miss.” The man’s voice comes again with a more insistent knock. “Please. We need to hurry.”
Narrowing my eyes, I shove my blasted feelings so deep that the numb rises and spreads over them in a thin, fragile layer. Just go see
what he’s got planned.
I grab the drying cloth and stride to the door. I yank it open to find one of the captain’s guards. Tannin, if I recall, with his brown eyes, brown skin, and hair that sticks up like a thatched roof. His expression is full of admiration as he tips his head politely. “The celebration—” He stalls, and I watch the discreet slide of his eyes down my white waist-length Elemental hair to my bloodsmeared
dress. He makes a shocked noise in the back of his throat.
“I’ll be a few minutes.”
I shut the door and, turning back to the water-basin table, pull one of my knives from its sheath. Shakily, I use it to shred the drying
cloth into strips and tie the material around my bleeding palms, pressing them hard until the oozing subsides, then walk to the wardrobe King Sedric had someone fill with the lavish-type dresses we both despise. Not because they’re not gorgeous—they are—but because they’re a disgusting waste of money when the peasant population has spent the last forty years starving. I pull out a sleeveless black gown with no layers or buttons, which makes it easy to slip into despite my sliced palms and my left hand’s fingers that are permanently curled inward almost to a fist. The fingers that never healed right after Brea, owner fourteen, took a mallet to them when my lightning strike took her husband’s sight because he couldn’t keep his anger to himself.
Once on, the dress shimmers and flows around my frame. A look in the mirror while I carefully drag a brush down my hair shows
the dress does more than flow and cling. The color sets off the black trellis of owner- and memorial-tattooed markings circling my bare
arms. It darkens them, making them look eerie. Uncomfortable. Huh. Good.
I pick up my sheath of knives and strap the blades to my calf, then tug my dress over them. I firm my jaw. Hold it together, Nym. At least until you figure out what the kracken to do.
Except everything within me whispers that I already know what I need to do.
“Miss?” The man taps on the door again.
I lift my chin and straighten my unsteady shoulders. And harden my blue eyes before forcing the falsest grin I’ve ever smiled and walking over to open the blood-smeared, glass-impaled door. Tannin’s still standing there. He doesn’t offer an arm. The veneration in his gaze is shadowed by a flash of fear. He’s afraid to touch me.
I almost give a caustic laugh. Up until twenty minutes ago he should’ve been terrified. Now? “I’m as impotent as you are,” I nearly tell him.
“Glad you could join us.” His expression edges back toward that ridiculous awe that the guards and knights and so many in Faelen are newly inclined to place on me. I frown. He looks about to say something further but seems to think better of it and waits until I
shut the door before falling in beside me. “King Sedric sent me to persuade you.”
I nod stiffly.
“He’s requested to see you,” he prods. “And I must say what an impression your style will make this evening.” His eyes dip to my
wrapped palms. “Very . . . stunning.”
My attempt at politeness falters. I can’t do it. I clench my teeth and let my glare smolder down the corridor in front of us, and after
a moment he, smartly, seals his mouth like a tomb. One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes eke by until we reach the Great Hall. Before he leads me in, Tannin turns to face me. His cheeks are blushing like berries and suddenly he’s fumbling a crisp, folded kerchief from beneath his guard doublet and holding it out to me. “Miss, I was wondering if you’d mind giving a token, a kiss perhaps, for me to take home.”
I stare at him.
He smiles as if he’s serious.
Is he insane? Up until a week ago my kiss would’ve been considered a curse. “I’m not a lady for knights to request tokens from,” I mutter, and go to push past him.
“It’s for my daughter.”
I peer at him. Loosen my jaw. “How old is she?”
“Eight. And she’s real proud of what you’ve done for us—for Faelen.”
A moment longer and I hold out my hand for the cloth and place it against my lips in what is the most awkward thing I’ve ever done
in my life. “Tell her it’s the innocent who died in battle who deserve her respect, not the warriors who lived,” I say, returning it to him.
“Especially not one who was only there because of accidental powers.”
He blushes even darker. “Yes, miss. Thank you, miss.”
I go to stride past him but catch the look as he drops his gaze. I hesitate. “Tell her it’s people like her father she should respect,” I
say softer. “The ones who serve because they have faith in justice.”
He peers up and his eyes widen, then sparkle, and I try not to feel ill while turning to enter the shiny balcony. The space is already filled with heavily perfumed people, most of whom are looking down upon the enormous lower room that’s stuffed to the walls with prominent individuals fawning over foodheavy tables and a minicarnival. I shake off the embarrassing cloth-kissing and dart my gaze
about for Eogan-turned-Draewulf as acrobats, panther-monkeys, and even a baby oliphant prance around on the stage below. Behind them, giant arched windows and mural-painted walls edge up against the open doors and outside patios, giving the room a depth that brings the frescoed firefly trees and Hythra Crescent Mountains to life.
I search the corners for Eogan, but only find vedic harpies swinging from cages, humming their songs about the sea. Their music is enough to trigger a bizarre homesickness for my previous owner Adora’s home and her parties with Eogan and Colin. I purse my lips. Who’d have thought I’d miss anything about that woman?
Turning my eyes, I tune them out even as my stiff shoulders threaten to buckle. Blasted hulls, Eogan, why couldn’t you have let me shield you?
Find him and do what you have to, Nym.
“This way, miss.” Tannin beckons me to the crowd in the center of the loft where he proceeds to weave me around their warm bodies.
The elegant people fall away from us with eager glances and murmurs. Some are already too full of wine to walk decently, but
apparently not enough to prevent them from noticing my sea-blue eyes and everything else about me that shouts Elemental.
“They say she took down Bron’s airships with a single lightning strike,” someone excitedly whispers.
“Two,” another says. “The first took out the archers.”
“No, no, she used her breath. Inhaled the wind and blew them back to Bron.”
I raise a brow and can’t help the smirk at that one. It fades as soon as my chest tightens with the rawness of not having Colin beside me. He would’ve laughed and never let me hear the end of it. My breath? I straighten. Keep walking.
“Either way, do you think it wise having her at the High Court? Look at those bandages on her hands. Are we certain she’s safe?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. Rumor is she’ll be invited to leave for Bron with King Eogan soon.”
“Figures,” a man’s voice titters too loudly. “Anyone can tell she’s vying to be that man’s queen. Can you imagine? A week ago she
was a slave. As if she’d know the first thing about court life. Now, if it was that visiting Cashlin princess, Rasha . . .” I keep my head up and don’t give them the luxury of knowing that my ears are, in fact, clearly working even if the man’s insults are more comforting than any of the praise. I look around. Where is Princess Rasha? Less than an hour ago she was in my room playing with knives and hinting encouragements about Eogan. How did she not see this coming with Draewulf?
Tannin stops and I almost trip over him onto King Sedric, who’s speaking with men I recognize as part of the High Council. In their shiny green doublets and pointy-heeled shoes, they remind me of the garish Adora. Especially beside His Royal Highness who’s as boyish-looking and underdressed as ever. I curtsy as protocol dictates and nod at his guards nearby. They visibly relax and my
hard eyes soften a bit at this man-boy who’s two years older than me—nineteen— but seems twenty more, and who fought without
flinching at Eogan’s and my side.
He stops speaking and turns a kind smile. “Nym.”
“I’m pleased you could make it down this evening.”
“I’m honored to be invited.” My throat tightens. Tell him about Eogan.
His merry gaze falls on my clothbound palms and narrows with apparent concern. “I hope you know this celebration is as much in
praise to you as it is the treaty.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty, but the gratitude is rightly placed on your shoulders.” My eyes flick behind him, beyond the guards, in
search of Eogan. You have to tell him, Nym. I clench my fingers and feel the pain from the cuts shoot up my arms.
Tell him you’re all in danger.
I open my mouth again.
But my tongue thickens and heat clogs my throat. I don’t know how to do it. I can’t make the words come out from my lips that will
sentence Eogan’s body to death by the hands of someone who hardly knows him. Even if Sedric is my king. “You have my respect and gratitude,” I whisper instead. “Especially regarding your mercy toward my Elemental race.”
King Sedric grins and glances at the councilmen who are sloshing the drinks they’ve raised in our direction. He leans politely toward me. “I’d relish the chance to speak with you about your heritage as well as the plight of the Faelen citizens, if I may have the honor of a dance later this evening?”
I nod before retreating so he can return to his conversation.
“Good luck, miss,” Tannin says, and, with a grateful wink and a half bow, leaves me alone in a sea of people I barely know who’re full of blatant gawks and wearing giant, poofed hats that look exactly like the black-and-red Bron airships. Complete with larva-shaped balloons. I swallow and head to the balcony’s ledge and glare over it. Colin and Eogan should be here with me, mocking the ridiculousness of the outfits, of the luxury, listening while I scream that Draewulf is not dead.
Instead I swear I hear their ghosts whispering that he’s going to wipe out this entire room and take Faelen. Just like he tried to at
the Keep. I grit my teeth and lean over the gilt railing to peer down below to look for him.
The lights flicker oddly, urging me to hurry my scan of the faces. Where is he? Nervous chuckles break out as the candle lights blink again. I straighten and look up just as the glow flickers a third time and the crowd’s laughter ceases.
“What’s going on?” someone whispers. “Who’s putting out the lights?”