A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond…
The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.
Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she's known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she's always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla's indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.
~ CHAPTER 1 ~
Summer storms were common in the capital and Vhalla Yarl had endured their visits in the seven years since she had moved from the East, but lightning and thunder were never welcome guests.
The burst of light through the shutter slats hadn't set her heart to racing tonight; it was the solemn, low cry of a horn resonating off every post in the city that slowed her world with each reverberation. The noise faded before resounding once more.
Vhalla jumped to her feet, rushing to the small archer's slit that served as her window. Unlatching the shutter proved to be a poor idea as the wind grabbed it, slamming it against the palace stone so hard that she thought it would rip from its hinges. The shutter was quickly forgotten as horns echoed their call on the palace wall below, and Vhalla blinked into the howling wind.
Horns could only mean one thing.
Her dark brown eyes—flecked with gold—fixed on the Imperial Gate far below as it opened to allow a military party to race inside. Leaning out as far as she could, Vhalla ignored the rain splattering her cheeks, straining to make out the shifting shadows of soldiers home from the front.
Had they won? Was the war against Shaldan over?
Vhalla's heart beat harder. Through the intermittent flashes of lightning, she only made out twenty horsemen.
Victory rode through the city in full force with sunlit pennons fluttering in the wind. Victory waited until better weather for their parades. Something was wrong. This was a messenger party, a delivery, an escort, a—
Vhalla's mind went blank.
Palace servants rushed to meet the party and, by the flickering light of their torches, Vhalla was able to make out people. An Imperial White cape draped the haunch of a horse.
A prince had returned.
The servants helped the slumped royal from his saddle, pulling off the limp and sluggish body. She couldn't hear the words shouted over the storm, but they seemed frantic and angry. Vhalla stood on her tip-toes, doubled at the waist and drenched halfway down her back, craning out the window until the injured man was carried away. Pulling herself from the rain, she closed her shutter and ignored the small puddle around her feet. One of the princes was injured, but which one?
Endless cerulean eyes filled her mind. Prince Baldair, the second son, had stopped into the library right before returning to war. Vhalla had never met a member of the Imperial Family before, but all the tales told about the Heartbreaker Prince had been true.
She gripped the front of her sleeping shift and forced herself to breathe deeply. The prince didn't even know who she was, Vhalla reminded herself. He had certainly forgotten the library apprentice whom he had caught mid-air as she had clumsily slipped from one of the bookcases' towering rolling ladders.
Now palace clerics were called, servants were woken to fetch blankets and stoke fires, apprentices of the healing arts would work all night, and all she could do was stand in silence.
Vhalla pushed away slick strands of hair sticking to her face. Roan was right; she was foolish for ever thinking of the Heartbreaker Prince. Vhalla was not the type of girl Prince Baldair would be interested in, she was far too plain.
The door slammed open. A petite blonde with ringlet curls stood breathless in the door frame. Vhalla blinked at the woman, a woman Vhalla seemed to have summoned with her passing thought.
"Vhalla…library. Now," Roan panted. It was like she spoke another language, and Vhalla's body failed to oblige the command. "Vhalla, now!" Grabbing her wrist, Roan pulled her down the dimly lit halls, giving Vhalla no time to even dress properly.
"Roan. Roan! What's going on?" Vhalla demanded as they rounded a tight corner.
"I don't know much. Master Mohned will explain," Roan replied.
"Is it the prince?" Vhalla blurted.
Her friend paused, turning. "You still have the Heartbreaker Prince on your mind? It's been—what, two months?" Blue eyes, slightly darker than the prince's, rolled at Vhalla.
"It's not that. I—" she struggled, a hot flush rushing to her head.
"And why are you all wet?" Roan blinked, assessing her friend for the first time. Before Vhalla could answer, they were winding through the narrow servants' passages again. "It doesn't matter; just don't get water on the books."
The Imperial Library was housed within the palace, a part of the mountainside capital city of the Solaris Empire. Gold-gilded, cherry wood bookcases, which stood taller than four men perched upon each other's shoulders, housed the vast knowledge of the Empire. Stained glass ran along the vaulted ceiling and, during normal sunny days, cast a kaleidoscope of color upon the floor.
Now, however, the library was swathed in darkness. Each apprentice stood by a candle at the central circulation desk in various stages of dress.
Her eyes passed over the motherly Lidia and briefly landed on the girl Cadance before falling on Sareem. Vhalla stared at his olive skin, a richer hue than hers, on display without a shirt. He was surprisingly toned, and Vhalla struggled to remember when her childhood friend had become a man. Sareem's eyes caught hers, and he seemed almost startled. Vhalla quickly looked away.
"We need every book on the magic and poisons of the Northern Sky Citadels of Shaldan. Bring them here. We shall read through them and take notes on what may be useful before forwarding them to the clerics." Master Mohned spoke as guards began to light more candles throughout the library. He looked every year of his ancient age, his long white beard unruly like the spindly roots of a tiny plant. Noticing they all stood, mouths catching flies with shock, he snapped, "This is an Imperial Order! Go!"
Vhalla took a running start at a rolling ladder, using momentum to glide the length of a bookshelf. Her eyes scanned the titles, and her hungry hands plucked books. With three manuscripts cradled in her arms, she sprinted back to the central desk, depositing them on the floor before repeating the process.
The piles grew and sweat dotted Vhalla's brow. The master often scolded her for reading during work, but seven years of disobedience had burned a large list of titles into her mind. Book titles appeared before her eyes faster than her feet could carry her to them.
When the third stack of bound parchment stood taller than she, Vhalla noticed the other apprentices had stopped searching and claimed places on the floor to begin confirming the contents of each manuscript. She placed a palm over the stitch in her side. Their piles were so small. She could think of five tomes in potions alone that Sareem had missed.
The prince occupied her mind as she retrieved more books, his face in the forefront of her thoughts. His injuries must be serious if the clerics needed research beyond their common knowledge. Vhalla bit her lip, staring at her towers of books before the desk. What was wrong with him?
She missed the master's weathered voice while running through more titles in her head. There was one missing, there had to be. Was it in mysteries?
The prince's life could slip between their fingers due to missing only one line of text. Vhalla ran the back of her hand over her forehead. Sweat or water rolled down her neck.
"What?" she replied sharply, staring at Mohned. Vhalla instantly realized her disrespectful tone.
The master let it slide. "That's enough; we have enough. Help us research. Write down anything you find of use."
Master Mohned motioned to the floor, and Vhalla took her place between Roan and Sareem. The library staff ignored all rules and decorum as they grabbed from a communal pile of quills, ink pots, and parchment in the middle of their circle.
Vhalla pulled the first book into her lap. "Master." She raised her head, turning away from the pages sandwiched between her trembling fingers. The sage looked at her through his spectacles. "Who's sick?"
Those two words were all the master needed to speak for Vhalla's throat to feel drier than the Western Waste. She wished she had been wrong.
He was in the palace, somewhere beyond her reach. He needed help, and she was no one. Vhalla was barely above the servants who swept the halls and mucked the toilets as punishment for petty crimes. But maybe her years of reading could pay off and she could actually do something.
Vhalla grabbed another piece of parchment. Her quill roughly marred its blank surface with streaks of ink. This was all she could do. It was all she was ever good at. She could read and perhaps pass on some knowledge to a cleric who would save a man she hardly even knew.
Snapping a quill, Vhalla cursed and threw the broken tool aside before reaching for another. Sareem shot a curious look towards her, but the girl was a world away. The more Vhalla wrote, the calmer she felt. The pen was like an extension of her being and she forged the ink to her will as if she were under the spell of the words.
Slowly, the books began to grow in a new stack. Each had a note behind the cover, listing information she had found that she thought may be helpful. Vhalla hardly noticed her vertical workload diminishing as soldiers began to carry books out, armfuls at a time. She also did not turn to say goodbye as her friends wearily departed throughout the night.
Though her energy was fading, the more books that left the room, the more she was compelled to read. Gradually, warmth budded within her. Slowly at first, then growing with each passing hour until it flourished into a blazing heat.
The sound of the last book closing woke her from her trance. Vhalla blinked at her empty ink-stained hands. In the sunlight, she turned her eyes toward the heavens, and she stared tiredly at the magnificent rainbow of colored glass that ran the length of the ceiling. Dawn had arrived, and she could not even remember the night. Two hands clasped themselves tightly around her swaying shoulders.
Blinking the haze from her eyes, Vhalla looked at the man who appeared suddenly before her. An unfamiliar face stared back. He was a Southern man with icy blue eyes, goatee, and short blonde hair. While he wasn't menacing, she was certain that he was no one she had ever seen.
"This is the one?" He spoke to someone else, though his eyes were fixed on her.
"It is, minister," another unfamiliar voice replied.
"Thank you. You are dismissed," the Southern man ordered. Footsteps faded away with the sound of clinking armor.
"Who are you?" Vhalla's tongue found life again, the daze of feverish heat fading. She tried to make sense of who this man was and why he was touching her. Her eyes settled upon a crisp black jacket. It contrasted starkly to the morning light. No one in the palace wore black.
She felt dizzy. Almost no one wore black. "Wait, you're a—"
"No questions here." A large hand, clammy and cold, clasped over her mouth. "Don't be afraid; I'm here to help you. But you need to come with me."
Vhalla looked up at the man with wide eyes. She breathed sharply through her nose and shook her head in protest against the silencing palm.
"I must speak with you privately, but the Master of Tome will return soon. So, come with me." He slowly peeled his hand from her face.
"No." She almost fell backwards. "I won't go with you! You shouldn't be here, I won't go there." Her mind was jumbled from panic, heightened by the night's exertion.
The man grabbed her once more with an annoyed look and a glance over his shoulder.
Vhalla opened her mouth to call out for help, but all she inhaled was a strong herbal scent from the cloth that was suddenly pressed against her face. Right before she lost her struggle with consciousness, Vhalla saw the symbol embroidered on the man's jacket as he leaned forward to pick her up. Stitched over his left breast was a silver moon with a dragon curling around its center; split in two, each half was off-set from the other. She had never seen it with her own eyes, but she knew what that ominous image meant: a sorcerer.
~ Author's Note ~
In August of 2013, I sat down to do something I hadn't done in years. Inspired by a friend, I took up the pen and began writing seriously once more. I've always enjoyed FanFiction websites and their ability to share, comment upon, and follow stories as they develop. I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if something like that existed for regular fiction?" Then, I found FictionPress.
I posted the first chapter of AIR AWAKENS, then titled "Written", and didn't expect much of anything to happen. But, just from that original first chapter, the world and the characters came to life in a way I never expected. I didn't just want to share them, I had to share them. I wrote every day, and interacted with amazing people on here every day. I grew as a storyteller and made some readers and friends who still follow me now.
I wrote five books on this site that are now being published as the AIR AWAKENS SERIES. I decided to return, to post some of the chapters from the rewritten books to say thank you.
This exists as my love-letter to my original readers. Without you, I would not be where I am today. I cannot say thank you enough. I have never stopped working to bring this story to life for you. And I hope you will let me take you on a new journey in Vhalla's world.