Time seemed to slow—if not freeze—as he walked through the city of Avia’Torena.
With each step forward, the air grew tighter, and those unfortunate enough to be in his presence were left immobile, dumbstruck in the middle of their daily tasks. A hummingbird froze mid-air beside them, drawn to the glowing aura that encircled the mystical being in their midst. The dust settled, and the world returned to normal once he passed by. But, what lay ahead would quake beneath his steady stride.
Golden and brass armor covered the chest, and shoulders of a god taller than any man or creature on the entire face of Ellowen. As the warrior Ancient, he never let his mighty spike free from his grasp.
Wexcyn, the Ancient god of the Mithrani, the forgotten one, had returned.
“What will we do, Master?” Sister Evaline asked as she followed him from the palace and to the temple in the center of the city. There awaited the emperor, sick with the curse she and Wexcyn had lifted, and delirious with visions and night terrors.
“You will cure him,” he said in a voice that made her shudder with each syllable. “The Flame has weakened him. Make him strong again.”
Evaline nodded and swallowed as Wexcyn cast his bright, silver-eyed gaze on her. For a moment, she was too afraid to move, even though she was one of the most powerful sorceress in Ellowen.
She was queen. If she believed in fate and what the prophecies stated…she might very well rise as a god of her race as well.
Still, she was nothing in comparison to the god before her.
She met his gaze and hid the fear from her face.
The resemblance between Emperor Kavien and his father was uncanny. Wexcyn was just as muscle-bound, yet a great deal taller, with skin that shimmered like freshly polished brass. He looked to be a few years older, old enough to pass for Kavien’s brother rather than his father, but there was an air about him that was unmistakably authoritative.
His head was clean-shaven, with tattoos of his crest and symbols of the Ancient’s language carved into the flesh and running down the back of his neck to the small of his naked back.
“I will try my best,” Evaline said, nodding as they continued to the black gates of the temple.
She lifted a hand and the doors opened. It was early dawn, and the other sisters would just be awakening to execute their daily duties. The one level temple was deceiving at first glance. There were several levels underground, housing the hundreds of young and old sorceresses alike. There was also a floor dedicated to the girls taken from their homes. Their future predecessors—girls that would become magic users themselves if proven worthy. It was the sole duty of her race.
To thrive and multiply.
Once Wexcyn stepped inside the gates, he paused and looked right to the door where Kavien was being kept in a small altar room.
“Go now,” he said. “Awaken him. We have work to do.”
The screeching sound in Kavien’s head was maddening.
When would it end?
However, he realized that it was not coming from inside his head, but from the world outside.
Kavien’s eyes opened.
Numb and disoriented, all he saw was darkness and flickers of movement. He gasped for air that tasted stale on his dry tongue. He was still free from the prison of his mind. Relief washed over him.
The walls were too close. His eyes darted from side to side in the darkness as he realized he was naked and strapped to a cold stone surface.
Move. He tested his ability to do so by willing his arm to lift from the cool surface beneath him. Heavy and weak, it refused to comply.
He gritted his teeth and tried again. This time, he summoned the power burning within. His skin tingled and his heart raced as he lifted his arm, pushed open the top of the sarcophagus.
More darkness awaited once he shot up and looked around the small stone room. A sliver of light came from the far corner.
Someone was there with him. Not one person on the entire world of Ellowen was his match, and so, he was unafraid. Just curious.
“Who is there?”
“Emperor,” a soft female voice said. “You’re awake. How do you feel?”
He felt as though his insides had been ripped out, burned, and stuffed back inside his body. The first words wouldn’t come out. Kavien cleared his throat. “Where—where am I? What has happened?”
The light came from the woman’s hand. She lifted it toward his face and with it, he could see hers. She was beautiful. Blue eyes. Hair the shade of sweet honey. Pale skin.
He looked away from her at the realization that she resembled Lilae.
“Who are you?”
Her brows narrowed as she crossed the room toward him. Dressed in all black robes and a long gown, he knew what she was. The way she floated across the floor instead of walking was yet another clue.
She was a Bellen, a sorceress of great power.
“Too many questions, Emperor. You need your rest,” she said. “Come, let me help you back to the palace where you’ll be more comfortable.”
“Why am I here?”
A brow rose. “Another question.”
“I have many. And, you will answer them.”
She paused and looked him over before nodding in ascent.
“I am Evaline, Grand Mage of the North. Your father summoned me to tend to you. To rid you of the taint The Flame affixed to you.”
Kavien swallowed. That’s right. His memory had been spotty since he was awakened from his curse. The fact that a forgotten god had returned, and was free to walk the world of Ellowen was horrifying. Even for Kavien.
“What taint do you speak of?”
All he knew was that he loved Lilae despite her betrayal. There was no cure for such a thing. The moment she entered his thoughts, his mood darkened.
He was willing to set her free and disappear with her. He was going to give up everything.
“Well,” Evaline said, licking her lips. She reached a hand out to touch Kavien’s forehead. He grabbed her by the wrist and held tight.
Instead of trying to wrench free, her eyes rose to his. The look in her eyes was unsettling.
She was not afraid of him.
“Wexcyn is disturbed by the power she exerted over you and the spirits you harbor.”
Is that what Wexcyn called them?
For as long as Kavien could remember, they were The Horrors to him. Even Dragnor, who had trained him from childhood called them such.
She went on. “I am here to bestow more spirits upon you so that you may be strong during the realm wars.” An eerie smile came to her lips, one that crinkled the corners of her eyes. “It will make you more powerful than any mortal. God-like. Like your father.”
Kavien stood from the altar and onto the cold floor. He was naked, and unabashed in the presence of the Bellen. For all he knew, she could be seventy years old. Or hundreds. What did he care if she saw his body?
He walked to the stone door and pushed it open. Light flooded the room.
It was daytime, and they were on the Bellen’s temple grounds, just in the center of Avia’Torena. The sun was hot and high in the blue sky, casting its glow over the dark green manicured grass and sand plowed and carved with intricate symbols.
The moment he stepped outside and onto the red dirt, several Bellens caught sight of him. He squared his shoulders and strode across the pathways as the women covered their mouths and giggled, or averted their eyes with embarrassment.
Evaline ran out behind him. “Where are you going? We are not done here.”
Kavien shot a glare at her over his shoulder. “We are. You don’t have to worry about the spirits. I’ve accepted my fate.”
She held onto the frame of the door. “And, what is that, Emperor?”
As the sun warmed his chilled skin, Kavien tightened his jaw. “That I have to kill her.”
Evaline’s eyes opened, and Kavien looked away. Just saying those words left a bitter taste in his mouth.
He stalked away and muttered under his breath.
“How is that for a cure?”