My footsteps fell quietly on the stairs and my hand trailed along the rough stone wall. I came up to a small balcony overlooking the forest and paused to look out. There was no sign of the beast. I had lost him in the forest, much to his anger. But as guardian of this tower, he would be here any second. Garzein was tasked with guarding the Tower of Fange, where legend whispered of a Lost King enchanted in a deep sleep. The creature was created solely for the purpose of keeping the King safe and valiant heroes away. But he wouldn’t be a problem for me.
I turned from the forest and began making my way up the stairs again, and almost tripped in my sudden stop. I yelped and reached a hand out, steadying myself against the curved stones. Garzein crouched on the stairs directly above of me, spiked tail swishing in the air, eyes glowing red and angry in the darkness. With a body made of earth and stone, he could hide in the walls of the Tower itself. His teeth were long and jagged, his wing span the length of three men laying head to toe. A beast meant for destruction and fear.
I clutched my tungsten dagger, not moving a muscle. This was a prized creature of the North, and killing him would be seen as an act of war. The Advisor had already sent his Jegere after me, a small force of elite spies and soldiers. He wanted to keep his prized slave’s escape a secret. But the death of his great stone beast would be the last straw, and bring on a swarm of soldiers and bounty hunters. But if it’s what needed to be done, I would do it. No price would ever be great enough to stop me.
“You are a brave little thing.” the creature hissed. His voice sent shivers down my spine, the sound otherworldly and rough, like rocks scraping together. “But you are foolish. And that will be your downfall.” He stood up on his hind legs and took a step closer, tucking his stone colored wings neatly against his back.
Taking a careful step back, I held my dagger out in front of me. It reflected red in the blinding light of his eyes. They looked like boiling pits of lava, and their attention felt like an omen of death. I steeled myself against my fear and narrowed my eyes. “You have mistaken me for one of your usual victims, Beast. I am Aundra of Kysten Hall, the daughter of Forrade. I am no ordinary human.”
Garzein hissed as the dagger began to glow with power. Magick seared through my veins, gathering in my palm and crackling through the blade. A deep growl rumbled through my chest as Garzein bared his teeth.
“Interesting, the Advisor will be interested to know that his little slave is an Enchantress.” I shuddered as he leaned forward, his breath rank and smelling of rotted flesh. His eyes glimmered with a new interest. “Perhaps he will reward me for returning his little runaway. He might consider it payment, and my sentence to this Hell will be over.”
A sick feeling began rising in my chest and I pushed it down forcefully. No time for fear. I clenched my jaw and forced myself to hold the beast’s gaze.
“I am no one’s slave.” I spat. Magick shot from my blade, hitting Garzein directly in the chest. A rush of energy leached from my body, and was immediately replaced by another surge of magick, taken from my soul’s reserves.
Garzein screeched and launched himself over me, teeth bared in an ugly sneer. Suddenly I was airborne, stonelike claws gripping my forearms in a vice. My scream was ripped away by the wind, the forest spinning below me. He took me up and up, and I closed my eyes, putting all of my focus into keeping my grip on the dagger.
Suddenly I lurched sideways, and then I was free falling, flying towards the trees. Garzein had tossed me like a rag doll, and soon I would be nothing but a splattered corpse. Branches whipped across my face, slicing into my skin. As the ground got close, I had just enough time to shout out one word.
“Vokte!” Magick surged forward, running over the surface of my skin just as I hit the ground. Enough protection to keep me from completely breaking, but the force of my landing still knocked the air out of my lungs. I would have plenty of bruises after this fight, if I survived.
I dragged myself into a kneeling position, gripping my dagger in a white knuckled fist.
Garzein stood before me, eyes blazing with rage. The tower stood behind him, cutting into the sky sharply. I could make out the shape of a stone cage at the top. My Beloved King was just out of my reach.
“Not feeling so cocky anymore, are you, slave?” Garzein growled.
I rose to my feet on shaky legs. Doing my best to ignore the tilt of the earth, caused by my tumble to ground. I squared my shoulders and stared Garzein in the eye. “I am Aundra, daughter of the ocean, lover of the Lost King,” my voice trembled as rage coursed through me, “and you will not keep me from him!”
I raised my dagger in the air. But before I could utter a spell, I was ripped from the Earth, spinning into the sky once again. Indignation coursed through me as Garzein’s claws dug into my forearms. He was using me as a play thing. I writhed in his grip, trying to break free. All while looking around wildly to get my bearings.
Suddenly, the tower loomed beneath me. I saw my chance, and slashed the dagger across the claws gripping my forearm. My chant was ripped from my mouth by the wind, but magick still poured from my soul. The dagger cut into Garzein’s skin, and he screamed, releasing me into the air.
I landed hard at the top of the tower, right next to the stone cage. Despite the pain shattering through my side, I felt a small sense of victory. I had reached him at last.
For in that stone cage was a man, asleep on an altar. He lay on his back, a Rune carved sword clutched in his fists. Beneath his dark beard, his skin had turned ashen and wrinkled from all the years of endless sleep. On his brow lay a circlet of gold, a blood red ruby inlaid in the center. The Lost King, the rescuer of our people, had been hidden here for years. In his absence, the Advisor had taken control of the kingdom, draining the royal coffers and enslaving the Kysten people.
I drew on my power, a surge of determination and rage coursing through me at the disrespect to my King. Garzein flew over me, eyes blazing. When I raised my dagger towards him he shot straight for me. But this time I was ready. I dropped to the ground, rolling to the side as his claws reached for me. He swooped past me with an enraged scream.
Before he could correct himself I screamed out the strongest spell I knew, a word of power taught to me years ago. A word I was warned against ever using unless I was desperate and beyond help, as it was known to kill lesser Enchantresses.
“Helvete!” Magick ripped from my body, sending me sprawling backwards. Power surged from my soul and through my veins, rushing to my hands. Light shot from my dagger, slamming straight into Garzein. His scream was blood curdling, and he crashed to the ground beside me, writhing under the magick’s grip. I watched with rising horror as cracks appeared across his skin. His molten eyes met mine, and then he shattered.
Grey stone sprayed everywhere, and I covered my head as it pelted against me.
I lowered my arms slowly. Garzein was gone. A giant stone key lay in his place, carved with Runes. I stood up and staggered to it, sheathing my dagger. There was no time to waste, the Advisor would have felt his stone beast’s soul exit the realm. His Jegere would be here within the hour.
I grabbed the key, gripping its weight in two hands, and carried it to the stone cage. It took all of my remaining strength to put it in the keyhole and drag the door open. The King lay on his altar, undisturbed by the fight that had just taken place a few yards away from him. Undisturbed by the absolute mess of violence and greed his Kingdom had become.
His hands were cold in mine, and I gripped his fingers in my palms. It had been so many years since I had seen his face, felt the roughness of his hands against my skin. My throat tightened staring down at him, but I didn’t have time to linger.
“Duhrak of the Cold Mountains, I release you from your sleep.” I leaned forward, planting a soft kiss on his lips. I pulled away, staring at his face expectantly. His expression was slack, still lost deep in the Realm of Dreams.
I needed magick for this, but the battle had drained me. But just a drop would do the trick. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, focusing inward, searching along the walls of my soul. For a moment, I couldn’t find anything, and panic shot through me. But then there it was, the last remnants of my magick, hiding in the darkest corner. I pulled at it gently, drawing it out. Warmth trickled into my veins as my power obeyed, and I leaned forward, pressing another kiss against Duhrak’s lips.
Magick seeped through my fingers, absorbing into Duhrak’s body. I opened my eyes slowly, afraid that it wouldn’t be enough. But then vibrant blue eyes met mine, and my heart soared. Those eyes that had held mine, comforting me in the night, sending secret love across a room full of people. So, so familiar. I thought they were gone forever. Stolen away from me and locked away from the world.
Now we had hope. Now my people would survive.