Air Awakens (Air Awakens, #1)

Air Awakens (Air Awakens, #1) by Elise Kova

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 tiptoes, 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 dark 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 summon 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!”

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