Shadows to the South

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Chapter 1-Zephyra

The sun was starting to rise and leak through the gauzy curtains that covered the enormous glass doors of the balcony. Zephyra could feel the heat behind her lids and sense the slow crawl of the rays across her exposed bare legs. Her mother, Assira, had always complained about the curtains, saying that they were too sheer, that they weren’t insulating enough for the cold mountain temperatures, that she’d catch her death of cold by leaving the windows and balcony doors open, etc., etc. There was a veritable litany of issues with them. The ridiculous curtains had led to one of many meaningless arguments over the years; Zephyra and her mother bickered constantly, but there were few people that she had loved more than her mother. She would have given anything to hear her grumble once more about something so trivial.

When they fought, her mother’s eyes would turn a dark, thunderous grey, and her irises would begin to swirl with bright flashes of gold. She had the eyes of a tempest, a “storm born,” one of the many features that Zephyra had inherited from her. As a Queen, Assira had been forced to learn how to mask her emotions and keep them from her eyes specifically. Being a storm-born air elemental had its disadvantages, especially in politics. Very few had the trait, but it was something that Zephyra had always loved that they shared. It kept them both honest, even in the most trying of times. Her mother had never hidden anything from her family.

They were both gifted air elemental mages as well, but unlike her mother, Zephyra lacked the ability to fly. Assira’s snowy wings had been the envy of many ladies at court. Her mother had been everything that she had always wished she could be; exotic, with rich, honey-colored hair that hung almost to her waist, and large expressive eyes with long dark sooty lashes. Zephyra had inherited her eyes, but the resemblance died there. She was as raven-haired as her father and brother, with none of the ethereal grace of her mother, unfortunately. At least her brother, Tyri-Ani, had his mother’s extraordinary wings, which was something that Zephyra had always envied him for.

When Assira passed, the palace at Ardasia, and all of Nivern, had become a cold and desolate place without her warmth and exuberance. The people had mourned their Queen for many years, and many still spoke of her fondly.

With that sobering thought, Zephyra stretched and attempted to convince her eyes to open, knowing full well that there was no going back to sleep at this point. Thinking of her late mother’s passing tended to be anxiety-inducing, and she could feel how her pulse had hitched in response to the mere memory of her. Her mother’s untimely death was suspicious at best, and everyone avoided speaking about her passing except for her and her brother.

Zephyra propped herself up on one elbow and was attempting another one-armed stretch when she felt a very different arm snake across her bare stomach, tugging her up and backward into a heavily muscled chest. The familiar frame engulfed hers, and a second arm joined the first to entwine around her midsection. She could feel the heat from his body at her back, and she wriggled her way back so that she was situated fully in his lap. With a playful smirk, she purposefully ground her backside against him, and his sharp intake of breath and barely muffled groan was enough to make her break out into a full grin. He tugged her hair gently, angling her head backward so that it rested on his shoulder. Infinitely soft lips ghosted a path up her neck as he breathed out a chuckle against the shell of her ear.

“You should lock your doors Zephyra, especially if you plan on sleeping naked. Who knows what kind of riff-raff might decide to let themselves in...”

With a snort, Zephyra pivoted quickly so that she was straddling him. He wasn’t lying, not really. Despite it being as cold as sin outside, she had always preferred to sleep in nothing more than a gauzy nightgown at best. She didn’t like feeling restricted while she slept. She never doubted her safety at the Eyrie though, as naïve as that may seem. The palace was heavily guarded, and she knew that both her brother, as well as the man before her, would never allow anyone to skulk around her quarters. Komus Aidain was her brother’s childhood friend and Commander of the Guard at Ardasia (the “Eyrie”), the capital city of Nivern. She and Komus had grown up together, and once they were teenagers, they realized that their relationship was a bit more than just mere friendship. It hadn’t taken long before Komus had unceremoniously snuck onto her balcony one night to claim their first kiss under the moonlight.

Their sweet and somewhat innocent relationship continued to grow into adulthood. Tyri had warned them that they were beginning to draw the attention and suspicion of her father, but they hadn’t paid him any mind at the time, being as young and naïve as they were. That was until her father announced that she was betrothed to his Head Mage, Borelas. Her father, Levanteran, would never settle for a commoner marrying his daughter. In his eyes, Komus was so far beneath her that it was completely unfathomable that he would even entertain the thought of discussing it. Borelas however was from old money, and he held titles of his own. He had an eerie fascination with her that bordered on disturbing, and Zephyra had begged her father to end the betrothal. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, and instead, her father used the betrothal as leverage to ensure her good behavior. He had also started sending Komus further and further out into the realm for months at a time, for fabricated “training” sessions or garrison inspections. He had been all but exiled for months, but his duties as Commander did bring him back to Ardasia for brief stints, where they made sure that they made up for every moment of lost time.

She cupped his cheeks in her palms and drank him in, committing the planes of his face to memory and caressing the strong lines of his jaw. He drew closer until his forehead touched hers, and his full lips were inches from her own. Komus’ sapphire eyes searched hers with hungry desperation that was reflected in her gaze. The tender moment broke in seconds as he surged forward, ravaging her mouth with his own. Zephyra’s ferocity matched his, and she was overwhelmed with a deep sense of belonging as their tongues and lips danced with one another, tasting each other again after months spent apart. She could feel his hands move over her bare skin, stroking and caressing their way down as one moved to cup her ass and the other gripped her upper thigh. Her hands carded their way through his golden hair before they met at the nape of his neck as he slowly lowered her onto the bed.

Zephyra pulled away suddenly, her breath coming out in shallow pants as she shook her head emphatically. He laughed softly as he lowered himself to nibble at her neck, his knee gently guiding her thighs apart so he could sink between them.

“Komus...” she started briefly, as her brain desperately attempted to piece together a coherent sentence. “We can’t... A-Addae... She’ll be here any moment now!”

He lifted his head to shoot her a roguish grin before responding. “Tyri is keeping her occupied. Besides, she’s your lady in “waiting”. Can’t you ask her to wait?”

She bit her lip and watched as his gaze fixated on the motion, his eyes darkening with heat. “Keep that up Zeph, and I doubt you’ll be able to walk properly for a week. You know what that does to me...” he growled. One of his hands dipped below her waist to tease her, touching everywhere but where she needed him most.

With a groan of frustration, she arched her hips into his hand, begging for some sort of release, consequences be damned! She rubbed shamelessly against him, and she could feel just how much he wanted her. He groaned softly but she propped herself up and muffled it with another fierce kiss.

Just as Zephyra was tugging at his trousers, trying to one-handedly work them open, a sharp knock sounded at the door. She could feel Komus’ chest rumble with frustration as he held her pressed tightly to him.

“Whoever it is, make them leave,” he whispered in her ear. “I need you now, it’s been too long...”

She cleared her throat softly, her head still foggy from the haze of desire, before calling out “Addae? Could you wait a few moments please?”

Komus’ lips skated across her collarbone impatiently, but they stopped entirely when her brother responded instead.

“Sorry Zeph, I hate to break up your happy little uh... reunion... But no can do. His Highness is requesting that Komus report to him immediately and that you attend to Borelas at The Dome. He’s in one of his moods.”

She and Komus exhaled heavily in unison. A summons from her father must be obeyed, and no doubt Tyri had already attempted to delay him. He’d already be in a foul mood for that alone. There was no love lost between her father and brother; she knew that Tyri believed he was responsible for their mother’s death. She knew that Komus wouldn’t risk fueling her father’s ire for fear that it would backfire on her or Tyri.

“Give us a few seconds,” she finally managed to call out as Komus helped her up out of the bed. She wrapped a robe around herself temporarily, as he pressed another gentle kiss to the corner of her mouth and led her to the balcony.

“It wouldn’t look good if I waltzed out of your room this early in the morning, so I’ll have to leave the way I came in,” he said with a forced smile. Zephyra nodded and gripped his hand in hers, following him out onto the terrace. When they were outside, she wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest. His pearly white wings wrapped around her protectively as he held her close, his chin resting on the top of her head.

“Borelas frightens me. Promise you’ll come back tonight before my father sends you on yet another useless errand?”

She smiled softly as she felt Komus nod in agreement. He tilted her chin upwards to take in her expression. “Have you thought about my question?”

The last time Komus had come home, in a tangle of limbs and late-night whispered promises, he had proposed. They both knew it wasn’t feasible, not with her father being so adamantly opposed to the idea and as a result of her current betrothal to Borelas, but they were hoping to convince her father in due time. She had told him that there was no doubt in her mind that she wanted to be his, that she wanted to take his name and sleep next to him every night for as long as time would allow. But... she was terrified of the consequences of her father’s wrath. Over the years, her father had changed into someone she barely recognized, someone she feared. Komus had understood her response, but she could tell he was disappointed. He always wore his heart on his sleeve, which she loved, but she felt that he underestimated what her father was capable of. At this moment, however, she was love-starved and heartsick and wanted nothing more than to be his in every way possible.

“I’ll marry you,” she responded softly. “It may not be as soon as you’d like, but you already have all of me. We’ll find a way.”

Zephyra watched as his eyes all but danced with happiness, and he lifted her to him to claim her mouth once more in a kiss so passionate that it left her head swimming and her legs a tad shaky with lust.

“We’ll finish what we started tonight,” he replied, his voice husky and thick with need. “Nothing will keep me from you. You have no idea how happy you make me Zephyra.”

With a last lingering kiss, he pumped his wings and plummeted from the balcony, soaring off the ledge into the endless expanse of sky that surrounded the palace. As she watched him go, she wrapped her robe tighter around her body, unable to rid herself of a sudden chill of foreboding that seemed almost bone-deep.

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