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Quest of Thunder: Stormbourne Chronicles, #2

Quest of Thunder: Stormbourne Chronicles, #2

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Quest of Thunder: Stormbourne Chronicles, #2

Length:
425 pages
6 hours
Released:
Dec 4, 2017
ISBN:
9781622531561
Format:
Book

Description

Evelyn Stormbourne must restore her divine abilities, or be enslaved by her enemy's dark Magic.

Evie's powers falter, leaving her impotent and adrift. Under the protection of her stalwart companion, Gideon Faust, Evie hides in anonymity and searches for news of the Fantazikes who had once promised to help her master her divine abilities.

Without her capacity to control the storms, Evie wonders how she'll ever reclaim her throne—a legacy she's not convinced she deserves.

"Quest of Thunder is an utter delight to read, full of magic, adventure, intrigue, and mayhem." ~ Mary Fan

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the second book in the "Stormbourne Chronicles" series of young adult fantasies, where you'll discover an extraordinary new world, epic adventure, and memorable characters. [DRM-Free]

BOOKS BY KARISSA LAUREL:

  • "Heir of Thunder" (Stormbourne Chronicles: Book 1)
  • "Quest of Thunder" (Stormbourne Chronicles: Book 2)
  • "Crown of Thunder" (Stormbourne Chronicles: Book 3)
  • "Midnight Burning" (Norse Chronicles: Book 1)
  • "Arctic Dawn" (Norse Chronicles: Book 2)
  • "Molten Dusk" (Norse Chronicles: Book 3)

MORE GREAT YA FICTION FROM EVOLVED PUBLISHING:

  • The "Chosen" Series by Jeff Altabef
  • The "Essence of Ohr" Series by Parris Sheets
  • The "David Rose" Series by Daryl Rothman
  • The "NorthWatch" Series by Cagey Magee
  • The "Dirt and Stars" Series by Kevin Killiany

 

Released:
Dec 4, 2017
ISBN:
9781622531561
Format:
Book

About the author

Some of Karissa’s favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and superheroes, and she can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for speculative fiction. Sometimes her family convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin, or they’ll haunt flea markets, searching for rusty scraps to reuse and re-purpose. Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Karissa is also the author of the adult Urban Fantasy series, The Norse Chronicles, where she puts a modern twist on ancient myths. The first book, Midnight Burning is available now. Her first effort with Evolved Publishing will be the Stormbourne Chronicles, a Young Adult Fantasy series.


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Quest of Thunder - Karissa Laurel

Copyright

www.EvolvedPub.com

Subscribe to the Evolved Publishing Newsletter

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QUEST OF THUNDER

The Stormbourne Chronicles – Book Two

Copyright © 2017 Karissa Laurel

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ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622531566

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-156-1

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Editor: Sue Fairchild

Cover Designer: www.DerangedDoctorDesign.com

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond

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PUBLISHER’S NOTE:

At the end of this novel of approximately 87,124 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) CROWN OF THUNDER by Karissa Laurel, the last (third) book in this Stormbourne Chronicles series, and; 2) FRENDYL KRUNE AND THE BLOOD OF THE SUN by Kira A. McFadden, the first book in The Amüli Chronicles: Frendyl Krune series, another YA Fantasy. We think you’ll enjoy these books, too, and provide these previews as a FREE extra service, which you should in no way consider a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.

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eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

~~~

Disclaimer:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

Books by Karissa Laurel

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THE STORMBOURNE CHRONICLES

1- Heir of Thunder

2- Quest of Thunder

3- Crown of Thunder

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THE NORSE CHRONICLES

0.5- Moonlight Falling – A Prequel Novella

1- Midnight Burning

2- Arctic Dawn

3- Molten Dusk

~~~

www.KarissaLaurel.com

~~~

What Others Are Saying About QUEST OF THUNDER:

~~~

"A princess on the run. A steampunk circus. A group of dark magicians who will stop at nothing. If you’re looking for an amazing fantasy adventure, boy, does Quest of Thunder (Book 2 of Karissa Laurel’s Stormbourne Chronicles) deliver! It’s a sequel that totally holds up to the original... in fact, it may be even better.

Quest of Thunder is an utter delight to read, full of magic, adventure, intrigue, and mayhem. Evelyn is a sympathetic protagonist who’s in way over her head... which makes her all the more fun to read about. And as with the last book, there’s a touch of romance. While Evelyn has great chemistry with her love interest, Gideon, she’s more concerned with surviving and figuring out how the heck she’s going to: a) escape the bad guys, and; b) get her kingdom back. And have I mentioned the worldbuilding? A fantastical version of 19th century Europe full of airships, mechanical animals, and magic. While steampunk can walk the line between sci-fi and fantasy, the Stormbourne Chronicles fall squarely in the fantasy camp. I wish I could dive in and hang out with Evie and her friends. Everything about this book comes alive with immersive world-building and colorful characters." ~ Mary Fan

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"This is the type of detailed world building that I love to see in a steampunk novel. Laurel takes the exotic setting of a circus one step further by adding mechanical animals and transports. She also doesn’t over-describe the steampunk elements. It is very easy for a reader to picture the bird feathers that look like butter knives, for example. It reminds me of Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: Add just enough description so that a reader can share the writer’s vision. Be clear and succinct.

Will Evie find the Fantazikes? Will they help her regain her powers? Will she develop enough of her powers to re-take her kingdom? Is this the destiny she wants for herself, or will she choose another path?

I cannot wait to read the next book in the series. I highly recommend both Heir of Thunder and Quest of Thunder for anyone who loves steampunk, fantasy, and adventure." ~ Chris

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"Another excellent example of YA genre writing. Evie Stormbourne is a smart, earnest heroine supported by a cast of colorful secondary characters. As with book 1, the unique plot was fast-paced, and held my attention from the first page to the last. Evie matured in this next episode, which I enjoyed, as I believe a series should show character growth and more layers as each installment of the series adds more layers to the overarching plot.

A combination of steampunk tech, guns, and medieval townships, the interesting worldbuilding is fun. I loved this storyline more than the first book, and there are so many possibilities for book three. Excellent reading!" ~ Tina

BONUS CONTENT

We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.

~~~

In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 3 Chapters of CROWN OF THUNDER by Karissa Laurel, the last (third) book in the Stormbourne Chronicles series of steampunk, young adult fantasies.

~~~

~~~

OR GRAB THE FULL EBOOK TODAY!

FIND LINKS TO YOUR FAVORITE RETAILER HERE:

STORMBOURNE CHRONICLES Series at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the First 3 Chapters of Kira A. McFadden’s award-winning FRENDYL KRUNE AND THE BLOOD OF THE SUN, the first book in The Amüli Chronicles: Frendyl Krune series of Young Adult Fantasy adventures.

~~~

~~~

OR GRAB THE FULL EBOOK TODAY!

FIND LINKS TO YOUR FAVORITE RETAILER HERE:

FRENDYL KRUNE Series at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents

Copyright

Books by Karissa Laurel

BONUS CONTENT

Table of Contents

Dedication

QUEST OF THUNDER

BOOK ONE - AN UNMASTERED FATE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

BOOK TWO - THE TAMING OF LIONS

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

BOOK 3 - LIGHTNING AND CLOCKWORK

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Epilogue

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ

Acknowledgements

Special Sneak Preview: CROWN OF THUNDER by Karissa Laurel

About the Author

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: FRENDYL KRUNE AND THE BLOOD OF THE SUN by Kira A. McFadden

Dedication

For Music Makers and Dreamers of Dreams

Men at some time are masters of their fates;

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

~ Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141

BOOK ONE

AN UNMASTERED FATE

Chapter 1

A vivid blush stained the evening sky, daubing horse-tail clouds in rosy hues. Diffuse lightning, the kind most often appearing over the ocean in summer, pulsed behind those wispy clouds like a dying heartbeat. I wasn’t trying for artistry, though. I was aiming for lethality, brutality, and raw power. Yet, all I had managed was this idyllic scene that might have inspired an artist’s creative urges, but not my enemies’ fear or respect.

Clenching my teeth, I closed my eyes and strained every muscle as my mind reached for the lightning like a lasso lunging for the neck of a wild horse. Static crackled across my skin, raising fine hairs along my arms and neck. Despite my best efforts, I’d only managed to release a meager discharge of negative ions in the heavens—a force as feeble as a candle flame in a windstorm. Come on, Evie, I said to myself. Get your head on straight.

I rolled my shoulders, flexed my fingers, and imagined a sharp lightning bolt slicing a jagged wound across the atmosphere. Thunder, glorious and deep like a growling beast, rumbled in my memory...and there it remained, locked in my dreams and recollections, never finding release in the real world—not through me, anyway. The last time the storms had responded to my commands, I had been standing in a forest on the border of Aeolus Daeg’s estate in the country of Dreutch. Gideon Faust, my betrayer and savior, had pursued me into those dark woods, and I held the storms over him as threat and warning.

But in this field on the outskirts of Prigha, capital of Bonhemm, the thunder ignored me. Perhaps I had strayed too far from my home in Inselgrau. Maybe I was too withdrawn from the Stormbourne legacy. Or had my own self-doubts defeated me? Most likely, my failures resulted from some of all those things combined.

As I stood there, locked in a cycle of useless, self-defeating thoughts, the rosy horizon deepened to violet, and a few audacious stars pricked through the darkness. The swishing of tall grasses announced an approaching visitor.

Is it time to come in already? I asked.

Gideon stopped close behind me, and his familiar scent carried on the breeze—sweat, leather, horses, and hay. My heart juddered, a momentary syncopation in its regular rhythm. Despite all that had happened between us, his nearness still unsettled me.

It’s nearly dark, he said. You’ve been out here for hours.

My shoulders slumped. I’m well aware.

He squeezed my arm and let go. Although fleeting, his warmth bled through my blouse’s thin fabric and seeped into my skin. Marlis is hungry. It’s your turn to cook.

I faced him, frowning. Is it? Already?

His nose wrinkled. Unfortunately so.

My cooking’s not all bad.

He chuckled as the breeze stirred loose strands of honey-colored hair around his face. He looked like an imp, if imps could be large and imposing. Not if you’re starving. Which I am.

Come on then. I led the way out of the field. There’s bread and cheese at least. I don’t think even I could mess that up.

Never say never, Evie.

We turned onto a dirt path trailing away from the farmland bordering the old city of Prigha. I had practiced storm gathering in that field nearly every evening since we arrived in Bonhemm the previous month. My greatest success had come the week before, on a night when the skies were already filled with clouds, wind, and rain. I had reached for the lightning and stroked it with my will. Like a contented cat, the lightning purred beneath my touch, but the moment I nudged it with a gentle command, it hissed at me, baring claws and teeth before darting away.

Gideon and I reached the city’s outskirts and crossed an ancient stone bridge spanning the Vivan river. Lamplighters were working their way through the streets, and a dim glow illuminated Prigha Castle. The ancient fortress rested atop a hillock at the city’s center like a giant slumbering dragon with jutting scales and a long winding tail wrapped around itself. In reality, those jutting scales were merely the castle’s multi-spired roofline, and the winding tail was a long brick wall encircling its courtyard.

In another time, in another world, I might have ventured to Prigha Castle and visited the newly instated empress as a peer. But now...? Gideon and I turned down a side street the lamplighters had ignored, trying our best to sidestep puddles. Sometimes the street collected pools of harmless rain. More often than not, those puddles harbored a noxious concoction of human, animal, and industrial waste. An unfamiliar man slumped in a dark doorway, and as we hurried by, he coughed, retched, and spat, adding another bit of foulness to the street.

Once upon a time, I had lived in the comfortable home of an elemental god. Compared to the legends of our ancestors, my father was diminished—more mortal than deity—but he’d commanded thunder and lightning as well as any general commands an army.

Look at me now.... How far the mighty have fallen.

Although, I would have argued I had never been very mighty.

Except for a few displays of cunning and uncanny power I could not seem to repeat, I had been, and still remained, a rather unremarkable young woman. Presently, I lived in a tatty flat at the top of a flight of rickety stairs in the slums of Prigha. The last battle I had fought, and nearly lost, was waged against a family of hostile rats plotting to overtake our meager pantry.

I don’t mind the dark and the dirt so much, Gideon muttered as I turned the lock at our apartment door. It swung open on rusty hinges that squealed, broadcasting our entrance. But why must everything smell of piss?

Marlis looked up from her seat beside an oil lamp in our sitting room. A bundle of fabric filled her lap, and she pinched a slim sewing needle between forefinger and thumb. Although smaller and daintier, she closely resembled her brother, with his gray eyes and caramel brown hair. She smiled, and my earlier angst and irritation bled away. Gideon’s sister radiated peace. An innate healer, she brought comfort with her mere presence. Gideon, she chided. Language.

He harrumphed and stepped into the area set aside for the kitchen, his big frame filling the small space. A pot of water warmed on the stove, and he ladled it over his hands in the dish pan. I squeezed in beside him and mirrored his actions. We shared a bar of stiff lye soap that stung the cracks in my knuckles and cuticles. Washing laundry and darning socks chapped my skin, but the chores also paid my share of the rent. Gideon worked in the empress’s stables, mostly as a laborer—cleaning stalls, grooming the horses, pitching hay.

The stable master must have noticed his considerable talents with the livestock, though, because he’d been spending more time in the training paddocks, or so Gideon had said. I hadn’t visited the stables, yet. Work and storm chasing had left me little time for idle social calls.

Despite what I’d said, I hadn’t forgotten it was my turn to make dinner. Earlier, on my way out to the field, I’d stopped and bought a few short, dried sausages from a street vendor. I removed them from my cloak pockets and set them on the counter while Gideon unwrapped the bread and brought out what was left of our cheese. We kept both hidden beneath a sturdy wooden crate weighed down with a few old horse shoes. The rats hadn’t managed to gnaw through our homemade bread safe, although I had caught one trying to push it off the counter several nights before.

I had bought something else, too, and my pockets were deeper than Gideon probably suspected. To our meager supper, I added a skimpy square of chocolate.

He paused, knife poised over the cheese, and squinted. Is that what I think it is?

I nodded. It’s been a while since we’ve indulged.

Floorboards squeaked as Marlis stood and crossed the room. She peered over my shoulder and gasped. Evie, you shouldn’t have. You should be saving your money.

For what? I asked bitterly. To fund a revolution?

Gideon snorted and resumed his slicing.

For whatever it might cost you to find the Fantazikes again, she said. You never know when you’ll need to buy a train ticket or pay a ship’s fare. You have to be prepared for any possibility.

I huffed, and my breath stirred the dark hairs that had escaped my braid. It’s been a month, and we haven’t been able to find a trace of the Fantazikes. It’s as if they launched their airships and flew to the moon.

Are you saying you’ve given up? she asked.

I eased Gideon’s knife from his hand and sliced the chocolate into three pieces. I’m saying I love chocolate, and I could use a little sweetness in my life today. His hazel stare met mine as I plopped a morsel on my tongue and sighed. Tell me there will be unlimited chocolate in the afterlife. If so, I could die today and be happy.

His gaze narrowed. Don’t say that, Evie.

I’m only joking.

I’ve seen you too close to death too many times. It’s not funny to me.

I pressed a fingertip to his piece of chocolate and pushed it across the counter. Then you need this at least as much as I do.

He arched an eyebrow but swallowed his retort. He pinched his slice and popped it in his mouth. He might have been stiff and stern and one of the most obstinate people I’d ever known, but not even he could resist the seductive powers of a little warm cocoa melting on his tongue. The rigidity in his broad shoulders eased. The shadow of a smile played on his lips. That was just enough to make me wish for more.

Maybe one day I’ll buy you bricks of it. I turned to Marlis. But for now, you’ll have to eat your crumbs and pretend we’re kings and queens.

She accepted her piece from Gideon, closed her eyes, and savored the meager treat.

Now, I said. Everyone take a plate and sit. I’ll make tea.

***

I woke up startled, possibly as the result of a bad dream, but if so, the memory of it faded the moment I opened my eyes. Still, my heart hammered and my breath came fast and rushed. Someone in a neighboring apartment coughed—our walls were as thin as paper. Gideon’s heavy breathing carried from his sleeping pallet in the sitting room and filled the late-night silence.

I stood and eased around the edge of Marlis’s cot, careful not to wake her. On tiptoes, I left our bedroom, heading for our kitchen nook and the water pitcher on the counter beside the bread safe. If there are any rats around, I whispered, you’d better be ready to fight.

The rats remained silent, and no telltale skittering of tiny claws gave away their presence, so I crept to the counter, found a cup, and poured water from a cool, earthenware jug. In the sitting room, Gideon shifted and grunted. His dark shadow moved as he sat up, and the moonlight filtering through the window outlined his silhouette. Evie? he whispered. What are you doing?

Attempting to sneak past Gideon was pointless. Even in sleep, his senses were alert. Aeolus Daeg had trained him well, turned him into a consummate spy. Presently, Gideon claimed loyalty to me and swore an oath of fealty, yet a niggling voice of doubt whispered in my ear, questioning, suspicious. I hated that voice, but I’d learned the hard way about the cost of guileless trust.

Thirsty, I said.

Dreaming again? he asked, heedless of my weak excuse.

Maybe.

He rose from his floor pallet, moved to our secondhand—possibly thirdhand—settee, and patted the cushion beside him. Come sit with me.

A brief warmth, like a momentary sun ray piercing storm clouds, stirred in my chest. I drained my cup and set it in the dish pan. It’s late. I should go back to bed.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed you avoiding me, Evie.

The warm spot clouded over again. I sighed, crossed the room, and eased onto the settee.

You still don’t trust me, he said.

You once said I should trust no one, not even you, if it meant staying safe.

You’re right. The settee squeaked as he changed positions—hunching over, forearms braced on his knees. Moonlight turned his hair into a stream of pale silver, trickling down his back. And I promised to be here for you as long as it took to regain your faith.

I don’t like it either, Gideon—this doubt. It’s less about trusting you than it is about trusting myself. What’s happened to me? Why does the thunder defy me?

His arm snaked around my shoulder, and he pulled me close. I slumped against him, soaking up his warmth and strength. If you don’t know, then I sure don’t. I believe in you, though. You have to know that.

I do. I can feel it. But....

But it’s not enough, is it?

A knot rose in my throat. Have I ever told you about the day my father died? It seemed like a non-sequitur, perhaps, but my thoughts had been drifting to my father and our shared legacy more and more since my abilities had faltered.

Gideon stiffened. Evie, you don’t—

"I always thought he was a god. He was, in some sense, but it was more literal for me. I worshiped him, adored him, thought he would always be with me. We aren’t immortal, but our family tends to be very long-lived. And powerful. So, so powerful. We lived in a time of peace, but he could have felled a small army without much effort. I thought he was invincible."

I paused. The day his men carried his body home, Gerda didn’t want me to see him, and she tried to hold me back. I didn’t mean to, but I was so upset, I accidentally shocked her—gave her a little jolt. As soon as she jumped back, I took off running. I found him before she could catch me. They’d laid his body on a map table in his study. It was the only surface big enough to bear him.

Gideon took my hand and slid his fingers between mine. Don’t. You don’t have to tell me this.

I tugged my hand away, unable to accept his touch at that moment. His sympathy was not the balm it should have been. But I do. You have to understand.

Darkness hid his face, but I felt him draw in a breath and hold it. Understand what?

It wasn’t enough. The thunder wasn’t enough to save him. He was a god, descended from an ancient line. He was powerful and big and strong, and it wasn’t enough. Despite everything, he died.

He was killed—there’s a big difference.

I cringed. Semantics, Gideon.

What’s your point? Why are you telling me this?

I stood, reached for the oil lamp, and lit it with a striker. Dim light spilled across the room, draping Gideon in a soft glow. His open shirt collar revealed a glimpse of collarbone and smooth skin, and the urge to touch him burned in my fingertips. Instead, I shoved my hands deep in my pockets and paced before him, covering the short distance of our sitting room—one end to the other and back again. Father’s thunder wasn’t enough to save him, and I don’t have even that much, anymore. Even if the storms come back to me, does it matter? I paused at the sitting room window and peered up at the night sky. Am I nothing more than starlight? Insubstantial, fleeting.... Whispering, I said, The end of our lineage?

A soft snarl rumbled in his throat. Don’t say that. The Evie I know, the Evie I gave up my home and country for, would never say that.

I turned away from the window and raked my fingers through my hair. My strength relies on faith, and there’s not much of that around anymore. Maybe...maybe I need to stop hiding. If people knew who I was—

He stood and put himself in my path. I stumbled to a halt, nearly falling against him. It’s a huge risk.

I know, I grumbled.

Le Poing Fermé is still looking for you, don’t you think?

"I do think." The nightmare that had awoken me was the same one I’d suffered while in captivity at Ruelle Thibodaux’s home in Pisha. I’d dreamed of Jonathan Faercourt—or Jackie as he’d preferred to be called—forcing me through a ritualized marriage ceremony before devouring me like a beast. The Jackie I knew wouldn’t give up on his schemes, and with his ability to manipulate Magic, it was a wonder he hadn’t found me already.

I’d been helpless—so damned helpless.

Thibodaux had pinned me under his heel like a bothersome pest. As long as those vile Magicians retained that kind of control over me, and as long as I remained without resources, powerless, and stranded far from home, I was little more than a burden, a ball and chain latched around Gideon’s ankle. He and Marlis had abandoned everything for me—home, country, a purpose-filled life—and, so far, I’d proven their sacrifice meaningless.

I don’t even know what’s happened in Inselgrau since we left. Is the country in chaos, or has someone stepped up to rule in my place?

Gideon rubbed the back of his neck. I’ve, um, been looking into that.

Oh? And you weren’t going to mention anything to me?

He cleared his throat and headed for the kitchen. There’s nothing worth mentioning, yet. It’s all rumors, and it’s all conflicting.

I don’t care. Tell me what you’ve heard.

He retrieved the water pitcher and poured himself a cup. I’ve heard one of the king’s former soldiers has taken the throne—one from his personal guard.

I snorted. Terrill, the bastard.

I’ve also heard there are regular skirmishes, and nothing has been decided. There’s fighting among various groups. The merchants, some of the other nobility, your father’s former military leaders—

I tossed up my hands. Military? Ha! I clapped my hand over my mouth, realizing Marlis was still sleeping in the other room. I lowered my voice. Inselgrau’s army was mostly symbolic. We had no money to fund a sizeable force. Father was reluctant to raise taxes, and we’d lived in peace for hundreds of years.

Perhaps we should count that as a blessing. Gideon guzzled his water, set down his cup, and wiped his mouth across his shirt sleeve. He smirked at me. "If we have to fight for your throne, maybe it will only be a small war."

I pinched his shoulder, and he jerked away, chuckling, but nothing about fighting for my throne tickled my funny bone. I’d taken my position as the Heir of Thunder for granted for so long that I never considered I might have to fight for it someday. Even if I recovered my powers, thunder and lightning wouldn’t be enough. I needed allies, resources, and confidence. At that moment, I lacked all three. War or no war, throne or no throne, I have to focus on what’s most important first.

Gideon nodded. Your powers.

Yes. And sticking around here until I find them is dangerous. I’ll visit the church tomorrow and see if they’ve heard anything from their messengers. If they’ve had no news, we’ll need to decide where to go next.

Staying too long in one place invited danger, unless I decided to come out of hiding and face my enemies head-on—No, not yet.

I wasn’t ready for that. I needed more time, more training.

I needed the Fantazikes.

Chapter 2

When I woke up the next morning, Gideon and Marlis had gone. A tidal wave of laundry cascaded from our small dining table to the floor, demanding my attention. Mending, washing, ironing, folding—the work was an endless cycle. A dark, slithery creature composed of despair and loathing curled around my heart and squeezed.

If I never gained control over my powers, if I never re-established my throne, this was what awaited me: a torrent of domestic chores and resentment. But all around the world, thousands of people—millions perhaps—depended on such back-breaking labor to feed, house, and clothe themselves and their families. Why should I be any different?

I’m spoiled. I miss my old life and its easiness. Is it wrong that I want it back so badly?

Prigha was a lovely city full of art, history, culture, food, music, and its own natural magic. I could make a home there. It’ll never be Inselgrau. No one could want a better friend than Marlis. But what about Malita? Is she safe? Is she well? And Gideon, if I could trust him, had the potential to bring me a great deal of happiness. He could also break my heart.

I could also bring him a great deal of danger. Every moment he and Marlis spent with me put them at risk. My enemies might not hesitate in using them to get to me. Gideon was no slouch when it came to a fight, but if I was truly the Lady of Thunder, it was my duty to protect him, or at least be a help, rather than a hindrance.

I eyed the laundry mountain again and huffed. When I raked my hair back from my face, fine strands caught in the rough skin around my cuticles and knuckles. Already my back ached at the thought of a day crouched over a washboard, scouring someone else’s laundry. No. I jabbed a finger at the dirty clothes pile. I wasn’t born to the Stormbourne lineage merely to stand by and watch my history die namelessly in a stinking Prigha tenement. I won’t offend my father’s memory that way. He raised me to do better than this, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting more.

When the laundry did not disagree, I turned my back on my waiting list of chores and strode into my bedroom. After dressing in a sturdy, but secondhand pair of walking boots, a plain muslin shirt, and a loose pair of trousers, I grabbed my Thunder Cloak and tromped into the streets of Prigha. A bright sun blazed in the clear blue sky, but in the narrow alley winding between towering stacks of shabby tenements, the shadows held sway, as usual.

I hurried out to the busy street that carried traffic in and out of our section of the city and set my sights on a tall spire in the distance—the steeple of the Katedrála z Vzrostl Syn, the Cathedral of the Risen Son. There, the shadows retreated, and sunlight burned truer and hotter. Despite the promise of a sweltering day, I snugged my Thunder Cloak tighter around my neck and shoulders, savoring in the safety it signified.

After walking several blocks, dodging pedestrians, street carts, pickpockets, and servants fulfilling their masters’ orders, I mounted the granite stairs leading to the cathedral’s service entrance and rang the doorbell. The kareeyatids didn’t make me wait long. The door creaked open, and cool air from inside washed over me. A woman in a scarlet tunic, white coif and wimple, and a red veil dropped in a brief curtsy. Dobré ranó, she said.

Having lived in Prigha long enough to learn the common greetings and pleasantries—good morning, good afternoon, please and thank you—I returned her curtsy and her good morning in her own tongue. Sestra Maria, prosim? I asked, hoping she understood I wanted to see Sister Maria, their scribe.

The kareeyatid babbled something and motioned for me to follow. My footsteps echoed off stone flooring and arched ceilings, and my hostess glanced over her shoulder, narrowing her eyes at me. I shifted my gait, softening my steps, and we passed through the cathedral as quietly as proverbial church mice.

We twisted and turned down winding hallways until she drew up before a closed door and rapped her knuckles against the oak timbers. Moments later another woman in red robes opened the door. Her face brightened when she recognized me, and she ushered me inside. The two women murmured to each other before my hostess bobbed her head in my direction. Dêkuji, I said, expressing my thanks as she started away.

Ahoj, Evie, Sister Maria said before switching to Dreutchish, the only common language we shared. Wie schön um dich zu sehen. How lovely to see you.

I’m sorry I didn’t send notice of my visit, Sister. I followed her deeper into the

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