The mist in Koren’s head stole her senses. She could not see, hear, smell, touch, taste nor speak. She was unaware of exiting the library. So she imagined being carried form one place to another in the vast Caverns in the Mountain overlooking the City. She imagined stairways and hallways. She imagined the chill of wet, stone walls as they went farther and farther down past the storage rooms. Of course, they could have been going up, but the popular theory was the Testing Rooms were hidden deeper than everything else in the Caverns.
During the journey, she wondered if imagination rather than fact influenced popular thought. She shut off imagination and opened her mind to…possibility. The mist in her mind wavered, fractured and finally bent.
Goosebumps prickled her skin. She thought she caught the green scent of lichen or moss. Nothing broke through the mist in her eyes. But she knew she was not being carried. She felt the uneven cavern floor beneath her feet. Pulling back her senses from the strength of the Call, she ran her fingers over the unfinished cavern wall on her right. They came away damp and chilled. Still she could not see, but the Call gripped her movements and directed her footsteps without pause.
Koren walked deeper and deeper into the Caverns. Thoughts danced through her mind, diverting her focus. She thought of the sunrise this morning. She thought of the part of her life she’d struggled to keep ordinary. She thought of her friends at breakfast and the disappointing fact that she was still reckless, still felt undisciplined.
She tried, with all her might, she tried to focus on the love that came from her friends, the love that they showed every day without hesitation, the love that carried her through all her accomplishments whether they knew of them or not. They would help her once more.
She focused on Corliss’ red hair, in curls all the way down her back and wicked sense of humor. She focused on Myrna’s soft sensuality. She focused on Tynan’s shaggy bangs and infatuation with all females he could not have. Most of all, she focused on Kerr, his solid strength and unwavering kindness.
Her friends waited outside the diner on the corner. She quickened her steps to join them. She was late. Koren apologized for keeping them waiting. Patient smiles greeted her. Tynan clasped her hand and led her inside. He walked so close her skirt wrapped around his leg with each step. Her long, gray hair brushed his arm. She looked up into twinkling brown eyes peering through shaggy bangs. He grinned as if he’s won a small battle. Her lips curved tolerantly as they found a table. He pulled a chair back for her and leaned in close. She pulled away.
“Come on, Koren, just a little affection for a poor unloved student.” His eyes teased.
“I don’t think so. Your mind twists a simple peck on the cheek into a night of unbridled debauchery.”
“Would you deny me my fantasies?”
“You don’t need me in your fantasies.” Koren softly replied.
Across the table Kerr watched, his blue eyes guarded. She fled his jealousy though he valiantly tried to hide it. Kerr addressed Tynan. “Give it a rest. Corliss is more than willing.”
Corliss tossed wavy red hair and eyed Tynan. “Ready, willing and more than able to fulfill all your wildest dreams. I’m just waiting for you to wake up and realize Koren doesn’t want you.”
Myrna rolled her eyes and touched Corliss’ arm possessively. “But first you’d have to get over me, my dear.”
“A terribly difficult task, to be sure. But perhaps we could take turns.” Corliss winked.
“So many possibilities. So little time.” Tynan breathed. He turned to the waitress whose flushed face unfazed Tynan. She wrote his order down without even looking at her hands, so enthralled was she by his powerful presence.
Koren brushed Kerr’s hand with her fingertips while reaching for a menu and met his gaze with a reassuring smile. She wanted him to Tynan would never be her Choice, but could not voice anything while the chance of Death loomed with the setting sun.
After scribbling orders, the waitress scurried to the kitchen. A loud crash resonated through the door still swinging from the girl’s passage. A man’s angry voice erupted in the now silent diner. The girl slid through the door, away from the anger, her gaze scanned the room and dropped to the floor.
Her apron was not as tidy as it had been. A few strands of dark hair escaped their pins and framed a face so flushed Koren could almost see heat waves surrounding it. The tray she carried was in desperate need of steadier hands.
Tynan rose. With one hand, he rescued the tottering tray. The girl looked up at him with wide eyes. Deftly, Tynan unloaded the drinks and returned the tray. She took it and stood gazing at her hero. Tynan touched her shoulder and said, “Don’t let old Regan scare you. His bark is worse than his bite.”
The girl’s lips moved, but she could not make a sound. Tynan smiled at her and resumed his seat.
Koren caught Kerr looking at her with raised eyebrows as if asking why she didn’t adore Tynan as all the girls obviously did. She answered with a shrug.
Kael stood behind Darkin studying what he hoped was the same sliver of sky off to the East. There wasn’t even a moon tonight. The stars were the only celestial witness to tonight’s events.
Above the hordes heading for the Keep, a strange flickering blackness obscured the stars. It traveled too fast for clouds. As it drew closer, the Prince made out the forms of flying horses almost as black as the shadows riding them. The wind picked up, cold as ice.
Darkin turned and smiled at his Prince. “Just in time.”
“It would seem,” said the Prince eyeing the writhing mass of daemons below.
Hooves crashed on stone. Magic crackled in the air.
Kael looked up at the riders. A shiver ran through him. Half a dozen monstrosities sworn to protect the kingdom and the royal family looked down at him.
Sharp teeth protruded from their mouths. Horns curled atop their heads. They had no real need for the little armor they wore. Their dark leather-like skin protected them from steel as well as most spells. Black eyes gleamed from beneath spiked ridges on their foreheads. Large nostrils flared.
He half expected to find some kind of emotion in the heavy wrinkles of their faces. However, there was a certain relief in their stoicism. Emotion would have made them unbearable to look at.
The Prince nodded to the one who appeared to be their leader, the one who faced him high atop the flying steed that would add its own inherent magic to their fight.
Small though his army might be, they were deadly. A whip snapped and the six Elite bounded into the darkness, headed for the army below.
The Prince gave the command for his army to attack.
Soon the daemons’ screams bounced of the stone walls of the Keep. The Prince smiled as his people echoed the cries with shouts, sure now of their victory.