Queen of Song and Souls, Page 1C. L. Wilson
C. L. Wilson
Queen of Song and Souls
To Alicia Condon. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything: the late-night phone calls, the brainstorming, the long, tireless hours you spent helping me make this book the best it could be. Most of all, thank you just for being there. I couldn’t have done it without you. Ve sha beilissa te eiri.
She was only nine years old, and she was going…
Ellysetta Baristani plunged her hands into the gaping cavity of…
«When I find my wings, Rain, I doubt you’ll ever…
Less than a hundred miles of mountainous terrain separated Crystal…
“He doesn’t look anything like I imagined.”
Crouched down beside the waters of Veil Lake, with her…
The Fey continued south at a rapid pace. Rain ran…
With Ellysetta flying overhead on Rain’s back, the warriors ran…
Surrounded by her quintet and two dozen lu’tan, Ellysetta followed…
“Well, something must have happened during our break,” Cannevar Barrial…
The Fey ran hard through the first silver bells of…
“Why must you go yourself?” Queen Annoura paced the luxurious…
Great Lord Sebourne scowled with bad temper and held out…
“Your Majesty, I’ve taken the liberty of preparing a little…
Lord Bolor was meeting with the young lieutenant again—the one…
“Do you think Gaelen is right about a warrior’s soul…
Six days after leaving the Dreamer River, the Fey approached…
Three bells after sunset, the last of the dinner dishes…
“What’s wrong?” Rain frowned at Ellysetta as she rose to…
Ellysetta watched Bel’s eyes go wide and heard his breath…
Melliandra pushed open the door of the cell housing Lord…
Ellysetta woke to the ethereal beauty of Elvish dawn song…
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Celieria ~ The Garreval
She was only nine years old, and she was going to die.
Lillis Baristani clung to her beloved friend, Earth master Kieran vel Solande, and showered his throat with frightened tears.
Around them the world had gone mad. Magic, blades, and barbed sel’dor arrows filled the air. Blood ran red on the ground. Below, at the base of the Rhakis mountains, dozens of vile, snarling, monstrous wolf-beasts called darrokken were charging up the slope towards the small, fleeing party while the creatures’ evil masters flung globe after globe of blue-white Mage Fire to cut off all chance of escape.
What ever the Mage Fire touched disintegrated on contact…not dissolved…simply disappeared. Entire chunks of the mountain evaporated in an instant. The ground shifted and shook beneath Kieran’s feet.
“Kieran!” his friend Kiel shouted, pointing uphill. “The mountain!” Another frightful barrage of Mage Fire had dissolved half the peak above their heads. The remaining rock and stone gave a rumbling shriek and collapsed, sending a wall of dirt, stone, and wood rushing towards them.
“Hold tight, little one,” Kieran whispered. Lillis tightened her arms around his neck, pressing so close that her kitten, Snowfoot, mewed a protest and squirmed in the sling tied round her neck. Kieran turned to raise both hands and she felt the electric tingle of his gathering magic. It danced across her skin like crackling sparks of green light. Inside her, Lillis’s own magic rose in response.
She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her face to his throat. Bright Lord, please help Kieran, she prayed. I don’t want him to die. Or Papa, Lorelle, Kiel, or me either.
She felt the vibrations of Kieran’s throat against her lips as he shouted defiantly and flung out his weaves. The magic left him—and her, too—in a great rush. Please, gods, please gods, please, gods.
Incredibly—or, perhaps, miraculously—the crumbling mountainside froze. Lillis risked a glance up to confirm that they were not about to be crushed flat as a griddle cake, then squeezed her eyes shut again.
“Five-fold weaves, my brothers!” Kieran shouted. “Keep that scorching Mage Fire off us!” Suddenly, he gave a grunt of pain, and Lillis felt him falter. Her head lifted, and though the battle raging all around terrified her, she forced her eyes open.
Kieran was arrow-shot. The sight of the ugly black, barbed metal arrow puncturing his thigh made her belly lurch.
«Get down, Lillis,» his voice murmured in her mind. «Run to your father. Kiel and I will hold them off.»
«But what about you?» It was the first time she’d ever spoken to him mind-to-mind. «You’re coming, too, aren’t you?»
«In a chime…once Kiel and I deal with these Eld rultsharts.» From a face too handsome to be mortal, his normally laughing blue eyes regarded her with unsettling solemnity, and then she knew what he would not say. He turned his head to press a kiss to her face, then another to the thin arms wrapped so tight around his neck, and though he did not release his hands from his weave, she felt the tug of Spirit fingers prying her grip loose. She fought to cling, but her childish muscles were no match for his magic. Her hold on him lost, she slid to the ground. «Go, kitling. Quickly.» Another nudge from invisible hands shoved her towards Papa.
“Master Baristani,” Kieran cried aloud to her father, “take the girls. Go with the shei’dalins into the Mists! Run!”
Clutching Snowfoot to her chest, Lillis stumbled across the uneven ground towards Papa’s outstretched arms and the small knot of scarlet-gowned healers. Before she reached them, a darting flash of darkness caught her eye and a foul odor filled the air. She turned to find a darrokken rushing towards her, its red eyes glowing like the Dark Lord’s flames, venomous saliva dripping from its yellowed fangs. All over the foul wolflike creature’s scaly back, sores oozed green, odorous slime. She turned to run, but her foot caught between two rocks and she went down. Snowfoot still clutched to her chest, she hit the ground hard. Knees and elbows took a nasty crack, and she bit her lip so hard her mouth filled with the salty, metallic tang of blood. She jumped to her feet, but pain shot out from her ankle, radiating halfway up her shin. With a cry, she fell down again just as the darrokken lunged.
One of the Fey warriors made a sprinting leap towards her, and scarlet-hilted Fey’cha daggers flew from his hands. The razor-sharp blades cut through the monster’s tough, leathery hide, and the darrokken dropped dead in its tracks.
“I’ve got you.” The warrior who’d killed the darrokken reached for her arm, but before he could grab hold, another of the monstrous beasts was upon him. Its fangs sank into his leg, and the Fey toppled, rolling over as he fell and landing with unsheathed blades in his hands. “Run, child,” he cried.
Those were the warrior’s last words. He bared his teeth in a snarl and plunged
his red Fey’cha into the vulnerable belly of the beast just as the monster snapped its sharp yellow fangs around the warrior’s throat and ripped. Blood sprayed across Lillis’s face in a hot, red rain. Fey and beast died together, fighting, tearing, and slashing until the last breath of life left their bodies.
“Lillis! Get up! Run!” Kiel cried. His blue eyes were filled with fear, his blond hair spattered with dirt and blood. Two black arrows stuck out of his shoulder like grotesque spines. “Run for the Mists. Lorelle, Master Baristani—go!”
One of the shei’dalins in their party rushed forward to grab Lillis. A rapid healing weave spun out in golden-tinted waves of color, and the pain in her ankle subsided. The woman helped Lillis to her feet while another took Lorelle’s hand and began to run towards the shifting, sparkling clouds that guarded the Fading Lands. More darrokken rushed up the mountainside and dove into the middle of the small group. Lillis shrieked as the monstrous wolf-beasts slaughtered half a dozen more Fey and drove three of the shei’dalins back down the mountain towards the waiting Eld.
When she reached the edge of the Mists, Lillis turned back to watch the battle below. The remaining warriors guarding their escape were falling fast to the ferocious maws of the darrokken, while the Mages continued bombarding the mountainside with their devastating magic. A tide of Fey warriors burst from the Mists-filled pass of the Garreval and raced across the ground at lightning speed, swords flashing silvery bright in the sunlight.
Black Eld arrows turned day to night, and hundreds of Fey went down. Kieran fell with them.
“Kieran!” Lillis shrieked as she watched him fall. “Kieran!” She started to rush towards him, but the shei’dalin grabbed her and held her fast.
“Nei,” the veiled woman whispered. “You cannot go to him. He would not want it. He dies so you may live.”
With unexpected strength, the shei’dalin shoved Lillis towards the shifting radiance of the Faering Mists. “Quickly, into the Mists. It’s our only chance.”
Lillis struggled against her hold, squirming and flailing as the tears poured down her face. She screamed Kieran’s name again and again as the shei’dalin dragged her away. Before they’d gone more than a few steps, the mountain gave a groaning rumble that escalated to a deafening roar.
Kieran’s Earth weave collapsed and the entire mountaintop caved in, sending shards of shattered rocks, splintered trees, and a wave of earth crashing towards the valley below. The ground beneath Lillis’s feet fell away, and with a wail she toppled back into the shining white abyss of the Faering Mists.
Her last sight was of Kieran, screaming defiance as the avalanche enveloped him.
Fading Lands, Faering Mists.
Fey warrior, champion of Light.
Fading Lands, Faering Mists.
Leading a never-ending Fight.
Tairen Soul: Singing, soaring high.
Tairen Soul: Thundering, roaring cry.
Fading Lands, Faering Mists.
Fey warrior, fiercest of Fey.
Fading Lands, Faering Mists.
Alone, leading the way.
Fiercest of Fey, by Corvan Lief, Celierian Poet
Celieria ~ Orest
Two Weeks Later
Ellysetta Baristani plunged her hands into the gaping cavity of the dying boy’s chest. Her fingers closed around his heart, pumping the still chambers with desperate force as a blaze of powerful, golden-white magic poured from her soul into his.
The fading brightness of his life force tasted warm and tart on her tongue, like a sun-ripened peach plucked too soon from the tree. So young. So innocent. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen. Too young for this. Too young for war. Too young to die.
Just like her sisters, Lillis and Lorelle, who’d been lost in the Faering Mists during the battle of Teleon.
“Please, my lady. Save him. Please, save my Aartys. He’s all I’ve got left.” The mother of the dying child stood sobbing beside the table, her eyes swollen and red rimmed, chapped hands twisting the hem of the blood-soaked apron tied around her waist. Her desperation and grief-induced terror pounded at Ellysetta’s empathic senses like hammer blows.
Not that a few more hammer blows made much difference in the emotional din swirling around the scarlet healing tents that had been erected on the mist-and rainbow-filled plazas of Upper Orest. As always when a battle raged nearby, the sheer numbers of wounded and dying warriors made it impossible for the dozen scarlet-veiled shei’dalin healers to weave peace upon them all. Not even the roar of the great Kiyera’s Veil waterfalls could drown out the screams of pain and pleas for mercy.
“I’ll do my best, Jonna,” Ellysetta vowed. She wanted to promise to save Aartys, but the last weeks here on Celieria’s war-torn northern border had taught her too well. Death, once a stranger, had become an all-too-familiar acquaintance.
Ellysetta looked up and met Jonna’s eyes over the boy’s limp body. The weeping mortal woman was one of the hearth witches who tended the wounded and dying. She knew death as intimately as Ellysetta now did, but that didn’t stop her from fighting against it with every ounce of strength she possessed—or from begging for a salvation she knew was beyond the capabilities of all mortal healers…and all but one of the Fey shei’dalins.
Ellysetta bit her lip. Aartys shouldn’t be here on her table—and she couldn’t help feeling partly to blame. After all, if not for her, the Fey might never have engaged their ancient enemy in this new Mage War. If not for Ellysetta, her truemate, Rainier vel’En Daris, would never have blown his golden horn this morning to call his Fey warriors and the mortal men of Orest to battle. And if he’d never blown that blast, the sound would never have spurred Jonna’s young son to snatch up his dead father’s sword and rush to fight alongside the men of Orest and his heroes, the immortal Shining Folk of the Fading Lands.
Yet those things had happened. And now, here they were, a child maimed and dying, his mother weeping and pleading for his life, both utterly dependent on Ellysetta and her magic to snatch his life from the jaws of death.
“Hold his hand, Jonna,” Ellysetta commanded. “Feed him your strength. Call to him. Don’t stop until I tell you.” And then, though she shouldn’t have vowed it, she did: “If there’s any way to save Aartys, I will.”
“Oh, my lady.” Jonna’s lips trembled and tears flooded her eyes. “Oh, thank you, my lady. Thank you.”
She started to come around the table, but Ellysetta stopped her. “Hold his hand, Jonna.” The command came out more curtly than usual. She didn’t want this woman kneeling at her feet, kissing her hem as other Celierians had done when pleading for her to save a loved one. She wasn’t a goddess to be worshiped.
“Teska, Jonna. Please,” she urged more gently. “Hold your son’s hand. There isn’t much time.” And because there truly wasn’t, she infused the words with a spider-silk-thin filament of compulsion, woven from shining lavender Spirit magic.
Jonna instantly snatched up her son’s hand.
“And pray, my friend,” Ellysetta said, adding silently, For all our sakes.
The words to the Bright Lord’s devotion tumbled from the mortal healer’s lips.
Ellysetta flicked a glance at the tall, grim Fey warrior standing near the corner of her healing table.
Without a word, Gaelen vel Serranis stepped forward to lay a hand upon her shoulder. Crackling energy flooded her veins as the most infamous of the five bloodsworn warriors of her quintet surrendered his immense power for her use. The sort of healing she was about to do would take more than her own vast stores of power, and though usually a shei’dalin would rely on her truemate to supplement her strength, Rain was on the battlefield, where the king of the Fey belonged, rather than at her side.
Ellysetta closed her eyes, shut out the world, and gathered her magic. Power came to her call, a dazzling golden-white brightness the Fey called shei’dalin’s love, a healing gift Ellysetta Baristani wielded with a strength the world had not seen since th
e dawn of the First Age.
Against her closed lids, the pulsating vibrancy of Fey vision replaced physical sight, darkness teeming with the glowing threads of energy that made up all life and substance. Her consciousness traveled down the blinding-bright conduits of her arms, into Aartys’s dying body, then sank deeper. Moving with swift purpose, she followed the threads of her healing weave and descended into the Well of Souls, the blackness that lay beyond and beneath the physical world, the home of demons and the unborn and the dead waiting for passage into their next life.
There, she could see the fading light of Aartys’s soul as he sank into the long, silent dark of the Well. When his light disappeared, he would be lost. Determined not to let that happen, she plunged after him, her presence a dazzling incandescence that lit the shadowy world of the Well like a golden-white sun.
«Aartys.» She wove Spirit, the mystic magic of thought and illusion, hoping to make him feel his mother’s grief and fill him with an urgent need to return to her. «Fight, Aartys. Fight to live.» Death, ultimately, was like drowning. Once the initial terror passed, the dying embraced the numbness and simply let themselves fall, like wrecked ships sinking to the bottom of the sea. «Do not surrender. Reach for my Light. Let me bring you back to your mother. She needs you. She will be lost without you.»
Her weave was strong, her command of Spirit as exceptional as her command of the potent healing magic of the Fey. Yet still he fell.
So tired, his fading spirit whispered. Tell Mam I…His voice trailed off and the pale light of his soul began to sputter.