Autumn Whispers (Page 19)

At one time, the worlds had been united. There had been no Otherworld, merely Earthside with all the realms merging together. But as the demonic force rose from the Subterranean Realms, the great Fae Lords made a decision to divide the worlds and seal off the Sub-Realms. They created the spirit seal, an incredibly powerful artifact. And with their combined magic, the worlds began to fracture and split. A massive civil war broke out between the Fae who did not want this and those who did.

Known as the Great Divide, the fighting and the magic burrowed through the land like a juggernaut, severing realm from realm as it ripped through space and time to calve off Otherworld and the Sub-Realms. The upheaval created floods and set off volcanoes, and basically tore the psychic structure of the Earth apart. On the physical level, Earthside didn’t look much different, except for the damage caused by the quakes, flooding, and volcanoes, but its very essence had shifted, and the world would never be the same.

Some of the Fae and elves chose to stay Earthside, while a majority moved to Y’Eírialastar, our name for Otherworld. Once the move had taken place, a vast array of city-states began to rise out of the wild lands.

From the icy Northlands to the sands of the Southern Wastes, from the rolling waves of the southwestern Mirami Ocean to the northwestern shores of the chill Wyvern Ocean, Y’Eírialiastar formed a macrocosm. And within that macrocosm, microcosms arose, containing every environment from desert to swampland to waving plains of grass to boreal forests.

Once the worlds had fully separated, the great lords broke the seal into nine pieces and entrusted each one to an Elemental Lord. Nine gems that—as long as they were kept hidden and isolated—would prevent the worlds from merging. It was an unnatural division, bridged only by the portals, and those were kept heavily guarded and closed. But through the millennia, the seals were lost and forgotten. They stayed hidden and safe, until the Otherworld Intelligence Agency decided to open up some of the portals on a limited basis.

Shortly after that, the spirit seals started working their way to the surface, seeking to reunite. Like twin souls hunting each other down through the world, they did their best to reunite.

So far, we’ve located eight of them, but have only managed to keep six of those out of Shadow Wing’s grasp. Every spirit seal he possesses means bad news for everybody. The problem is, if all of the spirit seals are reunited, every portal will rip open, and travel between the realms will be easy access. But even just possessing two of them means that Shadow Wing and his demons have an edge we’d rather he didn’t. Every advantage they manage to attain ups the ante that the demons will be able to break through en masse. And that would be a very bad thing.

Queen Asteria’s palace held an austere beauty. Its alabaster façade gleamed under the crescent moon, rising into a dome from which spiraling minarets overlooked the court. The intricate stonework of the walls was built to stand the tests of time; the stones mined from a quarry high in the Tygerian Mountains. There, the Tygerian monks walked barefoot over hot coals, and every rock, bough, and body of water contained a deep, resounding magic.

The elves were closer to the woodland Fae of Earthside than to our father’s people. Slow to anger, but dangerous and fierce when roused, they blended in with their lands in a unification that was almost frightening in nature.

The gardens buttressing the palace surrounded the Court: rose gardens and topiaries and wild meadows where the grass grew knee-length. Now, during late autumn, the bushes were devoid of foliage. Every gust that blew past seemed to susurrate through the barren tress, rustling the skeletal branches. The scent of a storm loomed on the horizon. Even I could smell it.

“A storm’s on the way in,” Camille said, as if reading my thoughts. She looked uneasy and her voice began to tremble. “A bad one. Lightning and thunder . . .” Her Moon magic connected her to the weather in some ways, and she could sense storms and call on the lightning.

My stomach lurched. Panther rose up, her nostrils flaring, and I suddenly wanted to flee. I forced myself to remain in control. “Something’s wrong. Can you feel it? Panther is prodding me to shift.”

Camille leaned against one of the nearby trees, lowering herself into trance. A moment later she gasped and her eyes flew open. “This storm, it’s alive and it’s huge. I sense . . . a presence . . . a fury that rages forward.”

Trenyth paled. “The seers have been predicting an event that will shake Elqaneve to the core, but they’ve been unable to pierce the veil of what shadow looms over the city. If this is that threat, then why haven’t they sensed what you are picking up?”

Camille shook her head, pressing her knuckles to her mouth. Fear welled in her throat. “I don’t know—maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m picking up on something else and projecting it.”

I broke in. “No. Panther is pacing. I’m doing my best to hold on, but it’s not easy. Trenyth, listen to Camille. I don’t know exactly what she’s feeling but I know that she’s right—something is coming and it’s coming fast.”

Trenyth leaned toward the driver. “Faster.”

The driver picked up the pace as Camille closed her eyes again and held out her hands. They were shaking. “I’m crackling. I can feel the lightning on the horizon.” She frowned. “Trenyth, could it be something other than a storm? Something . . . I don’t know. Magic?”

He narrowed his eyes. “The moment we reach the palace, I’ll take you to the seers. Queen Asteria will understand the delay.” He fell silent, and the look on his face suggested to me he was hiding something.

After a moment, I tapped him on the knee. “Spill it. You look like you want to say something. Better to have it out in the open.”

Trenyth let out a long breath. “It could be magic, yes. I don’t like to speak of it in the open, but the reason we wanted to bring you in tonight is to discuss some unsettling events in the war. We have suspicions that Telazhar has scouts near Kelvashan, but all of our attempts to infiltrate have vanished. Add to that, we haven’t heard from Darynal and his group for several weeks now. I fear that they were discovered.” He glanced over at Trillian, who stared at him darkly.

Darynal was Trillian’s blood-oath brother, and the two had a bond that went beyond family. They would lay their lives down for one another, and for those they loved. Darynal would protect Camille to his dying breath, if need be. Currently, he was in charge of a reconnaissance mission to the Southern Wastes, to find out what was going on with Telazhar.

Camille fumbled for Trillian’s hand. “When was the last time you sent out feelers for them?”

Trenyth shrugged. “The seers have been trying to contact them daily. All efforts have come up against a veil.” And that is all he would say as the carriage pulled up in front of the palace.

Trenyth lightly jumped to the ground and held up his arms, guiding Sharah down as Chase watched her from behind. When we were all standing on the marble walkway, he turned to face the sky.

“In truth, I have the horrible sense that something is, indeed, looming. And whatever it is brings death and destruction in its wake. I just pray we can stop it, before it manifests fully. Come, let us visit the seers.” And with that, he gave one of the valets instructions to report to the Queen.

As we followed him up the steps, I heard Greta, from a long distance, whispering in my ear. “Prepare for duty,” she whispered. “This is one call you will not want to answer. But you have no choice. Know that, Delilah. Because if you do not obey us, far worse damage will happen than the death you bring with your kiss. When you are summoned, answer the call and do not fail.”

Startled, I let out a little cry and Shade turned to me. “Are you all right, babe?”

I shivered. “No, I’m not. And I can’t possibly tell you why.” How could I explain what Greta had just said to me? Though if anyone understood, it would be Shade.

He gazed down at me for a moment, then slowly leaned in and kissed my lips. “Whatever the path, I am here, my love. Whatever the path, whatever the fate. I am here.” And then, as the sky seemed to darken and a faint swirl of clouds rolled in, we entered the palace of the Elfin Queen.

Chapter 10

Trenyth led us past the turnoff to the throne room, down the wide, spacious corridor. The floor was a polished tile that shifted color every time I looked at a different section. Columns lined the hall, rising to the ceiling that towered over us, and eye catchers dotted the walls, caught inside of lanterns like soft glowing candles. The palace was beautiful, but at this point, we were focused on following Trenyth rather than on the décor. Chase and Sharah kept pace with us, and I had a feeling that Sharah was grateful for the delay.

We traveled through a set of double doors, then turned off the main hall into a smaller corridor, which led to a spiral ramp inclining down. The passage was about six feet wide, with a railing on one side. Even though the ramp was at a gradual slope, Sharah held to the railing as she cautiously followed Trenyth and Chase. Camille and I came next, Menolly and the guys in back. Another ten minutes of silent walking and we were at the bottom.

“We must be pretty damned far underground.” Menolly broke the silence.

Trenyth glanced over his shoulder. “Yes, we are several stories below the ground. We keep the seers and the mages here, protected in case of war.” His voice dipped on the last word, and he paused. “The last great wars Elqaneve was embroiled in were the Scorching Wars, and those were not on our territory. But we fought, sent legions to the Southern Wastes, when they were still oak and bracken, fern and soft grass.”

My sisters and I had grown up hearing about the Scorching Wars, but Trenyth had actually lived through them. The realization of just how old he was began to sink in.

“Were you . . . did you have to fight?” I wasn’t sure it was an appropriate question but I felt impelled to ask.

He turned to me. “I did, though I was quite young. So much blood flowed that it stained the sands red. I lost my brothers in that war—all of them. I watched as the sorcerers turned the vast plains that covered the area into dust and sand. The fires burned for years, scorching the land. Their magic was so powerful that it infused the air and is still caught in the rolling dunes. Things happen down there—and it is said that a great city lies beneath the dunes that vanished during the war, waiting to return.”

The way he spoke made it sound as if the wars were yesterday, and I had the suspicion that—for Trenyth—they might as well have been. Just one more fact about our elfin friend that we had not known.

“And Telazhar led them, even then. Why? He’s a necromancer. Why work with the sorcerers?” Camille’s voice was soft. She was trying to keep from breaking the mood. She’d used the technique often enough that I could recognize it by now.

Trenyth gave her a gentle smile. “Don’t play your glamour on me, young witch. I am too old and too experienced to be taken in by your beauty, as lovely as the gesture is.” He sucked in a deep breath, then let it out sharply.

He continued. “Even then, Telazhar recognized the power in uniting forces. He crossed guilds. He was a master of bringing together disparate people and there was a point where the power shifted and he grabbed control, with sorcerers and mages following him slavishly. He enlisted the Brotherhood of the Sun, and played on their fear and distaste for the Moon Mother.”

“Uniting through mutual hatred,” Trillian murmured. “Always a powerful trick, if a distasteful one.”

Trenyth nodded. “And he is repeating history. He has called on the sorcerers still angry at certain rules set up by Elqaneve and Y’Elestrial. Telazhar knows how to prey on the weaknesses of others. He uses truth, twists and perverts it, and spoon feeds it to his followers. And now . . . he works for Shadow Wing, and he’s had a thousand upon a thousand years to hone his skills. He is danger incarnate, and he knows this.”

We were all silent as the air seemed to thicken around us. Trenyth turned and once again, led us forward.

Another ten minutes and we entered what seemed the antithesis of the rest of the palace. Here, a soft dim light glowed through the chamber, and it was hard to see exactly how the setup was laid out. Silhouettes of tables and chairs were visible in the gloom, along with bookshelves lining the walls. This must be a study hall or something of the like, but right now it was deserted.

“Where is everybody?” Chase asked.

“Probably at the dinner hall. The mages employed by the Court work in two shifts and usually the night shift will not begin until midnight. The day shift comes on at the strike of noontide.” Trenyth led us through another set of doors on the opposite side of the room and into another long, narrow corridor.

Here, doors lined the sides and I guessed we were in the living quarters area, but when we passed one room with an open door, the inside looked like Camille’s study, and I realized these were private workrooms.

As we headed toward the end of the corridor, a young elf—well, he looked young, but truth was he could have been hundreds of years old—came racing down the hall. He skidded to a stop when he saw Trenyth and dropped to his one knee.

“Lord Trenyth, please, come quickly. There’s something wrong with Elthea.” The elf was doing his best to keep from panicking, the war of emotions evident in his face.

Trenyth motioned him up. On the run, they started down the hall toward the end doors. We followed, while Chase and Sharah walked behind. I glanced back to see Trillian return to their side. Relieved they weren’t left alone, I sped up and followed on the heels of Camille and Menolly. Shade had already vanished through the door.

We slammed through behind him, finding ourselves in yet another communal living room. But this was cozier, less austere, with leather sofas and rocking chairs and a cheery fire blazing away. In the center of the room, near a small seating arrangement, three elves were kneeling on the floor by the side of a woman. She looked middle-aged, which meant she had to be incredibly old, and she was seizing. Spittle frothed out of her mouth as her body convulsed, wracked in spasms. One of the elves was trying to turn her on her side, while another was murmuring some sort of spell, low and ominous.