First off, my apologies. I’ve been swamped and wasn’t able to get Chapter 4 posted when I should. But, hopefully it’s still better late than never. And look at it this way, if things go as planned, you only have to wait another week to read Chapter 5 instead of two! Silver lining.
Okay, here it is. Don’t forget to click on the link below to read Jessica Jarman’s next awesome chapter in her amazing NA story… YOUR LIES. And it is an freaking amazing chapter to this incredible book. You can just click on the banner at the end of the post. And if you’re new and want to read the previous chapters… here you go…
Rylan eyed the woman in front of him, her voice curling around him—sending a shiver along his spine. Aelwyn gave him an odd look then darted down the path, her body fading in and out of view amidst the gathering shadows. She didn’t seem overly concerned about breaking more wards, or whether she’d be unable to accomplish the task. A fact he found both compelling and unnerving.
He hadn’t seen that coming. Had assumed she’d developed a one-sided love for the heir to the throne. The fact Aelrik was her brother… It made her quest more noble. Harder to simply push aside as yet another one of Cane’s tricks. It was obvious she was desperate enough to pay any price to secure her brother’s safe return. He just wondered if she truly understood what she was getting herself into. If she was telling the truth—if Cane had sided with Merek to destroy the two kingdoms—they’d have both armies hunting them. Which made her quest—nobel or not—seemingly impossible.
Aelwyn took another path, weaving them deeper into the dark forest before stopping at a large wall. Ivy and moss covered most of it, with only hints of gray brick between the green foliage. She moved along the border, not even giving him a second glance, her footsteps hushed against the lush grass.
Rylan shook his head. He’d meant what he’d said. She shouldn’t blindly trust him just because they’d inscribed their names on a magical parchment. They were still enemies, and his cooperation lasted only as long as it served his purpose. Which could easily terminate once they’d cleared the castle grounds. After all, spells often reversed once the caster died. Killing her could set his magic free. Unbind him from their agreement.
Aelwyn stopped again. He glanced at the wall. It looked disturbingly similar to the rest of the brick, though there was a slight charge in the air. A hint of power.
She looked over her shoulder at him. “This is it.”
He snorted. “It looks the same to me, sweetness. Just more ivy and brick.”
“It’s just an illusion. To hide the gate from anyone who doesn’t already know its location.”
“If it’s been hidden, how did you discover it?”
A strange expression crossed her face, and he got the distinct feeling she was, once again, deciding how much to share with him.
“I can sense the barrier, and it reeks of Cane.” She hissed out her next breath. “It’s only a matter of time before every realm bears his mark. Like a disease that infects everything it touches. He must be stopped.”
Rylan snagged her shoulder. “How is it you can sense this barrier, yet all I feel is a mild disturbance? One I’d most likely overlook.”
“Does it matter?”
“What are you hiding from me?”
Her lips quirked. “Who says I’m hiding anything?”
“Call it intuition. And the fact you’d be a fool not to.” He moved closer, once again crowding her. “I’ll ask you again. What are you?”
Fear flashed in her eyes before she physically drew herself up. “A mage, like you.”
“Oh, sweetness. You’re nothing like me.” He cocked his head to the side. “Can you control fire, as well?”
“Why would you ask me that?”
“Because I’ve never seen anyone wield more than one element. Yet, you’ve demonstrated control over two. Makes me wonder if you can harness all four. What about water?”
She broke eye contact for a moment before glancing back at him. “Didn’t you just say I’d be a fool not to withhold information from you?” She turned back to the wall at his arched brow. “We can discuss my abilities later. I’d rather not get caught before we’ve even left the castle grounds. You may want to stand behind me. In case the ward lashes out unexpectedly.”
Rylan moved in behind her, still unnecessarily close. But after her display in the chamber, he wanted a better look at her power. See if he could unravel her secrets. And she had them. More than her fair share if his gut was right.
Aelwyn held up her hands, pressing them as if she’d encountered something solid. A flare of golden light shot from her palms, running lengthwise across the air. Red sparks crackled in response, the eerie glow illuminating thick strands woven into some kind of barrier.
Rylan leaned in closer, his mouth caressing her neck. “You saw that? Before your magic bounced off the surface? How?”
She trembled slightly, a rough breath rasping free. “It’s hard to explain. But you could, too, if you knew what to look for. You just have to be willing to learn. To see the world from a different perspective. The way I do.”
He eased back, wondering if she was actually offering to teach him. “Who taught you?”
He huffed. “You’re unique. I’ll grant you that much. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but…if you break that ward, Cane will know.”
“I’m not going to break it.”
“Then how are we getting through?”
Her smile sent a rush of heat spiraling through his core, and his magic surged in response. It prickled just below his skin, giving it a red hue. He wasn’t sure if it his response to her was the result of his entombment or something else—something more primal, more dangerous—but he needed to get his power under control. She may have curtailed him from using his fire against her, but he still needed to be able to wield it with some form of precision.
He chuckled inwardly at the thought. He hadn’t achieved more than a modicum of control before he’d ventured into Aldhaven. No reason to think nearly a century of sleep had improved his accuracy any.
Aelwyn tilted her head, looking at him as if she could read his mind before nodding at the barrier. “Think of it as creating a hole. But I’ll use my magic to bridge the strands so Cane won’t know unless he actually checks his ward. He’ll recognize my marker, but we should be long gone by then.” She turned back around. “I can’t keep it open for that long, so once it’s ready, we’ll have to move quickly.”
“Pretty sure I can keep up with you…Princess.”
She whipped her head around. “Must you call me that?”
“Are you not Princess Aelwyn of Aldhaven. Daughter to King Aern and sister to the heir to the throne, Prince Aelrik?”
“You know I am, but…” She sighed, once again returning to her work.
He brushed his chest against her back, noting her sharp inhalation. “Why does it bother you so?”
“Because it’s a reminder of everything I’m not. All I’ve endured since my birth, all because I’m a…” Her voice sounded thick, as if she’d had to force the words out. She exhaled, seemingly calming herself. “Call me whatever you want. I’m sure my abhorrence to the term only fuels your desire to keep using it.”
He grinned, but it felt unnatural. Despite the anger burning as hot as his fire beneath his skin, he found the thought of intentionally hurting her unappealing. As if his magic revolted, wanting nothing more than to protect her. Shield her from the obvious pain she’d suffer from her own people.
Rylan cursed under his breath. He needed to be prepared for anything. Just because she’d helped him escape—had sworn she needed his help—didn’t mean any of this real. Until they were on the road toward Ravendale, he had to assume everyone he met wanted him dead.
Aelwyn sighed. “You’re not the only one Cane wants dead. Now stop distracting me.”
He frowned. Had he spoken the thoughts aloud and not realized it? Uncertainty churned his gut as her magic sprung to life, casting a warm, golden glow over their patch of forest. The light illuminated the branches, creating a patchwork of shadows across the dirt and grass. Aelwyn stared at the barrier, not that Rylan could tell what she was looking at. It all appeared the same to him.
She moved her fingers along the surface, ignoring the flashes of crimson fire that seemed to lash out at her touch before she settled on an area. Her energy increased, growing so bright he had to shield his eyes against the glare. Her threads hissed as they collided with Cane’s, sending spurts of ash into the air. She kept working, doing something with her hands as the air grew heavy around them, closing in as it had in the chamber. He tensed, ready to strike back, when the barrier shimmered, a single finger of gold light reflecting off it.
Aelwyn glanced at him. “As soon as it opens, go through. I’ll follow behind you.”
“Shouldn’t you go first? I could attack you as you try to pass through.”
“I can’t hold it open from the other side. If you don’t go first, you’ll be stuck here. And I doubt your attack would end the way you envision.”
“So you keep claiming.” He moved to her side, gasping when she appeared to grip the edges of the ward and ease them apart, creating a hole in the energy’s fabric. “How are you doing that?”
“I can’t keep it open for long or Cane will know. That, or I’ll end up breaking the spell completely. Jump through.”
Rylan scanned the area beyond the rift then vaulted through it, stumbling a few steps on the other side before hitting a metal gate. He braced his hand on the rungs, catching Aelwyn when she landed beside him, tripping toward the wall. He gathered her against his chest, her labored breathing loud in the stillness. She sagged in his arms, flickers of her magic skittering along her skin. It danced up his arms, drawing out a hint of his power. The colors swirled together, bleeding into a warm orange before slowly fading.
He stared at the lingering hue. His magic had never reacted like that—seemingly blending with another’s. Even now, he felt a ghosted surge of her power within him, as if his magic had carried it inside.
Aelwyn groaned, her head falling against his chest as she seemed to linger on the edge of consciousness. Her gentle weight clenched her heart. He really could snap her with little effort, her frame incredibly small next to his. She groaned again, the sound laced with pain. He brushed back her hair from her face. Dark lashes rested against pale skin. Despite what he’d said about no man ever wanting her, she was stunning. More so than he’d first realized. The easy symmetry of her face, the soft, pale gleam of her skin—it made him want to dip down and taste the fullness of her lips. See if they were as sweet as he imagined.
He muttered the words a few more times, scooping her up before turning toward the gate. A series of locks secured the doorway, the silver metal caked with rust. He grinned. A concentrated surge of his fire and the metal would snap in two. He glanced at Aelwyn. He’d have to put her down. Use only a fraction of his strength to ensure he didn’t lose control—burn her and everything within the forest. Aelwyn murmured something he couldn’t make out as he propped her against the wall. Her head lolled to one side, a grimace shaping her mouth.
He brushed his thumb along her jaw, cursing the need that coursed through him—demanded he do anything within his power to ease her obvious pain—before pulling back. She was the enemy. He’d be wise to remember that.
He faced the gate, allowing his magic to breathe through him. Heat poured off his skin as tiny flames arced along his flesh. He concentrated on the gate, channeling the power pulsing within him before releasing it as a finger of red light at the locks. His magic hissed as it connected with the shiny surface, shooting outwards—coloring the small space with a crimson glow. The metal creaked, shaking under the assault before snapping apart. The pieces shot out, hitting the brick before angling into the dirt.
Rylan fisted his hands, attempting to draw his energy back. It spiked upwards, lighting up the sky before curling in on itself. Flames danced along his skin, the steady pulse of the fire falling in line with his heartbeat. He savored the feel of it. How it swirled beneath his flesh, heightened his awareness. He glanced at the barrier. Tendrils of Cane’s magic waved in the breeze, the tattered threads slowly winking out. He sensed its presence, now. The dark energy that stained the air. Though how Aelwyn had felt it before using her magic mystified him.
He dragged in a few labored breaths, hands clenched tight as he calmed the incessant strum of his power. He glanced at Aelwyn. She hadn’t moved, her head still cocked to one side, eyes closed. He stepped over to her, gathering her in his arms. His magic flared, rising to the surface again in a show of red light. Hers answered in kind, covering her flesh in a soft, yellow glow. Tiny wisps twirled through his, turning that same orange he’d witnessed more than once today. Warmth seeped into his skin, easing his power until it settled.
He stared at her. Hadn’t he felt a similar sensation when he’d first awoken? After trying to use his magic against Bearn? Questions tumbled through his head as he opened the gate and crossed into the forest beyond, swinging the metal structure closed behind him. The hinges screeched in protest as the old rungs scraped on the rock, shutting out the castle grounds behind him.
Aelwyn roused slightly, blinking a few times before fading again. He scanned the woods. This was his chance. He could leave her here—make his own way back to Ravendale. Even with the spell, she’d said he could defend himself. Though he’d never be able to use his power against Aldhaven. He had not doubt she could ensure that. Not after everything he’d seen.
He closed his eyes. While he didn’t owe her anything, let alone his loyalty, he couldn’t quite quiet the feeling that what she’d told him was the truth. That Cane would use Ravendale to get to other realms. Decimate the very home he’d tried to protect by coming to this wretched kingdom nearly a century ago. And he’d gladly rot in a cell another hundred years if it meant exposing Cane and securing peace.
An ancient concept Rylan wasn’t sure existed any more. Aelwyn had been right. Enough blood already stained the earth between their two realms. He had no desire to see more shed in the name of conquest and power.
He pushed out a slow breath. He’d follow her for now, if for no other reason than to garnish more information about Aldhaven and its defenses. That’s if she didn’t lead him into a trap with Cane and a legion of the man’s warriors.
He juggled her closer as he continued north, winding through the expanse of trees and leafy foliage, heading toward what he assumed was the foothills she’d mentioned. Wisps of smoke rose off in the distance, the smell of fire heavy in the air. He’d forgotten how cold Aldhaven got at night, the full heat of the growing months not yet upon them. Soon, the cool breeze would be a welcomed respite from the relentless heat as the sun basked the landscape. If the temperatures didn’t rise soon, they’d have to chance the odd fire to stay warm.
Aelwyn groaned, finally opening her eyelids enough to look up at him. He hadn’t realized how green her eyes were—like the leaves rustling in the branches surrounding them. Staring at him, her head resting against his chest, she didn’t seem nearly as powerful as she had in the chamber. Skin glowing as she’d held him suspended above the ground from her magic alone. He still didn’t know how she manipulated more than one element, though he had a feeling it wasn’t a secret she’d share anytime soon.
She blinked, glancing around before gasping. She stiffened in his arms, her skin already starting to glow. “What happened?”
Rylan stopped but didn’t place her on her feet. “You passed out.”
She frowned. “I never pass out.”
“I see. Then you fell asleep extremely quickly.”
Aelwyn held his gaze, finally relaxing a bit as she surveyed the forest. “We’re free of the castle? How did you open the gate? Cane had it secured with several locks?”
“Thankfully, you didn’t deem the metal off limits from my magic.”
“You used your magic?” She murmured under her breath again. “How much power did you use?”
“Just enough to free us. I’m not careless, nor am I blind to our…situation. But there wasn’t any other way to open the gate.”
“You should have woken me.”
He chuckled as he started walking again. She was too light. Too fragile in his arms despite her obvious determination. And if she wasn’t careful—didn’t start metering how much energy she expended with her magic—she’d get herself killed before they’d left the meager town behind.
She snorted. “Not sure why you find that funny.”
“Because I shattered the locks, picked you up and walked nearly a mile before you roused. Yet you seem to think simply shaking your shoulder would have solved the issue.”
“Cane will sense your power. He’ll know I awakened you. That we’re going after Aelrik.”
“Something tells me he’d have known that by morning, anyway. I doubt your captain and master’s absence will go…unnoticed. And despite Cane’s resources, he’ll have a hard time following us at night.”
She glanced away, more of those odd wisps curling along her skin. “I can walk, now.”
“You’re weak.” He ignored her huff of protest. “I may have been entombed for nearly a century, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how draining it is to wield magic. And the way you’ve been tossing yours around—”
“I’ve done what needed to be done. My health pales in comparison to getting Aelrik back. Stopping Cane before neither of us have a kingdom to call home.” She sighed, allowing her head to rest against his chest. “I’m surprised you didn’t try to escape. Venture back to Ravendale regardless of what I’d told you.”
“I considered it. But on the off-chance you’re right…”
“I have no reason to lie to you, Rylan.”
“Other than the fact you’re the daughter of my father’s enemy.”
The strength seemed to drain from her body at his words. “Aye. I am.”
Her voice held a sad quality to it that made his chest tighten, his magic heat in protest. His fire surged to the surface again, bathing his skin in a deep red. He stopped. If he didn’t get his damn power under control, he’d burn her. Aelwyn tensed, her gaze meeting his before she placed one small palm on his chest. A soft, golden glow covered her hand, slowly enveloping part of his skin. Soothing cool seeped through his veins, reining in his magic until it settled beneath the surface—contained but ready.
Rylan placed his hand over hers. “Who are you?”
“I told you. I’m very much like you.”
“You’re no mage.”
“No. But people consider me a monster, as well.” She nodded toward the path. “Thank you for helping me, but I think I’ve rested enough. I can walk from here.”
He stared at her, ghosted memories gnawing at his consciousness, before he gently set her on her feet. He maintained his hold on her when she went to move away, his focus clashing with hers. “You can’t hide the truth from me forever, Aelwyn.”
“I don’t need forever. Though you should be careful what you wish for. The truth could be worse than you’re prepared to hear.”
She struck off, swaying more than she should as she stubbornly headed down the path. He touched his chest, remnants of her magic still cooling his skin. More questions tumbled through his head, but he let them fade. He’d get his answers, of that he had no doubt. He just wasn’t sure if he really wanted to hear them.
And that’s it for this week. Here’s Jess’ banner to take you to her site. Don’t forget to leave a comment!