The next morning, Ronan called for an emergency council meeting. Dristan told me about it over breakfast and I feigned ignorance, pretending to be surprised and intrigued.
“I wonder what it’s about this time.” I said, rolling my eyes.
I’d found ways to hide my true emotions from the bond. Not entirely, but I could camouflage them if I pretended to feel something other than how I really felt. Inside, I was cringing from the guilt of lying to my mate. I knew exactly what the meeting was about.
But instead of letting my guilt seep through the bond, I thought of my annoyance for Ronan and let it overpower any other emotion floating around inside my crowded mind. Unless Dristan dug deeply, he wouldn’t notice.
“I don’t know, but he’s insisting that it’s of utmost urgency.” He grumbled, sipping his black coffee.
I wrinkled my nose. “How can you stand the taste of that without cream and sugar?”
He shrugged, draining the mug. “I like to think that I appreciate things in their purest form.” He set the mug down gently and lifted his eyes to mine. “Perhaps that’s why my favorite version of you is when you’re naked.”
My jaw fell open and I tried to hide my smile with a scoff. “You are…” I shook my head, pressing my lips together when my emerging smile betrayed me.
He smiled, his teeth white and sharp in them morning light. “I am….What? Charming? Irresistible?”
“A pervert!” I laughed, picking off a piece of my bagel and throwing it playfully toward his face. He caught it in his mouth and winked at me.
When I rolled my eyes, he stood from his stool and slowly walked around to the back of my chair. He leaned forward, placing both hands on the counter top in front of me, caging me in from behind. I closed my eyes and smiled as he leaned in and trailed a line of tender kisses up my neck.
“Only because you…” He whispered, pausing a moment to nip at my ear. “Are so bewitching.”
I suppressed a moan as his hot breath tickled my ear. I felt him grin against the skin of my neck as he began trailing kisses back down it.
He knew exactly what he was doing to me.
“Dristan… If you don’t stop doing that, I am going to have to retaliate… And then we’ll be late to the meeting.” I said, trying not to pant.
He murmured something unintelligible before reluctantly pulling away. “Just another reason, on my long list of reasons, to hate Ronan.”
I kept an amused smile on my face as my heart sank a little bit. If Dristan found out that Ronan was helping me with an original rune, I wasn’t sure their relationship would ever get better.
“We should get going.” I sighed, sliding off the stool.
I pushed past him, ready to get dressed, but he caught me by the wrist. I turned and looked up into his soft, sapphire eyes, which began to slowly alternate between my own.
He studied me a moment, his face blank. I nearly held my breath. “Is everything okay?” He asked quietly.
My throat bobbed. “Everything is fine… Why?”
His eyes narrowed slightly. “I don’t know… I felt something shift in your mood just now. It felt like… guilt. What’s wrong?”
Damn him for being so perceptive…
I smiled weakly. “It’s just…” I racked my brain for an excuse. “I was planning on trying to see Warrick this morning. And now I can’t.”
His gaze softened. “You can go after the meeting. I’ll go with you, if you like.”
I lowered my eyes and shook my head slowly. “It’s something I want to do on my own…”
He was silent for a moment before he leaned forward and kissed my forehead softly. “I understand, love. Go and get dressed.”
I gave him another small smile before I turned and escaped into the bedroom, my heart filling with grief and guilt. The more I tried to hide it, the stronger it became. The more I lied, the harder it became to run from…
I hated myself for it.
As usual, I sat at the head of the council room table, with Dristan on the opposite end. Ronan sat to my left, beside Marrok. To my right, Andromeda sat beside Torryn. I tried not to think about the fact that Warrick’s chair was vacant.
Ronan shuffled some papers around while everyone settled in. The fireplace crackled peacefully near the far left wall, and the open window let in the cool morning breeze.
The apple and cinnamon scented candles burning in the center of the table seemed to ease my mood.
“What is this all about, Ronan?” I asked, breaking the silence.
He lifted his powder blue eyes to mine and smiled briefly. “Well… I thought you’d all be pleased to know that I’ve solved the rune riddle.”
I rose my brows in mock surprise and flicked my eyes toward Dristan. He was watching Ronan with polite indifference, though I could feel his distaste subtly through the bond.
“Damn. I’ve been racking my brain for days and come up with nothing.” Andromeda pouted, slumping back into her chair. “How did you solve it?”
Ronan smirked and leaned back in his chair. “I was just doing some reading in the library and stumbled across something... It all just clicked into place.” He waved a hand.
“I’m slightly jealous. I was hoping to solve this one on my own.” Andi complained.
“Nice work Ronan.” Marrok said, giving him a curt nod.
Ronan’s grin widened. “Thanks.”
“Are you going to tell us what you know, or continue fishing for compliments?” Dristan drawled, lounging lazily in his chair.
Ronan reluctantly tore his eyes from Marrok and glared at Dristan for a long moment. Dristan stared back, his expression blank and bored. I could feel his aggression growing stronger, despite his apathetic appearance.
Be careful, Ronan....
“The rune is with the Sylphs.” Ronan growled.
“The Sylphs? That seems unlikely. What makes you so sure?” Torryn asked, leaning forward.
“Think about it.” Ronan shrugged. “In plain sight, yet out of reach. None may see, though all beseech… The Sylphs are invisible, and though many have tried to find them, most have failed. Only those to gain our speech are those who practice what we preach… They Sylphs won’t talk to anyone who they see as evil. They are pure spirits. They’ll only show themselves to those with pure souls.”
“He’s right, it makes perfect sense.” Andi said, glancing between Torryn, and Dristan.
“Yes, I think you’re right, Ronan.” Dristan said, rubbing the stubble on his jawline. “But there is a problem. How are we supposed to find something that is invisible?”
Ronan sighed. “Yes. That’s going to be an issue. I was hoping one of you would know something.”
“The Sylphs control the weather.” Marrok interjected.
Everyone turned to look at him.
“I’ve never heard of that. I know that they are air spirits and that they reside in the cloud realm… But none of the books I read said anything about them controlling the weather.” Ronan murmured, perplexed.
“There are many stories told among the wolf packs. The legend of the Sylphs are one of them. Growing up, we were always told stories about their control over the weather. It’s likely that they’ll be found where strong weather events are happening.” Marrok explained slowly.
“And how are we supposed to predict the weather?” Torryn grumbled.
“We can’t predict it. But we can follow it.” Marrok said thoughtfully.
My eyes shifted between the group as they pondered this.
“We could travel to the south east. This time of year, tornadoes are common in that area. Or, we could travel farther west, and search for signs of hurricanes. Though, this time of year they are uncommon.” Torryn proposed.
“Yes... West is closer, but we would be less likely to find strong weather. South east is our best bet.” Dristan said, slowly drumming his fingers on the wooden table.
“How long is it going to take to travel that far?” I asked.
“On foot it would take a week. But if we fly, it will only take about eight hours.” He answered.
“Good. We should go as soon as possible.” Ronan answered.
“Wait... “ Andromeda said softly. “With Warrick still injured, someone will have to stay behind to look after everyone here. We can’t all go.”
“You’re right. But we’ll be taking a risk, traveling in a smaller group.” Dristan growled.
“We’ll be fine as long as we stay above the clouds.” Ronan said, waving a hand.
“I will stay.” Andromeda volunteered. “I will look after things here.”
“By yourself?” I asked, my brows drawing together.
“I’ll stay, too.” Torryn proposed. “You, Dristan, Marrok, and Ronan should go. Marrok knows how to find them. You’ll need his guidance. The four of you should be fine. The Sylphs are peaceful, they won’t harm you.”
“It’s not the Sylphs I am worried about.” Dristan growled.
“We won’t need to worry about the humans as long as we stay out of sight.” Ronan repeated impatiently.
“And what if there are no clouds? What if there is no cover?” Dristan sighed, running his hands through his hair.
An idea popped into my head. “Ronan, there is an invisibility rune in the book. I saw it. We can use that to keep ourselves hidden.”
“Good idea.” Ronan said, grinning at me. He turned to Dristan and gave him a sour glare. “There. Happy?”
Dristan sent him a hostile glance. “Not quite. So what if we do find strong weather? Who is to say the Sylphs will appear to us? It is not likely that they will see a giant dragon flying toward them and welcome it with open arms.”
“That’s true. Everyone knows that the Sylphs are against war and violence. If they realize that we need the rune for the war, they’re not likely to help us.” Torryn said.
“We’re not using it for war or violence.” Ronan said with a sly grin. “We just need to explain the plan to them. Once they understand that Brenya is going to open the portal and send the king and his armies away, they’ll see reason. I’m sure of it. They know of the murderous action of the king toward our kind. They’ll be glad to help us get rid of it.”
Everyone was silent.
“He’s right.” I said quietly. “Besides… My parents wouldn’t have left the rune with them if they thought they wouldn’t give it to me. They’re probably expecting me to retrieve it at some point.”
“Yes…” Dristan said thoughtfully. I could still feel his uneasiness through the bond. “I suppose that makes sense. I still don’t like traveling so far with so little back up.”
“We’ll be invisible. No need for dramatics.” Ronan said, rolling his eyes.
Dristan turned his gaze toward me. “We don’t have to leave yet if you’re not ready. I know you’ve been under a great deal of stress lately.”
“No.” I said quickly. “I want to go. I’m ready.”
He rose his brows. “Are you certain?”
I nodded sternly. “Of course.”
“Perfect.” Ronan said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. “Let’s get going, then. We should be able to reach the south eastern lands before nightfall if we hurry.”
“You should really think about making some sort of saddle for this rutting beast.” Ronan complained from behind me as we drifted through the clouds atop Dristan’s back.
Distantly, I heard Marrok chuckle from behind him. I sat closest to Dristan’s neck, with Ronan behind me, and Marrok behind him. We were all dressed in matching fighting leathers.
“Don’t be an infant, Ronan.” I teased over my shoulder. “It’s not that bad.”
“You’re right, you’re right. It wasn’t that bad… the first five hours! I can’t even feel my ass anymore!” He grumbled.
I rolled my eyes as I gazed toward the long expanse of puffy white clouds before me. “Dristan was right. You are dramatic.”
I felt the vibration of Dristan’s dragon as he chortled with low laughter.
“A saddle is not dramatic. It’s practical.” Rona growled with offense.
“Then perhaps you should make one.” I grinned.
“You’re sensitive ass will be fine, Ronan. We are nearly there. Look, up ahead. I can see storm clouds in the distance.” Marrok said, pointing a long finger.
I squinted into the distance ahead of us. Indeed, far away, I could faintly see graying clouds and flashes of lightning. A storm…
“We aren’t going to fly into that, are we? We could be hit by lightning. It’s too dangerous... “ I said, more to Dristan than to anyone else.
“No. We must fly above the storm. That is where the Sylphs will be.” Marrok informed me.
My head tilted back as I studied the height of the enormous storm clouds. “That’s very high…”
“We’re already very high. A few thousand more feet won’t hurt.” Ronan said.
On cue, Dristan began to ascend higher into the clouds. As we rose, it began to grow colder. I shivered as we drifted up through the damp formations. My skin felt slick with the condensation. Had I still been human, it probably would’ve been unbearable.
It took another thirty minutes before we had finally arrived over the eye of the storm. The dark, swirling clouds looked ominous from above. I knew it was ten times as violent beneath them. Occasionally, a few flashes of lightning would ignite the dark mass and I could see glimpses of thrashing treetops far below.
Wind whipped my hair around my face, stinging my cheeks. “Now what?” I yelled over the loud roaring of the storm.
“No clue!” Ronan yelled back.
“If they’re going to answer to anyone, it’ll be you, Brenya! You need to call them out!” Marrok’s voice called from behind.
Dristan circled back again, flying us around and around the massive storm below. The strong winds caused turbulence in his flight. I held onto the spikes of his scaly armor more tightly, growing more and more nervous.
I studied the storm clouds below and the clear skies above. I racked my mind for what to say, how to get the attention of these mysterious, spiritual creatures.
Calling them out wouldn’t work… Many people had tried and failed to do that. Why would I be any different? How could I stand out? How could I truly get their attention?
“Brenya!” Ronan called. “What are you waiting for?!”
I held up a hand and threw him a glare over my shoulder. “Give me a moment.”
He rose his brows at me, but made no further comment.
I had to do something…
Of course. It was so obvious. The air. I needed to manipulate the air…
‘Dristan, can you fly any higher? I need a better vantage point.’ I pushed through the bond.
‘What are you going to do?’ His voice answered, faint but audible.
‘I need to get their attention. The only way I can do that is if I can show them my power. I need to try to manipulate the air.’
There was a long, silent pause.
A sharp cry left his dragon’s mouth, and with a mighty flap of his wings, we were shooting higher into the icy sky.
“Gods damnit!" Ronan yelped, grabbing onto the spikes for dear life.
I glanced over my shoulder and found Marrok quietly laughing at the terrified expression on Ronan’s face. Marrok met my eyes and we shared a secret smile.
I looked over the side, gauging the distance. “This is good! Hover here!” I called to my mate.
He leveled out. The constant woosh, woosh, woosh of his wings filled my ears and adrenaline began to build inside of my veins.
Control, control, control… I chanted to myself as my eyes fluttered closed.
I could do this… I could do this.
I turned toward Ronan and Marrok, who were both watching me with wide eyes. “Whatever happens… Don’t touch me. Don’t break my concentration. Just… Let me be.”
Ronan have me a curt nod, his mouth a grim line. “You can do this.”
I gave him a weak smile and turned away. Slowly, so slowly, I gripped the spikes of Dristan’s armor and slid my feet underneath my body. Carefully, I began to stand atop the dragon’s back. My legs shook beneath me. I could almost hear my knees knocking together.
I knew that if I fell, I would not die… But I was still terrified. Falling would not kill me, but falling such a long distance would hurt like nothing I’d ever known before.
I stood to my full height, my arms held out to the sides for better balance. Dristan’s dragon let out a long whine below me. I glance down and found that he’d stretched his neck to the side so that he could look at me.
One, gigantic, ocean blue eye stared at me with concern as I balanced in the wind. His slitted pupil dilated when I wobbled slightly. I corrected my balance and let out a shaky breath.
‘It’s okay. I’m okay... ’ I thought, smiling at him.
He huffed through his nose, shaking his head once.
‘Don’t worry... After all… If I fall, I have you to catch me, don’t I?’
The dragon let out a shrill bark, nodding his gargantuan head.
‘That’s what I thought. It’s going to be okay… Keep it as steady as you can, okay?’
Dristan’s voice suddenly came through. ‘You are not alone...’
I smiled as I gazed at the dragon, knowing Dristan could see me as well.
I turned, peeking over the Dragon’s side. Far below, the swirling storm looked like a painting. A canvas of gray, and blue, and silver hues, all spiraling into a beautiful, deadly reality.
“Here goes nothing…”
As I stared down into the rotating clouds, I tried to reach out with my mind and feel them. I needed to feel connected to them. What did they smell like, taste like, sound like? I closed my eyes and tilted my head back, breathing in the air around me.
The scent of damp, earthy moisture filled my senses. It smelled like a fresh, spring morning. It smelled like a cool stream in a forest. It smelled like a memory. Being in the village, knowing that a storm was on the way. My father and I, throwing tarps over the roof of our hut to keep the leaks at bay. I smiled as I recalled us sipping hot nettles tea while the storm raged around us.
I reached my arms out to my sides, stretching my fingers wide. I could feel the wind between them, swirling around my fingertips, licking at my skin with it’s icy breath. It felt cold and awake. It felt damp, and alive with endless energy. It felt playful, and powerful.
I strained my keen ears. Tilting my head to the side, I welcomed the sounds of the wind around me. The sensitive points of my delicate ears stung with the unforgiving cold. The dull roar of constant, violent wind filled my eardrums. I could hear myself breathing, in and out. I could hear Ronan breathing, and Marrok. And louder than all of us, I could hear the mighty breaths of the dragon beneath me.
In, out, in out…
The air gave life. Much as all of the other elements did. But air gave life in a more literal way… Every moment, every day, since the day I’d been born, I’d been breathing it.
In, out, in, out…
The air was quite literally a part of me. It was inside of me, right now, granting me life… It was precious, and ancient. No one could survive without it. It was everything… It was in me. It was in all of us. And no matter how it was taken for granted, it never stopped giving.
I smiled as appreciation and respect filled my heart. I inhaled deeply, greeting the sweet, sweet oxygen like a dear old friend. I felt it whipping my hair around my body, felt it playfully trying to knock me off balance, felt it’s power, felt it’s spirit…
And when I felt the connection solidify… When I felt the mutual respect that the wind and the air had for me, for keeping me alive, for feeding my soul…
I grabbed hold of it.
My conscious thoughts faded away, remaining as a small whisper in the darkest spaces of my mind. My hands lifted in front of me. I didn’t think. I didn’t feel.
I just moved.
My hands fisted before me, and I laughed in delight as I felt the wind swirling around them. It’s power was incredible… Endless. It was everywhere.
And when I dove, head first, off of the dragon’s back, and the screams of Ronan and Marrok chased me through the wind, I laughed again. I’d never felt so alive.
“Brenya!” A distant voice cried.
They shouldn’t worry.
‘Don’t catch me.’ I thought through the bond.
I felt a wave of fear and confusion in return.
The wind hugged my body, waiting for my command. For a few, glorious moment, I simply let myself fall... Just for the thrill of it.
It felt like discovering a part of myself that I never knew that there. It was scary, and exciting, and fun, and reckless. It felt like being reborn.
"Brenya!" The voice called again, more faintly this time.
Wrapping the force of the wind around my body like a silk cocoon, I propelled myself back upward. I shot through the sky like a swift arrow, spearing through the clouds in an elegant arch.
I looked up, pinpointing Dristan. His dragon was watching me like a hawk, perplexed and curious. His head tilted to the side as he studied the way I moved through the wide, empty skies.
I clenched my fists, sending a powerful force of air toward my back, and it shot me straight to him. I flew past, circling him twice, and I laughed with glee at the dumbfounded expression on my companions faces.
“Gods Above!” Marrok called, a brilliant smile lighting up his face.
“She’s flying! She’s rutting flying!” Ronan yelled, his jaw hanging open.
I paused before Dristan’s dragon, who was watching me with intense eyes.
“Looks like I can catch myself.” I said, gliding forward and planting a soft kiss on the end of his snout. He let out a soft huff which resembled a laugh.
I turned back toward the raging storm below. I could feel it’s power, throbbing and circling like a pool of endless energy beneath me.
I acted on instinct, not really sure what, exactly, I was doing. I stretched my hands before me, cocking my head to the side. My power reached out to taste the power of the storm. It was rotating counter clockwise.
Slowly, I began to swirl my hands in a clockwise motion, aiming them toward the storm. I felt my magic latch onto the energy of the storm, trying to overpower it.
If I could get the storm to rotate the opposite direction, it would slow down. I could potentially stop the storm altogether, if I had enough strength.
Faster, and faster, and faster I spun my hands, willing the angry winds below to follow my motions. I could feel, as well as see the changes immediately.
The storm below was weakening. I needed more…
I willed the wind around me to spin my entire body clockwise, attaching the whole of my magic to the dwindling storm. Faster, faster, and faster I spun, until I was a blur in the sky.
I could feel the clouds obeying me. I could feel the storm coming apart at the seams.
Faster, faster, faster…
And the faster I spun, the slower the clouds became, as they struggled to switch directions. Just a little bit more...
With a powerful swipe of my hands, I broke apart the remaining storm clouds, sending them scattering across the sky.
I panted, feeling suddenly very heavy, as the sun broke through the parting clouds below. Glistening, green treetops came into view, still wet from the pelting rain. A rainbow formed above the forest beneath me, beautiful and elegant.
‘Dristan… I’m weak.’ I whispered quietly.
Suddenly, I was snatched out of the air. I shrieked in surprise, but calmed when I realized Dristan’s dragon had used his teeth to gently bite the back of my fighting leathers and set me onto his back again.
I sighed in relief as we hovered there.
“Are you okay, princess?” Ronan asked, placing a warm hand on my shoulder.
“I’m okay. Just tired…” I said, still panting.
“That was amazing…” Marrok said, sending me a smile.
I huffed out a laugh. “Well… If stopping a storm won’t get the Sylphs attention, I don’t know what will.”
“I think it worked…” Ronan said, flicking his eyes over my shoulder. “Look….” Wonder, fear, and anticipation all seemed to flash within his powder blue eyes.
My throat bobbed as I carefully turned my body around, searching for something that I wasn’t even quite certain that I was ready to see.
And when my eyes fell upon the scene in the sky before me, my heart seemed to stop in my chest, filling me with ice cold shock, amazement, and dread…