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It was said the very soul of the land burned within her. The soul of the fire, of Abiassa. The thought drew Kaelyria Celahar's gaze to the Fiery Mount. She traced its spine in the distance. The charred slopes teemed with reddish-gold lava spilling down into the Lakes of Fire. So beautiful. Forbidding. Compelling.
"'Red, orange, gold, and blue; Reshaped the lands, people, too.'" Kaelyria's breath bloomed over the leaded glass as she recited the ancient rhyme. As the circle of fog shrank, she braced against the heaviness crowding her, sniffling out the joy she once felt at being the heir to the throne. The future ruler of a realm so powerful. "'Now to thrive on holy pyre, They unleash ... Abiassa's Fire.'"
Blackened earth shifted, forced aside by the burning elements that glowed bright against the night-darkened land. Just as she would push aside the darkness pursuing her and her people. Gone were the laughter and merriment that thrived in the days of her childhood. At nineteen, she was an adult, no longer the child who once danced around the Great Pit singing the evensongs with her friends. With Haegan.
Kaelyria lowered her gaze. Hand on her stomach, she drew in a breath as synergy, hot and thrumming, surged against her palm. Answering. Churning. The very essence of who she'd been since Haegan's incident now infused her with the abiatasso that guided her, enabled her to someday rule. But more importantly it existed to protect the people of Zaethien.
Even the midnight sky seemed to shrink, yielding darkness to the territories beneath its heavy cloak. Or maybe they were shrinking because of her intended course — if her connection with the land was as whole as she'd been taught, could it feel her turmoil? The irrevocable path she'd chosen?
Grief anew threatened to strangle her. She closed her eyes. If she did not do this, the fires could go out. The land could die. But if she did, she could die.
The soft voice pulled Kaelyria from her somber thoughts. She straightened, smoothed a hand down her silk-embroidered gown as much to brush away the weighty thoughts as to compose herself, and turned from the window. Across the black lacquered floor, torchlight scampered up the gilded walls and tapestries, casting an odd glow against her handmaiden's young face.
Pulling the silk wrap tightly around her shoulders, Kaelyria lifted her chin. "Is he here?"
Kiesa gave a reluctant nod, no doubt held captive by the fear that shone in her eyes. This was the end, even her maiden knew. "My lady-grace, are you sure you —"
"Bring him." Kaelyria dared not trust herself to hear anyone's concerns or complaints, especially the one who knew her heart better than most. The one who attended her minute by minute. The one who dressed her, laughed with her, and shared confidences.
Kiesa tucked her head and stepped back. Once she'd cleared the threshold, she gave a quick bow and vanished.
One last chance to change your mind. Would Haegan ever forgive her for this? Would Father? And Graem ... The thought cinched a tight cord around her stomach.
A large shape filled the doorway. Cilicien ka'Dur entered, followed by Kiesa. Hair smoothed back, facial hair trim and neat encircling his mouth, he brought with him a chill that defied the roaring fire in the hearth. Adorned in his Ignatieri overcloak and black breeches, he made an impressive figure as he bent before her. When he bowed, the firelight caught the gold threads and streamed down them, striking the rubies, orange sapphires, and — the most prized — citrines stitched into his mantle. Fiery prisms exploded from the gems and leapt around the room.
"Princess, it is an honor." His voice seemed oiled, slick. Though his gaze did not go to the fireworks cast by his bejeweled cloak, ka'Dur could not keep the pride from his eyes, from puffing his chest.
Kaelyria curled her hands into fists, her attention flicking to where Kiesa stood in the shadows, sensing the support of her handmaiden against this accelerant. His appearance had caught her off guard at their first meeting — he was not what she'd expected an accelerant to look like, especially not one of his caliber. Old, gnarled, she'd expected. This ... Even as it pleased her eye, something about his beauty sparked unease in her heart.
With an amused look, ka'Dur strolled her private quarters, considering the paintings, the sofas, the gold tables, and brocade tapestries. "Quite a change from our last place of meeting."
Kaelyria ignored him, steeling herself. "Are you prepared to do this?"
"Are you, my lady-grace?"
Kaelyria walked quickly to the armoire and retrieved the pouch from the lead box. She rubbed her fingers over the velvet. Gems poked through the fabric and rolled against her palm. Half her inheritance, and the gems the least of the price she would pay.
Any price is worth protecting Abiassa's Fire.
And Haegan. He'd have a life of splendor and adventure, just as he'd always wanted. Deserved. Not a life of stone walls, drafty rooms, with a crippled body and a crotchety old guardian. For him, if not for the entire kingdom.
She spun around. Arm extended, she held out the pouch. "Your price, accelerant."
Eyebrow arched, he stalked toward her. Slow. Methodical. With a flourish, she released the bag.
Cilicien lunged and snatched the treasure from the air. Quick, for a man weighted by gems and pride. He could not be trusted beyond what they had agreed.
Watching her, Cilicien tugged the gold drawstring and dumped the blood price into his hand. He ran a finger along the jewels, their perfection capturing the torchlight and tossing colors along the papered walls. "You are sure, princess, that you want to do this? You've heard —"
"I am neither deaf nor stupid." Her voice trembled, but whether fear or conviction mastered her, she could not be sure. "I heard the conditions. Had I not agreed or understood, you would not be here. Time is short. Come." She pivoted on her slippered feet, her crimson gown fluttering as it stirred the air. In the hall, she hesitated at the portrait of two children, her eyes on the boy with wavy blond hair and a smile that rivaled the sun. Her heart ached. Was she doing the right thing?
Kaelyria blinked. She continued down the passage and, lifting her skirts up, she mounted the stairs. At the top, she made her way to a small door. "Quickly. Let me do the talking." She speared Cilicien with a warning look, not moving until he acknowledged her command.
She allowed Cilicien and Kiesa to enter the musty, narrow stairwell huddled in the north corner of the castle. Behind them, she locked the door again, then slid past them both, meeting her servant's eyes. "Kiesa, remain here and watch the door."
Lifting her hem, she climbed the spiraling steps to the Upper Tower.
"You are aware, are you not, princess, that Poired Dyrth is advancing —"
Kaelyria spun and thrust a palm toward the man. Heat blossomed out like a blanket and pinned him to the wall. "Speak not that name again, accelerant, or it will be your last breath."
Cilicien smirked. With a flick of two fingers, he brushed aside her wielding, and Kaelyria flinched as the embers recoiled. "You would wield against the one who has agreed to help you in this scheme?"
Kaelyria swallowed, unprepared for the ease with which he countered her strength. Surprise tangled her mind, but she drew herself up. "You would do well to remember whom you address, accelerant. That name offends House Celahar; it was the son of the Cold One who stole my brother's life."
"I meant no disrespect, princess. We are wasting time. The enemy sits on your doorstep."
Yes, she knew Dyrth was near. She could feel the icy tendrils of his wickedness blowing bitterly against the fires within her breast.
At last they rounded the final corner to Haegan's lonely chambers.
A venerable accelerant stood in the fore-chamber, flame-etched sword in hand. Scraggly beard and hair framed eyes that missed nothing. Though it would seem the brown robe hid a frail body, Kaelyria knew better. Once she had made the mistake of scoffing at the aged man. He'd flattened her and her pride in one fell swoop that left her trembling.
Kaelyria inclined her head, slipped a foot behind herself in a slight curtsey. "Sir Gwogh, forgive this intrusion."
He sheathed his weapon. His eyes brightened. "My lady-grace." Wariness crowded his welcoming expression as his gaze shifted behind her.
"Master," Gwogh said, bending curtly at the waist. "I was not aware House Celahar was given to entertaining someone of your ... notoriety."
Smooth, sharp words. Kaelyria almost smiled at the thinly veiled accusation. Still, she did not need dissension, even between two masters of the Flames. "He is here at my behest, Sir Gwogh."
Confusion ruffled the elder's thick gray beard. He shifted his drab robe. "Forgive me, my lady-grace. I do not understand why you would come, and with ... him. Not at an hour as late —" His bushy eyebrows sprang up. He gasped as understanding seemed to overtake him.
She should have known this could not be hidden, not from one so attuned. Kaelyria forged ahead.
"No, princess! Please do not do this." He rushed her, clutched her arm, propriety abandoned in his panic.
The thick door to Haegan's bedchamber stood ajar. Kaelyria's eyes traveled the twenty paces to her brother's bed. To the frail form cradled by moonlight. Though she visited him daily, the ache never lessened. "He is resting well tonight?" she asked softly.
"For once, yes, he sleeps in peace." Gwogh touched her again. "Please, princess. It was a story, an old legend. This should — cannot — be done."
Awareness of the finality of her actions flared through Kaelyria, pinning her, eyes locked onto her brother. "Legends are born of truth, did you not tell me that once?" Perhaps Haegan would take this gift and become a legend himself. He had it within. At least, he did once ...
"When you were but five, my lady! Wh-when you were champing for adventure and excitement."
She remembered her days of innocence with a sad smile. "Now ..." A light halo wreathed her brother's golden shoulder- length hair. She removed the old accelerant's hand from her arm.
"Now, Haegan must have his own adventure."
"No!" Gwogh cried as she moved past him. "I beg you. Please —"
"Stop simpering, you old fool," Cilicien ka'Dur snapped. "Behave as befits your station."
Surprise darted through Kaelyria, and she saw it on Sir Gwogh's visage, but the reprimand almost seemed deserved. At least, that's what her guilt said.
"Cilicien!" Gwogh hissed. "I will not allow this. He is my charge, and I —"
Light and heat collided in a massive fireball between the two accelerants.
The aged flexed and rolled his fingers as he defended the door to Haegan's chamber. "You know the price!"
Drawing a hand back in a swift retreat, Cilicien drew in a deep breath, his nostrils flaring. He flicked his thumb then thrust his hand like a blade at the aged accelerant.
The blast of heat struck Gwogh's counter wield like a hammer, knocking him backward.
Kaelyria lifted her own hands, stunned. "What are you?"
But the slick accelerant slid his left palm toward her.
Stunned, bound by a band of Cilicien's power, Kaelyria felt a surge of anger. Righteous indignation and fear lent her strength, but not enough. She stood helpless.
Balance compromised by his attack on Kaelyria, Cilicien slid backward along the stone floor, his boots making a ragged scrape as they gave up traction. Closer to the stairs. Closer ...
With a primal growl, he drew both palms back to himself in a momentary withdrawal of his wielding. Before Gwogh could fill the sudden vacuum, Cilicien shoved himself forward with a shout, ducking under Gwogh's line of attack and sending a blue-black wave of heat slamming into the older man.
Gwogh smacked against the wall. His head bounced off the stone. He collapsed in a heap of linen and robe.
The band encompassing Kaelyria vanished. She stumbled but caught herself, hand going to her mouth. "What have you done? How could you —"
"He would have stopped us." Cilicien smoothed back his hair and wiped the small trail of blood at his lip.
"I could have explained," she said, kneeling beside the man who'd tormented her brother with endless Histories and Legacies, who'd comforted him with faithful service for years. She brushed the white strands of hair from his face and fingered the singe mark on his temple.
"He'll live. But we will not if he regains consciousness before the transference is done."
Was she making a mistake? It might not be right in terms of legal wielding, but was she wrong to do this?
"Princess." Cilicien's tone was curt, dark. "Would you have Dyrth steal your gift?"
The words pulled her to her feet. She gazed at Gwogh once more, then eased into the room, crossing from wood floor to thick carpet that softened her steps as she reached Haegan's bed. She lifted her gown and hitched her leg, easing onto the edge of the thick feather mattress.
Haegan's dark blond hair lay against the pillow, silky and the color of autumn fields in the Northlands. Kept trim and neat by Sir Gwogh, Haegan looked ready to attend court. A strong jaw mirrored their father's, but he also had a beauty that not many had the benefit of seeing, since he did not venture outside these walls. Maybe he would capture the heart of a lady, find love, once outside Seultrie. Once free of Seultrie.
Did he look paler than usual? She touched his cheek. All Celahar heirs held the fire within that burned hotter, even those, like Haegan, who did not wield the Flames. Were he ill, his flesh would cool. Not warm as most outside these fortified walls.
No, he was warm. Had he been allowed to grow into the man he should have been, Haegan would've ruled the kingdom with presence alone. Father had loved him so much. Doted on him. Afforded him every pleasure. Until that day Poired Dyrth's foul creatures poisoned Haegan and left him without the use of his limbs.
She drew a finger along his forehead, tucking aside a curl. Her brother, separated by a mere ten months. They'd nearly shared the same womb. Had shared the same toys. The same jokes, same everything. Until that day. She traced across his jaw again, so wishing he could run and laugh. And he would. Tonight. In a few months — before he reached the Falls — he would turn eighteen. He should be whole when he entered manhood.
The cost ... Oh the cost!
"Do you know," he said softly, eyes still closed, "how rare it is to be touched?" Blue eyes opened and fastened on her. "I would know yours anywhere, sister."
Leaning over him, she smiled. "Silly fool. You would know not mine from any other lady's."
"Not true," he said, the words familiar, repeated at nearly every greeting. "Yours holds fire."
It was their joke. Because of the abiatasso, heat within her burned purer and more direct. And it often found escape in tiny aspects like her touch. Especially, for some reason, with Haegan. He could tell hers apart. Always had been able to discern. A lopsided grin worked its way across his face. Then he frowned as his gaze drifted past her. To the skylight. Then back to her. "What ... why are you here? It's past midnight."
The back of her throat grew raw. She drew up her courage and leaned closer. "I have a gift for you."
He chuckled. "Could it not wait till morning? I've been slaying dragons and saving beautiful damsels all day. I need my rest."
She smiled. "A thousand apologies, brother, but some gifts are impatient."
His gaze flicked to her right and hardened. "Who are you? Where is Gwogh?"
Kaelyria touched his lips. "Shh. This is a ... friend. His name is Cilicien ka'Dur. I ... I need him here."
Uncertainty twitched in Haegan's eyes. "Why? Why do we need another accelerant?" Clarity shone in those blue orbs so like their father's. "Kae, something is not right."
Smoothing the curls along his face, she spoke what she had practiced a hundred times in anticipation of his discernment. "You trust me, don't you, brother? Haven't I taken care of you all these years, visited you, loved you?"
"Of course." His gaze bounced again to the accelerant. "Where is Gwogh? Bring him." Such authority.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Embers"
Copyright © 2015 Veronica Kendig.
Excerpted by permission of Third Day Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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