Frostbound Throne; Song of Heaven and Ice – May Sage

Something felt wrong. Kira could tell as soon as they emerged out of the network of sinuous corridors crawling out of Carvenstone. When they’d been alerted of an intrusion at the borders of their hideout, she had felt confident. Especially when she’d clearly sensed that it was just one person. Whatever it was, whoever it was, Kira knew she had a fair chance. Her entire life she’d trained against the elf lords of the Graywoods—gods and demigods. Some were stronger than she, certainly, but it was rare that she ever met a match outside of the borders of their lands. And now as they approached the gates hidden under the waterfall, she felt warier with each passing moment. She had to force herself to take one step after the next. She knew then: whoever this was, whatever it was, it was different. Stronger. Fouler. She kept going all the same. Running away wasn’t in her nature. The male at her left had grown quiet, his expression betraying the same concern.

It only served to increase her anxiety. Had she ever seen Kallan Blacks afraid? She wished she could communicate with him without risking being overheard, but they were too close to the hidden entrance. They had to remain silent, lest they betray their position. “Oh!” a stranger exclaimed, appearing out of nowhere, without so much as a noise or a shift of energy in the air. Kira’s eyes widened as she took him in. He looked quite handsome, all things considered. Or pretty, perhaps. There was something almost feminine to his delicate features. His build was lean, though muscular. Kira couldn’t even feel magic emanating from him.

The male should have looked and felt like an irrelevant weakling. He didn’t. There were two sorts of people whose aura didn’t betray their power. The weakest, most innocent creatures in the world. Hopeless babes, tiny lesser fae as harmless as bumblebees. And creatures so strong they could suppress their very selves, their presence, and their powers. This male was terrifying. “Two of you,” said he, conversational. “Marvelous. I do love a merry duo.

” Then his eyes narrowed as he watched her. “What’s your business here?” Kal demanded to know. A slow smile formed at the corners of the intruder’s lips as he redirected his attention to the Carvenstone commander. Somehow, it made him appear even more intimidating. “Tell me, do you care for each other?” His tone was curious and casual. His eyes weren’t. They were cold. Colder than ice. “Never mind,” said he. “Let me check.

” Then Kira screeched, louder than she could recall ever yelling, but the sound was drowned by the heart-wrenching scream erupting from Kal. Her entire head started burning white hot, as if the creature had placed a helmet right out of a forge’s fire on her scalp. Except he wasn’t touching her. He looked so very calm he might not have been doing anything at all. Just as suddenly as it had started, the torture stopped. “Apparently, not really. You’re practically strangers. Shame. Still, we can play a little game.” He reached out for her, his fist approaching her throat.

Kira twirled her staff in her hand, ready to strike if he got anywhere near her. Instead there was nothing to strike at, and all the same his grasp closed around her neck, tightening around it. He was choking her with his mind. A psychic. A quakingly powerful mind manipulator. He turned to Kal. “You seem like the noble sort. Are you noble enough to save a pretty damsel in distress? It’s simple. Open the doors. Open the doors, and she will be spared.

” Kira knew then she was dead. Kal would never agree. He’d never betray his people, the thousands sheltered within Carvenstone, for her sake. “My offer expires in ten seconds, good man. I’m not the patient sort. Eight. Seven. Six.” Kallan launched himself at the stranger, who smirked, before avoiding each of his blows, moving like swordplay was a dance he enjoyed, a dance he excelled at. “One,” the stranger said.

Then he lifted his other hand and Kallan was propelled backward, crashing against the wall of the mountain so hard the ground trembled. He fell to the dirt, coughing up blood as he got up. What was this thing? It didn’t matter, in the end. Kira tried to find peace. She even considered closing her eyes. But she was too furious. Instead, she summoned all of the fire locked inside her and launched it at the monster. It was a weak blow, for her. He hadn’t released his invisible stranglehold around her throat, and with each passing instant, she was fading. Still, even her weakest fires were deadly to most.

The monster didn’t move. He let the burning wave hit him right in the chest, without making a sound, without a reaction at all. A strand of jet-black hair caught fire, and the male wet two fingers with his lips before putting it out. Indifferent. Then he took a step toward her. Kira stumbled back with a yelp. “Well, I suppose that particular bluff didn’t work,” the monster said nonchalantly. He waved his hand and his hold on her dissolved instantly. “I can’t kill you. You’re too good a hostage.

Devira’s cousin, I’d guess? You rather look alike.” He knew Devi. Her eyes widened. “I know you,” said Kallan. “I know you from Asra. You’re a…guard.” “Protector, if you please,” the thing replied with a genteel nod. “Well, in training. It was moderately fun, for a time, posing as a servant to the fae royal. If anything, it showed me how conceited and disgusting your entire race can be.

” His voice had lost its insouciant intonation, becoming darker, deeper. Hatred, barely veiled, emerged. “Which makes me think, you’re no valuable hostage. You, I could have my fun with,” he said, approaching Kal. Kira tried to retrieve her baton from where it had fallen when she’d hit the ground, finding she couldn’t move at all. The sudden paralysis made her heart beat a thousand miles an hour. Never, in her entire life, had she felt quite so helpless. The fact that Kal could move at all meant that he was amusing the monster. No predator enjoyed immobile prey. She wanted to scream, tell Kallan to run, warn their friends to get away while they could.

Regrettably, her lungs and voice, like everything else, were under the monster’s control. Kira was nothing. Death might have been a preferable fate. Suddenly, and entirely unexpectedly, she felt a surge of power light up within her, exploding, destroying and redefining her very self. No, this didn’t come from her. It had nothing to do with her power, her strength, her fate. It felt cold. Cold as ice. Devi. Something had changed in Devira, her twin.

She felt stronger and weaker all at once. As though a part of herself had been lost in the process—the part that used to be innocent and delightfully optimistic. If she didn’t know better, Kira would have believed that her twin was dead. But she did know better. She could feel her heartbeat as surely as her own. Devi wasn’t dead. Just altered. And if she’d found that kind of strength buried inside her, maybe Kira didn’t have to give up just yet. She didn’t have the strength of her sister, but perhaps she was a little more than her fire or her staff. Kira closed her eyes, attempting to let go of her fear, and concentrated, digging as deep as she dared.

She could do this. She had to. The intruder lifted his fist and Kal gasped, out of breath. At the back of the thing’s silk tunic, two velvety wings extended, flapping merrily, suggesting he enjoyed nothing more than torturing minds. Kira couldn’t move? Fine. She didn’t have to. She felt her eyes burn as she stared at her enemy’s back, directing every ounce of the fire inside her to her target. She would have grinned if she could, watching the tips of the bat-like wings burn. The monster swerved, watching them with utter horror, and she had the pleasure of seeing him spin on his heels, trying to put the flames out. It only served to stoke them.

Kira felt the moment his concentration snapped; she fell forward on all fours, finally master of her own body. The monster leaped into the lake. They had only instants. She turned to Kal. “No time to argue. He won’t kill me. Go. I’ll keep him busy for as long as I can. Everyone needs to be warned to get out of here.” She could see Kal, the protector, recoil against the very idea of leaving her here.

Too bad it came down to helping her or all of Carvenstone. He nodded. “Stay alive,” he told her, before rushing toward the main gates. There was no time to take the secret passage again. He’d only just reached the waterfall, when the enraged monster leaped out of the lake, landing right in front of Kira. Stay alive. Easier said than done. But she’d try. TWO A MACHINATIONS t the northern tip of the Graywoods, right next to the borders of Corantius, there was a single guard tower carved from great white stones. It was abandoned for the most part.

The guards of these woods favored homes built in high trees, where they could watch unseen. Nevertheless, the tower had been swept and dusted, the silver, polished, and each room was decorated with freshly picked wildflowers. A little excessive for Devi’s taste. They were staying a day, two at most, while they waited for the bulk of her father’s forces to join them at the border. Then, the army would head north, crossing into enemy territory. Again. The prospect of entering Corantius was daunting. The last time she’d been beyond their border, she’d lost… Something. A heart. Hers, or Valerius’s.

She couldn’t tell. When Valerius was shot by several arrows, something snapped inside her. She wasn’t sure it was back to normal now that they’d saved him. They. She and her mother. Devi wasn’t ready to even think about the fact that her mother was alive. That she’d lied to her, abandoned her. That everything she knew to be true was a fantasy constructed to manipulate her. Thinking of war was easier. When the elven army arrived, they’d cross the northern border.

Which direction they took would be determined in council now. Devi and Vale were last to arrive in the highest room of the tower, where the meeting was going to occur. Her fault. She had a terrible habit of being late. This time, she had to admit her tardiness wasn’t entirely accidental. She dreaded coming face-to-face with Loxy again. The chamber was devoid of any furniture save for a wide table and seats around which a notable crowd was assembled. Among them were Elden Star, the elven king, his generals and advisors, and a beautiful brown-skinned woman with silver-white hair and a memorable presence. She was an ambassador to the dragons living in the Isle—a small but mighty community. That Elden had invited her here was no surprise; her father rarely passed up an opportunity to broker deals with the powerful figures of their world.

One high fae stood out from the others. A face so much like Devi’s it was like staring in a mirror. A tainted mirror that changed nothing except the color of her eyes and hair. Her mother. She ignored her. Other faces weren’t familiar, though all felt and looked like elders. There was enough power in this room to redefine the order of the world. A good thing. That was exactly what they needed to do. The lords had left two places vacant, side by side.

One, a chair just like everyone else’s, the other, a seat made of vines and driftwood. No, not a seat.

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